Science Fiction

Book Review: Illuminae

Illuminae
Author: 
Kaufman, Amie and Kristoff, Jay
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Illuminae is an enthralling mix of science fiction and thriller. Written as a case file and using many different formats (audio logs, transcribed security footage, and interviews are just a few), Illuminae has action, mystery, and romance to interest many teen readers, although its multimedia style may be jarring to some. Overall, an excellent book and the start of one of my favorite series to date.

Reviewer's Name: 
Locke

Book Review: A World Out of Time

A World Out of Time
Author: 
Niven, Larry
Rating: 
2 stars = Meh
Review: 

I’m starting to realize that science fiction in the 1970s might need to stay there. While there was a lot of progress in the genre past the golden era of the 1950s, many of these books are unfortunate snapshots of a time that has not aged well. Similar to Ringworld , I found A World Out of Time to rely heavily on the sexism that runs rampant through 1970s sci-fi. Additionally, while the hard science presented in this book was generally plausible, the way it was presented was so dry and dense as to make it more of a Ph.D. thesis than an entertaining read.

On the plus side, A World Out of Time explores many scientific ideas that were well ahead of its time. Aside from the normal sci-fi tropes of mind implants and artificial intelligence, this book also deals with climate change in a way that hasn’t been felt until now. Granted, it blames this extreme change of the Earth’s environment on the sun and less on the humans who inhabit it, but the thinking about what would happen to our planet if such a thing were to happen was thorough enough to be believable.

Despite these forward-thinking ideas, A World Out of Time treats sex and drugs as inconsequential parts of life in the future. It’s clear the culture of the 1970s influenced this part of the book, but it feels so outdated compared to today’s standards that it was difficult to read without rolling my eyes. Sure, it’s probably less prominent than the pulpy science fiction stories that came before it, but the fact that the author felt these things needed to be included tells me more than I need to know about him.

A dry hard sci-fi novel that hasn’t aged that well, I give A World Out of Time 2.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Stories of Your Life and Others

Stories of Your Life and Others
Author: 
Chiang, Ted
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

After reading Exhalation , I found myself in search of more stories by Ted Chiang. This led me to Stories of Your Life and Others. Partly because this collection included many of Chiang’s earlier stories, not all of them were great pieces of literature like the ones in Exhalation. I could tell that Chiang was still trying to find his voice as a writer as he explored many science fiction topics common to the genre. While not all of the stories are fantastic, there are enough good ones to warrant reading this collection.

What’s a little disappointing is how some of the ideas Chiang explores in this book are truly interesting topics, but the execution of these stories feels a little too erudite for the common reader. I appreciate Chiang’s later ability to humanize these ideas (as shown by my love of Exhalation), but he just wasn’t quite there yet with these early works. Still, there are a handful of award-winning stories in this book, including “Tower of Babylon” and “Hell Is the Absence of God.” Chiang’s ability to combine science and religion is second to none, and these stories prove as much.

One story in this book stands out from the rest. It makes sense that “Story of Your Life” was the titular choice for this book. For those unaware, the movie Arrival (2016) is based on this short story (and is a pretty close adaptation). Even if you only read “Story of Your Life,” I think you’ll get something out of this collection. It is by far the most approachable of these stories, and it deserved all of the awards bestowed upon it when it was originally published in the late 1990s.

A good collection of Ted Chiang’s early works that contains a few sparkling gems, I give Stories of Your Life and Others 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Caliban's War

Caliban's War
Author: 
Corey, James S. A.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

One of the things I like about James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series is how these books focus on the crew of the Rocinante. Many hard sci-fi writers try to show how smart they are by making it obvious how much math they did to explain how their sci-fi universe works. While The Expanse certainly has these moments, they’re fit in between the human drama that follows James Holden and his crew. Trouble seems to follow them wherever they go, and in Caliban’s War, they’re pulled into a political conflict that spans the solar system.

I appreciate how an overarching plot with the protomolecule connects Leviathan Wakes to Caliban’s War. While the first book in the series took some time ramping up into having a cohesive collection of characters, Caliban’s War uses all four members of Rocinante’s crew in a new way that felt more interesting. Of course, this book also contains my favorite “character of the day” with Chrisjen Avasarala as the U.N. ambassador. Her calculated political ambitions were fun to watch as they unfolded, and she tried to keep on top of all the chaos that was happening.

