Category Archives: Sci-Fi

How To Stop Time, Matt Haig – Book Review

This book was a rare find, one that completely sucked me in to the the point where I was slowing down my reading as I didn’t want it to end. It’s definitely responsible for lifting me from a huge reading slump. From a journey through the glitz and glamour of the ages, to a dark sci-fi mystery complete with a secret society and a poignant musing on the meaning of life and love – it’s got it all. It was emotional, engrossing with humorous touches and it’s definitely a strong contender for my book of the year so far.

In a world where everyone wants to live longer, to look younger, Tom Hazard has a rare condition which would cause a scandal if revealed. He’s 439 years old, but looks in his early forties, due to a condition which means he ages at around one fifteenth of a regular human’s pace. But is it a blessing or a curse? Continue reading

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The Martian, Andy Weir – Book Review

I bought this book on my Kindle way back at the beginning of the year, but it took me until after the film release to actually get around to reading it. I’d seen some mixed reviews before-hand from some people who struggled with the level of science in the novel, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

The Martian

If, like me, you’re a self-confessed science-phobe and are unsure whether this book is for you, do not let this put you off. Yes, this book is packed with meticulously researched technical information about how a human might try to survive in the hostile environment which is Mars. But it’s also an awesome story with one of the most charming, loveable protagonists I’ve read in a long time. Part sci-fi, part thriller and part a heart-wrenching story of survival against all odds, it’s maybe the most original book I’ve read this year. And, you learn stuff too!

For those of you who somehow don’t already know the basic premise of The Martian, it’s the story of Mark Watney, a botanist astronaut who is left stranded on Mars after his crew abandon the Ares 3 mission due to a violent sandstorm. Watney is injured in the storm, and his crewmates leave him behind, mistakenly assuming him dead.

The book opens first person from Watney: “I’m pretty much fucked.” It’s a great, hard-hitting first line, and you may well think that’s the case, but that defeatist attitude doesn’t last long. From the first few pages, Watney is a fighter and it continues throughout the novel. With the odds stacked against him, it could be so easy for him to lose hope, but this plucky survivor does everything he can to battle the extreme conditions, near starvation, lack of oxygen, risk of equipment failure and a myriad of other problems he could encounter. Not to mention, intense isolation for an incredibly long period of time – which could be enough to send some people over the edge on its own.

Not only does Watney fight to survive, but he does it with a brilliant sense of humour, embracing and celebrating his geekiness every step of the way; “Hell yeah I’m a botanist! Fear my botany powers!” His first person narrative is laden with scientific analysis, but it’s written in such an accessible way, it’s still enjoyable to read.

As the story progresses, Watney’s first-person dialogue is intercepted with chapters relaying events back on earth as NASA begin to realise what has happened. While Watney is no doubt the star of this story, the characters on earth are well-drawn too, and this additional view adds another dimension to the novel. It’s not just Watney fighting alone; he’s got the whole world behind him.

This book looks at progress, science and the interplanetary future with (as far as I know) a reasonably good degree of accuracy and, according to the Washington Postit “may have saved NASA and the entire space program.” But, more importantly than that, it’s a unique story of survival, and a celebration of the human race. Watney survives dire conditions, all because of the power of his mind, and the innate desire in humans to help others. It’s an instinct which is “so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception” and this book illustrates the power of people coming together perfectly.

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Station Eleven, Emily St Mandel – Book Review

“Survival is inefficient.”

Station Eleven

I’ve seen some bloggers writing lists of books that changed them, and wondered what that meant. Has a book ever changed me? I wasn’t sure. Now, it may be too soon to say, but I think this book might be the one. It’s changed me, or at least my outlook. This book made me appreciate the life I have, and wonder what things would be like if everything we take for granted was lost.

Told through varying perspectives, spanning a time frame of over 30 years, Station Eleven shows what the world is like before, during and after a fatal flu outbreak wipes out most of the population. It’s brutal, but it’s also beautiful.

The story opens in the last night of the ‘old world’; famous actor Arthur Leander suffers a heart attack on stage; eight-year old actress Kirsten watches on whilst a member of the audience, Jeevan Chaudhary, races to the stage in a futile attempt to perform CPR. The events seem dramatic enough, and yet they pale into insignificance as the night develops; a deadly flu grips the nation, and panic and chaos ensues.

“Jeevan was crushed with a sudden certainty that this was it, that this illness Hua was describing was going to be the divide between a before and after, a line drawn through his life.”

From there, Mandel goes on to explore the twenty years following the outbreak, seamlessly zooming in and out of narrative, jumping between a myriad of characters and timeframes. Each chapter moves rapidly between characters and times, but every word is perfectly placed; there is no filler here, and I didn’t lose interest for a second. The thread that binds the seemingly disconnected characters together as they each fight their own battles is for survival is Arthur, who never got to see the new world, but has still left his footprints on it.

Station Eleven

It was such an unfamiliar concept to picture a new world where modern technology – things we take for granted like cars, planes, telephones and internet – were a thing of the past. The children born after the outbreak struggle to even comprehend that these things could exist, and there’s even an impromptu Museum Of Civilisation set up which house items such as iPhones, high heels and credit cards – things which seem essential, but soon become meaningless artifacts with no purpose but to remind mankind of the world they have lost. Pages and pages of the book are dedicated to marvelling at those wonders of the modern world – and airports and aeroplanes take a particular significance – and it really served to help me realise how lucky we are.

