Saturday, November 30, 2013

Review: Allegiant

Allegiant (Divergent, #3)Allegiant by Veronica Roth
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Strangely, I wasn't bothered by the capital E Ending. In fact, I really liked it. What bothered me was pretty much everything else.

Let me start out by saying that I loved Divergent. It was one of the better YA dystopian novels, and what I respected the author for in that book remains true for this one - bad things happen to the main characters. There is no almost-but-not-quite-in-harm's-way business here - people take a beating physically and emotionally, and you really can't say that a character is going to magically get through something just because they are an important/main character. No one is safe, and I really liked that since it seems like a lot of YA books tend to pull out all the stops to magically keep characters from ever actually getting hurt or dying in situations where they should (Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series being a prime example). This is one of the reasons I really liked the ending that has driven a lot of people to chucking the book at the nearest wall. In case you tend to get very fond of your fictional friends, I repeat, no one is safe.

Then why only two stars? Well, there were a lot of things about this book that drove me nuts. For one thing, I'm a bioengineer, and if a books is going to make a big deal about a scientific explanation for something, then it had better be good. Or at least kind of plausible. The science behind the world of Divergent is very flimsy, which wouldn't be so bad if so much of the book wasn't devoted to discussing this scientific explanation and dissecting it and fighting for or against it. There's a huge rant under the spoiler, so brace yourself:
Apparently the city of Chicago is just one of many "holding pens" full of genetically damaged people. "Genetic damage" in this world means that you are genetically prone to having undesirable characteristics such as proclivity to violence.

First of all, how the hell do you expect me to believe our genes determine our character traits? Psychosis or sociopathy, fine, but being selfish or less intelligent than average or more easily angered?

Second of all, how did the entire nation (world?) buy into this idea of genetic "damage"? There weren't any groups standing up for themselves or their friends who were deemed unworthy? Eugenics during World War II anyone??

And even if the whole world just lacked brains and nodded its head to whatever propaganda the government fed them, how did the government manage to hide things like the holocaust and war and racism and rape and all the other terrible things we "genetically pure" people have done to one another?

Nope, I'm not buying it.

I haven't even begun to talk about the actual story yet...oh boy. This review is getting a lot longer than I anticipated (much like my review of Insurgent - another disappointment). This book is a departure from the previous two in many ways. For one, it's narrated by both Tobias and Tris instead of just the latter. I have heard people complaining that they couldn't distinguish the voices, but I was listening to the audiobook so that's one less complaint from my end. But I do have something to say about this gimmick, and it might spoil things for you, but not directly. Proceed at your own risk:
in The Hunger Games, you know Katniss isn't going to die because she is the narrator. You can't tell a story with only one narrator if the narrator dies. On the other hand, when you have a series like Game of Thrones, you can kill off your narrators because another POV can take its place. Now I wonder why Roth decided to bring Tobias in as a second narrator...

Back to Tobias and Tris. They have had a tough time, I'll give them that. They have been betrayed and abandoned and lied to by others and each other. But they stick together and try and make their relationship work. I respect their trying to find comfort in each other, but I am beyond annoyed with how possessive and needy they both are. They both want the other to be accepting of their more difficult decisions while breathing down the other's neck about their tough choices. They both have trust issues but insist that there is no problem at all and clearly they are going to live happily ever after. It just got incredibly annoying to listen to their whining and "I told you so"s.

This book is also a departure from the previous two in that it doesn't take place in Chicago. The majority of it is spent in a facility outside, and while this facility has some interesting new characters and ideas to bring to the table, it was mostly very dull. I felt like this book was very disjoint from the previous two, and could not bring myself to really care about any of these characters anymore - they have changed so much and are in such drastically different scenarios now that it's almost like reading a new series.

I did like the secondary characters. Many of them have grown throughout the series, and some of them make unexpected choices in this book. I liked how most of them stuck together and stayed true to their personalities and their beliefs instead of dissolving into angst like our two main characters did.

