Landscape With Invisible Hand: A Review

“We all have to find some way to live with the world as it is now.”

When the vuvv first landed they told humanity that they could cure all illnesses. No one would have to work anymore. New technology would change lives.

It should have been perfect.

But no one thought about what no one working would mean for the economy. No one considered that all of this wondrous technology would be behind a pay wall. The early adopters–the ones who could buy into vuvv tech and tap into things the vuvv might want to buy–they’re doing fine. The rest of the world, the people like Adam’s family, not so much.

His mother used to be a bank teller but vuvv tech handles that now. His father, a former car salesman, can’t sell cars to people who can barely afford food thanks to rampant inflation. Adam processes everything that’s happening through his art–gritty and meditative landscapes painting the world he sees not the shiny, retro world the vuvv think of when they look at Earth and certainly not the bright, opportunity-filled one inhabited by the rich living in their elevated houses above the planet.

When Adam and Chloe start dating, they think they can capitalize on their love by broadcasting their dates to vuvv subscribers. Their pastiches of 1950s hangouts with slang and affectations to match are just what the vuvv ordered. But it turns out dating someone and loving someone authentically while aliens watch isn’t easy. As Adam’s relationship falls apart he realizes that sometimes the only way to win the game is to stop playing all together in Landscape with Invisible Hand (2017) by M. T. Anderson.

Landscape with Invisible Hand is a strange, caustic, and sparse. Adam’s near-future world changes when aliens arrive but his struggles are depressingly timely as his family is left reeling in the wake of unemployment and skyrocketing costs.

The skies around his suburban home are filled with vuvv tech and floating buildings while malls and stores are abandoned and looted in the changing economy. Thanks to the polluted water supply Adam suffers dangerous complications of Merrick’s Disease while trying to save up for a visit to a vuvv doctor who could treat him almost immediately.

Instead of chapters this short novel (160 pages, hardcover) is framed in vignettes based on the art that Adam is creating–painted landscapes of his dilapidated house, portraits of Chloe when they first meet and fall in lust, drawings of the stuffed animals his younger sister wants to sell and ultimately throws out in her desperation to help and also to grow up. Adam’s first person narration is incisive and introspective. Anderson uses minimal details to vividly descibe the vuvv and Adam’s bleak and absurd world.

Landscape with Invisible Hand is a provocative and engrossing novel. Adam’s journey and his ultimate realization are surprising and completely satisfying. There are no neat answers or tidy resolutions here but that makes the story all the more authentic and shocking. An excellent choice for readers who aren’t sure about sci-fi yet as well as devoted fans of the genre. Read this one with a friend because so you discuss all the plot points and twists. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee, The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher at BookExpo 2017 for review consideration*

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Magonia: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Magonia by Maria Davhana Headley (2015)

Magonia by Maria Davhana HeadleyMagonia is a debut novel and the start to a series. It has been getting enough buzz and attention this year that it hardly needs an introduction. This book does a lot of things well. I like that, although it shifts when the story gets rolling, that Aza starts the story with a serious illness that she has to navigate. She does so admirably and capably. Her first person narration is breezy and conversational. The characters and story are incredibly well-drawn.

Unfortunately, none of that gets a chance to shine in the beginning of the novel because Aza’s narrative is structured more as a stream of consciousness with a lot of bluster and almost no relevant information or plot development. Aza’s voice also never felt quite authentic enough instead it felt like reading a character who was trying very, very hard to sound like a real teenager.

Because of the narrative style, the novel is very slow to get to any element of fantasy which probably makes Magonia a good choice for readers who tend to gravitate toward contemporary stories. With a style and voice reminiscent of Jude in I’ll Give You the Sun, Aza and Magonia are sure to find their fans and possibly even introduce new readers to the fantasy genre.

A Long, Long Sleep: A Review

alonglongsleepRosalinda Fitzroy is used to sleeping in suspended animation. She never spends too long in stass. Not long enough to cause any real problem.

When Rose wakes up this time, everything is different.This time she isn’t woken by her parents. Instead a strange boy seems to be kissing her.

