Review: A Closed and Common Orbit (Becky Chambers)

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Genre:
Science Fiction
Publisher: Houder & Stoughton
Publication date: October 20th, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Malaysia
Page Count: 365
Series: Wayfarer #2

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Blurb:
Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet introduced readers to the incredible world of Rosemary Harper, a young woman with a restless soul and secrets to keep. When she joined the crew of the Wayfarer, an intergalactic ship, she got more than she bargained for – and learned to live with, and love, her rag-tag collection of crewmates.

A Closed and Common Orbit is the stand-alone sequel to Becky Chambers’ beloved debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and is perfect for fans of Firefly, Joss Whedon, Mass Effect and Star Wars.

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Words cannot truly describe how much I love this beautiful, emotional, heart-gripping book. This piece of artwork with its collective words of poetry strung to make you weep and melt.

I honestly have no idea how to write this review to be honest.

It is that brilliant…

And if I could recommend one science fiction book to truly understand what science fiction is all about, this book would make it to the top of the list.

Scratch that. This book would be at the top of the list.

Now, while this book is the second installment of the Wayfarer series, it does not continue directly from the first book. As mentioned in the blurb, it’s more of a standalone novel. So like me, you can read this without having to read the first book.

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Before you go all excited thinking this is your typical science fiction with wars, action, intergalactic space adventures akin to Star Wars or Star Trek, let me hold your arm and stop you right here. A Closed and Common Orbit is not all of those things I mentioned.

It’s so much more.

It begins with Lovelace, renamed Sidra, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) who gets reinstalled in a human body kit after the ship she was in got badly damaged. And whilst the AI stories we’ve read so far tend to shine a negative light on them, A Closed and Common Orbit questions the humanity and emotional capacities of AIs. Is it possible for an AI to develop thoughts and ideas on their own? To have a conscious? To help humans beyond their intended programming?

That is how unbelievably magical A Closed and Common Orbit is. It is about the human condition, extended beyond intergalactic species and even technological advances set in space. This book reminds that even when we’re millenniums into the future, we will always feel the need to belong.

We are introduced with a wide range of species who live peacefully together. And whilst there is no space politics between them or the fight for the dominant species to rule, you’ll be surprised to find that the essence of science fiction that has been explored so well in this book is our need to have a purpose in life.

And that is what Chambers play around with Sidra as she navigates life in this new body kit, forming friendships with her caretakers and a random ink tattooist.

I love how the book jumps back and forth between past and present. The present is focused on Sidra, while the past is focused on Pepper, the engineer who saved Lovelace. Pepper was raised by an AI in an abandoned ship after she escaped a slave factory at the age of 10. Her upbringing will bring all sorts of emotions in you because it represents so well the need for human connection and the love and care we all craved. And funnily enough, those things were provided to Pepper for almost 10 years, by her AI guardian, Owl. Chambers set a wonderful setting for human-technology interaction that wasn’t creepy or disturbing, but rather portrayed warmth and full of love.

“She felt as though she could reach out to that little girl and pull her through the years. Look, she’d say. Look who you’re gonna be. Look where you’re gonna go. Jane” 

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The characters inside this book are so well written, I felt like I could take them out of the book and be friends with them! There are so many species or aliens as Pepper calls them, which are described in detail throughout the book. Granted we don’t see much of their history and how they came to live with other species. But overall they were still wonderfully written.

You will love the main characters that Chambers created to guide Sidra into accepting her purpose as an AI in human form. There’s Pepper with her methodological ways and superb fixing skills. There’s Blue, the artist with a stammer whose kindness allows Sidra to open up and explore more of her wants and needs. And finally there’s Tak, the bisexual Aeluoen ink tattooist (talk about diversity!), who encourages Sidra to discover art and read more about other cultures so she can better understand herself.

“I love learning. I love history. But there’s history in everything. Every building, everybody you talk to. It’s not limited to libraries and museums. I think people who spend their lives in school forget that sometimes. -Tak” 

Now that is one amazing crew of friends.

And then there’s Owl, Pepper’s AI guardian. Owl is just wonderful. You could never believe that science fiction could ever write about an AI so lifelike as if she’s human. But Becky Chambers is truly talented for being able to do so. I can’t describe how powerful Owl’s presence was in the book. You have to read it to understand why she’s so important in this book and how it’s led to the major events.

These characters are what made the book wonderful and each character development was a joy to read, especially Sidra’s.

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Overall, Becky Chambers have become one of my favourite sci-fi writers of all time, alongside Andy Weir and Ernest Cline. If you’re in the mood for some futuristic voyage of the human condition, A Common and Closed Orbit is the book to start with.

