Book Review: Science Fiction: Echopraxia by Peter Watts

watts cover art

It’s the eve of the twenty-second century: a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues; where genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans and soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat. And it’s all under surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to show itself.
Daniel Bruks is a living fossil: a field biologist in a world where biology has turned computational, a cat’s-paw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he’s turned his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that will turn all of history inside-out.
Now he’s trapped on a ship bound for the center of the solar system. To his left is a grief-stricken soldier, obsessed by whispered messages from a dead son. To his right is a pilot who hasn’t yet found the man she’s sworn to kill on sight. A vampire and its entourage of zombie bodyguards lurk in the shadows behind. And dead ahead, a handful of rapture-stricken monks takes them all to a meeting with something they will only call “The Angels of the Asteroids.”
Their pilgrimage brings Dan Bruks, the fossil man, face-to-face with the biggest evolutionary breakpoint since the origin of thought itself.

Title: Echopraxia
Author: Peter Watts
Category: Adult Fiction
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor [Forge]
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Format: NetGalley DRC
Length: 299 pages
ISBN-10: 076532802X
ISBN-13: 9780765328021

Series or Standalone: Companion Novel (Blindsight)

Literary Awards:

Themes: Consciousness, Free Will, Transhumanism
POV: 3rd person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Atsiko Ureni

How I Got It: I’ve always been a fan of Peter Watts’s fiction. So I was very happy when Nick told me he’d gotten approved for this book on NetGalley.

Cover Notes: This cover is not very emblematic of the content of the book. It’s not bad, but I think a less generic sci-fi cover might have been better.


This is a hard review in some ways. Much like Blindsight, Echopraxia is the quintessential science fiction of ideas. They’re there, they’re big, and they’re fascinating, whether you agree with Watts’s conclusions or not. Watts explores free will and consciousness from a very scientific and logical perspective. On top of the idea of digital reality. And his idea of vampires is one of my favorite from a sci-fi perspective. Well-done hard sci-fi is incredibly difficult to find, and from the concepts and themes side of things Peter Watts is one of the few authors who always delivers.

My major issue with the story was the story itself. Watts spends so much time on the ideas that the story gets less attention that it deserves. The reader is left to fill in many gaps, and the concept of determinism and the layers upon layers of external control over what would normally be seen as acts of free will can make the plot very hard to follow. I think the basis of the plot is sound, but the execution could use a bit more work.

As far as the characters go, I loved them. Watts manages to have many characters with very unconventional motivations and beliefs that are at the same time utterly believable and relatable, even if most of them aren’t very likable. Valerie the vampire in particular was one of my favorite characters, and Watts managed to give enough exposition of his vampire concept to make her consistent in all the right ways, and unpredictable in the same.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book, but it may not be something the casual science fiction fan would be interested in.

Conclusion: 79/100 (Good, but not the best story-telling in the world)
Premise: 7/10 (If it was more clear, I might have given it more points)
Plot: 5/10 (Not the most coherent, was back-seated to the ideas/themes)
Setting: 9/10 (Great)
Main Character: 9/10 (Not the most likable, but well-crafted and interesting)
World-building 8/10 (Pretty good, and very interesting)
Science 9/10 (Very well-researched. That appendix was… frightening?)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (Not bad)
Writing: 6/10 (Not awful, but not brilliant)
Themes: 9/10 (Great themes, well-executed)
Resolution: 10/10 (Loved it)

Buy Or Borrow: Borrow, unless you’re really into the science fiction of ideas.

Similar Books:
The Ware Tetralogy by Rudy Rucker
The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter
Queen of Angels by Greg Bear
Permutation City by Greg Egan

Other Reviews:
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
The Taichung Bookworm
Armed and Dangerous
Drunken Dragon Reviews

Buy Links:
Barnes and Noble

Kindle UK Unavailable
Kindle US
Google Play


Book Review: Horror Novella: We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

gregory cover

Harrison was the Monster Detective, a storybook hero. Now he’s in his mid-thirties, and spends most of his time popping pills and not sleeping. Stan became a minor celebrity after being partially eaten by cannibals. Barbara is haunted by unreadable messages carved upon her bones. Greta may or may not be a mass-murdering arsonist. Martin never takes off his sunglasses. Never.

No one believes the extent of their horrific tales, not until they are sought out by psychotherapist Dr. Jan Sayer. What happens when these seemingly-insane outcasts form a support group? Together they must discover which monsters they face are within—and which are lurking in plain sight.

