Category Archives: Science Fiction

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells

All Systems Red Title: All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries
Author: Martha Wells
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 978-0765397539
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“All Systems Red” is such a brilliant novella that I wished it never ended, but it did and I was only too happy knowing there is a sequel which I can get to later. It is a space-thriller, a science-opera like nothing else you would have read before. At least I hadn’t earlier. Can a droid have emotions? Can robots think for themselves and be empathetic? Is that even possible? Martha Wells asks these questions in her first episode of The Murderbot Diaries (I love the name of the series by the way) and makes you think as a reader if something like this could be remotely possible in the near-future.

Our protagonist is SecUnit, an AI robot who is not only shy but also quite self-aware. The world is being run by corporates and everything needs to be approved by The Company. These androids belong to the Company and on a planet which is quite distant from ours, a team of scientists are conducting tests. SecUnit is a part of the unit that is conducting these tests. It hates humans and all it longs for is to be left alone. It also refers to itself as Murderbot (now you get the link?). And of course, a mission that isn’t theirs goes wrong and it is up to the scientists and Murderbot to work together to get to the truth.

I am overwhelmed by the writing of Wells. It doesn’t read as science fiction and it so does that you are confused what you are reading at some point, which to me is a great quality to have in a writer. The novella is also funny by the way, more so because of what Murderbot thinks and never says out loud. I found myself laughing in so many places and yet the pace of excitement never dies. The plot is tight and the conclusion doesn’t disappoint at all. Read it for sure! Get the second part as well. You would want to read it right after.

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Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Borne Title: Borne
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374115241
Genre: Literary Fiction, Science-Fiction, Dystopian Fiction
Pages: 330
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Borne” is an unusual book that takes some time getting into. It isn’t an easy read. Don’t be fooled by the initial pages. If anything, it will also drive you in a tizzy, trying to sometimes make sense of what is going on. It is dystopian and not so much because we can see what will happen to us if we don’t take care of our surroundings and the environment. This was a wake-up call for me but more than anything else, VanderMeer’s writing (I have read his The Southern Reach trilogy and it is fantastic) is first-class and he is most certainly at the top of his game.

Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city – destroyed by drought and conflict, the other half destroyed by experiments (which were obviously in vain) conducted by the Company – a biotech firm, now rendered useless. Rachel lives with her partner Wick who deals with his own homegrown psychoactive biotech. And in all of this one fine day Rachel finds Borne and takes him home. Borne is more than just a green lump and has something magnificent about him. Borne is a constant reminder to Rachel of the life before the so-called apocalypse that took place (albeit of a different kind). She takes care of Borne, nurtures him – he makes sense of the world and makes Rachel believe in the goodness of the world all over again. Till he grows of course and everything goes for a toss. The world they have created is not perfect and Rachel would have to reconsider her decision.

There is a sense of morality about “Borne” which is very high. VanderMeer is okay with you taking any side, and yet it feels that he only wants you to be on one side so to say. He is also great at casting a web of fables – most of the book is that, but it is also the scary future we could have. Jeff’s prose is lucid and yet detailed at so many levels. He stretches your imagination and doesn’t serve anything on a platter, which to me is fantastic. The characters behave strangely and it is great to get to the motive at the end of it. I hope this one also has another two-parts, because to me Borne’s story does not end here. I am certain there is more. So if you like your books to make a chill run down your spine, then this is the one for you.

Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation. Edited & Translated by Ken Liu

Invisible Planets Title: Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation
Edited and Translated by Ken Liu
Publisher: TOR Books
ISBN: 978-0765384195
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I love science fiction and when it came from China, somehow it became even more special and I don’t know why. I guess I do. I think because of living in the conditions that they have and do, the Chinese write some brilliant sci-fi stories. I’ve read a couple in the past and absolutely loved them. I also think reading other genres from other lands just broadens your world-view, even if it is science-fiction, because hey it is after all rooted in reality. Invisible Planets takes readers of English outside their comfort zone and introduces us to futures imagined by people whose lives are vastly different from ours. To me, that was the most rewarding thing about reading this anthology.

Invisible Planets has it all – dystopia, western science-fi, science opera (thank God not too much of it), futuristic for sure, and stories also by Liu Cixin whose The Three-Body Problem was a brilliant piece of science fiction which I urge everyone to read.

Some stories of course stand out and some not all that much. My personal favourites were: The Year of the Rat by Chen Qiufan about young men trying to control mutant rats (this might give some sleepless nights), then there’s also Ma Bayong’s The City of Silence which almost reminded me of the times that we are living in (more so in India where freedom of expression is going away day by day) and was quite a chilling tale at that. Another story that stood out for me was Folding Beijing – which is all about money, money and more money and how it impacts the future. Taking Care of God again presents a very unique vision of the world. I will not say more about this short story as the title also gives something away.

Invisible Planets is a fantastic anthology. It is edited brilliantly by Ken Liu and for one it will introduce readers to new Chinese authors who have an uncanny flair for science fiction which is not only unique, but also very literary at the same time.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel Title: Station Eleven
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 9781447268970
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 333
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I could have easily finished this book in a day. That’s what I normally do when I start reading a book and I am totally immersed in it. That was also the case with “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel. I was gripped by the prose and the beauty of the language and I could have finished it in one day. But my journey or love affair with the book lasted for five days and I also know that it does not end here. I will constantly keep thinking of the book, and will also reread my favourite parts which I have marked and will cherish for a long time to come.

