You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘sci-fi’ tag.

61WJgNOFHKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The enthusiasm in Mercedes’s video was so contagious that I immediately got this in audio. It’s a weird one.

I kept thinking about poetry slams, where aspiring poets declaim angry poetry in almost full darkness, with lots of anaphoras and hyper-realistic imagery (disclaimer: the narration might be to blame). There’s humor and satire, but not enough for it all not to feel a tad pretentious.

I love the premise and can’t put it better than Gavin: “What if the men of Duck Dynasty suddenly had two brain cells to rub together? What if they suddenly became filled with the immense, combined word-horde of all of Western Civilization?” Thinks Flowers for Algernon meets The Big Lebowski. Technically it’s sci-fi, but it only in an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Minds way.

I’m really attracted to the overall theme of how higher intelligence would affect our lives, personalities and choices (according to Elliott, not much). The problem is that she goes for language at the expense of believable characters and engaging plot. Even when we’re shown their background stories, it’s still the way they’re described that’s important, not the effect. Elliott focuses so much on hyper-reality (how many ways can you describe headaches and drug binges? Many!) that she ends up on the other side, where everything feels unreal. The way characters talk, especially after the brain enhancement, was so over the top, full of references to medieval literature and obscure philosophical theories (do genius really talk like that?), that everyone just becomes a caricature.

Also, the plot builds up a series of mysteries – evil company doing brain experiments! Hogzillas and other mutants roaming the forest! Mysterious woman in online group that knows too much! – but they all end up in lukewarm places. Don’t get me wrong, I love good gimmicky literature, but think Romie Futch wanted to do it all and lost focus.

Still, I gave it 3-stars. Mostly because it kept me intrigued and I respect an effort to create something different. It would be a great bookclub choice!

 

ALWTASAPWhen this one started making the rounds and seducing everyone it touched, it seemed so much up my alley I was afraid to start if for fear of disappointment.

In the end, although I’m not completely head-over-heals in love, I really liked it, and it leaves me with the warm, fuzzy feelings so many reviewers described. Also: that cover!

In the tradition of Firefly, the story follows a crew of space tunnelers (it’s complicated) that accepts a commission in… a small angry planet far far away. Most of the team is human, but there are others as well, including a sentient AI and a doctor/cook that made me think of Alice’s Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar.

There’s not a lot of action in the book, which is refreshing for a sci-fi set mostly in starships. Its power comes from how Chambers introduces us to these characters and then let’s us watch them interact. When two non-humans interact it especially brings out Chambers’ amazing world-building where no detail is neglected: from biology to politics, from relationships with other species to matting habits, from language to family structures. Everything makes sense and I want to extend a big thank you to the people who backed her Kickstarter project and allowed her to spend 2 years just thinking about these things.

But the best scenes come when humans interact with other species. There’s a lot of sci-fi out there about “what it means to be human”, but right now I can’t think of another one that does it so well and poignantly (edit 30m later: maybe the closest is Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow). It reminded me of the times people praised the sound of Portuguese and I wish I could hear it from the outside. Well, this book made me look at humans from the outside and gave me hope. There’s this one conversation in particular that is genius, where two aliens have a hilarious rant about us.

Another unusual thing about this book is that the human race actually manages to evolve! This happens mostly because we 1) were forced to exodus after destroying Earth’s environment, 2) only to be saved when we ran into another species by chance and 3) later joined the Galactic Commons, where humans are a minor and rather uninfluential species. You see, we evolved by eating a well deserved dose of humility pie!

In general, Chambers’ universe is a good place to be and a welcome antidote to the dystopias and alien invasion stories that dominate sci-fi. This is a less sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic universe that actually feels realistic.

The only thing that felt not quite right was the captain’s style of leadership. Doing what he does, under those conditions, I’d expect someone… stronger? He was born in the Exodus Fleet so is a pacifistic that hates guns, but that’s not why I’m questioning his authority. At times he was just too unprepared. It also got me thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of having a boss that’s your buddy, especially in potentially dangerous environments. Would have loved to discuss this in a bookclub!

