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We Have Always Been Here

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This psychological sci-fi thriller from a debut author follows one doctor who must discover the source of her crew's madness... or risk succumbing to it herself.

Misanthropic psychologist Dr. Grace Park is placed on the Deucalion, a survey ship headed to an icy planet in an unexplored galaxy. Her purpose is to observe the thirteen human crew members aboard the ship—all specialists in their own fields—as they assess the colonization potential of the planet, Eos. But frictions develop as Park befriends the androids of the ship, preferring their company over the baffling complexity of humans, while the rest of the crew treats them with suspicion and even outright hostility.

Shortly after landing, the crew finds themselves trapped on the ship by a radiation storm, with no means of communication or escape until it passes—and that's when things begin to fall apart. Park's patients are falling prey to waking nightmares of helpless, tongueless insanity. The androids are behaving strangely. There are no windows aboard the ship. Paranoia is closing in, and soon Park is forced to confront the fact that nothing—neither her crew, nor their mission, nor the mysterious Eos itself—is as it seems.

355 pages, Hardcover

First published July 6, 2021

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About the author

Lena Nguyen

2 books92 followers
The daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, Lena Nguyen lives with her partner in the alien desert of Arizona. She received her MFA in fiction from Cornell University, where she also taught courses in English literature, composition, creative writing, cultural studies, superheroes, and zombies. Her science fiction and fantasy have won several accolades, and she was a Writers of the Future finalist. When not writing traditional fiction, Lena is steeped in the world of game development and is hard at work on her next choice-based game. We Have Always Been Here (DAW, Penguin Random House) is her debut novel.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 346 reviews
Profile Image for carol..
1,538 reviews7,882 followers
November 2, 2022
Aka: Science Fiction Written by People Who Watched One Episode of TV Sci-Fi

It was on page three when I realized Nguyen and I were going to have differences:

“And with no foreign microbes in space, the chances of incurring infection in route were vanishingly small.”

Oh boy. I read that twice to be sure it was saying what I thought. Yep; it was. Apparently, Nguyen is completely unaware that our bodies are literally bacteria habitats--any disturbance in homeostasis and a little bad luck, and you will have a population explosion sure to cause problems. I mean, it isn't "foreign" microbes that are responsible for over 200 thousand people admitted to the hospital each year for diverticulitis, nor for the unlucky 7% of the U.S. who develop appendicitis (side rant: why is it always the foreign that gets blamed?)

Okay, maybe it gets better. Not everyone in sci-fi knows about bacteria.

Wait; it doesn't.
Here she describes the lead character, Park:

“She was one of the two psychologists on the ship, charged with monitoring the crew’s mental health; Chanur was the physician in charge of their physical well-being. That meant they were both medical professionals… But Chanur obviously saw their roles as completely separate from one another.”

Well, they are. First, separate medical degrees, separate jobs. There's a reason one has 'M.D.' and one has 'PhD' or 'PsyD.' (As an aside, this paragraph was so confusingly written that I thought Chanur was one of the two psychologists for half the book). But either way, Park is a shitty psychologist, or whatever kind of brain analyst she claims to be (hint: calling your long-term co-voyagers 'patients' isn't good practice).

"Park was suspicious, but after a while she let him go. She did not feel equipped to press a patient with questions without Keller there.” 

Sure, I get why a professional who literally is in a job designed around asking questions, may have issues actually asking, you know, questions.
What? Hand you a pill? No, I'm a nurse, I'm not sure I'm equipped to do that.

It gets better. It turns out the other psychologist, Park's mentor, Keller, is also shit at doing her job. She manages to invalidate and dismiss her mentee's concerns, all at the same time:  'The mission is designed so that all crewmembers can still succeed in their jobs. The robots are only here for support and back up— not as an integral part of the expedition.” She gave Park a smile, and then another motherly, reassuring pat on the hand. “Don’t worry. I’m sure they’ll all be fine.'" Wow. Those are some fine interpersonal skills there.

But it isn't just bacteria and medical people that Nyguen has trouble with. She's also terrible with 'robots' and ships. When Park asks one of the robots a question, a psychologist has something to say about it: "'Who, in your opinion, do you think would try to poison me?” Chanur wheeled on her [Park] then, eyes flashing with disapproval. 'It doesn’t have an opinion, Park,” she said tightly. 'Being a machine.'"
Actually, I would think the robots would be best suited to answer that question, particularly if they had access to all monitoring systems on a spaceship--they could work out logical probability of who/where/when in a heartbeat. I'm having trouble working out a society that thinks 'robots' can be security, janitors and cooks (basically all your low-wage jobs), and yet not have the ability to process information. And then having people around them hate the robots. Knowing the human ability to anthropomorphize just about everything, how likely do you think this is?

Speaking of spaceships, Park has a surprising amount of trouble navigating around this one, but only because of Plot-Related Reasons. Because I'm almost 100% certain there's no science-y reason for a spaceship described like this:

"Structured like a rabbit’s warren, the ship itself a great oblong disc whirling through space, its innards three decks’ worth of cramped and crooked passageways that twined around each other in dimly lit confusion. No straight lines here, Park often thought…The way the corridors twisted around each other-coupled with the way the ship spun-meant you could never really tell what direction you were moving in."

When I realized how much my antipathy was growing, I tried to channel the emotion into a hate-read, so I could at least participate with my buddies and not just drop out. Clearly, I've grown as a person, because I couldn't even manage to do that. It turns out there are REASONS for some of these things (but not good ones). No; it's like Nyguen had a plot she wanted to use and worked backwards for the science and conditions to make the plot possible. And then didn't think about how she needed to back those conditions up by actual reality.

"Truth be told, she didn’t think she could shoulder the burden of the ship’s nine remaining minds all on her own. Didn’t believe that she could interact with all of those people, process all of those worries and neuroses and fears, without herself going mad. She had never trained for this—had never expected to take on a role beyond that of an observer, a monitor."

Sure, I can see how someone selected for a space voyage, with the express purpose of treating the 'minds' of the crew would feel overwhelmed by, you know, doing the job she was hired for. (bolded sarcasm font).

Truth be told, I never expected this to be such a hot mess of a book, or I wouldn't have suggested it to friends as a buddy read. It had all the ingredients I've loved lately: exploration spaceships, psychological uncertainty and intelligent but misanthropic leads. Ruined by absent world-building, the lamest plot ever, and the kind of pseudo-science seen in Sci-Fy Movie of the Week, I recommend this to no one.

My deepest apologies to Nataliya (her review) and Phil (his review) who were game enough to finish.
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,114 reviews2,808 followers
July 6, 2021
We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen 

This psychological sci-fi thriller features psychologist Dr. Grace Park, who is a crew member on a survey ship, the Deucalion. Thirteen humans and thirteen androids are on this trip to assess the colonization potential of the planet, Eos. Park's job on this expedition is to observe the human crew members although most of the crew members see Park as a company spy. Interstellar Frontier controls the lives of every conscripted person, including the lives of their families. One wrong step from a conscripted person and they and their families can end up dumped into the wilds of Earth, a feral, dangerous place. Park is from a safe, secure biodome part of Earth and has never needed to conscript herself to ISF in order to survive. 

But Park is different from the others in another way, too. She has always felt a bond to her android companions, first her nanny android and later her bodyguard android, Glenn. She's stood out for not meshing with humans, for being happy alone or with Glenn, who, along with the nanny, raised her from a young age while her guardian spent months/years doing research elsewhere. 

