Way Down Dark by James Smythe – Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist Post #1

I don’t know if you had the chance to look at the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke shortlist but it is a pretty interesting list. Out of the six novels, I only read one before the announcement of the shortlist, Europe at Midnight and I really loved it. However, four of the books were already on my TBR and the last one was completely unknown to me and they all looked interesting.

The 2016 Arthur C. Clarke shortlist is as follows:

  • Europe At Midnight by Dave Hutchinson (That I already read at the beginning of the year and loved)
  • Way Down Dark by James Smythe (the only book completely unknown to me before the announcement)
  • The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovski
  • Arcadia by Ian Pears

As you can see, it’s a pretty interesting list so I decided that I wanted to read the entire shortlist before August 24th (the date the winner will be announced). Since I am a very logical person, I decided to start with the book I knew nothing about, Way Down Dark by James Smythe.

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Way Down Dark is the only YA book of this list and, only for that, I wanted to give a try.

 

There’s one truth on Australia: You fight or you die. Usually both.

Seventeen-year-old Chan’s ancestors left a dying Earth hundreds of years ago, in search of a new home. They never found one.

The only life that Chan’s ever known is one of violence, of fighting. Of trying to survive.

But there might be a way to escape. In order to find it, Chan must head way down into the darkness – a place of buried secrets, long-forgotten lies, and the abandoned bodies of the dead.

Seventeen-year-old Chan, fiercely independent and self-sufficient, keeps her head down and lives quietly, careful not to draw attention to herself amidst the violence and disorder. Until the day she makes an extraordinary discovery – a way to return the Australia to Earth. But doing so would bring her to the attention of the fanatics and the murderers who control life aboard the ship, putting her and everyone she loves in terrible danger.

And a safe return to Earth is by no means certain.

I’m glad I gave Way Down Dark a try, it’s definitely one of the most original YA I read in a while. As the synopsis suggests, this book is really dark. In the opening chapter, Chan, the main character kills her mother. Of course she has her reasons, but still, I don’t think I read a YA book as bloody before.

Way Down Dark is an interesting approach on the YA SF subgenre and I liked the ideas it was trying to handle. It’s the first time I read about the appearances of gangs in a generationship, the usuals “villains” in this scenario usually being AIs or aliens and it was a refreshing idea.

However, the book felt pretty flat for me and if I had to sum it up in one word it would probably be “underwhelming”

The character of Chan was pretty boring to read about after a while. Living on the Australia since her birth, she had a very hard life but she still manages to be incredibly selfless. At first, it’s intriguing to read about but after a while, it became a tad frustrating. She was a bit naive and she kept putting herself in dangerous situations to everyone. For someone who had a very hard life, I thought she made an incredible amount of completely dumb decisions (whiwh made me questions how she managed to stay alive).

I thought that she didn’t have any character development throughout the book and toward the end, I was hard for me to empathize with her.

My other main complain with this book was how repetitive it was. I am not usually the biggest fan of fight scenes, I don’t mind reading some but really, after a while, I just find them boring.

This book felt like a giant fight scene. Chan spent her time fighting. If you’re looking for a new super badass heroine, you’ll probably enjoy this a lot more than I did, but, personally, I prefer when people think before kicking.

I thought the worldbuilding was okay, I found it lacking at some places (especially towards the end, I dont want to go into spoiler territory but some of the revelations made very little sense to me). However, the Australia was very well-described and it was easy to picture (even if I would have prefered if Smythe explained sooner the aim of the ship and its backstory).

This book is very short (less than 300 pages) and it took me a week and a half to finish. Yes, I had a busy month but still, for a 288 pages book, it’s not usually a good sign. It’s not that I overly disliked it or anything, it’s just that it was extremely repetitive and the revelations came too late for me to really care about them. For example, the first twist happened toward the 60% mark and, even if the book is short, it was too late for me to care.

I don’t want to sound overly negative toward this book. Like Central Station, it was trying new things.

I am not a huge YA reader (I used to be, but recently, I can’t seem to enjoy any) but Way Down Dark didn’t have any of the YA elements that usually bother me. It doesn’t have a love-triangle, Chan doesn’t give a shit what other people think of her, she doesn’t care about her appearance, she doesn’t need a boyfriend to feel good about herself and she’s not whiny.

Only for those elements, I should have enjoyed this book a lot more, it might just have been a question of timing, I don’t know. I’m glad it was nominated: it might refresh a little the YA SF subgenre and the ending was intriguing enough for me to consider giving the sequel a try (my only complain being than Long Dark Dusk, the sequel is 120 pages longer :P)

★★1/2

 

I just finished The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor (another Arthur C. Clarke nominee) and I should have a review up pretty soon so, look forward to that! 😉 (Spoiler alert: I really liked this one!).

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Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

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Central Station is a cyberpunk novel set in a future where Tel-Aviv hosts a huge space station called (as the title may suggest :P) Central Station. Thousands of people are living there including genetically modified children, robotniks (former human soldiers turned into robots), robot-priest and data-vampires.