I’m still amazed that Chambers manages to put so much in just 518 pages, and although I really welcome the sequel already in the making, part of me wishes that she’d made it a stand-alone: contained and strong. But I get it, it’d be a waste of good characters and world.

So, don’t pick up A Long Way if you’re looking for a science-focused space-opera with lots of laser guns and thingy-propellers, but go for it if you’re in the mood for a character-driven novel with lots of food for thought. It’s also the perfect book to recommend to sci-fi virgins or resistants.

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Other thoughts: A Dribble of Ink, The Speculative Scotsman, Eve’s Alexandria, Dear Author, Awesome Audiobooks, Boomerang Books, The Android’s Conundrum, Rambling of an Elfpire, Common Touch of Fantasy, Kalanadi, Kitty G, Books and Pieces, Mercy’s Bookish Musings (yours?)

 

 

RetributionFallsWhat I liked

The universe doesn’t deviate too much from your typical steampunk novel, but (or because of it?) it’s still good. There are airships, pirates, alchemy, a golem, daemons, high-society balls, political intrigue and other fun elements that could make it the perfect escapade read. I appreciated that Wooding tried to give a “scientific” explanation to the elements that would normally be considered magical. Maybe that’s why there’s a divide on Goodreads on whether this is fantasy or sci-fi. I’m on the sci-fi side.

The Firefly link. At points I could pin-point exactly the episode that inspired a particular scene. For instance, the opening, when Mal and Wash Frey and Crake are being held hostages, clearly came from War Stories. This worked for me and I was thankful for the nostalgic moments.

Also: that cover!

What disappointed me

Too much telling going on and not enough showing (you need to trust us more Mr. Wooding!). For instance, Frey, the ship’s captain, goes through a dramatic change when it came to his loyalty towards his crew. Through heavy-handed inner monologues, we get all his feelings spelled out: what changed, why it changed, how does if feel to have changed, his regrets, his hopes, etc, etc, etc.

And then there are the female characters. *sigh* Where to start? First, I wish that in the crew of seven there was more than one woman (navigator Jey). As Dan put it so well (such a great review!):

… having one female character out of seven is the worst possible option. Zero out of seven, and you have a setting in which women don’t fly airships, which is absolutely fine. Put in exactly one, and you suddenly have a society where women are apparently perfectly accepted on the setting equivalent of the Spanish Main, but never the less you’ve only got one in your crew. Zero is a better number than one in this situation is all I’m saying.

When I first read the book I underlined the scene where Jey is first introduced to the crew, explaining why Frey decided to hire her. Looking at it now, I’m disturbingly reminded of the recent debacle with scientist Tim Hunt. Take a look (Frey’s inner monologue):

Her features were petite and appealing but she was rather plain, boyish and very pale. That was also good. An overly attractive woman was fatal on a craft full of men. They were distracting and tended to substitute charm and flirtatiousness for doing any actual work. Besides, Frey would feel obligated to sleep with her, and that never worked out well.

Facepalm

I also wish all other women weren’t Frey’s whinny or crazy exes. His relationship with Trinica was especially cringe-worthy. She’s the captain of a much bigger ship than Frey’s, a renowned pirate, feared and ruthless, “a dread queen of the skies“, so it means she’s just about ready to be brought down by her womanly feelings.

Once upon a time, before her pirateering begun, Trinica was just the daughter of a rich aristocrat and was engaged to Frey. But then she got too clingy and Frey abandoned her at the altar. Pregnant. In a conservative world that did not look kindly on single pregnant young women. Trinica tries to commit suicide and survives, but her unborn child doesn’t.

Many years later she and Frey meet again and that scene made my eyes roll all the way to the back on my head. Frey accuses her of murdering their child (an accusation that neither the text nor Trinica contest) and calls her a coward for attempting suicide. Trinica’s self-assured mask quickly crumbles and Fry admits to himself he’s also partially to blame for the death, because after all, he allowed her to stifle him and make him a coward, leaving him no other option but to run away.

