GENDER-SWAPPED ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE
Princess Sun has finally come of age.
Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared.
But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead.
To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.
Take the brilliance and cunning courage of Princess Leia—add in a dazzling futuristic setting where pop culture and propaganda are one and the same—and hold on tight:
Dr Helene Vermalle is shaping the conscience of a goddess-level AI.
As a leading civilian expert in Emergent AI Socialisation, she has been invited to assist in a secret military project.
Her role? Helping ViraUHX, the most advanced AI in the universe, to pass through four theoretical development stages. But it’s not easy training a mind that surpasses her in raw intellect. And the developing AI is capable of killing her with a single tantrum.
On top of this, she must prove her loyalty to the oppressive government hovering over her shoulder. They want a weapon. She wants to instil an overriding sense of morality.
Can she teach the AI right and wrong without being categorised as disloyal?
Lost Tales of Solace are short side-stories set in the Lost Solace universe.
Elise and her companions have made it to the safety of Uracil but at a price. Desperate to secure her family’s passage, she makes a deal with Uracil’s Tri-Council. She’ll become their spy, jeopardising her own freedom in the process, in exchange for her family’s safe transfer. But first she has to help rescue the next Neanderthal, Twenty-Two.
Twenty-Two has never left the confines of the steel walls that keep her separated from the other exhibits. She has no contact with the outside world and no way of knowing why she has been abandoned. With diminishing deliveries of food and water, she has to start breaking the museum’s rules if she wants a second chance at living.
One belongs to the future and the other to the past, but both have to adapt—or neither will survive…
This is a review of Testing Pandora (Xandri Corelel #0), Failure to Communicate (Xandri Corelel #1) and Tone ofVoice(Xandri Corelel #2), but that would make the blog post title really long.
I am caffeinated, sorry. Been to Maccys for breakfast with my sister and we had two Millionaire’s Lattes each. Might make this review a bit bouncy.
I’ve got Testing Pandora and Tone of Voice as ebooks, and Failure to Communicate as a paperback, and I’ve just realised I can get Tone of Voice as a paperback too, so I’ve ordered it. As I write I’m still only 43% of the way through Tone of Voice, but I love these books so much I had to tell you all about them.
You’ve read the very comprehensive book descriptions, right? You don’t need me to re-cap, do you? Because I can. But there might be spoilers.
I won’t then.
Just talk about the writing, Rosie, and try to focus.
Kaia Sonderby is a very fluid writer and her characters spring to life. There are no stereotypes or caricatures. In Xandri we have a sympathetic, realistic depiction of an autistic woman. She is complex and traumatised from years of abuse, and the Carpathia is the first place she feels at home, but she struggles to trust her colleagues.
She battles the inner voice that tells her not to show too much emotion, or any, in case it’s the wrong one; it’s her mother’s voice. The same voice tells her she’s not good enough and nobody will like her, and why can’t she be ‘normal’? The voice of abuse, control and punishment. Her new crew, and friends, help to drown out that voice with acceptance and love. She’s confused by these feelings, too.
She’s not supposed to be able to feel them or empathy. Not according to her parents. Or the ‘experts’ they took her to as a child. Yet, she is an expert at identifying the mannerisms of other species, at reading their body language and negotiating with them. She’s learnt to be, in order to survive. She’s fascinated by the universe, by all the wondrous beauty around her. The descriptions of synesthesia make me slightly jealous, to hear colours and taste sounds must add so much depth to perception of the world. I love the descriptions of Xandri’s experiences as she navigates life. I recognise those experiences as something we have in common. The feeling of utter joy in beauty and beauty in everything, the wonder at the universe, confusion in personal relationships, the feeling of the physical power of a crowded place forcing air out of the lungs, something you can touch. Shutting down. The need for quiet. Forgetting to eat. Being absorbed in an interest to the exclusion of all else.
Kaia writes from personal experience of being autistic and assigned female at birth. Her characters range across species, gender and sexuality, relationship arrangements, as well as neurological designations. They are sympathetic, even when totally alien and/or the bad guys.
I adore the Psittacans, introduced in Testing Pandora. They are parrot-like and very playful, and their relationship with Xandri is a lovely continuing storyline. The Hands, in Tone of Voice, cephalopod-like symbiotes of the whale-equivalent Voices, are also creeping into my ‘aww they’re so cute, I want one!’ book. I hope they make appearances in future novels.
The developing friendship/romantic relationship between Kiri, Diver and Xandri is by turns sweet and frustrating as they all try to work out where they stand with each other. The alternating perspectives of Xandri and Diver inTone of Voice really illustrate this well as they reflect on events as they happen and the reader sees things from different angles. They love and support Xndri for who she is, not who they think she should be.
The planets the Carpathia crew visit are interesting and different. They make reference back to Ancient Earth when they want to explain something, like the gravity or the air. Song is mostly an ocean planet with heavier than standard gravity, Psittacca is a jungle, with a thick atmosphere and lighter than standard gravity, Stillness has invisible predators, Wraith is dark and heavy, highly populated and urban.
The tech seems reasonable. An advanced sentient species from another solar system that develops FTL travel (slingspace), arrives on Earth and saves humanity from ourselves by sharing tech and finally inviting the Earth sentients to join the Alliance is a different take; normally humans centre themselves in that bit of the back story or plot. As the humans are the ones who are a bit behind, it’s perfectly reasonable for the tech to be a bit different. The AI is particularly advanced, Carpathia is a character in her own right.
