Mass Effect, Murder, and Morality

Mass Effect made me feel like a monster and it’s all my fault.

Wait. Let’s back up a minute and let me explain.

I have a long history of playing Bioware games. Honestly, I’ve mostly played Bioware games exclusively with occasional diversions elsewhere. Knights of the Old Republic was my jam in middle/high school and I adored the (non-Bioware but it felt like Bioware) sequel game just as much. There was something about being a part of Star Wars and getting to make choices that would affect not only me but the entire galaxy that was thrilling. Even though female Revan and female Exile will always be my preference, I made it a point to play through each game with all four potential paths at least once: light side female, dark side female, light side male, dark side male. It appealed to not only my completionist side but also let me experience the story in new ways.

And then Mass Effect happened. Continue reading

Advertisements

Musings on The Afterward and Queen’s Shadow

I think I’ve been waiting for Queen’s Shadow and The Afterward most of my life but didn’t how badly I needed them until last week.

Ever since E.K. Johnston’s forthcoming books were announced, I’ve been beyond excited for both novels. After all, I was already predisposed to love them given their strong emotional ties to my childhood. From the moment I watched The Phantom Menace, I’ve been enamored with Padmé Amidala and her handmaidens. To a nine year old, a band of teenage girls kicking ass and fighting for their homeworld and wearing gorgeous outfits while doing it looked like the dream. I wanted to be one of them. Queen’s Shadow finally gives Naboo’s loyal daughters the spotlight and it only took twenty years. I’m equally in love with high fantasy and stories about lady knights and read as many as I could get my hands on growing up. David Eddings, who specialized in high fantasy and the delightful use of tropes, has been one of my favorite authors since I started reading his books and, well, let’s just say there’s a very good reason we’re rereading his Elenium trilogy ahead of The Afterward’s release. Continue reading

Reflections on 2018

In 2018, I basically forgot about this blog. Uhm. Oops?

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I remembered it was here and I did things like update the pages and wrote one or two book reviews here but I never actually published anything consistent here. (That’s going to change in 2019.)

So. What happened in 2018? Well, a lot from a certain point of view and not that much from another. (Isn’t is crazy how that works?) This was a year in which I struggled a bit especially on a personal level. 2018 taught me a lot about the friendships I had with some people and showed me which were genuine and positive forces in my life and which were (to put it bluntly) not. I won’t go into it much further but I am incredibly grateful to the friends who’ve loved me and supported me through the ups and downs I’ve had this year. (Special shout out to the friends who surprised me with my very own ID-10 droid who I love more than life itself.)

But on to the stuff you care about. Continue reading

Review: Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful

In all honesty: I had no idea what to expect when I first opened Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton. The cover features a woman’s face with robot hands which instantly intrigued me and made me think “robots are involved, great!” But then the copy on the inside cover flap felt more like a concept than an explanation so I decided to just go ahead and turn to the first page and start reading. Four pages later, I was hooked and almost didn’t put the book down so I could make it to work on time.

Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful is six connected stories exploring what it means to be human in a world where technological and medical advances keep moving forward and let us repair, enhance, and change our fleshy forms. They start out simple enough in our not so distant future. A young boy receives organs from his sister. A teenage girl is part mechanical after being reconstructed after a car accident. The daughter of a reverend with a change of heart has to try and figure out her own life. And then it starts to get a little stranger as we move much further into the future. A genetically modified boy isn’t quite human. A man who was unwillingly modified to be a part-robotic slave runs for his life in Russia. And finally… two teenagers who are what used to be human in a world that uplifts the genetically modified try to figure out what to do when their entire world changes. Each story builds upon the world established in the one prior and moves us further into the future. They could all be read alone but together they form something special.

Admittedly, I didn’t love every story as much as some of the others but every one of them made me think and wonder if this is really the path that humanity in the United States might take. That’s part of what makes this book disturbing at times. While the final story feels a little outlandish with the state of the world, the five prior make its scenario totally plausible. In all honesty, I’m not sure how I feel about how things wrap up but I can understand and respect how Dayton got there which is ultimately more important. My favorite of the stories is probably the second one where Milla struggles with what her body has become in a world where this isn’t considered normal yet. Give me all the partially robot girls and their internal struggles with trying to still feel human.

