Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas

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Genre: Science Fiction, Alternate History

Publisher: Ace

Length: 416 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication Date: September 18th 2018

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

A standalone book set in the USJ universe, Mecha Samurai Empire focuses on a group of aspiring mecha cadets preparing to fight the Nazis. 

Foremost among them, Makoto Fujimoto grew up in California, but with a difference–his California is part of the United States of Japan. After Germany and Japan won WWII, the United States fell under their control. Growing up in this world, Mac plays portical games, haphazardly studies for the Imperial Exam, and dreams of becoming a mecha pilot. Only problem: Mac’s grades are terrible. His only hope is to pass the military exam and get into the prestigious mecha pilot training program at Berkeley Military Academy. 

When his friend Hideki’s plan to game the test goes horribly wrong, Mac washes out of the military exam too. Perhaps he can achieve his dream by becoming a civilian pilot. But with tensions rising between Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany and rumors of collaborators and traitors abounding, Mac will have to stay alive long enough first…

 

Book Review

 

Mecha Samurai Empire is set in the same universe as United States of Japan, Tieryas’s previous novel, in an alternate history where the Axis won World War II: the United States of America are now the United States of Japan and a part of the Japanese Empire.

Mecha Samurai Empire follows Makoto Fujimoto, or Mac, a young student whose only dream is to become a mecha pilot. In order to train himself for the simulation test portion of the Imperial exam, Mac plays a lot of video games with his friend every time he gets the chance. He is quite good at it, however, to enter the university of his dreams, he also need to excel in the theorical part of the exam. Being a pretty average student, he knows he’s probably not going to be able to reach his dreams,at least, not without a miracle.

A few days before the exam, his best friend Hideki informs him that he has find a way for them both to obtain good scores: he has heard of a way to cheat that will be undetectable by the Empire. Mac knows it is probably is only chance but after thinking about it for a while, he decides that he doesn’t want to cheat even if it might be his only chance.

Come the day of the test and Hideki’s plan goes terribly wrong as the technology given to him to cheat is actually a hacking device made by the NARA, an organization of American rebels fighting for the freedom of the United States of America. Because of his link with Hideki who is now seen as a traitor by everyone, Mac not only fails the Imperial exam but he is now also on the radar of the Tokko, the Imperial secret service.

His only chance  to ever become a mecha pilot is to join the civilian pilot ranks and wait for an opportunity to arise. However, during his first mission, Mac finds himself in the middle of a fight that might spark a war between the United States of Japan and the German Empire that will change everything he ever thought about the war.

 

I read and I really enjoyed United States of Japan when it came out a few years ago so I was excited to read another story set in this world. Both works are standalone so you don’t need to read one to understand the other however, if you are intrigued by both novels, I would still recommend that you read USJ first. Indeed USJ as a lot more worldbuilding than MSE and it will give you a bit more context and explanations about this alternate history world and how it came to be.

Mecha Samurai Empire is a bit more contained and focused that USJ, it is narrated from Mac perspective and we only follow his journey as he grows from a very naive student to a cadet confident in his abilities. I have to say though that, out of the entire cast, Mac actually is my least favorite character, I found him a bit too passive and ignorant for my liking. The other members of his crew were a lot more interesting especially Kujira, Chieko and Nori. Kujira especially was a fascinating character and I would have love to follow his story and learn more about his past.

However, except for the main character, I quite enjoyed Mecha Samurai Empire, if you are looking for your daily dose of mecha action, this book has you covered! I’m sure it would make a great anime or action movie. Even if I liked it a bit less that United States of Japan that I found particularly original and different, I would still recommend Mecha Samurai for those who are looking for an action-filled book with giant killer robots. And who wouldn’t?

 

 

I received a copy of this book from Wunderkind PR in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
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Book Review: The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

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Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Tachyon Publications

Length: 192 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 4 stars

Publication Date: June 12th 2018

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

She believed in the mission with all her heart.
But that was sixty million years ago.

How do you stage a mutiny when you’re only awake one day in a million? How do you conspire when your tiny handful of potential allies changes with each shift? How do you engage an enemy that never sleeps, that sees through your eyes and hears through your ears and relentlessly, honestly, only wants what best for you?

Sunday Ahzmundin is about to find out.

Book Review

The Freeze-Frame Revolution is the new long awaited Peter Watts work. His Rifters trilogy is the series that first got me into sci-fi about five years ago. I vividly remember devouring it during summer holidays and recommending it to everyone around me at the time. I was mindblowed by the ideas, the complex characters and worldbuilding, and how clever everything was. So let’s just say that when I saw that this little novella was a thing, I couldn’t contain my excitement.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution is set in Watts’s Sunflower cycle which is a series composed of several shorter works.  I haven’t read any of them before reading this novella and I’m pretty sure you don’t have to either to understand  it. It probably gives a bit more insight into this world but Freeze-Frame works perfectly fine as a standalone story.

