Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’

It took me a few weeks to come to terms with this novel, but I finally did and this is what I decided: despite the hype about Station Eleven, or perhaps because of the hype, the book turned out to be a huge disappointment for me.

About :

It starts off brilliantly with an actor’s onstage death that, while seeming both tragic and horrible to the cast and fans, also feels right—this is an elderly actor, surrounded by his favorite people, doing his favorite thing amidst the glorious fanfare of playing King Lear, dying a completely natural death. Sad, but, in a sense, also normal and even enviable. The way a person wants to die. (This scene made me want to go pick up King Lear, immediately, which is a bonus. I love being inspired to read classics by reading modern books.)

Then, as the acting cast meets afterwards in a bar to take in the death of their lead, we get this line:

Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on a road out of the city.”

Whoa, what!? This compelling line introduces the coming apocalypse—which, we soon learn, will be in the form of an epidemic that causes collapse of human civilization. The actor’s death is indeed a happy mercy in comparison. The perfect prose sets up the drama of this revelation perfectly.

Unfortunately, the prose is the only thing I enjoyed about the rest of the book. My interest died fairly soon after that amazing intro, after which we find ourselves following a cast of narrators connected in distant and basically meaningless ways. The revelations about those character connections are supposed to somehow give the novel structure, but the strategy doesn’t really work. It just reads like a bunch of character sketches set against a relatively static “post-apocalyptic” background. We see the fall of humanity through the eyes of these characters, which is sort of interesting, but…

Thoughts :

For me, two problems killed the character-driven premise of “examining the individual and collective human response to apocalypse.”

First of all, the cast is boring, completely average and largely unchanging. These are normal people who make huge mistakes, but never redeem themselves. The two characters who do change only do so in flashbacks: the actor, imo the least sympathetic character, and the vaguely-Protestant-sounding cult leader. Although Mandel attempts to give the story structure by following the arcs of the actor and the cult leader, both are snoozeworthy. I’ve read so much more interesting and illuminating portrayals of religious nutsos (see Hazel Motes in Wiseblood or St. John Rivers in Jane Eyre or even Kelsier in Mistborn!), so this kind of religious stereotype completely bores me.

Second, Mandel wrote Station Eleven almost entirely from the viewpoint of non-religious peoples of European descent. A little more diversity would have gone a long way toward creating a more compelling cast. The lack of sane religious people in particular seems like an odd disparity in a post-apocalyptic population. So, in regards to religious people, either: (1) ALL of them are nuts; (2) ALL the sane ones died already; or (3) ALL the sane ones were raptured!

‘What about the post-apocalyptic setting?’ you may be wondering. Well…it’s largely static, like the characters, unfortunately. [Highlight to view SPOILER: After the initial fall, we just see everything collapse again and again through the eyes of the cast, and that’s where it stays. Nothing else happens, no clues about the future. Maybe that’s what Mandel is saying: the future remains static forever. I guess you could interpret it that way, but it’s boring and relatively hopeless and in conjunction with everything else I didn’t like about this story? MEH. ]

To end on a high point: several members of the cast belong to a troupe of Shakespearean actors traveling through the wasteland, and Mandel uses them to share the redeeming power of story. I enjoyed that theme, even if it is apparently the exclusive source of meaning and hope characters find in the world of this novel (which is just silly. I love my books, but I don’t base my identity and hope in them, and I certainly wouldn’t do so in the case of an apocalypse. That, in addition to the apparent Theophobia??, made it difficult for me to find myself anywhere in this novel). Still, imaginary bonus points for the lit love.

Overall :

Dull, dull, dull. I’ve read literary fiction that accomplishes all of this with far greater success, so I really don’t understand why people loved this one. There’s just such better stuff out there. For a much more compelling character-driven and literary post-apocalyptic novel, I would recommend Arslan by M. J. Engh. Happily, I just reviewed it two days ago and it’s fresh enough that I’ll guarantee a much more thoughtful reading experience than Station Eleven can provide. Still not much plot, but the characters are way more interesting PLUS they’re unreliable narrators, which, I mean, bonus points, right?

So I gave Station Eleven 1 star for the prose, 1 star for the terrific intro and a half a star for a half-way decent cast. But I rounded down because I was so disappointed.

