Kate’s Review: “Wayward”


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Book: “Wayward” by Chuck Wendig

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Five years ago, ordinary Americans fell under the grip of a strange new malady that caused them to sleepwalk across the country to a destination only they knew. They were followed on their quest by the shepherds: friends and family who gave up everything to protect them.

Their secret destination: Ouray, a small town in Colorado that would become one of the last outposts of civilization. Because the sleepwalking epidemic was only the first in a chain of events that led to the end of the world–and the birth of a new one. The survivors, sleepwalkers and shepherds alike, have a dream of rebuilding human society. Among them are Benji, the scientist struggling through grief to lead the town; Marcy, the former police officer who wants only to look after the people she loves; and Shana, the teenage girl who became the first shepherd–and an unlikely hero whose courage will be needed again.

Because the people of Ouray are not the only survivors, and the world they are building is fragile. The forces of cruelty and brutality are amassing under the leadership of self-proclaimed president Ed Creel. And in the very heart of Ouray, the most powerful survivor of all is plotting its own vision for the new world: Black Swan, the A.I. who imagined the apocalypse.

Against these threats, Benji, Marcy, Shana, and the rest have only one hope: one another. Because the only way to survive the end of the world is together.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

So, when I was reading “Wanderers” back in 2019 I felt a mild anxiety that I was constantly trying to write off. ‘A deadly pandemic? Eh, that’s not something you need to be worrying about, Kate. No way.’

Joke’s on me, I guess. (source)

Little did I realize that a year later it would be a reality that was consuming so many of us. Luckily it wasn’t a White Mask level of death, though that doesn’t mean it’s been a cake walk by ANY means. But, now it’s 2022, and while we are still in the midst of this life changing pandemic with death and sickness, I feel more secure than I did two years ago, or even one year ago (thank you, under 5 vaccines and lots and lots of therapy!). So much so that I could actually pick up “Wayward”, Chuck Wendig’s sequel to the pandemic end of world thriller/sci-fi/dystopia “Wanderers”. You probably remember how I couldn’t bring myself to read books about sickness and the world ending for awhile. I guess the fact I read “Wayward” shows how far I’ve come. Though now the worry is that it’s predicting a whole other society altering reality, with it’s huge themes of Christo-fascism and white supremacist violence…. Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s dive in.

“Wayward” picks up shortly after “Wanderers” ends, and five years after the White Mask pandemic has wiped out a huge majority of the world population. The surviving ‘Sleepwalkers’ and ‘Shepherds’ are living in the isolated Colorado town of Ouray, where the seemingly benevolent (but actually dangerous) Black Swan AI is continuously running and trying to create a new world. There are familiar faces like Benji, the former scientist who is now a well respected town leader, and Shana, the first ‘shepherd’ who is now pregnant with the first child to be born in the community (who was in stasis for five years like the sleepwalkers were). At the end of “Wanderers” there were hints that this perfect rebuilding community was actually on a precipice, and we get to see that play out as Wendig tinkers with ideas of dangerous AI, and groupthink that can lead to cultlike behavior, unrest, and power grabs. I liked how Wendig did some full exploration of this, because the community that was being envisioned at the end of “Wanderers” felt a little too pat. I also liked revisiting Benji, Shana, et al, because I had forgotten how much I liked them and I liked seeing how they had all changed from the first book up through this book. The changes are believable both as to how they would change due to their circumstances, but also as to how they as characters would have changed with their base personalities in mind. Shana in “Wanderers” is pretty different from Shana in “Wayward”, but she is still Shana, and so forth, and it is clear that Wendig knows his cast inside and out. It is their inherent complexity and goodness that keeps this book from treading too bleak.

Though that isn’t to say that it isn’t bleak at times. Oh soothsayer Chuck Wendig, I must say that I’m a bit on edge that you have put another horrible thing out into the universe, given what happened last time! And that is the theme of Christ-fascist authoritarian groups trying to wipe out those they deem inferior against the backdrop of the end of society. Though I don’t think we spent too much time with white supremacist and totalitarian would be president Ed Creel in “Wanderers”, he has his own perspective chapters in “Wayward”, and good God we are once again getting into too real territory. Creel is a clear Donald Trump analog, but obvious or not it doesn’t make him any less terrifying as he continues to amass a white supremacist and violent following to do his bidding even as he bides his time in an underground bunker for the uberwealthy. “Wanderers” came out during the Trump Presidency when we were seeing these groups like the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers and literal Neo-Nazis sing his praises, and now “Wayward” puts new focus on this in a post January 6 world. It’s all a bit on the nose at times, but that doesn’t make it any less resonant. Sure, the AI run amok themes were also scary, but that was more on the Sci-Fi side of things so it didn’t catch my anxiety as much as this all did. Maybe give it a few years.

But what I love about Wendig’s voice is that even through all this violence, trauma, sadness, and raw devastation, there is always hope. Hope through humor. Hope through love between family and friends. Hope that some places can get through a terrible thing like White Mask through their effort and community strength (I loved the idea of different parts of the world faring better based on factors ranging from environment to cultural aspects). Hope that no matter how bad things get, they can be addressed and salvaged. It’s hard to remember that hope is there, at times. But Wendig reminds us throughout the narrative, and I really liked that.

“Wayward” is a solid follow up to an end of world story that looks at what could come next. Wendig taps into a lot of modern anxieties and fears, but he also knows how to keep the reader hopeful. We need that sometimes.

Rating 8: A melancholy and suspenseful but ultimately hopeful follow up to an apocalypse book that now feels a bit too real, “Wayward” brings us back to Ouray and examines what happens after the world as we know it ends.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wayward” is included on the Goodreads list “Hugo 2023 Eligible Novels”.

Book Club Review: “Old Man’s War”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Book Bingo” where we drew reading challenges commonly found on book bingo cards from a hat and chose a book based on that.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi

Publishing Info: Tor Books, December 2005

Where Did We Get This Book: Audiobook from the library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Bingo Prompt: A book set on a ship

Book Description: John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce– and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine–and what he will become is far stranger.

Kate’s Thoughts

I will be the first to admit that when I saw that this book was the choice for our Book Club, I groaned. Not only was it Science Fiction, one of my less liked genres, it was also MILITARY fiction, ANOTHER of my less liked genres. But having had good experiences with John Scalzi in the past, I downloaded the audiobook, set it on 1.5x speed, and decided to listen to it while going on a long trip up north, so that I could be a captive audience of sorts. And you know what? I did not dislike this book in the way that I thought I would!

Don’t misunderstand me; I still had a hard time with the science fiction, and I still didn’t like the military themes (and even though the colonialism in this book wasn’t super cut and dry in the morality of it within this universe and circumstance, I still was a little put off by it). But there were a few things I did really like. For one, it reminded me of “Starship Troopers” in a lot of ways, a sci-fi film I do really enjoy. For another, there are themes of a non-human being having to learn to be human/connect with the human that they themselves have kind of inhabited, which is SUCH a favorite trope of mine (Hello “Starman” and Illyria from “Angel”! I love you both so much!). And finally, and the moment that made me go from ‘eh, this is okay’ to ‘HOLY SHIT THIS IS SUDDENLY AMAZING?!’, we have Master Sgt Ruiz. The trash talking, belittling, no nonsense and SO GODDAMN FUNNY sergeant that our main character John Perry has to answer to. Everything about this character had me howling with laughter as I drove up through the North Woods. Everything.

