Sci-Fi Quick Takes

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I’ve let my reading get ahead of my writing lately, so here’s four quick impressions of some sci-fi books I’ve been reading recently.

The Martian – Andy Weir

I devoured this book with the same gusto I did the whiskey chocolate cake we made back on Valentine’s day. It’s kind of an Apollo 13 meets Mars story, about an astronaut left behind when his mission evacuates Mars due to a standstorm. Full of technical details, quirky humor and some genuine suspense, the book is a quick read and has its own film adaptation coming out in November, starring Matt Damon. This isn’t a book to read if you want deep emotions or lots of character development, but if you like anything space-related and enjoy wisecracking heroes who persevere against all odds, I’d wager that you’ll love the story as much as I did.

Cloud Atlas –  David Mitchell

So I’m a few years behind on this once, but once I remembered to put Cloud Atlas on my reading list, I finished it in about a week. I was a little disappointed that this complex, multi-tiered story didn’t have a more solid payoff in terms of a cohesive explanation behind its soul-reincarnation theory, but it’s still a very intriguing story. I enjoyed the Sonmi and Luisa plotlines the best and thought that the nursing home section could have been completely excluded. Also, the premise of language evolution in the story was interesting, but by the end of Metonym’s story, I would have stabbed the pages if I had to read any more of the futuristic dialogue. I nearly gave up on the book due to the first section (“old timey man keeping a journal on a boat voyage” is probably my least favorite literary genre), but I’m glad I read a little further and was able to explore Mitchell’s interesting future.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

This book is the literary equivalent of a bag of cheese curls – tasty, but not much depth or nutritional value. Nevertheless, it’s an engaging story that will delight nerds and 80s pop culture aficionados. In the not-too-distant future, the world has fallen into disarray and humans spend much of their lives jacked into a virtual reality MMORPG called the OASIS. When its rich, reclusive creator dies and leaves his fortune hidden in the game as a universe-wide treasure hunt, the majority of the game’s players, including high school student Wade Watts, are desperate to find it. The book is jammed full of cultural references which appear in clever ways and the cast is surprisingly diverse, so we’re able to forgive the parts where the plot strays from realism or lapses into over-explanation.

Wool – Hugh Howe

Is there a genre called farm sci-fi? Well, with the Silo, there is now. The last survivors of the human race are confined to an underground silo with a highly stratified society centered on how near the surface one works. Things are not quite as they seem, however. Why is their history lost in a series of nebulous revolutions? What lies beyond the desolate grey landscape that kills all who venture out in it? Is the IT department hiding a secret from the rest of the citizens? Who knows, because the book spends much of its time on less interesting things like climbing up and down stairs and a sort-of love story between two old people! Don’t get me wrong, the book has some very interesting ideas but largely lacks any emotion or characterization to make the reader care. I like post-apocalyptic stories, but when even the protagonist seemed disinterested by the unevenly-paced plot, I had a hard time caring as well.

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