Tag: science fiction

Review: Willful Machines by Tim Floreen

Willful Machines by Tim Floreen

Willful Machines by Tim Floreen (InfoSoup)

Lee is the son of the President of the United States, but he isn’t a teen who is particular positive or popular. A year ago, he tried to take his own life and now is left with a fear of heights. So when he sees a new boy at school balancing on his hands only inches away from the edge of his elite school’s waterfall, Lee is shaken. Later, the boy approaches him and the two become friends. It helps that Lee is immediately attracted to Nico with his Chilean accent and loud laugh. It’s an attraction that his ultra-conservative father will not approve of and one that his father’s national policies has made illegal. In order to get to know one another better, the two boys manage to lose Lee’s security detail a couple of times. But things at school are starting to get weird with one of Lee’s robotic creatures attacking him and a threat from a sentient computer program promising continued attacks. Lee finds himself at the center of the battle for robot rights as the robots begin to turn on him.

Floreen has set his novel in the near future. It’s a future filled with clever devices that keep people connected to the internet at all times, robots that are nearly flesh and blood, and one where terrorist attacks are created by sentient computers. He keeps a tight rein on the setting, an elite prep school where security is tight and the security around Lee is even tighter. This creates a wonderful claustrophobia as well as a paranoia about being watched and spied upon. It’s a great setting for this nail-biting adventure.

Lee is a character I adored immediately. I love his morose sadness and his unwillingness to display emotions unless he is feeling them. He is deeply grieving for the loss of his mother and his suicide attempt is an adept mix of tragedy and humor. He is honest through and through, a complete disappointment to the men in his family, and they don’t even know that he’s gay. Floreen incorporates that aspect of his character throughout the book. His romance with Nico is wonderfully hot and deeply romantic.

A great mix of LGBT, robots and science fiction, this book offers a bleak look at America’s near future with the spiciness of one hot romance. I’m hoping there’s a sequel on its way! Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Simon and Schuster.

Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (InfoSoup)

Released October 20, 2015.

Kady picked the worst time possible to break up with Ezra: just as their planet was attacked. The two of them manage to survive and are taken into space on two different ships in the fleet. The fleet must keep moving in order to escape the final ship from the attacking forces. As they travel, Kady becomes a hacker, looking at files and documents that only the commanding officers of the fleet would usually see. Ezra becomes a pilot, manning a small spaceship in battles. The two of them can only communicate through texts with one another and when communication between the two ships is shut down, it is up to Kady to reconnect them using her hacking skills. But connecting with each other may be the last thing on their minds as a combination of a deadly plague and an insane artificial intelligence threatens all of them.

This brilliant novel uses documents that recreate the events on the fleet, the hacking of Kady, the piloting by Ezra, and their communications with one another. They are documents from an investigation that takes place afterwards, piecing together what happened to the people aboard the ships. The documents are an amazing mix of different formats which keeps the long novel fresh and fast moving. The documents create a story of mysteries and then horror as the plague takes effect. Horrible and devastating choices must be made that have consequences for many, the tension is tremendous throughout the book and just grows even more ferocious as the novel continues. It’s diabolically plotted in a wonderful twisted way.

The design of this book is gorgeous. Pages loop with text as missiles and space ships weave and fight. Other pages for heartbeats, images made of words. For me, the best part of the book is the artificial intelligence after it has been damaged. It is beyond human, smarter than us all, asking questions that an AI should not be posing, and feeling things that no AI should feel. It is death, life and wonder rolled into one. Brilliance and darkness at the same time.

A glorious science fiction read for teens, this book has romance yes, but at its heart it is a dynamic horror story set in the vacuum of space. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Alfred A. Knopf.

Review: Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson


Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson (InfoSoup)

Violet and her family live happily together in an asteroid belt where her mother is a clothing designer and her father salvages items from outer space. Then Violet’s school is eaten in a space whale feeding frenzy and she has to go to work with her mother. While they are there, more whale attacks happen and her father disappears. Violet decides that she has to find out what happened to him. She gathers two friends together, one of them a snazzily dressed chicken and the other the last of the Lumpkins. But there are many dangers in space and Violet and her friends get set upon by space gangs, have to traverse a ring of trash, and then must figure out why the whales are on a rampage. It’s up to Violet to save her dad and she just might save the entire galaxy along the way.

