Tag Archives: science fiction

Book Review of Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor’s novella entertains while addressing racial prejudices. Okorafor, one of today’s science fiction rising stars, integrates what she ‘knows’ by drawing from her Nigerian family experience and trips to Africa. As with many great sci-fi writers she tackles social issues in other world sceneries with aplomb. Racism is forefront in Binti. Our empathy becomes so closely tied to  the protagonist, that we can’t help but question what we would do in Binti’s place.

by Nnedi Okorafor

Okorafor leads us to believe that we will learn about Binti’s trials as the only one like her at the most elite university of her species. Laced with racial innuendos, issues of perspective and misconceptions about those one judges predominates the first half of the story.

Okorafor then turns that theme upside down. When the transport ship falls to an alien species and everyone except Binti dies, she finds herself the linchpin between species. Her challenge becomes staying alive. At this point, her race is both her blessing and curse. She must confront her fear of loosing her complete identity, not just as a minority within her species, but as a species. The twists that transpire intrigue on both the storytelling level and the emotional level.

Chapter 1 Analysis of Okorafor’s Binti

For those interested in writing: I embarked on a study of opening chapters a few months ago in the hopes of learning from other writers. Every writer has strength which they have honed in their opening chapter. Their commitment to their strengths means a great deal in the success of their writing style, especially in Chapter One. Writing styles vary. Each narrative voice comes through with unique distinction. Undoubtedly, an author’s style will charm some readers while turning others off.  Regardless, a writer’s commitment to their strengths appear paramount.

I found writers who break all the rules that teachers impart to me and have come to believe that when an author’s writing style rings true, than that style should be used, regardless of a pundit’s advise.

As a novella, I wondered whether Binti‘s beginning would be different than longer novels. Okorafor does not use standard chapters, so I studies the first 2,739 words, an approximate chapter.

Written in first person we quickly become immersed into Binti’s world and feel a familiarity with her. No lengthy descriptions orient or bore the reader. Instead setting descriptions sprinkled throughout scenes and internal thoughts continually remind us where the story takes place.

Backstory accounts for over a third of opening scenes. Although many teachers baulk at pulling the reader out of a scene with backstory, in sci-fi world building the technique works well. Okorafor’s success including backstory largely works because of her choice of content. Well chosen details provide insight and intrigue. In many case the backstories also create the feeling that one is eavesdropping on Binti.

Okorafor uses simple language to create pictures. Although she uses some wonderful action verbs, power words don’t ever dominate  the scenes. Instead, repeating words such as “whisper” creates both a link throughout the text, as well as, creating mood. She keeps a nice flow with sentence cadences that read easily. Plenty of double alliterations accelerate the feel of read. (Such as “…promise to pay…”

Okorafor sprinkles similes liberally throughout. This enhances images and provides another window into the other worldliness of Binti’s environs.

Book Review of Binti by Nnedi OkoraforBinti (Binti, #1) by Nnedi Okorafor
Series: Binti #1
Published by Tor.com on September 22nd 2015
Genres: Novella, Science Fiction
Pages: 96
Goodreads

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

Book Review of The Shadowed Sun by N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin has established herself as a leading science fiction by N. K. Jemisinwriter of our times. The Shadowed Sun is another of her engrossing sci-fi epics.

The primary plot retells the ‘thwarted prince fighting for his rightful place on the throne”.  Nothing fresh there, but Jemisin doesn’t renege on her promise to captive readers. Her skill melding attributes derived from tribes of the African desert, the Mid-East and  central Asian cultures with her own imaginative twists, creates cultures ripe for conflict. Within that context she explores issues of religious belief, race, gender roles, cross-culture friendships, trust, sexuality and romance.

Hanani, as an apprentice in the dream healer’s religion, works as a foil to the masculine energies of prince, Wanahomen. When Hanani goes to live with the ‘barbarian’ tribes that Wana enlisted to retake his homeland, cultures and beliefs collide and entwine.

The winning battle, although well written, pales against the full story. And for me, the romantic resolution would have been more true to character if left open. Perhaps it’s a case of less-being-more, but those are personal tastes. It’s clear Jemisin is a wonderful epic science fiction novelist.

