Book Review – The Fifth Season

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I am finally back writing on this blog and it has been quite a while but between vacation and work life has been quite hectic lately! That said, I am now back and ready to bring you more good nerdy reviews and hopefully soon new sections to the blog. Today we are going to talk about a delightful book I just finished and that is The Fifth Season written by N.K Jemsin. I had wanted to read for quite some time this series since it was awarded the Hugo Award for Best Novel at the 74th World Science Fiction Convention on August 20, 2016. It was also nominated for the Nebula Award and World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and as such I was incredibly excited to read this book. Before we get into the review let me warn you that there might be some minimal spoilers although I will attempt to keep it at a minimum.

I absolutely loved this novel and it is more than deserving of the awards it attained and all the praise it has received. The story combines many elements of classic fantasy and science fiction in a unique manner to give us a rich story with an intriguing setting and plot. The Fifth Season is set on a planet with a single supercontinent called the Stillness were occasionally climatic disasters labelled as the fifth season occur, thus preventing humanity from flourishing. In this world there are a group of people hated and feared known as the oregenes who are capable of controlling energy, particularly that of the earth (directly) and temperature (indirectly) and thus prevent earthquakes and climatic disasters. Although they are hated and not considered human, they are used by society to minimize dangers in a world divided by caste. At the start of this book we learn that a fifth season is starting and we follow different characters in their struggles, especially that of Essun, an orogene mother whose son was killed by the father and who left with their daughter, and her search for them. This setting full of climatic strife, racial conflict and community struggles is captivating and yet also relatable. It is relatable because although it happens in a fictional world that is different to ours, the core of its issues are similar to many of the issues we now face.

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The characters of the book are incredible, with profound development throughout the novel that has a profound impact on the book. The diversity in the characters in this book is refreshing to see as within the genre of fantasy and science fiction this has not always been the case. Throughout the novel we meet characters that despite their differences with our world, reflect quite well in our and thus make you invested in it.

The characters are what drive the story throughout the whole novel, as we are able to witness their evolution, their thought processes and how they face the challenges ahead is a fascinating read and combined with the plot of the story makes for an enthralling read. N.K Jemsin is able to bring to live a fantastical world, full of incredible characters with amazing abilities that at the same time feels very similar and relatable to ours.

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I can’t recommend enough this book, it is wonderful, filled with beautiful characters and in an incredibly setting. After reading the first one, I for one can’t wait to read the next two books, with the third one having come out this month. I encourage you all to read the books as you will fall in love with them, and better do it soon since a TV show based on the novels has just been announced!

Review – Saga

It has been sometime on this blog since I have talked about anything relating to comics, that is probably due to the fact that I have been lately binge reading fantasy and science fiction. Yet whilst I have not been reading as many comics as I tend to do, I have been reading some of them, kept myself updated with Marvel and DC and have been enjoying a comic that over the past few years has become one of my favourites of all time, Saga. Saga is an epic space opera/fantasy comic book series written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. It depicts a husband and wife, Alana and Marko, from long-warring extra-terrestrial races, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their daughter, Hazel, who is born in the beginning of the series and who occasionally narrates the series as an unseen adult.

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Ever since I first picked up the first Saga issue, almost by accident, I have been enthralled by it. The art, because make no mistake the work done by Fiona Staples is art, is sublime. It is able to reflect the world the story is set in perfectly and able to portray the emotions of the characters perfectly. Some of the art seen in the numerous issues of Saga counts amongst my favourite seen in the media and every time a new issue comes out I like to take a moment to just take in the amazing art drawn.

The characters of Saga are complex and draw you in every issue. Despite their alien nature you are able to relate to them and whilst they are in some ways they are similar to other characters seen in both comics and science fiction they are also able to remain in many ways distinctive and unique which I believe is one of the reasons this works so well. They are relatable because in many ways they are familiar but they are also different enough to be intriguing and to grab your attention. All of the characters involved from Prince Robot, to Alana and Hazel, to the multitude of side characters that enrichen the story and make it incredibly fun to read are memorable and important.

