Goodreads: What’s Left of Me
Series: The Hybrid Chronicles #1
Official Summary: 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.
Review: What’s Left of Me is an imaginative story about what it means to be human. Here, it is to be a unique, living soul. Eva is completely trapped inside the body she shares with Addie, unable to move and unable to communicate with anyone besides her twin soul. As far as the rest of the world knows, she no longer even exists. But she does, and she, Addie, and the reader know it. Her courage, passion, determination, and kindness immediately woo this reader to her side, and there is no doubt she has the right to life as much as Addie, the “dominant” soul. The problem is in convincing Eva’s own society and government.
In their search for freedom, Eva and Addie take the reader through a whirlwind of emotions and experiences. The story is not built on life-or-death cliff hangers that will keep their audience reading through the night, but it is certainly interesting. The subtle commentary on the nature of humanity is encased in an exciting and action-packed tale and populated with a variety of characters, ranging from love interests to villains. (The love interest also raises more questions, such as how two souls in one body can ever maintain a romantic relationship. Part of an explanation is offered, but Zhang will have to delve further into the issue in the next book in order to make the success of such a situation sound practical.)
What’s Left of Me offers the things I truly love in science fiction: a unique vision, important questions, and humanity. However, the book may have been stronger if it had remained purely science fiction—a compact standalone that resolved its most important issues immediately. Instead, at the end it veers off into the typical dystopian mold with Eva and Addie seemingly poised to join a secret resistance fighting a corrupt government. The hybrid story is new, but this part is just old.
Published: September 18, 2012
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Goodreads: 0.4 (Human.4, US title)
Series: Point 4 #1
Summary: While Kyle Straker and three others are hypnotized during their village’s annual talent show, something strange happens. When they wake up, everyone else is behaving differently, and none of their technology will work. Then, Kyle overhears someone calling him a 0.4. He and the others are determined to find out what is going on, whether they are all still hallucinating from the hypnotism, or whether aliens have actually managed to take over the world.
Told as a transcription of audio tapes recorded by Kyle after the events.
Review: 0.4 is an interesting exploration of what humanity actually is, and what it would mean if we were not what we always believed. It presents readers with a crazy alternate history and a wild possible future, in which humans suddenly seem not very human at all. Kyle and the other 0.4 must decide what future they think is best—before the rest of the world decides for them.
I did not feel a great emotional connection with the 0.4. I was, of course, sympathetic and on their side, but my investment was not personal. I cared about them mainly because they are human and because they are the underdogs. How Lancaster might have fixed this is not immediately clear. The book is intended to be plot-based. Kyle’s narration begins on the day that everything changes, and things get intense fast. Lancaster does not have much time to give detailed back stories (though he does throw a few details in), and events happen so quickly once they get going that the character do not exactly have time to bond. Basically everything happens in a day.
Lancaster does take time to pull on emotions later, but he wants readers to connect with the human race—and not Kyle and his friends in particular. The best science fiction often addresses what it means to be human and why it is important to retain humanity, and 0.4 is no exception. Lancaster could have delved a little more deeply on the topic, but he does a good job of at least introducing topics readers can ponder on their own.
0.4 has a lot of great characteristics—a fascinating and mysterious set-up with an exciting plot and interesting questions. However, what it has the most of is potential. Lancaster should have exploited his ideas and plot a lot more if he wanted to make this a great book instead of a good one.
(Also, the “editor” of the transcripts inserts some notes explaining some of the contemporary references Kyle makes, such as “reality television.” These notes are supposed to be funny and at times clever, but I never really found them so.)
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Series: The Lunar Chronicles #2
The fates of Cinder and Scarlet collide as a Lunar threat spreads across the Earth…
Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.
Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.
Review: Scarlet is a fast-paced and exciting read written with the same fresh writing and characterization as Cinder. Meyer expertly keeps the series new by blending Cinder’s story in with newcomers’ Scarlet and Wolf, and it will be interesting to see if she does the same with books three and four, gradually building from a base of one main character to four (and their love interests?).