Title: We Are All Completely Fine

Author: Daryl Gregory

Category: Adult Fiction

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror

Publisher: Tachyon Publications

Publication Date: August 12, 2014

Format: NetGalley Digital Review Copy

Length: 112 pages

ISBN-10: 1616961716

ISBN-13: 9781616961718

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:


Themes: Trauma

POV: Multiple Perspectives, Blended

Tense: Past

Reviewer: Atsiko Ureni

How I Got It: Daryl Gregory, writer of beautifully bizarre fiction such as Afterparty and Pandemonium is a writer I have long followed but never read. I’d only heard good things, and I always liked his premises, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. An ARC from NetGalley seemed like just the impetus I was lacking, and I’m very grateful to Nick for providing it.


I don’t often read horror, but Gregory is an eclectic writer, so I figured I’d take the chance this time. I don’t regret it. Gregory has a strong command of his characters, something speculative fiction has oft been accused of lacking. The horror elements of the story were more like seeds or remnants, rarely seen in the flesh–even in psychological horror terms-but I think that’s part of what makes the idea of the story so intriguing, and it lets Gregory make good use of his characterization skills in a way pure horror doesn’t always allow.

The therapeutic setting may not be the most original, but it managed to remain quite active despite the obvious sedentary nature of such sessions.

Harrison plays the sort of mentor character by way of providing a great deal of elegantly inserted exposition, background, and validation to the other characters. I thought of him as the main character, despite the shifting perspectives, and I think he did a good job anchoring the narrative and the dynamics between the other characters.

Jan, as she likes to be known, is the therapist who creates the inciting incident of the story, and Gregory’s light touch in imparting the reasons for the group’s existence is a nice change from the heavy-handed foreshadowing one often comes across in pulp horror. The same goes for the unraveling of the web of history that connects the characters, history they themselves ma be unaware of. You’d think a story that deals so much with the past would drag, but it doesn’t, and the tantalizing hints of back-story definitely left me wanting more about these characters. It felt like I only got a snapshot of the characters’ lives, and that their stories existed long before that snapshot and will keep going long after. And yet the snapshot itself was still very satisfying. That’s something I consider a mark of a superior story–there are loose ends and secrets and histories the reader is unaware of, but it adds to rather than detracts from the story.

Also, +1 for using augmented reality in a horror story.

It’s safe to say I’ll be picking up a few other Daryl Gregory books after reading this, and I urge everyone else to do the same.

I think anyone who reads speculative or literary fiction would enjoy this book, no matter what they usually read.

Conclusion: 87/100 (An 87 is actually a really high rating, coming from me.)

Premise: 9/10 (Fresh and engaging)

Plot: 9/10 (Compact, but well-constructed)

Setting: 8/10 (Strongly evoked)

Main Character: 10/10 (Citing Harrison, lovely aged boy wonder)

World-building 9/10 (No info-dumping, great details)

Horror Elements 6/10 (Not all that much horror, even psychologically)

Supporting Characters: 10/10 (Well-crafted)

Writing: 8/10 (Well-written)

Themes: 8/10 (Trauma and related themes lovingly conveyed)

Resolution: 9/10 (Made sense, left you thinking)

Buy Or Borrow: Totally buy.

Similar Books:

Other Reviews:


Publishers Weekly

Kirkus August Picks

LitReactor BookShots

Eric Christensen

Bookworm Blues

Thinking About Books

Buy Links:


Barnes and Noble




Kindle UK

Kindle US


Google Play


Book Review: Fantasy: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Fool's Assassin Cover

Nearly twenty years ago, Robin Hobb burst upon the fantasy scene with the first of her acclaimed Farseer novels, Assassin’s Apprentice, which introduced the characters of FitzChivalry Farseer and his uncanny friend the Fool. A watershed moment in modern fantasy, this novel—and those that followed—broke exciting new ground in a beloved genre. Together with George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb helped pave the way for such talented new voices as Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, and Naomi Novik.

Over the years, Hobb’s imagination has soared throughout the mythic lands of the Six Duchies in such bestselling series as the Liveship Traders Trilogy and the Rain Wilds Chronicles. But no matter how far she roamed, her heart always remained with Fitz. And now, at last, she has come home, with an astonishing new novel that opens a dark and gripping chapter in the Farseer saga.

FitzChivalry—royal bastard and former king’s assassin—has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire.

Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past . . . and his future.

Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one. . . .

Title: Fool’s Assassin
Author: Robin Hobb
Category: Adult Fiction
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Publisher: Del Ray Spectra
Publication Date: August 12, 2014
Format: Electronic Review Copy
Length: 580 pages
ISBN-10: 0553392425
ISBN-13: 9780553392425

Series or Standalone: The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy, #1

Literary Awards:

Themes: Family/Parenting
POV: Dual First Person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Atsiko Ureni

How I Got It: Nick received an electronic review copy of this book from NetGalley, and being a huge Robin Hobb fan, of course I said I’d review it.


