book review: the clockwork rocket

What I love about reading Greg Egan books is reading about creatures that are psychologically very recognizable but physically alien. In other books this comes through reading about robots and software, but The Clockwork Rocket is about a species of blobby aliens living in a universe where different colours of light have different speeds.

On their world there are male and female aliens that I picture as macroscopic amoeba type things. Reproduction means the female splits into four children (two males and two females who are brought up as “co”s brother-sisters but also as future mates), whom the father then raises. Yalda is a female who doesn’t have a co. She grows up on a farm and moves to a city and becomes a scientist and eventually leads an expedition away from their world to try and save it from an impending disaster (by using the weird properties of the speed of light in their universe).

There are digressions exploring the nature of light and toroidal universes in this book. Some people might not like them. I did. I also loved the political explorations of birth-control in a species where having children necessarily means the death of the mother. It’s very much an ideas book, and there are sequels, which I’ll definitely read eventually.

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: zeitoun

Zeitoun is a Dave Eggers book about a Syrian-born house painter and his family and their experience with Hurricane Katrina. It’s a nonfiction book, told as a story. There are flashbacks to how Abdulrahman and his wife Kathy met, and stories of his older brother who was a long-distance swimmer, but most of the story is about how Zeitoun stayed in New Orleans and took his canoe around helping people and was thrown into Camp Greyhound and then prison for his trouble.

I haven’t immersed myself in a lot of the post-Katrina story of New Orleans, so while I knew that there was a lot of terrible stuff that happened, I didn’t know about the Guantanamo-esque prison camp that they built while people were trapped in houses and the water rose.

It’s not the kind of book that would make you feel much sympathy for anyone in charge of any kind of bureaucracy ever, but it seems to be a really good story about what being Muslim in 21st-century America is like.

I’m glad I read it, but I didn’t really like Eggers’ writing style. It seemed too basic and earnest. Which is fine, this isn’t a story you really want to be injecting a lot of ironic distance into, but I just didn’t like the writing very much.