Category Archives: Science Fiction

11) Stars Above

By: Marissa Meyer

Date Finished: 02.20.17

Stars Above

Stars Above is a collection of short stories written within the world of The Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter, and Fairest). Some stories were previously published in the paperbacks and on Meyer’s website so I’d read at least a third of them before. For the most part, I enjoyed these better in the context of the collection than when I read them as stand-alones.

As with any set of short stories, some are more captivating than others. I most enjoyed The Keeper where we get to see Michelle Benoit take in both a fugitive and a runaway (it may be a little too spoilery to use names), After Sunshine Passes By which shows Cress’s childhood, and The Mechanic which gives us Kai’s perspective of the first time he and Cinder met. One of the teasers for the book was that it included a wedding. I very intentionally kept myself from knowing which couple got married beforehand. While I liked the plot for that story, I didn’t love the POV choice, so unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the hype.

On the whole, it was nice to return to a world I love and to hang out with this pretty great cast again. Naturally, I laughed out loud at everything Thorne said. Obviously, Cress and Thorne did not get enough page time (either individually or together). It’s not a must-read but it is a friendly read.

At the end of the day: For me

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3) Fairest

Prequel to the Lunar Chronicles

By: Marissa Meyer

Date Finished: 02.09.15

by Marissa Meyer

Princess Levana has grown up in the shadow of her sadistic older sister, Channary, and is the constant target of Channary’s cruelty. A good-natured palace guard is the only person to show her any sort of kindness. Though he is married and devoted to his family, what could his courtesy mean if not love? Levana relentlessly pursues him, demanding the love she’s never known.

Fairest is part of the Lunar Chronicles (Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress with Winter to be published later this year) that tells the backstory of the series’ evil queen. The previously published books contain a few chapters from Levana’s point of view, but this is all Levana all the time. The chapters in Scarlet and Cress sparked my interest and so I was ecstatic when Meyer announced that she would publish an entire book that told Levana’s story. I waited with bated breath for the volume that would show Levana as a misunderstood young soul before her transformation into power hungry evil queen. Which isn’t Fairest. Belatedly, I read in article in which Meyer explains that Fairest is meant to let the reader understand Levana’s journey and not necessarily to make her a sympathetic character. Mission accomplished.

It’s a bit of a harrowing read, truth be told. The book is a rather up close look into madness and brokenness. Levana’s experience of love has been so twisted that her expression of it is hostile and poisonous.  I want to believe that kind of abuse is exaggerated, but I know it’s a reality for too many people. And the entire book is spent inside a madwoman’s mind who believes she is completely justified, even wise. This is not your fluffy fairy tale or a cute twist on the classic villain. Levana is a seriously unsettling adversary, and she started young.

So where does Fairest fit into the rest of the Lunar Chronicles? Chronologically, it’s at the beginning, but I would recommend reading it after Cress as it was released. That way the surprises of the first three are still surprises and you have Winter to look forward to. And, hopefully, this story will make Winter even more satisfying. It’s the hardest of the series to read – not that it’s dull or plodding, rather it’s heartbreaking – but I’m glad Meyer was able to publish it. Levana is a major player in the Lunar Chronicles and her story set the entire series into motion. I very much look forward to re-reading the original three books armed with the information revealed in this book.

At the end of the day: For me (in context)

16-18) The Lunar Chronicles

Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress

By: Marissa Meyer

Date Finished: 05.16.14

Marissa Meyer

 

Cinder is a cyborg, which makes her both a second class citizen and the best mechanic in New Beijing.  Her skill as a mechanic leads to an encounter and ultimately a friendship with Prince Kai.  Scarlet is a feisty farm girl who will go to any lengths to rescue her kidnapped Grandmother.  If that means accepting help from a street fighter who goes by the name of Wolf, well, she doesn’t have much choice, does she?  “Captain” Carswell Thorne is in the right place at the wrong time or the wrong place at the right time or… something.  It’s always hard to tell with him.  His credentials of Criminal Mastermind are dubious, but he has a ship and can sort of pilot it which makes him an ally of necessity to Cinder.  Cress has been a prisoner her entire life and kept in isolation for the past seven years, interacting only with the cruel mistress who locked her up.  She’s forced into service for the moon’s evil Queen Levana, but is completely enamored of Earth and its inhabitants.