So, I was anticipating a miss and ended up really liking “Old Man’s War”! I don’t think I’m going to continue the series, but this first book was enjoyable.

Serena’s Thoughts

Science fiction is solidly within my genre preferences. And, let’s admit it, a lot of science fiction has cross-over with military fiction, so fans of the former generally are ok to some extent with the latter. I’ve also read some good military fantasy fiction and enjoyed that as well. Probably for similar reasons as Kate, I would likely struggle with military fiction written in our modern, very real world (the weird fetishization of it seen in things like the NFL comes to mind). But I do think that fantasy/science fiction allows readers to explore aspects of military fiction in interesting ways. In these imaginary realms, the author is freed of some of the pat positions and previously established understandings of the military and warfare that a reader brings with them. Instead, the author can freely explore the much more complicated history, morality, and purpose of a military force and the types of conflict they can find themselves in. It’s too easy in our modern understanding to look at such things and come up with simple, comfortable, black and white, right and wrong decisions. Books like this force readers to challenge their own positions and tackle complicated questions that don’t leave us comfortably assured of what the right answer is. Through this exercise, I’ve found that books like this accomplish one of the most unique and powerful abilities that reading brings by exposing readers to ideas, peoples, circumstances that they wouldn’t possibly experience in their ordinary life.

So, too, I found the colonization topic to be interesting as well. Again, there are no easy answers here and readers are not allowed to fall back on easy “good” or “evil” understandings of what is happening. Scalzi walks the story through some landmine-filled topics. And through his character, a very human, very sympathetic man, the reader must also grapple with the world that Scalzi is presenting and what, if anything, may be applicable to how we understand human nature, our history and our future.

I also particularly liked a discussion on religion and culture that comes later in the book. Like many other good science fiction stories, it is an excellent look at how people attempt to graft their own understanding of morality, religion, and culture onto a foreign body. In these examples, the foreign bodies are literal aliens, so there are also very creative and interesting new religions and cultures at their heart. But the idea remains the same, regardless. This one I thought was particularly interesting, and, if anything, I wish the story had focused a bit more on this aspect of things. And (here’s where I really agree with Kate about military fiction) less on detailed descriptions of space battles and laser guns.

I’m also totally with Kate about the amazinginess that was Master Sgt Ruiz. I literally laughed out lout several times during his page time. Overall, this was much more my sort of thing than Kate’s, but I don’t think anyone who regularly reads this blog is surprised by that! I think the pacing was a bit strange, and the story would jump from one scene to another without much transition, but I enjoyed the themes and the characters of this book well enough. Science fiction readers will likely enjoy it!

Kate’s Rating 7: I enjoyed this more than I thought I would! A little “Starship Troopers”, a little ‘learning to be human’, and a hilarious drill sergeant made for a combination that worked for me.

Serena’s Rating 8: So full of action and set at a galloping pace, you almost forget to think about some of the challenging themes the book is digging into, but when you do, they are interesting, indeed.

Book Club Questions

  1. Does the future world and universe in this book seem believable and possible?
  2. What do you think is the motivation of the Colonial Union and Defense Force?
  3. What did you think of the humor in this book? Did it add to the reading experience? Take away from it?
  4. How did the themes of battle fatigue and feelings of inhumanity strike you?
  5. What alien races did you like best and what alien races were your least favorite?
  6. What were your thoughts on Jane Sagan and her character arc?
  7. Would you volunteer in the Colonial Union?

Reader’s Advisory

“Old Man’s War” is included on the Goodreads lists “Fantastic Future Warfare Novels”, and “Excellent Space Opera”.

Next Book Club Pick: “In a Midnight Wood” by Ellen Hart

Serena’s Review: “Eversion”

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Book: “Eversion” by Alastair Reynolds

Publishing Info: Orbit, August 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: From the master of the space opera, Alastair Reynolds, comes a dark, mind-bending SF adventure spread across time and space, Doctor Silas Coade has been tasked with keeping his crew safe as they adventure across the galaxy in search of a mysterious artifact, but as things keep going wrong, Silas soon realizes that something more sinister is at work, and this may not even be the first time it’s happened.

In the 1800s, a sailing ship crashes off the coast of Norway. In the 1900s, a Zepellin explores an icy canyon in Antarctica. In the far future, a spaceship sets out for an alien artifact. Each excursion goes horribly wrong. And on every journey, Dr. Silas Coade is the physician, but only Silas seems to realize that these events keep repeating themselves. And it’s up to him to figure out why and how. And how to stop it all from happening again.

Review: I received an ARC of this book in the mail this month, and it really couldn’t have been more timely! While I love science fiction, of the genres I read, I probably know the fewest authors in this genres who are currently writing. It’s also a sweeping genre full of a lot of different types of stories, some of which appeal to me more than others. But I had heard good things about Reynolds in the past, and this story also seemed like an interesting combination of genres, including historical fiction and mystery/thrillers alongside the obvious science fiction. And man, what a pleasant surprise it was!

Doctor Silas Coates set out on what, for him, should have been a fairly straight forward job: to serve as the on-board doctor on an exploratory mission. The ship and crew have been hired to discover and research a mysterious foreign object located in the deepest, darker corners of the known world. But as the mission progresses, Silas begins to suspect that not only does he know very little about the nature of this mission, but that something greater is at work. Increasingly, what could at first be hand-waved as deja vu begins to feel like something more. As if…perhaps…he’s done this all before.

If my description of this book sounds vague (as does the official one), that’s because this is one of those great, but frustrating to review, books where much of the appeal and tension of the book is built around the mysteries at the heart of the story. That being the case, there’s not a whole lot that I can talk about that wouldn’t spoil some of the best aspects of the entire reading experience. I can say that while a primary mystery is at the heart of the story, there were definitely more than one to be found. In fact, the minute you think you’ve begun to piece together exactly what’s going on, the book would skip away, revealing yet another secret beneath the last. This made the reading experience incredibly fun and addictive; I definitely stayed up way to late finishing the book as it was almost physically impossible to put it down past a certain point.

There was also a great blend of historical fiction and science fiction. At various points in the book you could get lost on the page and feel as if you were fully immersed in a period piece following an old time sailing ship. At another, the ins and outs of space exploration and advanced technology take center stage. And the solid writing transitions smoothly from one scene and setting to another, never missing a step.

Silas was also an excellent main character. We feel his bewilderment and increasing fear as the story builds. But it’s his steadfast commitment to his job and his dedication to the friendships he has begun to build on this mission that really hold the story together. As he remains the only consistent aspect of the story, as a character, a lot is riding on his shoulders, and I thought he carried it well. I, for one, had a hard time not skipping ahead to the end of the book just to make sure everything worked out for him in the end. Something I can neither confirm nor deny!

