Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

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We are an opinionated group of friends reviewing all sorts of fantasy and science fiction media. Don’t forget to get to know the curators and visit our curated Collection, where we discuss the stories that never cease to transport us to another world.

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Veteran adventurer and orc barbarian Viv decides to throw in the towel and live a peaceful life instead. She has an idea for a shop selling a dark exotic brew she once tasted on one of her adventures… called coffee. But how to convince people to buy a drink they don’t even know exists?
Legends&LattesReview

Listened to the audiobook with Travis Baldree himself – well read, especially for an author (rather than a professional narrator)

I listed Legends & Lattes as my surprise of the year for 2023 – not because it was the very best book I read, but because I was expecting to hate it and I totally didn’t.

So usually, I get a bit annoyed with the trend of taking a basically modern story, and just smearing a fantasy sauce over it to make it ‘unique’ or to appeal to a certain audience. That goes even more when the fantasy sauce is the bland Dungeons & Dragons-omni fantasy that makes you roll your eyes every time a gnome is introduced with goggles in their pink hair. Well, that’s basically Legends & Lattes. It’s about an orc barbarian who retires from adventuring to start a coffee shop. That’s the type of premise that I usually steer clear of because I just know it’ll rub me the wrong way.

So why did I pick it up anyway?

I have an opinion on the novel that wins the Hugo every year, but I hardly ever actually read all the nominees. So when WorldCon is coming up, I always get this itch to read a least a couple of the shortlisted books so my opinion feels slightly less baseless. So, I saw Legends & Lattes on the shortlist, and I saw it was only eight hours long, and I figured, sure, I’ll give it a shot. Out of my comfort zone. You know the drill.

And to my surprise, I really liked it! Legends & Lattes is unapologetic, fun, light, and short enough never to lose momentum. Yes, it is very much a ‘modern’ story in a fantasy setting, down to a miraculous coffee machine that looks and functions exactly like one would at your local coffee shop and a store where you can apparently get stuff like ginger and cardamom with no trouble.

But… Legends & Lattes never tries to be a fantasy story. It actively rejects a lot of the axioms of the genre and Baldree plays with the tropes. It is cozy and cuddly and simple and short, unambitious and therefore comfortable. In short, it is just right.

Really, I guess my greatest gripe with the book is that it displays some very obvious coffee fetishism that is totally lost on someone that doesn’t actually drink coffee – no, mr Baldree, if you’re not an avid coffee addict, it smells and tastes terrible! When you have your first time coffee drinker characters lost in just-short-of orgasmic bliss at the first sip, your own addiction is very much on display…

Ah well, it is all made right by the cutest mouse baker ever put to paper and the sheer lack of pretention. I think it is a real pity it didn’t actually take home the Hugo – I liked it a lot better than Nettle & Bone.

Although Legends & Lattes is not explicitely a Christmas book, I feel it was made to be read around that time. For me it scratched exactly the same itch as a Christmas movie: cozy, heartwarming and not too complicated. I really liked the concept of a ‘real world’ cafe transported to a fantasy setting.

The book isn’t really trying to do anything more than that, so I probably shouldn’t try holding it to any higher standards. However, I still could not help wishing for just a little bit more. While the characters were by no means badly written, I lacked a feeling of true connection with them. This kept me from being as fully enthusiastic about the book as I might otherwise have been.

Still, I enjoyed it, so would recommend it for anyone in need of a comfort-read.

I like the idea of “cosy fantasy”, I really do. And I didn’t dislike Legends & Lattes. I was just expecting a little bit… more? Especially because of how obsessed everyone else seemed to be with this book. Heck, even Peter really enjoyed it.

I want to explain my criticisms of this book, but I think most of them could easily be countered with “that’s the point”. Nothing much happens. The stakes are kind of low. But of course, it’s supposed to be low stakes, it’s cosy fantasy after all.

Perhaps what is missing for me is some contrast. I do enjoy this kind of story but usually, I’d find it in the form of fanfiction of characters I already know and love. When we see “cosy” fanfiction, these stories are usually in stark contrast to their original work. Most fiction focuses on the drama, the action, the “un-cosy”. Then in fanfiction, we get to see the characters kick back and relax. In Legend & Lattes, we don’t know much about the hardships the characters (may) have experienced in the past. Baldree does give us some insight into Viv’s past, but it’s not quite enough to make me glad for her that she’s finally got the time to relax and enjoy the cottagecore dream of opening a cute coffee shop.

I did love most of the characters. Cal, Tandri and Thimble were absolute highlights for me. Though I didn’t hugely care for Viv, personally.