This book has been a disappointment, to put it mildly. I definitely continue to respect Roth for making decisions that stayed true to her story instead of one that pleases readers - I am very happy about that. But I generally did not enjoy reading this book, and I didn't think it was the best conclusion to a series that had so much potential.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Review: Feast for Crows

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4)Title: A Feast for Crows
Author: George R.R. Martin
Genre: high fantasy, adult fiction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
With A Feast for Crows, Martin delivers the long-awaited fourth volume of the landmark series that has redefined imaginative fiction and stands as a modern masterpiece in the making.
After centuries of bitter strife, the seven powers dividing the land have beaten one another into an uneasy truce. But it's not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters of the Seven Kingdoms gather. Now, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—emerge from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges of the terrible times ahead. Nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages, are coming together to stake their fortunes...and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors

I wasn't planning on reading this book. My entire review of the third book was pretty much me saying all the reasons why I wasn't going to continue this series. In a nutshell, almost everyone was either dead or drastically altered and I didn't care about anyone enough to keep reading their story.

And then my floor theme at my dorm ended up guessed it, Game of Thrones. At first I was really annoyed. It seemed like a cruel twist of fate that I would be surrounded by the faces and banners from the Song of Ice and Fire world after I'd decided not to revisit that particular saga. But after much persuading from friends who had read the book (and, I admit, the lure of the slightest snobbery that comes when you've read farther in a series than there is of the show/movie :) ), I finally decided to read the fourth book.

And it was good.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday 8

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme: Top Ten Books I'd Recommend To X Person

This one is a little hard, since I just posted my list of science fiction recommendations for people who don't usually read sci-fi. There are books I really love and recommend to almost everyone I meet, but those books are the ones on my favorites tab and you can find those any time. Hmmmm...

I think I'll recommend fairy tale retellings, because everyone has read and loved fairy tales at some point in their lives!

Here goes...

1. Beastly by Alex Flinn - This is a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and it was pretty entertaining. Alex Flinn always manages to work in a lot of humor into her retellings, and this one also featured a main character who went through quite a transformation as the book progressed. I really enjoyed it!

2. Cinder by Marissa Meyer - This is a retelling of Cinderella and features a plague-ravaged earth, evil queen from the moon, and a cyborg Cinderella (yes, you read that right). It's amazing!

3. Spindle's End by Robin McKinley - I read this book about seven or eight years ago, so I don't really remember much about it. I do remember that it's a retelling of Sleeping Beauty that features talking animals, and I remember liking it a lot. Then again, this is my much younger self's opinion and I probably had much lower standards back then :)

4. The Looking Glass Wars trilogy by Frank Beddor - I really enjoyed the first and second books in this series, but the third was a bit of a let-down. They tell the "real" story of Alice in Wonderland, whose name is actually Alyss. I loved the re-imagined Hatter (and Molly) and the Cat. The evil queen Redd was pretty scary too - just look at that cover!

5. Ash by Malinda Lo - This retelling of Cinderella put me a little out of my comfort zone, but I really enjoyed it! I don't want to spoil anything, but this is a gorgeously written book and brings some very unexpected twists to the original fairy tale

6. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine - Yet another Cinderella retelling, and one of my favorite books from my childhood. I loved reading about Ella and how she outsmarted ogres and matched wits with the prince. Highly recommend this one!

7. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett - This one is mostly based on the Pied Piper, but brings in elements of fairy tales and stories in general. It's incredibly witty, and one of my favorite books. Another one I highly recommend!

8. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - Pride and Prejudice isn't technically a fairy tale, but it has all the fluff and happily-ever after, so it might as well count. I didn't expect to like this book very much, but it was actually very entertaining to see Elizabeth and Darcy sparring with katanas instead of words.

I can't think of any other good retellings at the moment. Have you read any of these? Do you have any other suggestions? I love reading classics with a twist, so recommend away!

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Science Fiction turned Science Fact

In case you're just joining, November is Sci-Fi month! I'm part of a bunch of blogs that are putting the spotlight on science fiction, hosted by Rinn Reads. Today's post takes a look at elements of science fiction that have now become a reality.

