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REVIEW: Snowpiercer (Vols. 1 and 2)

Snowpiercer vol.1Writers: Jacques Lob (vol.1) & Benjamin Legrand (vol. 2)

Artist: Jean-Marc Rochette

2014, Titan Comics (originally published in 1984 by Casterman, France)

Filed Under: Graphic Novel, Sci-Fi

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 7
Art...... 6/9

Snowpiercer, a series of graphic novels by Jean-Marc Rochette, Jacques Lob, and Benjamin Legrand, has only just been released in English thirty years later, but its critique of late capitalism remains potent. In fact, the optimism of the premise – that humanity would find some way to survive a climate disaster, even in a compromised way – seems quaint today. Rochette, Lob, and Legrand seem to have intended Snowpiercer as a warning, but reading it now it feels more like a lament.
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REVIEW: Ancillary Justice

ancillary-justiceAuthor: Ann Leckie

2013, Orbit

Filed under: Sci-fi

Find it at Goodreads

This review refers to the audiobook version of this novel.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 5
Depth..... 9

I’d heard nothing but rave reviews about this book since its publication six months ago. When I finally started it this past week, I was immediately discombobulated. That’s because I’d heard literally nothing else but raving praise; I hadn’t heard, for example, what it was about. So let’s start there.

The main character and narrator is a sentient spaceship named the Justice of Toren. It belongs to the Radchaai, a barbaric race of people whose entire economy depends on invading other planets, killing or enslaving their people, and then laying claim to their natural resources. Of course, since the Justice of Toren is a Radch ship, the narrator finds the zombification and murder of their enemies to be a normal and not horrifying occurrence. At least, that is, until it’s forced to do something awful and kind of wakes up.

Interspersed with this storyline is another following Breq—one of Justice of Toren’s ancillaries—some 25 years in the future. The usual way of life for an ancillary (or “corpse soldier”) is that they are human bodies entirely controlled by the artificial intelligence of the ship they belong to. They think as the ship, but feel what each of their dozens of bodies feels. Breq, however, has become separated from Justice of Toren and is pursuing an ex-captain of herself (I think) along the way toward obtaining a supremely powerful gun that might or might not kill the Lord of Radch.

Got all that? I’m not sure that I do, and that’s part of my problem with this book. 
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REVIEW: Spin

[This well-written sci-fi novel is the latest C4 Great Read.]

spinAuthor: Robert Charles Wilson

2005, Tor

Filed under: Sci-Fi

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 9

I’ve been on the hunt again recently for a good sci-fi novel, and since I can no longer trust io9 reviews, I found a few best-novels-of-the-decade lists, and discovered that this highly recommended book already lived in my bookshelf.

Happily, it lived up to high expectations. I have a few quibbles (the pacing is lopsided, and the prose, while deft, can be dry), but in sum this is one of those rare gems: a well-written novel with a genre plot.


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REVIEW: The Dog Stars

dogstarsAuthor: Peter Heller

2013, Vintage Contemporaries

Filed Under: Literary, Sci-Fi

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 7

Finally, a (recent) post-apocalyptic (post-trauma?) novel that manages to be both “literary” and not-a-letdown. Heller’s novel is both brisk and poignant, without stepping all over its own feet in an attempt to be something more than it is: a novel about a dude and his dog trying to survive after civilization’s collapse.

Dog Stars is set in the immediate aftermath of a worldwide pandemic that wiped out most of the human race, and effectively toppled human civilization. The humans that remain scavenge for existence, endangered not only by other desperate humans, but by a climate that is suddenly quite unbalanced without technology’s influence on the atmosphere. Game is dying out; drought makes agriculture increasingly difficult.
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REVIEW: Papa

papaAuthor: Vera Greentea (Artists: Joseph LaCroix, Ben Jelter, & Lizzy John)

2013, Greentea Publishing

Filed Under: Graphic Novels, Short StoriesSci-Fi, Short-Run

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Here’s another of the Kickstarter graphic novels that I backed last spring. Similar to The Book of Da, Papa is an indie sci-fi comic book in short story form. But instead of just one story, like with Da, there are three here, each featuring some sort of paternal relationship (hence the title).

Greentea wrote each of the three stories in this collection, though each is drawn by a different artist. The styles vary by quite a bit. I found the LaCroix entry to be the most appealing, but all three stories look pretty good.

The written stories are compelling, too, particularly the first and third. The title story, which opens the book, begins with a young boy finding a dead superhero washed up on a beach. It just so happens that the boy’s father is writing said hero’s biography. When the hero’s disembodied soul possesses the young boy (whether this actually happens or whether the child is vying for his father’s attention isn’t 100% clear), the father’s reaction is not what you would expect–and LaCroix’s drawing really nails the facial expressions in the closing panels.
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REVIEW: The Shining Girls

Author: Lauren Beukes

2013, Little Brown

Filed Under: Literary, Thriller, Sci-Fi

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 5

With The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes joins the increasingly crowded list of authors attempting to bridge genre writing with the literary novel. She manages to be more successful than most, turning the occasional brilliant phrase or description, and exercising above average characterization with her protagonists. This lit-thriller’s sci-fi twist is mostly satisfying, and the story succeeds in being just creepy enough to keep the reader hooked, but it doesn’t quite elevate itself to something more memorable than a beach read.