Scarlet and Wolf are both as engaging to read about as Cinder and Kai. Scarlet has a fantastic survivalist attitude and is endearingly dedicated to her grandmother. Wolf is a bit rough around the edges, but is not a stereotyped bad boy. He is fantastically complex, and will repeatedly surprise readers with his actions and motivations.
The overarching plot, in contrast, is about as predictable as that of Cinder. Yet in the same way, this is not a big enough flaw to deter anyone from reading. The way Meyer tells her stories and the characters with which she populates them always manage to support them—and this is truly the mark of a skilled writer. Readers do learn new and surprising facts about Lunars, however.
Scarlet is a strong addition to the Lunar Chronicles series, blending the best aspects of Cinder with new characters and plot lines.
Published: February 2013
Summary: Victor Frankenstein has devoted his life to the study of science and the mystery of animating matter. When he achieves his goal, however, he finds himself living a nightmare instead of his dream. His creation looks horrifying, a monster, and, perceiving himself to be a social outcast, is determined to enact his revenge on the world and the man who created him by destroying everything Frankensten holds dear.
Review: Frankenstein is one of those classics that I find presents readers with some interesting themes to consider, but which is not necessarily a “good read.” The story opens slowly. Shelley employs letters and a narrative frame in order to introduce Frankenstein’s story of his creation. Because the frame is not particularly entertaining in itself and only emphasizes some of the themes raised in Frankenstein’s narrative instead of introducing its own themes, it seems to be mostly Shelley’s clumsy way of getting Frankenstein into a position where he can tell his story and where it will be recorded.
If this is her intention, the transition from the frame to Frankenstein’s tale is still awkward. Frankenstein’s story is in chapters, which are all presumably in a very long letter that someone else is writing. The jump from recognizable letters into narrative and back into letters is disconcerting, drawing readers out of Frankenstein’s story. I am, in general, not a fan of narrative frames, but this is one of the most attention-grabbing frames I have encountered.
Frankenstein’s story, once one can get into it, is intriguing, but certainly not the horror-filled version that has been put onto screen. Here, the monster is somewhat civilized, just looking for love. The scary part is not that the monster is going to come for you, the reader, or destroy the world at large. Indeed, only Frankenstein himself has much to fear, as the monster is primarily bent on destroying his life. What is scary for Shelley, then, is not violence or even the “unknown;” it is having to watch terrible things happen, being unable to prevent them, and even being in some way responsible for them. It is being in the shoes of Frankenstein himself, and not just an observer, that is horrifying.
So, in short, this is not a scary reading experience. Nor is it a particularly realistic one. Even ignoring the part where Frankenstein manages to create life, too much of the story is implausible and contrived. Everyone just happens to be in the right spot at the right moment for important plot issues to develop. For example, the monster learns to read by looking through a crack in a wall, where a family just happens to have taken in a foreigner who needs to learn to read. Really? Kudos to Shelley for realizing she ought to offer an explanation for things like this, such as how the monster learns (instead of creating him with the intelligence of a wise middle-aged man from the start), but I personally find too much of her explanations ridiculous.
The interest, then, for me, must be theme-wise because not much of it comes from the plot. Shelly essentially suggests that knowledge can be dangerous. How much knowledge, and what type of knowledge is open for interpretation, but I personally see the story as a warning about going “too far,” rather than one criticizing all searches for knowledge. Shelley did, after all, come from an intellectual family and was clearly interested in science and literature herself. The story also suggests that, as a balance to knowledge, one should build strong bonds with family and community in order to stay grounded and connected to things (people) that are truly important.
The book is worth reading for its exploration of what constitutes “science gone wrong” and how personally responsible each of us might be for that, as well as for its influence on later horror stories and science fiction. It is unlikely to do much for readers looking to be personally terrified or to experience a wild and surprising plot.