  1. Jetpacks - We don't have the kind that can power off and take you across the country yet, but we did develop the Bell Rocket Belt in the 1960s, a jetpack that is powered by hydrogen peroxide. Unfortunately you could only fly for 20 seconds at a time. Currently there's a Martin Jetpack, developed by Glenn Martin from New Zealand, which can fly for half an hour. The catch? It weighs over 100 pounds.
  2. Cell phones - Star Trek featured futuristic hand-held communication devices to talk to people all over the world. And now cell phones are a reality! It's hard to imagine that they were ever even the stuff of fiction.
  3. Teleportation - Like the jetpack, we technically have the technology for teleportation - just not the way you're used to imagining it. In the 1990s, scientists were able to teleport data using photons, but the photons were absorbed when they hit any surface. We can currently teleport individual atoms using quantum entanglement (whatever that is...), but we probably won't ever be able to teleport human beings or anything else macroscopic.
  4. Scuba Diving - Another one of those things that is hard to imagine as fiction. Jules Verne thought this up in 1870 for his famous novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
  5. Genetic Engineering - Aldous Huxley thought of genetic engineering and purposeful mutation in his novel Brave New World in 1932.
  6. the iPad - Yup, the idea of an iPad existed in science fiction way before anyone created one. HG Wells thought of a flat screen device that would scroll pictures and images in 1899!
  7. Flying cars - The Terrafugia Transition is a flying car that can cruise at 115mph. And it's legal!

Thanks to this video from Huffington Post and this page from the UK's Telegraph for the information!

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Science fiction recommendations

This is for all of you who are scared to dip your feet into the ocean that is sci-fi. Whether it's because you aren't into spaceships or aliens, or if it's because you think it's too technological, intellectual, or depressing, I have something for you! Science fiction is just so varied that there really is something for everyone.

If there's anything in particular you are looking for, just ask and I'll do my best to recommend something for you!

Biological sci-fi (for those of you who don't like spaceships or physics or robots, but don't mind medical terms or think genetic engineering is cool)

This one is set in a world where people are born with two souls and one fades away over time. But what happens when your other soul never really goes away?
The story is very character-centric and there's a bit of medical terminology, but I would call it sci-fi lite.

If you are really not deterred by medical jargon and virological/biological research, this book is fantastic! It is set in a future world after a war was fought between humans and their humanoid manufactured counterparts, the Partials. The humans are dying of a virus unleashed during the war which kills babies within days of birth, and the Partials are always looming on the horizon. How much longer can humanity survive? A more detailed synopsis and review are here.

This is one of my favorite books, and while it is part of a series, I think it stands alone very well. It's set in a world where teenagers who are considered "unstable" can be "unwound" - their body parts and organs will be given to people who need them (and since all parts of their body will still be living, it's called "separated existence," not murder). It's very frightening, very character-driven, and very good! 

Environmental sci-fi (what happens after we use up our natural resources)

All of Paolo Bacigalupi's books deal with the environment and the state of the world after we have abused it. My personal favorite is the Windup Girl, but that one might be very intense for people who are intimidated by engineering jargon, foreign languages, and books that deal with very difficult topics (i.e. abuse). So instead I recommend Ship Breaker - which is technically YA but definitely not watered down or over-simplified, just less disturbing  and jargon-heavy. It's about a world run by giant agricultural and oil companies, and people scavenging for supplies off of old ships to survive. Nailer is one such scavenger, and when he finds a newly-beached clipper, he has to decide whether to scavenge for all its worth or help the wealthy young girl trapped inside - and maybe find a way to a better life. But perhaps life outside isn't as great as he thinks it is. Perhaps he won't ever find out.

Not-too-Depressing sci-fi

Madeleine L'Engle's books are all wonderful stories in themselves, but what makes them really great is how much you grow to love the characters. You almost start believing that you are a part of the Murry clan! I loved A Wrinkle in Time and the rest of the books in the series - they are always hopeful and beautiful, and even when there is darkness, you always know light will prevail.

