Monday, May 15, 2023

Nanoreviews: Knot of Shadows, Rose / House, The Terraformers

Knot of Shadows, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Following off the first full length Penric and Desdemona novel, Lois McMaster Bujold returns with Knot of Shadows, the eleventh volume in this The World of the Five Gods subseries. By reading order, this is the latest in the chronology - and though readers can jump into the series at any point, new readers may lose some of the richness of the characterization. I probably wouldn’t start here, though I do recommend the series as a whole.

Knot of Shadows is the story of Penric and Desdemona (his live-in-his-body demon) investigating a drowning victim who returned to partial life - not through CPR, mind you, just straight up dead. So there’s murder, magic, and it’s absolutely not a romp. Knot of Shadows is a thoughtful delve into some of the theology behind The World of Five Gods and how that murder occurred and what the larger implications are. It’s not cheerful, but as with everything Bujold writes - Knot of Shadows is excellent.

Rose / House, by Arkady Martine

Rose / House is quite a change from Arkady Martine’s Hugo Award winning novels A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace. Those were political space operas, while Rose / House is a novella set on a near future Earth where artificial intelligence is common. This is half of a haunted house story (where the AI of Rose House is the haunt) and half a murder mystery. How does a murder occur in a locked house that is only opened but once a year and only for one particular person, a former student of the owner?

This is an atmospheric novella, Rose / House feels quiet and grim with the detective chipping away at how to investigate with minimal opportunity to access the crime scene - the novella comes across as haunted even without stepping into the house. While perhaps not as inviting as the Teixcalaan novels, Rose / House is a satisfying novella and demonstrates more of the range readers can expect from Martine as she pushes away from Teixcalaan.

The Terraformers, by Annalee Newitz

The third novel from Annalee Newitz, The Terraformers spans centuries of a team terraforming Sask-E into a world where humans can live and thrive - told through the perspective of the Environmental Rescue Team, an organization that balances the needs of their clients to transform a world with a goal of finding an ecological balance.

While intensely modern, The Terraformers presents as a fairly classic science fiction fix-up novel - it is less of a conventional novel telling one story with one set of characters than it is three linked but distinct stories - and it is very much a novel of ideas. The Terraformers, while being at times a very exciting novel of political drama (with a brief pitched battle) works through the ethics of bioengineered humans, what it means to be a person, sentience, the ethics of terraforming, and corporate responsibility. Newitz’s perspective may not be a surprise, just reading the jacket copy will tell readers where they are coming down on most of these issues - but how Newitz tells the story is remarkable. The Terraformers is excellent and important science fiction.

Joe Sherry - Senior Editor at Nerds of a Feather, Hugo Award Winner. Minnesotan. He / Him