Take A Peek Book Review: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

It’s up to a famous rapper, a biologist, and a rogue soldier to handle humanity’s first contact with an alien ambassador—and prevent mass extinction—in this novel that blends magical realism with high-stakes action.

After word gets out on the Internet that aliens have landed in the waters outside of the world’s fifth most populous city, chaos ensues. Soon the military, religious leaders, thieves, and crackpots are trying to control the message on YouTube and on the streets. Meanwhile, the earth’s political superpowers are considering a preemptive nuclear launch to eradicate the intruders. All that stands between 17 million anarchic residents and death is an alien ambassador, a biologist, a rapper, a soldier, and a myth that may be the size of a giant spider, or a god revealed.

My Thoughts:

The synopsis above doesn’t quite give the full picture, although it does hint at the craziness and unpredictability of Lagoon. In Lagoon, aliens land in the harbor of Lagos, Nigeria. We see the ensuing action unfold through the viewpoints of the main characters, as well as bystanders, lost children, preachers, prostitutes, and even spiders, bats, and a swordfish. The author’s descriptive, vibrant writing evokes the sounds, sights, and smells of Lagos, and immediately pulls the readers into the vibe of this chaotic city.

At the same time, the plot gets more and more complicated as the story moves forward, which is both an immersive experience and something of a headache. The powers of the aliens and the native gods come into play as they both make indelible changes to the lives of the humans in Lagos — but the interwoven plot points, the unusual magical and alien elements, and the strange experiences of the characters often are a real challenge when it comes to making sense of what’s happening.

Still, I really enjoyed getting to know the characters, seeing the social dynamics at play in Lagos both before and after the alien arrival, and experiencing the extreme oddness of certain scenes. Let’s put it this way — we have characters turning into sea creatures, and that’s not the weirdest thing that happens.

I’ve been wanting to read more of Nnedi Okarafor’s fiction ever since reading Binti earlier this year. She’s a remarkably gifted writer, and I think it’s pretty eye-opening for American readers to see contemporary science fiction set in Africa — quite unusual, and definitely a hugely positive addition to the genre!

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The details:

Title: Lagoon
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: April 10, 2014
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: LibrarySave

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Book Review: How To Stop Time

I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret.

He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him.

The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.

How to Stop Time is a wild and bittersweet story about losing and finding yourself, about the certainty of change and about the lifetimes it can take to really learn how to live.

This feels like another one of those books where I want the entire review to consist of the following:

Amazing book. Read it.

Really, what more is there to say?

I have been in love with Matt Haig’s writing for a while now, ever since reading The Radleys, The Dead Fathers Club, and even more so since reading the spectacular The Humans. In How To Stop Time, the author shows once again the complexity of the human experience and the universality of a search for meaning.

In How To Stop Time, we meet main character Tom, who appears to be about 40-ish but is in actuality closer to 500. He’s one of a small group of people with a rare condition that slows the aging process — dramatically. They’re not immortal; they age normally up until puberty, and they will die of old age eventually. They can also die of injury just like anyone else, but meanwhile, Tom appears to age about one year for every 15 that he lives. A secret society of similarly afflicted people refers to themselves as albas, short for albatrosses (as the bird is supposedly long-lived) — and, unflatteringly, regular humans are simply mayflies, with lives so short by comparison that they’re barely worth paying attention to.

According to Hendrich, the organizer and enforcer of the albas, eight years is about the maximum someone like Tom can remain in any given identity and location before starting fresh. Otherwise, people start to notice, and gossip and odd looks can lead to severe consequences. Or at least, that’s been the governing truth for centuries. And there’s a certain logic to it. Tom was born in the late 1500s, and saw his own mother tried as a witch when neighbors realized that her teen-aged son remained unnaturally youthful while everyone around him aged normally.

Early on, Tom has his one and only experience with love as well. After leaving his childhood home after his mother’s cruel fate, he eventually falls in love with a lovely young woman named Rose. They eventually marry and have a child — but Tom is forced to leave after some years when once again, his eternal youth raises suspicion and threatens to bring disaster down upon his family.

