dystopian, Fantasy, scifi

Book Review: Upgrade by Blake Crouch

“We don’t have an intelligence problem. We have a compassion problem. That, more than any other single factor, is what’s driving us toward extinction.

There’s something different about Logan Ramsey. He’s physically stronger, processes information faster, better at multitasking, better at concentration. He’s just better at everything all of a sudden, after a raid gone wrong. After Ramsey has the doctor check his genome, he discovers that it’s been hacked and almost everything about him has been upgraded. There’s a reason he has been targeted for this upgrade, something that has to do with the darkest part of his history, why he went to prison and his dark family legacy. Worse still, what is happening to him is a sign of what’s to come. He’s a practice run in a more coordinated effort to upgrade humanity as a whole and only him has the ability now to stop this overreach from going forward.

“We were a monstrous, thoughtful, selfish, sensitive, fearful, ambitious, loving, hateful, hopeful species. We contained within us the potential for great evil, but also for great good. And we were capable of so much more than this.”

This is really a superhero story. If you like superhero stories and you enjoy science fiction, this is a perfect alloy. Blake Crouch writes really simple and accessible science fiction for everybody regardless of your genre preference. I always tell people, if they want science fiction lite, then Crouch is the best place to start. This book also made me think of what I would do if I was in the main character’s shoes. I think I was torn about this book because I genuinely don’t know who I would support in real life. I thought the supposed villain had a very good point about upgrading humanity and if not for the side effects of the upgrade, I would have been on her side. But I also understand why the main character thought – when will it be enough? Cool, radicate a few gene causing diseases in kids, change a few things but when will it ever be enough? It’s a little like plastic surgery, you get one, you want them all.

“What if this isn’t the solution? What if you end up killing a billion people for no reason? What if you just end up creating a world of Miriam Ramsays—all convinced they know what’s best, all capable of inflicting unimaginable harm if they’re wrong? What if you create a bunch of people who are just drastically better at what they already were. Soldiers. Criminals. Politicians. Capitalists.”

Crouch had really big questions in this book but I think this book pales in comparison to his other works. Upgrade was more straightforward when I usually love Crouch for the twists and turns his books bring. I do think the author presented us a possible solution to the problem that is humanity and I think he chose a good answer but ultimately I was disappointed as a whole. But I will say that I think this is a good entry into the Crouch world if this is something you’re interested in doing. It is easy to read, moves at a fast pace and doesn’t get bogged down in the science. This book ultimately read like a summer blockbuster, like it was written to be adapted. I suspect that’s why he made it so straightforward. We’ll see if it ever comes to the big screen. Anyway, I really recommend this book. We also have another Crouch book review that you should check out. I gave this one 3 stars on Goodreads.

Do you enjoy science fiction? Are you going to give this one a chance? Let me know in the comments.

Leggy

dystopian, Fantasy, Fiction, literary fiction, scifi

Book Review: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

“My point is, there’s always something. I think, as a species, we have a desire to believe that we’re living at the climax of the story. It’s a kind of narcissism. We want to believe that we’re uniquely important, that we’re living at the end of history, that now, after all these millennia of false alarms, now is finally the worst that it’s ever been, that finally we have reached the end of the world.”

It’s 1912, Edwin St. Andrew is exiled from polite society by his parents after ranting about colonialism at the dinner table and finds himself in Canada. He enters the forest one night to admire the Canadian wilderness and is shocked to see a sudden vision of a man playing a violin in an airship terminal. 200 years later, Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour on earth from the outer space colonies when she is asked about a strange passage in her best selling book. A passage that describes a man playing a violin in an airship terminal when suddenly the Canadian wilderness rises behind him for a couple of seconds. When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts is hired to investigate this anomaly and determine if we are living in a simulation, he travels through time to meet each participant to interview them and finds so many different lives upended.

“You know the phrase I keep thinking about?” a poet asked, on a different panel, at a festival in Copenhagen. ‘The chickens are coming home to roost.’ Because it’s never good chickens. It’s never ‘You’ve been a good person and now your chickens are coming home to roost.’ It’s never good chickens. It’s always bad chickens.”

