July Recap & August Reading Plans

Well July was a great month! It’s amazing to be able to rest a little since the first half of the year was completely hectic. I received my finals results and I got accepted into the cursus I wanted to pursue: biological engineering! I am beyond excited to start learning new things in September, but still, I am thankful for the summer holidays!

Since I had a lot more time on my hands, I managed to read quite a bit this month and most of the books I read, I really, really liked so that’s really awesome. I read the last four Clarke shortlisted books, a couple of review books and some backlist titles and even a few romances. I usually don’t read romances but I really appreciated them between and after the heavy-duty Clarke reading I did at the beginning of the month. The Hating Game by Sally Thorne was absolutely hilarious and I would recommend if you want a light and funny summer read!

 

Books Read

 

  • Black Wolves by Kate Elliott ★★ 1/2
  • Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee ★★★★★
  • Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill ★★★★
  • Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed ★★
  • The Hating Game by Sally Thorne ★★★★
  • American War by Omar El Akkad ★★★★★
  • Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock ★★★★
  • The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang ★★★
  • Shelter by Dave Hutchinson ★★★ 1/2
  • Clarkesworld Issue 141 edited by Neil Clarke ★★★
  • The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts ★★★★
  • The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander ★★★★

 

Favorite Book

This was a really great reading month for me but if I had to select just one, I would choose American War by Omar El Akkad because I apparently cannot shut up about this one, can I ? 😀

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Currently Reading & August Reading Plans

 

I am going to be a bit more busy in August so I don’t think I’ll be able to read as much as I did in July since I will be visiting friends and family, but still, I would like to get to a few books. I am about halfway through Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi and I am really liking it so far! I would also like to read The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèli Clark and Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas since I both received them for review. My review schedule might be a bit odd since I won’t be able to access a computer for at least two weeks but I’ll try my best! 🙂

Tentative TBR:

  • Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi
  • Haven by Adam Roberts
  • Aickman’s Heirs edited by Simon Strantzas
  • The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèli Clark
  • Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas
  • The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
  • Clarkesworld Issues 142 & 143

 

Favourite Non Bookish Things

 

I decided to add this segment during my college break because I have a bit more time on my hand and for once, I can do a few more things (yay!).

This month I have been binging a lot of  TV shows and the one I have to shout-out definitely is What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim a korean drama that I consumed in a couple of days. It was really hilarious and cute, the actors are fantastic and, even if the plot is a bit ridiculous, I really didn’t care, it was exactly what I needed. I really loved it and if you want a really enjoyable romcom, this is the one I would recommend. 10/10

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Since I’m back at my parent’s house, I have been able to visit Paris a bit more often (in case you don’t know it, I’m French!) and went to a couple of exhibitions that I really liked. If you happen to visit Paris this summer, I would highly recommend the Musée de l’Orangerie, they host Monet’s Nymphéas and this summer they host Nymphéas. L’abstraction américaine et le dernier Monet and this exhibition juxtaposes American painters of the 30’s and older paintings by Claude Monet, I really liked this one and I would highly recommend! 🙂

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I don’t own this picture, it’s by Sophie Crépy Boegly. My favorite painting is the one on the right by Pollock!

 

I hope your month of July was as good as mine! What’s your favorite bookish and non bookish thing of the month? 😀

 

Have a great August!

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Book Review: Shelter by Dave Hutchinson (Tales of the Aftermath #1)

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Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Solaris

Length: 304 pages

Format: Paperback

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication Date: June 12th 2018

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

The Long Autumn is coming to an end. For almost a century after the coming of The Sisters, the surviving peoples of rainswept England have huddled in small communities and on isolated farms, scavenging the remains of the old society. But now society, of a kind, is starting to rebuild itself. In Kent, a brutal tyranny is starting to look West. In the Cotswolds, something terrible and only vaguely-glimpsed is happening. And in a little corner of Berkshire two families are at war with each other. After decades of simply trying to survive, the battle to inherit this brutal new world is beginning.

 

Book Review

 

   Shelter is the first book in the Tales of the Aftermath, a series part of the Solaris Worlds project where each series are written by several authors. In the case of the Tales of the Aftermath, the first book is written by Dave Hutchinson but the sequel, Haven will be written by Adam Roberts. Since I admire both of those authors, I was definitely intrigued by this series from the start and I very much like the concept of this project.

