Wool

WoolWool by Hugh Howey (2011)

Summary

The first in a series of dystopian novellas, Wool is about the sheriff of a large subterranean city called the Silo. People in the Silo can only view the outside world on a screen that shows a live feed from the cameras outside. Since the air outside is toxic, leaving the Silo is a death sentence for the criminals sent out to clean the cameras.

Review

Wool is short, but well-developed. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered, so I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Dystopias
  • Being trapped in a silo
  • Short stories
  • Doomsday Preppers
  • Post-apocalyptic worlds

Annihilation

AnnihilationAnnihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)

Summary

Area X was once a place of human civilization, but nature has since taken over. Four female scientists embark on an expedition (the twelfth such expedition) to learn more about the strange place that has been cut off from the rest of the world.

Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy.

Review

Ugh, this book was really weird. I thought for sure I’d like it, so I bought the whole trilogy before I read the first book. Now I’m not sure if I should continue reading it (I heard the second book was very different from the first) or if I should just leave it alone and move onto something else.

The book didn’t explain any of the bizarre things happened, any of the history of Area X, or any of the rules about the expeditions. I get that it’s a mystery and only the first book of a trilogy, but I found it really hard to enjoy the book when I had no idea what I was reading.

At least it was short.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Weird science-fiction
  • Female scientists
  • Arguing about whether to call a building a “tower” or a “tunnel”
  • Apocalypses
  • Creepy mysterious environments
  • Dolphins with human-like eyes

$2.99 End-of-the-World eBooks

Google Play is currently having a $2.99 sale on “end-of-the-world reads.” Since I’ve read several of them, here are my recommendations:

Recommended:

Station Eleven
A flu pandemic almost wipes out all of the world’s population. [Review]
Ready Player One
The key to a vast fortune is hidden within an MMO virtual reality simulation. [Review]

Brave New World
An “ideal” society has been created through genetic engineering and brainwashing.
Feed
Network devices implanted in the brains of American consumers are exploited by corporations.
The Handmaid's Tale
Women are subjugated in a totalitarian Christian theocracy. [Review]
1984
The government uses surveillance and propaganda to eliminate independent thinking.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Humanoid androids are also practically indistinguishable from humans. [Review]
The Giver
A community has eliminated emotion, color, and memory in order to eliminate pain. [Review]
 

Not recommended:

Atlas Shrugged
Aggressive regulations cause vital industries to collapse.
Lord of the Flies
A group of boys on an uninhabited island try to govern themselves.

Find Me

Find MeFind Me by Laura van den Berg (2015)

Summary

A mysterious sickness has spread across America, causing patients to forget everything and die within days. Joy is a young woman who works the graveyard shift at a grocery store in Boston. Abandoned as a baby, she grew up in a series of foster care and group homes and now she drinks cough syrup to numb the pain of her past. When it is discovered that Joy might be immune to the sickness, she joins 149 other potentially immune people at a hospital in rural Kansas for study.

Quarantined at the hospital, Joy and the other patients submit to strange rules and daily tests by doctors and nurses in hazmat suits. After things fall apart at the hospital, Joy escapes and journeys across the devastated country in search of her mother.

Review

Find Me is easily divisible into two very distinct parts: Joy in the hospital (first half) and Joy outside the hospital, trying to get to her mom in Florida (second half). I liked the first half so much better than the second. A mysterious pandemic with a potentially unreliable author quarantined in a strange hospital? Sounds great. Cross-country bus trips and doing drugs with bizarre people in the woods? A lot less interesting. The second half of the book was just a weird mess. I kept reading, hoping for some great revelation, but it never happened. Sadly, Find Me isn’t a book I’d recommend. :/

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Near future apocalypses
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Foster care
  • Grim, gloomy, and bizarre
  • Pandemics

We

We book coverWe by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1924)

Summary

D-503 is a citizen of the One State, where efficiency, precision, and reason are prized above all else and people are numbers rather than individuals. D-503 is the chief architect on the Integral spaceship that will allow the One State to subjugate any alien life to its way of life.