I found the idea that people would use gene editing and screening to remove disability from the different species in the universe quite disturbing. Not unexpected, given that in Iceland people selectively abort foetuses with Down’s Syndrome and genetic screening of embryos can be used to prevent Tay Sachs during IVF treatment even now. While germ-line genetic manipulation is illegal, gene therapy for single-gene mutation disabilities and diseases can be treated – although it is extraordinarily expensive. Autism, and neurodivergencies in general, are much more complex, very few autistic people have the same genes that are related to the differences in brain wiring, so deleting us is not happening soon, but frighteningly, it’s something some researchers are working towards in the name of ‘curing’ us.
The only way to cure us is to kill us off and screen all embryos for any of the 1000+ genes involved.
Sonderby touches on this in her novels as the ‘Pandora Question’ is brought up in Tone of Voice. After the fad for children au naturale shows that disabilities continue to exist in germ lines, it’s banned and all people are given free embryo screening if they want children. Later, after the Anmerill muck-up, the questions return. It’s debated in the Starsystems Alliance council meetings and on the news casts. Even Carpathia crew are scared of Xandri. Whether people like Xandri should be allowed to exist, whether they’re dangerous, or even real people, are normal topics of conversation.
Sounds familiar if you have any understanding of the history of autism and the way autistic people are treat still.
I love that the author touches on these subjects, as well as the abusive ‘treatments’ Xandri was subjected to, while other characters try to find out more information from Ancient Earth to change the narrative about the Pandoras, just as Neurodiversity activists work to change the narrative about us now. They may be set 4000 years in the future but they reflect our current situation. Children are subjected to abusive ABA, autistic adults are discriminated against, people debate whether we have the right to exist or should be ‘cured’ as though it were a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
These strands to the narrative aren’t heavy handed, they’re background and if you aren’t involved in the online autistic community you might not pick up on them. I like that, these novels are good stories, not polemic. It’s good autistic representation within a complex universe and with a strong plot.
The near future. Climate change and geopolitical tension have given rise to a new international threat – a world war for water. This most vital of resources has become a precious commodity and some will stop at nothing to control its flow. When a satellite disappears over Iceland, Sim Atkins thinks he knows why. He is given the chance to join the hallowed Overseas Division and hunt for the terrorists responsible. But his new partner Freda Brightwell is aggrieved to be stuck with a rookie on such a deadly mission. Freda’s misgivings are well founded when their first assignment ends in disaster – a bomb destroys a valuable airship and those responsible evade capture. Seeking redemption, the British agents follow the trail to a billionaires’ tax haven in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and uncover a web of deceit that threatens global war. Whom can they trust? As the world edges ever closer to destruction Sim and Freda must put their lives on the line to prevent Armageddon – and protect the future of ‘blue gold’. David Barker’s gripping debut will thrill fans of Richard North Patterson, Scott Mariani and Steve Berry.
Raised by a heartsick AI, she’s programmed to kill. And desperate to flee.
After growing up on an isolated space station, Astra dreams of solid ground. But with an AI guardian plugged into her head–and her nervous system–it’s not like she’s flush with choices. In fact, she’s got just one: use her training to carry out the rogue AI’s revenge. Her first mission? Assassination.
When her target flashes a jamming device that would guarantee her escape from the AI’s grasp, Astra sets out to steal it. But the AI’s plans are more dangerous than she suspected. Corrupted by heartbreak, the wayward computer is determined to infect the star system with a new order of digital tyranny.
Astra’s been raised to care for no one but herself. Now she’ll have to decide if she’s willing to trade the star system’s freedom for her own.
Parting Shadows is a far-future take on Estella Havisham’s journey in Great Expectations, and the first installment in Kate Sheeran Swed’s Toccata System novella trilogy.
A few years ago, when I was looking around the University of Lincoln for my MA course, the guide, a 2nd year undergraduate, said he hadn’t known Isaac Newton was from Lincolnshire until he’d come to the University. I think he was from Nottinghamshire. Sir Isaac isn’t our only famous scientist however.
Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.
Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of Jazz’s problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself – and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even more unlikely than the first.
A young man and his mother fight to leave tragedy behind. Striving for a new life on Mars has cost Tim and Patricia everything, but as even their future is taken from them, their past is just beginning.
Earth: population 50 billion. Pollution, crime and scarcity are out of our control. Instantaneous travel provides hope for the terraforming of another world.
A terrorist attack. An explosion at the event horizon of a wormhole. A murder. A trail of clues, misinformation and sabotage. Nothing is as it seems as an old enemy returns from the shadows. 100 years from now, the 100 souls aboard the USS New World are thrown back 100 million years to the deadly Cretaceous Period. From there, an epic fight to save humanity begins; but first, they must survive.
A multi-national, eclectic crew; among them the good, the not so good and the no damned good at all. Loss, courage, genius and sheer bloody-mindedness bind them. NASA Captain, James Douglas, and his first officer, Jill Baines, expected a taxi run to Mars. Now they must escape a fearsome Mapusaurus pack, survive natural disasters, brutal discoveries and treachery.