BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, by Alan Dean Foster

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, by Alan Dean FosterTitle: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster
Series: Star Wars
Published by Del Rey
Published: January 5th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 260
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Set years after Return of the Jedi, this stunning action-packed adventure rockets us back into the world of Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Luke Skywalker, while introducing a host of exciting new characters, including Rey, Finn, BB-8 and Kylo Ren. Darth Vader may have been redeemed and the Emperor vanquished, but peace can be fleeting, and evil does not easily relent. Yet the simple belief in good can still empower ordinary individuals to rise and meet the greatest challenges. So return to that galaxy far, far away, and prepare yourself for what happens when the Force awakens...

Star Wars books are my favorite reads when I want to read something fun and exciting in a universe I’m familiar with, and while I spent a lot of my teenage years reading the Extended Universe, I’ve been interested in a lot of the new stuff that’s come out since Disney got involved with Star Wars and began this new trilogy. I read Star Wars books to add more to my movie-watching experience, and more often than not, the Extended Universe, the new canon, and the movie novels add more depth to the stories unfolding on screen.

However, the novelization of The Force Awakens reads almost exactly like the film, the only differences being the a small handful of additional scenes and the lack of humor and vivacity in other scenes. It’s definitely worth reading to find out a little more backstory on Poe Dameron and how he got to Jakku, as well as a little bit more emotional background for Kylo Ren (but if I’m honest, Kylo Ren is my least favorite character, and I don’t really care one way or another what happens to him). Other than that, it’s an easy read, very much like the film, and I was able to read it in an afternoon!

BOOK REVIEW: The Refrigerator Monologues, by Catherynne M. Valente

BOOK REVIEW: The Refrigerator Monologues, by Catherynne M. ValenteTitle: The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente, Annie Wu
Published by Saga Press
Published: June 6th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 160
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

The lives of six female superheroes and the girlfriends of superheroes. A ferocious riff on women in superhero comics.

A series of linked stories from the points of view of the wives and girlfriends of superheroes, female heroes, and anyone who’s ever been “refrigerated”: comic book women who are killed, raped, brainwashed, driven mad, disabled, or had their powers taken so that a male superhero’s storyline will progress.

Catherynne M. Valente’s The Refrigerator Monologues is series of six loosely connected stories about female superheroes or the girlfriends of superheroes that are loosely based off of well-known characters in the Marvel and DC universes. The book is dedicated to Gail Simone, a female comic book writer fired from Batgirl who eventually created the “Women in Refrigerators” website in 1999. The website chronicles a lot of ways in which female characters are “fridged,” either “depowered, raped, or cut up and stuck in the refrigerator.”

Each of the stories are set in Deadtown, the place comic book characters go after they die, and the characters in these six stories form “The Hell Hath Club,” which sets the frame story to connect each of these character’s individual stories. I loved that Deadtown provided that frame because it tied everything together so well. Each of the characters voices felt fresh yet identifiable with known characters in the Marvel and DC universes. I think my favorite stories out of the collection are “Paige Embry,” based off of Spider-Man‘s Gwen Stacy and “Daisy,” based off of Deadpool‘s Karen Page.

The stories contribute to the conversation about the treatment of women in comic books and in the media in general, and if you love comic books and superheroes and the women featured in these stories, you definitely need to read this book.

BOOK REVIEW: Hullmetal Girls, by Emily Skrutskie

BOOK REVIEW: Hullmetal Girls, by Emily SkrutskieTitle: Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie
Published by Delacorte
Published: July 17th 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley, Publisher
Goodreads

Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor's salary isn't enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.

Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she's from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.

In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha's and Key's paths collide, and the two must learn to work together--a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.

With violence brewing and dark secrets surfacing, Aisha and Key find themselves questioning their loyalties. They will have to put aside their differences, though, if they want to keep humanity from tearing itself apart.

Emily Skrutskie’s Hullmetal Girls is what I’ve been wanting to see from YA science fiction for what feels like forever! A lot of the “science fiction” YA books I’ve read in the last several years have been more science fantasy, or they’ve been shelved in the adult science fiction/fantasy section, which can keep titles out of view of their targeted audiences. And I’m happy to say that I absolutely LOVED Hullmetal Girls.

Emily calls it her “standalone sci-fi Battlestar/Pacific Rim/Sens8/Snowpiercer frolic affectionately known as Cyborg Space Jam” and in addition to loving the premise of it before, seeing her own blurb of it made me want to read it even more. It definitely lives up to that tagline, and I also can’t tell you how much I love that it’s a standalone. I sometimes feel a little burnt out on series, so knowing that this is it for these characters made me get that much more invested in the story.

Hullmetal Girls will make you think about bodies, about the role of bodies and physical forms in society versus what’s going on in your mind or someone else’s (or, daresay, a collective), and about challenges and consequences do to the spirit before, during, and after action or inaction. I loved that the cyborg aspect had a little bit of alien/artificial intelligence thrown in and that the body modifications ended up being more of a symbiosis kind of meld rather than the body merely being a host for the implants and modifications.

If you liked Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion (which, SPOILER ALERT, that’s one of my favorite science fiction books ever), Hullmetal Girls is something you need to add to your TBRs immediately because the styles and themes are very much riding on the same wavelengths. RIGHT NOW! Go preorder it! I’m buying myself a physical copy too!

Many thanks to Netgalley and Delacorte for the free review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: Spaceman of Bohemia, by Jaroslav Kalfar

BOOK REVIEW: Spaceman of Bohemia, by Jaroslav KalfarTitle: Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
Published: March 7th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 277
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

An intergalactic odyssey of love, ambition, and self-discovery

Orphaned as a boy, raised in the Czech countryside by his doting grandparents, Jakub Procházka has risen from small-time scientist to become the country's first astronaut. When a dangerous solo mission to Venus offers him both the chance at heroism he's dreamt of, and a way to atone for his father's sins as a Communist informer, he ventures boldly into the vast unknown. But in so doing, he leaves behind his devoted wife, Lenka, whose love, he realizes too late, he has sacrificed on the altar of his ambitions.