I somehow heard about Cinder as it was nearing its debut and was interested until I heard the word cyborg.  At the time it was a little too weird, even for me, so I let it pass.  But over the years I have continued to hear only positive things about the series and decided it was time to give it a try.

Boy, oh boy, what I’d been missing.

This is a concept that has the potential to go very much awry.  But with an all-star cast and compelling story, Meyer makes it absolutely enthralling.  Each book is divided into four sections with a quote from the Grimms version of these fairy tales — the basic sum-up-this-story-in-four-sentences quotes.  They also serve as a teaser for what’s coming in ways both specific and abstract.  What makes the books work is that Meyer is not a stickler for the following the fairy tale.  The original is a framework around which a much bigger story is constructed.  BUT, she does hit even the most unlikely key elements of the originals in surprising and exhilarating ways.

I enjoyed Cinder and when Goodreads asked me for a rating, I lingered over the five-star button.  In the end, I chose four stars and would have placed it squarely in the paperback section of my own ratings system as well-crafted, but didn’t leave me breathless.  Not long into Scarlet I realized how much ground work had been quietly laid in the first book and the more I read, the more impressed I was with the whole story.  In Cress you see roots that trace all the way back to Cinder, some obvious and some forgotten.  By the time I finished Cress, my mind had been blown over and over.  It was beautiful.

Some things I loved in no particular order:

– Cinder actually had a good relationship with one of her stepsisters

– Some characters who seemed despicable when they were first introduced turned out to be quite well-intentioned.  Some who seemed like valuable allies turned out to be sketchy.  I’m still unsure about the loyalties of some.

– Angry Kai.  Too bad he’s supposed to be a diplomat because he is wonderful when he gets upset.

– The threat of an incurable epidemic

– The use of technology

The fact that each book picks up within a day after the previous one ended.  Genius.

– The character arc of Carswell Thorne.  All the character tracks really, but his is the most fascinating.

– The unique way Cress builds up her courage

– Scarlet’s determination

– The introduction of the fourth book’s title character, Winter.  Can it be 2015 already?  Please?

There’s more, so much more, but it’s a long enough post already.  I am an admitted fangirl, but, unlike other books, I can speak rationally about these, partially because there are so many juicy topics to discuss.  I could write a full dissertation on the use of touch or the power of perception because both play such a huge role in the books.  But I’ll save those for another outlet.  In the meantime, if you’re in the mood for some exquisitely crafted writing (and can afford to put your life on hold for a couple of days — you won’t want to put them down) get to a library, stat.  Or learn from my mistakes and just buy them up front.

At the end of the day: Really, really, really just exactly for me

 

12) Dangerous

By: Shannon Hale

Date Finished: 04.06.14

by Shannon Hale

My parents have to work really hard to be funny.  They’re scientists.

Humming the Star Wars theme to encourage myself, I wobbled onto my feet.  Sometimes a girl’s gotta provide her own trumpet-heavy soundtrack.

Falling in love and falling to your death feel about the same, I thought.  And I almost laughed.

Maisie Danger Brown really hasn’t faced much danger in her life.  She didn’t go looking for trouble either — she was just interested in space.  When she saw a sweepstakes for an youth astronaut training camp, well, what would be the harm in entering?  Unexpectedly, Maisie does win, but at the conclusion of the perfect three weeks, she becomes infected with a superpower and things take a turn for the dangerous.

I know, there’s a lot of Shannon Hale love on this blog already, but this one’s new and it’s sci fi, how could I resist?  In truth, the book doesn’t sound like her much at all.  Which is brilliant.  Dangerous is a completely different genre than her other books and deserves the unique voice and style.  And, as I hoped, Maisie Danger Brown is a delightful heroine who stole my heart and who I definitely want by my side if faced with an apocalypse.

