May 9

The 100 by Kass Morgan

9780316234498_p0_v2_s260x420Dystopian fiction – end this world and begin another. Once upon a time, believe it or not, this genre was seen as too dark and negative for adolescent readers. Are those days gone and forgotten. Publishers seem to publish nothing else, and Hollywood is turning out product for the big – and small – screen.

Fans of the TV series will already know that in this scenario the earth has been destroyed by nuclear holocaust. Humanity has escaped to space stations circling the earth, but now supplies are running low and the future has to change. Idea 1: send 100 criminals to earth and see if they survive. After a rough landing, the ‘colonists’ emerge onto a planet that seems to be paradise. But life isn’t as easy as one would hope. And therein lies the story.

I will admit that I have never seen the TV series, but have certainly read good reviews. Fortunately the reviewer had read the books and indicated that there are significant differences.

In keeping with the genre, this book is full of action, adventure, romance and all the other things that keep young adults coming back for more and more. Certainly I kept turning pages and reading through long sessions. But is it quality literature – no. Did I waste my time – maybe, but then again reading popular fiction titles is part of my job. Will I continue through the whole series – Doubtful.

January 27

Altar of Eden by James Rollins

9781409113553Last year I spent some time reading from the backlist. At one stage I was getting 15-20 books for review each month, and while working full time, it is impossible to read that much. So inevitably some got left for later, even if they came highly recommended. If you can’t order a copy of this from your local bookshop, try your local library.

James Rollins is best known for his adventure series featuring Sigma Force. When I filed this, I assumed that it was another in this series. Imagine my surprise when I actually discovered that it is a stand alone science fiction adventure.

An old trawler is found floating south of Louisiana, completely derelict. When investigated, all kinds of animal oddities are found, like a featherless parrot, a two headed snake and a saber-tooth lion. At the same time a rogue alligator is on a killing spree. Dr Lorna Polk, a research vet, is called in to assist with the investigation. It appears these animals are not only genetically engineered, but share a telepathic link  that allows them to share a common consciousness. How scary is that? You will have to read the book to find out.

This was a surprisingly good read. The scientific ideas held together logically. Not surprising since Rollins is a qualified vet. The settings and situations were credible, and this added a lot of power to the suspense. You will need to allow long reading sessions because there are many times within this book that it is impossible to put down.

August 24

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

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Ever so slowly I am working through the backlog of books I have been sent to review. Have you ever hear the phrase ‘So may books, so little time’? That is certainly true of Lowly’s life. I will admit that ‘hard SF’ is often left until later, simply because most of the time I read to relax rather than to be stimulated into thinking. This book will definitely demand serious thinking from any reader.

Set far, far in the future, long after humans have evolved into the next level, Jean is in prison for theft. Prisons have also evolved, and his punishment is pretty horrific. So when Mieli offers him the chance of escape, he eagerly accepts even if she demands a favour in return. She wants him to go to Mars and steal something. The problem is that Jean once lived on Mars, and he is remembered, especially by the woman he left behind.

OK so the plot resembles an action crime novel. But the beauty of SF is in the ideas, and there were ideas galore in this read. Wealth is measured in time. Humanity is immortal – becoming Quiet for a time before resurrecting. The Quiet maintain consciousness and even perform services for those ‘alive’. And the whole punishment in prison is incredible. Any one of these ideas would be enough for a lesser SF author. Or an unskilled author would spend so much time exploring these fascinating ideas that the plot would get lost. Whether the reader can thank the writer or the editor, this book left the original ‘out there’ ideas for pondering and got on with telling the story.

This book is now out in paperback, and Rajaniemi has a second novel out. If you are a SciFi fan, get it, get both of them, and enjoy. If futuristic SciFi is not your thing, give this one a miss.

January 8

In the Mouth of the Whale by Paul McAuley

Review #2

Hasn’t SciFi changed! I remember when Asimov created the most complex space colony stories around. And a novel would be about robots, space travel, life in a space colony and sometimes interplanetary war, sometimes two of the above. And then there is In the Mouth of the Whale.

There is no way I am going to even pretend to summarise the plot for this. The best I can do is that is about the beginning of the war between humans still living in the solar system and those living in the far flung colonies around the galaxy. But then this story is also about comparing what life is like in each of these places, and how life has changed as humanity has survived in more difficult places. Humanity has been living in Fomalhaut for thousands of years, enough for one civilisation to rise and decline and a second migration wave to replace and eventually enslave the first. But now everyone is under attack from the Ghosts, whatever they are they must be bad, don’t they? Confused? I said you would be.

