REVIEW: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

1430789787569474338Everything about this book is what I honestly love about science fiction. Full of fascinating characters, complex species, intergalactic laws and society, this book was a wonderful read and it’s definitely one of my favourites of this year.

All you can do Rosemary – all any of us can do – is work to be something positive instead. That is a choice that every sapient must make every day of their life. The universe is what we make of it. It’s up to you to decide what part you will play.

I’m a sucker for complex societies and the possibilities of human life among other species. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet looks at the possible political landscape of an intergalactic world, all within the small crew of a tunnelling ship. As Rosemary Harper, a young Martian human joins the motley crew of Wayfarer, hoping to run from her past, we too are swept into the world of 9 beautifully developed characters.

For the variety and elaborate design of Chambers’ world, the book is still remarkably easy to digest. I’m always slightly weary of the large science-fiction ‘epics’ for their hard to digest civilisations and they take forever to read and understand. Instead, Chambers presents and describes a galactic world that is still accessible and readable. It is light and easy to read yet still fully immersive. I sat down and basically didn’t move for hours until I polished it off.

It’s also the subtle things that make this book so intriguing and enjoyable. There’s the offhanded same-sex relationships, the exploration of polygamy, the exploration into stereotypes and the danger of comparing norms in other cultures. The inclusive and believable cultures aid to an exploration of our own, human society that we see as the ‘norm’, and Chambers challenges our views of our own ‘normal’ through the extremes of other species and civilisations. These subtle gestures add another layer to the story, a far more personal and individual one that explores more of our current society than we realise. It’s refreshing to have such varied and inclusive writing that doesn’t do it to ‘push the boat out’ or be ‘radical’. Instead, the simple inclusion of such aspects into the cultures that Chambers creates is both refreshing and beautifully done.

Although I feel, at times, Chambers didn’t get the pace of the book right, with the Hedra Ka ultimately hardly explored despite it being the aim of the Wayfarer crew, the book provides an immersive and exciting story that is definitely character-driven. The species, cultures and history are beautifully crafted into a book that I honestly didn’t want to end.

WHAT I LOVED: basically everything, characterisation, diversity of species

WHAT I DISLIKED: i didn’t want it to end!

Rating: five-stars

REVIEW: Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

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The world outside the observatory was silent, but the universe wasn’t.

I was so eager to get this book, and I did a little dance when I got the acceptance email from NetGalley and Orion Publishing, so thank you so much!

As always, Orion has pulled out another wonderful dystopian novel that really pulls at your heartstrings. Focusing on two people, a lone astronomer in the Arctic, and an astronaut returning from a trip to Jupiter, the focus is decidedly simple. What happens when the world goes silent? What happens when you think you’re the last person alive?

This focal concept leads to a relatively simplistic book, without the extremes and often exaggerated events and circumstances that comes along with dystopian fiction nowadays. Instead, we’re left with an honest look at two people, more interconnected than they think, with the weight of the world on their shoulders, but still decidedly removed from the population.

Both stories mirror and intertwine with each other, and Brooks-Dalton combines them beautifully. The novel’s sparse nature does not give way to a lack of feeling, and instead makes the story deeply personal, on such a small scale. Sully and Augustine present wonderful complex characters that bring the story to life.

At the end, I was left feeling slightly deflated. Part of me wanted to know what had happened to the rest of humanity, and instead the story finishes on quite an abrupt note. However, I do understand the effect, and I think it adds a level of poignancy and consideration to the end of the novel. And make sure you watch out for the last few lines. The simplicity and meaning of one word evokes a load of questions and wonderful tidbit at the end of the story to leave you mulling and questioning the events.

WHAT I LOVED: the remarkable simplicity, the beautiful cover, complex characters

WHAT I DISLIKED: the ending left me with so many questions???

Rating: four-stars

REVIEW: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

51tu1wgvi2bl-_sx326_bo1204203200_This book is so subtle and beautiful that it just flows, each person’s story intertwined into a narrative that spans the 20 years of an apocalyptic world.

Survival is insufficient.

And that’s really what makes this book. It’s realistic. It’s a dystopian world, but one that is fundamentally understandable, without the drama and the extremes of typical survival fiction. Instead, there’s the intensity in the simplicity of a world with only 0.1% of the population, and everything they knew has dissolved into nothing. There is no hyperbole or overly extreme events. But it’s still as intense and exciting as anything else in this kind of genre.