Books that take place in space but aren't too technology-heavy

Ok, ok, so Ender's Game might be a bit more on the spaceships & aliens side, but the focus of this book is really the characters and how they deal with what's thrown at them. Even if you have been put off by the movie, you should read the book - it's very thought-provoking. I liked the sequel, Speaker for the dead, even better, so if you are up for it go read both of them! (The rest of the Ender and Ender's Shadow quartet are also good, but I don't think they are quite as good as the first two Ender books).

There's another book that I want to put on here, but knowing that it takes place in space will be a huge spoiler so I'm going to stick it somewhere else on this recommendation list :)

Sci-fi/fantasy blends (if you like a bit of magic and fairy dust to go along with your androids and dystopian worlds)

Mistborn is more fantasy than science fiction, but it's set in a dystopian world and the magic system is pseudo-scientific (alchemy, anyone?). I really enjoyed it, and I'd highly recommend it (a synopsis and my review can be found here).

Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella in a dystopian earth where plagues ravage the population and gorgeous humanoid aliens from the moon are trying to take over. Oh, and did I mention Cinderella is now Cinder, a cyborg? This is a great fairy-tale retelling! 

Dystopian novels and Revolutions

I actually didn't care for this book that much, but I didn't think it was necessarily a bad book. I didn't really connect with these characters, but I'm sure other people will so I thought I'd put it on here. I think the tagline on the cover (Every revolution needs a hero) and the beginning of the synopsis say it all:
Keep Your Head Down.
Don't Get Noticed.
Or Else.

What's a sci-fi recommendation list without the Hunger Games? I do recommend the first book, but I would suggest either lowering your expectations for the next two or just watching the movies because the books sort of went downhill for me. Unless of course it doesn't bother you when your characters change dramatically (personality and motivation-wise) over the course of a series or you can accept that people are simply pawns of war - in which case, keep reading! You might enjoy them more than I did.

This is hands down my favorite science fiction series, so GO READ THIS.
If that isn't enough to convince you, here's my review of the third book - it doesn't spoil anything from the series, and it gives you a much better picture of why I liked it so much than my review of the first one.

Again, what's a sci-fi recommendation list without Margaret Atwood? I'm assuming that A Handmaid's Tale is already on your radar (and if it isn't, go read it!), so I'm recommending Oryx and Crake. This series is very well-written and very horrifying because of how plausible all of these twisted scenarios are. It's more on the biological/pharma side of things, if that's something you're interested in. I love this series, and I have yet to read the last book, but I'm sure it will be wonderful.

And the final no-brainer, 1984! This is the first dystopian novel I've read, and I was fascinated. It's not a very fast-paced story, but I couldn't stop thinking about the ending for a very very long time. This one requires mulling over, but I highly recommend it!

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Review: More Than This

Title: More Than This
Author: Patrick Ness
Genre: Science fiction, Young adult

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:
From two-time Carnegie Medal winner Patrick Ness comes an enthralling and provocative new novel chronicling the life — or perhaps afterlife — of a teen trapped in a crumbling, abandoned world.
A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighborhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this. . . .

I didn't like this at first, but the second half really grew on me. It's been nearly a month since I read this, so my memory is slightly hazy, but I remember all the important things!

I have absolutely loved every Patrick Ness novel I have read (The Chaos walking trilogy and A Monster Calls), so obviously I had huge expectations for this book. This was a bit of a problem - I really wanted to read this book and be thrilled and happy and bask in its brilliance, but I also really didn't want to start because what if I didn't like it?

The premise sounded right up my alley, and the prologue had my heart racing - it was exactly the horrifying yet gorgeous story I was expecting. Then the next 100 pages happened.

It wasn't so much that they were bad, but it was a lot less "classy" than what I was expecting. There were just a few aspects of the book that would have been fine if this had been written by anyone else, but I had come to expect something more from Ness (oh the irony). The backstories were relevant in the end, I suppose, but I didn't like them as much as the mysterious dream world.

