Green Mars (Mars Trilogy, Book 2)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Green Mars (Mars Trilogy, Book 2)
Kim Stanley Robinson

Hugo winner - 1994

Premise: Sequel to Red Mars. Scientists, settlers, and their children fight over the future of Mars.

For better and for worse, this was more of the same from the book before. In other words, different sections follow different characters, and together the stories show the next stage of Martian technology and politics.

The first two sections introduce two new central characters. The first is Nirgal, the son of some of the original scientists. His section started interesting - being raised in a hidden colony by a group of geniuses will make your childhood trippy - but I got bored with him before the end of his section.

The second was Art Randolph, a Terran sent from one of the super-powerful corporations to try to make an alliance with the underground. This story might have been better if I'd cared at all about him.

Ugh, this book is hard. Not hard to read, but hard to be compelled by. It explores the various religions and philosophies growing among the Martian population, the difficulties faced by individuals and groups as the underground movement struggles with Terran corporations for control, and individual stories of the remaining first settlers, but for me, somehow, all of this felt sterile. I was interested - it's well written and researched - but never invested.

Also, I thought that the longevity treatment invented in the first book felt like a cheat. Like something inserted into the world just so that the author could use the same central characters to tell a story playing out over hundreds of years. It stands out because so much of the science is carefully explained, and then this is some magic thing that just is. It's true that some of the most emotional parts of this book involve the treatment and the unexpected mental and emotional consequences of extending your lifespan. But I never quite got over that first feeling.

Was it terrible? No. Did it have moments that were intriguing and touching? Yes. Overall was it just too dang long? Absolutely.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, Book 1)

Monday, March 19, 2018

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, Book 1)
Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, 2015

Read Harder 2018 Challenge: The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle-grade series

Premise: When a remote mining colony is attacked, teenagers Kady and Ezra are among those picked up by a rescue ship. Before they can reach a civilized part of the galaxy, though, they'll have to not only outrun their pursuers but also deal with whatever is causing problems with the warship's AI.

I really wanted to like this book. It's so pretty!

The gimmick is that the book is a dossier put together after the fact, chronicling an "incident." Said incident involves an attack on a remote mining facility by a rival corporation. The documents follow the specific experiences of Kady and Ezra from their initial interviews after the attack to psychological assessments to their communications with each other and with others onboard their respective ships, and the story is expanded with other perspectives and logs from the AI system.

This presentation means that you are seeing schematics, reading chat logs and memos, seeing posters and photos, etc. It's a neat presentation.

Unfortunately, it's just a gimmick. While it was an interesting experience, I saw almost no reason that this story was better told in this format than in a more traditional format.

It bugged me a little when the authors cheated as well. There are "descriptions of surveillance footage" written "by analysts," but if this were in fact a dossier, the actual footage would have been included. To me, it just feels like an excuse to stick in some more traditional description of action to break up the format.

To be clear, the big third act twist would have been more challenging to deliver in another format. However, I'm still kinda pissed about this.

I saw the twist coming, although not too far in advance, and I really liked it. I was enjoying the book okay, but the twist really upped my engagement. As I got closer to the end of the book, I was getting interested in where the series would go next. I thought of a lot of interesting possibilities. And then the authors went with the most uninteresting option by undermining their own plot and reducing the whole several-hundred-page exercise to a pile of fluff.

I was looking for sci-fi mystery/thriller, and I got a YA romance. But not even a romance. The book told me that Kady and Ezra had been together and that they loved each other, but I never read a page that convinced me of that. I don't know why they got together. I don't know what they like about each other other than that they're the same age. Kady is a tech supergenius and Ezra is... a jock, I guess? I don't know why Kady's a supergenius, she just is at the start. He "loves" her, but I know as much about their relationship as I do about the couple in a jewelry ad.

So I had a lot of trouble giving a rat's ass whether these two kids could get back together.

I've seen a lot of love for the thriller parts of this, but, come on you guys. It's the metaplot to Serenity with less interesting characters. The AI stuff was fine, but I've seen better.

I just... I am not the audience for this book, maybe.

