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book review: machine moon (descender vol. 2)

I like space operas. They are a very comfortable kind of fiction for me. Assembled families in space ships going around and having adventures is all I really want in life and is actually one of the things I’m saddest will never be a real thing I can do. Since I’ll never get to live in a spaceship I make do with making this kind of thing my favourite kind of RPG scenario and read comics that follow the path.

Dustin Nguyen and Jeff Lemire’s Descender is one of those stories. The main character is a companion robot who is the key to robot evolution and was missed when the majority of robots were exterminated after turning on humanity.

Machine Moon is the second volume in the series and it remains pretty good. Nguyen’s watercoloury art makes it feel more serious than it might otherwise. The dialogue is good and I like the characters and the big problems they’re facing. The main problem is just one of serialization; I’d like to read the whole story in one go but can’t.

This isn’t better than Saga, but I like it.

And I haven’t ever written about Saga on here? What? We talked a bit about it in an old episode of Librarians on the Radio if you’re interested.

book review: countdown city

It’s 77 days until an asteroid hits earth, and Henry Palace’s long-ago babysitter’s husband has gone missing. Henry Palace isn’t a police officer any more, but he agrees to help. This is the story of Countdown City, sequel to Ben H. Winters’ The Last Policeman.

It’s a good little mystery novel. Even though the asteroid is more imminent than in the previous book, it feels like it means less. You can tell the world has changed. Fewer people are trying to hold things together so though Palace’s investigation has smaller stakes there’s more danger to it.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the very end of the book, but that’s probably because I am very far from being true police. It’s a good story but not as Wow-inducing as the previous one. C’est la vie.

book review: the last policeman

I’ve probably mentioned before how rare it is for me to read a straight-up mystery (and not some sort of science fiction noir type thing) but that’s exactly what Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman is. A man died in the bathroom of a McDonald’s. The newly-minted detective is the only person who doesn’t think it was a suicide. Investigation ensues.

The only complication is that in just over 6 months the world as we know it will end when Earth is hit by a huge asteroid.

So the book is a twisty little mystery involving insurance fraud and drugs and bad coffee in police briefing rooms, but also a look at why even do police-work when the world will soon be ending. Who really cares how one person ended up dead when six months from now everyone will be.

Now that little complication might, in your mind, vault the book into the science fiction category, but it really isn’t. The asteroid is affecting people because they’re all aware of their mortality, but it’s not causing tidal waves or changing the weather or making people flee to the Himalayas or shooting Bruce Willis off into space. It’s something that’s happening, just like war is something that happens in other stories.

I really liked the book even though it’s not my usual science fiction and in spite of the fact it’s the first in a trilogy. (SPOILER: The case is resolved and the book ends still many months before the asteroid hits, leaving room for the next books to remain pre-apocalyptic).

book review: life as we knew it

[photo credit: Giant Moon by Timmy Toucan]
Life As We Knew It is a book by Susan Beth Pfeffer about survival through massive disaster.

Miranda and her family live in kind of rural Pennsylvania and she keeps a diary. She used to figure-skate and her dad lives in Massachusetts with his new wife. Then an asteroid hits the moon, knocking it way closer to earth. I do not know how possible that is no matter how dense that asteroid was, but don’t worry too much about it, because the take-off point is about what a giant disaster this is for the globe. The moon isn’t crashing into the Earth or anything, but the changes to tides cause tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanoes. There are ash-clouds and it might be the end of the world.

Miranda and her family are better off than some people. Her mom goes into survivalist mode right away and they stockpile food. They have a wood stove and land to get firewood from. They look after their elderly neighbour but other than that it’s a strict “family first” policy. This all happens in the spring, and things just keep on happening through the (almost) year the diary covers.

The big thing is Miranda dealing with how abnormal this makes her life. She vacillates between self-pity and being really strong in a way that feels realistic to how a person outside a story does. I think that’s something that the diary form for a book like this does really well. In Carbon Diaries 2015 the author used the same diary format to really get at what day-to-day life would be like if everything would be different (though the Carbon Diaries was less apocalyptic than Life As We Knew It).

Apart from the cause of the disasters in this book I feel like it’s a really good realistic look at what life immediately post-disaster would be like. There aren’t any zombies (The Walking Dead) or radioactive wastes (Z for Zachariah), just terrible weather and not enough food. I appreciated that it takes place outside an urban centre, so things like looting and violence are more ominous and less omnipresent.

Very good science fiction for YAs who like realistic fiction.

book review: zita the spacegirl

Ben Hatke’s Zita the Space Girl: Far From Home is a great science fictional kids comic. Zita and Joseph find a big red button in a field. Zita presses it and Joseph gets sucked through a vortex. Then she summons up her courage and presses it again to go after him. They’ve both ended up on an asteroid filled with aliens (and robots), some of whom speak English. The asteroid is going to be destroyed by a comet in three days though, so they need to get out of there. Joseph has been kidnapped and taken to a castle to be imprisoned and Zita gathers up her resources to go find and rescue him. She makes allies and gets betrayed and eventually everything works out pretty well.

There’s nothing crazy complex going on with the plot, but the characterization is fun. There’s a war-bot that likes to tell stories of his escapades (much like warship in The Culture novels) and a giant mouse who doesn’t speak but prints out little messages from his collar. The art is cute and the story moves really quickly. I liked it a lot.