I also have to agree with Peter in that coffee really isn’t that good when you first try it. The fact that everyone in Legends & Lattes loves it at first sip is probably the most fantastical element in the book. However, I would argue that the smell of coffee is amazing, and would explain people being drawn to the shop.

I think I would have preferred to see this story unfold in the form of a cosy video game, where you get to run the coffee shop yourself. As a novel, it fell a little flat for me.

April May - an otherwise unremarkable girl - runs into an immovable statue on her walk home one night, standing unmoving on a sidewalk in New York. April shares a video of the statue online, dubbing it ‘Carl’. The video goes viral and April becomes a celebrity overnight as Carls appear in cities around the world. April is dragged into the world of internet fame and even politics as the Carls turn out to be much more than they initially appeared, and she suddenly has a voice in an emerging global crisis.
AnAbsolutelyRemarkableThingReview

There are some very slight spoilers in my review.

I’m going to rate An Absolutely Remarkable Thing two stars, but (i) purely subjectively for me, it’s probably a one star because I wouldn’t have finished if it wasn’t on a reading list for a book club; and (ii) I am so obviously not the intended audience for this book that me reviewing it feels similar to rating a university math textbook or a toddler’s picture book.

My experience for this book was reading diagonally across pages filled with some of the absolute worst prose I’ve ever encountered in any publication. I was reading about characters that I could relate to so poorly that they all felt like caricatures. The book is set up as a memoir penned by an unfiltered, very American, very teenage blabbermouth, with the occasional 2016 meme reference thrown in. It reads as one of those terribly annoying YouTube videos where they cut the breathing pauses between sentences out of people’s speech. At the same time, most of the sentences carry hardly any meaning, and Green needs about three times as many words to say anything as most other novelists would. I absolutely detest it. I also think these editorial choices were fully intentional.

The plot is about first contact with an alien species, but I’ve never seen an author who manages to make so thrilling a concept so nonsensical and incredibly uncool. The aliens literally just stand there (that’s the point) while humans solve absolutely ludicrous, completely unrelated, meaningless puzzles fit for a bad point-and-click game – in a dream. This is an actual thing happening in this book. It boggles the mind that people want to read about this.

At its core, though, this book is about fame, and, to be precise, internet fame. It’s message is about how internet fame made the main character see herself less of a person and more of a product. First of all, while I don’t think that it’s untrue, it is rather obvious, and as a moral lesson weirdly inapplicable to the general public who, I shit you not, are not all suffering from their success as internet influencers. Secondly, for me, it’s all very much a – as we say so beautifully in Dutch – a ‘far away from my bed show’. I don’t personally have any social media accounts and I haven’t felt the need to have any since I left high school. The endless attention and validation seeking makes me want to vomit just thinking about it, and I secretly harbour the belief that having an active social media account is a weakness of character. 😛 Anyway, keep engaging with our content! /rant.

The result, though, is that I find the main characters in this book utterly unrelatable, its style borderline unreadable, and its message paradoxically unremarkable.

As much as I did not enjoy it, I do realise it is probably successful at what it tries to achieve. But in what it has achieved, I believe it is more fit for 18 year olds that think they could be an influencer than a serious fan of science fiction.

I am very impressed by this book. Under the guise of a fun adventure story it manages to discuss some really important issues about social media and its impact on our lives. I very much enjoy reading about people in their twenties and I care deeply about all of the main characters in this book. Even though April makes a lot of awful decisions that are very hurtful to the people around her, her character is well enough developed that I still care about her as well. She also has a really dry sense of humour which I find very funny.

Because the writing style is very conversational and April is addressing the reader directly, this book is particularly well-suited to the audiobook format. It is performed by Kristen Sieh (known from Orange is the New Black), and definitely worth checking out.

This book has an intriguing premise and relatable characters, packaged in a quick and accessible writing style. Ultimately, these things are used to get Hank Green’s theory on ‘internet fame and how it affects you’, across, which is done pleasantly elegant. However, the book keeps telling me this Very Big Worldwide Event happened, which kept pulling me out of my suspension of disbelief.

Overall I enjoyed the reading experience, but keep part two on hand when you like having answers to all your questions. I was very glad I had mine already on my nightstand, ready to go.

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Part 4 in the Murderbot Diaries - The Murderbot reconnects to the feeds when it returns from its self-imposed intelligence gathering mission to find that one of its favourite humans has become caught up in inter-corporate politics, and the Murderbot may have accidentally played an important part in the corporate anger against her. When the Murderbot figures she may have been kidnapped, it reluctantly turns off space-Netflix once again to save the day.
ExitStrategyReview

Listened to the audiobook with Kevin R. Free. Well-told this time.

