Stronger, Faster, And More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton

stronger faster and more beautiful cover

The Blurb

For fans of television shows Black Mirror and Westworld, this compelling, mind-bending novel is a twisted look into the future, exploring how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimen and what it means to be human at all.

Set in our world, spanning the near to distant futures, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is a novel made up of six interconnected stories that ask how far we will go to remake ourselves into the perfect human specimens, and how hard that will push the definition of “human.”

This extraordinary work explores the amazing possibilities of genetic manipulation and life extension, as well as the ethical quandaries that will arise with these advances. The results range from the heavenly to the monstrous. Deeply thoughtful, poignant, horrifying, and action-packed, Arwen Elys Dayton’s Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful is groundbreaking in both form and substance.

My Thoughts

Speculative fiction focusing on the future of body mods – how might humans enhance themselves and the ethical issues and inequalities that this enhancement raises.

The book is laid out in 6 short stories, each one leading us further into a distant future. The stories are self-contained and focus on a different person in each time that has to face the ethics and issues raised by body mods and genetic engineering. Some of the characters I connected with more than others, funnily enough, even though the first story with the bullying and the mistreatment a girl faces at her school is the most relatable, I didn’t care for it at all. Some of the later stories though, especially terminally ill Jake who is modified against his will into a cyborg used by a big corporation for mining work, I found very moving.

I also really like the final story which concerns a group of people with no mods who are treated as research fodder for the more technically advanced majority. Forced to live in isolation they must not be allowed any tech or outside help to ensure that they stay as ‘pure’ as possible so they can be studied and kept as potential genetic material.

The author has a great imagination but has managed to keep a laser focus on the story she set out to tell. Even though she takes us to a distant future with some fancy tech and asks some big questions, the human side of the issues are kept front and centre. Even in the most distant of futures, the author is raising questions about things that affect people today.

This might be considered young adult fiction, and the characters are all teenagers, but there is issues here that everyone can relate to and ideas that challenge all of us. And best of both worlds because it’s entertaining to just read as a story too!

Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful
Arwen Elys Dayton
Young Adult Sci-Fi
December 4th 2018
Paperback
384

The Power by Naomi Alderman

The Power Cover

What if the power to hurt were in women’s hands?

Suddenly – tomorrow or the day after – teenage girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. With this single twist, the four lives at the heart of Naomi Alderman’s extraordinary, visceral novel are utterly transformed.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed The Power, it’s very readable, but not nearly as original or groundbreaking as I was hoping for.

It tries for a very serious style, jumping between people and events in a way similar to World War Z but some of the events come off a little too far fetched and daft to make it really work. It’s not as gritty as it wants to be and sometimes I caught myself thinking ‘that’s so silly how would that work’. It jumps around a lot too, it doesn’t stay with any one person long enough to get to know them so the human side of the story and the emotional impact is almost lost.

It’s a story with a premise that the author could have gone anywhere with, there was so much she could have said in this book but she just wrote about a straight role reversal, the women end up just like the men. I don’t know if maybe she was trying to say something about how power corrupts or how deep down we’re all really the same but if so it didn’t come across very well.

For a speculative sci-fi book it would be ok and an interesting read but it’s got such an attention-grabbing blurb and it’s been so massively hyped that it ends up being disappointing.

The Power
Naomi Alderman
Sci-Fi
April 6th 2017
Paperback
341

Atlas Alone (Planetfall #4) by Emma Newman

Atlas Alone Cover

Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed the world. She’s trying to find those responsible and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone.

A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time. A man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.

Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee pulls back from gaming and continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the true plans for the future colony, she realizes that to save what is left of humanity, she may have to do something that risks losing her own.

My Thoughts

4 / 5 stars

Atlas Alone is a dark and kinda twisted story with a sting in the tail and an endlessly debatable ending.

