Review – The Stone Sky

The Stone Sky31817749

By N.K. Jemisin

Published 15/8/2017 (Orbit)

Score: 10/10

 

I’ve been trying to avoid doing reviews of sequel to books I’ve already reviewed, since that usually sees me repeating myself a lot. I gave The Obelisk Gate a brief mention when I finished that, but now that I have completed the series with The Stone Sky, I feel compelled to sing its praises.

The Fifth Season was the book that got me interested in fantasy again. The world of the Stillness was unique, vividly imagined, and cruelly unfair. This is more than mere worldbuilding though, as this massive land and its 40,000 year history play a vital role in everything that happens in this story. The Stillness experiences apocalyptic events so regularly that they are called ‘seasons’, and every aspect of this society is influenced by the need for communities to be able to survive these cataclysms. The magic system of this world consists mostly of a power called orogeny, which affects the earth. Given that most of the seasons are caused by tectonic upheavals of some sort, people with the ability to use orogeny are vital to preventing seasons. Since Orogenes are so necessary, they cannot be allowed a choice in how their powers are used. They must be broken down and made to serve. Those who are not under government control must hide who they really are, because the population at large hates them.

The main characters, the orogene Essun and her daughter Nassun, are shaped almost completely by this world and its prejudices and need to exploit others. The plot at its core is their attempts to fix this broken world, or at least to find a place where they can be happy. This story would not have been as powerful as it was, nor would the characters have been as engaging as they were, if the worldbuilding had been anything less than perfect, and in The Stone Sky the nature and history of this magical Earth really shines through.

Let’s speak more about the prejudice orogenes (and now the Niess) experience in this series. This book has a message to deliver. A message that is sorely needed in today’s world. The Shattered Earth series shows the many ways that prejudice, bias, and oppression operate. This is a series where we see loving parents turn on their children, a whole group of people treated as sub-human, marginalised children turning to desperate measures to protect themselves, a society that has everything they could ever want, but still feels the need to enslave and exploit others for more, and much much more. This is a brutal book, but it is not brutality and tragedy just for cheap shocks. The horrors we see in this series feel real, because they are things that happen way too easily in our world.

Reading about Essun, Nassun, Hoa, and everyone else working through the dangers of this world made for an amazing story. I loved all the characters in these books, and the reason why was because I was deeply invested in their struggles. To change the world, or just give up and end all the suffering. This is a series that packs a strong emotional punch.

It is also very well written. I mentioned in my review of The Fifth Season that Essun’s parts of that book were written in second person, and that in general there is a very strong narrative voice. The Stone Sky has three viewpoint characters, having three different adventures. One story is told in second person, one in third person, and another in first person. It sounds like a mess, but it works so well. Part of the reason is because the way this story is told reflects the characters and their relationships. In The Obelisk Gate, we find out why the narrative voice is so prominent, and in The Stone Sky, we realise why parts of the book are in second person. It is genius the way this book was written. Pure genius.

It’s hard to think of things I didn’t like about this book. I suppose at times the way the magic system worked could have been clearer. I also forgot who Hjarka was when I started reading The Stone Sky. I can find a few nitpicks if I look hard enough, but all in all, this entire series is amazing. The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate both earned their Hugo Awards, and I’m already tipping The Stone Sky for next year. If you haven’t read this series yet, please go out and get it.

 

~Lauren

Advertisements

Review – 2084

208435383929

By Mason Engel

Published June 2017 (Self Published)

Score: 7.5

 

Engel credits the inspiration of this book to George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s  Brave New World. As the title suggests, it’s a story more inspired by 1984 than Brave New World. 2084 could almost be considered a modern, YA re-imagining of 1984.

2084 follows Vincent, a high school student who lives in an isolated community called a Seclusion. The ever-constant TVs of 1984 are no-where to be found in the Seclusion. Instead, everyone wears devices called lenses, which are contact lenses with the capabilities of a smartphone. Amongst all the mundane functions of the lenses, there are two big things they can do. The first is run simulations; VR programs that provide education and entertainment. In other words, brainwash the population, and then use pleasurable simulations to keep the people happy and unable to speak or think clearly, like the drug Soma in Brave New World.

