Adult Book Reviews by Genre: Science Fiction

William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back
Doescher, Ian
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I said it for my review of Shakespeare’s Star Wars , and I’ll say it again: this combination of old verbiage and meter with popular science fiction is a match made in heaven. The follow-up to the first part of the original trilogy, Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back continues to be an amusing exercise that anyone who loves Shakespeare and/or Star Wars will enjoy. Some consider Empire to be the best part of the original trilogy, and its adherence to the plot won’t disappoint. Additionally, the audiobook version continues to use music, sound effects, and voice acting to recreate an experience as close to the source material as possible.

While the audiobook did provide a robust experience of the text (especially the voice actors who recreated Han Solo and C-3PO’s speech patterns), the author’s explanation at the end made me realize there were some aspects that weren’t quite as clear as they would have been if I had just read the book normally. For instance, Yoda’s typically backward speech wasn’t as backward as I would have thought—mostly because the Shakespearean cadence sounds a little backward. Instead, Yoda spoke in haiku, which I’m sure would have been more evident if I was reading the words on the page.

As I mentioned above, Empire is the favorite of many Star Wars fans. However, I’m one of the rare few (like the author) who find Return of the Jedi to be their favorite of these first three films. Consequently, since this book held close to the original plot, it seemed to sag a little between the opening act on Hoth and the third act in Cloud City. At least the added soliloquies from ancillary characters like the AT-AT walkers, random Stormtroopers, and the dangerous creatures of the universe added in some humorous elements to the narrative that weren’t strictly canon.

A fantastic audiobook that still might require a read-through, I give Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Old Man's War
Scalzi, John
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

An excellent adult Sci-Fi novel in a future where to join humanity's military, the CDF, you must be 75 years old. Interesting takes on aliens, human interactions with other species, and combat. Be warned, there are sections of this book that go quite in depth about the background of certain story elements and they can seem long winded, but they all contribute to the story at large. Great read and hard to put down once you've found a little traction.

Reviewer's Name: Kyle
Foundation and Empire
Asimov, Isaac
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

One of my qualms with the start of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series was how different the stories were from each other. Each was set in the same universe but failed to have much of a cohesive narrative that tied them all together. While Foundation covered five different short stories, its sequel, Foundation and Empire managed to whittle this method of storytelling down to twonovellas. The result was a clear improvement in clarity and focus as each half of this book only covered a single plot each.

In Foundation and Empire, I finally was able to read a story that stuck with me in this series. Up until this point, I probably couldn’t tell you the premise of any of the short stories in Foundation, let alone the plot of the first half of this book. However, once this book transitioned over from topics that were more in line with science into ones that had a more fictional bend, I found the narrative to be much more enjoyable. It’s almost a shame that the whole book wasn’t an exploration of the universe presented in the second half.

Even if it took a book and a half for me to warm up to this series, I could honestly say that “The Mule” piqued my interest and will likely contribute to my continued reading of the Foundation series. This was probably because this particular half of the book introduced a clear antagonist to the story. It’s not that other stories in the series up until now didn’t have antagonists, it’s more that they weren’t an individual villain up until now. Now things are getting interesting!

A natural evolution of Foundation and an improvement on its predecessor, I give Foundation and Empire 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Foundation
Asimov, Isaac
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

For years, people have asked whether or not I have read the penultimate science fiction series that is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. Up until now, I could not say that I had. While I knew the series by its name, I hadn’t ever heard any comparisons or even knew what these books were about. This probably should have been my first indication of what to expect. I wasn’t expecting anything other than its notable status as a pillar of classic sci-fi. If anything, the fact each “section” of Foundation is its own short story says volumes about the origin of the genre.

Set within the same universe, Foundation follows five different groups across the timespan of a couple hundred years. Asimov explored a few different concepts and spent most of this book in world-building mode. I’ll applaud his ability to remain fairly consistent across these different stories, but the fact that there isn’t much that ties them together is the main issue I have with this book. Because they’re mostly five separate short stories, there’s not too much “action and consequence” between the different sections. This is what I would expect from a book with a standard three-act structure plot.

Additionally, I think the science fiction stories I tend to enjoy lean more on the “space opera” side than where Foundation lies. The fact that Foundation dives so deep into heady—and often controversial—topics like religion, politics, and economics is probably what lost my interest. Sure, there are some neat applications of technology that drives these topics. However, since it felt more like an academic lecture instead of an entertaining read, I glossed over a lot of the details. Maybe the other books in the series remedy this but for Foundation I just kind of felt “meh” about it.

