Review: Sleeping Giants

tl;dr: fresh and new science-fiction tale that’ll have you on the edge of your seat

The Story:

Dr. Rose Franklin stumbles on a giant hand in her youth, an amazing discovery that she’s delighted to study later on, in her career as a physicist. The story that embarks from there covers a lot of ground.

The story is framed by an unnamed narrator, whose identity is a mystery, and that mystery is brought up again and again by the people that he interviews. There are so many characters, I don’t know if I can name them all. There are a few key figures here, though, and they all have their own individual arcs within the larger story.

(Minor spoilers ahead.)

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Review: Cinder

tl;dr: imaginative futuristic retelling that makes Cinderella better

The story:

Fairy-tale retellings and remixes are fairly [heh, pun intended] popular these days. My 5 year old is devouring Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories, which involves a myriad of fairy-tales and nursery rhymes in a delightful romp, all interconnected by immense world-building and an imaginative story. Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles may be the YA version of this, incorporating other extremely popular themes for YA lit. It’s got a love story (although it’s not really the focus), an awkward teenage girl, and futuristic/sci-fi elements. I wouldn’t really call this a dystopia, although it borrows pretty heavily from a lot of other dystopian trends. There’s abject poverty, close living arrangements among the poor, a vaulted upper-class, copious technology, androids, and a plague that’s systematically killing off citizens.

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Review: The Heart Goes Last

Content warning: major spoilers near the end of the review!

Heart-Goes-Last_Atwood-2I usually really enjoy Margaret Atwood books, but this one left me feeling a little dissatisfied. The premise itself is very interesting. It’s a dystopian near future, where there’s been a horrible economic downturn and large cities are now ghost towns of vigilante youths and people living in their cars. The book follows Charmaine and Stan, a¬†former middle class married couple that are running out of money and options. Charmaine works at a dirty diner/brothel and sees a commercial for an experimental community that offers jobs and security to everyone it accepts. So they sign up for Positron and Consilience – a duel community where residents live half the month in an actual prison and the other half in the adjacent community.

The plot begins to get sinister from there, where there are red hot affairs, spies, executions, and lifelike sex robots. And many Elvis impersonators, but yeah. It would take a long time to really detail all the plot because it is quite intricate. Atwood interweaves the perspectives of both Charmaine and Stan as different chapters throughout the book, and even if the audio book wasn’t narrated by both genders, I think it would be easy to follow along. They each have a unique voice and temperament, which comes across in their chapters. She also only gives the reader the same information that each character actually has, so as you are unfolding the story there is a layer of suspense as you don’t really know what’s happening.

So, yes, this book is masterfully crafted, as many of Atwood’s books are. But it just doesn’t deliver the same punch that many of the other books of hers that I’ve read have. A large part of that is the operation that Charmaine may or may not have undergone. When I believed she had, it felt icky. When it is revealed at the very end that she hadn’t, I just felt cold. I think particularly the reaction of Stan was unsettling. He is practically misogynist, and he is supposed to be the hero of this story. Well, not even practically – he is. He has several rape fantasies towards Charmaine and other women, and even when he believes that Charmaine is his willing (albeit lobotomized) sex slave, he is unhappy about it. He treats Charmaine like dirt, and is surprised that she had an affair and also “killed” him. For all of the book’s social commentary about the treatment of women, it doesn’t do a lot to propose an alternative.

I went back and forth on the rating for this book. It is definitely well-written, engaging, and thought-provoking. All good things that I look for in a novel. But that ending – and really, the final few chapters – brought it all down for me. It turns out that the book is divided into 5 parts, and each had been released over time through a service called Byliner. That service recently shut down, and so Atwood decided to release the book as a legitimate release, with the final 5th part included for the first time. It does make sense, then, why that ending feels really disjointed with the rest of the story. In the end, I decided not to weigh too heavily on the final chapters, but it definitely still colored how I feel in total.

3 stars

This book fulfills the book published this year requirement for the challenge.

Review: The Martian

the-martian-coverThere are so many things about this book that make it unlikely that I would have read and enjoyed it, it seems strange that I would have happened upon a recommendation that intrigued me so much that I opted to actually read it. First, it’s about space. Space is not only a topic that I don’t seek out, but I actively avoid it. I frequently lament that we should forget about space and focus on the planet that we have. Second, it’s about being stuck in space, which is something that brings up feelings of anxiety in me. And third, it’s heavy in the science, which normally would make me fall asleep while reading. Despite all of these things that I normally don’t like and try to avoid, this was a really fantastic book.

Part of the appeal of this book is the humorous way that the protagonist shapes the beginning of the narrative. I think the lack of context in the beginning (it starts off with a series of log entries by Mark Watney, the astronaut stranded on Mars, and later fills in third person omniscient narrative) is actually a selling point to non-technical readers. The book doesn’t waste time filling in the blanks and gets straight to the problem of the book. We don’t even really get what went wrong with the mission that left Watney stranded until about midway through the book. It keeps the pace brisk, yet with enough hand-holding to keep the interest of a lay reader.

The book follows a formulaic narrative that could maybe get a little tiresome if it wasn’t for the humorous asides and everyman perspective we get from Watney. Something goes wrong, Watney panics. He comes up with a risky yet plausible plan. It mostly works, although a few things fail. He complains about 70s pop culture. Something else breaks, and we begin again. This general idea repeats about 4-5 times throughout the book, but somehow it isn’t as noticeable until you begin to describe the plot to someone else.

I have mixed feelings about the ending, but not because it wasn’t what I hoped for. Perhaps because it was incredibly predictable with no last minute twists, it didn’t have as much of an impact. It’s not a book that really sticks in your mind or that delivers a big punch. This isn’t a bad thing, per se, but it doesn’t have a WOW factor.

One thing that this book does incredibly well is have a diverse group of characters who have believable motivations and personalities. There was an overwhelming amount of white guys, but that is unfortunately pretty reflective of space exploration in general. Watney’s main contact at NASA is someone of Indian heritage named¬†Venkat Kapoor, there are several Asians both on NASA’s team and in China (duh), where some of the story takes place. Apparently the character of Mindy Park is Korean, which I couldn’t tell from reading, but that’s also pretty cool. There’s also a German crewmember on the Ares 3 mission.

I’m planning to see the movie and maybe get some more context and visual help on some of the more sciencey things, and see how it compares to the picture in my head of the story. For a book like this, I felt like maybe what I was imagining was pretty far off the mark since I don’t have any love for space, and therefore, very little context over what elements of the story of purely fiction or what is science.

This book fulfills no requirements for the challenge.