Tag Archive | post-apocalyptic fiction

Book review: The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2)The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Fifth Season, we were introduced to Essun after the loss of her family. In The Obelisk Gate, we find out what happened to her daughter Nassun after her father killed her little brother and took off for parts unknown.

Essun works diligently to fit in and provide aid and stability to the underground community that has taken her and her traveling companions in. But politics and infighting, within the community and between the Stone Eaters who show up in unexpected places, make her situation precarious. Her Orogene abilities grow ever more powerful; meanwhile, Alabaster is dying, inch by inch.

Nassun travels across the ravaged countryside with her increasingly unstable father, until they reach their destination, a school that supposedly can cure Nassun of her Orogene nature. She, too, shows an increase in her power, much to her father’s dismay, leading to discord and treachery.

Environmental conditions worsen, vicious gangs roam the land; and the Obelisks approach.  And both Nessun and Essun are asked to consider the possibility of the prior existence of something called “the Moon.”

2017SFFReadingChallengeLike the first, illuminating excerpts from this culture’s foundational texts are sprinkled throughout the novel.  I love this method of providing back story and cultural context.

A worthy follow-up to the first volume. I can hardly wait for the third!

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning SF/F Challenge.  Click that badge over there to see what others have been reading.  And once there, consider joining us.

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Book review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The heat is nearly unbearable.

The ice caps melted; the sea-level rose; the fossil-fuel economy collapsed; worldwide famine ensued; and Asia took the lead in science- and technology-driven solutions. Unfortunately, the genetically-engineered crops produced by the agricultural research companies also produced horrific diseases for crops and for people, further decimating global population and food supply. Riots, black markets, corporate espionage, ethnic cleansing…the world of 100 years or so from now is not a pleasant place, unless one is very wealthy.

And in Paolo Bacigalupi’s future vision, one is either very wealthy, or one is not. The only denizens of a nearly non-existent middle class are the calorie-men, like Anderson Lake, the manager of the factory where much of the action of this novel centers.

Anderson Lake prowls the street markets of Bangkok, hoping to find pure, unaltered food — a real canteloupe, an actual vine-grown tomato — that he can purchase and take back to his employer for gene analysis and modification. What he finds, eventually, is Enniko.

Enniko — the Windup Girl of the title — is a “New Person”, the genetically-engineered, vat-grown human-like plaything of a Japanese businessman, who left her behind in Bangkok when he grew tired of her. Her unaccompanied presence in the city is problematic, and she places herself under the protection of unsavory individuals for her personal safety.

Around both of them, Bangkok is aswirl with civil unrest, thievery, police corruption, political assassination attempts, and the outbreak of a new and mysterious disease. There’s so much going on in this story that it’s nearly impossible to synopsize.

It’s not an easy read: lots of characters and subplots to follow; lots of Bacigalupi-created neologisms; lots of untranslated Asian-language words (presumably Thai, but I could be wrong). The word meanings can be gathered from context, but it makes for slow going initially.

Have I mentioned that I loved it? I did. It’s fabulous. Gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, horrifying, and spectacular. Once I finally got into the story, I could hardly bear to put it down.

2017SFFReadingChallengeThis is not a story for everyone. But it was the story for me.

(If you like China Miéville, you will love this. Trust me.)

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning Science Fiction/Fantasy Reading Challenge.  Click that badge on the right to see what other participants have read.

2015 in Review: Books

Same as last year, 2015’s goal was to finish an average of a book a week: 52 weeks, 52 books.  The Goodreads shelf for 2015 shows 69 books in total.  That would be 69 books attempted, because Goodreads only counts the total put on the shelf, not the total I actually finished reading.

Analysis of that 69-book statistic reveals 15 books were abandoned very early on or in mid-read and never finished.  Most of those abandoned books were simply gawd-awful wastes of digital data space, but a couple of them were left unfinished because I stopped caring or never acquired any sympathy for the characters within.  Of the remaining 54 books, none were re-reads.  Goal accomplished.

I managed to write reviews of maybe half of those 54 finished books, which is too bad, because several books that were real standouts don’t have written reviews.  Of the standouts (below), if I wrote a review, I linked to it; otherwise, I linked to the main book page.

The Night CircusI read a number of books about magic this year.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern tells the story of two young people caught in an on-going magical competition, fueled by the ancient rivalry of their fathers. I came away from this book wishing I could visit Le Cirque des Rêves myself, if only to see the Ice Garden and the Cloud Maze.