“We bemoaned the impersonality of the modern world, but that was a lie, it seemed to him; it had never been impersonal at all. There had always been a massive delicate infrastructure of people, all of them working unnoticed around us, and when people stop going to work, the entire operation grinds to a halt.”

One of my favourite things about the book was the Travelling Symphony – a group of travelling performers who Kirsten falls in with soon after the collapse of society. Despite the bleak nature of their circumstances, this band of passionate individuals believe that “survival is inefficient”; humans need more than just to live, they need something to live for. They travel around the small settlements, performing Shakespeare and music for anyone who wishes to watch. It’s just one of the many ways which Mandel manages to capture the strength and enduring nature of humankind.

Station Eleven is classed as science fiction, but it never once felt like that to me. For me, this beautiful novel is more about people; through the web of characters Mandel encapsulates what it to be human, and what it is to hope. Because even when all is lost, those who remain will find a way to persevere – and there will always be tomorrow.

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The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August, Claire North – Book Review

Read as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge (Task: A Sci-Fi Novel)

Some novels start off brilliantly and then tend to tail off in the second half. This book does exactly the opposite. It took me a long time to get into the book, but then the pace picks up at an astonishing rate.

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August
Harry August is a kalachakra, meaning that he lives multiple lives; each time he dies he is born again in exactly the same place and time. The actions he takes as he grows up and regains memories of his previous lives are up to him, but things always start the same.

Harry isn’t the only of his kind – there’s a whole club of them; The Cronus Club. The stuff of legend and folklore, “Like the Illuminati without the glamour, or the Masons without the cufflinks, a self-perpetuating society spread across the ages for the infinite and the timeless.” The Cronus Club keep themselves to themselves, discreetly looking after their own kind through a network which spans the globe and the generations.

Harry is minding his own business through his relatively uneventful multiple lives, until one day, on the deathbed of his eleventh life, a little girl visits to deliver him an important message, passed down from the future. The world is ending, and the end of the world is getting faster.

Throughout the first couple of hundred of pages, I nearly abandoned this book numerous times, something I barely ever do. Whilst the book is obviously well-written and intelligent – topics tackled include history, politics and science – Harry has a number of centuries worth of lives to update us on, and at times it was a little too much information to take in. The blurb of this book would have you think that the world ending is imminent within the first few pages, but in actual fact Harry doesn’t get to the part about the little girl’s visit until about halfway through the book.

But I didn’t give up. I read on and, eventually, my perseverance was rewarded. Once Harry receives his mysterious message, and his nemesis is identified, the story morphs into a gripping cat-and-mouse thriller spanning multiple countries and lifetimes.

At the heart of the story is the relationship between Harry and Vincent Rankis. Meeting first as student and mentor, and then in multiple lives taking on many different guises, the two are locked in a deadly battle of wills and wits. Whilst they are simultaneously plotting against each other, the two clearly also carry a mutual respect for each other, each quietly admiring the other’s deception. The dynamic between the two was fascinating to read and gave the story a more human touch.

One issue I had with this book was Harry himself. Considering how many lives he’s had, he is a bit dull. One of his fellow kalachakra even questions him on it at one point – “For fuck’s sake Harry, what did the world do to you to make you so…blank?” But I don’t think this was a weakness on the writer’s part. Instead, Harry’s bland personality means he can perfect mould his his character, adapting different careers, personas and agendas from one life to the next.

All in all, I’m a little lost about what to say about this book. I have a feeling that it was very good, but perhaps a touch too much of it went over my head. Harry is intelligent but tiresome. The writer weaves in all manner of scientific theories and conspiracies, and historical landmarks too, but for me the characters themselves were a little weak. There were some thought-provoking parts – the way the Cronus club passed messages through the generations was so clever I’m still not entirely sure I’ve got my head around the whole concept. I wish the Cronus Club had been explored in more detail, as I love a good secret society.

This book was a mixed bag for me. Points of it almost had me abandoning it, points I wish were explored more but Harry’s multi-life chase of Vincent was executed perfectly.

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The Girl With All The Gifts, M. R. Carey – Book Review

I chose to go into this book blind, knowing no more than the blurb on the back cover. However, in order to review it properly, I really need to reveal what this book is about. So if you don’t know already, beware!

Girl With All The Gifts

The Girl With All The Gifts tells the story of ten-year-old Melanie, a seemingly normal young girl who loves school and books. She has a schoolgirl crush on her favourite teacher, Miss Justineau. But Melanie is not an ordinary schoolgirl. When she’s not attending classes and learning about the world, she spends most of her days cooped up in a small cell. She is only allowed to come out when restrained and held at gunpoint. And a doctor keeps taking her friends away to be dissected at the on-site laboratory.

As the reader begins the story, you can’t help but empathise with Melanie. This young girl seems so sweet, innocent and eager to learn about the world. But why is she being treated like a danger to others? Is she the enemy here, or is it the guards who keep her locked up?

I found the first portion of this book truly fascinating, I was dying to know how Melanie’s situation would be explained. M. R. Carey creates a bleak, institutionalised, dystopian world, where paranoia breeds around every corner and the reader doesn’t know who to trust. The author just keeps building layer and layer of intrigue and as you realise the truth it’s not a big, dramatic reveal, but a gradual, slow-burning realisation which some people may grasp more quickly than others. Continue reading

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