Claire’s Reviews: Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas

Four stars.

Since this is the fifth book in the series, I’m not going to talk much about the plot. Instead, I’ll just focus on what I liked/didn’t like about this book in comparison to the others in the series.

First, what I though could have been done better. A disclaimer: I am a proponent of showing healthy sexual relationships in YA. I don’t think it’s done often enough or realistically enough, which was part of the reason I absolutely adored A Court of Mist and Fury. In that book, Sarah J Maas depicts both healthy and unhealthy romantic relationships, but when it comes to sex she makes the focus on the woman’s pleasure. That just doesn’t happen enough in YA! The thing is though, in that series the first book contains sexually explicit scenes. If you read the first and were uncomfortable with the level of sexual content, you could opt out of reading the second.

The first four books of the Throne of Glass series show sex in a way that is more common to the YA genre, with hints and ambiguities. To then all of a sudden include graphic sex scenes in the fifth book was jarring and just didn’t fit in with the tone of the previous books. It felt like SJMaas was trying to make Empire of Storms more like the ACOTAR series and I wasn’t a fan.

Going along with this, I wish SJMaas didn’t feel like it was necessary to pair all of the characters together. I think there were moments (with Elide especially) where SJMaas had perfect opportunities to make the main cast less heteronormative but then decided to go with the same alpha-male-wrapped-around-the-finger-of-a-small-but-feisty-female narrative. I have nothing against that sort of relationship, but to have it repeated with just about every character? I would have appreciated more diversity.

Now for the good: I absolutely loved how everything from the previous four books and the novella came together in this book. I thought the plot was so wonderfully crafted and had me literally cheering at parts. Also, crying. Damn, SJMaas knows how to twist a knife in your heart. And then stab four more knives into it. (In the best way, of course.)

With this book ending as it did, I am in absolute agony waiting for the next installment. BOOK, COME TO ME.

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Claire’s Reviews: A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Four stars.

So often after reading a book I particularly enjoy, I immediately turn to fanfiction. For many couples I ship, if you gave me a five-volume series that was nothing but stories of just their everyday domestic life I would marathon read it within days. I think there is a lot to be said about having a slower plot in favor of character exploration.

In a way, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers reminds me of those kinds of stories. Unlike most sci-fi I’ve read, this book doesn’t rely on dramatic intrigue or epic battles (although there is a bit of both). The overarching plot of the novel is rather simple: a eclectic crew aboard a spaceship that builds wormholes must first venture to the far reaches of the galaxy before they can begin their latest assignment. Because their destination is so far away–lots of traveling through empty space–the book spends the majority of the time exploring the lives and cultures of the different aliens on the ship.

One of the strengths of this book is its diversity. Among the humans, there are nonwhite and nonheterosexual main characters. Among the other aliens, there are species that completely forgo anything resembling the gender binary. There are cultures where promiscuity and open affection is considered the norm and cultures were interspecies relations are taboo.

The one issue I had with this book was that the dialogue often sounded too expository. Part of that is understandable, since us readers must be introduced to all the different aliens, but at times the stilted dialogue just became distracting. This was especially the case when characters were talking about their feelings.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is the first of a series, and I look forward to where these characters go next.

Claire’s Reviews: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

5 stars

Most people can motivate themselves to do things simply by knowing that those things need to be done. But not me. For me, motivation is this horrible, scary game where I try to make myself do something while I actively avoid doing it. If I win, I have to do something I don’t want to. If I lose, I’m one step closer to ruining my entire life. And I never know whether I’m going to win or lose until the last second.

I’m always surprised when I lose.

Oof, this book was like a brutally honest (yet also validating) reflection at times. Brosh’s writing is hilariously self-aware and self-deprecating as she tells anecdotes about her struggles with depression, growing up, and being a functioning adult. Punctuating her reminiscences are simply stylized illustrations that depict Brosh as a pink-dressed somewhat amorphous blob with a yellow triangle ponytail. These comics both add to the hilarity of already funny stories and inject humor to deeper moments.

Also, if you are a dog person you will LOVE this book. I was doubled over in tears gasping for breath during Brosh’s descriptions of the Simple Dog and Helper Dog, dysfunctional and infinitely lovable.

dog

Claire’s Reviews: Lady Renegades (Rebel Belle #3) by Rachel Hawkins

3.5 stars.

This trilogy may have suffered from the dreaded Second Book Slump, but the final installment was just as fun and entertaining as the first. Since this is the last book in the trilogy and I haven’t reviewed the first two books, I’m not going to get much into the plot in this review. Overall, this series was entertaining to listen to, but it wasn’t much more than that. The story and writing for the most part were good but not spectacular, but I will give credit where credit is due: the reason I added a half star to my rating and rounded that to a 4 in Goodreads is because this book does something I never see in YA: (SPOILERS in white) the female protagonist chooses her friends over her love interest. Not only that, she kills the boy she loves in order to protect them. There are so many YA books I’ve read where the female protagonists puts her friends/family/the world in jeopardy because she loves a boy and would ultimately rather be with him and have the world burn than be parted from him. Of course, because writers have full control, there’s usually a deux ex machina that saves everyone and lets the love interest live happily ever after. Granted, something similar happens here, but that happens after Harper kills David, and she has no knowledge of a possible resurrection at the time she yields the sword. She puts her own personal feelings aside and does what needs to be done.