Summary: Before his death, Fi Kelly’s father warned her of an impending global food shortage and instructed her to lead her family to Eden, a top-secret facility built to help humans outlast the crisis. Now, safely arrived at Eden, Fi and her friends act as Seeders–trained warriors who travel across the earth to reconnect survivors and plant the seeds that will help them build a future. A new threat arises, however, in the form of violent gangs acting under the guidance of a mysterious radio broadcaster–a man who claims Eden’s seeds will bring down upon the earth the wrath of God. The sequel to Eden’s Root.
Review: Fans of Eden’s Root will eagerly devour Seeds of War, which possesses many of the qualities that made the first book so strong a debut. Sympathetic characters, a generous amount of action, a little bit of mystery, and a lot of romance all combine to form a story that will engross readers and leave them anxious for the final book. Science fiction and dystopians in particular have inundated the market, but Seeds of War stands out with its focus on the human elements and its underlying belief that good always shines out in the darkness.
Characterization proves one of Fisher’s strongest points. Even though many of the characters (Fi, especially) possess too many talents to seem real, their basic goodness makes them sympathetic to readers. Tragedy has brought them together and their dedication to working together to achieve a better future is truly touching when one considers that tragedy could have revealed more selfish instincts. A range of characters with varying ages, nationalities, races, skills, educations, and backgrounds demonstrate their willingness to learn from one another and to share their strengths and weaknesses. Even though a global crisis would seem the perfect time for society to practice survival of the fitness, many of the survivors in this world recognize the worth of each individual and the value of the different gifts they possess.
Furthermore, even the characters who seem the most unbelievable when it comes to skills in weaponry or science, prove relatable in their quite normal hopes and fears. They worry about school, dream of starting families, and try to deal with the sadness in their pasts. Their focus on the almost mundane while they face the impossible is understandable–the kinds of things they used to take for granted now seem precious. The most realistic part of the book may be when Fi and her friend Sara have to deal with the pain of their menstrual cycles in a world without easy access to medication.
Fisher’s fearlessness in addressing issues pertinent to young women really sets her book apart. It was nice to see someone acknowledge the agony women face each month and treat it as something normal, rather than as something taboo. Still, she goes further, addressing topics like sex and pregnancy. Fi decides to wait until she gets married, which is refreshing in young adult literature and probably wise, considering she spends most of her time in the wilderness fighting off violent gangs–difficult to do while carrying a child. When a married couple does become pregnant, Fisher provides a realistic portrait of the joy and anxiety that can come with such an unexpected discovery.
Despite the likeability of the characters and the realism in their relationships, however, some of them cross the line of believability. Fi, now seventeen, supposedly can not only best most men in a fight, act as a charismatic leader, and work as a diplomat, but also do graduate-level biology. Her teenage voice, which creeps into the narrative through her thoughts on events, comes as a shock; she seems too mature to be thinking such things in such terms. The least Fisher could do is show Fi in a lab. It might not prove as exciting as watching Fi fight for her life, but science lovers everywhere would get a kick out of it and it would make me believe that Fi can actually do biology. When Fi has so many other skills, I tend to dismiss the ones I have not seen demonstrated.
Sara, too, gains too many skills for me to believe. She begins as a quiet girl, apparently academically gifted. Soon, however, she, too, has turned into a fighting machine. Readers know that something in her past drives her, but the transformation still occurs too rapidly to seem plausible. She proves oddly bloodthirsty for someone hitherto known only for her brains. I really hope Fisher at least follows the implications of this change–can Sara really seek revenge forever? It is not a healthy approach to life and I would be disappointed if Sara never realizes this simply because it’s useful for the team to have a beserker defeat all their enemies for them.
Fans of Fisher and lovers of science fiction will, however, find it easy to overlook these flaws. The book has an interesting premise, provides a generous amount of action, and–for all the Fi/Asher shippers out there–really develops some key relationships. The fate of the world is hanging in the balance and I for one cannot wait for the final installment of this special trilogy.
