SciFiMonth 2019 wrap-up & The Literary Grand Tour of the World November update

In this post I am going to do a couple of things. Of course I will talk about SciFiMonth. I am going to share what happened in the blogosphere and which books I read. Next to that, I will give an update of The Literary Grand Tour of the World.

First I want to thank Imyril from One More and Lisa of Dear Geek for organizing SciFiMonth! It inspired me to write five science fiction-themed posts:
Top four most realistic dystopias
Venturing into space: Books set on spaceships
What can possibly go wrong: Top three disaster movies
Top four kickass heroines in SciFi books
Alternate history: Steampunk & Dieselpunk TBR-list

Other bloggers also wrote great posts. I loved to read the 9 Favourite Themes & Features in SF from Avery on RedRocketPanda. On her blog Exploring by Starlight Louise talked about SF Tropes and Themes she loves and hates. Jess from Jessticulates shared her Time Travel TBR. I also enjoyed reading her discussion post exploring the question ‘Is Frankenstein the first AI novel?‘ And Caitlin from Realms of My Mind wrote an interesting post about her Favourite AI in Books.

Books I read for SciFiMonth

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Wayfarers, #1)5 stars
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet - Becky ChambersThis book was so comforting to read! It regularly put a big smile on my face. The story is set in the Wayfarer, a spaceship used to make tunnels between different parts of the galaxy. The crew has five humans and four non-human characters. Especially the non-human characters were interesting. Becky Chambers often surprised me with the many details about other species. I truly admire how well she wrote the characters. All of them, even the side characters who are just in a few sentences, felt real. It was beautiful to read that, despite the many differences, the crew members accept each other for who they are. They put genuine effort in understanding each other. Although the book does have a good plot, it isn’t very important. It’s a character-driven story that emphasises love and friendship. This made it a true feel-good story!

A Closed and Common Orbit - Becky Chambers

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (Wayfarers, #2) – 4 stars
This sequel is about two characters who played a minor role in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I won’t spoil which characters, but I can tell that the characters are just as well-written as in the first part! This book actually has two stories. One of them is set after the events in the first part and is told from the perspective of one of the characters. The other story line tells about the childhood of the other character. The story lines complement each other very well and I liked both. Because the focus is on the two main characters, I think there is a little less attention to world-building. A Closed and Common Orbit is still a really good book!

Who Fears Death - Nnedi Okorafor

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor3,5 stars
This book actually felt more like fantasy than science fiction. I knew it is set in post-apocalyptic Africa, but it didn’t really feel like the future. Furthermore, magic plays a big role. I enjoyed reading how Onyesonwu learned it. But the story also deals with heavier topics like rape, slavery and genocide. Years ago the Okeke village of Oyesonwu’s mother was attacked by Nurus. During this attack a Nuru raped her mother. In the story Onyesonwu has to come to terms with the fact that she is a child of rape. She grows up in a village far from the genocide against the oppressed Okeke. She and her friends still feel the need to go on a journey to stop the genocide. Because the heavy parts alternate with lighter parts, the book was not too difficult to read. I even think the subplots got a bit too much attention on some points. Most of the book was quite good, but I had a problem with the ending. It felt rushed, because it was resolved in just twenty pages. On top of that, the ending was confusing and just too easy. What Nnedi Okorafor attempted to do was interesting, but for me she succeeded only partly.

This Mortal Coil - Emily SuvadaThis Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada4 stars
This book is set in a future when people are able to recode their DNA and change their bodies. This idea was fascinating. It’s realistic and totally believable. It did make some parts of the book a bit technical. To be honest, I didn’t entirely understand how the technology worked. I’m not sure if the writer did this on purpose or it was just me. Fortunately the plot was strong enough that this didn’t bother me too much. The main character, Catarina, is the daughter of a legendary geneticist. He may be the last hope to defeat a terrible plague that causes people to literally explode in toxic clouds. The problem is that Cat’s father was kidnapped by a shadowy organization. Cat survived two years on her own hoping that he is still alive. Until a soldier brings the news that her father is dead… From there the story keeps going. It is fast paced and exciting. And those plot twists! One of them was totally unexpected and truly astonished me!