Now, on this ship with thirteen humans and thirteen androids, once again Park forms bonds with the androids, especially Jimex, the custodian model, who spends all his down time beside Park. It's in this backdrop of suspicion towards Park, because of her non conscripted status and her friendliness with the androids, that disaster befalls the ship upon landing on Eos. The engineer falls ill and is out of commission. Soon others are taken out of commission, also, with nightmares, sleep walking, self harm and other things occurring among the crew members. Someone is trying to sabotage the mission and everyone is in danger. 

An already claustrophobic situation feels more so as bodies fall and the systems on the ship and the ability to communicate with the company fails. The present day story is intertwined with flashbacks to Park's early days with Glenn and with a broken down two man ship to this very planet, one year earlier. I was intrigued by Park's thoughts as she tried to analysis the motives and hidden feelings of the crew members when she barely seemed to know how to relate to her fellow humans at all. 

Publication: July 6, 2021

Thank you to DAW and NetGalley for this ARC.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,296 reviews120k followers
July 14, 2022
The EOS team viewed her as an ISF snitch, a ladder-climber, a betrayal to her peer group—and also just plain strange. She was also troublingly unavailable as a sexual partner—none of the expedition members were married—and this isolated her even further. There was no comfortable niche for her in the social structure. No connections to anchor her to the community.
Once, during a patient session, Valentina Hanover asked to be called “Hunter."
“Hunter,” Park repeated, thinking of her file. “That isn’t your middle name.”
Valentina gave her a look of loathing. “It’s called a nickname, you absolute imbecile.”
That about summed up everyone else’s apparent impressions of Park. She barely spoke to them, and when she did, it always seemed like she came off as baffling, primitive: some kind of specimen that one examined with half-disgust, like protozoic ooze. No, they acted like she was an alien sightseer, ogling the most basic human interactions, and in turn, they ogled her, too—squinted at her from behind the glass, whispered and smirked to each other.
“I don’t think,” he said, “that humans can live here, Park.”
“So why are we still here?”
Grace Park was not the sort of psychologist who sits with patients using talk therapy to unearth and resolve their deep-seated issues. No couch or cushy-chair sessions for her. Removed-from-people analysis was much more her forte. Frankly, she was a lot more comfortable with androids than she’d ever been with people. People lie. But when her boss, more of a traditional, people-skills psychologist, is pulled away onto a very hush-hush special assignment during their mission, Park is stuck as the remaining shrink. As noted above, the crew see her as a spy for the mega-company that is in charge of this expedition to a new planet, Eos. They are not entirely wrong. She had been given this assignment to monitor the mental well-being of the crew and report back, interceding where needed to head off potential morale problems.

Lena Nguyen - image from Voyage Phoenix

It was weird having two shrinks aboard. And it was weird that there was something going on that only some of the crew were in on. And weirder still that something is making the crew of the Deucalion sick, not just unwell, but out of their minds, and a danger to everyone ar0und them, leaving Park to cope with the uninfected crew and the spreading madness.

The security people are no help at all. The very suspicious Sagara sees threats everywhere, and his #2, Hunter Hanover, seems eager to get back into the combat she clearly misses, even if it is with an unarmed psychologist. Instead of carbon dioxide, she exhales hostility.

So, there are core mysteries--what is going on? what is making everyone nuts? what is the secret project some of the crew are working on?--with Park trying to sleuth her way through those, while crew-members around her are either succumbing to madness or being picked off like the characters in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Grace suspects one or more of the unaffected might be part of the problem. She does have at least some crew members she can talk to. A cartographer named Fulbreech seems interested in her (which she cannot understand, seeing herself as not at all attractive) and a custodial android named Jimex, that (who?) assists her in a variety of tasks.

There is a horror element as well. Park must fear for her own safety, of course, as an infected person might try to kill her. And then there is the decidedly strange. Passages in the ship seem to shift like Hogwarts staircases. And bizarre dreams add to the mix.
I was sleeping, and then when I woke up—I couldn’t move. There were all these lights flashing in my face. I tried to open my mouth to yell for someone, but—I had no tongue.”
“In your dream,” Park couldn’t stop herself from saying.
Holt shook his head again, but Park couldn’t tell what it meant. He continued, “My lungs were frozen; I couldn’t breathe. I was cold—so fucking cold. Like I was dead. Like my skin was peeling off. None of my organs were working. And I—I wasn’t in control of myself. I wanted to go outside. Leave the ship. But I was trapped inside my body and couldn’t move. I thought to myself that I’d rather be dead than keep feeling that way. I wanted to be dead.”
And there is some visceral fear inducement, reminiscent of classic sci-fi/horror like Alien.
It didn’t help that the air was so muggy and damp, as if she were walking into the gullet of something alive.
Any good horror tale deals in feelings of isolation, and there is plenty of that here. The insiders on the ship have all the needed intel, and are not eager to share, even those who are not overtly hostile toward her. Grace is certainly outside the inner circle, not privy to operational intel, not allowed to go onto the planet after they land. It does not help that there are no windows on the ship, outside the bridge, so she cannot even see outside. Communication with the home base planet is cut off due to a radiation storm (or is it?) And why are there so many military sorts on this mission? What does it say about your situation when your most trusted allies are not human? But isolation was something with which Grace had had plenty of experience.
Solitude for her was like a religious blessing to others: it was her church of one. Always she closed the doors behind her with the awareness that she was giving herself sanctuary, an opportunity to cleanse and be purified. Fulbreech was like the neighbor who kept her from shutting the door, asking if she was interested in participating in the annual bake sale.
The story takes place in three time-lines. First is Grace and her ongoing, present-day experiences. This is augmented by flashbacks to her childhood on Earth. Not an idyllic upbringing. The third piece consists of field reports from another ship, the Wyvern, in which we follow the exploits of its two crewmen, who had landed on a very strange planet, and were seeking to basically claim it. We can expect that the Deucalion and Wyvern stories will eventually connect. The strangeness of the Wyvern crew’s exploration of the planet adds to the general feeling of menace.

Overall, I was reminded of The Thing and The Terror, in addition to the Agatha Christie and Alien refs noted above. There is a persistent, mounting feeling of dread, that grows as we become more familiar with Grace, better understand why she is the way she is, why she feels more sympathy for machines than for people, and are able to root for her more and more.

The explanation for it all is quite interesting. Nguyen’s constructed universe is believable, given the usual sci-fi shortcut of FTL speed. Mention is made of Privacy Wars impacting what is allowed re surveillance, and anti-robot riots on Earth, the latter seeming a lot more believable than the former. People seem quite ok with sacrificing privacy for convenience, but I could easily see the unemployed and those feeling threatened rising up to oust the mechanized other.

I liked the parallelism of Park connecting with Jimex today, and a different caretaker android on Earth, while a Wyvern crew-member forms a bond with a very different sort of droid on that mission. There is intelligent consideration of what makes a person a person, and an interesting look at a less individualistic form of intelligent connection. (This hits home as I see my wife becoming one with her new iWatch) I quite enjoyed the Campbellian hero imagery, as Grace must descend into the bowels of whatever (the inmost cave) to engage in a Supreme Ordeal. Will she prevail?