This book starts out as one story, but each part throws the previous one on end and you have to rethink everything you assumed was true. I liked being surprised, and I loved how the new idea was integrated so thoroughly while still maintaining the "truth" of the previous one. I really can't say much without spoiling things, and being thrown for a loop is half the fun with this book.

I also really liked the secondary characters. They don't really come into the story until about halfway in, but they are wonderful people with heartbreaking stories that haunt but absolutely do not define them. I liked how the characters were more than their one "thing" - it's very rare that characters are diverse without the religious/racial/cultural/etc. difference being their defining trait.

In the end, I really liked this story. It was very mysterious and ethereal, and it gave me a lot to think about. I would have liked a few more answers in the end, but I also appreciate the enduring mystery - what's the fun in knowing everything about everything?

I would recommend this to people who are patient readers - it really takes a while for this story to get moving, and you have to be patient with it to get answers. Fans of science fiction and emotional stories will also not be disappointed.

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Top 5 Sci-fi worlds I'd want to live in

Sci-fi month continues, and today I'd like to share the top 10 worlds from science fiction books/movies/tv shows that I would want to live in. Some worlds are really cool because of the technology, and others just sound awesome! In no particular order...

  1. Pandora from James Cameron's Avatar - This world was just so beautiful, and I really liked that the culture of the native people centered around harmony and interconnectedness. Wouldn't it be cool to go touch a tree and then know anything you needed to know?
  2. New World from Patrick Ness' Chaos walking trilogy - giant inter-cultural/inter-species war aside, this world is a lot like our own except for the Noise. The Noise is pretty much someone's unfiltered thoughts circling around for everyone to see - Noise is distinct for different people, and ideas can travel through people's Noise. All the animals talk too! I would love to be able to hear what my hypothetical pet dog was saying. The only catch is that only men have noise - for some reason, women are immune. Sets the stage for a lot of mistrust, doesn't it?
  3. Gallifrey from Doctor Who - Who wouldn't want to visit the home of the time lords? From the fleeting glimpses we've seen of it so far, it has an orange sky, two suns, and a citadel covered by a glass dome. Also, Time Lords are cool.
  4. The version of Earth from Kat Zhang's What's Left of Me - In this world, everyone is born with two interconnected souls in one body. These two souls grow together until one of them - the dominant one - takes over and the other fades away. I'm not sure I would want my other half to fade away, but it would be cool to have a sister that was so close that you could share thoughts and feelings. I'm not so sure about the sharing bodies thing, but I thought this world was very unique.
  5. Earth from Cinder by Marissa Meyer - Plagues aside, it would be awesome to live in a world with android people and people from the moon! Also Cinder is awesome and I'd love to meet her.
Have I missed anything? What kinds of worlds would you like to live in?

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Author Interview: Chris Beckett

As part of Sci-Fi month, hosted by Rinn Reads, I had a chance to interview award-winning author Chris Beckett. He had a lot of interesting things to say about his newest novel, science fiction, writing.

Title: Dark Eden
Author: Chris Beckett
Genre: Science fiction, adult fiction

Goodreads Summary:You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of Angela and Tommy. You shelter beneath the light and warmth of the Forest's lantern trees, hunting woollybuck and harvesting tree candy. Beyond the forest lie the treeless mountains of the Snowy Dark and a cold so bitter and a night so profound that no man has ever crossed it. The Oldest among you recount legends of a world where light came from the sky, where men and women made boats that could cross between worlds. One day, the Oldest say, they will come back for you.
You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of two marooned explorers. You huddle, slowly starving, beneath the light and warmth of geothermal trees, confined to one barely habitable valley of a startlingly alien, sunless world. After 163 years and six generations of incestuous inbreeding, the Family is riddled with deformity and feeblemindedness. Your culture is a infantile stew of half-remembered fact and devolved ritual that stifles innovation and punishes independent thought. You are John Redlantern. You will break the laws of Eden, shatter the Family and change history. You will be the first to abandon hope, the first to abandon the old ways, the first to kill another, the first to venture in to the Dark, and the first to discover the truth about Eden.

