Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Night Shade Books 2009
Genre: Science Fiction

Official Description:
Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's Calorie Man in Thailand. Undercover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reach the bounty of history's lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko...

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism's genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers on the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.

My Thoughts:

I found the Windup Girl slow to start but once it got going I was fully engrossed in the story. Bacigalupi creates a stunningly detailed world where big agricultural business have grown completely out of control. I really loved the exploration of a potential road resulting from uncontrolled genetic modification of crops. Another science fiction issue that Bacigalupi tackled was that of human genetic engineering and the social response to the products of human-directed development. It was interesting to see the New People treated not just socially inferior but also legally so. It made the tension of discovering Emiko as a living being capable of independent thought much more poignant.

As much as I enjoyed the concepts central to the Windup Girl and the writing itself there were a few things that tainted my enjoyment of the novel. First, none of the characters were very likable. A partial sampling of the viewpoint characters: the corrupt, cold and calculating calorie man, the greedy and vicious factory administrator, the desperate windup girl, and a cruel and corrupt city guard.

Second, there is a scene that depicts fairly graphic sexual violence. The purpose of the scene is likely to demonstrate the societal opinion of the New People and to show why Emiko can't remain where she is but mostly it strikes me as completely unnecessary.

Overall, I enjoyed the Windup Girl. The world and the concepts that are explored were highly engaging and interesting. It has some issues and quirks as well as being a fairly dark and gritty novel. I would recommend the Windup Girl with the caveat that it isn't going to be a book for everyone.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Fort #2

Since all of the books that live in my house are already out, my partner-in-crime and I decided that we might as well make another book fort. This time we chose to go for the classic tower design.

We made the area of the fort smaller so that it could be taller.

Having already sorted the books by size, building the second fort went much faster!

Somehow the top edge of the fort began to slope a bit, so we doctored it with some of the slimmer books until it was approximately level.

It worked, for the most part.

The completed fort was a most satisfactory height!

It looked very nice from the back!

And on the inside! Though it was suggested that the titles should have been on the inside so that you could sit in the fort and read the titles. Either way, book fort building has been great fun and we're looking forward to being able to allow ourselves to actually looking at the books and being able to decide to read them!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Review: XVI by Julia Karr

XVI by Julia Karr
Speak (Penguin) 2011
Genre: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction, Dystopian

Official Description:
Nina Oberon's life is pretty normal: she hangs out with her best friend, Sandy, and their crew, goes to school, plays with her little sister, Dee. But Nina is 15. And like all girls she'll receive a Governing Council-ordered tattoo on her 16th birthday. XVI. Those three letters will be branded on her wrist, announcing to all the world—even the most predatory of men—that she is ready for sex. Considered easy prey by some, portrayed by the Media as sluts who ask for attacks, becoming a "sex-teen" is Nina's worst fear. That is, until right before her birthday, when Nina's mom is brutally attacked. With her dying breaths, she reveals to Nina a shocking truth about her past—one that destroys everything Nina thought she knew. Now, alone but for her sister, Nina must try to discover who she really is, all the while staying one step ahead of her mother's killer.

My Thoughts:
I enjoyed the premise of XVI a lot. I love the Dystopian exaggeration of modern trends that occurs in the novel- the sexualization at young age, the strictly tiered social classes and the hyper-present advertising. While the threads of the dystopian themes were presented in an interesting fashion, I would have liked to see more tension between the goals of Nina and the structure of her society especially with regards to the class tensions.

I really enjoyed the developing relationship between Nina and Sal (the romantic interest) and the entire group dynamic between Nina's group of friends. It would have been nice to see some more meaningful interactions between Nina and her sister, Dee. I felt that there could have been more focus on the relationship between Nina and her mother and more depth to Nina's grief and anger.

Overall, I really did enjoy XVI. The action-driven plot carried me through the story effortlessly and quickly. The lack of development and depth in some of the relationships and concepts didn't detract from the story that was being told but it could have added so much more. My verdict: XVI was an enjoyable, though ultimately forgettable book. I will be looking forward to the sequel but it probably won't be at the top of my to-buy list when it comes out.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review: Clementine by Cherie Priest

Clementine by Cherie Priest
Subterranean Press, 2010
Genre: Alternate History, Steampunk
Unabridged Audiobook Narrated by Dina Pearlman and Victor Bevine

Official Description:

Maria Isabella Boyd's success as a Confederate spy has made her too famous for further espionage work, and now her employment options are slim. Exiled, widowed, and on the brink of poverty...she reluctantly goes to work for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in Chicago.