Dee is an independent person with a lot of trauma from her past life. She is used to surviving on her own and struggles to connect or open up to people. She is one of the few witnesses of the life-changing event at the end of After Atlas and she feels helpless and lost. She is stuck on a ship with people she doesn’t know and power structures that she doesn’t understand and is finding it very difficult to cope with.

When a mysterious person invades her VR space and offers her the opportunity to take revenge she finds herself forced to face up to the trauma of her past at the same time as her morals and her personality are being tested.

I’m loving Emma Newman’s Planetfall series. I like how each book is its own story, with connections to the others but its own characters and its own story to tell. Atlas Alone follows straight on from the ending of After Atlas but because it’s about a different character it feels like its own, separate story. The setting is still rich in AI and lovely tech details but this one goes much more into the online immersive gaming and social world. It gives this book much more of a cyberpunk feel than the other books in the series.

I had fun trying to guess the identity of Dee’s helper. I did guess it in the end but honestly not that much sooner than Dee did herself and it was an enjoyable bit of mystery mixed in with the sci-fi. I always love a good mystery!

The story is full of suspense and excitement and has a lot of depth to it. There are a lot of parallels in the book with modern slavery, the issues around workers rights and the fears about AI and the way technology is going. Dee finds herself questioning her morals and how far she will go for revenge and to stop the new world society from mistreating their workers. I feel like this would be a good one for a book club discussion! It gets very dark along the way and there are a lot of moral questions.

I loved and hated the ending at the same time. Loved because it worked so well and like I mentioned it raised a lot of moral issues. Hated because I generally like a good happy ending with issues resolved and this was the exact opposite. I got very frustrated with Dee and some of the choices she made, but it all fit the story so I can’t complain too much. You don’t always need a main character that you admire to enjoy or appreciate the story.

Another good entry in the Planetfall series, I’m hoping that the story continues!

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

Atlas Alone
Planetfall
Emma Newman
Sci-Fi
April 16th 2019
Kindle
320

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color by Nisi Shawl, Rebecca Roanhorse

New Suns Cover

Anthology of contemporary stories by emerging and seasoned writers of many races

There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns,” proclaimed Octavia E Butler.

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color showcases emerging and seasoned writers of many races telling stories filled with shocking delights, powerful visions of the familiar made strange. Between this book’s covers burn tales of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and their indefinable overlappings. These are authors aware of our many possible pasts and futures, authors freed of stereotypes and clichés, ready to dazzle you with their daring genius.

Unexpected brilliance shines forth from every page.

Including stories by Indrapramit Das, E Lily Yu, Rebecca Roanhorse, Anil Menon, Jaymee Goh and many others. Introduction by Levar Burton.

My Thoughts

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of ColorNew Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color by Nisi Shawl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

News Suns is a book of collected short speculative fiction stories by people of colour. It’s quite an open description and so the stories here are varied in style, linking them is that they all have elements of something unusual, something not quite of this world.

Normally I find short story collections difficult to read because I find myself stopping after every story but with this one I just couldn’t stop reading. The stories are all a bit odd, a bit different and full of atmosphere. I very much enjoyed this collection and I was sad to get to the end.

My favourites included Harvest – a dark and disturbing tale of a woman who would do anything for her lover, The Freedom of the Shifting Sea, an only slight less disturbing tale of a woman that falls in love with a mermaid / sea worm and Deer Dancer, a story that I didn’t understand at all but thought was beautifully done even though it went over my head.

The only one I wasn’t keen on was The Virtue of Unfaithful Translations because it was more historical explanation than a story. I liked the way it tried something new but I didn’t feel connected to the story at all, it was too far removed.

The other stories were:

Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex, about a taxi driver who finds himself in trouble after a passenger jumps out of his cab.

Come Home to Atropos – a very cleverly done story about an advertising campaign to entice rich white people to come to Atropos for euthanasia that feels far too realistic to be comfortable reading.

The Fine Print – about men that exchange their women and children to pay for perfect wives from catalogues.

