Member Reviews

Please see my review in the July/Aug 2024 issue of Analog Magazine.

https://www.analogsf.com/current-issue/the-reference-library/

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This took me forever to read because there's so much, and a lot of it is really hard. Like, maybe it would be easier if I knew a lot of physics? But it isn't just the science, there are also tons of personalities, politics, history, so much going on.
But there was no point where it wasn't interesting. Dickinson chose interesting people to throw together, and you could love/hate all of them, even if just out of impatience. So much action and you couldn't trust anyone, and they couldn't trust themselves.
This starts out as a first contact story and our first protagonist is already a stranger in a strange land, which really jumpstarted the story. You know it's going to just get wilder. I did hate the ending and I hope there's not a sequel, because I will read it and I'll be exhausted. But maybe it would be cool to read short stories set in this world.
Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this

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I'm honestly not sure how to review this one. I found it overly long and deeply frustrating, but there was definitely something compelling about it. All of the characters are such complete messes, and they consistently make terrible choices, and the book is very aware of this and lets them experience the natural consequences of their actions. If you read Yoon Ha Lee's Machineries of Empire series and went "what this needs is more body horror, more psychic horror, more war crimes, and also contemporary geopolitics" then you will have a wonderful time. I didn't actually enjoy this and I was actively mad about the ending, but I am giving it four stars because it's such a fascinating and ambitious mess, and I'd like to see more authors take these sorts of risks.
(Review copy via netgalley)

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How absolutely and delightfully unhinged. Like many others, I devoured the first part and found the remaining 15 hours of reading quite a slog. The contrast in how deeply I loved and rooted for Baru is a stark compared to how prickly and lukewarm I feel about Anna even though both characters are chaotic and morally grey. I think I learned that there is a limit to my love of lore, unwieldy metaphysics and philosophy. I'm sure there is a pocket of people for whom this book is a soulmate and treasured companion and I am absolutely thrilled for them.

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I couldn't keep up with this book. too much happening and not enough story cohesion. Dickinson's Masquerade books are much better.

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When Anna goes on a walk in Central Park, the last thing she expects is to meet an alien. An alien with nine snakelike heads and who expects to come home with her. Ssrin tells Anna that they share a connection that will never end. Anna, who is a Kurdish immigrant, is not sure she believes Ssrin but the fact that no one else seems to see her lends merit to the idea.

Ssrin is on Earth for a reason. She is a renegade from her home planet and is here to retrieve a spaceship called Blackbird. It is in Anna's home country and she wants Anna to go with her. Anna is contacted by the United States government which is trying to make sense of Blackbird. She and Ssrin go there along with the military and an associate Defense Secretary. There are already scientists from several countries there trying to figure out what Blackbird is.

The word isn't good. The aliens want not only to retrieve Ssrin and Blackbird but plan to extinguish human life on Earth. Anna reunites with her mother who she hasn't seen since she was a child and who leads the Kurdish immigrants in the area. An Iranian pilot also joins the core group that is frantically working to find a way to save human life on earth. Is it possible?

Seth Dickinson hit the science fiction genre with his book The Traitor Baru Cormorant, which is more of a fantasy. This novel is more science fiction and has lots of military action and battles. It brings together seven humans, each with their own strengths and weaknesses along with their own secrets, and bands them together to attempt the impossible. There is lots of math and science and this is not a novel that one picks up for a light afternoon's reading; it requires concentration and intelligence to fully grasp the horror of what is happening and the science that may defeat it. This book is recommended for science fiction readers.

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Dickinson uses a host of other characters to scrutinize ethics, fractal mathematics, theoretical physics and the military-industrial complexes of several nations. The result is agonizing and mesmerizing, a devastating and extraordinary achievement, as well as dizzyingly unsatisfying, given where it ends.

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This was a very hardcore sci-fi read, introducing a lot of new concepts. I think the satirical tone at the beginning of the book was a bit lost and changed significantly to become a lot more militaristic which made it a bit less intriguing for me, but I can see it appeal to fans of the genre!

