Posts Tagged 'sci-fi'

Book Review: The Twelve, by Justin Cronin

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Though I didn’t find myself too impressed with The Passage, the first in Justin Cronin’s apocalyptic vampire trilogy, I ended up reading the second novel in the series, The Twelve , since my hold on a library copy finally came through. (I requested it when it came out in October 2012, so that should give you an idea of how popular the series is!) But the all-too literary treatment of vampires that The Passage offered only continued in The Twelve, with an added dose of forced spirituality and unbelievable coincidences.

This all makes it sound like I hated The Twelve, which I didn’t. It’s a solid three-star read, thanks to Cronin’s ability to inject real fear and tension into the narrative, one or two interesting and pitiable characters, and the desire to know how the heck he is going to wrap this sprawling thing up. Mostly, I think I’m just a sucker for hype. But this series is so fawned over, to the point of garnering a movie deal and getting accolades from writers like Stephen King, that I can’t quite help but feel that I’m missing something.

Continue reading ‘Book Review: The Twelve, by Justin Cronin’

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Book Review: Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes

I have waited a long time to read Lauren Beukes’ sophomore offering, Zoo City–it was one of my first TBR adds on Goodreads–and happily, I was not disappointed! In just a few words, Zoo City is a creative, unique, and un-put-downable entry in the urban paranormal/sci-fi thriller genre.

In a futuristic Johannesburg, South Africa, our protagonist Zinzi December is eking out a living by finding lost objects with her burden and companion Sloth by her side. Like hundreds of other people around the world, Zinzi is ‘animalled’–after an incident of wrong-doing and the ensuing guilt, an animal has appeared and has become physically and psychically linked to the offending human. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of order to the type of animal that becomes linked to each guilty person; there is a brief mention of someone in prison with a butterfly companion, for example.

Continue reading ‘Book Review: Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes’

Review: Oryx and Crake

I’m not sure if it’s really coming across here that I’m a fantasy/sci-fi nerd. Like, a full-on Lord of the Rings-loving, video-game playing, Robert Heinlein-reading nerd of a gal. Therefore, I enjoy the books of Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale is a sci-fi classic: a well-crafted look at a dystopian future through the eyes of Offred, who was forced in sexual slavery as one of the few fertile women left alive. And yeah, Atwood did once refuse to call what she wrote science fiction–who cares? Her plots are awesome, her characters are believable and engrossing, her pacing is tight, and I like her writing.

And yet…I did not like Oryx and Crake, another of her apocalyptic future novels. It was just kind of blah (and if there’s one thing an apocalyptic future should NEVER be, it’s blah). This was a let-down because I really, really liked The Year of the Flood, the “sequel” which actually takes place simultaneously to the events in the first book. Spoilers ahoy

In Oryx and Crake, we meet Jimmy (Snowman), Glenn (Crake), and Oryx (uh, Oryx), who eventually engineer the end of the world. The future in Oryx and Crake is starkly divided by classes, the privileged compound families and the slum-dwelling pleeblanders; it’s a desperate, resource-depleted world with a thin veneer of beauty and opportunity. This future that Atwood creates is interesting and horrible and realistic enough to be scary, with genetically-modified animals supplying us with fast food and human organ replacements, and a prison for the worst offenders that showcases a kill-or-be-killed game called Painball. Crake, fancying himself both the destroyer and the savior of mankind, wipes out almost all human life and creates his own “perfect” human species (eradicating jealousy, greed, fear) to take their place. I know, it sounds awesome.

The frustrating thing is that our narrator is Jimmy, the kind of oblivious, coasting-through-life doofus that all of us have at least one of in our own lives. I get that we’re supposed to be isolated from Crake, the misanthropic, possible-Aspergers’-having genius, and from Oryx, the guarded, possible-former-child-prostitute, but THAT’S WHERE ALL THE ACTION IS! Seeing Jimmy and Crake grow up together is interesting, but we see more of Jimmy than Crake, and mostly what Jimmy does is watch porn, resent his parents, and perform a boring job that pays the bills…i.e, regular people stuff. (Meanwhile, Crake is fucking CREATING A NEW RACE OF PEOPLE. WHO ARE BLUE AND PURR LIKE CATS.) And while I understand that Oryx, the love interest/obsession of both Jimmy and Crake, is supposed to be this unreachable being, as a reader I felt so far removed from her that it was difficult to see her as a complete, well-rounded character. I wanted her story–not just the image of her through Jimmy’s eyes as a love object. (And I felt a bit cheated, too, since Atwood’s female characters are usually SO complex and real!)

I did actually like the narrative structure of the book. It takes place in two timelines, the past and the present, and switches back and forth between them. So you’ll get one chapter of Jimmy as Snowman, living with the Crakers (Crake’s “improved” human race) in the newly-empty world, and then the next will be about Jimmy and Crake as kids living in the CorpSeCorps buildings. It was a cool and relatively smooth way to introduce us to new information and develop Jimmy at least. And I appreciated the ending, which has a weirdly-uplifting note, but still leaves you hanging. Overall, while the themes are interesting and the statements Atwood makes (about the environment, genetic experimentation, and humanity) are valid, I think The Year of Flood is a better presentation of them.

Though many people seem to disagree with me, at least on Goodreads, I probably would not have even READ The Year of the Flood if I had read Oryx and Crake first, as you’re meant to (O&C came out in 2003 and The Year of the Flood came out in 2009). If you’re interested in Atwood and this vision of a future she’s created, I’d suggest you just read The Year of the Flood and forget O&C, unless you’re a canon-freak who wants all sides to the story…even the less interesting sides.

