This is one of those books that I felt, as a fan of both sci-fi and 20th century American fiction, I should read. That feeling of obligation is perhaps what kept it on my ‘to read’ shelf for so long, as often these must-read seminal novels turn out to be disappointing. I am delighted to say that Slaughterhouse-Five is not one of those books. It’s bleak and shocking, but it’s also very funny. What’s more, it’s witty and clever, without being smart-arse. I liked this book, a lot.
The story, told un-chronologically due to a mix of flashback and time travel, is of Billy Pilgrim. Born in Ilium New York, Billy enlists in the army during World War Two, and finds himself captured by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge. He and his fellow prisoners are held in Dresden in the fifth block of an unused abattoir, and so Billy survives and witnesses the aftermath of the fire-bombing of that city in February 1945. On his return from Europe, he qualifies as an optometrist, marries the boss’ obese daughter and has two children, has a PTSD-fuelled breakdown, survives a plane crash, discovers he is a time traveller and is kidnapped by aliens and kept in a zoo on their home planet, where he has a baby with a fellow-abductee, an American film star. None of this is explained, or revealed to you in any particular order, but that doesn’t matter. You just to go with it, and have fun. Boy do you have fun.
The novel is full of remarkable, ordinary characters (failed science fiction novelist Kilgore Trout was a favourite of mine), and the writing is a delight, as the destruction of Dresden is described in the same matter of fact way as the eating habits of Pilgrim’s gargantuan wife. Terrible things happen to people, and one of the things Billy (and you along with him) learns along the way is that while death is just around the corner, but might not be the end. So it goes.
This is the third and final installment of the Divergent trilogy, and since it will be difficult to speak another word, including giving any summary, without tremendous spoilers for the first two in the series, the rest of this review will go behind a cut.
I’ve had this book for years, moved across the country and then sitting on my nightstand, collecting dust. It came highly recommended from members of a science fiction book club, but I just couldn’t bring myself to read it.
It is a time traveling story, a la Groundhog Day but with a darker bend. Jeff Winston is in a dead-end job with a souring marriage and finds himself suffering chest pains and in his office, dying. A moment later, he is back in his college dorm. Reeling with confusion, he comes to terms with his situation and discovers that he is somehow reliving his life. Why is this happening? What does it mean? He wrestles with these questions.
This mystery is complex and rich and will leave you with more questions than answers. It’s an unsettling book, but I think you need to read something that shakes you every now and again.
I picked this one up in a tiny bookstore in remote northern Canada, and it was one of the best impulse purchases I have made in ages. I really enjoyed Howey’s Wool.
Target: James S. A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1)
Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera
The Expanse has received a lot of attention, mostly from other authors, for being a fresh take on space-based science fiction. The books have also received high praise for their cinematic fight sequences and politically charged plot lines. The books are each fairly lengthy, sitting well over the 500 page mark, but manage to feel like much shorter novels thanks to brisk pacing and strong, dynamic characters.
In spite of the ‘space opera’ tag, the stories of The Expanse are really more like war stories, having more in common with John Scalzi than they do with Iain M. Banks or Alastair Reynolds. The scope of the setting is mostly limited to the solar system and there isn’t the same sense of wonder and discovery that has become associated with New Wave Space Opera. Instead, The Expanse feels like older styles of space opera that focused more on combat, and the brave actions of courageous soldiers against overwhelming odds and the threat of the unknown.
Read the rest of the review…
The story of three girls pretending to be one girl. They are actually clones being hidden away by their “mother,” the woman who stole them from the lab where she used to work. Now, the girls struggle with only living one-third of a life. There’s also dangerous people on their trail because their mother hasn’t exactly been honest with them.
I don’t have anything bad to say about this book. It’s not my favorite, but I liked it well enough.
You can read my full review with more luke warm praise here.
In an exciting sci-fi future, on an interstellar cruise ship, rogue assassin Rikki (I seriously can’t remember her surname, it’s not important) is trying to dump a body. While assassination is legal if you have a license and a contract, Rikki’s not a member of the Assassin’s Guild, and generally feels that she doesn’t need anyone controlling her or regulating how she does things. A very attractive man helps her get rid of the body, and then escape the security guards on the ship. One thing leads to another, and the next morning, Rikki discovers that the hot guy, Misha, is the one who actually hired her to perform the hit – trying to observe her technique. He’s the licensed assassin who’s recently been blamed for most of her hits in the region, and he wants her to either join the Assassin’s Guild and start observing the set guidelines, or he’s planning to stop her.
August 2013’s theme for Vaginal Fantasy Hangout (the online book club run by Felicia Day and three of her friends) was space assassins. Having nearly burned myself out reading in July, I figured light-hearted romance was just the thing the doctor ordered. So despite my misgivings, having considered both the spectacularly awful cover (even in a genre which features a lot of bad cover art) and the dumb title, picked, I’m assuming from some sort of generic name generator.
More on my blog.
A fascinating premise that I found to be clumsily and flatly executed. Massively disappointing for me. The full review is on my blog here.
Cannonball Read V: Book #29/52
Genre: Science Fiction
Under the Dome is a monster of a novel, clocking in at almost 1100 pages. I’m kind of a sucker for long, epic novels, so I decided to tackle this book for a second time. I read this book when it was first released in 2009 and loved it. I wanted to re-read it before I watched the TV show that just came out based on it.
The basic premise is pretty simple: An impenetrable dome falls over the town of Chester’s Mill, Maine. No one knows what it is or where it came from. The outside world is just as baffled as the people inside the dome.
Read the rest in my blog.
Target: Duane Swierczynski’s Birds of Prey: Your Kiss Might Kill. Art by Jesus Saiz and Travel Foreman. Collecting Issues #8-12 and Issue #0 of Birds of Prey (N52)
Profile: Comics, Mystery, Science Fiction
I really enjoyed the first collection of the new Birds of Prey, so it is with mixed feelings that I report that Volume 2 leaves much to be desired. Between the jerky plot jumps and the ill-conceived Poison Ivy arc, the issues in this volume never really get down to business. Some of this is due to the Night of Owls and Issue #0 ‘crossover’ events, which derail the existing plot lines in really jarring ways. But even the two arcs that belong to the Birds feel clunky and don’t have the same storytelling hook present in Swierczynski’s first arc.
But before I can get into the details, we have to go back to the end of Volume 1. In my review of Trouble in Mind, I noted that by the end of the collection, they had only really gotten one layer off the onion-like mystery that was the first story arc. Evidently, I was the only one who liked that. So, instead of diving further into this story of biological weaponry and clever brainwashing, we are dropped ass-first into a totally new arc that looks to be about Black Canary’s New 52 backstory. No time is given to the old plot and there is literally no resolution to be found anywhere in Volume 2.
Read the rest of the review…
Read Fofo’s reviews of Birds of Prey (N52)