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The greatest thing about Saga is without a doubt its storytelling. If I had to describe it, and I must say it is difficult to fully do so, I would say it is a mixture of Star Wars mixed with fantasy epics such as Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire. Throughout the 42 issues we have experienced great emotional moments, fun moments, heart breaking issues and all in all an incredible comprehensive story. It is a story that touches on many issues that are relevant today in our culture such as gender, sexuality or ethnicity and it does so in an incredibly beautiful and respectful manner. It is also a great war comic book, showing us the dark side of wars, all of this based in a science fiction setting. The story has evolved and matured as the comic goes along yet it has not lost that essential aspect of fun and adventure that is so important in a space opera. Brian K. Vaughan has done a wonderful job in combining all of those aspects into a riveting story which is accentuated by the subtle yet delightful dialogue with which he gifts his characters.

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All said if you are not reading Saga you are definitely missing out on a great comic, a comic that I believe is redefining the comic book landscape especially in that genre. It is a smart, funny comic that captures with great characters and a comic with an amazing art that will stun you. Reading Saga is always a thrill and I am always excited when a new issue comes out. I 100% recommend this comic, even if you are not a fan of comics in general, you will probably enjoy Saga.

Whilst I eagerly wait for new issues I will be right here falling more and more in love every day with this comic.

 

Reseña – 36 de Nieves Delgado

El otro día cuando me preparaba para irme de viaje a Mallorca un fin de semana decidí leer un relato corto de ciencia ficción y entre los muchos que he comprado últimamente tome la decisión de leerme 36, escrito por Nieves Delgado. Tal fue la impresión que me causó este relato que me llevó a tomar la decisión de por primera vez escribir en español en mi blog. La ciencia ficción es uno de mis géneros preferidos junto a la fantasía y disfruto mucho leyéndola. Seguramente no hay forma más pura y más entretenida en la ciencia ficción que un buen relato corto. Leer 36 ha sido todo un placer y un viaje a la ciencia ficción clásica.

Este relato nos lleva adentra en la vida de una Inteligencia Artificial, una IA inusual y que ira creciendo y madurando a lo largo del relato. La historia nos enseñara las dificultades a las que se enfrentara la IA para integrarse en una sociedad no acostumbrada. Durante el transcurso del relato la autora trata temas diversos y tradicionales del género como la definición de lo humano, reflexiones sobre la naturaleza humana, reflexiones sobre la mortalidad y la diferencia entre un humano electrónico y un humano orgánico pero desde una perspectiva brillante y diferente.

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36 es un gran relato que te hace pensar, que te hace cuestionar muchas de las ideas ya concebidas y verlas desde un nuevo prisma. El final es sorprendente a la par que emotivo y cuando acabe el relato (que se puede leer en una hora fácilmente) como un buen libro de ciencia ficción debe hacer, te deja reflexivo y soñando con un mundo futuro diferente. Una de las cuestiones que me plantea que me gustaría compartir con vosotros es: ¿Si creamos inteligencia artificial, capaz de sentir y experimentar las mismas cosas que nosotros, debemos darle reconocimiento humano a pesar de no haber sido creada de forma similar?

Este relato ha sido mi primer contacto con Nieves Delgado y me ha dejado una gran impresión que sin duda voy a querer repetir. Si os gusta la Ciencia Ficción clásica 36 es sin duda alguna una historia para vosotros y que encarecidamente recomiendo. ¡No os defraudara!

Book Review – Leviathan Wakes

Another book gone and time for another review. Recently I have been reading more science fiction than fantasy and as such when the time came to choose a new book and after asking over social media, I decided to read Leviathan Wakes by James S.A Corey. This book series has gained a tremendous popularity in no small part due to the TV show based on this books, The Expanse. Coming into the book I had great expectations, I had been given great feedback on it, I enjoyed immensely the first season of the TV show and I enjoyed previous works by one of the authors. I was shocked to discover that James S.A Corey is a pen name used by collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck yet also elated since I have enjoyed immensely other works from Daniel Abraham, especially The Dagger and the Coin fantasy series. As such, I prepared myself for a great, entertaining book.

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I was not disappointed. The book is a great read that creates a magnificent world full of intrigue, mystery and conflict. Reading the world the authors created, the conflict between Mars, Earth and the Belters creates a great backdrop for the story, full of racist overtones. It is quite interesting to see a world in where racism is due to where you come from, what planet you live in. The organization of this world is fascinating something that is very common of all novels by Daniel Abraham. His series are full of complex political relationships, political struggles, which the characters have to face and navigate through. As a political scientist, I have a soft spot for political intrigue in my fantasy/sci-fi books and this book has plenty of them.