I genuinely do not know how to describe this book to you because I went in blind. I saw that Mandel had a new book out and I just downloaded it and read it without even checking to see what it was about. I recommend you go in that way because there is really no description for this book. It’s so many things at once. It is a pandemic novel, a time travelling novel, an apocalyptic novel, a human nature novel etc. I did not enjoy Mandel’s last novel, The Glass Hotel, as much as I did Station Eleven but this one is Mandel at her absolute finest. If you read Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel, you get to pick up the different little easter eggs she drops on the way. Characters from her previous books pop up in this one and it was so thrilling to recognise characters I thought I would never see again.

“Pandemics don’t approach like wars, with the distant thud of artillery growing louder every day and flashes of bombs on the horizon. They arrive in retrospect, essentially. It’s disorienting. The pandemic is far away and then it’s all around you, with seemingly no intermediate step.”

As is the style with Mandel, this is a quiet slow build story. The exploration of what living in a simulation might mean for humanity is so riveting and her writing of human nature is absolutely beautiful. We begin with different chapters of characters in different centuries and settings with stories that seem totally unrelated and you wonder where exactly this is leading to. The way she ties the stories together beautifully at the end is so good. Mandel’s writing has such a nostalgic feel to it, how do you feel nostalgic about what is essentially a time traveling investigatory story? I don’t know but you do.

“Sometimes you don’t know you’re going to throw a grenade until you’ve already pulled the pin.”

If you enjoy slow burn books, then you should give this book a chance. If you’ve never enjoyed any Emily St. John Mandel’s books then this is not any different. The reasons you hated the others probably exist in this one. It’s very difficult to write a review for this book but I definitely recommend it if it sounds like something you’d like and with every Mandel book, you already know to expect very stellar writing. I think I’ve decided to be a completist where Mandel is concerned. I’m going to go and read her previous books before Station Eleven blew up and see. Anyway, I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads.

Leggy

dystopian, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, romance, Young Adult

Book Review: Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

“Some scars are carved into our bones – a part of who we are, shaping what we become.”

Daughter of the Moon Goddess is inspired by the legend of Chang’e, the Chinese moon goddess, in which a young woman’s quest to free her mother, pits her against the most powerful immortal in the realm. Xingyin who has spent all her life on the moon discovers that her mother, the moon goddess, is actually a prisoner on the moon. One day, her magic flares and brings her mother’s powerful jailers to the moon to investigate forcing her to flee the only home she’s ever known. Alone and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom where she disguises herself and comes up with a plan to break the enchantment keeping her mother on the moon and gain her mother’s freedom.

“I was no longer a child willing to drift with the ride – I would steer against the current if I had to. and if I won, by some miraculous stroke of luck, I would never be helpless again.”

I was very excited when I found out about this book. Fantasy? Female protagonist? A Chinese setting? CHECK! I think I was expecting more Poppy War so, this protagonist and the entire world building fell flat for me. The story telling and world building wasn’t strong enough to immerse me into this world. Xingyin comes to the celestial kingdom and finds a job as a maiden for a powerful family and no one even investigates her background? Okay, I’m going to let that go.

But then she competes and wins a place as Prince Liwei’s companion and no one knows where she’s from, who her family is and nobody bothers to ask or investigate? It just rang so ridiculous to me that a stranger would be let near the heir to the throne without even a single question asked. Also, the competition to be selected as Prince Liwei’s companion was an absolute joke. I just expected it to be more intriguing, to show us how cunning or smart our protagonist was but it was all rigged for her to win.

This is a YA fantasy so of course there’s a love triangle. I thought this trope was being phased out of YA but I guess not. I found Prince Liwei to be a very 2 dimensional character, entirely predictable. A prince who is too good and cares too much. A prince who is better than his father but detests all the obligations he has to fulfil as the crown prince like being betrothed to a member of one of the most powerful families in the kingdom. He just wants to train and fall in love with whoever he wants and paint and care soooo deeply without having to make any tough decisions.

Wenzhi, the other love interest, is a high ranking army official who has won so many battles and brought great respect to the celestial kingdom. He has a dislike for all things royal and just wants to fight. He’s competent and smart and mysterious. Yet another person who was just allowed to rise in the army ranks even though no one knows where he’s from.

