Posts from the ‘YA Science Fiction’ Category

Gemina

Gemina.jpgTitle: Gemina
Series: The Illuminae Files #2
Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Carla Corvo, MacLeod Andrews, and Steve West, with a full cast
ISBN: 9781101916667 (audiobook), 9780553499155 (hardcover)
CDs/Discs: 11 sound discs (12 hr., 30 min.)
Pages: 659 pages
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2016 by LaRoux Industries Pty Ltd. and Neverafter Pty Ltd.

Mayday, mayday, mayday, this is Acting Captain Syra Boll of the WUC science vessel Hypatia calling Jump Station Heimdall, please respond.
Please respond. Heimdall over. […]
On the off chance we are not receiving your transmissions, or you are unable to reply, Hypatia is still en route to the Heimdall waypoint with Alexander survivors and refugees from the original Kerenza assault aboard. We’re hoping like hell it’s not just a smoking pile of debris when we get there. Estimate our arrival in fifteen days.
If you guys can roll out any kind of cavalry, now’s the goddam time.
Hypatia out.

Little does the crew and passengers of the Hypatia know that Jump Station Heimdall is having their own problems at the moment, and could use some cavalry assistance of their own. The same people who blew up the illegal mining colony of Kerenza and is pursuing the Hypatia is intent on cleaning up this botched effort, through any means necessary. And those means just might include making sure no one from Hypatia or Heimdall can report back on the mass murder that has taken place. A celebratory event turns into a hostage situation, with the captain’s daughter Hanna pairing up with the Nik, the reluctant member of the crime family secretly transporting illegal materials on-board the ship. But those materials may prove more trouble than the hostage takers.

With an almost entirely new cast of characters, the audiobook for this second in the series is almost as good as the first. Although some time has passed since I listened to the story, I remember there were two snags in the production of the early discs where the sound quality didn’t quite stay consistent. However, they were easily forgettable by the time you got to the final scenes. A notoriously impartial and unapologetic Surveillance Footage Analyst from the first book makes a welcome reappearance. Towards the end, overlapping narratives portrayed side by side in double-page spreads in the book are read consecutively, so as to maintain the intended connections.

This second outing in the saga gets slightly more fantastical than the purely scientific first book, especially involving the climatic solution to a problem that seems unsolvable. The death scenes are also more graphically rendered, partially as a result of the cargo being stowed on ship. That’s really all I can say about either event without giving too much away. While I enjoyed the continued use of transcripts, typed analysis, and other written communications to convey the story, the commentary provided during some of the more intense scenes stretched credibility. When trying to deter a hacker, would Nik’s cousin Ella, a skilled hacker in her own right, really take the time to type exclamations like “I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU NOT TO DISTRACT MEEEEEE AAAAAAAHDB#OWALEKVNLAKENLQWENVLQKENV”KQENV”LQENV”LAV ” while trying to save her cousin’s life? In my experience, it might have been more of a vocalization as opposed to an actual typed response, especially when your fingers are otherwise occupied. Ella’s disability is touched upon in a matter-of-fact manner, but never belabored.

Having read the first book, readers will be not be surprised by the blooming romance between two of the characters, but like the first one it is relatively tame and PG compared to the violence and death of the numerous assaults on the characters. In that respect their attention is appropriately focused on staying alive rather than developing a relationship, although there are some tender moments between the two. Nik and Ella’s back and forth rapport also brings some lighter moments to the gripping suspense of when they are going to die.  There is some drug use that might not be appropriate for younger readers, but all of the frequently used swear words have been censored out of both the written and audio versions. Overall, an excellent addition to the sci-fi series, and I’m eagerly anticipating the third and final book in the trilogy.

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Illuminae

Illuminae.jpgTitle: Illuminae
Series: Illuminae Files (#1)
Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Lincoln Hoppe, and Jonathan McClain, with a full cast
Book Design: Heather Kelly and Jay Kristoff
ISBN: 9781101916629 (book on cd), 9780553499117 (hardcover)
Pages: 599 pages
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 11.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library (audiobook), Borzoe Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015 by LaRoux Industries Pty LTD. and Neverafter Pty Ltd.

