Tag Archives: Science Fiction

americanwar

Review: American War by Omar El Akkad

American War. What do I even begin to tell you about this book? I finished it weeks ago and I’m still thinking about it. I totally understand why it was nominated for two Goodreads Choice Awards (and yes, I voted for it).

American War is one of those wonderful books that both entertains and makes you think. It follows Sara T. Chestnut, known as Sarat, as she navigates the horrors of life during the second American Civil War. As you read (or in my case, listen), you begin to realize that what the author describes isn’t that far-fetched after all. A country where North and South are at odds over resources and politics? Where red and blue become more than just an association – they become an identity? Where people turn on each other, torture each other, and hate each other?

Not so hard to imagine, is it?

Perhaps this is what makes American War so compelling, or perhaps it’s Sarat herself. This fierce, defiant, and eternally loyal little girl who grows up to become one of the most influential and terrible people in the war. And yet, for all her faults, you can’t help but empathize with Sarat. Her experiences as a child make her who she is as an adult – hard, but haunted. There’s a humanity and tenderness in her, that you wish for throughout the whole story, but only glimpse at times. Sarat is one of the most complex characters I’ve read in a long time.

American War isn’t perfect, and the lack of exposition for the war itself is most of what kept me from giving this one 5 stars. I’d rank it behind both Station Eleven and The Road, though the feel is similar. It’s an entirely plausible dystopian novel, both timely and tragic. Well worth the read.

Hardcover: 352 pages    Audio: 12 hours

Published: April 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group    Source: Purchased via Scribd

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American War on Goodreads

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war – part of the Miraculous Generation – now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past, his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others.

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Review: Wires and Nerve (Vol 1) by Marissa Meyer

People who know me well know I’m a huge fan of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles. I picked up Cinder on a whim, simply because Cinderella is my favorite Disney Princess. The first page hooked me, and that was that. I anxiously awaited each book in the installment, and though I didn’t think it was possible, enjoyed them all just as much as the first. So, when I heard Meyer had a graphic novel coming out featuring Iko, I knew it was just a matter of time before I read it.

People who know me well also know I’m kind of cheap, which is why it’s taken me until now to actually read Wires and Nerve. Simply put, I had no trouble shelling out $25 for one of the novels, but that seemed a bit too much for what essentially amounted to a handful of comics. I don’t mean to be glib, but graphic novels take me roughly 45 minutes to read – even long ones like Wires and Nerve – and that $25 cost doesn’t seem worth it. Sorry, writers and publishers of the world.

Anyway, I requested it through Overdrive and finally last week my hold came through. Sure enough, it took me less than an hour to read. And most of that time was spent zooming in on my tablet because the pictures were too small.

But you’re not here to read about my cheapness (or are you?). You’re here to read about my thoughts on the things I read.

I freakin’ love Iko, guys. Seriously. She’s probably the most underrated character in the entire Lunar Chronicles universe. She’s funny, resourceful, and serves as the perfect balance to Cinder’s somewhat stoic demeanor. That’s not to say Iko is all fun and games. She’s just as important to the story and the world as the other characters. She’s kind of like R2D2 in Star Wars. The story would probably survive without him, but why would you want it to?

Wires and Nerve finally gives Iko the credit she’s due, though I’ll admit I wish we’d gotten an Iko novel instead. A lot of Iko’s humor and candor doesn’t translate well to the graphic style; she comes off a bit flaky and selfish. I think it’s a situation where what the reader envisions is always going to be different from what the writer envisions, and to me, that’s part of the magic of novels. Showing us a character we’ve imagined and grown to love is tricky, because it calls into question everything we’ve assigned to that character. That’s why we so frequently criticize film adaptations. The “book is better” simply because it gives us the freedom to imagine.

Series: Wires and Nerve #1    Hardcover: 238 pages

Published: January 2017 by Feiwel & Friends    Source: Library via Overdrive

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Wires and Nerve (Vol 1) on Goodreads

When rogue packs of wolf-hybrid soldiers threaten the tenuous peace alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko takes it upon herself to hunt down the soldiers’ leader. She is soon working with a handsome royal guard who forces her to question everything she knows about love, loyalty, and her own humanity. With appearances by Cinder and the rest of the Rampion crew, this is a must-have for fans of the series.

