My Real Children by Jo Walton

My Real Children

It’s 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. “Confused today,” read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know—what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don’t seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining to run again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev.

Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War—those were solid things. But after that, did she marry Mark or not? Did her friends all call her Trish, or Pat? Had she been a housewife who escaped a terrible marriage after her children were grown, or a successful travel writer with homes in Britain and Italy? And the moon outside her window: does it host a benign research station, or a command post bristling with nuclear missiles?

Two lives, two worlds, two versions of modern history. Each with their loves and losses, their sorrows and triumphs. My Real Children is the tale of both of Patricia Cowan’s lives…and of how every life means the entire world.

My Real ChildrenMy Real Children by Jo Walton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Now.” “Never.” When her fiance Mark gives her an ultimatum about their wedding date, Patty’s life splits into two completely different paths. One where she marries him and becomes an isolated housewife with four children, and one where she ends their relationship and becomes a writer of travel guides.

I put this on my to-read list because I found it in a list of sci-fi books somewhere. I’ve noticed a lot of comments that it’s not a ‘proper’ sci-fi book (whatever that is) but I disagree. Maybe it’s the focus on women’s issues and lives that make people feel like it’s not really sci-fi? It certainly is a focus rarely seen in this genre. But there are moon bases and Mars missions going on in the background (including a marriage on the moon!) and of course the divergent / alternate histories – it’s as sci-fi as The Man in the High Castle anyway.

But more importantly than the question of is this really sci-fi or not, there is also a story good enough to make me just glad that I came across it, whatever it is. Both of Patty’s stories are by turns happy, fun and heartbreaking that had me hooked. I stayed up way past my bedtime reading this and I resented having to put it down.

My only issue is that the later years are just skimmed over, almost like too long was spent on Patty’s early life and there just wasn’t enough space in the book left for Patty when she was older. I felt like a lot got missed out in Patty’s lives and also the happenings in each of the worlds. The tech and politics in the two different timelines diverged a lot and I found it hard to keep track of what was happening in each because they were only mentioned in passing. The differences between them suddenly became a very important part of the story at the end of the book and I’d not paid enough attention to really understand the decision Patty had to make.

Aside from that, I found it very moving, with characters that I could care about. My emotions went up and down right along with Patty and both her families.

It’s a ‘can’t put it down’ novel that I very much enjoyed. I highly recommend it for your next holiday read! Just pay attention to what’s going on in the background a bit more than I did.

My Real Children
Jo Walton
Sci-Fi
May 20th 2014
Paperback
323

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Good Morning Midight Cover

Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes that the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success. But when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crewmates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives? Lily Brooks-Dalton’s captivating debut is a meditation on the power of love and the bravery of the human heart.

My Review of Good Morning, Midnight

Good Morning, MidnightGood Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good Morning, Midnight is a very quiet, contemplative end of the world novel.

It’s about two of the last survivors on Earth, Augustine and Sully. Augustine is a scientist living in a remote centre in the Arctic and Sully is an astronaut on a long journey back to Earth from Jupiter. As they face the prospect of being the last people on Earth, alone and isolated, they look back over their lives, thinking about the mistakes they’ve made and things they wish they had done differently. And we find out that Augustine and Sully are two people who have a lot of regret in their lives, a lot of times they’ve chosen their careers and ambitions over a chance to connect with people.

What this book isn’t about is the end of the world. Whatever happens that the world just goes quiet isn’t really important in this story and is never explained. I went in expecting that from the blurb and other reviews I’ve read so I wasn’t too disappointed but it does leave me wondering what happened, what could go so wrong that the world just goes dead like that.

I loved the setting – Augustine is a scientist in the artic and Sully is travelling through space returning home after a journey to study Jupiter. They’re both living in isolated, very open places with only a relatively thin shell protecting them from environments that could easily kill them. And I just love the way science runs through the story as a backdrop, from Sully’s experiments ‘listening‘ to Jupiter to Augustine’s love for amateur radio, and a lot of ways in between.

