Review: Lagoon – Nnedi Okorafor

061 - Lagoon

061 - Lagoon

Rating – 2*

 Lagoon is a book I absolutely picked up on a whim. I was in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of my local bookshop, looking for something out of my usual comfort zone, and stumbled upon this. I’ve heard a lot of incredible things about Nnedi Okorafor (particularly her Binti series) and was interested to see that she’s actually a very, very prolific author!

I’m relatively new to the Sci-Fi genre in fiction – so I can’t really place this anywhere in particular on a scale. But I really enjoyed a lot of it – it’s a first contact story, but not little green men from mars like you probably think of when you hear Sci-Fi. The invasion of Nigeria comes from the seas, not the skies, which is what drew me to the book in the first place.  I love the idea of creatures from the deep coming to the surface!

The book also draws a lot of inspiration from a lot of Nigerian folklore and fairy tales, and I really enjoyed how they were blended in with the science fiction elements. I also felt that more than anything this was a book that looked at the humanity of a small population, and how something so big (such as an alien invasion) divides them and unites them simultaneously. While there are three main characters, there are also view points from several smaller characters – which are interesting but made the book feel crowded in my mind.

While I enjoyed the first half, I felt the second half lost a bit of momentum, and lost my interest. The ending was okay, it all came together nicely but I feel like it could have ended half way through and had the same impact on me. I gave this two stars, maybe because I didn’t fully understand it at the time of reading. In parts it felt cramped and overworked, in other places it was sparse and not thought out enough. It felt quite meh come the end, and I don’t feel that much was resolved.

What I will say though is that I did enjoy the writing though, so I think I’ll be picking up more Okorafor in the future.

Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers

045 - Record of a Spaceborn Frew
From the ground, we stand. From our ships, we live. By the stars, we hope

045 - Record of a Spaceborn Few

Rating – 5*

Oh my word, where to start with this book. I just don’t even know. Trying to  form a coherent thought about something I love so passionately is difficult because while this book is very different to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, the insight it gives in to this universe that Becky Chambers has created is magical.

This book was incredible, and I won’t lie, it made me cry. The characters in this book are from the Exodan fleet, these are humans that live on ships and the insight in to their lives is beautiful. This feels a lot quieter and more homey than the two previous books, focusing more on family and the circle of life than anything else.

Something I found really interesting in this book is the way that the fleet live – the structure of their space ships, the hierarchy of their society, and also their sustainable nature. I also think that the focus on how humans are not the superior race in this universe is something that we need to be reminded of and is put across so well in this, the humans of the fleet are not top dog, in fact their entire existence is dependent on technology from other races and “hand outs” and it’s something we’re constantly being reminded of throughout.

As with all of Becky Chambers’ books, the characters in this are beautiful. All of them. Tessa is Ashby’s (from TLWtaSAP) sister, and her portions of this story are very domestic as she’s a mother to two young children, one of which seems to be suffering from some form of PTSD and is struggling living in space. Isobel is an archivist – essentially a historian slash registrar – in the fleet who lives with her wife and is housing a harmagian who is researching humans and the Fleet. Eyas is a young woman who works as a groundskeeper, which is more than what it sounds, she’s responsible for caring for the dead and interring them back in to their ecosystem once they’re fully degraded. Finally we have Kip, a young boy who is struggling to find his place in the fleet and has questionable friends, ultimately he’s bored and we follow the growth of him as an individual in to what I can only describe as a fully fledged young adult.

All of these characters has a story which overlaps and brings them together seamlessly. It’s not exactly the happiest of stories but it’s quite a powerful one with a really important message about being inclusive and welcoming. I think it’s also really important to realise just how insignificant humans are in this universe, and to realise the fragility but also the incredible improbability that we exist. I could nerd out about this series for days. I really could.

A small point, and something I absolutely loved, is the insight in to the life-cycle of humans in the Fleet. I found both their naming rituals and also their funerary rituals fascinating. Maybe I’m a bit morbid, but I really love how death is approached in this book – in that bodies decompose and then they turn in to compost, to bring life to plants which in turn bring life to us meaning that our loved ones are always with us in the air we breathe. I mean, does it get any more beautiful than that?!

