Book Review : Sleep Over – an oral history of the Apocalypse

Sleep Over: An Oral History of the Apocalypse by H.G. Bells

Why I read:

5 Star Read

Book blurb: “For fans of the oral history genre phenomenon World War Z, a worldwide plague of insomnia creates a devastating new apocalypse.

Remember what it’s like to last an entire night without sleep? That dull but constant headache. The feeling of your brain on edge. How easily irritated you were. How difficult it was to concentrate, even on seemingly menial tasks. It was just a single restless night, but everything felt just a little bit harder to do, and the only real comfort was knowing your head would finally hit the pillow at the end of the day, and when you awoke the next morning everything would return to normal.

But what if sleep didn’t come the next night? Or the night after? What might happen if you, your friends and family, your coworkers, the strangers you pass on the street, all slowly began to realize that rest might not ever come again?

How slowly might the world fall apart? How long would it take for a society without sleep to descend into chaos?

Sleep Over is collection of waking nightmares, a scrapbook of the haunting and poignant stories from those trapped in a world where the pillars of society are crumbling, and madness is slowly descending on a planet without rest.

Online vigilantism turns social media into a deadly gamble.

A freelance journalist grapples with the ethics of turning in footage of mass suicide.

A kidnapped hypnotist is held hostage by those at wit’s end for a cure.

In Sleep Over, these stories are just the beginning. Before the Longest Day, the world record was eleven days without sleep. It turns out most of us can go much longer.”

 

My review

A wonderfully chilling apocalyptic book that questions what would become of the world if no-one was able to sleep?  We follow the story as the world breaks apart, bit by bit.  The horror created by the insomnia of the entire human race is easily comparable to that of zombies or killer viruses.  Its a highly original and thrilling read.

The book consists of a number of personal testimonials from different characters.  There are tales from an amazingly diverse range of  people with different backgrounds, all scattered around the world.  You get to see the effect of insomnia through the eyes of scientists, policy makers, a taxi driver, gamers, nurses, to name but a few.  The stories are grouped into time frames and each one reveals more about what is happening to the world.   Some of the people’s stories show humanity descending into its worse traits, others show survival and there are some touching tales demonstrating real caring and the best of humanity.  The writing is beautifully haunting, vividly capturing the horror each person experiences but with brief moments of hope and joy scattered throughout.   There are loads of brilliant thoughts and ideas packed into the 300 pages as we see the apocalypse through many different viewpoints.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers so will just add this is a book I really enjoyed and will read again in the future.

Overall this is a brilliant and original apocalyptic thriller.  It’s a thought provoking book that I’d suggest all sci-fi fans read.

I’d highly recommend to fans of: horror, apocalyptic thrillers, dystopia and  sci-fi

*****

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

Paperback, 300 pages
Expected publication: January 16th 2018 by Talos
ISBN  194045669X
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Book Review : The Windup Girl – bleak dystopia sci-fi

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

3 1/2 star read

Why I read:  Science fiction dystopia that I kept on hearing about – just had to read it.

Book blurb: “Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko…

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What Happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism’s genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.”

 

 

My review

A vast bio-punk dystopia set in a future Thailand.  The calorie companies whose mistakes brought new diseases including Blister rust and Cibiscosis are the ones who dole out calories and so control lives. Emiko is the windup girl, one of the New People, genetically engineered to serve.   She survives in a world brought to the edge of extinction by genetic manipulation.

“We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.” 
― Paolo BacigalupiThe Windup Girl

The world building is brilliantly descriptive, you are drawn into this brutal, dark, bleak future.  Set in a future Thailand within a world whose natural resources are dwindling, food is scarce, disease and disasters are everywhere.  Seed banks are owned by Calorie companies, limits on calories put a premium on muscle power.   Political manoeuvrings create twists and turns along the plot. There’s an abundance of new words which leave you searching for a meaning within the surrounding text.  Its a scary, distorted and exaggerated reflection of life with bio-technology, a disturbing vision of what our future could hold.

