Author: Cat Sparks
My rating: 5 of 5
Many years ago, wars decimated the planet, unleashing bio-engineered weaponized plants and mecha supersoldiers–half human, half machine–on the world. Now, the only ones who truly remember what the world once was are the few still functional Templars, their bodies sustained by the tech inside left over from the wars. Meanwhile, vast sections of the remaining population hole up in underground cities, waiting for the world to recover. And on the sand roads above, a determined few face the fading world and strive for survival, the tech of the past incomprehensibly altered to the stuff of myths. But the world is changing–Angels fall from the sky, travelers arrive from the hidden underground cities, and somewhere beyond the Obsidian Sea an ancient consciousness awakes.
I hugely enjoyed Lotus Blue, right from the start. This may not make sense, since they’re really not particularly alike, but the flavor of this story reminds me a lot of Firefly (a favorite of mine). The author’s descriptions are evocative, and the worldbuilding is sublime. I love the way she looks at modern (and futuristic) tech through the eyes of a people who have long forgotten what it actually is; the combination of advanced technology and primitive culture is quite intriguing. I love how the world slowly blossoms before the reader, displayed through the eyes of a variety of characters, each with different backgrounds, understandings, and motivations. The multiple points of view are fascinating, and the characters are all interesting in their own ways. The story itself weaves multiple individual stories into one big interconnected plot, and does so remarkably well. I honestly had no complaints about this book; it was very enjoyable and is one I would highly recommend–an excellent work of post-apocalyptic speculative fiction.
Author: Holly Black
My rating: 4 of 5
Tana lives in a world fascinated by death. Vampirism has seen an unprecedented spread across the nations, like some terrible plague. But mostly, anymore, it’s a plague that is contained, locked away in “Coldtowns” where it won’t touch people’s normal lives. Children watch TV shows broadcast from within these Coldtowns and see a life portrayed as glamorous . . . and even though it means death, they think they want it. Not Tana though. She’s seen what it’s like to be turned first-hand, and she wants no part of it. But when a normal high-school party turns into a tragedy, she finds herself dragged straight to the Coldtown she wanted to avoid, protecting her ex-boyfriend Aiden from himself and helping a vampire boy, Gavriel, against her better judgment. But no matter how deep she is dragged, Tana is determined to do whatever it takes to go home.
Having just recently complained about the excess of vampire stories in contemporary literature, I find myself in the awkward position of having read and enjoyed one. To be fair, I didn’t realize The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was a vampire story until after I started reading, and by then I was too into the story to stop. Plus, Holly Black’s a great author, so it was worth at least giving it a try. I did appreciate that, while it is a vampire story, the setting feels almost more zombie/post-apocalyptic. The whole socio-economic setup, as well as the actual dynamics of how vampirism works were well developed and original in this book, making it definitely more than your typical “girl meets vampire” story, although there ends up being some of that as well (you have been warned). The writing style and story development worked quite nicely as well, although I found it awkward that the plot mostly focused on present-tense Tana but also occasionally drifted to other people and other times. I would have preferred sticking to just one, or maybe having a few consistent points of view that are distinctly separated and labelled. Another thing that I found . . . uncomfortable about this book was the excessive emphasis on the topic of death–both in the story and in quotations at the chapter heads lauding death in various aspects. I know the story is dark anyhow, but maybe it pushes the topic a bit far. Or maybe that’s just me. Just, if you struggle with this topic, exercise caution about reading this book, that’s all. I really enjoyed the character development, especially in Tana. She’s not your typical heroine, neither is she totally pure and idealized, but she’s willing to push against the flow, find the truth in the midst of the glamour, and do what is necessary even if it’s not pretty. I think that if you enjoy YA paranormal stories with a darker tinge, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown might be an enjoyable story for you. I enjoyed it in spite of myself.
Author: Isaac Marion
My rating: 3 of 5
He can’t remember being alive. Can’t remember who he was, the people he knew, or even his own name, except for maybe the first letter of it was “R”–that’s what he goes by when he’s called anything. Whatever he was, not R is part of the problem that’s destroying the earth, an inevitable, creeping undeath afflicting the human race. Not that he’s very philosophical about all that besides aimlessly collecting old records when he can find them. Mostly he’s just there, except for when the need for life energy pushes him to hunt down the living–not that he’s particularly philosophical about that either. But on one hunt, when R eats the brain of a boy, he vicariously experiences numerous memories of one living human girl . . . Julie. Who just happens to be in the same room and in extreme danger of being eaten herself. Surprisingly, instead of turning around and doing just that, R finds himself inexplicably protecting her, taking her back to his secret place. And in the nearness of Julie, R finds something happening in himself that can only be described as miraculous. . . .
