Category: Science Fiction

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: Review

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: Review

What a spectacular film – you know it’s going to be good when the opening credits are making you laugh and cry with joy, but I’ll not spoil the reason why. I find it’s always a very difficult thing to pull off a sequel that matches the quality of the original film, but Volume 2 is an exception if ever I have seen one. It’s easily good enough to warrant seeing in cinemas, and Marvel does a wonderful job of keeping things fresh.

Volume 2 has a very different storyline in comparison to the first Guardians film, even ignoring the difference because the second is not a origin story. Volume 2 feels, in a way, much more contained with the action and dialogue to one place than the first film ever did. Ultimately, it’s still a film about ‘saving the Galaxy’, as Rocket is happy to remind us, but it is not in a way that you would expect when the film begins.

One thing that did remain similar through Volume 2 was the music; the same way it played such an important role in the first film, the music was still as important and the song choices do not disappoint. In fact, I think the music in this film is potentially even more important; it is directly spoken about and though I knew less of the songs this time around, the choices were still exactly what were necessary for the situation and what was happening on screen. I will definitely be buying the second album.

The plot was varied and sometimes had odd timings for the way things played out, including the choices made to cut scenes and move to action that was happening elsewhere. A couple of times I was put off by them; questions would be asked which would be left unanswered by a cut to another scene – the exposition for the asked question would come later, but would happen in a completely different setting and lose the continuity. Saying that, there were strong performances from all cast members and I enjoyed the character development for them all, especially being able to learn more about Drax and his past, Yondu and Nebula. Baby Groot though – oh, Baby Groot! The adorable little wood-creature makes this film what it is, and I cried several times because of the adorable tiny tree.

I was interested to see if Volume 2 could continue to be as comic as the first film – and for the most part, it succeeded. I laughed out loud at points, but it also occasionally fell short of the mark. This film was more serious than the first at points and I think they didn’t always manage to find the right balance between the more sombre moments and the comic relief. Overall, though, Volume 2 manages to capture the same light hearted spirit that I love about the Guardians of the Galaxy, without selling out on any of the action or serious character development.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2 is a heartfelt, wonderful film. Hilarious at points, I think I must have worked my way through seven different emotions whilst watching it. It’s entertaining, has great editing and writing as well as amazing back drops – but more than that, it does what any decent sequel should do for a film: it builds. Volume 2 builds and develops all the great things we loved about Guardians of the Galaxy, showing off the character’s different roles and personalities, and makes us hungry for more. Verdict: 9/10

Carve the Mark: Review

Carve the Mark: Review

Carve the Mark is the first in a new young adult duology by the author of the Divergent series, Veronika Roth. In it, expect new characters, new worlds, and a full sense of creating an entirely new galaxy that is both forwards and backwards in time in comparison to our own world – it’s a nice, easy world builder which focuses more on character and plot development than building the new galaxy, but that’s what I would expect from a young adult book.

The book focuses on two main protagonists, Akos and Cyra, switching between a first person narrative for Cyra and a third person omnipresent narrative when we read Akos’ chapters. They are two unlikely foes who, through circumstance and ‘Currentgifts’ (read it, I don’t want to give that away) are thrown together and eventually come to depend on each other, forming a friendship. Again, I can’t really go into too many details regarding their relationship because I try my hardest to do spoiler free reviews, but I’ll just say: it’s a young adult novel. What do you expect happens?

This is part of the reason why I didn’t always find their relationship believable – it was sometimes too good to be true, and sometimes a bit like good luck, or a dias ex machina. I’m not sure how deep into more character development the second in the series will delve, but there were moments of good development and understanding thrown in amongst the cliches, so I’m willing to give it a chance. The one thing I strongly hope Roth stays away from is that idea of a ‘strong’ female protagonist, which I felt Cyra occasionally falling into – I want more than that.

Carve the Mark, unfortunately, has had some fall out over the fact that Cyra is seen to suffer from ‘chronic pain’, and over a potentially racist outlook – see this link for more details – but from Roth’s acknowledgements I can see she has at least tried to do some research (at least into the chronic pain element). Also see this link about ‘sensitivity readers’, which I think is a great idea and Roth maybe should have had one read over Carve the Mark before it was released, considering the amount of controversy that ended up surrounding it as a story.