Along with all of this, there’s the seamless inclusion of all types of ‘people’ – sexuality, gender identity, touches on mental health, physical disabilities – all of them are beautifully interwoven in a way that doesn’t make them tropey. They just are and it’s exactly how it should be.

I also had the amazing opportunity to meet Becky at an event at my local Waterstones and oh my word, she’s one of the most intelligent, eloquent, wonderful humans I’ve ever had the chance to be in the same room as, never mind hold a conversation with. Her mind is incredible, and I really want to see where she takes this universe because it’s ever expanding and has endless possibilities and I just want to see all of them. She said herself she doesn’t know where she’ll go next, but I really hope we get a look in to a species who aren’t human, because the alien races she’s created are truly fascinating.

If you haven’t read A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, then please do. Then promptly read the next two books in this universe.

 

Review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

032 - The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

032 - The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Rating – 5*

I have been desperately in the mood for comfort lately, and when I feel like that I feel the urge to reread. With the third book in the Wayfarers series coming out in July I decided on a cold Saturday afternoon to curl up with The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and reintegrate myself with the absolutely wonderful cast of characters and world that Becky Chambers created. I didn’t regret it for one second.

Since I first read this in 2016 I have wanted to reread it. Finally doing that was on a par with rereading Harry Potter, if not better. Reconnecting with the characters in here was much like that catch up you have with old friends you haven’t seen in a couple of years – and you can just pick up where you left off.

For anyone who hasn’t read this book before, a quick summary. We follow the crew of a spaceship called The Wayfarer. The ships job is to create links between areas of the cosmos many lightyears apart – they tunnel. On this ship you have the most incredibly diverse range of characters and personalities, and each of them you fall in love with a little bit. Rosemary is the “main” character – she’s the new girl, and is essentially how we as a reader experience the space they find themselves in as it is her first time up there too. If you as a reader are unsure of something, Rosemary is probably going to ask the stupid question so you don’t have to. That in itself is a genius technique so we don’t feel so confused as readers. We follow this crew as they cross the cosmos and head towards, you guessed it, an angry planet. A planet which is at war with itself. Along the way we learn so much about each of the characters, and they learn a lot about each other. And it’s beautiful.

Reading it for a second time I picked up so much more of the nuance, more of the depth in the characters, I appreciated the different cultures explored and while I did previously appreciate all of those things I appreciated them so much more. I also really just appreciated the diversity of the characters more on a second read!

One thing that I loved the first time around and loved just as much this time around is how this book focuses on so many different forms of love and family. I still love the idea of feather families – those families you make for yourself – and it gave me the warm fuzzies this time around as it did originally. Yes, I just loved all the relationships and different types of relationship in this book – familial and romantic. It’s just a glorious thing to read.

What I said when I first read it stands – read this book, even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy it. It’s one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. If you like Vastra and Jenny in Doctor Who, read this. If you enjoyed any sort of space-based TV show (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica etc) read this. It’s not just a great work of science fiction, it’s an incredible work of fiction full stop.

I absolutely cannot wait for the third book set in this world to be released this summer (I have it on preorder already) and I really wish I could experience this book for the first time all over again. I’m really hoping that Netflix pick this up for a series or something because I genuinely believe this is perfect for a series adaptation, and I would absolutely 100% binge watch it.

So yes. If the last 600 words didn’t convince you, please read this book!

Review: The End We Start From – Megan Hunter

005 - The End We Start From

005 - The End We Start From

Rating – 3*

The End We Start From was a book I just happened to stumble upon. I was looking for short books, novellas, anything of the sort to fill a couple of hours on my day off and found this – a 160 page dystopian novella – which ticked a lot of the right boxes for what I was in the mood for.

For an impulse purchase I had no information about prior to picking up, I really enjoyed this book. The writing was absolutely gorgeous and sucked me right in to the book – on further research in to the author I found that she’s a poet and when I think about it, that isn’t all that surprising when I think about the writing. A lot of people have said in reviews that this book reads like a prose poem, and I really get that.

