Saturday, December 1, 2018

Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Published: Little, Brown & Company, 2010
Series: Book 1 of the Ship Breaker Trilogy
Awards Won: Locus YA Award
Awards Nominated: Andre Norton Award

The Book:

In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life. . . .” ~WWend

This is the second book I’ve read by Bacigalupi, the first being The Wind-Up Girl (before I started this blog). This is his foray into young adult fiction, and I read it while on vacation in Scotland.

My Review: 4/5

Having read one of Bacigalupi’s adult novels, I feel like he adapted his style well for a slightly younger audience.  The bleak future world of environmental collapse seems to be carefully crafted, but the world-building information is backgrounded in favor of the immediacy of Nailer’s life.  Nailer has plenty of obstacles holding him back, including an abusive father and a society that seems designed to ensure his life will be short and brutal. His tenacity in the search for a better life is easy to understand and sympathize with, and the extreme cruelty of his life situation makes it easier to forgive him any missteps. Nailer is also not a lone hero. His relationships with others on the ship-breaking beach are important, and the girl he rescues from a crashed ship (Nita) plays a much larger role in his life than a simple “rescued maiden”.  

I appreciated that the book is not afraid to fully consider difficult ideas.  It is frank about the calculations desperate people may need to make for their survival, and how easy it is for the privileged to choose not to notice systematic exploitation. There’s also considerable friction between Nita and the working class people (like Nailer) who she relies on for help, despite that she is a capable person and doesn’t intend to treat anyone poorly. The story is intense, with lots of action and conflict, and I was always eager to see what would happen next.  I also found it a little stressful, simply because I liked Nailer and wanted him to succeed against all the odds stacked against him. Though it is targeting a YA demographic, I think many other adults would also enjoy it as much as I did.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Published: Tor, 2017
Series: Book 1 of the Interdependency
Awards Won: Locus SF Award
Awards Nominated: Hugo Award

The Book:

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It's a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it's discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.”

This is the first book of a new series by John Scalzi, an author that I am reading more of recently.

My Review: 3 /5

My response to this novel was mixed.  I enjoyed the setting, and I am a pretty big fan of unexplained galactic travel systems that cause problems.  In this case, they are using a poorly-understood physical phenomenon, the Flow. Their way of staving off war, intentionally keeping independent worlds from gaining self-sufficiency, relies heavily on the Flow being constant.  Of course, someone has discovered that the Flow is changing. The stakes are not just the power of the Empire, but the survival of the human race. The characters we meet in this situation are, for the most part, interesting and engaging.  I especially liked Cardenia, a reasonable person suddenly forced unexpectedly into the most powerful position in government.

The main issue I took with this novel is that it felt like very little happened, which is possibly because it is busy setting up the world for a series.  At the beginning, we are met with the terrifying prospect that the Flow is going to shift. That’s also pretty much where we stand at the end of the book, though circumstances have changed for some of the viewpoint characters.  I’m curious to see what will happen with the Interdependency in the next book, but I just expected a little more collapse in The Collapsing Empire.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review: The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
Published: Orbit, 2017
Series: Book 3 in the Broken Earth Trilogy
Awards Won: Hugo, Nebula, and Locus SF Awards

The Book:

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother's mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.”

It has taken a lot of time to figure out what to say about this book, because it was really amazing. I’m still not doing it justice, but here goes...  

Short Review: 5/5

The Broken Earth Trilogy as a whole tells a brutal, emotionally powerful story. The life of Essun, under her variety of names, is at the heart of it, but she shares this final novel with her daughter Nassun and the Stone Eater Hoa.  The Fifth Season sees Essun as she grows up in a society that dehumanizes her and repeatedly destroys her life, and The Obelisk Gate follows her and her daughter as they go through different journeys and grow in different directions.  The Stone Sky is the culmination of both of their arcs, when the two most powerful orogenes must decide what is to be done with the returning moon--change the world, or destroy it?  At the same time, we finally get a glimpse back to the original shattering of the world, through Hoa’s history. It was very interesting to see back into this ancient civilization, to see the fault lines of greed and oppression that led to the destruction of their world.

I feel like another reason this series is so popular lately (aside from it being awesome), is that it addresses the fears and anxieties of my generation.  We, too, live in an energy-greedy society that is facing the reality of environmental decline, and we, too, live in a world where oppression is and has been the norm on many axes.  While The Stone Sky does not shy away from the violence and emotional damage inflicted by these problems, it also does not show us a world without hope.  Despite all of the suffering, there is still hope that the world can change, and that we can find a better way to live.