Personally, I did not notice the racial stereotypes and undertones; I would never dismiss the people who did, and having read into it I can understand their frustrations and agree if PoC (or anyone, really) have problems with this book after reading the descriptions of characters. However, when reading it, I didn’t personally notice those things – maybe it was because of my privilege, and if so I apologise, but I was more interested in the characters’ personalities and the choices they made. I loved the Shotet people (Cyra’s people). I thought Akos’ people, the Thuve, were slow and boring. So it didn’t seem to me as the “white hero vs. dark enemy”… it was just young people, a band of renegades, against one tyrant – one man, Cyra’s brother – the king. Maybe I’m just naive.

I didn’t see the issues in discussing chronic pain as a ‘gift’, probably because I have never had that issue personally but again, I can see why people who do suffer from the medical condition would have been outraged by Roth’s easy dismissal of it. However, I do still believe in fiction – Carve the Mark is supposed to be a world builder, and I would have thought that we could hope to give authors the benefit the doubt when they’re creating whole worlds, that they might not have realised if they are being insensitive? Again, probably why we need sensitivity readers – but how far can we go before it’s too much? A Series of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) is a world builder full of rape, murder, incest, slavery – the list goes on. Why does this not get the same level of criticism? Just because it is an adult novel?

Overall – and to get away from the deep questions – Carve the Mark has a good pace and characters that try to be interesting, but it falls into the usual traps that young adult books seem to fall into all the time. It is not quite as believable as it should be, and the characters are mostly ‘good’ or ‘bad’, without the level of depth that I would have preferred to see to help me understand their view points. However, I still couldn’t put it down and wanted to keep reading, so I guess thats a good thing.

An easy read that focused more on a plot and character creation than the worlds around them, I will continue the series and hope that Roth has learnt from her critics. Verdict: 6/10.

Children of Time: Review

Children of Time: Review

This is, by far, the most complicated world builder I have ever read. Potentially this is because I have only recently begun reading serious science fiction, and even Children of Time, though meticulously detailed, was not heavy on scientific jargon. It focused more on the two halves of the story, even though it spanned what seemed like millennia – seriously, that’s not an over exaggeration. It literally was a story that was told over thousands of years.

Children of Time begins with a terraforming project that ends up creating a world where arachnids (more specifically, jumping spiders) have become conscious and intelligent. Meanwhile, the ‘last hope of Earth’ is leaving our barren planet in search of a new home . Unfortunately, that new home is crawling with giant insects. It should be enough to make your skin crawl, thinking about spiders the size of your leg, but I didn’t find this at all. Half the time, I was rooting for the spiders, finding the world and language they created fascinating.

What transpires, when these two worlds come together, is a very interesting – if a bit long – tale about human nature and how far we are willing to go to survive. Both the humans on the ‘last hope’, a giant space ship, and the spiders, have their own chapters. We are shown how the humans are getting on with their confined spaces, power struggles, and need to find somewhere to call home. We also, on the other hand, see the spiders building their world; their lives, their hierarchies, cities, and finding God and science (the two are not mutually exclusive). I was scared for the spiders, after a while – if the humans tried to come to their terraformed world, their life style could be destroyed. But I also couldn’t bear to think of the human race wiped out entirely. Call it my own survival instinct kicking in, which was a weird thing to feel whilst reading a book.

Children of Time is written by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and is thoroughly, wonderfully descriptive. It is utterly captivating, and he has created worlds that I would have never even thought about, let alone be desperate to know their inner workings. Tchaikovsky has created an incredibly detailed world where the spiders live, and I wouldn’t mind reading a handful of novellas about different parts of the world and how the spiders live their day to day lives.

The only thing that may put readers off is that this is a very long book; I think, in between working full time and actually living, it took me about two weeks to finish it. Sometimes you could feel how long it was, because the action took place over thousands of years as the spiders’ civilisations evolved, but I was never bored. There was always something more to know, or a question I hadn’t thought to ask answered by the author.

Children of Time s touching, human and alien all at once, and imaginative in ways I had never thought about before. This is a great book to read if you’re trying to get into science fiction but are worried about how complicated it can get, as it definitely eases you in and explains everything it needs to. Also, helpful in getting over a fear of spiders? Maybe. Verdict: 9/10.

Passengers: Review

Passengers: Review

(disclaimer: the poster used with this review is ©Columbia Pictures and does not belong to me)

What an interesting concept; Passengers, the ‘love’ story set on a ship hurtling through space. I’ve really been getting into my space-themed science fiction recently. The two ‘passengers’ we see on this giant of a ship are played by Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, and they are more or less the only actors through out the film, with brief moments of Michael Sheen as a robot and Laurence Fishburne as a crew member. Even though Jim and Aurora (Pratt and Lawrence) are the only two humans we see for most of the screen time, they still manage to hold the story well. It is a credit to both Pratt and Lawrence that they are good enough actors that I did not get bored watching them; their characters were interesting and developed, didn’t slip, and I believed in their plight.