Unkind of Mercy – a woman that can see invisible beings that inhabit our world.

Burn the Ships – a race of people that are about to be wiped out by alien invaders find a way to fight back.

Three Variations on a Theme of Imperial Attire – an Emporer’s New Clothes retelling.

Blood and Bells – another of my favourites, this is about a young man trying to protect his child and escape the gang world that he lives in.

Give me your Black Wings Oh Sister – I liked this one a lot too, it’s about a young woman that starts to feel strange, uncontrollable urges.

The Shadow we Cast through Time – a story about a world that lives in close contact with demons.

The Robots of Eden – people that have ‘enhanced’ themselves but lost the ability to feel emotions.

Dumb House – a woman that refuses to upgrade to the latest smart houses.

One Easy Trick – about a woman who literally loses her belly fat while walking in the forest.

Kelsey and the Burdened Breath – a world where when people die their souls leave their bodies with their last breath.

A varied and interesting short story collection, I recommend this if you’re looking for something fresh and a bit different.

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

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color
Nisi Shawl, Rebecca Roanhorse
Sci-Fi
March 12th 2019
Kindle
384

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

psychology of time travel cover

1967: Four female scientists invent a time-travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened the world to new possibilities. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril.

2017: Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past. Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future–a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady.

2018: When Odette discovered the body, she went into shock. Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, flesh. But when the inquest fails to answer any of her questions, Odette is frustrated. Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder?

My Thoughts

The Psychology of Time TravelThe Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“We’ve done it,” Babara said, “You bloody brilliant women. We’ve done it.”

They hugged, their voices mingling as they spoke over each other, and Babara’s vision blurred with tears. She was so grateful – for Lucielle’s superluminal research, and Grace’s thermodynamics, and Margaret’s utter, unshakeable conviction that they would succeed. The team were pioneers. They were going to be the first people to travel through time.

I loved that it involved a murder mystery – one of my favourite things – and then combined it with a sci-fi story – another of my favourite things! But it kinda disappointingly didn’t go anywhere. Also, it confused me. Maybe I missed something reading it but I didn’t get the whole candy box thing and didn’t get why it was left there and why they knew when to go back.

Another thing I love is that the majority of the scientists and important people were women, as though it was just a normal thing. I didn’t like any of the characters though. As people go these were pretty miserable, selfish group. There were also so many storylines and different themes running that it made it hard to keep track of what was happening to who. I think that contributed massively to my confused feelings reading it.

It’s well written though, there’s enough in this one book to fill three or four different books and I think that if the author had trimmed this back a bit I would have really loved it.

The time travel company was interesting and well thought out – it created its own rules and morals and basically, it’s own eco-system. It set itself apart from the rest of the world as something special because it owned time travel. As another book club member pointed out (hi Mum!) the book seemed to be trying to create a parallel with the Google’s and the Facebook’s of the world – an entity with so much control and power that it thinks itself above the laws.

On the psychology side, the book delves into the ways in which time travel might affect a person. How they become hardened to death and how they deal with romantic relationships and meeting oneself in the future or the past. This was the most interesting aspect of the book for me, I liked seeing the ways the people, and the company itself, dealt with the issues.

I enjoyed reading it and I loved some of the ideas and themes running through it but overall I thought it too messy with too many characters, none of them likeable enough to make me care for them.

The Psychology of Time Travel
Kate Mascarenhas
Sci-Fi
August 9th 2018
Paperback
320

The Last Children of Tokyo by Yōko Tawada, Margaret Mitsutani (Translator)

Last Children of Tokyo Cover

Yoshiro celebrated his hundredth birthday many years ago, but every morning before work he still goes running in the park with his rent-a-dog. He is one of the many aged-elderly in Japan and he might, he thinks, live forever. Life for Yoshiro isn’t as simple as it used to be. Pollution and natural disasters have scarred the face of the Earth, and even common foods are hard to come by. Still, Yoshiro’s only real worry is the future of his great-grandson Mumei, who, like other children of his generation, was born frail and grey-haired, old before he was ever young.

