Member Reviews

Not easy but an amazing work and I found it incredibly well done. Note, you should have a resistance for in likable characters and a willingness to read points again and again and again. Thanks for the arc cheers!

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Seth Dickinson you marvelous marvelous man. I went into Exordia having barely read the (extremely vague) summary, but putting full faith in one of my favorite authors to take me on a journey, and he damn well did. Exordia has already marked itself as a contender for ‘Top Books of 2024’ and the year has barely begun.

First off, this book is NOT a standalone. I thought so too. Now onto the review.

Exordia, broadly speaking, is the story of humanity’s last hope against an imminent hostile alien invasion. Through the eyes of characters from extremely different backgrounds and upbringings, we follow the events of a few tense days as military groups from around the world race against the clock to prevent an alien agent from acquiring a mysterious super weapon that would spell humanity’s demise, while ever-present and extremely real threat of nuclear bombardment looms in the background. If this sounds vague to you, that’s okay! The overarching plot is surprisingly simple, but the magic of this book is in the details.

What will make or break this book for most readers will be the writing. The opening chapters are about a girl and her eight-headed snake monster alien gf and the joys of finally having enough money to shop at Trader Joe’s. In an utter tonal-whiplash, the rest of the book is this incredibly dense, at times slow-paced, non-linear military sci-fi novel that goes deep into concepts from pure math and quantum physics to shape both alien technology and philosophies of morality. Dickinson uses technical terms and mathematical concepts to describe his world the way another author would use the sights and smells to describe a food market. The prose is unafraid to make the reader think and trusts that you can, slowly, put two and two together. If you liked The Three-Body Problem, you will love this book (and vice versa).

While I can’t speak to the full accuracy of physics and mathematical concepts used, as a roboticist I can say that the one time a quadrotor was used, Dickinson did slightly miss the mark (no one says ‘PID software’ lol). However, I will forgive that transgression on behalf of the beautifully placed Lie (pronounced ‘lee’, not ‘lai’) Group pun.

As expected from the author of Baru Cormorant, there is an incredible depth Dickinson has given these characters. There are certain books you read where the main cast has been constructed in a way that feels so extraordinarily human and Exordia is certainly one of them. The majority of this story is set in modern(ish)-day Kurdistan (Hannibal season 2 hasn’t aired yet, apparently), and given the story’s military nature, the backgrounds of the cast reflect this decision. Through these characters, Dickinson openly interrogates themes of colonialism, morality, genocide, and the US military-industrial complex and its actions in the Middle East during the Bush administration through the inner monologues and actions of these characters. I think anyone reading this will have their own ideas and moral framework challenged, in a way that’s thoughtful and nuanced. I loved the occasional usage of untranslated Chinese for the Chinese characters, as well as the well-placed Chinese slang. 10/10 usage of ‘tongzhi’.

What really made me fall in love with these characters is the underlying current of Queerness running through each of the POV cast that color their characters. Anna with Ssrin (said eight-headed snake monster alien gf), Aixue and Chaya’s growing connections, whatever Clayton’s borderline-homoerotic constant desperation for Erik’s approval despite their long and tempestuous history of betrayal against each other. Even Erik, who swears up and down his heterosexuality, has some slowly unraveling Extremely Unexamined dependencies wrapped in military comradery with Erik. (Can you tell who my favorites were?) Objectively, each one of these characters are terrible people (although some more than most), but have shaped a moral framework to justify their actions and future goals in a way that makes their interactions so messy and fascinating to read.

Despite its length (over 210k!), Dickinson manages to develop and keep such incredible tension throughout the entire story. There are times, especially during the beginning when no one knows what the hell is going on, that feels like a borderline horror story, with unknown horrors awaiting at every turn. I genuinely felt that at any moment, the entire cast could get wiped out, game over, GG. And yet, I found myself laughing an inappropriate amount, given the story unfolding. There is some incredible dark humor from the Jaded Military Types^TM, situational irony with certain characters’ own hypocrisies (how many times can Erik complain about someone being manipulative right after manipulating Clayton yet again?), and just hilarious tangents characters go on that make for great out-of-context screenshots to friends.

Exordia is certainly not a book for everyone, but for a reader who’s willing to think as they read, they’ll find themselves rewarded with an extremely clever story full of beautifully crafted worldbuilding, meticulous prose, incredibly well-explored characters that portray many facets of the Queer experience, and new contemplations on ethics and morality and math to ponder on for days after. Overall, I rate this book a 5/5.