Look, I know it’s often tricky to distinguish between the characters and the author’s own assumptions, so I might be wrong here, but my experience with Retribution Falls is that Frey’s douchebagness was something we should relate to, especially because we’re told over and over that He Changes. This apparently means he no longer hates Trinica, but now forgives her for making him abandon her, and while we’re told his attitudes towards his crew go from zero-cares to full-fledged charismatic leader, from the first to the last scene he continues to risk their lives unnecessarily.

When I first started this post I was on the fence about whether to continue the series, but the more I wrote the more I realized I had serious problems with the book. So I’m afraid the Ketty Jay series are not for me.

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Other thoughts: Ferret Brain, The Book Smugglers, Asking the wrong questions, Eve’s Alexandria, Sandstorm Reviews, The Lightning Tree, Fantasy Book Critic, SFF Book Reviews, The Wertzone, Graeme’s Fantasy Reviews, Neth Space, The Mad Hatter’s (yours?)

It was a hit & miss month:

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Preacher, Volume 1: Gone to Texas by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon

Still not exactly sure how I feel about Preacher. I’ve the notion it’s very clever and deep, but ended up feeling I didn’t quite get it. Maybe because I’m not religious and the point is to ruffle believers’ feathers? Maybe because, in a story so full of layers and questions about Good and Evil, the villains are 100% bad, no grey areas?

Glad I’ve read it, but will file it under “Good, but not for me”.

Ms. Marvel, #1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona 

Hurrah for books that live up to the hype! Both the story and art felt so refreshing, and unlike Preacher, it was written just for me. Most reviews focus on the fact that Kamala is the first Muslim super hero, but for me the innovation is that’s not the most important thing. Ms. Marvel is still a classic story of a superhero’s origins, where the superhero just happens to be a girl, and a person of colour and a Muslim. Like Peter Parker before her, Kamala also struggles with her costume and the “with great power…” thing, she’s still trying to figure out who she is. The book is good because it has characters that are genuinely interesting, writing that’s full of smart humor, a gripping plot gripping and attractive artwork.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier by Alan Moore

Oh Alan Moore, you’re losing me. With every new League book I’m trying to regain the magic of the first two, without success. Were they also this trippy, full of naked women for no apparent reason, and I just didn’t notice?!

Saga Vol. 2 and Vol.3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

The series just keeps getting better and better. I’m loving every new character, from Gwendolyn to Upsher and Doff, as well as all the backstories (Alana’s love for that book!). I could have done without the implausible black-whole baby in Vol. 2, the “He’s the man I love!” line in Vol. 3, and still not convinced about the opposite of war thing, but hey, who’s counting?

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91RnIEO+lbL._SL1417_(NO SPOILERS)

A community lives in an underground silo for generations and its origins are lost in time. People are told the silo protects them from a toxic outside world, a world they can only see through a single TV screen. The air outside is unbreathable and far away the skyline of a destroyed city is visible.

This is the premise of Wool, the first of the Silo series. It’s marketed as an adult dystopia, but apart from the characters’ age, it’s not much different from the Divergents and Maze Runners of this world: an unexplained post-apocalyptic world, human curiosity disrupting the system, an elite struggling to preserve the status quo.

In general I enjoyed the book. The first chapters triggered my need-to-know obsession and the ending was full of the promise of revelations to come. Jules was a strong and realistic female character and I cared for her right from the start. I understand the commercial success formula requires a romance (this was a self-published book, so likely Howey was more attuned to it), but Jules’ interest, Lucas, was far less interesting and I could have done without that relationship altogether.

Howey clearly put a lot of thought into the world-building and that was the most interesting part of the whole story: the silo’s different levels, nativity control, food production, disposal of human cadavers, electricity production – fascinating stuff.

