The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

The Growing Season Cover

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.

The Growing SeasonThe Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warm, thoughtful and kind. It presents some big issues but brings a human side to give them meaning.

The Growing Season is set in an alternate version of our world, differing from ours only in the invention of the biotech baby pouch two generations ago. The pouch is an artificial womb that allows babies to be incubated outside of the human body. FullLife own the patent for the pouch and have marketed it so successfully as an end to inequality and the dangers of childbirth that natural births are rare.

Eva is carrying on her mother’s work of campaigning against the pouch. She believes that the technology has moved too fast, that as a society we did not stop to think about the issues, and now we are blind to any problems that the pouch brings along with it.

Holly had the very first pouch baby and is now a poster girl for FullLife. She is about to have her first grandchild, and she loves the pouch and the freedom and choices it brings for parents.

The book takes a very balanced view of the issues and presents both sides of the argument. It looks at the benefits of allowing both men and women to be involved in carrying the unborn child, how it allows people to be parents that otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and how it protects women from the dangers of childbirth.

We are also shown the other side – how it could enable domestic abuse, how it affects society in negative ways, how we adopt technology so quickly that we don’t think about the side effects, or what happens when it goes wrong. It also touches on the dangers of allowing one big company to have such a monopoly on our lives, and how it excludes those who live in poverty even further.

So it’s tackling big issues and could very easily have been dry and preachy. But Sedgwick makes them accessible by giving them a human face and showing how they affect people personally. Through Eva and Holly, she tells a warm and moving story about people. Their lives and families take up a big part of the book. I never felt like she was pushing the discussion about the issues or forcing an opinion on me, the story always comes first.

I thought it would be hard to read, so much so that I almost picked up something else when I was too tired to concentrate, but I gave this a go and got drawn in straight away. The writing is beautiful, almost lyrical at times and I flew through it because I cared so much about the characters.

Highly recommend this one if you like sci-fi, women’s issues, ethics in technology, or if you just like stories about people.

The Growing Season
Helen Sedgwick
Sci-Fi
September 7th 2017
Kindle
302

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

babel17 cover

Babel-17 is all about the power of language. Humanity, which has spread throughout the universe, is involved in a war with the Invaders, who have been covertly assassinating officials and sabotaging spaceships. The only clues humanity has to go on are strange alien messages that have been intercepted in space. Poet and linguist Rydra Wong is determined to understand the language and stop the alien threat.

My review of Babel-17

Babel-17Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliant! I really enjoyed this.

I love the cast of characters. The spaceship crew are wonderful and unique, and I wish they had more page time. Rydra Wong is very intelligent, a genius with languages and can read people almost like she is reading their minds. Everyone loves her, and she is maybe a little too perfect snowflake but I still found her likeable anyway.

The story moves fast and is full of action and intrigue, spaceships and fights. It’s very original and still feels modern even though it was written at the end of the 70s.

It’s all good up until the ending which is rushed through. I found it difficult to follow. It’s very clever, but I felt like the story was working up to something exciting and all I got was a long conversation where someone explains what has been going on.

I enjoyed the discussions about language and how it shapes the way we think about the world, how we can’t comprehend concepts that our language can’t describe and how it affects our intelligence and how fast we think.

Babel-17 works on one level as an action-packed sci-fi story, and if that’s all you want from a book then it can easily be read that way. But there is more to it if you want to look. It’s also a good choice if you like books with a bit more to them, stories that make you think about the way the world works. I highly recommend this one.

Babel-17
Samuel R. Delany
Sci-Fi
June 1st 1978
Paperback
192

Books to Read in the Summer

Time for another book list 🙂

The nights are starting to get shorter and it’s getting towards the last days of summer. One way to make that summer feeling last as long as possible for me is to read books set in hot countries or sunny weather.

I always try to read books that match the season where I am. I don’t like to read wintry books in summer, or autumn books in the spring. I find that I can’t lose myself in the atmosphere of the book as easily.  Does anyone else find that too?

And please share your recommendations! On here or Twitter or Facebook, I’m always looking for new books to read, and I found that my list of summery books isn’t actually that long.

Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells

Hunger Makes the Wolf is set on a desert planet, where a young woman is part of a mercenary biker gang. There is magic (space witches!), a rebellion of mistreated workers against the company that controls the planet, and a woman learning to be a leader. What more could you want!

Hunger Makes the Wolf on GoodReads

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

A post-apocalyptic story that starts on a beach that could be in the Caribbean it sounds so perfectly tropical. It’s actually set on America’s Gulf Coast, where teenager Nailer ekes out a living salvaging copper from the wrecks of the shipping industry.

Ship Breaker on GoodReads

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half a Yellow Sun tells the story of Biafra, a State that existed for three years in the sixties during a civil war in Nigeria. Three different narrators show us the human side of war and the effects it has on ordinary people.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a gifted storyteller, the subject matter means it’s not an easy read, but it is very readable, very interesting, and always stays sensitive.

Half of a Yellow Sun on GoodReads

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Another post-apocalyptic story, and one of my favourites, this is set in a world that has heated up due to global warming. Snowman is the last human surviving with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake in a world where it is too hot to go out in the midday sun.

Oryx and Crake on GoodReads

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

A story about a family that has fallen apart. The disappearance of the father of the family slowly starts to bring the family back together. Set during the heat wave of 1976 this is a book full of interesting characters who all have secrets of their own.

Instructions for a Heatwave on GoodReads

Mara and Dann by Doris Lessing

Mara and Dann is set in Africa thousands of years in the future. Mara lives in the last country on Earth that has not been swallowed by ice. But the food is running out and society is breaking down. In search of a better place to live Mara has to travel north, a hard and long journey that will take her to her limits.

Mara and Dann on GoodReads

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed #1) by Octavia E. Butler

parable of the sower cover

In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future

Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighbourhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.

My Review of Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not sure if this should go under sci-fi or horror. It’s a near-future post-apocalyptic story of an America where people are tearing each other apart in a struggle for survival. One of my least favourite things in books or films is when nasty people do nasty things to each other, and this book has that in spades.

And yet, despite all the nastiness and the gory moments (and there are plenty of those), this is a very intelligent book with a lot to say.

Lauren Olamina’s family lives in one of the very few remaining walled communities. Outside the walls, America is breaking apart and people fight for jobs, food and water. Inside the walls a small group of families have created a stable life for themselves, they grow their own food, some of them have jobs, and working together they manage to get by. But protecting themselves from the chaos outside is getting harder every day.

Lauren knows that their relatively safe lifestyle won’t last. She is very intelligent and very sensible and can see the signs that the others are ignoring. Sooner or later what they have will be too attractive to those that have nothing and it will be taken from them. She starts to plan for the time when she will have to leave and survive outside.

Realising that society will fall apart if people won’t work together and support each other, Lauren starts to develop her own religion. Basically, God is change, and we must work hard and support each other. Lauren is a big thinker, she believes we must first rebuild society starting with small communities following the way of Earthseed, but that ultimately the only way for humankind to survive is to colonise other planets.

The community is eventually overrun and Lauren must leave. She travels north to find a place she can settle, and as she travels she gathers a group of followers around her.

Parable of the Sower doesn’t hold back on how awful people can be, but the violence and gore aren’t there for shock tactics, but to make a point, to show us something. And Octavia Butler has a lot to say in this book. She covers religion, society, race, slavery, corporate greed, politics, environmental devastation and the vulnerability of women, but manages to do it in a way that still comes together with a decent story.

It’s heavy going, but through it she keeps a sense of hope alive, a belief that if people work together than they can create a better future.

For me, it’s a bit too heavy on religion, and a bit too heavy on nastiness. At times I found it so scary that I had to stop reading, though by halfway I found I had become almost immune to all the violence. I like how sensible and intelligent Lauren is, but I found her a little too perfect to be likeable. It certainly made me think though it’s interesting, and Octavia Butler is a good writer. I will be reading more of her books.