Ultimately, Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful is one of those books that’s hard to discuss without spoilers because each part is an experience. If you’re interested in a look at the potential path of humanity from an intimate and personal level, this is the book for you. If you’re even mildly intrigued by this book, pick it up. I highly doubt you’ll regret it.

Wunderkind PR/Delacorte Press provided a copy of the book for review purposes. 

Musings on “Space Opera”

If you’re American, Eurovision is probably one of those things that you either get or you don’t. An international song competition, it’s absurd to the max and not one of those things you can easily explain because it must be experienced. Personally, I only have fond feelings towards Eurovision and can’t really decide whether I like the performances or the voting part better. (We made a friend watch one year and I think he has slightly less than fond feelings about it although he at least sort of liked the voting.) The competition may get a little heated sometimes but it’s really just a giant disco ball of happiness and we could all use a little of that in our lives.

Point is, all anyone ever had to do to sell me on Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera was say that it’s Eurovision but in space. Sign me the hell up. Very much in the vein of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Space Opera doesn’t take itself too seriously and instead revels in the Eurovision—sorry, Metagalactic Grand Prix—ridiculousness for a enjoyable ride. That’s not to say that the book is all fun and games. After all, the contestants do try and kill each other before the semi final and it’s only Decible Jones and the Absolute Zero since the other Absolute Zero died in a tragic car accident years ago and her death still hangs over them. This isn’t the sort of inspiring story where the human race crushes the Metagalactic competition to pieces and reigns victorious. However, this is the sort of story where you close the book and go, “Huh. Well if there’s Eurovision in space and we’re suddenly invited to join in one day, that might actually be how it goes.” (And now that I’m writing that… oh God we’re doomed.)

Space Opera is flashy and entertaining but also doesn’t let the glitz stop it from saying a thing or two about mankind without feeling like a life lesson. I keep coming back to the word absurd as I think about this book but I meant it in the best possible way. I can’t wait to see how it eventually translates to the big screen partially due to the amazing descriptions of some of the previous Metagalactic acts. (How can you not want to see an industrial sea-shanty called “You Bombard My Heart with Overwhelming Air Superiority” or a neo-gangsta math-rock anthem titled, “This Program Has Executed An Error And Must Shut Down”?) Space Opera lets us escape to a much larger and stranger galaxy and enjoy the glam as humans try and save themselves with a song.

In space, everyone can hear you sing.

Review: The Memory of Fire

In the sequel to her pretty awesome debut novel, Callie Bates takes us back to that same world but adds a twist: this time we’re headed to the Imperial Court in Paladis and instead of staying with Elanna, we get to know her lover Jahan a little better as he returns the court in hopes of persuading the Emperor and Crown Prince to treat with Eren’s new Queen Sophy instead of starting a war. But things have changed since Jahan left Paladis and he may not longer have the status and influence he once enjoyed. Oh and those witch hunters? Yeah, they’re definitely going to be a problem. Continue reading

What Iden Versio Means To Me

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past two months about how I could best describe what Iden Versio has meant to me since we first met her at Celebration Orlando back in April. For ages, I couldn’t seem to find the right words. Yes, I’ve talked about representation and how important that is to me and for the other Asian and mixed-Asian women out there. Yes, at this point just about everyone has seen the IGN video where I got to talk about my love for Iden and actually meet Janina Gavankar. And yet, I still didn’t quite find the right words even though my voice jumped an octave and I cried. (And then cried again two weeks later thanks to the DLC and The Last Jedi.)

I think I finally have.

For me, watching Iden Versio have her world view shattered and then find her new place in the galaxy is how I imagine it felt for some women to watch Wonder Woman storm across No Man’s Land, to watch the lightsaber fly past Kylo into Rey’s hand, to watch Peggy Carter tell everyone that she knew her value. Continue reading

Review: The Legends of Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker… I thought he was a myth.