So, there is plenty to like about this book. There is a lot of intelligence, thoughtfulness, and craft on display. Nguyen is a young writer with enormous promise. And yet, even with occasionally feeling pulled in, feeling invested, particularly when reading about Park’s past, the feeling was only occasional. I worked my way through the book, reading regular chunks every day until I was done, but I never really needed to get back to it. It was not a read that pulled at my consciousness all that hard. I am giving this one four stars, but that is only because three and a half is not an option.
Did anyone really have the capacity to care—truly care—beyond the instinct to ally, fuck, and raise their young to breeding age? Were there any decisions guided by pure selflessness? Not in humans, she supposed—in androids, yes. It was too bad no one else could see the beauty in that.

Review first posted – July 2, 2021

Publication dates
----------Hardcover - July 6, 2021
----------Trade paperback - July 12, 2022

I received an e-ARE of We Have Always Been Here in return for an honest review. Thanks to DAW Books in general and Elisha K in particular. While it may sometimes seem that way, this review was not written by a machine. I make no such avowals about any other reviews.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, FB, and Twitter pages

Bio from Penguin Random House
The daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, Lena Nguyen lives with her partner in the alien desert of Arizona. She received her MFA in fiction from Cornell University, where she also taught courses in English, writing, and zombies. Her science fiction and fantasy have won several accolades, and she was a Writers of the Future finalist. When not writing, Lena enjoys editing and game development. We Have Always Been Here is her debut novel.
-----Voyage Phoenix - Meet Lena Nguyen

Items of Interest
-----John W. Campbell – as Don Stuart - Who Goes There - the full text of Campbell’s story, the basis of three film versions of The Thing
-----Agatha Christie - And Then There Were None - full text of the book made into films using the original name of the book and also “Ten Little Indians
-----Wiki on The Terror, a novel by Dan Simmons that was adapted into a wonderful series on AMC
Profile Image for Nataliya.
745 reviews11.9k followers
November 13, 2021
I always hope a debut novel will be good — I want more strong new voices in SFF, and I always want the first labor of love for a new author to be wonderful and rewarding. But sadly my goodwill ran out with this one.

I was having fun with it at the start, and got through the first half fairly quickly, but then, as the brain fog after vaccine booster cleared and actual critical thinking began, I had to force myself to trudge through the rest of it as my eyebrows started to get lost in my hairline. The best I can say is that it almost reads like a novelization of a mediocre TV series episode.

Early on I actually quite liked the creepily claustrophobic and confused anxious feel that was setting quite a tense ambiance. But after a few dozen pages disappointment crept in — as it became clear that the issues with plot and handwaving most science concepts was not serving a very specific purpose (I actually had a pet theory about this book’s plot, but it fell apart quickly) but was just a symptom of not a very good book. The subpar writing, the logical plot holes and confused simplicity of half-baked SF concepts (it makes “Guardians of the Galaxy” look like hard SF ) that seems borrowed from cartoons and SF B-movies and really amounted to a lot of handwaving, the cardboard characters with quite adolescent behavior patterns — all that kept piling up. And “confused” turned out not just the state of the protagonist but the state of the actual story itself.
(Hey, maybe confused is what led to referring to “arctic air” on Antarctica??? 🙄)
Oh, and “quantum” is used for explanation of things the author other doesn’t understand or doesn’t bother to plausibly explain the same way “magic” is used in a bad fantasy story.

The themes were way too disjointed. A mystery on the ship (which didn’t matter), a weak attempt at showing the evils of corporate servitude, a weird rise of AI consciousness, half-baked attempts at “quantum” stuff on the planet, not to mention overlong and mostly irrelevant backstory that came to “Park likes androids and doesn’t like or get people”. All those are vaguely shown and are haphazardly crammed (or “folded”, perhaps 🙄) together. It’s like the author had an idea of where she wanted to get to in the story, that final scene of it, but didn’t put much effort into plausibly getting us there, and the closer we get to the end the more scattered the concepts become.

I think Nguyen should have stayed with the exploration of human/android relationships (Park/Glenn) and not ventured into attempts at describing interstellar travel, spaceship and extraterrestrial events.

The narration is also weak. It’s repetitive, poorly paced, full of telling rather than showing, often jumping to conclusions as plot shortcuts. The characters are bland, boring and overly childish, acting inconsistently with their characterizations. The transition between confusion and isolation of the protagonist and suddenly everyone just unloading all the plot points on her is strangely abrupt. The endless flashbacks are too long without adding that much to the plot. The interactions between crew members are quite adolescent, and so are the protagonists as the whole space bullying seems to have come out straight of middle school hallways.

This is a world where it is plausible to send - among a crew of 13 on the interstellar space travel - TWO psychologists (one of whom was basically shadowing the experienced colleague and whose work seems to be plugging in the Mood Altering Device [probably using the charge left from FTL drive]) but ONE specialist capable of accessing and repairing all spaceship systems and all android maintenance.

I’ll throw in a few passages early on that should have warned me:
“Sickness should have been impossible on their ship, she knew. All thirteen members of the Deucalion’s human crew had been rigorously examined, scanned, and tested for disease prior to boarding for the ten-month journey to Eos. And with no foreign microbes in space, the chances of incurring infection en route were vanishingly small.”
— Buuuuut … there are sicknesses that don’t come from infection.

“Reimi was the Deucalion’s lone engineer: the only person with the knowledge to service the ship’s vast governing systems and all thirteen of its androids.”
— And yet you have TWO psychologists for the crew of 13.

“But Dr. Keller was the primary psychologist, and she was utilitarian, machine-based. She’d brought a MAD—a Mood-Altering Device that shot soothing gamma rays into a patient’s eyes—and told Park that it was enough.”
— The job of this psychologist job seems very cushy, no?

Reimi was the ship’s only engineer, roboticist, and mechanic; she had the tri-fold job of attending to the Deucalion’s positronic brain, its mechanical heart, and the robotic crew that serviced it. Park felt a hard stone of fear, way down in her gut, when she thought of what could happen to the crew with Reimi out of commission. What if the ship suffered a catastrophic engine failure, a malfunction somewhere in its entrails, and they had no one on board who knew what to do?”
— Well, if it doesn’t make sense to the author, it doesn’t make sense to me.

“We need to stop the bleeding.”
“It didn’t hit bone,” was all he said in response.

— Ah, the ‘it’s only a flesh wound’ excuse tough guys are supposed to make as they slowly exsanguinate.

Yeah, it wasn’t a hit with me.

2 stars.
Thanks to Phil and Carol for the buddy read. We’ll find a better read next time.
Profile Image for Phil.
1,624 reviews104 followers
November 9, 2021
Nguyen's first novel held the promise of a great story-- an exploration space ship traveling to a distant planet and encountering all kinds of trouble. From the blurbs, I expected an interesting probing of the fine line between human and A.I. consciousness as well, packaged into something of a space thriller. And yes, while these aspects are there, WHABH suffers from a number of bothersome issues that in the end, combined to undermine the potential strength of the novel. I felt that the author on the one hand tried to do too much, but on the other hand, not enough.

Nguyen really wants this story to be mysterious. From the start, our main protagonist Park faces one mystery after another, leaving her bewildered and confused; 'one step off' if you will for the entire novel. This trope can work, but it really feels forced here. In Wool, for example, our main characters (stuck down in a silo for generations) struggle to find out what exactly is going on, and uncovering the mystery behind the purpose of the silos drives the story along nicely. Here, however, I was more annoyed by the mystery, for it really did not serve much of a purpose in the overall plot. I felt in the end that this aspect was basically a 'cover' if you will for a lot of unexplained events that really just could have been explained and it felt clumsy.