I only discovered that this was a third book in a series after I had finished it. So some of my confusion could be lack of background. But other reviewers claim that this will stand alone because the action takes place literally thousands of years after the end of the last book. It also appears that the first two books were more allegories about modern world political events. The scope of this novel is much grander. I suspect that reading the first two would lead me to expect something quite different.

This is certainly a grand tale. We used to call it ‘space opera’, but even that term does not convey the complexity of this plot. I prefer the term hard scifi, a book that will challenge your reading and your thinking. Not a bad thing, but make sure you have the time to dedicate.

July 22

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

Once again I am reviewing book 2 of a series. This time, however, book 1 was highly recommended to me last year so it was already in the box waiting its turn. I will admit that I was very happy to have book 2 at hand when I turned the last page of book one on Friday.

The story so far: The polar ice caps are gone and all that water has gone into the sea. With the destruction of most of its cities, America is now run by individual warlords continually fighting for territory. For a while China sent peacekeepers to maintain order, but before too long they were driven out by these warlords. Now the average person survives trying to avoid all the different marauding gangs of ‘soldiers’. Any encounter is likely to result in death for most and destruction of whatever home, farm or village that they may have created.

Mahlia was lucky enough to survive one encounter with the Army of God. She lost her right hand, but was rescued before she bled out. Her rescuer was a young boy known as Mouse and they become ‘family’. When Mouse is later ‘recruited’ by another band of ‘soldiers’, Mahlia knows that she must try to rescue him. Tricky, but fortunately she has one powerful friend willing to help, and Mouse is taken to the drowned city of Potomac Orleans where Mahlia was born and raised. She knows her way around.

This is a book about friendship against the odds. Tool and Mahlia are both outcasts from proper society, but together they find they can change the world. This vision of the future of humanity is bleak, but Bacigalupi brilliantly keeps his story hopeful and positive. So many dystopian novels for young adults lose their vision and become action/adventure stories. This book, like the first in the series, manages to keep the vision intact while the pages are turning.

And it is a page turner. I read it all in one day!

July 22

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Another dystopian novel! But about a year ago this book was highly recommended to me. So highly that I actually went out to a bookshop and parted with money for a copy. When my review queue and backlog is somewhere between 50 and 100 books, it is almost unheard of for me to buy a book. And you can imagine my husband’s reaction when I walk into the house with more books. However book 2 in the series arrived in the normal way, so I finally had the excuse I wanted to dig out this one.

Bacigalupi is an American author and his story is set in North America after the polar ice caps are gone. Ship Breaker is set on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, now well north of New Orleans. In fact I think that Orleans becomes the name of any city that exists below sea level, like Manhattan Orleans. The US no longer exists. It appears that the government fell apart as the climate changed and warlords took over different areas. The average person lived by scavenging, digging through destroyed cities and machinery for resources suitable for recycling. Nailer is part of a light crew, kids who are small enough to crawl through old ships for copper wire and other metals that can be sold for reasonable profit. Heavy crews move through the ships later, breaking them up to recycle the steel.

But then one day Nailer discovers a modern clipper wrecked on the coast. What is more, there is a member of the crew still alive. Everyone wants her dead. Dead bodies don’t cause trouble, but living ones do. Nailer is unwilling to turn her over to his father, who murders for fun, and escapes with the girl into the wilderness. She claims to be the daughter of a wealthy swank and promises a great reward if he helps her get home.

What an incredible book! Bacigalupi has thought everything through and made this story of the future feel almost prophetic. The savagery of the gangs motivated by alcohol and drugs is really only an extrapolation of a Saturday night in any city. The new economy is also an extension of the social divisions appearing in the West currently, the very wealthy, the very poor who struggle for existence and a few in the middle who try to run between the two groups.

Thought provoking and solid adventure all in one story. Fantastic!

July 15

By Light Alone by Adam Roberts

SciFi – good and bad. The line between is so thin that it is invisible to some, especially publishers. Most publishers and authors feel that scifi reading needs to be larger than life and way ‘out there’. But classic scifi aficionados¬†know that the best scifi is almost real, but with a scientific twist on reality. And this is one of the best.

Look around the world today. The rich/poor divide is getting wider all the time. Those with wealth are able to protect it and keep it circulating among themselves and the poor are struggling to keep food on the table. The middle class still exists, but how many of them are really in service industries that effectively make the rich richer. Now extrapolate this financial model forward another century. And then the scientific twist? What about a genetic mutation that converts hair to a photosynthetic food source. On the surface this prevents hunger in the impoverished classes. All they need to do is let their hair grow and lie in the sun for a few hours each day. To all appearances this would be a wonderful humanitarian gesture. But how would the economy manage if survival depended on idleness?