2.5/5 STARS

Recommended To:

If you super-love post-apocalyptic fiction, you might still enjoy Station Eleven, especially since it’s so mainstream and popular now. It will likely come up in conversations about literary sci-fi, and sometimes it’s just fun to take part in a popular sci-fi fandom. My library is giving away free copies of it this year for the Big Read, which is really a big deal for a science fiction novel!

Station Eleven is adult post-apocalyptic science fiction authored by Emily St. John Mandel and published September 9th 2014 by Knopf. Hardcover, 336 pages. The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors.

Humanity was a plague. Locustlike, we ripped holes in the world’s fabric.

About :

Wow. What to say about this book. Well, it’s all about Arslan, a young Asian general from the European-created state of Turkistan, who takes over the world’s military powers without firing a single shot. His methods and reasons remain a mystery from most of the world, but he gradually reveals his vision to two men in small town Illinois, where the modern conqueror makes his capital.

Arslan was just republished by Open Road Integrated Media last month, and that’s how I heard of it, but it was originally published in 1976 to much critical acclaim. Being a fan of Dystopias and occasionally tempted by SF classics of the 70s-80s, I couldn’t resist a classic of the subgenre coming in at only 288 pages. I’m glad I got the chance to read it.

Thoughts :

Two very different, unreliable and extremely well-realized characters narrate the story, telling us details of humanity’s deterioration and of Arslan, the man causing said deterioration. Franklin Bond is a Christian conservative and school principle in the small, rural town where Arslan appears, and he cares very much for all under his responsibility. Therefore, he risks the wrath of the town by enforcing the hated general’s every rule, having quickly determined that a resistance would only survive its initial stages if he kept it a secret from Arslan; he’s all action and no talk. He gets most of the page time, since he helps run everything from food distribution, to the resistance, to the town government itself.

The other narrator, Hunt, is one of Franklin Bond’s sixth graders and only twelve years old when Arslan takes him as a sex slave. Over the course of the book, Hunt grows in and out of physical captivity and learns to play both sides of the conflict over Arslan, whichever offers him the best chance of survival. Though clearly a victim, Hunt’s pretentiousness and love of literature—his ability, as he grows, to express his anguish through poetry, and his pride, which prevents him from addressing it in any other way—make him a strong, complex narrator of indeterminate sexuality whose reactions defy prediction. His quotes from Milton express his situation particularly well:

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

Hunt’s perspective is just…I had to take breaks from reading it. Anguished is probably the best word for it. Cynical, yes, but also constantly flirting with death of all kinds. It’s awful and beautiful. Hunt’s perspective gets all the psychological depth of Franklin’s perspective plus the benefit of literary allusion and a poetic lens. I don’t normally swear, but literally the only word that can properly express Hunt’s perspective is “mind-effery” lol But it is through Hunt’s perspective that we get the clearest and most in-depth ruminations about Arslan—since Hunt is unable to form a coherent picture of himself, he puts all his energy into defining Arslan to himself and to readers in observations such as the one below:

Confronted unignorably with a phrase he was unsure of, [Arslan] would turn it back, with a straight face, in question, threat, or provocation, to elicit more data. I thought, too, that one reason for his inscrutable looks, his reluctance to show surprise or annoyance or enthusiasm, was a simple fear of betraying misunderstanding by an inappropriate reaction.”

I can’t share anything about Arslan without spoiling the plot, since it relies very much on revelations about his purpose and actions. Although the details of his conquest ultimately feel inadequate and somewhat disappointing, even those aren’t really the focus of this novel—Arslan himself is. And his plan for the world is what makes the novel so interesting. [Highlight to view SPOILERS: Arslan’s concerns seem largely environmental. “To save the world from mankind.” “But man, man is too strong. He fouls and exhausts too rapidly, and nothing checks him for long. There is only one end for such a species: extinction.” ].

But since we can’t get into those details, let’s talk instead about the fascinating and disturbing silence of the women portrayed in Arslan. In the beginning, women are dolls.

I made Luella stay inside, but I stood out on the front steps to watch…I wasn’t about to crawl into a hole.”

I don’t think Franklin Bond meant to make this sound like Luella was crawling into a hole—rather, he was trying to show defiance against the army invading his town. Still, why “make” her stay inside? The general treatment of women is degrading in Arslan, even before the “Dystopian” part happens. Halfway through the book, women become a tool of the enemy (through no fault of their own) or they have simply died of housework.