Secondly, I am a fan of space opera and science fiction in general, but good science fiction at least makes some attempt to give the reader some good science. Here, however, much of the science and technology was just not well thought out, and even contradictory. Lets take the ship itself. In the beginning, Nguyen tells us the ship rotates to provide gravity. Fine. Uncountable stories are based upon this premise, and authors have produced ships with rotating 'habitats' as well as having the entire ships/space stations shaped like rings that spin for gravity. Given this, what is up/down depends on the rotation; when the rotation stops, what was formally 'down' may be a horizontal wall, especially if the ship were to land and let planetary take over. Nguyen ignores this completely, and often slips into the ship having artificial gravity by some other means. Again, another well worn trope that works, but which is it here? You cannot have it both ways. The science and technology just felt sloppy. Another example-- the corporation that basically runs Earth is searching for new planets for colonies, fine. But, given this, why was the planet Eos (the destination of the ship) located in another galaxy? Surely there are closer places to colonize. Again, sloppy thinking and presentation with lots of hand waving at science/technology only goes so far.

As the story unfolds, Nguyen takes on various flashbacks to Park's childhood on Earth, giving us the conditions there, and we also learn more of the backstory of the mission via jumping to chapters that detail strange transmissions from a ship that basically crash landed on Eos a year or so ago from the present mission. Earth is a mess as it (gaia?) found a way to counter global warming by an explosion of new plant life that basically caused humanity to retreat to bio-domes scattered around the planet. Fortunately, one corporation had already began colonization and it basically became the global government, allowing people to emigrate off planet in return of indentured servitude. Park comes from a dome off the coast of California and her BFF is actually an android who served as her bodyguard and housekeeper while her uncle was away doing surveys of the plants that had reclaimed Earth. This is where Nguyen starts to explore A.I. and consciousness. Park seemingly has a 'thing' for androids, like some people have for dogs, while most people hate the 'clunkers' for taking their jobs and so forth.

Gradually (and mild spoilers here) we become aware that the true purpose of the mission is not to survey the planet for colonization, but to find out what happened to the ship that crash landed on Eos. It seems Eos is the center for some strange quantum 'anomalies' and perhaps some exotic 'folding' of dimensions. Again, the science here is pretty weak, but so it goes. As soon as the ship lands on Eos, strange things start happening to the crew, like horrid nightmares and strange sleepwalking that causes the ship's doctor to start 'freezing' people. Soon, half the crew are down and the 'mystery' deepens....

This could have been a great story, or at least a very good one, but besides the science hand waves and inconsistencies, the prose falls all too often into trite cliches as well, leaving me 'rolling my eyes' more than once. Yes, Nguyen does manage to bring some excitement toward the end, and the denouement was interesting, however implausible. I know this is her first book and I tend to be forgiving, but this really needed a good editor; it was published by Daw so there really is no excuse in this regard. 2 meek stars.

This was a buddy read with Carol and Nataliya-- thanks for your insights along the way!

Profile Image for Amanda at Bookish Brews.
291 reviews172 followers
July 6, 2021
Happy book birthday to Lena Nguyen!!!! I was super drawn in the entire time in this really well researched space horror! I definitely recommend this one to anyone looking for a scary space story with robots and mysterious space things! 😍

Check out my full review plus book club questions here!!!

Here's a preview:
Horrifying, smart, atmospheric, convincing, icy, eerie, epic

Wow! We Have Always Been Here was wonderful. This was the scariest book that I’ve ever survived through, and I’m proud to say that I came out loving it! This space horror has scared me more than any other book I’ve ever read (note: I have not read a lot of scary books). I initially picked this up because the author is Vietnamese and I’m desirous to read more Vietnamese authors (for personal reasons), and I am so glad that I requested it! Even though I was scared silly to even start it.

Quick Summary: Psychologist Dr. Grace Park has been placed on the Deucalion on her way to an icy planet to assess the colonization potential of a planet. Divided by varying feelings toward androids, Dr. Park is often ostracized from the rest of the crew. To make matters worse, soon after they land on Eos, the androids begin to behave strangely, and the crew seem to be falling victim to waking nightmares of insanity, one by one. Keep Reading...

I received this book for free and am leaving this review voluntarily

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Profile Image for charlotte,.
3,132 reviews821 followers
June 22, 2021
On my blog.

Rep: East Asian mcs

Galley provided by publisher

We Have Always Been Here is a claustrophobic locked-spaceship mystery, one that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time you’re reading it. It’s a slowburner, but in a way that hooks you from the start. Park doesn’t know how things tie together, neither do you, and with everything growing eerier and eerier you won’t want to wait to find out what’s going on.

The book takes place almost entirely on a spaceship, come to explore a newly discovered planet, for reasons unknown (for Park and the reader, at least). But then odd things start to happen, androids learning swear words, human crew reporting concurrent nightmares, and being placed in stasis, with no real reason why, and Park is the only one in the dark about it all.

What this book does so well is involve you in the mystery through Park. It’s not that Park is an unreliable narrator, but she doesn’t have most of the information the rest of the crew do, and the POV never expands beyond what she knows (albeit with hints as to more, with intervening transcripts of videos). And that’s where it works so well for me. I’m someone who doesn’t like having more POVs or omniscient POVs when it comes to mysteries. I need to know as much as the protagonist does and nothing else. So this book was great in that.

It’s also very good at building that tension, as Park starts to realise that maybe no one on the ship is safe, and as strange things happen, like the ship expanding into space there shouldn’t be. It’s very atmospheric in that sense, and you, like Park, are taken where the narrative wants you to go, and driven to suspect who it wants you to suspect. Okay, so in a way, the person behind it wasn’t that much of a surprise (you’ll see why if you read), but it was about the journey there, that building of tension and then the sudden release.

And, honestly, I have nothing bad to say about this book. I enjoyed reading it a lot. Yeah, it was a slow starter, but when it got going, I read the remaining two thirds or so in one sitting. It’s a book that you don’t realise it has its hooks into you until it does and you can’t stop reading.

Which, in all, makes it the best sort of book.
Profile Image for Renee Godding.
613 reviews573 followers
December 15, 2021
4/5 stars

"There are anomalies here"

Although not a perfect novel, this was such an enjoyable sci-fi story for me. A "And-then-there-were-none"-style mystery set on a space-craft, mind-bending dimensional shenanigans on an alien planet, and the always current philosophical debat of what seperates humanity from robots...
In tone and narrative I was often reminded of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, which I adored, so that's a big compliment for this debut author.
I will say that I found quite a few scientific (and medical, to stay in my own lane) inaccuracies, which I have seen other reviewers point out as well. It's a shame that they weren't picked up in editing, but I honestly didn't mind them too much to take away from my enjoyment of the story overall.

Wonderful read and an impressive debut: I can't wait to see more from this author in the future.
Profile Image for Lilyn George.
Author 3 books1 follower
July 7, 2021
Lena Nguyen’s debut novel, We Have Always Been Here, has some beautiful language in it and the robots/androids/synthetics are easy to root for. Unfortunately, in terms of nice things I have to say about the novel, that’s about it. I was frustrated to the point I considered DNFing it within the first ten percent, but I hung in there because I thought I was judging too hastily. I wanted to give the author time to pull everything together. To see if that mental switch would flip and suddenly I would enjoy what I was reading. It never happened.

Warning: This review contains minor spoilers past this point.

