Scythe

by Neal Shusterman
First sentence: “We must, by law, keep a record fo the innocents we kill.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is, by the very nature of the book, violence. Some of it is graphic. There is also mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but, like Hunger Games, I’d be wary about giving it to overly sensitive kids.

My co-workers have been on my case to read this since it first came out. A couple of them love it (and Shusterman), but I just didn’t have time. (Sometimes, when I need to sell a book at work, I rely on other people’s opinions rather than just reading it myself, since I won’t have time to read all the books. Unfortunately.) But then, it won a Cybils award, and was picked for my online book club (and then they picked it for one of my in-person book clubs), so I figured it was about time I read this.

And, oh wow, everyone was right. This is an excellent piece of speculative fiction.

The basic premise is this: in the future we will have figured out how to defeat disease and death, thereby becoming immortal (pretty much). However, the earth couldn’t handle the subsequent population growth, so a group of people — called scythes — were organized to deal with that. They have a set of commandments, are outside the general law, and basically get to decide when people should die. There are rules governing that, as well — they have quotas they have to meet and can’t go over, and they can’t do it with forethought or malice. The book follows two teenagers, Citra and Rowan, who were chosen as a scythe’s apprentices. As it follows them through the year of their apprenticeship, it’s fascinating reading about their scythe and his philosophies, and then the difference between scythe philosophies (including a radical one who was just horrid). There is a bit of a romance(ish), but that didn’t really go anywhere (thankfully). Mostly it’s about humanity and the meaning of immortality, and how one deals with the power over life and death. There is definitely much to think about and talk about in this book.

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Module 8: The Drowned Cities

Bacigalupi, P. (2012). The Drowned Cities. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co.

Genre: Speculative fiction: science fiction, post-apocalyptic/dystopia, Earth’s future.

Book Summary: “War maggots” Mahlia and Mouse have their existence in the jungles of a war-torn future America figured out: Mahlia has apprenticed herself to a pacifist doctor and even though the villagers don’t particularly like her, she makes do. And Mouse, who saved her life once, is her faithful sidekick. That is, until a bioengineered war creature called Tool escapes his prison and ends up in Mahila and Mouse’s neck of the woods. Suddenly their life is gone: Mouse is taken by the soldiers and Mahlia escapes with Tool. From there, both friends will do what they need to survive, but perhaps the cost of  maintaining their is too high?

Impressions: This was fascinating. It took me a while to get into the book, mostly because I haven’t read Ship Breaker, but eventually I got hold of the world that Bacigalupi has built and fell into the book. It’s not a happy book though: Bacigalupi is very frank about the effects of war, and what that does to everyone: civilians, soldiers, leaders. It wasn’t a bleak, hopeless view though: Bacigalupi makes the reader care about his characters, and gives them — even Tool — a humanity that transcends the situations. I was a bit worried about 3/4 of the way through, wondering how he was going to wrap it up (and, to be fair, there is a proper sequel to this one — Tool of War — that properly finishes the story), but he managed very well. It was a satisfying ending, and while it left things open for the next story, it wraps this one up quite nicely. It’s definitely beautifully written, and it nails a lot of current issues — of violence and tribalism, especially — on the head.

Review: The reviews I read praised the world building and the action of the series, as well as Bacigalupi’s frankness when it comes to war. The staff review writes, “Beautifully written, filled with high-octane action, and featuring badly damaged but fascinating and endearing characters, this fine novel tops its predecessor and can only increase the author’s already strong reputation.”

Staff. (2012). Children’s reviews. Publisher’s Weekly. 259 (11), n.a.

Library Uses: This would go great on a “books about climate change” display, as well as a general speculative fiction display. It also needs to be in a book group; there is so much to discuss!

Readalikes:

  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness: This one is aliens rather than post-apocalyptic, but it has the same themes of tribalism, war, and understanding the “other”. Also, everyone should just read it.
  • Undertow by Michael Buckley: In this near-future, some humanoid creatures have come out of the ocean and tried to settle on land. There is tension (obviously) between them and the humans. This explores the tribalism angle as well.
  • The Fog Diver by Joel Ross: An environmental Earth future mashed with steampunk: Earth was destroyed through chemicals, which produced a “fog” that covered the world, so humans moved to the skies. Some fantastic action.
  • And, obviously, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: This is the closest read alike to The Drowned Cities, but I think Bacigalupi does what Collins was trying to do SO much better.

Renegades

by Marissa Meyer
First sentence: “We were all villains in the beginning.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s violence, but nothing graphic, and some mild swearing. It is is the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Nova grew up on one side of the divide, as an Anarchist. It was their side that was in charge for so long, until the Day of Reckoning, where the Other Side, the Renegades, took power. So, Nova grew up as a “villain”, resenting the Renegades, training to defeat them.

Adam grew up on the other side of the divide, as the son of the two most prominent Renegades. He believes in the mission of the Renegades, to bring justice to those who want to be outside the law.

When Nova’s home and life are threatened (because she was part of an assassination attempt that went bad), she is persuaded — mostly because she’s not well known — to join the Renegades and spy on them for the Anarchists. But, when she ends up on Adam’s team, things get… complicated.

This is a solid first in a series book. I like the world that Meyer has created: while she’s playing off the ideas behind the X-Men — there are people with special “abilities” that were shunned by society, and Meyer’s playing with what would happen if those people were in charge. There’s also a bit of Captain America: Civil War going on here, as well, with the exploration of the amount of responsibility a superhero should have for the “regular” people. And I liked the characters: both Nova and Adam were conflicted in their own ways. And while the (slight) romance felt a bit forced, it wasn’t enough to take me entirely out of the story.