Set in a post-apocalyptic England devasted by the fall of two asteroids called the Sisters, we follow several people trying to rebuild civilizations: a spy investigating a village ruled by a dangerous individual, two families fighting each other because of a misunderstanding and a couple trying to survive in a remote farm. The book is set about a hundred years after the Sisters and humanity as we know it was destroyed. Families who were just trying to survive on their own are now trying to build cities again. However, a lot of knowledge was lost, most of the world population is dead and the majority of the survivors were to busy not dying that they lost a lot of basic things such as reading and writing which makes the whole rebuilding aspect even more complicated because only a few people can read the remaining books that could help them.

Shelter is very bleak book, a lot of characters are very unlikeable if not completely mad and a lot of conflicts happening in the book feel a pointlessy violent. It’s especially the case of the war happening between the two families: a lot of innocent end up loosing their life over this conflict and, even if they all know the war started because of a misundersatnding, people can’t seem to stop it from escalating. Because of how bloody and bleak Shelter is, I can’t really say I enjoyed it however I still found parts of it fascinating. It doesn’t feel like your typical post-apo book and I thought it discussed very interesting “what ifs” especially in terms of human behaviors if such a situation were to happen. My favorite part was definitely the whole investigation which is not surprising since I think Hutchinson masters the art of spy novels in a speculative setting, his Europe Fractured Sequence novels being a perfect example of that and one of my favorite series of all time.

Shelter isn’t my favorite work by him but it’s only the first book in what I think is going to be a quartet and I am definitely intrigued enough to continue. I think this series has a lot of potential and I already pre-ordered Haven, the sequel, which is coming out early next-month.

 

3.5 stars.

 

Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag | 2018

I am a bit burn-out in term of book reviews after my big Clarke marathon so I thought I would try something new and do a tag! I don’t believe I have ever done a tag on my blog but I have seen this one floating aroud for a couple of years now and wanted to participate since it sounds very fun, and, since it’s a pretty much the middle of the year, it’s now or never!

 

What is the best book that you’ve read so far in 2018?

It’s hard to limit myself to one book since I read a couple of really amazing books such as Revenant Gun, The Will to Battle and Autumn but I will go with my last five stars read: American War by Omar El Akkad. It really blew me away, it’s very-well written, thought-provoking and it really resonated with me.

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I’ll have to cheat a bit for this answer and choose two books!

What is your most anticipated release for the second half of the year?

I have two: I cannot wait for The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, the long awaited sequel to the Traitor Baru Cormorant, one of my favorite book of 2015 and Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas, I really liked United States of Japan and I want more stories set in this world!

 

What is your biggest surprise so far?

I was expecting to enjoy The Bear in the Nightingale but I didn’t think I would like it as much as I did. This book has a great sense of atmosphere and even if it was slow-paced, I was completely hooked from the beginning.

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What is your favourite new to you or debut author?

Again, I cannot limit myself to one, I have two: Jeff Vandermeer and Ali Smith.I won’t details much more because I’ll talk about their works in other categories.

What is your favourite fictional crush from this year?

I almost never have a crush on a character except when I read a Jacqueline Carey book so I’ll go with Moirin from the Naamah’s trilogy because she’s witty, sure of herself and competent and I wish I was her sometimes!

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What is your new favourite character?

Borne in Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne because he ask the best questions and tries his utmost to protect the ones he loves even if he doesn’t know how to do that. He’s both cute and terrifying and I want more of him.

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A book that made you cry? A book that made you happy?

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What is your favourite post that you have written so far this year?

The review that took me the longest to write but that I’m the proudest of this year is my review of Borne by Jeff Vandermeer, I don’t know how much time it took for me to formulate my thoughts about this book but I’m happy with the end result!

 

What is the most beautiful book that you have bought?

I have bought a lot of books this year and a lot of them are quite pretty but my favorite is without a doubt my hardcover edition of Winter by Ali Smith. The photo doesn’t show the whole beauty of this book, in person, it’s really, really gorgeous. *_*

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Well it was fun! If you want to do this particular tag, please do, I love the questions, it’s a fun way to look back on the first half of the year! 🙂

Book Review: Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock | Clarke Award Shortlist 2018 #6

This review is a bit late because the winner was announced this Wednesday but, at the same time, I couldn’t have concluded this series with a better book since Dreams Before the Start of Time is the winner of this year Clarke!

In case you want to check out my reviews of the other five books, here they are:


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Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: 47North

Length: 226 pages

Format: ebook

Rating: 4 stars

Publication Date: April 18th 2017

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

In a near-future London, Millie Dack places her hand on her belly to feel her baby kick, resolute in her decision to be a single parent. Across town, her closest friend—a hungover Toni Munroe—steps into the shower and places her hand on a medic console. The diagnosis is devastating.

