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 Martian – amazing sci-fi

The Martian by Andy Weir

5 star read

Why I read:   I’ve heard so much about this sci-fi that I wanted to read it before seeing the film.

Book blurb: “Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him? “

 “Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshipped.” ― Andy WeirThe Martian

My review

Mark Watson  is stranded on Mars and needs to use all his knowledge, skills and courage to survive. Presumed dead by his crew he was stranded in a habitat designed to last 31 days.   He needs to let the people back on earth know he is alive, he needs to figure out a way to exist on an alien planet and he needs to figure out how to get back to earth.  The book starts brilliantly with: “I’m pretty much Fucked. That’s my considered opinion. Fucked”… yup a good summary of the situation.   It’s a true survival story, packed full of science and sci-fi.   From the first lines I was hooked into this book, its brilliantly written, and totally captivated me whilst reading.   It takes you on a real space adventure, complete with thrills, set-backs and wonderful ingenious ideas to overcome the impossible.

 “Problem is (follow me closely here, the science is pretty complicated), if I cut a hole in the Hab, the air won’t stay inside anymore.”  ― Andy WeirThe Martian

I loved the way Mark’s  humour gave him strength and carried him through.   Smart and funny I engaged with him, admired him and totally wanted him to succeed and survive.  I felt like I was with him there on Mars, listening to his scientific explanations and laughing at his jokes.  He quickly became one of my favourite space pirates.

“Here’s the cool part: I will eventually go to Schiaparelli and commandeer the Ares 4 lander. Nobody explicitly gave me permission to do this, and they can’t until I’m aboard Ares 4 and operating the comm system. After I board Ares 4, before talking to NASA, I will take control of a craft in international waters without permission.   That makes me a pirate!  A space pirate!” 
― Andy WeirThe Martian

The parts set on Earth I found less engaging.  These sections were still interesting and included a good range of characters and added more background to the story.  But they reminded me of big budget American Movies with  how everyone in the world pulls together to save one person.   It did show a wonderful side of humanity though and added a feel good element to the book.

I loved that there was so much science, I didn’t understand all of it but it made the book so much more believable.  Talk to a science geek about their favourite subject and you will be bombarded with scientific detail and that’s just what happened in the book.  Its a true “hard-science” science-fiction about space exploration and equally a fast, exhilarating, thrilling read.

I gave it a solid 5 stars because I enjoyed  reading it so much. I’m recommending it to everyone I know:  “It’s brilliant, you have to read it.  It’s got space pirates.” Its a book I will put away and read again in the future.

There’s a free short story which is a prequel to the Martian and gives a tiny taste of what to expect: Prequel to the Martian.

I’d recommend to anyone who likes:  sci-fi, adventure, physics, survival, thrillers, space exploration and pirates, especially space pirates.

“You know what? “Kilowatt-hour per sol” is a pain in the ass to say. I’m gonna invent a new scientific unit name. One kilowatt-hour per sol is… it can be anything… um… I suck at this… I’ll call it a “pirate-ninja”.” ― Andy WeirThe Martian

*****  5 star read

369 pages

Published  September 27th 2012

 ISBN 0804139024

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

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 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