Having heard the recent rumours of an upcoming Murderbot TV adaptation, I figured I’d give the series another shot (after having dropped Murderbot after part three about two years ago). After all, I really like the idea of The Murderbot Diaries. So perhaps taking a break would be enough to help me appreciate it just a little bit more…

Unfortunately, no.

Exit Strategy is similar to the previous instalments in the series: the Murderbot travels to a new space station, hacks its way through station security, and pretends to be human, until it is confronted with powerful corporate security that attempts to stop it from completing its mission.

It’s message is also similar: capitalism sucks, humans supporting that system suck, human interaction is difficult (and sucks), sometimes you just want to lock youself in a room and watch television (which, incidentally, doesn’t suck), but even if you do so, some humans, surprisingly, don’t suck and it’s worth the effort of socialising with them to be their friend.

But the Murderbot’s social struggles just didn’t really resonate with me, the hacking is starting to get really samey, and I’m really starting to feel that the piecemeal worldbuilding is letting the series down.

I really love that the story is told through bite size chunks of about 3-4 hours. But with Exit Strategy, I really felt like I was reading a chapter in a novel that was pretending to be a novella. There is clearly a direction for the series, but because Exit Strategy is supposedly a novella,  that through line is very simple.

That is a pity, because I can feel the potential of politics done right just swirling beneath the prose. The same goes for the worldbuilding, or the recurring human characters.  I think Exit Strategy is really where the format is starting to hurt the series.

I wonder if it has ever happened before that I’ve tried to like something as much as I’ve tried to like Murderbot, but still failed. I like the format of a series of shorter stand alone stories, that still tell a connected tale. I love the idea of an androgynous socially awkward cyborg that hacked itself to watch space-Netflix. I love the idea of describing human interaction from the point of view of that character. I like the idea of hacking and bot-to-bot interaction playing an important role in the plot.

Murderbot has all the ingredients for a huge hit – so it is no wonder that it is! Wells has received two Nebulas and four (!) Hugos for the series. That’s incredible, and I’m not going to argue that The Murderbot Diaries doesn’t deserve them. Wells just used all those great ingredients to bake a cake that is constantly disappointing for me.

Now, the next instalment, Network Effect, is actually a novel. Which makes me feel like Wells maybe agreed with me. So now I’m in doubt again, because maybe it would actually be a good idea to read Network Effect and see if it remedies some of the issues I am struggling with in this series. Boy, I am really trying hard to like Murderbot….

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Fitzchivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee has been kidnapped, and is presumed dead. Fortunately, Bee is very much alive, but unfortunately, she is being held captive by a group of white prophets, who intend to bring her back to their home in Clerres. Meanwhile, Fitz and his companions go on a journey to Clerres to kill all whites, to punish them for Bee’s alleged death.

After more than five years, I finally got around to reading the final novel of the Farseer series. I suppose that’s not a very long time considering the series took Robin Hobb over 20 years to complete.

Assassin’s Fate took me a long time to get through. Bee’s experience being the captive of Dwalia was such a drag that I felt little motivation to keep listening to my audiobook at times. Hobb keeps teasing you with the idea of Bee escaping, but she just gets recaptured again and again. The wikipedia plot summary actually skips the whole first half of the book because so little happens. There’s so little of interest to mention about it that they just start their summary when Bee and her captors reach Clerres.

Bee as a character was interesting, and she felt very real. I won’t say I Iiked her, though. Even by the end, I hadn’t really grown attached to her like I’d grown to like some of the other characters. She’s a little whiny, which makes sense because a) her life sucks and b) she is Fitz’s daughter, so it’s probably a genetic thing. Still, it means that her point of view is always very negative. When we switch to Fitz’s pov, it’s also very negative. Overall, the whole story is just a huge downer.

I would have liked to spend more time with the characters that were introduced in this series, like Lant and Spark. Lant especially had very interesting character growth, but much too little “screentime”. Instead, Hobb parades around all of the characters from the rest of her Realm of the Elderlings books. None of the characters were as fun as they were in their own books, and they add very little to this series. I was actually annoyed to find some of my favourite characters from the Liveship Traders series (Malta, Althea and Brashen, specifically) being used as window dressing here. I think the book would have been much improved if we could have spent that time exploring the new characters that were introduced in Fool’s Assassin.

Another thing that upset me in this series, is that the relationship between Fitz and the Fool isn’t anything like what it used to be. It makes sense that they would be estranged at the start of their reunion but even by the end, they don’t seem very close at all. Narratively, their bond is restored at the end. However, we are told this more than we see it actually happen.

