Tag Archives: Speculative 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.

Advertisements

Max Brooks – World War Z (2006)

WorldWarZThis book has been out for a while now, but having never been huge into the Zombie craze, I wasn’t dying to read it. I have always however found the premise interesting and my curiosity brought this book back to my attention. Essentially Max Brooks is inspired by Studs Turkel’s The Good War in writing this book and aims to replicate his style. As The Good War is an oral history of the Second World War, World War Z is an oral history of the Zombie apocalypse.

The story is presented through a series of interviews with various fictional characters about their experiences with the Zombie War. The book takes the reader all around the world, similar to The Good War, but a major theme is that of American isolationism, which is interesting given the climate in which Brooks was writing.

I personally didn’t love this book, but it is a fresh and interesting take on the dystopian future genre. Fans of the Walking Dead or other Zombie themed tv-shows/movies will probably love this book. As I said however, Zombies were never really my thing so it’s hard for me to fangirl about this as much as some other people have.

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.

Sarah Hall – Daughters of the North (2007)

2744237

Who run the world? Girls! Although as Sarah Hall details, it might not always be the best thing. In this dystopian future Hill depicts a world where women’s lives (especially their reproductive rights) are tightly controlled by the government. Wanting to escape, the narrator (who calls herself “Sister”) digs up her great-grandfather’s army rifle and escapes to north to Carhullan. Carhullan is an “eco-feminist” commune where women, led by the enigmatic Jackie Nixon, feed, cloth, and care for one another. While the author paints an idealistic picture, not all is what is seems and the community of Carhullan is not exempt from corrupt leaders and governance problems.

While there are echoes of Margaret Atwood (most notably the Handmaid’s Tale) throughout this work, Hall’s novel is largely original. Most dystopian futures and speculative fiction books published recently take place somewhere in North America. Hall however, transports the reader to rural Great Britain, which contributes to the original idea of Carhullan as a “utopian paradise.” While Hall sometimes does get bogged down in detail and analysis, overall the plot moves well and the characters are compelling. A must-read for anyone who firmly believes that there would be less strife in the world if women were in charge.

Rating: 3.5/5