Tag Archives: sci-fi

The Dead


by Charlie Higson

I am not an aficionado of zombie stories.  Yes, I’ve had a few books and movies under my belt: thoroughly enjoyed World War Z and Zombieland.  But I am in no urgent need for yellow pus, green liquidy drippings, splattered red blood, or all sorts of creatively severed  body parts — any time, anywhere.  I did greatly appreciate the first book in Higson’s zombie series, The Enemy.  And finally got around to read the second installment, a prequel, a “history,” of The Enemy. 

I cannot be more pleased by The Dead.  There is everything I love: exploration of loyalty, what makes someone a leader or a follower, what gives people courage, survival strategies — all told in a highly realized, logically plausible setting and string of events.  Tension and surprises keep the reader incredibly involved and the passages describing the mind deterioration of some characters are simply brilliant.

In a few weeks, I know I’ll be ready for book 3 – The Fear. 



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V for Vendetta by Alan Moore art by…

5805V for Vendetta
by Alan Moore
art by David Lloyd

I really appreciated the intricate storytelling and some of the truly dark moments in this complete collection of the V stories. It’s great to finally know what this classic graphic novel is about and to have read something by the famed Alan Moore. At the same time, I’m not sure that I bought all the philosophical and political views underpinning the characters and the plot line: it seems to run too straight and too narrow down one singular line and everything worked out all according to V’s plans. That said, it is a rewarding read that demands quite a bit of focus and now I have to ponder hard about the ending: is it a brilliant treatment or does it too abrupt and unresolved? I’d love to hear others’ opinions on the series’ ending…

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February 8, 2013 · 6:20 pm

Finished Ready Player One I felt cheated by…

Finished Ready Player One.

I felt cheated by its incredibly simplistic ending and the not at all challenging message of, “Real Life is better than Virtual Life.” Have to say that it’s a great fun run and I really enjoyed Cline’s imagination of all the things one can do in a fantasy game — but they are not so out of what people have already created (except for the total immersion suits but that will come soon enough). When a story is set against a dystopian backdrop and when the characters start the tale by thinking of the big picture, one expects that there are some elements at the end of the tale that mirror or reflect what were presented at the beginning of the story. Mr. Cline did not accomplish that: instead, the story quickly turned into a simple tale of teenage love affair and taking down one evil enemy (or an evil entity) who is not much more than a painted cardboard villain: two-dimensional and quite shallow. So, I guess, I’m chalking this up to a book that I can easily recommend it to teens for pleasure reading but if I want to show anyone that Science Fiction is THE genre that comments on society and challenges many of our accepted notions of modern day life, I will go to so many other books, and not this one. (Epic by Kostick, written for readers as young as 10, deals with so much more ethical and societal issues set in the virtual reality game in a dystopic future, with much action and effective character development comes to mind.)


April 1, 2012 · 7:45 am

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

I absolutely enjoyed the many separate pieces in the book — thinking that each chapter can be treated as a short story since there is always a beginning and an end and not too much set up is needed to comprehend most of them. There are some really intensely gory and cringe-inducing scenes and a couple tales border on horror. Some are heart-warming, too.

One thing that I couldn’t quite get over, though, was the unevenness in keeping to the rules that the author set up for himself: That, supposedly, each piece in the book is a “translation” of something the “narrator” gathered from a massive electronic archive with audio, video, text, etc. — recorded history of various participants in the Robot Uprising and the global warfare afterwards. However, instead of using a 3rd person, observational tone, Wilson chose to tell many of these heroes’ stories from a first person point of view — EVEN if the recordings themselves are from an exterior angle. (And I just noticed that the first few stories are more in keeping with this framework — some stories are from a third person viewpoint while others are supposedly “narrated” by the participants themselves as interviewees or writers, etc. — but that consistency gradually fell apart and at the end there is a lot of “I” and how “I” felt even though the gathered records couldn’t have provided those perspectives.) And some of the voices are not quite in keeping with the characters themselves — or at least, not quite distinctive to be discernibly different from each other, even though some of these characters are drastically different in backgrounds and should probably have different tones. — Although I guess I can accept it because many of them are told from the reporter/archivist’s “voice.” (However, then why are they told from the “I” perspective?)

