Firefly: Back from the Black

Title: Firefly: Back from the Black

Author: Joey Spiotto (Illustrator)

Summary: Ever wondered how the crew of Serenity would fare if they landed back on Earth-That-Was? Would we see etiquette classes by Inara? Remedial math lessons from Jayne? Could River make it as a psychic poker champ? And what kind of carnage could Saffron cause with a charity kissing booth?

Buckle up, Browncoats! Because it’s time to find out…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I was given this book as a present for my birthday earlier this year. I hadn’t even known of its existence, but almost anything Firefly related is a welcome gift! This book is a fine addition to my moderate merchandise collection.

A short book of single-panel comic art work, i’ll start off by saying: if you haven’t seen and enjoyed Firefly the TV show, don’t bother picking this book up. Every page is a reference or an in-joke to the programme, and is bound to be lost on those unfamiliar with it.

The art is simple, but cute. The most expressive and comical character is by far Jayne, with his icon hat and range of emotions he is stand out in this book. The colours are all bright and fun, with characters in familiar and new scenarios, usually with a twist or visualising something only referenced in the show (Wash juggling geese was particularly amusing). There are also more scenic panels, often with some glorious negative space (my weak spot–i love it), like Serenity parked up on a quiet suburban street or Jubal Early trying to hitch a ride while floating, unanchored, in space. Any page would look at home in a frame.

It’s a fun little book of adorable little Firefly cartoons. It’s not that deep, but it is that sweet. I loved it.

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The Boy on the Bridge

Title: The Boy on the Bridge

Author: M.R. Carey

Summary: Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy. The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I read The Girl with All the Gifts four years ago (where does the time go!?) and absolutely loved it. So when i heard Carey was releasing a prequel i was equal measures excited and apprehensive. Excited because yes, more! Apprehensive because, oh no, what if it’s shit?

As the five stars i’ve given it will indicate–it’s not shit.

I knew nothing going in, but had somehow assumed this book took place before the outbreak–that it would be about the outbreak. Instead, it’s several years after the outbreak, and several years before Gifts. It’s a nice spot, because we don’t know the details about what happened at the time of the outbreak, and we don’t know exactly how the discoveries made in this book lead to the things we see in Gifts. There are still plenty of gaps left in the story for speculation and interpretation, which is the kind of thing i love.

The book focuses on the crew of the Rosalind Franklin, an armoured military truck, on its research trek across the UK in search of a cure for Ophiocordyceps, which has infected the human race. The Rosalind Franklin is not unfamiliar–it is the armoured truck the characters of Gifts find in the latter part of the book. So i was very intrigued to find out more about how the truck had got there, what had happened before hand, and where all the crew had gone.

There are more characters in this book–12, compared to Gifts’ 4–though it’s fairly obvious who the red shirts are, as we don’t really ever get to know them. Our core characters are a group of seven. And it’s these characters that make the book, for me. I loved them. All of them–even the not so good ones. Which is good, because with this book being a prequel to an apocalyptic future–we know things don’t exactly work out perfectly for the plot. It has to be the characters that carry this story.

An eccentric genius, or just an ill-equipped explorer swaying on the rickety rope bridge between sanity and madness?

And the characters are all so well written and have such depth. None of them are stereotypes, and although a couple aren’t far off, they all have enough about them to make them more than the role they’re playing in the narrative. Stephen, the boy of the title, who at 15 is incredibly intelligent, on the autistic spectrum, and haunted by grief and trauma. He’s the linchpin of the whole book and logical to a fault, but not perfect and makes several errors in judgement that impact the plot. Samrina, a scientist and surrogate mother to Stephen–she has some personal cargo to worry about. Fournier, the lead scientist and closest stereotype of the book–he’s the obvious and easy bad guy. Carlisle, the military escort leader–his past and his internal struggles make him a wise but fallible leader. Foss, a female military sniper holding her own in a man’s world–she fights to make something of herself and earn the respect she deserves. Sixsmith, the driver and bright spark of this motley crew–she’s the heart and soul backing them all up.