Beautiful writing complements the style of the book. I read slower just to enjoy the prose which led to me spending more time taking in the story.

If you’re looking for a pure sci-fi book there might not be enough science here to satisfy. If you don’t mind a slower more thoughtful story about regrets, forgiveness and moving forwards then give this one a go.

Good Morning, Midnight
Lily Brooks-Dalton
Sci-Fi
August 9th 2016
Paperback
288

Ready Player One (Ready Player One #1) by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One Cover

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS.

Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize.

The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Ready Player One (Ready Player One, #1)Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the story. It’s interesting, fun, clever and I can totally see why they’ve made it into a film.

I liked the 80’s stuff but didn’t relate to it all because Wade seems to have very different tastes to me. Maybe I was a bit too young in the 80’s; I was into cartoons and toys and I’d watch the films Grease and The Little Mermaid on repeat. The video games we’d play in our house were Sonic or Paperboy, or Mission Impossible on the ZX Spectrum. But also there are no films / music / games by women in this – all male. I can kind of understand since Wade is a teenage boy in the 80s but surely there could have been some 80s female-led references squeezed in there?

The romance could have been left out, it didn’t add anything for me and I think the character of Atr3mis could have been way more awesome. It’s disappointing she’s relegated to ‘the love interest’.

Other than that I found it very entertaining, if slightly daft. The virtual world of OASIS was brilliantly done and the story is a thrill ride, I raced through it! The sci-fi and tech made me very happy.

Ready Player One
Ready Player One
Ernest Cline
Sci-Fi
August 16th 2011
Paperback
374

The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #2) by Liu Cixin (Goodreads Author), Joel Martinsen (Translator)

The Dark Forest Cover

In The Dark Forest, Earth is reeling from the revelation of a coming alien invasion — four centuries in the future. The aliens’ human collaborators have been defeated but the presence of the sophons, the subatomic particles that allow Trisolaris instant access to all human information, means that Earth’s defense plans are exposed to the enemy. Only the human mind remains a secret.

This is the motivation for the Wallfacer Project, a daring plan that grants four men enormous resources to design secret strategies hidden through deceit and misdirection from Earth and Trisolaris alike. Three of the Wallfacers are influential statesmen and scientists but the fourth is a total unknown. Luo Ji, an unambitious Chinese astronomer and sociologist, is baffled by his new status. All he knows is that he’s the one Wallfacer that Trisolaris wants dead.

My Review of The Dark Forest

The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2)The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So this is just as original and inventive as The Three Body Problem, but it has a lot of issues and doesn’t live up to its brilliance.

The Dark Forest focuses on Luo Ji, an astronomer and sociologist, who is chosen to be one of the Wallfacers. His task is to come up with a way to stop the invasion of the Trisolarian fleet and to implement it whilst keeping it a secret from everyone else on earth.

But the first half the story goes off on a complete tangent about how Luo Ji made up an imaginary woman, had a relationship with her, and fell madly in love with her. The first thing he does with his new found power and influence is send someone off with instructions to find her. And fond her he does, and she is brought to work for Luo Ji under the false pretence that her skills are needed for the Wallfacer project. Luo Ji wastes no time in creeping on her and they fall in love almost instantly. I wish I was joking about this, but this is honestly the main plot of the first half of the book.

The second half is better but doesn’t quite ever make up for the weird and creepy first half. It doesn’t help that women in this book are sidelined (some don’t even get names) and described by how attractive they are. And the author’s idea of attractive is to be beautiful, innocent and naive. Basically an adult child. Ick.

The science sci-fi in this book is still interesting and unique. If it had stuck to that and left out the odd relationship rubbish I would have liked it a lot more. But I did also find the writing to be a lot more stilted and awkward, than The Three Body Problem. It has a different translator so I think maybe that’s made a big difference.

Read this for the science and the originality, but be prepared to have to do mental skips over the weird relationship drama.