Still, I can see many readers enjoying the stories and gobbling up the scenes with relish!  And, I am so enamored with the cover design!

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100 pages into Matched by Ally Condie

I’m about 100 pages into Matched, a book quite beloved by many of my students these last seasons.  So far, I enjoy the straightforward narrative voice, the basic premise of the rigid society, and the sense that this Society is on a grand scale — there are reasons for why the Society “chose” to become this way.  The idea of IT as a counteraction of an information-overloaded world culture definitely will resonate with many young readers.  I am curious as to where Condie takes the tale and me next.

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The Knife of Never Letting Go

Author: Patrick Ness
Performer/Reader: Nick Podehl
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
CDs: 10 (12 hours)
Pub Date: 10/28/2010 and 9/13/2011

Fascinated, engrossed, emotionally affected, and admiring are some of the adjectives I associated with the experience of listening to this brilliant book, and its equally brilliant reader performer, Nick Podehl.  Podehl chose a rustic set of tones for all of his characters. With slight variations for each speaking role, he is entirely convincing as the innocent and willful Todd, the mild, intelligent but bewildered Viola, the the crazed cult leader Aaron, the faithful dog Manchee, and a host of other supporting characters.  Of course, the power of the story comes largely from the author: the imagination that created this futuristic and yet backward world, the skilled hand that penned the breathtaking pace which will NOT let go of the reader’s heart, and the thoughtful mind that wove in so many issues and themes for the readers to ponder.I find the device of the “virus” that forcefully and artificially separates men and women and how they share/not share their thoughts with others ingenious, and as a female reader, agreeing with some of the scenarios.  (I wonder how male readers view this aspect.)Manchee the dog is endearing and with such a sorrowful fate which gives the book and Todd one powerful push in the direction it/he needs to move.  I can’t wait to listen to the rest of the trilogy!  (And my apologies to Monica for not heeding her enthusiastic recommendation for the past couple of years to read this series much earlier!)
This is a thrilling dystopian science fiction story with a very Western flavor: the characters carry rifles, farm the land, and have abandoned all modern technologies in a far off planet in an uncertain (but must be very distant) future. Lots of harrowing scenarios, people (and animals) die, and it ends with a gigantic cliff hanger.  It touches on the topics of religion, of organized crimes, of government styles, of how men and women interact, and of the nature of evil.


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Days Gone By: #1 of The Walking Dead

Days Gone Bye (The Walking Dead, #1)by Robert Kirkman

The first installment in the long series focuses mostly on the relationships of the living with the backdrop of extreme hardship of the zombie plague. I imagine that that will be the flavor for the rest of the series. The author does a great job capturing the characters’ traits and presenting the interplays between characters with conflicting interests. The tension is high, the dialog realistic, and the artwork is well executed. Now I have to read the rest of the series!

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Brain Camp

Brain Campby Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, and Faith Erin Hicks

It’s really quite an oddly enjoyable weird tale. Some of the images can be disturbing, but effectively and purposefully so. I think plenty of young readers will find this a very interesting read.


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The Dark City

The Dark City (Relic Master, #1)by Catherine Risher

I found myself thoroughly engrossed in this tale of fantasy/scifi blend. Usually, I get annoyed by authors who mix magical elements in otherwise supposedly a science fiction world. It always seems to be a cop-out: when something cannot be sufficiently explained with scientific theories or technical knowledge, we just throw in some magical powers and voila, the story can move on. Fisher did something different here: she created a world of magical elements with a few technological gadgets thrown in here and there. The little guessing games of what each object is (an easy one is a pair of binoculars made with the “unfamiliar” materials – plastic? -) entertains and intrigues the reader.

I would have liked to see the Dark City developed a bit more — the city is too vaguely described and I simply couldn’t figure out why there are still people in this place since the readers are not shown how the commerce works to support such a place and its inhabitants.