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I want to say that am grateful to have received an ARC of this book through NetGalley - I am also grateful to have received quite a few reminders to finally review the thing while I struggles to get through it...

Seth Dickinson is a genious. That much I know. Baru Cormorant changed my perspective for ever and so did Exordia. The premise was great, the humour authentic, the characterisation MIND BLOWING.
I adore Anna and her sweet "Serendura" Ssrin - she is easily one of the most likable and convincing characters I've read about in a long while - and she's a snake that isn't even on page half the time! The interpersonal relationships she and her species spur on in others are downright sizzling, with interesting and tense development. There is a razor thin high rope between purely emotional and deeply sexual Seth Dickinson manages to walk between ALL his characters somehow, a messy knot of a dynamic whose conclusion had me giggling in delight.

I also really liked the mystery of Blackbird. I feel like with the pattern-recognition and the bizarre effects it has on human bodies, you are immediately reminded of AI, which is a tangible threat to artists everywhere right now. It's never explicitly stated, but I feel like that sub-human imitation horror may have been an inspiration. Consciously or not.

The only thing I wasn't 100% sure of in terms of characterisation was a reliance on race to make repeated "statements". If I had a nickel for every time Dickinson wrote a woman of colour wittily telling a (white) guy off, I'd have... Well, certainly more than one nickel.
I'm not saying that I mind race being highlighted, only that Seth Dickinson, all things considered, may not be the best person to make those statements. But neither am I. And because it seems that there have been sensitivity readers (or reliable advisors) involved in the creation of this story, let it be known that I will not let this affect my rating. I am sure he did the necessary work, considering how much research must have gone into this regardless. (So. Much. Fighter jet detail...)

In the respects of gender, sexuality and femininity, which i do believe myself qualified to judge, Seth Dickinson knocks it out of the park. So hard that it touches down in a different park.
I wish there was a stronger, more corny way of describing it. I really do. Sometimes, I feel like Dickinson has a better grasp on what it means to be a woman than I ever did, like he's lived and breathed these individual lives he's constructing. But this, of course, isn't restricted to his female cast. He takes his time with all of them, be it woman, man or multi-headed snake alien. Hot design choice, by the way.

But this attention to detail is also what made me shave a star off my rating, in the end. i hate to say it. I really do...
But Chaya and Aixue were NOT necessary for the story. Don't get me wrong, they aren't bad characters. (I don't think Dickinson is capable of writing those...) But their chapters feel self-contained, with little effect on the "grand design", if you wanted to call it that, and the fact that much of Chaya's early narration is literally just flashbacks does not help her case.

It feels like we're set back in the progress of of the story whenever she's used to convey exposition. Like we're not going forward but seeing filler-build up that Khaje could have conveyed just as effectively, seeing as she was around at the same time and place. She doesn't have the same level of education and insight as Chaya, but I feel that that education and insight, in the end, was only used to answer questions brought up by education and insight. A problem that creates itself to be solved.
I mentioned already that this book was hard to get through at times - I would have been SO FINE with a few open questions about the technicalities of Blackbird's inner workings in return for less ADVANCED MATH. Seriously, Aixue's purpose seems to be hurting me specifically with equations. If you're not really into that sort of thing, you won't enjoy her dialogue.

When the time for the grand escape came and Davoud pondered which crew-member to eject into hell, all I could think was KILL THE MATHEMATICIAN. His final choice makes no sense to me. Anna is in serendure with Ssrin and therefore important - besides, Davoud refuses to eject Khaje because he "likes her", but he doesn't consider the fact that she is Anna's mother, who has REPEATEDLY put her life on the line for her daughter! He has no reason to believe Khaje would be grateful for her own life if it meant Anna's eternal damnation. Realistically, she'd try to murder Davoud.
Why write this fake-out death when Chaya or Aixue seem so obvious? They're even the only ones of the younger POV cast who don't have a bond that's stated to fall into any of the seven-passions category.