Not only that, but this book passes the Bechdel test with FLYING colors. The girls are absolutely front and center in this book, with the boys either way in the background or needing rescuing from the ladies.

To sum up: well worth listening to while multitasking, but probably not something I’m going to pick up again.

Claire’s Reviews: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Five stars.

A note before I begin: I listened to the audiobook of Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants, and I highly suggest you do the same. The story is told primarily through interviews and journal entries which are narrated by a cast of 9 different voice actors. Never before have I listened to an audiobook where the storytelling was so engaging. The voice actors know exactly how to pace themselves to build up tension and excitement, and listening to them was an incredibly enjoyable experience.

The story begins with a young girl falling into a crater. After being rescued, a firefighter shows the little girl a picture of herself where she fell–a perfectly square hole with glowing blue symbols etched into the walls–sitting atop an enormous robotic hand. Years later, that same girl is now a renowned physicist at the University of Chicago. A mysterious stranger approaches her with a challenge: find the rest of the robotic body and discover what it does. What follows is a story of scientific revelations and political subterfuge, of testing the limits of humanity and the limits of one’s self. One thing is certain: this robot was created thousands of years ago and uses technology well beyond the scope of what modern humans are capable. If this giant is not from this world, then who created it? And who left it on Earth?

A discovery of this nature has the power to upturn entire belief systems. It has the power to make scientists question everything they assumed as fact. And it has the potential to forever shape the evolution of human technology, if only it could be understood.

But is this exploration of the unknown worth human lives? It is one thing to risk your own life by actively researching and interacting with alien technology, but is it right to risk the lives of strangers? There can be no progress without sacrifice. How many lives is it worth? A few hundred? A thousand? A million? What if there’s no guarantee that at the end, there would be any practical benefit from the discovery? What if the exploration yields untold questions but no answers? Would the loss of life be worth the satisfaction of curiosity? On the other hand, the potential benefits can never be known until an attempt is made. How many lives could be potentially saved by technology that is recovered from the robot? A few hundred? A thousand? A million?  Is what is gained from such discoveries worth what is lost? Do the lives that are saved cancel out those that are lost in some sort of cosmic balance of life and death? What is risked by not investigating what is surely alien technology? If there is a vastly more intelligent life-form out there aware of our presence, are we not compelled to learn more about them? Should we halt ongoing funding and research of more practical sciences and redirect those resources into learning about extraplanetary affairs? Who should be the ones making these decisions? The scientists and engineers doing the research? Government officials? Which governments? The people of the world? How could one expect such diverse peoples, cultures, nations, and governments to make unanimous decisions on such a momentous issue?

In Sleeping Giants, the initial discovery of the giant metal hand and subsequent search for the rest of the body takes place in America in a clandestine operation largely conducted by military personnel. Outside of the select few involved with the project, no one is aware of the discoveries that have been unearthed. Outside of the U.S., no one is privy to the knowledge alien technology has been found. As far as the average American is concerned, alien life exists only in the movies.

Is it right for a government to keep such an important discovery secret from its people? Such a revelation would shake the roots of any belief system. It might cause panic, chaos, riots. Would the outcome be worse if the government did keep it a secret, and later the truth came to light? The search for the robotic body pieces soon expands beyond national borders. Still, the governments of those nations are ignorant of the entire investigation. Is scientific exploration worth illegally breaching international borders? Should an attempt be made to involve other governments, since retrieval of the parts is technically theft from their lands? But making other countries aware of what might lie beneath their soil could start a never-ending bureaucratic process of who gets to conduct the research and profit from the discovery and where the body will be kept and which nations are allowed to participate–the parts may be used as political bargaining chips, and the scientific research may be put on hold indefinitely. Does that make it right to withhold such ground-shattering revelations? What if part of the reason the information was being withheld from others is selfish? What if the nation with the knowledge wanted to keep it a secret from others in hopes that it would improve their weaponry or their electronics or their medicine, giving them opportunities to profit greatly while the rest of the world remains in the dark? If the end results are the same–one country has the research and the technology while the rest of the world does not–does it matter if the secret is kept for the sake of scientific progress or personal financial gain?

What if, the collateral damage of discovery was citizens of another country? Is it okay to risk the lives of your citizens, but not those of other nations? Is it okay to risk the life of “others”, but not to intentionally put your own citizens at risk? Do governments have the moral authority to be making these decisions in the first place?