An OK start to a highly-lauded science fiction series, I give Foundation 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
A Storm of Swords
Martin, George R. R.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

If things hadn’t already turned dark in Westeros, they certainly do in A Storm of Swords. The complicated political situation in the end of A Clash of Kings gets even more complicated as this third book dives into complex armies, weddings, wars, and so much more. George R. R. Martin’s writing may be dense, but I have never encountered a fantastical world as deeply developed as his. A Storm of Swords is jam-packed with intrigue and excitement, and it left me wanting more. I would recommend this book even if you have already seen the show; reading the books adds a whole new dimension to the characters, the plot, and the world.

Reviewer's Name: Sabrina J
Fahrenheit 451
Bradbury, Ray
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

With this dystopian society reversing positions in society, firefighters burn books and light houses on fire. Montag, a veteran firefighter, soon meets a girl who changes his mind about life, books, and his job. Soon, this mystery girl disappears and Montag soon sets out on a risky adventure to solve the mystery of his lost friend. With him betraying society, reading intriguing literature, and meeting new friends, the society is out to find Montag. Will he escape into the unknown world or will he be caught with his fate unknown? This book is an adventure worth reading!

Reviewer Grade: 9th

Reviewer's Name: Aiden F
Leviathan Wakes
Corey, James S. A.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Leviathan Wakes is the first novel in the science fiction series, the Expanse. It follows the stories of Jim Holden and Detective Miller as they attempt to uncover a plot to start a war within the planets. This book is incredible. Every character feels alive and unique, and you really begin to connect with them as the plot moves forward. The plot itself is stellar, and is relentless in its suspense, intrigue, and action. I would highly, highly recommend to anyone who loves science fiction, or is just looking for an amazing book to read.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
Frankenstein
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In Mary Shelley's classic novel "Frankenstein", a young ambitious scientist decides to play God and, in the process, creates a monster. As the monster struggles with self-identity and the meaning of his life, he enacts revenge on his creator by destroying everything he loves. Any time you dive into a classic novel, it can be difficult to keep your expectations from getting too high. This novel met pretty much all of mine -- the rich character development of both Frankenstein and the monster, the excellent use of suspense and foreboding to create tension, and the well-paced action. There were definitely some slow parts, but that's mostly because the writing style has changed so much between then and now. However, the multiple perspectives helped keep things moving when they began to slow down. I really enjoyed this novel but I had one fairly big complaint: the ending felt rushed. I felt that we were building up to a much more action-packed ending, but things fizzle out very quickly and the novel ends on a strangely unsatisfying note. I think that there could've been more time spent creating a strong conclusion to a really strong story. Besides that, this classic is excellent and definitely worth a read.
Grade: 12

Reviewer's Name: Gillian P.
Awards:
The Power of Six
Lore, Pittacus
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The sequel to I am Number Four is just as thrilling and action packed as the first. John, Sam, and Six set out as fugitives and work to find the others as we meet Seven. Seven is also known as Marina and lives in a convent/orphanage in Spain while she convinces her Cepan to rejoin the fight and develops her legacies. Complete with numerous battles, close escapes, incredible powers, and fun characters, The Power of Six is an excellent read for any middle or high schoolers.

Reviewer's Name: John B
Lord of Light
Zelazny, Roger
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Lord of Light, winner of the 1968 Hugo award for best novel, is a fascinating excursion into a expertly crafted science fiction world involving both Hindu mythology and the struggle to free humanity from the oppressive rule of false gods. This book is exciting as well as thought provoking and an overall interesting read. The characters are well flushed out, the setting is both believable and fantastical, and every instant of the book engaging. For those not familiar with Zelazny's writing style, the book may become confusing at certain points. However, the reader is never lost completely and can easily catch back up with the story. This book is a must read for those interested in the science fiction genre.

Reviewer's Name: Evan
Ready Player One
Cline, Ernest
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Wade Watts, a high school student like any other, starts his journey off in the slums of a world on the verge of economic and social collapse. In an attempt to escape the seemingly bleak world, many turn to the Oasis, an augmented version of virtual reality where the impossible is possible and people can become something other than what they are in the real world. The creator of the Oasis meets his untimely death due to a terminal illness, and in turn leaves behind his fortune and most prized possession, control of Oasis. The catch is, all you have to do is find his little “Easter Egg” within the vast world of the Oasis by finding keys linked to his favorite pastimes, such as old arcade games. It having been a long time since the announcement of this and now leads found, very few still pursue the egg. Wade Watts is one of them.

After discovering the first key on an online school’s virtual planet, Wade and the many others he meets along the way race to find the egg before the other hunters and the huge corporation, IO; in this science fiction world designed by Ernest Cline. I greatly enjoyed this book due to the vast worlds within his virtual one that he has illustrated for his audience.