I always try to write my reviews as soon after finishing the book as possible, because the longer I wait, the more I notice things that weren’t actually so great about it. But as a reader, if the author can manage to sweep those things under the rug long enough for me to finish the book, I’m willing to give them a bit of wiggle room. But, even having only been done for a day or so, I still had a few issues with this book, even though I mostly enjoyed it.


Judging a book in a series is always harder than a standalone. Especially a book that continues a larger series after ten years or more. I loved the rest of Hobb’s Fitz series, and all her stories set in the same world, to be honest. So she has the weight of all her previous (and incredible) world-building work behind this book. That said, I think she still did a great job with her world-building in this novel, tying in with the older books with barely the knot even showing. The Six Duchies still stands out as one of the most beautiful and fully-realized fantasy settings I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter. And the setting of Withywoods is in the same vein. I felt just as present there as I did at Buckkeep in the previous novels.


The first major issue I have with the book–and many other reviews apparently agree with me–was the characters. Nettle, Fitz’s daughter with Molly, was almost perfect. A bit clueless about some things, but more by authorial edict than character development. Molly, too, felt like a natural progression of her previous character. But beyond that, the main characters had some serious flaws in their portrayal. Fitz himself seemed to be his old smart self or a complete idiot as the plot dictated. He would ignore his daughter Bee’s problems at one point, and a page later he would be almost the ideal father to her. It was incredibly frustrating in some places. It didn’t ruin the book for me, but it contributed to several concerns I had with the way the plot was constructed. When Hobb was on the ball, she was on fire, but when she was off it, she was terrible in this respect.

Bee was another problem character. Again the plot seemed to force her into some unnatural behavior, such as her lack of communication in areas where even a girl her age would have known it was needed. She was portrayed as wiser than her years in many ways, and yet she also had the instincts of a child and the apparent knowledge of how adults are so divorced from children’s politics to be good allies. In many ways, she was an expertly constructed character, despite my issues with the rather cliche “old soul”/ mystical waif character Hobb assigned her. I was so split on Bee. I wanted to love her when sparks of Hobb’s first person characterization brilliance showed themselves. But often I found her annoying.

Finally, several characters were caught up in the authorial persecution of Bee’s character. FitzVigilant(Lant), Shun Fallstar, even Fitz, on occasion. Hobb had so many other seeds she could have nurtured in pursuit of her goal with Bee, and yet she fell back on mediocre conspiracy between characters. Certainly Fitz often joined this conspiracy by being a complete idiot on several occasions.

Shun’s character was quite irritating in that regard. And others. I never figured out why Chade was such an idiot regarding how her temperament might conflict with Bee and Fitz. Why he even let her retain such a temperament in the first place. Several of the characters are getting a bit old, perhaps losing some of their edge. A great route to take, I think, if only Hobb had made better use of it. But it doesn’t excuse their utter failure to think ahead more than three seconds when convenient to Hobb’s plot.

In fact, I might have enjoyed Shun and Lant’s personalities in isolation or in another context. But as is, they frustrated me quite a lot.


For obvious spoiler reasons and the fact that this is an advance review, I won’t be able to discuss the plot issues as fully as I’d like. The main plot was quite interesting. On it’s own, it might warrant a 9/10. But Hobb’s obvious desire to accomplish her set-up and character introductions meant the pacing in this book was off quite often, and the book dragged in areas. Even with the large time-skips near the beginning of the novel. If Hobb had focused more on the main plot, and not dropped such a brutally lazy cliff-hanger at the end of the book, it would have been a great re-entrance into the Farseer universe. There was a lot of potential in the book, and I’m very hopeful that the rest of the series, having its set-up completed her, will be a vast improvement in terms of actual story.


This definitely felt like a Fitz novel, and though it may seem like I hated everything about the book, it was actually a mostly enjoyable read, even if I have to admit it’s not Hobb’s best work. I do think it’s worth reading, and the portion of Fitz fans who were desperately waiting for more Farseer novels will definitely want to read this. It was great to feel the old characters around me again. Even though there wasn’t a lot of new action and mystery in the novel, it was still interesting, and I wanted to know what would happen as I turned the pages.

That said, for someone just getting into the Farseer novels or Robin Hobb as an author, I would not start here. I would read the Soldier Son trilogy or the original Fitz trilogy first.