I cannot stress enough that i like Chaya. She'd be a fascinating character to follow in any story. Only that it'd have to be, you know, a different story that gives her and her romantic arc room to breathe. In Exordia, it just feels like she and Aixue are a stretch of unsubstantial info-dumping to wade through in order to get to more interesting characters. This feeling was only amplified by the fact that we focused on them instead of Anna, who I immediately adored and was anxious to see more of.
Introducing Clayton and Erik and a whole chunk of their backstory right after a comparatively simple intro was already a leap of faith, but at least my patience was rewarded with a deliciously complicated power-struggle/homoerotic love-hate relationship. In comparison, Chaya and Aixue were a pretty lukewarm will-they-won't-they?...

Last but not least - Iruvage. Ugh. I'm not usually one for the "has motivations but mostly reads like pure evil" characters, but MAN did I love to hate that fucking snake. I really do feel like he's mostly just... the worst, morally speaking. But he does this so consistently and with such heinous enjoyment that i couldn't help but be intrigued. "You know what they say, she's not really dead until I eat her and take a big shit!" - OKAY? GO OFF????
Wikipedia says that Exordia is a stand-alone - but 20 bucks says that we'll get some sort of sequel and he'll turn up with a "bad-guy injury" like a missing eye (or a few missing heads, I guess) and he'll adapt the "I failed the big evil empire and now I'll get vengeance for my lost honour"-angle and get even worse. In any case, reading about his death would be worth another book full of Chaya and Aixue chapters.
FUCK THAT GUY \affectionate\

Exordia is messy at times, very clearly something that bloomed out of pure passion and unperfected concepts. But that makes it all the more beautiful. I will take a story that comes from the heart over a story that formulaically rolls over for the publishing industry any day. If you want it snappier, quote me on this: "a piping hot read for any scifi fan with taste."
Or - anyone who read The Martian and thought to themselves "i wish this was three times as long" and also "i wish these people were funnier and made more D&D references".

To quote someone from my own comment section: No one does it like Seth Dickinson.
And I'll be around when he does it again.

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If you like Neal Stephenson, this will be up your alley. If you’re expecting something like the Baru Cormorant series, this may not be what you want.

Everything about this book is nonstop. Calling it fast-paced is putting it lightly. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing: it was a fun read and I moved quickly through it once I was prepared. Starting out, though, it felt like drinking from a fire hose.

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3.5.
Well, I wasn't expecting THAT!
I must say at the outset that I haven't read Dickinson before, but he'll be shoved in 'bout halfway up the TBR pile after this, which is one of my most important metrics.
Like a lot of reviewers, I'll say this started off very well: great premise, Anna is a brilliant anti-hero, the world-building is excellent (and literally breath-taking in its onslaught of facts and nods to other writers), the pace, mood, characters and plot in general are fairly riveting. And there are some fantastic points made about man's inhumanity to man (or, obvs, women and children, who are always the greatest victims), and this is blended very well into the personal, individual choices we all make, and how these contribute to the world we live in.
However... and even taking into account the fact that I'm a lazy reader and not a science nerd, this book was about 200 pages too long. The science stuff was undeniably interesting (and puts most sci-fi books and movies about aliens attacking the earth firmly in their schlock-fiction places), but you can get enough of it. Worse than that, though, was the constant moral agonising of Erik and Clayton. We get it, guys, we do. There is such a thing as belabouring a point.
So, I'd cut a good chunk out of the middle of the book (I know the author was trying to make a point about the Kurdish Anfal, but you do this by bombing the crap out of them several more times?). Still, Dickinson retrieves the baton in the latter quarter of the book, and the ending was excellent. Both devastating and thought-provoking, and a real hook for what will surely be a sequel.
My thanks to Netgalley for the DRC, all opinions are my own.