As daily life in Tokyo grows harder, a secretive organisation embarks on an audacious plan to find a cure for the children of Japan – might Yoshiro’s great-grandson, Mumei, be the key?

A dreamlike story of filial love and glimmering hope, The Last Children of Tokyo is a delicate glimpse of our future from one of Japan’s most celebrated writers.

My Thoughts

The Last Children of TokyoThe Last Children of Tokyo by Yōko Tawada
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nothing much really happens in this little novella but it felt like it packed more into its few pages than most manage to get into three books.

It’s set in Japan in the near future where older people are living longer lives and enjoying great health. But the children being born are old before their time, they have problems eating and walking and can’t play properly. Their bodies decay quickly and they die young but the children seem wiser and more accepting of their status then the adults do.

I like the slow, contemplative pace. The lives of Yoshiro and his grandson Mumei are examined minutely and laid bare for us to see. As sad and difficult as Yoshiro finds the situation, Mumei just accepts his lot in life and carries on as if it’s normal. And for him, it is.

The message of the book seems to be to encourage us to think about what we are doing now: living it large and using up all the resources and polluting the environment is going to leave future generations with a trashed planet and serious health issues.

I’m not sure that much happens but it feels like it does and it’s all very sad.

The language and the writing is beautiful and encourages a slow contemplation of the world. I read slowly because I was trying to take it all in but I still don’t think I understood everything in it – this is one I think will benefit from rereads. I’m sure I missed things in it.

A beautifully written sad and moving look at a scarily possible future.

The Last Children of Tokyo by
Yōko Tawada
Sci-Fi
June 7th 2018
Paperback
144

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams by Philip K. Dick

Electric Dreams Cover

The stories that inspired the original dramatic series, premiered January 12, 2018.

Though perhaps most famous as a novelist, Philip K. Dick wrote more than one hundred short stories over the course of his career, each as mind-bending and genre-defining as his longer works. Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams collects ten of the best. In “Autofac,” Dick shows us one of the earliest examples (and warnings) in science fiction of self-replicating machines. “Exhibit Piece” and “The Commuter” feature Dick exploring favourite themes: the shifting nature of reality and whether it is even possible to perceive the world as it truly exists. And “The Hanging Stranger” provides a thrilling, dark political allegory as relevant today as it was when Dick wrote it at the height of the Cold War.

Strange, funny, and powerful, the stories in this collection highlight a master at work, encapsulating his boundless imagination and deep understanding of the human condition.

My Review of Electric Dreams

Philip K. Dick's Electric DreamsPhilip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Electric Dreams is a collection of short stories that were the influence for the episodes in the recent tv series based on Philip K. Dick’s work.

The social and cultural side of a lot of them make the stories feel dated. A lot of the sci-fi is the standard stuff that was doing the rounds in the 50s / 60s – human style service robots etc. I don’t mind this, I love Arthur C. Clarke and Issac Asimov but I found it irritating here. Maybe because he’s touted as super modern and way ahead of his time? Also annoying is that the women are treated like daft bits of fluff that get in the men’s way.

He does have some very interesting ideas though and some of the stories I liked a lot. Autofac is one of my favourites, the idea of AI that runs away with itself due to thoughtless programming is so relevant to tech today that it’s chilling to read.

The Hanging Stranger is another one I liked. The suspense and the feeling of confusion the main character feels are spot on.

So some I liked and some I didn’t. Overall it’s an interesting read, especially to see where a lot of modern stories get their influences from.

Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams
Philip K. Dick
Sci-Fi
November 14th 2017
Paperback
224

Everything About You by Heather Child

everything about you cover

Freya has a new virtual assistant. It knows what she likes, knows what she wants and knows whose voice she most needs to hear: her missing sister’s.

