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Review: Sunshine by Robin McKinley

I’m not a huge fan of vampire novels, but I did enjoy Sunshine by Robin McKinley. This urban fantasy novel follows Rae Seddon, the first person point of view narrator, who works as a baker at her family’s coffee house and small resturant. One day, Rae (also known as Sunshine) drives out by her family’s old vacation home at a lake outside of the city. At dusk a group of vampires show up and kidnap her. If that concept sounds a bit cheesy to you, don’t worry, it sounded a bit cheesy to me too.

The situation grows tense rather quickly as the reader comes to realize that the vampires in Sunshine’s world are bad news. Vampires are undead monsters with a super-human abilities, who happen to enjoy playing with their food. The vampires and world building in general were a highlight of Sunshine. On the downside, the author spends a lot of time explaining various aspects of the world, and Sunshine’s near stream of consciousness narration makes the entire story feel a bit longer than it needed to be. A lot of the information the reader is given ends up feeding back into the larger plot, but on the whole I felt like this book could have lost about 40 pages. While the plot is overall very engaging and I liked Sunshine as a character, I would have rather the story moved a bit quicker at times.

I liked this book a lot more than I was expecting to going into it, and if you’re a fan of vampire books, I’d say Sunshine is a must read. If you only plan to read one vampire book written after the year 2000, I’d recommend Sunshine.

Review: The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov is one of the founding fathers of modern science fiction, but somehow, I’d never gotten around to reading his work. As such The Caves of Steel was my first foray into Asimov’s writing. Originally published as a serial in 1953, the first bind up of The Caves of Steel was released in 1954. The story is a combination of far future science fiction and a murder mystery. 3,000 years in the future, humanity has colonized many planets, but the story takes place on an overcrowded Earth where humans live in cramped mega-cities under domes of steel designed to protect them against nuclear disaster. Elijah Bailey is a cop in New York City, when a murder takes place in an area known as Spacetown, an addition to the New York dome which essentially functions as a spaceport and embassy with humanities off world colonies. Elijah must solve the murder and face his own Earth-bound prejudices against Spacers and Robots.

I liked this book, but I expected to be more impressed than I was. Unfortunately for The Caves of Steel (but fortunately for the rest of science fiction?) the good and sometimes brilliant ideas Asimov puts forth to help the reader envision this future Earth have all been canonized by the genre. None of the concepts or themes the story is built around were new to me and that hurt the story. If I had been reading this in 1954 when all the ideas were fresh and new with an overarching theme of challenging established prejudices against others, I think I would have been blown away. Reading it in 2014 as someone who has encountered these ideas and seen them explored in much greater detail elsewhere made me kind of blasie to the book.

Without the inventiveness factor, The Caves of Steel is still a decent and entertaining read. The plot is engaging and kept me interested. The characters and writing were only okay. I would have liked a little more character development and more realistic dialog, but overall not a bad book to spend an afternoon with. It just wasn’t as awesome as I expected it to be. I’d still recommend The Caves of Steel to science fiction nuts like myself because it’s fun to see how the genre developed.

Review: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire is a retelling of the story of the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz from the perspective of Elphaba, a young woman who would eventually become the Wicked Witch of the West. The story starts days before Elphaba’s birth and ends with her death at Dorothy’s hands. The book has been made into a well-known musical which has helped to generate a lot of the books popularity.

I was not very impressed with this book. I found the pacing to be very slow, and the writing was exposition heavy. In theory, I like the idea of retelling a story from the perspective of the villain, but in reality I wasn’t happy with the way Wicked portrayed Elphaba. I never felt she could redeem herself and become anything other than the Wicked Witch. Elphaba came across as a passive character constantly being buffeted about by the political situation around her and did not make many decisions for herself.

Integrating new world building into an existing story is bound to be a difficult task and I give Gregory Maguire credit for attempting to re-envision the land of Oz. Unfortunately, I didn’t think he accomplished the task very well. While some of the new and additional information was cool and inventive, there was a lot more world building than was required to move the story forward and it tended to overshadow the plot and characters. I like detailed worlds as much as anyone, but at some point the descriptions became redundant and unnecessary.

I’d recommend this book to folks who are huge fans of the world of Oz or the Wicked musical, but I’m not sure how much broad spectrum appeal it has.

Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne was originally published in 1864 and is often considered a classic of science fiction. The story itself is pretty straightforward, Axel and his uncle, Professor Otto Lidenbrock, discover a hidden document with directions on how to journey to the center of the Earth. As a German intellectual and man of science, Professor Lidenbrock insists they must attempt to follow the instructions, journey to the center of the Earth, and bring back useful knowledge to enlighten humanity with. The rest of the book is a travel log told from Axel’s perspective detailing the journey from Hamburg to Iceland and down into the belly of an extinct volcano.

The style of Journey to the Center of the Earth is very different from modern science fiction. The travel log writing style, slow pace, and small amount of action is off-putting for a modern reader (like myself.) In terms of style, the book is far from anything I read on a regular basis.

