BOOK REVIEW: Slipping, by Lauren Beukes

BOOK REVIEW: Slipping, by Lauren BeukesTitle: Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing by Lauren Beukes
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: November 29th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

In her edgy, satiric debut collection, award-winning South African journalist and author Lauren Beukes (The Shining Girls, Moxyland) never holds back. Nothing is simple and everything is perilous when humans are involved: corruption, greed, and even love (of a sort).
A permanent corporate branding gives a young woman enhanced physical abilities and a nearly-constant highRecruits lifted out of poverty find a far worse fate collecting biohazardous plants on an inhospitable worldThe only adult survivor of the apocalypse decides he will be the savior of teenagers; the teenagers are not amused.
From Johannesburg to outer space, these previously uncollected tales are a compelling, dark, and slippery ride.

 You might think of a city as a map, all knotted up in the bondage of grid lines by town planners. But really, it’s a language—alive, untidy, ungrammatical. The meaning of things rearranges, so the scramble of the docks turns hipster cool while the faded glamor of the inner city gives way to tenement blocks rotting from the inside. It develops its own accent, its own slang. And sometimes it drops a sentence. Sometimes the sentence finds you. And won’t shut up. – from “Ghost Girl”

I’ve had Beukes’s The Shining Girls on my shelf forever. It was on a lot of lists the year it was released, and I found a paperback of that book in a used bookstore, I bought it… and haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. Story of my life. Anyhow, when given the opportunity to read Beukes’s short works, I jumped at the chance. I love short story collections because I feel that short story collections allow the reader to see the wide range of an author’s talent.

Beukes’s writing is acerbic, sharp, and intuitive, and I was drawn in immediately to many of her stories. Slipping is a collection of stories written over about ten years for various other publications, and I would have really liked to have some background information before or after the stories to know when and why each of these stories were written.

My favorite stories were “Princess,” “Exhibitionist,” “Ghost Girl,” and “Dial Tone.” Each of these stories made me whisper what after I finished reading them. Beukes’s writing is at the same time subtle and straightforward. She does not shy away from difficult or terrifying imagery, and she makes you think about why she uses that imagery to explore some weird aspect of human life. Many of her stories cross the genre line between fiction and science fiction, and while a lot of it seems weird at times, it’s also so eerily recognizable. Beukes’s writing asks us why we consider “commonplace” and “everyday” as commonplace and ordinary, because isn’t life weird?

Thank you to Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

fbmreview

BOOK REVIEW: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray BradburyTitle: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: October 1st 1953
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 190
Format: Mass Market
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

The terrifyingly prophetic novel of a post-literate future.
Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.
The classic dystopian novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity.
Bradbury’s powerful and poetic prose combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology to create a novel which, decades on from first publication, still has the power to dazzle and shock.

 I reread Fahrenheit 451 this year for a discussion with students at my school, and what struck me most this time was the reliance of so many of us on technology and the media that some of us forget (or don’t think) to think about the world around us. Ray Bradbury’s novel deals with the dissolution of literacy and the saturation of media in the future. In the 1950s when it was first published, the novel deals with a future imagined by Bradbury, and through the years, the warnings the novel shows its readers still remain relevant.

I gave a little talk to incoming freshmen about the novel as it was a campus-wide reading requirement for all incoming freshmen, and I spoke a little bit about the Cold War, a little bit about Bradbury writing it, and then I contrasted it with media and literacy today. I talked about how things are different now than they were in the 1950s, especially with the rise of technology, and I compared the walls of TV in the novel to the constant companion of our phone familiars. In Bradbury’s novel, the characters sit in literal rooms of screens and are fed an endless stream of entertainment and information. Today, we sit with phones in our hands and are fed an endless stream of entertainment and information. I asked them to consider where the information is coming from, I asked them to consider a bias, and I asked them to continually seek out answers to any questions they have and to use whatever is available to them to get those answers.

After the election results, I’m astounded at how culturally relevant this book still is. Our society is so dependent upon the media for information and does not seem to value using one’s own mind and abilities to read, to research, to question what’s put before us. Our society has devalued education, and I feel as if so many students are no longer taught how to think but what to think, and this is reflected in the constant, consistent bombardment of information through our televisions, through our computers, and through our phones.

How and why are we moving away from a culture that values literacy and knowledge to a culture that places more importance on inciting fear and hatred based on superficial, bigoted information? I’ve been thinking about this for a long while now, and I’m going to continue thinking about it and writing about it and talking about it.

Let this time in America’s history be a reminder to never stop thinking, never stop questioning, because if we stop, we’re going to live in a world in which thinking about ideas rather than merely absorbing them will become a way of the past.

BOOK REVIEW: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers

fbmreview

BOOK REVIEW: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky ChambersTitle: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1) by Becky Chambers
Series: Wayfarers #1
Published by Harper Voyager
Published: July 5th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 443
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.
Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.
Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

 Humans’ preoccupation with ‘being happy’ was something he had never been able to figure out. No sapient could sustain happiness all of the time, just as no one could live permanently within anger, or boredom, or grief.

