Science Fiction and Fantasy Mini-Reviews: All Systems Red, Ms. Marvel, and Labyrinth Lost

Instead of reading the series I’m already into, I started three more series last month.  All worth checking out, but at the top of my list goes this novella:

systems redAll Systems Red by Martha Wells

The first novella in the Murderbot series, it’s won the Nebula Award, the Alex Award, and is a finalist for the 2018 Hugo.  It’s actually a series of four connected novellas.  Murderbot (no actual character name) is a robot working with an exploratory team of scientists.  Two things happen at the beginning of the novella.  First, Murderbot hacks into and disables the system that controls her, leaving her sentient and independent.  Second, the team is attacked by a strange creature on the planet they are exploring, and Murderbot saves one of the crew.  She can’t let them know she’s now functioning independently, so she has to go along with whatever her program would normally make her do.  The team discovers some problems with their maps on the planet, and then lose contact with another team on the planet.  Murderbot’s first order of business is to keep her team safe.

This is a short read; I read it on the plane going to California and it just flew by (groan).  Seriously, there were a lot of things that make this story interesting, particularly Murderbot’s character, who describes her discomfort with being around the human members of her team (much in the same way some of us feel), and then has to constantly watch every word and expression to make sure she doesn’t give herself away.  The members of the team also wrestle with their own discomfort with Murderbot, since they aren’t used to working with AI units.  Does she want to be treated like the others on the team?  Should they engage in conversation with her?  What does she feel?  And in fact, Murderbot knows they should be much more afraid of her than they actually are.

The story raises issues about sentient AI systems and made me think about whether it’s better to be in captivity with sentience or without. Now that Murderbot has free will, what should she do with it?  The actual plot that unfolds on the planet was vastly less interesting than the characters and the ideas. It ends with Murderbot making a fascinating decision.  I can’t wait to read the next one, Artificial Condition.


labyrinthLabyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

This is a YA urban fantasy novel about Alex, a bruja (witch) who is doing her best to repress her powers because she’s convinced they drove her father away.  She’s about to celebrate her coming of age, which will actually celebrate her powers, when she just wants to forget about them.  She discovers that there’s a spell she can used to throw back the powers, but unfortunately the consequences are dire.  To save her family, she’s got to travel to an underworld called Los Lagos and confront the life she’s been born into.

What I enjoyed most about this novel was its immersion in Latina culture.  I also really liked the main character, although she’s rather whiny at first.  It’s one of those “journey” novels (I’ve seen it compared to Alice in Wonderland but that didn’t really occur to me) where the hero has to fight a ton of battles and along the way discovers who she really is.  The big concepts here are kind of obvious and have been done before in urban YA fantasy, like the heroine who has no real idea how to use her powers yet somehow manages to defeat the scariest of villains. But Cordova’s thorough integration of Latina culture makes it new and entertaining.  There’s also a bisexual love triangle, which was cool, although a bit annoying at times.

Points for creativity and diversity, and I would definitely recommend this for teens.


ms marvelMs. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, illus. by Adrian Alphona

I really liked this compilation of the first five Ms. Marvel comics.  I probably didn’t get a lot of the Marvel references, since I know nothing about Captain Marvel (but I’m about to with a movie in the works).  Even while not getting the references it was a fun read and it was nice to read about a Muslim girl as a superhero.  The illustrations were fantastic, really highlighting not only the diversity of the story, but the silliness about superhero costumes (what, you mean women superheroes want to run around half naked in heels?)  Also Kamala feels very much a teenager; she feels trapped by her family and her culture and wishes for the life the other kids have, but she clearly cares about her family.  When she gets powers, she’s torn between respecting her parents, who have grounded her, and the need to help others because she can.  It’s not just about rebellion.

The story itself isn’t very clear, but I assume the shadowy villain and criminal organization are developed over the series.  How Ms. Marvel gets her powers was the confusing part, and then, like every superhero origin story, she has to learn how to use them.  This was a fun, clever read, and I loved all the details in the illustration.  Illustrator Alphona is able to convey a lot of emotion in the faces of the characters, and Kamala and her friends felt very real to me – I love the cover art too.  I’ve seen some interesting review comments about Wilson’s portrayal of a Muslim, Pakistani family — but I’m assuming Wilson knows what she’s writing about.


Every time I pick up a book in a new series, I ask myself, will I read the next one?  The answer is almost always yes – and then so many times I don’t, because let’s face it, there’s always too much to read.  So would I read the next books in these three series?  Yes!

Well, maybe.  Because I still haven’t gone back to Monstress, Seraphina, Chrestomanci, Paper Girls, Southern Reach, Wayward Children, or River of Teeth, to name just a few.

What new series have you started lately?

  2 comments for “Science Fiction and Fantasy Mini-Reviews: All Systems Red, Ms. Marvel, and Labyrinth Lost

  1. June 6, 2018 at 7:54 am

    Sadly science-fiction is not really my bag in reading but I love watching it on screen. I’d like to check out Ms. Marvel though.

  2. June 17, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    Having heard about Murderbot from both you and Jenny at Reading the End, I’m intrigued! I’m not typically a fan of short stories, but the topic does sound fascinating and it seems like you’ve both enjoyed it a lot.

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