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up Warm Bodies. Zombie story, obviously, but those come in all shapes and colors, you know? This one turns out to be a fun little paranormal romance, so if you’re into that genre, this story’s a pretty sure hit. Personally, I enjoyed it, although it wasn’t life-changingly stunning or anything like that. Probably the best part of it is the way the author described being a zombie from R’s own perspective–effective while also making it quickly apparent that R is not your average zombie. The zombies Marion depicts here are your slow, inevitable, relatively stupid variety, with a few quirks unique to this story. Pretty chilling for sure. Julie is a good match for the story, with enough guts and personality to brighten the dull landscape. There’s a nice blend of plot between the survival aspect, the change the world aspect, and the romance itself. Where the story fell a bit flat for me is in the explanation the author picked for how and why the zombie problem started and spread to begin with–and flowing from that, how the problem is solved. Don’t get me wrong, it works with the plot and works well. But it was one of those situations where it’s nearly impossible to suspend my disbelief enough to appreciate what’s happening in the plot. But then, the romance and the way everything works with R and Julie was always the point of the story, not the particular zombie mechanics. So, for what it is–a zombie paranormal romance–Warm Bodies works well and is a cute/creepy story that I would recommend for those who enjoy the genre. Just be warned: gory anatomical pictures at the chapter heads . . . just saying.
Mangaka: Natsuki Takaya
My rating: 3.5 of 5
As one of the outcast “Nameless” (her society’s term for orphans), Kotobuki has had to make her own way in the world–which she’s done by becoming a fairly skillful thief. The one person who always seems to be able to catch her in the act is an elite member of the military by the name of Raimon. Only Raimon seems completely uninterested in arresting her; he’d rather gaze at her adoringly and maybe offer her a candy bar. Eventually, Kotobuki decides to take the high road and become an upstanding citizen who works for a living . . . if only it were that easy to get a job! Lucky her (?) Raimon decides to quit the military and become her traveling companion, providing when she can’t find work. It’s got to be love (or at least obsession).
As a huge fan of Fruits Basket, I’ve been trying to find more of Takaya-sensei’s manga to try. Tsubasa is one of her earlier works, and it shows in somewhat more cliche plotlines and characters, as well as in a slightly less mature art style. But there are a lot of things about this manga that simply scream Takaya-sensei as well: the deep, dark pasts; the sweet, innocent girl who changes everything; the unexpected romances; the insane obsessions. Really, this is quite an enjoyable shoujo sci-fi manga–best for a bit older audiences, though. Partly because of the nudity and ecchiness at parts; moreso because of characters like Raimon who have really unhealthy motives that would be really bad for younger kids to read about and imitate. I do find it interesting that, although it’s called Tsubasa, the tsubasa don’t actually become a serious focus of the story until about halfway through; until then it’s much more slice-of-life focused on Kotobuki’s job search and her growing relationship with Raimon. But I do have to say that, when they do come in, the tsubasa are one of my favorite parts of the story, especially Rikuro. And, typical of Takaya-sensei, there’s a huge cast of unexpected and interesting characters–including an unlikely gang of thieves who strangely remind me of Team Rocket! All told, I think Tsubasa: Those With Wings is a good manga for people who already like Natsuki Takaya’s writing to try–and bonus, it’s only three volumes long, so it’s a pretty quick read.
Author/Illustrator: Marcus Sedgwick
My rating: 4 of 5
Ten-year-old Zoe lives in a world that has been overwhelmed by water. She’s never known anything else, but she knows the world wasn’t always this way. . . . And she knows it’s getting worse. A while back, as food supplies became more scarce and the small island that used to be Norwich continued to shrink, her family escaped on a ship to the larger landmass to the west. But in the confusion of the departure, Zoe got left in Norwich on her own. Now she is setting forth alone in a rowboat across the floods to find her family and a safe place to live, equipped with nothing but her father’s old compass.