Published: July 2012
Goodreads: The Different Girl
Summary: On an island there are four girls, one with yellow hair, one with brown, one with black, and one with red. Otherwise, they are all the same. This is their world, attending school with their their two adult guardians, and this is normal. Then a ship wrecks at sea, and another girl washes ashore, a girl who talks, looks, and thinks differently. But maybe that is normal, too.
Review: This book was just about as interesting as I expected it to be, but it left me a little unsatisfied and slightly confused. The officially summary seems intentionally vague; all readers know is that there are four nearly identical girls on an island. What are they? Robots? How did they come to be? What is their purpose? It is all rather mysterious, which is half of what drew me to the book. Unfortunately, some of these questions are still unanswered for me.
Basically, the science fiction aspects are not fully developed. There is a lot of world building that is simply missing, Certainly some can be filled in through inference, and to some extent it might not really matter, but its absence can be keenly felt. It is conceivable that Dahlquist is keeping readers intentionally blind, keeping the story on the island just as the four girl only know the island—but it is extremely frustrating. Days after finishing the book, I am still itchy and irritated that I have barely any conception of the world outside the island. There are vague references to “them,” mysterious people who control something—but, yeah, I have no idea who they are or what they are doing or even want in the world.
This is also frustrating because most of the book reads like a very long set-up to a mystery. The reader is made to constantly wonder what is going on—and then he or she only half finds out. The “revelation” simply is not proportionate to the suspense. That is understandably disappointing.
Yet there is also the nagging suspicion that there is something in this book that I just did not “get.” The girls’ tutor asks a lot of leading questions in the story, and readers are clearly supposed to answer some of them, as well. But I do not understand the logic. After examining a photo, the girls decide the parrot in it is symbolic of something, and then several times question what the “parrot” in a certain situation is. And I still have no idea what the parrot means…. I admit that I strongly would like to believe all my confusion is a flaw in the book, and not just an indication I am not smart enough to understand it! Ambiguity in a book does not guarantee profundity, and it should not be used as a crutch to give the illusion of it.
I must clarify, however, that I did not dislike this book as much as my review might suggest. On Goodreads, I gave it a good three star rating. It is interesting, and it is unique. (And I absolutely love the cover, if that counts for anything.) There also is the hint of some deep thought going on behind it all. But I feel left out, or as if something was left out of the book, so I cannot rate it more highly. But I would love to hear others’ opinions, so please comment!
Side note: I also do not understand why Veronika is writing this book, or to whom it is addressed. I find it important for the existence of first-person narratives to be logical and am troubled when they do not seem to be.
Publication Date: February 21, 2013 (Dutton Juvenile)
Goodreads: Oryx and Crake
Series: MaddAddam Trilogy #1
Summary: Snowman is the only human left alive, and by thus by default the caretaker of the genetically engineered Crakers. As he watches over this new species, he teaches them and reminiscences about their beginnings: Before the world ended, Crake was his genius best friend, and Oryx was their lover.
Review: Oryx and Crake is a well-written speculative fiction that follows the question “What will happen once we begin to become highly successful with genetic engineering?” to what Atwood clearly thinks is its natural end. Her answer is rather bleak: First, biotech foods will become so cheap and efficient that real foods will be a luxury only for the rich. Social classes will be based on proficiency in math and science, with geniuses receiving the best of everything. Second, someone will eventually be smart enough he thinks he can play God, and the results will be catastrophic for the earth and the human race.
So does this seem right? Atwood does strive to base her novel entirely on existing science in order to lend some realism and actual terror to the book, but I cannot say I was personally horrified. Yes, scientists are working on some of the experiments she mentions even now, so this could happen, but I think I have a bit more faith in the human race than she does. There are dissenters in Oryx and Crake, people who believe all this science and “creation” is dangerous and wrong, so Atwood does recognize the controversy, but her speculation is that the scientists will be in league with the government and too powerful for the dissenters to stop. Again, this is possible, but Atwood does not give a clear trail indicating how all this happened in the first place, which makes it a little more difficult to buy into.
