Tag Archives: sci-fi

Review: What’s Left Of Me

katzhangBook: What’s Left Of Me by Kat Zhang

Series: The Hybrid Chronicles, Book 1

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Sci-Fi

I should not exist. But I do.

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything

I’ve been aware of this book for a long time. It’s eye-catching cover has been a regular on my ‘favourite YA covers’ lists, and I only loved it more when I realised there were two faces hidden in the cover.

(To some readers, this may be obvious. For others, here’s an explaination: there’s the face staring at the camera, and the way that image has been cut makes a silhoutte of a girl on the right, head tilted to stare up at the top-left)

I got the chance to read it after winning a copy from Joanne over at Once Upon a Bookcase. She said it was one of her favourites, and I can definitely see why.

“What’s Left Of Me” feels a lot more like traditional sci-fi (like the works of Phillip K Dick, for example) rather than modern dystopian YAs. It takes a high-concept idea — a world where everyone is born with two souls, and one soul had to die when they hit their teenage years — and takes time to explore it.

The plot isn’t the point here. Sure, it’s still got action, adventure and speedy YA pacing, but that isn’t the aim of the story. It’s an exploration of the concept, and secondly an exploration of the characters. I loved that. It goes against YA genre tropes in a very subtle way, and this makes it one of the most thought-provoking YA sci-fi novels I’ve ever read.

First line: Addie and I were born into the same body, our souls’ ghostly fingers entwined before we gasped out very first breath.

Emma Maree Reviews: Pandemonium

pandemoniumBook: Pandemonium (Delirium #2) by Lauren Oliver

Series: Delirium, Book #2

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Sci Fi/Dystopian/Romance

I’m pushing aside
the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex,
pushing aside thoughts of Hana
and my old school,
push,
push,
push,
like Raven taught me to do.
The old life is dead.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence,
behind a wall of smoke and fame.
 
Lauren Oliver delivers an electrifying follow-up to her acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Delirium. This riveting, brilliant novel crackles with the fire of fierce defiance, forbidden romance, and the sparks of a revolution about to ignite.

I love that title, even though I always feel like it needs an exclamation. Pandemonium! It’s such a great word:

pandemonium [ˌpændɪˈməʊnɪəm]

n

1. wild confusion; uproar
2. a place of uproar and chaos

[coined by Milton to designate the capital of hell in Paradise Lost, from pan- + Greek daimōn demon]
pandemoniac , pandemonic [ˌpændɪˈmɒnɪk] adj

I’ve had a complicated relationship so far with Lauren Oliver. While I loved her debut, “Before I Fall”, and the concept of “Delirium”, the actual book left me flat due to it’s confusing ending.  I also get grumpy about the UK cover redesigns, though “Pandemonium” and upcoming final book “Requiem” have much nicer covers and I’ve actually grown to like them and how they fit in with the “Before I Fall” cover.

Thankfully, “Pandemonium” was full of pleasant surprises. It’s a much tighter-written and ambitious book than “Delirium” was, alternating between the past and the present as Lena adjusts to a hard, scraping-for-survival life in the unregulated Wilds outside the city (‘before’) and sneaks into New York City to tail the son of the president of Deliria-Free America, an organisation that viciously promotes the idea that love is a disease and the only safe humans are those ‘cured’ by a lobotomy-like procedure (‘after’).

Lena is a stronger person, even as she deals with her grief over “Delirium”‘s events realistically, and she’s a much more enjoyable character to follow this time round. Oliver also expands the world laid out in the previous novel, taken it from a sketched-out dystopia into a realistic future society with a lot of moral grey areas.

The scenery descriptions are nicely done, though occasionally repetitive (snow seems to crackle a lot in the Wilds), and the new characters introduced are varied and feel like they have a lot of depth to them. The two story lines also alternated nicely, with very little opportunity for confusion, up until the merging point which felt a bit unclearly defined.

I’m very happy with how “Pandemonium” turned out. While a lot of middle trilogy books can be weak and plotless, “Pandemonium” is miles stronger than “Delirium” and restored my faith in Lauren Oliver’s writing. I’ll be looking forward to reading and reviewing “Requiem” closer to its March release date.

I bought a copy of this novel myself for personal reading, but I’ll note that Hodder & Stoughton have previously provided me with review copies of “Delirium” and “Requiem” in exchange for honest reviews.

