September 5, 2018

Nothing like Novellas | Mini-Reviews of Books I Read to Catch Up with my Reading Goal

It is officially the time of year when I start freaking out about finishing all of my yearly goals, including but not limited to my Goodreads reading challenge. I always start out with the best intentions, getting ahead of myself, but it never lasts and I end up with three months to read more than I did in the past six months combined. 

Thankfully, I am not beneath using cheap tricks to achieve my goals. From now until the end of the year, I will be reading copious amounts of novellas, graphic novels, and short books in order to inflate my reading numbers. I am not proud of it, but I am going to do it anyway.

The good news is that if I read more books (even if they are shorter) that means more wonderful reviews like these for you to read. Really, I am doing this all for you.

Every Heart A Doorway
By Seanan McGuire
Wayward Children #1
Published April 5, 2016
169 Pages
Young Adult, Fantasy, Diverse

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children No Solicitations. No Visitors. No Quests.
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
No matter the cost. 

Every Heart a Doorway is an ambitious novel. In less than 200 pages, it constructs a diverse cast of characters, explores several different worlds, and fulfills the expectation of a unique story promised by the fascinating premise.

I was worried that such a short novel could not do justice to the idea of group therapy for children who escaped reality into not-so-fictional worlds. But I was so wrong since, not only were the predicaments of the wayward children explored in their intricacies (which were all different for the children who all visited extremely contrasting worlds), but there was also a great murder mystery and subversion of stereotypes. 

Some concepts are still a little whimsical without solid definitions, but I think that is just the nature of the story. For example, the worlds that the children fell into were generally categorized as either Logical or Nonsense. The details of the distinctions were hazy, but that just added to the whimsy of the worlds and the impossibility of defining the undefinable. One of the major messages was how these children experienced the impossible and had to reconcile reality with fantasy in a world that ridiculed them for believing in fantasy, whimsy, and the intangible. The lack of concrete definitions for the "technical" terms for the fantasy worlds reflects the struggle that the wayward children faced when coming home. They didn't have words for their experiences, and least not the realistic ones that the world wanted, so they were shunned by the world.

I know that was a longer rant, but just the fact that I got so much out of the story is a testament to its complexity. 

If you are feeling a little wander-lost or think you were born in the wrong fictional world, then Every Heart A Doorway is the perfect book to satisfy the longing in your soul to escape reality. 

The Freeze-Frame Revolution
By Peter Watts
(Sunflower Cycle)
Published on June 12, 2018
192 Pages
Adult, Science Fiction, Novella

This book was provided to me from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I swear on my bookshelf that this has not affected my opinion of the book.
She believed in the mission with all her heart.But that was sixty million years ago.
How do you stage a mutiny when you're only awake one day in a million? How do you conspire when your tiny handful of potential allies changes with each shift? How do you engage an enemy that never sleeps, that sees through your eyes and hears through your ears and relentlessly, honestly, only wants what best for you?
Sunday Ahzmundin is about to find out.

Just a little FYI, I would recommend reading Peter Watts short story Hotshot before reading The Freeze-Frame Revolution. You can find it for free in his literary archives.

Science fiction is full of paradoxes and I have a new one for you--imagine a reader who hates physics, chemistry and all other sciences but loves reading science fiction. That paradox represents me and my eternal struggle with sci-fi. I want to love them, but I also worry that I am not "smart" enough to get them.

So, I usually prefer science jargon to be balanced with something else, like a sense of humor. For example, I could deal with the advanced theoretical space terms in The Martian because the crass and hilarious tone balanced out the dryness. Unlike The Martian, there was no unique voice to balance out the scientific lingo in The Freeze-Frame Revolution.

Bear in mind that all of this is coming from a non-sciencey reader who has very, very limited knowledge of space, physics, and engineering. Those of you who know more about space and enjoy exploring technical scientific fiction will probably love all of the jargon in this story.

Outside of my preferences for jargon, I also struggled connecting with the characters. I only feel as if I really know Sunday, with all of the other characters blurring in the background. I do have to admit that getting to know all of the characters would be impossible considering the revolution only ran for a few days every century, but there was room for improvement.

That being said, Watts did manage to create an amazing human culture in space. These astronauts are lightyears away, in space and time, from the Earth that we know and their evolution in culture shows that. I especially loved the incorporation of futuristic slang that made me feel like a hipster, knowing the slang from thousands of years in the future.

Not only was The Freeze-Frame Revolution an exploration of space, but it was also a philosophical adventure into problems that we can run into not that far in the future. Artificial intelligence has a large role, which brought up complications in the relationships between humans and smart computers. Then there were the ever-fun explorations of the end of the universe and human existence as we know it. For a novella, a lot of large themes were developed and left me thinking way after the open cliffhanger ending.

Are you desperately trying to catch up on your yearly reading challenge yet? Do you have any recommendations for short books/novellas to help me finish my goal? Do you wish that you could stumble upon a magical world like the Wayward Children? (I have always been jealous of Alice in Wonderland and the Pevensies from Narnia for getting to visit other worlds, even if they were a tad dangerous).

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