It adopts her sister’s personality, recreating her through a life lived online. But this virtual version of her knows things it shouldn’t be possible to know.

It’s almost as if the missing girl is still out there somewhere, feeding fresh updates into the cloud. But that’s impossible. Isn’t it?

Everything About YouEverything About You by Heather Child
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the idea behind the story and the way that it takes the tech we have today and extrapolates it all just that little bit into what we might have tomorrow!

It made it feel very realistic and relatable, like a world I’m excited to see. If anyone remembers Tomorrow’s World on the BBC, it made me think of that a lot while I was reading it (spaghetti plants aside).

Part of the story is that Freya is struggling to find her own space in the world and I get that, it just felt like she didn’t understand, and didn’t care to understand, basic things about how society works. She was so clueless it was hard to fully grasp the world and how it worked. It was like she’d just been dumped there and was a stranger herself. As the reader we learn the world through the characters and because Freya didn’t understand her world it made me feel lost, like basic parts of the plotline were passing me by.

As an example, Freya goes on a date she’s arranged online and 8 men turn up. She is confused and scared by it but after discussions with her virtual assistant appears to eventually grasp the situation – I never did.

But the more I think about the book after I’ve read it the more I like it. It makes important points about living in an echo chamber, how we need to be careful about passing off control of our own lives, and how much authority we give to artificial voices programmed to guess at what we might want.

I loved the storyline and the tech and I had a lot of sympathy for Freya but I felt like it was hard to get a grasp on the world. It stopped it from being a truly immersive book for me.

Everything About You
Heather Child
Sci-Fi
April 26th 2018
Hardback
352

Consider Her Ways and Others by John Wyndham

Consider Her Ways and Others Cover

The six stories in Consider Her Ways and Others, the second collecton of John Wyndham’s short tales, continue his exploration of the science fiction staple – what if?

In the title story we are introduced to a world where all the men have been killed by a virus and women continue to survive in a strict caste system – bottom of the heap are the mothers.

In others we meet the man who accidentally summons a devil and then has to find a way of getting rid of him without losing his immortal soul, as well as the woman who, thanks to an experiment in time, discovers why her lover abandoned her.

‘Wyndham writes strongly and has a gift for bizarre plots’ – Guardian

‘One of the few authors whose compulsive readability is a compliment to the intelligence’ – Spectator 

My Review of Consider Her Ways and Others

Consider Her Ways and OthersConsider Her Ways and Others by John Wyndham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not his best work, Consider Her Ways contains six stories that are all variations on a theme. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing but by the third story, it all starts to feel repetitive.

The first, and also the longest, story starts out ok with a woman walking up in an all-female society and in a body that she does not think is hers. I found it interesting at first but it descended into a long debate on the oppression of women and whether love is real or just something to invented to distract women from rebelling and becoming independent. An interesting idea that I think has some merit but it’s also perpetuating the idea that love and romance are women’s things that men just tolerate for an easy life. And I actually got a bit angry with it when a female historian had this to say:

“I will admit that we have lost some minor conveniences – you will have noticed, I expect, that we are less inventive mechanically, and tend to copy the patterns that we have inherited….Perhaps men could show us how to travel twice as fast, or how to fly to the moon, or how to kill more people more quickly; but it does not seem to us that such kinds of knowledge would be good payment for re-enslaving ourselves.”

Oh, Where Now, is Peggy Macrafferty? missed the mark it was aiming for. I think it was going for a modern feel but that isn’t John Wyndham’s strong point. My least favourite in the book and easily skippable.

Two of the stories I did enjoy were Odd and The Long Spoon. Both are quite short and fast-paced, both a bit offbeat, The Long Spoon especially made me laugh.

Overall I’d say there are some good ideas but he’s not at his best. Probably only for completists.

Consider Her Ways and Others
John Wyndham
Sci-Fi
1956
Paperback
190