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I had the good fortune of being the editor at Shimmer Magazine when we published Seth's story, "Anna Saves Them All." It is a deeply disturbing and heartbreaking story, and yet at the same time, beautiful and hopeful. In this novel, Seth returns to Anna's world, expanding it and its aliens, in every direction possible, leaving the reader wrung out, exhausted, laughing, crying, despairing, and hopeful all over again. Exordia gives me everything I could have hoped for from a novel-length expansion of this world.

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This is review of the NetGalley-provided ARC.

The overall thought I have for this book is that fans who are more familiar with the author's broader works will be down for the ride but fans of the Masquerade series exclusively may approach the book with different expectations. I would suggest the latter group to keep an open mind, because all of the hard-hitting emotions and characters are still there. This has the classic, situational depth that is characteristic of Seth Dickinson with a completely different setting and societal expectations. The stakes are simultaneously personal and existential-- that is to say, the personal and existential stakes are actually the same through the use of the early-established notion that there are universal, fated relationships.

There are times where the pacing is paused in a manner I understand as necessary to actually give a story the amount of depth it needs to explore all the angles of a scenario that's presented, so I wasn't bothered by it. This is a situation where military-research camps formed by multiple nations interact around a central plot point, with each party is itself made up of individuals acting and being acted upon. The ability for Dickinson to inject tension and character into scenes consisting of only a few paragraphs was a crafting highlight.

The protagonists and antagonists are multi-layered, with new aspects of themselves still being uncovered close to the end. Even though the book was a 400 page chonker of a read, I was compelled to continue. I'm pretty sure I read the entire book within the span of a day and I am still wanting more of these characters. Ssrin is a highlight, being a mix of deeply alien and intimately familiar that made me always look for the next thing she will do.

I desperately want to see more of this world. This reads more like the beginning of a brilliant series, not just on the protagonists presented but to explore the greater world involved. Lovely for fans of the Machineries of Empire Trilogy and, oddly enough, Homestuck.

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Reading Exordia was almost a feverdream experience. It's weird, resists classification, and asks a ton of hard questions from the beginning. It is a first contact novel, a military spec thriller, a body horror novel...etc. I could keep throwing genres at it and still not convey what exactly it is. So I'm not going to try. Instead, here's how it starts;

When Anna Sinjari, a Kurdish war orphan in the US, discovers an Alien, she finds that they are bound together somehow. After an unidentified object is found in her home country, Anna is thrown into a game between superaliens and governments while reckoning with a past she can't leave behind.

I finished Exordia in roughly two days. It's a hefty book, both in size and content but Dickinson's writing is masterful. But I didn't review it until now because I had some questions I needed to think about, some posed by the book and other by its premise and existence.

Craftwise, I'd say its fantastic. Sometimes a little too self indulgent with the extreme mathematics ramblings (i skimmed those sections) and revolting body horror (that was just my thing) but overall, a very compelling read. Its a good book, so if you are reading this review looking for a sign to start it, I'd say yes, go ahead. If you want a teaser, you can read Seth Dickinson's story in the Shimmer magazine, Anna Saves Them All, from which he expanded this novel.
But I'm more interested in discussing what Exordia sets out to do.

Exordia's attempt, I believe, is to use the novel's greater conflict to explore the military industrial complex of the US. I'm still not sure how successful it is in that regard. Make no mistake, it does rake it over coals but is it ever enough? I've been also thinking whose story this is to tell, to choose a perspective of someone abused by the Empire by a denizen of the imperial core because it sounds like an interesting point of view, because it has teeth. Dickinson explores this in his novel too. He asks us about narratives and whose is considered more important, of the complicity of war crimes, and maths. I'm deducting a few stars for that because it was truly too much math for me.

Anyway, as you can see, I still don't have any answers. But the best part is, Exordia makes you think and for that reason, if you could bear the triggers, then I think you should read it.

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Exordia is about the trolley problem, explored to agonizing depth, and about space aliens, the question of free will and the fabric of reality, the military, colonialism, war, and genocide, through the eyes of characters who have been on both sides of the gun, finger on detonator, and are deeply traumatized. There is no way I can do justice to any of it here, but I can only try.

This is a "fun book" as a breather, in the author's words, to which I say I think your definition of "fun" is a little warped. What the fuck. But this is a really Funny book; snappy, full of wit and probing, scathing commentary. And it is full of rage.

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(ARC recieved from Netgalley)

The first few pages reminded me powerfully of John Scalzi. This mood lasted for about two chapters before The Tragedy Seth Dickinson began. I really really wanted to like this book more than I actually did. It has some fascinating concepts and some incredibly compelling characters! It has some of the best handling of memetic hazards I've seen in fiction! The prose is excellent, the imagery is vivid, it sparkles with moments of brilliant wit.