And then there’s McQueen. He was the most surprising to me, because he quickly and inexplicably became my favourite character. Head strong, arrogant, and often going off-book in his military role of second in command–he has all the traits that should make me dislike him. But i didn’t. For me, all along, it was clear there was something else to him. His arrogance was a cover–a front he had to put on to fulfil the stereotype people expect of him. His issue with Carlisle was the most interesting thing to me. How they misunderstood and made assumptions of each other. I had all my hopes pinned on them working things through and working together. At times i think McQueen’s negative feelings towards Carlisle were a bit much, and definitely not resolved fully to my liking. But i’ve decided that it does all get properly concluded–it’s just not part of the book.

The plot is simple enough, with plenty of ups and downs along the way. Including glimpses of things we’re familiar with in Gifts and hints at how things come about between here and there. There is also a suitable climactic action scene which will look great if and when they make the film. And the ending, which is to say, the epilogue, was a little different and unexpected. I’ve seen some reviews claiming it completely undoes the ending of Gifts, and while i see where that’s coming from… i don’t wholly agree. I think it adds a layer–it adds to the possibilities of the future.

With how focused this book was, and how much scope there is in the world Carey has created here, I can see more books happening–prequels and sequels. And there are a few things, people, and places i’d like to see included in them. I’ll wait and see what Carey might have in store with eager anticipation.

Sealed

sealedTitle: Sealed

Author: Naomi Booth

Summary: Heavily pregnant Alice and her partner Pete are done with the city. Above all, Alice is haunted by the rumours of the skin sealing epidemic starting to infect the urban population. Surely their new remote mountain house will offer safety, a place to forget the nightmares and start their little family. But the mountains and their people hold a different kind of danger. With their relationship under intolerable pressure, violence erupts and Alice is faced with the unthinkable as she fights to protect her unborn child.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher via their twitter account, and i was quite intrigued by the sound of it. Described as an “eco horror” it instantly sounded interesting to me.

I loved the “eco” side of the story, with the mysterious new cutis disease, the smog of the cities, the wild fires of the mountains, and “protected” food. There was also some political aspects, with some cutis cover ups, displacement camps run like prisons, a lack of local resources. It had a lot of dystopian-vibes, but doesn’t quite delve deep enough; it’s more pre-dystopian.

Although it had these themes, they were only really lightly touched upon in the grand scheme of the story. The focus was on our main character, Alice, and her partner, Pete. I’ll be honest–i didn’t like them. I felt for Alice, with her cutis obsession and being cut off from information and updates, but she was also weak and pathetic in the face of Pete’s dominance and control. He tells her to stop thinking, asking, worrying, distracting… he just wants to fit in with his new friends and not have to give a shit about his girlfriend’s fears and emotions. He was a knobhead.

In almost every chapter there is more revealed about the past. The history of cutis, of Alice and Pete’s relationship and childhoods, of the death of Alice’s mother and how this has affected her. And while this was interesting stuff to learn, the segues seemed a little too forced to me. There was a scene with Alice suddenly taking an interest in flowers as a reason for her to rummage for her mum’s gardening books to then start remembering her mum’s garden to lead into the past. I wondered if the strange flower Alice had found was related to the cutis epidemic or the environmental changes, but no. Instead, flowers and gardening are never mentioned again.

The last chapter was where the horror aspect really stepped up, with things happening as i’d been expecting them to since chapter two. The unkempt house down the road, the crotchety old man with a gun, the heavily pregnant woman… I loved how cutis played its part here, i loved the unreality of Alice’s experience and how that came across in the writing, and, as a horror fan, i loved the gore.

Overall, the story was very character-driven and -focused. Too much so for my own personal taste. It was far more about Alice’s psychological state of mind and how she copes (or doesn’t cope) with the events unfolding around her, rather than those events themselves. The end of the book was great–on the cusp of the dystopian future i’d be fascinated to read more about.