By chance, D-503 meets a beautiful and enticing woman named I-330, who lures him into aiding her rebel agenda against the One State.

Review

We was original and audacious when it was written almost 100 years ago, shortly after the Russian Revolution. It heavily inspired books like 1984 and A Brave New World and it was banned in the Soviet Union until 1988.

While I appreciate the influence We has had on dystopian literature, I didn’t enjoy it. I found it weird and really hard to follow, though maybe that can be attributed to translation. I don’t know. Here’s an example of a paragraph from We:

All night strange wings were about. I walked and protected my head with my hands from those wings. And a chair, not like ours, but an ancient chair, came in with a horse-like gait; first the right foreleg and left hind leg, then the left foreleg and right hind leg. It rushed to my bed and crawled into it, and I liked that wooden chair, although it made me uncomfortable and caused me some pain.

I just can’t make sense of that.

You might like this book if you like…

  • Totalitarianism
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Political satire
  • The Russian Revolution
  • Banned books
  • Dystopian literature

Station Eleven

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

Summary

Station Eleven begins with a present day performance of King Lear, during which a famous Hollywood actor named Arthur Leander dies on stage. Leander’s death is quickly overshadowed by the onset of a flu pandemic, which wipes out almost all of the world’s population and completely shatters our modern way of living.

Two decades later, a young woman named Kirsten who was a child in the King Lear performance, has found a home in the Traveling Symphony, a small troupe of actors and musicians that travels between scattered villages.

Station Eleven jumps around in time to events before, during, and after the pandemic, telling the stories of many different people, all connected in some way through Arthur Leander.

Review

After hearing so much praise for Station Eleven online, I knew I had to read it. I didn’t know much other than the fact that it was a post-apocalyptic book, so I wasn’t sure what to make of the initial King Lear part of the story. I was hooked when out of nowhere I read:

Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.

Overall, I thought that Station Eleven was interesting and worth reading, but I’m not quite sure it lived up to all the hype I saw.

You might like this book if you like…

  • Global epidemics
  • Hollywood celebrity gossip
  • Post-apocalyptic stories
  • Shakespeare
  • The Walking Dead
  • Survivialism
  • Religious fanatics

Ready Player One

Given the growing popularity of audiobooks, I thought it was time to give them a try. I read an article, I Regret Reading These 5 Books (Because I Should Have Listened to Them Instead), last month that helped me select Ready Player One for my first audiobook experience.

Summary

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline is set in 2044, when most people spend their time in the OASIS, a massively multiplayer online virtual reality simulation. When the creator of OASIS dies, it is revealed that he left the key to his vast fortune hidden in the OASIS, protected by a series of riddles and puzzles inspired by 1980’s pop culture (an obsession of the creator’s).

Review

Okay, so Ready Player One isn’t a great piece of literature, but it’s entertaining and has an interesting concept. It’s written for young adults, which is odd because it’s meant to appeal to people who experienced the 1980’s. I was born too late to really experience the 80’s, but I was still familiar with some of the movies, video games, and music mentioned in the book.

The audiobook is narrated by Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He did an awesome job narrating and it was funny to listen to him refer to himself as a “geezer” in the book. 😛

If you’re a fan of 1980’s pop culture (particularly, science-fiction and video games), I’d recommend giving the book a try — especially in audiobook form. As for audiobooks in general, they definitely seem like a convenient way to read (especially while commuting or doing housework), but I enjoy the experience of reading myself better, so I think I’ll stick to eBooks and print books for now.

Allegiant

AllegiantSummary

Allegiant is the 3rd and final book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. It begins right where Insurgent left off, but it is written from the perspectives of both Tris and Four. Motivated by the old video they found, Tris and her friends decide to see what is going on in the outside world, beyond the fences that surround Chicago.

Review

Like the two books before it, Allegiant is a very quick, easy read in spite of its 526 pages, but it’s my least favorite in the series.