Jemisin’s Reputation

Jemisin is creating a reputation as a writer ‘upending the racist and sexist status quo’ as written about in the Guardian. Among a list of awards, she received the 2016 Hugo Award for The Fifth Season and the 2017 Hugo Award for The Obelisk Gate, of which she was also a finalist for the Nebula Awards.

Book Review of The Shadowed Sun by N. K. JemisinThe Shadowed Sun (Dreamblood, #2) by N.K. Jemisin
Series: Dreamblood #2
Published by Orbit on June 7th 2012
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 492
Goodreads

Gujaareh, the city of dreams, suffers under the imperial rule of the Kisuati Protectorate. A city where the only law was peace now knows violence and oppression. A mysterious and deadly plague now haunts the citizens of Gujaareh, dooming the infected to die screaming in their sleep. Someone must show them the way.

Book Review, Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Sci-fi world building

Pierce Brown’s dystopian world is built on the brutal power of classes, each with their own color designation, with Golds in charge. Born as a slave in the Red’s mining community, Darrow is set on a course to free the world. A lofty challenge and common plot-line, not unlike Suzanne Collins Hunger Games.

As the story develops, a plethora of characters emerge. Brown had fun creating plot twist after twist. Some changes I anticipated, but many ingeniously altered my expectations, such as Mustang’s allegiance. None were out of character, however.

The action ramps up when Darrow competes in a deadly game against the elitist of Gold youths in order to establish their hierarchy. Obstacles come at Darrow from all directions.

Cliff-hanger chapter ending kept me at night. I forced myself to stop reading mid-chapter, rather than be propelled to the next chapter.

Sci-fi World Building in Red Rising

This novel is often sighted as an example of world building, so I had to read it. Brown creates a multi-layered world with individualized cultures, although his world is built around socio-political issues we know. Slavery becomes a key topic, as does the abuse of power.

Brown endeavors to create not one setting, but three very different aspects of his world. The world of enslaved Reds functions deep within mines. For me, this was the best part of the book, as Darrow shows us his world, from inside a slave colonies perspective.

From there Darrow finds himself a pawn of a ‘carver’ who recreates him physically, but at the premium price of working for the rebellion by infiltrating the world of Golds. The novel really takes off when Darrow competes for his place among the elite of the elite Golds.

Although each world came to life for me, Brown used extensive first person exposition to inform his readers of all aspects of culture and environs. This interested me, because exposition is exactly what teachers advise students not to do when world building. Brown uses his explanations well however. It’s in the details he chooses to tell about settings that keep us engaged.

I’m tempted to continue with the series, but I have got other books on the shelf for now.

Book Review, Red Rising by Pierce BrownRed Rising (Red Rising, #1) by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising #1
Published by Del Rey (Random House) on January 28th 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 382
Goodreads

"I live for the dream that my children will be born free," she says. "That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them."

"I live for you," I say sadly.

Eo kisses my cheek. "Then you must live for more."

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity's overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society's ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies... even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines, vampires versus magic

LibriomancerRedd Becker Book Review

From the start Libriomancer left little ambiguity about what would come. Hines set up sides, defined issues, laid out backstory and engaged in two battles within the first fifty-four pages of this science fiction adventure. From there the novel quickly introduced  a love interest and a mystery.

In the Libriomancer’s world a group of magicians, called Porters, constrain vampires. The Porters, run by Johannes Guttenberg, try to ensure human’s are safe from a vampire’s drive to drink blood. A war between vampires and Porters begins.  No one knows who started it or why, but Isaac is determined to find out. Obstacle upon obstacle thwart his efforts to stop the war, however, while Isaac is caught in the middle, he doesn’t possess any authority to take action.

Hines utilizes his knowledge of literature throughout Libriomancer. References to others’ novels  become incremental to the plot and enhance the read for science fiction buffs. Hines starts with his hero’s name, Isaac. He references numerous details in books that enable Isaac to perform magic, whether real or not. Isaac’s power relies on his ability to pull objects from books, but they have to fit through the pages. Objects range from weapons to potions; such as Alice’s shrinking elixir and a variety of ray guns. Smudge, a pet spider, acts as Isaac’s pet, but also his protector at key times.

The hero, Isaac, serves as narrator. At first the style reminded me of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe narrative, but it soon transformed to Isaac’s voice for me.

