And All The Stars by Andrea K. Höst

Published: 30th September 2012Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Self-Published
Pages: 204
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/Science Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Come for the apocalypse. Stay for cupcakes. Die for love. Madeleine Cost is working to become the youngest person ever to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. Her elusive cousin Tyler is the perfect subject: androgynous, beautiful, and famous. All she needs to do is pin him down for the sittings. None of her plans factored in the Spires: featureless, impossible, spearing into the hearts of cities across the world – and spraying clouds of sparkling dust into the wind. Is it an alien invasion? Germ warfare? They are questions everyone on Earth would like answered, but Madeleine has a more immediate problem. At Ground Zero of the Sydney Spire, beneath the collapsed ruin of St James Station, she must make it to the surface before she can hope to find out if the world is ending.

This is an amazing story about friendship, aliens, and Australians. I loved it from start to finish; I read it in one sitting and I couldn’t put it down. From the start I was engaged as I, alongside Madeleine, try to work out what has happened. One reason why I loved this story was because I easily recognised these places and that I could visualise where the story takes place which was a great experience. The other was because I was genuinely enthralled by this story; there were surprises, there was mystery, there was a brilliantly executed story that was unlike anything I had read before filled with characters I instantly liked and connected with.

I loved the concept Höst has conveyed because it’s grand but simple at the same time. Don’t let the sci fi nature deter you if that isn’t your thing, there is a lot more focus on people and their situation that anything outlandishly science fiction. This was also a great dystopian story without it being a complete dystopia. The fact there was the Spires, the mystery dust and their consequences and not a full on apocalypse meant that things like the internet and television still operated. I was a bit confused about how television and internet was working originally before I realised that the Event doesn’t take out any technology and that the aftermath only affects the human population. Without giving too much away, I loved how the aftermath played out. It was engrossing and thrilling and there were wonderful moments of downtime where you got to intricately know the characters and see them unite.

Madeleine is a great character. I loved her determination for winning the Archibald Prize and she is a strong person but still has vulnerabilities. She isn’t quite a leader, but she isn’t a follower either. She is bright and determined and with all the strange and fearful things around her she remains strong and compassionate. Each of the characters felt unique and I could picture them easily as the story plays out. You become attached and invested and Höst uses that to her advantage with all her secrets and surprises.

The resulting mystery was so satisfactory. It was a unique answer to why what was happening was happening and I loved that sometimes the answer doesn’t need to be overly complicated or extreme. I loved the action and the unexpected but despite all that was happening it never escaped feeling plausible, grounded and real. I would certainly recommend giving this a read if you want a fresh story not only set in Australia, but a great take on the apocalypse.

You can purchase And All the Stars via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Tomorrow’s World by Guy Portman

Published: 22nd November 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Self-Published
Pages: 220
Format: Ebook
Genre: Science Fiction
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

The future’s here and it’s great. You can live for a very long time, you can experience the dream in virtual reality, and you can even worship David Hasselhoff. But not everyone is feeling fulfilled …

With the relentlessly increasing mandatory retirement age, Terrence can see no end to his life of drudgery. And then there are the compensation claim drones …

On the other side of the pond, Walter is faring far better. With the assistance of age-defying medication, the kung fu hyper-capitalist plans to prosper indefinitely. However, there are plenty of people who want to see him fail.

Will these two contrasting characters thrive in a future that’s changing forever? Or even survive? And what about the rest of us?

If you like dark humour and scathing satire, then you will relish experiencing tomorrow’s outlandish world through the eyes of its colourful cast of characters.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book by the author for review.

I read the forward before starting because I thought it would be a good preparation for this story and I was right. The unique format and the short story/chapter style certainly needed some context beyond the blurb.

It didn’t take long to get into the flow of this futuristic world. Initially you can see a semblance to our own society, albeit in the near future, but before long it descends into a strange future where the issues of today are heightened and reflected back on us with strange new technologies and obsessions at the forefront.

The format and writing style is a clever choice and one that works especially well for this kind of story. The short snippets and chapters focus on key characters but also random, often unnamed characters and scenes offering up a rounded view of the wider world and society. Portman also cleverly circles back as we see a few reoccurring lesser characters throughout the timeline.

At times I felt that it was perhaps too long, but I understand that in following Terrance’s life it needed to be long. I enjoyed the satire and the reflection of the society, the only issue is around the halfway mark I felt it had run its course and I was growing tired of a few characters but thankfully it picked up again. One thing that kept me going was the things happening away from the main characters; I enjoyed the subtle reflections of the changing society and the snippets of life from these brief chapters and scenes.

The short chapters are certainly a benefit and the jumps in time allow a lot more narrative to be covered, especially with a plot like this. Terrence’s story is woven throughout alongside these reoccurring and one off characters and an overview of how society is progressing further into the late 21st century and 22nd century.

