By this point in the Murderbot Diaries series, I'm used to the short length of these stories. I appreciate that there's still an overarching plot that the books are driving toward, but the bite-size adventures of the sentient AI robot are also entertaining by themselves. Now that the series is in a good groove by book three, I was glad to see the introduction of a foil to compare and contrast the main character's interactions with the humans.
The rogue SecUnit continues to find himself deeper into the shady dealings of humans, but with each interaction, he's finding it harder to hide who he is and what he's doing. That these "missions" he gives himself are a significant amount of effort for someone who would much rather be lazy and just watch vids all day seems contradictory until you realize that it's great character development—even if it's subtle. Raising the stakes with each book also helps to make this one the best one in the series to date. There has to be a point soon when things become fully out of the SecUnit's control.
It's always interesting to me how the characters that have stuck with me through the series (aside from the main character of course), are the other AIs and robots. In Rogue Protocol, I immediately fell in love with Miki, who showed the other side of human-robot relations as a pet/mascot. The contrast between Miki and the SecUnit was a fantastic plot device and I would love some kind of spinoff with those two characters (or characters like them). Unfortunately, the abrupt ending to this book left me a little disappointed, as I felt there needed to be more time with the characters to get their full range of emotions after the climax.
A great book filled with contrasting human-robot relations, I give Rogue Protocol 4.5 stars out of 5.
The Graveyard Book, written by Neil Gaiman, is a mystical, interesting book. In the book, a young boy is taken in and cared for by ghosts of a graveyard. The boy is kept in secret, and is named Bod, short for Nobody. The book follows Bod's adventures in growing up and continuing his life, in and out of the graveyard. I thought this was a great book, packed full of magic special characters. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone, but mostly a more mature audience, because there are some parts that I feel are harder to understand if you are younger, and at some parts the book is a little slow. But overall I think this was one of the best books I've read this year!
Reviewer Grade: 8
While I haven't seen the Amazon TV series based on this book, I had enough awareness of the basic premise going in. An alternate reality where the Allies lost World War II felt like such an interesting concept, I had to read the book that spawned this idea. Of course, I also enjoy Philip K. Dick's writing for the same reasons: he has novel ideas that he executes well. Unfortunately, I found The Man in the High Castle to be underwhelming.
To Dick's credit, his world-building for a history where Japan took over part of the United States after World War II felt quite thorough. Little subtle ways that people act, economies based on American antiques, as well as other differences that made sense with such a drastic change to history. The problem is, Dick was so focused on world-building that he forgot to write an actual story. None of the characters really stick out, and the titular Man in the High Castle is a Maguffin at best. I was left disappointed, which is rare for a Philip K. Dick story for me.
Maybe modern action thrillers have ruined this story for me, but when there are vast swaths of text dedicated to counterfeit antiques instead of forced cultural changes for the residents of the United States, a story like this can get boring quite quickly. If I had to pinpoint the worst part about this book, it's that the ending was not at all satisfying. There should have been something that better explained the book that told of an alternate history, considering how provocative the rest of this book made it seem.
An underwhelming execution for a top-notch idea, I give The Man in the High Castle 2.5 stars out of 5.
Animal Farm by George Orwell is a novel following a group of farm animals who want to topple their human farmer's regime, creating a society that is perfect for themselves. While Animal Farm starts off a bit ridiculous, using pigs and other farm animals as the main characters of the story, I think that Orwell using farm animals to explain the message of his story was actually very imaginative, and made the story much more intriguing and unique. Since Animal Farm's main theme is about revolution and the obstruction of democracy, I enjoyed analyzing the symbolism that was placed in the novel, seeing the hidden parallels between the farm animals and the historical events that were occurring during that time. I liked being able to link events from the story to real historical events, such as the communist movement, the Soviet Union, and World War 2. Personally, I think that Orwell's technique in linking his novel to these historical events by using only symbolism was very creative and was written in a very thoughtful and intelligent way. Seeing how some of the book events contrasted with historical events was very strange and interesting for me, and it made me wonder how Orwell could have even thought of linking the two subject matters by only using farm animals.
Overall, I would recommend this classic novel to anyone who is open to an interesting and thought-provoking read.