Interviewer: Tell me about yesterday.
Kady Grant: I was in class when it started. This is going to sound stupid, but I broke up with my boyfriend that morning, and he was right there on the other side of the room. I’m staring out the window and coming up with all the things I should say to the jerk, when these ships fly right overhead and all the windows start shaking.
Interviewer: Did you know something was up?
Kady Grant: No. You don’t jump straight to an invasion. […]
Interviewer: You evacuated at that stage?
Kady Grant: You make it sound way more organized than it was.
Interviewer: How was it?
Kady Grant: All kittens and rainbows. Apart from the screaming and explosions. (2-3)

Kady Grant and Ezra Mason are two teenagers who have just broken up, when their illegal mining colony is attacked by a competing mining corporation. Their hasty evacuation puts them on different ships, with a warship following close behind their tiny, limping fleet intent on finishing the job. But a virus has found its way onto one of the ships, and command is not sharing information in an attempt to stop rumors and panic. Hacking into the system, Kady is more knowledgeable than most, but even she is still in the dark about just how much trouble they are in. Forced to work with Ezra in order to piece together this puzzle, Kady has a hard time trusting anyone, including the supposedly unalterable AI system aboard the ship that seems to be updating itself with a mind of its own. And she’s unfortunately not the only one, as command  is conflicted regarding their course of action. With the odds clearly stacked against them, it’s anyone’s guess if they will make it out alive, and if they don’t what will finish them off first.

First, let’s talk design and production. In listening to the audiobook, you get a full cast narration, in which listeners can experience what it must have been like for people when War of the Worlds radio broadcast was first released. There are sound effects, there are harried voices talking over each other, there is the robotic monotone of the AI and other electronic system alerts. When a tremendous explosion rocks through the story, there is a pregnant pause in the audio of silence. Reminiscent of the Death Star explosion scene in Star Wars the audiobook stops completely and allows you to attempt to come to terms with desperately trying to overcome the shocking turn of events. You’re continually scrambling to figure out what is happening, and the audio allows you that time in its unhurried spooling of the story.

This brick of a book is designed beautifully, and some librarians were surprised to hear my raving reviews of the audio that it translated so well into an audio presentation. There are censored words throughout the book, blacked out with heavy marker. There’s paraphernalia paper clipped to reports. There are logos and letterhead for each of the ships involved, and spiraling script that conveys the chaotic events. I didn’t miss any of it, and in looking at the print version I am more thoroughly impressed with the quality of the audiobook. They took into account every detail and it shows.

The story itself reads like the Star Wars epic space opera/drama that it is. While there is a romance involved, for most of the story the two main characters are separated by space so there is very little PDA. Because the story is told in transcripts of verbal and textual conversations and summaries of surveillance footage, there is also surprisingly little technological jargon. The two primary characters, Ezra and Kady, don’t start out as soldiers or scientists or computer specialists, and that allows a very different story to take place than compared to other science fiction thrillers, like The Martian. The dialogue is riddled with censored swear words, incomplete sentences, and it’s refreshingly realistic. Kady is already sarcastic and suspicious, and her blatant disregard for authority is only amplified as the lies and secrets are uncovered. Ezra is slightly less skeptical than his ex, and is willing to go along with orders, until even he can’t ignore the writing on the wall. They play off each other extremely well, and their growing concern for each other evolves naturally as they cling to whoever they can as feelings of trust begin to dwindle. The other characters are fully realized, and everyone is struggling to reorient themselves in this ever-changing, perilous situation.

There is so little true science fiction available for teens, regardless of the quality this title would have been included on reader’s advisory lists. But because it exceeds all expectations that I had, I’m placing it as one of my favorites. The sequel Gemina is already available, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series and finishing the trilogy when the third one arrives at the end of the year. Highly recommended.

Rocket Girl

Rocket GirlTitle: Rocket Girl Volume One: Times Squared
Author: Brandon Montclare
Illustrator: Amy Reeder
ISBN: 9781632150554
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Image Comics, Inc., c2014.