This book truly has it all.  And I don’t mean anything trite or cliche by that statement — Hale did a stellar job of blending story elements that don’t always mesh together.  It’s sci fi, so there’s a lot of talk about science and technology.  It’s about a superhero, so there’s an origin story, nemeses (nemesi? maybe?), action sequences, and moral dilemmas.  But as science-oriented as these characters may be, they know poetry, Greek mythology, Shakespeare, music — that is, they have interests outside of that one THING THAT THEY DO.  (How many people are defined by a singular interest?  How many characters, especially secondary characters?)  Not only that, but Maisie’s family — a father AND a mother — are present for much of the book and help drive the plot.  Not only that, but there is romance an interesting and realistic romance woven through.  Oh, and did I mention it’s not futuristic?  The whole thing is more or less present day.

My sister said she read it twice in a row.  I understand the impulse and nearly succumbed to it myself.  The story is so delicious that it’s hard to let go, plus there’s so much detail underlying the main story that it’s impossible to catch everything on a first read (the mark of an excellent book).  The funny thing is, at 400 pages even, it’s kind of long for a YA, but I wanted more.  I didn’t need more, but I sure wanted to linger.  Even if that meant flipping back to the first page and starting over.

In an uncharacteristic move, I read another blogger’s review (posted here) before writing my own.  For the most part, she said what I was already thinking, but she did bring up something I hadn’t thought of — the book is broken into three sections that could have been a trilogy under other circumstances.  The first is the origin story: how Maisie became special and was called into action.  The second is the survival story: how Maisie stayed out of immediate danger and planned for the future.  The third is the final stand: how Maisie came out of hiding to save the world and/or die trying.  In this culture of trilogies, I appreciate the care Hale took to streamline the story into a single book.  Yes, a trilogy would have been quite good because it’s Shannon Hale and because it’s a strong story, but it wouldn’t have been Dangerous.  She covered loads of ground in one book — over a year’s worth of time — but it flows elegantly, moves at a thrilling pace, and makes you invest in the characters even more.

This is a true gem of a book which raises the bar of all literature.  The gauntlet is down all you subsequent books because this is what quality writing looks like.

At the end of the day: Really, really, really for me.

1) The Age of Miracles

By: Karen Thompson Walker

Date Finished: 02.02.13

by Karen Thompson Walker

“I should have known by then that it’s never the disasters you see coming that finally come to pass; it’s the ones you don’t expect at all.”

Julia is an only child living in the suburbs in Southern California.  She’s a shy sixth grader, but mostly happy with her place in life.  Under normal circumstances, this would be a time of rapid changes for her age group, but the whole world is thrown into disarray when the news breaks that the rotation of the earth has slowed.  Extra minutes are pouring into each day and no one knows why it’s happening or if it will stop.  The slowing brings massive environmental and emotional changes as the world’s population tries to adjust to a planet where all certainties have disintegrated.  But this apocalypse is a slow one and so life carries on with school and soccer practice and the pursuit of normalcy.

The storytelling is impeccable as an adult Julia looks back on her childhood in a memoir-like style.  In a subtle way, she seeks to unravel which parts of her childhood were impacted by the slowing and what might have been a normal part of growing up.  By the grace of hindsight, the audience gets to enjoy little gems sprinkled throughout such as, “that was the last grape I ever tasted” among other should-be commonplace moments in Julia’s life.  Retrospection also afforded Walker the chance to write the BEST foreshadowing.  If you need proof, take these lines buried in the midst of a seemingly simple scene:

My father was at work — or so he said — but he planned to meet my mother at the party.  We were driving a silver station wagon, although the police report would later describe it as blue.

“What’s your New Year’s resolution?” my mother asked me as we passed the racetrack.

It’s still a page or so incident requiring a police report occurs.  Amazing.

Though I’m still not a fan of first-person, Walker makes excellent use of that point of view, utilizing the word “our” as much as possible to drive home the global impact of the disaster.  There is a remarkable precision to the language that makes every word feel important.  She tends to underplay a situation at first so that the crux of the scene hits with a deeper impact.  In short, The Age of Miracles is a fascinating concept in the hands of a master storyteller.

(Reading tip: Read this when you have free time — not when you’re waiting for something to happen.  Your sense of time will slow down with this one.)

At the end of the day: Really, really, really for me