Review – Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey

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Beacon 23

Hugh Howey

Published April 12 2015

Stars: 5

 

Last year, the Silo series blew me away. Great characters, great world building, and a really chilling looking into the human condition. Common themes in Howey’s works are – to put it in his own words – about “overcoming odds and of not allowing the cruelty of the universe to change who you are in the process.” With my high expectations of Hugh Howey, once I saw Beacon 23 was a thing I just had to read it.

I was not disappointed.

Like the first book in the Silo series, Wool, Beacon 23 is a collection of five novellas that go together to tell one story. The Novellas are called, in order; Little Noises, Pet Rocks, Bounty, Company and Visitor. All five novellas stand on their own – though I would recommend against reading Visitor without reading the others – and can be purchased separately on Amazon or as a complete novel. I will be reviewing the entire package as a complete novel.

Beacon 23 takes place entirely inside the titular beacon; a space lighthouse if you will. The Beacon Operator is a war hero who explores his own demons in the solitude of the beacon. At times, he questions his own sanity; especially in Pet Rocks. Pet Rocks was my favourite of the novellas. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that I like anthropomorphising inanimate objects like rocks, but the humour and the mood whiplash in the story were also perfect.

Despite all the action of the novel being confined to a small space with very few characters, it is still packed with great world building and character development. The beacon operator starts to feel like a very real person very early on, and in every part of the story we get the feels as he goes through some pretty intense things. The war he fought in is still going on, and even though the Beacon Operator is off the frontlines, war still dominates most of his interactions with people who visit him, and of course it’s always on his mind.

Beacon 23 is an emotional ride. You will laugh, and you get very sad, and you will enjoy a very original, thought-provoking story. My only criticism is that the end was pretty abrupt. I can understand why it was so abrupt, but I still wanted a bit more time spent on it. Also, despite being set in space, this book feels more like a psychological thriller than a space opera. It deals with emotions rather than action. This wasn’t a problem for me, but if you want big space battles and the like, you will be disappointed.

As you can tell, I am really nit-picking with my criticisms. This book was amazing.

Review – Transpecial by Jennifer R. Povey

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Transpecial

Jennifer R. Povey

Published April 2013

Stars: 3

 

As soon as I heard about this book I had to get it.

First Contact complicated by the alien’s body language making humans fly into an instinctual blind rage? An autistic savant gifted with languages being the only person able to both remain unaffected by the alien body language and have any hope of learning their language? What a cool idea.

I started reading this book during my lunch break at work. I got about halfway through the first chapter before I had to get back to work. I got home late that night and decided I’d just finish that chapter then go to bed. I eventually put the book down at chapter 14, at nearly 3am.

So, good idea, hard to put down? Five stars, right? Right?

Well… no. Not five stars. This book has some flaws. Enough flaws that I almost gave this book 2.5 stars, but I decided the interest this book held for me, and the ideas it had deserved better.

The problem is, this book feels like it could have done with another draft. Which is extra problematic, because I read a second edition from 2015 that had the pronouns for the alien 3rd gender altered. And yet, there were still instances where the narration gets these pronouns wrong.

The characters also seem to overlook obvious things until it is convenient to the plot for them to be mentioned. Yes Suza, I know you live on Mars and have never been to Earth… but how could you forget that dolphins exist and are confirmed as sentient until 85% of the way through the book? Speaking of dolphins, its established in the first few chapters that dolphins can watch the aliens; they just don’t like doing so. This is treated as ruling dolphins out as emissaries until near the end of the book, when all of a sudden, dolphins can communicate with the aliens after all. Also the aliens we can’t talk to? They know two other races, yet they never think to bring them in to try and act as mediators. They go straight to “oh shit, shall we kill them all or just try to quarantine them?”

I did enjoy this book, but reading it made me feel like I was on the CinemaSins YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/user/CinemaSins/featured

But why did I find this book enjoyable despite the problems? Why did I sacrifice sleep for a book that I often found myself disappointed in? The characters only somewhat made up for this. Suza, the protagonist, is an interesting character, whose autism I feel was portrayed well. However, the other characters are pretty uninteresting and most of the relationships in this book feel somewhat forced and rushed.