I constantly wondered about the lack of female presence and agency in Arslan, as I read. Thus it shocked me to find out that M. J. Engh is a woman. BECAUSE ONLY MEN CAN BE SEXIST, RIGHT?! lol. Apparently I’m just sexist like that 😂 Anyway, after further consideration, I found more than meets the eye in the “silence of the women.” It has been argued—successfully, I think—that Engh may have been commenting on the male view of gender roles during the 1970s. It’s hard to say for sure, since this was actually published in the 70s, and not in retrospect, but my personal opinion is that the female silence itself tells of “her” experience. Perhaps their conspicuous silence suggests, “it’s obviously all drudgery and degradation, so much so that nobody was listening to us.” Or perhaps Engh was just trying to appeal to the male reader of the 1970s-80s. That’s also a possibility. At the very least, complete immersion in the unreliable male perspectives undeniably provides food for thought.

Overall :

Full of stunning insights into humanity—or at least into the male half of it, lol. Although the plot falls short in terms of feasibility, the unreliable and fascinating character narratives by far make up for that. I think I would need to read Arslan several more times before I came away with a clear, full picture of Engh’s intent. And Engh’s riveting prose, full to the brim with poetic and historical allusions, gives Arslan a depth that a lesser writer could never have accomplished.

Characters: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Worldbuilding: 3/5
Plot: 2/5

3.75/5 Stars

Arslan is adult Dystopian fiction authored by M.J. Engh and originally published in 1976. Digitally republished on 18 Apr 18, 2017 by Open Road Integrated Media.

Huge thanks to M. J. Engh, Open Road Integrated Media and Netgalley for this free eARC. The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors.

Mr. Utterson is the respectable sort of gentlemen lawyer who reserves judgement on his friends.

‘I incline to Cain’s heresy,’ he used to say quaintly. ‘I let my brother go to the devil in his own way.’”

But when his mild-mannered friend-about-town, the beloved Dr. Jekyll, seems to have fallen under an evil man’s influence—one Mr. Edward Hyde—even the reserved lawyer Utterson feels the need to check in. But though Dr. Jekyll assures everyone that all is well with him and Hyde, the lawyer watches his friend’s deterioration and increasing secrecy with grave concern…The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is classic adult horror authored by Robert Louis Stevenson and originally published in 1886.

Everyone probably knows the basic happenings of this famous short story, but my post will take the form more of “discussion” and less of a “review,” so if you want to avoid spoilers about the specifics, you might want to skip the rest. My statute of limitations on spoilers ended at “one century old” Lol You could also go read the story right now (it’s short and free on Kindle!) and come back when you’re finished. Otherwise, read on, reader, at your own peril *evil cackle*

Thoughts (Spoilers Ahead):

We read the “strange case” through the eyes of Mr. Utterson. Slowly, occasionally ponderously, but always in that charming 19th century way, he tells us of a brutal murder committed by Mr. Hyde, who then disappears without a trace. He describes Dr. Jekyll’s subsequent deteriorations and disappearance. And, finally, through heavy use of the “confessional missive” trope so popular during this time, he learns—and we learn—the details of Dr. Jekyll’s demise.

In fact, Dr. Jekyll’s own letter tells the full story. He describes his life as,

nine-tenths a life of effort, virtue and self-control.”

But that remaining 1/10th of “badness” manifests as Mr. Edward Hyde, a degenerate through whom Dr. Jekyll allows his baser instincts to rule and be separate from his “good” self. I say “allows” because he must take a potion to induce his transformation into Hyde…at least, in the beginning. But when he transforms, Mr. Hyde runs wild, spending himself in moral filth. Jekyll feels no fear or disgust in looking at his baser nature, as others do. For,

This, too, was myself.”

At least, he feels that way…in the beginning.

As time wears on and Jekyll finds himself relaxing into and enjoying the freedom of Hyde’s reign, he suddenly begins changing into Hyde—without taking the potion.

Uh oh.

Under this strain of continually impending doom and by the sleeplessness…I became, in my own person, a creature eaten up and emptied by fever, languidly weak both in body and mind, and solely occupied by one thought: the horror of my other self.”

That line contains all the real horror of the situation, to me. He knows what’s coming, and he dreads it, but he can’t stop it anymore. His repeated choice to transform has finally become his chosen status quo. A habit.