Thompson is the acclaimed author of graphic novels like Blankets and Habibi. This is his first graphic novel for young readers and with it he demonstrates his immense skill in writing for any age. Violet is a strong and fierce female protagonist who is the one running into danger to save others, and I love a girl who works to save her father in space. It’s a great feminist twist on a more traditional structure. Louis, the chicken, is also a great male character who also is non-stereotypical and loves his clothes and not adventuring in space. Additionally, the book uses humor constantly, creating a book filled with puns and laughter, just what I’d want in any space adventure.

Thompson’s art is wonderfully strong. He takes the time to show young readers not only the outside of the spacecrafts but the insides as well using cutaways of the hulls. The various worlds and space structures that they visit are unique and diverse, creating a full sense of adventure as the book moves along. Thompson never forgets that this is a science fiction book, keeping the art and the story fully grounded in that world and setting. He also manages to include themes of environmentalism and individuality very successfully.

Another strong girl to join Zita the Spacegirl in taking readers to space and the stars. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from ARC received from GRAPHIX.

Review: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow (InfoSoup)

400 years in the future, the world is ruled by an artificial intelligence named Talis who has the ability to blow up cities if they fail to follow his rules. Talis also demands that any ruler in the world give up a child to be held hostage. That child is raised as a Child of Peace in small schools called Preceptures. If their parent decides to go to war with another region, that child is immediately put to death. Greta has been living in a Canadian Precepture since she was five. She is the Duchess of Halifax and the Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation. She knows her destiny is either to die or to leave the Prefecture at age 18 to become the ruler of her confederation. But everything changes when a new boy enters the Prefecture, a boy not raised to be a ruler but instead raised on a sheep farm and a boy unwilling to submit to the rules of the school or the world. As Greta grows closer to Elian, she begins to question the rules she has embraced all of her life. But their countries are about to declare war upon one another, so Greta’s time is coming to a close alongside Elian and before Greta has truly learned to live.

I am in awe, seriously. I adored Bow’s previous book that merged Native Americans with zombies. So I was happy to see another book by her and then shocked to have it so wildly different. Shocked in a good way, where you realize the breadth of a writer’s vision and skill. Bow manages to create a world where machines rule and it all makes sense. She casually throws around technology terms and they all work as well. This is not a world that is a strain to see coming, but rather one that is so psychologically logical as a result of our current world that it is bruisingly beautifully complete.

Greta is a an elegant character, a bundle of contradictions held together solely by the constraints of the world she finds herself in. She is a natural ruler, even among other teens who are born to lead. She comports herself with dignity always, her greatest fear being to let her people down. And then into that constricted life comes Elian, filled with humor, laughter and bravery. Greta changes, slowly and steadily, from ruler to human in the greatest sense. It is beautiful to witness, believable and tragically timed.

I would do this book a disservice if I didn’t talk about its diversity. The characters are all diverse and unique, the group of older teens come from all parts of the world. And the diversity doesn’t end there, because there is also a lush and lovely lesbian romance alongside a gay one where it is portrayed with all of the beauty and romance one could want.

Masterful science fiction with grand world building and one hell of a protagonist, this is one of my top science fiction reads of the year. Appropriate for ages 14-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Review: Hilo by Judd Winick

Hilo by Judd Winick

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

DJ isn’t good at anything in particular. His siblings are good at sports or ballet or school, but DJ doesn’t have anything on the family calendar because he doesn’t do anything much. The one thing that DJ had been good at was being best friends with Gina, but then she moved away. Just as DJ thinks things can’t get any more dull, something crashes down from the sky. It’s a boy in silver underwear. He can’t remember anything at first, but then he puts more and more together. His name is Hilo and DJ gets him clothes and feeds him. The two head to school together and that’s when DJ realizes that Gina has come back. She’s different though, interested in new things, and DJ assumes that she is being friendly just because of Hilo. Soon the three friends though will be facing a huge enemy that is falling to earth one piece at a time.

