When I know my ratings are skewed

…These past few weeks, I’ve been making some goodreads ratings I don’t feel very confident about. It’s that fan loyalty thing, right? It’s a fact of life, and I don’t really want to overthink it or make it a huge problem or anything, because that’ll just make it too hard to state an opinion on anything. Anything.

But I just read this not very starry-eyed Armada review,  and I found I agreed with… all of it.   I gave it 4 (out of 5) stars on GR.  That seems contrary, doesn’t it?  Kinda?  But Armada had a lot of single elements I loved.  They made almost enough glitter and sparkles to cover up the really very shaky bones of the book.

I said in my short-review that it read like a high school geek’s daydream, which describes both the good and the bad, really.   The good: It IS wish fulfillment, and I’m a match for a lot of it, because I’m a person from the relevant decade who’s loved Ender’s game and watched a lot of Star Trek.  And whatnot.  The bad: It’s… it’s just.  I think “wish fulfillment” is the best summary.

This isn’t meant to be a review of the book at all.  It’s just the clearest example of a case where I rated higher because it was written by an author who previously wrote a book I genuinely adored – and if it had been a different name, something unknown to me or that I was entirely impartial to,  I would almost certainly have rated it two stars lower.

I’m not going to go back and change it, though.  (I might, later on. But I have to stop actively thinking about it before I can know exactly how much I liked it – if that makes sense…)

There’s been other examples of this recently,  but I don’t need to discuss every one of them.  One of the mis-ratings I have in mind is a case where I rated too low instead of too high,  but usually, yes, I’m the kind of reader who’ll be charitable in the immediate post-read,  and then sometimes be haunted by the book’s problems afterwards.

I don’t have the energy to make it a problem I have to fix; I just wanted to identify it and state that yes, I know, I do that thing.

Also, the I, fat robot blog has had its one-year anniversary and I didn’t even remember it. Belated cheers!

Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Aurora Book Cover Aurora
Kim Stanley Robinson
Science fiction
July 9 2015

"Our voyage from Earth began generations ago. Now, we approach our new home. Aurora."

You know the best one-word review? The one that goes "wow".


Kim Stanley Robinson is a strange figure among my favourite authors, because all of his books that I've read inevitably involves some portion that tests my patience. I mean, he likes wanderers and road trips and the kind of thing I myself only enjoy for about five minutes before I start searching hopelessly for direction and movement and.... something more.  Aurora is no exception.

But I get through, because, of course, the worlds he lets me wander through are always intensely interesting ones. Whether it's his earlier novels' various shades of Mars, or the surface of a moon in the Tau Ceti system, or, indeed, the various biomes inside a space ship.

I was indeed losing hope - and interest - about a third through this novel.  I tell you this because I will immediately add that then I was sucked back in with a stream of "wow, wow, wow" pouring out of my mouth.

And I can't exactly tell you why that was,  because I fear I'd spoil the read for you.   Much like Stephenson's Seveneves, this novel just kept growing bigger, epic-er, in the way that, you know, has you convinced your hair is flattened back and your face illuminated by sheer awe.

"It's, just, aaah", I said, trying to explain this novel to the person who first made me read the author's earlier Mars trilogy. "It's, you think you know what story you're reading, and it starts to peter out a bit, but it turns out to be a different story, and, and-"  Furious, helpless handwaving.  "It's so cool!"


Throughout the book, we follow a small family, each member vital to each other and the surroundings, in different ways, and with different levels of awareness of their impact.  It's Freya, the tallest person on the ship - the generation ship! - who acts as a focus for the narrative, though she might not be the real, uh, star of the story.  (Because the star is Tau Ceti. Duh.  I'm sorry.)

Now, it's been a week since the last page, and I find this story keeps coming at me in waves.  When I pick up my kindle, I forget that it's over, I expect it to take me back to Devi's angry engineering, or Badim's stabilizing presence, or -  oh, the voice of the most memorable character of all.

I keep trying to go back,  and am reminded over and over again that their story actually ended, and then I have to think about how it ended for a moment, prolonging it, savouring it.  Aurora is going to stay with me for quite some time.