There are several interlocking character stories that run throughout the book.  I found I was more interested in some characters than others and ended up skimming some parts.  My emotional investments in most characters was low as viewpoints kept switching between the wide range of characters.   The title of the book,  Emiko, the Windup Girl, is a genetically engineered, Japanese-designed “New Person”, built to serve “real” humans.  Created with many modifications such as small pores to make her more sexually desirable, a “sex bot”yet she feels human emotions and pain.  Abandoned by her former owner she is now a slave in a sex club.  Through her character we explore the origin and meaning of the soul and survival in a hostile changing environment.  But there were numerous points I had to stop reading as you graphically witness the sexual degradation of Emiko, created to obey, to respond willingly to any  advances, seen by those who use her as an object created for pleasure, little more than a toy.   The numerous descriptions of her sexual objectification and abuse were sickening and often felt over described.  But still they drew out a critique and exploration of the issues.   It was deeply unsettling as the book questions does she have a soul does it matter?

“And we all know windups have no souls.” Gibbons grins. “No rebirth for them. They will have to find their own gods to protect them. Their own gods to pray for their dead.” Paolo BacigalupiThe Windup Girl

There are many references to “gene ripping” and DNA experimentation with examples of how this can go so terribly wrong.   Many of the usual sci-fi questions are presented in the book.  How far should we  play god? When is scientific/technological advancement good for humanity and when should we stop?  Should engineered humans be given the full rights and status of naturally biological humans?  This abundance of ideas was fascinating and impressive,  but at times the story itself is tedious and drags along.

A Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award winner its an epic book packed full of ideas.   But it took me a long time to finish, needing to escape from the terrible depressive bleakness Bacigalupi presents.        Its a nightmare vision of the future which kept drawing me back to read a bit more.  Nothing is black and white, characters are flawed, make mistakes, and the world is hollow and harrowing.  Very few happy moments are scattered within the pages, instead we see a future filled with despair and paranoia.  Overall a dark and brutal book, filled with questions and ethics,  but not an easy or particularly enjoyable read.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: science fiction, dystopia, science ethics.

“Even the richest and the most powerful are only meat for cheshires in the end. We are all nothing but walking corpses and to forget it is folly. Meditate on the nature of corpses and you will see this. ” 
― Paolo BacigalupiThe Windup Girl

***

Hardcover, 359 pages
Published September 1st 2009 by Night Shade Books (first published 2009)
ISBN 1597801577

Book Review : Broadcast – unsettling sci-fi social-media thriller

Broadcast by Liam Brown

4 star read

Why I read:  Science fiction, dystopia, big brother, blogger.  A book relevant to our future with social media.

Book blurb: “The idea behind MindCast is simple. We insert a small chip into your skull and then every thought, every feeling, every memory is streamed live, twenty-four hours a day. Trust me – within a few months you’ll be the most talked about person on the planet.

When David Callow is offered the lead role in a revolutionary new online show, he snatches at the opportunity.

Rapidly becoming a viral sensation, David is propelled to stratospheric levels of celebrity. However, he soon realises the downside of sharing every secret with the world.

A prisoner to both his fame and his own thoughts, David seeks to have the chip removed, only to discover the chilling secret lurking at the heart of MindCast, and the terrifying ambition the show’s creator has for him.”

My review

A fast paced and thought provoking book, Broadcast explores what would happen if our every thought was transmitted to millions of viewers.   David  Callow is an egotistical vlogger who takes the chance to expand his fame by appearing in a new online show MindCast. We follow as he has a microchip inserted into his brain which transmits his thoughts, feelings and memories online 24/7 to MindCast’s viewers in a big brother style documentary.  As the show goes on David’s wishes to become a major celebrity are fulfilled but he also discovers the dangers and darkside of Mindcast and the shows producers terrifying vision.