The book was also a lot spookier than I had expected going in. Not only was the building tension of the entire situation incredibly stressful, but there were some significant fear factors involved in the story. The unknown, of course. But also claustrophobia, body horror, and the general fear of the strange and bizarre. That said, it’s definitely not a horror novel, and I found the scary aspects to be balanced well by the more sentimental moments.

Overall, I really liked this book! It was a fun, fast read that held more than one surprise at the heart of the story. You’ll be left guessing and frantically turning pages all through the night!

Rating 9: All the things: historical! thriller! science fiction! horror! And all at a clipping pace that will leave you breathless with anticipation.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Eversion” can be found on this Goodreads list: Science fiction & fantasy roundup, 2022

Joint Review: “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau”

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Book: “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Del Rey, July 2022

Where Did We Get This Book: We received eARCs from NetGalley and Edelweiss+.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night comes a dreamy reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mexico.

Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction. For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU is both a dazzling historical novel and a daring science fiction journey.

Kate’s Thoughts

It is basically guaranteed at this point that if Silvia Moreno-Garcia has a book coming out, no matter what the genre, I am going to read it. I have enjoyed practically all of her books and her chameleon-like ability to merge into practically any genre as though she is a master of it. And while I haven’t read “The Island of Doctor Moreau”, I know enough about it that the idea of her taking it on was incredibly tantalizing. Especially since she decided to set it in the Yucatán during a volatile time in Mexican political history. And lo and behold, even though I wasn’t super familiar with the source material, and even though I’m not generally a Sci-Fi fan, “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” worked wonders for me.

I think that it’s really the setting and the descriptions that gave it the extra kick for me. Moreno-Garcia has never been shy when it comes to addressing various social aspects of Mexican culture and history, and lord knows that Spanish colonialism and imperial oppression are themes that fit right into the original story of the Other and men who believe themselves to be able to play God. We have Dr. Moreau and his daughter Carlotta, who are living in isolation as Moreau creates ‘hybrids’, beings of combined animal and human genetics, which he does in pursuit of science. But funding has to come from somewhere, and therefore the wealthy Spanish descended benefactors intend to give Moreau money in exchange for laborers for their plantation. So we already have one central caste system with our main characters (as well as an outlier of Montgomery, an English doctor who is the overseer of the hybrids who is trying to escape his own dark past), one that reflects foreign influences, Spanish imperialism, and those perceived as less than. I liked seeing how Moreno-Garcia explored these themes, through the eyes of both Carlotta but also Montgomery as they have to face realities about their complicity, as well as things about their own identities. The historical aspects are on point, and Moreno-Garcia always has some great insights to explore through the genre conventions.

The streak continues for my love of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Even if you are unfamiliar with the original tale, “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” will have a lot to offer. Do yourself a favor and dive into Moreno-Garcia’s works if you haven’t yet, and here is as good a place as any to start!

Serena’s Thoughts

I think there are a few things you can now expect from a book authored by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. First, she’ll have stellar characters and the story will be told from the perspective of several of them (even more unique to her, the “villain” of many of her stories will also have a perspective point). Second, the story may be a slow-burn as far as the overall tempo of the story, but if you have faith, things will very much get moving before long. And third, you can never expect what genre you will find yourself in with this author. She has an uncanny ability of weaving together a variety of seemingly completely different concepts and themes and somehow…magic happens! We’ve already seen a mixture of the classic Gothic horror story with a Mexican setting and themes of colonialism. And here, we have a reimaging of the “The Island of Doctor Moreau” set in the Yucatan peninsula during the 1800s. It’s horror, it’s science fiction, it’s historical fiction. All at once!

I only knew the most broad points of the original tale, so I can only confirm that this story was approachable as new-comer. I was able to get a pretty decent understanding of that story, but having not read it myself, I can’t say what details may or may not match up. What I can say is that Moreno-Garcia uses the platform offered up by this story (a grieving doctor and his “monstrous” creations) as a platform to explore themes of identity and otherness, and the combination works really well. Our main character, the titular daughter of the doctor, brings a unique perspective to the story, as a young woman coming into her own in a very isolated and strange environment.

As I said, one of the best things about this story is how it blends the science fiction and horror elements with the historical backdrop of this region during this time period. Like the original story itself, I didn’t have a ton of knowledge of the politics and parties involved during this time period, but the book does an excellent job introducing readers. The author also includes a great note at the end of the story that speaks to her research into this period of history. I definitely recommend this book to science fiction/horror readers, and to anyone who has enjoyed Moreno-Garcia’s books in the past!

Kate’s Rating 8: A science fiction tale that steeps in literary description and a lush historical setting, “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” is another enjoyable read from genre jumper Silvia Moreno-Garcia!

Serena’s Rating 8: Another unique entry by one of the most reliable (but genre unreliable) authors of the day. Should be a hit with a wide range of readers!

Reader’s Advisory

“The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” is included on the Goodreads lists “Latino Science Fiction”, and “Historical Fiction Set in Latin America”.

Kate’s Review: “The Insane God”


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Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “The Insane God” by Jay Hartlove

Publishing Info: Water Dragon Publishing, May 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the author’s publicist.

Where You Can Get This Book: Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Nightmare on Elm Street meets The Stand. A meteorite fragment cures a teenaged trans girl’s schizophrenia but leaves her with visions of ancient warring gods annihilating each other in space. As the Earth hurtles toward the cloud that is the shattered bodies of those eternal enemies, their eons-old conflict is rekindled on Earth to divide and destroy humanity. Can she and her brother stop the spread of global disaster?

Review: Thank you to Beverly Bambury for sending me a print copy of this book!

I mean, honestly, you are just tantalizing me when you say that something is “Nightmare on Elm Street” meets “The Stand”. Given that “The Stand” is an all time favorite of mine and I just love a good slasher movie, when I saw that comparison mix for “The Insane God” by Jay Hartlove, I just HAD to see what that meant. I knew I was throwing a bit of caution to the wind, as it was pretty clear that this story, while having those comparisons, was going to be a bit heavier on the Science Fiction than I am used to. But I’m game to experiment when the mood strikes me, and strike me it did.

There are some interesting ideas here to be sure! I loved the idea of space rocks giving people powers and interfering with biological functions like mental illness, and I liked the idea of how people that are touched by these things can have new powers awakened within them. Hartlove has set the stage for some well done suspense and some pretty solid consequences, with cosmic horror elements as well as some trippy surreal horror, like the ability to manipulate and bring things from dreams into the real world (THAT was so “Nightmare on Elm Street”). We also have some good old fashioned suspense regarding people who are raging bigoted assholes, and people who are true believers in one side of a space set feud and who want to bring about destruction on Earth. This leads to a lot of content warnings (specifically some pretty upsetting scenes of transphobia, Islamaphobia, violence due to both these things, and difficult moments involving mental illness and the stigma that can come with it). But we also get a coming of age story in which a teenage girl finds herself a potential savior of mankind, all while grappling with her own identity as a trans woman, a recently cured schizophrenic (due to otherworldly influence), and as a sister. Hartlove melds them all together into a fast paced narrative that has a lot of ideas, and it mostly comes together pretty well!