Since then, Tom wanders the world, assuming fresh identities and homes every 8 – 10 years, but never truly allowing himself to connect or become a part of anything permanent. And while eternal (or long-lasting) youth might sound amazing to anyone dealing with grey hair and wrinkles, the fact is that for Tom, it’s an incredibly lonely life that seems to lack any sort of meaning.

Of course, on the plus side, he’s had  lot of years to learn, grow, and try new things. From being a simple lute player way back when, Tom has become a gifted musician skilled in many instruments, and his ability to impart history as a living, breathing concept is what makes him a fantastic high school teacher. He’s also rubbed elbows with a who’s who of famous folks over the centuries, from Shakespeare to F. Scott Fitzgerald, and can pull up those memories at a moment’s notice.

When Tom begins to connect with another teacher at the school, he has to confront the lonely existence he’s had and to make some decisions. Does he let this woman into his life? Can he be honest with her? What will Hendrich do if he finds out? How far will Hendrich go to make sure that the secrets of the albas remain secret?

How To Stop Time is truly fascinating. I loved the dilemmas presented by being a man out of time, someone who has lived everywhere yet fits in nowhere. Tom is a thoughtful and sympathetic character who keeps going for only one reason, which I won’t reveal here. He suffers physically and emotionally from the constant bombardment of memories from his centuries of life. You can’t help wanting him to be happy, even while acknowledging the huge barriers to that happiness.

The premise is so interesting and absorbing, and I couldn’t put the book down. At the same time, it’s Matt Haig’s extraordinary writing and use of language that makes this book truly soar. I was so caught up in reading that I didn’t stop to mark pages and passages of interest, which makes it hard right now to highlight quotes and give examples of why I loved this book so much.

I do have just one that I managed to find after the fact, and I’ll use it to wrap up this review. From a passage showing Tom’s inner thoughts — completely applicable to regular people with regular lifespans too:

And, just as it only takes a moment to die, it only takes a moment to live. You just close your eyes and let every futile fear slip away. And then, in this new state, free from fear, you ask yourself: who am I? If I could live without doubt what would I do? If I could be kind without the fear of being fucked over? If I could love without fear of being hurt? If I could taste the sweetness of today without thinking of how I will miss that taste tomorrow? If I could not fear the passing of time and the people it will steal? Yes. What would I do? Who would I care for? What battle would I fight? Which paths would I step down? What joys would I allow myself? What internal mysteries would I solve? How, in short, would I live?

Like I said:

Amazing book. Read it.

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The details:

Title: How To Stop Time
Author: Matt Haig
Publisher: Canongate Books
Publication date: July 6, 2017
Length: 325 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction
Source: Purchased

Book Review: Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn

A mysterious murder in a dystopian future leads a novice investigator to question what she’s learned about the foundation of her population-controlled society.

Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroys much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. A culture of population control has developed in which people, organized into households, must earn the children they bear by proving they can take care of them and are awarded symbolic banners to demonstrate this privilege. In the meantime, birth control is mandatory.  Enid of Haven is an Investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn’t yet handled a serious case. Now, though, a suspicious death requires her attention. The victim was an outcast, but might someone have taken dislike a step further and murdered him?  In a world defined by the disasters that happened a century before, the past is always present. But this investigation may reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for.

Bannerless is a unique and interesting approach to the dystopian genre. In fact, if you took away the references to “the Fall”, you might almost think you were reading a story of agrarian life in the Middle Ages. Let me explain…

In Bannerless, we follow main character Enid, a resident of the town of Haven whose occupation is investigator. Investigators are both detectives and enforcers, sent from settlement to settlement to look into complaints, solve problems, and if needed, impose sentences. Investigators tend to be feared — when these outsiders show up wearing their official brown tunics, it’s likely to end in repercussions either for individuals, households, or possibly the entire town.