First, let’s acknowledge (yet again) that I am extremely picky and little details that most people wouldn’t be bothered by will annoy me to no end. So, when the author tries to get me to believe that a spaceship to an unknown planet will have only a SINGLE person on board capable of fixing any engineering/mechanical problems and the androids, I’m going to give the stink-eye. If your ship breaks down, you dead. Why would you risk being dead on a single person getting injured/taken out of action/dead? It makes absolutely no sense and is not believable.

Unfortunately, that ‘this makes no sense’ was something that I found myself thinking at more than one point throughout We Have Always Been Here, in terms of just the basic set-up. The actual action itself was decent, and the writing is not bad, but the logic behind the set up gave me a headache. Like, for example, the author goes out of their way to make sure that the main character is very isolated from what’s going on. I mean, it’s legit a big deal. No one wants her to know anything, until at around the sixty percent mark, someone decides ‘Screw it, let’s tell her everything.’ Why spend all that time emphasizing how isolated the character is only to do that?

Side note: I’m honestly not sure if the ‘twist’ involving the main character is supposed to be a surprise at the end or not. I felt like it was telegraphed so plainly that it would be impossible not to have figured out what was going on well before the end, but I also read a lot so your mileage may vary there.

Ultimately, We Have Always Been Here failed to thrill or surprise me. The dual timeline really didn’t help anything in the story (though I will note that I did like the flashbacks to when Park was a child more than I liked the current timeline stuff.) I felt like bandaids were slapped over problems with the story rather than actually fixing them, and I never was able to get past that “this doesn’t make sense” to be able to connect to the story in any fashion.

Still, if you like your sci-fi so soft it’s squishy and you haven’t consumed a lot of media dealing with robot development, this may be a perfectly enjoyable read.

Disclaimer: We received a copy of this book from Netgalley for review consideration.
Profile Image for Justine.
1,134 reviews309 followers
October 17, 2021
Not exactly horror, but more like mind bending with a dash or two of creeping dread? However you want to characterise it, We Have Always Been Here is an interesting and slightly weird book. I liked it.

The story really takes place at the edge of synthetic consciousness, and the imagined moment when machines are finally able achieve that elusive state. I loved the way part of the story emerged through Park's memories of the past, and her always important rationships with the robots around her, leading her to be who she needed to be at the critical moment.

The mystery on the ship was a bit confusing at times, but looking back, I think that actually fit well with the confused state of mind that Park finds herself in most of the time.

I still have some thoughts to unpack about this one, but I love that it left me feeling content with the story and interested in continuing to think about it even after I finished it.
Profile Image for Toya (the reading chemist).
1,133 reviews98 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
June 21, 2021
DNF at 12%.

Oh look, another sci-fi book where the science makes ZERO sense. I swear authors could at least try to research basic science before jumping into sci-fi. It's honestly just insulting.
Profile Image for Cobwebby Eldritch Reading Reindeer .
5,136 reviews271 followers
April 27, 2021
"In Space, no one can hear you scream..." or descend into nightmares, or become delusional. And if you're stranded on a planet where Space-time warps....you're in more trouble than ever expected. Sometimes, knowledge and exploration are dangerous.

Author Vera Nguyen weaves an utterly absorbing double plotline set on a frozen Ice planet named Eos, far flung and ultimately dangerous in the extreme. Depth psychology underlines the novel as we watch various characters unfold and evolve/devolve. I eagerly anticipate the author's next offering!
Profile Image for jenny✨.
563 reviews805 followers
March 25, 2022
i got really into this story.

(if i could write an absurdly specific pitch, it would be this: the silent sea (netflix k-drama) meets joan he's the ones we're meant to find to tell a story of android-human dynamics - with the vibes of caitlin starling's the luminous dead. LOL.)

three things initially caught my eye. first, the title; second, the premise (space horror is a very intriguing niche); and third, spec-fic featuring a character of colour, by an author of colour.

i devoured this novel in the span of a day. and the thing is, i knew i'd be invested from the very first sentence on the very first page. isn't it such a cool moment when a book hooks you with its opening words? i'm always on the lookout for that sort of thing!

here's how we have always been here begins:

The day after they landed on the new planet, Park woke to a pair of strong metal arms pinning her down.

me: 👀

is the world-building airtight? probably not. will this book demand some suspension of your disbelief? sure. was i totally cool with both of these things? as the book progressed, i found that my answer was yes, absolutely.

it's hard to put my finger on exactly what ensnared me about this book.

i liked the format: we alternate between the present moment - when disturbing nightmares plague park and her motley team of luminary scientists as they attempt to chart a newly discovered planet - and flashbacks from park's past, growing up with her android caregiver in a biodome off the coast of post-apocalyptic california.

i liked the strange and varied world-building: earth has been taken over by plant life, humans have colonized other planets, androids service different sectors of human society (kept in check by anti-robot dissidents), and of course the . interspersed throughout are also chapters that take the form of transcripts detailing an unsettling incident: two humans and a robot stumble onto an uncharted planet that is anything but what it seems.

i also liked the characters in this novel, and it's been awhile since i've felt genuine interest in such an array of characters. from park to her android companions to the cartographer who catches feels to the stony-faced security specialist... i wanted to know more.

pages kept flipping.

and at the end, i was left with the sense that i'd immersed myself in a story, a world, bigger than the sum of its varied, wondrous parts. i'd say that makes for a pretty darn good book.
Profile Image for Russell Atkinson.
Author 16 books35 followers
September 3, 2021
I was trying to find a good sci-fi book, but ended up instead with this poorly-written overlong fantasy story. The best that can be said about it is that could possibly be a script for the worst ever episode of Star Trek. The author clearly has no knowledge of science and made no attempt to provide even remotely plausible physical events. The story could have been told using zombies or fairies instead of androids. It takes place in a spaceship on a mysterious uncharted planet, but that's about as close to science fiction as it gets. The rest is junior high school level squabbles among the crew and a sort of half-assed mind melding. To top it off, the font was too small, with too little white space (i.e. little dialogue and narrow margins) and at 351 pages was obviously a 500-page book crammed down to fit commercially viable size. At least 400 of those pages could easily have been done away with. After the first 100 pages or so I skimmed very liberally, but I did finish it. Why, I don't know.
Profile Image for Lisa Lynch.
443 reviews242 followers
October 9, 2021
He shook his head. "We've been cut off. There will be no help from that quarter. Not now, not for the foreseeable future. Even if comms were to come back online, it would take, what, over a day to even send a request for help? And we all know how much can happen in a day." He paused again, and this time she couldn't decide if he was threatening her or sharing her fear. His next words were slow and deliberate. "No. It's my belief that, no matter what happens next..." He looked at her. "We are on our own." (p.107)

And that, loneliness, is exactly what We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen is about.

I'm so happy to say that I LOVED this book!

We Have Always Been Here is about Dr. Grace Park, a psychologist tasked with monitoring and ensuring the mental safety and competence of a spaceship full of scientists headed for a newly discovered ice planet to evaluate whether or not it is suitable for habitation... or at least that's what she's been told.

The book opens with Park waking up in medical after being secretly poisoned by one of her shipmates. Not only that, but she quickly discovers that one of the crew members has been cryogenically frozen because of an alleged illness that poses a threat to the health and safety of everyone on the ship. The unfortunate symptoms of this "illness" are sleepwalking, psychosis, and unpredictable behavior. Aka insanity.

And, to top it off, a radiation storm has rendered communications useless, so a call for help cannot be placed.

Park's superior and head psychologist, Dr. Keller, is pulled away to a secret project and can not be consulted. Also, due to her role, hiring status, and political position on the ship, Park is not allowed access to any information about the planet they are evaluating or what has been found there.