The MagiciansLev Grossman’s Magicians series caught my attention a few months ago.  (It also caught the attention of the SyFy Network because its series based on these books debuts January 25.)  The series had been on my radar for a while but I finally picked up the first book from the library a couple of months ago. Many readers didn’t care much for Quentin Coldwater, who is somewhat of an anti-hero, and I admit he is a little hard to take. But the story itself is a fascinating twist on the The Magician Kingidea that magic exists, some people are naturally talented at using it, and those people are recruited to attend a special school. The first book, The Magicians, was good. The second book, The Magician King, was better. I’m waiting for the third book, The Magician’s Land, to become available at the library.

In keeping with a magical theme — although “magical realism” might be a better term, if such a term can be The Miniaturistapplied to a period piece —  I thoroughly enjoyed The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. Unfortunately, this was one of those books that didn’t get a review other than its 4-star rating.  From what I remember, it was beautifully written, gloomy and dark and mysterious.  I thought it was lovely.  Plus the cover art was simply stunning.

As Chimney Sweepers Come to DustAlan Bradley’s latest Flavia de Luce novel,  As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, is as delightful as all of its predecessors.  Flavia, now age 12, has been exiled (for so she sees it) from Buckshaw, her beloved if bedraggled home in rural England, to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, an all-girls school in Toronto, Canada, where her mother had been enrolled.  Naturally, a dead body is very nearly the first thing our intrepid heroine encounters, and Flavia is back in her default sleuthing mode, albeit in unfamiliar surroundings and absent her usual sources of information.  Pure fun.

The MartianSpeaking of pure fun, The Martian, even given its serious subject matter of a lone astronaut marooned on Mars and struggling for survival, was something I read with a big grin on my face nearly the whole way through.  Andy Weir wrote a rollicking adventure yarn filled with gee-whiz moments, and created a hero who maintains a can-do attitude if only to ward off depression and despair.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s on my list.

SevenevesOn a more serious note, several of this year’s standout novels dealt with an apocalypse and its aftermath.  The masterpiece was Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, a spectacular hard SF novel that tells the story of mankind’s efforts to save itself when some mysterious force wipes out the moon.  Filled with all the math and science anyone could ever hope for, but still accessible for readers like me whose formal math and science education stopped with high school trig and freshman biology.  This novel ended in a way that leads me to believe a sequel may be forthcoming.  Nothing on the author’s website currently says any such thing, but one can hope, right?

The Water KnifeThe Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi addresses a different apocalypse, one fueled by climate change and inspired by the raging drought currently suffered in the western United States.  In this near future novel, cut-throat corporations feud over water rights with brutal force and no one stands in their way.  Scary as hell.

Station ElevenA more conventional end of the world sets up the events in Station Eleven, but the setting itself is unusual.  After a worldwide plague wipes out most of the population, a traveling theatre troupe roams the Great Lakes area of North America, eking out a living while practicing their art.  But then they run afoul of the leader of a religious commune, and their travels become a race for survival.  Emily St. John Mandel wrote a breathtaking piece of fiction that bounces between the events that led up to the disaster and the post-disaster consequences.  Don’t miss this one.

The Lathe of HeavenUrsula LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven can be seen as post-apocalyptic if one looks through the eyes of its main character, George Orr, who awakens in a new world every day — a world that changes based on the content of his dreams — and he’s the only person who remembers the old.   I don’t know why I haven’t read more LeGuin; this is only the second of her novels that I’ve picked up (the first was The Left Hand of Darkness, read in 2006).  I’m putting the rest of her novels on my library list right now.

Finally, there’s The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, which I reviewed in the blog entry linked in the title. While the slow-moving catastrophe taking place on Earth isn’t the focus of this novel, the background tension it creates for our chief protagonist helps drive his choices.

I read so many excellent books this year that it was difficult to choose the titles to highlight.  Books deserving “honorable mention” follow, and any of them are worth reading:  Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt; The Scar by China Miéville; Life After Life by Kate Atkinson; and How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer.

In other 2015 accomplishments, all of the year’s reading material came from the library or free from Amazon.  I didn’t make a single new book purchase this year (except for a few knitting pattern books and some nutrition books recommended by my doctor: I hereby decree that those doesn’t count).   I did buy a few used books from a used bookstore while on a day trip to an unfamiliar city.  Looking ahead, 52 finished books is once more the goal for 2016, plus I’m adding the goal of writing at least a one-paragraph review of every book I finish within a day or two of finishing and posting that review here on this blog. I’d also like to keep up the pattern of reading from material already owned or acquired from the library.  We’ll see how that goes.