In 1986 a bunch of scientists at Quintum Mechanics made history. Their discovery would change everything, forever. But they didn’t know what they were doing. It was never meant to be. So someone had to go back in time to stop it. I volunteered.

Detective Dayoung Johansson is a fifteen-year-old NYPD Detective in 2013, and expects people to respond to her position and experience with the force. Except she’s no longer in 2013 but has been sent back to 1986 to prevent a corporation from seizing control. But as the company responsible for the technology that enables time travel in the first place, Dayoung may just be playing into their plan. Is she really saving the past, or creating the future?

This story almost completely ignores the time travel element, except for a few obligatory references, like “Your past is my future” and a run in between past and future selves for two secondary characters. The detailed illustrations shine, with dirt on Dayoung’s uniform and graffiti on the brick walls, although the broken glass of the police station window should have fallen out the window if it was broken from the inside. It’s the fight sequences that are all flash, bang, whizz, described in the extra materials in the back of the book as “Marvel Style”. I wish there had been more movement in these sequences, instead of poses and posturing more then actual propulsion. NPR agrees with me (since when did NPR review graphic novels?!), stating “The one area where Reeder’s got real problems, oddly enough, is in capturing motion. That’s quite a weakness when your protagonist spends most of her time airborne. Reeder does OK with the effortless aspects of flight — gliding, spinning, tumbling. When DaYoung soars, so does the book. But when she hauls off and hits somebody, we hit the ground.” It’s an interesting premise and I’d be willing to follow it for a little while longer, but the characters and plot need more development before I’ll fully understand exactly how the past/future is impacting the future/present… see why I’m confused!

The Originals

OriginalsTitle: The Originals
Author: Cat Patrick
ISBN: 9780316219433
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2013.

“But if today is any indication, our current setup isn’t working,” she continues. “We’re not even three weeks in and already it’s clear that to remain on this path could draw attention to us, and therefore threaten everything. Because of this,” Mom says, shifting like she’s bracing for a triple teen outburst, “I am switching junior year assignments.”
I feel myself stiffen; Ella sucks in her breath.
“Are you serious?” Betsey asks. Mom nods.
“Ella will take the first half,” she says authoritatively, but not meeting Ella’s eyes, probably because she knows how disappointed Ella’s going to be to miss out on cheer practice. “Lizzie will take second half. Betsey, you’ll stay with evenings.” (14)

Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey Best are identical, but they are not triplets. Instead, they are clones, in hiding with their scientist mother from companies and the government who would want to prove their existence and study them. Taking turns going to school and sharing one life as Elizabeth Best, they have never really complained about their situation due to the knowledge that they could be found out and taken away at any moment. But as senior year progresses, the three girls start to question who they really are and what sort of life they are really living. Lizzie starts to fall for Sean Kelly, who opens her eyes to possibilities that she knows she can never fully partake in with their current agreement. Looking for answers and their independence, Lizzie and her “sisters” realize that their mother might not have been as truthful as they originally thought, and the lies might spell trouble for their seemingly happy family.

It says in the back jacket author’s biography that author Cat Patrick is the mother of twin daughters, very likely serving as inspiration for this book. Rather than narrating the story solely from Lizzie’s perspective, I wish the girls had taken turns narrating so that all three would have received the same amount of focus and distinction from one another. Lizzie’s voice was well-developed, but her sisters were unfortunately interchangeable throughout the story. Poor Betsey seemed to have very few opinions of her own, and I feel sorry that she got the short end of the stick being locked in the house all day long and then working in the evenings for spending money that all three girls used.

The story requires some suspension of belief that the three “sisters” willingly went along with this plan for so many years without complaint, interest in friendship or relationships, or any confusion. I liked the thought that was put into having one girl do a third of the day, as opposed to each girl doing every third day, but there are still missing links in the chain. It sounds like they’ve been living there for a while, and no one has seemingly caught on or made attempts at friendship until now. The changing of identities back and forth is originally portrayed as a “you’ve got to be joking” unbelievable suggestion, but then it’s later revealed that they’ve done this before in the instances of illness or injury. I would think physical activities like the cheerleading team would be out of the question, number one due to unavoidable differences in physical abilities and number two due to the possibility of an injury taking place in front of someone else and then the other two having to fake it.