Winick has created a graphic novel that is a winning mix of child-friendly art and dramatic adventures filled with battles and explosions. Hilo is a great protagonist, a child who has super powers that he discovers over the course of the book. He delights in the small things, like burping over and over again, eating dinner with the family, and attending school. Everything is an adventure for him and a chance to learn more about the planet earth. DJ too is a strong hero, a boy without Hilo’s powers but also a boy who is far from ordinary thanks to his bravery and his decided ability to be a great friend.

The art is approachable and funny. From the way that Hilo falls asleep to the way that he burps gleefully, this book is filled with humorous moments. Happily this is a book with a three-person team where one character is Asian, one African-American and the other a white alien. The female character is the one into science and sports too, which is also very refreshing.

This is the first story in Hilo’s journey to earth and it ends with a cliffhanger that will lead right into the next. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

Review: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (InfoSoup)

Aaron has always scoffed at the claims that the Leteo Institute could successfully erase memories of traumatic events and allow people a fresh new life. But when his father kills himself in their home, Aaron struggles to go on. After making an attempt on his own life, by carving a smile into his wrist, Aaron has to figure out how to cope in a different way. He does have a great girlfriend, one whose father is rarely home and that gives them time to fool around. He also has a new friend in Thomas, another teen who has a great setup on the roof of his apartment building to watch movies on a huge screen. When Aaron’s girlfriend leaves for an art program, he finds himself growing much closer to Thomas and even starting to think that he may possibly definitely be attracted to him. As Aaron grapples with this new insight into his sexuality, he drifts away from his neighborhood friends: kids who would not accept him being gay. Aaron has to figure out what the truth is about himself and whether he wants to forget it all and start again, straight this time.

Silvera’s book is pure joy. He has teens who talk like teens, swear like teens, fight like teens. They play vicious games based on childhood playground themes that are brilliant and sadistic and real. His teens have sex, multiple times, and deal with the consequences. His urban Bronx setting is a brilliant mix of poverty, race and community that echoes with intolerance and also support. It’s all wonderfully complicated and nothing is simple. There are no real villains, no real heroes and the book is all the better for it.

I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone, so I will not refer to how the book resolves or ends. Let me just say that Silvera writes it like it is one book and then it twists and turns and takes you down several roads until you reach the final one with tears streaming down your face. It’s just as sadistic as the playground games the characters play. It’s unfair and brutal and brilliant and alive.

This is a book that speaks volumes about LGBT hate, self-loathing and the lengths we will go to in order to start again fresh and different. One of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

fourteenth goldfish

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Released August 26, 2014.

Eleven-year-old Ellie loves doing puzzles, because the pieces fit together so neatly.  She doesn’t like change at all, like the way that her best friend Brianna never talks with her anymore.  She lives with her mother in a tiny house with the garage filled with costumes from her job directing high school theater.  Her mother wants her to find her own passion, but Ellie isn’t sure that she has one.  Then something very strange happens, and her grandfather comes to live with them.  But he’s not really himself, instead he’s thirteen years old again!  Now Ellie has a “cousin” Melvin who goes to school with her but dresses, talks and thinks just like her grandfather.  Could he really have found the key to eternal youth?  This is the classic story of growing up, mixed with someone who is trying to grow down.

Holm’s signature light touch is a large part of the success of this novel.  Dealing with big issues like aging, death, and growing up, Holm manages to keep the tone light enough to make the reading great fun.  She mixes science into the story, clearly displaying her own interest in the subject, but also making sure that the science is just as readable as the story.

She populates her story with great characters from the dramatic mother to Ellie herself who readers will relate to quickly and easily.  Melvin is my favorite character in the book, written for pure delight as a great mix of teen boy and aging man.  In particular, I love that Holm kept him wearing the same clothes, talking to his daughter in the same way, and relating with teens he meets as if he didn’t resemble them in the least.  He’s a brilliant character, a wonderful grandfather, and profoundly funny.

Grab this as a great book to share in a classroom, it has lots to discuss but is immensely readable and serves as a clever entry point to science fiction reading.  Also, get this into the hands of Holm fans who are ready for something beyond Babymouse.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.