And yet.
The book has, for me, two really big flaws. First and foremost, it is miserable. You read the Baru Cormorant books? Take the grimmest parts of those, and double it. Then imagine this is pretty much the only mood the book sustains. The number of times anyone experiences positive emotions can practically be counted on your fingers, and it's exhausting.

This is exacerbated by the second problem, which is that it drags. The stakes are high. Apocalyptically high. There is a specified time limit. But the book feels slow. This is largely due to the author's decision to do an awful lot of POV switching, giving us multiple views of the same events. And in some ways, this is a great thing to do; it's part of what makes the characters so memorable and believable; we get their contrasting perspectives on the same events. The problem is that it also means that not a lot actually happens. And it feels bizarre to say that, because the things which do happen are A Lot, but the problem is that each event is dissected so minutely and thoroughly that by the time the next plot beat actually dropped I was heartily sick of reading about the previous one.

When I started the book, I was excited to finish it, because it had such promise and so many wonderful ideas. When I finished the book, I was fed up to the back teeth with it and glad it was over.
I can't call it bad, it's too fine a piece of writing for that, but I have to say I did not actually enjoy the experience overall.

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I think that anyone who picks up Exordia is going to be left a little bit bewildered at the sheer amount of things that happen in this book.

I mean that in a good way, but seriously, while I very much enjoyed most of my time with the novel I did let out a sigh of relief that I didn't have to juggle so many disparate ideas and concepts in my head anymore when I hit the final page. We're talking about a story here that deeply dives into plots about undercover aliens, military espionage, military sci-fi, what I am just going to call 'extreme math', something that I think is kind of like karmic narrative causality (???), alien space hell (which is fascinating), the very real history of how the United States betrayed the Kurds, trauma, and genocide. There is so much going on, and so many perspectives on what is happening that it is easy to be overwhelmed.

This book is an absolute wild ride, and Ssrin and Anna have become some of my favorite weird roommates in any book I've ever read, so this is a story well worth the effort of holding on and staying in the saddle for science fiction fans.

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I loved this, and have very little to say that isn’t spoilery, but it feels like Dickinson let go of some fear and just wrote without embarrassment. It starts with Anna, a victim of the Iraqi genocide against the Kurds, forced to commit atrocities of her own, living now in the US with no real hopes or dreams. Then the alien Sssrin comes, claiming that their stories match (which is a pretty bad sign, actually, and also that Sssrin explains that her entire species is doomed to hell). Then comes the EMP, and then the men with guns to take Anna back to her homeland, where an alien spaceship has appeared. It is about colonialism, and about how the world ending is not unusual for some humans, and also about physics and trolley problems and compromises and tragedies that are too big to comprehend and therefore humans (and aliens) can inflict them. I dunno, read it!

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Seth Dickinson has done it again! As a huge fan of the Baru Cormorant series, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from Exordia, with its vibrant yellow cover, but I knew it's one of my most anticipated upcoming books. Exordia certainly didn't disappoint - it's just the sort of clever sci-fi I love, deep and interesting, but without ever letting the complex ideas bog down the pacing. It deals with some very heavy and dark themes, but it's also fun, atmospheric, and dazzling - I've seen comparisons to Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, which is another favourite of mine, and I certainly agree that the two books have a lot of things in common. I'm quietly hoping for a sequel, because that ending felt like it left open more questions than it answered - in a good way.

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[ARC via NetGalley]

hi
Long time reader, first time reviewer here. Here's the short form of this review:
A fun and breezy yet often insightful and challenging sci-fi book tackling morality, mathematics and militarism. For fans of Ninefox Gambit, Blowback, Blindsight, the Milgram Experiment (?), the Unveiling texts, SCP Foundation type stuff, or books that are cool and good.

--

The longer form, being a big list of assorted thoughts and points in no particular order:

Compared to Traitor, this is definitely a punchier, breezier read, more rooted in modern day vernacular (though the book is not quite set in our current day). More direct with its references, more conversant with, like, Terminator than SomethingAwful posts about the fragility of horses.
It's a fun book, but/yet it's also a smart book. Lots of big ideas, especially around symmetries (narrative and mathematical), plus some interrogation of America's various interventions. But this is also a book about a weird artifact and space aliens from space who hate each other big time sloppy style.

I have long been a fan of Destiny's various lorebooks, especially Seth's work, but I haven't played Destiny in years at this point. I'm glad Exordia exists as a great example of Seth's sci-fi writing without being tied to a giant live service game mostly about putting myriad bullets into various of creatures. Exordia's moral universe is not the same as Destiny's, of course, but it has the advantage in not needing to reduced down to hard targets that a space wizard can throw orbs at.