As for the story itself, Atwood tends to drag things out. Much of Oryx and Crake is about Snowman’s personal life, which eventually all ties into the dystopian plot events, but the effect is often more intimate than exciting—another reason why the book is not terrifying, despite its suggestions about our near future. This is also a novel where the entire premise is that the author refuses to tell the reader what actually happened until the end.
On one hand, I appreciate building suspense. On the other hand, I am beginning to be suspect of such books. Something seems disingenuous about telling a story where the author refuses to tell the story, but instead just leaves tantalizing hints for roughly 400 pages. One begins to wonder if the story is good enough that people would care if the story were just told chronologically –or if the book is using “suspense” as a crutch. In the case of Oryx and Crake, I do think the story could stand on its own merits. Atwood seems to be building a certain type of atmosphere by withholding information, since the story is from Snowman’s POV and he has to ease into thinking about his own traumatic past. Even recognizing this artistic decision, however, I found Oryx and Crake a bit frustrating.
Oryx and Crake is an interesting and a supremely thoughtful book. After reading this and about half The Handmaid’s Tale, however, I think Atwood’s style is a little too slow and boring for my taste. This may be another case where I will be just interested enough in plot events to read the Wikipedia summary, once the third book is published.
Content Note: Atwood is quite interested in sex. Much of this book focuses on describing the pornography Snowman used to watch and Oryx’s (possible) former life as a sex slave.
Summary: Pia is an immortal girl living in a secret compound in the middle of the Amazon. Her scientist family has warned her that the world is not yet ready for her kind, and so she must stay hidden. Her only dream is to help engineer a race of people like her. Then, Pia finds a whole in the fence, and she begins to wonder how much she has been missing from the outside world, and whether there are things she cannot sacrifice, even for her dream.
Review: Origin is an original debut novel that is on the forefront of the growing fad of genetic engineering but combines the science with a bit of magic. Readers’ reactions to this approach, however, will probably vary until they figure out it is the intended approach.
When the novel opens, the impression is that all will be based on cold scientific fact. So it is jarring when some of the science Khoury carefully explains to add realism to her novel is not quite sound. To start, the scientific community is truly convinced that Pia is immortal. In reality, what they know is that she has impenetrable skin, is very fast, and has lived for seventeen years. She may be immortal, but the use of the word is careless for a scientist. The facility also has immortal rats (i.e. They have rats that have lived a hundred years and who might still die.) Additionally, reactions in rats and humans may vary. Pia could die early or perhaps develop an adverse reaction to her “immortality.”
These details are, in some sense, trivial. Maybe the scientists got excited so they are using words loosely. The rest of their experimental procedures seem sound. The initial explanation of immortality process is, however, downright mystical, seemingly involving a magical flower and a mysterious process no one can properly explain. This is pretty mind-boggling upon first reading—until one continues reading and comes to understand that it is supposed to be mystical, that somehow science and magic are colliding in the book and there are things that can be explained by legend that cannot be explained by reason. Then, everything starts to fall wonderfully into place.
Pia slowly emerges from her cold scientific world into one based as much on the heart as on the head. Her teacher is Eio, an attractive boy from a nearby village, who is in turn loyal, courageous, vulnerable, and profound. No wonder Pia gets all swoony! He acts as companion, guide, and catalyst, and makes Origin as much a romance as it is science fiction.
His purpose is thus divided between winning Pia (and the reader?) over and showing her that there is more to life than can be seen with one’s eyes. He introduces the magic, as he introduces Pia to the villagers—who surprise her by knowing much more about immortality and its causes than her scientists do. Her struggle is to come to terms with the idea that the “ignorant” natives might have a lot of things to teach her, including things about the evil lurking in her own home.