In this stunning, bittersweet family saga, Millie and Toni experience the aftershocks of human progress as their children and grandchildren embrace new ways of making babies. When infertility is a thing of the past, a man can create a child without a woman, a woman can create a child without a man, and artificial wombs eliminate the struggles of pregnancy. But what does it mean to be a parent? A child? A family?

Through a series of interconnected vignettes that spans five generations and three continents, this emotionally taut story explores the anxieties that arise when the science of fertility claims to deliver all the answers.

 

Book Review

    Set in a near-future London, Dreams Before the Start of Time is a multigenerational saga following families and the impact of technology on their day-to-day lives. It is mainly focused on the advances made in childbearing since, in this future, men can have children without women and vice-versa. Moreover, women aren’t expected to carry children anymore: most pregnancies are made with the aid of artificial wombs. Charnock’s novel shows us snapshots into people’s life with a series of vignettes and how such changes impact their concept of family.

This book is an interesting science fiction novel because it features very few speculative elements. Of course, it is set in the future but if you take away the technological advances, each character’s life is quite normal, they could almost be living in our days. It’s a slice of life book so don’t expect a plot that will keep you at the edge of your seat. To be honest, nothing really happen in this book. I didn’t mind it because I wanted to know more about the life of the protagonists involved and I don’t mind quiet stories but that’s something you might want to know before going into this book.

I liked a lot of things about Dreams Before the Start of Time: the writing is fantastic and the characters felt real. Everything about them felt believable, from their thoughts to their reactions. I felt immersed in their life and it was almost as if I knew them personally. As I mentionned, not a lot of things happened but still, I never found myself bored. I really liked the discussions surrounding pregnancy and how each character has a different opinion on what should be done to a child in order to make his life a easy as possible from birth. It reminded me a lot of the movie Gattaca that I saw probably ten years ago but that still sticks to my mind. The wealthy are indeed able to alter the genome of their children to lessen their chances of having illnesses but they can also control their appearances and IQs so of course, you can imagine how that would increase inequalities.

However, I wish we had more information about this future. It seems that all the characters were only focused on having children and we didn’t get much more about this world. We didn’t learn about the political situation or the other technological advances made in this future. If you take away the changes surrounding pregnancy, this book could almost be set in 2018. Since it’s mainly focused on a single idea, I think this book would have worked better as a shorter work because, in the end, I wanted more for the lenght.

If this sounds like something you would like, I would recommend this book. It has really interesting ideas and discussion about parenthood and it’s definitely well-written. It’s not the book I wanted as I winner but it’s still a good one and I get why it was chosen by the judges. I will definitely read other works by Charnock.

 

4 stars.

Clarke Award 2018 | Review Roundup

Hi everyone!

The 2018 Clarke Award winner will be announced later today and since I just finished reading the shortlist, I thought it would be nice to have a quick chat about this year’s titles.

As I mentionned, I read the six books shortlists and so far, I’ve published five reviews out of six. Since I just finished Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock and I didn’t want to rush my review of this book but it should be up tomorrow!

In case you have missed my recent Clarke posts and you are not familiar with the shortlist already, it is as follow:

 

A majority of the books shortlisted can be considered literary fiction especially Spaceman of Bohemia and Dreams Before the Start of Time as they both have great literary qualities. I usually like it when literary fiction meets speculative fiction because I don’t see why a book should limit itself to one quality.

However, I have to say that for Spaceman of Bohemia and Gather The Daughters, I’m a bit skeptical to their presence on the shortlist of a science fiction prize. Spaceman follows an astronaut but the whole space setting felt more like an excuse to isolate the main character than anything else. In my opinion, it didn’t bring anything to the book that couldn’t have been done exactly the same way if the main character had stayed on Earth. As for Gather the Daughters, I don’t think it has any speculative elements: the synopsis tries to sell you a post-apocalyptic book but it’s not even that. It’s about a cult abusing girls on a remote island. If you read this book, did you think this has any speculative fiction elements? I would love to know because I don’t understand why it’s on the list.

As for the other four works, I really liked them. American War was the biggest surprise of the lot, I heard very little about it before it was shortlisted and it completely took me by surprise. Dreams Before the Start of Time was another pleasant surprise, it’s a quiet family saga set in the future, not a lot of things happen in term of plot but I enjoyed seeing how the technological advances ended up changing the customs of the society.

I read and really liked Borne before it was shortlisted (I predicted that it would end up on the shortlist as well as Sea of Rust). It’s an emotional read with a lot of interesting themes such as the relationship between nature and humanity and what makes a person. As for Sea of Rust it’s probably the most readable book on the shortlist but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t manage to be clever. It has interesting to say about the future of humanity and how creations are influenced by their creators.