Reviewer's Name: Liam G
Morning Star
Brown, Pierce
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Darrow was captured and his identity revealed, the leader of the Sons of Ares was killed, and now the future of rebellion looks bleak. Darrow, now in a state of grief and failure, his body withering away as he waits for his execution, is rescued and given a second chance to realize Eo’s dream; to topple the corrupt society that stole everything from him. Now the leading force and face of the rebellion, Darrow has many struggles that await him in the final book in the Red Rising Trilogy. I greatly enjoyed this book due to how the many underlying plots are tied off in the end of the series as well as the resolution of each character’s internal struggles. Pierce Brown builds on many previous sub plots that as the reader you might forget, marvelously tying this book in with the rest of the series.

Reviewer's Name: Liam G
At the Mountains of Madness
Lovecraft, H. P.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

H.P. Lovecraft is commonly known as one of the titans of horror, one of the pioneers of the genre who influenced people such as Stephen King, and has even inspired several video games, such as Bloodborne. At the Mountains of Madness is considered Lovecraft's magnum opus, his best work to date. It is a novella telling the story of a small group of geologists, aviators, and explorers who travel to Antarctica in search of unique rock specimens. While there, however, they encounter several horrors, including unearthing ancient specimens known as Old Ones, a decadent, purely weird city built by the Old Ones themselves, and even giant albino penguins. This novella is truly horrifying, as the suspense Lovecraft is able to build through usage of the setting is gripping. If one is looking to begin reading Lovecraft books, this one is a great entry point, as it introduces the reader to the Old Ones, the Necronomicon, and even Cthulhu himself. I would recommend to anyone who loves horror novels, or anyone who wants to read Lovecraft.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
Animal Farm
Orwell, George
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"Animal Farm" by George Orwell is about a seemingly normal farm that turns against their farmer. The animals take over the farm with the help of their leaders who are pigs. After all the humans are gone from the farm they continue under the rule of the pigs and create a system of rules to follow as a guideline for their new life. Everything goes well until one of the pigs, Napoleon, uses the dogs he trained to remove the other leader, Snowball, from the animal farm. With Snowball gone Napoleon takes complete control of the farm. He alters the rules made by Snowball, abuses his power, and makes poor decisions that negatively affect the other animals. One of their rules/guidelines was that humans were evil and not to be associated with.

Napoleon breaks that rule many times starting with making a trade of wood with another farm run by a farmer. They get scammed from the exchange with the human, but that doesn't stop Napoleon from dealing with humans. He goes to the extent of not telling the fellow animals the truth and putting all pigs above everyone else. From there things get progressively worse until Napoleon eventually befriends the humans along with the other pigs. They become so much like the humans that it gets to the point that the pigs are basically humans.

I would recommend the book. "Animal Farm" is interesting and in my opinion is in a sense satire, so I really enjoyed it. I read this book because I was planning on reading 1984 by the same author for a BTS theory and wanted to read other books by George Orwell. I kind of could relate to some of the animals because when they disagreed with Napoleon they brought up good points, but no one listened to them. The ending is very surprising and the book isn't predictable.

Reviewer's Name: Oriana O.
A Closed and Common Orbit
Chambers, Becky
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

After the refreshing sci-fi The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet , I was ready to follow the crew of the Wayfarer to their next adventure. Unfortunately, the sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, decided to take a path more akin to The Godfather Part II (1974). Instead of following the main characters of the first story, this sequel delved into the new life of the AI now known as Sidra, while also interspersing a quasi-related prequel story of one of the new characters introduced in this book. Fortunately, these two stories were well paced against each other.

Even though I feel readers could pick up this book without having read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, there are certainly a few details about the diverse races found in this universe left out of this book—probably for the sake of brevity. This didn’t necessarily detract from the enjoyment of A Closed and Common Orbit, but having that previous knowledge certainly helped to bring these alien creatures to life in my mind. Still, the main characters are basically humans, so the interactions with the aliens would be the main reason to know how these creatures communicate.

While this book is only tangentially related to the one that proceeded it in the series, the universe the author has created is solid enough to support a few more additional stories like the ones found here. With fewer characters to focus on in this book, A Closed and Common Orbit was able to dive deep into some pretty heavy topics, including child slavery and artificial intelligence. The writing still retains its casual dialogue style that genuinely helped bring these few characters to life. If anything, the author’s writing is what will keep me coming back to this series.

A mostly unrelated, but still expertly written sequel, I give A Closed and Common Orbit 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Frankenstein
Shelly, Mary Wollstonecraft
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The classic tale of mystery and horror is also one that is an extremely entertaining read. While it may not be the scariest novel ever, the mere ideas that it presents are certain to make one a bit uneasy. The plot is iconic: Victor Frankenstein, aspiring philosopher and scientist, creates a horrifying monster out of dead bodies and reanimates it from the dead. The monster then goes on a murderous rampage after being rejected by his very creator. The novel is very good, and the message it presents, of not overreaching for knowledge, is a timeless one. The only downside to this icon of horror is that some chapters tend to drag, and have little purpose. However, this is not a huge detriment since the rest of the novel is so entertaining. I would recommend to thriller or horror enthusiasts.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C.
Awards:
Star Wars. Thrawn
Zahn, Timothy
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book was amazing. It is a must-read for Si-Fi and Star Wars fans.