Origin is intensely creative and manages to combine a number of genres with ease. The plot, the characters, and the ideas are strong, making it a fantastic debut.
Published: September 2012 (Razorbill/Penguin)
Series: Lunar Chronicles #1
Goodreads Summary: Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, the ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
Review: I was not excited about this novel at all before its release. I love fairy tale retellings, but I was immensely skeptical of a cyborg “Cinderella.” Frankly, it sounded creepy and difficult to relate to. Meyer dispelled all my worries from the very first pages. Cinder is an immensely capable, likeable, and relatable character, and I was thrilled to see that the humanity of cyborgs is one of the main issues at stake in this universe. Cyborgs face all kinds of discrimination, and by getting to know Cinder, readers are able to see how wrong this is. The exploration of what it means to be human is one of the themes of a great science fiction, in my opinion, and Meyer has completely nailed the topic.
The story itself is intensely original, even based as is it on a well-known tale. The evil stepsisters, the prince, the ball—everything is here, but it truly seems new. And, perfectly, Meyer exploits the opportunity to develop a true relationship between Prince Kai and Cinder. No meeting and falling in love at first sight! Kai and Cinder actually run into each other numerous times before the ball, and the status of their relationship is always a bit in question. Can a prince love a cyborg? Can a cyborg and mechanic allow herself to love a prince?
There are elements in Cinder that are entirely of Meyer’s invention, as well. Ironically, some of these are the most obvious. A few of the twists took me by surprise, but definitely not all. Nonetheless, this is a story that does not suffer from predictability in the least. It is the telling and the characters that make it magical, not the suspense. Cinder is really a fantastic read and a remarkable contribution to retold fairy tales.
Are you interested in the Cinder audiobook? Listen to an excerpt here, generously provided by Macmillan! Rebecca Soler offers an emotive reading that will have you hooked!
Goodreads: The Power of Six
Series: Lorien Legacies #2
SPOILERS FOR I AM NUMBER FOUR
Summary: John Smith is on the run, since he was almost captured in Ohio. Number Seven is searching for news of him from Spain, desperate to find the other five Garde, as her Cepan has all but abandoned her. Six is trying to bring them all together. The Mogodorians will do anything to stop them, but John’s own feelings might be more dangerous than all his enemies’ plots.
Review: The Power of Six does not seem quite as urgent as I Am Number Four, perhaps because the characters are now stronger and more prepared to take on threats, but it has more than its fair share of action. With the narration alternating between John’s point of view and Marina’s (Number Seven), there is a lot going on, and a lot of it is dangerous. The Mogodorians are clearly preparing for something big, just as the Garde are preparing for their own fight. (How exactly six people are going to take on an entire planet and win remains unexplained, but for the sake of the plot, readers will just have to go with it. And the plot is worth going with it.)
Beyond the expected battles, now featuring more Legacies and more technology from the chests, there is still romance. Between Sam and Six. Between John and Six. Another thing readers just have to go with. Six vaguely explains at some point that it is fine to like more than one person. And it is, but eventually someone is going to have to make a decision here. Lore seems like the only one eager to make such a decision, however, and his efforts are a little…obvious, to say the least. He essentially takes one scene to portray Sarah as a jerk, which will probably open the way to a stronger Six/John romance in the next book. Unfortunately, the scene seems contrived and completely out of character for Sarah. Maybe pairing Sam and Six would be a little too neat, in a “oh, look, everyone has someone to date” way, but it would have worked if Lore just wished to throw some romance in the book to keep readers hooked. It appears clear who everyone is going to end up dating, from the clue thrown around in the book, but only The Rise of Nine will confirm things.
The Power of Six is a nice middle book to a series. It keeps things moving along. It introduces new vital characters. It keeps people reading with crazy battles and revealed secrets. But The Rise of Nine had better more a little more mind-blowing; it must be, to convince readers six Garde can actually win the battle they were sent to win.