The plot itself spans around a year in the life of our narrator and starts in the last weeks of her pregnancy. During those weeks, a flood occurs in London nearly destroying it and she and her husband have to evacuate for their own safety. They move several times over the course of the novella, and through all the devastation and heartache we get an insight in to motherhood through the eyes of our narrator which is actually beautiful.

It’s by no means a fleshed out book, the writing is sparse, there are a lot of gaps left for the reader to imagine what happens, no characters have full names and are referred to by only their initial; but I really enjoyed it. Maybe it was the relationship with water in the book, but at times I found myself thinking about The Waves by Virginia Woolf – not that this book is similar whatsoever, really, but the prose washed over me in a similar way (excuse the pun).

Megan Hunter is going to be an author I look out for, I enjoyed this book a fair bit for an impulse purchase. If you want a quick read which gets you thinking, I’d recommend this highly!

Review: The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin

045 - The Left Hand of Darkness

Rating – 2*

The Left Hand of Darkness is a book that I’ve wanted to read for quite a long time. It’s certainly been on my radar for at least 18 months, and I’ve had it on my shelf for around a year. I had high hopes for it, as it seemed to be right up my alley (sci-fi, gender, sexuality etc.) and I so desperately wanted to love this book. As you can tell, I really didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped. This is probably going to get a little ranty, because I have Feelings about this book.

As always with books I have high expectations for, I go in quite harshly. I think maybe if I had read this book at a time when I was more influential – or generally younger. The main selling point of this book is gender/biological sex and the fact that the native species on the planet our protagonist goes to are ambisexual (meaning they are neither gender, but have traits of both) who take on the role of binary male/female when they enter their ‘mating season’. That premise sounded fantastic, but for me it was actually handled quite poorly.

Our main character, Genly Ai, struggles with this fluidity of gender – and as such nearly every character in this book is referred to as he/him, traits associated with women are considered negative in a character and there’s only so much of that I can take without going in to a blind rage. I found myself getting very frustrated throughout, which really took away from a lot of the good things about this book – things like politics and the world building, which had I not been angry would have maybe been more enjoyable. To me, rather than a planet full of ambisexual beings, the planet was full of men who happened to sometimes have babies – for me this missed the mark on exploring the fluidity of gender.

I understand when this was written there wasn’t the acceptance that there is today, or the tact in language, but there are simple things that could have worked which did “exist” back when this was first written – simply put gender neutral pronouns are very simple things, but omitted from use. It’s an alien race, there was scope to create gender neutral pronouns which were unique to the Gethenian people. Why are parents referred to as fathers, children as sons, and siblings as brothers if it’s a genderless society, and all beings are equal? If this book had been set on a planet where it was entirely male and they occasionally gave birth, I probably wouldn’t have read it, but I wouldn’t have this issue. And if you haven’t realised by this point, I have an issue!

Once I had hold of this issue, it got under my skin and completely detracted any of my initial excitement over it. I lost what little emotional connection I had with the characters, reading it felt like a chore, and I found myself very much uncaring as to how it was going to end. I don’t often skim books, but the last 50 to 100 pages of this I did simply speed read to get it over with.

 

Review: The Stone Gods – Jeanette Winterson

044 - The Stone Gods

Rating – 4*

Firstly, I don’t know how I’ve got to the age of 24 (almost) without having read any Jeanette Winterson novels. Nope. Not even Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. I’ve always known that I was going to love her work, so putting it off until I needed a book that was going to blow me away seemed logical – and it worked.

I don’t even know how to describe The Stone Gods. It starts in a futuristic past, and ends in a dystopian future. It’s everything I wanted it to be and more. It reminded me a lot of Battlestar Galactica in it’s premise, with the recurring theme of “all of this has happened before. All of this will happen again” and we see Billie and Spike in three different incarnations, each of them intertwining and it’s simply fantastic.

This book actually made me shed a tear, and I can’t remember the last time a book did that (probably more recently than I actually remember, if I’m honest with myself!) but it takes a lot for me to be moved to tears, and this did it. More than once. Why? It gave me an insight in to humanity, the world as a whole, and also it raised the scary realisation that this is becoming less and less like a dystopia and a lot more believable. And while it was sad in parts, it also made me laugh and it takes a lot to meld those two contrasting emotions so seamlessly within paragraphs of each other.

