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Quick Reviews: The Slynx, Ancillary Justice, and Ready Player One

November 16, 2013

This week I took a break from NPR’s top 100 to read a three other books. Two of them, The Slinx and Ancillary Justice were book club picks for November, and the third book, Ready Player One fits into my dystopia theme. I wanted to do quick written reviews on these three books, so here it goes.

The SlynxThe Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya

This book was the November pick for the International Reads book club on Goodreads. The Slynx is a dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel set in Moscow roughly three hundred years in the future. A mysterious Blast occurred at some point in the last three hundred years, and this Blast wiped out the majority of human civilization. It also lead to various Consequences, both for the surviving humans and the world around them. Some people sprot an extra limb, or extra fingers, or a tail, while radiation has affected other plants and animals in the world as well making many human dietary staples unfit for consumption.

The story follows Benedikt a Golubuchik (little guy) who works as a scribe copying books written by The Great Murza. The society around Benedikt is feudal and his status as a Golubchik means he is free (not a serf,) but his government job just allows him to scrape by without starving or freezing to death. On impulse, Benedikt purposes to an attractive co-worker, Olenka one of the Murzas. She agrees and after the wedding Benedikt’s life changes forever.

The Slynx is a bleak vision of the future with a lot of dark imagery and dark humor which had me laughing out loud. The story is deeply rooted in Russian culture and literature. Because I read the book in translation and not in the native Russian, I felt this ended up hurting the story somewhat. There were many times were words had double meanings or where there was a play on words and while the translator did a good job trying to preserve those qualities, they didn’t all carry over from one language to another. While I liked both the first half and the second half of the book, the two parts seemed to have very little to do with each other, and I was a bit confused about why so much information was laid out in the beginning of the book which seemed to have little impact on the end of the book. Despite a few hiccups, I still enjoyed The Slynx and would recommend it to other dystopia fans looking to broaden their horizons by reading works in translation.

Ancillary JusticeAncillary Justice by Ann Leckie

This book was the November pick for the Sword and Laser book club on Goodreads. Ancillary Justice is written form the first person point of view of Berq, an artificial intelligence who was a part of a collective consciousness. Berq had a whole ship and thousands of bodies, but now she only has one body. Berq is set on revenge against those who destroyed the rest of her, and the book follows her journey.

This book is a space opera with many well-known science fiction themes and ideas which Leckie is able to make her own. I liked how Berq was portrayed and thought her point of view added to the story, however, some readers might find the prose to be overly expository and a bit strange. For me, this seemed like a good way to portray an AI character. The world building is extensive and I particularly liked the details pertaining to the Radch empire. This book is the first book in a series, and the major downside for me was that it felt like the first book in a series. The plot built very slowly in the beginning, and the ending seemed to open more doors than it closed. Overall, I found this book very enjoyable and would recommend it to other science fiction nuts like myself.

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

In the not-too-distant future, humanity runs out of fossil fuels sparking the great energy crisis. This forces the majority of people to move into overcrowded cities where poverty and disease are rampant. Despite humanities problems, nobody is very intent on fixing them because of the OASIS. A virtual reality system which allows people to be anyone and do anything, a complete escape from the dreary reality around them. When the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday dies, he leaves behind an eccentric message. The first person to find and complete a series of Easter Eggs hidden inside the OASIS will receive his fortune and a controlling interest in the company which owns OASIS. Wade Watts, a poverty stricken teenager from Oklahoma City, is one of many to take up the challenge, but he happens to be the first person to reach any level of success.

James Halliday left behind clues for would be seekers of his Easter Egg, and his love of 1980’s pop culture features heavily in the tasks. I liked the constant 80’s references and found moments of this book to be extremely funny. The detailed world building of the OASIS itself was interesting and it made a unique setting for most of the books action. Unfortunately, the world building of the world outside the OASIS was substantially weaker, and Ready Player One suffered from the classic book weakness of having a flimsy villain. IOI, the company which controls most of the internet outside of the OASIS is the antagonist for most of the book. The absolute personification of evil, I found IOI to be ridiculous and totally over the top. Despite these weaknesses, I did enjoy reading Ready Player One and would recommend it for those with a weakness for 80’s trivia, video games, and/or plots with teenagers fighting the man.

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