Everything I Never Told You

Title: Everything I Never Told You

Author: Celeste Ng

Summary: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfil the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait about love, lies, and race.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This book had been on my radar for a while, but i wasn’t sure if i wanted to read it. It was the female POC author and the Chinese-American family dynamic that peaked my interest, and when i saw the book in The Works for a few quid i couldn’t say no. I’m glad. I enjoyed this book in a lot more ways than i thought i would.

The quote on the cover says this book “calls to mind The Lovely Bones“, but for most of the book i couldn’t help but think of the TV series Twin Peaks. It starts with a missing girl and the discovery of her body being pulled from a body of water. It goes on to explore the lives of the family and how little they really know about each other. And with Twin Peaks in mind, i’ll be frank and say i had my eyes on the Dad for most of the book!

What i loved most about this book was its third person omniscient narration. I think this is generally a very underused narrative voice, with most books being told in third person limited or first person point of view. Third person omniscient is pretty tough to pull off well, but Ng manages it flawlessly. I was hooked from that very first line, and knew i was going to enjoy the hell out of this book. The narration flits between all the characters’ thoughts and feelings while also giving snippets of events to come. But none of it in a clumsy way–it still flows and at no point did it get confusing.

All the characters are wonderfully written. All with sympathetic motives and views, but all flawed in genuine ways. None of them are perfect, and all of them fail to communicate enough that wires are crossed, incorrect assumptions made, and pressure piles high on shoulders not strong enough to bear the weight. It is all three children i felt for most, but especially Hannah. The youngest, the ignored and forgotten, the observant and unwitting confidante. Nath and Lydia, bound together by their history and the way the family has dealt with that, but also pulled apart by time and adolescence.

Marilyn and James–Mum and Dad–are perhaps the two most interesting characters, but certainly for me the least sympathetic. Their life experiences, reasoning, and decisions are understandable and i feel for them… to a certain extent. When they become so blinded by their own emotions and selfishness, though, i have to draw the line. Marilyn i have more sympathy for, as a woman in the 60s and 70s with dreams and ambitions, and people at every turn only holding her back. Her only real mistake was blindly projecting that onto her daughter. James, though. As much i can understand his history; how isolating being the only Chinese student would be and how desperately he would have wanted to fit in. I couldn’t forgive how he all but hated Nath for being too similar and idolised Lydia for seeming to be so popular and “normal”. I wouldn’t forgive him holding his wife back in her dreams because of his own inadequacy issues. And i certainly shouldn’t forgive an affair with a teaching assistant that started on the day of his own daughter’s funeral. James is just far, far too selfish to be likeable.

I found the story simple, but excellently constructed, and perfectly emotive. It easily kept me reading, not only to know what happened, but also to see how these characters developed and dealt with their trauma. I wanted a happy ending for them (well, most of them). I wanted Hannah to be loved and appreciated and seen, i wanted Nath to go to college and live his own life, i want Jack’s heart to not be broken. I was happy to see just enough of the future in the last couple of pages that i could close the book happy and satisfied.

This is not the usual kind of book i read–it is heavily character-driven, with personal drama and development at its core. It’s contemporary fiction, and it’s not my go-to. But i fell pretty much head of arse for this book, and i need Ng’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere pretty much ASAP. I’d also love to read more books in a well-written third person omniscient voice… the only others i can think of are The Book Thief and The Hobbit. Any recommendations?

Three

Title: Three

Author: Annemarie Monahan

Summary: One yellow April morning, a 17-year-old girl asks herself, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” What she decides will send her life in one of three directions.

That morning is long past. Now she is 41.

On one life path, she is Kitty. She’s been happily married for 23 years. Happily enough. Until Faye, her professor, kisses her.

On another path, she is Katherine, a physician. After the death of an old love, she contacts the one lover who still haunts her: a woman who renounced her for God.

On a third, she calls herself Antonia. She’s barely survived the implosion of a lesbian utopian commune, one built on an abandoned oil rig.