The Literary Grand Tour of the World – November update

Some books I read this month also count for The Literary Grand Tour of the World. Not all of them are set on Earth, though. But I do get some diversity points and two books get me points for setting:

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Setting: In space, mainly LGBT+cast (wlw-relationship, non-binary character & trans character) = 1 point

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Setting: Sudan = 5 points, non-white cast = 1 point

This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada
Setting: United States = 1 point

With these 8 points I now have a total of 28 points for The Literary Grand Tour of the World. December will be the last month of this reading challenge. I am looking forward to reading The Seven Sisters and Gods of Jade and Shadow.

Alternate history: Steampunk & Dieselpunk TBR-list

Two interesting subgenres of science fiction are steampunk and dieselpunk. Both can be described as “What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.” Steampunk books are usually set in the 19th century. The name comes from the steam-powered machines that were used at that time. Dieselpunk books are set at the start of the 20th century and feature diesel-powered machines. In both subgenres the characters use imagined machines or modern technology invented earlier than in reality.

Leviathan - Scott WesterfeldSo steampunk as well as dieselpunk is basically a mix of historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy. My top three favourite genres combined! Yet, I haven’t read a lot of steampunk and dieselpunk books. One I did read and loved is Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. It’s set during an alternate version of the First World War. There are the Clankers (Austria-Hungary and Germany) that use steam-powered war machines. Prince Aleksander is on the run for his own people with such a war machine. The Darwinists (the United Kingdom, France and Russia) have fabricated beasts. Deryn is brilliant in flying them. However, she could only join the British air service disguised as boy. But there is always the danger of being discovered….

In the future I hope to read more steampunk and dieselpunk. These books are on my TBR-list:

Alternate history - Steampunk & Dieselpunk TBR-list

Soulless by Gail Carriger
This book is said to be a funny steampunk mystery. Main character Alexia has three problems: she has no soul, she’s a spinster and she was rudely attacked by a vampire. Even worse, she accidentally killed the vampire. The appalling Lord Maccon, a gorgeous werewolf, is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. Alexia has to figure out what is really going on.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl
This is an alternate history set in Belgian Congo. The story explores the question of what might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. This will be an interesting book, because I haven’t read other books about this period in history.

Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda
This is a graphic novel set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia. It tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war. On top of that she shares a mysterious psychic link with a powerful monster.

Top four kickass heroines in SciFi books

Today’s prompt for SciFiMonth is ‘Kickass herione.’ For me characters can make or break a story. So I love a good heroine! This blog post features my favourite heroines in SciFi books.

Illuminae - Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Kady from Illuminae
I am frequently underestimated. I think it’s because I’m short.
At the day Kady breaks up with her boyfriend, the planet where she lives is attacked. Three spaceships manage to save most of the inhabitants. On the spaceship, life doesn’t get easier for Kady. But she keeps going and never gives up. Kady’s persistence and bravery are so admirable! I also love her sarcasm. It is definitively some kind of coping mechanism for her. But even when the situation is very bad, she does make things look a little bit brighter with a sarcastic comment.

The Hunger Games - Suzanne CollinsKatniss from The Hunger Games
I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can’t own.
If someone had to sort Katniss in a Hogwarts house, the most obvious choice would be Gryffindor. It’s clear that she is a true heroine with a lot of courage. But I admire Katniss, because she also has some Hufflepuff qualities. It was not only brave to volunteer instead of her sister, the sacrifice was out of love for her family. What she does for Rue during the Hunger Games is rebellious, but a sign of friendship too.

Daiyu from Want
Want - Cindy PonI had expected you girls to be soft. And yes, being coddled and spoiled as they were. […] now I knew that she was fearless.
Although Want has a male protagonist, there are many amazing female characters in the book. It was hard to choose one, but I think the character development of Daiyu was most interesting. At the start of the book she is seen as the enemy. Jason Zhou and his friends are doomed to get sick and die young from the polluted air. They want to bring down the international Jin Corporation. This company not only manufactures protective suits for the rich people, but also may be responsible for the pollution. Daiyu is the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. But Daiyu is not what she seems. She is actually smart, daring and kind and does some pretty heroic things. I’m looking forward to reading more about her in Ruse!

The TestingCia from The Testing
Take my time. Never second-guess myself. Almost always my first instinct will be the correct one.
Cia is one of my favourite characters, because I could easily identify with her while reading. If I would be in her situation, I probably would make the same choices. Just like me, Cia is kind, compassionate and most of her decisions are well-thought out. I think she is one of the most realistic heroines I read about. She is not extremely intelligent and doesn’t have any special talents. Cia just uses common sense and trusts her intuition.

