Phoenix/Railhead/Wondla I've read 3 brilliant Middle Grade scifi books recently. There should definitely be more Middle Grade/ Children's Scifi!
PhoeniPhoenix/Railhead/Wondla I've read 3 brilliant Middle Grade scifi books recently. There should definitely be more Middle Grade/ Children's Scifi!
Phoenix is a lovely mix of StarWars and Ray Bradbury-ish stuff. A great adventure story with some deeper philosophical musings about embracing your fear and becoming who you are, and a little bit of zen about the infinity of everything. The writing is truly beautiful and poetic, and is matched by amazing black and white graphic illustrations by Dave Mckean - one of my favourite illustrators, and the book is gorgeously designed for a paperback using the negative images of black and white to suggest Lucky - the hero's - astral journeys into outer space. So good! Go read it!
I was given a proof copy of RailHead to read and loved it. Packed with adventure and filled with unique story elements, it's a great sci-fi heist storI was given a proof copy of RailHead to read and loved it. Packed with adventure and filled with unique story elements, it's a great sci-fi heist story with a retro steampunky feel. Set on an interstellar rail network winding through the stars where, instead of spaceships, old fashioned trains travel through wormholes to visit other planets.
There's lots of intriguing world building that feels very immersive but is also in service of an interesting plot - rather than as can sometimes be the case, where you get slightly lost in the details of the world. It reminded me in parts of Perdido Street Station, and other theme elements are reminiscent of The Diamond Age or The Windup Girl, but being YA SciFi it feels more zingy and fun, light on its feet! Plus there's lots of amazing cliff hangers as Zen the young petty thief must use all his wits to perform the heist of his life on a speeding train!...more
I loved this. A great piece of middle grade scifi. So much imagination in the situations and settings which are beautiful illustrated by the author, iI loved this. A great piece of middle grade scifi. So much imagination in the situations and settings which are beautiful illustrated by the author, in a cartoony style in this gorgeously designed book.
It had flavours of both Star Wars and Princess Mononoke with its amoebic aliens and ramshackle spaceships. A few chunks of scifi prose were a little difficult to follow, but admittedly I did not read the first book and so perhaps some information is probably missing for me, because there's quite a lot of world building that is glancing referenced here that obviously occurred in the first book, which perhaps I should have read! Sometimes I felt like the action description is lacking a little physical detail also, but the pace is cracking fast, as with many middle grade books and to slow it down for the world building detail would probably be a little off putting to young readers.
Anyway I still found the whole thing thoroughly enjoyable and a great inspiration for my writing. Eva Nine is a brilliantly spunky heroine and the secondary characters like Rovender and Hailey are intriguing and lively too....more
This was a really mixed bag of science fiction stories, and many of them felt a little flat to me. There were a couple that I really liked - A sound oThis was a really mixed bag of science fiction stories, and many of them felt a little flat to me. There were a couple that I really liked - A sound of Thunder and Here be Tygers being the two most memorable - but having read a collection by Phillip K Dick before reading this, it was a hard act to follow. ...more
I love the paranoia of these short stories. All about identity and people who think they are robots, or robots who think they are people, or people whI love the paranoia of these short stories. All about identity and people who think they are robots, or robots who think they are people, or people whose minds have been wiped by drugs or their history has been altered. All sorts of ideas to do with questioning the nature of reality and what you are being told - even by your own senses....more
In the freezing cold ocean a boy struggles to keep his head above water, but the sea is strong and pulls him under. He drowns. Then wakes, alone, in aIn the freezing cold ocean a boy struggles to keep his head above water, but the sea is strong and pulls him under. He drowns. Then wakes, alone, in an empty street in a derelict town in England, the only human left on Earth. How can this be? Is he in the after life, or limbo? Or is this somehow a figment of his dying imagination? And what’s even odder, he knows this street from before. . .
Structure-wise, More Than This is very similar to The Knife of Never Letting Go - a teenage boy discovering secrets about his past in a world which is entirely alien to him, meeting allies, and being pursued by a dark figure. In fact, it has the same chase-and-catch structure of Knife, the same concrete real-time adrenaline pumping storyline that gradually doles out secret pieces of the past.
