One of my 2021 reading goals was to read the books shortlisted for the BSFA Awards. Well, my original goal was to read and review every title before the winner announcement but… yeah. It didn’t happen because I was in a bit of a reading slump in March and April and this year, ten books were shortlisted for the award (and even when I’m not feeling slumpy, ten books are a lot of books!).
I plan on writing individual reviews for the books I liked the most and combine mini-reviews for the books I enjoyed the least. As it happens, it’s going to be latter today. I didn’t dislike The Doors of Eden or Light of an Impossible Stars but I don’t have many things to say about either of them.
The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Lee’s best friend went missing on Bodmin Moor, four years ago. She and Mal were chasing rumours of monsters when they found something all too real. Now Mal is back, but where has she been, and who is she working for?
When government physicist Kay Amal Khan is attacked, the security services investigate. This leads MI5’s Julian Sabreur deep into terrifying new territory, where he clashes with mysterious agents of an unknown power who may or may not be human. And Julian’s only clue is some grainy footage – showing a woman who supposedly died on Bodmin Moor.
Khan’s extradimensional research was purely theoretical, until she found cracks between our world and countless others. Parallel Earths where monsters live. These cracks are getting wider every day, so who knows what might creep through? Or what will happen when those walls finally come crashing down…
Maybe I have come to expect too much from Tchaikovsky because I usually enjoy his works quite a bit. Children of Time is one of the best science fiction books I have ever read and I enjoyed its sequel, Children of Ruin, quite a bit as well. He usually succeeds at writing epic stories about humanity, science and other wild things (such as giant spiders and octopuses). He is also able to write lighter stories that are challenging while being very fun and quirky like One Day This Will be Yours. However, while I can’t deny that Tchaikovsky is one of my favorite authors, he’s also able to write boring stories like Cage of Souls.
The Doors of Eden is nor brilliant nor terrible. It’s a solid science fiction story that manages to play with well-known science fiction devices like parallel universes while bringing new elements to the table. However, I’m not completely sold on this book and while I enjoyed reading it, I am pretty sure it will not have a lasting impact on me.
It’s mostly a fun ride but the pacing is uneven and some parts are definitely more enjoyable than others. I really liked the exposition of the story and the ending was explosive however, the pacing dragged a lot in the middle. The cast of character was large but the characters themselves were too one-dimensional for my liking. However, the world (or should I say worlds?) was fascinating and imaginative.
I had a good time reading this story but is it one of the best SF novels published last year? Well, no.
Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L. Powell
Low on fuel and hunted by the Fleet of Knives, the sentient warship Trouble Dog follows a series of clues that lead her to the Intrusion–an area of space where reality itself becomes unstable. But with human civilisation crumbling, what difference can one battered old ship have against an invincible armada?
Meanwhile, Cordelia Pa and her step-brother eke out their existence salvaging artefacts from an alien city. But when Cordelia starts hearing the city’s song in her head, strange things start happening around her. What extraordinary affinity does she have for this abandoned technology, and how can it possibly help the Trouble Dog?
Light of Impossible Stars is the last book in the Embers of War trilogy, a space opera series following the adventures of the crew of the Trouble Dog. I liked Embers of War well enough and while it wasn’t the most memorable story I have ever read, I found it fun. It also helped that I have a soft spot for sentient ships and the series features a number of sentient ships.
However, I enjoyed Fleet of Knives less than the first book and Light of Impossible Stars solidified my opinion of the trilogy as a whole. It’s… aggressively average.
It’s not a bad trilogy but I can’t pinpoint a single original element in the story. The writing is very surface-level, the characters are flat and their interactions feel forced. Also, I know this is going to sound very harsh but, it feels like the author tries too hard to be woke and it comes off as very cheesy instead:
“‘As soon as we started feeling guilty about the consequences of our actions,’ I said, ‘we stopped being weapons and became people'”Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L. Powell
Also, some lines are down-right bad, I’m sorry but I can’t read a sentence like this one without cringing or rolling my eyes. Hard:
“‘How do you want it, lady?’ the guy behind the counter asked. ‘Like my soul,’ I told him. ‘Dark and bitter.'”Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L. Powell
If you are looking for a quick popcorn read then you might enjoy this trilogy but if you are looking for complex characters and original ideas, it wouldn’t be my first recommendation. At all.
Is it one of the best SF books published in 2020? Definitely not.
So far, I have read four of the ten books shortlisted: The Doors of Eden, Light of Impossible Stars, Piranesi and The City We Became. Thankfully, I really enjoyed the last two so I will make individual reviews for those titles! 🙂
Have you read any of the titles mentioned? What did you think about them?