“It was only later that I learned the Chamber of Lions was reserved for the army’s most skilled warriors. While most had taken months, a year even to master every trap, it took me a matter of weeks.”

Xingyin was great at EVERYTHING she tried. She shot an arrow for the first time and was just an absolute natural. She learnt everything and became so strong in a matter of weeks. This is a woman who spent all her growing years in solitude and has never worked out a day in her life. She almost beat Prince Liwei in archery a mere month after she started training even though he had trained all his life.

Anyway, a lot happens in this book so at least you get a lot of bang for your buck. I think because I read a lot of fantasy, this book was not for me. It wasn’t very good world building, the politics isn’t intriguing enough for me to ignore the plot holes and the romance wasn’t passionate enough for two people, not to talk of a three way.

I do think if you enjoy romance books and YA literature, you’re going to enjoy this book. If you enjoy epic fantasies or if you read Poppy War and are looking for a dupe, this book is not for you at all. So while this book was not for me, I actually think it has an audience. It has above 4 stars on goodreads so it’s definitely popular.

This is one book that I wanted so badly to talk to someone about after I finished it so much so that I’m so desperate to join an in-person book club. Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments.

Leggy

Book Related Topics, dystopian, literary fiction, race

Book Review: The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

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“By staying calm, they’re showing their child that a mother can handle anything. A mother is always patient. A mother is always kind. A mother is always giving. A mother never falls apart. A mother is the buffer between her child and the cruel world.”

Frida Liu has one very bad day as a mother and has her child taken away by child services. She lives in a world where CPS is now very strict and any strike will have you losing your parental rights. She’s just gone through a divorce because her husband, Gust, refused to give up his young mistress. Frida didn’t ask for any alimony and is therefore having to work part time to afford the upheaval in her life. She can’t sleep because she’s a mother and that’s why she had this very bad day, you see. After her child gets taken away, Frida has to do a government program for one full year to determine if she’ll ever have access to her child again or completely lose her parental rights.

”Now, repeat after me: I am a bad mother, but I am learning to be good.”

The very bad day Frida has that led to her child being taken away from her is not mentioned in the book’s blurb so I will avoid mentioning what actually happened for protective services to be called on her. I think it was very bold of the author to pick this particular premise because it does not win Frida any favors at all. You come away struggling with the feeling that she deserved to have her child taken away, even though I get the feeling the author wanted us to sympathize with her? There were so many other mothers in the school that didn’t do anything bad that, had they been the protagonist, it would have been easier to root for. I know people criticized the author for this choice but I actually think it was a bold decision that I did not expect from a debut author.

This book is a dystopian novel and the one year school for good mothers is the main crux of this book. It is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read and I think it’s because it could happen. There is nothing so over the top about the concept. The women are given very lifelike, actual talking, almost human dolls (this might be the most outrageous concept in this book) that represent their kids. They’re supposed to mother them for one year and at the end of the year, they get an assessment on whether they should get their kid back or not.

The one year Frida is at the school is told by the author in a very unemotional, monotonous way. I know a lot of people might be put off by this but I found that it worked for the kind of book this is. No matter how creepy the readers might find the whole process, the author’s matter of fact way of telling the story makes it even more intriguing at how the concept of this school was ever conceived and approved.

I did not enjoy the ending of this book. I kept feeling the book building up to something and ultimately the ending wasn’t very climatic. Chan finally got me on the side of the protagonist by the end but there was no pay off for that. I felt betrayed by the author. I also found the protagonist to be a very weak woman. Her husband cheats on her while pregnant but she agrees to a no fault divorce and doesn’t ask for alimony while whining constantly about it to the readers.

Chan also can’t decide what this book is actually an allegory for. Is this book about interracial couples? Sexism? Racism? The way the system preys on black and brown bodies? How the “bad” fathers were treated in comparison to the “bad” mothers? Is the author just pointing out the general unfairness of the CPS? We’re instead subjected to lines and lines pointing out the ills of this society that very much mirrors our own without any of these issues ever really landing for the reader.

This is Jessamine Chan’s debut novel and I can’t wait to read what else she’s going to write in the future. I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads. Have you heard of this one? Have you read it? What did you think?

Leggy