January 28, 2012

Four sci-fi novels

Another batch recommended by io9.

Ship Breakers is the first YA novel from Bacigallupi. It's in the same dystopia as Windup Girl and his collection of short stories. It was an engaging read but didn't captivate me intellectually as Windup Girl did (and as, say, the ideas in the YA Uglies books did). Quick, grim, and solid though.

Ready Player One presents another dystopian future with the world's poor finding refuge in a virtual world. The character relationships are at times a little cartoony, but the book is as much a vehicle for 80s pop-culture as for its plot of David v. Goliath. I missed maybe 1/2 the references, but it was still a ripping good yarn.

After the Apocalypse felt like late-era Southern Gothic almost. Moody and directionless and more depressing about the future than the previous two novels because of that directionlessness. The author really handles pacing and descriptions just perfectly. Well done overall. Her first (?) novel, China Mountain Zhang, will probably be on the next stack of books to read.

Embassytown was as virtuosic, both in writing and ideas, as the first Mieville I'd read: The City & The City. He owes much to Lem's alien environments in Eden or Fiasco, and Embassytown shares to some extent Lem's idea that different species may simply be unable to communicate. A fully realized and very distant future.

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February 23, 2011

The Hunger Games trilogy; Suzanne Collins

I've enjoyed several other YA dystopian novels over the past few years. The four Uglies books got me started in 2008 and that led to Feed not long after. Both have stayed with me, and have much to be recommended for. Oddly, Feed had the weaker writing but the more resonant, and bleak, message w/r/t technology.

After a couple of days, I'm nearly finished with The Hunger Games. It's difficult to put down and really does deserve all of the attention it's getting. Despite the grim premise (teens fight to the death as retribution for their geographic regions' past rebellions against the Capitol) this is very teen-friendly and thoughtful.

IO9 just posted an article on the rise of dystopian YA novels titled What would it take for grownups to love dystopian fiction as much as teenagers?. The examination of the history of such works manifests this wry comment:

A lot of people credit Star Wars with destroying New Wave Science Fiction, which means you can add the lapse in dystopian stories to the list of things to blame George Lucas for.

Amen. The author asks why the young are latching on to dystopian stories and adults aren't, pointing out that teenagers often feel thrown into a bizarro world, but: Most of us still have the feeling that things are badly wrong with the world, and that powerful people are able to walk all over the rest of us. If you're a progressive, you probably blame big corporations. If you're a conservative, you probably blame big government.

The article also points to the New Yorker piece from June 2010 Fresh Hell: What's behind the boom in dystopian fiction for young readers? I tend to agree with the author's assessment of Uglies and Hunger Games: they're less warnings of impending doom than descriptions of specific anguish. Feed--however--was very much warning.

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February 9, 2011

His Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman

lyra + will

I planned on reading these during the Thailand flights, but didn't start until the LA-to-Atl leg home. Ever since I saw The Golden Compass movie, I've had these book on my list. The Kindle purchase for Thailand + the fact that they're relatively inexpensive ebooks pushed them to the top of my list. Still plan on purchasing those beautiful, 10th anniversary hardback editions though.

I finished the last book two days ago and have had the standard sadness after losing characters you spend an extended time with. The story has its quizzical metaphors which don't lend themselves to obvious parsing, and so stay in your head. It's also confusing as, potentially, young adult literature yet with some mature and grotesque scenes. I suspect, as the author has explained, that young adults are better equipped to consume such complexities than they are normally credited.

I read daily and have been largely consumed by the story and by our heroes Lyra and Will. The carving made on the Botanic Garden bench is particularly sweet. I'll miss them and although I'm tempted to get the short stories that he's written with characters from the books, I just don't think the mood will be matched. The trilogy was complete, and that's enough. Not sure what to read now that I'm on an end-of-story downer.

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posted by sstrader at 11:57 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

February 16, 2009

Feed; M. T. Anderson

Quick read. Made me very depressed. It's sort of a 1984/BNW for young adults (although, we all read those as young adults, so the genre label is a little unfair). Many of the scenes are as bleak as those two anti-futures, with a more relevant, timely grimness. The future is defined by a combination of corporations taking over American schooling ('cause state-supported education is so Nazi) and the near ubiquity of brain implants providing internal internet, chat, entertainment, and pushed, personalized advertisements. Once knowledge is always available and without effort, learning is abandoned. There are many scenes where the female protagonist wonders why culture appears shallow and moronic only to her. This attitude doesn't need to be set in the future to ring so true.

To me, the technological possibilities--even when presented as such a destructive force--were fascinating. Late in the novel our heroine marvels sadly that, when she doesn't try to hide her preferences, the corporations' product-recommendation algorithms actually did work better than her own choices. Something we think we want can give us what we want and yet still be destructive.

I liked the Uglies series better but only because it wasn't nearly as depressing.

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posted by sstrader at 10:45 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

April 20, 2008

Uglies, Pretties, Specials (Boxed Set); Scott Westerfeld

I'd heard about this set from Boing Boing and was intrigued but wanted to avoid it for the idiot reason that it felt too much like buying an Oprah book: the heavy weight of a Boing Boing recommendation makes it more "marketing" than "recommending." Anyway, I picked up the boxed set during the recent Amazon sci-fi sale (along with complete Space: 1999 DVDs, complete Aeon Flux series, and two experimental films by Shozin Fukui) and just finished the first book, Uglies. It's teen fiction, but I've been completely engrossed with the characters, story, and ideas contained. Anti-future where everyone gets extreme plastic surgery at 16 to make them super-super-model beautiful. Our very much flawed female protagonist is drawn into a resistance group. Reluctantly, at first, then heroically. The clever concepts make up for the limited, teen-directed vocabulary and short (< 5-page) chapters. You'll burn through it quickly because of both this and it's compelling drama.

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