Earthrise, by M.C.A. Hogarth

In my quest to support indie sff authors, I discovered M.C.A Hogarth on Amazon and after reading a little about her work, decided to get the first in her “Her Instruments” series, called Earthrise.  Named for the ship that Reese purchased with her share of the family’s compound on Mars, the novel traces the adventures of Reese and her doughty crew as they attempt to save one of a species of long-lived and reclusive humanoids from vengeful and violent slavers.  What starts out as your run-of-the mill maguffin plots turns into quite something else, as Reese’s mental and physical health, combined with the interference of a mysterious benefactor, send the Earthrise off in directions Reese could never have anticipated.

The Earthrise itself is crewed by a feathery and fluffy cast of characters from all over known space, most of whom are genetically created species from when humans first began colonizing worlds other than Earth itself.  Though Reese at times displays discomfort with the overly affectionate ways of felinoid siblings Irine and Sascha, or the mysterious habits of Bryer, the phoenix, she is still loyal to her crew, and they to her.  This is a story of found family and what people will endure for each other.  Reese’s crew also numbers a Gleaseahn, a sort of gryphoid centaur, and a sentient fuzz ball who communicates telepathically–a Fliztbe–whom Reese calls Allacazam.

Earthrise starts out as your typical mcguffin plot, but it’s well-paced with some extra side plots and character development thrown in, making it not only entirely readable, but even bingeable.  Reese’s quest to make it as more than just another homemaker on Mars is compelling, and the tidbits thrown in about the matriarchal societies built through artificial insemination almost demand another series just for themselves.  The timelines are somewhat confusing, though, which distracts from the main conflict that develops after Reese accomplishes the original, seemingly innocuous, mcguffin plot and finds she and her crew are embroiled in something much deeper than a simple rescue mission.

Although there is no open romance in Earthrise, it is signposted as a romance series.  Probably, though the teambuilding story that pulls all the characters in Reese’s crew together is interesting and compelling enough to satisfy a reader for whom romance is not the biggest pull.

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Radiance, by Catherynne M. Valente

It’s
a party, sweetheart, and everyone’s invited.  On every planet in the sky humanity teems—watching silent
films, drinking drinks with fancy names, and living off the fruits of nine
planets plus all their moons in the art-deco alternate world Valente has
created, where humanity shot itself to the stars before even the 20th
century came splashing onto the calendar. 
And through it all, all the people on all the worlds are united by
film.  In the world of Percival
Unck, you can be famous not just on one planet, but on all of them.

Radiance is a story of stories.  Percival Unck’s daughter, Severin,
disappeared in the 1950’s on a shoot on Venus, only no one knows what happened
or how.  Through found footage, old
classified reports, and diaries, the novel attempts to recreate Severin’s life,
parallel to Percival’s attempt to give his only daughter a good ending.  If he could just tell the right story,
she might be able to rest—somewhere—knowing how much he loved her.  And Percival might be able to rest,
too.

Valente’s
novel is both a beautiful homage to a medium that has shaped the stories we
tell ourselves as a culture and people, and a nod to the classic science fiction
stories that first went to the moon and beyond.  Radiance proves
that not all stories have to be real, true, or even believable to have
meaning.  Switching seamlessly
between character points of view and storytelling style, Valente immerses the
reader in the tumultuous and trendy world of inter-planetary colonies, strange
creatures native to the furthest planets in the solar system, and the stories
that unite them all—from the stars of the silver screen to the serialized radio
broadcasts that eventually catch up even to all planets, even if they go behind
the sun for 70-odd years.

Readers
nostalgic for the open-ended feeling of early space travel science fiction will
find themselves enthralled by the way Radiance
dances in the light of all the imaginative stories that have come before
it.  Those looking for a novel that
is less run-of-the-mill than your average science fiction will love Valente’s
talent for telling a complicated and multi-faceted story.  Anyone who has ever dreamed of going to
the stars, or becoming a star, should check out Radiance.

Rapture, by Kameron Hurley

After
years in exile, Nyx has finally been offered everything she thought she ever
wanted.  The Bel Dames want her
back, and they want her to fix the mess that’s become of Nasheen in the last
bloody days of the war with Chenja, and the armistice that came after.  To do it, Nyx and her team will have to
travel to the ends of the earth, and she’ll have to give up everything she’s
built in her exile.  Again.

Going
into Rapture, one might expect more
of the same from Hurley; it’s a formula that works and keeps the reader
engaged.  But Hurley changes it up
in the final installment of the Bel Dame Aprocrypha, turning the tale of one
rogue Bel Dame into the story of an evolving world.  Readers will be pleasantly surprised to find that previously
minor characters take on a much larger role in this novel; and the personal
stakes of the plot are much higher.

Characterization
in this novel is more concrete than in previous installments, particularly as
it is built through dialog and personal interactions.  Nyx grows as a character, in ways that are realistic and in
keeping with everything the reader learns about her throughout the series.  Her hard-won self-knowledge is a great
allegory for the life of a planet that had been at war with its inhabitants
since they arrived, and provides a prescient mirror for what we are
experiencing right here on earth today.

Readers
who enjoyed the first two novels in this series will of course enjoy the
conclusion to the stories of a very compelling set of characters.  Hurley has proven herself not just a
strong writer, but one who is able to make the reader think; readers of Phillip
K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin, and Ann Leckie are encouraged to check out this
series, as well as Hurley’s other work. 
This novel and series is recommended for lovers of alternate or future
technology stories, like the work of Alistair Reynolds or Frank Herbert.