This is definitely a Ninefox Gambit-core book, with lots of terminology and concepts that aren't immediately explained (and often riffing off mathematics, too). If you sit back and read the book, anything important will surely be revealed. I think most of the neoterminogies here have the desirable property of being built from recognisable parts, conveying a vibes outside the remit of the Oxford English Dictionary. My favourite of these terms is probably 'geashade' - derived from 'geas'+'shade' I assume. (Maybe even geas-hades). Serendure is another big one - 'serenity' + 'endure'? not sure. I love this sort of thing though.

On the characters: Anna is great, Ssrin is great, Khaje's like if Pinion scenes from Tyrant were a throughline through the whole book. Iruvage is a great terrible fucker. The US military guys also deserve to be put in a maze and observed as they run about... which they practically were, now that I think about it. This book has quite a lot of POVs but they all feel distinctive and refreshing in their own right.

The core mystery of the weird alien object also worked really well, I think. The main advantage of the many POVs, I think, is that you get to see events and interpretations from many different angles, constructing the truth through many tangents. This isn't really a Holmes story, and you're not likely to have a big "aha!" moment (unless you're a very particular kind of maths nerd, maybe), but the setup, tension and reveal here all make for one really compelling reading experience.

--

Some things that might be a vinegar in this particular stew, then, for sake of balance as such a thing is generally considered desirable:

Some parts in the middle of the book really do demand a lot of focus to keep track of what's going on; lots of POVs switching between several different timeframes. It's fun, but you really gotta be on the ball. I was never really lost as to who anyone was, or what their key motivations were, but sometimes I was a little fuzzy on timeframes of events here and there. Things do eventually resolve down to a smaller scope, but this is not a book to read distractedly.

The book is pretty heavy on body horror, more than anything in the Baru books I'd say (even the gory tumoury bio-parts in Tyrant). I'm not usually a huge fan of body horror personally, but I think it's generally put to interesting productive ends here, not just splatterhouse sanguinaria for spectacle. Still, it's definitely not an easy recommend to those who are faint of heart (or stomach).

You could read from end to end without any prior knowledge of mathematics or America's various military interventions, but I suspect you'll get more out of it if you're willing to do your own homework in a few places. I think taking a back seat and letting the book take you on a ride is not a bad approach, but you might miss that the book often combines neologism with actual real (if obscure) terminology. 'Jineology', for instance, isn't an invented word, but I did kinda think it was until I looked it up. (my spellchecker also doesn't recognise it...) A decent rule one could use; if an alien says something, it can be taken as something alien; but if a human says something you're unfamiliar with, then it may be worth a lookup. I think this is a useful approach not just for the book, but in general. Though if an alien is talking to you, you've got other problems probably. Especially if it's Iruvage.

The ending is satisfactory on its own, but I would really love to see a second book in this universe at some future point. I love the more and less esoteric philosophical bits in Destiny, and I think a sequel less weighed down by the Earth's gravity could really go some wild places. I could also read an entire book of Anna and Ssrin just being weird roommates.

--

Anyway, I will be buying this book with my own money day 1, and likely re-reading it; which is not something I usually do, but this book's worth it.
If five pieces of Exordia are assembled, I think we'll have a real winner in our hands. But this book is a worthy entry in the science fiction canon all on its own. Five stars.

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When I heard Seth Dickinson had written a sci-fi novel, I was intrigued. But Exordia was completely different and went far beyond my expectations. I can't say much about the plot without loading you up with spoilers, but yes to all the people making comparisons to Annihilation and alien invasion narratives. There's also military action, math, physics, metaphysics, and moral philosophy. This book goes hard on so many levels, and used the intense character desire/conflict relationships to keep me up at night reading far longer than this mortal body should have.

The prose sizzles and explodes. There are so many lines I wish I could quote here, from the ones that made me laugh aloud to the ones that felt like a knife in the gut. Readers who love some hard science and deep questions with their military action thrillers will enjoy this book a lot.

Thanks as always to TorDotCom for an e-ARC and thanks to Seth for bringing this entirely bonkers story to the world.

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I received a digital ARC of this book from Netgalley.

First thing first: The ending of this book is very clearly a vol.1 ending. I would wager a lot that there's at least one sequel to this book, otherwise why would you end there? (This has honestly become a huge pet peeve of mine. This is at least the third book that I read this year that ends its story abruptly, the exact way a book that needed to be twice as long would. I don't actually hate this! I just want to know it going in. This would easily be a 5 star book if it was marketed as 'part one of the Exordia series.' But I deduct a star for not bothering to end your story all the way, and then bate and switching me that I'm getting a complete story!)

