Book Review – Klara and the Sun

I had never read anything by Kazuo Ishiguro before this, probably because his books seem to be regarded more as literary fiction than science fiction. However, I thought I’d try this one since I’d heard a lot about it recently. I listened to Klara and the Sun as an audiobook, narrated by Sura Siu.

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Here is the blurb:

Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.

Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: What does it mean to love?

I found myself more entranced by Klara and her world in the first half of the book than I did in the later parts. Klara is a type of android who is supposed to be incredibly smart, but seems to lack understanding of much of the world. However, her curiosity and her desire to fulfill her job as an Artificial Friend, easily endear her to the reader.

Her teenage companion is Josie, a girl with some sort of sickness that killed her older sister. The details of this are gradually revealed through the book as Klara tries to find a way to heal Josie. The narrator in the audiobook was wonderful and easy to listen to.

I started to find Josie irritating as the book went on and Klara’s misguided attempts to help her were mystifying for an AI creation that’s supposed to be so intelligent. When things work out later on, it didn’t make sense to me. I also felt let down by the ending and Klara’s ultimate outcome. I guess this is why I usually stay away from literary fiction.

Have you read anything by Kazuo Ishiguro? Is there a different book you’d recommend by the author? Let me know in the comments above.

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Book Review – A Memory Called Empire

I had been meaning to get to this book for some time since it won the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel. For some reason I had it in my head that this was a fantasy novel, but A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine is actually a science fiction tale of politics and intrigue.

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Here is the blurb:

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

This book was a wonderful and fast read for me. I had some trouble keeping the people straight at first, as the citizens of the Empire were named after first a number and then an inanimate object (ex. Three Seagrass).

The protagonist, Mahit, has studied the language and the culture of the Teixcalaanli Empire for her whole life and carries the memories and some of the personality of the previous ambassador in an implant next to her brain. When this implant malfunctions, she is at the mercy of her local liason and newly formed political connections that might be trying to kill her, making her a sympathetic outsider and a fun character to read about.

The world-building was intricate, and even though we only see a small portion of the Empire, it all felt very real. The characters were plausible and well-drawn, and the ending was a shock that made sense in hindsight.

While a second book was just released, the story in A Memory Called Empire does reach a satisfying conclusion, so you could read this as a stand-alone if you wish. I’m planning to read the next book, A Desolation Called Peace very soon though!

Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments above.

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Book Review – Ready Player Two

I have been so busy recently that I almost forgot to review this book. So while I have a few minutes to spare, I thought I’d finally write out my thoughts on the latest book by Ernest Cline, Ready Player Two. This is, of course, a sequel to Ready Player One which I had ready several years ago, and which was made into a movie directed by Steven Spielberg.

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Here is the blurb:

An unexpected quest. Two worlds at stake. Are you ready?

Days after Oasis founder James Halliday’s contest, Wade Watts makes a discovery that changes everything. Hidden within Halliday’s vault, waiting for his heir to find, lies a technological advancement that will once again change the world and make the Oasis a thousand times more wondrous, and addictive, than even Wade dreamed possible. With it comes a new riddle and a new quest. A last Easter egg from Halliday, hinting at a mysterious prize. And an unexpected, impossibly powerful, and dangerous new rival awaits, one who will kill millions to get what he wants. Wade’s life and the future of the Oasis are again at stake, but this time the fate of humanity also hangs in the balance.

The plot picks up in the immediate aftermath of the first book’s conclusion. But I also had the same problem getting into this book that I did with the first one. The way the opening third of the story is told is through a first person point of view, with Wade simply telling the reader about all the recent events while he wakes up and goes about his daily routine. It lacks tension and would have been more engaging if written in a more direct way. Listening to this as an audiobook, made it tolerable, but I think if I had been reading a physical copy, I would have stumbled over this approach more.

The way Wade presents everything at the beginning also make him more unlikeable as his tale progresses. He loses his girlfriend, mistreats his friends, and becomes more isolated from society. Once the real antagonist shows up, only the enemy’s evil psychotic nature made me want to cheer Wade on at that point.

I did enjoy the book to some extent, but not as much as the first one. With the exception of the Tolkien-based world at the end, I didn’t relate to the rest of the scenes based on pop culture spheres as much. The tension does build and the characters are forced to work together to solve the new puzzle they are given. There are very real stakes as the author has contrived a way to pull the story out of the purely virtual world of the Oasis and give it real consequences. I did enjoy the way the ending was constructed, but I can’t say more about it without giving away spoilers.

Have you read both Ready Player One and Ready Player Two? Let me know in the comments!

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Book Review – To Say Nothing of the Dog

To Say Nothing of the Dog is another book in Connie Willis’ time travel series based in a future Oxford. I had started this one before reading her World War II book, Blackout, since that is the official series order. I then jumped ahead to Blackout, returning to finish this book afterwards. I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Steven Crossley.

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Here is the blurb:

Connie Willis’ Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Doomsday Book uses time travel for a serious look at how people connect with each other. In this Hugo-winning companion to that novel, she offers a completely different kind of time travel adventure: a delightful romantic comedy that pays hilarious homage to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat.

