Book Review : Salt Fish Girl – Magical realism

Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai

Why I read:  Intriguing and futuristic tale with feminist themes, Jan 17 Book club read.

Book blurb: “”Salt Fish Girl” is the mesmerizing tale of an ageless female character who shifts shape and form through time and place. Told in the beguiling voice of a narrator who is fish, snake, girl, and woman – all of whom must struggle against adversity for survival – the novel is set alternately in nineteenth-century China and in a futuristic Pacific Northwest.

At turns whimsical and wry, “Salt Fish Girl” intertwines the story of Nu Wa, the shape-shifter, and that of Miranda, a troubled young girl living in the walled city of Serendipity circa 2044. Miranda is haunted by traces of her mother’s glamourous cabaret career, the strange smell of durian fruit that lingers about her, and odd tokens reminiscient of Nu Wa. Could Miranda be infected by the Dreaming Disease that makes the past leak into the present?

Framed by a playful sense of magical realism, “Salt Fish Girl” reveals a futuristic Pacific Northwest where corporations govern cities, factory workers are cybernetically engineered, middle-class labour is a video game, and those who haven’t sold out to commerce and other ills must fight the evil powers intent on controlling everything. Rich with ancient Chinese mythology and cultural lore, this remarkable novel is about gender, love, honour, intrigue, and fighting against oppression.”

 531944

My review

“How easily we abandon those who have suffered the same persecutions as we have. How quickly we grow impatient with their inability to transcend the conditions of our lives. ” ― Larissa LaiSalt Fish Girl

The story alternates between two settings: 19th century China and a future Pacific Northwest, it spirals around, back and forth between the two tales.   A deity, Nu-Wa creates human beings.   She chooses to become one of them and falls in love with a girl who sells salt fish at the market. Miranda is a young girl living in the 2040s, who has a strange affliction that her skin smells of durian fruit.  The story is a portrayal of both their lives, seeped in fantasy and magic realism.

Packed full of powerful imagery that has you smelling and tasting as well as visualising the world within the pages.    Lai’s writing is beautiful as the words flow from the page.  Weirdly beautiful.  The plot itself was muddled and often lacked logical sense as it jumped around.  Several times I had to re-read sections to connect the dots.  But this fit into the aura of mystery that the book has. It was highly readable and captivated me to the end although loose ends remain.   You are given glimpses of world-building, of a very imaginative future woven in the tale.    The ideas are wonderful and compelling, often surreal but not always making sense or flitting well together.  The creationist theme which ran throughout the novel from the first mythology to the genetic engineering was wonderfully interlaced through the different sections.    Science ethics, disability, corporate power, feminism and many elements of interesting sci-fi are  introduced  however many ideas lacked substance as they are not fully explored.

Overall I’d recommend reading the book for the beautiful writing that engages your senses and emotions and the imagination within.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: science fiction, fantasy, science ethics, feminism, magic realism,

***

“This story is about stink, after all, a story about rot, about how life grows out of the most fetid-smelling places.” ― Larissa LaiSalt Fish Girl

Paperback: 269 pages

Publisher: Thomas Allen Publishers (30 Aug. 2012)

ISBN-10: 0887623824

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Book Review : Primelife – Utopian fiction

Primelife by Robert Golino

Why I read:  Interesting sci-fi.  Utopian future and VR.

Book blurb: “Can humanity survive in the perfect world? New drug Primelife promises heaven on earth: Unending life and a society where everyone’s needs are provided for. But things are not quite as they seem. Stuart Deadman is a brilliant theoretical physicist, but virtual reality is offering him something the real world can’t. Sofia Nicoletti is a woman desperate to have a child in a society that forbids them. Her strong maternal instincts ultimately prevail, but not as she imagined. Ben Donaldson is an ordinary citizen thrust into the center of a political crisis. And Karla Hoffman is an enforcement detective investigating an unsolved double murder. As she peels away the layers surrounding the case, she uncovers a disturbing government secret. The unintended consequences of Primelife are slowly emerging, and the promise of utopia may not be enough to save the world from tearing itself apart..

