GeekyNerdy Book Club: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

91ikktkw7xl-_sl1500_Welcome back to GNBC, a bimonthly virtual book club hosted by Geeky Musings from a Nerdy Girl.

Our selection for June/July (ok, I’m a little late) is Leviathan Wakes, the first book of The Expanse series by a pair of authors writing as James S.A. Corey.  This book was a re-read for me, but I didn’t care at all because this book (and in fact the whole series) is great.

I also got my husband to read it with me, which was cool because I think this is the first time we’ve ever read the same book at the same time!

Leviathan Wakes imagines a future in which humans have taken flight into the solar system, setting up colonies on Mars as well as various moons and asteroids.  (Incidentally, I don’t see myself being one of these pioneering humans.  Space travel sounds cool, but I’m not sure I could handle it physically or mentally.  I think I’ll keep my feet planted in Earth’s gravity.)

But this future is no utopia; there are still economic stresses, prejudices, and politics, with tentative relations between Earth, Mars, and “the Belt.”   Plus there’s a conspiracy brewing that could break these fragile bonds, and Jim Holden, XO of the ice hauler Canterbury, and his crew as well as Joe Miller, a detective on Ceres, get caught up in the middle of it.  In fact, they’re on the trail of a new discovery that could make or break the future of humanity.

One great thing about Leviathan Wakes is how it mixes genres (much like one of our previous books, The Water Knife).  The backbone of the books is a nice space opera, with plenty of action and a hint of romance, but it also throws in some politics, detective noir, and horror; it reads a lot like a thriller.

Holden and Miller are good foils for each other, and their differences of opinion help frame the book’s themes. Each character written by a different author (Holden by Ty Franck and Miller by Daniel Abraham), but while they each bring a different perspective and attitude, the transition between them is pretty seamless.

Holden is an idealist, Miller a cynic. Holden believes in freedom of information (he would love Wikileaks…), while Miller understands that information equals power, and you need to tell people what the raw data mean and not just throw it out there.  He doesn’t trust people to form the correct conclusions and has seen the danger that can result from that situation.  I probably come down more on Miller’s side, but when I’m reading Holden’s perspective I always feel like he’s exactly right in what he’s doing; I want to believe in the intelligence and goodness of mankind like he does.  So I guess that’s the sign of a good book!  

The supporting cast of the book is really excellent, and the camaraderie of Holden’s crew is awesome–my favorite scene is actually just of them eating dinner together on their ship.  I knew my husband had reached this scene when he started laughing out loud.

I’ve already read the 2nd and 3rd books in the series.  Caliban’s War, the 2nd book, is my favorite of the bunch so far.  It has great POV characters and a pretty happy ending; one of the plot points revolves around crowdfunding!

Abaddon’s Gate, the 3rd book, gets very slow in the middle and the POV characters are not as compelling; it also introduces some more sci-fi elements that increase the scope of the series. I definitely plan to continue reading the series (I’ve got some catching up to do–the 6th book will be out soon)

I got my husband to read the books because we’ve been watching (and loving) the Syfy TV adaptation, called The Expanse. We agreed that it’s probably the best adaptation possible, with great casting (though I’m not sold on Holden’s actor), and the addition of Avasarala from the 2nd book gives us a perspective from Earth and more political intrigue sooner.  We also agreed that the character development is still way better in the book (as usual).  The first season of the show (which covers about the first half of Leviathan Wakes) can be found in rotation on Syfy’s website.

Phew, that was a long post, but I’m happy to talk more in the comments.

For September, we’ll be reading The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore.  See you then!

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Star Trek Beyond and Ghostbusters: Entertaining, Forward-looking Sci-Fi Movies

Continuing our summer tradition, B and I saw a double feature at our local drive-in this weekend: Star Trek Beyond followed by Ghostbusters.  I am not a hardcore fan of either of these franchises; I’ve never seen the original Star Trek series (and I actually enjoyed Into Darkness!), and though I’ve seen the original Ghostbusters, it was a long time ago and I couldn’t tell you much about it.

So that’s to say I didn’t have high expectations for either of these two reboot movies, but they both turned out to be entertaining in a good summer movie kind of way.

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Star Trek Beyond had nothing that was super original in terms of plot; there was a little bit of suspense, but the villain was not particularly compelling.  But the characters were good, and by breaking them into pairs and small groups for most of the movie they were able to play them off each other well.  In particular, I appreciated that Uhura and Spock’s relationship was present but understated, with no unnecessary drama.