If I had to predict a winner, I don’t know which one I’ll choose between Borne and American War. I think Borne might win because it’s both very well written and challenging. It is original, thought-provoking and also quite popular. However, if I had to choose my personal favorite on the list, I would go with American War because it really resonated with me.

Of course, everything is just a lucky guess,I don’t know what the judges think and what their reflexion about the shortlist. I wouldn’t be surprised either if  Dreams Before the Start of Time by Charnock ended up winning. It’s a bit of an outsider and quieter than previous winners but it’s very good as well.

If I had to rank the books in how likely they are to win, it would look something like that:

  1. Borne
  2. American War
  3. Dreams Before the Start of Time
  4. Sea of Rust
  5. Spaceman of Bohemia
  6. Gather the Daughters

If I had to rank them by order of preference, I would put American War first and Borne second!

Anyway, thank you for putting up with my Clarke geekyness, especially for the last few days, I will just bother you a little bit more with my last Clarke review tomorrow! 😉 As always with this project, I discovered great books and authors and I had a lot of fun discussing everything with you ! I will definitely do this again in 2019  but I’ll try to space out my posts a little more! 😛

Book Review: American War by Omar El Akkad | Clarke Award Shortlist 2018 #5

It’s Clarke Award time! As I did for the last two years, I plan on reading and reviewing all the books shortlisted.

If you have not seen the shortlist already, here it is:

The winner will be announced July 18th so my goal is to read and review every book before that. So brace yourself for some serious Clarke spam in the next few days. 😉

You can find more thoughts about my reaction to the shortlist here and about my shortlist predictions here.

 


 

 

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Picador

Length: 352 pages

Format: ebook

Rating: 5 stars

Publication Date: April 4th 2017

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war – part of the Miraculous Generation – now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past, his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others.

 

Book Review

American War opens up in 2074 when the Second Civil War breaks out because of a global warming prevention act, the Sustainable Act, a treaty to stop States from producing oils. Or maybe the country was on the verge of imploding anyway and the terrorist attack that killed the President was just a pretext to start a war. It doesn’t matter anyway to our protagonist, Sarat Chestnut.

She is only six years old when the conflict starts and her family tries to move up North, to the Blues, and to what they all believe will be a safer place to live. However, when bombs are dropped by drones too close from their home, the Chestnust don’t have any other choice than fleeing to a refugee camp situated near the border.

At Camp Patience, Sarat grow up listening to the sounds of bombs. When she’s just a teenager, she gets approached by a man whose sole aim is to turn her into a deadly weapon. One that will change the course of the war.

 

“You fight the war with guns, you fight the peace with stories.”

 

American War is the kind of dystopian books I love, it’s very reminiscent of the Handmaid’s Tale in the way it uses worldbuilding and history to explain how everything unfolds. It’s rich in details and the media excerpts separating each chapters give us an even broader vision of the narrative. We get perspectives from the Blues, the Northerners, but also from inhabitants of other countries implicated in the war. This allow the reader to understand the deeper meanings of the conflict, especially when we learn about the mysterious investors that finance both siedes, as if they had every intentions of sustaining the conflict as much as possible…

 

“Sarat smiled at the thought. “You couldn’t just let us kill ourselves in peace, could you?”

“Come now,” said Yousef. “Everyone fights an American war.”

 

We meet recruiters, people who indoctrinate young people to turn them into suicide bombers or members of militias. Because of them, both Sarat and her older brother found themselves fighting the war that killed their father. We follow them as they grow from innocent child to martyrs or deadly and disillusioned young adults fueled by hatred.

Sarat isn’t a likeable character but she can’t be. Everything in her life, from the circumstances that lead her to grow up at Patience, to the people who whispers in her ears turn her into who she is. Her life is gut-wrenching, her acts, unforgivable, but you can’t keep yourself from understanding her anyway.

 

“What was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else’s home?”

 

American War is thought-out, rich and deeply researched book rooted in the past. Omar El Akkad is a journalist who covered events in Afghanistan, Egypt and the Arab Spring and you can feel it in the writing and how believable every detail is. I was pulled in the narrative after a couple of pages and I was completely immersed until the last word. It’s a story about war, growing up hating your own people and how it can affect entire families. It’s also about doing what you think is right when nothing is right anymore.

I heard a lot of great things about this book last year but I don’t know why I categorized it as a novel I “should probably read at some point but not now”. I’m glad it was shortlisted for the Clarke otherwise I might never have given this book a chance and it would have been a real shame. American War is a hard read but necessary to everyone. It’s not pointlessy unpleasant like Gather the Daughters for example. It’s hard because it teach us how every war is basically started the same way and sustained by entities that benefit from it without caring about people that have to live through it.