Stevenson’s tale is more than a moralistic tale, of course. It’s a psychological discussion about the struggles inherent in human nature. It might even be a metaphor for something specific beyond a “habit of being,” such as a cocaine/opium/laudanum habit (Jekyll takes a potion to become his “bad self,” after all) or some other vice. I’m not familiar enough with Stevenson’s life to know what he might be talking about lol

And of course it’s a horror story. I think the horror comes from the knowledge that Dr. Jekyll’s choice belongs to all of us: this is every man’s and every woman’s choice. We can all choose to free our baser instincts when we think we can get away with it and avoid besmirching our “good” selves. But soon, we lose the choice—soon it comes alive and chooses for us.

*shiver* 

Anyway, that’s what I thought. Have you read this one or seen one of the many tv shows, graphic novels or other media based on it? What do you think it’s about?

CollapsingEmpire-US-UK

The Collapsing Empire is the first in a new space opera series from well-known sci-fi genius John Scalzi, and I’m happy to say that it was a totally fun “first Scalzi” for me!

Thoughts :

By the time I got to sit down with The Collapsing Empire, I’d read enough reviews to understand the main points of the worldbuilding—but even if I hadn’t, Scalzi manages a certain breezy, entertaining way of explaining the impossible. He thunks readers into the middle of a mutiny and interrupts it with the even more drastic problem that the rest of the universe will have to face during the novel: the collapse of the only known method of space travel. The mutinous crew has to deal with the issue right then, or die.

Blamo! Sufficient explanation for the next several chapters without any painful info dumps.

That easy understanding is important, since the really absorbing puzzle of the book turns out to be tracking character agendas that will involve all this delicious worldbuilding.

Here’s a quick summary of said worldbuilding:

Space-age humanity has discovered a unique means of travel across huge stretches of the universe: the Flow. The Flow is an extra-dimensional field that transports spacecraft across distances that would otherwise be impossible, without fast-than-light space travel; naturally, humanity took advantage, using the Flow to build up an empire known as “The Interdependency”—interdependent because each settlement along the flow relies on each other’s resources to survive. But what happens to the Interdependency when the Flow begins to collapse, isolating each individual and dependent member of the body from each other?

That’s the question Scalzi’s cast is determined to answer. Several of the power players aim to profit from the misfortune and others just want to save lives. The major players all come from rich noble houses, overseen by a powerful “emperox.” (Yes, with the rise of the Interdependency came also the return of a caste system, and we learn later about its origins. It’s pretty disturbing. [Highlight to view SPOILER: Monopolies corrupted the government who anesthetized the common man with bunk religion and accepted the proceeds of $ and power without a blink. These elements seem a common enough in sci-fi backstories, which is understandable. Big companies, big government and organized religion all hold a lot of control over the common man, so when they get in bed, bad things happen…]) We meet the faces of three of these houses: the emperox of the universe from the most powerful House of Wu; the shipping queen of the entrepreneurial House of Lagos; and the three power-grabbing siblings of competitive House of Nohamapetan.

We enter the story just prior to the death of the current emperox—and just following the death of that emperox’s heir. This unfortunate double-dip of death leaves Cardenia, the emperox’s unprepared second child, in charge of the universe. Cardenia’s scenes largely consist of info dumps which, though humorous and easily digestible, usually left me eager to get back to the other two houses.

In contrast, Lady Kiva Lagos kept me in fits of mirth throughout the book; this mercantile heroine always manages to swing a profit despite House Nohamapetan’s threats to her product. I thoroughly enjoyed her clever machinations during this first power drama of the Flow’s collapse.

House Nohamapetan’s representatives—three siblings of differing personalities, but one overarching goal of enriching and empowering their house—prove no less enterprising. I almost found myself respecting these proactive backstabbers. Almost. There’s so competent, they even keep lady Kiva on her toes.

All of the female characters, excepting slightly the emperox, do seem to have shades of the exact same personality, which is slightly uninteresting. (One character quirk that most reviewers mention is Lady Kiva’s singular and somewhat repetitive talent for transposing the f-bomb to every purpose. Complimenting someone by saying “She’s smart as ****” or telling her mother “I ****ing love you” are some of the less clever examples of said habit Lol.) But every character has strong motivations that keep things moving along quite nicely, and their motivations clearly mark them out from one another.

Overall :

I really enjoyed The Collapsing Empire. Despite missing the character connections that would make it more meaningful to a character-driven reader like me, I love the political games and the unique setting and I’m totally game for book II. I can’t wait to see how the conflict plays out!