Despite feeling so isolated and alone, Park sets out to figure out what the hell is going on. Who poisoned her? Why? What is this secret "illness" people are catching? Is it even an illness? Or are people going crazy? What did they find on the planet? Is it causing this? Can Park trust any of the human crew members? And why are the android crew members acting so weird??

She was not like a hotel guest, come in safely from the night. She was more like a glacier, alone and adrift on a warming sea. Cold. remote. But shrinking rapidly under the circumstance. (p. 64)

The thing I loved the most about this book is its unsettling atmosphere. I wouldn't go so far as to call this a horror book, but it has horror elements for sure. They are in a large ship with dim and flickering lights, people are acting weird, and everyone's motivations and actions are questionable. It's creepy and disorienting and the reader is left feeling just as uncomfortable as Park feels trying to sort it all out.

The cool thing about this book is that, while there are people and androids with Park on the ship, Nguyen manages to foster this haunting and pervasive sense of loneliness and isolation I found rather intoxicating.

I could have languished in this state forever. And honestly, it kind of feels like we do.

I think one of the problems people may have with this book is that its very slow, layered, and complex. The majority of this book is an excellent character study of a woman who struggles to connect with people despite getting along very well with androids. The word "autism" is never uttered, but Park's social struggles reflected those of an individual who has autism.

Park's inability to confidently read social cues impacts her ability to investigate her crewmates and adds to the unsettling atmosphere. I mean, she really can't trust anyone human!

Sometimes the whole "robots vs humans" thing and sci-fi can feel a bit trite to me. However, Park's character was so well done that I really enjoyed the discussion and the way it was facilitated. As the book goes on, we get to see Park's past and childhood and the relationship she had with androids growing up, so her detachment from human people makes sense.

With Park's backstory comes a bit of dystopia because, in this world, a tragic event called the Comeback happened, rendering a lot of earth uninhabitable. Essentially, Mother Earth tried to take herself back from humanity, which eventually lead to the race to find habitable planets.

I really loved how layered and complex everything in this book is. We Have Always Been Here took me a bit longer to read than it's page count implied because of how dense it is. Nguyen packs a ton of excellent worldbuilding right along with the excellent character work in this book. This plus the creepy, unsettling atmosphere really made this a fascinating read!

I've left quite a bit of plot points out of this review because there are simply too many to discuss, so just trust me when I say there is A LOT going on in this book. None of it was hard to follow

I do want to say that I saw the end of this one coming, but I had such a good time wallowing in this world with Park, that I didn't even care. Also, there was an unexpected twist or two that I wasn't anticipating, so it balanced out in the end.

I will say, though, that things take a turn for the wild and crazy in the end that I freaking loved. It might put some people off because of how out there it is, but we are in space after all.

I rated Lena Nguyen's We Have Always Been Here 5 out of 5 stars. This is the first book in a long time that I simply didn't want to end.

You might like this if you like: layered narratives and feeling unsettled.

Profile Image for thefourthvine.
524 reviews199 followers
November 3, 2021
This book is a tense psychological thriller, a combination between a locked room mystery and a gothic, but both in space. And, honestly, I am here for all of that. I’m here for robots, too, and human characters who don’t really understand feelings, and people who are alienated from their society. I should have loved this book. I did not.

The first half of this book is, well, Grace Park being confused, shut out, and increasingly scared. That’s kind of it, so if you like creeping, nebulous senses of dread with no actual plot, just vibes, then you’ll love that part. I did not so much; it was very atmospheric but not, for me, actually entertaining or enjoyable. It had that “fun fact: the author has an MFA” feel to it.

Then, at around the 60% mark, the book really kicks off and becomes an actual book, with a plot and pacing and so on, and I did enjoy that part a lot more. Unfortunately, I’d had so long to think during the Just Vibes part of the book that I knew what was happening and why, way before the characters figured it out, so every twist and revelation left me going “Finally!” rather than, you know, “Wow,” or “Oh my god.” But even so, I enjoyed it; I stopped glancing down at the percent completed and going, “how has it only been 2% since the last time I checked?”

Also, this book contains both explicit animal harm and death AND explicit robot harm and death, and I hate, hate, hate reading both of those things, so. Fair warning.

My other big complaint is that while this does technically have an ending, there are a LOT of threads unresolved, and I don’t get the feeling that things are going to go well for the characters. The ending is more of a “this is the only even marginally triumphant place in this narrative, so this is where I’ll stop” deal than a “there has been a full resolution and the story is done” one. I do prefer the latter. Like, a lot.

So, overall: this book would be great for someone, but it sure wasn’t great for me.
Profile Image for The Speculative Shelf.
240 reviews69 followers
March 19, 2021
We Have Always Been Here is a gripping sci-fi thriller that twisted in unexpected directions and kept me hooked all the way to the end. There’s a real palpable tension and delirium infused into Nguyen’s writing that enhances what could have been a straightforward thriller into something much deeper, sharper, and stranger. I’m excited to see what Nguyen writes next, as this was an excellent debut.

See this review and others at The Speculative Shelf.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Emma Cathryne.
474 reviews79 followers
July 29, 2021
I was VERY excited about reading this, mainly because I walked into my favorite local bookstore a few weeks ago and the owner immediately announced that she'd picked up a book with me in mind. She knows I am both a researcher in psychology and have a passion for science fiction thrillers, so she was completely correct in thinking this psychological space horror starring a psychologist was right up my alley. The novel follows a reticent scientist, Park, who has been tacked onto a hastily assembled crew to help monitor their mental state on a trip to a new planet. Strange happenings on the ship, however, begin to erode at her composure. I wouldn't necessarily classify this story as horror by any means, and I think it could have overall been much creepier, but it will definitely work for those who like stories that lean heavily into the "psychological" aspect of psychological thrillers.

The story mostly unfolds in two separate narratives: the current happenings on the ship, and detailed flashbacks of Park's past. While the latter definitely informs events in the former, I don't feel like the two halves of the story ever melded in a completely satisfactory way. The two things that grabbed my attention from the get-go were 1) the eerie, claustrophobic energy brewing on the ship in the present, and 2) Park's tender relationship with her android caretaker Glenn in the past. In particular, I found the exploration of human-android relationships in both timelines to be thought-provoking, raising questions of what it really means to be "human".

However, these compelling aspects were bogged down by a nearly overwhelming amount of detail: the pacing of this story is far too slow. We spend our time exclusively in Park's head, and especially in the "present" timeline a lot of what she thinks about feels repetitive: deliberately outlining and discarding different ideas about the events and characters going on around her without really taking much direct action. This leads to long periods of contemplation interspersed with bursts of movement, slowing dragging towards the ultimate explanation of goings-on, but it takes far too long to this point of revelation, ultimately detracting from being able to explore the consequences of the phenomenon. Furthermore, every single one of the side characters is either terminally unlikeable (Natalya, Boone) or painfully dull and boring (Fullbreech), making a lot of the character interactions fairly excruciating.
Profile Image for Cathy.
1,625 reviews239 followers
October 17, 2021
Androids, a claustrophobic spaceship, a mysterious ice planet and a conspiracy with a dash of horror.

Misanthropic psychologist Dr. Grace Park is on a exploratory mission to an ice-planet called Eos, taking care of the small crew. She is strangely clueless and lacking in social skills for a psychologist and seems to get along better with the androids onboard, who are serving the ship and the crew as cleaners, cooks, nurses and in other supporting functions. Fairly soon it becomes obvious that Park is being kept in the dark about the real purpose of the mission, when strange events start to manifest and affect everybody on board and the ship itself.

