2001: A Space Odyssey

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So, I’ve been going on a classic literature binge, and I found this book. 2001: A Space Odyssey was written by Arthur C. Clarke.

Two astronauts, three hibernating passengers, and an AI named HAL are headed for Saturn on an exploratory mission.  Strange discoveries on the moon change the mission plan a little. And if being the only three sentient beings awake for millions of miles wasn’t enough danger, something is systematically sabotaging their ship.

The plot has probably been copied by about a thousand people because it’s just. that. good. The suspense grows with every chapter until you can’t look away.

Clarke’s word choice is absolutely stellar. (Yes, I meant to do that.) The images he conjures are loaded with detail and stick with you for hours.

Clarke even (spoiler, highlight to read) and I wasn’t even a little mad. That in itself should tell you this author is fantastic.

My only major problem was with the exposition. A full third of the book is irrelevant to the plot. The first fourth or so could have been compressed into a few pages. Some of the descriptions later on in the exposition section are gorgeous and give the reader a much better idea of society and technological advancement on Earth, but the rest of it… nah.

Blocks of indigestible scientific gibberish are randomly shoehorned throughout the main plot-relevant section. I could understand it, and the reasoning behind the technology was pretty cool, but it was  jammed into the middle of a perfectly good plot-driven chapter.  Scientific information only propels a plot when there’s real in-universe importance attached to that information.

Another pet peeve of mine was the characters. Actually, the non-characters. They were pretty flat. Granted, 2001 is a short book and there isn’t much room for character development in the middle of the plot. Clarke did make an effort in several spots to paint his main characters’ lives, but they’re still cardboard with a bit of throwaway character development to make them look 3-D. This book is all about the story, so the characters are pretty much window dressing anyway, but I was slightly annoyed by the lack of backstory.

Okay, it’s fair to say this isn’t the 2001 I was born into.  In the words of someone else: “God bless you, old sci-fi, you had such high hopes for us.” We obviously aren’t sending manned missions to Saturn, or putting humans in cryosleep until we need them. But no matter what year it is set in, (2001, 2023, 2323…) this book is timeless.

Yes, I know a full two-thirds of this review so far was my quibbles with this book. Well, READ THE BOOK ANYWAY. Even if you don’t like the ‘drops exposition on you like a ton of bricks’ aspect, this book is well worth reading despite that. It brings up deep questions logically, within the boundaries of the story. The suspense is masterfully written. The settings are vivid, and the plot is amazingly original (keeping in mind the publication date of 1968, it’s likely that anything written later with a similar plot drew at least some inspiration from 2001). There’s an ending that hits you like a ton of bricks and leaves you thinking about it days later. Basically, all the ingredients of a book that lingers. 2001 stays in your mind. You remember HAL every time you hear the letters AI. You hear the words “My God, it’s full of stars!” in the back of your mind, and stare blankly at the nearest wall as you struggle to comprehend the vastness and implacability of the universe.

(Well, 2001 might not do that to you, but that’s what it did to me.)

This book fully deserves its place as a classic of science fiction. I have no regrets about reading it, and the problems with the writing are vastly outweighed by its good points. 4 and 1/2 stars.

The Gruesome Cycle, Part 2. By Yasadu De Silva

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Here is the second short part of a story I made, based on the setting, Deathworld. The premise of Deathworld is an alternate history world that diverges at around 1940, and the present time is at around 2010.  In it, both the Nazis and the Soviet Union invade North America, Europe, and Asia. Deathworld involves a lot of magic and supernatural forces. In Deathworld, the war has lasted until the present time. If you would like to see the first part, click here.

Waves of thousands of Red Army infantry charged down the hill. Behind them, a legion of tanks churned the mud as they rushed forward. The force meeting them was composed of occult terrors: demon-human hybrids, along with a line of conscript cannon-fodder. The demons tore into the Red Army like a meat-cleaver through butter. But for every one soldier they ripped through, 10 took their place. The front line of tanks smashed into the demons, crushing them and blowing them apart.  Yatsev’s tank was in that front line. He lifted a shell into the main gun. “Krylov, aim straight ahead. Vitaliy, full speed. Zhukov, eliminate any grenadiers.” “Understood” they chorused together. The gun boomed, and the shell tore through the demon-hybrid ahead.  As the Soviet line crushed the enemy, Yatsev began to feel like this was too easy. He was right.  Up ahead, in front of a mass of soldiers, a large hulking shape, built like a man, but with horns and claws, was summoned up. Thousands of bullets ripped through the thing, but it kept going.  Its claws sheared through 10 men at a time.  Yatsev heaved another shell into the gun. “Krylov, fire! Zharkov, aim for the monstrosity!” Yatsev opened the hatch and peered out. He could see a contingent of 5 tanks break off and go around the flank. “Krylov, another one. Bring its attention here!” The demon turned toward the direction of Yatsev’s tank, and took one step forward. Suddenly, the five tanks that peeled off slammed into the side of the demon. Yatsev could see the forms of the crew jump out. Just as they made it out, the tanks exploded.

