Review: Speak by Louisa Hall


2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I was initially drawn to Speak through its cover – I frequently do, in fact, judge a book by its cover. Having just re-watched the film Ex Machina for Sci-Fi Month 2015, it immediately struck me as sounding similar, plus the figure on the cover looked a little like Ava, the A.I. in the film. I’ve always been intrigued by A.I., but my recent exploration into the sub-genre of science fiction had me interested.

And so I dove into the book, expecting something dark, technologically very clever, and most of all, exciting.

I hate to say it, but I came out very, very disappointed. Speak is not a novel as much as a collection of diary entries and chat logs, all from different time periods, all linked together by artificial intelligence. However, the link felt tenuous at best, meaning that it felt more like a collection of random stories, all told in different chapters. One diary was of a 16/17th century teenage girl, making the journey from England to the New World. Another was a chatlog between a chatbot and a paralysed teenaged girl. There was also the diary of the creator of a certain artificial intelligence.

In some ways, maybe they were linked. Both in others, not at all. I didn’t find any single chapter or event to be particularly interesting or exciting, there was no real chance to get to know any character and I was, quite honestly, rather bored of it all by the end. It’s a shame, because Speak looked so full of promise, but despite the beautiful writing it ultimately felt like a lot of loose ends with no real conclusion.

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Ex Machina and the Question of Artificial Intelligence


This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

Please be aware that this post will contain spoilers for the film Ex Machina.

It was with great anticipation that I awaited the release of the film Ex Machina this past January. I finally made it to the cinema – and left feeling so unnerved. Ex Machina was not quite as I expected, although not at all in a bad way. It was more the fact that I wasn’t expecting the film to be so creepy, or to make me really think about so much of the film’s matter.

If you are unaware of the plot of the film, here is a brief synopsis:

Programmer Caleb wins an internal competition at the company where he works and is invited to spend a week at the mountain estate of the company’s owner, Nathan. On arrival, Caleb finds that the place is a state-of-art facility. Nathan gives him a non-disclosure contract to sign. Then he explains that he is assigned to evaluate the reactions and emotions of artificial intelligence in a female body called Ava. Caleb interviews Ava, and she uses a power outage to tell him that he should not trust Nathan. Along the day, Caleb is involved by Ava and plots a scheme to let her flee from the facility. Meanwhile Nathan tells him that he has been manipulated by Ava. Who is telling the truth? (from IMDB)

Or let the trailer set the mood:

After several sessions, the AI, Ava, begins to question Caleb about himself. She wants to learn about a person and therefore form a friendship through those bonds. Although the way in which she approaches making those bonds is not how natural friendships form, she is aware of how they work. Ava also asks why she cannot go outside. Later in the film, we see that Nathan’s previous AIs also asked this question, even demanding to know why and becoming aggressive and violent. Nathan is at first, a reclusive genius. Then his darker side emerges: he is an alcoholic, he seems to have ulterior motives for his AIs at times, and he has no qualms about psychologically terrorising Caleb.

Ava seems to grow rather attached to Caleb. He is, as Nathan says, the first man she has seen that is not Nathan, who is ‘practically her father’. It therefore only seems natural that she takes great interest in him, flirting with him, showing him her new clothes and analysing his microreactions for attraction. As she says, she is ‘testing him’. In the finale of the film, Caleb helps Ava escape. During the escape, she stabs Nathan with a kitchen knife. Did she do this because of his cruel behaviour, or because she saw his death as her only way out? She clearly has information on the concept of death, and knew how to kill Nathan. Was this something programmed into her, or something she picked up?

In a heartbreaking twist, Ava also abandons Caleb, leaving him locked in the house with no way out. This raises the question: was it her intention all along to use Caleb to escape? Did she truly have no interest in him? Or did she decide at the spur of the moment that it was best if she went alone, after what happened with Nathan? The film raises many questions that science fiction films of the past have raised, but the way of presenting them and the results of the ‘experiment’ is very haunting.

The lighting, setting – remote, modern and sterile – and music add SO much tension and atmosphere to the film. The soundtrack is truly outstanding, and sends chills down my spine. For a science fiction film, it’s less about the special effects and super technology (apart from Ava herself, obviously), and more about why we want things like this in our lives.

