In the middle of the twenty-first century, life as we know it has changed for all time. Shira Shipman’s marriage has broken up, and her young son has been taken from her by the corporation that runs her zone, so she has returned to Tikva, the Jewish free town where she grew up. There, she is welcomed by Malkah, the brilliant grandmother who raised her, and meets an extraordinary man who is not a man at all, but a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions–and the ability to kill….
I picked this up because of how incredibly moved I was by Woman on the Edge of Time (review) by the same author. While I found this interesting and unique, it didn’t move me in quite the same way. I imagine it would probably move a reader more if they are Jewish or a mother.
The book is richly steeped in Jewish culture and history. All of Earth is either a slum or run by corporations in basically corporate states except for a few free towns which manage to exist due to their value in trade. Tikva is one of these, and it’s made clear this is partially so because the founders were concerned about maintaining Jewish culture in a world being overcome by just a few corporations. The corporation Shira works at before returning to Tikva judges her in her performance reviews for staying too attached to her home culture, including things like naming her son a traditionally Jewish name. So there is this very interesting thread about how minority cultures can maintain themselves in the face of economic threat and assimilation. When Shira gets a divorce, the corporation grants majority custody to her ex-husband and ultimately essentially full custody when he is sent to work off-world. Overcome with grief, Shira moves home to Tikva. Here we learn that Shira’s grandmother Malkah raised her and see how differently her own mother approaches motherhood than Shira does. This is one of the key threads of the book.
The other key thread is personhood and what makes us human. One of the residents of Tikva has succeeded in making an illegal cyborg. There are periodic chapters where Malkah is telling him the story of the Jewish myth of the Golem (a human-like beast made of clay to protect the Jewish people from persecution. More info). Very clear lines are drawn between the golem and the modern-day cyborg, who was made to protect Tikva and keep it free. Of course people start to have mixed feelings about the cyborg and asking not just what makes him human but also if he can be Jewish? (He himself identifies as Jewish and attends synagogue). I particularly enjoyed that Malkah isn’t just the story teller to the cyborb but she’s also one of the most important and most intelligent programmers in Tikva. The programmers essentially are what keep Tikva free, and an elderly woman is one of the most important ones.
Even though it’s a topic I’ve read a lot in scifi, I always enjoy the exploration of what makes us human and at what point does intelligent technology gain personhood, and the way it was explored here was different from what I’ve seen elsewhere. In particular, I thought the not just female but female Jewish lens was new and great. But I will admit that I had trouble relating to Shira and her struggle with motherhood and types of motherhood. I think motherhood can sometimes be overly thought about and held up on a pedestal in our culture and in feminism too. While mothers who choose to mother differently are acknowledged in the book, women who choose not to mother are not. It’s as if mothering is a natural part of womanhood, and that was not something I felt I could connect to in the book.
Overall, though, this was a wonderfully different take on the scifi exploration of cyborgs and artificial intelligence. Recommended to scifi readers, but particularly to those seeking a Jewish lens or an exploration of motherhood in addition to cyborgs.
4 out of 5 stars
Strong-willed Kelsey Reed must escape tonight or tomorrow her government will take her kidney and give it to someone else.
In this future forged by survivors of pandemics that wiped out 80 percent of the world’s population, life is valued above all else. The government of “Life First” requires the mentally ill to be sterilized, outlaws abortions and sentences to death those who refuse to donate an organ when told.
Determined not to give up her kidney, Kelsey enlists the help of her boyfriend Luke and a dodgy doctor to escape. The trio must disable the tracking chip in her arm for her to flee undetected. If they fail, Kelsey will be stripped of everything.
I have a confession to make. I was supposed to review this in 2016 but somehow my review copy never made it onto my Kindle or my 2016 ARCs folder. It was only when I was cross-posting to last year’s Accepted ARCs post that I saw it listed and wondered what had happened to it. Apparently it got hung up somehow in the cloud instead of ever delivering to my kindle. My apologies to the author for the delay but I must say the timing of reading it was rather impeccable. With new threats to the bodily autonomy of women coming in 2017 I found the dystopian future to be even more haunting than I might have in 2016.
Set in a near-future where the population was decimated by plagues and environmental issues leading to starvation, the title alludes to a new movement and indeed, rule of law, in the United States. In a landmark case, a woman who after the population decimation chose to have an abortion is prosecuted in court. Her defense is that you wouldn’t force someone to donate blood or a body part to save another person’s life so why should you force a woman to bring a fetus to term? The court agrees that it is a logical fallacy but instead of protecting abortion chooses to make it the law to donate body parts and blood when needed. (There are other impacts too, such as everyone must take statistics classes and decide whether or not to risk their life to save another’s based on the statistical likelihood of success). Everyone is given a life monitoring chip and is registered in a database and bodily matches found so they may be called in when needed. The main character is called in as a kidney donor, but she’s afraid to donate since one of her best friends became paralyzed as a result of her donor surgery.