Despite the differences in writing and a slow start, I found myself enjoying the novel. Axel is an entertaining character and narrator who is constantly amazed, excited, or suprised by the events of the story. Professor Lidenbrock, in contrast, attempts to remain detached and aloof from every situation making the pair a bit of an odd couple. I liked that Jules Verne takes the time to expound upon the details of the scientific questions the story hopes to address. Even though most of the debates discussed in the book have since been decided, and the author often picked the wrong side to back, I still respect him for establishing the importance of carrying scientific ideas into fiction in a meaningful way.

The major highlight of this book is the sense of wonder Verne manages to convey. As the travelers enter this new and foreign place, they face obstacles and discover many wondrous things. The Journey has come to be a dominate plot line in genre fiction, (possibly all fiction?) whether it is to a new and terrifying place or deep inside ourselves and many of Verne’s works make it clear why this type of story works so well in science fiction.

Review: Tides of Midnight by Steven Erikson

Tides of MidnightTides of Midnight by Steven Erikson is the fifth book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It takes place on a totally different continent than the first four books and only has one recurring POV character from the previous books in the series. The novel concerns itself with a war between the Tiste Edur and the Letherii empire, thus it appears to occur chronologically before the events in the first four books. The corruption of the Tiste Edur which is alluded to in previous books, particularly the fourth book, is explained and detailed more thoroughly in this book.

I was a little bit miffed upon starting this book to discover I would not be following the characters I’d grown attached to over the course of the first four books, and as a result, it took me a little while to get interested in this book after reading the first chapter. Ultimately, I enjoyed it a great deal and it rivals the third book for my favorite in the series so far. The interweaving of several complex plots was particularly well executed, and I liked how the way in which different cultures conceptualized their gods affected the function of the magic system in that civilization. But seriously, there are already a ton of characters and intricate civilizations in the Malazan series, did we really need a whole new continent full to tell the story? I guess I’ll find out as I plan to continue on with the rest of the series.

Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is the first book in The Kingkiller Chronicles, a planned three book series. I first read The Name of the Wind about three years ago, and re-read it recently. The book follows Kvothe, an exceptional man who the reader meets in the beginning of the story as the innkeeper Kote, who lives in a village well off the beaten path. The world thinks Kvothe is dead until The Chronicler, a scribe who records stories, shows up at Kote’s inn. He immediately recognizes the innkeeper and asks to hear his story. Kvothe eventually agrees under the condition he be allowed three days to tell his story. The Name of the Wind is the first day of Kvothe’s story and covers his childhood and a portion of his adolescence.

I enjoyed this book a great deal both times I read it. I found the storytelling and writing style to be very engaging. In particular, the magic system and world building stand out to me. The magic system is a low-magic almost science-like system, and it is taught at a university alongside grammar and mathematics, making it one tool in an educated persons repertoire, rather than an end-all be-all way of life. The world building focuses a little more on the day to day aspects of people’s lives and in some ways it’s nice to have an epic fantasy series which seems to slow down and focus on individuals.

My major gripe with the book is the love interest character, Denna. I’m not a huge fan of her as a character, she often comes off a little one-dimensional and flighty. Additionally, the relationship between Denna and Kvothe starts off oddly. Kvothe initially becomes kind of obsessed with Denna, despite the fact that they have had very little interaction. The Name of the Wind also has a few common first-book-in-a-series type problems like spending a lot of time describing things, settings, or characters which may or may not be relevant at the particular moment they are introduced. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a fantasy book to read.

Review: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

My fiance has been trying to convince me to read A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge for about three years now. After reading it, I feel really silly for not listening to him sooner. The book has expansive world building stretching across plants and aliens, extending all the way to the laws of physics. A human research station at the fringes of the galaxy activates a an alien Power. After realizing the Power’s harmful intentions, the humans hurriedly flee the planet. One of the refugee ships is destroyed, while the other makes in emergence landing on a terrestrial planet. The planet hosts an alien species called the Tines who are a dog-like and intelligent, but only in pack form. The Tines communicate between members of their 4-6 member packs using high pitched sounds. Packs are of roughly human intelligence, but individual members are less intelligent and often incapable of higher reasoning on their own. The Tines have a roughly mid-evil technology, and the arrival of the more advanced humans sparks a conflict to control the spaceship they arrived in. Meanwhile, the Power the human researchers unleashed, terrorizes other technologically advanced civilizations, precipitating a rescue mission to retrieve the lost ship.

The world building in A Fire Upon the Deep impressed me immensely. There were several very interesting and unique alien species (I want a pack of Tines to be my friend!) and the zones of thought, for which the series is named, are kind of mind bending. The book spends some time exploring themes regarding the stories we tell in our cultures and how those stories effect our world views, a concept I enjoyed contemplating. On the downside, the book does drag a bit in the middle, some of the names are long and unpronounceable, and all of the aliens seem to have 24-hour circadian rhythms, but whatever, I still loved it. A cool space opera with a lot of original ideas, I’d recommend this to anyone with a love of world building and science fiction.