Parable of the Sower
Earthseed
Octavia E. Butler
Sci-Fi
January 1st 2000
Paperback
345

Plan for Chaos by John Wyndham

Plan for Chaos Cover

In a city that could well be New York, a series of identical women are found dead in suspicious circumstances. Magazine photographer Johnny Farthing, who is reporting on the suspected murders, is chilled to discover that his fiancée looks identical to the victims too – and then she disappears.

As his investigations spiral beyond his control, he finds himself at the heart of a sinister plot that uses cloning to revive the Nazi vision of a world-powerful master race.

Part detective noir, part dystopic thriller, Plan for Chaos reveals the legendary science fiction novelist grappling with some of his most urgent and personal themes.

My Review of Plan for Chaos

Plan for ChaosPlan for Chaos by John Wyndham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Plan for Chaos starts off like an American hardboiled detective story, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Speaking as an English person that has never been to America, the Americanisms don’t feel right and the language is confusing. I had to read some paragraphs a few times before I could make sense of them.

When it moves from America it settles down into a decent story, with some interesting sci-fi inventions, a lot of them that are actually around today. Though the idea of clones is so common these days that it was hard for me not to want to shout at Johnny Farthing for not realising straight away.

From there it slows down into a lot of philosophising about war and the base instincts of the human race. While this is interesting, and a lot of it is scarily relevant today, it is quite slow. I also felt a bit like I was missing something because I don’t know much about 1950’s politics, and the book doesn’t talk much about the world political atmosphere.

The ending is anticlimactic. There is more action towards the end, but Johnny always seems to be a bit out of it. He hears about things afterwards or watches other people doing things. It’s frustrating to read and makes what could be an interesting story into a dull one.

John Wyndham’s attitude towards women in this book is dated, yet progressive for its time. He shows over and again that women can be intelligent. Johnny Farthing spends most of the book not knowing what is going on, and with no idea of what he should do next. When he does attempt action, his efforts are misguided and cause more problems than they solve.

In contrast, Johnny’s fiancee Freda seems very intelligent, she understands their situation and spends a lot of her time explaining things to Johnny that he just can’t see. A lot of the other women in the book are also shown to be intelligent, and to be capable leaders.

This is nice to read, but at the same time, he also portrays women as all having the shared goal of settling down with a stable family and as many children as possible. This is one of the main themes in the book and is repeated all the way through. The men in the book have no interest in children or family at all. It’s irritating, but it was written in the 1950’s and it does better than most books from that time.

If you’re new to John Wyndham I wouldn’t recommend you start with this. It has a dodgy start and sketchy pacing and it’s not one of his best.

If you are already a fan it is worth reading as there are some interesting ideas in there that are still relevant today.

Plan for Chaos
John Wyndham
Sci-Fi
January 7th 2010
Paperback
234

A Man of Shadows (John Nyquist #1) by Jeff Noon

A Man of Shadows Cover

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.

A Man of Shadows (John Nyquist, #1)A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read once that taking away watches and clocks from people and not allowing them to know the time will slowly drive them mad. After reading this book I can believe it.

It starts out as a hard-boiled detective story set in a world that feels like a futuristic version of the 1950’s. The city is split into three different zones, Nocturna that is eternal night, Dusk, a place of fog and monsters where it is always twilight and no-one dare go, and Dayzone, a world of bright neon lights where it never goes dark and the citizens are constantly switching between the hundreds of different timelines.

John Nyquist is hired to find the teenage daughter of one of the richest men in the city. But like any good detective story, nothing is what it seems.

I loved the first half, the atmosphere created and the characters and the sense of place are almost perfectly done. Towards the middle it starts to feel surreal, it’s like a bad dream where Nyquist is losing his sense of time and reality. I struggled with reading this, I’ve never enjoyed dream sequences and this was more confusing than most. It messed with my mind, and it made me feel a bit ill reading it!

It settles down towards the end though and it got a bit easier on my brain.

The writing is brilliant, and it’s full of plot twists that I didn’t predict. The atmosphere and the world building is just right, I could see Dayzone in my mind, and I loved the contrast between the frantic pace of life there and the calm and quiet in Nocturna.

I do struggle sometimes with books that leave you to decide what’s real and what’s not, but if you don’t mind that then I highly recommend this book as it’s very well done, with an interesting story, good characters, and original ideas.