The mystery of the threat that the protagonists are facing really pulls the book forward and in my opinion it was a great choice to not explain the nature of the antagonist until almost the end of the book. It helped create intrigue and the mystique of a powerful rival that was always a step ahead of the heroes. The story is also an mystery novel, a detective story, as we follow characters who are determined to discover the truth and throughout much of the novel are investigating and trying to find out the truth.

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The best aspect of the novel is without a doubt the characters. The characters are well fleshed out, with flaws and are very relatable. All their decisions are logical and make sense. In many books, decisions taken by the characters make no sense and take away from the internal logic of the story but in this novel we do not see this. The contrast between the two main characters, James Holden and Detective Miller is fascinating and especially the latter is a great character who is able to captivate you as a reader and in my humble opinion steals the show.

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Lastly, I can’t end this review without mentioning the pace of the book. The book has generally a fast pace that is very entertaining but the authors are also very able to slow it down when needed to give the reader time to really understand what is happening in the book. This technique is very much appreciate it as it allows you as a reader to take time and breath, to have time to comprehend the implications of what is happening in the novel.

Leviathan Wakes is a great start to this series and a fantastic science fiction novel. If you enjoy science fiction it is a must read book (and a must see TV show) and I strongly urge you to pick it up and read it. I have been so enthralled by this book that I immediately have started reading the second book, which so far keeps the excellent level.

Book Review – United States of Japan

Lately I have been reading a lot and finishing many books and thus find myself having to write several reviews for them. This is a wonderful although stressful “problem” because honestly I am enjoying the books so much that it is hard to take some time off from reading. That said, I recently finished reading United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas, and I loved the book so much that I feel like I needed to write about it. In USJ we have an alternate history science fiction where Japan and Germany won World War II and the West Coast of the USA is now controlled by the Japanese Empire.

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This story has a very interesting concept and right from the get go you are invested in the book as you try to understand how different the world has become to ours. I quickly found myself become fascinated by the world the author has created, a world where honour seems to be the most important aspect of society alongside devotion to the Emperor, yet we slowly discover that not everything is what it seems and the Japanese society is more corrupt than first presented.

The book explores concepts of honour, duty, sacrifice, religion and morality in such a way that despite this concepts being complex we are able to dive into them and question many things. Despite the setting of the story being very different to the one we live in right now, at least in the surface, the issues are similar to those we face today in many ways and this made it very easy for the reader to become fascinated by this world.

The characters in this book, especially the two main characters Benjamin Ishimura and Akiko, are fascinating and every chapter of the book is masterfully written so that the first impressions you had of the characters fade away and you are able to see beneath the façade that they put on towards society. As you read the book you feel like you are peeling an onion as you discover more and more layers to this characters and by the time you have finished the book, there is a great sense of empathy that has developed towards this characters, even to Akiko who at the beginning of the book seems like a stone cold government official. This is without a doubt praise worthy as the author manages to create a compelling world with complex but relatable characters.

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Another aspect that I enjoyed of the book was the rhythm. The book is very easy to read as it has a great pace that never drags and allows you to quickly devour this great book. The pace slowly builds up to an incredible, action packed finale with many surprising twists that will leave you breathless, shocked and with a deep appreciation to the book.

Lastly I have to mention the science fiction aspects of this book. I am a huge science fiction nerd and constantly read books in this genre. In USJ we are given a world with many classical science fiction tropes yet they are not fully developed despite some mentions towards the amazing technology (portical and mechas to name a few). It does follow many of the themes that are classical in science fiction and that makes for a great read. However, despite the fact that it does not delve too deep into sci-fi terrain this does not really hurt the book, if anything the hints the author gives at a larger world makes you want to know more. Another thing I would like to point out is that as someone who really enjoys Japanese culture and someone who has lately been reading a very famous manga, Vagabond, and I loved the nods to Musashi Miyamoto.

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In conclusion United States of Japan is a great fun book. The ending was great, shocking the reader to the core and changing your perspective towards many colours. I finished the book wanting to know more about this world, wanting to learn how Europe is (there are some small hints but nothing definitive) and most importantly, really wanting to see those awesome mechas have more action. I 100% recommend this book and can’t wait for the second one to come out.