Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2016: Review of Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2016, 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 with the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

When I was first sent a copy of Revenger for review, my immediate thought was of the excellent but criminally short-lived TV show Firefly. However I seem to draw this comparison now for all books revolving around a spaceship crew. I love stories of life on a spaceship, from Firefly to my favourite video game Mass Effect.

Unlike many of the previous tales I’ve read, watched or played, Revenger is told from the point of view of a teenage girl. Arafura is a privileged young woman, the youngest daughter of a wealthy man. Her sister, Adrana, is the more confident of the two, the more adventurous and bolshy. Arafura seems meek and timid, reluctant to follow her sister into trouble but also too scared to let her go off alone. The book starts with them escaping their ‘nanny bot’ and stowing away on a ship, where the adventure begins.

There is just so much action from the very beginning of this novel that it is impossible not to feel draw in instantly. I was unsure of Arafura as a narrator at first – the boring sister, perhaps, the less adventurous one – but actually this decision worked so well. The reader follows Fura as she grows in confidence and matures, as she learns what revenge means. There were plenty of other likeable characters too, although there wasn’t always time to get to know some and get a sense of who they really were due to a rather quick changeover in some cases. The villain of the story, Bosa Sennan, has some fantastic folklore built around them that really made me feel as if humankind had been space-faring peoples for centuries. And the idea that Bosa Sennan’s ship could just come out of nowhere, undetected was pretty terrifying.

I actually really enjoyed the premise of what the ship’s crew actually did – exploring abandoned alien bases/ships/planets, that were only accessible during certain periods of time, and looting everything that could be found. I’d love a whole novel based purely around that! It sounds like some cool sort of space archaeology/exploration.

Whilst this is pitched as a Young Adult novel, don’t let that put you off if you’re not normally a reader of YA. Similarly, if you’ve ever felt intimidated by Alastair Reynolds’ galaxy-sprawling works of science fiction, don’t be scared off by this one. The tone is completely different, his writing style almost unrecognisible from his previous work such as House of Suns, but every bit just as fantastical and epic. To top it off, the cover is simple but so perfect, demonstrating the vastness and emptiness of space.

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Top Lists

My Top Books of 2015

As the title says, it’s time to discuss my top books of 2015! I already shared my top science fiction novels of 2015 as part of Sci-Fi Month, so most of the sci-fi has already been covered. However, there are a couple that I read after writing that post, meaning that some science fiction will sneak its way in! And because I’m super indecisive, I haven’t gone for the usual top ten, but top twelve…

And now, in no particular order…

Red Rising Golden Son The Empress Game

Red Rising (Red Rising #1) by Pierce Brown was by far one of my ultimate favourite books of the year. It was chosen as Science Fiction Book of the Month by my Goodreads book group, Dragons & Jetpacks, and it was an instant huge success with almost every member who read it. It completely and absolutely blew me away, and I posted my review back in November. The sequel, Golden Son (Red Rising #2) was just as fantastic, and my review will be posted next month as part of the Golden Son readalong, in preparation for the release of the next book. The Empress Game (The Empress Game #1) by Rhonda Mason was another science fiction standout that just missed my last list. I don’t know what I expected when I started it, but it certainly wasn’t what I read. It was a true thrill ride, and I shared my five star review last month.

Skin The Alchemist of Souls Thief's Magic by Trudi Canavan

Skin by Ilka Tampke was a lucky library find. I’d been eyeing it up after browsing Hodder & Stoughton’s catalogue, and had been hoping for a review copy in the post. Although I wasn’t lucky in that respect, I did manage to find it in the library not long after release, and snatched it up. It was a truly gorgeous tale of Celtic Britain, specifically Somerset, and a young girl who is seen as ‘skinless’ by her tribe, due to her unknown parentage. The Alchemist of Souls (Night’s Masque #1) by Anne Lyle was my ‘brand new book treat’ at Bristolcon, and I was drawn in initially just by the cover. After reading the blurb I was certain that I had to own the book – and I started reading it the very next day. Let’s just say that I now want to read as many Elizabethan historical fantasies as I can get my hands on. Thief’s Magic (Millennium’s Rule #1) by Trudi Canavan was one of the many Netgalley reads that I finally got around to – and one that I really wish I’d read sooner. Although that does mean less time to wait for the sequel… a steampunk type fantasy, that also featured archaeology, it was full of adventure. I shared my review back in October.

Simon and the Homo Sapien Agenda Warbreaker The Well of Ascension

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli was a total surprise, and a completely adorable book. I picked it up at the library because I’d seen a few bloggers raving about it, and thought I’d take the risk – after all, it was a library book. However, I fell a little bit in love. I feel that no top book list will ever be complete without at least one Brandon Sanderson book, but that’s okay because I have two. Both Warbreaker (Warbreaker #1) and The Well of Ascension (Mistborn #2) were typical Sanderson: basically amazing and all you could ever want in a book. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything of his that I’ve read so far, and need to hurry up and catch up with the rest of the Mistborn series.