Who are we? Who haven’t we been? Have we dared? Three of one woman’s possible lives are about to collide.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I can’t remember when, where, or how i came across this book, but i’m so glad i did, because i loved it. I was immediately sucked in, instantly fascinated by these three women in their opening chapters and ready to read more.

The chapters alternate between the three women and their lives, sharing their pasts and presents. As different as they all are, there are traits they all share. For example, they are all very observant: Katherine as a doctor, noting symptoms and concerns to easily diagnose the ailment and the patient’s motivations; Kitty as an expert shopper, getting the best bargains and stocking piling while she can; and Antonia as a clairvoyant on a psychic telephone hotline, using her ability to read people so well even over the phone to rack up the longest call times and the biggest pay cheques. I loved all three of them, in their own ways. I was never disappointed when one character’s chapter ended, only happy to dive right into the next.

Although all, originally, the same woman, that peach took them each on different journeys. And despite the fact it is relationships and love that each of them are struggling with in their stories, they are all exploring different aspects of that. Antonia wants to help save the woman she loves from herself as well as a group of well-meaning but self-destructive earth child hippies, but at the expense of herself. Katherine is contemplating lost love, things left unsaid, and the different experiences people have of the same events. Kitty is finally allowing herself to wake up and explore aspects of her own desire she has kept so well-hidden. There is something here everyone should be able to relate to.

The writing is wonderful. It is clever and witty and poetic and meaningful–and i’m still not sure how it manages to be all those things at once, but it does. And it reads so effortlessly that it was simply a joy to pick up. This was a book i didn’t want to put down, but it was also a book i was enjoying enough to want to make it last. I think i managed quite well, finishing at a sedate pace of 10 days. But i still want to be reading it now.

The only place the book faltered was in the final few short chapters, when each woman’s story was, in a manner of speaking, ‘wrapped up’. At this point the writing became overly poetic and lost some of its meaning; it veered from the story and the point a little in an attempt to be sincere and significant, but succeeded only in being vague and inconsequential.

As far as i’m aware this is the only book by Monahan, but it want more of her words. They were, on the whole, perfection.

Instruction Manual for Swallowing

Title: Instruction Manual for Swallowing

Author: Adam Marek

Summary: Robotic insects, in-growing cutlery, flesh-serving waiters in a zombie cafe… Welcome to the surreal, misshapen universe of Adam Marek’s first collection; a bestiary from the techno-crazed future and mythical past; a users’ guide to the seemingly obvious (and the world of illogic implicit within it). Whether fantastical or everyday in setting, Marek’s stories lead us down to the engine room just beneath modern consciousness, a place of both atavism and familiarity, where the body is fluid, the spirit mechanised, and beasts often tell us more about our humanity than anything we can teach ourselves.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 3.5/5

Review: I don’t even remember how, where, or why i came across this book, but it obviously intrigued me enough to add it to my wish list, because i got it for my birthday a couple of years ago. It was recently moved swiftly up the ‘to read’ list when it was mentioned at a short story workshop i attended. One of the exercises was to take two things that you would generally not mix and write a story about them (which his how i ended up writing about a first kiss at an exorcism!). This is, seemingly, what Marek does with these stories.

None of these stories are about what you expect. My favourite was Cuckoo, i think, because its elusiveness works so well; it has a well-rounded story that doesn’t give all of its pieces up at once. Robot Wasps and Meaty’s Boys are two that also sit strong in my mind. Meaty’s Boys is one of the longest stories in the book, but seemed to fly by in no time at all. It is also the story with the most well-built world. Though the world we glimpse in Robot Wars was fascinating and left me wanting to know more about it.

These weird little glimpses into strange quirky worlds are what i love about the best short stories. They don’t all make sense, they don’t all have an underlying message or meaning, and they don’t follow any kind of pattern. They’re mostly just light-hearted gems to while away a few minutes while you’re waiting for the bus. And if a few of them have any kind of depth to them, well, that’s a bonus for those who want to search for it.