Floodland is the first Sedgwick that I’ve read, and it definitely made me want to read more. It’s quite short and easy to read, making it a nice, quick read–and it’s appropriate for middle-grade readers as well as young adults (and adults). The writing style is enjoyable, and the characters and observations are interesting. There’s a good balance between the action and the more psychological aspects, which makes it much more enjoyable that it would otherwise be. Probably one of the most interesting facets of the book is when it takes place. You hear plenty about “global warming” and “protecting the planet”–but it hits you in a very different way when you hear the story from the perspective of a kid who knows nothing except a planet that’s already devastated. Plus, the flooded-earth plot choice was a really nice change from the post-apocalyptic dystopian stuff you usually see when you’re talking about ruining the earth. My one complaint was that the end seemed too perfect; I don’t think most people would react in the way Zoe did. But then, her being ten makes it more likely, and it’s nice in that it gives the story a hopeful conclusion. I guess it’s appropriate, especially considering that this is for pre-teen readers as well as YA. All in all, Floodland was a though-provoking, intriguing story that I would generally recommend to most readers.
Author: Rick Yancey
The 5th Wave, vol. 2
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Cassie and Ben have gotten their small group of survivors to temporary safety in an abandoned hotel, but they’re certain they can’t stay hidden there long. You can’t stay hidden anywhere long in a world that’s been taken over by hostile aliens inhabiting human bodies–aliens that have more tech than you can imagine and that hate the human race with an incomprehensible, unending spite. They send their best shot, Ringer, off to investigate a cave system–a potentially better hiding place, at least for a while–leaving the rest at the hotel to recover (Ben being pretty badly wounded) and hope against hope that Cassie’s alien boyfriend (long story) survived their escape and is coming to join them. But, as usual it seems, nothing goes as planned, leaving all of them in a desperate and continuing struggle for survival.
Honestly, while I generally enjoy Yancey’s writing, The Infinite Sea is a bit of a struggle for me to review. I mean, it was an exciting and engaging read, but I think I need to wait for the third volume to come out and then read all three volumes straight through together. As with The 5th Wave, the POV switches between various characters, making it a bit fragmented. Especially since the point of time also jumps back and forward a bit between characters. To complicate things even further, Yancey only rarely uses the name of the character in whose POV he’s writing, tending to use impersonal pronouns instead. Which I guess works with the whole dehumanizing theme he’s got going in the story–I really do appreciate the philosophical basis behind it–but it sure does make the reading more challenging. Also, there’s this whole Inception sort of mind games thing going on; plots within counterplots within even more evil alien counterplots. The characters don’t have a clue what’s really going on (and yes, some folks might have a good time figuring it out as they go along), but honestly the reader is often left struggling to comprehend. And (final complaint, I promise), I still find the whole Evan and Cassie thing to be a complete Twilight-type throw in that doesn’t really suit the rest of the plot . . . even though it is used to advance the plot in several instances. I still think Yancey should pick the Evan and Cassie story or the huge militarily-focused alien invasion story and stick with that one. But, in spite of all the above-listed complaints, I really did enjoy the story (even though it was sort of confusing at parts). I guess I’d just recommend approaching The Infinite Sea with caution, being prepared for a thrilling, mind-bending, intentionally fragmented piece of very dark science fiction.
Focus Features with Relativity Media
Written & Directed by Shane Acker/Produced by Tim Burton, Timur Bekmambetov, Jim Lemley, & Dana Ginsburg/Music by Deborah Lurie
When he first looks out on the world through his man-made eyes, 9 awakens (or perhaps one might more aptly say, is born) into a world very different from our own. Man has finally been overtaken by the machines he has made, and a tiny band of burlap-and-clockwork homunculi are all that remains of the spirit of man. Only, when 9 arrives on the scene, the last of the tiny karakuri to awake, he finds the others tremulous in fear of the monster-machines roaming the devastated world. Right from the start, his ideas are antithetical to the current leader’s, and 9 is faced with the challenge of pulling the others together to fight back . . . if he can even be sure that’s the right course of action.
I found 9 to be a strangely interesting movie. It’s strange and dark and somewhat satirical, yet also ethereal and darkly beautiful at times. There’s an extent to which the characters are somewhat stereotypical–types of a sort–but I get the impression they’re meant to be so. 9 himself gives out something of an “everyman” sort of vibe, but one you can respect as well. I really love the twins (eccentrics who keep the library and never actually speak). The animation is solid CG, again, attractive but very dark–like a super-depressing version of WALL-E, or something. I don’t think I’d recommend 9 for everyone (certainly not for younger audiences; it’s very appropriately PG-13 just for the scariness), but for those interested in a dark, frightening, and quirky animated movie, you might find it interesting.