Review | Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

421 pages | Sci-Fi | 2018 | 3/5☆

When I read the second book of this trilogy I was so excited to talk about it I started a blog. Waking Gods is definitely my favourite book of the three, but I still loved the final instalment of The Themis Files series.

Only Human jumps nine years into the future, rejoining the characters as they [spoilers] somehow return to Earth. The rest of the novel switches between life after their return and fragments of their time on Esat Ekt. The flashback/forward format of the novel reminded me a lot of Lost in, like, a good way; there was plenty of character exploration. This said, the format of the novel means readers miss out on a lot of detail and description.

After the distressing revelations of the previous book, Earth has devolved into a planet of terror and chaos. Correspondingly, rising tensions on Esat Ekt mean the elite face a potential political upheaval of their own. This book is filled with social commentary. It looks at the power of fear, paranoia and ignorance, paying particular attention to race and racism, xenophobia, colonialism and nationalism.

I won’t say who, but I did miss a certain character taken from us in the previous book. The new character brought in to fill their shoes in this novel? Meh.

I am genuinely sad to finish this trilogy and say goodbye to these characters.

“You let emotions get in the way of rational judgement, and that is the worst thing a scientist can do. You might be a better human being than I am by anyone’s standard, but it is people like you who will bring our world to its end. I think you’re dangerous.”
Sylvain Neuvel, Only Human, p.270.

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Summary | July into August 2019

Okay, I goofed. This month was bad. I’m working two jobs now so I only managed to get through:

  • A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin | 2.5☆
  • The Beautiful Cassandra by Jane Austen | 2.5☆
  • Possession by A. S. Byatt | 2☆

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That being said I am still working my way through the following:

  • Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton | 160/239 pages
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky | 780/985 pages

And I’m hesitant to add more books to the TBR pile just in case it’s another hectic month. I can’t stick to one book at a time anyway though so, who knows.

Review | Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

358 pages | Sci-Fi | 2018 | 2/5☆

This won’t be a long one. I feel like everything I have to say about Becky Chambers I’ve said before.

Her characters are (mostly) complex and interesting – or at least their work is. Isabel the archivist, with her alien guest, and Eyas the caretaker, who deals with the Exodan dead, were both fascinating; probably because it was through these characters Chambers did most of her world-building. The other characters we follow are considerably less gripping: Sawyer, the newcomer and immediate outsider, teenage Kip and Exodan mother Tessa are little more than tropes. A teenager struggling with peer pressure and growing up? A newcomer failing to assimilate? A woman trying to raise her kids while her partner is away? I wouldn’t mind if Chambers had added something to these stories but… she didn’t.

Her world-building is still phenomenal. In Record of a Spaceborn Few, Chambers introduces new cultures, traditions and mentalities. She creates interesting but understandable customs, close to but still alien enough from our own. She also manages to seemlessly introduce the reader to the world she’s created on board the Exodan Fleet. Having a character like Ghuh’loloan, the alien guest of Isabel’s, gives the reader the chance to assimilate with her.

The world-building and characters are what keep me coming back to Chambers’ books, but they desperately need more danger. Tension. Action. The most cataclysmic event in this book is in its introduction. I love the wholesomeness of the Wayfarer series, but not at the cost of any real drama at all.

“‘Knowledge should always be free,’ she said. ‘What people do with it is up to them.'”
Becky Chambers, Record of a Spaceborn Few, p.228.

Review | The Universe in Your Hand by Christophe Galfard

419 pages | Non-Fiction | 2015 | 4.5/5☆

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I can’t say a single bad thing about this book. Christophe Galfard takes the reader on, as the title explains, a journey through space, time and beyond. You go from lounging on a tropical beach to flying through the cosmos, from playing with magnets in your kitchen to crossing a black hole horizon.

This book explains the most instrumental developments in modern science, from Newton through to Einstein, Hawking and countless other brilliant minds. It summarises their ideas, visualises complex theories and concepts, and does so by somehow including only one equation: E=mc².

I’ve always been fascinated by space, but at school I could never get my head around the maths and the theories and, well, the science. So to pick up a book like this and feel like I could grasp some of it? Amazing.

Galfard managed to make such complex ideas tangible without ever being patronising. His book was informative, humorous and hopeful, and I recommend it to anyone looking for an entertaining but educational ‘Space For Dummies’.

