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Nebula Award

Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five
Author: 
Vonnegut, Kurt
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

"So it goes..."

You may be thinking that based on the title it is the fifth book in a series of horror novels, but I assure you that it is not. Slaughterhouse-Five is a very thought provoking and poignant anti-war novel that has elements of science fiction, including 4th dimensional time travel and aliens. It’s a nonlinear story that follows a man named Billy Pilgrim as he travels throughout different moments in his life, weaving back and forth through differing time periods. He travels from his time as a chaplain’s assistant in World War II to his normal life with his wife and children to being an exhibit in an alien zoo on the planet Tralfamadore.

By becoming “unstuck in time”, as Billy puts it, he is able to relive these moments in his life and reflect upon them more deeply. This book is one of the best representations of 4th dimensional time travel that I've come across, and if you ever struggle to grasp the concept of time as the 4th dimension, as I do from time to time, then this book will certainly help create a better understanding of it. The book centers around Billy Pilgrim’s experiences during the war and all of the atrocities that he has seen, culminating at the end with the Bombing of Dresden, a moment which influences the rest of his life.

By being told out of chronological order, the structure of the book drives the importance and impact of the moment rather than just describing what happens next and it creates a sort of puzzle that the reader must put together. It is full of satire, wit, and black humor that is vintage Vonnegut and is one of the strangest meditations on war and humanity. If you want an extremely thoughtful book that challenges your perspective, then I highly recommend Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Reviewer's Name: 
Kelsey L.

Book Review: Binti

Binti
Author: 
Okorafor, Nnedi
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

This was a fun little sci-fi novella. Binti is about a Himba girl from Earth -- the eponymous Binti -- who is accepted into a super-prestigious university and becomes the first Himba to go off-planet to attend college. There's a lot of prejudice against Himba by the Khoush on Earth, so Binti is nervous about traveling outside of her homeland, but when she gets on a shuttle with fellow students they find they have their love of science and astronomy in common, and she begins to feel optimistic about attending Oomza University. However, part-way into the journey the Meduse, a type of alien in a long war against the Khoush, attack the ship at dinnertime and kill all the students -- except for Binti. She’s not exactly sure why, but it seems to have something to do with a mysterious artifact she found in the desert that she keeps as a good-luck charm. Binti hides in her room, but she fears it will only be a matter of time until the Meduse kill her; she might not be Khoush, but she's a human on a Khoush ship, and that's enough. What seemed like the beginning of an exciting new life now is going to end just days after her departure.

I listened to Binti as an audiobook, and the narrator did a wonderful job with the story. I enjoyed Binti’s perspective and was drawn in by the back-story of their world -- the astrolabe technology everyone seems to use, Binti’s skill as a Harmonizer, living space-ships, and many other intriguing details. It’s extremely short -- just 90 pages -- and at the end I definitely wanted more information about the world and its people and technology. On the one hand, it’s good that Okorafor made me care enough to be interested in hearing more, but the tradeoff was that book felt a bit rushed/cramped at times. There are novellas that work perfectly in that form and are paced so well that they’re as rich and complete as a full-length novels, but this one didn’t quite meet those standards. This is intended to be the first book in a series, so I'm cutting it some slack for that reason, but it still didn't quite work on its own. The message was strong, but there were plot points I would have loved to see explored in more depth, relationships I wish had been better fleshed out, and some finer details of the setting that I wish Okorafor could have delved into to make for a more satisfactory ending. I still enjoyed the story for what it was, and I'll be looking out for the next entry in the series, but it fell a bit short of what I wanted. That being said, it's a creative story with a very cool setting, and I would certainly recommend Binti to fellow sci-fi fans.

Reviewer's Name: 
Lauren

Book Review: The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Author: 
Valente, Catherynne M.
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

I've yet to read something by Catherynne M. Valente that isn't absolutely gorgeous -- admittedly I may be a little bit biased, as I definitely think folkloric stories are the best, and folkloric stories with lovely playful twists are the BEST best... But when it comes to evocative and clever prose, as far as I'm concerned Valente is on a level all her own. At the moment, I happen to be reading her "Fairyland" series, and so... Behold, the first book -- "The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making!" It's just as whimsical as it sounds.