If you’ve read the book, I’d be really curious to know your thoughts on (still no spoilers):

  • Why it’s considered an adult book and not YA? Is it just the hero/heroine’s age? There’s no sexual content, and definitely less violence or social commentary than, for instance, The Hunger Games. Is it because it focuses less on romance?
  • Considering the need to preserve the situation in the silo, and that there’s a mention of an organized religion, shouldn’t religion play a much bigger role in the story? Wouldn’t it be an obvious ally of IT?
  • I listened to it in audiobook and the narrator gave the villain a nasal voice that was the embodiment of the Evil Doer. (Seriously, I expected an evil laughter – MUAHAHAHAH! – at several moments). However, when I finished the book I wondered if this caricature was just due to the voice or if he could’ve been better developed. What say you?

So in summary, I had fun and at moments was completely engrossed in the story. I’m also looking forward to the future movie adaptation. On the other hand, I wished it pushed the boundaries of the genre, to become something I’d never read before. But the strongest feeling of all was the need to talk about it, and that’s always a good sign!

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Other thoughts: Rhapsody in Books, SF and Fantasy Book Reviews, Leeswammes, The Guilded Earlobe, Book Den, Collateral Bloggage, Stainless Steal Droppings, Speculative Book Review, Book Monkey, Don’t be Afraid of the Dork, a book a week, A Garden Carried in the Pocket (yours?)

The_Martian_2014This is one of the most uplifting books I’ve ever read, the perfect antidote to last week’s events. Who knew that a book about an astronaut left for dead by his crew on Mars could be this fun?

It’s basically an ode to human intelligence and ingenuity, to the power of science, courage and team work. After Charlie Hebdo, this book left me thinking “we’ll be ok” and for that I’ll be forever grateful to Weir.

I just wish my knowledge of chemistry and physics would do it more justice. Although the science parts were well explained and concise, I’m sure I’d have been even more impressed if I knew more about space exploration.

Don’t have much more to say about it, really. It deserved to show up in so many bloggers’ best-of-2014 lists. And a big thank you to who recommended the audiobook version.

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Other thoughts: Dribble of Ink, The Guilded Earlobe, The Speculative Spaceman, That’s What She Read, Stainless Steel Droppings, Speculative Book Review, The Book Cove, Cheap Thrills, the Little Red Reviewer, Love, Laughter and a touch of Insanity, Rinn Reads, Book Chatter, Collateral Bloggage, Don’t be afraid of the Dork, Jenn’s Bookshelves (yours?)

BRRead for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge:
A sci-fi novel

tumblr_m8o3y6cSEy1qzcqsfo1_500I need your help understanding The Left Hand of Darkness. I was almost indifferent to it, but it has a huge GoodReads average: 4.02 from 42,943 ratings. As Shannon from Giraffe Days put it on her own review:

When you dislike a popular book, a canonised book – a “masterpiece” and an “instant classic”, according to other reviewers – naturally part of you wonders whether you’re just not getting it, whether you’re not bright enough or clued-in enough, or whether you’re placing unnecessary or unfair demands and expectations on it.

(I wish I could just copy/paste her entire review because that’s also pretty much how I felt about the book.)

One of my biggest issues was not caring about any of the characters. Have the feeling characterization wasn’t a priority for Le Guin (who was Genly Ai, our main character? What really motivated him? What was his life before arriving in Winter?), preferring instead to focus on world-building. Fair enough, but apart from describing the planet and their mostly asexual people, Le Guin is never though-provoking about the implications of that asexuality in their civilization or how someone like Genly, an audience-surrogate, faces it.

The whole topic of gender politics, for which the book is so acclaimed, ends up reduced to a few isolated comments by Genly (“I don’t know. They [women] don’t often seem to turn up mathematicians, or composers of music, or inventors, or abstract thinkers. But it isn’t that they’re stupid.”) and one relevant conversation between him and the native Estraven. This lasts for a couple of pages and ends up not solving the obvious sexual tension between them. Was there something more I missed?

We often see the story from Estraven’s point of view, which would be a great opportunity to see the world (and Genly) from a non-gendered mind, but apart from a couple of cultural misunderstandings you could also find on Earth, nothing more stands out. Also, although Genly has been on that planet for two years, we never get any real insight into his own sexual desires, which could have been really interesting and though-provoking.