The romance aspect develops slowly, but like Lizzie’s sisters Sean is never really fully developed and seems more a contrived impetus for Lizzie’s sudden rebellion as opposed to his own person. Readers are never fully enlightened as to why Sean is able to recognize that there is a difference between Lizzie and Ella and what sparks his interest in her. And the betrayal at the end involving someone Lizzie knows seems equally contrived and unexplainable.

I’m realizing as I wrap up this review that I’ve been talking about all the implausible plot points that stretch credulity and credibility. Don’t get me wrong, I devoured the book in only a few hours and readers might find themselves entertained as much as I was regardless of the various plot holes. As summer winds down, it might make a nice thing to stash in your beach bag for one last jaunt to soak up some sun, although the weather here has taken a decided and marked turn towards fall temperatures, so maybe you’ll instead be curling up in front of a fire. Lizzie at least is likeable, and you won’t regret spending the time to get to know her and her unique situation or her struggles to be seen as her own person.

Reboot

RebootTitle: Reboot
Series: Reboot #1
Author: Amy Tintera
ISBN: 9780062217073
Pages: 365 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Publishers, c2013.

A low growl woke me in the middle of the night. I rolled over on my mattress, blinking in the darkness. Ever stood over my bed.
I bolted up to a sitting position, my heart pounding furiously. Her growling stopped and her bright eyes bored into mine.
“Ever?” I whispered.
She lunged at me and I scrambled out of bed and across the room. She bared her teeth as she turned to look for me.
I pressed my back to the wall as she approached, my heart beating faster than the time twenty townspeople had chased after me with lit torches and various kitchen knives. I’d been stabbed multiple times before I managed to outrun them, but somehow a weaponless, growling Ever was scarier.
“Ever!” I said, louder this time, and I ducked below her arm as she lunged at me again. (55)

After being shot in the chest three times and coming back to life after almost three hours, Wren is now known as Wren 178, the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. The longer it takes a Reboot to come to life again, the less human characteristics each Reboot maintains. Stronger, faster, able to heal, and much less emotional, Wren 178 is given first choice at training new recruits to become government controlled super soldiers and track down law breakers. With her success rate in question, she chooses Callum 22, an almost human Reboot who asks questions, has emotional responses, and is one of the worst soldiers imaginable. Wren finds herself caring not just about his training results, but about his future when the humans in charge threaten to pull him from the program permanently unless he improves. Wren is forced to ask questions of her own when Callum and some of the lower numbered Reboots start acting strange. Are the humans tampering with her training, or is something more sinister afoot?

I was somewhat surprised at how my book selections ended up, as I read this one so close to reading When We Wake which features similar themes of dead (or nearly-dead) teens being reawakened by governmental agencies for their own purposes. The zombie trend is alive and well it seems, although these teens don’t typically act like zombies. I really appreciated the blurb by Lissa Price on the back cover, who describes this book as “A bone-breaking heroine fights for her life, her love, and what remains of her humanity in this fresh take on a world gone wrong.” It’s almost like Graceling meets that movie Warm Bodies.

I thought the book was very well paced, as you see training happening between Callum and Wren, action scenes where they take down accused criminals, and servings of romance in between the more suspenseful mystery of what’s going on with the Reboots. As you can see by the above quote, the layers are introduced pretty quickly, and gives readers a variety of reasons to keep reading. Wren’s changes and progressions in behavior and attitude are a little predictable, but it’s easily forgiven as she grapples with alternative scenarios and information that contradicts everything she’s been previously led to believe. I also like Callum and Ever, who provide a nice counterpoint to Wren’s unemotional nature and an understandable catalyst for her change in beliefs. Squeamish readers need to be aware that these characters are essentially zombies mixed with Robocop, so by the end of the book there is a body count to consider as the fighting progresses. But while the book could end there, I have a feeling that there will be a sequel on the horizon sometime soon, and Goodreads confirms that sometime in May 2014 there will be a second book in the series. After all, what dystopian novel do you know of where saving themselves is enough and they really don’t need to bother saving the world…. yeah, that’s what I figured too.