I don’t think that the term novel really suits Central Station and I don’t think that it shoud be marketed as one. For me, this a collection of short stories set in the same world, each chapters being a different story. They’re all linked with each others but, for the most part, they can stand on their own.

Central Station is a fascinating mosaic, each tile representing a life. Of course, on their own, they can interesting but when they’re put together, they form a beautiful picture.

In this collection, Tidhar managed to create an extremely vivid world, very easily picturable and realistic. You can almost smell everything, the street, the meals and the people.

At first, it can be a little overwhelming, I could feel how Tidhar invested himself into Central Station and how much he wanted us, readers, to see his world the way he did. The first stories of this collection especailly are full of descriptions of pretty much everything, we were told how they looked, how they felt, how they smelled and sometimes how they tasted. At first, it can be a tad too much but once you get used to it, it’s  actually very interesting.

As I said before, Central Station is more a collection of short stories than a novel and most of the stories/chapters were previously published in SF magazines (mostly in Clarkesworld, Analog and Interzone). I believe that only two stories were original to this collection.

All of the stories are pretty short and I sometimes wished they were longer. I read a fair number of short fiction recently and I don’t usually struggle with their lenght however, most of the stories in Central Station left me a bit frustrated at the end. Indeed, They were full of great ideas but sometimes they felt underdevelopped. Some of them could have been novellas or even full novels. Yes, most of the stories were interlinked to form a « kind-of » novel but, it wasn’t enough for me…

However, it had great ideas and reflexions on evolution, humanity, diversity, love and discovery and I really appreciated how innovative it was.

For this, I can only recommend this to all the science fiction readers out there. It had some flaws, but, at least, it was trying new things. (And you can’t say that for all the SF out there.)

It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find Central Station in a bunch of awards shortlists next year and it would 100 % deserve it !

Recommended.

 

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

T5W – Characters You Are Most Like

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Top 5 Wednesday was created by gingerreadslainey and if you want to know a little bit more about them you can check the Goodreads group here.

I love this week’s topic! We basically have to choose five characters that are like us or share similair traits than us. It was very fun to search and I am happy with my choices. 😀

  • Ronan Lynch, The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefwater

Like Ronan, I am not exactly Miss Sunshine, I am moody and I can be pretty mean sometimes. It earned me the lovely nickname of “The Sniper” (that I do find pretty cool btw) from my friends and “the Gremlin” from my family (yeah, not as cool).

However, like Ronan, I am very loyal to my friends and family and if you mess with them, you’ll have to mess with me and that’s not something that you want to do! *glaring*

  • Chaol Westfall, The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

Chaol is one of my favorite characters from ToG and I am happy to say that we have a lot in common: we are both loyal to our friends and terribly shy.

  • Brawne Lamia, The Hyperion Quartet by Dan Simmons

Brawne Lamia is one of my favorite characters from Hyperion and like me, she has a sharp tongue and she’ll do everything for the one she loves. However, like Chaol, she’s a lot more badass than me!

  • Kuni Garu, The Dandelion Dynasty by Ken Liu

I read The Grace of Kings earlier this year and I really loved it, one of the main reasons was the wonderful character of Kuni Garu. I am definitely not as cool as him but we share a similar sense of humor. Also, like me, he’s pretty chill and tend to take things lightly. You may think that it is in complete contradictions with what I said before about me  but trust me, it’s not. I am not easily upset because I tend to brush things off easily, however, when I am, I turn into a Gremlin. 😛

  • Dinah, Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

I love Dinah, she’s amazing and I love her job (she’s a freakin’ robot engeneer, that’s so cool!). Like her, I am nerdy science girl and I could spend hours alone reading scientific articles, building things and being geeky. Also, like her, me and my dad love to talk about science together and make nerdy jokes.

 

Well, that was a lot of fun! What about you? 😀

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer (Terra Ignota#1)

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I’ve been staring at my computer screen for about twenty minutes and I still don’t know how to start this review. I would like to say something as clever, interesting and thought-provocking as Too Like the Lightning and it’s not very successful so far!

Since, I can’t seem to find the perfect beginning, I am going to be lazy and start with a synopsis. 😉

Mycroft Canner is the biggest criminal of his time. He lives in 2454, in a utopian world and he is the narrator of the story. Because of his crimes he now works as a Servicer, which means that he’s not allowed to have personal properties and that he has too help others around him to earn his meals.

The story starts with the theft of a Seven-Ten list which basically a ranking of the most influencial persons in the world and of course, Mycroft end up in the middle of the problems and has to deal with a lot of political conflicts.

However, Mycroft has a secret and his name is Bridger, a thirteen year old boy who can bring life into inanimate objects. Because of his abilities, you could say that Bridger is a god, and, in a world where the law forbid people from following any form of cult, his existence might be problematic.

As I mentionned before, Too Like the Lightning is set in a utopian future . Because of the various scientifical progress, traveling from a point A to a point B on Earth is so easy and fast that the whole “let’s have a ton of borders” thing is pretty irrelevant to the world. So much so that countries don’t really exist anymore. They are instead replaced by Hives, country like administrations that manage billions of people. You aren’t born in a Hive, you choose it once you are old enough to make this decisions by yourself. You can choose what laws and ideas you want to follow no matter where you live. You can also be Hiveless and in that case, you just have to obey basic universal and local laws.

If in this world, the concept of national identity is shattered, it’s also the case of family Indeed, the concept of a nuclear family doesn’t exist anymore. It is now replaced by unions of related and unrelated human beings living  and raising theirs kids together called “bash” which broadens the definition of the traditional family quite a bit.

 

I already mentionned national identity and family but this book brings a lot of interesting reflexions on a good number of subjects like gender, sexuality, progress, religion , politics and philosophy. It’s an ambitious book and in my opinion it was fairly successful in what it was trying to achieve even if it’s true that it was it was pretty dense. Some passages were written like an Eighteenth Century and in a chapter, alle the dialogues were in Latin.

I found the vision of genders incredibly interesting, in this world, it’s consider rude to talk about someone using a gender-specific pronouns and there aren’t “male or female” clothes anymore except on very specific events or locations. Of course, Mycroft doesn’t care about this rule and uses “she” and “he” all the time, however, he doesn’t always use the right gender-specific pronouns which can sometimes be a tad unsettling especially when you realize that the person you are picturing a man (since the narrator keeps using “he”s all the time) is actually a woman.

I also really enjoyed the different philosophical discussions which reminded me of my French and philosophy classes that I had during high school. I really enjoyed the fact that those reflexions didn’t feel forced at all. They are a lot of references to Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, the Marquis de Sade, Epicure, Socrate and Aristote but you don’t have to know a lot about them to enjoy the story because Palmer did a great job at explaining their different theses. I am not an expert at all in philosophy and I loved reading this book.

In Too Like The Lightning, Palmer introduced the notion of “set-set” which are humans grown linked to a computer and how some people despise them because they don’t think that they are humans anymore and that turning your children into a set-set is cruel since he lost the ability to have “a normal life”. It is an issue that was brought up several times in this book and I thought it was really interesting.

 

I could literally spend hours talking about this book since it’s so complex and I think that it’s a novel I am going to re-read in the future. Don’t be scared by its complexity, I was completely fascinated by the world and the story after the first chapter. Yes the pacing is slow but, slow doesn’t mean boring.

I would highly recommend Too Like The Lightning. For me, this book  is a blend of Hyperion, The Traitor Baru Cormorant and Europe in Autumn which is saying something since those three books are three of my favorite books of all time!

 

★★★★★

 

I received an eARC of this thanks to Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

April Wrap-Up and May Reading Plans

I am so glad April is over! It was a month full of exams and it was pretty stressful… The worst thing is that, it wasn’t even my finals: I’ll have the same horror at the end of June.. (Guess what? My birthday is the day I start my finals. I am sooo glad.)

Anyway, because of that, I didn’t manage to read as many novels as I would have like. However, I read a pretty good number of short works, 51 to be exact, so I am happy about that at least. Almost half of them I read from The Year’s Best Science and Fantasy volume 10 edited Jonathan Strahan that I received for review from Netgalley. So far, it is a very good collection but expect a review closer to the release date (beginning of May)!

I am behind on reviews and I don’t know if I’ll be able to catch-up on everything… I won’t review Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Stiefvater because I want to do a review of the whole series in May!

Books read

  • Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente ★★★ 1/5
  • The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi ★ 1/5
  • Bald New World by Peter Tieryas ★★★★
  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater ★★★★
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch ★★★

 

SFF magazines/collection of short stories

Favorite read of the month

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I read some good books but they weren’t that memorable infortunately. I think that the thing I prefered reading this month probably  was Interzone #263 because so far I think that it might have been the best SF magazine I managed to read! I really loved the fiction but the essays (especially Nina Allan’s one) and the book reviews were amazing!

DNF

As I mentionned before, I did not finish Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee. I read about five or six stories and, I do find her writing beautiful, however, all the stories were pretty confusing and I didn’t want to force myself to finish this collection. I still look forward to her upcoming novel, Ninefox Gambit coming out in June from Solaris but I don’t think that her short fiction is for me…

Currently Reading & May Reading Plans

I am currently reading three books, Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer, The Year’s best Science Fiction and Fantasy volume 10 that I mentionned earlier and The Man In the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. For now, I am enjoying all three so that’s pretty good! 🙂

I would also like to read Central Station by Lavie Tidhar and Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay that I both need to read and review asap!

I bought a good number of books recently and I would like to read the majority of them pretty soon but I don’t know which one I’ll be starting first, probably The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater but I am not 100% sure.

 

What about you? How was your month? Any great books?