narfna’s #CBR5 Review #79: Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

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I’ve heard good things about Chuck Wendig, and I do enjoy his blog quite a bit, but I’d been reluctant to try his fiction. It sounded a bit more gruesome and, er, intense than what I usually like to read. But when I read his Big Idea post on Scalzi’s website, I knew I at least had to check this one out. I mean, cornpunk? Come on.

In Mr. Wendig’s words, the idea for this book started out as a joke:

“I blog five days out of seven at terribleminds and sometimes the blog posts come easily and other times they come like I’m trying to perform a root canal on a velociraptor and one of the times the blog post came easy was one where I talked about – and asked people to submit their own – SomethingPunk derivatives. You got cyberpunk, dieselpunk, bugpunk, and so forth, and I thought it’d be a whole sack of hoots for folks to invent their own silly SomethingPunk subgenres.
One of my suggestions was “cornpunk.”

I wrote:

The yaddayaddapunks generally posit a world essentially fueled by the yaddayaddathing, right? Everything runs on steam in steampunk, cyberpunk shows a world ineluctably married to futuristic corporate computer culture, and splatterpunk reveals a future where everything is based on an economical ecosystem of gore and viscera. (Okay, I might have that last one wrong.) If you were to assign our current day and age a Somethingpunk name, you might think of it as “Oil-and-Cheeseburger-Punk,” but that really doesn’t have a ring. But. But! Everything is also based on corn. I think with a few knob twists and lever pulls, you could crank that up and offer up a crazy moonbat podunk dystopian future-present where all of Western Civilization is powered by corn and corn-derivatives. It’s all silos and cornfields and giant mega-tractor-threshers and it’ll be all “Great Depression II: Sadness Boogaloo.” And fuck me if this didn’t start out as a joke but now sounds completely compelling. I call dibs! I call dibs on cornpunk! And niblets, too! Corn niblets! I call dibs on corn niblets because they are delicious!

Well, I was pretty much done for after reading that. Even if I didn’t end up loving the book, he’d piqued my interest enough that I pretty much needed to read it right away. I didn’t end up loving it, but I still think it was worth it.

Here are my main thoughts about Under the Empyrean Sky:

1. For most of the book, the story falls victim to the standard YA dystopian plot arc. If you’ve read any amount of YA at all, you can probably guess where most of this is going. This mostly applies only to the worldbuilding.
2. HOWEVER. That standard YA worldbuilding is almost entirely covered with a thin layer of Wendig’s own special brand of whatever it is he’s got going on in his head. The cornpunk thing was by turns mind numbing, intriguing, and horrifying. He’s created a nightmare world out of Americana: farmland, corn, the Heartland . . . they’re all cursed in this book, and it’s bleak as fuck. It actually reminds me strongly of a dystopian version of The Grapes of Wrath.
3. Relatedly, one of the reasons I wasn’t feeling this book in the beginning is that it did remind me so strongly of The Grapes of Wrath, a book which I do not like. In fact, for whatever reason, I really can’t stand books or movies that are set in and around the dustbowl and the Great Depression. I hate them. So that definitely affected my reading of this book.
4. Though it was well-written, and the characters were three dimensional and interesting, I didn’t actually like any of them, so it wasn’t really that fun to read about them.
5. The ending really picked up and once a certain thing happened, I was interested in seeing where else Wendig would take his story, now that he’s got the intro bits taken care of.

All in all, worth checking out even if it wasn’t necessarily my thing — it’s DEFINITELY better than most of the YA shit that gets published these days. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to try some of Wendig’s adult fare. Although I doubt it. In her review of Double Dead, my Goodreads friend SJ strongly implied that one might need brain bleach while reading, and the need for brain bleach is a pretty strong deterrent (I don’t really like zombie books, either). Anyway, Wendig seems cool, even if his books give me nightmares, even his YA ones (seriously, guys, corn everywhere like a virus, people going sterile and getting tumors all over the place . . . gag).

[3.5 stars]

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 25: Fragments by Dan Wells

Goodreads summary with spoilers for Partials removed: “Kira has left East Meadow in a desperate search for clues to who she is… Her companions are Afa Demoux, an unhinged drifter and former employee of ParaGen, and Samm and Heron… the only ones who know her secret. But can she trust them?