Adding insult to injury, her first big assignment is commissioned by the Union Army. In short, a federally sponsored transport dirigible is being violently pursued across the Rockies and Uncle Sam isn't pleased. The Clementine is carrying a top secret load of military essentials--essentials which must be delivered to Louisville, Kentucky, without delay.

Intelligence suggests that the unrelenting pursuer is a runaway slave who's been wanted by authorities on both sides of the Mason-Dixon for fifteen years. In that time, Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey has felonied his way back and forth across the continent, leaving a trail of broken banks, stolen war machines, and illegally distributed weaponry from sea to shining sea.

And now it's Maria's job to go get him.

He's dangerous quarry and she's a dangerous woman, but when forces conspire against them both, they take a chance and form an alliance. She joins his crew, and he uses her connections. She follows his orders. He takes her advice.

And somebody, somewhere, is going to rue the day he crossed either one of them.

My Thoughts:

This was the first audiobook that I hadn't read the paper book first. However, Clementine was printed as a small edition novella and copies sold out pretty early. After reading both Boneshaker and Dreadnought, I was determined to read Clementine however I had to despite my personal love of paper books. That said, I really enjoyed the audiobook experience. I will definitely look for other works done by the same narrators too!

Now, on to the book itself. Clementine was a fast-paced romp through Cherie Priest's alternate history world with an intriguing look at the interactions of the North and the South in the extended version of the Civil War. I loved the inclusion of the Pinkerton Agency and the tension between the Northern based Agency and the main female character, Belle Boyd, a former Confederate Spy with remaining loyalties despite being thrust out of the confidences of her fellow Confederates. I really enjoyed the characterization of Belle; feminine Southern charm that masks a dry acerbic wit and her imminent capability.

The other main character, Captain Hainey, is an escaped slave and airship pirate chasing after his stolen airship. Captain Hainey's characterization isn't quite as strong as Belle Boyd's but the interactions between the two headstong characters completely makes up for it.

Clementine didn't fail to impress! It was a clear concise novella without a single extraneous scene. I loved every minute of it and even though I wish there had been more, it certainly didn't need it. I definitely hope to see more of Belle Boyd and Captain Hainey in future Clockwork Century novels and I highly recommend giving it a read (or a listen).

Written as Part of the Speculative Fiction Challenge

Friday, March 4, 2011

My Crazy Book Fort

After a month long unscheduled hiatus, I'm back to blogging. In honor of the event, I present to you the craziness that was my day off: A Book Fort! This undertaking was inspired by Amanda at Floor to Ceiling Books and grew from there.

My partner and crime and I started big and kept going!

We had leftover books after the last complete round and decided to improvise!

There were still more leftover books so we kept improvising...

We were more than a little worried that my furry supervisor would decide to "help" us build the fort but luckily; he checked out the fort, decided we were crazy and couldn't even be enticed into the fort for a picture. The end result completely emptied the family bookshelves, is organized by size of book, and fits two chairs and a small table.

In the near future, the fort will have to come down and be reorganized and put back on the shelves, though before that happens there may be a few more iterations of the fort.

Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press, 2010
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Official Description:
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss's family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins's groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

My Thoughts:
I found Mockingjay to be a well thought out progression of events from the first two books, however this book just didn't work as well for me as the previous novels. Maybe it's because the scope is a bit wider than the previous books, or that Katniss doesn't make the transition from independence to the regimented life of District 12 very well, believable as the reaction is it makes her as the narrator a bit less likable.

Despite the parts that didn't work for me, I found the plot to be thoroughly engrossing. I liked the bits of the District 12 politics that were revealed and I thought that the ending was well thought out and provided a nice conclusion to the series.

I feel that Mockingjay was the weakest book in the series, but it is still definitely worth a read. I certainly didn't regret the time I spent with it.

Other Reviews from this Series:

Written as Part of the Speculative Fiction Challenge