Yoon Ha Lee’s essay (from Book Smugglers)

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Hi everyone!

In my last post about sci fi I mentioned Yoon Ha Lee’s excellent book Ninefox Gambit. I thought you might be interested to read this article he produced for the Book Smuggler’s website about writing and being a trans person.

http://thebooksmugglers.com/2016/06/sff-in-conversation-yoon-ha-lee-on-being-trans.html

(I’m making my way through the next in the series, Raven Stratagem, which is also excellent!)

Review: The Diabolic

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Nemesis is a Diabolic – a special type of humanoid bred specifically to be bonded to and protect one human master. Sidonia is Nemesis’ human – they have been raised together, but Nemesis would instantly give her life – or take any number of others – to keep Sidonia safe. Trouble ensues when Sidonia’s father, part of the Galactic Court, is discovered by the Emperor to be participating in a rebellion. Sidonia is summoned to the court but, fearful that Sidonia is being summoned to her death, her mother sends Nemesis in her place.

Nemesis must learn to be human and engage convincingly with the court, filled with both corrupt politicians and back stabbing politicians children, a rebellion looming over them all.

diabolic

Judging from the praise on Goodreads, I’m one of about 5 people who didn’t enjoy this book. I can narrow this down to one thing – I simply didn’t like the main character.

Diabolics are created to only feel love for the human they are bonded to, and their upbringing is a violent survival of the fittest contest. This apparently means that they also can’t feel any emotions or empathy for anyone at all. The first quarter of the book was incredibly dry for this reason, and I feel as though I didn’t get to know Nemesis at all during this portion of the book.

Thank goodness we then are introduced to Tyrus, who is hands down one of the best characters of the book that we spend any time with. His presence livens things up a bit.

Nemesis then discovers she can feel something after all and the book turns into an unexpected (to me anyway) love story. Except one of the main participants in said love story (yep, Nemesis – you guessed it) oscillates between I CAN’T FEEL ANYTHING and I’M HAVING ALL THE FEELS!!! so often I still feel a little whiplashed from it.

On top of this, old Nemesis seems a bit thick – she is put in the middle of a number of political situations and manages to shoot herself in the foot a number of times by speaking about how she really feels to key rivals rather than continuing the masquerade that she doesn’t seem to have a problem with the rest of the time.

Ostensibly this story is of Nemesis’ journey from servile non-human, to a fully developed human being capable of love and empathy. But I don’t think she makes it.

I think the biggest issue with this book is the supplied description  – it really doesn’t capture the heart of what the story was about. I was expecting some cool fast paced action, and instead got a heap of soul-searching and emotional torment. If soul-searching and emotional torment is your thing, then go for it.

 2 out of 5 snapped necks.

Thanks to Netgalley and Simon and Schuster for and advanced copy in return for an honest review.

Review: Hero

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Hero Regan has some problems. She is “special” – without her medication she hears voices, feels other peoples emotions and can hear people’s thoughts. She hates being medicated, which has led to her being surrounded by minders and tutors. Hero’s only comfort is Fink,  massive, genetically designed companion animal with whom she shares everything.

Hero is equal parts excited and dubious when her mother gives her the opportunity to attend school with other teens. She not only finds a friend, but discovers that her ‘nanny’ is not who she thought she was and finds herself in the middle of an intrigue that endangers not only everyone she loves, but the whole planet.

hero

This is such a good read. The first part of the book reminded me of a mix of Harry Potter and The Golden Compass, if either of those books had included illegal street racing and police chases.

The story moves fast and just dumps you into the world with little to no explanation. If you like to be gently eased into a story, this book is not for you. The author assumes that the reader will keep up with the world building, new words and the action.

There were a lot of plot points developed in this book that weren’t fully explored – as this is the first in a series I anticipate that the author has laid a lot of ground work in this book to set up her story arcs going forward.

There are some great characters in this book, and I was particularly jazzed that there were so many notable women. Hero’s mum is the ruler of the roost – her father is mentioned in passing in the book but is otherwise absent. Her minder, Imogen, is great value despite first appearances. The two notable scientists, whose work has shaped the society, were also both women. Fink, Hero’s companion animal, was one of my favourites though. Who wouldn’t want a massive cat-like creature that you can talk to in your head and ride on?

This is a great debut novel by  Aussie author Belinda Crawford – I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next!

 4 1/2 out of 5 irritatingly snotty AIs.

Review: The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman

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Let me preface this review with the following statement: I read a fair bit of YA.

There are a couple of reasons for this. 1) I have a teenager. I like to know what she is reading about. 2) Story arcs for YA characters tend to be pretty interesting. YA characters tend to have more interesting experiences that change them than characters in adult books (in my very humble opinion). Cassie in The 5th Wave has to deal with aliens terminating her species. A in Every Day wakes up every day in a different person and has to figure out how to navigate not only his/her own life, but that of the stranger’s body he/she is in. There are of course always exceptions to the rule (hello Twilight).