The story has three main parts, starting with the everyday before coming to the revolution then the inevitable rise of the machines. While not a complete overhaul, there is a demonstration of what the world would look like if everything was automated and the impact that has one humanity and society.

The language is an odd balance of satire and mockery, definitely dark humour. I liked the sardonic tone and the frustration of Terrance in his life, each key character had a definitive voice and there is a lot of humour and reflection that is recognisable in today’s society. One thing I noted was that while the narrative is meant to be inclusive of all genders, sexualities, and religions, there are multiple cases of trans people being referred to as “he/she” which satire or not, sat weirdly with me.

I enjoyed the far future world we see at the end, especially seeing teenagers trying to understand the old world in comparison to their current one was humorous. The impact of virtual reality and other advancements means they’ve ended up in a slightly Wall-E-esque world minus the spaceship.

If science fiction and dark humour are your thing then this will certainly be enjoyable. It is bizarre but there is a charm to it as well. There is a lot to take from it and a lot of little gems to enjoy.

You can purchase Tomorrow’s World via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Wordery | Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody

Published: 17th February 2003Goodreads badge
Publisher: 
Starscape
Pages: 246
Format: Sci Fi/Fantasy
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

For Elspeth Gordie freedom is-like so much else after the Great White-a memory. 

It was a time known as the Age of Chaos. In a final explosive flash everything was destroyed. The few who survived banded together and formed a Council for protection. But people like Elspeth-mysteriously born with powerful mental abilities-are feared by the Council and hunted down like animals…to be destroyed.

Her only hope for survival is to keep her power hidden. But is secrecy enough against the terrible power of the Council?

This is the book which introduces us to Carmody’s world after the Great-White but aside from a brief mention and a few other references you don’t get a great sense of what it is like.

Elspeth is a nice character, sweet, no real substance despite her magic powers and the first person narration. A lot of the characters have little depth but they progress the story and fill a gap. The dialogue is stilted and there is a lot of telling but since the whole book is like this you find yourself just putting up with it and moving on.

The plot itself was interesting, it was just simple and poorly explored. It took a little while to get into the story as Carmody gradually brings us into the world but it was enjoyable in its own way. I didn’t dislike it and there were moments of mystery and intrigue but I wasn’t wowed. But, with seven books in the series it’s obviously going to be a wide world that gets slowly developed. I hope it lives up to my expectations because I want to enjoy it and now that I have finally started, I want it to make me regret not starting it when I was first told about it 20 years ago.

I wasn’t instantly grabbed but I didn’t dislike it enough to make me stop. Based off this first book I will start the second. The narrative picks up further into the book and leaves us with somewhere to go. Even though it isn’t the best, I’m trusting it’s a story that needs unpacking slowly. Just not too slowly.

You can purchase Obernewtyn via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson | Fishpond | Wordery

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Published: 16th August 2011 (print) / 5th April 2012 (audio)Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Crown Publishers / Random House AudioBooks
Pages: 374 / 15 hrs and 40 mins
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Format:
 Paperback/Audio
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. 

I loved this story. I loved that Wade was able to geek out about his love of videos games and it was a widely supported thing. I also loved how Cline brilliantly and so creatively managed to combine popular culture and video games with a futuristic dystopian setting while also making it feel so retro at the same time.

It was a good move on Cline’s part to establish that Wade was obsessed with all things 80s. It made sense in terms of Halliday and it helped include as many references as possible without needing to explain it to the readers too much. Knowing Wade is the kind of stickler for details and knowing so much, it also made sense to have so many references about every song that plays or game that’s mentioned. The moments of convenience where Wade knows what something is to tell us, the uninformed reader, doesn’t come across as unbelievable because it has been long proven that Wade knows obscure details and is proud of it.

The world and future Cline has created sounds both amazing, terrifying, and also pretty much believable. The detail he included is astounding because so often it doesn’t mean anything but it expands on the OASIS universe or real society just that little bit more. I loved that when Wade was logged into the OASIS you felt like you too were immersed inside the virtual reality and I could easily imagine every move he made inside the system. Cline’s writing explains the futuristic dystopian world wonderfully and creates a vivid image of that society is like at both ends and across the country and how it connects naturally with the OASIS system.

There is everything to love about this book if you like the 80s, or are a fan of videogames. The 80s references are abundant, and the joy in reliving movies and games from a less technological time is brilliant. It gave me a great appreciation of how far videos games have come, even if a few of them were fabricated the familiar concept was there; creating avatars, inventories and points, not to mention the solving of riddles and treasure hunts. The other retro joy was remembering arcade games and seeing familiar games in the spotlight again.

The 2045 setting allowed Cline to take from both worlds, not so far in the future that a focus and having believable knowledge and access to 20th century media wasn’t possible, but also far enough ahead that based on current technology and gaming trends, it is also highly believable that we could get to that stage with minds like Halliday at the helm.

