Tag Archives: Soft Science Fiction

Mending Fences: A Review of A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers book cover. Image on cover is a close-up painting of a covered wagon travelling through a forest. Title: A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: July 12, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Utopia

Length: 160 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex (a Tea Monk of some renown) and Mosscap (a robot sent on a quest to determine what humanity really needs) turn their attention to the villages and cities of the little moon they call home.

They hope to find the answers they seek, while making new friends, learning new concepts, and experiencing the entropic nature of the universe.

Becky Chambers’s new series continues to ask: in a world where people have what they want, does having more even matter?

Review:

Content Warning: Theology and religion, but they share little in common with any theologies or religions of our world. I will discuss these topics in my review.

What could be more cozy or wholesome than a Tea Monk and a robot going on a road trip in a utopian world?

I am once again going to need to tread carefully in my review in order to avoid spoilers, but I did want to talk about the theological discussions and religious practices in this universe. Ms. Chambers created such a gentle framework for those beliefs that I was quickly able to relax and follow the characters’ thought processes as they compared beliefs and asked intelligent questions of those who disagreed with them. You should know that Sibling Dex loves and accepts everyone. Their beliefs are sacred to them, but they would never use them against those who have other beliefs or no beliefs at all. Don’t be nervous about reading this if you’re like me and generally avoid stories about religion or theology based on previous negative experiences with those topics in our world. It was important part of the plot for sure, but there wasn’t a single ounce of unkindness in Sibling Dex’s worldview.

My review of A Psalm for the Wild-Built gently criticized the loose plot structure of that book. I’m happy to report that the plot was thicker in this one. Yes, it retained it’s meandering philosophical and religious discussions that are so important to Sibling Dex and Mosscap’s character development, but they faced more conflicts and obstacles to their goals this time around as well. It was fascinating to me to see how they handled abrupt changes to their travelling plans and interactions with other living things that didn’t always go as predicted. This was exactly what they both needed to in order to show the audience how they’d changed as a result as their earlier adventures.

It was exciting to see how the world building was expanded. I finally learned more about how the villages and cities in this world are connected to each other and what their relationships with one another are like. Yes, I wanted to dive even deeper into this topic, but it made sense to stop where we did. I mean, it’s not like I welcome friends to Canada by going on a long monologue about my country’s history, culture, or social customs before asking if they want to try poutine. The important parts are shared as they come up in conversation, so it made total sense for the author to do the same here.

The character development was once again handled beautifully. Sibling Dex and Mosscap changed in all sorts of interesting ways as a result of their journey and their friendship. I chuckled as their assumptions about what humans or robots should be like occasionally bumped up against realities that bore little resemblance to what either of these individuals thought was going to happen. While I did find myself wishing the last scene had been given a little more time to flourish, I’m betting that it was written that way on purpose in order to set up whatever comes next.

This is the second instalment in the Monk & Robot series. I strongly recommend reading it all in order as there were several important scenes in A Psalm for the Wild-Built that are critical to understanding the character development.

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy made me yearn for more.

Gentle Science Fiction: A Review of A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Note: I’m (finally) reviewing the first book in the Monk & Robot series today and will review the sequel next week. Stay tuned! 

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a robot, a person pedaling their travelling home, many plants, and winding paths on it. Title: A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot #1)

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: July 13, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Utopia

Length: 160 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

In A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers’s delightful new Monk and Robot series gives us hope for the future.

It’s been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.

They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Becky Chambers’s new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

Review:

Content Warning: Theology. It is nothing like the religions or theologies of our world, though, which I will explain in my review.

If peaceful science fiction is your thing, look no further.

Sibling Dex was one of the most unusual characters I’ve met in a long time. They were an agender tea monk who had already changed their occupation several times and were still not satisfied with it. The desire to learn more about the world was relentless in them even though humanity had created a utopian existence in which half of the land was reserved for wildlife sanctuaries and the other half was carefully managed to provide for everyone’s basic needs. I was intrigued by how this character reacted the changes they brought upon themselves as well as the ones they never could have predicted.