I almost forgot to mention Motley, mostly because I forgot she existed. I think this character is the poster girl for what was wrong with this book series. She is introduced in book one, and gets a fair amount of time spent on her. At the start, you assume she will eventually play a significant part in the story. However, she never really does. She’s essentially just a filler character. And let me tell you: this book does not need extra filler. Why was this character here?

Hobb is a very famous author, and I think her editors may have been a little bit too hesitant to edit this series in the way that it needed. This book did not need to be 850 pages long.

I checked out some of the Goodreads reviews for Assassin’s Fate, and was a little suprised to see its high rating. Many people mentioned crying through the last pages, I certainly didn’t. I found the ending to be rather disappointing for the roughly 3000 pages that lead up to it. I was hoping for the conclusion to make the journey (which was long and arduous – for me more than it was for the characters, to be honest) worth it, but I can’t say that it did.

All that being said, I am glad to see this series come to an official end. I won’t need to name names, but there are several fanasty series that have been left incomplete, possibly because the authors were too intimidated by the idea of having to write a perfect ending to an incredibly well received series. Assassin’s Fate is by no means a perfect ending to the story of Fitz and the Fool but it is an ending, and for that I am grateful.

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When the last wilderness on Earth is threatened, what do we do? Antarctica follows some of the continent’s inhabitants in a future that feels like today: Val, an experienced mountaineer who guides tourist following in polar explorers’ footsteps; X, a general field assistant doing general field assistance; and Wade, aide to a US Senator looking into some mysterious disappearances near the South Pole. Their lives in the icy cold seem tough enough as is, until suddenly disaster strikes…
AntarcticaReview

Listened to the audiobook with Adam Verner – good narrator for a complex book; he did take an hour of getting used to.

Antarctica is one of these interesting near-future science fiction works that actually get overtaken by the near future they’re describing. Written in 1997, it feels much like it took place a couple of years ago, with ‘wrist phones’ having inexplicably replaced smartphones or smartwatches, and working remotely being called ‘telecommuting’.

Antarctica may be outdated in some ways – some of its scientific debates have, as I understand it, mostly been resolved – but it doesn’t read like an outdated work. Rather, it reads like a turn-of-the-millennium optimist’s version of the 2020s. Antarctica feels like a here and now where the problems aren’t necessarily solved, but the political cynicism of populism hasn’t taken hold and instead there is room for science and optimism instead. Looking back, Antarctica almost feels a little naïve at times. Still, reading Antarctica, I constantly felt like I would rather live in that version of our world.

So, thematically, the novel hasn’t aged a day. Antarctica is about climate change and about capitalism threatening the last real wildernis on Earth. It is about what we can do to stop it. That is even more pertinent now than it was in 1997.

But it is also about why humans go to the extremes that they do to live in the most inhospitable region on Earth. About the quest for prestige of the early explorers, the quest for knowledge of modern scientists, and about the quest for the edge of the human experience sought by today’s tourists who literally follow in the footsteps of the great explorers in an attempt to claim a piece of whatever it was that made those men great.

Mixed with all that are the small troubles of the daily lives of the guides and maintenance workers and scientist that live on Antarctica every day to make it all possible for everyone else. And as always, Kim Stanley Robinson writes these characters as well as he does the larger political picture.

Antarctica does not start off with a big bang, but Robinson rather builds the pressure slowly as the book progresses. Just as we feel we are starting to understand each character, something goes wrong. And as the troubles mount, life in Antarctica feels more and more dangerous.

The pace increases throughout the book, only held down by sections discussing research into Antarctic geology that might not be for everyone (and which reminded me a lot of Neal Stephenson’s style). But if you’re confident you can get through those, I can promise you Antarctica, despite its literary style, will not let up.

I finished the 20-hour audiobook in less than a week – perhaps that says something about my listening habits, but it definitely says something about how I kept wanting to dive back into this fascinating book.

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When Shy and her surrogate-father Lamb return home from a trip to the village to sell the crops, they find the farm burned, Shy’s brother and sister gone and their caretaker hanged. A determination and a flicker of wrath stir in the otherwise placid lamb, and they set out to chase the perpetrators. Elsewhere in the Near Country, Temple, chief lawyer and secretary to the washed-up mercenary captain-general Niccomo Cosca, has seen enough of the company’s ‘heroics’.

Ok, this might be a HEMA-fencer’s weird pet peeve, but how is this man getting his second hand  inside the three-bar hilt on that saber? There is no way that is comfortable (if possible to begin with).   