Broadcast delves into what it means to be a celebrity. The instant fame of our generation.  It holds a mirror to lives in the public eye through facebook, twitter and online media where what we see is an edited online persona of an ideal life not a true reflection of reality.  It conveys a “Black Mirror” style social satire on the potential for abuse and evil within social medias future.  Freedom of speech, subliminal advertising, online privacy, social responsibility  and other moral dilemmas are thrown into the mix, as the plot speeds along adding interesting narration on today’s society.  At under 300 pages its a relatively short book which delivers a dark, unsettling vision of the future.   Despite having a base in technology there is very little tech talk which adds to the easy read though it might disappoint people who prefer more hard sci-fi.  The ending leaves many loose ends hanging which fit well with the style of the novel, echoing real life. Paranoia seeps out of the pages as you realise how plausible the story is with our increasingly digitalised world.  Although I did not completely agree with all the commentary the author paints a horrifying vision of an online future.

I found the main character David to be an air-headed celebrity obsessed with getting more followers.  It was hard to like him at all with his self-involved and obnoxious character that only seemed to care about fame.  However this didn’t distract from the book.  It was interesting to see how he reacted to each situation he got into and he does get less selfish towards the end.    Even though I did not sympathise with him, the fast pace of the book kept me hooked.  There are many plot twists as the book hurtles along through this near future setting.   I wanted to see what would happen next as the author explored the pros and cons of Mindcast and fame through David’s eyes.

Overall a thrilling, fast paced, sinister sci-fi  which was an quick enjoyable read.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes: Science fiction, fast paced reads, blogging, big-brother dystopia, near-future society.

****

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

Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 15th 2017 by Legends Press
ISBN 1787199932 (ISBN13: 9781787199934)
Edition Language English

WWW Wednesday! 27 September 2017

I’m participating today in WWW Wednesday! 

“This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived at Taking on a World of Words.”

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next, and/or what are you eagerly awaiting?

 

Currently reading:  The Windup Girl  by Paolo Bacigalupi. 

Its a dark dystopian thriller which I’m enjoying.   I’ve wanted to read it for so long after seeing so many great reviews.  I have it in paperback so its taking me a while to read as I just read this one on an evening in bed.  Its about Emiko the Windup Girl, she’s not human but an engineered being. Programmed initial to satisfy the desires of a businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok.  I’ve been thrust right into the middle of a bustling future full of shady characters.  Still figuring out what is going on but the world-building is pretty amazing.

Recently Finished: Monsters Exist – Edited by Jesse Deadman & Theresa Braun

A fun book full of horror short stories. Really quick reads, loaded with monsters to haunt your nightmares. Mythological and cryptozoological critters.  Stories that bring urban legends to life. That play on your fears.  These are the monsters that lurk within your imagination, and the ones that live next door, or down the well in the woods. My full review of the book is here: Book Review: Monsters Exist

Reading Next:  Doorways in the Sand  by Roger Zelazny

This looks like a humorous sci-fi so I can’t wait to dive in. “Follow Fred on his adventures as he enters multiple realities, flipping in and out of alien perspectives, through doorways in the sand.”  Looks fun!

 

Book Review: Animal Graft

Animal Graph by M Black  (Graph World Book 1)

3 star read

Why I read:   I couldn’t resist the concept of animal grafting combined with dystopia.

Book blurb: “Never-Before-Seen-Concepts

Hunted in the Amazonian jungles 42 years after a nuclear war, Jin and Adan fight to survive in a dystopia gone very wrong. Grafted to Amazon animals, such as blue dart frog or bullet ants, against their will, Jin and Adan will have to learn the secrets of the Graph if they are ever going to win this war. 

With Graphed Borran soldiers on their tail, this will be a hard war to win, especially when King Borran Khan doesn’t fight fair. With Jin’s madre kidnapped and a secret hidden in Jin’s own DNA, will she find the truth before it’s too late? Will Jin and Adan survive, and can the Earth survive against the mad dictatorship of the current ruler of the Americas? 

Find out in this page-turning, edge of your seat, YA Amazonian Eco-Fic Dystopia!”

 

My review

Jin escapes from a prison where she was experimented on to have animal cells and neural tissue grafted into her.  This gives her a range of   unique abilities including a connection by brain waves to a chosen animal.  She has to try and survive out in the Amazonian jungle of an eradicated world whilst being tracked by Graft Soldiers.  The book follows her escape as she learns more about the world and herself.

I don’t read many YA books as I find the style a bit too simplistic for my normal tastes but I was drawn to this one by the fun premise of animal grafting.  Before getting the book I read a review that said it was like the Hunger Games meets X-men and I wholeheartedly agree with this description. Its fun escapism fantasy. The characters have extraordinary abilities from their animal Graphs but these also come with weaknesses. Its a really good balance. The science in the book such as the grafting with animals is glossed over but this just adds to the easy read factor along with the simplistic language used.  The science wasn’t detailed enough for me but I still really enjoyed the book and think it works well for teen fiction.  There’s lots of fun fight scenes where the characters use their awesome abilities with interesting effects.  The book ends mid-air which to me left it feeling very unfinished. I like most ends tied up in a story and I felt that this was just setting up for a sequel.

The main character Jin is likeable and I got behind her, egging her on to defeat the next obstacle in her escape. Adan fits into the stero-typical dreamy supporting character/love interest for the heroine to fall for that I’ve seen previously in young adult books.

A really fun, quick and easy read but if you want to know how things end you would also need to read the next book in the series.

I’d recommend if you like: young adult fiction, super-hero abilities, eco-sci-fi, young adult dystopia.

***

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

 Paperback  (I read PDF ARC)
Published May 23rd 2017 by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
ISBN1546895841

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: A Man of Shadows – Noir sci-fi mystery

A Man of Shadows – Jeff Noon

Why I read:   I was intrigued by the mix of sci-fi and detective story with a serial killer thrown into the mix.

Book blurb: “”The brilliant, mind-bending return to science fiction by one of its most acclaimed visionaries.

Below the neon skies of Dayzone – where the lights never go out, and night has been banished – lowly private eye John Nyquist takes on a teenage runaway case. His quest takes him from Dayzone into the permanent dark of Nocturna.

As the vicious, seemingly invisible serial killer known only as Quicksilver haunts the streets, Nyquist starts to suspect that the runaway girl holds within her the key to the city’s fate. In the end, there’s only one place left to search: the shadow-choked zone known as Dusk.”

My review

Five star read:

A wonderful blend of sci-fi and mystery with a noir feel. Jeff Noon is a master of descriptive prose. Intricate writing and vivid depictions bring the complex world to life. Its dark, disturbing with plenty of bizareness thrown into the mix. Amazing world building in a city where time is a commodity and citizens move from one time to another adjusting their wristwatches to match one of the different timelines on offer. The city is split into 3 zones: Dayzone where darkness has been banished by billions of light sources and it is always bright. Nocturna where darkness lives. And the area in between which people refer to as Dusk where it is rumoured ghosts, shadows and dark shapes live within the mist.

Nyquist’s latest job is to track down a runaway girl Eleanor. But the case turns out much more complex as it appears Eleanor may hold the key to the city’s future. Whilst a vicious serial killer known as Quicksilver stalks the streets of Dayzone adding another dimension of horror to the tale. The writing is deeply layered as we follow Nyquist on his quest more and more complexity is revealed. There were plot twists I didn’t see coming which I love in a good mystery. Because it was a complex book this one took me a while to read but I still really enjoyed it.

John Nyquist is an interesting many-layered protagonist, a noir detective, a tough looking man with raw edges and a sharp mind. Eleanor Bale is another complex character an 18 year old girl, combining beauty and fragility with amazing strength. There are a multitude of other interesting and varied characters all well fleshed out.

I loved the book so much its going in my must read again pile. I can’t wait for a sequel. Its certainly changed the way I think of time.

I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys, sci-fi, urban fantasy, mystery, detective noir, wierd fiction and likes complex and layered stories.

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

*****

Expected publication: August 1st 2017 by Angry Robot

Paperback: 384 pages   (I read an advanced copy on pdf)

ISBN: 9780857666703