On the surface of things, “Station Eleven” might seem to be just another post-apocalyptic novel, but it is way beyond that. It is a testimony to us being human and more than anything else, to the survival power art can have in our lives and to a very large extent about the role of memory and how it can be, both cruel and kind.

“Station Eleven” is more than the regular novel, well at least to me it is. Why do you ask? Because it makes you feel things on a different level. How else can I put it? It also makes you perhaps live this life a little better than you already are and if a book manages to do that, then it is supreme to me.

“Station Eleven” is not about the end of the world, as most people say it is. It is to me the beginning of a new world and new hopes and aspirations that never die, no matter what. The book is about a pandemic that wipes out almost three-quarters of the world and more. There is nothing left. The old world or the world that we knew is gone. The new world has no electricity, no cars, no Internet, you get the drift. People drift. People try and settle. Things are no longer what they used to be at all.

Twenty years have passed since. Humans are trying very hard to reconstruct life – new ways, new means and The Traveling Symphony, that travels on foot, putting up performances – musical and that of Shakespeare. Amidst this there is a prophet and his band of people which the Traveling Symphony encounter and from there things go haywire. And I cannot forget at the core of all of this, lies a comic, which you will only know more about, when you read the book.

Of course, I cannot say much because that would mean giving away the plot, which I do not want to. Memory plays a major role in the book, as I mentioned earlier. It is these memories that help people survive the new world and also for some it seems best to forget them, in order to move on. The small bits of the book make it so worthwhile a read: When newscasters say goodbye, when there is a glimmer of hope that maybe things will not be the same and someone will come to rescue the living, when people will do anything to hang on to faith of any kind because it is so needed, when you don’t realize that this might be the last cup of coffee you drink or the last orange you eat and when the most insignificant things become the most significant.

“Station Eleven” manages to evoke multiple emotions in you as a reader. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it even makes you want to believe in humanity when it is dying all around you in the book, but I think above all it makes you hope, no matter what. The idea is not about apocalypse or what happened in the new world, as much as it is about reinventing and recreating the world with memories. The book is about the connections we have with people (as the six people in this book do with each other in some or the other manner), about how the beauty of the world can never be lost, about life hangs on to the very end and how perhaps we need to give ourselves more credit for being human. I cannot stop recommending this book enough and I will not. I think everyone should read this book, just about everyone.

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Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Publisher: Broadway Books
ISBN: 978-0307887443
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I had heard of “Ready Player One” from other bloggers. I thought of the premise to be interesting, actually very interesting, and when I received the book, I could not stop reading it. More so, I finished reading the book twice in a span of six days and loved it more so the second time round.

Now let me tell you something about the book: The book is set in 2044 and the future is not very bright. It is everything but happy and cheerful. Everyone wants to escape reality and people choose to enter the world of OASIS instead, which is an artificially created simulated world.

The simulated world is created by a man named James Halliday, a geek – the ultimate lonely human being, who was obsessed with the 1980’s. Halliday dies at the beginning of the book, a billionaire with no heirs to his property and wealth. However, before dying he created a game within OASIS. The winner of the game would have to find three keys, leading to the ultimate find – the Egg. The winner would win billions of dollars. Everyone is in the rush to find the egg and win the prize. The protagonist of the story is an eighteen-year old boy, Wade Watts, with almost an in-built obsession to do anything with Halliday or the 80’s.

He lives in poverty with his cruel aunt (the regular orphan theme) in a trailer – which is quite surprising because in this world, the trailers are laid on top of each other, connected by a platform of sorts. He wants to get out of this misery and for him the only respite is living in OASIS. In this world, he meets his virtual friends – Aech and Art3mis. His own virtual world name is Parzival. The three of them head out to find the keys (separately or together is something that you have to find out). The story becomes only more interesting with more Gunters (the ones who are in the game) in the running for the Egg and another group called the Sixers, who work for a villainous corporation called the IOI who want to take over OASIS.

Wade has a lot of challenges set in his path before he can win the contest, however does he win or not, is the main question, for which you have to read the book.

The book is fast-paced (but obviously) and very intelligently written. I loved the random 80’s clues placed all over the book. From book references to movies to music to video games to the kind of computers made back then, it is all there – almost like reliving/living the 80’s. There is so much at the same time that I can go on about OASIS as a virtual world; however you need to read it to experience what I did. The writing is crisp in most places and there is a lot of ground that Cline has covered (which is quite evident) in shaping this book. I was tempted to draw parallels to The Hunger Games Trilogy, however that was just initially. Both the books are very different and hopefully intended for different audiences.

“Ready Player One” has it all – the ethical dilemmas, the love story, the virtual fantasy element and what it takes to be human in these such as these. It is definitely a page-turner and I am glad that there would be no sequel because the book is complete. The reader will go back and forth to mark the 80’s references and go back to them, at least I will. I absolutely loved “Ready Player One” and would recommend it to one and all.

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