Truly this book is fantastic and I really, really cannot wait to delve in to more of Winterson’s work as it is very much overdue on my part! I’d really highly recommend this book to someone who maybe hasn’t read much of Winterson’s work – because it felt like a great starting place. Also, if you’re unsure where to start with literary fiction in general than this felt very approachable primarily because it crosses over with sci-fi quite spectacularly, making it the perfect starting point for someone wanting to branch out. Oh, and if you’ve watched Battlestar Galactica and wanted it to be a little more gay? yeah. Read this.

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers

001-a-closed-and-common-orbit

Rating – 5*

After nearly 4 months of not reading, I am so glad this was the first book I picked up after a slump, and the first of a new year. One of the last books I read before my slump was A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and it is, quite honestly, one of my favourite books of all time (as my review will attest to). I had high expectations for this, but also trepidation that I wouldn’t love it as much, but that fear was unfounded as I adored this.

A Closed and Common Orbit picks up where the previous book left off, but this time we’re following Lovelace – or Sidra as she chooses to be known now she has a body – and Pepper. We follow two stories, Sidra in the ‘present’ who is adapting to life in her body and we follow Jane, a girl from some years in the past who is part of a bigger picture which she doesn’t even know exists. These two threads of the story tie together in a very messy, but wonderful way and I found myself staying up until 2am to finish this book because I didn’t want to put it down, I needed to know how it was going to tie together and end.

This book is ultimately about humanity, and what it means to be, learning how to live and find your place. I got comfort from this book I didn’t even know I needed. While the situation is completely non-realistic, the experiences, the feelings, the thought processes they’re all relatable and applicable to day to day life. There were moments in this book which, much like it’s predecessor, took my breath away – it filled me with joy and tore me to pieces. Ultimately though, it was beautiful.

Becky Chambers writing is incredible. I can’t put words down to describe it but I just love the way she writes, her writing connects with me. This world she has created for these books is beautiful, and it’s a world I can immerse myself in as she writes it so vividly.

This was a beautifully written and fantastically diverse book, and there’d better be a third book which brings the two sets of characters together because I don’t want this to end here. There’s still so much to give, so much I want to learn about these characters and this world.

If you haven’t read A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, read it. Then read this in close succession because it’s wonderful. I seriously don’t think I can recommend these books enough to people. And I really, really can’t think of a better way to have started off my reading in 2017 than with this book.

Review: A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

43 - The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Rating – 5*

I’m a little late to this party, mainly because I really thought this book wasn’t for me. I didn’t think it would float my kayak at all – how damn wrong I was. This was entirely my cup of tea and I have fallen in love with it. It’s so utterly, and completely, perfect and it is definitely up there with my favourite books of the year.

To put my love of this book in to context, it is the first fiction book I have happily given 5* since I read Adam Bede in May. This is up there with my love of George Eliot. That says something. It is simply incredible and I’m really finding it hard to quantify my love of it.

In this book we have the most incredible characters, you could say that the main character is Rosemary, and while she is the one we focus on initially this book is about so much more than her. Her point of view is more to make the entire world that Becky Chambers has created here accessible to us as readers, as Rosemary is seeing it all for the first time too. It’s so much more than Rosemary, as I said, there are so many wonderful characters who are so diverse – in race, beliefs, sexual preferences, everything – and incredibly it deals with some of the biggest issues in the ‘real’ world and spins them on a cosmic level with spaceships and aliens. And on the subject of sexual preference, I was just overjoyed to find a book like this – we have a whole spectrum of love in this book and it just made me so happy I could weep, not just romantic love either, but the love of friends, family, colleagues. This book is truly something special.

And the plot, I loved it. I really did. While all the action is going on, we’re learning about our characters and getting insights in to their lives and families. I loved learning about the characters pasts, and their species. All of the development of character is so well intertwined with the plot I just can’t separate the two really. While this is plot driven, it’s also one of the most intense character studies I’ve read.

One thing that stood out to me most is Sizzix’s feather family – the concept that your family consists of the people who impact on your life, that you make your own family. That is really the core of this book, it doesn’t matter how dysfunctional it is they’re family. And that, that alone, I loved.

