BOOK REVIEW: The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

BOOK REVIEW: The Collapsing Empire, by John ScalziTitle: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Series: The Interdependency #1
Published by Tor Books
Published: March 21st 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 333
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
Goodreads

 It worked because on a social level, apparently enough people wanted it to, and because at the heart of it, billions of humans living in fragile habitats prone to mechanical and environmental breakdowns and degradation, and with limited natural resources, were better off relying on each other than trying to go it alone. Even without the Interdependency, being interdependent was the best way for humanity to survive.

I feel like I should preface this by saying that other than this I have only read Old Man’s War (and his twitter/blog), so for a second excursion into someone else’s work, I was hoping for the same kind of humor, wit, and intelligence that I saw in Old Man’s War. And I did. I also felt like his writing strengthened all around, which is an excellent thing to see going from a debut novel to his most recent. (And now I feel like I really should get the ball rolling on reading everything else he’s done!) His work was pitched to me as SF101, something easy enough for the unseasoned science fiction to access but something even well-read science fiction readers will enjoy for the references and subversions of the genre’s tropes. Fun fact: I teach Old Man’s War in my science fiction freshman seminar!

The Collapsing Empire is the start to a new space opera series about a whole smattering of planets across the universe connected by something called the Flow, which bends the rules of physics and allows for relatively speedy space travel between systems. As one might imagine, trade develops between the planets, an interplanetary government is set up (called the Interdependency), and everything appears to be stable. But stability apparently is only an illusion.

In addition to his accessible science fiction, Scalzi is a master at creating a cast of characters with whom you’ll laugh and for whom you’ll root. Kiva, who swears like it’s going out of style, is probably one of my favorite characters in sf. Cardenia is the newly-throned Emperox who is easy to relate to because no matter how hard we try, we’re never really prepared when the big, difficult things happen.

The Collapsing Empire reflects on current events, especially climate change, political leaders, interplanetary/international politics, and the consequences of those things if we’re not careful and considerate. It also shows us the humanity behind those making the decisions and those affected by those decisions. The private lives of these characters are explored in an unrestrained way and are allowed to be whomever they are, and it feels weird to write that even today because a lot of sf tends to fall into “traditional” tropes of black and white ideologies. It’s nice not to bat at eye at the idea of bisexual characters, or characters on any part of the spectrum. It’s nice to find humanity in double-crossy, deviant, sweary merchants. And while feeling fresh on many levels, it feels like an homage to traditional space opera stories, making it a lot of fun.

My only major qualm with it is that the first book ends abruptly. Like literally right when the action ramps up. I wouldn’t mind it so much if the second one was coming out soon, but the wait is going to be agony! I need to know what happens next!

Little List of Reviews #6: Short Fiction

It’s time for another little list of reviews! This time I’m focusing on some short fiction that I’ve read recently, from a classic, to science fiction, to a modern fairy tale.

Little List of Reviews #6: Short FictionTitle: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Published by Riverhead
Published: March 7th 2017
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 231
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed, Work
Goodreads

 Exit West seemed to be all over the place once it was released, and with everyone I knew talking about it and a lot of people at work buying it, I thought I should give it a go because it sounded timely and relevant to today. Mohsin Hamid’s lyrical writing draws you into a world that ultimately you as a reader only catch glimpses of the heartache, the fear, and the love each of the two main characters experience for themselves and with each other. In a style that bends time and space to fit the journey, the two main characters escape what is a war-torn country in the Middle East, and we follow them as they make their way westward. It is all at once a tale that speaks of the plight and routes refugees take from Syria and other nearby places and a tale that speaks to the ultimately human journey to adulthood and discovering oneself. It is a story of discovering what it means to have an identity and of holding onto love when it’s necessary and learning to let go when it’s time to let go, no matter how unprepared you might be for the end.

