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

Life on Mars

Life on MarsLife on Mars by Tracy K. Smith (2011)

Summary

With allusions to David Bowie and interplanetary travel, Life on Mars imagines a soundtrack for the universe to accompany the discoveries, failures, and oddities of human existence.
(Summary taken from Goodreads)

Review

I read Life on Mars to fulfill the “collection of poetry” task of the Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge. I decided that if I had to read poetry, picking a collection called Life on Mars would be a good choice. Unfortunately, Life on Mars didn’t do anything to improve my, erm, fondness for poetry. It did win the Pulitzer Prize, though.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Poetry
  • David Bowie references
  • Sci-Fi-esque poetry
  • Erm… poetry

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

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

Kindred

Kindred - CoverKindred by Octavia Butler (1979)

Summary

Dana, a young black woman from the 1970’s, gets spontaneously thrust back in time to the slave society of the early 1800’s. She meets her ancestors (both white and black), endures life as a slave, and even time travels a couple times with her white husband (whom they have to pretend is her owner).

Review

I thought this novel about Dana’s dual life as a modern woman and as a slave was brilliant. She struggles with trying to change attitudes toward slavery while also ensuring that her lineage stays intact, fearing she might cease to exist.

The time travel mechanic is never explained, but that’s because it’s not what the book is really about. Kindred brings slavery to life through the eyes of a modern protagonist, making it feel present instead of something that happened a long time ago. It deals with issues of both race and gender as well as survival, relationships, and freedom.

Everyone should read this book.

You might like this book if you like…

  • The antebellum South
  • Racial & gender issues
  • Time travel
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

A Wrinkle in Time

If I read A Wrinkle in Time in my childhood, I forgot about it, so I thought I ought to read this beloved sci-fi/fantasy classic.

Summary

A Wrinkle in TimeMeg is an awkward teenager whose father mysteriously disappeared years ago while on a top secret mission for the government. Together with her five-year-old telepathic savant brother, Charles Wallace, and their new friend, Calvin, she gets caught up in an adventure to save her father, who has been lost in time and space.

Review

Keeping in mind that A Wrinkle in Time is a children’s book, I felt like it was a let down.

The book was very black and white, good vs. evil. The Christian influence was too heavy-handed and I didn’t like how the book ended with a quick, love-conquers-all conclusion.

Another part of the problem was with the characters. Meg was whiny and self-loathing. Charles Wallace’s abilities and use of language were weird and unbelievable. Calvin was largely forgettable except for his strange, over-the-top praising of the Murray house.

That said, there were some good things about the book. Having a young, female, math-loving protagonist in a sci-fi/fantasy book in 1962 is pretty awesome. Unlike your typical hero, she’s also full of faults, which makes her feel more relatable. I also like how Meg’s view of her father changed from an omnipotent idol who can fix any problem to a flawed, uncertain person like her. That’s a fairly deep thing to have in a children’s book.

You might like this book if you like…

  • The battle of good (light, love, guardian angels, individuality) vs. evil (dark, black, cold, conformity)
  • Christian themes
  • Space and time travel
  • Narcoleptic fortune tellers
  • Illusions of delicious turkey dinners
  • Faceless tentacle creatures

And if you like A Wrinkle in Time, there are four other books in the series.

The Color of Magic

The Colour of MagicThe Color of Magic is the first book in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.

Summary

Rincewind is a cynical wizard (although he failed as a student at the Unseen University) who unintentionally gets caught up in adventures. When an odd and naive tourist named Twoflower shows up in Ankh-Morpork, he hires Rincewind as his guide. The rest of the book tells of their adventures with sentient homicidal luggage, a great fire, tree nymphs, magical swords, dragons, sea trolls, and a city on the very edge of Discworld.

Discworld itself is a disc-shaped world that is carried on the backs of four elephants, who are all standing on the shell of an enormous turtle as it swims through space.

Review

The Color of Magic felt shallow to me; the characters lacked depth and the book was more like four short stories than one cohesive novel. That being said, I liked the absurdist humor and I enjoyed the book well enough that I’m going to continue on with the series.

It helped that I knew going into it not to have my expectations too high. From what I’ve found, most people think the first few published books in the series are relatively weak and they generally recommend that people start with a later book like Guards! Guards! or Mort instead.

I, Robot

I, Robot

Summary

I, Robot is a series of short stories about robots by Isaac Asimov in the 1940’s. They illustrate Asimov’s fictional history of robotics in the 20th and 21st centuries, along with some of the challenges U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. encountered with their robot models.

Programmed into almost all of U.S. Robots’ positronic robots are The Three Laws of Robotics, which can’t be bypassed:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Most of the stories in I, Robot are about how the robots interpret The Three Laws in unintended ways.

Review

I, Robot is a classic work of science-fiction and, despite being over 60 years old, still remains relevant today. It is thought-provoking, funny, and chilling. My favorite stories were “Reason” (about a robot that doesn’t believe it was created by humans) and “Little Lost Robot” (about a robot that tries to hide itself after being told to get lost).

If you’ve seen the 2004 movie I, Robot starring Will Smith, don’t expect the book to be like the movie. Other than Asimov’s Three Laws and some of the character names, they don’t have much in common.