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A guide to Martha Wells, for Murderbot fans

As someone who has been a fan of Martha Wells’ books for at least six years now, it’s been a lot of fun to see new people discovering her work via Murderbot. I love the Murderbot novellas, and I’m so glad that other people do too. (Also that we’re getting a novel! Yes!) But Wells has written a lot of awesome books, so I thought I’d put together a list of places you might want to start, depending on what draws you to Murderbot to begin with.

Let us begin where I did, with The Wheel of the Infinite, a secondary world fantasy featuring a protagonist who really would prefer not to. Maskelle is a middle-aged woman who is jaded and weary but also very competent and appealingly snarky.

Or, if you’d rather, you can try The Wizard Hunters, the first in the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. I love Tremaine, one of the two protagonists for this series, a lot; she reminds me in some ways of Julie Beaufort-Stuart, but if Julie was deeply depressed and didn’t like people all that much even though she also cares about them. Bonus: this series has weird magic, accidental travel to other worlds, friendships, and a very prosaic romance.

I am also very fond of the other Ile-Rien books, particularly The Death of the Necromancer, which I described back in 2013 as “a bit like Les Miserables, if Jean Valjean was a burglar and he teamed up with Javert to fight sorcerous crime.” (A description which instantly makes me want to reread the book, if I do say so myself.) However, I stand by the suggestion to start with Element of Fire if you’re planning to read Death of the Necromancer, for maximum feels. These are the least like the Murderbot series in some ways, but they do have some pretty excellent politics and machinations going on.

Finally, I am still working my way through the Raksura series, which starts with The Cloud Roads. Like the Murderbot stories, these feature non-human protagonists–in this case the Raksura, who are winged shapeshifters. The main character, Moon, is also an outsider in his own culture, which makes for some interesting conflicts.

I personally have most often reread The Wheel of the Infinite and The Wizard Hunters, but I’ve truly enjoyed and recommend all the books here!

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Favorite Tor.com Novellas

In the past few years, Tor.com’s novella line has really grown and strengthened. Here are a few of the offerings I especially enjoyed.

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander: This one is really stunning; it’s all about history and alternate history and the stories we tell. The prose is beautiful and the story is powerful. There are a few threads interwoven and each of them is treated seriously and given its own significance.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson: I’ve had a very strong reaction to some of Johnson’s other short fiction, but I really enjoyed this one. Centered on an older woman, whose academic background reminded me a bit of Harriet Vane in Gaudy Night, this also features some interesting cats and lovely descriptions.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire: A brutal, thoughtful take on portal fantasies and what happens afterwards. It’s probably my favorite writing from McGuire and I recommend it if you are interested in both stories and subversions of the stories.

Binti, Binti: Home, and Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor: Oh, the Binti trilogy! I love the writing in these books so much, the emphasis on diplomacy, on peacemaking. The scifi elements combined with a deep sense of history and culture and customs. Binti herself and her growth of over the course of the three novellas. There’s something really magical about these ones.

All Systems Red & Artificial Condition by Martha Wells: MURDERBOT. I love Murderbot so much, which sounds sketchy if you haven’t read these lovely space operas yet. But Murderbot is a disenchanted securitybot who just wants to protect humans and hacked its own governor module so it can watch entertainment feeds and doesn’t want to feel anything and I LOVE IT. The second novella is just as good as the first and I can’t wait for the next few. (PS, if you know Wells through the Murderbot novellas, please check out some of her other books; they are also excellent.

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Star Wars: Razor’s Edge and Rebel Rising

rebel risingI have to admit that I haven’t historically been a big reader of Star Wars tie-ins, despite loving the movies. But I’ve read several I liked recently, starting with EK Johnston’s Ahsoka.

Martha Wells’ Razor’s Edge has the advantage of being written by an author whose books I really, really like, and of being about Leia (my favorite character). I was initially slightly disoriented because for some reason I thought this took place after the end of the original trilogy. It’s actually between New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. It’s a relatively standalone adventure, featuring space pirates plus some fun banter between Han and Leia.

I really liked the way Wells shades in Leia’s competence–she’s shown to be a great negotiator and diplomat–but also her vulnerability–she feels incredibly responsible for the survivors of Alderaan. It’s a Leia that fits the movies while also giving an added sense of interority to the quippy Princess. This is enjoyable, although I didn’t feel that it ever reached the emotional depths of Wells’ strongest character work (Tremaiiiiine). At the same time, Razor’s Edge is a solid and thoughtful look at echoes from Leia’s past as well as her growing competence and strength.

While Razor’s Edge was published as an adult book, Beth Revis’s recent Rebel Rising is being published and marketed as YA. Telling Jyn Erso’s backstory, interspersed with scenes from Wobani, it goes a long way towards making her a slightly more coherent character than Rogue One was able to achieve.