R.I.P. IX — More stuff I’ve read

RIP 9 Peril the First
Today we’re going to discuss the Amazon Kindle freebies read in connection with R.I.P. IX. Amazon freebies are always hit-and-miss as far as quality goes. The books I pulled out of my library of Kindle freebies were no different. Let’s start with Awakening: Children of the After #1.
Awakening: Children of the After #1Siblings Jack, Samantha, and Will emerge from the family security vault six months after their father left them inside and told them not to come out until he returned. Upon reaching the last of their stores of food and water, they decide to take a chance and open the door upon a devastated Chicago. The rest of this short novel follows their trip across town in search of (a) food and water; and (b) the way to Grandma’s house outside the city. While the story is reasonably well-written, it has one fatal flaw: The author decided to switch perspectives continuously between the three children; and reading about the same event three times from three POVs (one of which is that of a 7-year-old boy) is annoying. Given that annoyance, my minor intrigue into the mystery of what happened to the world isn’t sufficient to warrant seeking out the other books in the series. 2 stars (out of 5).

The Bird EaterThe Bird Eater by Ania Ahlborn is good on atmosphere, not so good on character development. 20 years after being orphaned, Aaron returns to his childhood home in Northwest Arkansas to grieve the death of his son and the collapse of his marriage. He moves into his aunt’s old house, itself abandoned for the last 20 years, and starts making repairs, with the idea that he would sell it and be done. Then odd bits of vandalism begin, often accompanied by a quick sighting of a young boy.

As Aaron begins asking questions, trying to find out who this boy is, he learns his old home is considered haunted or possessed or just plain evil by the townsfolk. Naturally, Aaron scoffs at the idea, but when one of his childhood buddies turns out to be an amateur ghost-hunter, he becomes a little more open-minded. Throw in the now-married childhood sweetheart who never got over her crush on Aaron, and the recipe is complete for a Ozark Peyton Place by way of Dark Shadows.

While this book isn’t totally awful, I quickly grew tired of the two-dimensional characters and heavy-handed Portents of Dread that permeate the narrative. And I wasn’t satisfied with the skimpy explanation of the origin of the evil the author eventually provided. It’s almost like she remembered near the end of the book “Oh, yeah, I have to give the reader some kind of closure, don’t I!” Kudos for the pervasive gloom and some genuinely terrifying moments. 2 1/2 stars.

The BarkeepThe Barkeep by William Lashner isn’t exactly your standard-issue thriller. Justin Chase tends bar in one of the city’s more trendy nightspots. It’s more trendy because Justin is behind the bar. He has a following. He also has a father in prison for the murder of his mother; and an older brother who resents him because his testimony was instrumental in the conviction of their father. Then one night a man with the unlikely name of Birdie Grackle walks into the bar and tells Justin he was the one who murdered Justin’s mother. He had been hired to do so. And would Justin like to know who hired him? Enjoyable noir-ish fluff. Bartender psycho-analysis dispensed with pseudo-Zen philosophy and a dry vodka martini, blended with beautiful women, fisticuffs, and mayhem. I liked it. 3 stars.

In the DarkI’ll tell you right up front I didn’t finish In the Dark by Brandon Massey because I didn’t like either of the main characters and the story wasn’t interesting enough to put up with people I didn’t like. Len and Olivia Bowden have finally purchased their dream home: a classic Victorian in an upscale historic Atlanta neighborhood. But they’ve hardly begun to unpack when the home’s former owner knocks on the door, bluntly states the house was stolen from him, and gives them three days to leave or else. He utters some kind of weird chanting and makes odd hand gestures before Len shuts the door on him; and Len thinks: “Voudou? Nah, no such thing.”

Regardless, secure in the knowledge that their purchase of this foreclosure was legal and aboveboard, the Bowdens ignore the old man. After that, I assume bad stuff started happening, but I quit reading at around page 80. Why? Len was wimpy and hid nekkid RIP 9 Portraitpictures of his college girlfriend (who wasn’t Olivia, by the way) in the bottom drawer of his desk. Olivia treated her husband like she thought he was stupid and wouldn’t tell him why she was so afraid when Len described the chanting and gestures made by the old man. This marriage has severe communication and trust issues. And while that might be realistic, in this setting it made for two extremely unlikeable people. So, when I don’t like either of the main characters, and the story isn’t good enough to tolerate unpleasant people, it’s time to bail. And that’s exactly what I did. 1 star.