There is also the fact that our protagonist Sarah is a trans woman, a representation that we are finally seeing more and more of in genre fiction and horror. It’s important to note that Jay Hartlove is not trans, and that as a cis woman I can’t really tell you if Sarah is a good representation of a trans character. That said, I did look into Hartlove’s background and various interviews, and he does have a trans child and a non-binary child, and it’s pretty clear that he has written this story with a hope of giving trans people characters they can seen themselves in. Sometimes it comes off a little clunky and hamfisted, at least to me, and again, I’m not really someone who can judge how well representative Sarah was and whether her experiences ring true or false. But it really does seem like Sarah’s characterization has all the best intentions, and as a character I thought that she was complex and interesting, and was very easy to root for. At the end of the day I liked her a lot. And I hope that we get more trans characters in genre fiction, and more trans authors in the mix to tell those stories.

I think that ultimately this was more heavily Science Fiction in a cosmic sense, which I knew going into it. I always like to give genres that I’m not super into a try, especially if it seems like there could be some crossover interest, and as I mentioned above, describing it as “Nightmare on Elm Street” meets “The Stand” would imply a lot of crossover! And I do get the comparisons, given the creative ways that Hartlove toys with dreaming and cosmic and existential end of world elements with warring factions within the chaos. Still and all, it did get into the Sci-Fi weeds a bit, which will probably work for a lot of people!

“The Insane God” is a bit of an out there Sci-Fi/horror story that I thought was pretty creative. Sure it has some stumbles here and there, but there is so much that feels unique, and it has its heart firmly in place.

Rating 7: Super creative and outside of the box, though maybe a little too heavy on the Sci-Fi for this reader.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Insane God” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of now, but I think it would fit in on “Cosmic & Lovecraftian Horror”.

Joint Review: “Dead Silence”

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Book: “Dead Silence” by S.A. Barnes

Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, February 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: We received eARCs from NetGalley and Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Titanic meets The Shining in S.A. Barnes’ Dead Silence, a SF horror novel in which a woman and her crew board a decades-lost luxury cruiser and find the wreckage of a nightmare that hasn’t yet ended.

A GHOST SHIP.
A SALVAGE CREW.
UNSPEAKABLE HORRORS.

Claire Kovalik is days away from being unemployed—made obsolete—when her beacon repair crew picks up a strange distress signal. With nothing to lose and no desire to return to Earth, Claire and her team decide to investigate.

What they find at the other end of the signal is a shock: the Aurora, a famous luxury space-liner that vanished on its maiden tour of the solar system more than twenty years ago. A salvage claim like this could set Claire and her crew up for life. But a quick trip through the Aurora reveals something isn’t right. Whispers in the dark. Flickers of movement. Words scrawled in blood. Claire must fight to hold onto her sanity and find out what really happened on the Aurora, before she and her crew meet the same ghastly fate.

Thank you to NetGalley and Edelweiss+ for providing us with eARCs of this novel!

Kate’s Thoughts

We’ve gone over this before, but I always like to preface my reviews of this genre with a note: I’m not super into Sci Fi as a genre, though there are certain exceptions that I am good with. Namely, “Star Trek”, the original “Star Wars”, and Space Horror as a subgenre. So when I saw “Dead Silence” by S.A. Barnes being chatted about on Twitter and Goodreads, I couldn’t help but have my interest piqued. Something described as “Titanic” meets “The Shining” is bound to be a unique combination, so I tossed my Sci Fi apprehension aside and took a chance! Especially since I was also getting some serious “Event Horizon” vibes from the description.

Where we’re going we won’t need eyes to see… (source)

And if you throw in “Alien” and “Aliens” into this mix, you pretty much have “Dead Silence”, which makes it a familiar but engaging space horror novel. Barnes does a good job of setting up our story, with our protagonist Claire at the end of her run as a Team Lead for a corporate space mission, who is worried about what she does next, as she has no money and no prospects due to a checkered past. So when she and her crew stumble upon a distress signal from the long lost space liner Aurora, which disappeared with numerous wealthy passengers on board, she sees an opportunity she can’t pass up. Things, of course, don’t go as well as she would hope, and carnage ensues. And in terms of space horror beats, “Dead Silence” hits them all pretty well with a combination of slow burn build up, well done exposition, and a genuinely disturbing scenario that will set the reader on edge. I was enthralled during the first half of the book, loving the haunted ship and how it was messing with Claire and her crew, as well as how Barnes slowly reveals Claire’s backstory and why she is already perhaps a little unreliable in her own mind in terms of what she thinks she is, or isn’t seeing.

But it’s definitely familiar. From a mysterious distress signal to a ship that perhaps is haunted and drives people to the brink to a corporation having a vested interest in what may or may not be on board, “Dead Silence” has a lot of elements that are straight call backs to other space horror stories. I think that had we not diverted from the original ‘crew goes aboard an abandoned vessel and finds terrible things’ plot, I probably would have enjoyed it more, but when we get to the very “Aliens”-esque ‘and now they’re forcing her to go back for their own motives’ plot in the second half, I was a little less enthused. That isn’t to say that it was poorly done, as it wasn’t. I still found it entertaining. But once a bit of the mystery was gone, or at least had changed a bit, the dread and suspense went down for me. And perhaps that’s because it started to lean more on other Sci Fi things that don’t resonate as much for me.

Regardless, I had a fun time reading “Dead Silence”. It totally makes me want to revisit the stories it was paying homage to.

Serena’s Thoughts

Hi! Surprised to see me reviewing anything with the slightest twinge of “horror”? But, like Kate with her reading of science fiction stories, I do make exceptions for horror stories that cross over into my preferred genres. I’ve read a few good horror fantasies last year, but this is the first horror sci-fi book I’ve read in quite some time. And man, emphasis on the “horror” part!

Like Kate references, there have been plenty of science fiction horror stories in the past, both on the screen and on the page. So with that in mind, going in I always feel like there are two rather predictable routes the book can take. And this book does employ one of those and some other commonly seen tropes. That said, the actual horror, dread, and jump scares of the book still came in hot and fast. The first half of the book had me on the edge of my seat. And, I won’t lie, several of of these scenes have stuck with me and popped into my mind at inopportune times when trying to get to sleep, even days later. It also helped that Claire herself was an unreliable narrator, so it was hard to know exactly what horror was coming from her and what was coming from the strange happenings on the Aurora.

But I’ll also agree with Kate that the book lags a bit towards the second half. It almost feels like the author got up to speed on the horror of the situation and then slams on the brakes, cutting all tension and suspense off at its knees. From there, it shifts gears, and while the story does build to a different sort of tension, we never regain the jittery creepiness of the first half. And that’s such a shame! As we learn, there was plenty of scary stuff to come and for some reason the author just jets us away from it all unexpectedly. It’s a bizarre choice, frankly.

That said, I definitely enjoyed this read and gobbled it up over only a few reading sessions. For me, a little horror goes a long way (can’t have too much nightmare fuel all at once), but this was definitely a good choice for one my rare ventures into the genre.

Kate’s Rating 7: Pretty serviceable space horror with some good scary moments, but also pretty familiar in terms of plot points.

Serena’s Rating 7: Very creepy when it stuck to its horror themes, but a bit baffling with some of the choices the author made later in the story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dead Silence” is included on the Goodreads lists “Space Horror”, and “2022 Horror and Sci Fi Releases”.