Outlander Dragonfly in Amber A Darker Shade of Magic

2015 saw me get rather addicted to the TV series Outlander and fall in love with beautiful Scotsman Jamie, so imagine my delight when I discovered it was based on a book series – and a long one at that. Extra sexy Scotsman! Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon are both gorgeous, heartbreaking tales, and I can’t wait to continue the rest of the series. I’m slowly building up my second-hand collection of the books, I’m only missing two of them now! A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab was a book I was offered by Titan, and absolutely jumped at the chance to read. They even kindly posted me a copy out to the Netherlands whilst I was there. I devoured the book in two or three days, and then lent it to a friend who also loved it. Can’t wait to read some of her other work! I reviewed the book back in April this year.

What were your top reads of 2015?

Screen Talk

Screen Talk #2: Ender’s Game

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Screen Talk is my space to chat about films and television, ranging from reviews, to recommendations and everything in between.

Today I want to talk about the film adaptation of the novel Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card.

Enders Game

I had been meaning to watch this for a while, but somehow managed to miss it at the cinema and just never got round to it. Until I was browsing through Netflix, remembered it was there and thought it would be a good thing to watch for Sci-Fi Month! I really enjoyed the novel it is based on, despite the author being a rather disgusting human being, so I had to give the film a shot some time.

The good:
  • The visuals were great. The Battle Room looked so fantastic, as well as the suits of the cadets and all their technology.
  • The soundtrack, composed by Steve Jablonsky, was an absolute wonder.
  • The casting – Harrison Ford! Viola Davis! Ben Kingsley!

The bad:
  • The film cut out way too much of the book, such as the sub-plot involving Valentine and Peter, set on Earth.
  • Instead of focusing on the camaraderie that Ender develops with Bean, Petra and the other cadets, the film ignored all of these friendships in place of a potential romance that never actually blossomed.

The ugly:
  • Without the sub-plot set on Earth, it didn’t feel like there was any real threat to humankind. The chapters in the book with Peter and Valentine kept it feeling more ‘real’ and grounded, literally and metaphorically.
  • Why is Ender so special and talented? We don’t see a single moment of the reason why on screen. The film missed out so much that it in fact just cut out all the important bits. There is no real explanation as to why Ender gets promoted again and again. Sure, we see him win one battle. But why does that make him so much more worthy than the other kids who have won tens, hundreds of battles?
  • We’re told that Ender is a mixture of his brother and sister, and that’s why he fits the academy. His brother is on screen for all of five seconds, and Valentine not that much longer. Therefore, this means nothing. We don’t know what this combination would be like.
  • Ender was so… bleh. He lacked any real personality. I had no reason to like him.

Overall Rating:

Have you watched Ender’s Game? What did you think?

Review

Review: The Empress Game (The Empress Game #1) by Rhonda Mason

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

Lately, I’ve had this really bad habit of receiving fantastic looking books, making plans to read them as soon as possible, and then ignoring said plans. And almost every single time, when I finally get round to the books, I wonder why it took me so long. The Empress Game was another fine example of this.

The focus of the story is the Empress Game itself, but it was so much more than that. The titular event sees all eligible young ladies – ladies of nobility – fight in arena matches in order to win the position of Empress Apparent. These are not matches to the death, but they can be brutal all the same, and it was interesting to see a society (or societies, rather) where the nobility, particular female nobility, were trained in such combat. It is an interesting way of choosing the right person for such a position, and whilst the reason why is never fully explained, one can imagine the kind of person it would produce: ruthless and ready to make the tough decisions that come with ruling.

Kayla is selected to take part in the Empress Game, not as herself but fighting as Princess Isonde, a fair claimant to the position with moralistic ideals, but sadly lacking the combat skills to prove herself worthy. Wearing a hologram, and with the help of some biometric/technological alterations, Kayla is able to take part in the Game. As the story progresses, the reader learns more about Kayla herself, her reasons for hiding, the history of her people and the future that may come to pass. What originally seemed like a book about fighting for the position of Empress soon turned into a book about fighting for what was right.

As for Kayla herself, I really liked her. At first she is very suspicious of those who employ her services, and she sees Princess Isonde as a total snob. Her fierceness covers up a hidden past, and her protectiveness of her younger brother Corinth is admirable. Soon, she begins to warm up, and even starts making friends. Isonde herself is shown to be a good person, not just someone who wants a powerful position for the sake of it. And Malkor, the agent that finds Kayla in the first place, provides support and friendship for Kayla.

A good chunk of the book is Kayla working through arena matches (within the Empress Game there are thousands). Mason manages to keep up the interest throughout, even whilst Kayla is just fighting as a day-to-day activity. The action and fight scenes were wonderfully written, with each movement feeling so fluid and easily to visualise.