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This book is a modern self-aware sci-fi novel about a woman trying to find her own identity while dealing with her trauma as a child soldier facing the end of her world once again. While this book has a bit of an abrupt start it quickly develops the pitch and yaw of a roller-coaster going 100mph, with plot twists that have you on the edge of your seat. It forced me to reanalyze my knowledge and assumptions about modern Middle Eastern politics and the effects of imperialism on the region, as it frames itself within that context.

This book has biting criticism of American imperialism while also being full of nerd trivia and terrifyingly extraterrestrial and uncanny aliens. As the core of the story develops Dickinson's favorite themes quickly reappear. Do we define our actions or do our actions define us? And do the greater good and lesser evil actually exist?

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Although this book is really different from Baru Cormorant, I can definitely see some similarities between both when it comes to the dealing of the plot. Seth Dickinson really has the world well thought out and they are really complex worlds. He also likes to play with ideas and philosophy when applying to pretty well known plot points: an empire conquering other lands that want to revolt (Baru Cormorant) and first contact (this book). But while Baru Cormorant really worked for me, this one did not.

The first part of this book is a doozy. And the reader has to be prepared for some really out of the box "world building" out of the gate. And I just didn't care (once again he did the same thing in Baru Cormorant). I thought things would turn around for me when he introduced the EMP storyline but then it just turned into a military sci-fi with characters I didn't care about.

I feel that, although vastly different when it comes to plot and characters, some readers that liked Baru could like this one if they liked how Seth presented the world and played with different ways of telling a common storyline.

Thank you Netgalley, author, and publisher for the ARC.

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Let me start by saying I was definitely not the intended audience for this book.
I really wanted to read this because the description sounded like it would be really up my alley.
I love end of the world books, and survival.
However, right off the bat Anna meets an alien who has a lot of confusing descriptions and words the alien uses. I simply had such a hard time following.
Then the politics of the aliens got so confusing I found myself so frustrated with the whole thing.
This is not a book for me and I feel it will go over a lot of people’s heads. I think that the author may have taken a little too many leaps with the alien culture in this book and should have dialed it back for the overall reader audience. I also think the back of the book description needs to help readers understand more what they are getting into.

Thank you Netgalley for allowing me to read this advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest review.

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I grew up in the shadow of the "War on Terror," and Seth Dickinson's "Exordia" is a critical, subversive look at American imperialism. This perfect marriage of 'soft' and 'hard' SF delves into human experience, psychological trauma, ethical systems, and morality using the a narrative of the "horror" of first contact to excoriate the American military-industrial complex. While the theme is heavy and difficult, the book does not take itself so seriously as to leave the reader behind.

The prose is dense, packed with a wry, irreverent humor that simultaneously amuses and horrifies. The writing and story is smart without being overbearing, and events and conversations (past and present) pull you along through a lot of technical talk without talking down to you. Seth Dickinson's style leaves the reader feeling spoken to as an equal rather than condescended to by an author who sees himself as superior. You aren't told everything immediately, but the exposition is woven seamlessly throughout the novel.

I've seen complaints about the POV characters, but I liked most of them. One of the themes explored is individual morality and how we find ways to excuse ourselves as good even when we've done evil things. Each POV perfectly serves this theme, while also exploring the tangible theme of objective good versus evil that the alien Ssrin speaks of to Anna in the opening act.

I think this will be an enjoyable read for fans of books like Annihilation, but also I think people who enjoy soft SF will enjoy the themes explored via the tech & military SF components of this book.

I received an ARC from Tor Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. And, honestly, this is one of the most thought provoking books that I've read in years.

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Modern, literary, and heady while still being irreverent and plot driven.

Chilling descriptions of both existential horrors, physical conflict, and the impact of history on decision making that stayed in my mind long after I finished reading.

An endlessly gripping read that flirts back and forth between treatise and character driven fiction.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advanced review copy!

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I am going to say right now, I was not smart enough for this book. This is my first novel by Seth Dickinson, and I while I like their writing immensely, I’m not sure Exordia is the place for me to start with them. For now, I am setting this book down so I can pick up their debut series to test the waters, as I have heard nothing but glowing reviews.