Serena’s Review: “Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves”

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Book: “Cold the Wolves, Fast the Wolves” by Meg Long

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, January 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: After angering a local gangster, seventeen-year-old Sena Korhosen must flee with her prize fighting wolf, Iska, in tow. A team of scientists offer to pay her way off her frozen planet on one condition: she gets them to the finish line of the planet’s infamous sled race. Though Sena always swore she’d never race after it claimed both her mothers’ lives, it’s now her only option.

But the tundra is a treacherous place, and as the race unfolds and their lives are threatened at every turn, Sena starts to question her own abilities. She must discover whether she’s strong enough to survive the wild – whether she and Iska together are strong enough to get them all out alive.

Review: I’m sure I partly requested this one simply based on the beautiful cover. But I also vaguely read the description and saw “wolf companion” and just auto-requested it. All of this to say, I really had very little idea what this book was actually about when I picked it up, but what an enjoyable surprise it was!

On Sena’s planet, the economy and culture is shaped by one thing and one thing only: the annual race. Dangerous and with low probability of success, the prize at the end, the right to drill for a rare and valuable mineral, still draws racers from around the galaxy. Sena, however, wants nothing to do with it after it claimed the life of her mothers. But when she finds herself in trouble with a gang leader and followed by a half-tame fighting wolf, Sena sees only one path off this desolate planet: she must finish the race and buy her way to freedom.

This book is a bit of a funny thing. A few months ago, Kate and I were guest speakers for an MLIS class and we talked about genre trends in YA. One of the things I touched on that while the fact that fantasy has become incredibly popular in YA fiction, a less discussed aspect is how science fiction in YA has not seen the same bump. This book is a classic example of how publishers not only recognize this fact but continue to work through these trends by misleading their readers. This cover screams fantasy. And then you read the description. Other than one small reference to this taking place on a different planet, you have no indication that it’s not just a straight-forward fantasy novel. But when you read it, it’s clearly a science fiction story!

There is an emphasis on futuristic technology, discussion of interplanetary politics, and themes that are common to science fiction such as the impact of corporations on intergalactic economics and culture. The fantastic creatures that are included are often attributed more to the genetic manipulation of people or to human-influenced changes in the planet’s ecosystem. The language is modern and the setting is clearly set some time in the future, with advanced medicine, transportation, and weapons. It was all excellent and a great example of what science fiction has to offer to fans of YA fiction. Even the author mentions in her afterward how she hopes this book will encourage more readers of YA science fiction. And yet the publishers clearly had so little confidence in this premise that they still felt the need to hide it behind a fantasy cover and a description that doesn’t hint at any of the science fiction elements to be found on the book’s pages.

I really enjoyed Sena as a main character. She was tough, both mentally and physically. But also impulsive, slow to trust, and struggling to process her grief over the loss of her mothers. The race itself, full of action and danger, was a perfect parallel for Sena’s own inner journey to self-acceptance. I also liked that this was a perfect example of a YA young woman noting early in a book that she doesn’t have time for romance and actually following through on that. It’s not just a throwaway line before the heroine proceeds to go all in on a romance the very next second. No, Sena rightly evaluates her life and the dangers and priorities before her and knows that romance is not really an option. It was refreshing and allowed the book to really embrace its focus on her relationship with the wolf Iska and another female friend she picks up along the way.

I did struggle with a few aspects of the story, however. If I had to count the number of times that Sena reflects on “corporations” and “greed,” it would be in the double digits. And yet other than both being bad, the book never goes into anything deeper on either of these two topics. It was fairly shallow, and without any further depth, the repetition of both as talking points quickly became dull and confusing. I felt like the author had more to say about this, but either because she didn’t think it fit in this particular book or because she didn’t think it fit for a YA audience, she never actually delved into anything of substance.

I also struggled with some of the practicalities of the race itself. I could never quite figure out how the set up worked: the weather only permitted the race once a year because of the cold and storms. The same electrical storms also messed with technology that would allow the mining site to be accessed by traditional ships and such. And yet the race is only one way, with racers using drop ships to leave the site? We even have one character show up at the end of the race who travelled directly there from a ship. I think there was some discussion of the race itself being set up by corporations for purposes of profiting indirectly from the equipment needed for purchase from the racers. I might have just missed some of this, but as the book continued, I found myself regularly getting side-tracked by how this all worked.

Overall, however, I really liked this YA science fiction novel. I wish that the publishing industry would give this subgenre more of a chance, but I’m pleased enough to even find a YA science fiction book out there, even if it’s disguised as fantasy! Definitely check this one out if you like science fiction or adventure stories featuring animal companions!

Rating 8: Perhaps missing an opportunity to dig deeper on some of its themes, this book is still an excellent example of what YA science fiction has to offer!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves” is on these Goodreads lists: YA sci-fi releases 2020-2023 and All Fictional Wolf Books (NOT WEREWOLVES).

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: “Animorphs Graphix #1”

Animorphs Graphix #1: “The Invasion” by K.A. Applegate & Michael Grant, Adapted by Chris Grine

Publishing Info: Graphix, October 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Sometimes weird things happen to people. Ask Jake. He could tell you about the night he and his friends saw a strange light in the sky that seemed to be heading right for them. That was the night five normal kids learned that humanity is under a silent attack — and were given the power to fight back.Now Jake, Rachel, Cassie, Tobias, and Marco can transform into some of the most dangerous creatures on Earth. And they must use that power to outsmart an evil greater than anything the world has ever seen. . . .

I’m know I’m super late at getting around to reading this, but as the second graphic novel is coming out here shortly in October, I knew I had to get on top of things now. I read graphics novels only on and off, so I had mixed feelings about this series being released in this format. On one hand, any new version of the series is amazing (how incredible is it that a cult favorite kids’ series from the 90s’ is getting re-worked in 2021??). But on the other hand, I had seen some previewed pages of the artwork and didn’t really like it. However, my unwavering love of the series won out and here we are!

Said no one ever reading these books. But hey, I’ll take it.

Best Change: I really liked the use of color-coded dialogue bubbles for thought speak. That was always going to be one of the big struggles of adapting this series. This style also allows the thought bubbles to float anywhere in the pane, not needing to be drawn directly next to the character speaking. This gives the artist a lot more flexibility with action scenes and such. I also liked that the colors were largely coordinated to their main morphs, Jake has orange, Marco has black, Visser Three has red. I found the pink for Rachel to be the the worst though. Not only is that not connected to her grey elephant or brown grizzly later, but the pink color itself often clashed with the other color schemes of the panel in a way that the more earthy tones didn’t. I also don’t like the general, tired, “pretty girls like pink” motif that it was playing towards.

Worst Change: I’m more curious to see how this will play out in future books than it being any sort of real “worst,” but this book had some strange pacing with regards to it being “Jake’s” book. The first half of the book is so entirely told through dialogue bubbles, that I was honestly thrown for a loop when Jake began an internal narration when he morphed the lizard (somewhere around page 120). It was jarring to suddenly be in his head in that way given the way the rest of the story had played out. I wish the book had stuck more closely to a consistent internal narration running from Jake throughout, clearing marking him as the character at the heart of this particular installment. I’m really curious to see what happens with Rachel’s story in the next book. That story does involve her alone in her cat morph more often (unlike Jake who was with the group through most of this book), so there’s a better opportunity there to have the pacing be more consistent with her internal narration.