Enid’s village lies among the geographic area known as the Coast Road, sets of smaller and larger settlements who interact for trading, messages, and resources. All follow the same general governing principles. The towns are primarily agrarian, and all members of a community have roles to play. Towns may only produce up to their quotas, so that resources are preserved for for the future. People form households to work together to show productivity, and if they prove that they can support more, they are awarded banners, which give them the right to have a child.

All in all, it sounds like a rather peaceful and healthy way to go about life. Community is all-important. People offer one another help when needed, and when help is provided, there’s a commitment made to repay expended resources when the recipient is able.

As I mentioned, if you didn’t know the setting, you might think this story takes place a few centuries ago. It has that old-fashioned, idyllic feel to it. But we do know that there was a Fall — and while the author doesn’t go into tremendous detail, it becomes clear that civilization fell over the course of years in which the world was devasted by epidemics, followed by substantial climate change that brought life-threatening changes in weather patterns. Enid’s adult life takes place about a century after the Fall, and she still remembers her Aunt Kath, who was the oldest member of Haven and the only one to remember the time before. From Kath, Enid learns about how life used to be, from silly details (like a yearning for plastic wrap) to issues around birth control and reproduction.

In terms of the plot of Bannerless, we follow two timelines in alternating chapters. We see Enid and her investigator partner Tomas, a member of her birth household, as they investigate a suspicious death in the nearby town of Pasadan. This in itself is shocking — while their investigations mainly focus on banner or quota violations, murder is pretty much unheard of. Meanwhile, in every other chapter, we follow the story of Enid from about 10 years earlier, when she followed her lover on his journeys from town to town, and along the way, learns much more about the communities, the ruins of cities, and her own calling.

What’s unusual about Bannerless, and what makes me hesitate to call it “dystopian”, is that the societal structure seems to work. There are no castes or debasing rules or the other types of harsh governance that seem to be the hallmark of the genre. Yes, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, but the people seem to have worked out a system that makes sense for them. The rules about banners and birth control don’t strike me as autocratic or despotic; they go hand in hand with the focus on resources and quotas. The communities bear an awareness of the disasters that led to civilization’s downfall, and they’re determined to avoid the excesses that result in barren lands and starving children.

And while Enid and others occasionally yearn for the resources they’ve heard about through stories about life before the Fall (medical equipment and reliable lab tests, for example), they’ve found a way to manage and preserve what they have, to share and take communal responsibility for one another, and to sustain future generations by conserving current resources.

Yes, the breaking up of households who flout the rules may sound harsh, but there’s a lot of reasonableness too. Of all the various fictional scenarios of life post-disaster, the world of Bannerless sounds pretty okay to me.

The book itself is a quick, engaging read. Don’t expect explosions or intense battles or action scenes. The drama is all about the people, their interactions, and their motives — although this book does a great job of demonstrating how scary it can be to be caught out in the open when a storm is on the way.

According to the author’s page on Goodreads, she’s working on a sequel, and Bannerless is listed as the first in a series. I had no idea while I was reading the book that this would be an ongoing story, and Bannerless works perfectly well as a stand-alone. (I’m glad I didn’t know ahead of time; I tend to avoid starting new series, and I’d hate to think that I might have missed out on a good book because of my series-aversion!)

I’ve enjoyed other books and stories by Carrie Vaughn (although I haven’t read her Kitty Norville series, which seems to be her best-known work), and I will definitely read the 2nd book whenever it comes out.

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of other books:
After the Golden Age
Martians Abroad
“Raisa Stepanova” (Dangerous Women anthology)

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The details:

Title: Bannerless
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Mariner
Publication date: July 11, 2017
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

Thursday Quotables: Abaddon’s Gate

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Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

Abaddon’s Gate (The Expanse, #3) by James S. A. Corey
(released 2013)

There’s nothing like a great sci-fi adventure to make the reading hours fly by! While much of this book is action, action, and more action, the characters are also very well-developed, and their thoughts can be quite entertaining:

Holden was starting to feel like they were all monkeys playing with a microwave. Push a button, a light comes on inside, so it’s a light. Push a different button and stick your hand inside, it burns you, so it’s a weapon. Learn to open and close the door, it’s a place to hide things. Never grasping what it actually did, and maybe not even having the framework necessary to figure it out. No monkey ever reheated a frozen burrito.

