Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear

A spaceship hurdles through space, seeking the perfect planet, and within the ship sleeps the planet’s future population: men, women, and creatures designed to help populate and settle the world to which they fly. Until something goes wrong, and ship goes to war with itself.

Teacher is jerked from dreams of this new world and brought into the harsh reality of ship. He can remember only bits and pieces of his life before awakening. Cold, he runs toward warmth and the mysteries of ship.

This is the best science fiction I have read in years. Bear’s command of Teacher’s story grips the reader from page one and does not let go. The story is dark and haunting, and I loved every page of it.

Science fiction writers sometimes make their tales more about the science and less about the characters. Not Bear. He carefully intertwines all the qualities of science, which makes science fiction fun, yet he never loses Teacher or his bleak story.

Nuanced with lovely prose, Bear reminds us that science without a conscience can be deadly.

My rating:

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

*****SPOILER ALERT:  If you have not yet read The Hunger Games this review contains spoilers of that book.*****

  This is the second book in a  planned trilogy by Suzanne Collins centered on The Hunger Games.  The Games have ended and Katniss and Peeta have returned to District 12 as heroes, being the first tributes to ever defy the Capitol and figure out a way for more than one participant to survive the Games.  As they travel around the country to promote their victory, it becomes evident that they have sparked dissent amongst the downtrodden citizens of the 12 Districts of Panem.  Through their defiance, they have inspired others to stand up against the repression and cruelty of  the Capitol.  As the unrest spreads, Katniss and Peeta become unwitting symbols of the rebellion and the Capitol must scramble to come up with an even more twisted way to keep the districts under their control and quell the uprisings that threaten to erupt.

This being the “middle child” in the trilogy you might not expect much.  But though this installment starts out a bit slowly, it gathers steam and becomes almost as gripping as the first installment even though we know much more about what to expect this time around.  The love triangle centered around Katniss, Peeta and Gale is a bit disappointing since Gale is such a peripheral character this time, but most likely it will all play out in the third and final book which will follow our characters into the mysterious District 13 and the inferno of rebellion that is “Catching Fire” in this segment.

Can’t wait for the third book and also the movie which is due out in 2011.  Word is that Suzanne Collins is writing the screenplay and if you read The Hunger Games it no doubt crossed your mind what a fantastic movie it would make. 

My Rating: 

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

Dorrit Weger has reached her 50th birthday and is about to embark on a new life.  She’s moving to a place where she’ll have her own apartment in a beautiful community with every recreational opportunity you could imagine, beautiful gardens, great restaurants and trendy boutiques all at her fingertips.  The best part is that none of it will cost her a dime.  It’s all being taken care of by the government.  There’s just one catch.  There are surveillance cameras everywhere, even in the bathroom, and once you become a resident of  “the unit” you never leave.  Your world is literally under a huge glass dome where even the dew on the grass is artificial and the seasons never change.

“The unit” is the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material.  Women who reach the age of 50, or men who reach the age of 60, and are single and childless with jobs in areas that don’t support economic growth become classified as quite literally “dispensable” and are sent to the unit.  Once there, they participate in various scientific experiments and become walking organ donors, providing a kidney, cornea, or whatever else is required to keep the “needed” citizens healthy.  Most last 4 or 5 years before making their “final donation”. 

The creepy thing (well one of the creepy things) about the unit is the way people, even dispensable people, accept it as a normal part of society.  In fact, the unit was established after a referendum was voted on and passed by the citizens.  Everything is done in such a humane and downright cheerful manner.   Dorrit arrives feeling slightly nervous, but the lavish welcome party thrown by the staff soon has her making new friends, dancing and feeling a part of the community.  It’s not long before Dorrit finds something that eluded her in the outside world — love.  As the experiments and organ donations continue,  obedience and compliance  turn to helpless horror at the inevitable ending.

Holmqvist draws you in from the first page and keeps you moving  forward with short chapters that make it impossible not to want to read just one more (or two or three)  before you put it down.  Creepy good read.