These genre-blending novels face a tough conundrum. Over-explain the uniqueness of the setting or rely too heavily on tropes and readers are left bored or feeling their intelligence insulted; under-develop the premise and rely on the more literary writing and the uniqueness of setting begins to feel arbitrary and unnecessary. There’s a fine line between the two that most authors aim for, even if they miss the mark.

Beukes errs on the side of the latter scenario: her writing is strong, and the sci-fi time travel stuff is interesting and creepy, but not fully developed. These genre elements are rendered and used to good effect, but unfortunately feel as if they exist only to serve the plot.
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REVIEW: Lexicon

Author: Max Barry

2013, Penguin Press

Filed under: Thriller, Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 7

Max Barry’s last novel, Machine Man, was one of my favorite books of 2011, and while I tried not to expect another favorite book, I was still pretty disappointed by his return to boring cookie-cutter thriller writing in this latest work.

Lexicon’s in-vogue premise—young magicians gone awry—has already been played to death in recent years, since it’s the obvious counterpoint to the Harry Potter phenomenon. And though I’d rather read a Barry thriller than a Ludlum, Barry’s prose alone isn’t good enough to make a book great. Machine Man reached excellence because it focused on a unique (and very funny) character. Lexicon’s characters are neither unique nor funny. They’re barely even rememberable, partly because Barry’s plot devices actually force them to be as boring as possible. There’s simply not enough here to make this better than slightly above average.
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REVIEW: Book of Da

Authors: Matt Bryan and Mike McCubbins

2013, Big List of Dead People

Filed Under: Graphic Novel, Sci-Fi, Short-Run

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 6
Art..... 9

We talked at length on the podcast a while back about Kickstarter and publishing, and followed that with a mini-episode interview with the cool cats at Anomalous Press about their own Kickstarter campaign. As part of that adventure, I backed a number of crowd-funded indie books that I thought showed promise. The graphic novel Book of Da–the campaign for which surpassed the $3,000 the authors sought all the way beyond $17,000–is the first fruit of my harvest.

I’m impressed, and eager anew to see how the other books I have coming pan out.

First and foremost, while a digital version of this comic would be totally worthwhile, the physical copy I received was leaps and bounds more professional than I expected. It’s a slim clothbound, with gold embossed details and a paper jacket that ribbons only around the middle: it looks like something from McSweeney’s. The panels are printed on heavy paper and the contrast between the blacks and whites is great, though this does cause the grays that appear every so often look a little blurry.

Book tells a very unique story: there is a mysterious sea creature called Da–part pyramid, part giant squid–that controls the sea’s emotions. The story follows an unammed diver as he explores the dark depth of the ocean, and ultimately meets and defies Da. The other half of the story follows a lizard-creature preacher in a fedora as he tells the story of Da and the diver to a congregation of similar lizard-creatures.
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REVIEW: The Best of All Possible Worlds

Author: Karen Lord

2013, Ballantine Books

Filed under: Sci-fi

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 4
Entertainment..... 2
Depth..... 5

I think my sci-fi kick is officially over. I started reading this book after seeing a gushing post about it at io9, a preeminent sci-fi website. The post was titled “If you want to see what science fiction is capable of in 2013, you ought to pick up this book.” There are other bold claims in the piece (like “it’s a quick, fun read”), but the title is heart of the matter. If this is all science fiction is capable of these days, I don’t want any part of it.

In The Best of All Possible Worlds, there are four races of humans in the galaxy: Terrans, Ntshune, Sadiri, and Zhinuvians. The Sadiri are long-lived telepaths who have explored the universe with their “mindships”—they’re basically halfway between Vulcans and Elves. In fact, one Sadiri clan actually calls themselves Elves. It’s almost stupefyingly derivative, and the world-building is by far the best part of the novel.

The Terrans are humans as we think of them, the Zhinuvians or performers are something, and the Ntshune are… I don’t even know. Partially that’s because the utterly dry and life-devoid prose put me to sleep every time I started to read this book, and partially it’s because it doesn’t matter what the Ntshune are, because they have nothing to do with anything.

The inciting incident of the novel (I actually hesitate to call it a novel, more on that shortly), is a horrible act of genocide, committed by the Ainya against the Sadiri. Specifically, the Ainya blew up Sadira altogether. Which seems to have been a stupid decision, because the Sadiri and their semi-allies the Zhinuvians are the only ones with ships that can reach the Ain. So the Ainya are stranded wherever that planet is, and they literally don’t factor into the novel again, ever.
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REVIEW: The Quantum Thief

Author: Hannu Rajaniemi

2012, Tor

Filed Under: Sci-Fi

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 10

The best science fiction is the sort that goes out of its way to create an intricate, fully realized world that is both exciting to explore as a reader and comments on contemporary society at the same time. To those ends, Quantum Thief is one of the most successful pieces of sci-fi that I’ve ever encountered. The ideas in this book are dense–it’s certainly not a breezy read–but if you hang with it, the payoff is worth the effort.

It does take some hanging with, though. Many of the ideas and even some of the settings are fairly abstract, and it will take a little while fro the reader to get oriented and be able to understand exactly what is happening where. This is because the book is oozing with post-humanism concepts. It opens in a psychic prison of sorts, where a former thief named Jean le Flambeur is faced with the daily dilemma of either killing himself or being killed by a copy of himself. A roguish girl, Mieli, and her slutty spacecraft (bear with me) spring Jean from prison and take him to a city on Mars called the Oubliette, where they plan to pull off a major (and mysterious) heist.

This is where things really open up conceptually.
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