Still, can’t wait for the book to be released (May) so I can promote it to my young readers and can’t wait to read the 3 sequels which will come out in quick succession: June, July, and August!

(Based on the Advanced Readers Copy)

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Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Goby Kazuo Ishiguro

This Science Fiction reads like a lulling memoir, from a young woman’s view point, who had an almost idyllic boarding school / well-run orphanage experience growing up. The book is full of anecdotes about her friendships with two classmates and their somewhat odd and entwined past. Since I knew that the book is SciFi and there are enough hints and clues embedded in the incidents, I was never surprised by the way the story progresses.

Yes, like many readers, I was questioning “how is this possible?” and “how can they just take it and take it and no one rebels?” For me, that is what differentiates this alternative history/scifi from many other of genre that treats this topic: the young people who are inculcated since birth of their “uses” in the world would not question the system and would not want to organize anything remotely like a movement to gain rights for themselves. They donate, they care, and then they “complete.” For this, I greatly respect and admire the author.

Did I absolutely love the book? Not exactly, since it is perhaps too quiet and introspective, and the too minute examination of characters and their motivations is too “well done” (and thus dry and tough, not quite juicy and supple) to my taste. I wonder if this is told from Tommy’s point of view and how he might have acted if he had different encounters and friends at the “school.” That said, I believe this is definitely a great conversation starter and a worthwhile read.


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Pathfinder (Serpent World, #1)by Orson Scott Card

I really can’t decide whether I enjoyed this book or totally couldn’t stand it. On the one hand, I LOVE the ideas and the weird (but almost plausible the way Card presents them) time/space travel ideas; on the other hand, the story moves at a snail’s pace and so much information gets repeated so many times after I already “GOT” the ideas and just wanted to see some action or some emotional exchanges.

Some reviewers claim that Pathfinder is like Ender’s Game. I cannot disagree more. I think, at most, it is like Xenocide and Children of the Mind: in their focusing on Card’s leaping scientific (but fantastic) complexities and strong political/social maneuvering discourses and also in that Card did not place as strong an emphasis on the impeccable pacing and climax-building as he did for both Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow.

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Clockwork Angel

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, Book 1)by Cassandra Clare

I really really enjoyed the book. What’s not to like? An entertaining combination of Angel/Demon/Warlock/Vampire/Automaton/Romance (torturous)/Action/Gore! And I’m so into Steampunk right now so this feeds into my current passion beautifully.   I didn’t read the trilogy that came out in the past few years by Clare so couldn’t compare to see if this prequel is better or worse. I also don’t know whether the author, as some critics of this book have pointed out, keeps recycling the same plot pattern, characters, and relationships. For me, it feels fresh and full of earnest energy. I couldn’t put it down. Now, I have to wait for the next installments!

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Sapphique (Incarceron, #2)by Catherine Fisher

Although I still file this title under sci-fi, there is little scientific explanation of what’s going on in this convoluted sequel to the highly compelling Incarceron. Instead, the Art Magicke seems to be the predominant force that moves the events forward in the story. The belief in Magic is understandable for those in the Prison, not that convincing when it leaks into the Realm, and feels almost lazy when used as plot solutions. Of course, I can make the leap in assumptions to explain how the mind can be transported by the Portal into an object inside the Prison, but I would rather prefer that such rationales are offered by the author.

Perhaps this is not a sci-fi series at all. I need to adjust my expectations.

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Mockingjay Delivers!

Mockingjayby Suzanne Collins

The story of my obtaining the book first:

I was distraught when I realized that I would be vacationing on a cruise in Bermuda on the release day of Mockingjay. I searched the Internet and found a bookstore (The Bermuda Bookstore). I emailed them an order for the book. A week ago, they emailed me back and informed me that the book was already available in the store. But, of course, I couldn’t get the book until this past Wednesday when we docked. We docked in Hamilton. The bookstore is 3 blocks away and lovely! Due to the no-tax Bermudian law, I paid $18.00 for the book! (No surcharges for pre-order or overseas order.)