 

 

My review

One of the reasons I love reviewing books is that I get to read books by smaller publishers.  Unusual little gems like this one which enrich my reading experience.

Primelife gives us a glimpse into a Future Utopia.  PrimeLife drugs  stop the ageing process allowing people to live indefinitely and the corporation that produces them promises a world where all needs are taken care of.  The main sections of the book are told via a report which gives backstories to the books main characters and tells how the society evolved, the benefits and the problems within it.

Its fast paced and easy to read and kept me engaged throughout.  An unusual sci-fi which examines a wide range of themes including immortality, the right to have children, population control, keeping in touch with nature, virtual reality and utopian ideals.  Brainfreeze is a fascinating  mental health side-effect causing an apathy to life which some people suffer from years after taking Primelife drugs.   Its a book that makes you wonder about the desirability of longevity.

I’d recommend to fans of: sci-fi, utopia, dystopia, future science, future drugs and speculative fiction.

****

I received a free copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.  

 221 pages
ISBN

Book Review : The Unity Game – An inspiring vision – including author Q&A

The Unity Game  by Leonora Meriel

Why I read:   Intriguing sci-fi that sounded different to anything I’d read before.

Book blurb: “WHAT IF THE EARTH YOU KNEW WAS JUST THE BEGINNING?

A New York banker is descending into madness.

A being from an advanced civilization is racing to stay alive.
A dead man must unlock the secrets of an unknown dimension to save his loved ones.

From the visions of Socrates in ancient Athens, to the birth of free will aboard a spaceship headed to Earth, The Unity Game tells a story of hope and redemption in a universe more ingenious and surprising than you ever thought possible.  “

 My review

When I finished the book,  I put it down and thought – what did I just read and how do I begin to review it?  I can’t even explain why its called the Unity Game without giving away the surprise and wonder inside.

The Unity Game is a really thought provoking interstellar mystery.  Its both strange and beautiful. Three main stories, intertwine with each other:  David a New York Banker who is obsessed with making his fortune and thoughtless egoism, Alisdair a Scottish barrister who is exploring the afterlife and Noœ-bouk an energy-channelling alien who is looking down on earth from his alien perspective.  Each one explores the meanings and perception of life  as their story unfolds.  But each story is meaningfully connected to the other.  There are dark, gritty areas in the book but overall its a book of love and mind-bending ideas.

More speculative fiction than sci-fi,  its a unique and complicated book with many themes running through it.  It doesn’t follow a totally sequential plot, more an intertwine of stories that jump space, time, characters and states of conscious.  It contains a wonderful vision of the afterlife and the universe.  I love weird fiction and this book contains a magical obscure beauty. I took my time reading and pondering the ideas which will stay with me.  What if life is just one perception of a moment?  What is love?  What is the meaning of life?  I don’t have any answers but this book gave me new perspectives.

Overall I’d highly recommend reading The Unity Game.  Read and enjoy it with an open mind and be prepared to be surprised and delighted by the ideas that it contains within.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes:  speculative fiction, aliens, meaning of life, sci-fi, original ideas, interstellar mystery

****

I received a free advanced reader copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.

Kindle Edition, 344 pages
Published April 25th 2017 by Granite Cloud

About the Author

 Leonora Meriel kindly gave me permission to share some added details about the book and herself.
 
Q&A from Leonora Meriel which give more insight into the book:

What inspired you to write Unity Game?

“I wanted to write about New York City, where I had lived for several years and where I started my career. However, I needed to find a new perspective on the theme, and it felt right to draw parallels with an advanced planet far from Earth. This is how the novel became Science Fiction, and then I decided to go a step further and add an after-life dimension. The inspiration started with my work on Wall Street when I lived in NYC, and the desire to write about this in an original way.”

Are you an avid reader? What kind of books do you like to read if so?

“Yes – I am an utterly avid reader. While my favourite genre is literary fiction, I try to read as widely as possible. I read across countries and across genres, I read independently published books and traditionally published books, I read fiction and non-fiction. My favourite books to read are those which have pushed some boundary of literature, for example Virginia Woolf, in her use of language; Haruki Murakami, in his expression of the borders of reality; David Mitchell, in his extraordinary word-crafting. Anything that is doing something new inspires and delights me.”