**Deep Breath**

Otherwise this has all of the wonderful, complex, and well realized politics and characters that Dickinson created in the Baru Cormorant series. Dickinson makes some truly unique choices here, like setting this book in, I believe the Obama administration, although I just learned that it's an expansion of a short story, (which I have not read) so maybe that explains it.

Our main protagonist is a Kurdish refugee living in New York, Anna Sinjari, who is busily sabotaging her life and refusing to get therapy when she sees an alien. This is Ssrin, a Khai, who looks like a snake bodied person with multiple snakes for heads. Ssrin is involved in alien politics best described as Byzantine via H.R. Geiger. She needs Anna's help to retrieve a weapon that other aliens are willing to destroy the world for.

The other unexpected story element (really, none of this happens in a way you expect, but I'm focusing specifically on choices I have not seen made before) is (view spoiler)

There's some heavy, dark themes running through this book. There's a bunch of characters trying to justify, rationalize, and persuade others to their own moral choices, all of which are covered in blood. So much blood. This isn't feel good sci-fi, this is heavily military and bordering on nihilistic. In fact, it vibes in some interesting ways with another dark sci-fi novel I just read: Blindsight, by Peter Watts. Both seem to be playing with the idea that the universe is at best cold and indifferent, and worse (and possibly more likely) it is actively, virulently hostile to humanity.

Similar vibes: Alien, Fever House by Keith Rosson, maybe a splash of The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch
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Whoa.

Exordia is awe-inspiring, in the Old Testament sense of brilliance, admiration and dread. It's a very different book than the Masquerade series. It's filled with hilariously dark humor, intriguingly cutting insights about humanity, sci-fi technobabble, ideas that flit between fascinating and terrifying, and a villain who truly deserves the descriptor of Evil.

There's a lot in this novel, and I'm trying to avoid discussing any of it for fear of spoilers -- I enjoyed my time with Exordia so much that, if I start enthusing about it, I might not stop. As always Dickinson's prose is a joy to read: simple without being bland, complex without being overwhelming, and packed full of some of the most entertaining metaphors you'll find in a SF/F novel.

Exordia feels like what you might get if Peter Watts and Seth Dickinson had collaborated, which makes me just the audience for this novel. The ending demands a sequel, but I feel like Exordia might be lessened with one. It's a novel that never quite went the way I expected it to, but was obviously following a pattern, and feels like it couldn't have ended in any other way. It starts with an apartment in New York and elegantly spirals out into interstellar war -- and beyond. There are a lot of characters and all of them are rich and well-developed, although there's a part of me who found that Anna and Ssrin were the ones I was most interested in and missed them when they were absent.

It's been a long time since I read a book I've been unable to put down, one that has consumed my waking thoughts and distracted me from hobbies and work. Whatever flaws I can point to feel relatively minor. It does feel that the middle section of the book becomes a bit dense and unwieldy, not as easy to follow as what comes before or after (but without being impossible to follow) and some of the sci-fi and pop culture references felt a bit much (but most of them land with precision, and pay homage, I assume, to many of Dickinson's inspirations.) I expected the Battlestar Galactica reference. I did not expect the Evangelion one!

Exordia has shades of everything else Dickinson has written -- the Masquerade series, the lore of Destiny, Freespace: Blue Planet, and so on -- but refined to a wicked edge. It's a book I'm going to revisit a few times, but only once my mind has had some time to relax. I don't think it quite hits the highs of The Traitor Baru Cormorant, but I feel Dickinson is an author much more at ease in the sci-fi milieu which I think propels this novel to a five-star rating.

(Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review!)

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4.5 stars, rounded up. Not that I would change much if anything about it (although some parts in the middle did feel like an unending horrifying fever dream). Not because I wouldn't recommend it to everyone I know who can stomach it - I wanted to take every second line and frame it, because it made me laugh, or dug too deep. But it's another one of those books I don't think I can face again. It's one of those books I can only hope to come back to in future and digest again in fragments, lest it overwhelm me. That is to say, business as usual!

To summarize, Exordia is about the trolley problem, explored to agonizing depth, and about space aliens, the question of free will and the fabric of reality, the military, colonialism, war, and genocide, through the eyes of characters who have been on both sides of the gun, finger on detonator, and are deeply traumatized. There is no way I can do justice to any of it here, but I can only try.

This is a "fun book" as a breather, in the author's words, to which I say I think your definition of "fun" is a little warped. What the fuck. But this is a really Funny book; snappy, full of wit and probing, scathing commentary. And it is full of rage.