There are also thematic similarities to Knife: an exploration of interior thoughts vs exterior world through science fiction; the same interest in the way thoughts and the world bleed together and interact. In More Than This, however, these ideas seem to work much more directly than in Knife. In Knife it’s like thoughts are a magic ESP that characters possess, whereas in More Than This there is the hint that thoughts (or consciousness) is what the world is made of, and perhaps the story you create from your random experience is all there is. Is the ‘more than this’.
I love the directness of Patrick Ness’s writing, his urgent cinematic style where we are over the shoulder of our lead character - Seth - and stay with him only. It is the perfect way to tell the story of a character questioning the nature of reality; lost in a world he doesn’t understand. To stay close to Seth and his thoughts is probably the only way that you can tell this tale because the most important thing is that we do not know more than he does. We are learning with him, and have no concrete answers to the question of whether there’s an external reality at all or whether this is a dream taking place in his mind.
Patrick Ness is brilliant at having Seth think his way through problems, reason and consider both sides of an issue, and even when his friends, Tomasz and Regine, give him answers or help him out he questions the nature of their advice, even questions whether they and the driver (the villain of the piece) exist. This is a great post-modern way to undercut the problem of some of the scifi cliches that come up in a chase and catch plot, that at points is in danger of becoming Terminator meets The Matrix, and also keep things on an unsteady keel.
I love the depiction of Seth’s relationship with Gudmund in ‘the past’. The fact he is a gay hero in a scifi-ish novel, but also that that is only a part of his loneliness and his self, a fragment of it, and not what the story is solely about.
I also love it when a character like Seth, who feels alive, thinking and autonomous, suddenly questions the nature of their reality, and you, the reader, feel they are conscious of you and at any moment may work out that they are in a novel.
When Seth first questions the convenience of certain things in the story and whether Regine and Thomas are really real, I thought this was what he meant. And perhaps there is a playful hint of this all the way through, although maybe I am reading that wrong? Seth only exists, in that stream of words, while he’s telling himself the story, or is that the story being read? Just as you only exist when your brain is telling your story to you, and perhaps the ambiguous ending hints at these things too?...more
My 'big brain' couldn't really get into this one. It didn't have the shock of Slaughter House Five nor the humour of some of the other Vonnegurt storiMy 'big brain' couldn't really get into this one. It didn't have the shock of Slaughter House Five nor the humour of some of the other Vonnegurt stories. But still had some great moments especially towards the end....more
**spoiler alert** Couldn't finish this one. From the very beginning I didn't like the set up. I had hoped from the earlier books that Katniss would le**spoiler alert** Couldn't finish this one. From the very beginning I didn't like the set up. I had hoped from the earlier books that Katniss would lead a band of rebels to take on the Capital and that group might develop some kind of alternative philosophy of hope and sanity. But Suzanne Collins has other ideas.
A little time has passed since the end of the second book and Katniss and co have been dumped in another dystopian regime – the regime of District 13 which is trying to overthrow the Capital. This is strange because District 13 has exactly the same mindless sociopathic philosophy as the Capital, just with a slight more communist flavour. There's all out war in the districts with both sides bombing and killing each other, but Katniss is not involved in any of this, instead she sits about in grey rooms, on the edges, while people come in and give reports on the fighting to Plutarch Havensbee. All the war and bloody action is mediated through TV or expositon and then through Katniss's consciousness making it totally boring and removed for the reader. Plutarch and the E-fashion rebels come up with a plan to overthrow the capital by making over Katniss and putting her in TV promos. So once again we get the obligatory makeover scenes and the micromanaged obsession with her behaviour etc. Also, once again, we get the obligatory food-blog description of every meal, even though in District 13 only eat variations of slop. There's some attempt to give depth to the trauma of Hunger Games survivors and the suffering civilians of the districts but all this occurs in the same scenes as dialogue clunkers such as: "You don't impress us we've seen Finnick O'dair in his under ware!" Meanwhile Katniss worries about whether they got a good take of her promo, while behind her the Children's hospital burns down. Eventually the total disconnect of every character from what is going on around them made me give up and throw the book across the room....more
**spoiler alert** A very strange opener where President Snow visits Katniss to meddle in her love life (as if this is his biggest worry in his preside**spoiler alert** A very strange opener where President Snow visits Katniss to meddle in her love life (as if this is his biggest worry in his presidential world) gives way to Katniss and Peeta at home and on tour and then to a rehash of the first book, where they must return to the Hunger Games and consequently go through the same steps all over again in the preamble to entering the arena. I skipped the makeover chapters, which were bad enough in the first book and which I wrongly thought would not be repeated in the rest of the series!