Most importantly though, the lenses also record everything their wearer sees. For security reasons. This world has a terrorist problem you see. Vincent cherishes the few minutes a day when he can remove his lenses, but not long after the book starts, everyone gets new lenses that can’t be taken out. After that discovery, Vincent becomes a target for Newsight; the company that makes the lenses and which is lobbying for less restrictions on what it can do with the data the lenses provide.

2084 differs from 1984 in that in the latter, Big Brother’s dystopia is well established and so powerful that nothing can be done to stop it. In this story though, the permanent lenses are only just getting handed out and Newsight still needs to lobby the Senate. We have the appearance of hope, which makes Vincent’s escape and resistance more exciting. It also makes the setbacks he experiences more shocking.

Whilst there are a lot of intentional similarities between the two stories, there are some important aspects of the 1984 world that Engel doesn’t re-explore. There is no equivalent of Newspeak, which was disappointing considering how language played such an important role in limiting people’s ability to resist in 1984. The closest Engel gets is including a few slogans. Manipulation of the truth also isn’t one of Newsight’s concerns, and yet it was what terrified me the most about Orwell’s world, and what scares me the most about our current post-truth politics. Here though, Newsight hasn’t got the ability to change its mind about who the nation is at war with right in the middle of a rally and have the entire population roll with it. Or at least, I saw nothing in the story to suggest they could do that.

Of course, these are areas where I think Orwell has said all that needs to be said in a way that no-one else will be able to top, so shifting the focus to the constant attempts to use the threat of terrorism to undermine our privacy, and the ever growing power of large corporations isn’t a bad thing. The shift in focus helps 2084 feel like something new and distinct from 1984, but the more I think about it the more I miss Orwell’s most pervasive themes.

A lot of the best parts of this book are still those that resemble Orwell’s book the most. Whether you see this as a faithful homage or a blatant rip-off is a subjective issue, though I tend towards the former.

As to the quality of the writing, we get a mixed bag. There are some scenes written so well that they really drive the horror home. Most notable is when Vincent tries to take his new lenses out and realises that they are stuck to his eyeballs. On the other hand, this book really needed another run through with a red pen. There are some poorly worded sentences, and a number of grammatical and spelling errors. For example, using the word ‘gate’ instead of ‘gait’ in one instance. These errors aren’t everywhere in the book, but they were common enough to make me lower my rating.

2084 is not without its flaws, but it is still an impressive debut novel. Today more than ever, we need to remember what Orwell warned us about in 1984, and here we are once again reminded of just how easily we could find ourselves completely controlled.

~Lauren

 

 

 

 

2017 Hugo Award Results

Well, that was an adventure. The livestream for the Hugo Awards didn’t work, which was frustrating, but the text-based live coverage saved the day. The team running that were excellent. At one point a guy in the audience started livestreaming the event on Bilibili. The stream wasn’t very consistent for me, so, there was more frustration, but I wasn’t giving up that easily. Between the two sources I got a decent look at the ceremony. A lot happened, but I am super tired, so I’m just going to go ahead with the results:

 

Best Fancast: Tea and Jeopardy

Best Fan Writer: Abigail Nussbaum (No win for Chuck Tingle this year)

Best Fan Artist: Elizabeth Leggett

Best Fanzine: Lady Business

Best Semiprozine: Uncanny

Best Professional Artist: Julie Dillon

 

Best Editor (Short Form): Ellen Datlow

Best Editor (Long Form): Liz Gorinsky

 

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): The Expanse: Leviathan Wakes

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): Arrival

 

Best Graphic Story: Monstress Vol. 1: Awakening – Marjorie Liu & Sana Takada

Best Related Work: Words are My Matter: Writings about Life and Books, 2000-2016 – Ursula K. Le Guin

 

Best Short Story: Seasons of Glass and Iron – Amal El-Mohtar (My top pick!)

Best Novelette: The Tomato Thief – Ursula Vernon (Another top pick of mine won. Ursula Vernon made a cool speech about dead whales, but the video lagged right at the punchline.)

Best Novella: Every Heart a Dorrway – Seanan McGuire (Not my top pick, but we all knew this would be the result. Every Heart a Doorway is a worthy winner.)

Best Series: The Vorkosigan Saga – Lois McMaster Bujold (Presented by George R.R. Martin. I really have to start reading this series now.)