It’s almost as if Le Guin, having shocked everyone in 1969 by having penned a sci-fi novel set on a non-gendered world, felt it was enough to stir things up and decided not to risk going deeper. I felt the book dated, but the 4.02 rating is definitely not from the 60s and 70s, so I can’t shake the feeling I’m missing something!

Another thing that I’d like your input on is the alliance that Genly represents. Chris called it a “perfectly anti-imperialist empire without any will to power at all”. This also nagged at me. I swear that up to the last pages I was expecting a big twist, but nope, Genly did come in peace, cynical me!

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Other thoughts: A Striped Armchair, Opinions of a Wolf, The Wertzone, Shelf Love, Neth Space, Books Under the Skin, Gasping for the Wind, James Reads Books, The Book Smugglers, conceptual fiction (yours?)

#comicsfebruary

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I never could resist graphic novels with impressive urban architectural landscapes. That’s why I love François Schuiten so much. I’d never heard of Mathieu Bablet (his blog here, in French) until I came across this cover at my local bookshop. It immediately caught my eye: the colors, the perspective, the visual impact of that giant worm!

The story is set in a nameless mega city, home to the (as far as we know) few human survivors of an insect-like alien invasion that all but exterminated the human race. The survivors’ hopeless lives are spent hunting for food and trying to avoid the insects.

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I was completely hooked on the first half of the story, about the survivors’ day-to-day, the change of seasons, their squabbles and survival routines. But Bablet lost me once the action really started. Then things just got weird and went all mystical. I preferred the subtle and slow melancholy of the first part to the existentialist feel and chilling events of the second.

I wished the story had taken another turn, but I wouldn’t change a thing in the illustration, which was amazing. I went back to the bookshop to buy another Babet book the next day just because of it. The spaces seem to be wide and claustrophobic at the same time. The geometry of the huge and repetitive buildings captures the eye and is the perfect scenario to show just how lonely these characters are. It’s like they’re insects themselves.

Certain angles almost caused me vertigo and I loved all the details in the scenery: the thread-bare couches in the abandoned apartments, the aging piping, the growing vegetation. Also, Bablet populated the story with several pop-culture Easter-aggs, that The Dork Review collected. The ones I noticed:

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This was Bablet’s first album and I’ll report of his second – Adrastée Tome 1 – as soon as I finish it. By the way, I was looking around and found no concrete evidence that this was translated to English (I only found a cover with the translated title, but nothing else), so let me know if you know about it.

No spoilers, but mostly written for those who’ve already read the books.

For some weeks around August/September my brain was working at half-steam. Nothing was processed, sentences we were read endless times. So I want to wholeheartedly thank Veronica Roth and audio narrator Emma Galvin for showing me that not all was lost and I could still appreciate a good story.

To be honest, I still don’t know if I’d have enjoyed Divergent as much as I did if it wasn’t in the worst stage of my first trimester and my dad hadn’t died recently, but the fact remains that, as Carol says in As Good as It Gets, “What I needed, he gave me great”.

It was fast paced, the world-building was intriguing, the heroine not too annoying, the hero had the right amount of caring and brooding, and there was enough tension to keep me completely submersed in the story. Lots of violence and gore, but the sex stops at the tension, which I guess it’s the YA norm, but can often leave the reader a bit frustrated.

Be ready for a certain amount of YA clichés, but also expect to be thoroughly entertained. It’s the perfect escapist book.
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It’s been many years since I’ve immediately picked up the next in the series after finishing with the previous one. No matter how much I love a book or how teasing the cliffhanger, I’m all about literary pleasure postponed. But it happened with Insurgent.

Unfortunately, we didn’t connect as much as I was expecting. It was still enjoyable and fast-paced, but I often preferred watching yet another old episode of Project Runway.

So now I’m in doubt whether the second book wasn’t really as good as the first, or if I was just getting out of the static brain zone I found myself and that, ironically, Divergent helped with.