 

Little List of Reviews #6: Short FictionTitle: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Published by Penguin Modern Classics
Published: October 1st 2009
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 158
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

 We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a Gothic novella about the Blackwood family home and the lengths Merricat, the youngest Blackwood, goes to in order to preserve their way of life. Throughout the book, you get the sort of foreboding feeling that something is not quite right about Merricat’s behavior, especially when cousin Charles comes to visit, and while the story plays into a lot of the Gothic genre’s tropes, it doesn’t fail to thrill. It’s an exacting commentary on the preservation of oneself and one’s family in the midst of change, either in the house or in the world beyond. It asks the question what does identity mean? The meaning of identity is not generally answerable in itself but in the implications and complications that arise in the midst of everything else. Why else would Merricat say she put “death in their food and watch them die?”

 

Little List of Reviews #6: Short FictionTitle: We Who Are About To... by Joanna Russ
Published by Penguin
Published: January 1st 1970
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 128
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

When I saw the covers of the Penguin Worlds science fiction classics collection, I knew I had to get them all. Not only for the covers but for the selections as well. One of my areas of research is science fiction because I feel like it’s an underrepresented genre in the grand scheme of the great literary canon, and Joanna Russ’s We Who Are About To… is a masterful novella about the agency a woman has, doesn’t have, and should have over her own body. Instead of conforming to the little civilization her companions decide to form in the wake of a spaceship crashing on a relatively unknown planet, the narrator decides to learn how to die when all hope is lost. Reading this book today feels very trope-y and cliché at times, but it’s important to put this in the context of the genre today. It plays with those tropes, gives a woman agency over her own life instead of submitting her body to be a vessel for reproduction, and shows us the very humanity in deciding on whether or not to live or die when you know there’s ultimately no hope for rescue or survival anyway.

Little List of Reviews #5

Here’s another little list of reviews! There isn’t a theme to this list this time, but they’re all books that I’ve been reading on and off for a long time that I’ve finally finished!

Little List of Reviews #5Title: Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: September 6th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 240
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Peter S. Beagle can spin a fantastic, beautiful phrase, and I’m looking forward to reading more of his work (can you believe I’ve never read The Last Unicorn??). However, Summerlong didn’t do it for me. I feel like I might have approached this book differently had I know about the mythological twist that reveals itself in the last third of the book, because without having known it, I felt that the fantastic elements of it led to a disconnect between the story that I had become familiar with and the story it ended up being. I don’t recall reading anywhere about the ties to Greek mythology, so it was definitely a wait, what?? sort of moment. I think my lack of enjoyment of the story is completely on me, because I was expecting something more fantasy driven than the contemporary character driven story it is. I felt like I didn’t relate to any of the characters, and it took a long time for me to get through a relatively short novel. If you enjoy stories about coming to life, as it were, after the summer of your life has passed, I think you’ll find this novel right up your alley!

I received a review copy from Netgalley and Tachyon Pub; all opinions are my own.

Little List of Reviews #5Title: Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda, Rus Wooton
Series: Monstress #1
Published by Image Comics
Published: July 19th 2016
Genres: Graphic Novel
Pages: 202
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

The illustrations in this are amazing and worth it just to peruse it for that, but I found the story incredibly complex and a little unforgiving to casual reading. Not every graphic novel needs to have the ability to just pick up and go, but this is something that will require rereading (either after a first read or while reading it [the latter of which is irritating to me because I really don’t like having to backtrack through a short-form story to find clarity]), so maybe it’s ultimately not the thing for me? The story did become clearer about halfway through once the pieces came together, and I think I’ll read the next ones, but it’s not on the priority list for me at the moment.

Little List of Reviews #5Title: Welcome to the Universe: An Astrophysical Tour by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A Strauss, J. Richard Gott III
Published by Princeton University Press
Published: September 29th 2016
Genres: Science
Pages: 472
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
Goodreads

Some of this stuff went way over my head, but it was interesting! And definitely better read in sections as each chapter is essentially a lecture! I liked the structure of it, though. Each chapter built on the one before it, and while it was challenging at times to understand the concepts, I feel like each of the three author’s thoroughly explained the concepts and their relativity (heh) to other concepts in the knowledge we have of our vast universe.