Pretty, Pretty Pictures: Like I said, one of the reasons I held out on initially reading this was my immediate dislike of the general style. I get that the characters are kids and that the story is also for a younger audience. But it’s also gruesome and tackles some serious issues, ideal for teenage readers, as well. As it is, the style reads very “kiddy” to the point that I think teenagers might be reluctant to read it (not only is this a good age group for this story, but YA is a market behemoth in the publishing industry, making tons of money for most publishers, so it’s foolish to cut off chances at cornering that reading group). As with any comic/graphic novel, the art changes slightly over time, so perhaps the style can try and lean a bit more closely to the realistic version used for the animals and aliens. On another point there, I think the mixture of very cartoon-y human kids vs the more realistic, sharp-edged drawings of the animals and aliens was a bit distracting.

I also did not at all like the red noses. I’m not sure what the point of that even was. It just reads as very old-fashioned and weird. There are a few panels where the characters almost look like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” from that super old stop-motion animation. It definitely isn’t adding anything to the book, and I hope it changes.

With some more variation to noses, the art would also be helped in making the characters more distinguishable from each other. Rachel and Tobias are the obvious problem characters. Tobias will be a hawk for the majority, so that gets around it. But it’s never good when two of your characters look so similar in the very beginning of the story as you’re trying to set the stage. It also does nothing for the “Rachel is amazingly beautiful” idea if she’s nearly identical to a teenage boy character. Adjusting all of the faces slightly would also give them more room to express more complicated emotions.

Tobias? Rachel? Who knows?!

Our Fearless Leader: Overall, I liked the version of Jake we saw here. I think his character looked very “boy next door” but also like the kind of kid that would be the one looked to as a leader, could be popular but is kind of just doing his own thing most of the time. As it’s “his book,” we had a number of panels that spoke to his inner thoughts without the use of dialogue, and I think they worked very well. Most of them had to do with Tom and Jake’s slow understanding that something’s wrong with Tom. We see his look of hurt when he finds out that not only does Tom not care that Jake didn’t make the basketball team, but Tom himself has quit and couldn’t care less. And, perhaps most movingly, we see the horror and sadness when Jake sees Tom break through the Yeerk’s control for a brief moment and Jake must finally admit that Tom is a Controller.

I think, overall, these moments worked very well and the art was able to convey a good deal of emotion without resorting to dialogue, either out loud or inner thought. I’ll be most curious to see how this moves forward in other books, as I feel like it was only used sparingly here and is perhaps one of the areas that could grow the most as the artist becomes more comfortable drawing these characters.

Xena, Warrior Princess: There wasn’t a whole lot of characterization given for Rachel. They never mentioned her being Jake’s cousin, so that was strange. And the contrast between her looks and ferocious fighting style wasn’t really highlighted at all. She’s lucky to have the second book as it will hopefully flesh her out more. I really hope they include the cousin bit; that’s so fundamental in the growing tension between Jake and Rachel in the back half of the series.

A Hawk’s Life:  There were a few things to like about Tobias’s character here. First, his connection to Elfangor is really highlighted, as well as his immediate connection to the mission as important and something that he will pursue with or without the others.

I also like the way his eventual end, stuck in hawk form, is built up over the story. Once he acquires that morph, we rarely see him in human form, even when he’s not yet stuck. There were also a good number of lines, both from him and the others, that hinted at why he had such a connection to this form. The freedom, the escape from a world that has largely ignored, neglected and rejected him. And, of course, the back panel featuring him as a hawk is one of the more beautiful pieces of art in the entire book.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Overall, I liked what we go from Cassie here. We got to see both the barn and The Gardens, and how her connections to animals are crucial to the Animorphs’ success going forward. But, like Rachel, I felt that she, too, had very little actual characterization. Compared to all three boy characters who I think had solid defining traits early on (Jake’s reluctant leadership, Marco’s cynicism and smarts, and Tobias’s heart and discomfort with his place in humanity), both girls felt pretty weak and undefined. There’s plenty of time to change that, but it was a bit disappointing from a series that really stood out for how balanced it was in its characters.

I was also disappointed not to see any reference to Cassie’s particular skill with morphing. There was one line thrown out there about Cassie being good at it, but we didn’t get to actually see much of it. Though I guess she morphs mostly off page or behind the other characters at the farm, so there wasn’t a lot of opportunity. Hopefully we’ll see it in the second book when she demorphs and has the angel wings that Rachel specifically points out.

The Comic Relief: I really liked Marco here. I think he was actually perhaps the most well done (close tie with Tobias, perhaps). Grine nailed the combination of smarts and reluctance that was so integral to Marco’s early characterization. There’s also plenty of room given to explaining early on why he’s so reluctant. But we also see him clearly step forward when needed by his friends. And the important role he plays in balancing out Jake’s more impulsive, less thought-out moments. It’s really cool to see that, especially. Particularly how he was the most unwilling to think/talk about what had happened in the construction site, but then immediately picks up on the weirdness of Tom, proving that his mind is always working with the reality of this information, even more so than the others who, on the surface, seem to have accepted it more.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Obviously, not featured. The artwork for the Andalites though is interesting. It’s not exactly how I pictured it. There were a lot of references to the Andalites being similar in shape to deer, very slim and light on their feet. Their bodies, especially their hands, were also often referenced as being rather thin and weak. All of this was used to draw attention to the true strength of their tail blades and how important that feature was to them, thus its use in so much of their culture (shape of their ships, religious rituals, etc.) The Andalites here look much more hefty, more workhorse-like than anything. I mean, it’s fine, but still a bit weird. I wonder if Grine will slim them down a bit for Ax to demonstrate that he’s still young?

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: One of the things that really sold me on this adaptation was the fact that Grine didn’t hesitate to go there with the story. The artwork itself can make the story look very juvenile and kiddy (obviously it’s about kids and marketed to kids, but the story is much more dark than I think most would expect for what is considered a kids’ book). Right off the bat, obviously, you see what happens to Elfangor. But the real punch came with the disaster that was the Yeerk pool run, particularly their chaotic escape while being chased by Visser Three’s fire monster. There are several, several, panels that show people burning alive from his flames. It’s tough stuff, but fully necessary to really set the tone for what this story is and where it’s headed. People die. A lot.

Couples Watch!: I’m not sure if it was on purpose or what, but there’s next to no reference to Jake’s crush on Cassie. She makes her usual line early on about appreciating the boys’ walking her and Rachel home, but that’s about it. However, bless his heart, Grine definitely left in the Rachel/Tobias connection. There are several moments here and there throughout, most notably Rachel commenting that she’d care if something were to happen to Tobias when he claims his aunt and uncle wouldn’t even notice if he disappeared.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I do think the more stocky body type worked for Visser Three’s Andalite form. Kind of wish they had made Elfangor more slim the way he was described in the book and left Visser Three as the only Andalite built in this more combative mode. I really liked the way both the alien morphs were depicted. They were appropriately huge and terrifying, really highlighting, through sheer size alone, what these young kids are up against. It was a great way of using the visual format of this version to highlight the challenges ahead.