Listened to the audiobook with Steven Pacey – who was a delight to listen to, as ever. I all seriousness, his narration is a good reason to start reading in the First Law-world.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love Joe Abercrombie’s prose. Red Country delivers in that respect, with Abercrombie’s signature style of equal parts dark humour and dark violence, often juxtaposed to deepen the contrast. In addition, the return of several characters brimming with, well, character, means the pages come alive almost straight away.

Expect a bitter and gruelling tale, where no-one feels like they can ever do anything right and fate is as uncaring as the clay from which the miners in this story attempt to wash a single grain of gold. I feel like compared to Abercrombie’s previous works, Red Country even approaches the level of caricature, though in this case, I think it works well.

I won’t say that you couldn’t read Red Country without having read the original First Law-trilogy or the stand alone follow-ups – the story very much stands alone like the stories of Best Served Cold and The Heroes do. But knowing about some of the exploits of Niccomo Cosca, Caul Shivers and the Bloody Nine before picking up Red Country will add a nice layer of depth.

Having said that, I found that I enjoyed Red Country just a little less than the other stand alones – it’s still really good, but the other two have something really special that gripped me, be it the fall from grace of Monzcarro Murcatto in Best Served Cold, or the intriguing multi-point-of-view telling of a single event in The Heroes.

Red Country does something special too, in that it introduces somewhat of a ‘western’ theme in the First Law-world. That is an interesting mixture of tropes that I haven’t encountered before, but after five books in the First Law-world, I think I had it pegged as a mostly generic medieval/early Renaissance Europe-type-world. The gold rush and pseudo-native Americans, while well executed, didn’t quite land with me the way I would have hoped. It makes me wonder whether I would have enjoyed Red Country even more if it were not a First Law-novel.

Overall though, those are reflections on the relative quality of Red Country as compared to the superb The Heroes and the amazing Best Served Cold, and not reasons not to pick up Red Country at all. However, standalone as Red Country may be, I would probably recommend reading the other works in the First Law-world first.

Review: Legends & Lattes – Travis Baldree

Veteran adventurer and orc barbarian Viv decides to throw in the towel and live a peaceful life instead. She has an idea for a shop selling a dark exotic brew she once tasted on one of her adventures… called coffee. But how to convince people to buy a drink they don’t even know exists?

Read More »

Review: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing – Hank Green

April May – an otherwise unremarkable girl – runs into an immovable statue on her walk home one night, standing unmoving on a sidewalk in New York. April shares a video of the statue online, dubbing it ‘Carl’. The video goes viral and April becomes a celebrity overnight as Carls appear in cities around the world. April is dragged into the world of internet fame and even politics as the Carls turn out to be much more than they initially appeared, and she suddenly has a voice in an emerging global crisis.

Read More »

Review: Exit Strategy – Martha Wells

Part 4 in the Murderbot Diaries – The Murderbot reconnects to the feeds when it returns from its self-imposed intelligence gathering mission to find that one of its favourite humans has become caught up in inter-corporate politics, and the Murderbot may have accidentally played an important part in the corporate anger against her. When the Murderbot figures she may have been kidnapped, it reluctantly turns off space-Netflix once again to save the day.

Read More »

Review: Assassin’s Fate – Robin Hobb

Fitzchivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee has been kidnapped, and is presumed dead. Fortunately, Bee is very much alive, but unfortunately, she is being held captive by a group of white prophets, who intend to bring her back to their home in Clerres. Meanwhile, Fitz and his companions go on a journey to Clerres to kill all whites, to punish them for Bee’s alleged death.

Read More »

Review: Antarctica – Kim Stanley Robinson

When the last wilderness on Earth is threatened, what do we do? Antarctica follows some of the continent’s inhabitants in a future that feels like today: Val, an experienced mountaineer who guides tourist following in polar explorers’ footsteps; X, a general field assistant doing general field assistance; and Wade, aide to a US Senator looking into some mysterious disappearances near the South Pole. Their lives in the icy cold seem tough enough as is, until suddenly disaster strikes…

Read More »

Review: Red Country – Joe Abercrombie

When Shy and her surrogate-father Lamb return home from a trip to the village to sell the crops, they find the farm burned, Shy’s brother and sister gone and their caretaker hanged. A determination and a flicker of wrath stir in the otherwise placid Lamb, and they set out to chase the perpetrators. Elsewhere in the Near Country, Temple, chief lawyer and secretary to the washed-up mercenary captain-general Niccomo Cosca, has seen enough of the company’s ‘heroics’.

Read More »