Little List of Reviews #4

This round of Little List of Reviews is all about children’s books! Two of them are rereads of some of my favorites and one is something I read while on breaks at work because I left my current read at home!

Little List of Reviews #4Title: Matilda by Roald Dahl
Published by Penguin Books Ltd
Published: October 1 1988
Genres: Middle Grade
Pages: 342
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

I’ve read Matilda a lot over the years, and each time I return to it I find something new about it I liked. The last time I read it before this current time, I read it for a course in British children’s literature while studying for my master’s degree, and we looked at how adults try to present the world of children and to try to view adults through children’s eyes even though they are no longer adults. This time I noticed a lot of the criticisms of the world and its preoccupation with the media and with anything but learning and intelligence and how reading makes you more empathetic and socially aware. Matilda is precocious. She’s smart, witty, and loves learning about anything and everything. Her family, on the other hand, is more concerned about the appearance of social status, money, and the television rather than trying to do any good for anyone else in the world. When it was published, televisions were probably in nearly every household, computers were becoming more and more affordable, and the question is, what happens to intelligence and wisdom and using it for good when we have an idiot box or two talking to us constantly, telling us who we are, what we should like, and how we should like it. It’s a timeless read, and we should all try to find our inner Matildas and listen to her now and again.

Little List of Reviews #4Title: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer
Published by Random House
Published: September 1961
Genres: Middle Grade
Pages: 256
Format: Mass Market
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Every time I revisit The Phantom Tollbooth, I’m reminded how often children’s books aren’t always written for children, but for the adults who might be reading aloud to their children. Not much happens in the book in regards to plot or character development, and I think that’s all right. It’s a bit of whimsy to distract you from whatever you’re going through. The book itself is its own phantom tollbooth from reality to a bit of fun. It’s a collection of abstract language, puns and witticisms that seem to make sense once you’re older and have spent time in the world and may actually want a real life phantom tollbooth to escape things and to force you to change your perspective on the world once you’ve returned.

Little List of Reviews #4Title: Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella by Cerrie Burnell, Laura Ellen Anderson
Series: Harper #1
Published by Sky Pony Press
Published: March 7th 2017
Genres: Middle Grade
Pages: 128
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
Goodreads

I read this on my breaks at work one day because I was so drawn in by the over because Harper, the main character, has a cat companion and is given a magical umbrella. One day, Harper discovers that all of the cats in the city goes missing, and she decides that she’s going to find out why. With the help of her friends and her magic umbrella, Harper discovers a Midnight Orchestra with every kind of cat on different kinds of instruments and must rescue them from the strange, slightly scary conductor. It was a lot of fun to read and I kept showing it to my coworkers, mostly because the illustrations of the girl and the cats were so cute!

BOOK REVIEW: The Vegetarian, by Han Kang

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BOOK REVIEW: The Vegetarian, by Han KangTitle: The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Deborah Smith
Published by Hogarth
Published: February 2nd 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 188
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
AmazonBook Depository
Goodreads

Han Kang’s The Vegetarian is a slim novel that is packed with things and ideas that leave the reader thinking long after the book is closed. While I found the characters and the varying points of view interesting, I found that something was missing. Something that feels lost in translation. I think it’s incredibly impressive that Deborah Smith studied Korean for seven years and then translated this book, but I think that her limits definitely showed in her translation. Some parts of it felt clunky, and some parts of it felt skimmed over. What I felt was lacking was a cultural significance as to why the members of Yeong-hye’s family found her vegetarianism so fundamentally shocking.

But most of all, I liked the different insights from other people in Yeong-hye’s life. I thought it showcased the difficulties one woman faced in the midst of a very personal decision. Her decision was never taken seriously, no matter what her reasons were for making it. Yeong-hye lost everything because of her fastidious decision to become a vegetarian, and her decision affected her entire family, essentially cracking the family’s foundation.

It’s a short novel, and it’s certainly worth reading if you enjoy reading prize-winners, international/translated fiction, and fiction about the lives of women in the aftermath of the choices they make.