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

A Man of Shadows
John Nyquist
Jeff Noon
Sci-Fi
August 1st 2017
Kindle
384

Ensnared by Rita Stradling

Ensnared Cover

Ensnared Blurb

A Near-Future Retelling of Beauty and the Beast

Alainn’s father is not a bad man. He’s a genius and an inventor. When he’s hired to create the robot Rose, Alainn knows taking the money is a mistake.

Rose acts like a human. She looks exactly like Alainn. But, something in her comes out wrong.

To save her father from a five year prison sentence, Alainn takes Rose’s place. She says goodbye to the sun and goes to live in a tower no human is allowed to enter. She becomes the prisoner of a man no human is allowed to see.

Believing that a life of servitude lies ahead, Alainn finds a very different fate awaits her in the company of the strange, scarred recluse.

This novel contains adult situations and is only suitable for readers who are 18+.

My Review of Ensnared

EnsnaredEnsnared by Rita Stradling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ensnared is based on Beauty and the Beast, but it takes the basic idea and runs with it, throwing in sci-fi elements with automatons, AI, and self-aware robots.

I was expecting a young adult story from the blurb, but it’s aimed at adults.

If I’m being honest the story is daft, there’s not a lot of world building, and there are plot holes you can drive a truck through. But it’s also a lot of fun, with likeable characters.

I liked Alainn, she’s independent and not afraid to speak her mind, but she’s not perfect. She’s not overly intelligent and is prone to taking risks that endanger her life. It’s this daredevil impulse that leads her to agree to impersonate the robot Lorccan has ordered to save her father from going to jail. It (kind of) makes sense in context.

Lorccan is a recluse who is scared of germs and has little to no experience of other people. I can almost believe he doesn’t realise that he got a real person instead of a robot, even though Alainn is very, very bad at pretending to be a robot. She doesn’t even think about how she is going to eat, so almost starves herself at first. I think about food all the time, so if I was going to have to pretend to be a robot somewhere it’s probably the first thing I would worry about.

I liked that Lorcann’s problems aren’t magically fixed by the power of lurve. At the end of the book, he still can’t leave his home for fear of germs. It’s clear that it’s a bigger, ongoing issue that Alainn can’t fix for him.

My favourite character in this has to be Shelley. She has anxiety, and battles with herself when she pushes herself way out of her comfort zone to help Alainn when things go wrong. She reaches a point where she can’t force herself any further and leaves with the police instead of escaping with Alainn. I loved that she wasn’t treated as a coward for this, instead, Alainn thanks her and calls her a badass.

If you want something that’s not going to tax your brain and you can just enjoy reading it, then this is a good choice. I read it in a day, I didn’t want to put it down. I even had to have it propped up in front of me while I was brushing my teeth!

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Ensnared
Rita Stradling
Sci-Fi
May 23rd 2017
Kindle
419

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1) by Liu Cixin

The Three-Body Problem cover

The Three-Body Problem Blurb

1967: Ye Wenjie witnesses Red Guards beat her father to death during China’s Cultural Revolution. This singular event will shape not only the rest of her life but also the future of mankind.

Four decades later, Beijing police ask nanotech engineer Wang Miao to infiltrate a secretive cabal of scientists after a spate of inexplicable suicides. Wang’s investigation will lead him to a mysterious online game and immerse him in a virtual world ruled by the intractable and unpredictable interaction of its three suns.

This is the Three-Body Problem and it is the key to everything: the key to the scientists’ deaths, the key to a conspiracy that spans light-years and the key to the extinction-level threat humanity now faces.

My Review of The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1)The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely loved everything about this, but I don’t want to give too much away about the story. It’s unusual and half the fun of the book for me was watching the events unfold and start to make sense as Wang Miao investigates the mystery of why the scientists are committing suicide.

I loved that it’s a proper hard sci-fi book, very science heavy. A lot of it I could follow, some of it I couldn’t but I just enjoyed going along for the ride. There are some very interesting, original ideas with a massive scope and although I was a bit lost at first it all come together into a very entertaining story.