Three books into the series, the crew is a family, and their banter is always a pleasure.

“We don’t want to get in a gunfight,” Holden warned Amos as they began moving again.

“Yeah,” Amos said. “But if we’re in one anyway, it’ll be nice to have guns.”

A note on Thursday Quotables: I more or less took the summer off from keeping up my weekly memes, and I’m not entirely back yet. Sorry for the unpredictability! I aim to do Thursday Quotables when I can this month, and then settle back into routine in September.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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Book Review: Abaddon’s Gate

For generations, the solar system — Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt — was humanity’s great frontier. Until now. The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus’s orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless dark.

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.

Holy moly, I love this series.

Abaddon’s Gate is the 3rd book in The Expanse series, which is the basis for the pretty awesome TV series on Syfy (season 3 expected in 2018). (Check out an earlier post of mine about the series, here.)

In book 3, a brand new set of circumstances has opened up for the people of our solar system — Earthers, Martians, and Belters — and what to do about these new circumstances plunges the crew of the Rocinante right back into insane levels of danger.

(I realize this review will likely be gobbledygook for anyone not familiar with the earlier books in the series. Sorry about that.)

Our fearless leader, James Holden, and his ragtag crew have been through all sorts of hell so far, and just when they’ve settled into a rather profitable business as a cargo ship, along comes trouble. The structures built by the protomolecule have opened up a portal of some sort beyond Uranus’s orbit (no jokes please — we’re all adults, right?), and the fleets of the three main powers have all assembled nearby the portal — called the Ring — to make sure no one gets an advantage over the others.

And of course, it’s Holden and the Rocinante who ends up hurtling through the Ring into what they call the Slow Zone — a space between, a still zone lined with thousands of gates to other worlds, some open, some closed. And here’s where the trouble really begins. Because none of the ships or their nations trust one another, they all end up going after Holden… and things go very, very badly.

Abaddon’s Gate is another big, huge book in a series composed of big, huge books. I’ll admit that the first third or so at times felt like a bit of a slog. Other than Holden and his crew, there are almost no familiar characters from the previous books, which means that the reader has a whole new set of complicated relationships, motivations, and power struggles to sort through. It feels overwhelming at first.

Trust me, it’s worth it. Once I got a bit further in, I was hooked. Some of the new characters blend in with others we’ve known — more soldiers, technicians, etc — but there are certainly some stellar, memorable new characters, among them the priest Anna and the heroic Belter officer Bull. The action is unrelenting, and it’s fascinating to see the unimagined dangers facing all the ships and humans as they enter a zone where the rules of physics as they know them no longer apply.

I highly recommend this series — books and TV — to anyone who loves a good space opera. It’s got outstanding characters, complex plotting, and mind-blowing world-building. What more could you want?

I can’t wait to start the 4th book, Cibola Burn.

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The details:

Title: Abaddon’s Gate (The Expanse, #3)
Author: James S. A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: June 4, 2013
Length: 539 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

Take A Peek Book Review: The Sudden Appearance of Hope

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Listen.
All the world forgets me. First my face, then my voice, then the consequences of my deeds.
So listen. Remember me.

My name is Hope Arden, and you won’t know who I am. We’ve met before – a thousand times. But I am the girl the world forgets.

It started when I was sixteen years old. A slow declining, an isolation, one piece at a time.

A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A teacher who forgets to chase my missing homework. A friend who looks straight through me and sees a stranger.

No matter what I do, the words I say, the people I hurt, the crimes I commit – you will never remember who I am.

That makes my life tricky. But it also makes me dangerous . . .

The Sudden Appearance of Hope is the tale of the girl no one remembers. But this gripping story – of love and loss, of hope and despair, of living in the moment and dying to leave a mark – is novel that will stay with you for ever.

 

My Thoughts:

Okay, misleading. The cover image and the blurb make it sounds as though this book is about a girl, possibly a teen.