But once scenarios start to repeat, and the lead characters fail to develop, the strange quirks of the world from book one - the fact that everyone is an insane sociopath, with no anchor to reality – become more obviously the strange quirk of Collins writing style. People are murdered maimed and tortured and all Katniss obsesses about is what's on the menu for dinner or what outfit she'll wear or whether to wax or how she's coming across on television. All the characters around her micro monitor her behaviour and act as if this is somehow the cause of all the murder and mayhem and not the fact that they all live in a facist dictatorship. No one has any kind of life away from Katniss, everything they do or say relates to her directly and every single thing that happens in the book is mediated through Katniss's consciousness gives everything a delusional schizophrenic quality. Characters, even those who turn out to be rebels, obsess about conforming and I think what I'm trying to say is that no philosophy of dissent and rebellion is given a good airing in the book,
The Truman show ending where Katniss uses her skill to break out of the Hunger Games with the help of her team is great but this is undercut by a terrible Deus Ex Machina which takes the responsibility for the rebellion away from Katniss and gives it to someone with the comedy name of Plutarch Havensbee who is suddenly the manipulator of her actions. All of this doesn't bode well for the third one. ...more
The Knife of Never Letting Go is a YA novels set in a dystopian future on a Earth-like planet called New World, where people constantly hear each otheThe Knife of Never Letting Go is a YA novels set in a dystopian future on a Earth-like planet called New World, where people constantly hear each others thoughts. The narrator Todd Hewitt is a settler (his family came from Earth on a spaceship) and he lives in Prentiss Town a tiny outpost with his talking dog Manchee (all the animals on New Earth can talk). One day, while walking in the woods Todd discovers a patch of silence and so begins a journey that sends him running from his home and everything he once thought true.
The best thing about the book is Manchee the talking dog, who Ness use to create a brilliant opening line and first page hook. The second best thing is the way the characters read each others minds. The different fonts for people's thoughts and the way Todd would thinks something in his narration and the character he was talking to might comment on this in the next paragraph, worked really well. That said, this clever idea undermines the credibility of the reveals and makes them problematic, because if everyone knows everything about everyone, how can there be secrets?
I loved Todd's present tense narration and the mixed style of simple language and odd misspelled words. He's uneducated but he can think and reason like a modern teenager. He even occasionally address the reader directly, with little asides. The plot is a real adrenaline pumping page turner and the themes reminded me of both Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban and also of the Chrysalids by John Wyndham, two of my favourite dystopian fantasy books about young people. This book, though good, for me did not quite reach those heights, because after all the horror movie shocks, all the fight and flight, I wanted some kind of resolution, which I didn't really get from the ending, but maybe that's a problem with continuing serials....more
Eleven year old orphan, Silver Rivers, and her uncaring Aunt, Mrs Rokabye, live at Tanglewreck a run down country house that once belonged to Silver'sEleven year old orphan, Silver Rivers, and her uncaring Aunt, Mrs Rokabye, live at Tanglewreck a run down country house that once belonged to Silver's father. In nearby London time tornadoes are sweeping the city, dragging people into the past and throwing the past into the present. Only one thing can stop the disintegration of time: the Timekeeper, an ancient broken clock that was once owned by Silver's father. Silver must find the clock and repair it before it is discovered by the villainous Abel Darkwater and Regalia Mason who plan to steal the clock and control time itself.
