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

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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: The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood

yearofthefloodHoly mother. I hate to post reviews on top of each other like this – within 24 hours of each other – but this book. THIS BOOK. I just had to. I’m sorry!

I loved this so much more than Oryx and Crake. I read the first in this series in December and, while I enjoyed it, I struggled to get through it at times. This I was sucked in from the outset as, while Oryx wasn’t at the forefront of my mind as I initially went in to it, it made me love the first part of this trilogy more in hindsight. It’s not really a sequel, more of the same event from a different perspective that fills in some of the blanks and I really appreciated that!

The Year of the Flood is more about the ‘everyday’ life in the future that Atwood has created. We follow two women; Toby and Ren. We get their stories, both before and after “The Flood”. We explore the cultish movement of “The Gardeners” and how they met as characters, how they developed over the years with The Gardeners. I found this absolutely fascinating, I can’t lie. I loved the exploration of what is essentially a religion based around both Christianity and Veganism at extremes – it was so interesting!

Atwood shaped characters so wonderfully in this book. I’d happily read a book from any of the perspectives of the main body of characters we are introduced to over the course of this novel. Pilar, the beekeeper was the character I really wanted to know more about and didn’t quite get enough of and I’d have loved to have read from her point of view because I think she had a very interesting story to tell! The characters in this were what made me love it all the more, I found them so much more readable than those in Oryx and Crake.

A moment that really made this book all the more fantastic – and how it embellished Oryx and Crake all the more – was when things started to weave together. In Oryx and Crake – Jimmy reads his lovers diary; this isn’t a very big moment, in fact it’s quite a small moment that’s very much a non-event which was only triggered in my memory by the fact that it is told from Ren’s perspective in The Year of the Flood. It becomes a lot more personal, it’s Ren’s diary he is reading and now she isn’t just some girl, she’s a fully fleshed out character that we’ve got the story of. That was actually a moment where I sat back and went “woah!”

A lot of people said this was a step down from Oryx and Crake but I disagree. I found this more compelling to read and, also, I found that it made Oryx and Crake more enjoyable in hindsight having had some additional information from this. Though this could be read as a standalone, reading it after Oryx and Crake will probably mean you get the most out of it as a reader.

I’m apparently having a very good month because I’m giving this a 5/5 too. Damn I can’t wait to read MaddAddam!