Do You Dream of Terra-Two?: A Review

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi OhA century ago, an astronomer discovered a planet orbiting a star. Decades before anyone had the technology to confirm it, she predicted that the planet was Earth-like and habitable; that humanity would one day colonize it. She dreamed of the animals and plant life astronauts would find there.

Now, six teenagers are about to embark on the twenty-three year trip that will bring them to Terra-Two. They, along with four veteran astronauts commanding the crew, are Earth’s best hope for a second chance.

After years of training, the crew will travel for twenty-three years to get to Terra-Two. Along the way some of them will dream of their new home, some of them will fear it and the gaping unknown of their journey. They will mourn what they have left behind and what they might never see if their missions fails in Do You Dream of Terra-Two? (2019) by Temi Oh.

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Do You Dream of Terra-Two? is Oh’s first novel.

There’s no gentle way to say this: Do You Dream of Terra-Two? is a downer. Readers well-versed in stories of space travel know, as well as these characters do, that something always goes wrong. In this book many things go wrong leaving every characters scrambling to salvage a mission that may or may not be sheer folly.

Oh packs a lot of interesting things into this story with alternating third person point of view between the young astronauts. Unfortunately these voices often become indistinguishable as the characters contend with similar moments of existential dread and imposter syndrome alongside any of their individual issues.

The world building in Do You Dream of Terra-Two?, particularly the shady practices of the school that has trained the young astronauts, is fascinating but fails to gel thanks to an ending that leaves most questions unanswered. Will the mission succeed? Will it be worth the sacrifice? Neither the characters nor readers may be entirely sure by the end of this character driven story.

Possible Pairings: To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers, Dare Mighty Things by Heather Kaczynski, The Final Six by Alexandra Monir

The Refrigerator Monologues: A Review

“Bad things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen to okay people. Bad things happen to everyone.”

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente, illustrated by Annie WuEveryone is dead in Deadtown. Sometimes there are second chances. Do-overs, if you know the right people. But sometimes, at the end of the day, you’re dead and you stay that way.

Paige Embry knows that. Knows she’s more famous now for being dead than she ever was for being alive, for being herself, or even for being Kid Mercury’s girlfriend. It’s just one of those things.

She isn’t the only one.

In fact, there are a lot of them down in Deadtown: The women the heroes had to lose so they could grow. The ones who named them, the ones who helped them understand their new powers, the ones who broke them out, their rivals, their lovers, their teammates.

In Deadtown they call themselves the Hell Hath Club. They’re mostly very beautiful, very well-read, and very angry. They meet every day at the Lethe Café.

There isn’t a lot to do when you’re dead, but everyone in Deadtown loves a good story and at the Hell Hath Club everyone is welcome. All you have to do is pull up a seat, grab your cup of nothing, and listen in The Refrigerator Monologues (2017) by Catherynne M. Valente, illustrated by Annie Wu.

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Paige’s narration connects short stories following members of the Hell Hath Club as they share their version of origin stories–the stories of how they died and wound up in Deadtown. Wu’s illustrations break up the stories in The Refrigerator Monologues lending an even stronger comic book sensibility to the book.

Each story has Valente’s snappy, mesmerizing prose as the Hell Hath Club’s strange and melancholy stories unfold. Like the club members themselves, The Refrigerator Monologues is angry and unflinching–a searing collection tied together with feminist rage and both an abiding love for and deep frustration with popular superhero and comic book tropes.

Possible Pairings: The Supervillain and Me by Danielle Banas, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, Renegades by Marissa Meyer, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

A Criminal Magic: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Criminal Magic by Lee KellyThanks to the passage of the 18th Amendment, magic is finally illegal. But making something illegal doesn’t make it disappear–it just makes it sexier and, for two unlikely sorcerers, that much more dangerous.

Joan Kendrick has seen firsthand how damaging magical shine can be. It is more potent than liquor, more addictive than narcotics, and in the wrong hands it can be deadly. When it looks like magic might be the only way to save her family’s home, Joan forges a risky bargain. If Joan can learn to harness her magic it could change everything. But only if she can stay alive long enough to enjoy it.