Conclusion: 80/100 (Worth the read, but my expectations were much too high)
Premise: 8/10 (For anyone whose ever wanted an “after the quest is over” narrative)
Plot: 8/10 (Coherent and interesting, but had some holes)
Setting: 9/10 (I definitely felt like I was in the Six Duchies. Withywoods especially was great)
Main Character(s): 7/10 (Mostly well-drawn and interesting, but Bee had some issues)
World-building: 8/10 (Lovely, few holes)
Magic System 9/10 (Very solid and integrated to the world, though rarely flashy)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (The newer characters felt a bit shallow)
Writing: 8/10 (Very evocative, but awkward in places)
Themes: 8/10 (Good themes, and well executed for the most part)
Resolution: 8/10 (Interesting, but an annoyingly massive cliff-hanger)

Buy Or Borrow: Definitely worth buying this. I can’t wait to read the next one.

Similar Books:
The Demon Child Trilogy by Jennifer Fallon
Winds of the Forelands by David B. Coe

Other Reviews:
Kirkus Reviews
Publisher’s Weekly
I Smell Sheep
Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist
Kobold Press

Buy Links:
Barnes and Noble

Kindle UK
Kindle US
Google Play

Please Welcome Atsiko Ureni, Our Speculative Fiction Reviewer

While both Marisa and I review YA fiction only to avoid confusion, we both also love various forms of speculative fiction. Sharing both of those loves with us is Atsiko Ureni, who also has his own blog a Atsiko’s Chimney, discussing spec fic, ya, and literature in general. And now I’ll let him introduce himself.


Nick, Marisa, and I have actually known each other for quite awhile, but we’ve only recently come back into communication thanks to our shared love of literature. I’m very grateful that Nick has invited me to contribute to this blog. I’ve always wanted to get into book reviewing, but I’m afraid I’m not so great with the administrative side of things, such as networking with publishers and obtaining review copies. Especially being busy with the Chimney and my writing.

Much like Marisa, I think I’ll eventually find my own voice for reviewing, but until then, Nick has a fairly thorough review template for me to follow as I get used to the job. While I do love YA, my first love has always been speculative fiction, so I’ll be focusing on that and leaving the rest to Nick and Marisa.

Part of the reason I’m excited about doing this is that I think it will push me to read books I otherwise might not. For example, after my first review–Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, Nick has managed to snag a copy of Richard Morgan’s The Dark Defiles, the third book in his A Land Fit for Heroes series (forthcoming from Del Ray Spectra). Normally, this would be a bit dark for my tastes, but since he has it, I’ve been preparing by reading the rest of the books in the series. I’ve finished the first so far–The Steel Remains, and I enjoyed it more than I expected, although it’s nowhere near being one of my favorites.

The later books in a series tend be improve, so I’m hoping I’ll enjoy The Dark Defiles much more.

That review doesn’t come out for a few months, though.  MY first review on Notes will be Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice.

I’ll probably be cross-posting these reviews to goodreads, but I’ll only be linking them over at the Chimney.

Coming Attractions

I’m going to be adding two new features to the blog over the next few weeks.

One of them is a complement to the current reviews. As a reviewer, my goals in writing reviews are twofold:

1. To share my opinion about the books I read, and especially to evangelize for the ones I love.

2. To help readers find new books to read.

Anyone who might be reading a review blog is probably looking for help in finding new books to read. It’s the nature of YA (and literature in general, of course), that certain themes are most prominent in a given book. But for spoiler reasons, I can’t express my full feelings on a book in a standard review. So, to that end, I’ll be posting companion posts for certain of my reviews on here. Mostly to discuss the major theme of the book and how I think it was handled in more detail. I’ll probably bring in other examples of books on those themes, and how YA in general has dealt with those themes as it’s evolved. Obviously these companion posts will have a smaller audience, and they’ll be identified clearly to avoid spoilers for people who dislike such things.

The second new addition has to do with the type of books being reviewed on this blog. I said in my initial post that I would be reviewing both YA of all genres, as well as some literary and speculative adult fiction. However, I don’t want to confuse readers who may only be interested in one or the other, and to keep up with my YA review schedule, especially considering the addition of companion posts/extended reviews, I can’t make the time commitment I believe would be necessary to faithfully meet my reading and review schedule all on my own.

So, I’ll be introducing two new reviewers on the blog:

First, I’ll be inviting my friend Atsiko Ureni from Atsiko’s Chimney to review speculative fiction of the adult variety. I’ll still be handling any that’s Young Adult.

Second, the lovely and charming Marisa Greene will be joining me in reviewing young adult, and also reviewing some New Adult titles.

They’ll both be posting introductions in the next few days.

Finally, my next review will be up tomorrow. I’ve just finished reading Saving June by Hannah Harrington. This will be the first review with a companion post, where I’ll be talking about suicide in YA and the YA road trip novel. Following that will be, of course, Dangerous Neighbors, as I said in my previous post.