She is still sixteen-years-old, or at least her body is, but she has been asleep for sixty-two years. Everyone she knew is gone. Everything from Rose’s old life is a distant memory, forever erased by the Dark Times that came while she remained in her forgotten stasis tube. With no friends left and no one to depend on, Rose looks to the boy who woke her for support as she tries to move forward.

When a deadly threat targets Rose, she realizes that her past isn’t as distant as she thought. If she wants any hope of a future, Rose will have to confront her past in A Long, Long Sleep (2011) by Anna Sheehan.

A Long, Long Sleep is Sheehan’s first novel. It also has a companion sequel called No Life But This.

Sheehan delivers an interesting spin on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale in this science fiction retelling. Instead of focusing on the prince or waking the princess, this novel examines what comes next. Including some things that are not easy to read.

Rose’s body is ravaged by her time in stasis. Her recovery is slow and often frustrating or even painful. It is a long, realistic process and one that is not even finished by the end of the novel.

The story of Rose’s present and her past unfold simultaneously with interspersed memories and flashbacks to her life before being in stasis for sixty-two years.The world building for this futuristic society is not always solid. Sheehan includes jarring, and often useless, bits of slang along with huge chunks of information (while still having gaps in other areas). However, because of the narrative’s tight focus on Rose these problems do make sense in the larger context of the novel.

Early in the story it becomes clear that Rose isn’t remembering everything and is not, therefore, passing everything on to readers. This unreliability and suspense lends an eerie quality to the narrative as readers, and Rose herself, wonder what really happened to keep her in stasis for so long.

Although Rose spends much of the narrative understandably adrift, she is a strong heroine. This novel comes to a powerful conclusion as Rose confronts her past and finally is able to make her own choices about her future. A Long, Long Sleep is a unique and sharp retelling as well as a harrowing tale of survival.

Possible Pairings: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, Sleepless by Cyn Balog, All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, Cut Me Free by J. R. Johansson, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis, The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd, The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas, Lotus and  Thorn by Sarah Wilson Etienne, The Program by Suzanne Young, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

These Broken Stars: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan SpoonerTarver Merendsen would be quite happy to be anywhere but on board the Icarus. Being on the luxury spaceliner is certainly easy with finely appointed public areas and beautiful people everywhere. But it is also claustrophobic with cameras and gossips everywhere eager for a sighting of the famously young and heroic Major Merendsen. If Tarver had known his actions on Avon would lead to this kind of attention he might have made very different decisions while dealing with the rebels on the terraformed planet.

As the daughter of the richest man in the universe, Lilac LaRoux knows all about terraforming new planets and the unrest that sometimes come with colonization. She knows more about space travel and technology than is seemly for a girl of her station. She also knows that it would be very, very unwise to have anything to do with an upstart military man like Tarver. So Lilac does what she always does and pushes him away.

Unfortunately that doesn’t matter much when the Icarus is pulled out of hyperspace and crashes.

Suddenly Lilac and Tarver are thrown together on a seemingly abandoned planet.

With no one but each other, this unlikely pair builds a grudging respect and even friendship. As their relationship turns into something more than either could have imagined, Lilac and Tarver’s dreams of a life together are derailed by the strange mysteries on the planet and the impending threat of rescue in These Broken Stars (2013) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner.

These Broken Stars is the first book in Kaufman and Spooner’s Starbound trilogy (which functions as a set of companion books each featuring different narrators). The second book is This Shattered World.

This book is written in alternating first person narrations as Tarver and Lilac tell their story.

The dual narration structure is used to excellent effect here to highlight Tarver and Lilac’s changing opinions of each other as well as to examine key plot points from multiple views. Although Tarver and Lilac’s voices are not always as distinct as they should be, the narrative is done so well that it is a minor problem at best.

The bond between the characters builds organically to create a romance with an extremely solid foundation based on mutual respect as well as affection. Unfortunately despite these stellar protagonists and a strong plot, the latter part of the novel does drag in places. Ultimately, however, the story does build to a stunning conclusion that will leave readers eager to see more of the world Kaufman and Spooner have created.