I also want to highlight this panel:

Giving me big time “Balrog in Moria” vibes, what with the fire demon alien thing and the narrow bridges breaking and crumbling.

NO YEERKS SHALL PASS!!!

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Right off the bat, with Elfangor’s death. It always got me in the book, too, of course, but there’s something incredibly hard about actually seeing it happen. The fact that he’s not just killed but actually eaten alive by Visser Three. All the worse when you already know the history between these two from “The Andalite Chronicles.” What kind of messed up being must Visser Three be to actually choose to eat (instead of killing/executing in a more normal, not psychotic way) an enemy like Elfangor was to him??

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Little moments that kind of go by unnoticed in the book really popped in this version. In this instance, I think of the sheer idiocy of the “just stand in front of her guys!” moment when Cassie is almost caught demorphing from a horse by the Controller!police officer. I really liked this interpretation of a moment that exemplifies how many near misses the Animorphs get away with through sheer dumb luck. The group standing there with arms around each other: “This is how we like to stand!” Great stuff.

Favorite Page/Panel: 

I had a really hard time with this pick because there are so many iconic images that were so neat to see come to life on the page. A close runner up was a three-panel page of elephant!Rachel, gorilla!Marco, and tiger!Jake fighting Hork Bajir in the Yeerk Pool. It was just such a perfect image of these three in battle form for the first time (though Rachel’s grizzly is her much more iconic battle morph later on).

But I finally settled on this one:

This was the moment that started it all. It’s both powerful and incredibly sad, as it’s clear that Elfangor is near his end in the picture. The use of the bright lights coming from the box and the dark shadows surrounding them all in the construction site is a lovely metaphor for the Animorphs ongoing battle against the oppressive Yeerk regime trying to creep across the world and universe. “Do not be afraid.”

I also have to throw this one in here as it seems like a nod and a wink to die-hard fans who know the Marco/trash can relationship is something special:

“Do you hate trash cans? Is that your problem? Do you just HATE TRASH CANS?!!”

Final Thoughts:  I liked this book way more than I was expecting. I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised given how much I loved the original series, but I also figured that the fact that I loved the original so much was the very reason I’d struggle here. The fact that it was so faithful to the original story is probably what really did it for me.

I think there’s definite room for improvement with some of the art choices, but I also think that Grine set up the story and characters very well (with some exceptions for Cassie and Rachel, but even they were ok, all things considered). There were some really smart decisions with the colored bubbles for thought speak and the choice not to shy away from the more gruesome, dark aspects of the story.

My biggest concern is what is going to happen going forward. While I loved that the first book was given an entire graphic novel all to itself, that’s not a sustainable pace to get through all 50+ books, not to mention Chronicles and Megamorphs. This was a long book, as far as graphic novels go. And obviously one book a year would leave this series being published continuously for half a century. A more likely route would be to combine books into one graphic novel or skip unessential stories (there are a number, especially towards the second third.)

From the preview of the next one, it seems like we’re diving straight into an adaptation of just the second book, which is worrying as far as this all goes. Maybe the idea is to get through the first 5-6 and then start combining? Either way, one book a year is a hard sell for such a slow-moving series as this is. On their own, each adventure does very little to move the bigger plot forward. That works when they’re coming out once a month, but once a year? Seems like it might be hard to keep a loyal fan base invested at that pace. I guess we’ll see what the plans are going forward after the second one releases.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

Book Club Review: “Parable of the Sower”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Award Winners”, in which we each picked a book that has won an award of some kind.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler

Publishing Info: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Award: New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Book Description: When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day.

Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ pain.

Precocious and clear-eyed, Lauren must make her voice heard in order to protect her loved ones from the imminent disasters her small community stubbornly ignores. But what begins as a fight for survival soon leads to something much more: the birth of a new faith…and a startling vision of human destiny.

This highly acclaimed post-apocalyptic novel of hope and terror from award-winning author Octavia E. Butler “pairs well with 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale” (John Green, New York Times)—now with a new foreword by N. K. Jemisin.

Kate’s Thoughts

Back when Trump was elected, I started hearing whispers from my friends and acquaintances about a book called “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler. Many of them were saying that “Parable of the Sower” predicted the society in which a person like Trump could be elected, along with the existential crises that come with it. When we were deep in the shit of the Trump Administration, I couldn’t bring myself to read that book, as even though it sounded supremely fascinating, it also sounded too real. A story written in the early nineties that seemed to predict the shitshow of climate change, social inequity, and an incompetent and narcissistic president? On the nose! And therefore too stressful to read. So when someone in book club chose it for our first Award Winners read, I was happy that I finally had a push to read it…. And then I read it, and was sent into an anxiety spiral.

Basically my face during my entire reading experience.

“Parable of the Sower” is a bleak and terrifying dystopia where climate change, vast social and financial disparities, and corporate corruption has created a society where people are either gated in, hoping that they will not fall victim to rampaging violent nomads, or trying their best to survive in a violent and dangerous wasteland. We follow Lauren, a teenager who lives in a gated community who has dreams of a better future for herself, and who starts to develop and discover a new religion/life she calls Earthseed due to her faith and a condition in which she has hyper empathy to those around her. Butler creates a terrifying world where mass violence is always a threat, and it’s only a matter of time until a person faces the bleak and staggering reality of having to survive. I found it to be incredibly well written as well as horrific. It’s told in mostly epistolary devices, with Lauren recording what is going on each day, and I thought that the slow crumbling of her life and then rebuilding in a chaotic and unpredictable landscape to be compelling and very suspenseful. There were so many moments that not only set me on edge, but felt like they could potentially happen if we don’t get a hold on many existential crises that plague our world at the moment. Engaging to be sure, but it also made it hard for me to sleep at night.

I think that if I were a more religious person (in that I’m not at all) I may have connected a little bit more with the aspects of Lauren’s journey that involved ‘discovering’ Earthseed, and her self assurance that everything was going to work out because she was discovering and bringing forth a new religion that would save society. From the Biblical references to some of the blind faith aspects of this book, I didn’t connect as much to the moments where Lauren was creating a whole new belief system. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t intriguing; I definitely found myself enjoying the mythos that Butler was creating in this story, and liked seeing Lauren connect to it. I’m not sure that I have the emotional wherewithal to continue in the series (especially given that it’s incomplete; Butler passed away before she could complete it), but what I saw in this book really hit home how incredibly gifted Butler was for creating complex and horrifying alternate realities while also giving us a little bit of hope to cling to.

“Parable of the Sower” is a rough read, but I definitely think it’s worthwhile. Butler was a true talent, and this showcases the world building, and premonition, that she had as an author.

Serena’s Thoughts:

For being a long-time fan of the science fiction and fantasy genre, it’s kind of crazy that I hadn’t read any of Octavia Butler’s books before this. And I can’t really tell you why! Perhaps, like Kate mentioned above, when her books began coming up more and more in the public consciousness recently, I wasn’t really in a good mental place to dive into this type of story. Margeret Atwood is a similar author for me: I can recognize the supreme talent she is and appreciate her books, but I can only manage to read one every five years or so and inevitably spend those five years half terrified of the “too real”-ness of her stories. But, also like Kate said, I was glad to have the push to read this.