Meanwhile, back on Long Island, what’s left of humanity is gearing up for war with the Partials, and Marcus knows his only hope is to delay them until Kira returns. But Kira’s journey will take her deep into the overgrown wasteland of postapocalyptic America, and Kira and Marcus both will discover that their greatest enemy may be one they didn’t even know existed.

The second installment in the pulse-pounding Partials saga is the story of the eleventh hour of humanity’s time on Earth, a journey deep into places unknown to discover the means–and even more important, a reason–for our survival.”

In case it wasn’t clear, this is the sequel to Partials, a book which I reviewed here for CBR4 and quite liked. I read Fragments fairly quickly, like I did Partials, but it was a little less engaging than the first. It suffers a bit from the sophomore slump: stuck between the opening novel that piques the imagination by introducing the world, characters, and story; and the finale, with its climax and resolution.

As you can see from the plot description, much of this novel is the main character and her companions traveling across the country, and though the landscape is fraught with peril and all that, stories just about journeys need to really be done well to be extremely compelling. This one wasn’t badly done, but it did lose steam and feel repetitive at times. Wells’ writing is sometimes a bit clinical, so even though I’m invested in the characters’ journeys simply because I find the plotline interesting, I haven’t really connected with any of them much emotionally, even after two books. The tepid emotional connection is especially apparent when Wells dances around the love triangle between Samm, Kira, and Marcus — I gathered that Kira and Samm were feeling increasing tension between each other not necessarily because it was written to express that tension, but, frankly, just because I expected it from the circumstances.

I think that the slight flatness of the writing may be what has prevented this series from being as well known as some of the other YA dystopias, but even with that said, I still do like the characters well enough as people and the world Wells has built well enough to finish the series. I also would like to give credit where it’s due to Wells for what I see as being pretty egalitarian writing when it comes to gender and race. The protagonist is a woman of color, and she’s not a token — there are lots of other important women and POC in the story. Overall, I think YA dystopia fans will enjoy this series, and I’ll be looking forward to the third novel.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 23-24: Pandemonium and Requiem by Lauren Oliver

The very short, spoiler-free version of this review is: you will want to read the sequels if you’ve read Delirium, because you’ll want to know how the story ends. For this reason, they are probably both worth reading. A lot of what made Delirium such a strong novel, though, is lost in Pandemonium and Requiem: the pacing gets kind of uneven, and Oliver’s prose — which I have praised before and is still very lush and almost musical — starts to overwhelm itself sometimes, especially in the scenes in the Wilds. Some of the scene-setting is abstract and convoluted, and I ended up having to re-read sections a couple of times to figure out what she was talking about.

Pandemonium has these issues, but at the end of the day I still ended up giving it four stars on Goodreads, which is clearly not a “bad” score. We got some nice development on Lena, our protagonist, as she learns to cope with her new situation, and there is a lot of fun action and twisted revelations. The end, though, was telegraphed a mile away, which took me out of my enjoyment (my reaction at the end: “Come on, really? I was expecting this and I wish you didn’t prove me right!”) After the jump is the rest of the review, because that exasperation that began at the end of Pandemonium and continued into Requiem is spoilery. So – henceforth, THERE BE SPOILERS.

Continue reading

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 22: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

deliriumGoodreads: “They say that the cure for Love will make me happy and safe forever.

And I’ve always believed them.

Until now.

Now everything has changed.

Now, I’d rather be infected with love for the tiniest sliver of a second than live a hundred years smothered by a lie.

Lena looks forward to receiving the government-mandated cure that prevents the delirium of love and leads to a safe, predictable, and happy life, until ninety-five days before her eighteenth birthday and her treatment, when she falls in love.”

I wanted to review Delirium, the first book of its trilogy, separately from the other two because I felt that this is a much stronger book than its sequels, so it deserves to be reviewed on its own merit.