When she joins the crew of the Wayfarer, Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect the motley crew of oddballs, but she comes to find that group of oddballs family and learns a lot about herself, about what makes a family, and about her place in life throughout the journey the Wayfarer takes throughout the course of the book.

I absolutely loved this book. It reminded me of Firefly and Star Trek (The Original Series), and it is such a happy science fiction book that made me giddy every time I opened it up to read more. It seems so rare that we have positive, happy, not-too-cynical science fiction that explores identity, gender, and existence. It’s fun, campy, and smart, and more likely than not, you’ll fly through this book and be left wanting more.

My only disappointments were that I felt that there were too many perspectives for so short a novel and that the characters didn’t develop that much throughout the course of the novel, and that might be because of the wide cast of characters explored throughout. However, it is the first in a loosely connected series (or duology), so I’m looking forward to seeing Chambers’ writing in her second book.

I’ve been recommending this to everyone, from die-hard sf fans to people who have rarely, if ever, dipped their toes in sf. It’s a great addition to the genre – especially because we need more happy, hopeful sf books – and it’s a great introduction to the genre.

BOOK REVIEW: Red Rising, by Pierce Brown

fbmreview

BOOK REVIEW: Red Rising, by Pierce BrownTitle: Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising #1
Published by Del Rey
Published: July 15th 2014
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 382
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

The Earth is dying.Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it.The Reds are humanity's last hope.
Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it's all a lie.
That Mars has been habitable - and inhabited - for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds.A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought. Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside.
But the command school is a battlefield - and Darrow isn't the only student with an agenda.
Break the chains.
Live for more.

I read this book over the summer on the way down to Florida to go on a cruise. I found it a fast, fun, engaging read, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy. It draws on a lot of popular series in fiction, and that’s all right, because I think Brown does an excellent job reinventing and reimagining those tropes. If you enjoy the Hunger Games and want something deeper and like the intrigue of Game of Thrones, I’m sure you’ll like Red Rising.

Darrow, the main character, is born on Mars and mines beneath the surface. He’s of a lower caste than others, but then he’s modified, becomes perfect in the eyes of the law, and is chosen to be sent to an arena-sized game board to fight for dominance. Through his transformation from someone of a lower caste to someone in a higher caste, we get an insight into the unfairness of class treatment and the effects it has on society as it trickles down. During Darrow’s transformation, we also get political insight into why the Reds are Trojan horsing themselves into the upper castes. For freedom, mostly, and that’s what a lot of the “lesser” people in any society tend to fight for.

It’s a little unbelievable sometimes, even for science fiction, but I liked how Brown didn’t take the time to explain all of the foreign details straight away. He uses words, phrases, technology, and ideas (like headTalk, helldiver, and frysuit), and incorporates them into the story, building upon them and expanding our horizons as he does so. Not everything should be explained right away. Good exposition does that for us. Sometimes the writing seems a little melodramatic and over-the-top, but I think it’s supposed to be that way. Upper classes often puff themselves up and make themselves seem more important than they really are, using frivolous language to embellish everything.

Brown does know how to write and how to keep the pace, and his editor does him a service. There wasn’t a time while reading this that I felt bored or felt that the story dragged on. It’s brutal and engaging, and it left you wanting more. It’s got great character development, great action, and an ending that will leave you wanting more (and thankfully there is more!). Definitely pick this up if you’re in the mood for some great science fiction

BOOK REVIEW: Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch

fbmreview

BOOK REVIEW: Dark Matter, by Blake CrouchTitle: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Published by Crown Publishing
Published: July 26th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 342
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging for Books
Goodreads

“Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable--something impossible.
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

 I suppose we’re both just trying to come to terms with how horrifying infinity really is.

Dark Matter is a wild ride through alternate realities and the realities we create for ourselves. It’s a fast-paced thriller that will keep you guessing about the twists and turns until the very end.

Jason lives a comfortable, happy life, but from the beginning we see that he’s consistently plagued with the question what if. What if he didn’t marry his wife and settle down with a kid? What if he won a prestigious prize instead of his friend? What if he continued on his research instead of losing funding because he decided to focus on his family? Jason confronts those what-ifs when he’s abducted and pushed into a different reality. In the first reality that is different from his own, he sees what his world could have been if he decided to focus on his work rather than focus on his family, and in the midst of trying to get back to his “home” reality, Jason realizes that his other self has stepped into his role and taken over his alternate self’s what-ifs.

It’s bendy, it will probably make you think what just happened many times until everything comes to a head and you have to read to the very end. It raises the questions of reality, that realities can be created together and shared together, and that our futures are created every nanosecond along the way. If you aren’t careful, your split selves may come back for you. And ultimately it’s a romance in the sense that Jason realizes that life isn’t worth truly living unless he’s with his Daniela, no matter how many versions of her he meets along the way back home.

I really enjoyed this. It’s an exciting, breezy read that makes me hope that there will be a mini-series or a movie of this, because it would be so cool to see some of the scenes played out on screen.

Thank you to Crown Publishing and Blogging for Books for a review copy!