Dawn by Octavia Butler

dawn

Rating: 4

Warning: this review contains spoilers! The other characters withhold a lot of information from the main character, so discussing the themes of this book is really difficult to do without spoiling it. I’m just not going to bother here, and assume you’ve either read the book or don’t care about spoilers.

Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series establishes its setting in the first book, Dawn. The book takes place after an apocalyptic war that resulted in nuclear winter. Lillith, a young black woman, wakes up not knowing where she is. Soon she finds out that she is on a living spaceship that is inhabited by aliens called Oankali. The Oankali are covered with tentacles with sensory organs on them. At first, Lillith is too horrified to get anywhere close to the Oankali and tries to hide, but it makes her look at it, and little by little, she becomes used to their appearance. Butler does an excellent job of making the aliens feel really alien, and gives readers a good sense of the Oankali’s otherness. Continue reading

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

sirensI don’t know how to describe this book other than to say that it’s very, uh… Vonnegut-y. If you’ve read Slaughterhouse 5 or Cat’s Cradle or ”Harrison Bergeron”, you’re familiar with Kurt Vonnegut’s unique combination of satire, pacifism, and accidental time travel. The Sirens of Titan, one of his earliest novels, features the seeds of ideas that become more fleshed out in Slaughterhouse 5 and “Harrison Bergeron”.

The beginning of the tale is a little slow, but Vonnegut does a great job of increasing the stakes and upping the danger as the book progresses. Sirens of Titan doesn’t really have a central character; it dips into the heads of each of various characters, but the narrative voice takes a cosmic view of events. I think this is a good choice for the subject matter, for reasons you’ll see later. Continue reading

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

allthebirds

Rating: ☆☆

January 2016

 

I’ve been following Charlie Jane Anders’ career for a couple of years now, and so I was super excited when I heard that she released a science fiction/fantasy novel. She was a writer and editor at i09, a science, science fiction, and pop culture news blog. Charlie Jane Anders is also the host of Writers with Drinks, a cross-genre reading series which you should definitely go to at least once if you like science fiction or literature and live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before All the Birds she published two short stories for Tor, a coming-of-age novel about a choir boy, and a humorous guide to casual crossdressing for men and transwomen (The Lazy Crossdresser).

Since i09 and Writers with Drinks are both crossgenre mashups, it’s not surprising that All the Birds in the Sky follows suit, sitting directly on the line between science fiction and fantasy and refusing to be pushed to either side. The structure of the story weaves the two threads of magic and technology together as well as is probably possible (the plot does have a couple of holes, I’ll get into those later). It’s about a girl named Patricia who’s a witch and a boy named Laurence who is a computer wizard. The story starts with the main characters in middle school, skips a few years, and then picks up their story again when they are young adults living and working in San Francisco. Continue reading

Anything You Can Do…

randall-garrettRating: ✮✮

Today I have an old one for you. Anything You Can Do… by Randall Garrett was written in 1962 and typifies science fiction of that era. It has telepathy, an alien stranded on Earth, a technologically-enhanced superman (we can rebuild him… make him better… stronger… faster…), and an emphasis on psychology as well as hard science. It’s technically in the New Wave era but it also features a couple of neat technological ideas, like a Golden Age scifi story.

The plot: an alien named the Nipe falls to Earth and the government “allows” it to terrorize the Earth for ten years while they build a superman strong enough to capture it alive. They could have simply blown the alien up but they didn’t want to waste the knowledge it might bring mankind. At this point on Earth, we have colonized the asteroid belt and centralized the world government on the ruins of New York, which had been nuked by a “sun bomb”. Chapters of the Nipe’s actions are braided with chapters about the superman, his training, and his thoughts about himself and his duty. Continue reading

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

2312 book coverBook Title: 2312

Author: Kim Stanley Robinson

Year Published: 2012

Publisher: Hachette (Orbit imprint)

Awards: Nebula

Pagecount: 657

Rating: 3/5

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the biggest names in science fiction. He’s written three trilogies (the Three Californias trilogy, the Mars trilogy, and the Science in the Capital series) and nine stand-alone novels. I first encountered his work with the Mars series, although I’ve only read the first one and all I can remember from that one is the zero-gravity sex scene… so I may not be the best person to review this book but I’m going to press on anyway. 2312, like KSR’s Mars novels, is wrapped up so much in the setting that plot plays second (or maybe third) fiddle. The thing I really appreciate about 2312 is that it has a really strong, realistic love story that serves as an anchor for the events of the story. It’s easier to care about the beautifully crafted futuristic settings when we feel a connection with the person describing them.

On first glance, Swan Er Hong is your typical hipster/burner, but as I read I kept getting the sense that there was something she was keeping hidden. Continue reading