I loved Sizzix full stop, actually. I loved all the characters, in their own way, but she was definitely my favourite. I have a thing for Lizard Women From The Dawn of Time and Their Wives (yeah, reading this I couldn’t help but get Vastra/Jenny vibes from Doctor Who).

So, to summarise, even if you don’t think this is your bag read it anyway because it’s amazing. Seriously amazing. If you like Vastra and Jenny in Doctor Who, read it. If you enjoyed one, or both, of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, read it. But my words just don’t do it justice, my comparisons are pretty shoddy, it is truly a work of Science-Fiction Greatness.

If you haven’t already worked it out, this book is firmly among my favourites ever now. Definitely a 5* read, and I urge you to pop to your library, use a book token, pay for it with real money, download it with an audible credit, whatever… because it’s amazing. And finding out that there is a sort-of-sequel coming out in October, you bet I’m there because I’m really excited to see more of this spanning world that Becky Chambers created.

Review: MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood

maddaddamMaddAddam has been a book that I’ve put off for a while as I haven’t quite felt ready to end the trilogy. I found Oryx & Crake okay, I absolutely adored The Year of the Flood but this, I actually found this a little disappointing as the conclusion to the trilogy.

After finishing The Year of the Flood I was pretty excited to get started on this. The prior two books had converged neatly at a point – they were told from two perspectives about the same events and because of this I was very much expecting this to go full steam ahead in to the future and conclude in some epic ending and it just didn’t. It was mostly flashbacks, which while interesting made the book feel painfully slow. Zeb is interesting and finding out how he got to the point he is at in this book was great but I wanted to go in to the future, not go further back! Jimmy spends most of this book in a coma, the women from the second book are mostly ignored. Toby gets some ‘screentime’ but not nearly what I feel enough and… I just felt disappointed.

The main issue for me is I don’t think this was what I was expecting. It was like walking through treacle, in all honesty. What I found most disappointing what it went from two books with genetically engineered dystopian futures to, well, what I felt was a joke. Nothing about this was believable an it felt as if it were a parody of the two previous books. It just paled in comparison. It doesn’t change my opinion on either of the former, The Year of the Flood remains one of the best books I’ve read this year but I can’t say I would recommend reading this. It wasn’t the satisfying ending I had hoped for and yes, it was perfectly readable but it just wasn’t anywhere near as good as Oryx & Crake or The Year of the Flood.

Because of this, MaddAddam gets a 3* review from me with the advice that you should only read this as a completionist and not with any expectations for it to meet. I wish I had stopped at The Year of the Flood. It was good, but it was a let down from the previous two.

Review: Cinder – Marissa Meyer

Cinder

This book was un-put-downable! That’s the only way I can describe it. I read it in less than 24 hours (started it Saturday afternoon and finished it in bed Sunday morning) and it was great.

I went in to it with a bit of trepidation, as I always do with books that are highly recommended by friends and the online community. I’d seen this everywhere and, out of curiosity mainly, I did eventually succumb to buying the eBook. I don’t regret it.

If anyone doesn’t know what Cinder is about, it is a futuristic retelling of Cinderella. It doesn’t follow the original story word for word, it only loosely uses the plot of the story we’re all familiar with, actually. It follows Cinder – part human, part cyborg – and she is awesome. It’s the only way to describe her. Our underdog protagonist has a lot of trials to overcome in this novel. There is so much going on in this book, there is a plague, a lost princess and an evil queen from the moon on top of the things that we’re all familiar with from Cinderella – evil step-mother, a ball and a prince. I mean, that gives it no justice and sounds absolutely crazy but it’s a fair summary!

While this was perfectly fun and readable, it wasn’t mindblowing. It was good but it was predictable (I mean, even with the twists and turns and deviations from the original story, it was bound to be predictable). The characters were good, the story was good, I loved the twist in the tale, it was engaging – I read what is a 400 page book in only a few hours – but it just didn’t resonate with me how it seems to have with others! I’ll continue reading the series because I’d like to see where it goes, but it’s not top of my list.

Overall, this gets a 3/5.