Tag Archives: scifi

Birthmarked #3: Promised, by Caragh O’Brien

Promised (Birthmarked, #3)Promised by Caragh M. O’Brien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After waiting for a year for this to come out, I eagerly reread “Prized” and dove right into “Promised.” I liked it, but I hyped it too much in my mind. The first two books in the trilogy were SO GOOD. The sequel was better than the first…Yet, the third installment did not live up to my expectations.

Certainly, there were surprises and twists–and O’Brien is amazing with her irony…but, I just feel…emotionally let down.

I can’t say there wasn’t a satisfying resolution–because there was. I can’t say that thinks were tied up too neatly, because they weren’t. Characters die that you are close to…perhaps, I am sad for the characters? Perhaps, I wanted something as unique as “Prized”? I don’t know exactly.

There are many issues that hit home and hit hard: artificial insemination, adoption, genetics, abortion, class differences, motherhood and feminist ideology…And the group of rebels is seeks justice and reformation, not just an overthrow. There is a lot of awesomeness: great themes, excellent characterizations, emotional development and great story arc.

It is missing something that the previous two books had, which I think is its freshness in the world of YA dystopias. Either way, it is a great read!

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Prized by Caragh M. O’Brien

Prized (Birthmarked, #2)Prized by Caragh M. O’Brien

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gaia continues to the Dead Forest to discover that there is civilization outside of the Enclave. Here she discovers information about her family, especially her grandmother and her role in this community. But every community has its problems and Slyum is no exception.

I really enjoyed Birthmarked, but, I loved Prized. It is a rare occurrence that a sequel is better than its initial in a trilogy, but Prized exceeds the standards O’Brien set in her first novel in this trilogy.

This book is exceptionally well-written, with exceptional character development. Gaia’s character evolves further in this novel, suggesting that Birthmarked was only a small glimpse into Gaia’s personality and strength. This dystopia sets up a promising conclusion to the trilogy that will combine the first and the second.

I really cannot say enough about how excellent this book is. So many dystopias miss an aspect–perhaps pushing the society, or a love triangle, but falling flat in some other aspect. While there was a “love square”, O’Brien handled the romantic intrigue with great care so that it did not feel forced or as if Gaia’s decisions and personality relied on the inclusion of a a boyfriend in order to complete her as a person.

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Crossed (Matched, #2)Crossed by Ally Condie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Crossed picks up where Matched leaves off…There is alternating first person perspective between Cassie and Ky which allows for a deeper characterization of both characters. While I like the ambiguity surrounding the Enemy vs. Society with the added tension of the Rising, I hope that Condie has enough stamina to continue revelations into the third book. I enjoyed the back story and addition of new characters; I also enjoyed the suggestion that the Society is doing something even more secretive and deceptive than originally expected. Is the Enemy a fabrication of the Society? Is the Rising? These questions are interesting enough for me to continue into the third book when it is released. However, while there is more action in Crossed than in Matched, I found myself annoyed with all-too-YA-common-themes. I am truly sick of love triangles. I don’t care what they represent, I have had enough with them. I was also distracted by numerous typos in my print copy. Overall, I liked it, but think it could have used another couple months of revisions and editing.

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See my review of the first in the series, Matched, here.

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Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien

Birthmarked (Birthmarked, #1)Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this dystopian novel. I snuck it in between Victorian children’s books by leaving early for school and taking the long way on the T.

Gaia’s society “advances” three babies a month from her sector to the Enclave where they are raised with every advantage, technology, money and society. The divide between the walls has a long established history. Gaia’s mother and father are taken by the Enclave for questioning, and Gaia is left to take on her mother role as midwife, while also keeping a secret safe. Uncertain as to what the secret means, Gaia enters the Enclave by stealth in order to find her parents and finds that the coveted world inside the wall is a lot darker than she expected.

With a plenitude of dystopias hitting the teen market, this one offered something new. There were several moments that took me by surprise.Gaia’s strong character is tinged with a strong sense of right and wrong that does not necessarily correspond with the law of the Enclave.