This is the real story contained in this book. The plot covers the kidnapping of the daughter of a wealthy New Yorker and the impact on the family of this kidnapping and the daughter’s eventual return. Roberts uses this story to draw a portrait of a very frightening and hopeless future. Maybe some readers would argue the word hopeless. Certainly this book warns us all about the dangers of the new classes in society.

I’ll be thinking about this book for a long while.

July 3

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Anyone reading my last review could be forgiven for thinking I am a traditionalist when it comes to folklore, especially fairy tales. Don’t believe it! In fact I will say upfront that I really love this debut novel from Marissa Meyer which turns the old Cinderella story on it’s head.

So you know the plot of Cinderella. Now how about these twists – Cinder is a cyborg. When she goes to the ball, she loses her foot! Embarassing, especially since humanoid cybernetic organisms are strongly discouraged and she was passing herself off to the prince as human. Also, this time there is a wicked Queen who wants Cinder caught and in prison. Result of ball – not happy ever after, rather run and hide followed by rapid emigration.

I read this weeks ago in the midst of a bunch of dystopian books. It was simply so refreshing to have a light, positive, and even funny futuristic novel. It is possible to write books for YAs that are not full of tragedy and despair. More to the point, they can be thought provoking as well as fun to read.

This is the first book in a series. I expect the books will continue the saga of the Moon-Earth conflict. Hopefully each will twist and distort another fairy tale. Advance publicity indicates that number 2 will be based on Little Red Riding Hood. Look for it in February 2013.

 

April 14

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

This is book two of a series. Feel free to go through the backlist, but no book one never arrived. I hate it when publishers do that. But I bit the bullet and downloaded a copy of Delirium to my ereader, and hated it. So I left this book for a few days, dreading the fact that it had to be read. But surprisingly, it is much better than the first in the series.

At the end of Delirium Lena escaped to the wilds leaving her one true love on the wrong side of the fence seriously wounded. Running for her life, she assumes Alex is dead and now she is alone in the Wilds looking for a way to survive. Days and weeks later she literally stumbles into a small group surviving in caves and underground buildings. Much of this book is about her welcome into the tribe and her eventual joining of the resistance movement. The chapters entitled Now, however, show Lena as an active resistance fighter working undercover in New York City. She is assigned to keep track of the young son of the DFA leader, a young man destined to lead in his own right, after his ‘cure’ of course. During a rally the Scavengers attack and suddenly Lena and Julian are imprisoned in the subway together.

I will happily admit that this book is far better than the first one in the series. The preachy is mostly gone, the stupid core concept is swept aside as almost all the characters are still diseased and there is enough action to keep the pages turning. Can this be read without suffering the first? I don’t know, but I hope so.

However, the ending seems just a mite too contrived for my taste. The publishers are promoting this as a book for young and old, but I really suspect that it is more for the 12-15 age than anybody else. I don’t know of many older readers who will accept the convenience of the resolution.

Hachette’s YA department usually has better taste than this.

 

April 14

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

I really hate it when publishers send me book two of a series but not book one. Last week I had collected a little pile of these second volumes and went online to find ebook (cheap) editions for them all. Thank goodness the range of ebooks available is much better than it used to be and I managed to find them all.

This is the first one read, and I thought it was going to be a chick romance. Something nice, light and a change of pace from all the dark futuristic dystopian stuff that has passed through my hands in the past few weeks. WRONG! Once again I am caught in a future where some powerful politician/scientist has supposedly solved all the problems in the world. This time it is a scientist who has discovered a surgical procedure to remove emotions. That way humanity is no longer angry, sad, depressed, in love, or happy. Nice and neutral. The silly thing is that the procedure is best done after a child turns 18, so to prevent any untoward behaviour boys and girls are kept strictly apart until the ‘cure’ is complete.

Lena is nearly 18 and looking forward to her cure. She is afraid that she is already catching the delirium disease and when she meets Alex, who is supposedly cured, she knows full well that she has it bad. Then Alex admits that he is a resistance fighter from the Wilds, and not cured at all. Lena at first tries to leave him, but love is just too powerful.

Sorry, but I found this book painful. The first chapters were preachy and the following storyline just got sillier and sillier. OK so it may someday be possible to surgically remove the emotional centre of the brain, but really convincing the population of the US that emotional engagement is a disease. Not likely.

And I have book two waiting to review! AHHHHH!