SFR book review debrief

I reviewed all the books I set out to from the raffle, plus some bonus Anna Hackett. Phew. I had several relatively uneventful weeks until my birthday, and then I slowed down a bit. Will I continue writing reviews? Yes, but at a slower pace.  Since I’m a member of Anna Hackett’s Launch Team, expect to see some more of that here. There are more authors I want to discover, and some authors I want to try something different by.

My taste in entertainment is not perfectly correlated to what I think is ‘good,’ nor does it dictate what I would recommend to others. I understand the desire for a quantitative score when reviewing material, but I don’t like giving one. To add to my difficulties, Amazon and Goodreads have different meanings for the same star ratings. I know that writing is difficult and I feel like I’m critiquing someone else’s child on the child’s personality. How can I be fair to writers and readers?

I decided to treat writing a book review as a matchmaking process. How do I connect the book with readers who will like it? What are the salient parts of the story that others may connect with? Let’s try breaking the book down so I don’t waste anyone’s time and the review reader can get what they want to. Read if you/Skip if you sections may help out prospective readers more than the summary and shouldn’t reflect my preferences. My personal feelings are in the Squees and Grumbles sections, so they are more subjective.

The majority of SFR I’ve read in the past month is space opera. Spaceships, lasers, and aliens pepper these stories. I felt a bit exhausted. I love quantum physics and astronomy as much as the next nerd who took astronomy for fun in college, but some of the aspects of space travel began to blur together after a while. Space opera explores the concept of discovery and of the alien. How do humans respond to situations with a good deal of the unknown? The books made me think about how I handle my fears, change, and the unfamiliar.

The alien invasion setup, which I encountered in some of my reading, overlaps space opera, but with lots of built-in urgency. It tends to be Earthside, grounding our setting in something more familiar with, and shows a struggle against the aliens, who usually aren’t sympathetic. This poses more traditional questions to me about resources and conflicts. How do we survive under threat, what concessions do we make in no-win situations, and how much of our character do we lose during protracted conflict? The stories I like best tend to show an understanding of the opponent’s way of life and acknowledge their personhood. A faceless enemy that operates inscrutably is less interesting to me.

Most of the characters I encountered were white. Of the human characters in the ten books I reviewed, only Michi (support character) and Lana of Lana’s Comet and Eos Rai of At Star’s End are people of color. Mirsee and Tyree of Tethered have coal-black skin but are aliens descended from humans. Are nonwhite people invisible in our future? This seems odd to me. Perhaps it’s author background? What would it mean to be a race that is currently a minority in the Anglosphere after several centuries or millennia? What would it mean to be mixed-race like me? Those are questions I would like to see more exploration of. When I started my first cyberpunk story, I wrote about a black female protagonist and a genderfluid best buddy. I have not lived the experience of what it means to be black, queer, or trans* today, so readers could question my authenticity. However, I would think the bionic corporate assassin bit would be even less authentic.

I was pleased to find several characters living with and coping with disabilities. Cyprus of Lana’s Comet, a major character in Inherit the Stars, and Gema of Alien Blood have some issues that interfere with everyday life that they need to make accommodations for. Disability may mean life would be a bit easier with more advanced technology and medicine…but those societies create new disabilities, too. It’s interesting that although males are often aliens, they are not shown with significant disadvantages in life that they cannot escape people knowing on sight. This could be sample size, but I think it’s an issue within the entire romance genre.

I’m so happy I found all of this. More reviews to come! Once again, thank you to Smart Girls Love Scifi blog for their birthday celebration, and all the authors who participated in the raffles!

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