My biggest confusion with Passengers was the plot, but this was partly because the trailer for it was misleading in what the film was actually about. The idea that “there’s a reason they woke up” is quickly twisted, almost within the first 10 minutes of the film, but the reality of the situation carries through, a heavy weight that creates a sense of foreboding, even whilst we see the action and blossoming relationship which seems to be going well. As the audience, it drips with dramatic irony: the high can’t last, but the tension we feel makes us wait with baited breath, all the more interested in what will actually happen at the inevitable reveal.

On the other hand, the ‘threat’ that is hinted out from the beginning of the film isn’t as threatening as it should have been, if we consider its suspicious lead up and the anxiety that the audience feel, watching the various technical glitches get steadily worse. However, it still puts our characters in the kind of danger where I was definitely worried for their safety, even if it could have used a few more ‘thrills’.

The science and technology we watch run the ship, and make it a luxurious environment that Aurora and Jim live in, is great. It’s a good look at a hopeful future, and as a sci-fi fan I did appreciate the various ways that humans might develop the technology to get us into space. It’s a believable future, and even though it was true science fiction, it was still a relatable film full of human needs and emotion, so I think it would sit well with a variety of audiences. Both characters’ backgrounds are well developed and helps the audience understand the way they have become the people they are now, with all their strengths and flaws.

I actually preferred the story that we saw through the film than the ‘other’ plot line that the trailer for Passengers was suggesting. As a personal tangent: it really annoys me when trailers are so different from the the films that they are essentially useless. Isn’t the whole point of the trailer to give us a hint of what the film is about? I was pleasantly surprised by the true plot and action within the film, and cannot fault its cast.

Passengers had strong writing and direction, with a good story to clinch it all together – it is without a doubt, a love story, but with flickers of drama, thriller, and the fact it’s set in space, it is by no means orthodox. An interesting, easy-watch film which was far enough from a traditional romance that it sparked all my other interests; it wasn’t mind blowing, but I’d happily get it on DVD. Verdict: 6/10.

 

Rogue One: Review

Rogue One: Review

(disclaimer: the poster used with this review is ©Lucasfilm and does not belong to me)

In loving memory of Carrie Fisher.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was perfect for what it set out to be: both something, and nothing, to do with the real Star Wars franchise that I have been following since the first trilogy in the 1980s (not that I watched it until I was actually born). It was a story that was set in the Star Wars galaxy (or universe?) but with completely new characters that we have never seen before, and will never see again. It was a ‘one off’; based in between the original trilogy and the ‘prequels’ of the early 2000s, it tells the story of the rebels who fight to get hold of the Death Star plans, in order to roll straight into the plot of Star Wars (the 1977 original). It was just what we needed.

There was a bit of a jumpy start, with our protagonist who appears unwilling, and after someone pointed it out to me, I was very aware that this was the third white, brunette, female protagonist we have had written into Star Wars. However, Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) held her own against the rebels (until she became one of them); her skills with a blaster were great, but I also didn’t doubt them after discovering the background the character had.

I have always really enjoyed the Star Wars universe and its films, and was glad that this time the production made the decision to show us where the action was taking place, especially considering it jumped from planet to planet, and rebel to Empire. Speaking of the Empire, Darth Vader’s occasional scenes were fantastic; it makes sense, considering this was when he was his highest point of power and still climbing. I was glad that they involved his character so much, whilst also refraining from making him the central villain for the film in order to keep it away from the main franchise.

The score was new and refreshing, but still in keeping with the traditional Star Wars themes we all know and love. There were interesting sets, and the plot was easy to get invested in as an audience member, because (even though the characters are new) it is a world we already know and understand – there was not as much need for world building. One of my favourite things about Rogue One is that the stakes are truly, utterly, phenomenally high. I was constantly on the edge of my seat, worried for the characters; it’s breathlessly fast towards the end of the film, and it feels like an incredibly close call even though we have the hindsight and knowledge that the rebels do get the Death Star plans. It didn’t matter that I knew that, I was still anxious for all the characters and cared about them – even the new, sarcastic, robot companion.