When We Wake

When We Wake
Title: When We Wake
Author: Karen Healey
ISBN: 9780316200769
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, c2013
Publication Date: March 5, 2013

“You can think of it as being in a coma,” she said. More and more of her face was swimming into focus now. “A sort of frozen coma that lasted a long time.”
Dr. Carmen paused, waiting for the obvious question, but my mind was whirring, and I missed my cue.
“It’s 2128, Tegan,” she said. “I’m sorry, I know that must be difficult to hear. You’ve been in stasis for just over a century.” (17)

Tegan Oglietti is sixteen years old in 2027 when she becomes the victim of a botched public shooting. When she wakes up 101 years later, her homeland Australia has changed almost beyond recognition. Slang, computers, culture, and homes have been refashioned in this world that, amazingly enough to Tegan, still suffers the same wars, environmental issues, and political problems that Tegan left behind in her past. The first successful revival, Tegan is placed under massive amounts of scrutiny as she navigates the publicity caused by her “undead” status. But warring political and religious factions are vying for her influence as an instant celebrity, and some will stop at nothing to claim her as their own. Is she really a person, or is she the property of the government that awakened her and trying to control her? Who can she trust when everyone and everything she knew and understood is gone?

Just look at that gorgeous cover! Almost three years ago, I read Karen Healey’s debut novel Guardian of the Dead and loved it. While I missed reading her sophomore novel The Shattering, this third book shows she hasn’t lost her touch. Full disclosure, this was my work out book at the gym, and I almost wanted to continue my time on the treadmill, just to finish a chapter or scene. If only every book I read while working out was as successful a distraction, I would be running miles by now! Yes, it’s that good.

Fans of The Hunger Games I feel would enjoy this book. Tegan is definitely not Katniss, as she really has no idea what she’s getting herself into when she signs the papers prior to her death volunteering her body to post-mortem science exploration. She also is much more involved in deciding her future than I feel Katniss ever was, from hunger strikes to running away to covert actions and threatening …. I’m getting ahead of myself. But like Katniss, she soon discovers that her intended use as a political pawn is NOT what she wants in life. While her school friends and their skills seem REALLY convenient for her purposes, I was willing to overlook it as Tegan struggles to figure out what’s really going on and claim of future of her own.

But the book isn’t all political intrigue, and we have some very funny and realistic moments between Tegan and her friends. One for sure stands out:

“Look, I’m not sure how to put this. So I’ll just ask. Are you sure you’re straight?”
My chin jerked up. She was sitting on the edge of the bed and swinging her feet. Her head was tilted at the ceiling, as if my answer was the least important thing in the world.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve never–yeah.”
She looked at me for a long, searching moment and nodded. “Oh, well,” she said. “It’d never work, anyway. I’m too bossy, and you’re too stubborn.”
“Plus, we don’t screw the crew,” I reminded her.
“Except for you and [spoiler] and your eighty gazillion babies.”
“Not happening.” (156)

A second thing I really appreciated is that Tegan doesn’t immediately jump into bed with the first person she lays eyes on, and while there is obviously romance mentioned in the book, it’s not the instantaneous teenage swooning that is so often attributed to young adult books. Tegan is athletic, religious, emotional, complicated, and multi-faceted — in other words a fully realized character who comes alive on the paper. She has a self-assurance about herself that’s refreshing. While I don’t think a sequel was necessarily required, the open ending definitely leaves readers guessing how she’s going to get her friends and herself out of this mess. Hopefully book two, coming out next year and titled While We Run, will find Tegan in a much better spot than this one left her.

Robopocalypse

Title: Robopocalypse
Author: Daniel H. Wilson
ISBN: 9780385533850
Pages: 347 pages
Publisher/Date: Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. c2011.

