Monthly Archives: March 2015

What I’ve Been Reading – First Contact/Time Travel/Parallel Universe edition

Lately, I have mostly been reading sci fi and YA books. I am a cyclical kind of reader, if that makes any sense. Here are about a dozen mini sci fi reviews for you. As you’ll see, I am taken with any books dealing with time travel, parallel worlds, and first contact.

here

Here: I got this graphic novel as a Christmas present. I was thrilled to crack it open. It is a beautifully put together book. In the end, I thought this was profound but not terrifically entertaining. I probably would have appreciated it more if it was half as long as it was. Over time it began to get a touch dull in places.

The book is a look at the same corner of a living room over hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years. There are years when the house is not there and in its place, wilderness. The author gives us scenes that on their own don’t amount to much — a family listens to a joke told as they sit around the couch, a cat urinates on the floor, a man falls off a ladder, a family celebrates Christmas. But it is fascinating to see the different time periods represented. To see how on one hand everything changes and on the other, nothing really does. We all share the same small joys, heartbreaks, moments of boredom, and so on from century to century and decade to decade.

timetrv

Time Travelers Never Die: This had a decent plot and characters, and it was a ton of fun. The story is fairly lightweight — indeed, some of it reads like the author indulging his own time travel fantasies. There are pages and pages of the characters exploring the important events of the past sometimes just for kicks. Some of this time spent in the past can be explained away by this idea that the machine ultimately proves more compelling to the characters than their actual lives. But McDevitt is too busy having fun to explore this darker premise with any serious effort.

ice

Pushing Ice: A space opera, as they call these things. My introduction to Alastair Reynolds. Takes place, or some of it does, anyway, about 60 years in the future when space travel is commonplace. A moon of Saturn breaks away from its orbit and begins traveling to some mysterious destination across space. The moon turns out to be a spaceship in disguise. It just gets crazier and crazier after that, and I loved almost every minute of it.

replay

Replay: about a guy who keeps reliving his life over and over again. This is definitely one of my favorites in the Groundhog Day micro genre. Strong characters, great prose, and very entertaining. A wonderful book.

diving

Diving the Wreck: This entertaining book is part of a series. Competently written. Not terribly memorable, which is probably why I’m giving you zero details about it. I liked it enough to grab the second from the library, but I couldn’t get into that one.

flash

Flash Forward: My introduction to Robert J. Sawyer. This one’s about how for two minutes or so, every person on the planet blacks out and then wakes up with some strange visions. Sawyer is not a stylist, but he has a ball with the premise, and it’s all very entertaining.

ploce

The Last Policeman – This first entry in a trilogy has a fantastic premise. An asteroid is set to collide with Earth in a matter of months. The world is in disarray as everyone settles in for the end in their own style. Our protagonist is a detective who spends his last days solving a homicide case. The work keeps him busy and sane, to a degree. All that said,  I wasn’t crazy about the execution here. I found this dull and depressing, and I put it down pretty quickly.

adrift

Adrift on the Sea of Rains – finished this yesterday. If i didn’t know what hard sci fi meant before, I sure as hell do now. One of those whackadoo plots that I just eat up. Its about 1955, and Earth has been totally annihilated thanks to the the Soviet/American Cold War. The only survivors are the dozen astronauts completing a research/military assignment on the moon. The astronauts are marooned but they do have in their possession a device that allows them to visit parallel worlds. They’re determined to find one where Earth is still in tact. I told you whackadoo, and I’m not sure the end is worth all of the work you have to put in just to understand the author’s NASA-speak. Still, on some level I enjoyed this. Part of a planned quartet of books

accidental

The Accidental Time Machine: entertaining yarn about a guy with a curious little time machine. The machine takes him to the future, but everytime he jumps he ends up in a world 12 times as many years into the future. The story is thin, but the world building is masterful.

beach

Infinity Beach: After reading Time Traveler’s Never Die, I gave this a whirl. The plot is too insane to even go into. It takes place way, way down the line and features clones and first contact and all that good stuff. It held my attention for about half of the book, and then I began losing interest and put it down indefinitely.

hominids

Hominids: The characters are kinda weak, the dialogue isn’t sparkling, and the plot is a bit thin. After reading 3 of Sawyer’s books I get the sense that he cranks these things out and that characterization and dialogue come second to his ideas. Most of the time, though — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — his ideas are good enough that I don’t mind these drawbacks. Such is the case with Hominids. Here Sawyer imagines a parallel universe where neanderthals ended up outliving their homo sapien cousins and not vice versa. One of these intelligent neanderthals, due to an accident, finds himself in our world. Sawyer’s world building here is very strong. The biggest gripe I have with it is that there isn’t enough plot. The characters do a lot of sitting around. The conversations that ensue are lively, though, and I stuck with it. I read the second book too, and I liked that one also. Unftly, I got a little weary of the characters, so I ended up putting the third one off.

dogstar

The Dog Stars: There are far too many apocalyptic-themed books getting written these days. I suppose it makes you appreciate the rare, stand-out entry. Peter Hellers’s Dog Stars is a special little book. It’s not terribly ambitious from a storytelling standpoint but the prose gleams, and the main character is written with such love. It’s interesting to see him struggle to retain his humanity in a world that has gone ice cold. Not an edge-of-your-seat entertainment, but it’s fairly entertaining and definitely a pleasant way to pass a couple of evenings.