So there's this little girl named September, living in a lonely house and washing a bunch of lonely teacups all the time and feeling very trapped. A quirky and talkative Green Wind -- apparently a defiant and spirited sort of wind -- riding a leopard shows up to spirit her away to Fairyland if she likes. This book is very much like "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" for the modern age: September has loads more authority over herself and her destiny, for one, and she grows dramatically as a human being over the course of the series. Fairyland helps that along of course, despite being a wild and alien place, complete with folkloric and/or mythological figures both eternal and re-imagined, petulant tyrants with very impressive hats, and interesting twists and turns aplenty that I can say I definitely didn't see coming. Valente's world is simultaneously familiar and wonderfully fresh, like she's composed words to go along to the tune of a well-beloved song, shifting its meaning in unexpected ways while still keeping true to the soul of something timeless.

Reviewer's Name: 
Kate

Book Review: The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season
Author: 
Jemisin, N. K.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

I loved this book. I've been looking for a new fantasy series for a long time now, but I haven't come across anything recently that's caught my eye. I almost gave up on The Fifth Season too, in part because the narration is in second person, which I found jarring at first, and in part because Jemisin drops you in the middle of the action with little explanation and no hand-holding. It took me a few chapters to get into the story and figure out what was going on, but I'm glad I stuck it out because the plot and characters ended up being great. Despite what I just said, I think it's almost better to go into this blind, but I'll try to describe it without giving too much away.

The continent our characters live on, "The Stillness," is a post-apocalyptic hellscape. There is near-constant seismic activity that triggers a new catastrophe (called a "Fifth Season") every few centuries -- sometimes in the form of massive crop-failures, sometimes in the form of volcanic eruptions, sometimes massive earthquakes that destroy whole regions (she includes a helpful appendix of these disasters if you're curious). In this world, there is a group of people known as orogenes (or more derogatorily as "roggas") who have some degree of control over seismic activity -- they can "sess" earthquakes, and, with training, prevent them from being too destructive. But they're also powerful, extremely dangerous, and widely despised -- many people kill their own children when they discover what they are, and it's often a race against time to see if a Guardian (their mysterious and sinister keepers) can arrive to collect the child before the family or the community has killed them. The plot isn't chronological; it moves around from chapter to chapter in order to tell three stories at three points in time: 20-odd years ago, when a young girl is taken to the capital to be trained as an orogene; some 10 years after that when a mid-level orogene goes off on a mission with her senior to investigate a disturbance in a coastal community; and "now," in the immediate aftermath of the latest apocalypse, when we follow a woman who is struggling to cope with her son's murder just as the quake hits.

I'm not going to say that it's an entirely original idea, but I think the execution was solid and I loved the dialogue and cast of characters. There's no lack of action, but Jemisin also takes the time to dig into her characters' emotional lives, and after a while the use of "you" starts to fade into the background. There's a strong focus on discrimination, both in terms of how orogenes are viewed in society and in terms of the treatment of subordinate nations and peoples by the Sanzed Empire that has conquered the continent. A lot of fantasy is set in pseudo-Europe (and often just pseudo-England), so it was refreshing to read something more diverse, and there's a wide variety of representation in terms of race, gender, and sexuality throughout. I would give this 4.5/5 stars if that were possible, but since it isn't I've left it at 4. It wasn't perfect, but it was a very strong start to the series, and I look forward to starting the second book, The Obelisk Gate, which just released this September. I would definitely recommend this to fans of fantasy.

Reviewer's Name: 
Lauren

Book Review: A Game of Thrones

Book Review: A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire
Author: 
Martin, George R.R.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

I'm not a fantasy reader. I'm not even a fantasy watcher, but like so many other readers of Game of Thrones, the sheer awesomeness that is the series led me to read the book. This book VERY GOOD! This is high praise coming from a non-fantasy reader. I actually was glad I had seen the series because it helped me better visualize everything. I'm not going to continue on with the series because the books are really very long and I just can't commit to that. But I'll keep watching and loving the series! 4 stars because the book was too long and dragged in some places.

Reviewer's Name: 
vfranklyn
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