I mostly dived into this book looking for inspiration for my own short story writing, and while i did find some of that, i also found doubt and uncertainty. What i found these stories mostly lacking was feeling. I found it easy, once i’d finished a story, to let go of it–to move on. I think that’s perhaps not the feeling i want my own stories to leave readers with, but i write things that are also a little off the wall and i’m starting to wonder… but that’s a whole other post.

The only other problem i had with some of these stories were a few of the male characters, who were off with other women, trying to recapture some bullshit emotions or shit, while leaving their long term partners at home literally holding the baby. I just can’t with these characters, and it makes me side-eye Marek a little that this is obviously so easy a character he can fall into writing.

But yes, silly, weird, and inspired short stories that made me laugh, intrigued, and inspired. Definitely want to read more.

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The City Of Mirrors

Title: The City of Mirrors

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: All is quiet in the world. The Twelve have been destroyed, and the hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon civilization has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew–and daring to dream of a hopeful future. But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy–humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him. One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I went into this book with trepidation. I completely, utterly, five-out-of-five stars loved the previous two books in this series (The Passage and The Twelve), but i had heard of quite a few people really disliking the third and final book. So i cracked the spine with hope in my heart, but fully prepared for disappointment. Either way, i was half right.

This review is, in a word, long. It is also full of spoilers–i couldn’t express my roller coaster of emotions without talking about every damn turn in ride, i’m afraid. So read on at your own peril.

Things started out strong. Reuniting with these characters i have followed and loved over the first two books, discovering what becomes of them over the few years since the end of The Twelve, and finding the strings of where this book will take them. I loved it so far. I also really enjoyed the section of the book given over to Zero, Timothy Fanning, our antagonist’s tale of his back story. Told in the first person, he goes all the way back to his childhood, starting college, losing touch with his family and making a new one with his friends. I got lost in his story, and grew quickly fond of these new (and old…) characters. It was super interesting to discover how the virus had come about, and what people’s goals and motivations had been, even years before it happened. This was, however, also where the first crack appeared in my hope, allowing my disappointment to slip in. With Fanning’s history comes the slap in the face that everything–the entire apocalyptic mess–happened because of a love story. That just… annoys me, honestly. A man falls in love, it’s complicated, there’s a tragedy or two, and then he kills everyone. The moral of this story to me? Men are crazy dangerous and women should never fall in love with one.

The next section of the book skips ahead about 20-25 years, with our main protagonists now middle aged, and their children all grown up with children of their own. And honestly, this part… just… dragged. There was too much of the daily grind, people going about their every days, and too many characters i haven’t seen grow up and have nothing invested in. Action and excitement and development was severely lacking, and really i think the book as a whole would have benefited if we had jumped into the story at this part, with short forays back to see how they came to this point. Juxtapositioning the time lines as well as character- and plot-development that way would have kept the whole thing more interesting.

When things did kick off, with the virals finally making a reappearance and everything going to pot, my enthusiasm returned full force and i was ready for the rest of the book to be action-packed and making up for any lull in the narrative. And for a while, it did. The attacks on the city, the ambush, and the mad dash to the Bergensfjord. That was an example of this book’s story at its best, and i didn’t want to stop reading.

Despite loving the story at this point, there were other things i wasn’t enjoying so much. Plot is only a part of what makes a good book–the characters play a hefty part as well. Unfortunately, by this time, some were starting to wear on me. I’ve never been Peter’s biggest fan, but he was so blind to so much and making the wrong choices–i was left with very little sympathy or patience for him. The characters i did like were not in it enough–Greer, Michael, Lore, Amy. And even Amy sarted to frustrate me, when more and more of her love story with Peter is revealed. No matter how you spin it, she’s over 100 years old in the body of a young girl when Peter is a young man, and she’s still over 100 when she’s in the body of a young woman and Peter is a middle aged man. Despite the fact i get no ~romance~ vibes from their relationship at all and it feels entirely forced for the sake of having it–their massive, confusing, and altering age gaps just give me the creeps.