Thank you to the publisher and to Netgalley for granting me an e-ARC I exchange for an honest review.

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Exordia by Seth Dickinson - Review

Summary

The search for an ancient primordial relic, leads Ssrin, a rebel from an alien species called Exordia, to earth. Exordians rule the galaxy and seek to control and trap the souls of all other species in the galaxy. Through the mysterious relic, Ssrin seeks to free the trapped souls and diminish the tyranny of her species. However, if her people acquire it before her, it would give them power to enslave the whole galaxy including everyone on earth.

“It's a narrative prison, It forces the victim into the myth of Exordia supremacy. They become the…” Ssrin struggles. “They become the objects of the story. The exordia is the active subject. And the more of the galaxy’s life the Exordia pinions, the closer that story becomes to a physical fact in our galaxy.”

The story follows the aftermath of the discovery of the relic as humanity struggles to gain control of the same against a much powerful alien species.

My Take

Okay first of all that was a looong book. I feel like Dickinson could have made it into two or more parts to make it more digestible.

The book started off promising with an intriguing plot. However it introduced too many seemingly related concepts that somewhat lacked a flow and made it hard to understand and follow the storyline.

The writing style was not too complicated for a hard science fiction book but included unnecessary technical descriptions which in my opinion did nothing to further the story.

Additionally, in all the serious business of saving humanity, earth and the galaxy, Dickinson sure did not forget to give us some much needed comic relief. And that would have worked if not for the uneven jumps in tone and seriousness which made me as a reader confused about the level of emotional investment the book needed from me.

The book had several layers, and each one seemed to be on the cusp of something only to disappoint with an unresolved feeling at the end.

That is not to say that the book wasn't well researched or well written. The middle east crisis, specifically issues relating to Kurdistan, was portrayed in an unbiased and sympathetic light on the struggles and trauma of its people.

All the characters introduced had a depth to them with intriguing backgrounds and contributions to the story. The interactions and dynamic between the characters felt real.

One of my favorite quotes in the book:

“Morality isn’t fungible. It’s not like money. It’s not an account with balances. You can’t kill ten people to save a hundred and say you came out ahead by ninety. You are responsible for your own actions. If other people or outside circumstances create evil, well, the evil is theirs. To condition your own morality on their evil would itself be evil. You cannot say, well, they’ve set things up so I can kill ten people to save a hundred, so now it;s okay for me to kill ten people. What you do instead is kill no one, and try to save a hundred and ten.”

I would give the book 3 stars, for giving us many interesting moral conundrums to ponder on, its great writing and an a storyline, which although could have used a bit more clarity, but was nonetheless interesting.

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4.5 stars, approximately, rounding up for enjoyment! I just finished reading and need to marinate, but also this book took me on a goddamn ride. Thank you to Tor Publishing via Netgalley for the review copy of this book! All opinions are my own.

And you know what a soul's made of, right? Oh, yes. A soul is made of stories.

Exordia is mostly a book about international militaries responding to threats of the destruction of Earth via alien nukes. Mostly. It's also about: the shape/structure/purpose of the human soul, narrative and story on the meta level, family and reconciliation, what it means to "do the right thing", and, in its own way, how love makes us simultaneously better and worse at any given moment. Oh, and a lot of theoretical math and physics (not kidding, Dickinson does not hold back here). Dickinson packs this story with themes alongside rich, complex worldbuilding and massive moral questions.

What Dickinson sells, I buy. The Traitor Baru Cormorant was one of my favorite reads of last year, an out-of-the-park swing at historical fantasy, genocide, imperialism, queerness, sacrifice, and, of course, betrayal. Exordia touches on a lot of the same themes, but from a wildly different angle. This is hard sci fi. Like I said: aliens. And also nukes.

The text is a monster of meta. If you're not interested in stories about story/narrative/structure/etc then you will find this boring, and probably verging on obnoxious and soapboxy. I, however, am a narrative therapist, and also a writer, and am obsessed with the way Dickinson incorporated the idea that stories have power into such a complicated war story.