It’s not. It’s about a grown woman, probably mid-twenties — and if the age were the only issue that annoyed me, we’d be in much better shape here.

The premise of this book is actually fascinating. Hope cannot be remembered. People who see her day after day react each time as though they’re meeting a stranger. Hope is so unmemorable that she seems to create holes that the subconscious works to fill. Someone who had a delicious dinner with Hope will remember being at the restaurant — for a meal that they ate alone. She can disappear in any crowd, because as soon as she’s out of sight, she’s literally out of mind.

The parts of the book that work best are about Hope’s inner life and how it is to be in the world so utterly alone, absolutely free of any restrictions or responsibilities, yet with no connections that last longer than a few hours. It makes sense that ultimately Hope would become a gifted thief. You can’t exactly hold down a steady job when each day your boss thinks you’re someone completely new… and it’s easy to get away with crimes when eyewitnesses never remember seeing you.

The plot of the book centers around a creepy app called Perfection, encouraging people to become “perfect” through an endless cycle of feedback on their habits, choices, purchases, and more. Hope becomes obsessed with tracking down the people who profit from Perfection and hurting them, and ends up involved in international espionage as part of a very long manhunt. Unfortunately, much of Hope’s journey has to do with her vendetta against Perfection, and it’s confusing and distracting and really, very disjointed.

Frankly, this book was a slog to get through. Like I said, the concept of Hope’s inability to be remembered is pretty mind-warping stuff — but the plot ends up in a pointless, long drawn-out crime caper, and the writing seems to consist mainly of strings of phrases with a noticeable lack of verbs.

I might have enjoyed this book more if it were about 100 pages shorter, but even so, the entire crime story left me cold. Terrific concept, weak execution. I didn’t hate the book, but I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it either.

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The details:

Title: The Sudden Appearance of Hope
Author: Claire North
Publisher: Redhook
Publication date: May 17, 2016
Length: 468 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Library

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Thursday Quotables: The Sudden Appearance of Hope

quotation-marks4

Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
(released 2016)

I’m about half-way through this odd sci-fi book, and I’m having mixed feelings. The premise is cool as hell: A woman who is literally unmemorable — people forget her as soon as they can’t see her any longer. I’m not sure that I love everywhere the plot has taken us so far, but I’m intrigued enough to want to know how it all works out.

I am my breath. I am my ragged, gasping breath. I am rage. I am my tears — when did they come? I am injustice. I am damnation. I am here, I am real, remember me, remember this, how could anyone forget? How can you look on my red eyes and my blotched face, hear my voice, and forget me? Are you even human? Am I?

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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Audiobook Review: Waking Gods

 

As 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.

Wow. What a ride.

At the advice of the fabulous Bonnie at For the Love of Words, I decide to listen to Waking Gods rather than read a print version. And also thanks to her input, I first listened to book #1 of the Themis Files — Sleeping Giants — as a refresher. (I read — and loved — Sleeping Giants last year. Check out my rave review.)

Waking Gods picks up the story ten years after the ending of Sleeping Giants. Over the course of the intervening decade, the ragtag team of scientists and robot-wranglers has evolved into an organized global force called the EDC (Earth Defense Corps). Dr. Rose Franklin heads up the efforts, under the ever-present guidance of the unnamed man who pulls the strings. Meanwhile, robot pilots Kara and Vincent enjoy their life on the road with Themis, taking the giant robot on a worldwide goodwill tour to promote international cooperation and harmony.

Until… more robots arrive. Now Earth and all its people are threatened by an alien force that they have no hope of overpowering. If Rose and her team can’t come up with solutions, there may be nothing left.

Okay, wow again. Waking Gods is an absolutely stunning and addictive sequel that kept my attention from the very first moment all the way through to the end. As with Sleeping Giants, Waking Gods is told via transcripts of interviews, lab notes, radio broadcasts, and military communications. It works beautifully. Focusing for a moment on the audio listening experience, I was blown away by the intensity of listening rather than reading. While the transcripts work well on the page, it’s another thing entirely to listen to the talented narrators essentially act out each intense moment.

