Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

A continuation of the many audiobooks I finished since my last bout of reviews in January.

The Android's Dream by John Scalzi

I like John Scalzi’s novels. I find them so much fun in a crazy science fiction way. You can tell in them that Mr. Scalzi does not take himself too seriously and loves what he does. His joy at creating such absurd yet highly entertaining and intense stories seeps through each sentence. In The Android’s Dream, this amusement creeps into the bizarre world that is his futuristic Earth with its alien diplomats and political machinations that span the universe. The genius of Mr. Scalzi’s work is that he takes these bizarre plots and uses them to create genuine warnings about society. In the case of The Android’s Dream, his warnings are against blind patriotism and ever-present greed in self-serving civil service. It’s a danger that is as relevant today as in 2006, made palatable with his diverse characters as they race to obtain this one sheep before it spells disaster for the universe.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Kindred is my second Octavia Butler novel and by far my favorite of the two. It was also my top book for what I read in May. The mish-mash of two decades of historical fiction, slave memoir, and fantasy not just captured my attention, it held onto it and didn’t let go. I still think with horror at some situations in which Dana found herself, all to protect her family line. Ms. Butler does not hide behind euphemisms or prettying up the horrors of enslavement, but she does not linger on those horrors either. Instead, she treats them with a matter-of-factness that is effective for the pictures it evokes and the chills the mundanity creates. Dana’s story grabbed my heart and tore it into pieces even while I marveled at her strength and conviction. I cannot recommend Kindred highly enough!

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

As a mega-fan of fantasy, I have been remiss in not having read anything by N. K. Jemisin. I finally remedied the situation by reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. While I loved the world-building and the characters, the magic, the mystery, and everything else, it is a rare novel where I have no desire to finish the series. Yeine is a fascinating character, and the story Ms. Jemisin builds surrounding her family’s past and her resolution out of the difficulty she finds herself with is mind-blowing in scope and execution. Still, at the end of it all, I’m good with where her story ends. I know there are two more books in the series, but I’m happy with my time in Yeine’s world. I feel no urge to go back to it or find out what happens next. It’s a weird feeling, especially since I’m usually the type of reader who feels a compulsion to read a book’s sequel. Maybe I am becoming a more discerning reader as I get older.

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach is a fun, no-holds-barred look at space travel. On the one hand, I found what she presented to be fascinating. At the same time, Ms. Roach removes the glamor and mystery of going into space. After all, knowing that even such well-trained pilots struggle with space sickness makes me glad I most likely will never reach the edges of space. Sadly, as much as I enjoyed myself while learning about the nitty-gritty details of space travel, I feel Ms. Roach tries a bit too hard to be snarky and cute with her asides or self-aware injections of sarcasm. I don’t know whether this is the fault of Ms. Roach’s writing style or the narrator’s emphasis on such asides. Either way, whenever one would occur, I found myself frowning in dislike because they didn’t fit with the rest of the narrative style. They were enough of a distraction to make me hesitate before selecting another one of Ms. Roach’s books.

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

In Agent to the Stars, John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton team up again. In this madcap adventure, Mr. Scalzi explores how humans might react if aliens were not humanoid but rather odorous, unpleasant blobs. What follows is zany, difficult to describe with a straight face, yet quite pointed in its depiction of humanity’s obsession with beauty standards. As with all of Mr. Scalzi’s stories, I flew through it, enjoying every second. It helps that Mr. Wheaton is quickly becoming one of my favorite narrators and that he understands Mr. Scalzi’s aims so well. Together, they are audio magic.

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