“Stop. You have to stop. You’re making a mistake. We’ll never give up, Archos. We’ll destroy you.”
“A threat?”
The professor stops pushing buttons and glances over to the computer screen. “A warning. We aren’t what we seem. Human beings will do anything to live. Anything.”
The hissing increases in intensity. Face twisted in concentration, the professor staggers toward the door. He falls against it, pushes it, pounds on it.
He stops; takes short gasping breaths.
“Against the wall, Archos”–he pants–“against the wall, a human being becomes a different animal.”
“Perhaps. But you are animals just the same.” […]
His breathing is shallow. His words are faint. “We’re more than animals.”
The professor’s chest heaves. His skin is swollen. Bubbles have collected around his mouth and eyes. He gasps for a final lungful of air. In a last wheezing sigh, he says: “You must fear us.” [..]
This is the first known fatality of the New War. (19-20)

After this initial uprising, it takes this highly intelligent and adaptable robot a year to hack into the computers governing every robot on the planet and coordinate a highly effective plan of attack. The robotic aids for the elderly, the computerized auto pilot cars, the military machines and computer controlled weapon systems, even the mechanized elevators and mail delivery systems, all systematically and simultaneously turn on their owners and controllers. Some survive the initial attack, either fleeing into the wilderness away from civilization or burrowing into what remains of the city, fighting for survival and standing against the machines. But with these scattered groups of resistance fighters unable to communicate with each other and barely able to move, it’s going to take all their ingenuity, unpredictability, and human spirit to fight off machines that can think, learn, and evolve.

This book is eye-opening and fear inducing, simply because it’s portrays something that could happen in the not so distance future. This isn’t just Star Trek’s Data going haywire and revolting. This book’s concept is so scary because it’s not just humanoid robots, it’s every computerized mechanism in the world that communicates with other things. Think about that for a second, because Wilson sure did. The smart cars of the future (Or even of today!) that can drive themselves start running over their owners and crashing into things, killing the occupants. The planes that talk to the tower and even today contain autopilot also take over the controls. Keypads on doors can lock people in or out of areas. Water and air purification and filtration systems can malfunction at a moments notice. Even houses today have computers where the lights, locks, mechanicals, and even your fridge can talk to each other and be controlled remotely. We saw a brief glimpse of what could happen during the 2003 Northeast Blackout that affected eight US states and people in Canada, and that was just an inconvenience. What if robots had gained control of the facilities and withheld the electricity for over two years?

The presentation of the story as collected flashbacks gives readers a vision of this war from the beginning to the climatic end. It also however proves to be a little choppy, and I found myself flipping through to read the accounts and actions of specific characters, rather than from the beginning to the end for a more well-rounded view. However, it gets better when the counter assault gets underway, as the various perspectives give you a clear view of how the war effort is progressing.

I’m presenting a review of this book during Banned Book Week because it’s inclusion on a summer reading list this year for a STEM-based class at Hardin Valley Academy in Tennessee was challenged by a parent for language. I’m actually somewhat surprised that language was the only complaint behind Mr. Lee and his wife’s objection to the book, although their counting the number of f-words (93 according to this article) leads me to believe that they did not read the entire book and simply searched for the objectionable word. There are some rather graphic descriptions of people getting injured and/or killed throughout the war that I would think some parents might find more objectionable than the language. If their excuse for the violence falls under the reasoning of “Well, that’s what happens when robots and humans enter all out war,” then I would think strong language would be just as justified by that reasoning. Ironically enough, this book is one of four choices that students at a local high school can read for required reading. We’ll have to see if they are faced by the same challenges and objections.

One of ten books to receive the Alex Award from YALSA for “books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18”, Robopocalype is an involving read and I can see the comparisons between Wilson’s writing and that of Michael Crichton in weaving science and scary together. But where Crichton had tension, Wilson relies heavily on action, technical details, and coincidences. I can see the appeal as the story because the fear it generates and questions it raises stay with you, but ultimately this is yet another robots take over the world tale similar to Transformers. The unique aspects of the story is the insidious nature and patience involved in getting to that point.

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