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darkmatter

Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

darkmatter

Drinking a mudslide while totally engrossed in Dark Matter

Holy Hell.

Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter is a total mind-f*ck, guys.

It’s also incredibly absorbing.

Dark Matter intrigued me from the moment I first read the description, and I picked it up in the bookstore at least three times before finally deciding to buy it. I knew it would make a great beach read, and as soon as my toes hit the sand I plopped myself down and got to it. Two days and 27 mudslides later, I was finished.

Jason’s story is so crazy, so compelling, so….OUT THERE… that I just couldn’t put it down. I had to know, even when I suspected I already knew, what was going to happen. I had to know how Crouch would resolve the situation, how he’d manage to explain what was going on in terms a non-science-geek like me could understand. And he managed that well enough – I won’t say I grasped everything, but I caught enough to keep up.

Similar to Andy Weir’s The Martian or Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants, Dark Matter is a sci-fi lover’s dream, but it’s one that can also appeal to just about anyone. It’s a great adventure mystery with a bit of the impossible thrown in. The story is grounded in science, real science, and that goes a long way in helping you suspend disbelief. It also makes it somewhat easy to predict, but the best part is – I didn’t care in the slightest.

Paperback: 342 pages    Published: July 2016 by Crown    Source: Purchased

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Dark Matter on Goodreads

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

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Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

About Exit Westexitwest

Hardcover: 231 pages
Published: March 2017 by Riverhead
Source: Library via Overdrive

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Goodreads DescriptionIn a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

My Review

We are all migrants through time.

Those six words perfectly sum up not just Exit West, but humanity today. What are we, but migrants through time?

I don’t even really know what to tell you about Exit West . It’s hard to describe. In some ways, it’s a love story. In others, a social commentary. In yet other ways still it’s a travelogue. But I think that’s the point – Exit West is one of those rare stories that doesn’t have to fit in a box, that shouldn’t fit in a box. It’s a powerful and heartbreaking novel about the power of love and loss and identity.

Exit West follows a young couple, Nadia and Saeed, as they flee their home country in search of a better life. They’re lovers, and friends, and family. The country they flee is never identified, but that isn’t important – what’s important is their home has become a place where it is no longer safe to live. And so they run, through a metaphorical door, to another country and another life. Their journey takes them first to Greece, then to London, and then to the United States. Along the way they grow and change, and their relationship does as well. In their migration, they become truer versions of themselves.

I’ll be flat out honest and admit Exit West is not the sort of book I typically enjoy. Immigrant fiction just hasn’t been something that speaks to me. I talked about this some in my review of Behold the Dreamers, but it generally comes down to the fact that I just can’t relate to the characters. And for me, not being able to relate to the characters is a huge problem. I’m a character reader.

But Exit West grabbed me, and wouldn’t let me go. There’s something incredibly powerful in Nadia and Saeed, and in Hamid’s writing. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that I’ve never left my home for a better life, that I’ve never felt oppressed or threatened or unsafe. I was right there with them, going through those doors, carving out a new way of life. I hurt for them, and I hurt for the millions of people around the world experiencing their story every day. I mourned their losses, and celebrated their victories. And so Mohsin Hamid has done what I thought was impossible – he has made me care about a population I have absolutely nothing in common with. And I thank him for it.

Exit West is short, but don’t mistake it for quick. It took me a week to read, and it’s only a little over 200 pages. The writing isn’t intense, but the story is, and Hamid is the kind of writer who gets the most out of the words he uses. Exit West has been Longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize (alongside Lincoln in the Bardo and The Underground Railroad, among others). Will it win? We’ll see, but in my mind, it definitely deserves to be shortlisted.