There is a pretty implausible premise, here, that you just have to accept and move on if you’re going to enjoy this book. I’m pretty good at willing suspension of disbelief, so I dove right in and took Oliver at her word that in the future, we’ve decided that love — and the litter of hot-blooded emotions it inspires — is a disease that we can cure. The cure has resulted in a society that seems to be on its surface much more peaceful, efficient, productive, and obedient. Of course, we know that this can’t be true, because this is a dystopian novel, so early on we also learn that there are Uncureds and Invalids, or people who have been literally “invalidated” in society by refusing the cure. Furthermore, administration of the cure has been demonstrated to be unsafe before the age of 18, but anyone who has ever met a teenager knows that they are pretty good at falling in love or something like it before the age of 18. As such, there are many small acts of rebellion among the as-yet-uncured youth that need to be discovered and squashed by violent patrol groups of cured adults called Regulators. In case it’s not perfectly clear, the violence that these groups employ is evidence that simply “curing” love doesn’t stamp out our most base tendencies.

At its bare bones, this is a story about forbidden love: forbidden because love itself is, and because the boy Lena falls in love with is an Uncured, and the only way they could be together is if Lena rejects her arranged match and flees to the Wilds, territory that has been given up by the regulated society. The story is elevated, in my mind, firstly by Oliver’s prose, which is really beautiful and descriptive and appropriately fraught with teen anxiety (though it doesn’t come off as too whiny or excessively dramatic, just urgent.) She has a way of drawing me right into Lena’s thoughts such that I don’t feel like I’m just observing the action, but that I’m actually in it. Secondly, I think Oliver has written a love interest who is actually compelling beyond just being attractive: there is that tantalizing hint of danger to him, but Alex is also clever, respectful, and protective of Lena without being overbearing. He understands her and the peril she puts herself in simply by being with him, so he never tries to push her too far. He actually seems to love her back, rather than just trying to seduce her into his way of life. While in many other tortured love YA stories I’m just supposed to accept that this is deep, epic love for some reason, having Lena’s love seem real, justified, and reciprocated makes the decisions she makes more relate-able. Taken with Oliver’s engrossing prose, it really does have the effect of making you feel like you are the one falling in love.

The hardest thing about writing a review for this book is that I would really highly recommend it, except that you really can’t just read it on its own. It was written with the sequels in mind, and the sequels are, well, not bad, but just unsatisfying. I don’t want to doom anyone to that frustration, so I guess the best thing I can say is that for me, it was still worth it. If, even knowing how I would feel by the end of book 3, I got to go back and choose whether or not to read the Delirium series again, I would still do it for the thrall of this first book.

Caitlin’s #CBR5 #26: Wasteland by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan

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Dystopian tale about a society of children where nobody lives past the age of 18. So, 16-year-olds are considered old maids. There are issues with food and water running out, and blah, blah, blah. I wanted to like this, but I hated Esther, the main character. While I enjoy the drama of someone setting themselves on fire (I’m not saying who or when, but it’s something to look forward to if you read this book), I really wasn’t a fan.

You can read my review/rant about Esther here.

Caitlin’s #CBR5 #13: Prodigy by Marie Lu

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Another sequel in another young adult series! I don’t like the Legend series as much as Under the Never Sky, but they are still a good read. The second installment has Day and June, the poor boy/rich girl couple, working with a rebel group to assassinate the President*, basically. It’s really action-packed, exciting stuff, and there’s some political backstabbing going on.
You can read my review here.

*Because the story is about the Western coast of the United States who have since formed their own country called the Republic, they don’t actually have a President. It just seems simpler to say “President” instead of “Elector Primo,” the correct term. Sometimes the dystopian terms make me cringe a little bit.

Katie′s #CBR5 Review #6: Override by Heather Anastasiu

Title: Override
Author: Heather Anastasiu
Source: from publisher for review
Rating: 
Review Summary: An incredibly impressive sophomore novel, with great pacing, interesting ethical questions, and very cool characters but a slightly anti-climatic ending.

Override is the sequel to Glitch, so this description contains some unavoidable spoilers that mean you’ll probably want to skip the review if you haven’t read the first book. So now that those who haven’t read Glitch have left….  This book picks up almost exactly where Glitch left off, with Zoe joining the resistance now that she’s free from the link. She’s quickly swept into a war academy where glitchers are trained to use their powers to fight for the resistance.  The more time she spends there though, the more it becomes clear that divisions lurk just below the surface – about what the Resistance should be willing to do to win and even what winning would look like.  As Zoe struggles to answer these questions for herself, her relationship with Adrien becomes complicated by his own ethical questions about his ability to see the future.

Read more at Doing Dewey…