If you are looking for another book to fill the gap from Hunger Games, Matched or Delirium, Birthmarked is the next title you should read.

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Veronica Roth’s Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, I will preface this review with the fact that I TRULY enjoyed reading this book. I love the characters and the character development. Beatrice’s dystopian world is interesting and the choices she has to make prove her humanity.

The premise is that humanity decided to create 5 factions based upon the human characteristics that each group believed to be the downfall of the previous society. Each faction is assigned specific tasks to run the society–the selfless are in government, those who seek knowledge are teachers and researchers, the brave defend, etc. Those who stray outside their faction are often persecuted…which seems to be an obvious flaw in the creation of this society. My suspension of disbelief was un-suspendable for this divisive premise. I cannot see ANY future society attempt a new government BASED UPON DISTINCT DIFFERENCES who shun those with mixed personalities and those who value more than one attribute (bravery, peace, selflessness, knowledge and honesty).Like most dystopias, this one also priveleges the present system of democracy and does not offer any new insights into society’s–or humanity’s problems. This dystopia does not offer a solution for the current environmental, political or societal issues, but instead complicates a possible future in order to emphasize that we have got it right in the present.

That being said, this novel is full of action and suspense and I could not put it down after half-way through. I look forward to the rest of the trilogy.

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Sapphique by Catherine Fisher

Sapphique (Incarceron, #2)Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book much more than the first. While the first was great, this one was less predictable and there was more explanation about the world in which the story is set. This definite dystopia asks a lot of questions from its readers about the nature of reality, how technology can deceive reality and how dreams and the real intersect. Highly thought-provoking, I would recommend reading this title for the paradoxes of technology and science, creator and controller, futuristic past and the ruins of the future.

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Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein

Heinlein, Robert (1963). Podkayne of Mars. NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

A human resident of Mars, Podkayne (Poddy) is beautiful charming and intelligent. She wants more than anything to be a pilot and a career woman, though at the moment of writing her journal, she desires to visit Earth with her brother, Clark. Unfortunately due to a mix-up at the fertility lab, Poddy’s mother ends up giving “birth” to triplets and the trip is cancelled. Luckily, Poddy’s “Uncle” Tom–an important diplomat, Ambassador and friend of the family–offers to take Poddy and Clark on a trip to Earth, with a side trip to Venus. Little do the siblings know, their Uncle Tom is using them for leverage in intergalactic peace negotiation between Earth, Mars and Venus. Poddy’s and Clark’s lives are in danger from groups who oppose the peace negotiations. Kidnap, blackmail and possible death loom over the siblings and Tom as they must figure out a way to save their lives and keep the peace.

This novel is part of Heinlein’s juveniles for young adults and children. Often hailed as the first feminist science fiction text, Podkayne of Mars is…interesting. I am uncertain if I despise the book, or enjoy it because of the possibilities of dissection it presents. Certainly I can understand an argument for Poddy as a feminist: she wants a career before marriage, she holds power over men, and wants to have it all…in 1963. That is a fair argument. But this book was REprinted in 2010 (see various covers below) and has been reprinted continuously since its original publication. This fact amazes me, because as a member of Generation Y, I see merely an anti-feminist text: Poddy’s power comes from her sexuality, and her ambiguous fate in the end is caused by a maternal instinct to save a fairy baby. She is scorned for her desire to have a career, and as the book progresses her desire for a family and babies slowly overtakes her original ambitions. I intend on exploring these arguments in a paper panel about the “Fantastic Ridiculous” for the IAFA with a comparison to Katniss from The Hunger Games Trilogy.

How now to hook the Generation Z into such a dated text? If the book is presented as a historical text, and even as a ridiculous book, it is possible to gain critical readers who can explore this book in comparison to modern novels. I think that presenting potential readers with the more ridiculous and obviously anti-feminist quotes will stir interest and discussion. Some of these can include:

“But it is a mistake for a girl to beat out a male at any test of physical strength” (pg 66).