Best Novel: The Obelisk Gate – N.K Jemisin (Wow, I was not expecting that. Was really hoping for Ninefox Gambit. But I can’t fault the voters; every nominee deserved to win, and The Broken Earth Trilogy is absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to read the final book next week. I think this is the second time a sequel has won the Hugo in the year immediately following the first book, with Speaker for the Dead being the first. I’ll fact check that tomorrow… too tired right now.)

 

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Author: Ada Palmer

 

There was also an award handed out at the start of the ceremony to the Hugo Awards from the Guiness Book of Records. Turns out the Hugos are now the longest running SF award in history.

There were a lot of amazing nominees, and all the winners deserved their rockets. I’ll have to go and rewatch some of the speeches when the recording comes out, since I missed most of them. For now though, it’s passed 5am, I’m wondering if it was worth staying up so late. If your interested in seeing how the votes went down, the Hugo Report can be found here.

Time for some sleep. Goodnight everyone.

~Lauren

Review – Alien Influences

Alien Influences372005

By Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Published 1994

Score: 7

 

This is a book that has been sitting on my bookcase for years. It is also the first novel by Rusch that I have ever read, though I have read many of her shorter works and enjoyed them. Alien Influences is a ‘fix-up’, a novel constructed from a number of short stories. I haven’t read the original stories and am not sure how much of this book is original or reused. I’m only going to judge this story as a whole.

Alien Influences is the story about Humans on a colony world called Bountiful, which produces a valuable drug and is home to an alien race called the Dancers. The Dancers have a number of differences to Humans, such as an apparent inability to recall the past. Their heart, lungs, and hands also work like our teeth; the baby forms fall out to make way for more permanent replacements. The Dancers speed up this process with a ritual that removes a child’s heart, lungs, and hands, allowing them to grow up. When a few Human children turn up dead and mutilated in the same way, this understandably causes some tensions between the colonists and the Dancers. There are also questions on how the colonist’s children are influenced by spending time with these aliens.

Given that this is a fix-up novel, the book suffers from some pacing issues and an uneven plot. We start with what seems like a murder mystery/ethical dilemma, with questions about how to ethically deal with aliens who see killing and mutilating children as a good thing, and cannot be taught that Humans don’t work that why because they learn through instinct and repetition rather than knowledge of the past. This story comes to a satisfying end (for a short story) but then the book goes on to other stuff. First we get the trials of the Humans involved in the whole affair. We also see the Human government being extremely corrupt and terrible, and get hints that there will be a legal drama that seeks to undo it… but that never really materialises. Then we have a time skip, and find out what happened to the children that were influenced by the Dancers at the start. One of these children has become a bounty hunter, and ends up having to go back to Bountiful and confront his past.

I really enjoyed the first part, even though the true nature of the murders was quite obvious. Though to be fair, part of the reason it was obvious was because of the blurb. I also liked the end part, where John is a bounty hunter going after first a creature called a Bodeangenie and then some very special Dancer jars. There were also cool bits in the middle, but overall it got pretty slow there. And we never really get to see anything get done about the big government cover-up. A lot of the problems facing the characters in the second part of the book seemed to just disappeared on their own during the time skip.

Another problem I had was that I went in expecting a science fiction book, but it’s more of a fantasy in a sci-fi setting. This threw me for a while, because I was trying to figure out how the magic worked rather than just accepting it as magic. I’ve read a lot of books lately that blur the line between science fiction and fantasy and enjoyed them, but this didn’t go over so well for me. Until right near the end it just feels like a SF story with fantasy elements being patched on.

Alien Influences has some interesting ideas, and a lot of really emotional scenes. I really felt for a lot of the characters, and enjoyed this story despite the issues with the fix-up nature of the plot.

Less Than a Week to Go

Just a reminder that The Hugo Award Ceremony Will be held in just a few days time, and Worldcon has released details about the coverage of the award ceremony which can be read here. The winners will be announced on Friday the 11th August, and the ceremony will start at 19:30 local time. Which is 02:30 on Saturday where I am (near Sydney).

I watched last year’s ceremony on Ustream, and they currently have an off air video titled Hugo Awards. This year Worldcon is live streaming the ceremony on their official Youtube channel. Live text-based coverage can also be found on the Hugo Award’s official site

After the ceremony, the results should be easy enough to find online. I’ll try to do a wrap-up post myself, though since I’ll be staying up until at least 3am to watch the ceremony, I might be too tired and lazy to do it the following day.