Recommended To :

Although I’m less familiar with sci-fi as some reviewers, I can confidently say that The Collapsing Empire is a rare example of extremely fast-paced and entertaining sci-fi, so I highly recommend it to readers looking for that sort of ride.

 

Characters: 2.5/5
Plot: 4.5/5
Setting: 4.5/5
Writing: 4/5

****4/5 STARS

The Collapsing Empire is adult sci-fi authored by John Scalzi and published March 21st 2017 by Tor Books. 336 pages. The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors.

Extracted.jpg

“The first trip fifty years into the future showed a society and species advancing as it should. The second trip, to the same point and location, revealed a post-apocalyptic wasteland.”

About :

A young scientist creates a time machine and discovers that the word ends in 2111. He needs a hero—quickly. In a matter of weeks, three heroes are selected and “extracted” from their own times to save the world:

Safa Patel, a police officer stationed at Downing Street to protect the prime minister; “Mad Harry” Madden, special ops in WWI—before such a thing as “special ops” even existed; and Ben Ryder, an untrained civilian who has singlehandedly stopped two separate group attacks on innocents. And the training begins. Extracted is adult science fiction authored by R. R. Haywood and published March 1st 2017 by 47North.

Thoughts :

Haywood’s trilogy smashes together the sub-genres of time travel and post-apocalyptic fiction. That sounded too irresistible to pass up!

The first three chapters of book I, Extracted, introduce the three heroes by taking us through each one’s final, normal day—followed by his or her extraction. Visceral details enhance these “mini episodes” in strangely addictive and slightly uncomfortable ways: we enter the story in the midst of a fight between Ben Ryder and his fiancée, who are arguing about sex. It’s a dash of cold water right off the bat when Ben discovers that his fiancée has been cheating on him.

But Safa, one of the other heroes, suffers much worse than that in her current day-to-day life, and the crude, sometimes repetitive sexual details made her first chapter very difficult to read.

This in-your-face, very present and very character-driven style of writing brings a whole new level of intensity to the emotionally charged scenes of these first chapters (and to every emotional scene throughout the book), and although I cringed a lot, I sped through them. Some humor diffuses the tension, at times, although it occasionally feels forced and becomes wearyingly repetitive. (The descriptions in this ARC as a whole do get quite repetitive—some of that has hopefully been edited out of the finished copy.) This experience basically characterizes the whole book.

As I continued to read past these first three chapters, the plot never seemed to pick up and I soon realized that although the synopsis promises a world-saving mission, this first installment focuses entirely on characterization and team-building. It might be called a “training” book. “Extracted” is a preliminary, as if the publishers ripped apart one really big book to publish it in thirds. After the extractions, the heroes spend the rest of the book adapting to their new lifestyles and training to save the world. The characters refuse to accept the concept of time travel until 46%, and even then they don’t get started training right away. The specific nature of the training centers largely around helping Ben, the only untrained civilian among the three heroes, overcome the psychological trauma of the situation.

Overall :

I enjoyed the book, despite its problems. Extracted is a compelling, crude, and strongly character-driven “episode” of a new sci-fi time travel trilogy. It reads like a speed demon! Although I wouldn’t call the book “boring” (I definitely came to care about the characters), I will say I was disappointed that we didn’t get any of the promised world-saving action, yet. If the author steps up his pacing and cuts out the filler in book two, I think his style and killer premise have a lot of potential. I might wait for the reviews to come out before reading it.

Recommended To :

Anyone looking for a sci-fi time travel “training” book with strong characters. I haven’t gotten the chance to read Chuck Wendig yet, but from his blog, I gather that he writes using the same kind of searing, in-your-face style as this author, R. R. Haywood; that’s what this book reminded me of, although I think Wendig’s humor succeeds more often that Haywood’s.

Plot: 2.5/5
Characters: 4/5
Worldbuilding: 3/5
Writing: 3/5

***3/5 STARS

Note About Misogyny :

When I was writing this review, I noticed that a couple of reviewers are using phrases like “casual misogyny” to describe certain elements of the book and complaining that it only leaves two options for women: (1) Heroine! and (2) Slut! I’m not highly attuned to what might be considered sexist, but I personally didn’t get that impression. It’s a small cast with a tight focus on Ben and Safa, so that subject didn’t seem to fall within the reference of the book; I’m personally not bothered that Haywood doesn’t spell out all of the options for women. His portrayal of Safa did feel slightly “off” to me, but I could’t quite put my finger on why, so I just decided to roll with it and enjoy the story.

illumniae

About :

What could be worse for a teenager than breaking up with her year-long boyfriend?