One of my favourite things about the book is how there are female scientists, even back in the 70s, and it’s not an issue, it’s just normal. I don’t know if that’s how things are in China, or if it’s down to how the author wrote it, but it was lovely to read women being able to get on with the science without having to explain it.

The translator has done a brilliant job. There are a few footnotes, especially in the chapters set in the past during the Cultural Revolution. They were helpful and not excessive, and there weren’t as many of them once the story got going.

I’m giving it five stars simply because I enjoyed it so much. It has everything I like in a sci-fi book, and I recommend to anyone who likes writers like Isaac Asimov, who enjoyed The Martian, or who likes thought-provoking sci-fi with massive ideas.

The Three-Body Problem
Remembrance of Earth's Past
Liu Cixin
Sci-Fi
December 3rd 2015
Paperback
442

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon Cover

Lagoon Blurb

When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself.

Told from multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.

‘There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.’

My Review of Lagoon

LagoonLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aliens land in the water off the coast of Nigeria in this sci-fi first contact novel. What follows is chaos as the city starts to destroy itself through fear.

There are a lot of different voices in Lagoon, some only for one or two chapters. Normally I would find that confusing but here it worked well as it dropped into different people around Lagos to show events rather than having the main characters be everywhere and see everything. It did make it a bit hard to really connect with or care about any of the characters though as it’s a short book anyway and meant that even less time was spent on telling the main characters stories.

I loved the sci-fi side, there were a lot of fresh ideas that made this really interesting. There are African mythology and magic elements mixed in too, but I don’t know anything about African myths and these weren’t explained enough for them to make sense for me. They seemed to be added at random and not add anything to the main story. I’m also not sure why the main characters had powers, or why they were chosen by the aliens.

It’s very original and ambitious, and overall I enjoyed it. I liked the environmental / feminist / religious themes, but I think maybe there was just a bit too much in one book and I found it hard going at times to keep track of the main story. It’s difficult to get into, but I think it’s worth the effort for the fresh and modern perspective on sci-fi.

Lagoon
Nnedi Okorafor
Sci-Fi
April 10th 2014
Paperback
306

The Complete Alien Omnibus by Alan Dean Foster

Alien Cover

The Complete Alien Omnibus Blurb

As the spaceship ‘Nostromos’ glided through the silent reaches of the galaxy, the ship’s scanners detected a garbled distress call from a remote and long dead planet.

But all the technology on board could not protect the ship’s crew from the living nightmare they found there. It was a terror that stalked Ripley, the only survivor of ‘Nostromos’, and came to haunt her again and again.

Read the horrors of ALIEN and you won’t believe that Ripley returned, with a team of death-dealing Marines, right back into the jaws of a threat too monstrous to contemplate.

After the slaughter that was ALIENS, Ripley finds herself on a prison planet worse than anyone’s imagined hell. But the nightmare of ALIEN 3 was only just beginning…

My Review of The Complete Alien Omnibus

The Complete Alien OmnibusThe Complete Alien Omnibus by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love the Alien films so I was very happy when my boyfriend found this at a car boot last weekend!

Obviously, I already knew I liked the stories, and Ellen Ripley is probably my all time favourite movie character, but I was hoping for a bit more info / background on the plot and characters.

There really isn’t much outside what happens in the films. Extra scenes and conversations are few and far between, and I wasn’t impressed with the bits that are added. We do get to find out what Ripley is thinking, and it makes more of how the events are affecting her psychologically.

Saying that, some bits are made clearer – eg why the ship crashes in the final film.

The writing improved in each book, in the first one it’s a bit overblown, and I felt like the author was trying too hard to be intelligent. By the last book, he’s calmed down a lot and just gets on with telling a story. In fact, Alien 3 is my least favourite of the movies (let’s pretend 4 never happened), but actually it makes the best book. Though I will never approve of the Alien franchise’s habit of killing major characters off between films.

Is this for you? Well, if you love the movies and are happy just reading them in book form then go for it, but if you’re after more insights into the Alien world, then this will just disappoint you.

The Complete Alien Omnibus
Alien
Alan Dean Foster
Sci-Fi
October 14th 1993
649