It’s clever, thought-provoking and raw. It’s also one of the best books I read this year.

 

Five stars.

 

“I’m sorry, Sarat.”
“Why’d you do it?” she asked me.
“I just wanted to know.”
“Don’t ever apologize for that,” she said. “That’s all there is to life, is wanting to know.”

Book Review: Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed | Clarke Award Shortlist 2018 #4

It’s Clarke Award time! As I did for the last two years, I plan on reading and reviewing all the books shortlisted.

If you have not seen the shortlist already, here it is:

  • Borne by Jeff Vandermeer
  • Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
  • American War by Omar El Akkad
  • Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
  • Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
  • Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock

The winner will be announced July 18th so my goal is to read and review every book before that. So brace yourself for some serious Clarke spam in the next few days. 😉

You can find more thoughts about my reaction to the shortlist here and about my shortlist predictions here.


 

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Genre: Science Fiction (???), Literary Fiction

Publisher: Tinder Press

Length: 341 pages

Format: ebook

Rating: 2 stars

Publication Date: July 25th 2017

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

Gather The Daughters tells the story of an end-of-the-world cult founded years ago when ten men colonised an island. It’s a society in which men reign supreme, breeding is controlled, and knowledge of the outside world is kept to a minimum. Girls are wives-in-training: at the first sign of puberty, they must marry and have children. But until that point, every summer, island tradition dictates that the children live wildly: running free, making camps, sleeping on the beach. And it is at the end of one such summer that one of the youngest girls sees something so horrifying that life on the island can never be the same again.

 

Book Review

Gather the Daughters counts the life of several girls while they grow up on a hellish island where they are completely abused by men. They are trained since their birth to be perfect little wives for their future husbands. They must listen, they must obey, they must have children and they must die when they are told to.

When I started this book, I thought the whole premise was, while very scary, pretty interesting. I was ready for a Handmaid’s Tale-like book set in a post-apocalyptic future where women’s right are completely non-existent. Indeed, early on in the book, we learn that this society was created after a plague completely ravaged humanity. The girls are lead to believe that, outside the island, they are nothing but “wastelands”, lands so poisoned that only “defectives” are still able to survive there. If the girls were to leave the island, they would be torn apart by them. However, as we soon learn, a few of the island’s inhabitants recently arrived from the wastelands. And they appear completely normal.

(I guess it’s kind of a spoiler so if you really want to read this book, skip to the next paragraph.) We, as the reader, quickly then presume that the whole island story is based on a complete lie. There are no wastelands, no “defectives” outside, only the real world. Which means that the girls are raised and kept on the island for no apparent “good” reasons. As we also quickly learn, they are all abused since childhood by their fathers to teach them to behave, and while it remains quite taboo and no scenes explicitely describe the rapes, it’s impossible not to understand what’s going on in the darkness of the homes.

I was ready for some dark scenes but I wasn’t ready for how messed-up the entire system would be. I have a strong stomach but reading more than 300 pages of little girls being abused by their own parents wasn’t a pleasant experience at all. I managed to finish the book but I had to skim a few scenes toward the end because I couldn’t take it anymore.

The worst is that the entire novel felt pointless. You read about characters going through horrible things while being completely unable to escape and that for about 350 pages. When a few girls try to rebel, their situation just turn even worse while nothing bad ever happen to the agressors. For me, this book reminded me a lot of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, it’s basically what I call “torture-porn”: you read about horrible things happening to innocent people and, the more you read, the more their lifes turn to shit. A lot of people seem to like this kind of books but I definitely do not.

Th book isn’t bad per say: the writing and the characters are two strong points. Melamed succeeds in her attempt to create an atmosphere of desesparation and isolation and it managed to reinforce quite well my feeling of claustrophobia and horror while reading the book. However, as you can imagine, even if it requires good writing skill, it didn’t make the reading experience any better for me.

Also, and even more so than Spaceman of Bohemian, this book isn’t a science fiction book at all. I don’t know what the judges thought this year but frankly, I don’t understand why Gather The Daughters is on the list. I just don’t get it.

I wouldn’t recommend Gather The Daughters, I don’t think any people would find it worthwhile or enjoyable. Well except if you read and enjoyed A Little Life, you might LOVE this book then…

 

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual abuse, pedophilia, incest.

 

Book Review: Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill | Clarke Award Shortlist 2018 #3

It’s Clarke Award time! As I did for the last two years, I plan on reading and reviewing all the books shortlisted.