Well, lots of things, as Kady Grant soon discovers. When a major mining corporation attacks her sort-of-illegal mining settlement on the tiny planet of Kerenza, her breakup with Ezra is demoted to the second-worst thing that’s ever happened to her.

And they happen on the same day. Of course they do.

But even the Kerenza refugees who escape the attack remain in grave danger—a warship pursues the refugees through space, and as their ship breaks down, everything that can go wrong absolutely does. Worse yet, Kady, Ezra and the rest of the refugees must pry information out of those in charge, who would prefer to avoid panic by avoiding disclosure.

How can anyone onboard help if they’re left in the dark? Illuminae is YA sci-fi written by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman and published October 20th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers. Audie Award for Multi-Voiced Performance (2016), Aurealis Award Nominee for Best Science Fiction Novel (2015), The Inky Awards Nominee for Gold Inky (2016), Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA) (2015), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction (2015)

Thoughts :

In a cool sci-fi twist on the epistolary novel, the authors wrote Illuminae in a series of IM logs, medical reports and other “hacked documents.” It looks brilliant in hard copy. Still, I hesitated to pick it up—I don’t get the chance to read much YA in hard copy, these days.

But when I heard good things about the audiobook, I decided to give it a shot.

“Audiobook?” you may wonder. “How could they convert this clever and unusual epistolary format into an audiobook?”

With lots and looooots of talented voice actors and sound effects. The “translation” from text to audio is well-planned and executed. This is one impressive audiobook, folks.

As far as the actual story, readers will find a lot to like there, also. The “voices” of our two main protagonists—the rebellious teens Kady and Ezra—are completely unique. I don’t know if Kaufman and Kristoff wrote the two perspectives separately or what, but Kady comes off as an extremely brainy, competent and ambitious hacker while Ezra embodies a soulful, handsome and foul-mouthed jock who flies starship missions after being drafted into the onboard military. Two such different and convincing voices rarely appear in the same book.

That’s particularly important in this book, where the voices basically carry the long setup of the book’s first half. The main focus revolves around Kady and Ezra’s love life as several different potential plot problems mount around them. The setup of the first half feels a little like the authors are throwing in tons of tropes to hold our attention, such as [Highlight to view SPOILER: a mutating disease and a warship “timebomb”]; but when the real story starts about halfway through, it grabbed me immediately.

I lovelovelove the twist [Highlight to view SPOILER: when Aiden releases the infected from Bay 4, OH MAN! That got my attention, haha]. Older readers of sci-fi will have read the trope before, but it will be new to a lot of young adults and anyone new to sci-fi and I can honestly say I didn’t see it coming. I wish I could talk about it more because it’s probably my favorite thing about the book!

But before I close this review, I’ll leave you with my favorite quote, an offering from the romantic Ezra:

You deserve every star in the galaxy laid out at your feet and a thousand diamonds in your hair. You deserve someone who’ll run with you as far and as fast as you want to. Holding your hand, not holding you back.”

Overall :

Ultimately, the sci-fi epistolary format is the most unique thing about Illuminae. Other than that, I think it’s a fun sci-fi, if a little overlong. A good contribution to the YA genre. I’m hoping for more history and cool techy inventions in book II, Gemina.

Characters: 4/5 Stars
Plot: 3/5 Stars
Writing: 4/5 Stars
Worldbuilding: 4/5 Stars
Audio: 5/5 Stars

****4/5 STARS

Recommended To :

Anyone new to sci-fi and any fans of YA in general. If you enjoy Star Wars, you might enjoy this. Oh, and if you like audios, the novelty of such a well-orchestrated audio might make it worth trying!

The past becomes a continuous future, unless you break the Change…No further analysis!

About :

Arienrhod, the Snow Queen, rules over the planet of Tiamat. She won the right to rule during Tiamat’s 150 year winter cycle, and she stays young and immortal on the blood of the dolphin-like mer. No one understands the immortality, but clues point to remnants of the ancient “Old Empire”…

Unable to explain the mystery, Arienrhod embraces eternal life and has decided that her own rule really should extend beyond the planet’s winter cycle and further, into the summer years. Several of her potential plans to that end appear to be bearing fruit.