Since the moment I got the book, I carried it everywhere and tried to read as much as I could: at the beach, on the boat taking the family to dive and to the coral studded ocean floor, in the dining area when everyone else was lounging or eating their meals…. (And the book took a little dip in the wading pool when I slipped and fell into the shallow water – but banging my head against the hard tiled floor…)

Finally, before coming home, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of miles south east of New York City, I finished the book last night. Here are just a brief summary of my reactions:

I truly appreciated how Collins carefully planned and fluidly executed this emotionally authentic conclusion of the trilogy. Loved the surprises and the turns of events. (Although, I definitely predicted the final event from quite a while back, I wonder if young readers who are less jaded would have seen it coming… I hope this comes to them as a true surprise and satisfyingly so!)

I was really afraid of a heightened romantic element hyped by the Team-Peeta/Team-Gale promotion that could potentially spoil the story, which, to me, is much more about how humans and humans with powers function in our society, and much less about just whom Katniss would wind up with! Collins weaves the love-triangle side-tale and the relationships into the thematic structure of narrative beautifully and I am completely pleased with how the events of these three characters unfold and end.

I only wish that there had been more interesting and inventive technologies and strategies that were so prominent and make for a more exciting SciFi read. But that is only a slight dissatisfaction from a SciFi junky.

Here are some other things I really loved about the book:

Those little word plays and allusions in the book: Like Coin’s name. She is the “other side of the same coin” as Snow. Or Katniss’s squadron is 451 and things BURN and she burns…

I thought the “real/not real” game is a very clever symbol for the whole trilogy: the dichotomy of what real life is and what is captured on screen and of what the leaders of District 13 says they are working toward and the reality of how they carry out their goals. And of course, it works so beautifully at the end when Katniss and Peeta chatted about their lives and life together.

This book, as many have stated, feels different than book 1 and 2, because it is a book of revelations, especially Katniss’s revelations about herself and her world. I like her as a character so much more in this installment. I’d say that Mockingjay delivers!


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Incarceron (Chapter 32 – Gasp and Tears)

by Catherine Fisher

This is indeed a book worthy of note, worthy of passion, and worthy of thought. It amazed me how I could only guess at the truth about Incarceron as I read and when ALL the truth is unveiled, there are still many many things I want to know and now am eager to read the next installment.

I really want to know more about each major character and really need to know how things are going to turn out for both the INside and the Outside. I even feel sorry for the Prison — the synthetic se…more This is indeed a book worthy of note, worthy of passion, and worthy of thought. It amazed me how I could only guess at the truth about Incarceron as I read and when ALL the truth is unveiled, there are still many many things I want to know and now am eager to read the next installment.

I really want to know more about each major character and really need to know how things are going to turn out for both the INside and the Outside. I even feel sorry for the Prison — the synthetic sentient being that can never escape itself. SOOOO good :) *sigh* *content*

The title of this post records my reaction to the revelation that’s hidden from the readers (although a lot of clues that made me think of this possibility and that Jared and Claudia already discovered some shocking evidence by then) for most of the book (34 chapters in all.)  Reading these passages (on pages 411 and 412 in the 2010 Dial HD edition) made me shudder and brought involuntary tears to my eyes.  Brilliant and horrifying and unfathomable… but so believable once you’ve lived through the book as its faithful reader.

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by Scott Westerfeld

I’m so glad that I finally got around to read Uglies — a popular book amongst many of my students, mostly girls. Now that I have read it, I have to adjust my perception of it 180 degrees — it is NOT a book for just girls; it is NOT really a YA-only book; it has a LOT of adventurous actions; it has QUITE A BIT of complexities. A gripping read and I will promote it to both boys and girls, to SciFi readers, and to those who want to think hard and dig deep into a world of dystopia.

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Pining for Kiki III, Waiting for Katniss #3, and Excited about Bitterblue!

