Tag Archives: science fiction

The Girl With All the Gifts by MR Carey

The Girl with All the Gifts

“Her name is Melanie. It means ‘the black girl’, from an ancient Greek word, but her skin is actually very fair, so she thinks maybe it’s not such a good name for her. She likes the name Pandora a whole lot, but you don’t get to choose. Miss Justineau assigns names from a big list; new children get the top name on the boys’ list or the top name on the girls’ list, and that, Miss Justineau says, is that.
There haven’t been any new children for a long time now. Melanie doesn’t know why that it. There used to be lots; every week, or every couple of weeks, voices in the night. Muttered orders, complaints, the occasional curse. A cell door slamming. Then, after a while, usually a month or two, a new face in the classroom – a new boy or girl who hadn’t even learned to talk yet. But they got it fast.
Melanie was new herself, once, but that’s hard to remember because it was a long time ago. It was before there were any words; there were just things without names, and things without names don’t stay in your mind. They fall out, and then they’re gone.”

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MaddAddam (MaddAddam Trilogy #3) by Margaret Atwood

MaddAddam (MaddAddam Trilogy #3)

*WARNING: As this is a review for the third installment of a trilogy, spoilers for the first two books in the series should be expected. Also if you have not read any of the MaddAddam trilogy nothing in this review will make any sense to you, because I ain’t got time for context.*

There’s something that has always bothered me about the Bible’s version of the Adam and Eve story, and of the fall of Eve. It bothered me when I first read the story in Sunday school, it bothered me when my AP English class in high school studied Genesis, and it continues to bother me to this day: God tells Adam not to eat from the tree of life, because if he does he’ll die. Then the serpent comes to Eve and tells her that if she eats from the tree of life, her eyes will be opened. Adam and Eve eat the fruit, realize they’re naked, and God expels them from the garden. They don’t die from eating the fruit like God told them they would. So, what can we take from this?

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In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood

In Other Worlds cover

In Other Worlds is not a catalogue of science fiction, a grand theory about it, or a literary history of it. It is not a treatise, it is not definitive, it is not exhaustive, it is not canonical. It is not the work of a practising academic or an official guardian of a body of knowledge. Rather it is an exploration of my own lifelong relationship with a literary form, or forms, or subforms, both as reader and as writer.”

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1932. That’s eighty years ago, but the book reads like it could have been written yesterday – Huxley’s book predicts, among other things, the future of genetic engineering and the action blockbuster.

I think I liked this one better than 1984, the book traditionally considered to be this one’s counterpart. Not really sure why this is, but it’s probably because this one has a clearer outsider character (the Savage) who can view the world Huxley created through his separate perspective. Also, I find Huxley’s view of the dystopian future more believable – while it’s perfectly realistic that we’ll all end up living in a Big Brother-controlled police state, it’s more likely that such control won’t be necessary because we’ll be too apathetic to do anything about it.

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Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam Trilogy #1) by Margaret Atwood

Nobody can write dystopia like Atwood. Depending on your preference, that’s either a good thing or a bad thing. For me, it’s a very good thing.

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

You know those random stock characters in sci-fi/action movies, the ones who never get names or any lines? They’re always spending their precious few minutes of screen time getting shoved out of the way as the hero hurtles desperately down a hallway, or watching from a safe distance as a climactic fight goes on, or diving out of the way whenever a murderous cyborg smashes through their office window. Have you ever wondered what those people’s lives were like? Have you ever thought to yourself, “Man, this movie’s interesting and all, but I want to know more about that guy who owned the hotel where Sarah Conner hid from the Terminator. I bet he leads a fascinating life.” (believe me, he doesn’t.)

Imagine if someone decided to write a book about this kind of person. The result is Never Let Me Go.

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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

 

I still don’t really understand how the ending of this book worked, and trying to describe the plot would be like trying to build a submarine out of cheese. Suffice to say that it’s about a detective, and because it’s written by Douglas Adams, it’s batshit insane and involves time travel. So instead, I’ll just share some quotes from this book that I especially loved, because Douglas Adams is the only author in the history of the world who is capable of creating them. Enjoy.

“‘A horse?’ he said again.
‘Yes, it is,’ said the Professor. ‘Wait – ‘ he motioned to Richard, who was about to go out again and investigate – ‘Let it be. It won’t be long.’
Richard stared in disbelief. ‘You say there’s a horse in your bathroom, and all you can do is stand there naming Beatles songs?'”

“Richard stood transfixed for moment or two, wiped his forehead again, and gently replaced the phone as if it were an injured hamster. His brain began to buzz gently and suck its thumb. Lots of little synapses deep inside his cerebral cortex all joined hands and started dancing around and singing nursery rhymes.”