These Broken Stars is an atmospheric sci-fi story with hints of mystery and romance. Tarver and Lilac are both self-aware characters with as much agency as spunk. Lilac, a tech-smart girl, is a particularly satisfying character to watch as she comes into her own after the crash of the Icarus. An excellent and action-packed novel for science fiction fans.

Possible Pairings: Avalon by Mindee Arnett, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston, Alienated by Melissa Landers, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

*A copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2013*

The 5th Wave: A Review

The 5th Wave by Rick YanceyWhat if every alien invasion scenario in every movie and book was wrong? What if there is no rallying point? What if the People in Charge never figure it out?

What if you’re left alone with no one to trust?

No one expected the aliens to win–even with their advanced technology, even with the 1st wave bringing darkness. After the 2nd wave, when only the lucky survived, people started to know the score. After the 3rd wave the only ones left are the unlucky ones.

After the 4th wave there’s only one thing left to do: Trust no one.

And now the 5th wave might be starting and humanity is so royally screwed this whole invasion is starting to feel like a terrible joke.

Cassie might be the only human left alive. She is definitely the only person she can trust.

But Cassie has a promise to keep and a long way to go before she can lay down and let the aliens win. Cassie might be alone, she might be all that’s left of humanity. But if that’s true, it also means Cassie has to face what’s coming because she is the battlefield in humanity’s last war in The 5th Wave (2013) by Rick Yancey.

The 5th Wave is the first book in Yancey’s 5th Wave trilogy. There is definitely still tons more to tell but The 5th Wave is still a nicely contained story with a perfect balance of suspense and closure (even if I absolutely had to stay up until 4am to finish reading it).

Yancey takes a familiar scenario from science fiction and turns it completely upside down: not only are the aliens smarter, they’re winning. Not only are they winning, they’re probably going to keep winning.

And yet in a world essentially without hope we get characters made of steel with an inherent resilience and courage.

It’s hard to talk about more here without ruining the surprises of Yancey’s expert plotting and masterful writing. Truly, The 5th Wave is a masterpiece with brilliant plotting as everything readers think they know is thrown into question again and again as the story continues. Yancey expertly uses multiple viewpoints to tell an intricate story with carefully time reveals and more than a few twists.

Possible Pairings: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, False Memory by Dan Krokos, Legend by Marie Lu, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix,  Divergent by Veronica Roth, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, Pod by Stephen Wallenfels, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Pod: A (rapid fire) Review

Pod by Stephen Wallenfels (2010)

Pod by Stephen WallenfelsThis book was shortlisted for the 2010 Cybils which is why (as a round 2 judge) I read it.

Pod features dual story lines. One features Josh who is 15/16 in Washington state and one features Megs who is 12 in California. Both of them have to fave some MAJOR problems when aliens land. Or hover. Whatever.

I didn’t mind the dual story lines. I thought the contrast was interesting between the two locations and by the end I’m pretty sure there is some connection between the stories (as improbable and thin as it is).

The alien premise was interesting and not having any closure (why did they come? etc.) was annoying but ultimately realistic I guess.

My main problem with Pod is that I hated Josh. He is a complete jerk, totally self-absorbed and ultimately a bad caricature of just about every annoying teen stereotype I  can think of. I thought it was ridiculous how he second guessed his father at every turn with the water and food rationing. I was insanely annoyed by the ending of Josh’s storyline. It was, simply put, sloppy storytelling (and did I mention annoying?).

Megs’ storyline is less troubling because she wasn’t such an annoying character and it is clear she understands that survival was really important–unlike Josh. But she seemed a little flat (all of the characters did actually–it might have had to do with the sparse writing or maybe this one just really tried my patience). I also don’t think she sounds at all like a twelve year old.

Megs’ vocabulary includes a lot of expressions a twelve-year-old wouldn’t know. Similarly why does a child know about cracking open oysters? Why does she know about dehydration and how crying might not be the best thing when you’re already short on water? I get that her home life isn’t great but I don’t get how she would know those things or any number of other things.

I can see the appeal of the premise and the characters but for me Pod was ultimately really unsatisfying and deeply frustrating.