I suppose I enjoyed this book because of the ideas it explored. We often wonder how we’d handle first contact with very alien aliens, but part of the reason first contact with the Ky’iin goes so badly is because they are so similar to us. I also liked the way the book points out the various prejudices we humans have, and the message this book delivers on the importance of overcoming these prejudices. The journey towards understanding and peace that the characters took was worth all the little things that broke my willing suspension of disbelief. I’ll probably be thinking about this book, and thinking about the way aliens would see us, for a long time. In that regard, Transpecial is a success.

Transpecial had the potential to be a great book. The very idea it is built on, I found brilliant. I had fun reading this, but in the end, I am a bit disappointed. This could have been a great book. Instead, I got a good book.

 

~Lauren

 

Review – All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

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All The Birds in the Sky

By Charlie Jane Anders

Stars: 4

 

Ah, a fantasy set in the real world. Been a while since I read a work of low fantasy, and All the Birds in the Sky is a wonderful, whimsical, original take on the genre. The thing that really makes this book stand out is its dialog with Science Fiction. This is the first time I’ve come across a story with magic and talking animals, that also included time machines and AI as equally important elements. After this, I’d love to read more.

The story centres around Patricia; a witch, and Laurence; a ‘mad’ scientist. We see them discover their talents, and be outcasts because of them. We follow them through high school, where they are drawn together despite their differences.

Patricia and Laurence’s time together in high school really spoke to me. Being different, holding out for a clique that you fit into, looking for people that understood you… all part of my high school experience, and probably that of other people as well. Despite some of the serious bullying they go through, the book still manages to pack in some whimsical humour here and there.

After high school there is a time skip, and that is when the main story starts. Here things become more serious, and the stakes are raised. Not that the high school stuff was boring. No, there was definitely a good plot there too, and it plays out very well.

All the Birds in the Sky is a good mix of fantasy, science fiction, romance and humour.  It is a fun, interesting read, but it isn’t perfect. Anders is good at building up anticipation, but a lot of the reveals don’t pack as much punch as they should. I also feel like she wasted a perfectly good character in Theodolphus Rose. A magical assassin who is the major antagonist for the high school part of the novel, and also the source of some of the funniest parts of the book. After being so important in the first part of the book, after the time skip he just pops up occasionally to provide hints about what’s to come. I would have liked to see him take a more active role here.

Despite these flaws, I’d still highly recommend this book. It’s an interesting mix of fantasy and science fiction. The characters are all very much alive and loveable, and the plot is deeply engrossing. I suppose if you like your science fiction very hard, you may find All the Birds in the Sky lacking. It definitely leans more to the fantasy side than the SF side. Despite my preference for hardish science fiction though, I still found this book to be a lot of fun.

It’s not often that you’ll find talking birds and wrist-watch time machines in one book. If you want a fun, unique, somewhat quirky ride, go buy yourself a copy of this book.

 

~Lauren

Book Bingo 2016

As I said in my last post, I’m going to do the 2016 Bookish Bingo challenge from The Girly Geek Blog. You can find the challenge here: http://the-girlygeek.blogspot.com.au/2016/01/2016bbchallenge.html

I’m not going to make it my mission to fill the card, but I will be trying for at least one bingo. I’ve just finished All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, and that fills two squares. I’ll assume it counts since I finished it on the day I decided to do the challenge, so I’m on my way.

The challenge comes with a progress sheet, but I find that making a table in word is easier to update. Here is my card, with one mystery square filled in and my progress

Noun in the Title:

 

Features My Dream Career: A Bestseller: Book I have previously not finished:

 

Author Under 25:
Retelling of a Folk or Fairy Tale: Set Within the Entertainment Industry: Debut Novel: All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders Features a Conspiracy: Being Adapted into a Movie:
Features Strong Familial Relations:

 

Has Sleuthing and Crime-Solving: ??? Stars on the Cover: Graphic Novel, Comic Book, or Graphic Novel:
??? Features Unlikely Friendship: FREE SQUARE Has Asian or African Protagonist:

 

Third Book in a Series:
Published in the Month of my Birth: All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders Has Alternating Perspectives: Over 500 Pages Long: Set Outside Earth: ???
ebook or Audio book:

 

Number in the Title: Features Political Espionage: A Book That a Friend Loved: A Book Owned for More Than a Year:
Features Mental Illness or Disability:

 

??? Features Murder or Assassination: Short Story or Novella: Had Angels or Fairies:

I’d recommend this challenge to anyone who wants more motivation to read. Or who already reads a lot and wants to make a game of it.