I was initially excited to see the viewpoints of both Tris and Four in Allegiant because I thought it would offer some new insight, but I quickly changed my mind about that. The two characters’ voices sound so similar that they are essentially indistinguishable and I often forgot whose perspective I was reading until context clues reminded me (or I went back to the beginning of the chapter to check). I think it’s obvious why Roth chose to use two perspectives, but I really wish it had been done differently (besides, isn’t it a little spoilery to start using two perspectives in the final book?).

The romantic relationship between Tris and Four continued to feel cheesy and shallow, especially with the eye-roll-worthy jealousy element. “OMG, you were talking to a pretty girl?! You must be cheating on me!”

I was also disappointed by the book’s biological/political explanation for why things are the way they are, which seemed far-fetched. I generally like my dystopia to be more plausible.

Without getting too spoilery, I know a lot of people were disappointed with the ending of the book, but I was actually okay with it. I was mentally prepared for it and I think that character’s actions were in line with who that character was.

Insurgent

InsurgentSummary

Insurgent is the 2nd book in the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. It picks up right where Divergent left off, after the attack against Abnegation. The factions are on the brink of war and Tris and her friends are caught in the middle of it.

Review

Insurgent is very much a continuation of Divergent. It’s a fun, action-packed book that was a quick read in spite of its 500+ pages. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about the series (at least so far), but it’s entertaining and enjoyable. I still wish Roth would’ve toned down the romance/melodrama, though, because it detracts from the main story. Also, for someone who has an aptitude for Erudite, Tris sure acts illogically sometimes.

I liked that I got to see more of the other factions and that, by the end of the book, Tris had been to all 5 faction headquarters. The factionless, who were only mentioned in the first book, also played a bigger role in the sequel. While there is still no word on what is going on outside Chicago, the end of the book did at least reveal some information about the founding of their isolated society.

Divergent

Summary

DivergentDivergent is a young adult dystopian fiction novel that is being made into a movie that will be released in March 2014. It’s the first part of a trilogy by Veronica Roth.

Divergent is set in Chicago in the future, where the people there have divided into five factions, each dedicated to a particular virtue:

  • Abnegation (selflessness)
  • Amity (peace)
  • Candor (honesty)
  • Dauntless (courage)
  • Erudite (knowledge)

Each year, all 16-year-olds get to choose whether to spend their lives in the factions they grew up in or switch to a different faction. The book’s main character, Beatrice Prior, has to decide whether to be selfless and remain with her family in Abnegation or to make the more selfish choice to go elsewhere.

Review

I liked Divergent, but the premise is a bit unrealistic. To prevent evil in the world, their ancestors thought it would be best to segregate themselves and each embrace only one admirable quality. So unlike The Handmaid’s Tale, which was scary in its plausibility, I think Divergent was going more for entertainment value.

I also felt that the romance subplot cheapened it. What could have been a strong, female lead character was replaced by a semi-strong and occasionally oblivious girl who gets saved a lot by her romantic authority figure. Then again, Tris is a 16-year-old girl and this is a young adult book. *Shrugs*

That said, Divergent was an action-packed, quick, fun, and easy read. It’s almost 500 pages long, but I blew through it in just a few days. If you like the Hunger Games series, I’d recommend giving Divergent a read (though I liked Hunger Games better). I’m curious about what life is like outside of Chicago, so I’m hoping one or both of the other two books in the trilogy expand on that.

Movie Trailer

After seeing the trailer, there are two main things that bug me. First, Tris has an awful lot of makeup on for being Abnegation. She’s only allowed a brief look in the mirror every three months and I’m pretty sure the Abnegation would see makeup as self-indulgent. Second, Four looks way too old and a lot more tough and physically attractive than I imagined. In the books, Four was modest and vulnerable once you got past the “strict leader” front. I’m really having a hard time seeing the guy in the trailer as Four, but maybe the movie will change my mind. I’ll just have to wait and see.