The action was still there, as well as the world-building and knowing more about the other fractions was a real highlight, but some of the elements that were just right before went a bit overboard. I’m mostly referring to the romance. Oh the angst! Oh the same fumbling and kissing ad nauseam! And this time it’s not only the readers that get frustrated. Clearly the characters are feeling the stress as well, as they become over-emotional and tense to a point where what made them so great before becomes secondary. As does their world crumbling around them.

I think a lot of readers appreciated this focus on their relationship (that seems on repeat in every.single.conversation.), but I just wanted them to get organized, develop a clever plan, and find out what’s beyond the wall.

Also, while in Divergent Roth seemed to predict my doubts about the way her world works, in this one I found myself thinking “riiiiight” (skeptical eye rolling) at several stages. Mostly around the evil plan of the Erudite, who still haven’t proven to me just how brilliant they are. I can think of an easier way or five to seize power, not to mention their unconvincing motives for wanting it.

I’m still invested enough in the series to look forward to the third, though. It’s the least I can do for Veronica Roth. 🙂

After jumping on this summer’s Buffy Watch bandwagon, and after four seasons, I think I can safely say that I’m a Firefly girl first. I know I still have three more Buffy seasons to go, but I have yet to see an episode that comes close to Out of Gas in drama, or that made me laugh half as much as Jaynestown.

To try to fill the emptiness of Firefly’s early cancellation as I can, including a very used “Browncoats” saved search on Twitter and buying the continuation comics, also written by Joss Whedon.

Those Left Behind (Serenity #1)

If you’ve followed the series and then saw the movie you may have noticed there were some things left unexplained, mainly the fact that Inara and Shepherd weren’t on Serenity. Those Left Behind was created as a transition story, to fill those gaps.

One of the best things about this volume (originally a 3-book comic) is the introduction by Nathan Fillion. It’s a touching account of how he’s loved comic books since he was a kid, how he always wanted to be a super hero and how the challenge to play Captain Malcolm Reynolds gave him the opportunity to fulfill that dream.

So, I guess the message I want to leave you with is this: What you hold in your hand is not just a comic. It is much more. It is a handbook. It is a guide. It is reference material for when you become a superhero. I found the secret, you see. To become a superhero, all you have to do is want it badly enough, and comics are the fuel to that fire.

The story revolves about a scavenger mission that turns out to be a trap orchestrated by old enemies. In between, fans are treated to great Whedon-style moments, like the growing doubts of Sheppard Book, stuck between his religious beliefs and the ship’s shenanigans, and a rare glimpse at scenes from the Unification War (it’s great not to be limited by budget restrictions!).

The story has glimpses of the brilliancy of the series but not exactly quite there, probably because it felt hurried and a bit crammed with information. Whedon managed to publish dozens of Buffy comic books, including a full 8th Season after the TV show ended, but I think he knew he wouldn’t have that chance with Firefly.

I know there was a big chance I’d be a bit disappointed with the book. The artists did tried to make the characters recognizable but fell a bit short, especially with Mal and Inara. I really like the colors a lot though – they seemed to reflect the spirit of the series even better than the TV series. Overall, the book felt more like a really cool storyboard for a lost episode of Firefly.

It’s still a great treat for fans, but it inevitably falls short of a full fledge episode.

Better Days and Other Stories  (Serenity #2)

I liked Better Days And Other Stories a lot better than Those Left Behind. Instead of full a “episode”, this volume has four short-stories, my favorite of which was written by comedian Patton Oswalt and works as an homage to Wash.

I can’t quite put my finger on why I prefer this volume. I know that I laughed more, the action scenes felt more exciting and the artwork  more realistic. Dialogues and the interaction between characters also rang true and there were some golden moments, like Simon treating Jayne for an STD, the bitter-sweet flashbacks of Wash’s adventures and the moment when River really joins the crew.

There’s a scene in the first story, Better Days, where we see each crew member fantasize about what they’d do if they became billionaire, and they were all spot on (oh Kylee, you’re still my favorite!).

Also loved the three drawings between the stories, which together make up a shiny triptych.