Dune is the first book in a series by Frank Herbert (something I didn't know until after I had started reading). This was a wonderfully imaginative book with interesting characters, conflict, and world building.
You follow Paul as he travels to the planet of Arrakis. You similarly follow those close to him, notably his mother, Jessica, as they all grow accustomed to the unfamiliar landscape and the politics that encompass it.
While the language of the characters originally threw me off, I grew accustomed to it and it helped immerse me in the story and characters. Seeing the dynamics and customs of not only the Atreides family, but also natives of Arrakis, was interesting and better as they intertwined with each other.
Also seeing the various themes of the story was also appealing (thanks English class!) as they intersect with each other in ways I've never seen before.
This is a great book and I recommend it, even if Sci-fi isn't your normal genre.
Reviewer's Grade: 11
Dune is a sci-fi series written by Frank Herbert depicting detailed politics with twists and turns. The first one begins with the story of a boy called Paul, the son of a duke. His journey begins on Arrakis, a desert planet filled with a valuable resource called spice. When the duke’s palace is attacked, Paul must flee and find refuge in the desert. This book was entertaining for me, but it goes a little heavy into politics and there are a lot of things you need to pay attention to in order to understand the story. I lost interest in the overall series after the first 4 books as it just gets so weird with mystical stuff in the world. The genre it fits into is not scifi, but a mix between fantasy and scifi.
Harrow the Ninth is the second book in the Locked Tomb series, and it follows a necromancer, Harrow, as she learns to become a Lyctor to God himself, the emperor of the First House. But as the teaching progresses, the century-old secrets of God and his immortal Lyctors, the intangible death monsters hell-bent on destroying them, and Harrow's own crippled psyche threaten to crush her under their weight.
The first book in this series, Gideon the Ninth, is undoubtedly both bizarre and amazing from the very first page, all the way until the last. I read this book because I adored the first one, and I have to say it is even more bizarre and amazing, but there's an emphasis on the 'bizarre' part in the beginning and an abundance of 'amazing' in the end.
For the first thing, a good chunk of this book is told in second person. For another, the beginning is very confusing, mimicking the main characters confused state. For a third, much of the book seems to contradict the first book, or itself, giving a whole new meaning to the 'unreliable narrator'. Now, at the end, this all comes together and makes perfect sense and blows your head off in a fit of epiphany. And, having read the entire book cover to cover, I applaud the author for the bold choices and tantalizing ending. But for the beginning, it may be a bit more a struggle to push through, and the brilliance of the first book is really needed to help accomplish this.
So, the book is pretty confusing, but for the most part its understandable, and it maintains the first books commitment to levity. This book is pretty funny, even though it can be heart wrenching or gory in some bits. The main character, Harrow, is both very sad and very cool, like a skinny Batman, which I really like! She's also well developed, with understandable actions and motives. The supporting cast is fleshed out well, and highly entertaining, and very sad. All of this is very good. The plot, while confusing at first, is concluded nicely, and is well paced. The worldbuilding of this book does this thing I really like, where it never really sits down and fully explains anything, but still leaves you getting the gist of everything by passing remarks and impressions and vague implications. It did this better in the first book, but since the second book had a lot more complicated necromancy stuff to explain, I'll let it slide.
All in all, this was an extremely good book, which took risks with its material and just expected all of us to push through the bizarre for the amusing and sad characters and an unknown payoff, which we all did, and which was totally worth it! Highly recommend, but read the first book first, and if you've read the first book and you're looking for a reason to keep reading, definitely do so!
Reviewer Grade: 11
Gideon the Ninth is about the rebellious Ninth House acolyte, a prodigious fighter, who is forced to become the protector of her most hated enemy Harrowhark, the necromancer of the Ninth House. The two of them travel to the First House, to compete against the necromancers and cavaliers of the other houses for the treasured position of Lyctor. They must battle bone monsters, hidden murderers, the laboratories of the dilapidated castle, fellow competitors, and their burning desire to murder each other to, maybe, make it out alive.
