The Rain Heron (2021)

Robbie Arnott

Fable-like and floaty, but rarely forgiving. Vivid descriptions of wondrous animal-life contrast with equally vivid violence and cruelty such that the book often feels punishing despite planting seeds of hope in the reader. Which I guess is the point: it takes a lot of strength to fight against a tide of badness.

Rosewater (2016)

Tade Thompson

A nicely done near-future reality where selected humans receive enhanced sensory gifts from a sprawling fungal-alien network. Reminded me of *Annihilation*, a (better) story of an organic otherworldly presence on the edge of perception. The secret-agent side of the story is less interesting.

Network Effect (2020)

Martha Wells

A sweary free-agent AI fights other AIs, spaceships, humans, aliens, and its understanding of how the universe works. Starts slowly but by the mid-point the spiralling story and personality draws your attention nicely. Not sure I would read more, though there are five novellas before this so perhaps starting at the start would make the bonding stronger.

Perhaps the Stars (2021)

Ada Palmer

The finale of Terra Ignota. For the first 100 pages I was increasingly worried that the fourth-book payoff wasn't coming - mainly because the author made a very interesting choice to replace the narrator. The voice of the first three books was compelling and superbly characterised, so discovering the narration had been usurped by a fairly plodding procedural voice was super disruptive. Thankfully after ~125 pages the original returns, and the book instantly lifts. Less thankfully the narrators then swap back-and-forth for the remainder of the book. I think I understand why - to allow a third party to comment on our original narrator - but I'm not sure it works. There were many far, far more interesting characters who might have stepped in (and indeed occasionally do in the earlier books). It might also have been to allow a more rote telling of 'war' that wouldn't have suited Mycroft. Enough about the narrator!

Ultimately I felt I missed a lot of the depth of Perhaps the Stars. I finished more with relief rather than wonder, which is a shame, and maybe I bit off too much reading the first three a second time immediately beforehand - but I needed the memory booster. Reading in an interview with Ada Palmer that she would take an entire day to write a single paragraph in hidden perfect iambic pentameter is a little overwhelming - there is so much depth and historical reference to discover. I almost certainly need to read it again after a break to try and nut out what and how she did it all.

Despite this all sounding rather dubious, this series is a true classic and deserves wide recognition. It's a staggering work. Apparently her next book is about Vikings: "Short version: if the Viking gods are real, and only the Viking gods are real, and this is the Viking cosmos, but history is real history, why did they let the worship of their pantheon die out?"

Day one purchase!