Mandel writes with inter-connectivity at the heart of it all. Despite the lack of the internet, or the phone service, or social media, there’s still a connection that spans people’s lives and survives the apocalypse. A well-thumbed comic, a paperweight, the fleeting memory of an actor. Their lives, all interconnected before, are equally as connected after. Arthur, Clark, Jeevan and Kirsten are intertwined by their memories, their history, and their actions. At first, the abruptness of the jumps is slightly confusing, but soon you understand the narrative and how Mandel writes.

This book is honestly a breath of fresh air, in a genre that has so recently dominated markets. It’s realism and dystopia rolled into one, and the beautiful writing makes a wonderful read. The Guardian calls it ‘dreamily atmospheric’, and it’s a perfect way of describing it.

A heartily 5 stars from me, and I’ll definitely look into her other works.

WHAT I LOVED: the writing style, the interconnected narrative, the beautiful cover

WHAT I DISLIKED: nothing!

Rating: five-stars

REVIEW: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerWe were neither what we had been nor what we would become once we reached our destination.

To put a bit of context to this, I have just finished up a module called ‘The Weird Tale’, that looks at horror and science fiction short stories that are primarily concerned with the ‘weird’: something outside the realm of our understanding that is decidedly not explained. Through that module, I encountered a lot of Jeff VanderMeer, who writes extensively on weird fiction.

Hence, when I picked up his book, I had a bit of an understanding of what I was getting into. From the synopsis, I admit I was expecting a bit more concrete structure, or at least a lot more science. Part of me was expecting ‘The Martian’-esque writing, but more focused on science fiction. It decidedly isn’t that all.

Instead we’re thrust into a narrative with very little information and even less understanding. Following an expedition party into the mysterious Area X, everything is decidedly removed from our understanding. Mysterious towers and odd groans at night, and odd team members, it is definitely weird.

Others might be frustrated by the lack of concrete narrative or world building, but I really admire VanderMeer’s writing. It’s almost on the cusp of Lovecraftian: an unknown entity that is more than we could ever understand or imagine. And that’s the power that this novel brings: that great sense of unease and the questions we continually have over the course of reading it.

This book is ultimately clever, working on very real worries and suspicions that we all have. I admit, I would have liked a bit more understanding by the end, but this intrigue will definitely lead me to read the rest of the trilogy!

WHAT I LOVED: the weird, beautiful cover, FEMALE CHARACTERS

WHAT I DISLIKED: could have been longer!

Rating: four-stars

REVIEW: The Phoenix Descent by Chuck Grossart

Thank you so much to NetGalley, 47North and Chuck Grossart to letting me review this before being published!

51wff8ubmzl-_sx331_bo1204203200_It’s actually rather rare that I sit and finish a book in one sitting. I usually take my time, unless I really can’t help it. The Phoenix Descent was definitely one of those books that I couldn’t put down. I was even reading while cooking dinner. Chuck Grossart’s writing was immersive and gripping, and the quick pace of the plot meant my Kindle was basically glued to my hand for the day.

I’m always wary of books that alternate between two characters. I like getting stuck into one narrative and character. But in this case, we flowed between Sif, an astronaut going to Mars, and Litsa, a warrior on the ground fighting the realities of the apocalypse. The (generally) alternating chapters left cliffhangers at each ending, making me want to read on more and more. The fast paced narrative style and the alternating focus left me thinking ‘just one more chapter’.

But what stood out most in this book was the strong female characters. It’s rare nowadays to see female protagonists outside YA novels, yet Grossart gave us two strong women who didn’t need a guy. There was barely a hint of romance throughout the whole novel (a few mentions here and there that can be interpreted either way), and that was so refreshing. I’m tired of science-fiction and dystopian plots almost being overshadowed by the need for romance and love. I just want some good old classic alien invasion (not quite the case here), and maybe some military strategy.

I’m not going to lie, part of the plot (especially the big reveal at the end) was rather predictable, but that’s probably down to me reading too many dystopian novels. While the plot wasn’t the newest concept to grace the shelves, the focus on strong female characters that ‘don’t need no man’ and the cohesive and immersive writing style left me love The Phoenix Descent.

It’s not everyday I give 5 stars to science-fiction and dystopian novels. The majority of it nowadays follows the same typical pattern. Grossart gives a breath of fresh air to a dystopia, that typically struggles with representation, and science fiction, a genre that is increasingly become deep and lengthy in order to get a step ahead of the others.

THINGS I LOVED: strong women, fast pace, kind of reminded me of Day of the Triffids

THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE: slightly predictable

RATING: five-stars

P.S. Chuck Grossart also tweeted me when I discussed reading it/rating it 5 stars on Twitter! Was very surprised and he was very polite and nice!