Thursday, April 19, 2018

Review - Nell

by Karen Hesse
Date: 2011
Reading level: A
Book type: short story
Pages: 12
Format: e-book

"I am always dying. I am never dying. I have died and died and died again, but I do not stay dead."

When the lines between fairy tale and reality blur, identity becomes fluid, and compassion can have unexpected costs. In "Nell,' a short story inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl," award-winning author Karen Hesse adds a haunting, supernatural twist to a classic tale.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Well, that was depressing. But what else are you going to get from a retelling of "The Little Match Girl"?

Still, the way this was told was beautiful, a story within a story. The imagery was rich and the main character's voice was engaging. It's short, but it still manages to bring a new, supernatural twist to the old story.

Quotable moment:

How her mouth watered with longing when she passed a rosy-cheeked boy eating a bun,

soiling his mitten with bakery grease,

dropping crumbs and bits of raisins in his wake,

ignoring the admonitions of his father,

who held on tightly to keep the boy from running into the people around him.

The match girl stopped walking and stood where the bun-eater had stood and drew in a deep breath,

devouring the scent of the sweet roll that still lingered in the cold air.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 4/5
Writing & Editing: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.86 out of 5 ladybugs

Friday, April 6, 2018

Review - All Systems Red

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1)
by Martha Wells
Date: 2017
Reading level: A
Book type: prose novella
Pages: 156
Format: e-book

As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn't a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied 'droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as "Murderbot." Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've had this novella on my want-to-read list for a while, so when the opportunity to read it for free came up, I couldn't say no. I managed to blow through it in a few hours, which is unusual for me. But the pace was so fast and the story so intriguing that I couldn't stop for long without wanting to get back in and find out what happened next.

The strength of this book is really Murderbot itself. The story is told from its perspective, and it's an interesting one. It's so convinced it's just a machine, continually reminding others, and trying very hard (it seems) to convince itself of that fact. But it has emotions and attachments, little quirks that make it evident that it's not just a robot.

The pace was so quick, and the story managed to pack a lot of action into relatively few pages. I'm very glad that this is just the first book in a series, though, because the ending was kind of unsatisfying and a little confusing.

I can't wait to find out what happens next in Murderbot's life (and will the poor thing ever get a proper name?).

Quotable moment:

I yelled, "No!" which I'm not supposed to do; I'm always supposed to speak respectfully to the clients, even when they're about to accidentally commit suicide.

Premise: 5/5
Plot: 4/5
Characters: 5/5
Pace: 5/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 5/5

Overall Rating: 4.38 out of 5 ladybugs

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Review - The Last Novelist

The Last Novelist
by Matthew Kressel
Date: 2017
Reading level: A
Book type: short story
Pages: 27
Format: e-book

The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard) by Matthew Kressel is a science fiction story about a dying writer who is trying to finish one final novel on the distant planet he settles on for his demise. His encounter with a young girl triggers a last burst of creativity.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This short story certainly painted a lovely picture of a foreign world... but, at the same time, I feel vaguely unsettled. It looks like the author tried to incorporate many cultures (you can see it in the use of language--I easily picked out the Yiddish and Indian influences), but the overall feeling I got was sort of Caribbean, from the tropical setting and mention of steel drums to the way the native inhabitants of the planet spoke. Are they human? I'm assuming they're descended from humans; despite having six-fingered hands and violet eyes, there's no indication that they're alien. Which makes it kind of awkward when the little girl--Fish, as she calls herself--speaks like a stereotype:

"I's at my uncle's," she says. "But I's back now. Get up you loafing fool, 'cause we gots work to do!"

This leaves me feeling... I don't know. Am I reading cultural appropriation? Or are we to believe that this planet was colonized entirely by settlers of Caribbean descent?

Aside from that, the story was okay, if a little unsatisfying. The world-building was probably the best part, even if it was a bit uneven at times with the technology. I also wonder if some of the themes are just the author's fears. In this future, nobody reads books anymore, preferring instead to download experiences directly into their brains. I'm not sure this would ever happen (at least, not to the extent shown here), and besides, the narrator still values the written word. Are we to believe he's the only one in the entire universe who does? (Obviously not, as Fish really takes to pen and paper, so the fact that everyone else supposedly avoids reading is a little hard to believe.)

I didn't really like the characters. Reuth, the narrator, wasn't developed all that well. We know facts about him, but we don't really know much about what he's like (other than the fact that he thinks it's okay to litter in the sea). I liked Fish a little more, but only because she was more interesting. The only other character to speak of was Fish's mother, who was just there to serve as a protective figure.

All in all, I'd say the imagery was the strongest part of the book, the characters the weakest. The story was somewhere in the middle. I'm not sorry I read it, but it's not that memorable.

Quotable moment:

Fish surprises me on the beach that afternoon. "I don't get it," she says.

I look up from my pad, unexpectedly happy to see her. "What don't you get?"

"Why write novels at all? You could project your dreams into a neural."

"I could. But dreams are raw and unfiltered. And that always felt like cheating to me. With writing, you have to labor over your thoughts."

My words seem only to perplex her more. "But you could dictate your story. Why make it so hard?"

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 4/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 ladybugs