If only that troublesome police chief, Jerusha, would stay out of her way. If only Arienrhod’s clone, Moon Dawntreader Summer—a Summer native, raised to understand and eventually manipulate the naiveté of Tiamat’s technologically-backward Summer natives—would heed the Winter queen’s call to the great royal city of Carbuncle. If only Moon’s cousin and pledged, Sparks Dawntreader Summer, would love her, or at least both of them…

One way or another, the Queen is determined to rule this planet forever. And the Queen always gets what she wants. The Snow Queen is classic hard sci-fi authored by Joan D. Vinge, originally published in 1980 and republished several times since. First of a series. Won Hugo Award for Best Novel (1981), Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1981), Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1981).

Thoughts :

Coming in at 536 pages, The Snow Queen is a monster of ambitious character- and worldbuilding, inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of the same name. While the novel takes time to come into its own, its depth becomes clearer as the clues gradually unfold to reveal the full picture of The Snow Queen Cycle universe. Two of the main narrators—The Winter Queen and her young clone, Moon—have information unknown to the other, and the large cast of characters (including Moon’s lover Sparks and the police chief Jerusha) adds other pieces to the puzzle. With patience, I found myself quite taken with the universe.

Moon and Sparks are cousins, pledged in their Native sort of “marriage.” The young lovers have committed to spending their lives together, no matter what, and to Moon, this means they will both become sibyls of their Native goddess, the Lady of the sea. But to their joint dismay, only Moon is chosen, and Sparks leaves both her and their home for the royal city of Carbuncle, hurt and confused about his own future.

Sparks is not wholly Summer Native. Though he never knew his Offworlder father, he spent his childhood dissecting technology that other Summer Natives of Tiamat reject in favor of simple lifestyles. On Carbuncle, he quickly finds that his naiveté will make life difficult…until he draws the attention of the Winter Queen herself.

Meanwhile, Moon learns the art of the sibyl, connecting with the unearthly reservoir of knowledge that can perfectly answer any question (which she assumes is from her goddess, the Lady…). But when the Queen summons her to visit her cousin and lover, Sparks, on Carbuncle, she determines to make the trip.

Along the way, she is kidnapped and taken Offworld, an act that will banish her from ever returning to Tiamat—by law, and by physics. Soon, the season will change into Summer, when all technologically-savvy Winters will leave their colony and travel back to their homeworlds–and the stargate to Tiamat will close. And anyway, once “Offworld,” sibyls aren’t allowed to return to Tiamat, for reasons that not even the queen knows all about…So now Moon must stay on this colorful new planet of Kharemough, forever, or so say her kidnappers. But Moon won’t give up on Sparks that easily.

As Moon plans her return to Tiamat, the Winter Queen, who mirrors Moon with perfect physical precision, slowly poisons young Sparks with her power-hunger. Eventually, she corrupts him into breaking his pledge to Moon and hunting out the mer blood for her immortality. Reveling in her success, the queen hatches a plot to live forever with her newest consort.

I was able to settle in and get swept away by the vision of the book, although it did take some time for me to feel committed and interested in the plot and characters. Partially, this is due to Vinge’s slow pay out of answers to our many questions. We’re also following quite a large cast of characters, so the desire lines can be difficult to follow and slow to develop in urgency.

Unfortunately, the characters grew on me very slowly, although I loved the awesome police chief, Geia Jerusha. I wish we could have spent more time with her. However, almost every character does have complex, grey-scale morals and motives—even the strong, well-developed secondary characters—so even if it can be hard to like them, they are interesting to read about (and watch tumble into the dark depths of their ambition, muahahahaha!).

The writing itself has little feel or atmosphere, although it does reach literary heights in several places. I found it difficult to connect with, during a lot of the book.

But even with its slow-burn plot, difficult characters and remote writing, The Snow Queen is a hard sci-fi you can get lost in. I’ve been preoccupied by its exploration of colonialism, sexism, feminism, technology and religion in the days since I finishing it; I would certainly be interested in exploring more “Offworld” planets, whose politics and technology I found very interesting. I’m not in a hurry, at the moment, but perhaps in the future.

Overall :

Despite my difficulty in connecting emotionally with this book, The Snow Queen is hard sci-fi you can get lost in.

Recommended To :

The Snow Queen reminded me very much of Julian May‘s Pliocene Exile saga ( The Many-Colored Land ). They read similarly in many ways, although the latter moved slightly more quickly, with its killer premise. I would recommended The Snow Queen to hard sci-fi fans looking for a complex, grey-scale space opera.

****4/5 STARS