The following Q&A is from her website:

Tell us about your new novel The Unity Game?

“The Unity Game is a literary fiction and science fiction novel, with a few other genre elements mixed in. It is set in three locations: New York City, a distant planet, and an after-life dimension. It follows three story lines which deal with similar themes, and the story connects in the grand unity game, which is revealed towards the end. It is quite experimental, and has a lot of ideas in it. In the end, I hope that it is uplifting and makes my readers think differently about the world, and about their lives.”

The Unity Game has elements of Science Fiction. Do you read much in this genre?

“I certainly do! I really love science fiction writing when it is also literary fiction. My favourite is Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris which is overwhelmingly brilliant. Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness is also timeless. For newer writers, I am a huge fan of Ken Liu, who I think is one of the best authors of this century, for any genre. Through him, I also came to Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem – another great work. Science Fiction is amazing because there are no limits to where you can let your imagination go. And when wild ideas are combined with disciplined, brilliant writing – you get a masterpiece like Solaris or The Paper Menagerie.”

Did your books need a lot of research?

“For The Unity Game, the New York part needed the most research. I had lived in Manhattan for several years, and had written the entire section from memory, but I had to go back there and check all my details. Google Street View is very useful nowadays, of course! One of my characters dies in the first scene and finds himself in an after-life dimension, so I did a lot of reading about after-life experiences and beliefs. That was very fun. And one of my characters is the philosopher Socrates, so I had to read some Plato and some biographies. I didn’t have to do too much research for the Science Fiction part – mainly I had to make sure I wasn’t repeating an idea that had already been written about.”

About the Author

Leonora Meriel grew up in London and studied literature at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Queen’s University in Canada. She worked at the United Nations in New York, and then for a multinational law firm.

In 2003 she moved from New York to Kyiv, where she founded and managed Ukraine’s largest Internet company. She studied at Kyiv Mohyla Business School and earned an MBA, which included a study trip around China and Taiwan, and climbing to the top of Hoverla, Ukraine’s highest peak and part of the Carpathian Mountains. She also served as President of the International Women’s Club of Kyiv, a major local charity.

During her years in Ukraine, she learned to speak Ukrainian and Russian, witnessed two revolutions and got to know an extraordinary country at a key period of its development.

In 2008, she decided to return to her dream of being a writer, and to dedicate her career to literature. In 2011, she completed The Woman Behind the Waterfall, set in a village in western Ukraine. While her first novel was with a London agent, Leonora completed her second novel The Unity Game, set in New York City and on a distant planet.

Leonora currently lives in Barcelona and London and has two children. She is working on her third novel.

You can read more about Leonora and read an extract from the book: http://leonorameriel.com/the-unity-game/

Book Review : The Amoeba-Ox Continuum

The Amoeba-Ox Continuum  by Trent Portigal

Why I read:  Science fiction and detective novel combined

Book blurb: ” Natalie Chaulieu has a new assignment. A series of deaths in an old workers’ utopia has caught the attention of the central government and she has been chosen as the liaison between the government and the investigation team. On arriving, she is struck by a world more brilliant and poetic than she has ever known, but as the case progresses it becomes clear that the deaths are intimately connected to the utopia, which is itself suffering a slow decline. As the investigation continues Natalie is forced to question whether the brilliance and poetry are worth saving, and, if so, at what cost…

 

 

My review

An intriguing sci-fi  which centres around Natalie Chaulieu as she  investigates a series of deaths in a workers utopia.   The story is told through Natalie’s eyes as she poetically describes and reflects upon what she finds within this strange world and what caused the deaths.     Her reflections and contemplation are often interestingly bizarre, for instance Natalie categorises the people she meets as insipid amoebas with the occasional ox thrown in.   There’s plenty within to apply to current society as well as: Puppeteers who depict mindless violence,  officials who avoid charges through their status, traditions around Death, poverty, workers conditions etc.  and plenty of witty commentary on them.   Although I loved the weirdness of the book I occasionally got a bit lost and had to re-read sections of Natalie’s thoughts on what was happening.   Overall its a strange and unique story with plenty to keep you entertained.

