📚 Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

36/2024 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Complex in both story and character, this becomes an excellent exploration of the differing personalities of the Vorkosigan brothers in the midst of military adventure and political maneuvering. As with the rest of the series, it’s Bujold’s ability to craft realistically flawed characters, some in very serious ways, while still making them relatable, believable, and often quite funny, that really makes these stand out. Though most of the books in the series are written to be readable on their own, this is one where I’d definitely recommend reading earlier books first.

Me holding Mirror Dance

📚 Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

66/2023 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Technically a time travel book, but the time travel itself is kind of the least important part, little more than a hand-waved MacGuffin necessary to get the characters in the right places. From there, you have the dual stories of near-future and historical pandemics. And, of course, any pandemic-centric tale can’t help but be read somewhat differently now than it would have been five years ago. In some ways, the near-future part seemed rather prescient, referring to a prior flu pandemic that would have hit in the mid-2010s, only about a decade off from our COVID reality, or the presence of protesters blaming the government; in others, it now seems sadly naïve (now that we know that most people’s reaction to a pandemic too quickly turns to “meh” or outright denial rather than taking it seriously). Both stories are excellently handled, often with a subtle dry humor in the “present day” portion balancing the tragedies of the historical portion.

Me holding Doomsday Book

📚 A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

62/2023 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This definitely holds up, and I really enjoyed re-reading it. From the concept of various zones where FTL travel (and higher technologies) are possible as they get further away from the center of the galaxy, to the exploration of group intelligence with the Tines (packs of dog-like creatures that are singular sentient entities when in packs of 4-6), it’s a really excellent read.

Me holding A Fire Upon the Deep

📚 The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold

54/2023 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Miles’s adventures continue, with all the twists, fun characters, double-crosses, and humor that make this series so enjoyable. The adventure is fun, but it really is the characters and how they relate to each other that impress the most. Four books in, and so far the only disappointment is that I didn’t find this series earlier.

Me holding The Vor Game

📚 Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold

46/2023 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Really good continuation of the story from Shards of Honor, even beginning the day after the earlier book ended. Bujold manages to create fascinating, sometimes relatable, and often very flawed characters, and to craft a world that’s an interesting mix of almost medieval feudalism and future technology. For a series I didn’t know anything about and initially approached with a little skepticism, I’m definitely understanding why it got the awards and the good words it has from many of my friends.

Me holding Barrayar

📚 Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh

29/2023 – ⭐⭐⭐

This one took me a while to get through, and it wasn’t really until the latter half of the book that I really started to feel like I was really getting invested in it. It’s dense, with a lot of the plot revolving around political maneuvering, cloning, and using psychological conditioning to educate, train, and mold the personalities of clones, as well as to influence and adjust both clones and non-clones throughout their lives. I often found myself reading just a few pages or sections at a time before setting it down, rather than just reading my way through. There’s a lot of in-depth, high-concept ideas in here — great if you’re into that kind of thing, but difficult if you’re not. (Right now, I appear to be somewhere in between those two extremes.)

Me holding Cyteen

📚 Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

6/2023 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Really impressive. Builds on the universe and characters of Ender’s Game, but in very different ways. Lots of very thoughtful (and thought-provoking) discussions of truth, how people see themselves and others, relationships among different types of people and how they see each other, and the vast differences between assumptions and reality, especially when dealing with other cultures (or, in this case, alien intelligences).

A bit of unfortunate ableism at the very end after a character is injured. While it could almost be explained away as very unsurprising self-pity of someone dealing with new physical circumstances, Card does fall into the trap of having created a futuristic society with space travel and all sorts of technological advances, even allowing a blinded character to see through cybernetic enhancements, but motor and speech disabilities are seen as virtually life-ending.

Outside of that, it’s another book that makes me wish Card wasn’t so problematic, so I wouldn’t feel kind of guilty about enjoying his books as much as I do. Which brings me to copying this over from my review of Ender’s Game:

NOTE: It should be noted that OSC had long held and promoted viewpoints that I vehemently disagree with. The books of his in my collection were purchased before I knew of his standpoints, from secondhand stores, or both. I knew going into my Hugo reading project that there would authors and works I would find problematic, and that there might be situations (like this one) where I enjoyed a work by a problematic author. I do what I can to mitigate those situations by purchasing used copies of books so as not to directly contribute to those problematic authors who are still with us, and by noting when I run into those situations – like here (and again down the road, as one of JKR’s HP books also won a Hugo).

Michael holding Speaker for the Dead

📚 Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

5/2023 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It had been long enough since I’d last read this that I only remembered the broad strokes: Ender’s training, the zero-G battles, the simulations, the revelation after his final exam, and a few misty bits and pieces about the fantasy game he explores on his computer. But the threads with his brother and sister and, somewhat amusingly (where was my brain when I read this before?), the entire final chapter where Ender explores the colony world, were almost as new to me as if was my first time reading them.

The parts I remembered were as fun (in their way) as I remembered: the zero-G team combat games and their techniques and strategies, all while watching as Ender is manipulated and molded into what they need him to be. The political maneuvering of his brother and sister were interesting, and in some ways reminded me uncomfortably of the modern world, and in ways that wouldn’t have resonated quite so much when the book was published in ‘85. Now, instead of Valentine and Peter posting to discussion forums on their “nets” to influence politics, we have Qanon and Twitter on our Internet. At a few points, it was more than a little disturbingly prescient. (Plus other little details, like Ender’s “desk” where he can read, learn, program, communicate, and play games — basically, an iPad.)

While it’s perhaps a bit too militaristic to be a five-star read for me, it’s still an excellent book, well worthy of the awards it got, and I’m looking forward to reading more in the series (which I’ve never done before).

ADDED NOTE: It should be noted that OSC had long held and promoted viewpoints that I vehemently disagree with. The books of his in my collection were purchased before I knew of his standpoints, from secondhand stores, or both. I knew going into my Hugo reading project that there would authors and works I would find problematic, and that there might be situations (like this one) where I enjoyed a work by a problematic author. I do what I can to mitigate those situations by purchasing used copies of books so as not to directly contribute to those problematic authors who are still with us, and by noting when I run into those situations – like here (and again down the road, as one of JKR’s HP books also won a Hugo).

Michael holding Ender's Game

📚 Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh

39/2022 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️

High concept interstellar politics and space battles that just never really got me invested. Though I’ll admit, I may have been slightly put off by this particular edition having a lot of typos (usually punctuation, but at least once a misnamed character that made things quite confusing for a bit). Good space opera, but doesn’t rank highly for me among Hugo winners.

Michael holding Downbelow Station

📚 The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge

35/2022 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Science fiction that somehow reads like fantasy (that’s not a complaint, to be clear). At times almost feels like a alternative take on Asimov’s Foundation universe, with a galaxy-spanning empire crumbling, and a repository of knowledge meant to rebuild civilization, only going in a somewhat different direction.

Michael holding The Snow Queen