All in all, Rogue One was a success. The timing for it’s comic relief was on point; the film was fun, exciting, dangerous and well developed within the Star Wars world and its various branches. Lets have another Star Wars Story, and bring on Episode VIII. Verdict: 8.5/10.

The Girl With All The Gifts: Review

The Girl With All The Gifts: Review

(note: this is for the book, not the recent film adaptation)

Another dystopian future, I hear you cry? I guess there must be a trend… The Girl With All The Gifts, by M. R. Carey, gives us a believable look into a zombie apocalyptic future. It takes place two decades after a variation of the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (it’s real, I looked it up. Check “Cordyceps: attack of the killer fungi” on Youtube. David Attenborough even calls it “something out of science fiction”) has caused the apocalypse – but this plot reads as the most sophisticated, understandable zombie-story I’ve ever come across, within a topic that I would usually shrug off as fantasy.

The zombies in TGWALG are known as ‘hungries’; humans whose nervous systems have been taken over by the parasitic fungus, whose sole purpose is to hunt down non-infected humans and bite them – both to eat them as protein, and to pass the pathogen on through spit and blood, transferring the fungus. Interestingly enough, this is not the first time Ophiocordyceps has been used as a potential zombie-creator. A friend pointed out to me that this is the same fungus used by the console game The Last of Us, developed by Naughty Dog. Interesting coincidence, although in The Last of Us the fungus is also airborne, whereas in Carey’s novel, this hasn’t happened.

TGWATG follows a third-person omnipresent narrative, focusing on four main characters. The most prominent and interesting of these four is Melanie, a 10-year-old child genius… who also happens to be a hungry. She has grown up in a lab with other hungry children who all still have a self-consciousness (unlike the usual hungries, which have reverted to an less-than animal-like state). Enter: Parks, an army sergeant charged with looking after the lab’s security; Dr. Caldwell, the scientist trying to understand the miraculous hungry children and use them to find a cure; and Helen Justineau, the woman who teaches the hungry children, and who Melanie sees as a surrogate mother. Input: chaos, and watch their lives get drastically altered. Nothing will ever be the same again.

I find the ‘hungries’ a genuinely horrifying idea; unlike your traditional zombie, they’re fast, mobile, and once they get your scent, cannot be distracted from the hunt. Originally, I decided to read the book so that when I went to see the film, I would have some idea of the scare-rate, and I’m certainly glad I did, because I would not have been expecting their aggression (saying that, my local cinema didn’t even show the film, so I still have yet to see it). One of my favourite things about Carey’s writing, though, is the depth of every character and the post-apocalyptic world that was created. Half of the characters we get to know were born after the “Breakdown”, and it is interesting – refreshing, even – to see the way they view their new world, as someone who is part of the ‘old’ one.

Set in England, there are a lot of mentions to London, its outlying towns, and pre-apocalyptic memorabilia which I found were easy ways to be drawn into the world of the story. That, and Melanie’s thought processes are incredible; detailed, well structured, and easy to empathise with. I had to keep reminding myself she was 10. Sometimes, I did find myself thinking there were too many similes chucked in that drew attention away from the ongoing plot, but otherwise there was good, thorough description and thoughtful, researched science when the chapters focused on Dr. Caldwell and her research.

A thoroughly refreshing – if horrifying – look on a potential zombie apocalypse, The Girl With All The Gifts is dark, well-paced and an ultimately touching story. It is both deeply, totally human, whilst heavy with science that portrays a scary, animalistic future. Also, it has an absolutely killer ending that I never, ever saw coming. Verdict: 8/10.

 

 

Luna, New Moon: A Review

Luna, New Moon: A Review

Though I have always been a fan of strange and eclectic fiction – which usually gets put under the general headers of ‘sci-fi’ and ‘fantasy’, Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald was my first full-blooded space adventure, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Occasionally, the language was confusing and challenging, but being a English and Drama student, I don’t know much about the science behind the book’s ideas. I mean, I would believe anything McDonald wrote about the way humans have managed to colonise and live on the moon – I have to remind myself it’s still fiction .

Being a prolific reader venturing into a new genre, one thing I noticed about myself is that I don’t really care about the setting of a book. I think setting can enhance a story, but the reason I didn’t blanch at the heavy-duty space jargon was the fact that in it’s core, Luna: New Moon is a book about people. What enthrals and captivates us about books are their characters and their plots- if these things are clever, well developed and interesting, everything else is just a bonus; this theory, I think, perfectly incapsulates Luna: New Moon. (As well as the fact that I was both terrified and intrigued by the book’s constant reminder that the Moon could kill you very, very easily. Just take the first two sentences of the blurb: “The Moon wants to kill you. She has a thousand ways to do it.”)