I hadn't read sci-fi/fantasy for a long time before I read this book, and this was a brilliant example of everything I'd been missing. The characters are hilarious and likable, the stakes are high, the magic system is somewhat complicated yet explained brilliantly without long periods of exposition, and the undercurrent of science fiction is always present and contrasted beautifully with the fantasy. The idea of a a hyper-advanced society with spaceships and planets is bound to the aesthetic of necromantic power and fighting primarily done with swords, creating a world that has all the fun elements of imaginative science melded with magic. Beyond this, the story is also really tight. There's not really a moment that the book sits you down and explains everything. It just grabs you and goes and it's up to you to catch up, which is a nice change of pace. But, as I've mentioned, the shining gem of the story is likely the characters. The cast is large, but memorable in its own right. If you can't remember the names, just a few sentences of them speaking will clue you in to their distinct personality. And the gem of the story is probably Gideon herself, who's always hilarious and fun and somewhat tragic, and has a great comradery of hatred with Harrowhawk. The character development, the plot, the world, the magic system, and the mystery of this book make it easily one of my favourite books of this year.
A few years ago, someone suggested that I read the Remembrance of Earth's Past series, so of course, I added it to my Overdrive wish list so I could eventually listen to the audiobook. I'm usually down to read some hard sci-fi since it's a niche genre I enjoy. I was intrigued that this book came from China because I don't usually think of hard sci-fi when I think of that country. In fact, I hardly think of literature that wasn't written hundreds of years ago.
It's been about five months since I read this book, so this review is a long time coming. I still vaguely know what this book was about and what science was explored within its prose, but that's about it. Nothing stuck with me other than the sense that it was a bit of an Ender's Game ripoff. I would have liked to connect with the characters a bit more, but The Three-Body Problem seemed too bogged down in trying to get its complex science across to spend enough time creating characters that I liked.
Ultimately, much like the Broken Earth trilogy, I can understand the hype this book had received, even if it didn't fully grab me when I listened to the audiobook. I'll continue this series if for no other reason than it presented an interesting idea that I'd like to see to completion. Perhaps the fact that I'm listening to a translation of the original Chinese story is what's reducing some of my enjoyment of this book, which isn't necessarily the book's fault. I think the world is big enough for other non-Anglo cultures to tell stories like this, and for this reason alone, I would recommend fans of hard sci-fi at least give The Three-Body Problem a chance.
Interesting hard sci-fi concepts from China, I give The Three-Body Problem 3.5 stars out of 5.
I have to say I’m a bit disappointed with The Stone Sky. It took me some time to get used to the way the author wrote the Broken Earth trilogy, but by the end of the second book, The Obelisk Gate , I had bought into the premise. The fact that this book had a lot to live up to with the foreshadowing presented in the second book might be why I’m disappointed with the result. After all, I was looking forward to some epic moments involving the moon, which didn’t seem to materialize for me. Now that I’ve finished this trilogy, I’m starting to wonder if the reason it didn’t quite fully click for me was because I was reading it via audiobook. There seemed to be a lot that I missed that would leave me confused about who the characters were, what they were doing, and why they were doing it. Perhaps if I had dedicated time to focusing on these audiobooks instead of listening while I was doing other things, I would have liked the series more. As it stands though, I probably couldn’t tell you what the point of this book was without going back and rereading it.
Ultimately, the Broken Earth trilogy is well written. The language might be a little too poetic at times and the fantasy setting introduces a lot of terminology that was difficult to keep track of, but I can see the appeal of it. The magic system is truly unique, even if the explanation for its origins made less sense than if it was just an unexplainable magic force. I do appreciate that most of the loose ends were wrapped up and either explained or made into moot points by the series’ conclusion. And while the resolution of this trilogy felt a little cliché, at least it provided an ending that most would come to expect from this type of sub-genre.
A pretty good trilogy wrap-up that might need a second read-through, I give The Stone Sky 3.5 stars out of 5.
In the post-apocalyptic Stillness, where nothing is Still, N. K. Jemisin creates a cast of interconnected characters, an intriguing plot, and a fantasy world that masterfully entails factions, a magic system, and history that is weaved into the current time of the book. Jemisin goes through three different perspectives, but still maintains a sense of total engagement and interest for the reader. We follow the stories of these three, and with each learn how much of a curse each blessing can be. This series is very real and doesn't shy away from concepts that would be expected from societies in such a situation, but at the same time, is surprising in a number of ways. I really enjoyed this book; I gasped internally several times throughout, from plot twists, reveals, and realizations, and enjoyed almost every part of The Fifth Season.
Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the most iconic science fiction novels of all time. Featuring an imaginative universe filled with strange aliens and even stranger planets, Dune provides a sense of adventure and wonder to every reader. It follows the story of a young noble as the Emperor gives his family control over the planet responsible for generating the most valuable resource in the universe, spice. But this advantageous appointment is not without its risk, and soon rival houses come to try and take control of the planet. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys any kind of science fiction, and it is a must read for every Star Trek and Star Wars nerd out there.
Reviewer Grade: 11
I've read this book so many times, and I always love it. It tells the story of the child prodigy Ender Wiggin, who starts the book at only six years old. In a dystopian world that's in the midst of a war with the alien Buggers, Ender and other highly gifted children are taken to Battle School to prepare them to fight in the Third Invasion, when Earth plans to invade the Buggers and hopefully beat them once and for all. Ender is smart, creative, and compassionate, while also sometimes being cruel in moments he needs to protect himself. He's such a well-developed and dynamic character, and I can always find myself relating to him, whether it's as a gifted child, as he questions who he is, as he grows up, or as he misses home and the way things used to be. It's easy to feel for him, from outrage at the officers to treating him unfairly to warmth in your heart when he builds relationships despite his forced isolation. He faces the trials of Battle School, but he also faces the trials of childhood and growing up. The book tackles themes of lies, control, isolation, free will, family, childhood, compassion, enemies, and prejudice in ways that are always very well-done. It balances action and shocking twists with character development and philosophy into a narrative that flows beautifully and keeps you engrossed from the first page to the last. Everything about it is exceptional, and I don't think I could ever get tired of it. I would recommend to anyone, any gender, any age, because it is certainly very near the top of the best books I've ever read.
(note: there is a small amount of language)
Reviewer grade: 10
I chose to read Dune in anticipation of the coming movie, and as a much appreciated suggestion from my father. Dune follows the adventures of a young boy Paul as he enters manhood. He fights to keep the planet of Arrakis, and then goes on to fight for the title of emperor. It addresses a group of people, the Fremen and their religion of turning Arrakis, the desert planet, into a beautiful land through terraformation. This book draws you in and keeps you hooked, telling a story of becoming a man, while also making it a book worthy of praise, always surprising you with one twist or another.
My librarian uncle introduced me to Ted Chiang recently, and I was so intrigued by such an award-winning author who wrote exclusively in short stories that I had to check out one of his books. Exhalation is a collection of these stories, and I can see why Chiang is lauded as a writer. It seems that modern science fiction is too focused on new technologies and how they can lead to utopias or dystopias. In Chiang’s stories, I saw some stark realism that took well-tread topics of the genre and examined them through a lens that was extremely realistic to how society would function with such advancements.
It was refreshing—a sigh of fresh air, or exhalation, if you will—to read stories about parallel universes, artificial intelligence, and time travel that didn’t stick to the same tropes that have made science fiction almost boring in comparison. In the end, Chiang is so concise with his language as to create these universes anchored in our reality and uncover all the intricate ways in which new technologies would change it without delving into the fluff of a full-blown novel. And perhaps that’s what makes these short stories work: focusing on how people interact with new technology, instead of just society at large.
These stories' personal nature hits home, mostly because they were pulled from current technologies and extrapolated into the fringe sciences that are on the cutting edge. For instance, we already record much of our days, so how does our memory change if we have a perfect record of the past? Additionally, how many technologies are made widely available as entertainment first, and how many interest groups pop up as fans of these technologies until they are eventually made obsolete? These and many other thoughtful topics are only some of the reasons I would recommend any fan of true sci-fi read this book.
A collection of some of the best sci-fi stories I’ve ever read, I give Exhalation 5.0 stars out of 5.