I had mixed feelings about this first children's novel by Jeanette Winterson but if I was a child I think I would love it. It starts off nicely with the Dickensian Mrs Rokabye giving Silver the Cinderella treatment. Mrs Rokabye is a character Jeanette knows well, another version of the legendary Mrs Winterson. Abel Darkwater is also an intriguing villain. He owns a watch shop in Spitalfields (probably right next door to Jeanette's own shop!) and Silver visits him there and is hypnotised. The first half of the book also introduces a group of underground mole-like people and a lot of intriguing story ideas around the time tornadoes ( ideas that are sadly never returned to).
In the second half of the book the fantasy and sci-fi landscapes and tropes really kick in and the relentless fast pace and the lack of descriptions of anything, particularly the sci-fi world, started to annoy me. Contrasting this, there is quite a lot of talk about quantum physics, time travel, and the real Schrodinger's Cat - Dinger - even puts in an appearance! All this and a bunch of Popes in space (how do those things go together?) made it come across like a mixture of His Dark Materials, Neverwhere, and a Doctor Who episode....more
Thailand, some time in the future. In a world of unrest, pollution and disease, water is scarce. Calorie Corporations control the food supply and exerThailand, some time in the future. In a world of unrest, pollution and disease, water is scarce. Calorie Corporations control the food supply and exert political influence over governments. Genetically created crops, animals and New People (or windups) are a reality and there's old and new technology - click springs, airships and gas devices, but there's also a lack of oil, and consequently no computers, combustion engines, or electricity.
Anderson Lake, a Calorie Man from AgriGen, has come to Bangkok in search of a mysterious gene hacker called Gibson who's creating illegal fruit and vegetables for the Thai Government that may be immune to disease. In a sex club he meets Emiko, a raped and abused windup girl from Japan. She wants to escape the city, but cannot. Windups are illegal in Thailand and she would be destroyed if the authorities ever found her. Through selfish motives, Anderson helps her out and they both become pawns in a military coup that is about to sweep through the country.
I listened to the audiobook version, which was probably a mistake, I think you really need to have the paperback so you can flick back and forth to work out what the hell is going on.The plot is very complicated (much more so than the synoposis suggest) and follows the machinations of at least ten or fifteen characters. It was hard to remember who was who and what they had been doing previously. I was disappointed that so little of the book revolved around Emiko, who was by far the most interesting character. Her story arc was also very slow to get going, but when it did, in the second half of the book, it was riveting, and I wish this had been more of the main thrust of the story. Apart from Anderson and Emiko I never really felt I got that close to the rest of the characters, although the world they inhabit is amazingly detailed and thoughtfully constructed. The East-meets-stempunk-meets-genetics theme reminded me of 'The Diamond Age' by Neal Stephenson, which I think, on balance, I preferred. Although both books seem to reach the thrust of the action a little late in the day. ...more
**spoiler alert** Collins has created a compelling and exciting story, that gripped me from start to finish. The writing is not great there's bad gram**spoiler alert** Collins has created a compelling and exciting story, that gripped me from start to finish. The writing is not great there's bad grammar and sentences but once I got into the story I tended not to notice the errors as much. The worst thing about the writing is the way that everything is mediated through Katniss's boring consciousness, nothing happens without her witness and commentary and because of this I think the film works much better. It's one of the few times where I can honestly say I prefer the film to the book. Jennifer Laurence gives a great performance and from the film's third person outside view Katniss's thoughts on her situation are much more up to us to interpret. Also some of the stupider moments of the book were dropped from the film. The wolves with the personalities/souls/clones/ of the contestants was one of the weirder moments of the book that the film didn't go with.
The secondary characters are a bit flat but both Katniss and Peeta are likeable and admirable leads and there are some very good scenes between them. Having seen the film first I wonder how much the performances of the actors coloured my view of things, because there is very little detail in the writing of gesture or appearance or setting and as the series went on without the visual memory of the film the writing in the later books struggled to evoke any sense of place for me.
The weirdness of the setup of Katniss 'pretending' to fall in love with Peeta and her worry about everyone else watching them on invisible cameras and judging them etc made me think the twist at the end was the whole thing would somehow be her schizophrenic fantasy, but it didn't quite turn out that way....more