I am definitely curious to see where Meyer takes the story from here.

One Trick Pony

onetrickponyby Nathan Hale
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: March 14, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some scary bits, but it’s pretty tame overall. It will be in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Aliens have invaded, and their primary goal is not to destroy the humans but to gather the technology. Everything and anything that can be considered tech — from forks and knives to guns to computers and robots — is gobbled up by the aliens, whom the humans have taken to calling Pipers.

On the outskirts of one of the “hot zones” (places where there is lots of piper activity) there’s a mobile community — the Caravan — of people whose main goal is to keep the tech — and thereby “civilization” — alive. Then one day, a few kids from the Caravan uncover a robot pony in the middle of the hot zone. Suddenly pipers are after them, and it ends in a confrontation that will either result in the loss of humanity or its salvation.

It’s an intriguing story, and I loved the way Hale told it. So very good.

This Savage Song

thissavagesongby Victoria Schwab
First sentence: ”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: One of the main characters smokes, and there’s three f-bombs as well as a lot of violence. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

I’m going to say this up front: this one isn’t easy to sum up.

Kate is the daughter of the North City’s main mob boss. You pay him for protection from the monsters that go bump in the night. And if you can’t pay, well… let’s just say there’s very little mercy. All Kate wants is to be accepted and loved by her father. Which isn’t easy when he’s such a cold, hard bastard.

August is one of those monsters that go bump. In a world where there are several types of monsters — the Corsai, which basically just eat you alive; the Malchai, which are like vampires — August is the “worst”: a Sonai, which use music to suck people’s souls out of them. He is at conflict with this, but awful things happen when he doesn’t “feed”.

So, when August and Kate cross paths at a posh boarding school — August is there on the orders of his older “brother”; Kate as a last-ditch attempt to prove to her father that she’s tough enough — things, well, explode.

Lest you think this is romance-y (I did, at first): it’s not. Sure, August and Kate end up  doing things together, and (I think) caring for each other, it’s not all kissing and swooning. It’s a book that swims very heavily in the grey areas. Kate’s not especially likable as a character, and she does some pretty awful things. And yet, she’s one of the “good” guys. August is more complex as a character, and yet you’re told from the outset that all monsters are “bad”. And August, too, does some pretty awful things. It’s fascinating exploring this world.

Sure, there are questions: how did the monsters come to be? Why did the United States fall apart and reform into these territories? What happens if the monsters take over and kill off all the people? What’s going to happen next?

Schwab is a fantastic storyteller, and this is definitely a unique cross between paranormal and post-apocalyptic. I’m curious to know what happens next to August and Kate, especially since the ending of this one was so, well, final. (There are doors left open for a sequel, and this one is billed as #1, so there will probably be more.) It’s definitely a world I’ll want to revisit.

The Last Star

laststarby Rick Yancey
First sentence: “Many years ago, when he was ten, her father had ridden a big yellow bus to the planetarium.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy sent to me by our publisher rep.
Others in the series: The Fifth Wave, The Infinite Sea
Content: It’s violent and intense; Yancey pulls no punches. There’s also a lot of (understandable) swearing, including f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

If you can, read them all one right after the other; the impact of this one will be that much greater. Like the past two, I’m not going to go that much into plot; it’s really better if you just hit these as blind as possible.

I re-read my review for Infinite Sea, and my thoughts are mostly the same here. It’s intense. bordering on hopeless. Cassie and Zombie and Evan and Ringer and Sam are trying, against the odds, to prevent the end of the world. In many ways, it’s too late: the aliens have pitted us against ourselves:  if there’s no trust, there can be no civilization. But maybe, just maybe, they can prevent the world from completely imploding — Evan’s assured them that the aliens will start bombing the cities any day now — and keep millions more people from dying.

It was the hoping against hope that got me in this one. I read it slower; in small doses over several days this time because I couldn’t take the building hopelessness: will it work? There’s no glorious Independence Day or Men in Black climax here. Sure, it’s a small plucky (though increasingly small and increasingly desperate) team against incredible odds, but Yancey never shies away from the cost of those odds. I found that I appreciated it very much. It’s an incredibly intense series (I’m actually kind of sad the movie didn’t catch on the way Hunger Games did), and an powerfully written one.

I’m sad to see it end.

The Fog Diver

fogdiverby Joel Ross
First sentence: “My name is Chess, and I was born inside a cage.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some intense moments, and it’s a bit difficult to follow plot-wise, but it’s great for grades 4 and up. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

It’s the distant future, and the nanites that the world had designed to clean up the smog went crazy and created a fog that is inhabitable for humans. They’ve moved up to the tops of mountains to survive and have developed a whole society up there. Chess and his friends are at the bottom of the totem pole, being junk divers: they troll the Fog in their airship and it’s Chess’s job to dive in the fog to find relics of the lost age. The reason why Chess is so good at this is because he was born in the fog and his eye is swirling with nanites. He’s in hiding, somewhat, from the evil Lord Kodoc, who will take Chess and work him to death if he ever finds out he exists.

Huh. I’m not sure if that does this justice. (Probably not.) It’s a fantastic, wild weird world that Ross has created. My favorite part? The obscure references to pop culture. Harry Otter, or the X-Wing Enterprise or skycatchers (instead of skycrapers), all made me smile. It’s was a wink to current times without being too trendy and it was perfect. I also loved the supporting characters. Chess was pretty great, but so was the captain Hazel, the pilot Swede, and the gear girl (who had shades of Kaylee from Firefly) Bea. They worked well as a team and I ended up loving all of them equally.

I do have to admit that this took me a bit to get into. It’s slowish to start, but once it gets going, it’s a LOT of fun. And fun is just what I needed right now.