Have you seen Ex Machina? What did you think?

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: Common Concepts in Science Fiction


Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.
There are some factors that just make a science fiction book. That’s not to say that all sci-fi novels have to contain all, or even any, of these points, but they’re often found within works of the genre. In the style of my very first Fantasy Friday post, I’m going to do a similar post with science fiction and talk about common concepts in the genre. You’re more than welcome to join in, if you make your own post there is an InLinks widget at the bottom where you can share your post URL.

Time travel is something that has always fascinated humankind. I know some people do not get along with it in books, but personally I love it. There are series like Doctor Who where it is one of the main elements, or books like All Our Yesterdays. It opens up so many possibilities: parts of history can appear in a futuristic novel, historical figures can be brought to life – or civilisations even further ahead in time can be imagined. There are so many elements of time travel – alternate timelines, the grandfather paradox, many elements that would take a great deal more space to discuss!

See also: Doctor Who, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, The Time Machine by H.G Wells, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Looper, Back to the Future, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Space travel is another big factor, often hand-in-hand with time travel. What makes it so exciting is that it’s something we can already do – albeit on a smaller scale than appears in most science fiction – so events in many books could be ones we have yet to look forward to! In some cases spaceships are able to travel in hyperspace and reach destinations very quickly, but some works of science fiction show space travel in a different way. For example, in the Mass Effect game universe, the player can find objects called mass relays (shown above), which form an enormous network allowing interstellar travel. In the Hyperion Cantos series by Dan Simmons, there is a price to pay for space travel. Certain characters are able to travel through space at such a speed that it kills them – but they are resurrected on the other side. It’s every bit as painful as it sounds, much to the dismay of one particular character who has to make several journeys in a short period of time!
See also: the Mass Effect video game series, the Hyperion Cantos series by Dan Simmons, House of Suns by Alistair Reynolds, Firefly, Sunshine, Star TrekStar Wars – in fact there are so many different books, TV series, films and games I could mention!

Aliens appear in so many works of science fiction, in all shapes and sizes. Occasionally they are friendly and help the human race, but most of the time… well you really don’t want to cross them. The Alien franchise (well, some of it) is a fantastic example of hostile alien races terrorising humans. I think they’re so popular because, admit it, we love the idea of there being some other form of intelligent life out there. There have been so many UFO spottings, abduction reports and other alien eyewitnesses that just prove we are obsessed. I for one am both really excited and kind of absolutely terrified by the idea of extra-terrestrial life. On one hand, they could be like the turians from Mass Effect (I’m a big Garrus fan), but on the other hand they might just be something like the creatures from Alien. And I don’t fancy meeting a facehugger, thank you very much.

See also: the Alien film series, the Mass Effect video game series, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Doctor Who, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

This is one thing that makes me kind of sad when I read or watch sci-fi. I can’t remember ever seeing physical copies of books represented: characters always use ebooks or tablets to read or study. In fact it’s often some sort of multi-use device, for reading, communicating, studying and looking up information. I really hope that this is not our future; as much as I see the uses of an e-reader I would hate to live in a world without paperbacks.
See also: Acid by Emma Pass, the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Star Trek

It’s not just extraterrestrial life that fascinates us, but also artificial life. And like extraterrestrial life, it can be scary. In many examples, life created by humankind gets its own back on its creators – but in some cases, androids or cyborgs are seen as lesser citizens. One such example is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, also adapted into the film Blade Runner, where a bounty hunter has to dispose of several androids who have defied orders. As for YA fiction, there is Cinder by Marissa Meyer, where the eponymous character would be shunned from society were she to reveal her true status. In many cases, androids and cyborgs are indistinguishable from humans, which can be all the more dangerous. **Alien spoilers ahead** Think how shocked the crew of the Nostromo were when they discovered Ash was an android all along. **end spoilers** So maybe you should think about thanking that ATM next time it spits your cash out. Because one day, the machines might rebel against us!
See also: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Prometheus, Blade Runner, Artificial Intelligence

What concepts do you often see cropping up in science fiction? I can think of plenty more but have chosen only to cover a few. Which are your favourites?