Courtney Hoffman thinks she is going mad. She is visited at night by aliens, who terrify her. Her mother warns her that mental health is a slippery slope and she doesn’t want to end up like her grandfather. Courtney has fond memories of her grandfather, who died when she was seven, but she has terrifying flashbacks to the night that his friends came over and gave her a creepy tattoo, and after his alarm system is tripped by something unseen, he tried to drown her.

Courtney’s mother and her new boyfriend have her committed to a psych ward to try to help her with her issues. Here, she meets Agatha, who validates her alien experiences – her brother has had these too. Together the girls go on an adventure which includes aliens, dodgy medical professionals, and a secretive organisation of Magi.

courtney hoffman

In the acknowledgements the author notes that he doesn’t know a lot about teenage girls. Unfortunately I think this is pretty obvious from the writing. The first half of the book is pretty choppy, although it does settle down once the action starts. (Yikes!)

The biggest difference I noticed with this book is that most of the description is of the external world. The descriptions of Courtney’s internal world are no where near as interesting as what’s going on in the action sequences, and for a book with a tribute to mental health sufferers, these should be at least on an equal footing. (Whoa!)

The main character and the writing seem pitched more at middle school readers than a YA audience (although there is some low level swearing and a couple of f-bombs). There are a few things early in the plot line that stretch the imagination too far (like a doctor providing  a service to a 15 year old without parental consent or a whisper about health insurance).

My teen does tend to read above her age level, but she wouldn’t enjoy this. (I got her to read the opening chapters to confirm my suspicions. I won’t repeat her opinions, but they were not complimentary). Courtney doesn’t have the emotional development to hold her interest. There are lots of pithy italicised exclamations, and Courtney says “Yikes” so frequently I felt like I was being thrown back into reruns of Scooby Doo. Perhaps she is the love child of Shaggy and Velma. (What??)

Once the action starts the style settles into itself and it is a good action story with some funny moments (which was a welcome relief from the tortured hair pulling of the first half). While I am loathe to suggest such a thing exists, I suspect this is more of a ‘boy’ book (ie action, things blowing up, no kissing or emotional stuff) rather than a ‘girl’ book (character development, emotional reflection, focus on relationships, things blowing up).

The Alienation of Courtney Hoffman is out now.

2.5 out of  5 italicised exclamations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: The Last Star by Rick Yancey

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The much anticipated conclusion The 5th Wave trilogy has arrived, and I was finally able to fit it in to my schedule this weekend.

The 5th Wave trilogy is one of the most unique invasion/first contact stories I’ve ever read – I hope the aliens aren’t reading it and getting any ideas. The aliens come in silence. They want the earth and they are going to take it. First they cut the power. Then they trigger earthquakes and massive tsunamis. Then comes the pestilence that wipes out most of the survivors of the first two waves. Then there are the Silencers, the no-longer-humans taking down survivors one at a time. Then the fifth wave – children trained as soldiers who will shoot anyone they are told to.

The Last Star is the story of the last stand by Cassie, Zombie, Ringer, Nugget and Silencer-turned-good-guy Evan Walker to try to save the planet against dreadful odds.

I really enjoy the way the story is told – from multiple first person points of view with the odd third person commentary thrown in for perspective, and the story fairly rollicks along. Make sure you have your tissues handy.

But The Last Star and the whole 5th Wave trilogy is more than that –  it is a commentary on what is happening all over the world right now, and in particular, a commentary on the USA’s gun culture.

The question of what makes us human is asked throughout the trilogy, and many times through the final book. Yancey seems to embrace the idea that our humanity is based on our ability to trust one another, to work together and to build a community. Without the basic building blocks of trust, community is not possible. The Silencers – who look like humans but aren’t – erode the trust of others within the book, to the point that people feel that for their own safety they have no option but to shoot first and be grateful that they came out of the encounter alive.

Is this not the tipping point of the USA today? As an Australian, the resistance of the average American to gun law reform makes no sense. Rather than bore you with my point of view, check out Jim Jefferies who summarises it nicely. Beware kids, he does have a potty mouth.

In the wake of the Orlando massacre – a new record with 49 people dead (beating the Australian Port Arthur massacre total of 36) Americans are still demanding the right to carry their own assault rifle. If you look at the “Muslim terrorists” (see note below) as the Silencers, is the media not beating society into a frenzy which will result in the same way as the book? Anyone simply suspected of being “other” will be shot on sight. Do we really want to live with this fear and hatred?

Zombie says to Nugget “He’s no different from us Sam … None of this will end until somebody decides to put down the guns.”

America, please put down the guns.

4 out of 5 crazy cat ladies.

Note:

Let’s not also forget:

  • “Christian terrorists” who are just “troubled”
  • That Orlando was a hate crime against gay people, not an expression of Muslim extremism.