“It does not do to let any man of any age know that one (a  female) has brains, not on first acquaintance; intelligence in a woman is likely to make a man suspicious and uneasy” (pg 70).

Below are several covers from reprintings over the years.

 

Original 1963 Cover

Podkayne 1966

Podkayne Cover 1968

Podkayne 2010


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House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Farmer, Nancy (2002). The House of the Scorpion. New York: Simon and Schuster. 309 pages.

Oh my clones! This is definitely one of the best and most engaging books I have ever read. It is no wonder it was awarded the National Book Award, Newbery Honor, and Printz Honor.  Cloned from El Patron, the dictator of Opium, Matt is treated like an animal by most citizens, though because he shares the DNA of El Patron he is also protected and revered. Matt struggles against the stigma of being a clone–equal to that of swine in his society–of being accepted by others, accepting himself as human, and figuring out his role in the world.

The complexity of Matt’s relationship with El Patron ranges in extreme passion from hatred to love; he loves him for teaching him and giving him the opportunity to live, but he hates him for his totalitarian ways and egocentrism. Despite El Patron’s romanticizing of his childhood past, he does not clone himself to further his legacy or continue his bloodline as his nostalgic egocentrism might suggest. Instead, El Patron creates Matt for spare parts to ensure his life beyond the 140 years. Matt does not accept this fact until El Patron is on the verge of death, in need of a new heart and Matt is summoned to provide his. The ethical implications of creating life to sustain another is deeply embedded in the novel. Although the novel is actually set in an unknown future–there are hovercars and plankton farms–Opium is still 140 years behind though with the capacity of using the technology found in the rest of the world. The dichotomy of the past and future creates a society with vast class differences, the lowest being the “eejits” whose minds are not their own and are controlled through technology. Personal feelings about cloning aside, Opium allows cloning and labels clones as animals. The House of the Scorpion presents the opportunity to discuss the ethical dilemmas both in the book and how this future presented in the novel reflects the social order and the scientific advancements in our own society.

In order to hook young adults into reading about this engaging world, I would paint the scenario of this future before reading a passage:

During the wedding of Emilia and Steven, an arranged marriage, EL Patron succumbs to a hear attack. Matt’s childhood friend and first love, Maria who is Emilia’s sister, attempts to help Matt escape his fate as El Patron’s personal organ farm. Then read pages 223-227, which ends the chapter entitled “Betrayal” and segues into the next segment of Matt’s growth.

 

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Mockingjay (Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne (2010). Mockingjay. New York: Scholastic.

I was counting the days for Mockingjay‘s release. Katniss captured my attention in Hunger Games, and failed to relinquish her hold into Catching Fire. So naturally, I reread the first two books of the trilogy in the days prior to the final book’s release. Katniss’ naivete of her desirability, of her survival skills make her an engaging heroine. Katniss has unwittingly stood against the Capitol, not once, but twice and finds herself in the mythical District 13. I knew reentering Katniss’ world that Panem was on the brink of revolution, and Katniss’ involvement as the “mockingjay” and the face of the revolution would play into the trilogy’s resolution. Katniss becomes a pawn in District 13’s revolution against the Capitol, just as she was a pawn for the Capitol in the games. It is her headstrong and heartstrong instinct for survival that motivates her to take further action against both. Despite District 13’s effort merely to use Katniss as a rallying point and symbol, Katniss pushes herself into the action of the rebels against Panem which leads her to the Capitol’s defenses. Rigged like the games using the most advanced technology, Katniss and a group of rebels breach the defenses, but the outcome means more than just the lives of the players, but the lives of all in Panem.