 

Thank you for reading this,

Yasadu De Silva

Review of Icarus Hunt by Timothy Zahn

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Recently, I had the chance to read a casual sci-fi novel called Icarus Hunt. It was actually pretty well written, suprisingly. It might not be an epic or particularly deep sci-fi novel, but Icarus Hunt makes decent light reading. It opens with Jordan McKell, a pilot and smuggler, taking on a new job. From none other than a man in the pub, of course. Except this man in the pub is an eccentric billionaire with an amateur interest in archeology. He’s commissioning him to fly a very strangely oriented ship that a lot of people seem to want. Before even making his first refueling stop, one of the crew is found dead. Another turns out to have a debilitating disease that is only treatable with illegal drugs. Someone on the crew is out to get the mechanic… and the mystery only deepens as the Patth, a race with near-monopolistic control of interstellar trade, start pressuring major governments to hand over their ship. Icarus Hunt is an interesting novel, but not the greatest I’ve read- 3-3.5/5 stars. It makes fine reading for casual little bites but isn’t really something with much depth. In conclusion, if you like lighter science fiction and adventure you might appreciate it, but if you’re a hardcore science fiction fan it isn’t the greatest ever.

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Ah, The Monstrumologist, first of four books in Rick Yancey’s, author of recently made a major motion picture series, The 5th Waveless popular yet, dare I say, more brilliant The Monstrumologist series.

Official synopsis:

Monsters ARE real.

Will Henry is the orphan apprentice of a doctor with an unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. When a midnight visitor brings them the body of a young girl entwined with the corpse of an Anthropophagus, it is the start of the most mysterious case of Will Henry’s life. Anthropaphagi are headless monsters whose razor sharp teeth are in their stomachs–and they are supposed to be extinct in this part of the world. Now Will and the monstrumologist are in the race against time to put a stop to the plague of monsters before they kill again.

Review:

Alright, so a book about monsters. What’s so special about that? Even the characters seem stereotypical, with your young orphan and “mad scientist”. However, several things make this book stand out from any other YA fiction.

First, and most obviously, there’s no romance! Or any (living) female characters, for that matter. Whether you find this a good thing or not, is up to you, but it certainly makes the book unique.

Next, character relationships. Despite the lack of romance, there is a constant “tug-of-war” in Will Henry’s relationship with the monstrumologist, making the book much more interesting and complex. This is one of several things that continues to be explored throughout the series.

The premise. Rather than it being simply a book of fiction, Yancey incorporates a prologue and epilogue, explaining how the story within is actually being told from Will Henry’s diaries, written as a grown man, and left behind after his death at a retirement home. The man who was William James Henry is shrouded in mystery, as he disclosed nothing but his name and the year in which he was born, which by his claims, would have made him 131 years old. The question, “Who was Will Henry?” persists throughout the series.

The writing. The writing is incredibly poetic and evokes a clear image in the reader’s mind. Everything from the gore to characters’ features and actions is written wonderfully detailed, fulfilling purposes from giving readers a good scare to character development.

Yancey’s hidden theme. Though there are tangible monsters, capable of stripping away human flesh like ripping wings off a fly, the book implies that these are perhaps not the real monsters, shown through the characters’ contrasting beliefs and the demons that govern them. The idea of “When does man become what he hunts?” is started here and continued throughout the series.

I can’t write everything that makes this book great, but I can tell you this. If after reading, you persist in thinking that its just an unoriginal monster hunting book, then you were not paying attention. This book is definitely worth reading and even rereading, to fully understand the message Yancey tries to convey.

Note: This book is officially marketed to those who are age 14 and up.