Social Commentary in Libriomancer

True to form for a science fiction novel, Libriomancer weaves philosophical ideas into the action. Abuse of power becomes a central theme that Hines attacks on several fronts, from vampire domination over humans to interpersonal relationships.

Hines uses a love interest, between Isaac and a wood nymph, to expound on personal relationships. The nymph offers herself to Isaac, but Isaac balks at the ethical dilemma of her submission. Wood nymphs naturally serve their master’s desires unquestioningly, which is an appealing situation for Isaac, but he fights his attraction to her, while he considers the implications of her voluntary slavery to him. The alternative perspective, however, is for Isaac to understand and respect his lover’s nature, whatever that may be. I felt the end Hines chose resolved the issue well.

Libriomancer: published by Daw

Daw Publishing remains committed to publishing science fiction adventures. True to their mission, Libriomancer doesn’t let readers down. Daw started in 1971 as the first publishing company who devoted itself exclusively to science fiction and fantasy. Science fiction fans are probably familiar with many of over 1000 titles Daw published over the past thirty years

For those interested in writing science fiction: Daw Publishing still accepts manuscript submissions directly from authors, so check out their submission guidelines.

A guest review by CarrieS on Smart Bitches Trashy Books blog covers Jim C. Hines and Libriomancer. For some of the fun pictures she references, demonstrating Hines’ sense of humor you can see some of his interpretation of female book covers.

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines, vampires versus magicLibriomancer (Magic Ex Libris, #1) by Jim C. Hines
Series: Magic ex Libris #1
Published by DAW on August 7th 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal
Pages: 308
Goodreads

Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic. . . .

Rebel, Reboot #2 by Amy Tintera; a scifi action adventure

Redd Becker Book Review

Rebel (Reboot, #2)

Tintera writes a griping science fiction action story placed in a dystopian future world. From the start, each scene creates tension and puts the reader on edge. Layer upon layer of subplot intertwine as characters appear. Conflict builds as each character moves toward their goal. 

Rebel is the second book in Tintera’s Reboot series.  As in Reboot, people who die come back to life. In rebirth they are stronger, faster and can quickly regenerate themselves when hurt. Their ability to feel emotions, however, comes under questioned. Normal humans fear them, so the reboots are imprisoned and used as slaves.

Characters in Rebel, Reboot #2

When Callum 22 and Wren 178 escape from the Austin HARC detention facility, they free other reboots and find a reboot reservation where they hope to live in peace. To their surprise, the reservation of Reboots are planning a revolt and revenge on humans that neither Callum or Wren believe is good.

Tintera invests in character development. Two protagonists tell the story from  first person perspective providing empathy to their journey. And true to science fiction the story brings up questions of the ethics of technological manipulations to human lives.

Check out Amy Tintera’s book trailer.

Rebel, Reboot #2 by Amy Tintera; a scifi action adventureRebel (Reboot, #2) by Amy Tintera
Series: Reboot #2
Published by HarperTeen on May 13th 2014
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 340
Goodreads

Wren Connolly thought she'd left her human side behind when she dies five years ago and came back 178 minutes later as a Reboot. With her new abilities of strength, speed, and healing—along with a lack of emotions—Wren 178 became the perfect soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation). Then Callum 22 came along and changed everything.
Now that they've both escaped, they're ready to start a new life in peace on the Reboot reservation. But Micah 163, the Reboot running the reservation, has darker plans in mind: to wipe out the humans. All of them. Micah has been building a Reboot army for years and is now ready to launch his attack on the cities. Callum wants to stick around and protect the humans. Wren wants nothing more than to leave all the fighting behind them.
With Micah on one side, HARC on the other, and Wren and Callum at odds in the middle, there's only one option left...
It's time for Reboots to become rebels.

The Memory Key by Liana Liu

Redd Becker Book Reviews


The Memory Key explores a future where memory chips implanted The Memory Key by Liana Liuin everyone, including children circumvents  alzheimer’s disease, but the mind begins to rely on the device. Things go wrong when the company that makes memory keys designs them to manipulate people. When Lora’s key malfunctions and she begins to have crisp memory recall she begins to investigate her mother. Lora realizes her mother, a scientist with the company who made memory key, was murdered by them.