There were a few little issues with the book: the conclusion was over too quickly in my opinion, although it did have its tense moments, and the romance was rather predictable. I do also worry that the title/parts of the blurb will make people think the story is something like The Hunger Games, with a fight to the death, last one alive pronounced the victor. However, let me assure you that The Empress Game is nothing like that at all. It turned out to be a fantastic read and I’m so excited to find out what happens in the second book. Whilst it feels like a classic space opera, it is also not too ‘heavy’, making it a great read for all types of science fiction fans. Whether you’ve just started reading the genre or you’re a hardcore fan, The Empress Game comes highly recommended.

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Space Opera

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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.

Continuing my discussion of some of my favourite elements of science fiction, space opera is my final post on this subject. And just to clear things up, here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, and often risk-taking as well as chivalric romance; usually involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons and other sophisticated technology.

Space opera is what I think of when I think of science fiction. It feels like the ‘classic’ sci-fi element and covers so many different possibilities: space travel, colonisation, alien contact, adventure, action, exciting technologies, a dash of romance. Many of the early works of science fiction fit the space opera sub-genre.

Here are some of my favourite space opera reads:
The Empress Game House of Suns Ender's Game

The Empress Game is a fairly recent release, and my review of it will be posted next month. House of Suns is an epic, sprawling space opera for fans of hard science fiction, whereas Ender’s Game is aimed at Young Adult audiences onwards. I’ll be sharing my thoughts of the film adaptation in a post next month.

And some space operas I’d love to read:
Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach Dark Run Inherit the Stars

I can DEFINITELY think of a space opera video game, because it is one of my absolute favourites: Mass Effect. This game sees you traversing the universe as Commander Shepard, gathering your forces to defeat an ancient alien race known as the Protheans, who are hellbent on destroying all civilisation. I discussed my love for the series in a previous Sci-Fi Month post from 2013, which also included a guest post by one of the ‘Story Doctors’ who worked on the game. In fact I seem to have discussed the game quite a lot, as searching for ‘Mass Effect’ on this blog comes up with five pages of search results… So if you’re looking for a good, solid science fiction video game that lets you explore space and communicate (and er… more…) with aliens, then Mass Effect is the game for you!

Mass Effect

And of course, we can’t discuss space opera without mentioning Star Wars…

Who else is excited for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens? Just a few people I think… The Star Wars films are classic space opera, adventure with a dash of romance. I remember when I was young, my dad sat me and my sisters down and showed us the original trilogy shortly before we went to see The Phantom Menace in the cinema. Although that film is ignored by many a hardcore fan, I love it because it felt like my way into the Star Wars universe – it felt less complex than the original, which was good as I was young at the time, and I LOVED pod-racing. However, that film has one massive flaw and I won’t tarnish my blog with his name 😉 Whatever you think of the Star Wars franchise, there’s no denying its impact on the space opera sub-genre.

Are you a fan of space opera? What does the term mean to you?

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Review

Review: Leviathan Wakes (Expanse #1) by James S.A. Corey

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

Leviathan Wakes was the science fiction Book of the Month for my Goodreads book group, Dragons & Jetpacks. It had been on my radar for a while: I previously recommended it for fans of the TV show Firefly and plenty of my friends had read and enjoyed it. As a result, I set out with some rather high expectations.

Some science fiction novels take quite a bit of getting used to, with their unusual and unique terminology and technology, but not this one. It is both immediately accessible and understandable whilst retaining a futuristic feel. We’re made aware of terraforming, ‘faux food’ (this is one of the things that scares me about the future. No delicious real food!), and hand-held communications terminals – but as of yet, no faster than light travel. From the very beginning it is packed full of political backstabbing and corruption, with elements of crime noir and horror. Whilst it’s not big on the action, there are plenty of tense moments to grip the reader. It feels like a science fiction novel that covers many boundaries and could appeal to many different types of people, not just fans of science fiction.

The crime noir element is thanks to Miller, a cop assigned to tracking down a young girl and one of the point-of-view characters. He feels like a bit of a cliche: slightly more than occasional heavy drinker (brought on by the stresses of the job), rocky relationship with his ex-wife, practically married his career and putting it before everything else. Throughout the story he shows signs of perhaps not being particularly emotionally stable, and the case takes a real toll on him. The reader watches him fall, and it’s both heart-breaking and a bit of a relief for a combination of reasons. His obsession with the case, and the young girl he is meant to be searching for, becomes all-consuming, and his descent into madness puts more than one person at risk. A talented and dedicated policeman becomes a creepy, obsessive character with little or no morals in about five hundred pages, and it was the sudden reversal of my feelings about Miller that really got me.

As for the rest of the characters, it would have been nice to have some more background information. Holden and Naomi were great, along with the rest of a good cast of more minor characters, but where were their detailed back stories? There may be more in the next books, but it would be nice to have something from the beginning.

At times, Leviathan Wakes reminded me more of Alien than Firefly. The latter part of the book was very tense, dark and gave me a real claustrophobic feeling – as if I were the one trapped aboard a spaceship with some mysterious extra-terrestrial life. I would definitely recommend it to fans of writers such as Alastair Reynolds and Arthur C. Clarke, as well as those who like a horror aspect with their science fiction!