Starship Troopers exemplifies the signature writing style of Heinlein: an outrageous setting that still manages to capture familiar aspects of everyday life. I marveled at the intricate universe Heinlein crafts. He describes every aspect of political relations with alien species and the intricacies of a military that ranges across the stars. The book follows a boy named Juan Rico as he comes of age and joins the infantry. Heinlein describes every aspect of Juan’s life in basic training and the great battles of his career like an ancient epic; sparing no detail and giving elaborate descriptions of the enemies of humanity and the battles in which they were defeated. Starship Troopers is the perfect science fiction novel for someone who is looking for heaps of action combined with drops of philosophy and social commentary, all brought together into one spectacular and dazzling universe.
Animal Farm by George Orwell is a chilling tale of animals' uprising against humans to form an idyllic society. Without the rule of humans, animals expect equality, prosperity, and utopia. Over the course of this fable, however, the characters slowly devolve into new forms of oppression, greed, and violence against one another. Each chapter is more suspenseful than the last. The book is not entirely scary, but unsettling more than anything else. Orwell writes characters who are worth caring about, and antagonists that are easy to dislike.
This time-travelling story of love and genocide centers on two rival agents battling to secure the best possible future for their warring factions. It opens with a blood-covered Red, the last woman standing on a battlefield heaped with corpses. She finds a letter that starts with “Burn Before Reading” from Blue, her rival whom she has spent lifetimes trying to thwart. So it starts with a taunt followed by a challenge scratched in a lava flow and a message woven into the DNA of a tree cut down by marauding armies. These spies never meet but these compromising letters – certain death if discovered by their superiors – build upon a mutual understanding that evolves into love. Who better to understand someone weary and confused by merciless, contradictory orders than their rival? Or is this an attempt to turn the other into a double agent? Or lay a deadly trap? This novella deftly avoids the confusion that spoils average time-travel yarns by making each of the chapters into a vignette, told from either Red or Blue’s perspective, until a satisfying, meaningful conclusion.
Awards: 2020 Nebula Award for Best Novella, 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella
We all struggle to figure out who we are. It’s no different for a robot that’s managed to secretly override its governor unit and develop self-aware independence. The artificial construct, made up of regenerative organic and artificial parts, privately calls itself Murderbot out an emerging sense of guilt it tries to squash by watching hours of mindless TV. But even that distraction cannot keep a socially awkward, self-conscious entity from developing feelings about the humans it serves. That internal conflict is so realistic it is easy for the reader to forget it is an artificial construct narrating. Murderbot’s deadpan humor keeps the 2017 novella from bogging down and raises it well above a familiar action/corporate malfeasance plot. The novella is the first of a five-part series, all available through PPLD, with a full-length novel, Network Effect (May 2020) continuing Murderbot’s journey of self discovery and soap operas. A sixth series entry is scheduled for April 2021.
Honors: 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella, 2018 ALA/YALSA Alex Award, 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, 2017 Philip K. Dick Award finalist.
It can be difficult to judge a book, especially one as critically acclaimed as Ringworld, with 50 years of scientific and societal progress between when it was written and today. On the one hand, there are many scientific concepts explored in this book that we almost take for granted in modern sci-fi. On the other hand, the stink of 1970s misogyny doesn’t age very well, and this book is a prime example. Even today, sci-fi authors are still trying to dig out from the sexist tropes that books like this perpetuated throughout the genre. It’s a complicated, uphill battle, but we’re trying to be better than this.
For 1970, I do have to admit that the science presented here is relatively revolutionary. Unfortunately, the descriptions were occasionally a bit dry and felt more like reading a textbook than a sci-fi adventure. I could appreciate how Niven described the indescribable scale of something as massive as the Ringworld. Additionally, the alien races were well-rounded and had complex physiologies and backstories that made the group dynamic entertaining to read. However, the only thing well-rounded about the women in this book were their bodies.
Aside from the considerable age difference between the two romantic leads being an acceptance of pedophilia, it’s clear that Niven only thought of women as objects. This is disappointing because the story could have been more interesting if the female characters had any agency other than being driven by pleasure or luck. I have to recognize that this book is still a snapshot of its temporal circumstances, but that doesn’t necessarily excuse it in today’s society. Acknowledging that it’s from the 1970s, modern works should be more aware of these flaws when using such a pivotal science fiction book as a base for today’s books.
Some great science with not-so-great misogyny, I give Ringworld 3.0 stars out of 5.