What can possibly go wrong: Top three disaster movies

A few years ago there was a time when I watched a lot of disaster movies. Most of them are actually quite similar. The movie usually starts before the disaster. The main characters are journalists and/or experts in tornados/earthquakes/the disaster in case. Often they try to warn others about the disaster, but for some reason no one listens to them. It is discovered too late that they were right. Family always plays an important role. During the disaster they either try to stick together or are looking for a certain family member. Interesting enough many of these movies are about divorced parents.

Despite or maybe due to these similarities, I like disaster movies. It’s an advantage that I know what I can expect. The movies are always exciting with brave characters that fight for their life. For me they are encouraging and reassuring. If the characters in the movie can survive a terrible disaster, I also will get through whatever I am struggling with.  This is my top three:

Top three disaster movies

Flood (2007)
Most disaster movies are set in the United States. It was a breath of fresh air to find one set in London. At the start of the movie a storm surge is detected. Too late forecasters realize the storm heads toward London. Furthermore a professor warns that the water will break through the Thames Barrier. In just a few hours big parts of London will be flooded…

San Andreas (2015)
The plot isn’t really original, but I loved the characters in this movie. The main characters are helicopter-rescue pilot Ray, his ex-wife Emma and their daughter Blake. When a massive earthquake devastates Los Angeles, Blake gets trapped. A kind boy and his younger brother save her. The three of them try to reach Blakes parents. Meanwhile Ray and Emma are attempting to get to their daughter.

10.5: Apocalypse (2006)
I think this was one of the first disaster movies I watched. This movie stars with a disaster: an earthquake with a magnitude 10.5. It is the trigger for a massive tsunami, the awakening of an extinct volcano and more disasters. Geologists don’t understand why all these kinds of rare seismic events are happening. But Samantha Hill remembers a crazy theory from her father about the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates. The problem is that her father no longer works as geologist. He is currently a poker player, stuck in a casino in Las Vegas that sunk in the ground due to a sink hole. He may be able to stop all the disasters, if he survives…

Venturing into space: Books set on spaceships

I strongly associate science fiction with spaceships. Despite not having read a lot of books involving spaceships (seven if I remember correctly). I do think that they are an interesting setting. There is the possibility to visit all kinds of different planets. And so much can go wrong if even a small part of the spaceship stops working. The passengers and crew are totally dependent on it. Living in a spaceship also creates interesting dynamics between characters. Especially on smaller spaceships the characters have to get along or at least not hate each other.

I may not know a lot of books set on a spaceships, but for SciFiMonth I do like to mention two of my favourites. I also listed some books I’d like to read in which spaceships play an important role.

Illuminae - Amie Kaufman & Jay KristoffIlluminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
The most remarkable about this book is the unique format. The whole story is told through chats, video transcripts and e-mails. This works exceptionally well! The book starts just after the evacuation of Kerenza. During the attack three spaceships manage to save most of the inhabitants. But on one of them a deadly plague has broken out. A plague is bad, but in a spaceship it’s worse. You can’t escape it. Furthermore, the fleet is followed. The attackers of Kerenza will not allow them to tell the rest of the galaxy what happened. The two main characters of this exciting story are Kady and Ezra. Interesting enough the AI also plays an important role.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet - Becky ChambersThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
This amazing book was my first read for SciFiMonth. It’s set on the Wayfarer, an older spaceship that is used to make tunnels throughout the galaxy. The story is about a crew of nine: 5 humans, a Grum, an Aandrisk, a Sianat Pair and the AI. The characters are well-described. Every one of them has their own story. It was especially interesting to learn about the non-human characters. Becky Chambers often surprised me with details about the other species. It was also beautiful to read, that despite the differences, the crew memebers accept each other for who they are.

To be read:

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe - Lauren James  Hullmetal Girls - Emily Skrutskie  Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James
Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Top four most realistic dystopias

My favourite SF-subgenre is dystopia. I love to read what could happen in hundred or thousand years. Especially interesting is an imperfect future that feels a bit too realistic. If I can imagine that our future may actually resemble the one in the story, it’s certainly a good dystopia. Of course the characters are also important to make a story believable. However, in this blog post I want to focus on the setting. So here are the four dystopias that I think are most realistic.