“It might be unfair to say it, but with hindsight we might thus link the dinosaurs’ extinction to their lack of awareness of theoretical physics.”
Christophe Galfard, The Universe In Your Hand: A Journey Through Space, Time and Beyond, p.11.

Summary | June into July 2019

June has been a bit of a hectic month with me finally starting my new job, so I’m fairly happy with myself for getting through a whole three books. I haven’t posted my reviews for them yet, but they are coming! In June I read:

  • Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel | 3/5☆
  • Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers | 3/5☆
  • The Universe in Your Hand by Christophe Galfard | 4.5/5

I have a few weekends away planned in July but I’m currently reading and hoping to finish:

  • Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton | 110/239 pages
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky | 271/985 pages
  • A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin | 246/355 pages

I’m not very good at picking up a book and seeing it through to the end before I start the next one. I’m going to try and commit to these books this month and hopefully actually manage to finish them.

Review | A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

364 pages | Sci-Fi | 2016 | 3.5/5☆

[potential spoilers for A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet]

I finished this book a few months ago but couldn’t work out what I wanted to say about it. I still don’t know. I want to clear out my drafts though, so here I go anyway.

A Closed and Common Orbit, the sequel to A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, leaves the crew of the Wayfarer behind. Its chapters switch back and forth between two characters; the first, Lovelace, is an AI program only just beginning to adjust to her new synthetic body while the second, Jane 23, works with her clone-sisters to clean and repair machinery and ship parts, twenty years earlier.

Becky Chambers may write science fiction where most characters are ‘good’ and hopeful, and where kindness generally wins out, but she does not shy away from echoing or exaggerating some of the darker parts of our reality – I mean, half of it takes place in a scrap-recycling sweatshop run by robots. A Closed and Common Orbit is much darker than its predecessor and comes with its own emotional depth. This book made me cry; it has a whole host of heart-wrenching emotional moments and leads its characters into some haunting life-or-death situations.

This book is a coming-of-age book. It centres around the themes of survival and identity. It looks into what it means to be sentient, human or AI or otherwise. It has its moments of being as cute as the first book, but the stakes are much higher.

I reviewed A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet here, and a lot of what I said about that book can be echoed here. So to avoid repeating myself, I’ll end with this: tattoos that move, two female-identifying sci-fi leads and a whole novel dedicated to different forms of female relationships?! Yes please.

Do normal Humans know? Do they even know this planet is here? Do they know any of this is going on? Because I’m going to die here.
Becky Chambers, A Closed and Common Orbit, p.231.

Review | Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

230 pages | Gothic/Classic | 1818 | 2/5☆

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I had very high hopes for Frankenstein; I studied Mary Wollstonecraft and the Romantics at university. I thought Mary Shelley would be as amazing as both her mother and her contemporaries. Her novel sat on my to-read shelf for years, but it didn’t take me long once I had started it to realise: I could not wait to finish this book.

Frankenstein is a brilliantly tragic anti-hero. He is driven by his curiosity and his passions, and they undo him. He wants to unlock the secrets of the universe and succeeds. Then he treats his creation with absolute disdain and revulsion. While I recognise Frankenstein to be the master of his own undoing, I also fully understand and sympathise with the reasons behind his decisions. Shelley makes the creator and his creation both equally repulsive and compelling.

The “monster” is insightful and heart-breaking and human. Contrary to his on-screen depictions, the “monster” is eloquent, philosophical and, at his inception, curious and kind. This novel didn’t feel like a horror so much as an exploration into what it means to be human, to exist, to long for something. It asks, what is the role of a Creator? And it warns that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

On that note: just because you can read Frankenstein, doesn’t mean you should.

Sometimes the prose was beautiful. Other times, for me at least, it went on for too long. Instead of graduating with a love of ornate passages and flowery descriptions, I can’t read a piece of literature without thinking, “This could be summarised, this does not have to be this long.” I know I’m in the wrong here. Blame higher education; I’ve been trained to read four books a week. While I like metaphors and tension and character depth, I don’t need a whole chapter of Frankenstein lamenting his choices as he stumbles across a snowy mountain. I get it. He goofed. We all get it.

I counted down the pages until the end of this book. This might not be the most literary review, but as someone who is only just realising I no longer have to support every negative comment with numerous different sources as justification, I’m excitedly free to say: I just didn’t like this book.

“[T]he fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.”
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, p.228.