To be honest, having Exordia be hard sci-fi sorely tested my determination to follow Seth Dickinson to the depths of Hell (haha), because I tend to be cast adrift by constant technobabble and scientific conceits I'd need a PhD to grasp, my pea brain can't handle it. But I needn't have worried, because Exordia works through its characters, and never loses sight of that. I mean, you'll get a lot of sci-fi and allegedly it's very robust for those out there who love it, but it offers so much to readers on the other end of the spectrum - the characters and their relationships drive the novel, sometimes literally. They are each distinctive and sometimes awful and so so human (except for when they aren't).

Anna is a mean and hard-edged delight, her and her relationship with her mother and her alien, both strangely tender and so painful. I loved seeing her face her choice and grappling with it, living with it, but even so, she faces the world with a resigned and grimly cheerful determination. Refusing to be pinioned. Ssrin - I loved her in all her alien glory and alien morality and sometimes-kindness, and especially when she pulled the rug from under my feet - don't get complacent. I loved whatever the fuck Erik/Rosamaria/Clayton had going on (god that toxic love/obsession is so chefs kiss, what with Clayton's desperate need to prove himself to Erik, the fact that he loved him even while he was making choices Erik would loathe), and Li Aixue/Chaya's tentative interactions, their wonder.

(One of my favourite parts: Erik telling Anna (melodramatically) his life story, trying to justify to her his vendetta against Clayton, and Anna listening patiently, then blowing his hypocrisy wide open with a smile.)

(Another favourite part - Anna and Ssrin as roommates, their last idyll. The Khai's seven passions.)

That ending............ is another familiar stomach-clencher. I wanted to find out more about those space aliens and their culture, and the ending was poised on that cusp. Likely that wasn't the point, likely it's supposed to hit close to home and stay there. I wouldn't say no to a sequel, though. I loved Exordia so much. I want to hope, for these characters.

Some more personal thoughts: if you loved the last two books of Baru you will also likely love this one - it's the same style of character work mixed with frenetic action, where at times the story loiters but you're just enjoying its texture too much to care, if that makes any sense at all, and there are strong echoes of known characters and themes that are returned to (what is a soul? how to do good, when every path demands sacrifice? does anyone have that right, to choose? choice and the context of those choices). Also I genuinely think Seth is prescient (the pandemic, anyone?), and having this book be released now, with its unflinching takedown of the US and the atrocities it's responsible for, and is complicit in, and its justifications of those atrocities, is ballsey, but sorely needed.

A huge thank you to Tor and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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It has been just about a month since I finished reading my Netgalley ARC of Exordia. I have had difficulty summarizing, or even providing a slice of my feelings and experiences reading Exordia. It has infected my brain, and if I'm being completely honest I preordered a number of copies for friends who I believe will love this book. Dickinson's The Masquerade was so electrifying that I returned to reading sci-fi and fantasy. Exordia continues to light my brain on fire in the same way The Traitor Baru Cormorant did five years ago.

Seth Dickinson is an extraordinary author who juggles a dazzling number of extremely high concept ideas with compelling and hurt (so hurt!) characters. Exordia is another stellar example of Dickinson's work. I've seen it blurbed as "Michael Crichton meets Marvel's Venom," but I think a more accurate summary would be "Independence Day meets Annihilation." In part for the context of an extraterrestrial encounter, but much more for the phantasmagoric explosion of body horror, fractal imagery, and connection and conflict between people of radically different upbringing and culture trying to work together in apocalyptic circumstances.

The book isn't just rich in ideas, it's smart. The book leaps from perspectives and events to others explosively, dropping the reader in radically new settings and the book expects readers to keep up. It starts off dizzying, but by the midpoint of the novel the reader should be comfortable with the way the narrative shifts its attentions and focus. The novel is a challenging read, and to effectively cover its subject matter, the novel has to be challenging.

Exordia doesn't shy away from challenging themes. Central to the plot is the Kurdish people and their repeated experiences with exploitation and genocide. Many characters are deeply traumatized, having experienced some of the worst things that humans can experience. Other characters are responsible for similar exploitation and genocides. There are elements of body-horror that are troubling, and nauseating, but necessarily powerful.

But even more than the novel is challenging, or smart, or phantasmagoric, it is fun! There were times I was cackling with laughter or joy. In the midst of apocalyptic battle, certain characters take the time to admire the beauty of fighter jet design. (In fact, the love for fighter jets is one of the most thrilling and fun components of the whole novel) At times both characters and narrative seems terminally online, making pop-culture references a mile a minute, that never feel out of place so much as they feel representative of weird, off-putting, empathic, loving, real people. Much of the second half of the novel is fun, bold, and insane in a way that's hard to quantify without heavy spoilers.