The music and visuals were also nice, though the attack on the Yorktown outpost reminded me strongly of Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy.

ghostbustersThe Ghostbusters movie was even more predictable in terms of plot, but the pacing was lively and the effects sharp.  The vast majority of humor in the movie derives from the characters being awkward, and lot of it I didn’t find particularly funny, but I appreciated that it didn’t take itself too seriously.  Many reviews have praised McKinnon’s all-in craziness, but I preferred Jones’s everyman routine as Patty and Chris Hemsworth’s dumber-than-a-box-of-rocks Kevin.

The cameos from the original cast were nice and definitely got a laugh, but they also pulled you out of the movie.  The Fallout Boy/Missy Elliot cover of the theme song, which inspired much derision on the Internet, was actually well-used in the film.  The end credits are also really great!

But what I was really struck by at the end of the night was that I had seen two tech-positive, entertaining movies with coherent plots that featured a variety of competent female characters with no gratuitous sexuality.  Chew on that for a minute.  The movies were not perfect, but they continued the trend for female leads in sci-fi movies that was so well exemplified last year by Furiosa and Rey.  And that’s something I (and my money) can get behind.

GeekyNerdy Book Club: The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

The GeekyNerdy Book Club is a new, bimonthly reading group hosted by GeekyNerdyGirl on her blog Geeky Musings from a Nerdy Girl.  (That was a lot of geeking and nerding in one sentence!)  We’re kicking it off with the post-apocalyptic dystopian sci-fi novel The Water Knife.

waterknife
I literally had no idea what this cover looked like until now, because I read this on my Kindle.

The novel features a trio of interesting characters: enterprising young Texas refugee Maria, hardcore journalist Lucy, and the titular “water knife”/enforcer Angel; their stories intersect in a future, water-starved Phoenix, AZ.  Maria is just trying adapt and survive, while Lucy is trying uncover the real stories behind Phoenix’s slow death, and Angel is there to speed up that death, because there’s only so much water in the Colorado River, and the woman he works for in Las Vegas wants that water up there–as much as she can get, however she can get it.

The mix of genres in this book was very interesting, and I think it would appeal to a wide audience.  It starts off, as I expected, solidly sci-fi, describing the water crisis in the southwestern US caused by climate change.  (I think I tend to avoid this kind of realistic sci-fi because it can verge on preachy, but I didn’t feel like I was beaten over the head with the climate change message here.) Because it’s a near-future, real-world dystopia, much of the technology is familiar, like Tesla cars and solar panels.  But there are also some new inventions, like Clearsacs, which purify urine into drinking water.

Suddenly somewhere in the middle of the book I realized I was actually reading a Western, complete with a mysterious gunslinger, a threatened homesteader who still won’t leave her “ranch,” and lots of doublecrossing.  How cool!  I love sci-fi/Western mixes; the two genres have so much in common.  As I read further, I thought it was a thriller.  Towards the end, I realized it was actually a mystery!  Really, it’s all of this rolled into one.  No matter what genre you would call this, the story was way more pulp-y than I anticipated, and I enjoyed it.

One thing that mildly bothered me was the pacing.  The story starts slow, and doesn’t really pick up until the characters meet each other—that’s nearly halfway through the book!  The ending, too, seems a bit sudden.  I have nothing against open-ended stories, but we don’t get much resolution on the characters’ relationships and future directions.  One character is even unconscious at the end!  (She’s not going to be happy when she wakes up…)

The story does have some intense elements, and two mildly graphic sex scenes.  The future is apparently pretty brutal–at least the sex scenes provide some character development.

Speaking of characters, Angel’s boss, Catherine Case, is an interesting one.  She’s only briefly physically present in the book, but her shadow falls on everything.  They call her the “Queen of the Colorado”—I think you’re supposed to despise and admire her at the same time.  I don’t know if the relationship between her and Angel is broken at the end of the story, because I don’t know if it was ever based on trust to begin with (or at least, how I would define trust).  Like Angel, Case is very unemotional about betrayal.  She trusts patterns, not people.  I could see her taking Angel back, only to have him taken out for something else in the future.  Or just killing him now anyways.  Or never.  Whatever’s most beneficial for her.

This map would have been super helpful for me while reading, because I’ve never been out West. From wikipedia

Overall, I’d give this book 4 out 5 stars.

I’ve already read and enjoyed Bacigalupi’s YA novel Ship Breaker, and now I think I’d like to read his award-winning debut novel The Windup Girl.  But maybe later.  I can only take so much dystopia.