Those who disagree with this policy have seceded to their own country in what used to be Florida. Kelsey and her boyfriend Luke plan her escape there but of course, not everything goes as planned. There are a lot of twists and turns that bring forth more moral issues that I can’t really get into without spoiling the book for others. Suffice to say, I work as a medical librarian, and I found the medical ethics issues raised on top of the bodily autonomy ones to be quite well-put and thought-provoking.
I must give a quick trigger warning that there is a graphic attempted rape in the book, which was definitely disturbing and not possible to simply skip over, as it was a key plot point and lasted for a while. However, I do think that it suited the book and the issues being raised and was not out-of-place. Essentially, if you’re disturbed by the attempted rape and not by the rest of the book then I have some questions for you about your ethical lines.
Overall, this was an engaging read that left me immediately curious about the next entry in the series. Twists and turns took it places I wasn’t anticipating it going and I encountered more medical ethics issues than I thought I would in the read. Highly recommended, particularly to those who have enjoyed other women’s issues dystopian futures such as The Handmaid’s Tale.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for honest review
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Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.
A scifi novella I heard about in the context of bringing some much-needed new energy to the genre. It’s not that there’s never been scifi starring a black woman, but there hasn’t been a lot of it. What I found most intriguing about the novella, though, was the main character seeking to pursue her scientific interests without losing her ties to her culture. I think this is a struggle that many first-generation college students feel, and I liked seeing it represented so eloquently in literature.
The young black woman going to university isn’t devoid of her own character and culture. The characterization isn’t just like every other scifi main character ever whose skin just happens to be darker. No, Binti is much more than her skin tone. She’s a whole backstory of a tribal culture that is simultaneously rich in scientific knowledge. (A great concept, beautifully executed). Being the first to leave is scary, and she clings to what she knows of home while also being unafraid to reach out and learn new things.
Without spoiling things, her culture and her diversity ends up being a key factor that aids in the war with the Meduse in a creative way that had me smiling. So there’s a lot to like about the novella.
I didn’t 100% love it, though. Much as I got a good sense of Binti, I didn’t get a good one of the secondary characters around her. This made it so that when the bad things start happening later in the novella, it was hard to care about them. Obviously novellas are limited by length, but I do think the secondary characters could have been more fleshed out like Binti to make the action scenes have the emotional impact on the reader that they do on her.
All in all, though, as a woman with curly hair that has been called “tentacle-like” I loved having a scifi read with tentacle-like hair playing such a central role. I’m excited to read the next entry in the series.
4 out of 5 stars
Lesley and Mo’s relationship is tested when Mo develops feelings for Jayne and the arrangement the triad struck in Rymellan 2 comes to an end. The three women know they must adapt to the inevitable changes for the triad to thrive, but the triad’s shifting dynamics would challenge the strongest of Rymellans—and does.
The second book in this series ended on such a cliffhanger that I picked up the third right away. At the time, I wasn’t sure if there would be more in the series or if this would be it. Since then, I discovered another book that has published but I don’t think I’ll be picking it up. The third book left me feeling a bit strung along with questions and no answers for too long for me to keep going.
So Lesley and Mo who we the readers presumed to be soul mates from book one find out in book two that the all-powerful government matchmakers have determined that they actually have a third soul mate and will be formed into a triad. This whole book strikes me as very similar to a real world monogamous couple where one of them falls in love with a third and them trying to make the move into polyamory. Say what you will about the government matchmaking them but their arrangement was to essentially be a couple with a live-in friend and roommate who they consult on household things. The plan was never for anyone to fall in love. But of course (because they’re Chosens) first one then eventually the other does fall in love with Jane. Thus, in spite of the government aspect, it still is essentially the same as a real world couple making the move to polyamory.
Why am I bothering to explain this? Because a lot of the book is dealing with the angst of a couple deciding to become poly. That is a plot point that will either work or not work for a lot of readers. I’m not sure how I feel about a series that starts out as being so strongly a romance between two moving into a poly romance. I’m sure many poly readers would say that’s how they themselves discovered polyamory and enjoyed it. But for me I was expecting one style of story which I really enjoy (lovers having to overcome many things to be together) and instead I got another that I feel very meh about personally (a couple choosing to open things up to polyamory). I guess what I’m saying is I think it might be difficult for the audience for this series to find it because the poly aspect is a surprising plot twist.
The other big change in this book over the others in the series was that the sinisterness of where the society they live in really hangs over this book, and what makes it extra eerie is they don’t seem to realize just how sinister it is. In a book with romance at the center, it’s an odd feeling to have.
While I’m glad to have seen where Lesley and Mo end up, this read to me as a bit of a lukewarm tragedy that didn’t realize it is one. I’d have preferred an obvious happy ever after or a truly dramatic tragedy. However, readers simply looking for a couple that turns into a romantic trio in a scifi backdrop that’s not explained will eat up this series, and I do recommend it to those readers.
3 out of 5 stars
Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden.
I like books that mix scientific accuracy with a touch of personification of animals, or in this case, insects. I was expecting it to be weird, because it’s about insects, but oh boy was this book weird.
For some reason, I find the title to be hilarious. I just kept walking around saying to myself, “the bees, The Bees, THE BEES.” You may think that sounds ridiculous (and it does, and I am, indeed, a ridiculous person) but this book really closely matches that experience.