You may have noticed that I haven’t discussed the plot itself in this review. I’m purposefully writing this very carefully in order to avoid any spoilers, but I also want potential readers to know that the plot wasn’t as well-formed as I would have liked it to be. Sibling Dex went on a journey into the wilderness to find answers to their existential questions, but that storyline never quite coalesced in the way I hoped it would. As this appears to be the beginning of a series, I’m hoping that the sequel or sequels will be more assertive in seeking out answers for this character and giving them more conflict to deal with. I loved meeting them and having such a gentle introduction to their unique world, but I was a bit disappointed by how everything suddenly ended for them in the final scene with so many questions still left unanswered.

This story includes numerous references to religion and philosophy, but they bear little if any resemblance to what people in our world think of when they use those terms. Yes, Sibling Dex was a monk as I mentioned earlier, but their religious beliefs and practices were almost wholly centred on their own behaviour as opposed to worrying about what others did. You will find no threats of eternal punishment, long lists of rules to follow, or harsh judgements of non-believers here. That wasn’t how Sibling Dex behaved about at all, and I found it incredibly refreshing. They simply wanted to be the best monk they could be, and their journey was in part related to how their faith and their understanding of philosophy might be able to help them figure out what to do next with their restless soul.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built was a breath of fresh air.

Making Things Right: A Review of The Canterville Ghost

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

 – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

 – talk about it online sometime in January

 – have fun

If any of my readers are also interested in participating this month, let Little Red Reviewer know about your posts if you’d like them to be included in her official roundups. 

Title: The Canterville Ghost

Author: Oscar Wilde

Publisher: The Court and Society Review

Publication Date: February 23, 1887 and March 2, 1887

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 54 pages

Source: This review was inspired by Little Red Reviewer’s post about The Canterville Ghost last year. Go to Wilde Online to read this story for free for yourself.

The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde book cover. Image on cover is a black-and-white photo of Mr. Wilde holding a cane as he bends over and gently touches his face. Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Horace B. Otis, a wealthy American, purchases Canterville Chase, an ancient English manor-house, despite warnings that the house is known to be haunted. He moves into the house accompanied by his wife, his eldest son Washington, his daughter Virginia, and his two younger twin sons. Immediately upon arrival, the family is confronted by a bloodstain in a sitting room. The housekeeper, Mrs. Umney, explains that the stain has been there since 1575 and is the result of Lady Eleanore de Canterville having been brutally murdered by her husband, Sir Simon de Canterville.

The Otis family takes a pragmatic perspective and scrubs the stain away; they repeat the process when the stain continues to reappear every morning. The stubborn reappearance of the stain, as well as other strange occurrences around the house, leads them to consider that the rumor of the ghost may not be totally unfounded.

Review:

Content warning: Murder. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

What happens when the ghost haunting your new home might not be as scary as he thinks he is?

I adored the way Mr. Wilde played around with the tropes of the paranormal and fantasy genres. Most character are at least mildly alarmed by the presence of a supernatural being in their home, so I was delighted to meet an entire family who genuinely didn’t care who or what roamed the halls as night so long as they didn’t wake anyone up or make a mess. Honestly, they actually seemed to enjoy playing pranks on their new roommate of sorts whenever he irritated them too much with his various haunting activities. This is so rare for this genre that I can’t remember the last time I read anything like this story.

One of the things I was never quite able to do with this tale was categorize it into one specific genre. It went into far more investigative detail than I’d normally expect to find in the fantasy genre, but it was also more metaphysical than I’d expect to find in the science fiction genre. In my experience, classics science fiction often does this, especially as you read further back into time when this genre was closer to its infancy. I’m the sort of reader who usually prefers harder science fiction, but this was well told once I accepted the fact that the characters weren’t going to perform the same sorts of scientific experiments I would if I were in their shoes. If the writing style had been a little firmer about what sort of speculative fiction this was actually supposed to be, I would have gone with a five-star rating.

The ending threw me for a loop. Normally, conflict between ghosts and humans escalates over time in tales like these. Sometimes it can even do so violently depending on what the author has in mind, so I was thrilled to see how everything was resolved for the Otis family and their resident ghost. It made perfect sense for the plot, but it also gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Those aren’t emotions that happen very often in stories about the restless souls of murderers of all things, so it was satisfying to have it here.