Emma Maree Reviews: Insurgent

US Cover

UK Cover

Book: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Series: The Divergent Trilogy, Book 2

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Sci-Fi/Dystopian

One choice can transform you–or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves–and herself–while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable–and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

This review will contain spoilers for Divergent. You can view my original spoiler-free Divergent review here.

Back when I reviewed Divergent I was quite unhappy with the book, and not for the normal reasons — the writing was flawless, and the action was gripping. I kept the review free of a lot of that annoyance, thankfully, but the issue still weighed on me…

It was about Al. Al’s this big, bullied Dauntless trainee from a troubled home who falls for our main girl Tris. Tris is happy being good friends with him, but his romantic feelings make her uncomfortable and she tries to avoid facing them. Then Al messes up and helps some of the more popular guys attack her in the middle of the night. He leaves when he realizes things are getting serious, but not before he’s smashed their friendship to smithereens.

Afterwards, Al tries to apologize. He’s clearly in a bad way, and Tris sees this, but she refuses to forgive him even when he shows that he’s really torn-up and desperate. At this point, I’m seeing all the warning signs and making a face a bit like NoNoNo cat.

Al kills himself. Tris doesn’t react to this with any kind of sympathy, in fact, she gets outright annoyed when they hold a service honoring him. And this angered me. I’m touchy about how mental illnesses and suicide is handled in fiction, and I felt like the book was deliberately taking an anti-suicide viewpoint completely opposed to my own feelings as a reader. It alienated me from Tris, it even made me uneasy about the author and hesitant to pick up the second book.

But I picked up Insurgent, and you know what? It made me feel so much better.

The two big issues I had with Divergent where Tris’ apathy over Al’s suicide and some confusion over the worldbuilding, and Insurgent really digs into both of these. Tris’ realizes she messed up by not forgiving Al when he begged for it, she regrets her actions, and we get to explore some of the deeper, more problematic elements of a world where everyone’s divided by their strengths.

Insurgent really is fantastic: the combat is well-researched, the injuries play out realistically, the politics and strategies are interesting without getting boring, and the main pair Tris and Four have this powerful argument-fueled relationship where they both have to try and balance out each other’s differences. This is the first book in the series where I’ve really, truly liked Tris as a character, and supported her actions, and it was great fun watching the story unfold.

Insurgent was a great example of how to improve on a first novel without slowing down the action. Now I’m really looking forward to the third book in the series.

Emma Maree Reviews: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Book: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Series: Chaos Walking, Book 1

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Sci Fi/Dystopian

Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

If you’re a reader: prepare to have your heartstrings torn apart. This is a fast-paced story, with a vivid dystopian world, plenty of action and dangling plot reveals galore to keep you reading even when you want to give Todd a good kick in the shins.

“You’re tearing me *apart*, Patrick Ness!”

If you’re a writer: prepare to have your heartstrings torn apart, and your writer-brain given a good education. Want to know how to make a difficult-to-like (ignorant, bull-headed prejudiced, angry) character loveable? Want to know how to write a convincing male character, from teenage mood swings to some words being misspelled cuz he ain’t had much of an educayshun? Want to know how to reveal information slowly without frustrating your readers? Step right up and get reading.

There are so many secrets in this story that you want to find out the answer to. You know the secrets are there because Todd is constantly doubting and second-guessing his info and other characters are fighting not to spill the beans.

So Ness keeps feeding you important information, big shocking reveals, while putting obstacles in the way to stop you finding out the whole picture all at once. For instance: in a world where everyone can hear your thoughts, knowing too much is a liability so a lot of info is kept from Todd so that it can’t be overheard.  And a lot of the important  info is in a book Todd carries everywhere, but he’s illiterate and too proud and defensive to admit he can’t read it.

Patrick has an impressively strong grasp of how to withhold information without it feeling forced or unrealistic, and how to ‘drip-feed’ important information to the readers without overwhelming them.

Either way: This is an interesting and dark dystopian that breaks out of the genre box and takes a lot of risks. While these risks (the misspelled narration, the constant dangling of plot info in front of your face) might lose it a few fans, it’ll earn Patrick Ness many, many more.

I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel, though after the emotional throat-punch that was this book I might have to take a break in-between.

Emma Maree Reviews: Divergent

Book: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Series: The Divergent Trilogy

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Sci-Fi/Dystopian

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Divergent is set in a world where Society has divided into five factions in order to avoid war in the future. This is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it concept, and I’m on the side of the room that loves it and the way it slightly echoes Harry Potter houses.