The Dark Forest
Remembrance of Earth's Past
Liu Cixin
Sci-Fi
May 2008
Paperback
512

Legend (Legend #1) by Marie Lu

Legend Cover

From different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths…

Until June’s brother is murdered, and Day becomes the prime suspect.

In a shocking turn of events, the two uncover what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths to which their country will go to keep its secrets.

My Review of Legend

Legend (Legend, #1)Legend by Marie Lu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Legend a lot, it’s very readable and I flew through it. It’s also a bit (ok, a lot) predictable, more than a bit overly dramatic and a bit daft.

I liked the characters, June was intelligent and analytic and for once it actually came across in the writing. She does the Sherlock Holmes thing where she picks up on little details that make her seem almost psychic but it’s done in a subtle sort of way that just works without being too blatant.

Day is a good character too but not as convincing as June. He’s supposed to be able to pull off amazing stunts and thefts but messes up everything he tries during the course of the book. Then the way he is described and the way he acts makes him seem like a child, I would have believed it if he was supposed to be 13 but I think he is supposed to be about 15 / 16. This made the attraction between him and June feel a bit odd. I never felt that they were falling for each other and they went from meeting to falling in love over what felt like one smile. I wasn’t interested really I think it would have been better if it had just been left out, or left to develop in later books.

The rest of the story and the action made up for it though. It’s daft but fun and fast-paced enough that it never gets boring. It is predictable, (you can guess right from the start how it’s going to end) but the character’s voices keep it interesting.

An enjoyable read, it maybe takes itself a bit too seriously but it doesn’t stop it from being fun. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel!

Legend
Legend
Marie Lu
Young Adult Sci-Fi
April 16th 2013
Paperback
305

Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai

Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai cover

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 glamorous cabaret career, the strange smell of durian fruit that lingers about her, and odd tokens reminiscent 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.

My Review of Salt Fish Girl

Salt Fish GirlSalt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a bit of an odd book but the writing style is beautiful and gripping and I loved the way the author uses the sense of smell to bring the story to life.

I’m having a difficult time trying to explain the plot because it all gets a bit odd, but the style and themes of the book I found similar to Margaret Atwood and her MaddAddam series, and the themes also remind me of Octavia E Butler’s stories. Salt Fish Girl covers creation, genetic engineering, poverty, and a world run by big businesses – but all with a feminist slant.

I have to admit, for a lot of the book I wasn’t sure what was happening. There is a main story running through it but it also jumps about in time telling the story of a woman who seems to be almost a god and the creator or mother of all humans. Both stories are interesting but I didn’t feel there was a proper ending to either of them; it’s left as though the author just suddenly felt like stopping writing.

Even though I was a bit confused by it all I still enjoyed it. It’s original and beautifully written with characters that I actually cared about. It’s certainly interesting and has a lot of points to make; it makes a good book club book because it has a lot of thought starters.

If you’re looking for a dystopian, cyberpunk style book and you don’t mind things getting a bit weird then I’d recommend giving this a go.

Salt Fish Girl
Larissa Lai
Sci-Fi
August 4th 2002
Paperback
269

Take Back the Skies (Tellus #1) by Lucy Saxon

Take back the skies cover

Catherine Hunter is the daughter of a senior government official on the island of Anglya. She’s one of the privileged – she has luxurious clothes, plenty to eat, and is protected from the Collections which have ravaged families throughout the land. But Catherine longs to escape the confines of her life, before her dad can marry her off to a government brat and trap her forever.

So Catherine becomes Cat, pretends to be a kid escaping the Collections, and stows away on the skyship Stormdancer. As they leave Anglya behind and brave the storms that fill the skies around the islands of Tellus, Cat’s world becomes more turbulent than she could ever have imagined, and dangerous secrets unravel her old life once and for all.