Following  two very successful–and in my opinion unpredictable–novels Mockingjay felt rushed, chaotic and somewhat lacking. Katniss’ character remained consistent and the development of the other characters was authentic and realistic. Katniss’ younger sister Prim, grew from a little girl to be protected into an independent young woman with a purpose. Peeta faced torture and mind-control, making his gallant-can-do-no-wrong characterization much more interesting and developed. On the other hand, Gale’s character and his love for Katniss feel ambivalent and his decisions at the end of the novel feel contrived in order to create a sense of stability for Katniss.

The battle scenes and outwitting of the game-like elements surrounding the Capitol is an inventive way to bring the Games into all three novels; however, the descriptions of the ensuing battles were chaotic, disjointed and not easy to follow. I had to reread passages in order to follow the action descriptions.  Yet the world that Suzanne Collins created is one that seems plausible in the future with a strong government’s ability to develop and use advanced technology, while repressing citizens into poverty in order to keep them subordinate.  This contrasts with the dystopia created by Scott Westerfeld in his “Uglies Trilogy” (which is really four books) where the citizens are able to obtain any luxury and access technology with a virtual system of popularity and community service currency. Plus, once sixteen, all citizens become “pretty” and can get anything they want. Both Collins’ and Westerfeld’s dystopias have strong female heroines who both falter due to a warped friend-boyfriend-heroine love triangle. Why can’t a strong female protagonist exist without being motivated by a male?

Because of the themes and popularity of dystopian novels, hooking readers into this world is easy as showing the book trailer below. Or a read-aloud from pages 213 until 217, which ends with the words “Instead, i watch myself get shot on television.”

A homemade book trailer for Mockingjay:

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Double Helix by Nancy Werlin

Werlin, Nancy (2005). Double Helix. Penguin. 250 pages.

It has been a long time since I have read any book labelled a “mystery”. Nancy Werlin’s Double Helix is a mystery as Eli–brilliant, athletic Eli–on the verge of high school graduation loses his mother to Huntington’s Disease. Questioning his own chances of inheriting the degenerative disease, he asks for a job at Wyatt Transgenics in hopes of understanding his mother’s relationship with the genius Dr. Wyatt. Not only does Eli discover the nature of their relationship, but he discovers his own nature, how he can live despite his mother’s genetic failings, and how Dr. Wyatt puppeteered these events in Eli’s life.

Immediately: this book takes place in Cambridge, MA; this fact delights me. I thoroughly enjoy being able to envision the setting of a novel in real geographical terms. The fact that there multitudes of private labs and technology companies surrounding MIT and Harvard in Cambridge pushes the events of Double Helix into the realm of the possible. The science and genetics explained in the novel seem very and highly plausible (especially to the non-science-minded). Why wouldn’t scientists be able to isolate specific genes, alter them and prevent diseases? Why would the creation of chimeras be beyond current-day science? Ethically, this novel could pose very heated debates. Using gentics to prevent and cure diseases seems like a noble cause, but where do we draw the line in this type of research? When do the disposal of “waste products”  become unethical and even inhumane?

This novel immediately launched my brain into a series of questions, some which I very kindly suggested for you above. The technology for the events in this novel is available, and who can say that such events have not ALREADY transpired at some point, some where in the world. The genetic possibilities and social implications that Werlin presents in this novel are truly disturbing because of its possibility that it could happen NOW. Much science fiction, like Nancy Farmer’s House of the Scorpion also creates a novel based around eugenics; however, Farmer’s novel is CLEARLY SET IN THE FUTURE (which is emphasized by the presence of hovercars and an 140 year old man who created several clones of himself).

In order to lure young adults into exploring this science fictive mystery, it might be fun to suggest that the very popular, athletic and smart student–you can even ask for a name (for the sake of example, we’ll call her Angela)–may not be exactly…natural. Is Angela good at basketball without trying? Does she bother studying for tests? Does she have great skin and hair? These students of seeming perfection exist in high schools, engage potential readers in the topic of eugenics by alluding to the possibilities of being genetically enhanced before birth. What if we could all have perfect skin, brains and athletic prowress? What does that do to social hierarchy? This is the perfect novel to delve into the possibilities of biotechnology.

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