I agree with everything Kate wrote. I, however, come from a more religious family so in that way, I did connect more to the aspects of the story that were focused on the development of a belief system and the role that would play in Lauren’s management of the challenges of this society. Blind faith is a particularly challenging topic, even for those have a religious life. Most who are honest with themselves, I think, would say that faith itself is a constant challenge. It can provide some assurance in the midst of strife and unknown, but it, too, can cause its own form of strife, in that faith, at its core, is not necessarily a comfortable thing. I liked the way that Butler dug into this topic and her use of Biblical references went beyond the usual uses we’ve all seen a million times over.

I do think I’ll eventually read the next book, but like I said above, it will probably follow a pattern similar to my reading of Atwood’s stories. It’s a credit to just how powerful a writer Butler was that her presentation of a future world feels too read to inhabit for overly long without it causing real-world anxiety! If you haven’t checked this one out yet, I definitely recommend it.

Kate’s Rating 8: Terrifying and bleak, but well written and sprinkled with some hope, “Parable of the Sower” is a glimpse into a could be futurescape.

Serena’s Rating 8: Hope wars with terror in a version of the future that feels all-too real at times.

Book Club Questions

  1. The future that Butler paints in this book has a lot of mirrors to a reality that we seem to be nearly living in. Do you think that what happens to society in this book could happen in a similar fashion in real life? Why or why not?
  2. Even though Lauren is living in an unstable society and there is lots of violence and despair, she still seems to want to have kids some day. Why do you think that is?
  3. Does Lauren’s religion or belief system of Earthseed connect to you? Do you see it as a new religion? A cult? Something else?
  4. At one point Lauren says that she isn’t inventing Earthseed, but discovering it. What do you make of that statement?
  5. At one point Lauren and her group pass by the settlement of Hollister, which seems to be pretty stable and safe. What did you think of them continuing on their journey instead of stopping and settling?
  6. What did you think of the concept of hyper-empathy?
  7. What did you think that Butler was saying about religion in this book?

Reader’s Advisory

“Parable of the Sower” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sci-Fi That Will Change The Way You Look At Life”, and “SFF Books by Black Authors”.

Find “Parable of the Sower” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” by Kiersten White.

Kate’s Review: “Bubble”

Book: “Bubble” by Jordan Morris, Sarah Morgan, & Tony Cliff (Ill.)

Publishing Info: First Second, July 2021

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Based on the smash-hit audio serial, Bubble is a hilarious high-energy graphic novel with a satirical take on the “gig economy.”

Built and maintained by corporate benevolence, the city of Fairhaven is a literal bubble of safety and order (and amazing coffee) in the midst of the Brush, a harsh alien wilderness ruled by monstrous Imps and rogue bands of humans. Humans like Morgan, who’s Brush-born and Bubble-raised and fully capable of fending off an Imp attack during her morning jog. She’s got a great routine going—she has a chill day job, she recreationally kills the occasional Imp, then she takes that Imp home for her roommate and BFF, Annie, to transform into drugs as a side hustle. But cracks appear in her tidy life when one of those Imps nearly murders a delivery guy in her apartment, accidentally transforming him into a Brush-powered mutant in the process. And when Morgan’s company launches Huntr, a gig economy app for Imp extermination, she finds herself press-ganged into kicking her stabby side job up to the next level as she battles a parade of monsters and monstrously Brush-turned citizens, from a living hipster beard to a book club hive mind. 

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this graphic novel!

In terms of podcasts, while I’ve dabbled outside the non-fiction realm, I really haven’t listened to many fiction series. I did “Welcome to Nightvale” for awhile, I listened to “The Black Tapes” (probably my favorite of the fiction ones I’ve listened to), and I tried out “Limetown”. But overall, it’s gotta be true crime, movies, or books for the topics I wanna listen to. So I had never heard of the podcast “Bubble” when I saw that it had been adapted into a graphic novel by Jordan Morris and Sarah Morgan, the creator and a writer for the show itself. While I wasn’t certain about what to expect, the premise was promising and intriguing: a dystopian world, a stunted society that seems perfect, and a dangerous wilderness of creatures that could kill you? That all sounds great. Throw in some humor and it sounds even better. So I gave it a go, because I hoped it would stand on its own two feet, outside of a podcast shadow. And I don’t think that it quite did.

That isn’t to say that this is “Welcome to Nightvale” levels of inability to stand on its own. Here is what I liked about “Bubble”: the premise really is a good one. I liked the idea of Fairhaven, a typical city that runs on capitalism and the gig economy, and the people who live there and work within that economy. Satire about the drawbacks and pitfalls of a late stage capitalist society is kind of ripe for the picking, but “Bubble” does it well. Our main character, Morgan, is a woman living in Fairhaven now, but was raised in the surrounding wild area called The Brush, which is inhabited by creatures called Imps that are dangerous and prone to attack humans. Morgan knows how to deal with them, and when an Imp gets into Fairhaven she will kill it and bring it to her roommate Annie who will make it into drugs. Morgan’s company, however, starts up a social media gig app (think Task Rabbit) that will give people the ability to go kill Imps for profit. Throw in a hapless Postmates delivery guy named Mitch who is attacked by an Imp and given powers, and you have some fun main characters who are just trying to get by in a gig economy whose stakes are pretty damn high. I liked Morgan and Annie, and Mitch feels very Chris Pratt in “Parks and Rec”, so he’s pretty charming. And really, the entire idea is fun, especially when they all have to go into the Brush on a mission, involving a mysterious stone and the Brush living father Morgan left behind. SO much potential, right?

The problem I had was that “Bubble” never quite explored the potential enough for me. This is a story that really should have some pretty wide and complex world building to it, both inside Fairhaven and outside in The Brush. And we see bits and pieces of both when our main characters are interacting within. But we don’t really have the time to explore backgrounds, histories, or dynamics, as the plot is constantly moving forward. It’s entertaining, it’s quite funny at times, and the characters have lots of fun things to say to each other. But I never really felt like I got a true feel for the setting they are in. And the only character that I feel really got a lot of depth was Morgan, while everyone else, outside of a few hints and tidbits here and there, really kept in static place as the tale went on. There just wasn’t much room to breathe, and I don’t know if that is because that’s how the podcast goes, or if it’s more a limitation when translating the podcast story to a graphic novel. I suppose that I could go listen to the podcast to find out, but the story we have at hand isn’t really compelling enough for me to go and do so.

That said, I really liked the art! Tony Cliff has some vibrant color schemes that feel sleek and futuristic, and I enjoyed the character designs as well. The Imps in particular are pretty cool.

(source: First Second)

“Bubble” has its moments and some great ideas. I just think that it could have gone further.

Rating 6: A lot of entertaining moments, witty banter, and cool imagery. But it feels very rushed and not well expanded upon, world building wise, and some of the characters fall flat.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bubble” isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “Podcast Books”, and “Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Graphic Novels”.

Find “Bubble” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

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