My Review of Take Back the Skies

Take Back the Skies (Take Back the Skies, #1)Take Back the Skies by Lucy Saxon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I know the author was only 16 when she wrote this but the plot is so, so simplistic and full of holes. Cat does daft, unbelievable things but everything always works out for the best and someone always turns up or appears from nowhere to help her. Everyone who works for the government must be incredibly stupid. First, they want to wipe out all the common people; Where would they get their food? Who would do all the work? It’s not something you even need to think about to know it does not make sense. Then Cat puts herself on TV, tells everyone that she is responsible for blowing up the government, even names her ship; and there is no response at all. She goes running around the city with all the freed children and no one bothers them. She returns to her father’s house and no one notices her. The ship is allowed to sit there in the spaceport and no one turns up to arrest them. It’s allowed to fly away with them all on board!

Just as unbelievable was the way Cat arrives on the ship and is instantly accepted so much that they all follow her without question when she almost straight away says that she wants to blow up the government building. Very conveniently they have a load of explosives just sitting around with an explosives expert on the crew.

And then I hated everything about the ending. After everything she’s been through she goes right back to where she was at the start of the book and it’s just so sad.

It’s not badly written and I can see there is a lot of potential. There are some good ideas and I liked the way the sky is full of storms and I loved the ship Stormdancer. I wish more time was spent adventuring on the ship and less hiding (and living!) in the government offices running about to get evidence with the spy cameras.

It starts with potential but massive plot holes and a stupidly simplistic story meant that I couldn’t connect with this one. I’m interested to see what the author can do when she gets a bit of life experience behind her though!

Take Back the Skies
Tellus
Lucy Saxon
Young Adult Sci-Fi
June 5th 2014
Paperback
378

The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

The Night Sessions Cover

The first Enlightenment separated church from state – now the second Enlightenment has separated religion from politics. In this enlightened age there’s no persecution. But the millions who still believe and worship are a marginal and mistrusted minority – and now someone is killing them.

My Review of The Night Sessions

The Night SessionsThe Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A detective story set in Scotland in the near future where religion has been marginalised and robots have started to become self-aware. A priest is murdered and Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson has to solve the crime before the killer strikes again.

I enjoyed this a lot, it has a lot of my favourite things in – a near future setting, self-aware robots and a murder mystery. I loved the setting of a near future Edinburgh. There was a lot of thought put into the tech and the politics and how everything worked and it built a very realistic, familiar but futuristic world.

The mystery and the big reveal weren’t all that amazing but it’s quite dark and it had enough surprises and twists to keep it interesting. All the fun was really in the investigation and all the future tech they were using.

Very readable, The Night Sessions is gritty and dark and it had me hooked. I couldn’t put it down!

The Night Sessions
Ken MacLeod
Sci-Fi
August 7th 2008
324

Jem and the Holograms Vol. 1: Showtime (Jem and the Holograms #1)

Jem Cover

Meet Jerrica Benton—a girl with a secret. She and her sisters team up with to become… JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS! But what does it mean to be JEM today? Fashion, art, action, and style collide in Jem and the Holograms: Showtime! Collects issues #1-6.

My Review of Jem and the Holograms Vol.1: Showtime


Jem and the Holograms Vol. 1: Showtime
by Kelly Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved Jem and the Holograms back in the 80’s. My sister and I had a few of the dolls and Jem’s backstage dressing room – one of my favourite toys!

Its good to see that even though it’s all been brought up to date (massive use of social media and very modern attitudes to life) this is still recognisably Jem. The friendships are front and centre – even more than the original. There is conflict with The Misfits and between Jerrica and Rio but it’s the relations between the women in the two bands that get the most focus.

The art and the colours are absolutely stunning. It’s such a visual treat that I kept flipping back and forwards just to admire it. The fab clothes and hairstyles are still very present, modern but with a very visible 80’s influence. At the risk of sounding shallow, and as much as I love the friendships and the stories, the outfit changes are probably my favourite thing about Jem.