Magic has taken everything from Alex Danfrey forever changing the trajectory of his life, landing his father in prison, and even ruining Alex’s own good name. Alex never wanted to work as an undercover prohibition agent–certainly not one peddling magic for the head of the Shaw crime syndicate. But who is he to turn down the one chance he has to turn his life around?

Joan and Alex are on opposite sides in a battle that’s been threatening to erupt for years. When lines are drawn both of them will have to determine where the others’ loyalties–and their trust–truly lies in A Criminal Magic (2016) by Lee Kelly.

Find it on Bookshop.

Kelly’s unique vision of magic and magical distillation adds an interesting element to the world here, as do the complex illusions Joan learns to peddle as a speakeasy performer. Unfortunately so much time is spent explaining the internal logic of the magic systems that much of the plot’s forward momentum is lost in these technical details.

One of the main tenets of prohibition, in retrospect at least, is the fact that much of the movement was grounded in false logic. For example, removing a man’s access to liquor would not make him less likely to hit his wife (the movement was very interested in stopping domestic violence). Instead it makes it more likely for him to hit his wife while sober.

What happens, then, if the idea of prohibition is actually grounded in fact? Kelly spends a lot of time telling readers that magical shine is as dangerous as everyone fears–something shown repeatedly in the story as peripheral characters suffer through addiction and withdrawal. While this concept is interesting it is never fully explained or explored in the narrative never doing anything new or fully addressing the inherent tensions of the time period.

A Criminal Magic is a heady blend of historical fiction and fantasy whose main characters have obvious chemistry albeit in an often under-utilized setting.

Possible Pairings: Westside by W. M. Akers, The Diviners by Libba Bray, Storm Front by Jim Butcher, The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman, Priest of Bones by Peter MacLean, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Space Opera: A Review

“Life is beautiful and life is stupid. As long as you keep that in mind, and never give more weight to one than the other, the history of the galaxy, the history of the planet, the history of a person is a simple tune with lyrics flashed on-screen and a helpful, friendly bouncing disco ball of glittering, occasionally peaceful light to help you follow along.”

When the end of the world arrives, no one expects it to be announced by a giant blue half-flamingo, half-anglerfish creature with the voice of an angel, or the person you love most in the world, or a non-threatening American waitress in Cleveland depending on who you ask.

Humanity is even less prepared to learn that Earth’s very last hope is the washed out, broken up, and decidedly no-longer-good former glam rock sensation Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes.

But that’s jumping ahead. Really, it all started a hundred years ago when the Sentience Wars almost destroyed the galaxy.

While everyone is always pretty clear on if they, themselves, are sentient it turns out that’s a harder decision to make about your neighbors–especially neighbors who may or may not be parasitic zombie maggots, clouds of intelligence known collectively as Lola, or a race of beings who spend all of their time participating in a planetary Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game while building up their corner of the universe.

In the peace following the Sentience Wars, everyone involved felt like it was time to celebrate while also expressing their sentience. And, you know, also imposing a non-negotiable hierarchy on civilization while distributing galactic resources. Also there’s the matter of seeing if the continued existence of newcomers is a sure thing. Or . . . not.

Thus began the Metagalactic Grand Prix, a combination talent show, beauty pageant. fight for supremacy where all participating species can demonstrate their sentience along with as many special effects and as much stagecraft as they can manage.

Now all we have to do is put all of our faith in two thirds of what used to be the greatest glam rock band ever and hope that they can sing their hearts out to prove our entire species’ sentience, our ability to rock, and how very much we should not be summarily vaporized in Space Opera (2018) by Catherynne M. Valente.

Have you ever asked yourself what The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would have been like with ninety-nine percent more singing? If the answer is yes, then Space Opera is the Douglas Adams inspired homage to Eurovision that you’ve been waiting for.

Space Opera is so much better and funnier and crazier than I ever could have imagined. This is a story about friendship, hope, and what makes us human. But with singing, glitter, and time paradoxes aplenty.

Highly recommended for readers in need of funny, escapist sci-fi, fans of training montages, and anyone who is always ready to root for the underdog.

Possible Pairings: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Sci-Fu by Yuhi Mercado, Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett, The Boy and Girl Who Broke the World by Amy Reed, Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld