Borne

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It’s been far too long since I’ve picked up a sci-fi novel, and it just so happens that an excellent author recently put out a new book! Some of my favourite speculative sci-fi is the Southern Reach Trilogy, the first of which is soon to be made into a film. Jeff VanderMeer’s effective use of creeping horror in his trilogy was unparalleled and I was eager to see what he’d cooked up this time.

Thus, it was with supreme glee that I picked up his newest novel, Borne.

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Right from the beginning I knew that I was going to love this book. Why?

Partially because I so enjoyed Southern Reach, but partially because of this:

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That’s right. It’s an angry bear. Not only that, it’s an angry murder-bear that is quite an important part of this novel. He is atypical of other bears, and I’m not going to ruin things for you by telling you how. But I guarantee you’ll be surprised.

Borne was fantastic. It’s a character-driven science fiction novel that follows Rachel, a young woman living in an unnamed city as a scavenger. One day, Rachel finds Borne while out scavenging and brings him home. She’s unsure of what he is, assuming him to be some type of plant life. As Borne grows and develops, so does his relationship with Rachel.

Rachel is a first-person narrator and she’s certainly a likeable one. Though her thought processes are sometimes a bit erratic, that’s to be expected in a post-apocalyptic society. Her relationships with Wick and Borne are rich and complex things that affect each other despite her best efforts.

Wick is an interesting secondary character who gains immense dimension as the story moves forward. I liked him far more at the end of the book than I did at the beginning, but that’s perspective for you!

Borne himself was extraordinary. Remaining a mystery for the entire novel, he was both extremely likeable and quite terrifying. The more I learned of him, the more questions I had. The immense questionability and tragedy of his existence informed the feel of the entire narrative.

All characters, major and minor, are fascinating in different ways. I wouldn’t say no to a book about any of them, if VanderMeer decided to follow up with one.

The post-apocalyptic landscape is disturbing and believable, bio-modded children and alcohol minnows included. The city is seething with poisonous creations from the Company, the ever-unnamed conglomerate responsible for Mord and everything that came thereafter. As you learn more of Rachel’s past, she slowly learns more of the city and of the Company.

Unlike the Southern Reach Trilogy, Borne is a stand alone novel. Like its predecessors, it’s a novel that makes you think while you’re reading. VanderMeer’s writing is intelligent and easy to digest either in short bursts or all in one massive book binge.

With this masterpiece of creepy and (at-times) uncomfortable speculative sci-fi, Jeff VanderMeer proves himself to be a consistently excellent writer. He’s a sure thing when it comes to a great read, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he has in store for readers next!

Have you picked up a copy of Borne? Have you read the Southern Reach Trilogy? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

While We Dream

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Just before the holidays, I broke one of my own rules about making requests on NetGalley. Generally, I avoid requesting self-published novels. I don’t believe that everything self-published is bad, but I also haven’t read any self-published books that I’ve enjoyed either. For that reason, I avoid reading them to spare myself an unpleasant experience and to avoid giving scathing reviews.

I came across While We Dream and my self-made rule went out the window. While I did have some problems with it, I also actually enjoyed this short story collection.

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While We Dream is a collection filled with short and speculative tales of science fiction. Many of the stories within had unique enough concepts that I’ve never before encountered them anywhere else. Le Dain’s writing is fairly to the point, with no unnecessary flourishes of prose to pad out the tales. Within these pages you’ll find tales of clones, ghosts, murder, and dictatorship. You’ll be entering worlds where doppelgangers roam free and your fate is decided by a series of pre-determined tests.

The story for which the title was named was perhaps the least original of the bunch, but also had the most emotional impact

My imagination was captured by many of the stories, but there was one important factor that stopped me from totally enjoying this book.

The dialogue was awful.

Whenever people spoke aloud they sounded completely unnatural. Except for in one instance, there are absolutely no contractions used in this book, even when conversations are casual or when children are speaking.

Though I did like the stories, I thought that this book fell short where most self-published novels do: the editing. Given a good edit with an eye for dialogue, I could easily see this finding its way to my bookshelf and those of my friends. Some of the stories within also seemed cut short before their full idea came through, and thus their full potential was never reached. A good editor could also go over this with the author to give him a sense of what to expand upon.