The single biggest disappointment i have with the entire book–the thing that not only failed to land for me, but actually make me rather angry and terribly, terribly sad–was Alicia. She is, hands down, my favourite character. But Cronin’s handling of her, her journey, and her conclusion is… misjudged at best, and just plain disgusting at worst. Her situation and condition is unique. The only person with any kind of understanding of it is Amy, and i loved the relationship Alicia and Amy share because of that (and honestly, i’d’ve bought a romance between them much more easily). Along with that, she went through some truly horrific events in The Twelve, coming out the other side a different person (again), but still with her heart and mind in the right place. In this book, she gets nothing but anger and violence from the people she once called friends, and the people she believed she was protecting for the last 25 years. At first i thought this anger was an initial reaction to people missing and worrying about her–that they would expunge it and welcome her back into the fold. Instead, it seethes and these people Alicia loves and is still trying to protect give no shits about her. She’s then severely wounded by friendly fire and reduced to a cripple for the rest of the book, kept around solely for information that barely gets used or considered. She gets no goodbyes, no validation for everything she has done, and only a single person caring enough about her to hold a conversation and help carry her trauma and her secrets. And it hurts me that she’s thrown away like that in this story.

By the end, and mostly by the time i became too disheartened by Alicia’s treatment, i just… didn’t care anymore. By the time they arrived in New York i was skipping ahead and see what happened. And not because i was so excited or engaged with the story that i had to know what happened and that everything turned out okay, but because i wanted to find a reason to want to keep reading–because i just wanted it over with. I was ready to give up on the last 150 pages, but the time and love i’d poured into the previous books gave me the determination to see it through, with the compromise of skim-reading the final chapters. By that time, though, i cared very little about anything i read.

Throughout the book, Cronin’s way with words shines through. His turns of phrase and imagery never failed, and i underlined with reckless abandon. I’m so happy this remained, even through parts of the book i didn’t enjoy, and even at parts of the book that made me numb with sadness and disappointment.

Some might have said she fell. Others, that she flew. Both were true. Alicia Donadio–Alicia of Blades, the New Thing, Captain of the Expeditionary–would die as she had lived.
Always soaring.

Honestly, in my heart this book gets two and a half stars out of five, but i rounded up based on my utter and undying love of the first two books. That love remains undamaged, and once i’ve posted this review i will try to wipe the memory of this book from my mind. For me, the series ends with humanity continuing on its journey to grow and rebuild itself, while Alicia heads off to New York to behead Zero and be the big damn hero she is.

The Outward Urge

Title: The Outward Urge

Author: John Wyndham

Summary: The ‘outward urge’ was a factor in the Troon inheritance. Successive generations of Troons, looking up at the stars, heard the siren voices that called them out into space. And, as the frontiers of space receded, there was usually one Troon, if not more, out there, helping to push them back.

The five exciting episodes related here deal with the parts they played in the building of the Space Station, the occupation of the Moon, the first landing on Mars, and the trouble about Venus and the asteroids.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: John Wyndham is one of my favourite authors. My absolute favourite, if you ask me on decisive day. I even recently got a John Wyndham inspired tattoo ♥ I’ve not read all his books yet; i’m taking them slowly, because there are only a finite number. It’s been a while now, though, so i thought i’d pick this one up.

This book has five stories set across 200 years, linked by the development and exploration of space, as well as by the Troon family. It is common for Troons to have the ‘outward urge’–that is, to explore space, to go further, to know what else there is out there. And so the Troons are at the forefront of every spaceward progression these stories explore. The first British space station, the first landing on the moon, the first Mars landing, the first Venus landing… I love that Wyndham uses a family to connect the stories. They are more intrinsically linked this way, yet still independent, with so much time passing between them.