Cities and thrones, by Carrie Patel

Cities and thrones Book Cover Cities and thrones
Recoletta #2
Carrie Patel
Mystery, dystopian, speculative
Angry robot
July 7 2015

In the fantastical, gaslit underground city of Recoletta, oligarchs from foreign states and revolutionaries from the farming communes vie for power in the wake of the city’s coup. The dark, forbidden knowledge of how the city came to be founded has been released into the world for all to read, and now someone must pay.

Inspector Liesl Malone is on her toes, trying to keep the peace, and Arnault’s spy ring is more active than ever. Has the city’s increased access to knowledge put the citizens in even more danger? Allegiances change, long-held beliefs are adjusted, and things are about to get messy.

I'm very happy to return to the tunnels of Recoletta, after getting to know the city in the previous book, The buried life.  In Cities and thrones, the story picks up where it left off, and will not be an optimal read if you didn't read the first book. (And, really, it's a fast and fun read, so why wouldn't you?)

Not only do we return to Recoletta - we get to see some of the rest of the world, too.  Some have fled from Sato's revolution to seek refuge in other cities, like the somewhat Arab-decorated city of Medina.   Between these, there are whole communities of odd people who choose to dwell above-ground.  Here, the victorian-esque class society becomes quite caricatured, and tensions are high.

I've seen a lot of people describe Recoletta as steampunk, but I'm not so sure. I don't think a sense of old-timey aristocracy is enough to wedge a story onto that shelf.  That said, it remains difficult to sort this book onto either the science fiction or the fantasy shelf - it reads mostly like an urban fantasy police procedural kind of thing (though Cities and thrones is much heavier on the political scheming),  but the story keeps hinting at Recoletta being a city found in the future, post-whateveritwas.

I'm obviously going to hurry to read the next book when it arrives, because I direly want to know what happened in this world's history.  Almost as much as the characters themselves want to obtain that information, probably.

Jane Lin remains an interesting character - at least as long as she's held up next to inspector Malone's stark moral alignment.  Jane appears kind, compassionate - but doesn't hesitate to move into moral shades of gray as her situation changes.   She's refreshingly complex, but stable - which is a treat in an action-adventure like this.

Immerse your way into Recoletta for a mini summer vacation. It's underground, at least it won't be very rainy, right?


Time salvager, by Wesley Chu

Time salvager Book Cover Time salvager
Wesley Chu
Science fiction
Angry Robot
July 9 2015

I started waiting for Wesley Chu's Time Salvager before I'd even finished the first part of the Tao trilogy. Because this author writes action-packed stuff that is genuinely fun, even for someone not usually very action-inclined.  Really! And Time salvager lives up to that expectation, definitely.

We enter in the future - only to find out that no, wait, the present is actually the far future. Because at this point, there are people who can jump around the timeline and poke at things.  There are laws, of course, governing how exactly one is allowed to poke at things,  and mostly it's about salvaging energy sources, because the far future is a bleak dystopia in which a lot of good technology has been lost.   It came to this despite humanity's glory and triumph in the, to the reader, near(ish) future.  Stuff happened, ships sailed.  James is one of the time-jumpers, a chron-man, who's hard at work to avoid any feelings of affection for the past he visits - making an exeption for their whisky.

They just don't make booze like that anymore.

As it turns out, James has a few more exceptions to make and rules to break, turning into a wonderfully page-turning ride.

But... the ending comes a bit too abruptly, for me.  There's an obvious (well, I say obvious, it must be, right?) promise of a sequel, which is good, but I feel like the cliffhanger is a big bursting sack of questions I wanted to answer now,  which is - bad?  Yeah, bad.  I can get with series and trilogies or whatever this particular thing turns out to be, but Time salvager isn't quite as neatly self-contained as I would wish it to be.   Once you've left me hanging like that, I immediately wrinkle my nose at how the whole book was just kind of skittering along the surface of the filthy, filthy water, never taking real, deep dive to look hard at the gunk down there.

I'm the reader who wants to study the gunk down there, you know?   There are perfectly good reasons not to take the time for a dip down there, of course - but I think my dissatisfaction is valid.

It doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend the book, because I absolutely would, and will.  You'll stay clear of it if you hate time travel, especially time travel not encased in hard science,  but you'll have a good time if that's not you.

Now give me a companion piece or prequel or sequel or something, I need more of it. ASAP!