When too many jumps back to 1940 leave 21st century Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities like recalcitrant rowboats, missing cats, and love at first sight make Ned’s holiday anything but restful – to say nothing of the way hideous pieces of Victorian art can jeopardize the entire course of history.

This was a much lighter read than The Doomsday Book or Blackout (see my review here). It’s about cats, dogs, fishing, and the Bishop’s bird stump, a hideous flower vase. Most of the story is set in Victorian England, with some scenes in the Oxford historians’ current time of the 2060’s and others during World War II. Unlike The Doomsday Book, it has a happy ending. It also won the Hugo and Locus Awards and was nominated for a Nebula Award.

I’m not familiar with Three Men in a Boat which is mentioned in the blurb, but I don’t think that detracted from my enjoyment of this book. The themes in this book are definitely echoed in Blackout and All Clear, so while it isn’t critical to read this book prior to the author’s WWII duology, it may add some perspective. (I have almost finished reading All Clear as I write this).

Have you read any of Connie Willis’ time travel books? Let me know if the comments below!

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Blackout

I am not a huge history buff and it has been decades since I took a history class. However, I did delve into Connie Willis’s time travel books a few years ago with The Doomsday Book, set mostly during the spread of the Black Death in medieval England. I really enjoyed that story, but I don’t think I ever reviewed it here.

My book club wanted to read Blackout, another book in the series, set mainly during World War II. This is a book that you can pick up even if you haven’t read the earlier ones, as they’re loosely related. However, Blackout is only the beginning of a two-part story that is finished in the book All Clear, which I plan to start reading next.

The duology won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel and the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

Here is the blurb:

Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place, with scores of time-traveling historians being sent into the past. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser into letting her go to VE-Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, and dive-bombing Stukas–to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past.

I listened to Blackout as an audiobook (narrated by Katherine Kellgren), and while I enjoyed the book, I felt a little bogged down in some of the details. However, that is also one of the strong points of the book. The author does a wonderful job portraying the details of everyday life in WW2 England and interweaving that with the historical events. Being a terrible history student, I can’t say how accurate these details are, but it certainly feels authentic when reading it.

The characters feel well-drawn but are a bit frustrating to read about at times. I wanted to shout at them occasionally, but part of the story seems to be about how coincidence and accidents shaped history. The overall theme here relates to whether the past can be changed by these small events, and in the end, that question is still unanswered in this book.

In terms of pacing, I also felt like it took a while for the plot to emerge because there isn’t any real antagonist. Hitler is in the background of the plot, but the three main characters aren’t supposed to have any direct role in the war. Once things start to go wrong, it takes time for them to finally become convinced something is wrong and start to deal with it.

I did enjoy the book enough that I need to read the sequel though. None of the plot threads are resolved in this one, and I read that the publisher had split the original manuscript for the book into two volumes because of the length, so the author had intended it to be one long story.

Have you read Blackout or any of Connie Willis’s other books? Let me know in the comments.

Find more of my reviews here. And please follow the links to help support this blog.

Book Review – New York 2140

While Kim Stanley Robinson’s books may be popular with some readers, I’ll have to remind myself in the future that they just aren’t for me. I’ve read part of his Mars trilogy and his Science in the Capitol series. New York 2140 is one of his newer works and my local book club chose it for an upcoming discussion.

In an attempt to make my reviews quicker to write so that I actually post one for every book I read, I’m just going to give you the blurb here:

It is 2140.

The waters rose, submerging New York City.

But the residents adapted and it remained the bustling, vibrant metropolis it had always been. Though changed forever.

Every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island.

Through the eyes of the varied inhabitants of one building, Kim Stanley Robinson shows us how one of our great cities will change with the rising tides.

And how we too will change.

While the prose is solid and I found the characters well-drawn, I just wasn’t excited about the story in this book. There was a lack of tension throughout, and the most interesting mystery of the book is resolved without any drama or conflict. Every character that has an idea and tries to accomplish something manages to succeed at it without much trouble.

The book also delves into our financial system and is a commentary on the problems of capitalism as the world suffers social change spurred by rising sea levels. This side of the plot just wasn’t interesting to me as part of a novel.

Have you read New York 2140? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below! And please click on the links above to help support this blog.

Read more of my book reviews here.

Comic Review – Hedra

I picked up Hedra by Jesse Lonergan on a whim because it was short, featured a female astronaut, and I liked the minimalist style of the cover. I’ve been exceedingly busy at work since COVID started, so I haven’t had as much time to read and write as I would like, but I’m going to try to get back to posting some short reviews here again.

Hedra is a purely picture story with no words at all. Despite that, it does an amazingly effective job in telling the story of an astronaut who leaves earth in the aftermath of a nuclear war. What she finds as she travels through space is engaging and unexpected.

I really liked the way the artwork was laid out as well, with every page taking on different variations in the grid seen on the cover. I read this on my phone Kindle App, so I was able to zoom in to see some of the smaller pictures better. I was left a little puzzled by the ending, but overall I enjoyed this book and I would “read” any follow-up to this tale.

