Rage: A Review of Iron Widow, by Xiran Jay Zhao

Revolution has always been a major theme across literature, and nearly every young adult novel features the concept in some way.  Stories are full of characters challenging the status quo and pushing back against injustice.  However, there is usually a limit, a disconnect, which separates the injustices on the page from the injustices in the real world.  Mainstream readers can enjoy a series such as The Hunger Games without connecting the dots between the world in the novels to the real world.  Whenever a book comes along that does challenge its readers to think critically about our own reality and history, there can be hesitancy.  Publishers do not think it would sell well, publicists worry about potential backlash, and more.  Yet, there is an audience for literature such as that, literature that combines entertainment with real revolution, and that audience is getting larger and more vocal every year, hungry for more.

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Practical Villainy: A Review of Hench, by Natalie Zina Walschots

This is no longer the Golden Age of Superheroes.  We are long passed the silver and bronze ages as well.  In the world of comic books, and superheroes in particular, we currently find ourselves the Modern Age.  A literary and creative time period where superheroes cannot be taken at face value anymore, where the implications of people with extraordinary powers must be considered and no longer ignored.  We have seen this trend in both comic books and film, where a certain practicality has been applied to thinking about superheroes and their effects on the world.  Readers and consumers of superhero fiction are not content with just watching Superman demolish buildings in order to stop the latest villain’s world-ending plot.  We need creators to consider the people in those buildings.  There are generations of people today—like millennials and gen Z—who have been raised on tragedy and destruction.  Terrorist attacks, never ending school shootings, and plagues were out childhood.  Like these disasters, literature cannot ignore the destruction and death caused just off-page when superheroes and supervillains clash.  Because, when you truly think about it, the idea of a superman in real life is horrifying.

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Removing the Mask: A Review of Chaos Reigning, by Jessie Mihalik

There are times when you pick up a book expecting to be surprised.  You look forward to twists and turns to keep you on your toes.  Insurmountable odds that the main characters must struggle to overcome, coupled with prose posing philosophical debates about the characters actions.  These are books that are meant to bring you out of your comfort zone.  However, especially in this day and age, we could use a bit of comfort.  Jessie Mihalik’s Consortium Rebellion trilogy, culminating in Chaos Reigning, is the comfort food of science-fiction.  You go into the third novel knowing what you want and what you expect from this series.  A cool heroine who learns to embrace her abilities and find her confidence, a steamy romance with a considerate and strong man, and a healthy dose of sci-fi adventure.

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The Omnipotence Paradox: A Review of The God Game, by Danny Tobey

Artificial intelligence has become one of the most common staples in science-fiction, the embodiment of human concerns with being replaced.  Our collective worry about creating machines smarter and stronger than us crystallized into its own genre.  Artificial intelligence, or A.I., is all over fiction, yet very difficult to get just right.  For every successful A.I. story, there are piles of unsuccessful ones.  Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, and Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell all come to mind as stories about A.I. done right.  Unfortunately, The God Game by Danny Tobey never quite reaches the heights its predecessors achieved.

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The Power Dynamics of Identity: A Review of Splintegrate, by Deborah Teramis Christian

Every story has a theme, a focus running side-by-side with the plot that thoroughly defines the very nature of the book.  When a person asks what a book is about, there are always two answers; the plot, and the themes.  For example, The Lord of the Rings is about the battle between good and evil, and the nature of heroism.  It is also the story of a hobbit crossing the world to throw an evil ring into a volcano.  In a similar vein, Splintegrate, by Deborah Teramis Christian, is a story about bodily autonomy and the nature of identity.  It is about what happens when outside machinations violate one’s body and personality without consent.  It is also an engaging science-fiction thriller about a professional dominatrix charged with assassinating a mob boss.  The high level of technology present in a science-fiction setting allows for a practical examination of identity outside of the thought experiments of today.

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Immortal Cavalier: A Review of Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

Science-fiction and fantasy may appear to be very different genres at first glance.  Once is full of advanced technologies, with a focus on scientific progress and how that works within the setting.  Fantasy focuses on magic and oftentimes breaking the rules of the physical world in the pursuit of power.  However, the two are full of more similarities than differences.  Both can take place on Earth, or on another world.  The world can have creatures other than humans, be they aliens or elves.  Fantasy can sometimes show technology powered by magic, while highly advanced technology can sometimes appear indistinguishable from magic depending on who witnesses it.  Popular franchises such as Warhammer, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and even Star Wars, all find compelling ways to blend genres.  Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir, blends science-fiction and fantasy in a wonderfully gruesome way.

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Mapping the Stars: A Review of The Forbidden Stars, by Tim Pratt

Science-fiction is one of the most versatile genres of fiction around, capable of combining settings with any other tale.  Science-fiction as a genre is also a bit of a misnomer.  The average science-fiction story is not just science-fiction.  Tales can be action films, adventure stories, romance, horror, and more.  From Blade Runner to Black Mirror, from Polaris Rising to Foundation.  Science-fiction can be defined by both fun and thoughtfulness, and there is always a place for a fun adventure that does not require readers to analyze every paragraph.  Books like The Forbidden Stars, Tim Pratt’s third novel in the Axiom trilogy, show the importance of such escapism while also taking the opportunity to define a possible future.  While entertaining, the novels also take some time to normalize behaviors and lifestyles, sexual orientations and body modifications.  Science-fiction lets us see all futures and revel in them.

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Never a Hindrance: A Review of Aurora Blazing, by Jessie Mihalik

There is a certain amount of joy gained in reading some fiction.  Fiction meant to entertain, to transport the readers to fantastical worlds and witness the deeds of heroic peoples.  Where literary fiction tends to prioritize specific word choice and meaning over plot and character, many authors realize that there can be greater value in drawing in and entertaining your audience.  Sometimes the best books are the ones that make you forget that you are reading words on a page, instead conjuring images in your imagination.  These are the kinds of books that are hard to put down, and you wonder how you managed to read through them so quickly.  These types of books thrive in science-fiction, where most things, if not all things, are possible.  The only barrier is the author’s imagination.
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Memory of Different Times: A Review of Recursion, by Blake Crouch

Time travel is one of the best travelled staples of science-fiction, from books to television shows to movies, it is the ultimate form of exploration.  The concept of time travel is almost as old as the history of writing, with the first known written example dating to around 400 BCE.  In the Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata, King Raivata Kakudmi journeys to heaven to meet Brahma, the Hindu creator god.  When he returns to the moral world, centuries have passed.  Time travel in fiction, from this ancient epic to Stargate and Doctor Who, usually involves physically transporting one-self through time, bringing your body and memories with you.  Threats include meeting your past self, or encountering the grandfather paradox, or making changes to the past which may affect the future.  Very rarely do we get a novel in a similar vein to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, where time travel is a person journey into your own memories.

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Insurrection: A Review of Tiamat’s Wrath, by James S. A. Corey

This month we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, where the first humans in history stepped foot on the Moon.  The first steps a human took on a celestial body other than the Earth.  For all of known history, we have looked to the stars and wondered what was out there.  Today, we know more than we ever have about the worlds beyond our own, but that has does nothing to stop people’s imaginations from filling in the blanks.  Tiamat’s Wrath is the latest novel in James S. A. Corey’s ground-breaking science fiction series, The Expanse.  Beginning in 2011 with Leviathan Wakes, these books have taken a realistic approach to fictional space travel, using the technology of today to extrapolate and imagine what space exploration may look like in the future.  It is not an exaggeration to say that The Expanse is one of the greatest works of modern science-fiction.

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