Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow (1996)

51tOtm+GblLGrowing up in a Catholic household, I was raised, especially by my Grandmother, to believe that the Jesuits could do no wrong. Obviously as I grew up and became disillusioned with the Church I turned more cynical and didn’t necessarily subscribe to her views. Still, in Catholic School, and then University, learning about the Jesuits always fascinated me because of their predisposition towards exploration. Reading and translating the Jesuit Diaries for an undergraduate class was an amazing experience, and despite how problematic the diaries are, I loved reading them.

In her novel, Mary Doria Russell imagines what it would be like if Jesuits were the first group of people to make contact with an alien species. I’ve heard a lot of amazing things about this book, and while I liked it, it didn’t blow me away. There is no denying that it is beautifully written, but I had a hard time visualizing things at time. Russell jumps back and forth in time starting with introducing us to Emilio Sandoz, the lone survivor of the mission who has returned to earth physically and mentally damaged. Throughout the novel you learn more about Sandoz and the other cast of characters who end up involved in the mission. You find out how they made contact, and finally what went wrong.

The novel is much more of a character study than it is a work of science fiction in its classic sense, which was fine with me. The characters are all compelling in their own sense especially as they grapple with issues of religion and faith. There just wasn’t a moment in the book that completely wowed me, but maybe I had my expectation driven up too high by all the things I’ve heard about the book. It was still a great concept and a good read, especially for those who enjoy character driven stories.

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Marissa Meyer – Cress (2014)

CressThis novel, the third installment of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, focuses heavily on the character of Cress, a futuristic Rapunzel who appears briefly in Cinder.

We learn that Cress is a shell, a Lunar girl born without powers, but having proven to be adept with technology is saved by one of Queen Levana’s servants and kept in an isolated satellite (much like Rapunzel’s tower). From here she is tasked with tracking and capturing Cinder, but uses the opportunity to have the crew come and save her. As expected, plans go awry and the different characters find themselves stranded in difficult situations.

Cress and Thorne are thrown together and end up lost in the Sahara desert while Cinder, Wolf and Lunar guard Jacin track down Dr. Erland in the North of Africa. The crew try and come up with a way to defeat Levana and intend to disrupt the royal wedding before traveling to Luna to start a rebellion.

We see less of Scarlet in this book as, having been captured by the Lunars is held as a prisoner on Luna. Her story is compelling however as it seems as though the Queen’s mentally unstable step-daughter shows an interest, and kindness to her. This step-daughter, Princess Winter, only appears briefly but probably has a much bigger role to play in the upcoming installment to be released in November.

There is a lot of keep track of in the book, and while I was disappointed when all the romances seem to be heading (I was pulling for Cinder and Thorn although that seems unlikely), I thought that this novel stood out from the previous two. There’s a lot of plot development and Meyer leaves the reading with a great deal to look forward to. It leaves off in an interesting place, and I cant wait to see how she resolves everything.

Marissa Meyer – Scarlet (2014)

ScarletThis second installment of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles was not as good as her previous one, Cinder, but definitely sets the tone for some interesting future developments.

The Lunar Chronicles are a set of young adult dystopian future novels where earth is being threatened by Letumosis, a plague like disease as the evil Queen Levana from the moon colony of Luna attempts to take over. While the first novel focused on the cyborg Cinder of New Bejing, who turns out to be the lost Lunar Pricess Selene, this novel takes the reader to futureistic France where we meet Scarlet Benoit, an iteration of Little Red Riding Hood.

Tied up in Scarlet’s story are her grandmother, who as it turns out helped keep Princess Selene alive and spirited her away from Luna, as well as Wolf, a Lunar Operative who has a change of heart after falling in love with her. The characters were interesting, but I felt they were unnecessary to the story, although I could be wrong.

Since this is a young adult novel, I’m curious to know how romance will play a role, or if it will at all. It seemed as though Cinder was destined to be with the Emperor of the Commonwealth, but with the introduction of rouge Han Solo-like petty criminal Carswell Thorne, I’m not so sure. Aside from the Scarlet-Wolf Twilight-esque warwolf-y love story, romance doesn’t seem to have a key role to play which is refreshing.

Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles are entertaining and I’m looking forward to reading Cress, the third installment in the series.

Rory Gilmore Update – Number Two

Doing the Rory Gilmore reading challenge means reading works that are almost impossible to read, or works that you may not have a great deal to write about. Some are classics that don’t require a full page review. So here I have three short reviews of my experiences with dystopian futures from the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge.

George Orwell – 1984 (1949)
1984I can understand the hype with this book. I get why Orwell wrote it and I get why it was so powerful and popular. Lately however there has been so much incredibly science fiction and dystopian futures published that 1984 feels like it’s lacking something. I know that it basically inspired the genre, but after reading things like Oryx and Crake I found I constantly had to remind myself that this book was published in 1949 and was a big deal at the time. Or maybe I’ve just grown desensitized to the thought of Big Brother. Don’t get me wrong, parts of this book are terrifying, namely the torture at the hands of the Thought Police, but I personally don’t find the idea of my T.V watching me to be frightening. With today’s technology, does privacy even exist anymore? Even though, I find it dated, it is likely that 1984 will remain a part of school curriculums for the foreseeable future. It is representative of a time and a place and maybe it’s time that we all concede that Big Brother has finally won and move on.

Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Farenheit451Despite the similarities to 1984 I really enjoyed this book, probably because its main message is about the importance of books. Its funny how Orwell and Bradbury, writing around the same time (1948 and 1954 respectively) have the same kind of idea of what the future looks like, both socially, but also aesthetically. The descriptive elements of houses, streets, cars, and the idea of perpetual war are almost identical in both books. As is the idea of a Big Brother type of government which watches the people’s every move. In 1984 this control is exercised through the thought police, in Fahrenheit 451, they burn books. Through his novel Bradbury reminds us of the power that books hold and the importance of knowledge in our society. Writing at the height of the Cold War Bradbury’s novel could be seen as being a critique of the Communist Witch Hunts and banning of books during the McCarthy Era. Even in our digital age, censorship remains a real concern, and Bradbury’s book is an important reminder about the power of knowledge and information.

Kurt Vonnegut – Galapagos (1985)
galapagosA dystopian future shaped and twisted by Darwin’s ideas surrounding natural selection. The narrator of the novel is Leon Trout, the son of Vonnegut’s recurring character Kilgore Trout. I like that Vonnegut does this with his characters, but that was pretty much the only thing I liked about this book. While the references made to Darwin and natural selection were interesting, I just didn’t really find the story all that compelling. Out of these three dystopian futures, this held the least amount of appeal for me.

Marissa Meyer – Cinder (2012)

CInder

Falling into the genre of young adult fiction, Melissa Meyer’s Cinder is a science-fiction twist to the classic tale of Cinderella. While written for a young adult audience, (the writing style reflects this) it is still an enjoyable read.

Meyer’s world is a post apocalyptic one where humans must co-exist with cyborgs who are viewed as second-class citizens. The story begins in modern day Japan where Cinder, a female cyborg mechanic falls in love with Prince Kaito, Crown Prince of Eastern Commonwealth. The Eastern Commonwealth is threatened by war with the Lunars, a moon colony, as well as a plague called “letumosis” that is rapidly spreading and killing the population. Unsurprisingly, Cinder ends up being more than an ordinary cyborg, and the future of the planet may hinge on her.

The story follows similar plot developments as the familiar Disney version of Cinderella. There is a cruel and evil stepmother, two stepsisters, a handsome prince charming, and a ball where Cinder loses her shoe. (Noticeably absent is a fairy Godmother type of character). Unlike Cinderella there is no happy ending, at least not yet. Cinder is part of a series of 5 books, with 3 currently available. (Book 3.5 and 4 will be available in January and November 2015)

Overall Meyer does a good job with the novel. Her character has much more personality than the Disney version that so many are familiar with. She is fiercely independent and does everything herself (the absence of a fairy Godmother explained). I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment, which focuses on Scarlett, a reimagined Little Red Riding Hood.

Margaret Atwood – Maddaddam Trilogy (2013)

Maddaddam

Growing up in the Canadian school system, Margaret Atwood was a name that was thrown around a lot. Her books never really appealed to me however and I made it though high school without having to read any. It wasn’t until a summer in university that I picked up The Handmaid’s Tale and absolutely devoured it. I decided to try another one of Atwood’s dystopian futures, Oryx and Crake and while I did not love it as much as The Handmaid’s Tale, I decided to stick with the series and read the other two books. I was not disappointed as, for me, The Year of the Flood, and Maddaddam were spellbinding.

The trilogy takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States with flashbacks to they way things were before the breakout of an epidemic that wiped out a majority of the population. In Oryx and Crake, you meet Crake and Jimmy, childhood friends who grew up together in a government compound where pharmaceuticals were manufactured. The society that the two boys grow up in is a morally depraved one where the government manufactures a drug for everything and popular forms of entertainment include watching public executions and various lewd sexual acts. Crake as the more gifted of the two creates his own “species” of humans called “Crakers” who were devoid of all the flaws he saw in his own species. You find out (Spoiler) that Crake is responsible for the epidemic released, but he left Jimmy alive to watch over the Crakers. The story is told alternating between Jimmy’s point of view in the present post-apocalyptic work, and a third person during flashbacks to Jimmy and Crake growing up. This wasn’t my favourite as I didn’t like either character and found them both to be annoying.

The Year of the Flood however was more interesting as it parallels the events of Oryx and Crake but takes place in the “Pleeblands” the area outside of government-run compounds and follows two characters, Toby and Ren and how they survived “The Flood.” This novel was more interesting as it brought in elements of religion with the “God’s Gardeners,” and the characters were more likeable with more interesting backstories. The third instalment, Maddaddam picks up where The Year of the Flood leaves off, but fell short of my expectations.

While the trilogy is full of hokey language (pigoons: a pig-racoon genetic hybrid; bimplants: breast implants, etc) Atwood paints a vision of the future that is entirely possible. Her world in Maddaddam differs drastically from her world in A Handmaid’s Tale. In the latter novel, the world is run my puritanical evangelists while in her more recent work drug companies and big businesses run the world. Think of it as a much more sobering version of Idiocracy (a great and fairly underrated movie). Juxtaposing the two books also says a great deal about Atwood’s activism and her response to the times. A Handmaid’s Tale was published in the late 1980’s when Evangelical Christianity was seeing a rebirth in North America. Now with Maddaddam Atwood is responding to current trends in entertainment, as well as the health and food industries. It is an entertaining read but underneath a very thought provoking one. Atwood’s view of the future is a realistic one, which is a very terrifying thing indeed.