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Book Review – This Is How You Lose the Time War

I picked this book up on a whim when I was looking for more stand-alone science fiction novels. I haven’t read a lot of time travel fiction, so why not explore a bit?

This is How You Lose the Time War was just nominated for a Hugo in the Best Novella category as well. I wasn’t familiar with authors Amal El-Mohtar or Max Gladstone prior to this. Please follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

The way that this book is structured is unusual in that it is told from the perspectives of two opposing time-traveling agents, Red and Blue. Each one works for their faction to win a war that has raged across alternate timelines. The narrative switches between short scenes in which each agent finds a letter from their opposite, followed by the text of that letter.

I really like the way that this book was written as it was a fresh way to explore this type of concept. The language was beautiful but also a bit inaccessible at times. I’m sure I missed some of the references that the book makes.

The best part of this novel for me were the glimpses of each alternate reality through history, from Atlantis and prehistoric times to fishing villages and space battles. We never get to see much of each one, but the characters experienced just enough to draw me in.

Overall, I felt this book was too long for what it was trying to do. Part of the ending was easily predictable, but one aspect did surprise me. I think that it could have been just as effective though with fewer exchanges between Red and Blue.

This book won’t be for everyone, but as it is a novella, it’s fairly short. I’m glad I read it, but it isn’t going to be one of my favorites.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The City in the Middle of the Night

I am still very much behind on my book reviews, but since the Hugo award nominees were just announced, I thought I’d share my thoughts on those nominated works that I’ve already read. Please follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

So this is a book review of The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders. This book has been nominated for a Hugo for Best Novel. I listened to the audiobook version of this a couple of months ago. I reviewed the authors previous book, All the Birds in the Sky, here, and it was one of my favorite reads for 2019.

The premise in The City in the Middle of the Night is that people have colonized a planet that is tidally-locked. That means that it doesn’t rotate, so one side always faces toward the sun while the other side always faces away from it. This sets up a rather inhospitable environment where one side of the planet is too hot for people to survive, while the other is unbearably cold.

On this planet, humans have struggled to survive along the border between these two extremes. Making their lives even harder, dangerous alien life lives on the planet and the technology that was brought with the original colonists is breaking down and cannot be rebuilt.

The novel is told through the perspectives of two main characters. Sophie is a student in the city of Xiosphant where people’s circadian rhythms are regimented by the government in the absence of normal day-night cycles. She is in love with her best friend, Bianca, but when she takes the blame for her friend’s minor theft, she finds herself dragged from the safety of the city.

Abandoned and left for dead in the night outside the city, Sophie is beset upon by an alien called a Crocodile by the cityfolk. She surrenders herself to the monster, only to learn that the creatures are sentient as it helps her survive the cold and return to the city.

The second main character is Mouth, a member of the Resourceful Couriers, an illegal caravan that trades between cities, risking the dangers of the road. Mouth was once a member of the nomadic citizens, but all her people died tragically, leaving her alone to remember their culture. When she arrives in Xiosphant, she becomes obsessed with obtaining a citizen artifact from the palace. Her own story starts to overlap with that of Sophie and Bianca as Bianca joins a building rebellion and Sophie begins to engage again with the people of the city.

The plot is secondary to the relationships in this book, and while the narrative kept me interested, in the end, I found myself wanting more resolution in terms of the plot that had been building from the beginning. My opinions of each important character changed as I learned more about them and as they made their choices through the story, and they all felt very real and well drawn to me. I didn’t necessarily like them all, but I understood why they behaved the way that they did to each other.

I still enjoyed this book, but not as much as All the Birds in the Sky. It almost feels like the plot needs a sequel, but my understanding is that this is currently a stand-alone book.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – Binti: The Complete Trilogy

I read Binti: The Complete Trilogy last fall as a book club pick and enjoyed it a lot. Binti is a character in a series of novellas by author Nnedi Okarafor and this volume brings all three of the novellas together in one book, with a bonus new story included. Please follow my Amazon links to help support this blog.

Raised in a traditional village amongst her Himba people, Binti leaps at the chance to attend Oomza University off-planet. Her decision upsets her family, but she believes that the chance to study at this prestigious school outweighs their concerns. Before she can even get there, her ship is attacked by the Medusae and everyone but her is killed.

Binti must communicate with the Medusae and prevent a catastrophe at the university while she struggles to personally deal with the aftermath of the slaughter. Each story in this book takes place at slightly different times, but they all follow logically. Eventually we see how Binti deals with her decision to leave home and how her people receive her when she returns.

The new story in the book is a pleasant tale and adds a little to the characters of the other students at the university. Overall, I really liked how Binti viewed the world as a character. Even though she rebels to some extent by leaving home, she is still one of the Himba people. Her unique outlook makes her character more real and her struggles are based in trying to reconcile her relationships with the universe, her family, and her people.

I don’t know if there will be any further Binti stories or not. The book comes to a satisfying conclusion, but doesn’t rule out another tale. If you want to just start with the first novella, you can find that one (just titled Binti) here.

Read more of my reviews here.

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