I noted in one of my updates while reading that the sentence-level prose in this book is fantastic. I think it's deeply quotable and frankly brilliant in terms of how it structures specific revelations and introduces us to characters. I couldn't believe how quickly I came to care about some of these people, including POVs we only jumped into briefly. This book takes into a LOT of people's heads and takes its turns between limited third person perspective, omniscient third perspective, and some very creative first person perspective too. I like experimental writing so that all worked for me, but it could be disorienting I think.

Dickinson writes large-scale conflict the way litfic writers approach relationships. We're so zoomed out for so much of this story, but still rooted so deeply in character motivations. Dickinson sweeps us through combat decisions, specific battles, strategic maneuvering, to the point that I found myself holding my breath with every new development. I can find war stories boring. This one was not, and probably because the stakes felt so real. Exordia doesn't hesitate to kill off characters. No one has plot armor, every threat is real, and the enemy is terrifying and smarter than you could ever hope to be. I had no idea where this book was going for the entirety of the first.... 60 percent, maybe, but by the end I found that everything made sense.

I do understand the critiques that the pacing was wonky and the second half of the book didn't live up to the setup. I don't really agree, but I also am just a huge fan of Dickinson's writing! I loved this, sue me! Elements of the second half of this book made me cry, gasp, text outraged things to friends, and stare despondently at the wall. I had a lot of feelings!!! I think they were all earned by the story!!! Sorry for the exclamation points I just think certain characters deserve the world and also that it kind of rules that me thinking that didn't make me think they were any safer or less safe from the dangers of this plot just for being great. I do want to acknowledge, though, that the first ~5-10% of the story does not set you up to expect what comes later. The story takes some pretty drastic turns! If you're in it for a more domestic and fantastical spin on things, you may be disappointed by how grounded and grimly clinical a lot of the rest of the book ends up being.

Overall, Exordia was a win for me. I definitely thought it was a standalone (it does not appear to be from that ending!), but I'll be sticking around for book 2 because I'm burningly curious, and at this point I trust Dickinson's writing to take me wherever it wants.

This book is a hard sell as a recommender (queer military-oriented borderline grimdark hard sci fi with lots of body horror and physics/math descriptions, close to 700 pages in my ebook version), but I think it can find its readers, and I am definitely one of them.

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Thank you to Tor Publishing Group and Netgalley for providing me the eARC in exchange for my honest review. The title will be released on January 23, 2024.

2.5 STARS

Exordia started with so much promise! Anna Sinjari is a bold, unapologetic woman still dealing trauma from her childhood as a Kurdish war orphan. One day in the park, she stumbles upon an alien, who recruits her to help save the world and humanity's souls. Unfortunately, the book did not continue with Anna as the protagonist--at least not the only one. The POV shifted, shifted, then shifted again. In the latter half of the book, the POVs rotated even faster. It was jarring and did not help me get immersed in the story.

~~~ “She realizes that her image of her own soul is not very different from the way she imagines hell.”

I think Exordia's strengths are often its weaknesses. The author spread the story too far and tried to tackle too much. Exordia contains so many types of stories mashed into one: alien first contact, doomsday countdown, black ops mission, and a bioterrorism/quarantine story. The interesting, action plot points are unfortunately packed in with dense explanations and information. While there's some beautiful character writing, there's also tons of technical jargon, metaphysics, and alien terminology. The author worked a lot of socio-political commentary into the story, as well as moral and ethical discussions. However, it never became clear to exactly what the author intended to say.

~~~ “The problem is that the good always seems so fragile. And the evil you’ve done sets on you like cement.”

There are glimmers of excellence in Exordia, but the end product would have made me DNF had I not been reading an eARC. I wish the book had been cut down 200 pages, streamlined the POVs, simplified some of the language and clarified concepts, and tightened the pace of the storytelling.

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