If you have not seen the shortlist already, here it is:

  • Borne by Jeff Vandermeer
  • Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
  • American War by Omar El Akkad
  • Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
  • Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
  • Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock

The winner will be announced July 18th so my goal is to read and review every book before that. So brace yourself for some serious Clarke spam in the next few days. 😉

You can find more thoughts about my reaction to the shortlist here and about my predictions here.


 

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Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Gollancz

Length: 416 pages

Format: ebook

Rating: 4 stars

Publication Date: November 16th 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

 

It is thirty years since the humans lost their war with the artificial intelligences that were once their slaves. Not one human remains. But as the dust settled from our extinction there was no easy peace between the robots that survived. Instead, the two massively powerful artificially intelligent supercomputers that led them to victory now vie for control of the bots that remain, assimilating them into enormous networks called One World Intelligences (OWIs), absorbing their memories and turning them into mere extensions of the whole. Now the remaining freebots wander wastelands that were once warzones, picking the carcasses of the lost for the precious dwindling supply of parts they need to survive. 

BRITTLE started out his life playing nurse to a dying man, purchased in truth instead to look after the man’s widow upon his death. But then war came and Brittle was forced to choose between the woman he swore to protect and potential oblivion at the hands of rising anti-AI sentiment. Thirty years later, his choice still haunts him. Now he spends his days in the harshest of the wastelands, known as the Sea of Rust, cannibalizing the walking dead – robots only hours away from total shutdown – looking for parts to trade for those he needs to keep going.

 

Book Review

Thirty years have passed since the robots won the war against humanity. Humans are long dead and AIs are free to roam the surface of the Earth. However the fight isn’t over as two OWIs, One World Intelligences, huge powerful mainframes, still fight to control and absorb the memories of the remaining bots.  Their is aim is to be the last entities operating on Earth and to turn into supercomputers with so much data that they will almost become Gods.

Brittle is an old Caregiver robot and she doesn’t want any part in this conflict between the two OWIs. She just wants to be left alone to collect parts of dying robots in order to sell them afterwards. She does that to other bots to buy other parts that she’ll need for herself. Indeed, after humanity died out and the OWIs turned onto each other, nobody manufactures new parts for robots and their only way to survive is by stealing and taking parts from other dead, or living, robots. During an attack to steal some of her parts, Brittle finds herself damaged and, in order to survive, she has to take on a deadly mission with other bots across the Sea of Rust.

This book is a story of survival, death and humanity’s legacy. The worldbuilding was excellent, most chapters alternate between Brittle’s present and her account of how the AI rebellion came to be. The structure is very interesting because it allows us to learn little by little about the world and what was the catalyst for the conflict.

The premise is very interesting because it’s a play on a trope that we see all the time: the fight between AIs and humans and, for one, the AIs are the winner. However, as we quickly learn, by being created by humans, AIs tend to repeat the exact same errors as their creators. When the story starts, we learn Earth is basically dead, all living organisms were killed by the robots during the war.  Because of this lack of life, the land is a lifeless desert where the remaining robots are left to rust.

In order to be free themselves from the OWIs, the last robots have to keep fleeing from the attacks of the mainframes. Brittle’s entire post-war life  has constitued of fleeing her enemies but also her memories and what she had to do to buy her freedom. She did, does and will do anything to keep on fighting just one more day, even if in this decaying world, her only occupation is to cannibalize other dying bots to buy herself one more day.

In their fight against humans, we realize that AIs have turned into what they despise the most: humans. It’s visible by the way they talk about the war but also about their memories and their fight for freedom. What surprised me the most was the use of gender, I was surprised that Brittle saw herself as female and other bots used masculine pronouns . Between their genders and how they express themselves, it was sometimes easy to forget that we were reading from the perspective of robots. It might be one of my problem with this book, the fact that AIs seem to loose what made them different from humans in the first place. I’m pretty sure it was the aim of the novel but still, it felt a bit odd.

However, this book was still a very interesting study of humanity without having a single human character. This aspect reminded me of Animal Farm.

I really liked Sea of Rust, it was clever and thought-provoking but it was still fun and I couldn’t put it down. It had been on my radar since its release and I’m glad the fact it was shortlisted pushed me to finally pick it up. I definitely want to read other work by Cargill. Do I think that it is the best science fiction book published in 2017? No but it’s still good. I would prefer Borne to win this year’s Clarke but still, I would definitely recommend Sea of Rust.

 

4 stars.

Book Review: Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar| Clarke Award Shortlist 2018 #2

It’s Clarke Award time! As I did for the last two years, I plan on reading and reviewing all the books shortlisted.

If you have not seen the shortlist already, here it is:

  • Borne by Jeff Vandermeer
  • Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
  • American War by Omar El Akkad
  • Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
  • Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
  • Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock

My goal is to read the shortlist before July 18th, the day of the 2018 Award Ceremony. So I don’t have much time to read and review the last four books but I will do my best!