1 Star - Didn't Like It, Mostly Due to the Dumb Ending.

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America

Monday, March 12, 2018

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump's America
Edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding, 2017

Read Harder 2018 - an essay anthology

Premise: Twenty-three powerful, intersectional perspectives on feminism and women in America today.

Last year I tried reading a few books of reactions and essays on the current political situation, and I kept getting bogged down in things I already knew or perspectives I didn't appreciate. This is the book I was waiting for.

I don't agree immediately with every point that every author has to say, and some of them contradict each other. On some level, that is the point.

This is a book that personalizes a broad cross-section of women's experience, including women of every color and creed. Women who are afraid for their healthcare and women who are afraid for their children. Women who work in global health or reproductive rights. Women who face racism, misogyny, or transphobia personally, or try to dismantle it on behalf of others. Women who don't trust any party in the American political system and women who worked wholeheartedly on Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Some personal highlights: Nicole Chung on dealing with her conservative, adoptive family. Kera Bolonik writes about being a Jewish lesbian raising a black son. Sady Doyle on how muddying the lines between mental health and immorality protects abusers. Kate Harding writes a powerful and nuanced piece about racism, sexism, and understanding the complicated relationship between the early women's suffrage movement and abolitionists/early civil rights movement. Cheryl Strayed pours out political heartbreak onto the page like no one else.

For me, the strength of the book was that while I clutched as if to a life-preserver some authors' words that crystallized and spoke to so much of what I have felt, I was also invited to sit with other perspectives. It's intended to make you face what it means to be intersectional, and the last few essays make that crystal clear.

The authors are asking you to see them, to see their individual pains and worries and struggles, and then to stand for a progressive, inclusive future. And if you don't understand every point, every perspective yet, don't blame yourself, but don't give up on being compassionate and able to grow.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Jane, Unlimited

Monday, March 5, 2018

Jane, Unlimited
Kristin Cashore, 2017

Premise: Jane is grieving the loss of her Aunt Magnolia, the woman who raised her. She dropped out of college and doesn't know what to do with her life. Maybe that's why she accepts when an acquaintance invites her to stay at her family's creepy mansion. But eventually she'll have to make a choice.

Wow. This was a very unique book, and very well-written, and intriguing. I didn't love all of it, but I did find it extraordinary and striking.

I have to talk about the plot in order to explain.

The first part of the book is lovely. It's dreamlike. Jane stumbles around the big strange house observing the strange behavior of its various inhabitants. There is clearly something going on. People sneaking around in the dead of night, oblique references and whispers in the walls, none of the family members or friends seem to like each other that much, a dog that won't leave her alone but doesn't like anyone else. Missing artwork, missing people, attraction, confusion, and secrets.

Then Jane is faced with a choice of which mystery to follow up. And the book splits.

The rest of the book is five different endings to the story. Like a choose-your-own-adventure, except in sequence.

I found the first ending particularly unsatisfying because it was much more grounded, turning the dreamlike surrealism into a concrete classic mystery. I liked the more wacky, out-there endings more.

In some endings, Jane acts on her attraction for Ivy. In some, she doesn't. In some, she discovers things about her aunt or other people in the house, and in some, she learns different things. What's both interesting and (at times) frustrating is that the endings build on each other or leave convenient gaps such that all the answers could potentially be true, even as the final outcomes are different in each ending because of Jane's actions. You can see stories that went one way in ending one playing out in the background of other endings, potentially going a different way.

The other fascinating (or gimmicky, pick your perspective) thing is that each ending is in a different genre. Ending three, for example, is horror, and I found it REALLY effectively horrific, so bear that in mind. Ending four (surrealistic sci-fi, where we learn for sure that this book does not take place on our Earth) was probably my favorite, although the fifth (fantasy) is good as well and a nice place to end.

The story up to the split point could potentially go in any of these directions, but they are very different. There's some discussion of multiple worlds theory throughout, implying that each ending is equally valid on some level, based on Jane's choice. It's all about choice and paths, some that you can control and some that you can't.

In the end, I liked this a lot, although the endings didn't quite resolve together enough for me to love it. Even if your choice probably won't lead you to a magic portal or a secret spy ring, every choice counts.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book