19841984 by George Orwell
This story is set in a futuristic superstate ruled by The Party. Its leader is the mythic Big Brother. Propaganda and surveillance are used to control the citizens. “Big Brother is always watching you”. Facts are changed to the Party’s advantage, in such a large extent that people no longer know what is true. George Orwell wrote this book in 1948 (and just reversed the numbers for the title). So it’s astonishing how relevant 1984 still is! Among other things the story shows what it is to have no privacy, deals with fake news and discusses freedom of speech. It also influences a lot of later dystopia stories.

Exodus by Julie Bertagna
Exodus - Julie BertagnaIt is a shame how underrated this book is! The story is set in the year 2100. By then the sea levels have risen a lot due to global warming. Mara’s island is slowly flooding. She convinces the inhabitants to leave and search for a new place to live. I won’t spoil anything about the extraordinary city they find, but I can tell something about the circumstances they find it in. It’s surrounded by refugees who aren’t allowed to get in. There is a labyrinth of boats with people who still hope to find a way inside. This reminded me of the European migrant crisis in 2015. Especially the refugee camp in Calais came to mind. This camp was filled with thousands of refugees who were trying to enter the United Kingdom. They fled from conflicts in Syria and Somalia. So I think it’s realistic that future refugees from flooded land would be excluded too.

Want - Cindy PonWant by Cindy Pon
In this book the environment also plays an important role. The setting is future Taipei in Taiwan, where the air is highly polluted. Even the blue air is no longer visible. Rich people can buy special suits that protect them from getting ill, the rest is doomed to die young. I can totally imagine that companies try to profit from climate change. It’s a fact that some cities in the world are already affected by smog and people actually get sick from it. For example in Delhi, the air quality at a certain moment was as bad as smoking 50 cigarettes a day! If people had to breath this air every day, they definitively would want to protect themselves.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games - Suzanne CollinsThis is popular book that affected many others. Many of you may already know the story. It is set in a future North America, now called Panem. This nation is divided in the Capitol and twelve districts. To remind them of its power, the Capitol every year organizes the Hunger Games. Each district has to send one boy and one girl. The children have to fight for their life on live television. The winner is the one that survives. The world-building itself may not be very realistic. A nation like Panem will probably never exist. And although the Romans once let people fight to death in an arena, it’s nothing like the Hunger Games. But the revolution that Suzanne Collins describes in the trilogy seems quite real. Especially because the book shows the effect of witnessing so many deaths and the personal consequence of killing people. Many books and movies don’t show this. In The Hunger Games we see people grieving and characters with PTSD.

SciFiMonth 2019 – TBR

After Wyrd & Wonder in May, I love to join Imyril from One More and Lisa of Dear Geek Place in SciFiMonth! This is an annual celebration of science fiction during the whole month of November. Imyril posted a prompt list I’m going to use to make a couple of SF-themed posts. This first post of the month features four science fiction books I definitively want to read. Before continuing a confession: I’m actually not a huge science fiction reader. My favourite genre is fantasy. By participating in SciFiMonth I hope to find more SF-books to put on my TBR-list!

SciFiMonth - TBR

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
I actually wanted to read this book for the Hogwarts House Battle readathon. When I heard about SciFiMonth, I decided to save it for November. This book is described as feel-good science fiction and the diverse cast of characters is often praised. The third part, Record of a Spaceborn Few, is actually the book chosen for the SciFiMonth read-along. If I like The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet I also want to read the rest of the trilogy.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
This book is on goodreads tagged as both fantasy and science fiction, according to the reviews it can be both. Because it’s set in post-apocalyptic Africa (and I really want to read it this month) I will count the book as science fiction. The main character is Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient African tongue. Her mother is one of the few surviving members of an Okeke village that was attacked by Nurus. Onyesonwu’s father is a Nuru who brutally raped her mother.

This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada
The main character of this book is Catarina, a gene-hacking genius. She lives in a world where people are implanted with technology to recode their DNA, allowing them to change their bodies in any way they want. Her father is a legendary geneticist who may be the last hope for defeating a plague that has brought humanity to the brink of extinction. But he is kidnapped and may or may not be killed.

Artemis by Andy Weir
I actually wanted to read The Martian, but for some reason they don’t have it at my library. They did have this book from Andy Weir. Artemis is about a heist on the moon. So that does sound interesting too!