About the author:

Chris Beckett is a British social worker, university lecturer, and science fiction author.
Beckett was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford and Bryanston School in Dorset, England. He holds a BSc (Honours) in Psychology from the University of Bristol (1977), a CQSW from the University of Wales (1981), a Diploma in Advanced Social Work from Goldsmiths College, University of London (1977), and an MA in English Studies from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (2005).

He has been a senior lecturer in social work at APU since 2000. He was a social worker for eight years and the manager of a children and families social work team for ten years. Beckett has authored or co-authored several textbooks and scholarly articles on social work.

Beckett began writing SF short stories in 2005. His first SF novel, The Holy Machine, was published in 2007. He published his second novel in 2009, Marcher, based on a short story of the same name.

Paul Di Filippo reviewed The Holy Machine for Asimov's, calling it "One of the most accomplished novel debuts to attract my attention in some time..." Michael Levy of Strange Horizons called it "a beautifully written and deeply thoughtful tale about a would-be scientific utopia that has been bent sadly out of shape by both external and internal pressures." Tony Ballantyne wrote in Interzone: "Let’s waste no time: this book is incredible."

His latest novel, Dark Eden, was hailed by Stuart Kelly of The Guardian as "a superior piece of the theologically nuanced science fiction".
Dark Eden was shortlisted for the 2012 BSFA Award for Best Novel.

On 27 March 2013 it was announced that Julian Pavia at Broadway Books, part of the Crown Publishing Group, had acquired the US rights to Dark Eden and Gela's Ring from Michael Carlisle at Inkwell Management and Vanessa Kerr, Rights Director at Grove Atlantic in London, for a high five-figure sum (in US dollars).

Beckett comments on his official website: "Although I always wanted to be a writer, I did not deliberately set out to be a science fiction writer in particular. My stories are usually about my own life, things I see happening around me and things I struggle to make sense of. But, for some reason, they always end up being science fiction. I like the freedom it gives me to invent things and play with ideas. (If you going to make up the characters, why not make up the world as well?) It’s what works for me."