Reviewer's Name: Rachel
The Long Cosmos
Pratchett, Terry
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

By the time I reached the end of the Long Earth series, I had a revelation. With the bounding conditions of the universe being that there are multiple worlds accessible via stepping and that no iron can pass between worlds, the ideas to explore these multiple worlds are almost endless. My revelation was that this series would have been better as an anthology of short stories from a collection of authors, instead of a handful of semi-disjointed novels that didn’t ever quite know what they were doing. The story never shined through, instead of feeling like a distracted three-year-old who wants to explore the potential of other worlds.

While I felt the series was starting to succeed in telling coherent and solid plots, this book removed that forward progress. When nearly one-third of the first part of the book seems to be comprised entirely of summary and recaps of the last four books, you know there’s not a lot of original ideas present in this one. And while minor tangents like the Johnny Shakespeare side-plot were amusing, they were loosely connected to the main plot at best. Even this main plot didn’t feel like it had enough time spent on it, as the main character of Joshua Valienté seemed to spend most of his time distracted on other worlds with unique trees instead of exploring the Long Cosmos that this book was supposed to be describing.

Even though this book was released after Terry Pratchett's death, it was clear he still had some of his influence on the plot and characters. Unfortunately, as was the case in the other books of the series, his contributions seemed to be fairly obvious, as they were the ones that didn’t quite fit in with everything else and just managed to be silly in an otherwise scientific exploration of new worlds.

The final book in a series that should have been an anthology, I give The Long Cosmos 2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Long Utopia
Pratchett, Terry
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

After the events that take place in The Long Mars , I was expecting the next book in the series, The Long Utopia, to be about the CEO of the Black Corporation and the settlement he established to help him live longer. Instead, I got a story that had little to no connection to the previous plots. That being said, at least there was a story with a projected conclusion instead of merely a series of random events that eventually led to the sudden destruction of some location (as had been the case up until now).

While I did appreciate some of the back-story for Joshua Valienté, there wasn’t anything in Joshua’s behavior or motivations in any of the previous books that indicated that he was even interested in learning about his past. I also was pleased that some of the “limitations” of this universe were brought back, or at least provided as a reminder to the reader. It honestly doesn’t make sense to me that these parallel worlds would have the kind of technology available to them without the use of iron. The fact that the material workarounds were never explained is probably the most frustrating part to me.

As I mentioned already, the stronger story in this book helped keep me invested in the characters, not only as they tried to figure out what was happening, but as they tried to determine how to stop it. Unfortunately, none of the consequences in this universe seem to hold any weight. Lobsang can “die,” but there are still plenty other versions of him around. The Next can be mostly exterminated, but then the next book just glosses over the attempted genocide. In the end, though, I can’t honestly tell you what the titular “Utopia” of this book was, and that’s disappointing.

A slightly above-average chapter in the Long Earth series, I give The Long Utopia 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Long Mars
Pratchett, Terry
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

While the previous two entries in this series seemed to be disjointed in their writing styles, The Long Mars seemed to iron out some of these discrepancies . . . finally. In The Long Earth and The Long War , you could almost pinpoint the sections that Terry Pratchett wrote and the sections primarily written by Stephen Baxter. By The Long Mars, there are still a few moments of Terry Pratchett’s goofiness, but they are few and far between. Consequently, the narrative of The Long Mars seemed a lot more consistent than its predecessors.

Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that The Long Mars is absent of problems. While there was plenty of exploration of these parallel universes, the ones that were deemed necessary enough to describe didn’t add anything to the plot. In fact, I felt like this book could have been much shorter if these thought experiments that explored how parallel universes would function were cut out entirely. If these momentary breaks in the action were tied to critical moments or conflicts, then I could see their necessity. As they are right now, you could remove almost every one of them and still have the same basic story.

The scientist in me did like the broader examination of what to do with multiple universes, like easily visiting Mars. These concepts were touched on in the previous books, but now they felt a lot more fleshed out. Similarly, I felt like the characters were a lot more interesting, especially the dynamic between Sally and her father. Sure, there were probably a few too many plot lines to follow, but at least I cared about the characters now. I’m also not sure if the ending was supposed to mimic its predecessors, as that was one of my frustrations with The Long War: an almost identical ending to The Long Earth.

A significant improvement in the Long Earth series, I give The Long Mars 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.

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