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

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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

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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

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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!

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!