This novella follows Sunday, a member of a spaceship that has been traveling across the universe for 65 millions year with the same crew of 30 000 people. They are all periodically awakened to take care of the ship and Chimp, the ship’s AI who is in charge of everything. Sunday has been a member of the crew for a very long time and she’s on deck more than everyone else being Chimp’s favorite human. As you might imagine, time is starting to feel pretty long for everyone and, several members of the crew start to think that they want things to change. Indeed, at first, they all thought they would be able to either go back to Earth or colonize a new planet but, after millions of year traveling without a new mission, they are starting to grow impatient. Most of them know they will probably just end up dying in their sleep when Chimp won’t find them useful anymore. In order to change that, a couple of members start to build a semblance of a rebellion and Sunday discovers them. But will she help them or will she remain on Chimp’s side?

 

Being a novella, this work is quite short, however it doesn’t mean that it isn’t packed with fascinating ideas and concepts. The worldbuilding is very detailed which is pretty impressive considering the length. I read this book in July and I still vividly remember a couple of scenes such as the moment Sunday sees Chimp dancing, how she banters with it and her descriptions of the ship. The atmosphere of this story is quite peculiar since the members of the crew have mixed feelings toward Chimp and their mission and how pointless their travel appears to be. Most of them feel lost as they haven’t had news from Earth in millions of years: humanity could be extinct and they wouldn’t know it. They are without a place to go back to and they have to keep on building gates to make space travel easier when they don’t know if anyone will be able to ever use them.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution is quite different from The Rifters trilogy but it’s a masterpiece in its own right. It’s complex, detailed, impactful and much more stronger than a lot of novels.  I would recommend it to any science fiction lover, even those you don’t usually like novellas because it’s so accomplished that it doesn’t feel like one at all (not to say novellas are bad by any means, they just feel a bit too short sometimes). I definitely want more stories set in this world so  I will check out some of the other stories set in this universe for sure!

Highly recommended.

 

4.5 stars.

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley. My thanks to Tachyon Publications. All opinions are my own.

Mini Reviews: Artificial Condition by Martha Wells & The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

As I predicted in my last post, the last couple of weeks were a bit busy, I traveled a lot and I recently went back to college so I read very little. However, now that things have gone back to normal, I shoud have a lot more opportunities to post!

At first, I didn’t think I would review the two Tor.Com novellas featured on this post because I didn’t have a lot of things to say about them. However, I think both of them are worth a read so I figured mini-reviews would be a good way to still recommend them to you.


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Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Tor.com

Length: 158 pages

Format: ebook

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication Date: May 8th 2018

 

Artificial Condition is the second book in the Murderbot Diaries, a science fiction series of novellas about Murderbot, a security robot who loves watching soap-operas and hate talking to humans because they are 1) stupid and 2) tend to die a bit too easily.

In this installment, Murderbot is looking for clues to a brutal accident that happened while she was working. While traveling to its destination, Murderbot is going to meet ART, a very moody Research Transport vessel,  which may or may not have the same taste in dramas as them and might very well be a useful friend to have in order find the information it needs.

As with All Systems Red, I was a bit underwhelmed by the plot that I find a little predictable, however, I still very much enjoyed this new adventure. I really enjoyed the banter between ART and Murderbot, I thought they made a great team and I really liked their dynamic. Artificial Condition isn’t THE novella of the year but it was a pleasure to read and very fun overall. It’s the type of science fiction popcorn read  that I really like to indulge in once in a while and I will definitely be reading Rogue Protocol, the third novella in the series, when I will be needing a fun read!

3.5 stars


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Genre: Science Fiction, Alternate History

Publisher: Tor.com

Length: 96 pages

Format: ebook

Rating: 4.5 stars

Publication Date: January 23rd 2018

 

 

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander is a completely different thing from Artificial Condition. I liked it so much that, at first, I wanted to dedicate a whole post to it just to rave about it. However, when I tried to do so, I found myself incapable to write a coherent review of it. First of all, the plot is so strange that it almost impossible to write a synopsis that makes sense without spoiling everything.

To make it simple, let’s just say that this novella follows a series of interconnected stories and timelines and that it is about radioactive girls, elephants and a new world order. The Only Harmless Great Thing is an alternative history novella with a lot of original and thought-provocking ideas and it manages to do a lot more in 96 pages than most novels.

At first I was a bit thrown off by the writing style and the unusual structure but, after a couple of pages, I found myself completely immersed in the story and I devoured the entire thing in a sitting. It is definitely worth a read for the ideas and sheer originality of both the plot and the structure. One of the best novellas I had the chance to read for sure!

4.5 stars

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!

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.


 

31117621

 

 

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.