Bookwanderer Rating: Two and a half stars

Bookwanderer Tagline: This book is to The Year of the Flood what Episodes I – II are to classic Star Wars: unneccessary.

 Second Opinions:

books i done read
Boston Bibliophile
NYC Book Girl
Shelf Love

Waiting on Wednesday (a little late)…plus Books on the Go

I can’t wait to read Connie Willis’s new book, Blackout, which came out YESTERDAY and is her first book since 2002. Unhappily, it’s only the first of a two-part series–the second part of which comes out six months from now! Argh. If anyone else has read Willis’s other novels, like Doomsday Book and Passage, you’ll know that they are impossible to put down. (I was obsessive while reading Passage and read it ALL the time: on the subway, during lunch, during dinner, before bed, even in the mornings before work!) So I might have to pass on Blackout until I have the complete set. WAMP WAMP.

For a solid review of Blackout, head on over to io9. Waiting on Wednesdays are hosted by Breaking the Spine, so check that out for the scoop on other upcoming books.

Today’s Books on the Go post: Spotted a middle-aged woman in a red coat on the platform reading Lipstick Jihad. Turns out that it’s Time reporter Azadeh Moaveni’s memoir of “growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran.” Sounds interesting to me, and has an eye-catching cover to boot.

Review: The Hunger Games

Finally read the book that everyone and their grandma has already finished…The Hunger Games! I initially stayed away from it because of all of the hype, and because I don’t read much YA anymore (my stint working in the kids’ section of a library fulfilled that urge). Nonetheless, because I never met a book about a bloody dystopian future I didn’t like, I broke down and bought it. And despite telling myself I wouldn’t, I read it in a day. Spoilers ahoy!

Quick summary time: Thanks to an unspecified apocalypse, the United States no longer exists; instead there is Panem, made up of 12 poor Districts and the Capital, the decadent and oppressive ruling state. As a result of crushing the Districts’ rebellion, every year the Capital demands tributes in the form of a girl and a boy from 12 to 18 years old. These tributes from each District are forced to compete in the Hunger Games, where the goal is to be the last one standing.

So yeah, it’s somewhat similar to Battle Royale, but with some very major differences: The Hunger Games has Americans teens instead of Japanese, much less gore and violence, no sex, and no rule that at least one person has to be killed a day. In Battle Royale, you get to know a whole swath of characters well; in The Hunger Games, there are two main characters, with the other tributes remaining mostly sketches. I’d call The Hunger Games Battle Royale for the younger set. But uhhh not too young because kids still die, some in particularly nasty ways.

 Where The Hunger Games really succeeds, for me, is with heroine and narrator Katniss. She is HARD. CORE. And unlike other “OMG look at what a badass magical female hunter hero I am” characters, Katniss is NOT ANNOYING. That gets caps because so many other iterations of this kind of character are grating. Katniss isn’t. She’s gritty. She’s dirty. She’s starving half the time. She hunts and trades out of complete necessity. Her life is hard, and you really believe it. Everything she has, she has earned with blood and sweat. (I also LOVED Katniss’s lingering feelings of resentment for and distance from her mother. So angsty, so teenage girl, so believable!) In a literary world that seems flooded with Bella Swan knock-offs, it’s refreshing to have a strong, intelligent, and independent female character whose life doesn’t revolve around her vampire/werewolf/fae/mermen suitors, and who isn’t defined only by her relationships to men. Because choosing who you’re going to be with 4-everzzz kind of takes a backseat when a pack of kids are trying to fucking kill you with spears. Priorities, people, priorities.

The other characters are great too, though they all tend to be dunces when it comes to emotions and stuff (like I have any room to talk–repressing your feelings FTW!) Peeta’s cleverness and will to survive were a nice compliment to Katniss’s own; I liked that he couldn’t rely on his physical strength since he was so outclassed by almost everyone else. (To be honest, though, I went back and forth between admiring him for playing the game the only way he could, and being annoyed at him for being weak. ) I imagine him being a hard character to write, but that’s just me. Gale was cool for being the male version of Katniss. And Cinna, for being a Capitol/Hunger Games lackey, was unexpectedly interesting. Seriously, A+ for Susanne Collins for creating some believable, well-rounded characters that the reader quickly becomes emotionally invested in.

The only part of The Hunger Games I didn’t like was the appearance of the wolf “muttations” near the finale, and not because they ended Cato. They actually yanked me out of the flow of the story, and brought up questions that there wasn’t time or space to address. Were they wolf muttations mixed with the dead tributes’ DNA? Or were they just given certain aspects of the other tributes (eyes, hair color) to fuck with the survivors? Were they created after those tributes were killed, or before, and just held in reserve–and would that mean there’s wolf Cato, Peeta, and Katniss in some lab somewhere? Is this a new thing for the Hunger Games, or has it happened before? And the most important question of all: UM, WTF? I really would rather that they were straight-up muttations, without the aspects of defeated tributes. Because a giant wolf with flowing blond fur and green eyes was LOLZ-worthy, and I’m sure that was totally NOT the reaction that Collins was going for.

Heeeeeere's Glimmer!

It seems weird to complain about something being unrealistic in a book that freakin’ has kids killing each other in a game televised for a post-apocalyptic US, but whatevs. I make no apologies: the wolf muttations were lame.

It’s really a minor quibble though, the fact that I just wrote a thesis about it notwithstanding. (I like to complain!) A day after I finished The Hunger Games, I had ordered the second book in the series. If that’s not a stellar recommendation, I don’t know what is.

Bookwanderer Rating: Four out of five stars

Bookwanderer Tagline: Come for the kids killing each other, stay for the character development and interpersonal drama!


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