I particularly loved that Dauntless, the daredevil faction designed to protect the city from an unknown enemy, is visibly falling apart and straying from its roots. It did push past believability at times, though. Jumping from a moving train across a drop that actually kills a new initiate on your first day felt unrealistic. Punching each other into unconsciousness to prove you’re brave felt unrealistic. Blatantly ignoring a murder felt unrealistic.

A possibly fatal jump (with a net at a bottom) and computer simulations forcing you to face your fear made sense. They tested initiate’s nerve while still being in a controlled environments for trainees. But if you’re taking actions that are going to kill your new members, your system is broken.

It takes a lot for me to actually stop and say ‘this feels unrealistic’. It means the world-building isn’t holding up enough for me to believe life could be this bad, and it makes it harder to relate to the world and the characters. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, but it frustrated me.

The story is loaded with action and adventure, and the main character Tris is a really awesome, strong young woman whose struggles and conflicting thoughts are clearly shown as she tries to adapt to a very different new life.

The smart ways Tris dealt with people being harsh and cruel towards her was brilliant, and she’s refreshingly different from other YA protagonists in that she can be self-centred, manipulative, and cold. To the point where her viciousness towards a genuinely nice, but troubled character made me want to put down the book.

But on the flip side, there were so many things I loved. The book is very ‘clean’ – it’s hugely violent, and filled with action and romantic tension, but there’s no swearing or sex. I think this might be due to the author’s religion, hinted to be Christian in the acknowledgement, but the book has only minimal subtext and I really like how well the book managed to stay within the lines.

The romance is sweet and slow-moving, with no love triangle in sight, and the plot had more than enough twists and turns to keep me on the edge of my seat.

Despite all the conflicting feelings I had about the story, I was hooked from start to finish. I love the action, the adventure, and the world enough that I can look past my issues. It’s far too easy to overthink a story when you get that wrapped up in it, I think.

I’d recommend this book to any fans of YA dystopian fiction who like the concept of the world being split into factions, and who enjoy action-packed plots like The Hunger Games and City of Bones. I’m looking forward to picking up the second book in this trilogy, Insurgent, which comes out this year.

Discworld with a Sci-Fi Twist in Doctor Who, “The Beast Below”

This is the UK, a flat space colony which sits on the back of a giant star whale floating through space.

All I’m saying it, if they ever go back here the Doctor better be wearing a hat saying he’s a Wizzard.

Not much to be said about the episode that hasn’t been already said on Twitter – I thought the episode was very unsubtle in it’s points and subtext, but the messages about political choice were fun nonetheless – especially “Every five years, you choose to forget.”

Our Inverness girl Amy was lovely as the assistant, she really starred in this episode and currently has a good relationship going on with the Doctor that’s just childishly innocent enough to nod back to how they met.

It was also great seeing Matt’s take on the Doctor when his personality becomes less human and more Timelord. When the Doctor distances himself from humans is always some of my favorite parts, whether he’s talking about how powerful he is, his past, what all he’s done in his time, and even when he’s simply giving the aliens a point of view. It’s these moments that give the Doctor his flair as a unique character – he isn’t human, and if he’s always acting like one he loses a lot of what makes him the Doctor. In the last two episodes particularly he seems to be having trouble keeping his usual level of respect towards humans, though after this episode that will probably slacken off a bit.

Personally, though, I think Matt needs a bit more practice at conveying emotional intensity. When he spoke about what he was going to have to do to this episodes alien, the dialogue was perfect but the delivery fell a little flat. I think it’s because I’m used to Nine and Ten, who could suddenly switch to serious dialogue with some big clues in their body language and tone.

Liz 10 was a fantastic character for the first half of the episode, but she lost her brilliance quickly as soon as they got into the tower. I was half-hoping the mask would mean she was half-Smiler and the mystery as to what was going on with them would deepen, but it was glossed over instead. It was fun while it lasted.

This episode is a lot more enjoyable after the Discworld connection was made, though, so thanks to Hannah for pointing it out. You can check out her blog over here.

The next episode is the one I’m really excited about though, despite it’s weird and wonderful concept. Stereotypically British Daleks spouting lines that were tailor-made for me to love. I’ll be counting the minutes. I hope one of them has a top-hat and monocle, c’mon Moffat!