BOOK REVIEW: Central Station, by Lavie Tidhar

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BOOK REVIEW: Central Station, by Lavie TidharTitle: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: May 10th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 240
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Short story collections that contain stories that stand alone in their own right but intertwine with each other are my favorite sort of short story collections. This collection is a strong one as I found there wasn’t a single story that I felt dragged or didn’t quite mesh. The characters are so diverse, the setting is so foreign yet in some way instantly recognizable. Even though it’s set in a futurisitic, post-singularity Tel Aviv, the stories evoke a feeling as if it’s really a central station and that we’re all still connected here on this planet.

I loved the Jewish robots, the Strigoi named Carmel (she’s probably my favorite character. The idea of data vampirism is amazing), and all of the other vibrantly realized characters sprinkled throughout the stories.

This is a solid collection of science fiction stories that isn’t just about science fiction. It’s about what one must do and how one must survive in a universe that is often too unforgiving. It’s not a plot-heavy set of stories, but it’s one that will make you care at least a little bit about all of the characters between the covers.

If you enjoyed Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno and would enjoy something similar with a definite science fiction twist, I think you’ll enjoy this collection.

Thanks to Netgalley for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: Warp, by Lev Grossman

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BOOK REVIEW: Warp, by Lev GrossmanTitle: Warp: A Novel by Lev Grossman
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
Published: September 20th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 192
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

I’ve actually not read Grossman’s Magicians trilogy even though it’s been on my TBR forever (because hello? Harry Potter-esque in college??), but when I saw this on Netgalley, I thought I’d give it a try.

The introduction is the best part, honestly. Grossman’s is overly critical of this first novel, and maybe rightly so. Warp is not terrible, but it’s not great. It’s got its moments, but it seems generally aimless. I don’t think I “got” it, but maybe there’s nothing to get. It reads a lot like many young white guys’ first books in which the nerdy guy gets his manic pixie dream girl. It’s not a trope I really like anymore now that I’ve been exposed to it over and over, and it doesn’t help that it’s still a hugely popular trope. I also didn’t quite get the double narrative? If it’s even that because most that second narrative is just quotes dropped in like a student trying to beef up an essay to meet a page requirement. It has a lot of potential, but it ultimately falls short.

Read it if you’re interested in how a writer’s craft evolves. Read the introduction at the very least (especially if you are in a bookshop this September and see it on the shelves). Perhaps avoid it if you’re not at all swayed by any of that.

Thanks to Netgalley for a review copy!

Little List of Reviews #2

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Little List of Reviews #2Title: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Published by Penguin
Published: September 6th 2001
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 249
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

It’s interesting to note that history and its aftermath all rest on a series of single actions. If something hadn’t gone the way it had, it could have catastrophic influence on everything else (which is why, sadly, time travel cannot really work). What would our lives be like if a certain president weren’t elected or if certain events hadn’t happened? How much different would our lives really be? Philip K. Dick’s take on what could have happened had the United States lost WWII is eerie and true enough to life that it’s like looking into another dimension (and at some point in the novel, one of the characters does cross between that world and “our” world). I wouldn’t necessarily call this “science fiction,” as the most science-y fiction-y aspect of it is that the Germans are going to the moon and there’s that slight shift between universes, but I find this sits more under the sub-genre of speculative fiction. Science fiction focuses heavily on the “what if,” and this book certainly asks that question. What if the Germans and the Japanese took over the United States? I found it engaging, nuanced, and surprisingly modern.

Little List of Reviews #2Title: Graft by Matt Hill
Published: February 2nd 2016
Pages: 448
Format: Mass Market
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Matt Hill’s Graft is certainly interesting. It’s set in a futuristic, dystopian Manchester, England, in which a car thief gets mixed up with a cyborg woman who’s had an extra arm and various other enhancements grafted onto her body. It’s touted as something that draws influence from The Fifth Element andThe Handmaid’s Tale, and I think that sort of fits. It certainly would appeal to fans of either or both. It’s visceral, it’s dirty, it’s dark both in content and in atmosphere. Having lived sort of near Manchester for a bit while doing my master’s degree, I can vouch for it being cloudy, a bit dingy in places, and certainly edgier than the pristine countrysides of England we’re used to seeing in various books and films. I enjoyed it, although I wish there was more development both in character and in setting. Compared to Atwood’s writing, this just seemed like a three-fourths formed thing. Still enjoyable, and it definitely comes recommended to those who like the darker, grittier side of science fiction!

REVIEW: Armada, by Ernest Cline

 

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REVIEW: Armada, by Ernest ClineTitle: Armada by Ernest Cline
Published by Crown Publishing
Published: July 14th 2015
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 349
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging for Books
Goodreads

“Kill or be killed. Conquer or be conquered. Survive or go extinct.”

Armada is an anomaly. On the surface, the book seems to be a good follow-up to Ready Player One. When I think about it more, though, the more I realize I didn’t care about any of the characters in the book itself. I like having something and someone to care about. The pacing, the style, and the references are all great fun and incredibly engaging, but I felt as if there was a significant lack of depth in character development among all of the characters. Reading Armada was like reading a mashup of all of the great 80s video games and science fiction movies without having any substance or heft, like Cline’s saying oh hey, look at all of these cool and sometimes obscure references I can throw in~~~ One can certainly write a novel with all of those cool references and still reveal some character development.

While I was reading it (and weirdly unable to put it down), all I could think about was: of course Zack Lightman is a video game wiz at this new/old-fangled Starfighter/Starcraft game, of course his dad’s not dead, of course his parents hook up again before the big battle scene, of course his dad dies at the end, of course his mom has another kid. I would have liked to see more of a reaction from the characters, especially Zack, about the alien invasion and how it affected each of them, but it was all surface level revelations. And there was so much deus ex machina that could have been avoided by avoiding writing oneself into otherwise inescapable plot lines. The more I think about it, the more I would have liked to see things from the perspective of Zack’s “manic pixie dream girl,” a trope I am tired of seeing in fiction generally geared toward and advertised toward young male readership.

Reading it was like eating awesome candy. It’s going to be gone in a moment, and you aren’t going to get any value from it. Already, I feel as if Cline is writing himself into a very narrow niche. There is only so much one can do with 80s references before it becomes too repetitive and too trite. There is only so much one can do with these mashups before it becomes disengaging.

Cline, however, has a great writing style. I couldn’t put Armada down. It was only after the fact that I was left feeling super disappointed. I want to see Cline’s style and voice exploring other galaxies – original galaxies – and developing more rounded and believable characters in the future. I know he’s capable of it. Ready Player One certainly showed it. I’ll certainly read whatever Cline writes next. I just hope it has more depth.

I’d still recommend Armada to people, though, even if I came away from Ready Player One with high expectations. It’s fun. It’s accessible. It’s a great summery, beachy science fiction read. I just wanted more.