My Rating:

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Miranda is a typical teenager, worried about homework and boys, until the day the meteor smashes into the moon and knocks it closer to the earth, setting off a chain reaction of tsunamis, climate change and even volcanoes that shroud the earth in ash.  Miranda and her mother and two brothers must go into survival mode, hoarding food, scavenging for firewood and living in their boarded up house, fearful of looters. 

The book is written in Miranda’s own words, in the form of a journal.  Unfortunately,  it just didn’t ring all that true for me.  The day after the meteor,  after gathering around the television and learning that most of the east coast is submerged and there are hundreds of thousands of casualties, all Miranda’s mother can say is  “We’re fine.  We’re well inland.  I’ll keep the radio on, so if there’s any call for evacuation I’ll hear it, but I don’t think there will be.  And yes, Jonny, you have to go to school tomorrow.”

On a side note,  I loved the cover art on this book.  The huge moon looming over the small house evoked the fear that Miranda and her family felt.  As Miranda said,  “It was tilted and wrong . . . it was still our moon and it was still just a big dead rock in the sky, but it wasn’t benign anymore.  It was terrifying, and you could feel the panic swell all around us.”

My Rating: 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Let the games begin!  It’s some time in the (not so distant?) future and what was once America is now Panem, a glittering Capitol in the Rockies, surrounded by twelve miserably oppressed districts.  As a yearly reminder of their helplessness, the Capitol requires each district to conduct “Reapings” where one boy and one girl are chosen to compete in the Hunger Games.

Katniss Everdeen (cool name for a cool girl!) lives in District 12, what was once Appalachia, with her mother and little sister Prim.  When Prim’s name is drawn at the Reaping, Katniss volunteers herself to take Prim’s place.  Soon Katniss and Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son, are off to the Capitol for the Hunger Games, a deadly reality show televised to all of Panem where the 24 kids, or Tributes, from the districts must compete in a kill or be killed survival game with no rules except that you can’t eat your opponents.

One of the fun things about writing these book reviews is how it has made me realize that I’m always drawn to certain types of books.  Dystopian futuristic themes (The Road by Cormac McCarthy or The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood) always pull me in and this one is no different.  Though there are similar ideas out there, Collins does a first rate job of building the suspense,  making it next to impossible to read to the end of a chapter and stop.  Will Katniss become the first Tribute from District 12 to win the Hunger Games in years?  Does Peeta genuinely care about Katniss, or is he weaving a “star crossed lovers” story to garner sympathy from the viewers?  And what about Rue, the young slip of a girl from District 11 who reminds Katniss so much of her sister Prim?  There can only be one winner of the Hunger Games.

My Rating: 

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Let me start out by saying that Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors. I really enjoyed The Blind Assassin and Alias Grace, and I would even go so far as to name The Handmaid’s Tale as one of my favorite books. That’s why I’m so disappointed in this one. Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Snowman seems to be the only living human left in a world full of “Crakers”, some type of bio-engineered, too perfect creatures who look to him for guidance and explanations of the world around them. Strange animals (rakunks, pigoons, bobkittens), also products of some type of biological experimentation, inhabit the wasteland as well. It’s all just a bit too much for me, so I gave up about halfway through. If you are a science fiction fan, then give it a go, but I’m off to find something else for my nightstand.

My rating:

Mary Modern by Camille DeAngelis

 I just hate it when a book starts out so well and then ultimately disappoints.  Although I don’t consider myself a science fiction fan, I am attracted to time-travel themes (think Time Traveler’s Wife or The House on the Strand).  In this take on the theme, Lucy Morrigan, a young genetic researcher, successfully clones her grandmother, Mary, from genetic material she finds on a bloodstained apron in her attic.   Lucy expected to give birth to a newborn Mary, but instead brings forth a fully grown Mary, dazed and confused, aged 22.

Assuming you can buy into the idea that Lucy could clone a human being in her basement, it is fascinating reading when Mary wakes up and realizes that she is in her familiar house, but many years have passed and everyone she knew is dead.  At this point, I couldn’t help thinking that this might be the first book to go into my “Loved it” category.  Unfortunately, DeAngelis lost me about three fourths of the way through, with the addition of a religious zealot obsessed with forcing Lucy to clone Jesus, abrupt plot twists, and even more improbable events.  All in all a good book, but not quite good enough to say I loved it.

My rating: