Tag Archives: science-fiction

Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon, Nnedi OkoraforLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

First Published: 2014
Pages: 301
Form: Novel

Rating: 1.5/51.5/51.5/51.5/51.5/5

 A star fall from the sky. A woman rises from the sea. The world will never be the same.

Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the world-famous rapper. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering the beach outside Lagos, Nigeria’s capital city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before. But when a meteorite hits the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they’ve never imagined. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world…and themselves.

‘There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.’

Normally, when I dislike a book as much as I disliked this one I get a sort of perverse pleasure out of going over all its flaws but not this time. This time I just feel bad. I desperately wanted to enjoy this book, there was so much in there that I liked and admired. The author is a woman of colour in a genre (sci-fi) that is still disproportionately weighted towards white men, and an author I’ve read widespread praise for too. It’s sci-fi set not in Britain or the US, but Nigeria (how often does that happen?). Almost the entire cast is black, the primary leads are both women (a scientist and an alien), and it touches on a hell of a lot of social issues; some that are topical specifically in Nigeria but many that are applicable everywhere (evangelical christianity, LGBT rights, prostitution, domestic violence, military rape culture, internet fraud…). But, in the end, and despite my attempts to like this book, I thought the best thing about it was its gorgeous cover.

I tried, I really fucking tried. And I still don’t want to completely dismiss the book because it’s at least interesting and experimental and different. But I still could not make myself like it. The characters fell flat, the narration felt dull, it was a lot of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’, the sic-fi elements were completely unbelievable, and nobody seemed to react to aliens in any way I would expect an actual human to. Continue reading

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Gone, Michael Grant

Gone, Michael GrantGone by Michael Grant

First Published: 2009

Pages: 560 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Gone #1

Rating:3/53/53/53/53/5

299 Hours 54 Minutes

Suddenly it’s a world without adults and normal has crashed and burned. When life as you know it ends at 15, everything changes.

A small town in southern California: In the blink of an eye everyone over the age of 15 disappears. Cut off from the outside world, those that are left are trapped, and there’s no help on the way. Chaos rules the streets.

Now a new world order is rising and, even scarier, some survivors have power – mutant power that no one has ever seen before . . .

Catching up on some reviews that, for various reasons, I never got round to writing in 2013.

How to rate this book… Gone turned into one of my favourite finds of last year, I pretty much devoured the first five books in the series back-to-back and am eagerly waiting for the paperback release of the final installment. I would happily rate the series as a whole in the 4 to 4.5 star bracket. But it’s one of those series that is somehow more than the sum of its parts and, each individual book falls more within the 3-3.5 range for me. With book one starting a bit bumpy and taking me a little while to get into. So I’m going to try to ignore hindsight and rate as my first reaction on finishing the book was – 3 stars (I liked it but nothing special).

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The Island of Doctor Moreau, H.G. Wells

The Island of Dr Moreau, H.G. WellsThe Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G.Wells

First Published: 1896
Pages: 143 including afterword (Paperback)
Form: Novel

Rating: 4.5/54.5/54.5/54.5/54.5/5

A terrifying, prescient portrayal of a scientist trying to create a new super-breed, The Island of Doctor Moreau was described by H.G. Wells as an ‘exercise in youthful blasphemy’.

Edward Prendick, the single survivor of a shipwreck, is rescued by a vessel carrying a menagerie of savage animals. Soon he finds himself stranded on an uncharted island in the Pacific with the strange vivisectionist Dr Moreau, whose experiments have led him to break the laws of nature, turning beast into man with horrific results.

A short but absolutely excellent novel. H.G. Wells is one of the founding fathers of science fiction and The Island of Doctor Moreau is one of those early  blends of science-fiction and horror that (like the best of both genres)  also offers an uncomfortable insight into human nature. A bit like Frankenstien but without the tedium, and better paced. Continue reading

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We, Yevgeny Zamyatin

We, Yevgeny Zamyatin We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Translated by  Clarence Brown

First Published: 1924 (original)
First Published: 1993 (this translation)
Pages: 226 (Paperback)
Form: Novel

Rating: 3.5/53.5/53.5/53.5/53.5/5

Set in the twenty-sixth century A.D., Zamyatin’s masterpiece describes life in the regimented totalitarian society of OneState, ruled over by the all-powerful “Benefactor.” The inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984, We is the archetype of the modern dystopia, or anti-Utopia: a great prose poem detailing the fate that might befall us all if we surrender our individual selves to some collective dream of technology and fail in the vigilance that is the price of freedom.

Clarence Brown’s brilliant translation is based on the corrected text of the novel, first published in Russia in 1988 after more than sixty years’ suppression.

We is the earliest and least famous (at least in the UK) of the ‘big three’ 20th century dystopias; Zamyatin’s We, Orwell’s 1984, and Huxley’s Brave New World. It is also the only one of them to be written by an author who actually lived in a Police State (two in fact: Tsarist Russia followed Communist Russia). And, to be honest, those are the main two reasons for reading it – its literary significance and its historical context. Take that away and it’s a very dated and rather hard to relate to bit of sci-fi that I would probably never have picked up, let alone stuck with to the end – with both of these things in mind, however, I found it utterly fascinating.

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War With the Newts, Karel Čapek

War With the Newts  by Karel Čapek

Translators: M. Weatherall, R. Weatherall
Publisher:
Penguin Classics
Pages: 348 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Standalone

Rating:

War with the Newts (1936) is Karel Čapek’s darkly humorous allegory of early twentieth-century Czech politics. Captain van Toch discovers a colony of newts in Sumatra which can not only be taught to trade and use tools. but also to speak.

As the rest of the world learns of the creatures and their wonderful capabilities, it is clear that this new species is ripe for exploitation – they can be traded in their thousands, will do work no human wants to do, and can fight – but the humans have given no thought to the terrible consequences of their actions.

A very serious contender for my favourite book this year (currently competing against We, The Drowned), I’m having a really hard time thinking what to say about this one. It really is true that positive reviews are harder to write than negative ones, add to this that this is a very complex novel – touching on themes of slavery, fascism, racism, capitalism, exploitation, class conflict, the european arms race, economics, trade unions, human experimentation, the ‘civilising’ mission, the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations, Nazi theories of ‘Lebensraum’ and a hell of a lot more – and the unconventional way it’s written and, well…there’s either too much to say or too little, because there’s simply so much stuff I feel I should be better informed on before I could possibly talk about them. And then the blurb tells me that it’s an allegory for 1930s Czech politics in  and I start feeling even more inadequate in my ability to comment!

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Don’t Look Now and Other Stories, Daphne du Maurier

Don’t Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier

Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics (Penguin)
Pages: 268 (Paperback)
Form: Short Stories
Series: Standalone

Rating: 

John and Laura have come to Venice to try to escape the pain of their young daughter’s death. But when they encounter two old women who claim to have second sight, they find that instead of laying their ghosts to rest they become caught up in a train of increasingly strange and violent events. The other four haunting, evocative stories in this volume also explore deep fears and longings, secrets and desires: a lonely teacher investigates a mysterious American couple; a young woman confronts her father’s past; a party of pilgrims meets disaster in Jerusalem; a scientist harnesses the power of the mind to chilling effect…

Originally published as Not After Midnight, this collections brings together five atmospheric short stories by Daphne du Maurier. They’re a bit of an odd bunch – a mix of the supernatural and the mundane. Some of them embrace the ‘unknown’ with psychics, pagan worship, and life after death, while others seem to be building you up to a similar supernatural element only to have the explanation be something quite simple. Whether you find this second-guessing rewarding or frustrating, though, is probably personal preference. One theme that runs through all the stories, however, is the idea of taking the protagonist away from their home and putting them into an unfamiliar environment, where the setting itself serves to increase the sense of suspense or the character’s alienation. It’s a collection of stories about how people react and adjust when taken out of their comfort zone and thrown into situations they have very little control over. And it has to be said, most characters don’t do so well… Continue reading

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