The story in the first volume is about a battle of the bands. How Jerrica becomes Jem is covered very quickly in the first issue. I think that’s my only gripe with this, there’s not much backstory or any information about the characters lives outside of the band. It would be nice to know a bit more about them, so far that’s been sidelined in favour of the more exciting battle of the bands.

If there wasn’t a decent plot behind it all though even the outfits would get boring after a while so I guess it’s still the fun story that kept me interested enough to order the next volume.

Jem is a bright and fun mix of fashion and music and it’s packed full of wonderful female characters. I’m looking forward to reading the next one!

Jem and the Holograms Vol. 1: Showtime
Jem and the Holograms
Kelly Thompson, Ross Campbell, Sophie Campbell
Graphic Novel
March 1st 2015
Paperback
152

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia

the alchemy of stone cover

Mattie, an intelligent automaton skilled in the use of alchemy, finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between gargoyles, the Mechanics, and the Alchemists. With the old order quickly giving way to the new, Mattie discovers powerful and dangerous secrets — secrets that can completely alter the balance of power in the city of Ayona.

However, this doesn’t sit well with Loharri, the Mechanic who created Mattie and still has the key to her heart — literally!

A steampunk novel of romance, political intrigue, and alchemy, The Alchemy of Stone represents a new and intriguing direction by the author of the critically-acclaimed The Secret History of Moscow.

My Review of The Alchemy of Stone

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“She could never quite bring herself to hate him – she teetered on the brink often, never crossing over. She had learned resentment and annoyance while being with him, and cold gloating joy; but there was also contentment and sympathy, and pity and gratitude.”

“This city watches you always,” he murmured. He pulled Mattie closer, his arms wrapping about her waist and his face buried in her skirts. Mattie thought then that it was rather sad that he sought comfort by embracing a machine-the construct that was not built to give it. But she tried, and the trying threatened to rend her heart in half.

The Alchemy of Stone is a beautifully written and haunting tale about a wind-up woman who just wants to be in control of her own life.

Mattie is an automaton created by a mechanic called Loharri. He just wanted a companion to care for him and ease his loneliness but instead, he found that he had created an intelligent, self-aware and independent woman. When Mattie becomes an alchemist Loharri reluctantly allows her to leave to live her own life but he refuses to relinquish control of the key to Mattie’s heart – a literal key the automaton needs to wind herself to life.

In the world around Mattie and Loharri, the Mechanics and the Alchemists are at loggerheads with each other as they compete for control of the city. The mechanics are bringing progress, steam-powered machines and analytical computers, upsetting the balance of power between them and the alchemists and pressing the poor and the farmers into working the mines. Stone gargoyles watch over the city as the tensions escalate into bombings and rebellion.

Through all this Mattie is just trying to keep safe her little part of the world and most importantly get her key from Loharri so she can be free from being dependant on him.

“What do you want?”

“My key” Mattie answered. “All I ever wanted was my key and he has it. You can’t steal it, it is bound to him. But he can give it to you, and he won’t give it to me.”

Iolanda touched Mattie’s hand. “You poor thing,” she whispered. “I had no idea.”

“Do you understand then?”

Iolanda nodded. “Show me a woman who wouldn’t.”

The author has created a beautifully imagined gothic tinged steampunk world. The alchemist’s potions and the mechanic’s creations bring a wonderful mix of old vs new and all the tensions that come along with it. The gargoyles sit watching all the events and their commentary provides an extra layer of understanding for the readers.

I would have liked a bit more depth in the gargoyles and in exploring Mattie’s relationships with the friends that she attempts to make. I feel like these were skimmed over a bit, the story of the gargoyles especially. But what it does explore is the issue of Mattie’s independence – what it means to be a woman in control of her own life and this I think is done very well.

It’s an engaging and deeply moving read and I loved the steampunk world with the gargoyles and the mechanic’s creations and the alchemist’s potions. I already want to re-read it just to experience the beautiful writing again!

The Alchemy of Stone
Ekaterina Sedia
Steampunk
November 10th 2009
Paperback
344