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Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

About Waking Godswakinggods

• Series: Themis Files (#2)
• Hardcover:
 325 pages
• Audio: 9 hours
• Published: April 2017 by Random House Audio
• Source: Purchased

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Goodreads DescriptionAs a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

My Review

I knew about halfway through Sleeping Giants that I was going to listen to Waking Gods, even though I had no idea what happened next in the story. Much of what I loved so much about Sleeping Giants is present in Waking Gods. That feeling of suspending belief and imagining a universe where we’re not alone is still very much part of the story.

That said, in Waking Gods we learn a lot more about the background, and we watch how the world deals with the discovery of other life forms. It’s less of an action thriller and more of a political one. That isn’t a bad thing, but it does alter the pacing significantly. I still finished this one quickly, but I didn’t feel compelled like I did with Sleeping Giants. 

For those of you listening to it, I do want to warn you: not all of the narrators are the same between the two books. Kara is different, and though the new narrator is close, it took me a while to get used to her.

I’m also going to semi-spoil it for you and tell you that not everyone survives Waking Gods. And while I understand why Neuvel killed the characters he did, I don’t actually think he had to. I think the story could have progressed much the same way had they lived. I suppose we’ll see for sure in the third book.

When I reviewed Sleeping Giants, I made the comment that I kinda liked the thought of an alien race who’s just as (or more) advanced as we are. Then, I said to ask me if I still felt that way after reading Waking Gods. Answer? Yes, I still think it’s neat, even if the aliens turn out to be (shocker) not so friendly.

No word yet on when we can expect Book 3, but I’ve got my fingers crossed for early 2018. There’s also some buzz that Sony picked up the film rights….dare we hope?!

Missed my review of Sleeping Giants? Look here.

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Review: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

About Sleeping Giantssleepinggiants

• Series: Themis Files (#1)
• Hardcover:
 304 pages
• Audio: 8 hours
• Published: April 2016 by Random House Audio
• Source: Purchased (Scribd Audiobooks)

Buy it on Amazon

Goodreads Description: A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

An inventive debut in the tradition of World War Z and The Martian, told in interviews, journal entries, transcripts, and news articles, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by a quest for truth—and a fight for control of earthshaking power.

My Review

The prologue of Sleeping Giants ends with a line something to the effect of, “I looked around, and I was sitting in a giant metal hand.”

That’s the line that hooked me.

First of all, I don’t really see the comparison to The Martian, a book I read and absolutely loved. That’s not an issue in the slightest, since I also really enjoyed Sleeping Giants. Just throwing it out there, in case you’re thinking you’re getting a similar story. You’re not.

Second of all, I really really recommend the audio version if you can get your hands on it. Sleeping Giants is told in a series of vignettes – interviews, files, journal entries. In the audio, each character is voiced by a different actor, so you really get a feel for how different each person is. Plus, the narration is stellar.

Sleeping Giants is a little hard to explain, and the book jacket doesn’t really help. Basically, Rose falls into a hole and lands in a giant metal hand when she’s a kid. When she grows up and becomes a physicist, she gets assigned to study the same hand she fell into. Eventually, she realizes the hand is just one of several body parts strewn around the world. She sets out to find them all, convinced they’ll make up a robot left on Earth by aliens, though she has no idea why or what the robot does.

I know. It sounds absurd.

So maybe there’s the comparison to The Martian. A totally ridiculous idea that’s maybe not so ridiculous. And a whole lot of fun to read.

Sci-fi isn’t my genre. I don’t have anything against it, it’s just not usually the type of story that sucks me in. Space and robots and aliens and weird technology tend to fly right over my head. But. I loved Sleeping Giants because it explores the question of whether or not we’re really alone in this universe. And that’s really what sci-fi is supposed to be about – the idea that something is possible. That something fantastic and outrageous and beyond our imagining is…feasible. And while I don’t think it’s likely that there are giant metal robot parts strewn around the globe, I do kinda like the idea that there’s an alien race out there just as (if not more) advanced as we are.

Is that a terrifying thought? Perhaps. Ask me again after I finish Waking Gods, the sequel.

Anyway, Sleeping Giants. Pick it up if you like thrillers, mysteries, and possibilities.