I had flashes of the movies Event Horizon, Prometheus and The Matrix. I won‘t write more about the plot, it would spoil too much. Suffice to say, I really struggled with the first two chapters and nearly DNFd, but then started to like the story quite a bit, when it started to go off the beaten track. Multiple POVs and timelines mixed it all up and kept it lively. However, I never really warmed up to the character of Park and found her character development at bit incongruous. Interesting theories about space, physics and androids. Nothing massively ground-breaking or new and no idea if the science is sound (probably not), but it worked for me.

Not bad. I wouldn‘t mind coming back to this world and its protagonists.
Profile Image for Vivek Singh.
82 reviews18 followers
August 14, 2021
It was an awful debut novel. Unfortunately, she had more ideas than she knew what to do with them. The actions didn't make sense, the turn of events was laughable, and there were too many holes to count. The main character was living way too much in her own head, oblivious of things around her. It was annoying when half the time she wanted to scream X but ended up saying Y. Her backstory took a good chunk of the book but had no relevance on the events of the book.

All in all, it was a book that could have been enjoyable only if the author had chosen to explore a few good ideas and building a coherent story rather than cramming everything into a confusing mess where nothing made sense.
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,423 reviews395 followers
June 23, 2021
Whew this was a ride that pulled my mind into seventeen billion directions and unraveled my conscious self into little strands of incoherence.

Definitely a trippy thriller.

Full RTC.

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
Profile Image for Lo.
23 reviews2 followers
September 21, 2021
You ever wonder why people are afraid of robots 🤖???

Lena Nguyen has too! But what makes this novel unique is that she takes it many light-years into the often misunderstood realm of psychology, and onto a planet where thoughts become things in both fantasy and reality.


I went in with the following answers to my question: On one hand, the Industrial Revolution(s) and any automation thereafter created Luddites, born out of a lack of access to wellbeing. Under capitalism, you need to work or you will die. When work is automated, there is less work, and more starving people. Understandable but that is a capitalism problem, not an automation problem. When AI do this work, I will be marching for them.

On the other hand, industrialisms have led to the current climate crises we are working harder to solve by the month, among a host of other problems... Also understandable. That's why lifeless asteroids far away from our planet deserve to be studied and explored.

And so, why would people hate robots or AI if we had limitless access to minerals and other means of production off this planet, where pollution could be replaced with biological sterility? What would be the reason if we could make them look just like people who simply lost or do not have enough memory to be people-like? What if there was nothing to do *but* work? What if these conditions all existed under capitalism, and you were forced to work by threat of violence to you and your family?

With world-building that follows with unfolding events, Lena gave me answers I never considered.

Understanding the implications of "othering" in regards to the self, I thought this would take me on a ride through endless platitudes of "tHeY lOoK difFerEnT" or "ThEy'Re UnNatUraL", or worse: "[un-vaxxed] ArTiFiCiaL iNtELLiGenCe CaTcH ViRuS."


There was no "I am become hooman/alive and now want power because I totally understand what that even means." There was no "I planned this all along!" There are many implications, but they remain as such, though implications drive the entire story. Eventually, everyone is forced to accept that they don't know a single shit. Park, through her initial insecurity and willingness to accept her own uncertainty, eventually understand more than most. And she does this by asking the questions we often find ourselves asking about those around us.

I kid you not, every fucking time I had the thought that [xyz] was going to happen, Park, our psychologist main character aboard this ship orbiting this iceball with two names, would voice my thought and I'd feel like an asshole. This happened like 30 times. I SHIT YOU NOT!!! Weirdly, though this book was highly unpredictable, Lena did a good job of understanding her audience. Park's internal dialogues were beyond relatable, down to her social anxieties. The attention to detail with facial expressions made me feel like I was trained as Park was, and before I knew it, I was in her shoes.

It forced me to give up feeling like I knew what the hell was happening. It felt great to let that burden go. And though I know that "hard science" as a genre is bullshit, and though the physics at the end was kind of meh, I still wanna call this hard science because of how well the author understands the psychology behind peoples' actions, and her characters came off true to life.

Back to robots 🤖.

The only pieces of media I've consumed that portray true sympathy for artificial intelligence are: Armitage III, iRobot, and Ted Chiang's Lifecycle of Software Objects. Literally everything else is a bootleg Terminator. The reason Terminator is so popular is because it doesn't have to explain why the robot hordes are bad, because hordes of Others are always bad in American cinema. But considering the questions I've asked above, I doubt Terminator could actually exist in this novel's universe, because it would require empathy for artificial intelligence and other slaves to be unportrayed. And I don't mean the voluntary kind... I mean the Parable of the Sower kind.

Profile Image for Netanella.
4,249 reviews12 followers
February 13, 2022
This book is one hot mess, or an icy cold mess, if we can at least give it props for the ice planet setting and the claustrophobic spaceship setting. And on a surface level, I was attracted to the premise, to the title, to the cover art. However, beneath the surface, I found that the characterization, the motivations, the actions, just did not make any sense. Even before the supposed psychological issues began to manifest amongst the crew, the characters' juvenile antics as space-faring intellectuals in their field were just mind boggling and annoying. Dr. Grace Park, our junior psychologist, was annoying. And unfortunately, the majority of the book is told through her puerile viewpoint. I found it a blessing for the occasional cutscenes with the crew of the Wyvern. Ultimately, I found myself skimming large sections of the text, which was disappointing.
Profile Image for sarah.
26 reviews8 followers
November 22, 2021
JUSTICE FOR GLENN..... 💔💔 the best part of the book
Profile Image for Alexander Tas.
240 reviews10 followers
June 24, 2021
Read this review and other Science Fiction/Fantasy book reviews at The Quill to Live

Unfortunately for you, the book I am about to review doesn't come out for a little while. But, I am so excited to talk about it that I had to make sure it didn't fly under the radar. It's one of our Dark Horse debuts of the second half of the year and you should definitely check it out. It’s a little treat from me to you! Luckily for both of us, this is not a trick, as I absolutely adored this book. Now it’s not often that science fiction and horror get thrown together, and it’s even rarer that it’s done in such an exciting fashion. We Have Always Been Here, by Lena Nguyen, is a science fiction horror that leans into its well established tropes, delivering a creepy and unsettling story that questions the nature of consciousness and agency.

We Have Always Been Here follows Grace Park, a ship psychologist who would rather deal with androids than humans. She is a temporary member of the Deucalion’s crew, a ship controlled by the ISF meant to explore and set up colonization efforts on designated planets. Her job is to make sure that the other specialists on board maintain their sanity, resolve interpersonal conflicts, and ease tensions between other crew members. However, something outside her training begins to happen to the crew. After several crew members start to exhibit odd behavior, such as sleepwalking and murmuring the terror of their dreams, the chief medical officer begins to place those with the madness into cryosleep as a form of quarantine. Since those who have been quarantined all suffered similar symptoms, there is concern it could be an alien virus, and the crew starts to worry. After Park’s supervisor is placed in cryo sleep too, Park desperately tries to get to the bottom of the mystery plague. With limited resources and no one to trust, will Park figure out what is happening before she too succumbs to the madness?