This Jyn is shattered by the loss of her parents and then by subsequent loss after loss after loss. It’s grim, but we really do come to see the reason of her lack of hope. And we also see her talents as well as the training that made her one of Saw’s best fighters.

Saw himself emerges as a complex figure, and the book does a nice job of showing how his distrust and paranoia grow over Jyn’s years with him. I can’t say the male/female ratio is better than in Rogue One, but we do see a bit more of Lyra’s importance to her daughter, which is nice. (I still long for the AU where Lyra’s the scientist the Empire wants.)

There are a few inconsistencies that bothered me a bit, and the story felt long in places. Despite those quibbles, Rebel Rising is a solid YA that gives us better insight into Jyn and her motivations and background.

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Recent Reading: comics + fantasy

I’ve been reading a lot over the past couple of weeks because I was sick and spending large amounts of time lying down. However, I was also feeling very picky about what I wanted to read and that boiled down to: comics or adult fantasy.

cloud roads fandemonium thor troubled waters

Comics

  • Thor: The Goddess of Thunder: I loved this. So much. My background here is that I haven’t read any of the original Thor (and am not planning to go back and try), so this relaunch was a perfect place to enter. I’m really intrigued by the premise and I loved the characters. In particular: FREYA. NEW THOR. OLD THOR. I also snickered over the “you mean she won’t be Lady Thor? Thoress? Lady Hammer Pants?” thread that runs through. At any rate, this is smart, engaging comic writing, with some nice visuals and a thoughtful approach to its source material. Sign me up!
  • Captain Marvel: Higher, Further, Faster, More: I really like Captain Marvel. While the start of this collection was a little confusing to me (they’re doing a framing thing that maybe doesn’t entirely work?) I kept going and was rewarded with a story that delves a little deeper into the tensions and divisions that run through some of the characters we’ve already seen. Also, I love Chewie.
  • The Wicked & the Divine: Fandemonium: I remain unsure about how I feel on this series. I wasn’t a big fan of the first volume but decided that I should give the second one a shot. And I did like it at least enough to read the third one! I think my main problem is pretty close to Jodie’s [spoilers at that link]: “Part of my disconnection with Laura’s feelings come from the fact that I’ve never felt like I would trade life for artistic immortality. However, I feel like the comic should still be able to make me understand her point of view or, at least, provide textual clues that can help me pinpoint what her views actually are.” At any rate, I will give the next volume a go and see what happens.

I also tried the first of the recent Catwoman comics but while I was really liking the story and characters, I hated the art to the extent that I didn’t actually finish it and doubt I’ll go on. Which makes me sad! But also: why, DC, why.

Fantasy

  • The Mirador and Corambis by Sarah Monette: [mild spoilers!] Third and fourth of the Melusine books. I have so many emotions about Mildmay, and Felix, and Mehitabel, and Mildmay, and Kay, and Mildmay. I think Corambis is my favorite of the series because by the end of it I actually was hopeful that the main characters would eventually be okay. I think this starts in The Mirador, when we get glimpses of who Felix actually is when he’s not in crisis and get a sense of his kind of hard-won integrity. I’m not sure that’s exactly right? but close? He has no morals, but the morals he doesn’t have are on his own terms? Anyway, Corambis is both lovely and satisfying and SLIGHTLY FRUSTRATING because all of a sudden we leave the Mirador completely behind. I would really like to know what happens to Mehitabel! Also Simon & Ronaldo! Argh! Lastly, my ships in this series are really weird, AMA. (NOT Felix/Mildmay, though.)
  • A Companion to Wolves, The Tempering of Men, An Apprentice to Elves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear: I glomped through this trilogy pretty quickly because I really wanted to know what happened. (How is Sarah Monette so good at writing heart-breaking characters? ow.) I loved the first book and felt that the second one was definitely a bridge book; the plot didn’t quite hold up to the weight of being its own book in my opinion. I did really like the third book, and I was happy to see Alfgyfa becoming a character in her own right! I think I wanted a bit more personal resolution for Isolfr, but overall this was an interesting, intense trilogy.
  • Troubled Waters and Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn: I’m partway through the third book in this trilogy. The first book was a complete joy for me–I always want to like Shinn’s books just a little more than I do and Troubled Waters may well be the book that’s resonated the most for me. Royal Airs was just fine, an enjoyable read, but I wasn’t quite as invested in the characters. Overall, I find the idea of the blessings & personalities really fascinating and I absolutely recommend the first one! It would work just fine as a standalone if you wanted to go that route.
  • The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells: The first Raksura book. I think I had read it several years ago, but I didn’t remember much about the plot or even characters. I thought I should reread it before going on to finish the series. I think the problem is simply that I don’t connect with this world in nearly the same way as I connected with the worlds of the Ile-Rien books. There’s no particular reason for this: Wells is a gifted writer and there are no problems here. It’s simply personal preference. I would like to read the rest of the series just so I’ve read all of her books, and also in case I connect more with a later book.