There are a myriad of surprises in this book, you never know what to expect because you don’t know what kind of world Cline has created and when anything is possible inside virtual reality, anything is possible. What I found interesting was that I actually found this quite believable. I could see that if such a system existed that there would be those who would try and monetise it and make it more exclusive. I could also see that when there is a mass fortune on the line people can get desperate.

Cline’s imagination is astounding. He has created a world and a virtual world that brings together so many vast and obscure references that even though I knew only a few, I still loved that they were there. I had so much trust in him that these games and characters existed I didn’t even question it. This is just one of the reasons I loved this book. It is so clever, and the OASIS is such a fantastic world that the inside jokes and references make it a better experience, and the excitement Wade has as he hunts for the egg is shared by the reader. Well, this reader anyway.

It’s not just the references or the structure, the characters he has put into this world make all the difference as well. The development and understanding of online relationships is wonderful and I found myself wishing that such a system like OASIS existed because it sounds amazing. Wade’s online connections as Parzival with Art3mis, Aech, and all the other online avatars demonstrates a great community and allows Cline to show off more of this amazing OASIS that he has created and allows him to show more sides of its functions, away from just hunting for the egg.

I listened to both the audiobook and read the physical book. The audio was read by Wil Wheaton and he did a great job. It was especially more enjoyable because Wil himself is mentioned in the book as well as multiple Star Trek references.  I like to think that even if you didn’t like or play video games or even if you don’t like or understand a lot of the references you would still enjoy this book. It has mystery and suspense, and there are twists and turns and surprises that make it an engaging read. Like a video game there are battles and side quests, and there are levels that you must go through even if you don’t realise it when you read. An important part too is that Cline keeps the timeline realistic, understanding that with all puzzles there can be short bursts and long waits, and Cline fits his story into this mould perfectly.

I think I could go on about this book forever but I won’t. I urge you to read it if it’s something you think you would like, even if you don’t think you will give it a go. It’s an adventure and a mystery and it’s dystopia all in one.

You can purchase Ready Player One via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

QBD | Fishpond | Dymocks

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Angus & Robertson | Wordery

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

Published: 25th July 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Tinder Press
Pages: 341
Format: Paperback
Genre: Science Fiction Dystopia
★   ★  – 2 Stars

GATHER THE DAUGHTERS tells the story of an end-of-the-world cult founded years ago when ten men colonised an island. It’s a society in which men reign supreme, breeding is controlled, and knowledge of the outside world is kept to a minimum. Girls are wives-in-training: at the first sign of puberty, they must marry and have children. But until that point, every summer, island tradition dictates that the children live wildly: running free, making camps, sleeping on the beach. And it is at the end of one such summer that one of the youngest girls sees something so horrifying that life on the island can never be the same again.

I first picked this up because the blurb sounded interesting. I liked the idea of this mystery and what happened at the end of the summer. What suddenly changed for all these girls? However, what I found when I started reading was a strange story that had great potential to be an eerie cult society but still failed to hold my interest. I soon found myself skimming it because while I was intrigued about the mystery when I first picked it up, I wasn’t engaged enough to read the rest.

Melamed tells the story through the eyes of a select few girls. There are chapters devoted to these girls and each of their stories and experiences and they cross over with one another’s lives. They are all widely different from one another, and yet they are similar as well. The overarching nature of their lives a constant reminder and is almost a threat hanging over them.

There’re a few uncomfortable things hinted at but not shown about what happens to these young girls, and the strong cult vibe is a little unsettling, though curious in its own right as most cult stories are. But the problem I found is that while there is a mystery about the whole island and the people within it, and you are following the strange and bizarre lives of these girls over many months, it isn’t a very engaging story to read.

It was curious and odd, which was interesting in its own way, but it also had moments when it was just boring. If you look deep into it there is a strong female power of rebellion and defiance, of a powerful patriarchy and an unease about how and why this entire society even happened. Melamed does tell a good story of joy and freedom, coupled with imprisonment and control. The darkness ever present as the secrets that are untold and the taboo moments are skirted around hang heavy over the vast amount of characters you have to keep track of. And yet, I still had to skim the story because I didn’t really care and these great moments, while recognisable, weren’t compelling.

This duel emotion was perplexing because as I say, on the surface it should be an interesting read, albeit eerie and unsettling. I felt nothing for the characters and I wasn’t interested in what happened to them or what they were going to experience. The few surprises were nice but had no real effect on my reading and I found myself skipping pages just to get further into the story and closer to the end, still not game to stop entirely in case there was some answer or mystery to be revealed because if the mystery hinted at was somewhere in what I had already read, it wasn’t really worth the trouble.

You can purchase Gather the Daughters via the following

Book Depository | Dymocks

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia

Fishpond | Wordery | QBD

Amazon Aust | Amazon

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