Hugo Award

Book Review: Ringworld

Ringworld
Author: 
Niven, Larry
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

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.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Author: 
Rowling, J.K.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

This book trails Harry Potter, who mysteriously gets selected into the Triwizard Tournament played between three major wizarding schools, in which one player's name is drawn by the Goblet of Fire. This means that only 3 players can play.

But this contest gets weird when the Goblet of Fire selects Harry Potter's name. As per the rules, Harry has no escape route and he must compete in this vicious contest, including challenges like fighting dragons, saving hostages underwater, and finding a way out of a labyrinth.

This book is full of memorable moments and interest, like in one part, a Sphinx, which is a human head on a lion body, is placed in the maze as an obstacle. This Sphinx asks a riddle to Harry Potter, if he gets it right, Harry gets to continue with the contest, but if not, the Sphinx would attack.

With a lot of adventurous parts, this book is definitely a good read. So I'm going to go with 4/5 stars for Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire.

Reviewer's Name: 
Gurman

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Author: 
Rowling, J. K.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban is about Harry’s 3rd year at Hogwarts. Along with friends Ron and Hermione, Harry investigates the case of Sirius Black, an escaped prisoner from Azkaban, the wizard prison. Sirius Black is believed to be one of Voldemort's allies, and he is the only wizard ever to escape Azkaban, so he is definitely powerful. Harry Potter then overhears that Sirius Black wants to kill him.

This book is full of creeps and chills, like in one part, the train to Hogwarts is stopped because of terrible flying things that can suck out your soul. Because of these soul-suckers, Harry almost dies, but in the end, Harry learns a lot about himself, his parents, and friends (both of his, and his parents’).

But this book is still full of interest. In a memorable moment, Harry Potter flies on a Hippogriff, which is a hybrid between a horse and eagle. In another part, The Prisoner of Azkaban goes from fantasy to sci-fi, because of time travel, where Harry goes back in time to save himself.

With the adventurous and scary parts in perfect balance, this book is a good read, and personally, it is my favorite book in the whole series.

Reviewer's Name: 
Gurman S.

Book Reviews: Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes
Author: 
Corey, James S. A.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

For years, my co-worker has been suggesting that I read the Expanse series of books. Before I finally got around to the audiobook for Leviathan Wakes, I took a slight shortcut and watched the television series on Amazon. This came in handy because I was able to pick up this book and immediately be able to visualize what was happening and who the characters were. Sure, the actors cast in the show are slightly different from their literary counterparts. Still, overall there was a lot in this book that I had already experienced with the television show.

I will applaud this book for being a hard science fiction story, but not shoving the calculations in the reader’s face. Sure, The Martian did an excellent job of explaining all the scientific challenges of interplanetary travel. However, Leviathan Wakes took this a step further and created a universe that’s still controlled by the same physical laws we encounter in the real world. Unless you know what you’re looking for, you’d never realize that the little ways to make life livable in outer space would manifest in the forms presented in this series. Basically—to quote the title of a Heinlein book—Gravity is a Harsh Mistress.

And while the television show had lots of different plotlines to follow through its four seasons, I do like how Leviathan Wakes focused on just two main characters and the discovery of the Protomolecule. Although—even though both characters came from different backgrounds—I would have expected their reactions to situations would have been more drastically different than they were. Still, even if both Miller and Holden felt like very similar characters, they were both written well enough that it was an entertaining ride, nonetheless.

A perfect blending of story and hard sci-fi, I give Leviathan Wakes 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Little Brother

Little Brother
Author: 
Doctorow, Cory
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Little Brother is a book about what happens when in an attempt to keep citizens safe after a terror attack the government terrorizes it's own citizens. The government jails and torture teens in an effort to find terrorist. One of the teens they torture is a rebellious computer whiz and hacker name Marcus. Marcus is broken and humiliated while being detained and interrogated by home land security. When he is released he vows to get revenge.

Reviewer's Name: 
Rayn

Book Review: Boneshaker

Boneshaker
Author: 
Priest, Cherie
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Boneshaker is the novel that kicks off Cherie Priest's "Clockwork Century" series - one of the most widely acclaimed book series in the Steampunk genre. Boneshaker explores an alternate history of the United States during the Civil War era. The plot centers around Briar Wilkes, the widow of the infamous Leviticus Blue - inventor of the titular boring machine that he was commissioned to create, in order to retrieve the vast veins of gold that are hiding under the thick ice of Alaska in the midst of the Klondike Gold Rush. During a devastating test run, the Boneshaker destroys the foundations of a good portion of Seattle, killing many, and releasing a dangerous gas that turns survivors into zombies. Leviticus disappears, and walls are erected around Seattle to contain the "blight" gas, and the "rotters". Briar does her best to survive and raise her son Zeke in the "Outskirts" of Seattle, suffering the prejudice shown to both of them, due to her husband's actions. Zeke is convinced that he can prove that his father was innocent, and that the destruction was purely unintentional, so he journeys beneath the wall, into Seattle to find the evidence he needs. Unlike Leviticus, Zeke's
grandfather (Maynard Wilkes) is revered as a folk hero, having lost his life in the exodus of Seattle, freeing inmates from the prison. Zeke feels this may help him if he runs into trouble within Seattle's walls. When Briar finds Zeke gone, and what his intentions are, she arms herself with Maynard's accoutrements and catches an air ship over the wall, to search for her son. Separately, Briar and Zeke find people who help to save them from being devoured by the "rotters", and attempt to aid them in their respective searches. Briar learns of the mysterious Dr. Minnericht who seems to run the
doomed city within the walls, and that many are convinced that he is in fact, Leviticus Blue (something she doesn't believe). When events draw Briar and Zeke both into Dr. Minnericht's stronghold, it seems the heart of the mystery
will be resolved with this fateful meeting.