In the meantime, our next GeekNerdy Book Club choice will be:

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Should be a little lighter in tone.  Hope you’ll join us in a few months!

Review: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

shadesofgreyPlease note that there is no number in the title.  This is Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron, not to be confused with that other book (I think some confusion between the two may have been why this book did not take off).

This book is a clever and witty sci-fi story that is at once entertaining and thoughtful.  In a post-“Something That Happened” world, citizens of Chromatacia are placed into castes based on which color(s) they can see, and there are many rules that govern their behavior.

Eddie Russett, who can see quite a lot of red, is ready to take his place in society, when he finds himself distracted by a mystery involving a Grey girl with a cute nose, a wheelbarrow in the middle of the road, treasure troves of spoons, and several dead people.  It doesn’t really go well for him.  As he opens the novel:

It began with my father not wanting to see the Last Rabbit and ended up with my being eaten by a carnivorous plant.

So there’s that.  But of course, the answers Eddie finds lead him to the truth that not all is as well as it seems in the Colortocracy.

The story takes place over four days, but honestly it seems like a lot longer.  The first half or so of the book is a bit slow and leans heavily on clever writing (which is enough for me!) as it dribbles out pieces of the mystery.  It really picks up about 2/3 of the way though, when the trip to High Saffron begins to take shape, and the end is really excellent, with some twists that give the story nuance and complexity.

I think anyone who likes dystopian sci-fi, with some British humor thrown in, will really enjoy this story.  There were supposed to be some sequels coming out (they’re listed in the back of the book), which would be really excellent, but the story functions in a self-contained fashion as well.  The author is busy with his other popular series, including Thursday Next, so I don’t know if sequels are still in the cards or not.

For more info on Shades of Grey, check out the website.

5/5 stars

UK edition of Shades of Grey
The UK cover is simply awesomer, and features the deadly Giant Swan (taxa number unknown because “no-one has been close enough to find out”).

2015 Reading Review

I read about 35 new books this year.  That’s fewer than normal, but I also didn’t read as many comics/manga this year, and I re-read a lot of books (including some long ones).

Here’s some highlights of 2015’s reading adventures:

Genre Fiction


Talion: Revenant
(Michael A. Stackpole)

talionThis fantasy stand-alone by X-wing author Stackpole is a perfectly plotted and paced book.  It’s standard fantasy in some ways, but very inventive in others.  If you liked Stackpole’s writing in his Star Wars books, I think you will like this one also.

Here’s my original review (in the middle).

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Caliban’s War (James S. A. Corey)

calibanswarI liked this follow up to Leviathan Wakes as much if not more.  The characters are really excellent, and the pacing keeps you on the edge of your seat.  I’m in the middle of the next book, Abaddon’s Gate, right now, but I’ve gotten stuck because it kind of slows down in the middle.  But overall I highly recommend The Expanse series.

Here’s my original review (at the bottom).

Indie Books


An Ordinary Knight
(H. L. Burke)

27245120I came across this short book when it happened to be free on Amazon for a promotion, so I gave it a chance and I’m glad I did.  It follows Percy, our “ordinary knight,” on his quest to save the cursed Princess Matilda.  While it follows a traditional fairy tale format, there are some cute twists and deconstructions of tropes that make it fun and fresh.

I almost didn’t put the cover on here because I don’t think it fits the book well.  There is some romance, but it is clean, and it has a very quirky sense of humor–think The Princess Bride.  It would appeal to a wide age of readers.


Skylights
(Luther M. Siler)

22907118If you liked that other Martian adventure novel this year, you might like this one, too.  It shares the same theme of using science to solve problems and help people.

Skylights follows the crew of the Tycho on the second manned mission to Mars, intent on finding out what happened to the first one.  It is enjoyably suspenseful, and joyfully tech-positive.

Here’s my original review.

Children’s/YA


Howl’s Moving Castle
(Diana Wynne Jones)

2294528How had I never read this book before?!  It is amazing.  The characters, especially protagonist Sophie and wizard Howl, are amazing, and the writing is beautiful and clever.

I had never watched the Miyazaki animated movie either; I loved that, too, though it is different from the book.  I highly recommend both!

 


I am Princess X
(Cherie Priest)

17408897A very creative novel-comic hybrid that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, with a little bit of adventure and suspense thrown in (but no romance at all).  It was original and captivating and great.

Here’s my original review.