I’m just going to say this upfront, Nguyen absolutely knocks the horror aspects of this book out of the park. She does an incredible job of developing a thick atmosphere that permeates the book and ebbs and flows to suit the tension of the story. This feeling is suffused into almost every aspect, from the plot, to worldbuilding and even character development. Each revelation within the story only begs more questions, obscuring whatever bits of light the end of the tunnel may provide. Nguyen shows a real talent for introducing the characters and world in a piecemeal fashion that progressively feels more natural. It’s a little jarring at first because Nguyen does not hold your hand, choosing to jump right into the story without any background. Since the story is told through Park’s perspective, and she tells it as if she is talking to herself instead of the reader, it takes time for some of the language and lingo to build.

Now, I could dissect all of the usual individual pieces that make up the larger novel, but I think that would be doing Nguyen a disservice. While she shows incredible ability to write characters, build her world, provide misdirection, and spin an ever tightening plot, her power lies in interlinking all of these elements. The entire book is a delicate and intricate web of cause and effect, misdirection, and drip fed information. Her prose, while lush and heavy with description, makes the environment feel cramped and claustrophobic. This feeling is exacerbated by Park herself, as she is a calculating, insular and solitary person who tends to view interactions between people as an analytical puzzle to be solved. She shows no real attachment to the crew beyond her job. Her dwindling sanity adds to the already narrow perspective by rapidly shifting focus and viewing everything with an interrogating and defensive posture. Every piece feels fine tuned to fit exactly where it needs to be, leading to questionable answers, and unanswerable questions. We Have Always Been Here is a haunting puzzle where the pieces themselves start to shift in shape and color as you complete it.

Much like Park, the reader rarely gets a chance to rest. Nguyen dances between three different timelines and stories, holding the cards close to her chest. They perpetually feel ready to crash into each other only to swerve away at the last moment, leading to further questions about their meaning. Grace is the perfect vehicle for two of these timelines. Her misanthropic nature leads her to work out the complexities in her own mind, eschewing conversation for mental tunnel vision. The ISF itself isolates her from the rest of the crew for its own ends, a standard procedure one finds out, but questionable nonetheless. There are other ways Nguyen cleverly creates divisions, including class and point of origin, amongst the various crew members that feels natural to the world and brings out the individual personalities of the characters. And the ship itself, well, it feels perfectly endless, yet small enough to make an agoraphobe bang on the door to be let out.

Nguyen’s debut is impressive. The usual metaphors that litter the science fiction horror genre are flipped upside down and inside out, causing confusion for the reader and allowing the story to play out naturally. I can��t emphasize how astounded I was that each reveal only seemed to make things murkier while maintaining a sense of believability. If you’re looking for a psychological horror with a science fiction setting that never lets you go, We Have Always Been Here is a sure fire bet.

Rating: We Have Always Been Here - 9.0/10
Profile Image for Mary.
269 reviews7 followers
September 9, 2021
The great creepy atmospheric beginning faded pretty quick unfortunately. The editors at DAW did the debut author no favors when they didn't actually edit the book and instead use a tiny font in the printing to make this 500 page book into 350 p. So much irrelevant text that did nothing for the story, the world building made no sense for the world the author created and all the characters other than Park were paper thin and often made no sense at all. The adolescent bullying of supposed professionals/experts was particularly annoying...sigh.
And the MC Park, not sure if there should be TW here or not as she seems to be presented as on the spectrum /neurodiverse and (actual spoiler)
Profile Image for Bertie (LuminosityLibrary).
471 reviews109 followers
January 19, 2022
This was an enjoyable read and I got through it in a day because it was very compelling. The way the tension was built was great, and I enjoyed the main characters limited perspective on the situation. I especially enjoyed the storyline about Earth and artificial intelligence, so much so I wish the book was more to do with that and less to the mystery. I didn't find the ending particularly satisfying, though it was interesting.

1 review
July 25, 2021
I am a regular reader of SF, including both "standard" SF and "literary" SF. In that regard, Nguyen's debut novel, We Have Always Been Here, veers slightly towards the literary—Nguyen's writing veers much closer to the style of, say, Simon Jimenez's The Vanished Birds than to the comparatively spartan writing of John Scalzi or Pierce Brown. However, unlike some other literary genre works, which arguably suffer from emphasizing writing over characters or story, We Have Always Been Here combines those writerly sensibilities with a thrilling and thoughtful story, a series of unfolding mysteries with surprising and satisfying twists, and a thoughtful meditation on the nature of consciousness and of personhood.

Set in a distant future where Earth has suffered a climate collapse, and space is colonized by the megacorporation ISF, We Have Always Been Here is the story of Grace Park, a psychologist who specializes not in therapy, but in analysis of human emotional expression through careful, sometimes machine-assisted study of microexpressions. Park, who was largely raised by an advanced android and had issues connecting to fellow humans, is the second psychologist on board a ship headed to survey a distant planet for possible colonization. The mission is odd--the crew is much smaller than the usual colonization expedition, and includes both a military officer and a Corporate Security analyst. However, Park knows that she doesn't know the whole picture; unlike almost the entire rest of the crew, she is a corporate hire, not a conscript—a kind of indentured servant, more trusted by ISF precisely because of the leverage ISF holds over their lives and the lives of their families. And so it is not surprising to her that their mission is not what it seems, but, when a mysterious illness starts to render the crew delusional with nightmares, when the androids on board begin to act strangely independent, and when anomalies start to bend space aboard their ship, Park must unravel the mysteries of what exactly is happening aboard, and of which of her crew members she can trust to tell her the truth.

The story is thrilling, well-paced, and thoughtful. Its twists surprise and delight, and the story never lags or sags, even as various viewpoints and times are woven together. I cannot recommend the book enough for fans of SF, or fans of thrillers who are not put off by genre elements. I also cannot wait to see more from Nguyen, who knocked this debut out of the park. I read the book on audiobook, and can add that narrator Catherine Ho did an excellent job—she comes off at times as dry, but the dryness mirrors Park herself.
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950 reviews8 followers
May 11, 2021
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

First off, I am so happy to be able to support an #ownvoices author of Asian descent. As an Asian-American reader myself, I think it's so important to support Asian-American authors, especially during this time. In addition, I don't see enough books featuring protagonists of Asian descent, especially in sci-fi and fantasy. Seeing this book and reading its description was like a breath of fresh air. Thank you again to the publisher for this opportunity!

We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen is self-described as a sci-fi psychological thriller, and it definitely lives up to that description. The protagonist, Dr. Grace Park, has been sent to a spaceship to observe the 13 human crew members onboard. Soon, however, things start going wrong, and like a typical thriller, Grace isn't sure who the culprit is and who she can trust. It's up to her to investigate why they are trapped onboard the spaceship and figure out who or what is causing everyone to go stir-crazy.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1 from Grace's point of view that introduces us to the futuristic setting of the novel:

"The day after they landed on the new planet, Park woke to a pair of strong metal arms pinning her down.
Against all instinct, she ignored her initial sense of terror and automatically relaxed her body; she recognized an android’s grip when she felt it, and her rational mind—the one that overrode the panicky animal one—knew that it was impossible for an android to hurt her.
Still. It wasn’t a comfortable thing to look around and realize she had no idea where she was."

Overall, We Have Always Been Here is an amazing blend of science fiction and psychological thriller that I have never read before. I will definitely keep an eye out for any of the author's next books. I really enjoyed this book. It was unputdownable, and I ended up finishing it in a day. If you are intrigued by the excerpts above or if you're a fan of the sci-fi or thriller genres, you won't regret checking this book out when it comes out in July!
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