What moral and ethical role do the scientists and engineers have? Is their first responsibility to protect human life or to uncover the truth? Each discovery made during researching alien technology will have untold impact on the world. Are they professionally obligated to use whatever means necessary to extract as much information as they can about the technology and the beings that created it? Are they morally obligated to? If discovering the full capabilities of the alien technology means testing unknown variables on human subjects, who deems what is an acceptable risk and what is not? To not try anything means to never understand or learn more about extraterrestrial beings who have made contact with Earth. To proceed with abandon might mean annihilation.

I realize that this is less a review and more a (very) gratuitous list of questions. As someone heavily involved in STEM, I wish I knew the answers to the questions I’ve posed. I’d like to say that I believe each individual human life is valuable and therefore no loss of life–especially that of unwitting participants–is worth exploring these scientific unknowns. That seems like the noble and humanistic response. The reality is, I believe such loss is worth understanding our place in the universe. Would I feel the same way if we weren’t discussing extraterrestrial life-forms but say, scientific weapons research? No. (But what happens if the alien technology being investigated turns out to be a weapon?) Would I feel the same if the lives being sacrificed were those of my family and friends? Probably not. Does this make me hypocritical? Probably, since whoever dies is the family and friend of somebody. I’m not sure where we draw the line, or who gets to decide where that line is placed. But I am interested to hear your opinion in the matter.

Claire’s Reviews | All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

One day the Singularity would elevate humans to cybernetic superbeings, and maybe then people would say what they meant.
Probably not, though.

Every once in a while I’ll stumble across a book that doesn’t quite fit into any particular genre. Is this sci-fi? Magical realism? Urban fantasy? Apocalyptic fiction? All the Birds in the Sky defies categorization by being a little bit of everything.

This novel begins with the unlikely friendship of two outcasts–Patricia Delfine, a budding witch, and Lawrence Armstead, an engineering prodigy. As they get older they grow distant, only for their paths to cross years later once they are both adults. The world around them is besieged by natural disasters as a result of escalating climate change. In their own ways, Patricia and Lawrence have spent the years attempting to do what they can to put a band-aid on the world’s calamities. But, years ago a prophesy indicated that they may be the ones to bring about Earth’s final destruction.

To say anything more about the story would be traipsing into spoiler territory. This book is so absurd and goes in so many unexpected directions that I really think it’s better for you to discover it on your own, and I highly encourage you to give this book a shot. The writing style may not be for everyone–absurdist, a little dark, but with a lot of humor–but for many of you this book would be a wildly entertaining adventure.

Claire’s Reviews | The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.

Seismic activity ravages the lone continent of the world populated with humans, sentient beings called stone eaters, and orogenes–humans feared for their ability to control the earth on instinct. Occasionally, the destruction wreaked by the continent’s earthquakes would give rise to a Season–an extended era of turmoil during which entire civilizations would collapse and be lost to memory. The longest lasting of these is the empire of Sanze, whose thousand year reign ends at the beginning of the novel. In present time, a woman named Essun sets off to find her husband, the man who killed their son and then took off with their daughter. In the past, a young girl ostracized by her family and wanted dead by her community for being an orogene is taken into the center of the Sanze empire to receive training at the Fulcrum, where she will learn to serve the empire by stilling and redirecting earthquakes. A different timeline follows Syenite, a Fulcrum-trained Imperial Orogene sent on a mission with a madman who speaks more truth than she is willing to hear. At times brutally horrific, The Fifth Season is an incredible story of power, corruption, love, and the end of the world.

The Fifth Season dares to ask and demand an answer to a question that many franchises often skirt around–if there is a portion of a people who can with will alone cause immeasurable destruction, should they be given the same freedoms as everyone else? Should the government implement a system to control them and ensure such destruction never occurs? What if that means creating a culture of fear and hate against such powerful individuals? What if it means dehumanizing them? But what if, by controlling them through whatever means, you can protect the majority of the population from individuals who can shake the earth hard enough to start the end of the world?

Lately, movies such as Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse have pretended at answering these questions with what I find unsatisfactory results. N. K. Jemisin not only dares to confront these questions head-on, but also forces her readers to think deeply about accountability, personhood, and collateral damage.

N. K. Jemisin is a master of world building. She excels at showing us this incredibly nuanced world piece by piece, leaving the reader to make connections and infer hierarchies. Although she has a narrator explicate the occasional backstory, it never feels like an info-dump. The Fifth Season slowly unravels it’s mysteries, making the reader earn each new revelation.

Most importantly, Jemisin creates a world of diversity–diversity of race, gender, and sexual orientation–that is extremely rare for the high fantasy genre. So often high fantasy follows a European Medieval pattern where the dominant race is white and where (maybe) the foreign nations are described as being darker skinned. Jemisin takes that trope and throws it out the window. The continent of the Stillness has people of differing nonwhite races; the Sanze race in charge is described as having dark skin and gray afros. Beyond racial diversity, Jemisin seamlessly includes transgender, gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters and a variety of different amorous and sexual relationships. She does this with such ease and with such efficacy that it makes you wonder why so many fantasy authors don’t do the same.

This review is also available over at my Goodread’s account!