Review: The Waking Engine by David Edison

The Waking EngineThe Waking Engine is the first novel from author David Edison, I received a free copy through netgalley in return for my honest review. This urban fantasy story has an interesting premise: when we die, we go on living on a different world in a different body, but with all the memories from our first lives. The main character, Cooper, awakens one day on a new world after going to bed like normal. He’s picked up by an unlikely pair, Asher and Sesstri, who think Cooper’s appearance might be related to the growing numbers of Dying who are coalescing in The City Unspoken. The world Cooper has arrived on is one of the few places a person can achieve ultimate Death. A cessation to all life and rebirth, but for reasons unknown the process seems to be stalled. After a brief interrogation, Asher and Sesstri decide Cooper is nothing special and let him loose into the world to sink or swim on his own.

The concept of this story drew me in and the poetic descriptions held my interest for awhile, but I ultimately didn’t respond positively to this book. Cooper was a passive character who couldn’t stand up to the grandiose descriptions of the world around him, and he basically faded into non-existence for the first half of the book. Much of the dialogue was stilted, and the interpersonal interactions between characters felt artificial and forced. The action sequences were video game-esq with all enemies being either swarms or boss battles. Description of swarm battles were non-specific, abstract affairs and surprisingly short. While boss battles involved slowly carving large monsters down to smaller pieces. Edison certainly isn’t the first author – and likely won’t be the last – I’ve read who draws on video games to describe action, but I don’t care much for the technique.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with the plot either. The main story is a pretty basic Chosen One wandering around and learning to be the Chosen One tale. There were a handful of side plots which I found more interesting, but in a 400 page book with one main plot and a half dozen side plots, it was hard to get too sucked by a minor story element. There just wasn’t enough room in this book to detail any of the potentially very interesting ideas in much depth. Overall, it felt like 800 pages worth of ideas crammed into a 400 page novel.

I’d recommend this book to readers who enjoy the prose of Philip K Dick or China Mieville, although the plot and characters don’t hold a candle to those two great authors.

Thanks to Everyone for Stopping By

I’ve decided to give a big old thank you, to everybody who reads my posts on a regular basis by holding a giveaway. I’ll be giving away one of my favorite books I read in 2013. Last year I rated 8 books 5 stars, thus making them my favorite books of the year. As a thanks to all of you for liking, commenting, and subscribing, I wanted to giveaway one of those books.

How to:
1. Giveaway closes on February 10th at 7pm PST
2. Respond in the comments with which ONE book you would like to receive if you win
3. Must be subscribed to Nicole’s Adventures in Science Fiction, blog or vlog
4. International giveaway, as long as amazon or book depository ships to you, you can enter
5. Must be 18 years or older or have parental consent (whoever wins will need to tell me their address)

At the end of the week I’ll select one winner at random from the comments on my youtube video or this post.

Books:
A Canticle for Leibowitz: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/164154.A_Canticle_for_Leibowitz
My Review

Brave New World: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5129.Brave_New_World
My Review

The Curse of Chalion: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/61886.The_Curse_of_Chalion

The Way of Kings: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7235533-the-way-of-kings

The Silo Saga: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13453029-wool-omnibus-silo-1
My Review

The Mars Trilogy: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/77507.Red_Mars
My Review

Review: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde is the first book in his Thursday Next series. Thursday Next is the first person protagonist of the story, and she is a literary detective living in 1970′s London. After a famous manuscript is stolen, Thursday becomes embroiled in an investigation to take down a criminal mastermind. Time travel has caused world history to take different twists and turns in Thursday’s world, making the 1970′s London of the story similar, yet distinct from our own world.

The world building in The Eyre Affair was an interesting mix of science fiction and paranormal elements, and I really liked some of the unique ideas the author presented. I also like Thursday Next as a character, although I felt character development as a whole was one of the weaker points in the novel. There are a few cliche scenes with Thursday examining her appearance in the mirror or starring meditatively into space, and the other characters were a tad one-dimensional at times. I chalked these weaknesses up to the fact that this was Jasper Fforde’s first published novel and was largely able to overlook them.

Humor takes center stage in The Eyre Affair. I enjoyed Jasper Fforde’s comedy, but I can see how his sense of humor might not be for everybody. Earlier this month I read Going Postal by Terry Pratchett, and I couldn’t help but make comparisons between the two authors. Overall, I would say the two have a similar satirical style and wit, but Jasper Fforde is much more committed to his jokes and willing to go over the top to make the reader laugh. On the whole, I thought this was a good thing, however there were a couple of times when Fforde was willing to sacrifice character continuity or suspension of disbelief in order to execute a joke, and that was a bit of a turn off.

I’d recommend The Eyre Affair to readers who like humorous science fiction and fantasy, or those looking for a relatively light read. Note: The Eyre Affair contains spoilers for the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. If you haven’t read Jane Eyre and don’t want it to be spoiled, don’t read The Eyre Affair.

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