The book won't be for everyone, nor will any masterpiece. There will be readers who struggle with the narrative shifts, the elegantly complicated plot lines and ever-expanding cast of characters. But the novel's character doesn't make it any less of a masterpiece, just less of a universal read. While I assume Exordia will actually be more accessible and broadly appealing than Dickinson's The Masquerade, Exordia will still be an acquired taste. But for those who can enjoy it, it is singular in its appeal.

Exordia is a masterpiece. It's so frenetic, explosive, and elegant that I can barely scratch the surface. I would need 6 months and a research team to track down all the references and implications, before I could even begin to write a review that praises Exordia in the way it deserves.
For now, I'll say this: If high concept, character-driven, science fiction is up your alley- if you love Annihilation, Dune, or other such fare, then there's a good shot this will earn a spot on your favorite novels. It's just that good.

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I'm conflicted. This was good! (it's Seth Dickinson, after all). It had plenty of interesting ideas that I'll be thinking about for a long time. But I'll be honest: my favourite part was the opening act. The rest was just a little too... slow? Elaborate? Detailed? I don't know. It was good, but by the time I finished the book my first thought was, "now I'm free!" I'm also not sure about the ending. I was hoping for a standalone and I don't know if this is it or not.

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I could not put this book down, my god. Staying up super late multiple nights because I couldn’t stop reading is such a great problem to have, and Exordia gave me that problem more than any book I’ve read in a few years.

This is a very different book than Baru, but Seth’s evocative prose and dark humor is familiar from page one, and the laser focus on defamiliarizing real world injustices is again the core of the work. Despite being far more immediate (Exordia is set during the Obama administration in our world, with an alternate history beginning from the moment the book starts), the heaviness of the topics never gets overwhelming. There’s some incredible (and extremely fitting) tonal dissonance here, with every perspective character having their own sense of disaffected humor about the apocalyptic situation they’ve been thrown into.

I described this to my friend after just starting as “if the Books of Sorrow were written with Gideon the Ninth’s tone and just straight up in our world,” and I think that remains true throughout. There’s a huge amount of references peppered in, and it helps maintain that lighter tone to balance the despair of what is essentially a doomsday clock ticking down throughout the book - and it helps keep things grounded, honestly. I never felt it took away from the gravity of things, or was unnatural - after all, if I, an early 21st century sci fi nerd, was thrown into some fucked up alien bioweapon mystery, it’s hard to say my first thought wouldn’t be “oh shit, this is just like the Andromeda Strain!”

Having seven (eight?) different protagonist (or deuteragonist, I don’t know which they qualify as) PoVs is pretty wild but works perfectly here. Every character has such a unique outlook that you can instantly figure out whose head you’ve popped into even before any identifying names or things are mentioned - Seth’s mastery of the tonally cohesive PoV shifts was something I had loved in Tyrant, especially, and they’re equally impressive here. The characters are lovable, hatable, and everything in between - and each as mentioned is so distinct and compelling that I can’t say there was a single character who I was unhappy to get into their head. And that’s saying something, given who some of these characters are, but I’ll leave the specifics a surprise. Predictably, my favorites were the dysfunctional autistic butch-femme lesbians, but I really loved all of them in the end.

The base premise is almost comical in how small it starts to how much it escalates - a cynical, disillusioned Kurdish genocide survivor, Anna Sinjari, meets a terrifying (and yes…very hot. I’m a simple woman) alien in Central Park, and this seemingly chance encounter sees her roped into a small group of scientists, soldiers, and her own mother in a desperate countdown to solve an otherworldly mystery and save their world. The twists and turns of the plot are intense, so engaging that I was bouncing up and down at times (there’s plenty of sci-fi insanity that I absolutely eat up), and tightly paced.

Seth seems to really enjoy writing ethical dilemmas to great effect, and Exordia is ruthless in that area, taking the base concept of the trolley problem and the moral justification for what someone would sacrifice for the greater good and carving it apart for narrative weight. What greater good does the sacrifice serve? Is it actually good? Who gets to make the choice, and do they have a choice but to make it? There’s a lot to dig into here, and Exordia is a four course meal.

One aspect of this simply taking place in our world, rather than being an alternate universe like Baru, is that the defamiliarized commentary is even more on the nose. Whereas Baru is a commentary on empire and homophobia as a whole, transparently pulling from primarily American history of genocide and imperialism to shape a culture unlike our own in many ways to defamiliarize this moral exploration, Exordia is just literally about real world American imperialism and enabling of genocide in the MENA region, primarily the ramifications of the military industrial complex’s usage of drone warfare and the extremist regimes armed and encouraged by “counterterrorism.”