Boneshaker is an epic foray into a dystopian alternate universe, and readers of various genres, are sure to find many wonders to be fascinated by in this version of Washington's famous "Emerald City".

In addition to physical book and audiobook formats, Boneshaker can also be downloaded and enjoyed at home, in either ebook or eaudiobook form.

Reviewer's Name: 
Chris W.

Book Review: Ender's Game

Ender's Game
Author: 
Card, Orson Scott
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

5 Stars(Though it’s not for everyone)

Ender's Game is a dystopian future revolving around a little boy named Ender. I like that the character is real, while everything around him is a mess. It shows him hurting others that try to hurt him. The details and unraveling suck you straight into the book. You definitely feel as though you are there. It’s like watching the ripples on a pond after you throw a rock into it.

Reviewer's Name: 
Ethan W.

Book Reviews: The Obelisk Gate

The Obelisk Gate
Author: 
Jemisin, N. K.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

I’ll admit that reading The Fifth Season had a bit of a learning curve for
the Broken Earth series. Not only did I have to learn about the vastly
powerful magic system based on rocks (and other rock forms), but I had to get
used to a second-person point of view (POV). Jumping between timelines with
similar characters who had different names was a bit confusing, but I was
able to figure it out by the end. Fast forward to the sequel, The Obelisk
Gate, and most of my qualms with the first book were smoothed over or solved
outright.

One of the things I enjoyed about The Obelisk Gate was the increase in the
scale of the magic system. Including the moon in these calculations makes
perfect sense considering the nature of the orogeny magic. I also appreciated
how the story seemed to focus on a single POV, which made for a more intimate
experience as we followed only one or two individuals instead of four. Now
that I was used to the second-person writing style and the character it
described, it didn’t bother me as much as when I read The Fifth Season.

While The Fifth Season set up the world-building for this trilogy, The
Obelisk Gate’s only weakness is that it finally set up the climactic plot
for the third book. Sure, there was plenty of character development and
intriguing twists in the plot in The Obelisk Gate, but they all seemed to be
hinting at something much more significant that wouldn’t take place in this
book. I do appreciate an excellent three-act structure, so this slight
weakness can be seen as merely an artifact of the second book in a trilogy.
In fact, because it was more focused, I liked this book more than its
predecessor. After all, it’s a strong concept with solid execution.

A focusing and foreshadowing of the Broken Earth series, I give The Obelisk
Gate 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few

Record of a Spaceborn Few
Author: 
Chambers, Becky
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

Considering that A Closed and Common Orbit was only loosely related to the first book in the Wayfarers series, I knew that I shouldn’t expect the third book in this series, Record of a Spaceborn Few, to have any significant connection to the previous books. Unfortunately, even the several different storylines in this book were hardly connected, seeming more like a series of short stories that were inter-cut between themselves. While Chambers’ world-building and dialogue are still top-notch, there isn’t anything in this book other than some boring characters living their boring lives.

I understand that any author worth their salt will develop vast amounts of details about the universe they create. However, most authors leave the aspects of the minutia and banal day-to-day lives out of their writing in favor of an actual plot with actual conflict. Instead, this book is filled with the details of world-building and nothing else. If these characters were better connected, or there was a stronger plot driving their stories, it would have maintained my interest. Unfortunately, most of the stories of these characters’ sub-plots are too generic and trope-like for me to care about any of them.

About the only reason I’m giving this book as high a rating as I am is due to the aforementioned writing on the part of the author. The actions and consequences are clearly thought out, and there is a realism to the dialogue that continues from the previous two books (but by this point makes a lot of the characters sound the same). If anything, this book should have been the first in the series. It should have introduced the universe and the stakes that anyone who ventures out into space is sure to face. The fact that it’s (in my opinion) the weakest in the series is probably why more exciting adventures were written for books one and two.

A disappointing and boring record of space, I give Record of a Spaceborn Few 2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin M. W.

Book Review: The Fifth Season

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

It’s been a while since I’ve read a fantasy book with such a unique magic system in place. I truly enjoyed the amount of thought that went into a world where the main source of power was that of the earth itself. From magma to solid obelisks, the ability to control the vibrations of the planet (either to amplify or dampen) had an interesting and logical follow-through in its characters and storyline. I’m honestly looking forward to eventually starting the next book in the series since the world was built so well. It’s no wonder that it ended up winning the Hugo Award for that year.

While I suppose The Fifth Season is also partly a pseudo-post-apocalypse story, it was only shown in small snippets and references here and there. Consequently, this would make this story almost “modern fantasy” in comparison to some of the classics. Additionally, this would explain some of the character elements added with little to no explanation or relevance to the plot. It sometimes seems like the sexual encounters and fluid genders of these characters are included o merely hit a checkbox of “inclusivity.” Sure, people who relate to these characters feel like their represented, but if these traits don’t affect the plot, then it doesn’t matter about their sexuality at all.

I also found the bold choice of second-person POV to be a bit jarring when it spliced in the more traditional third-person narrative. Initially, I thought these segments were striking in the way that it pulled me into the story. That was until I was given a name and a purpose and any number of other traits that made the “you” in the story into a character that was basically repeated throughout. I get how these different characters interacted to tell a much broader story (which is again, part of the book’s strength) I just didn’t care for the reader’s identity to be given to them via the second person POV.

A uniquely written and crafted fantasy with one or two minor flaws, I give The Fifth Season 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

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