I applaud the author all the research she clearly must have done. I think it only makes logical sense that she invented a religion for the bees to follow that revolves around worshiping the queen. The horrifying dystopianesque rigid structure of bee life also makes sense based on what we scientifically know about them. All of that said, it was still deeply odd to read. Priestesses and chanting and drones and evil invading wasps. It struck me as a cartoon that took itself very very seriously. I would have preferred if it perhaps took itself a bit less seriously. Like (I’m aging myself here) SimAnt.
In any case, the book does take itself very seriously, most likely due to the very real and serious fact that bees are dying out, and reasons for this are reflected in the story, as the colony faces many challenges to staying alive. While I was able to take some of these threats quite seriously, like flowers not blooming at the right time, others were written in such a ridiculous way that I just couldn’t. For example, a giant evil cell phone tower that makes the bees lose their way when they’re out flying. It’s practically personified as a giant evil ominous entity, and I found myself laughing when I knew actually this is really a problem for bees. The book is basically caught in this uncanny valley that both prevented me from being moved by it and from finding it completely humorous. It’s a book that I think needed to sway a bit more in one direction or the other.
I was still at least 4 star enjoying it though until the end. I found the end just so deeply depressing and unnecessarily so (the point was made, no need to go so extreme) that I was left frustrated. I think, having read the ending, that perhaps the author didn’t realize that she was at times veering into ludicrous humor, and she maybe intended the whole book to be a Very Serious Read, when it simply was not.
Overall, then, if you’re a reader who is able to take some ludicrousness seriously, you will most likely enjoy the book more and get more emotional depth out of it than I did.
Now, if only there was a SimBees…..
3 out of 5 stars
Mo and Lesley, girlfriends since they were teenagers, have spent the last two years apart awaiting their Chosen papers. Meanwhile they both continue to pursue their careers. Mo as a pilot and Lesley as a member of the Interior, ensuring Rymellans continue to follow the Way. When their Chosen papers finally arrive, they think the uncertainty is finally over. But what they reveal is just another form of it.
I enjoyed the first book in this series so much that I picked up the second immediately. The first book ends on a cliffhanger, and I just had to find out what happened with Mo and Lesley next. Would they be each other’s Chosen? Would they defy the Way to be together? Was a giant revolt coming? The answer was definitely not what I was expecting, and it certainly keeps the series unique.
While I continued to be deeply invested in Lesley and Mo’s relationship (on pause as it was during much of the book), I was disappointed to find that this book doesn’t explore deeper into any of the questions I had in the first book. I feel that the second book, particularly with its context of Lesley and Mo waiting for papers and both of them in adult jobs with more power and access to information, lends itself perfectly to explaining more about Rymel. Yet this exploration and information reveal never happens.
My questions in the first book revolving around where Rymel comes from, why it’s so not diverse, and the origin of the Way were only added onto. Who is this enemy Rymel is always preparing for? What about the bisexuals? If Rymellans aren’t actually related to us (Earth humans) at all, that’s fine. They might just only have monosexual identities. But if they are related to us, the lack of the Chosen Way dealing with bisexual/pansexual attractions is frustrating. For that matter, what about trans* people and gender non-conforming people? How exactly are children handled in the same-sex couples? People keep mentioning same-sex female couples having daughters but no one talks about how. And what about same-sex male couples? It’s such a fascinating world, and I found myself like a thirsty person a desert wanting to know more about it and how it works.
The plot goes a direction I really was not expecting. That’s not a bad thing. It surprised me and kept me engaged. There are two aspects of the plot that were unexpected. One isn’t a spoiler so I’ll talk about that first. It’s fairly clear early on in this book that Mo and Lesley aren’t the rebelling sort. They’re going to kowtow to this dystopian regime, and they believe that’s the right thing to do. It’s a different perspective to get. Usually there’s rebellion. But that doesn’t always work out for people in the real world. A lot of people choose to live their lives in safety obeying the state to stay safe, and it’s interesting to see that reflected in literature.
The Chosen Council puts Mo and Lesley together, but in a Triad. A third person, Jane, is Joined with them. Triads historically haven’t succeeded, and they are extremely rare. But they do exist because sometimes the perfect match actually goes three ways. The Triad is extra complicated because Jane’s parents were famous for committing a Chosen crime (they committed adultery). They were killed and Jane was orphaned young due to this fact. Many Rymellans believe the apple won’t fall far from the tree, so Mo and Lesley being matched with her is controversial. On top of that, there’s an allowance where if two of the three believe the third will cause the Triad to commit a Chosen violation then they can say so and have the third member killed before the Joining Ceremony. That puts interesting added pressure on the group. None of this was a plot I was expecting, but also the acknowledgment of non-monogamous people was something I could see a lot of readers enjoying seeing represented in literature. Plus, it’s a good conflict to add!
Ultimately, I was still happy I read this because I was desperate to find out what happened to Lesley and Mo (and continued to be at the end of this book), but I was disappointed not to find out more about Rymel and its history here. Readers primarily interested in the romance who don’t mind the world-building being pushed to the side a bit will most enjoy the direction this series is going.
3 out of 5 stars