Here is the interview:
  • As a science fiction author, what draws you to this particular genre?
Science fiction is a great medium for all kinds of reasons.   All fiction is based on the principle that making stuff up allows you to get to places that you couldn’t easily get to if you only wrote what was literally true (the inside of other people’s heads, for instance!), but so-called realist fiction, the kind that is currently seen as ‘non-genre’ and the norm, confines itself to making up characters and situations.  In science fiction you also make up the world.   This has all kinds of advantages: it’s fun; it’s a way of very quickly generating interesting situations for characters to engage with; it allows you to look at familiar things from an unfamiliar angle; it has rich potential for satire (think 1984); it can be a source of generating powerful symbols and metaphors and making them concrete and real within the world of the story.  (Instead of grappling with her inner demons, a character in a science fiction story can grapple with those demons right out there in front of her.)
  • What are some of your favorite science-fiction books and authors?
My reading is a mixture of non-fiction, science fiction and other kinds of fiction, with non-fiction becoming an increasingly large part of the mix.  (I feel that if I’m going to write fiction, I need to draw on the real world for inspiration, and not just on other people’s fiction, though of course I still draw massively on the latter too).   Thus I’m currently reading a book about Hurricane Katrina called The Great Deluge, by Douglas Brinkley.  It reads very much like apocalyptic SF, but it’s not set in the future but in the recent past, and it really happened.   (It’s a sobering glimpse of what lies ahead of us too if global warming continues and extreme weather events become more and more common.)
My favourite science fiction author is Philip K. Dick, and my favourite book of his is either Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,  Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, or The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.  I can’t decide which.  Many of the SF books I would list as my favourites are of a similar vintage.   A  more recent book which I loved (not strictly SF, but set in an imaginary context, and by an author who writes SF) was China Mieville’s The City & The City.  I haven’t been so bowled over by what he’s done since then, but The City & The City struck me as quite wonderful.   
  • Your novel Dark Eden takes place in an alien world, with lantern trees and deformed people. Where do you get the inspiration for creating other worlds? Are there any characteristics of your fictional world that you wish were real?
I first came up with the world of Dark Eden a long time ago, in a story called ‘The Circle of Stones’, published in Interzone in 1992.   (If you’ve read the novel you’ll recognise the significance of the title).  The planet Eden is in a way an inverted world: on Earth we have light coming from the sky and falling on objects that themselves give off no light; in Eden the sky is always dark because there’s no sun, but trees, plants and some animals are light sources in their own right.  I believe I got the idea from the Amstrad computer I used back in 1992, one of those old computers where the writing appeared in glowing green letters on a black screen, and was thus an inversion of the normal arrangement of dark letters on a light field, much in the same way that Eden is an inversion of Earth.  I am fairly sure that was the original inspiration!  
As I developed the idea I was also thinking of parts of our own world where life exists without the sun, such as the depths of the sea, where living organisms are often also luminous, and places on Earth which derive heat from the Earth’s core.
I was also thinking, of course, of the Biblical story of Eden, which again I inverted: in the biblical legend of the Fall, Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden, while in Dark Eden their equivalents were exiled from Earth and condemned to live forever in the dark world of Eden.   A glaring plot hole in the original Biblical story is the absence of any explanation as to what precisely happened in the second generation to allow Adam and Eve to continue to have descendants: clearly some form of incest would have had to have taken place.    In Dark Eden I confront this.   The continued existence of human life on Eden is the result of Tommy and Angela’s son Harry having had sex with his own sisters.   Since the entire population of Eden has inherited its genes from just two people, all kinds of deformities are commonplace.    (Biologists I have talked to seem to vary in their views on this: some say I have massively downplayed the genetic problems, others have said that isn’t necessarily the case.   From what I have read, there are cases of animal populations that have built up form just a few individuals.)   The early incest has had an important impact on the culture of Eden too.
As you can see, my ideas come from all over.   Often I start with a scene, and then work back from that to devise a world.  For instance, in my first novel The Holy Machine, I started with the idea of robots coated with living flesh so they are indistinguishable from human beings, and with a dramatic and gruesome scene involving such a robot which I don’t want to describe because it would be a bit of a spoiler.   I then devised a world within which this could occur.  Things sorted of developed from there.
  • Congratulations on winning the Arthur C. Clarke award for Dark Eden! How did you react when you first heard the news?
Thankyou.  When I first heard the news, I was sitting in the audience at the awards event, and I was preparing my good loser face.  (After all there were five other books on the short list, so the odds of not winning were high!)  Of course I was absolutely delighted.  Delighted to have won, and delighted too to be able to abandon that fake good loser face and instead wear the face that came naturally!  
I’ve been writing SF now for some 25 years.  It was quite wonderful to have my efforts validated in this way.
  • Out of all your works, who is your favorite character and why?