The first story had me sobbing by the end of it, despite the fact it was pretty clear what was going to come. For the first story to hit me like that left me already so invested in the rest. I love that while we meet the first Troon, heading to help build the space station, he is a young man, but when we meet his moon station commander son in the second story, he is 50 years old. It’s so clearly not the same story or character development in each chapter; they each have their own heart and meaning. I loved them all, but the first and the last were stand out for me. The Mars landing was a very close third. Just… they’re all brilliant!

A few stories had some wonderful quotes and meaningful concepts. Wyndham explores that side of science fiction so, so well–the philosophical alongside the technological. I was underlining and dog earring quite a bit, and i love it when a passage strikes me so close to my heart that i have to pause in my reading to take a note of it. One of my favourites was this one:

Odd, he thought, in a kind of parenthesis, that it should need the suspicion of human hostility to reawaken the sense of the greater hostility constantly about them.

I would have given this book five stars in a heartbeat, if it weren’t for one glaring omission. Something that, for Wyndham, is surprising and disappointing. The lack of female characters. Every single Troon in this book, and every single space-bound non-Troon main character is a man. It could be argued that, writing in the 1950s, Wyndham was writing more in line with his era. BUT a) that’s never stopped Wyndham before, and b) the stories are set 40-240 years into the future, give me a god damn spacewoman! So yeah, the omission of decent female characters has irked me, but i also know how bloody good Wyndham is for including wonderful women elsewhere, so i won’t hold a grudge–this time.

In summary, I still love Mr Wyndham, but i’ll need a female-strong book from him next. And to be fair, that wont be for at least six months…

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The Vegetarian

Title: The Vegetarian

Author: Han Kang

Summary: Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker, she is a dutiful wife. Their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, commits a shocking act of subversion: she refuses to eat meat. Thus begins a disturbing and thrilling psychological drama about taboo, desire, rebellion and fantasy.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: It was the title that drew me to this book. I’ve been vegetarian for about 15 years, vegan for the last 2, so a book called The Vegetarian that was getting people talking and was proving popular remained on my radar long enough to peak my interest.

The book is about a woman–Yeong-hye–but told in three acts from the point of view of three other people. The first part is from the point of view of her husband, and details the point at which she stopped eating meat and the immediate aftermath of this. I found this part to be the most interesting, honestly. Yeong-hye’s husband is a selfish, abusive piece of shit, but he is also the closest person to her. He witnesses her daily routines, her unique quirks, and the most subtle changes in her as they happen. He is also the most insecure of the three narrators, and is therefore, i think, the most observant of the people around him–Yeong-hye, her family, and his own colleagues.

The second part of the story is told from the point of view of Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law. He is just as selfish and abusive as her husband, but i think in a much, much more self-centred way. He sees all his actions as necessary in order to create his work, which is the only thing driving him. He doesn’t have the insecurities Yeong-hye’s husband has, and although is aware of other people’s feeling and expectations, doesn’t truly care about them. This leaves him more free to do and take as he pleases, and makes him much more dangerous.

The third part of the book is told from In-hye’s point of view. She is Yeong-hye’s sister, and the wife of the brother-in-law. This part was my second favourite. In-hye is a more sympathetic character. Growing up with Yeong-hye she has similar experiences in life and cares very deeply for her sister. She’s the only one left supporting Yeong-hye, and is starting to really understand what Yeong-hye has been going through. It’s the concluding part of the story, where threads come together and questions are answered (or left intentionally unanswered). While it wasn’t as plot-driven as the other parts of the book, it was the most analytical, and interesting in a unique way.

There is a lot left open to interpretation in this book. Character’s motivations–Why did Yeong-hye stop eating meat, stop eating, want to become one with nature? Why was her brother-in-law so inspired by and obsessed with the Mongolian mark? Why did In-hye carry so much guilt and understanding for what her sister was experiencing? Actual facts–What exactly did Yeong-hye dream? Was Yeong-hye as mentally unwell as people assumed? Did In-hye hold as much of the thread on her own sanity as she thinks she did? And general meanings–Were Yeong-hye’s actions merely a way for her to take control of her own life and make her own choices? Was the brother-in-law a sexual deviant or a misunderstood artist? Did In-hye ultimately understand her sister’s plight, or was she simply projecting her own?

