50-Word Review: The Lives of Tao

Wesley Chu’s debut is a pedestrian SF thriller about centuries-old aliens fighting a war through human bodies. Not only is it utterly uninterested in engaging with the philosophical ramifications of its premise, it’s got weird gender politics, a creepy romance and aliens claiming all of humanity’s greatest achievements. Avoid.

(Content warning for loss of personal autonomy.)

50-Word Review: Space Opera

Space Opera, Catherynne M. Valente

A new Valente novel, and the second Hitchhiker riff I’ve read this year: humanity’s singing for its life in the galactic version of Eurovision. A meditation on what counts as sentience and the transcendent power of pop music. Fun and fabulous, but a little…slight for Valente.

50-Word Review: Sisyphean

Sisyphean, Dempow Torishima, trans. Daniel Huddleston

A series of decidedly organic short stories, all set in the same far-future transhumanist world, told in prose riddled with neologisms and portmanteaux; like The Quantum Thief except ultimately more schematic and less playful. It’s all founded on grim ideas about capitalist and institutional exploitation of natural (including human) resources.

50-Word Review: Ninefox Gambit

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee

In Ninefox Gambit, a tyrannous far-future regime maintains control of reality-bending weapons by enforcing a consensus reality through torture and murder. Captain Kel Cheris is sent to put down a nascent democracy. It’s space opera that doesn’t infodump – and that doesn’t let you forget the humanity of its casualties.

50-Word Review: The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower, dir. Nikolaj Arcel

Nikolaj Arcel’s adaptation of Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower series is delightful for fans, but also objectively not very good. Casting Idris Elba as the white-coded Roland is a genuinely interesting choice, but unlike the series the film’s derivative and poorly characterised, and cuts all of King’s complex female characters.

Word count: 50

50-Word Review: Master and Commander

Master and Commander, Patrick O’Brian

Set during the Napoleonic Wars, Master and Commander follows hot-headed Captain Aubrey as he hunts enemy ships. A meticulously-researched comedy of manners, the novel’s interested in the social structures of the time. Published in 1969, it’s essentially conservative, centring a white man, but does feature a gay man and POCs.

Word count: 50

50-Word Review: High-Rise

I’ll be doing these all through November, because NaNoWriMo.

High-Rise, J.G. Ballard

High-Rise is about a super-high-rise tower, designed as a self-sufficient vertical city, whose inhabitants all go a bit Lord of the Flies. A seminal text for thinking about the social effects of architecture and city planning, but content notes for gender essentialism, sexual violence, animal cruelty and general gore.

Word count: 49