The audiobook is a full cast recording, so that each character has his or her unique voice, full of expression and personality. The unnamed narrator from the first book is back, and his voice in particular is odd but powerful. The rest of the cast is quite good (if you’ve read the books, you’ll be happy to know that Mr. Burns is just perfect), and the listening experience brings a tension and immediacy to the action scenes.

Waking Gods is a thrilling follow-up to Sleeping Giants. I do, however, have one minor complaint. I thought this was a two-book project. I haven’t seen anything anywhere referencing a 3rd. And it seemed as though Waking Gods finished the story (with an awesome climax, I might add)… until the very last moment, which took the concluding scene and turned it into a cliffhanger. So is there a book #3 on the way? So far, I haven’t been able to find a hint of it online.

I highly recommend both Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods — and definitely recommend checking out the audiobook versions, if you’re at all an audio person. Both books make for excellent listening experiences, and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time!

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The details:

Title: Waking Gods (The Themis Files, #2)
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: April 4, 2017
Length (print): 325 pages
Length (audiobook): 9 hours, 2 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: E-book review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley; audiobook downloaded via Audible

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A Miniature Review of Miniatures by John Scalzi

The ex-planet Pluto has a few choice words about being thrown out of the solar system. A listing of alternate histories tells you all the various ways Hitler has died. A lawyer sues an interplanetary union for dangerous working conditions. And four artificial intelligences explain, in increasingly worrying detail, how they plan not to destroy humanity.

Welcome to Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi.

These four stories, along with fourteen other pieces, have one thing in common: They’re short, sharp, and to the point—science fiction in miniature, with none of the stories longer than 2,300 words. But in that short space exist entire universes, absurd situations, and the sort of futuristic humor that propelled Scalzi to a Hugo with his novel Redshirts. Not to mention yogurt taking over the world (as it would).

Spanning the years from 1991 to 2016, this collection is a quarter century of Scalzi at his briefest and best, and features four never-before-printed stories, exclusive to this collection: “Morning Announcements at the Lucas Interspecies School for Troubled Youth,” “Your Smart Appliances Talk About You Behind Your Back,” “Important Holidays on Gronghu” and “The AI Are Absolutely Positively Without a Doubt Not Here to End Humanity, Honest.”

Okay, if those story titles don’t already have you laughing til your belly aches, then this may not be the book for you.

For me, it was perfect! John Scalzi’s science fiction never lets me down, and these (very) short pieces are just a treat. Funny, creative, unexpected, and silly, there’s plenty here to tickle and delight (unless you’re a total curmudgeon and have no patience for silliness… in which case, move along. Nothing to see here.)

The book itself is adorable, slightly smaller than usual for a hardcover (here’s a photo of my book plus some desk accessories, to give you a sense of scale without forcing me to get up and leave my desk):

The original hardcover printing was a limited run (and I think may no longer be available), but it is available in e-book format. Here’s the inside of my book, all numbered and everything!

Besides the utter cuteness of the physical book, what about the content?

Fabulous, of course! If I had to pick, I’d say my favorites are a dialogue among different AIs who are definitely not planning to take over the world, a cat’s-eye view of domestic domination, a supermarket workers’ guide to dealing with unusual alien life forms and their customs, and the interview with a celebrity agent for superheroes.

Oh, and let’s not forget the interviews with smart appliances, who spill the dirt on their owners. Makes me quite sure that I never ever need smart machines in my house. I couldn’t take the gossip.

Those are a just a few of the highlights, but really, all of the stories are terrific. What’s more, they’re super short, so this book can be enjoyed in bite-sized pieces or all in one sitting — either way, not a big time commitment.

If you like your sci-fi with a big heaping of funny, you’ll definitely want to treat yourself to this collection. I think I’ll be thumbing through Miniatures pretty regularly, whenever I need a little jolt of silly to brighten my day.

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The details:

Title: Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication date: December 31, 2016
Length: 142 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

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Book Review: Six Wakes

A space adventure set on a lone ship where the clones of a murdered crew must find their murderer — before they kill again.