Alone in Deep Space, Jakub discovers a possibly imaginary giant alien spider, who becomes his unlikely companion. Over philosophical conversations about the nature of love, life and death, and the deliciousness of bacon, the pair form an intense and emotional bond. Will it be enough to see Jakub through a clash with secret Russian rivals and return him safely to Earth for a second chance with Lenka?

Rich with warmth and suspense and surprise, Spaceman of Bohemia is an exuberant delight from start to finish. Very seldom has a novel this profound taken readers on a journey of such boundless entertainment and sheer fun.

 Existence runs on energy, a fluid movement forward, yet we never stop seeking the point of origin, the Big Bang that set us upon our inevitable course.

I feel like a lot of the fiction I’ve read this year as a sense of the weird to it. Something is off, something is not quite right. Spaceman of Bohemia is about an orphaned boy raised by his grandparents who grows up to become an astronaut. When the novel begins, he is going on a single-manned mission to a weird particle glow cloud in space near Venus. But this isn’t science fiction in the usual sense. I found this novel to be an exploration on what it means to be a person, what it means to recognize your past as part of your future, and a philosophical meditation on identity.

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading it, and I’m glad I never read more than the cover flap on the copy that’s been on the shelves at work for a while because I think I might have been disappointed if I thought this was a space adventure story. It reminded me a lot of Foer’s Everything is Illuminated in the way in which the story moved back and forth through time, through flashes of Jakub’s memories and his present experiences.

What I loved most about this novel, surprisingly enough because I am terrified of spiders, is the hallucinatory spider-like alien who loves Nutella. We never really find out whether or not the spider-alien Jakub sees is really there, and it makes me wonder if the alien manifests itself based on the fears of the person it senses. The alien tells Jakub that it has been observing Earth for a while, absorbing everything humanity has to offer, but it’s Jakub who brings that “humanry” to the alien on a personal level. The end is both heartbreaking and triumphant, and it left me wanting to read more about Jakub and more by Jaroslav Kalfar.

A copy of this book was provided to me for review by the publisher and Netgalley; all opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Borne and The Strange Bird, by Jeff VanderMeer

BOOK REVIEW: Borne and The Strange Bird, by Jeff VanderMeerTitle: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Published: April 25th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 323
Format: Hardcover
Source: Work
Goodreads

"Am I a person?" Borne asked me.

"Yes, you are a person," I told him. "But like a person, you can be a weapon, too." In Borne, a young woman named Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company—a biotech firm now derelict—and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear. Rachel ekes out an existence in the shelter of a run-down sanctuary she shares with her partner, Wick, who deals his own homegrown psychoactive biotech.

One day, Rachel finds Borne during a scavenging mission and takes him home. Borne as salvage is little more than a green lump—plant or animal?—but exudes a strange charisma. Borne reminds Rachel of the marine life from the island nation of her birth, now lost to rising seas. There is an attachment she resents: in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet, against her instincts—and definitely against Wick’s wishes—Rachel keeps Borne. She cannot help herself. Borne, learning to speak, learning about the world, is fun to be with, and in a world so broken that innocence is a precious thing. For Borne makes Rachel see beauty in the desolation around her. She begins to feel a protectiveness she can ill afford. 

"He was born, but I had borne him."

But as Borne grows, he begins to threaten the balance of power in the city and to put the security of her sanctuary with Wick at risk. For the Company, it seems, may not be truly dead, and new enemies are creeping in. What Borne will lay bare to Rachel as he changes is how precarious her existence has been, and how dependent on subterfuge and secrets. In the aftermath, nothing may ever be the same.  

“He was born, but I had borne him.”

Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne evokes a sense of the weird and the unsettling in a probable near-future reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy. In the novel, a young woman named Rachel scavenges and survives in a city ravaged by an unnamed ecological disaster. The city’s grounds are littered with the remnants of the now-defunct Company’s biotech, and the city is not-so-subtly governed by the actions of Mord, a giant flying bear. During one of her scavenging missions, Rachel finds a little lump of something not quite plant and not quite animal named Borne. Borne disrupts Rachel’s life little by little until his very existence threatens to upheave everything in Rachel’s life and in the strange ecosystem of Mord’s territory.

This standalone novel from the author of the Southern Reach trilogy explores how humans abuse science and nature for technological or monetary gain, and Borne shows us the aftermath of that greed. The novel also explores what it means to be a person, what it means to love and then to let go of love, what it means to live and then to die, and what it means when one finds beauty in the midst of so much chaos. VanderMeer manages to pack so much description, emotion, and longing into such a short novel, and it’s a novel that will make you reread passages and sentences again and again because of their beauty and complexity.

BOOK REVIEW: Borne and The Strange Bird, by Jeff VanderMeerTitle: The Strange Bird: A Borne Story by Jeff VanderMeer
Published: August 1st 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 96
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

 The Strange Bird is a companion story to VanderMeer’s Borne, and the novella adds even more depth to the world in which VanderMeer has created in Borne. The Strange Bird is part human, part bird, and she is rejected from the world in which she lives, because she is not wholly human nor wholly animal. The timeline of this novella occurs before, during, and after the events of Borne and offers an outside view of those events. While Borne explored in its complexity what it means to be a personThe Strange Bird explores what it means to be free and know oneself when the world seems to “naturally” conspire against your very existence. It’s a highly recommended follow-up if you’ve read Borne and wanted more.