***

I received a free advanced reader copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.

Paperback, 184 pages
Expected publication: December 1st 2017 by Roundfire Books
ISBN 1785356917

Book review – The Three Body Problem – Hard sci-fi

The Three Body Problem – Cixin Liu

4 star read

Why I read: Hugo award winning sci-fi.  I read a review on Helen’s Bookshelf which sold it to me as a must read book.

Book blurb: “The Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.”

Select  quote : “To effectively contain a civilization’s development and disarm it across such a long span of time, there is only one way: kill its science.”
― Liu CixinThe Three-Body Problem

 

My review

The book begins during China’s Cultural revolution where Ye Wenjie witnesses her fathers death at the hands of the Red Guards, this event shapes her view on humanity and we see later  how this has an impact on the rest of mankind.  Years later Nanotech Wang Mayo infiltrates a secret organisation and immerses into a virtual world  ruled by the interaction of its three suns.   This Three Body Problem is the key to scientists deaths, a conspiracy which spans light years and the extinction level threat facing humanity.

Its hard to talk about this book without giving anything away!  I absolutely loved how much this book had science at its core.  I didn’t  always understand all of the physics and some I was unsure if it was current physics knowledge or it was fictional science for the story but this did not impact on my enjoyment.   The virtual reality system was amazing and really spoke to my inner gamer geek.  I loved how game theory and physics intertwined as Wang tries to solve the Three Body Problem and work out the pattern of the Stable and Chaotic eras which occur within the VR.   It’s a real hard thinking book full of huge ideas.   There’s so much going on within the speculative fiction including concepts on astrology, aliens, religion and humanity.    Like most good sci-fi it shines a light upon humanity so you see both the good and bad and possible futures based on this.   I took my time reading it as felt I would miss out on so much if I read it quickly.  I still got a little lost in places as there is just so much going on.  There are many themes than run through but all get tied together nicely at the end.

The characters are all well thought out, quirky people but realistic.  I think its a fine example of gender equality writing.   There were women scientists in the book and these were presented as it being completely normal and they just happened to be women.  Not super-hero women who had exceptional talents so could do science but real normal women.  I’ve tagged it as a feminist book because of this.  Not because it deals with issues to do with women but because of the strong sense of equality present throughout.  Its a really positive way of writing which I hope to read more of in the future.

I prefer writing that is more descriptive and evocative. I don’t know if its the translation but it is written quite plain speaking.  This does however fit in with all the science that is packed into the book.   The translator did a  great job, throughout the book are a few footnotes that explain aspects of Chinese culture and history relevant to what is happening and these added to my understanding.  This book is highly original so is a must read for anyone who enjoys hard sci-fi.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: Hard science fiction, physics, Chinese sci-fi, strong female characters, thought-provoking books, big idea books.

“Science fiction is a literature that belongs to all humankind. It portrays events of interest to all of humanity, and thus science fiction should be the literary genre most accessible to readers of different nations. Science fiction often describes a day when humanity will form a harmonious whole, and I believe the arrival of such a day need not wait for the appearance of extraterrestrials.” 
― Liu CixinThe Three-Body Problem

****

Hardcover, 400 pages
Published November 11th 2014 by Tor Books (first published 2007)
ISBN 0765377063

Book Review : The Growing Season – thought provoking dystopia

The Growing Season – by Helen Sedgwick

4 star read

Why I read:  Science fiction and dystopia with strong feminist themes

Book blurb: “Now anyone can have a baby. With FullLife’s safe and affordable healthcare plan, why risk a natural birth?

Without the pouch, Eva might not have been born. And yet she has sacrificed her career, and maybe even her relationship, campaigning against FullLife’s biotech baby pouches. Despite her efforts, everyone prefers a world where women are liberated from danger and constraint and all can share the joy of childbearing. Perhaps FullLife has helped transform society for the better? But just as Eva decides to accept this, she discovers that something strange is happening at FullLife.

Piotr hasn’t seen Eva in years. Not since their life together dissolved in tragedy. But Piotr’s a journalist who has also uncovered something sinister about FullLife. What drove him and Eva apart may just bring them back together, as they search for the truth behind FullLife’s closed doors, and face a truth of their own.

A beautiful story about family, loss and what our future might hold, The Growing Season is an original and powerful novel by a rising talent”

 

 

My review

A beautiful, thought provoking book.  Exquisitely layered with hope, sadness, heart-break, love, family, science-fiction and dystopia.  Set in the near future where a  bio-tech baby pouch has been invented and is owned by a private-for profit FullLife Company who have exclusive rights to the pouches. This pouch is marketed to allow anyone to experience pregnancy and as an end to female equality issues.   A journalist discovers that there are problems with some of the babies being born from the pouches which is being covered up by the FullLife Company.   A mix of characters try to figure out what is happening and causing babies to die in the pouches, as there is a lot at stake both financial and society wide.

This book explores many ethical dilemmas around women’s roles, equality,  family, life and death.  This is done in a wonderfully thought out and caring way that forms part of the book and the characters views.    The pros and cons of the science and how this impacts on society are explored which I enjoyed as science ethics really interests me.  Earlier parts of the book run a little slow but the last section makes up for this.  The thriller part of the novel runs slim, a lot of pages are devoted to backstories of the characters and their views, and exploring the ethics around the technology.  To me this added to the book,  giving emotion and making it a really thought-provoking read.  Some themes reminded me of the Handmaiden’s Tale with its look at how conceiving babies is a woman’s role but how the pouch could transform that.  But The Growing Season is a wonderfully original novel that deserves a place amongst the must-reads of dystopian fiction.

Sedgewich writes in a passionate, evocative prose that is very captivating.  The characters are all human, fleshed out with flaws and strengths, errors and achievements that allow you to connect with them.  At times I got a little confused with who’s story I was reading as characters would switch around within chapters so you do need to pay attention.

It is a book I will read again, for the hope contained within the pages for a better future and the beautiful tale of love and heartbreak.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: Strong female characters, science fiction, dystopia, feminism, science ethics.

****

I received a free advanced reader copy via Netgallery in return for an honest review.

ebook
Expected publication: September 7th 2017 by Vintage Digital
ISBN 1473548756 (ISBN13: 9781473548756)

Book Review: Eating Robots – bite sized visions of dystopian futures

Eating Robots: And Other Stories by Stephen Oram

Why I read:  I’m fascinated by AI and ideas of dark dystopian  futures.

Book blurb: “Step into a high-tech vision of the future with author of Quantum Confessions and Fluence Stephen Oram. Featuring health-monitoring mirrors, tele-empathic romances and limb-repossessing bailiffs, Eating Robots explores the collision of utopian dreams and twisted realities in a world where humanity and technology are becoming ever more intertwined.
Sometimes funny, often unsettling, and always with a word of warning, these thirty sci-fi shorts will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page.”

My review

Bite sized visions of dystopian futures. The book contains 30 very short stories featuring robots, AI, electronic credit systems, radical body modifications and more. Marvellous snippets that make a big impact on you as you read. At the end of the book are a series of responses to the stories from robotic experts which were an interesting addition.

These were powerful stories that stay with you long after you close the book. The fascinatingly eerie takes on the near future were well-crafted to give you nightmares. Some shorts were only a few pages long which I felt were a little too short to more than glimpse at an idea and the briefness of the stories did not lead to much character development or extensive plots. But many were just the perfect size for a quick reading break to devour the thought provoking ideas often with twisted endings. The book contained a wide range of interesting concepts that Id like to read expanded versions of in a longer story by the author.

I loved this dark glance upon the future which reminded me of the TV series Black Mirror. Very imaginative, sometimes disturbing sometimes humorous but all brilliant examples of possible futures that were scarily recognisable.

****

I received an ARC from Netgallery in return for an honest review.

Paperback, 138 pages
Expected publication: May 31st 2017 by SilverWood Books
ISBN 1781326223 (ISBN13: 9781781326220)
An introduction to the book from the author and readings of a few of the stories are  available on : http://stephenoram.net/eatingrobots/