Yee-Lynn, 9th grade

 

 

Inside

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Inside by Maria V. Snyder is about a girl named Trella who lives in a place called inside. Inside has a two groups of people in it.  The Scrubs, who cook, clean, and make sure everything functions right for the Uppers.  The Uppers, who enforce laws, make major decisions, and keep the Scrubs doing their jobs.  Trella is a member of the Scrubs.  She was never really unhappy with her life, but her life changes drastically when she saves the life of a injured man who can prove all of the myths she thought to be true.  He revealed that there was a possibility of an outside world called Earth.

I found this story intriguing because of the concepts that were introduced by the author.  However, I would have preferred a better explanation of this society before plunging into the depths of Trella’s world.  I did become slightly attached to Trella, even though she acted like a brat.  What I liked most about Trella was that she didn’t think twice about saving the lives of people she cared about.  While I could have done without the introduction of many characters (and having to try to keep track of each one), I did enjoy the story.  The plot twists made the story very entertaining.

Sara C. – 7th grade

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

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In light of the movie coming out, I decided to pull this book off of my bookshelf and give it a go. This book has a strong appeal to people who enjoyed the Hunger Games Series and the Divergent Series for the sole fact that it is a dystopian novel. Rick Yancey has created the perfect combination of the Dystopian and Science Fiction genres.

Cassie, not short for Cassandra, but short for Cassiopeia, is your typical teenage girl dealing with boy troubles until the First Wave crashes down. The First Wave isn’t the normal “wave” you might think of. It is a electromagnetic pulse that shuts down everything and anything that runs on electricity or batteries. Which means all cell phones, cars, lights, and planes are rendered useless. The Second Wave is a literal wave that wipes out billions of people on the Coast. The Third Wave is a disease mainly called “The Red Death” with a 99% kill rate. Only few survive and all of the survivors are scarred from the loss of everyone they love. The Fourth Wave is basically Assassins sent to kill the survivors. The Fifth Wave is still unknown.

Personally, I loved the style that this book was written in. Yancey switches POV as the story develops and more and more characters are blended in. The first fourth of the book is telling the story of what has happened to Cassie and her family up until the present. This part was not “sitting on the edge of your seat” interesting, but it was 100% necessary to develop the story. I definitely recommend this book to anyone and everyone who likes survival/dystopian novels. I would rather rate this book 5/5 stars but that first 1/4 of the book really displeased me, leaving a 4/5 star rating from this amateur book reviewer. Happy Reading!

“The Caves of Steel” by Isaac Asimov

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“The Caves of Steel” is a very interesting book in a great collection. It is first in a direct series involving the same two lead protagonists and in fact tied to some of Asimov’s other works as well. Caves of Steel opens in a future Earth where due to an increase of population humanity is forced to live in 50 or so “cities”, as the rest of the land is needed for agriculture and industy. But these cities are nothing like our primitive “medieval” ones. They hold tens of millions of people, are entirely enclosed and mostly underground, and have an entirely different culture that has a semi-rigid class system and extreme communality. There are no individual bathrooms, kitchens, or luxury facilities, they all must be shared. In addition the transportation system consists of moving conveyer belts and trains, the motor vehicle roads are reserved for emergency services.

Meanwhile, the spacers, the first human colonists in space have about 50 worlds, roomy, luxurious, and much more advanced. They have no disease and are much more friendly to robots than people on Earth. In fact, a few of them set up a colony outside of New York City. With a bit (probably excessive) amount of background provided, the story opens up with Elijah Bailey, a middle-class policeman, being assigned by his old school friend and now Police Commissioner Julius Endersby to investigate the murder of a prestigious Spacer roboticist (scientist/engineer specializing in robotics). He is assigned a partner, Daneel, who is a Spacer, as the Spacers wish to have a representative in the investigation. This initially leads to a bit of tension, especially since Daneel is in fact a humanoid robot constructed by the deceased Spacer.

They discover a conspiracy by Medievalists, a group who wish to return Earth to it’s former position and culture. It turns out that Elijah’s wife Jessie is in fact a member, and the medievalists attempt to blackmail him. This failed attempt leads to a fast paced race against time to discover the murderer before the Spacers abandon the attempt, Elijah loses his job, and the very future of the Earth disappears. Spoiler alert: There are sequels. Caves of Steel is an intriguing analysis of robots, society, and human culture. I would definitely recommend it to any science fiction fan, although people who are more fantasy/soft sci-fi people might not enjoy it as much. Overall, Caves of Steel was a very good read, and I would give it four out of five stars.