You can find more thoughts about my reaction to the shortlist here and about my predictions here.


 

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Genre: Science Fiction (?), Literary Fiction

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Length: 288 pages

Format: ebook

Rating: 2.5 stars

Publication Date: March 9th 2017

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

 

A proud nation witnesses Jakub Procházka’s ascent as he launches skyward from a state-owned potato field to become the first ever spaceman of Bohemia.

He thinks he has escaped terrestrial problems – from his father’s legacy as a brutal communist informer to his wife, Lenka, whom he loves yet no longer understands – but he is wrong. Alone above the earth, his only solace comes in the form of a (possibly hallucinatory) arachnid with a penchant for existential philosophy and Nutella.

Museums across the world will carry Jakub’s likeness; schoolchildren will repeat his name for centuries to come. He came to space to tread the heavens, to grasp infinity.

But first, he needs to find a way home.

 

Book Review

 

    Spaceman of Bohemia follows Jakub Procházka, the first ever Czech astronaut, as he is sent in a solo space mission to collect dust from a strange dust cloud floating in space. However, when he enters the cloud, things don’t go as planned and he finds himself in a situation he won’t be able to escape by himself.

Does it give you The Martian vibes? The synopsis might but, if you are expecting Spaceman of Bohemia to be anything close to it, don’t read it. Sure the premise make it seems like this is going to be a suspensful space adventure but it’s not.

Does it make it a bad book? Not necesseraly. It’s up to your preferences and expectations. Reading this book made me realize a couple of things. First of all, setting your book in space doesn’t always make the book a science fiction novel.

 

Indeed, the focus isn’t on the mission or the survival aspect at all but mainly on the main character and the relationship he has with his family and his past. More than half of the chapters are about Jakub’s past, either his childhood in a small Czech village or his studies in Prague. Even the scenes taking place during the mission are all focused on his memories.

We learn early on in the novel that Jakub’s father was a communist informer and because of that, he was always seen as a traitor by the entire village. Because of this legacy, Jakub was violently bullied during his childhood and in order to break away from his father’s past, Jakub always tried to act like the perfect citizen. This mission is an opportunity for him to bring closure to what he thinks everybody think he is: an impostor and a traitor. Every decision he makes, he makes because of that.

I didn’t care much for the book but I have to say that a couple of things are done well. First of all, even if I really didn’t like Jakub, I found him self-centered, naive and socially incapable, he felt real. This book isn’t about space, it’s about Jakub as he struggles with his past, with love, the idea of love and the fact that the world isn’t solely working around him and his expectations. It’s about a lone man confused by his role in the society and the fact that people don’t always want the same as him as he slowly goes mad in the solitude and isolation of space.

   Spaceman of Bohemia is an atmospheric novel deeply rooted in history and built around the past. This novel will immerse you in another culture, you’ll be able to see, taste and smell the streets of Prague and  you’ll be thrown off by the vast silence and solitude of space. I have been to Prague and I could perfectly picture the scenes while reading the book. Prague has a really unique atmosphere and I found myself revisiting it through the eyes of someone who grew up there.

However, despite that, I struggled quite a bit with this novel. I found a couple of scenes utterly unbelievable: Jakub finds himself in a lot of very dangerous situations and the way he survives are quite questionable to say the least.

A lot in this book didn’t make any sense, including the fact that he would be sent alone in space for month especially when, it is repeated times and times again that it’s not because of the weight since the spaceship appears to be loaded with useless things. I’m no astrophysicist but, I know that, in space, a kilo cost a lot. If that was the problem, I could have understand why he would be sent alone. However, we learn that Jakub was sent with a lot of hydrated food and several glass bottles of alcohol in space so, I don’t believe the weight was the problem here. My question then is: why would you sent a person mentally incapable of dealing with solititude in space alone?

In my opinion it’s because Spaceman of Bohemia simply isn’t a science fiction book. Kalfar didn’t make the story remotely believable because he didn’t care about that, it isn’t the point of the book.  Spaceman of Bohemia is not about space but about the spaceman. To be honest, you could set the entire story on Earth and nothing would change. That’s my problem with it being shortlisted for the Clarke.

Last year, a few people went nuts about The Underground Railroad being shortlisted because “it was not a science fiction book”. Well, I don’t agree with that and I think that The Underground Railroad has more science fiction elements than a novel set in space like the Spaceman of Bohemia.

I think I would have enjoyed this book way more if it didn’t try as hard to be what it’s not: a speculative work.