“On the wall was a Duran Duran poster on which someone had scrawled in fat red felt tip, ‘Take this down please.’
Beneath that another hand had scrawled, ‘No.’
Beneath that again the first hand had written, ‘I insist that you take it down.’
Beneath that the second hand had written, ‘Won’t!’
Beneath that – ‘You’re fired!’
Beneath that – ‘Good!’
And there the matter appeared to have rested.”

“‘Welcome, by the way, to my offices.’
He waved a vague hand around the tatty surroundings. ‘The light works,’ he said, indicating the window, ‘the gravity works,’ he said, dropping a pencil on the floor. ‘Anything else we have to take our chances with.'”

“‘Don’t you listen to anything you say? The whole thing was obvious!’ he exclaimed, thumping the table. ‘So obvious that the only thing which prevented me from seeing the solution was the trifling fact that it was completely impossible. Sherlock Holmes observed that once you have eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.'”

Verdict: four out of five stars

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

*WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

I’m torn about this book. On the one hand, it was genuinely creepy at parts and raised a lot of good questions about exactly how far science should be allowed to experiement. The language was eloquent, if a bit long-winded (which apparently was the work of Mary Shelley’s editor, not her), and the story was so much better than the numerous movie versions of it that I wondered why movie makers even bothered changing the story in the first place.

Ready for the other hand? Here we go: although I started out liking (or at least understanding) the two main characers – Frankenstein and his creation – by the end of the book, they had become so incredibly infuriating I almost stopped reading. First there was Dr. Frankenstein, who was (to quote Will Smith in I, Robot) “the dumbest smart person I’ve ever met.” He reanimates this dead guy and then when it actually works, loses his shit and runs screaming from the lab. When he comes back several hours later, the creature is gone. What is the response of Frankenstein, a man brilliant enough to reanimate life in a dead person? “Oh thank goodness, the creature is gone. Clearly, he has disappeared entirely and I don’t have to worry about finding him.”

Then, when the creature has tracked him down several years later and tells him, “I will be with you on your wedding night” Frankenstein immediately starts worrying about his safety, not his fiance’s. The creature has already killed Frankenstein’s brother and best friend, and our genius doctor is like, “Elizabeth, my darling! Someone might be coming to kill me, because I am the only one left important enough to destroy, so I’ll patrol the house with a gun while you lock yourself in this room. You’ll be just fine, because I bet the creature will never think of killing you in order to punish me.” Yeah. Three guesses how that turns out.

Like I said, I started out liking the creature. It wasn’t his fault he was a reanimated corpse, after all, and I liked the fact that he seemed to learn how to speak by reading the complete works of Shakespeare. But then he starts killing off everyone Frankenstein cared about and saying how it hurt him to kill them more than it hurt the victims (“This hurts Daddy more than it hurts you,” says the father as he belt-whips his child). Then once he’s gone on a killing spree, the creature whines about how no one will accept him and everyone despises him and nobody understands him etc etc. Dude. Maybe people would warm up to you easier if you didn’t have this habit of killing the loved ones of people who annoy you.

So in conclusion, I’m glad I read this, because it’s a timeless classic etc etc, but I won’t be reading it again. Also, the Wishbone version of this story was infinitely more enjoyable. So was Young Frankenstein. Come to think of it, catching an iceball with my face in 5th grade was more enjoyable than finishing this book, but that’s beside the point.

Verdict: three out of five stars

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I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Because I cannot review a book that’s been made into a movie without at least mentioning the film version, here’s a fair warning:

Although I, Robot starring Will Smith was a fairly passable excuse for a movie and mostly entertaining if you enjoy explody things, do not pick up Asimov’s novel expecting to read anything even remotely similar to what happened in the movie.
That being said, the book version of I, Robot is very, very good, and you should probably read it regardless of whether or not you liked the movie. Especially if you hated the movie.

The story doesn’t really have a continuous plot – it’s basically about a journalist interviewing Dr. Susan Calvin, who’s a robopsychologist in the year 2057. The main body of the book is a series of robot-related anecdotes that Dr. Calvin tells, starting in the year 1996 when robots couldn’t even speak, to the end of her career when robots were running the world. All the stories are really interesting, even though there was a lot of scientific and engineering jabber I ended up just skimming through.

A few of the stories feature two scientists, Mike Donovan and Gregory Powell, who get into lots of robot-related danger and gripe at each other like two old women. They were my favorite characters, and the stories about them were usually the funniest. Asimov has a gift for dry wit and sarcasm, demonstrated by lines like this: “What broke loose is popularly and succinctly described as hell.”

Verdict: four out of five stars

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