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“Life is terrifying. None of us have a rule book. None of us know what we’re doing here. So, the easiest way to stare reality in the face and not utterly lose your shit is to believe that you have control over it. If you believe you have control, then you believe you’re at the top. And if you’re at the top, then people who aren’t like you… well, they’ve got to be somewhere lower, right? Every species does this. Does it again and again and again. Doesn’t matter if they do it to themselves, or another species, or someone they created.” 

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Thank you Pansing Malaysia for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Defy the Stars (Claudia Gray)

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Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Series: Constellation #1
Publication date: April 6th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Malaysia
Page Count: 428

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Blurb:
Noemi is a young and fearless soldier of Genesis, a colony planet of a dying Earth. But the citizens of Genesis are rising up – they know that Earth’s settlers will only destroy this planet the way they destroyed their own. And so a terrible war has begun.

When Noemi meets Abel, one of Earth’s robotic mech warriors, she realizes that Abel himself may provide the key to Genesis’ salvation. Abel is bound by his programming to obey her – even though her plan could result in his destruction. But Abel is no ordinary mech. He’s a unique prototype, one with greater intelligence, skill and strength than any other. More than that, he has begun to develop emotions, a personality and even dreams. Noemi begins to realise that if Abel is less than human, he is more than a machine. If she destroys him, is it murder? And can a cold-blooded murder be redeemed by the protection of a world?

Stranded together in space, they go on a whirlwind adventure through Earth’s various colony worlds, alongside the countless Vagabonds who have given up planetary life altogether and sail forever between the stars. Each step brings them closer – both to each other and to the terrible decision Noemi will have to make about her world’s fate, and Abel’s.

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Now that was a whirlwind.

I have to admit it, I never expected to like Defy the Stars as much as I do now. When I received the book for review, I was a little hesitant to read it. I’ve heard of the book and author (she wrote the Firebird trilogy, great reviews apparently) but I wasn’t too keen on starting another new series. But the Goodreads reviews were considerably alright. And I decided to give this one a go.

Best decision made ever.

Defy the Stars is an epic science-fiction masterpiece by one of the greatest storytellers I’ve ever read. It exceeded all of my expectations, not that I had many to begin with, and even made me fall in love with the characters. Which rarely happens by the way.

It is filled with action, interesting outlook on the human condition, and wildly imaginative scenes that transcends technological advances in robotics today.

Naturally, the science geek in me is super excited.

If you want something fresh, unique and unputdownable, Defy the Stars is worth trying out. Here are more thoughts about the book to convince you further…

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I was quite surprised by how fast the book’s pace is. At every few chapters, the plot quickens and suspense intensifies. As we go on this epic adventure with Noemi and Abel to save Noemi’s world, it’s slowly revealed the many factors that could doom or lead the mission to success. We’re presented with interesting twists and turns that inevitably will grip our attention so hard you’ll miss your stop if you read this on the train. (This almost happened to me by the way…). And just as we’re about to understand Abel’s mechanism and progressive nature, action sweeps in and turns everything we know into chaos.

The one thing I truly loved about Defy the Stars is how religion is infused within the Genesis community. Not in an extreme, overzealous manner. But rather how the balance of faith and technological advance is carried out within the Genesis community. How believing in a God helps you find your inner self and live out the best life you can in ensuring your world is taken care of.

“The opposite of faith isn’t doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty.”

As a Muslim, rarely have I ever encountered a book that described the nature of religion so accurately, despite this being a work of fiction. There were so many questions within the book that got me thinking, and appreciating, the fact that I am a person of religion. And when Noemi described her intentions in finding grace, it fits perfectly what I’m trying to reach as a Muslim.

“When there’s no free will, there’s no sin..”

But in no way is this book about religion per se, but rather how that aspect was incorporated within the book which I found so interesting and very well written.

The ending broke me. I cannot believe it ended in such that it makes me frustrated that the sequel isn’t out yet! Can someone point me in the direction where I can time travel to the future and get my hands on it??

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It was nothing short of amazing the way Gray writes, weaving effortlessly the details of space travel and relative human emotions experienced by Noemi and most importantly, Abel. In the beginning we see these two very different characters bump heads as one mech tries to fight the human. But as the book progresses, we see a side of the mech that we never thought was possible and how this affected his situation in the story. I was pleasantly surprised with how Gray wrote Abel in a way that makes us wonder if robotics can advance to that level of consciousness and humanity?

“Your soul is bigger than your programming.”

Not to mention the friendship these two had was pretty special.

“I thought you were opposed to engaging in prostitution to fund our travels.”
“That’s not what I—is prostitution your answer for everything?”  

I truly enjoyed how this book focused more on Noemi’s struggles to accept what happened in the beginning of the book and how this led to her mission to save Genesis. I’ve always loved books with such strong female characters and Noemi is nothing short of spectacular. A Genesis soldier trained to pilot and fight mechs, she’s resilient, strong, stubborn and brilliant-minded that you can’t help but to root for her cause.