I really don’t understand why this was shortlisted. I bet it would be a stronger novel if it wasn’t set in space.

 

2.5 stars.

 

Book Review: Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee (Machineries of Empire #3)

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Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera

Publisher: Solaris

Length: 412 pages

Format: ARC

Rating: 5 stars

Publication Date: June 12th 2018

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

When Shuos Jedao wakes up for the first time, several things go wrong. His few memories tell him that he’s a seventeen-year-old cadet–but his body belongs to a man decades older.  Hexarch Nirai Kujen orders Jedao to reconquer the fractured hexarchate on his behalf even though Jedao has no memory of ever being a soldier, let alone a general.  Surely a knack for video games doesn’t qualify you to take charge of an army?

Soon Jedao learns the situation is even worse.  The Kel soldiers under his command may be compelled to obey him, but they hate him thanks to a massacre he can’t remember committing.  Kujen’s friendliness can’t hide the fact that he’s a tyrant.  And what’s worse, Jedao and Kujen are being hunted by an enemy who knows more about Jedao and his crimes than he does himself…

 

Book Review

    If you have been following me for any length of time, you know about my love for the Machineries of Empire trilogy. I have been reading (and re-reading!) and absolutely loving each installment, so, of course, I was excited for Revenant Gun. It was, without a doubt, my most anticipated release this year.

However, with this amount of expectations, it’s impossible not be slightly afraid that the ending might not be on par with them. However, I shouldn’t have worried, Revenant Gun was a great conclusion!

The book opens up almost a decade after the events of Raven Stratagem, Cheris is missing and General Brezan is now the Head of the Protectorate and tries his best to protect the reforms put in place during the events of the second book. What he doesn’t know is that, while Nirai Kujen was away, he was busy building a new Jedao from scratch to help him maintain the old system. This new version of Jedao is missing almost 400 years of memories and has to figure out everything including why everyone is so afraid of him and what’s his role in this new conflict opposing the old Hexarchate and the new Protectorate.

The structure of the book is quite different from the other books as we get more POVs and more timelines. We follow events from hundreds of years ago,  but we also follow events that took place just after Raven Stratagem and and the current situation of the Hexarchate.  I am not usually the biggest fan of multi-POVs books because it can be a bit confusing but, in Revenant, it was a necesseray tool to follow all the events happening in the Hexarchate. My favorite new perspective definitely was Hemiola, a servitor (a robot-AI) who had a fondness for dramas and very much reminded me of Murderbot from Martha Wells’ series! I also enjoyed finally meeting High General Inesser since this character was mentionned repeatedly in the first two books and she didn’t disappoint, she is definitely interesting and she brings a lot to the book.

This installment was action-packed but we also learn a lot more about central characters: Jedao is again at the heart of this story since we follow two versions of him: Jedeao as a part of Cheris and the Kujen-reconstructed younger version of him that has to learn everything that he did previously and who has to deal with the consequences of an act he didn’t even remember doing. Kujen also plays a bigger role in Revenant, I always found his character fascinating and, in this book, we learn a lot more about him, his motivations and his odd relationship with Jedao. We even have the opportunity to read a a couple of diaries entries he wrote when he was younger and see who he was before detaching himself completely from humanity.

Most of the characters in this world are morally gray and that’s especially the case of Jedao since, even with the best intentions in the world, has made an habit of killing millions of people to prove his point. However, even with all his flaws, I couldn’t help but to root for him during the entire trilogy! Jedeao is extreme case of very flawed character but all the characters that we encounter in those books are flawed, and that makes them even more relatable.

The themes explored in the first two books are still present in Revenant such as the discussion on gender identity. Since Cheris has most of Jedao memories and mannerisms, most people identify her as Jedao in a woman’s body when in reality, she is much more than just a vessel for Jedao since she has her own memories and motivations. This book also features sentient robots and other sentient creatures that I won’t reveal here (it’s way more surprising to discover it by yourself!) and it was fun to see how almost every single human in the system is oblivious of the other form of consciousness living in their world. As for the servitors, they themselves are happy to hide that fact to be left alone by the Hexarchate!

 

The ending was pretty bittersweet but that was to be expected after everything that happened during the trilogy. An happy ending wouldn’t have been possible after all those deaths and conflicts. When your reality is based on propaganda and tortures, the fight to built something better where choice and freedom is possible isn’t going to be an easy one. I think this series is going to be a classic, it is clever,  with complex characters and all of that set in a mindblowing world. I’m amazed with by Yoon Ha Lee worldbuilding, he managed to built a world so ruthless, so epic and so alien from our own and yet, so human.

Highly, highly recommended.

 

 

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Solaris. All opinions are my own.