I've been on a bit of a library kick lately. Every time I go back to return my books, I decide to "just have a look" to see if there's anything in that I like the look of and then I leave with at least three books to read. Contrary to my normal behaviour, I've actually been reading these books lately. Often I'll get books out, pile them up, forget, renew them 5 times and then return them unread. I think the last time that I returned a batch, I'd actually read them all. Ludicrous behaviour.
The Ship by Antonia Honeywell
The Ship was one that I'd seen Ellie (of Curiosity Killed the Bookworm fame) talk about and had a pretty stunning cover. The book was…ok. I think it would have made an excellent short story or novella but it felt a bit laboured as a full length novel. The novel opens on a gloomy and tragic London, with citizens huddling together in its once great buildings and hiding from the authorities, who will shoot anyone who can't produce an identity card or commits some other minor infraction of the terrifying 'Nazareth Act'. The environment as we know it is destroyed and civilisation seems to be following. Lalla's father has been secretly hoarding food aboard the Ship, to save a pre-chosen group of people and sail away from the devastation. The opening third or so is outstanding. The set-up is solid and the plot moves quickly and in ways that I didn't always expect despite having read my fair share of dystopian novels. I really liked the writing too and some of the haunting passages about the final moments of certain aspects of our world have really stuck with me, like this incredibly sad image of a lonely polar bear that just gets me every time I see it:
"...I remembered the film of the last polar bear, swimming and swimming in the empty ocean, in search of a mass of ice that had finally melted away"
Out on the open sea, however, I found my interest waning. The writing still has some great moments but I felt as though the narrative became a bit repetitive and Lalla started driving me crazy. She becomes petulant and ungrateful. I understand that circumstances aren't ideal and there are some decisions that other people are taking that were pretty damn creepy but it seemed that there could have been far better ways to address them. Like trying to have a conversation with her father, for example. I really wasn't a fan of the ending, either. I think I can see the point that the author was trying to make but I just didn't buy into it.
3 out of 5 stars for the concept and the cautionary tale about what we're doing to the world, the philosophical meanderings on who should be saved and what it even means to be saved in the first place and the writing
Illuminae was a bit of a punt. I'm not usually a fan of science fiction but this one was billed as playing around with format and I'd seen a few positive reviews so I ordered it in. It was brilliant. Not 'brilliant compared to my expectations' or 'brilliant for science fiction'. Just brilliant. The story starts with a bang and the destruction of the tiny ice-covered speck of an island where hapless young former lovers Ezra and Kady live. A lot of people die and small groups of survivors flee on a few ill-equipped spaceships. Families are split up and it isn't clear who has survived or, if they have, whether they will continue to survive between being chased by their attackers who want to finish the job they started and the lack of resources on the hastily boarded escape vehicles. So far, so standard. What had lured me in in the first place is that it's told through screenshots from computers, messages sent between residents of different ships, security debriefings and other confidential records. The story is pieced together through 'evidence' and it's so much fun. It makes reading the story feel like something unique, like more an experience, and it doesn't feel as gimmicky as it sounds as though it will. I cried at least once. Probably twice. Despite it being over 500 pages, I read it over a couple of days and if I hadn't been busy, I'd have finished it in a day or so. I'll probably be buying a copy of this one along with Gemina (the next instalment that was published recently) soon.
4.5 out of 5 stars for putting together scraps of text and making something that I was completely tangled up in. Absolutely recommended if you're looking for a super quick, gripping read.
Leviathan's Wake by James S. A. Corey
Buoyed up on the science fiction success of Illuminae, I was emboldened into thinking that I actually might like science fiction after all and went all out with a "proper" science fiction novel. I did sort of like Leviathan's Wake but it was hard going. It's the first book in an epic space opera series and is just over 600 pages of politics, spaceships, shoot-outs and impending disaster. It felt like it took me forever to read and if I hadn't had a return train journey to London while I was reading it, goodness knows how long it would have taken.
The story centres around a few characters that end up at the centre of a war between Mars, Earth and the 'Belts', most of whom I liked but only a couple of which were really developed properly. Chapters alternated between the perspective of Jim, a former Earth resident turned astronaut who's a sort of technician-turned-captain down to earth type of chap, and Detective Miller, a Belter policeman fallen on difficult times (who was hands down my favourite). There are a couple of female characters but only one who I'd class as a main character and even though she is a respected engineer (yey), she is repeatedly described by reference to how attractive she is and ends up with a hugely unnecessary romantic side-plot, which I was not a fan of (boo). The characters and the action are engaging enough but I found a lot of the detail really hard to follow for some reason. I think I'd have hated this book if it hadn't eventually stopped confusing me with its political ramblings and started freaking me out with zombie-based chemical warfare. Admittedly even that ended up being confusing by the end but it livened up the middle no end!
3.5 out of 5 stars for the appearance of the zombies. Cautiously recommended if you're patient and don't feel the need to always follow what's going on in a book that you're reading...