Luna: New Moon follows the interlinked stories of various individuals surrounding and involving the Corta family. The Cortas are one of the ‘Five Dragons’; five families/corporations that live in delicate balance with the others, controling all of the resources and industries on the Moon. (The Corta family’s wealth and power come from mining Helium-3 to fuel the Earth’s energy needs.) Everything on the Moon – even the air in your lungs – has a price; when you die, your parts are recycled. Nothing is wasted, nothing is squandered. But human nature – our desires, needs and wants – are still strong within the individuals living on the Moon, most of whom have been there so long that they can’t physically return to Earth.

I’m not the first person to notice that Luna: New Moon is similar in it’s politics and family feuds to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones, for the show-watchers), and it’s very true. The difficult, complex web of who-controls-what and who-wants-control feel very similar, except with the huge difference that Luna is set in space, adding an entirely new level of danger. Family is everything to the Five Dragons, but with shifting alliances and an almost-assassination, you can’t trust anyone – and then things start to get really interesting.

Two of my favourite surprises in this book included McDonald’s easy use of characters who were genderless (and have their own pronoun!) and a main character who is autosexual. Having never read a book with either of these preferences in them, it took me a while to get my head around it before I realised: why the hell not? It makes perfect sense, given that the book is set so far in the future. Even if it wasn’t, I feel like more authors should be writing about different forms of sexuality and gender as we become more aware of these things as personal choice rather than trusting ‘traditional’ binaries.

Overall, Luna: New Moon is an eye-opener, in more ways than one. Ian McDonald has created a well-paced, rounded, gritty story packed full of well developed, interesting characters. There is real danger at every turn, and you never know what might happen next. The sequel, Luna: Wolf Moon, came out on September 27th. You can be guaranteed it’s a sequel I’ll be getting my hands on. Verdict: 8/10.

Nod: A Review

Nod: A Review

Though originally published in 2012, I didn’t stumble upon Nod, by Adrian Barnes, until early 2016. Saying that, I’m truly glad I decided to pick it up after seeing it hiding amongst the science-fiction in my local Waterstones.  As I turn to the back of the book and read the blurb, the first sentence is the premise in a nutshell: “Dawn breaks over Vancouver and no one in the world has slept the night before, or almost no one.”

The story follows our narrator, Paul, who is one of the few people in the world – 1 in 10,000 – who has been able to sleep. Not only this, but when Paul now sleeps, he has a mysterious ‘golden dream’. We follow him through the book as modern day descends into sleep-deprived madness; though our interesting, introverted protagonist is still capable of sleep, he is forced to watch as his girlfriend Tanya crumbles, and the city he lives in turns into a wasteland.

It seems to start slowly, but the hordes of ‘Awakened’ are soon digressing to their primitive, animal selves; all bets are off, shackles of humanity stripped away, and order is a thing of the past. The most harrowing thing I felt about Nod? Barnes paints such a vivid, stark image of the apocalypse that I could honestly see this one coming true.

This, in part, is what makes Barnes’ idea so fantastic – and also frightening, in equal measure.  Unlike many other dystopian future/apocalyptic ideas I have come across before, this feels very real. It asks no questions of itself, and doesn’t try to find an answer or a ‘cure’. The plot is both complex and simple in its motive; it’s not about why this has happened, but how it affects everything, day by day, and how humanity tries – and ultimately fails – to traverse their new landscape and deal with their terrifying new surroundings.

Adrian Barnes has a very clever idea here, and it is made even more poignant (I think) by his own personal circumstances. Though my copy of Nod came with his essay, I didn’t read it until after I had finished the book (watch for the ending. Bittersweet). It’s called ‘My Cancer is as Strange as my Fiction‘, and in it, Barnes details his own struggles with cancer, and how Nod and the world Paul inhabits sometimes mirrors the difficulties Barnes himself is facing.

Even if you don’t get the chance to read Nod, the article is a good one, and it’s easy to see why Adrian Barnes is such a good writer. Even when speaking directly to his reader, his writing is intelligent, melodic, and self aware. If you’re looking for a novel (pun intended) read that combines clever, subtle science-fiction with real, human emotion and our basic instinct to stay alive, then Nod is the book for you.

It’s a fairly easy read – though some of it’s content is mature – and it captures the imagination with vibrant description, so if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to put it down. Verdict: 7.5/10.