 

A Memory Key Sounds Enticing

Liu writes a fast-paced action mystery. As with much scifi questions of technological interventions on humans predominates. Implants to ward off challenges of our organic body sounds appealing, but be wary of big business and relying on technology. Some scenes appeared too convenient such as: her mother working for the memory key company, her best friend’s brother becomes a love interest who works for the same company, and her alternate boyfriend works for the old folks home where Lora finds her mother still alive.

For those who enjoy writing: Scenes move fast and are entertaining. The quality of writing works well for the format. The style reflects what YA specialist often asks for in YA books, but for me has become too standard in the genre.

Many find The Memory Key wonder. Take a look a more reviews at YA Books Central.

The Memory Key by Liana LiuThe Memory Key by Liana Liu
Published by HarperTeen on March 3rd 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Science Fiction
Pages: 368
Goodreads

In a five-minutes-into-the-future world, a bereaved daughter must choose between losing memories of her mother to the haze of time and the reality-distorting, visceral pain of complete, perfect recall.

Lora Mint is determined not to forget.

Though her mother’s been dead for five years, Lora struggles to remember every detail about her—most importantly, the specific events that occurred the night she sped off in her car, never to return.

But in a world ravaged by Vergets disease, a viral form of Alzheimer’s, that isn’t easy. Usually Lora is aided by her memory key, a standard-issue chip embedded in her brain that preserves memories just the way a human brain would. Then a minor accident damages Lora’s key, and her memories go haywire. Suddenly Lora remembers a moment from the night of her mother’s disappearance that indicates her death was no accident. Can she trust these formerly forgotten memories? Or is her ability to remember every painful part of her past driving her slowly mad—burying the truth forever? Lora’s longing for her lost mother and journey to patch up her broken memories is filled with authentic and poignant emotion. Her race to uncover the truth is a twisty ride.

In the end, Liana Liu’s story will spark topical conversations about memory and privacy in a world that is reliant on increasingly invasive forms of technology.

the Calling by Rachelle Dekker

Redd Becker Book Review

The Calling (Seer #2) byI picked up The Calling because of the cover. I wanted a male hero who struggles with the care of his family. This is that, although Remko also struggles with his relationship to his inner-beliefs.

A band of rebells, the Seers, hide outside their city and conduct gorilla warfare in an attempt to gain personal freedom for their people. The Seer’s enigmatic leader, Aaron, is seldom with the group, but he provides them each with the spiritual strength and guidance they need.

A change in president ramps up the urgency of their rebellion. When scientists experiment using drugs to erase  citizen’s memories and their desire for  freedom the Seers respond.

Remko acts as the Seer’s defense specialist, organizing and carrying out raids into the city to bring others out or to save those arrested by  authority. His conviction to Aaron is in question, but his love for his wife and child commit him to the cause. As the book progresses it is Remko’s internal battle to understand his spirit that drives the story and puts everything in the balance.

The Christian elements of The Calling

The Calling is a Christian action adventure in a dystopian world. There are many elements linking Christianity in The Calling. Their leader Aaron can appear anywhere and any time to provide his disciples emotional support. Love of family is only trumped by love of their spiritual leader. The title itself brings Christianity to mind. But the Christian elements don’t need to detract from the story. Most cultures have similar spiritual and ethical struggles.

For another perspective check out The Artist Librarian‘s review.

the Calling by Rachelle DekkerThe Calling (Seer #2) by Rachelle Dekker
Series: Seer #2
Published by Tyndale House Publishers on March 8th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Religious, Dystopian
Pages: 441
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-stars

Remko Brant had never been so sure of anything as escaping the Authority City with Carrington Hale. But bravado comes easy when you have nothing to lose. Now a husband, father, and the tactical leader of the Seers, Remko has never had so much at risk.
As he and his team execute increasingly dangerous rescue missions inside the city, they face growing peril from a new enemy. Recently appointed Authority President Damien Gold claims to be guiding a city shaken by rebellion into a peaceful, harmonious future. But appearances can be deceiving. In order to achieve his dangerous ambitions, Gold knows he must do more than catch the rebels--he must destroy the hope their message represents . . . from the inside out.
With dissension in his own camp--and the CityWatch soldiers closing in--Remko feels control slipping through his fingers. To protect those he loves, he must conquer his fears and defeat Gold . . . before one of them becomes his undoing.