This book is fascinating in a lot of ways, but almost unreachable or inexplicably distant in others. I feel that although this book didn’t make a huge impact on me initially, it’s definitely left me with many questions and may be a story that stays with me for a while, making me think and consider things in new ways. I am definitely interested in reading more of Kang’s work.

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The Word for World is Forest

Book Review: The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin 3/5 StarsTitle: The Word for World is Forest

Author: Ursula Le Guin

Summary: When the inhabitants of a peaceful world are conquered by the bloodthirsty yumens, they find themselves forced into servitude, at the mercy of their brutal masters. Eventually, desperation causes them to abandon their strictures against violence and rebel against their captors. But in doing so, they have endangered the very foundations of their society. For every blow against the invaders is a blow to the humanity of the Athsheans. And once the killing starts, there is no turning back.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I love Le Guin’s writing, but honestly haven’t read enough of it. I’ve had this book on my to read list since i first read The Dispossessed five years ago. This book had already been next on my to read pile, though it proved timely, coinciding with Le Guin recent and saddening death. The Dispossessed and The Word for World is Forest are the first two books in the Hainish Cycle, and let’s not pretend the third book in the series, Rocannon’s World, isn’t now top of my to buy list. The books aren’t connected by plot or characters, and can be read out of sequence or independently of each other–but chronologically is how i roll.

But this book. This book was interesting and frustrating all at the same time. Set on a world of islands, all completely covered in trees, the human race (as we know it) has arrived, settled, and started a small logging colony. The world and races created and explored here are wonderfully done. The native Athsheans, small and covered in green hair, are Le Guin’s literal ‘little green men’. From the human’s point of view they are a quiet, simple, unintelligent race, barely worth training up for menial tasks such as cooking and cleaning. The Athsheans are actually a lovely, peaceful, extremely clever introspective race who put much stock in dreaming. I found them quite charming.

Our three main characters are two humans–the selfish, egotistical, and cruel Davidson, and the reserved, observant, and kindhearted Lyubov–and one Athshean–the headstrong, confident, visionary Selver. Davidson, as Le Guin acknowledges in her introduction, is 100% the bad guy. He has no redeeming features, and is there solely to cause trouble and be hated. And oh, was he so easy to hate. I hated him unreservedly, and though that was really the point, and i loved to hate him, it also felt hollow and disappointing, to know he was written in that way and for him to have nothing but hate to give or receive. Selver was a smart man, and i don’t blame him for any of the choices he made–he did the best and smartest things he could given the situation, and he handled it marvellously. For someone who acted so emotionally to trauma and loss, he also seemed, on the whole, quite emotionless. Though i wonder if that may be a byproduct of introspection, of dreaming, of knowing oneself–being able to acknowledge your emotions and make conscious decisions rather than gut reactions. Lyubov, though. Lyubov was my favourite. He was the middle man, the one trying to bridge the gap between the humans and the Athsheans, with very few people on either side going along with that. I found him to have the purest heart, the most interesting perspective, and to be the only one not quite sure of himself.

The book is not without problems. Women treated as objects and commodities by the humans and all the main characters being male are two of the biggest. While the Athsheans have a more equal society, it still rubs me the wrong way that women have their assigned gender roles and men have theirs–it’s not fair to anyone. And while the women as sex objects and baby producers in the human society is certainly a negative commentary, it is never discussed or explored enough to be openly critiqued in the story, and i find that a huge blow.

Stand out in the story is the concept of violence and change. How people and societies develop in ways they need to to their surroundings and threats, but how that change is permanent. Although the threat might have passed, the actions taken are irreversible and will shape the development of things forever. It is, like every Le Guin book i have read so far, exceptional world building and exploration of ideas and themes and characters. I can’t wait to read more.