Probably every review you read of The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu will incorporate this line from The Force Awakens but when it’s apt, it’s apt. Liu uses this line as a springboard to tell a delightful collection of tales about the fabled Jedi Knight that are true… from their points of view. It’s a book that’s going to give the “BUT IS IT CANON?” crowd heartburn but will likely delight the rest of us who are okay with sitting back and enjoying the ride.

There are six stories within the book, all told to a group of young deckhands on a cargo ship bound for Canto Bight. My favorite might be the one in which Luke isn’t actually a noble Jedi Knight but rather a very talented con artist along with Han, Chewie, and Obi-Wan. One must respect the con abilities of Luke Plodhopper. The cherry on top of the tale is that Luke is secretly present for the telling and just quietly encourages the storyteller and never contradicts the narrative. He doesn’t feel the need for the entire galaxy to believe that he’s a hero. Policing people’s thoughts were the act of the Empire and he didn’t fight a war to continue that.

For a book about Luke Skywalker that never once gives us his point of view, Ken Liu does an incredible job of really getting the character in a way that has felt rare. Honestly, we’re very lucky to get this book and his mission in Battlefront II within mere weeks of each other. They’re very different stories and mediums but both get why so many people have loved Luke for decades. Even through the eyes of others, Liu makes it clear that he understands what sort of person Luke is and his relationship with the Force.

Much like with From a Certain Point of View, there’s a story here for everyone even if all of the stories likely won’t click on the same levels. Liu makes it a point to vary the tone and voices of the stories which not only makes sense given that different people are telling them but also keeps it interesting. A droid shouldn’t sound the same as a bug sized alien who in turn shouldn’t sound the same as a young woman who spends her time flying and trusts in the Tide.

Most importantly though, The Legends of Luke Skywalker adds to the mythos of Luke within the galaxy far, far way. He’s a hero in both of our galaxies but he’s also transcended being viewed as a historical figure within a relatively short time frame. It’s no wonder the Jedi also faded so quickly into a forgotten, mythological status. While these might not be “canon,” reliable narrator stories, they do still help expand the galaxy and let us understand it a little better.

If you’re looking for something to read, The Legends of Luke Skywalker is an excellent choice both for you and for the younger readers in your life that I would absolutely recommend.

Thank you to Disney/Lucasfilm Press for providing a copy of the book for review purposes.

Review: The Waking Land

When a book has words of praise on the cover from Tamora Pierce, that’s about all the encouragement I need to give that novel a try. Thankfully, The Waking Land by Callie Bates did not disappoint. It’s a solidly enjoyable (albeit not perfect) tale about a young woman who’s been a pawn all of her life and now has to figure who she is and what she wants in the midst of a revolutionary war. Continue reading

Review: Defy the Stars

Claudia Gray takes us back to the stars except this time, they’re a little bit closer and in our future instead of a long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away. “Defy the Stars” is the story of Noemi Vidal, a teenage soldier who’s preparing to embark on a suicide mission that could save her people, and Abel, a one-of-a-kind mech prototype who’s been stranded alone aboard a ship for decades. Thrown together by chance, the pair embark on an adventure that takes them across the galaxy as Noemi tries to get home in time for her mission and Abel’s programming leaves him with no choice but to help her… until it’s more than just programming that keeps him on her side.

“Defy the Stars” takes our world, leaps forward several centuries in the future, and wonders where we might be once we live on planets aside from Earth. It considers what life for us could be like one day. It ponders what you might do when what you thought was right is upended. And it questions what it means to be human, to be alive, and to have a soul. There’s a bit of a love story, yes, but it’s done so subtly and builds upon the growing trust and friendship between the two characters that the reader, like Abel and Noemi, might not quite realize where it’s leading until they do. “Defy the Stars” manages to be both a very personal story about very likable main characters and a larger story about the galaxy as a whole. Continue reading