All this sets the stage for the question of what happens when a bigger fish arrives, one just as hell bent on empire building and justifying its own atrocities. The sci-fi intervention into this banal evil is at the same time a reflection of that evil, and asking if the world has the capacity for resistance to both. Exordia’s answer is profound, and far from easy, but entirely fitting for the ethical dilemma that runs throughout the book, creeping up on you slowly as you start to recognize what shape it takes in this story.

The central material conflict of the book, a locked box mystery of sorts that you piece together with the characters, is fucked up and fun and scary, a reality shifting threat that treads the line between body horror, meta-narrative, and lovecraftian math. It’s extremely cool, and I think it’ll be right up the alley of fans of The Andromeda Strain, The Locked Tomb, The Books of Sorrow and other parts of Destiny lore, and a lot of other SFF stories where ethics, horror, and mystery mix together.

I don’t want to say too much about the climax and the ending - going into this book without knowing too much was an incredible experience that had me on the edge of my proverbial seat - but the ending left me asking myself some very similar questions as I had at the end of Traitor, and I cannot wait for a reread when the physical book is in my hands to see what little foreshadowed things I can pick up on.

I don’t think people are going to be quite as completely emotionally Destroyed at the ending of this one as Traitor, but…it is very much a Seth Dickinson book, and they have quite the talent for making every thread tie together at the end to make the reader feel every emotion at once and realize that this could never have gone any other way. I cried, I laughed, sometimes simultaneously, and a book that can do that to me is entirely worth the experience - and what an experience this was.

Absolutely fucking incredible, I want more of these characters and everything they’re wrapped up in, 10/10.

I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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I’m a big fan of Dickinson’s Baru Cormorant series, so I was curious to see what he’d been working on in the meantime. I was excited to see how he handled a different genre but I think through reading Exordia I realized that what I liked so much about Baru Cormorant isn’t very specific to the genre, what grabbed me were the compelling, fully fleshed out main cast and relationships I became invested in, along with the great, intricate worldbuilding.

Other reviewers have mentioned that the first section stands out and was originally published as a separate short story. I think the first section is the strongest part of the book and Anna and Ssrin’s weird-ass relationship was super compelling and drew me in, and then we basically never saw these characters interact again until the very end of the book.

I also think Dickinson bit off more than he could chew with all the topics he covers in the book. Pure math, the history of outside interference in Kurdistan, the Obama-era drone program and military in general, alien technology that interfaces with souls- it’s an ambitious amount of ground to cover and even with how long the book is, to me it spent so much time jumping around that it didn’t really fully deliver on any of these aspects.

I found the overarching plot and the POV characters engaging, but I struggled with the choppiness of the narrative. At the climax, I was genuinely too confused with what was happening with all the different characters and their motivations actually digest what was happening. Overall, I liked parts of it but struggled with the book as a whole, and would recommend people go in knowing that it’s hard sci-fi and pretty different from the Baru Cormorant series.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

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This is a difficult book to review. I really enjoyed the Baru Cormorant books, though they took me a while to get through and had a little too much economics and politics for my personal taste, and the beginning of this book really captured me in a similar way. Seth Dickinson has a prose style that appeals to me, and his books thus far have had an imaginative complexity that I enjoy. This particular book turned out to be very much not my thing, but I can definitely see what kinds of readers would enjoy it. so I want to emphasize that I think the writing is great, the overall plotting is skillful, and that the opinions I'm going to express about the book overall were things I didn't like but things others surely will like, because I think Dickinson is a skilled writer. My experience was disappointing, but it's not really about the quality of the book, just that it was not at all what I expected in a way I didn't end up enjoying.

This started out as an alien book, with the fun combo of horror and humor that plopping aliens down in the very real modern world can produce. Anna, a young Kurdish woman living in New York, and Ssrin, an alien she spots in Central Park, have an immediate bond. The kind of fun, unhealthy, weird bond that two beings who have lived through horrors and are sharing an apartment can have with each other, accentuated by interesting alien biology and culture and the sense of a coming large-scale conflict on the horizon. I loved this part of the book, I think it will stick with me.

Then it became very much a military book--our military and foreign militaries--in a way that felt similar to how a blockbuster alien or superhero movie can sometimes be suddenly about the military response rather than the average person response. It also became a theoretical math book?? Which was rough for me, a person who does not understand math at all. Some of the characters we met after that initial introduction with Anna and Ssrin were interesting, but I didn't love any of them in the way I wanted to; I got overwhelmed by the amount of jargon I didn't understand and, personally, didn't care about. It was a very long book, and the bulk of it was really tough going for me, and the ending did not really pay off enough to make up for it (though I did like the ways that things tied up). So, very much not a book for me, disguised as a book I thought would be up my alley.

But! Complex and well-written, an intriguing premise, interestingly morally complicated, and I think it will please a lot of readers.

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