It was not common to awaken in a cloning vat streaked with drying blood.

At least, Maria Arena had never experienced it. She had no memory of how she died. That was also new; before, when she had awakened as a new clone, her first memory was of how she died.

Maria’s vat was in the front of six vats, each one holding the clone of a crew member of the starship Dormire, each clone waiting for its previous incarnation to die so it could awaken. And Maria wasn’t the only one to die recently…

Talk about a powerful opening! The first chapter of this exhilarating sci-fi novel introduces us to the world of Six Wakes with a bang, as six clones wake up in their cloning vats… with their previous bodies, all brutally murdered, floating in zero gravity in front of them. None of the crew members has any memory of what happened. In fact, their last memories are of the reception on Luna as the Dormire was about to launch.

But as they look at their murdered bodies, they discover a startling fact: The bodies are all much older then they expected. While they only remember just joining the ship’s crew, it becomes apparent that they’ve been traveling in space for 25 years. All memories are gone. All ship logs have been purged. The ship’s AI is down. There’s a murderer among them, but even the murderer has no memory of what’s happened.

Wow. Now that’s tension!

In Mur Lafferty’s terrific space adventure, clones have existed within human civilization for hundreds of years. There are a set of strict laws governing clone management and clone rights, which are spelled out in the Codicils that appear at the beginning of the book. In the world of Six Wakes, people’s mindmaps are saved, then loaded into their new cloned bodies — produced to approximate age 21 for peak physical condition — when the old body dies. Clones are sterile; they become their own descendants. Clones essentially live for hundreds of years, from one body to the next.

Let me just pause here for a moment and admire the world-building of this novel. We’re thrust immediately into this brave new world, and it’s fascinating, but the author lays it out in such a way that it’s easy to grasp and get totally immersed. There are so many twists and turns and nuances to be revealed, but we get the set-up and big picture from the start. Amazing.

Meanwhile, on the Dormire, the crew have to solve their own murders, but more urgently, get the ship’s systems working again if they have any chance of survival. They’re intended to be on a 400-year journey to settle a new planet, with hundreds of humans saved in cryo, but they’ll all die if they can’t take control of navigation, get the grav drive working, and bring their AI back on line. Oh, and a piece I just loved — there’s a food printer! Think 3-D printing, but able to create any food desired, based on analysis of crew members’ tastes and programmed to synthesize any food stuff requested. It’s just cool.

The matter of identifying the murderer is crucial, of course. The tension and suspicions run high, and as the story progresses, we learn the truth about each crew member’s past. Each has secrets they’d rather keep hidden, but it’s those secrets that will help them piece together the events leading up to the murders… and hopefully enable them to prevent another round. And since the initial sabotage included destruction of the cloning vats, cloning software, and mindmap backups, if they die again, they’ll really and truly be dead.

At times, Six Wakes made me think a bit of Westworld… but my strongest comparison would have to be to Agatha Christie! Kind of a Murder on the Orient Express vibe, but in space! Everyone is a suspect, and everyone may have his or her own motives. They certainly have plenty of secrets to protect.

It’s just so cool.

Clearly, you have to enjoy science fiction to really get into Six Wakes — although I’d think anyone who enjoys a mystery would love this plot, assuming they accept all the cloning/space/technology pieces of the story.

As for me, I loved it. The story is intricate and requires paying attention to the small details, but the payoff is an amazing read that’s fast-paced, entertaining, and ultra fascinating. I loved the set-up, the human/clone history, the individual crew members’ stories, and the characters themselves, all intriguing in their own ways.

I rarely feel the urge to start a book again from the beginning once I finish it, but I definitely did with this one. I’m dying to go back, start over, and see all the clues I missed the first time around.

I strongly recommend checking out Six Wakes! So much fun. So different. So awesome.

Want to know more about this author? Check out my reviews of two other books by Mur Lafferty:
The Shambling Guide to New York City
Ghost Train to New Orleans

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The details:

Title: Six Wakes
Author: Mur Lafferty
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: January 31, 2017
Length: 364 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

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