I (and thousands, if not millions of young readers) need, need, need, to read the NEXT INSTALLMENT in the Kiki Strike series.  The second book was published in 2007.  It’s 2010 and I know the manuscript has not even been submitted for book 3.  Rumor has it that the projected publication date for the third book is 2012 — FIVE — FIVE years after its predecessor.   A child who discovered Kiki Strike and the Shadow City in 2006 at age 9 will be 15 in 2012 and almost too old for it!  We collectively BEG YOU, Kirsten Miller, to finish writing book three and let us have the joy of reading it!  (But, at the same time… we DO understand that you want to make a good book, a good story, and to not disappoint your loyal fans — so, if you are having trouble, we wish you the best at overcoming the problems!)

Mockingjay, as the third (and final?) book in the Hunger Games series is titled, will be out in the stores on August 24th, 2010.  The cover and announcement can be found at the Scholastic’s blog: On Our Minds @ Scholastic.  What do you think of the color?  And isn’t David Levithan hilarious?  (Quote: “Panem is not shaken up when District 9 is nominated for a best picture Oscar.”)

And I can’t be more excited about the prospect of reading Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore — which is some sort of a sequel to Graceling but, as the title indicates, will be about Bitterblue and her Grace.  I want to be surprised,  moved, thrilled, and impressed by it the same way I did for both Graceling and Fire.  And Ms Cashore, keep it up with the one-word titles!  It will be your signature move.

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World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Although I thoroughly enjoyed many many aspects of this book, including its relentless social commentary about our current world and the author’s ability to present a global scene of one disaster that affects everyone on earth, and many of the scenes are haunting and affective. There are a few things that I thought are less successful:

Once in a while, you kind of “hear” some interviewees’ own voices but most of the time, you are just reading the reports from one person and that person is not very good at faithfully capturing the voices he encountered. Instead, most of the segments have the same sentence structures and choices of words or ways to present ideas so there are not the kind of oral history authenticity that one expects and thus lacks refreshing varieties. After 1/3 of the book, you feel like you’re being “droned on.”

The “plot” lacks an emotional arc — it follows a chronology of the war and at the very end some of the characters reappear to give their final says about WWZ but those words of wisdom pack little or no emotional punches. And the book just ends. When I finally finished the last page (after reading it quite slowly for something that’s supposed to be gripping,) my reaction was a plain, “Good, now I can get on to another, more exciting book.” The irony is that in the Introduction, the reporter/narrator specifically claims that he compiled these stories for their emotional values and that this book is not his but those who he interviewed, and how he has “tried to maintain as invisible a presence as possible,” while the whole time you cannot quite get to the emotional core or authentic voices of the interviewed.

I do understand that it is extremely high calling to tell a story via so many voices and Brooks achieved quite a bit in this audacious, imaginative, and oftentimes enlightening, book.

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Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Was not quite wowed by it as I had expected. I love the final book design (I read the galley) with its gorgeous cover and the amazing map on the inside of the cover.

Reading the extremely detailed passages about how all the mechanics work and each movement of the “machines” (be they purely mechanical or bio-mechanical) echoed back to my experience with the second Transformer movie: I wanted to get over the technical parts and the visual effects to reach the core of the STORY. It’s a frustrating experience.

Leviathan does have better storytelling than some of the recent big budget movies and as I approached the end of the tale, witnessing the two main characters develop respect and affection toward each other, I thought, “Now let’s hope the second book is a better read, with a more solid plot and more character development.” Also have to note that the world-building is definitely superb.

View all my goodreads reviews >>

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The Day of the Pelican

The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted to put it on the shelf of “Historical Fiction” and then realized that, hmm… it is really a book of more or less current events in the world that the young readers are still living. 9/11 happened when the current 5th graders were 2 or 3. So, the “historical” part is recent, so recent that I wonder how we can best discuss the story with young readers.

Paterson did a fabulous job turning such complex political and national picture into something easy to understand and identify with for its intended audience: 10-12-year-olds. I admire the main character Meli’s tenacity and her struggle to remain a decent human being and yet acknowledging the existence of hatred in her heart. Her brother is another amazingly realized character — although seemingly not a main character, this is really HIS story. Even the title refers to the day that brought all the changes upon him. The more I think about it, the more I marvel at the hardship he had to endure and survive and at the final positive change within.

This is an important book of our time and I wish many children will read it with their adults.

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