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Search tags: Dystopian-Post-Apoc
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-02-14 23:33
An Excess Male
An Excess Male: A Novel - Maggie Shen King

I almost loved this book. In fact I did love it, until about halfway through when I realized where it was going. Then, not so much.

 

First of all this book is far more speculative fiction than it is strict sci-fi. That's actually fine with me, but since it was marketed as sci-fi (and published on a sci-fi imprint) that did throw me off a little bit. The focus in this book is on the characters, not the world-building nor plot. Thankfully King does a good job with her character development - each character was well drawn, distinct, and sympathetic even when I didn't care for them at times. (Except BeiBei - he may in fact be the most obnoxious child in literature to date.) I was invested in these people and their plights.

 

The core of this story, at least for me, is how these four individuals are failing to have their needs met. And this is where my feelings on this book become complicated.

 

Spoilers below!
What I wanted the book to be about is these four people coming together, learning how to better take care of and love one another, and forming a supportive cohesive nontraditional family unit. That is not what happens. Instead the book does something I was suspicious of from the beginning: it imperils the queer character, makes them suffer, and ultimately cuts them off from the family unit. For the last half of the book he is basically just there to suffer and drive the other characters to action. The character that was neurodivergent also has a less than satisfying ending in my opinion, failing to gain his freedom (or dogs) and spending his time trying to ward off surveillance. The only real winners are the straight couple. And while I see what King was doing, and I think the narrative was functioning correctly, this is simply a story I'm very very tired of reading. I am, in fact, exhausted.

 

So where does that leave me? I feel bad criticizing a book for being something other than what I wanted it to be. The book was well written, and effectively told the story King set out to tell. Unfortunately it wasn't a story I wanted to hear right now. Quite frankly it bummed me out. I would happily give King another try, as I think she's a good author, but this book left me sad and craving a story with better outcomes for its more diverse characters.

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review 2018-12-28 02:39
Sea of Rust
Sea of Rust - C. Robert Cargill

This is a perfectly serviceable popcorn book. Take a robot apocalypse novel, stir in a good dose of western, and just a dash of <i>Mad Max</i>, and this is what you get. It's an adventure, and to a lesser degree an examination of what makes us human. The robots in this book, for better or worse, all feel very human. I'm fairly certain that was a deliberate choice by the author, and part of the point in some cases, but to me it also felt like a missed opportunity. Then again, that might be me just wishing this was a different type of book altogether. As is it hits all the adventure beats and keeps pages turning at a good clip. Brittle makes for good company as the story barrels forward. This book has a strong sense of fun about it, and will make for good light reading for sci-fi fans. If, however, you find AI terrifying you might want to give this one a pass. It's hard to enjoy a fun romp when you can't stop thinking about how all the robots murdered humanity and poisoned the world. It rather puts a damper on things. Your milage may vary.

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review 2018-09-20 23:13
The Marrow Thieves
The Marrow Thieves - Cherie Dimaline

How do you write about the apocalypse when your people have already experienced it? You draw deeply from the past. Filled with historical parallels and rife with metaphors this book broke my heart to pieces in a beautiful way. Dimaline asks questions worth addressing, especially here and now. How do you survive in a poisoned world? How does your culture persist when it is being devoured? How do you live when you are a consumable?

 

Tapping into the teen survival adventure story vein this book also had the qualities of a zombie apocalypse story. How people are dragged away by the whistling recruiters, the scrounging, the running through the woods, the need for self sufficiency even as found family becomes a lifeline, the constant fear of those mindless creatures coming to consume you in the night. It had all the hallmarks of a truly humanistic zombie tale, except the monsters weren't undead.

 

Episodic yet cohesive we get the stories of these characters lives even as we follow them ever North toward hope. I could go into a deep literary analysis, put my degree to good use, but honestly I don't want to. I thought this book was beautifully written and conceived. Best read as an allegory than straight sci-fi this is the sort of take on annihilation only an indigenous author could manage so masterfully. I was intrigued, horrified, and moved.

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review 2018-05-18 00:52
Good Morning, Midnight
Good Morning, Midnight: A Novel - Lily Brooks-Dalton

I'm sure there are plenty of people who will find this a beautiful and meditative read about the nature of loneliness and connectivity. I was not one of those people. Not by a long shot.

Maybe it's the result of years of studying literature and writing, but I could not stand the way this book was written. I know a lot of people enjoyed the prose, but again I was not one of them. There was no developed voice, and the style of the writing feels very much like the product of a writing program rather than an author developing a distinct voice. The metaphors were often tortured and the language repetitive and rote. More damning, I found the characters unbelievable, especially the astronauts (and cosmonauts). I did not believe these people and I did not like them. And the twists? I called them Very Early in the book (maybe page 20?), and they were aggravatingly pat. Perhaps I've read too many stories in workshop, or too many books in general, but I found the story laughably trite and predictable.

Here's the thing: I feel like Brooks-Dalton wanted to write a story about the nature of loneliness and the human condition. Which is great. The mistake is that she decided to shoehorn this story into a sci-fi genre and she totally dropped the ball. You can write literary sci-fi, but it's a tricky beast. You need to understand both literary trappings and genre trappings, and make them work in tandem. In this book they were fighting against each other. For example, the book kept pointing at science, and trying to make it a core part of the story, without ever understanding it. Science isn't a magic system you can just slot into your story to make it more interesting. It became evident that the research done was only very surface level, and the discrepancies became distracting. (Don't even get me started on all the errors made in regards to space and the space program.)

Not a science nerd? Maybe it won't bother you. Then again, an awful lot of people are going to enter into this book expecting at least some answers to basic questions set up by the premise, like what caused the apocalypse, and those questions are not answered. There really isn't much plot to speak of, and there is absolutely no world building. These are things many folks appreciate and expect in their narratives.

Look, here's the thing, if you're intrigued by the idea of a post-apocalyptic narrative, or you're interested in a duel narrative where a scientist and an astronaut work to solve a problem, this will disappoint you. It is neither of those things. This book is about isolated people navel gazing about how they came to a point in their life where they are alone. That's it. And a lot of people will enjoy that. Which is totally fine. Unfortunately I for one found it insufferable.

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review 2018-04-11 00:17
Memory of Water: Lyrical but not Deep
Memory of Water: A Novel - Emmi Itäranta

The writing in this book is absolutely lovely. It's lyrical, almost meditative, and really pulled me into a sense of place and tone. I could feel the heat pushing down on me, and the bugs buzzing in the air. The descriptions were lush and evocative, especially when describing the tea ceremony. It is easily one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I've read in quite some time. While I was reading I was absolutely engrossed and transported. Whenever I set the book down, however, things would niggle at me. And now that a little time has passed since I finished the book I find I've cooled on it even more.

 

The actions of the main character, the science, the way the world operates, it all just fails to make sense upon inspection. And this book wants you to inspect. It pulls you close, and very clearly wants you to think about the messages and themes it presents. I can't remember the last time I read a book that had such lovely prose, but at its core such uneven storytelling. The main character was so naive it went beyond the point where I would have disliked her, and instead went into territory where I could no longer suspend disbelief in her. There were points where I actually found myself exclaiming aloud at her poor decisions. It didn't feel like the actions of a dumb girl - it felt like the author manipulating the flow of the story to reach a certain conclusion. Since the story toys with being a character study this is pretty damning.

 

In the end I'm torn on this one. I enjoyed reading it, and I loved the prose, but I'm left frustrated. There are just too many plot holes and story crafting issues for this to be the sort of read I can solidly say I love. That said, I very much want to read more of Itäranta's work in the future. I think she could become brilliant if her storytelling can catch up to her writing skills.

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