Want to read more R.I.P. IX progress posts? Click that badge over there to go to a whole list of them!

R.I.P. IX — What I’ve read so far…

RIP 9 Peril the First
Constant readers may recall I committed to “Peril The First”, which means I pledge to read at least four books in the mystery, gothic, horror, dark fantasy, etc. genre between September 1 and October 31. At this point in the challenge, I can safely say, “Been there, done that.” Books read and finished so far in this challenge total 14. I’ve sort of been concentrating on books in a series recently. I’ll give mini-reviews of just a few here. You can click on the book covers to read the full review.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenHollow City

Hollow City was read as part of this challenge. I’m including its predecessor here (but not in my challenge count) because you can’t read one without the other. Picking up immediately where its predecessor left off, Hollow City follows the further adventures of Jacob, Emma, and the rest of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children as they search for a cure for Miss Peregrine’s condition. Their search leads them to one timeloop and another, and ultimately to war-ravaged London during The Blitz, where they encounter more danger, not only from the bombs but from the hollowgasts and wights who have been pursuing them ever since they left Wales. Another cliffhanger ending left me scrambling to find out when the next book will be published. (Late 2015? Waaaaaaaaahhhh!!!! Who does this guy Ransom Riggs think he is? George R. R. Martin?)

The TalismanBlack House

The Talisman was a re-read, mainly because The Black House had been sitting on my bookshelf for several years (and through several moves), glaring at me with baleful eyes. I wouldn’t have felt right responding to that glare and picking it up without refreshing my memory and renewing my acquaintance with young Jack Sawyer and his epic quest through the Territories to find the Talisman and save his mother. As it turns out, a re-read wasn’t strictly necessary, because The Black House isn’t strictly a sequel. One could read it without having read The Talisman, although the story is richer if one has. The Black House catches up with Jack, now in his late 30s, after he left the LAPD and retired to rural Tamarack, Wisconsin. A child murderer has surfaced in this sleepy little village, and local law enforcement requests Jack’s assistance on the case. The murderer (who is revealed to the reader fairly early in the book) isn’t any ordinary human being. He’s a dark and twisted personality straight from the Territories themselves; only Jack’s forgotten almost everything that happened then. This novel has a shaky start, but eventually finds its feet and delivers a solid, satisfying read, and maybe even a happy ending for Jack.

WoolShiftDust

Wool was read before the start of the challenge, so it’s not included in the count. Its sequels, Shift and Dust, were read after the challenge started. These three novels, taken as a whole, constitute one of the most original SF/post-apocalyptic/dystopian scenarios I’ve encountered in a lifetime of reading. To preserve the joy of discovering them for yourselves (and to avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read them), I’ll give you the set-up for Wool only: Several thousand people live underground in a self-sustained silo. No one goes outside because the world is poison. No one knows why or when the world was poisoned; they only know “the gods” did it; and anyone who expresses a wish to know more is granted that wish and sent outside to die. Then Juliette is appointed sheriff; in this position, she becomes privy to certain information previously unknown to her, and she begins to suspect there’s more to the ancient stories than she’s been told. RIP 9 PortraitGood stuff, people. Really. You should read them. By the way, if you’re an Amazon Prime member and have a Kindle, you can borrow them free of charge through the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library program. No, Amazon doesn’t pay me for this plug: I’m just that impressed with the selection in their lending program.

Stay tuned for another blog entry about a few more of the books read for R.I.P. IX, coming soon! And click that badge over there to be taken to a list of many more blog entries about this reading challenge.

Book review: The Road

The Road
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A man and his young son walk the roads and byways of an America covered in ashes in an effort to find food and stay alive.

Gloom gloom gloom inexorable gloom.

The Road is probably a more accurate portrayal of what life would be like in the years immediately following a nuclear holocaust than most post-apocalyptic novels, so kudos to McCarthy for picking up on that. But ye gods, it’s unrelentingly depressing.

No wonder the mother opted out early on.

I was grateful for that infinitesimally small glimmer of hope at the end, though.

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R.I.P. Review SiteThis book was read as part of RIP VIII. Click the badge to the right for links to more book reviews in this challenge.