Caliban’s War also benefits from plenty of action and tense moments. What could easily be confusing and hard to follow was well written and engaging. My heart was racing as these exciting sequences took the political drama and made it explode in a way that was both expected and fun to read. Ultimately, the emotional connection to the characters—both continuing from book one and exclusive to this book—is what made everything click for me in this novel. Granted, I would have liked a little more continuity between the two books by bringing over more characters from Leviathan Wakes. Still, sometimes a long-running series has to focus on bite-size stories instead of carrying a huge and unwieldy plot throughout.

An exciting, political, and action-filled hard sci-fi gem, I give Caliban’s War 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: The Stone Sky

The Stone Sky
Author: 
Jemisin, N. K.
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

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.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: A Million Worlds With You

A Million Worlds With You
Author: 
Gray, Claudia
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

This book is my least favorite in the series. To be honest, I felt Marguerite was self-centered and only focused on Paul. I felt this way in the second book too, but not as strongly. I enjoyed the ending but, like I said Marguerite was annoying in my point of view. Overall though I thought the plot was just good and I did not expect it to end that way. I honestly feel neutral about this book. For those reading I hope you enjoy.

Reviewer's Name: 
Lilly Font

Book Review: Ten Thousand Skies Above You

Ten Thousand Skies Above You
Author: 
Gray, Claudia
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Ten Thousand Skies Above You I enjoyed immensely.
I picked this book because, well, I judge books by their covers. I mean just look at the cover, it's skillfully done! When reading the book there were some slow parts but it makes it all worth while once you get to one of the groundbreaking plot twists. I recommend this book to people who love a little bit of romance, mystery, fantasy. This swept me away to a new world, and while I can't say I can relate to Marguerite (because, well, I have traveled to other dimensions first hand) I liked the story, it has a excellent structure and build up. I like the first one a bit better but again this one was executed well too.

Reviewer's Name: 
Lilly

Book Review: Brave New World

Brave New World
Author: 
Huxley, Aldous
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is about a futuristic society that revolves around conditioned people. People are made by machines that condition them emotionally and physically for a certain job. Since people are conditioned to perform certain tasks they are happy and content. This book follows Bernard who actively questions the system and is unhappy. Throughout the book, it brings up the question of whether it is better to have an orderly and perfect society or for people to have emotions and free will. Aldous Huxley does a wonderful job of building a world where individuality is erased. The book was an interesting read and would give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: 
Lucia

Book Review: H2O

H2O
Author: 
Bergin, Virginia
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

H20 by Virginia Bergin starts off with Ruby Morris, a Britain teenager whose life is going wonderful, she’s young, pretty, and just got herself a boyfriend, Casper. Caspers' parents come home in a panic and rush everybody inside. There was something in the rain that if one drop touched you, you’d die. Ruby has to find some way to survive with minimal water and food. Virginia Bergin does a wonderful job of painting a vivid picture of how it like to live with minimal water and the struggles that come with it. This book was well done and the narration style of the book is unique and entertaining. I would recommend this book with 4 out of 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: 
Lucia

Book Review: The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library
Author: 
Haig, Matt
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

I expected this book to be decently interesting but I found that I couldn't put it down and ended up finishing it in a day. It tells the story of Nora Seed, who, after taking her own life, finds herself in the "Midnight Library," in which every book is a different life that could have been hers had she made a different decision in any given moment. She explores several of these lives, trying them out, in an attempt to find the right one that she really wants.
Nora is a relatable, three-dimensional character with an arc of development that was touching and well-done. The development of the book's themes, too, was immaculate, and they were crafted and portrayed in a way that hits the reader hard. If you're looking for a heartfelt book about self-discovery, regret, potential, and the joy of life, I would highly recommend.
Content-wise, there's the occasional swear word, and two mentions of the main character having sex, but it wasn't described and there wasn't anything graphic. I'd probably give it a 14+ age rating.
Reviewer grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: 
Elanor

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