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What I’ve Been Reading — YA Edition

I always feel strange passing judgement on books meant for kids. But my job sometimes demands that I read these books, and I really do enjoy many of them. As an adult, it sometimes feels silly to opine on a book that really wasn’t even written for you. So take these mini reviews with a grain of salt, I guess.

eighth

The Eighth Day: amazing premise about a magical eighth day that exists between Wednesday and Thursday. The main character is a young boy who learns he is one of those rare few who experiences the day. Author takes this in all kinds of fun directions. Fabulous world building, workmanlike writing. It’s a series, but unfortunately I couldn’t get into the second book. Go figure.

ages: 10 and older

murphies-cover

One For the Murphys: enjoyed this more than I thought I would. It’s about a girl in foster care who goes to live with a loving family and has trouble accepting their love. Nice prose. Better than Rules (see below), I think.

ages: 10 and older

The_Fault_in_Our_Stars

The Fault in our Stars: love story about teenage cancer survivors. The best part about this book is the subplot about the protagonist’s relationship with her favorite book and (later on) its author. The slow unraveling of the curmudgeonly author’s own personal story is wonderful. The worst part of the book is the love story, itself. Only my opinion, folks!

ages: 12 and older

marcelo

Marcelo in the Real World: terrific book that attempts to get inside the head of a 16-year-old boy with Aspergers. Beautiful writing. Memorable characters.

ages: 14 and older

ruleslord

Rules: ah, the tyranny of expectations. I think if I had gone into this without having heard everyone hype it up, I probably would have felt differently about his book. I thought it was pretty good, don’t get me wrong, and for sure, the prose is top notch. In the end, I guess I thought it was too cutesy. I did like the realistic way the author wrote the relationship between the protagonist and the new girl next door.

ages: 8 and older

before+i+fall

Before I Fall: really entertaining book about a popular teenage girl reliving the same tragic day over and over again. Great prose, structure, and characters.

ages: 14 and older

lifeaswe

Life As We Knew It: An asteroid destroys the moon, sending our climate into a tailspin in this first book in a series about a slowly deteriorating world. The main character is a girl living with her family. Every character is strong, even the supporting ones. I loved this book, but couldn’t get into every selection in this 4-book series. I did like the third one, though.

ages: 12 and older

wonder

Wonder: I read this book a few months ago and quite liked it. It’s engrossing, the premise is original in its way, and it’s very sweet. I like books that feature kids who would otherwise be in the margins. And Auggie definitely is one of those kids. He’s the kind of kid who is forgotten by YA. So I love that Palacio has built an entire book around this kinda kid. It’s not a perfect book, though. The ending is definitely over the top and cloying. And as a Goodreads reviewer has pointed out, there’s something a little stinky about how after Auggie begins to be accepted by a good portion of the students, a few of them start referring to him as Little Buddy (or some variation of that), sort of like he’s a pet.

ages: 10 and older

StupidFastCover

Stupid Fast: wasn’t crazy about this one. The writing, from the perspective of a male teenager, is too goofy and unbelievable.

King of the Screwups by K_L_ Going

King of the Screwups: enjoyed this book about a popular, but out of control teenager who goes to live with his uncle when his high powered lawyer (?) father kicks him out of the house. His uncle is a fabulous character who plays in a glam band, resides in a trailer park, and marches to the beat of his own drummer.

ages: 14 and older

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Earth Girl: started out terrific. About a girl alive during a future when humanity has colonized the stars and earth is mostly unlivable. The girl is part of a rare group of ostracized folks with a genetic defect that prevents them from ever living off of Earth. Ultimately, she applies to a college on Earth run by offworlders. Such a fun premise, but the book is way, way too long and it features an irritating love story.

ages: 13 and older

youagainst

You Against Me: an example of a really strong YA love story. This one is about a working class young British man whose sister is sexually assaulted. Unfortunately for the young man, he starts to develop feelings for the perpetrator’s sister. It sounds a bit trashy, but it’s handled expertly, and the prose gleams.

ages: 14 and older

nowthatyourehere

Now That You’re Here: about a boy who lives in an alternate, more sinister-type of world who crosses over into our world. Once here, he discovers the cast is the same, but now his friends are his enemies, and his enemies are his friends. Another terrific premise. I didn’t think the writing was all that strong here, though. It didn’t suck me in.

ages: 12 and older

futureofus

The Future of Us: two teens living in the late nineties somehow get access to their Facebook profiles in the future. Facebook, of course, hadn’t been invented yet. Naturally, the discovery blows their minds. The execution of this story was okay. I wanted it to go in more interesting directions, and I thought the characters were somewhat bland. I’d say if the premise appeals to you, definitely go ahead and give it a go.

ages: 12 and older

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