I’m not sorry I broke my own rule by reading this book, and I will certainly seek out Le Dain again should he self-publish or traditionally publish any other work. I do hope that before then, he finds an editor who can help him reach his full potential.

What are your thoughts on self-published novels? Are there any great ones you have to recommend? Let me know in the comments below.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter

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Sometimes when a book comes out, I’ll take a peek at the cover and synopsis and be really into it. I’ll put it on my ‘to read’ list on Goodreads and tell myself that I’ll borrow it from the library when it makes it there.

And then I’ll forget about it completely.

That is exactly what happened with the book. It was published in 2013 and I wanted to read it so badly – but didn’t remember until a co-worker picked it up at work last week.

It took me three years to getting around to it, and I wish I had read it sooner!

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The Mad Scientist’s Daughter didn’t fit in with my spooky October reads, but I decided to go for it anyway.

This book tore out my heart, ripped it into a billion pieces, mashed it back together and stuck it right back into the gaping hole in my chest.

In short, it was fantastic.

I always forget how much I enjoy reading about robots and the questions of sentience and rights that their presence often prompts.

The main character is Cat, who the reader sees grow from a small child to a woman over the course of the book. When we first meet her, she’s basically been allowed to run wild and discover life on her own in the gardens and woods behind her home. Both of her parents are scientists, her mother having given up her career to be a housewife, and her father tinkering away on projects in their basement.

One day, her father comes home with a strange man that she believes to be a ghost. Years later, she learns that he is in fact a robot. He becomes her tutor, her constant companion, and her friend.

Cat is not a perfect person. She has a boatload of issues and she’s honestly a complete jerk sometimes. But as I watched her grow up I understood the circumstances that led her to make various (arguably terrible) decisions.

Finn, the robot, is also an interesting character. Though he is a machine, Cat’s father treats him as a person – part of the reason he’s earned the moniker ‘mad scientist’ among the general population. Cat’s mother is always either vaguely disapproving of him or outright upset about him.

As the book progresses, Cat learns about Finn little by little. It changes her opinion of him, and it changed mine too, but in different ways throughout the book. Cat is an interesting character, but because she is a flawed character, her narration is narrow in that we only see what she sees. This is especially the case with every type of relationship she has in the course of her life.

I felt so many things reading this book. Anger, hopelessness – and for the better part of it, immense sadness that built a painful lump in my throat that just wouldn’t leave.

Robots are a fact of life in the setting – machines made to work, originally prompted by an unnamed Disaster that wiped out a great deal of the population. Sometimes referred to as ‘automata’, they cannot feel or form attachments, and are a basic facsimile of humans. Sometimes they’re faceless, or there are lights in their facial features. Many humans (those deeply religious) believe them to be abominations and run the gamut from lobbying against them legally to viciously tearing them apart in the streets.

Despite the fact that robots are pervasive, this is a story about being human. It’s a tale of messy emotions, of making friends, of working with your hands, of being normal and defying norms, and of love.

What does it mean to be human? This book is a journey that basically explores that question.

I wouldn’t class this as straight up science fiction as I usually think of it. More a ‘soft sci-fi’ character study.

But no matter your genre preferences, if you’re looking for a beautifully written story this is the book for you.

Just read it. Just do it.

Do you have any similar recommendations for me? Beautiful books that stayed with you long after reading them? Tales of robot or AI sentience?

Recommend them to me in the comments below!

 

Planetfall

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This year I decided to really get back into reading, preferably at the rate of one or two completed reads a week. With that in mind, I picked up several books based entirely on their covers. Not solely for cover art, but also based on the small blurbs on the front and back of the book.

When I came across Planetfall it seemed like a very promising read. Blurbs called it “enthralling, glorious, heartbreaking, beautiful, thrilling” and a whole host of other intensely positive and compelling adjectives. Add in that it’s a science fiction novel and I was definitely in for this!

I have rather mixed thoughts on this book, right out of the gate.

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Continue reading Planetfall