And the fact that this book is not a cheesy scifi novel makes it all the more amazing. Noemi is determined to complete her mission, and whilst she does develop fond feelings towards Abel at the end, I’m glad that didn’t become the entirety of the novel.

The additional characters scattered throughout the book were also so entertaining that I hope we see more of them in the sequel!

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Overall, this was such a wonderful read that I am truly looking forward to what Gray has in store for us in the sequel. I’m hoping we see more of those characters that complemented the story so well, and a less-cliffhanger type of ending!

Have you read the book? What did you think about it and will you read the sequel? 🙂

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Thank you Pansing Malaysia for providing me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: Illuminae (Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff)

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Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pages: 599
Publication date: November 1, 2015
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
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Buy from Book Depository, Kinokuniya Malaysia, MPH Online

Blurb:
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

REVIEW:

“He presses the triggers. And like roses in his hands, death blooms.”  

Well, this was definitely one interesting read. As much as I wanted to enjoy this, I guess the hype didn’t really reach me for this one. I understand how this book could receive such brilliant reviews and whilst I acknowledge aspects of this book that made it a wonderful read for some, I have to take into account some parts of it that didn’t really suit me.

The Good:

Illuminae is without a doubt known for its unique format. Its unconventional way of story telling is what attracted me to read it in the first place. The story of how the Kerenza invasion was presented in files and documents obtained illegally. It’s not narrated per se, but rather the files you read allows you to piece the information together to form a story. The files consist of interview reports with Ezra & Kady, instant messages between crew members, written reports by fleet or military crew and the Artificial Intelligence (AI)’s server historical data. It’s literally like watching a movie play out in your head as you read these files. It gets a bit difficult to grow accustomed to the format, but once you get that out of the way, Illuminae does get very intense and suspense.

I definitely enjoyed the plot, because of how unpredictable it is in nature. You’ll never really know what secrets you’ll unearth whilst reading this book. And the plot twists are out of this world. Just when I got my heart broken at some point in the story, that ending blew me away. This was quite a good book in the way it grasps your attention.

Also the AI will scare the shit out of you…

“Miracles are statistical improbabilities. And fate is an illusion humanity uses to comfort itself in the dark. There are no absolutes in life, save death.”  

The Not-So-Good:

For this part, bear in mind it is purely my own personal approach to the book that led me to not fully enjoying Illuminae. Also, I kind of went into this one blinded and I wish I had known how violent and gory it was going to be (Why had no one told me this before??!)

I took this book on a business trip and whilst it made for a good companion on my flights and at night after work, I didn’t particularly enjoy the violent attacks and death scattered in the book like sprinkled sugar on top of a cupcake. When you’re exhausted from days of long hours working, reading about violence, death and lethal Phobos virus really turns you off. This book was so depressing in some parts that I feel like I should completely avoid books like this in the future to preserve my ever-depleting energy.

Also, the relationship between Ezra and Kady didn’t really move me. Their back and forth chats were so high-school-cliched that I couldn’t really relate much with either characters. And it didn’t make much sense to me that Kady was on this mission to uncover Kerenza’s secrets yet she seems entirely smitten by Ezra. He must have one hot bod.

But I have to give credit to the authors for making me sad at that one scene in the book where I felt all hope was lost for Kady. If you’ve read the book you’ll know which scene I’m talking about 😉

“You have me. Until the last star in the galaxy dies, you have me.”

So those are my thoughts for the critically-acclaimed Illuminae! My thoughts may be a bit unconventional and unpopular but I do hope you enjoy this book more than I did. I’ll be reading Gemina soon and I hope that’ll be a major improvement for me!

RATING: ★★★

Review: Ready Player One (Ernest Cline) 

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis:

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved — that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

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Review: All The Birds in the Sky (Charlie Jane Anders)

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Magical Realism (?)

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis:

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during middle school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

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Review: Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis:

Charlie Gordon is about to embark upon an unprecedented journey. Born with an unusually low IQ, he has been chosen as the perfect subject for an experimental surgery that researchers hope will increase his intelligence–a procedure that has already been highly successful when tested on a lab mouse named Algernon. As the treatment takes effect, Charlies intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment appears to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance until Algernon suddenly deteriorates. Will the same happen to Charlie?

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Review: Initiate (Laura L. Fox)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis:

The only home Riga Garrison has ever known is the Tunnel, a subterranean research facility buried deep beneath Antarctica’s ice and snow. Yet, while a safe haven for the last outpost of humanity governed by the Initiate, it is also home to a secret so dark that they will risk anything to protect it. Surrounded by deceit and faced with exile to a frozen wasteland, Riga must defy not only the Initiate’s top biologists and loyalists but also her own mother, in an attempt to unearth the truth…

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