Interesting question.  I’d probably choose a different one on a different day but I’m going to say Ruth Simling in The Holy Machine.   She’s a lousy mother, she’s afraid of everything, and is not really a very likeable person in lots of other ways, but there are reasons for her being as she is and, she has a certain weird stubborn integrity.   A runner-up - and a lot of readers seem to like her too - is Clarissa Fall, who appears in two of my short stories ‘Piccadilly Circus’ and ‘The Perimeter’ (both included in my collection The Turing Test).  She’s snobbish, self-centred and unreasonable, and yet she has great energy and a determination to get out there and engage with the world.   In Dark Eden, I particularly like Jeff Redlantern, and also his mother Sue: Jeff because he refuses to just go along with how other people choose to see the world but tries to understand it for himself, and Sue, because she hasn’t got a big ego or a big agenda, but simply tries to be useful to those around her. 
  • Are there any other genres you enjoy reading? Do you think you might write in those genres as well?
I enjoy reading ‘mainstream’ literary fiction (a term I take issue with actually – I suspect that fantastical fiction has a longer pedigree than the realist stuff - but let that lie!).  I have however noticed that the authors who’ve been most influential on me in that field, are often authors that have also dabbled with SF (for instance, Doris Lessing, Kurt Vonnegut, Kazuo Ishiguro).  I’m not a massive reader of fantasy as an adult, but I loved it as a child (my copy of John Masefield’s Box of Delights fell apart as a result of multiple re-reading), and I’ve enjoyed a number of fantasy novels as an adult too.   (The line between SF and fantasy is of course quite a blurred one.)  I’m trying to think of examples.  James P Blaylock’s The Last Coin springs to mind, as does Neil Gaiman’sAmerican Gods
I like a bit of magic realism too: I was really into Milan Kundera at one point, and have enjoyed several of Haruki Murakami’s books.   If an idea for a fantasy novel came to me, I’d certainly be happy to write one (some of my short stories are bordering on it anyway) and the same is true of ‘mainstream’ fiction.   I doubt that I’d write a thriller or a crime novel, as I’m not a big reader of these genres and not so interested in that kind of plot, but who knows?
I’m actually not that bothered about genre boundaries, and even less bothered by the numerous subgenres that people bandy about (Weird, New Weird, Cyberpunk, Steampunk, New Space Opera etc etc).   My job is to try and write good books, not to fit in with other people’s preconceptions about the rules and boundaries of this genre or that.   (But of course I accept that people are free to categorize my work after I’m written it: I’m not so arrogant as to believe my work is too unique to be categorised!)
  • What is your writing process like? Are you a planner, or do you go with the flow? Do you write in large chunks or scribble on napkins?
The poet Ted Hughes once said 'the progress of any writer is marked by those moments when he manages to outwit his own inner police system'   That’s spot on as far as I’m concerned.  When you’re asleep and dreaming, your brain spontaneously weaves stories from your store of memories and feelings and desires, but when you’re awake this is a much more difficult process.   Or so I find anyway.
I spend long periods when I am pretty much blocked – I can’t make anything come alive – and then a chink opens in the wall, my ‘inner police system’, and if I’m luck I manage to slip through it and I’m on my way.   I couldn’t tell you the technique for getting to that point (I wish I could!)  I just have to keep trying until it happens, and I do try on my writing days to ensure that I churn out a reasonable number of words, even if I don’t feel they are coming alive for me.  You never know.  Something that didn’t seem to want to be written at all may turn out to be pretty good on re-reading (and sadly the reverse is also true).
I’ve noticed too that sometimes the machinery of the story, the scenes that have to be written to get a character from A to B, can unexpectedly result in writing that ends up being some of my favourite work.   Perhaps it helps you to evade that inner policeman, if you can tell yourself you are just working on the machinery? 
I’m not a writer who is able to plan in detail in advance, but I usually have some sort of plan when I start.  It’s important, though, to be willing to jettison all or part of that plan as I go along.  For example, if a character turns out to develop in a certain way, then it may longer feel right for them to do the things I planned for them to do.    Characters develop, the world develops and my overall sense of what the book is ‘about’ develops as I go along.  Feedback from others is often important to me.  I will often cling on too long to something that really needs changing, and an outside perspective can be really helpful in helping me let go of something which is holding the book back.  

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday 7

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme: Top Ten Sequels I Can't Wait To Get My Hands On

Not all of these are new releases - some are books that I really want to read but haven't gotten around to yet. In no particular order....

1. Unwholly by Neal Shusterman (book 3 in the Unwind series)

2. Champion by Marie Lu (book 3 in the Legend series)

3. Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo (book 2 in the Grisha series)

4. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (book 2 in the Raven Cycle)

[no cover available yet] 5. Mortal Heart by R.L LaFevers (book 3 in the Grave Mercy/His Fair Assassin series)

6. Cress by Marissa Meyer (book 3 in the Lunar Chronicles)

7. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor (book 3 in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy)

8. MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (book 3 in the Oryx and Crake/Maddaddam trilogy)

9. Ruins by Dan Wells (book 3 in the Parials sequence)

10. Fuse by Julianna Baggott (book 2 in the Pure series)

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