The Canterville Ghost was one of those delightful pieces of speculative fiction that defies categorization. If you like stories that leap between genres and sometimes swirl them all up together, this classic short story might be right up your alley.

Searching for Answers: A Review of Remote Control

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor book cover. Image on cover shows a photo of a young Afrian woman superimposed on a tree and some robotic gear on her torso.Title: Remote Control

Author: Nnedi Okorafor

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: January 19, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 156 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb:

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From here on in she would be known as Sankofa­­—a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks—alone, except for her fox companion—searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?

Review:

Content warning: Violence, blood, menstruation, death of parents, death of a child. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

There’s never been a meteor shower quite like this one before.

This novella freely wandered between genres and settings. It was a folk tale set in the modern day. The dreamy fantasy elements of the plot sometimes wandered into science fiction territory. It had drones and cell phones, but it also had possibly magical creatures who followed Sankofa around everywhere. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I was often left guessing what might happen next.

Occasionally, I wished Sankofa would have been more straightforward about the connection between the strange seed that fell from the sky during a meteor shower and her becoming the adopted daughter of Death itself. Getting to know her better eventually changed my mind on this topic. Sankofa was quite young when these events happened, so it made sense that she didn’t explain them the same way an adult would. I won’t stop hoping for a sequel that might dive deeply into this part of the world building, but the way it was explained ultimately did make sense given who Sankofa was and what she’d been through.

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that explored what the main character learned during the course of her travels. Her experience with the seed gave her magical powers that even many adults would struggle to understand, and there was no one around to teach her how to use or control them. Seeing Sankofa gradually figure out the rules of her abilities was nearly as satisfying as watching her learn to accept what had happened to her and begin to take the first confident steps into adulthood.

Remote Control was a wonderful novella that should be read by new and old fans of Okorafor’s work alike.

Why I Bounce Between Soft Sci-Fi and Hard Sci-Fi

This is a response post to Louise’s Why I Prefer Soft Sci-Fi

photo of galassia star. Let’s start this conversation off with some quick definitions.

Hard sci-fi is a sub-genre of science fiction that focuses on hard sciences like physics, math, chemistry, or astronomy that ask and answer objective questions.

That is to say, there is only one correct answer if someone asks you what the square root of nine is.

Soft sci-fi is a sub-genre of science fiction that focuses on soft sciences like sociology, anthropology, or psychology. They include a mixture of objective and subjective questions.

For example,

Some science fiction fans have a strong preference for one of these sub-genres over the other. I prefer to bounce around between them and nearly every other type of science fiction that doesn’t include romance for the following reasons:

The Lines Between Them Are Blurry

Many sci-fi stories include elements of both hard and soft science fiction. They might start out describing how scientists in that universe discovered a safe, fast, and effective way to travel between solar systems only to switch over to describing how that technology changed every facet of human culture over the next few millennia.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having strong preferences on either side of the spectrum, but I’ve discovered so many amazing books and authors that I would have otherwise overlooked if I’d been strict about only wanting to read hard or soft science fiction.

I Need Variety

While sci-fi is the genre where I spend most of my reading time, I also enjoy reading fantasy, horror, mysteries, historical fiction, non-fiction, and many other genres.

I’m happiest when I can bounce around between different types of storytelling no matter which genre I’m currently reading. After finishing a hard science fiction adventure, I might be in the mood for a memoir, a light fantasy adventure, or a book of poetry next.

It’s even better when the same book can smoothly move between different genres and maybe even mash up some themes that aren’t normally woven together.

Each Story Has Unique Needs

Some sci-fi stories really do need to have the science behind them explained in detail in order for anything else that follows to make sense to readers who aren’t already well-versed in the branch or branches of science that are being explored there.

Other sci-fi stories use spaceships, aliens, or new inventions as a backdrop but can share the meat of their plot with the audience even if no one knows the details of how alien physiology is different from human physiology or how that new invention came into being.

I definitely do agree with Louise’s point about hard science fiction being something that often works better in film or TV show form. While I enjoy reading about new technologies or inventions, it’s amazing to see them come to life in a scene.

Do all of you have preferences for hard versus soft science fiction? If so, what are they?