Thunderhead

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genres: Science Fiction
Read: Jan. 2018 (Pub. date: Jan. 9, 2018)

 

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I read Scythe at the end of 2017 and had somewhat mixed feelings on it. I found the first half kind of boring, but the book tackled a lot of complex concepts and themes and it really made me think, so I was interested to keep going with the series, even if I wasn’t totally in love with the writing.

Thunderhead is the sequel to Scythe and they are both set in a world in which humans have perfected technology and achieved immortality. Government has been replaced with an all-knowing “cloud” called the Thunderhead who maintains world order and essentially controls everything. The only thing outside the control of the Thunderhead is the Scythedom. Scythes are people who have been tasked with “gleaning” or killing people in order to somewhat maintain population growth. Scythes are supposed to be humble and just, but over the years the Scythedom has split in to two factions: the new-order scythes who envision a different way of doing things, and the old-guard, who want to maintain the original ideals of the Scythedom.

Scythe introduced us to all the different Scythes and their opinions on the best ways to glean. I liked Scythe because it introduced a lot of ethical issues concepts and it really got me thinking. It was mostly an introduction to the world Shusterman has created and sets us up for a much larger story. Thunderhead delves more into the story of the struggles and conflicts between the two Scythe factions and the fight to keep the Scythedom honest and ethical.

I’m thrilled to get an advanced reader copy of this book, but unfortunately I was disappointed with Thunderhead. The story definitely progresses in this book, but like the first book, I didn’t love the writing and I found it another slow moving story. My copy was 500 pages and I feel like I got a lot of info I didn’t care about. Like in the first book, each chapter is separated by a short note, but instead of excerpts from the Scythes journals, it’s brief thoughts from the Thunderhead. I thought Shusterman introduced some more interesting concepts in these excerpts, but they weren’t really developed any further in the actual plot and I found them less meaningful.

The Thunderhead is supposed to be a perfect artificial intelligence, but it’s terrifying how emotionally sentient it is. It becomes evident that the Thunderhead is just as prone to love and anger as humans, which is terrifying in an all-governing robot. Shusterman explores some ideas about what it might be like to live in a society governed by an all-knowing computer, but I found the main plot of the story, which was the continued clashes between the new order and old guard, to be a bit repetitive. Side note: the synopsis on goodreads is not very accurate. Citra does not risk going deadish to talk to the Thunderhead in this book.

The story still follows Rowan and Citra, but expands to include the viewpoints from other Scythes as well. It was constantly changing viewpoints, which I somewhat liked, but also found distracting. Again, the last 100 pages of the story were very eventful and went in a totally different direction than I was expected, but it wasn’t enough to redeem the first half of the book for me. Overall I found it slow moving and it didn’t make me think as much, which is what I enjoyed most about the first book.

Still a 3-star book though and it ends of a pretty big cliffhanger, so I’ll probably keep going with the series because I do really want to know what’s going to happen.

Scythe

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Read: Dec. 2017

 

Scythe is another one of those 3-star books that is just so hard to rate. It raises a lot of really interesting questions and the second half of the book is pretty great, but the first half is such a snooze-fest!

I didn’t plan to read this series because it sounded pretty dark, but then I got a galley of the second book in the series, Thunderhead, so I decided to give it a go. Scythe is a utopian novel set in a version of the world where we’ve have basically perfected technology and solved all the problems of the world. Humans have reached the pinnacle of medical discovery and figured out how to make themselves immortal, as well as the pinnacle of technological advancements and have created a perfect artificial intelligence called the Thunderhead that now governs the planet. There’s no more sickness, no more poverty, and no more crime.

The only thing that remains outside of the jurisdiction of the Thunderhead is the Scythedom. Once humans obtained immortality, they had to find some way to manage population control, so they selected and trained an elite group of scythes to “glean” (kill) humans in order to maintain the earth’s population relative to the amount of available resources to continue living a comfortable existence. No one but a Scythe can permanently kill a human (if they die any other way they are just revived, Scythes carry out a permanent death). The Scythes are supposed to be live a humble existence separate from the rest of humanity and demonstrate compassion and justice in their gleanings. But over the hundreds of years of the Scythedom, some of them have started developing alternative opinions on the role of Scythes.

This story is about 2 teenagers, Rowan and Citra, who have been selected to apprentice to become Scythes. What I really liked about this book was how much it made me think. It raises some really great themes about living. In a world where we have made ourselves immortal and eliminated all forms of oppression, what really makes life worth living? We can’t really feel pain anymore and all of our accomplishments are meaningless because there’s nothing else left to be discovered or improved. In a world without suffering, can we really understand emotions like happiness and joy? Are these things humans can even experience anymore?

Then there’s the question of who deserves life and death? The Scythes all have their own strategies for “gleaning” and we are slowly introduced to several of them over the course of the novel. Should Scythes try and emulate the kinds of deaths that occurred in the age of mortality and target the same demographics? Should they look for people to “glean” who seem ready to move on or seem to have become stagnant in this life? Or just say ‘to hell with it’ and glean whoever they want? It’s up to Rowan and Citra to determine what kind of Scythes they want to be.

What I didn’t like about this book is that it took so freaking long to get going! I was really intrigued with the concepts, but Rowan and Citra are asked to basically give up their entire lives and to KILL people and it felt like it wasn’t even that big a deal. Where was the emotion? the drama? the angst?! They are 16 years old afterall and they just felt way too mature. I guess that is kind of the point though. They are selected for their maturity and empathy and in this new age where your emotions are constantly monitored and tweaked by “nanites” in your bloodstream, it’s almost impossible to emote in the same way that humans do now.

I get the whole exploration of how to be a Scythe, but I also felt like the whole thing was stupid and should have just been left to the Thunderhead to glean an appropriate percentage of old people every year. Why emulate deaths of the past when you don’t have to anymore? Why have to live in a world where children and young people die? In this world though, you have the option of “turning the corner” and returning your body to any age you want over the age of about 25, so there’s not really old people anymore and even though people are old in mind, they’re still able to have kids whenever they want. So theoretically, you’d still always be gleaning someone’s mother or grandmother, even if you didn’t glean children.

But I’m getting too far into the details. The second half of the book was happening! It has way more action and I found it hard to put down once I got past the halfway point. The plot reminded me a little bit of Hunger Games though. I feel like I’m going to be thinking about this book for awhile, so it’s definitely got that going for it, it was just a more detached kind of writing style. I tend to gravitate towards books that really emote and make me FEEL all the things. This book definitely made me think, but I always felt a degree removed from the characters and it made it a little harder to empathize with them.

Anyways, this is a much longer review than I thought I would write, but it did help me figure out some of my feelings on this book. So let’s call it a 3.5 stars. On to Thunderhead!

Sleeping Giants/Waking Gods

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Genres: Science-Fiction
Read: Nov. 2017

 

I read Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods back-to-back and they are quite unlike anything I’ve read before – granted, I don’t read very much sci-fi. I saw these two popping up on my newsfeed throughout the year, but the synopsis sounded so weird I immediately passed over them. But I decided to give them a try when I saw them nominated in the Goodreads Choice Awards.

I can’t remember if the time period in which the books take place is ever stated, but I think it’s pretty safe to assume they occur around modern day. The story starts when young Rose Franklin falls off her bike in the middle of the woods and finds herself in the palm of a giant metal hand at the bottom of a glowing hole. Fast-forward to the future and Rose is now a doctor of physics and is recruited to solve the mystery of the hand she fell into as a child.

It turns out the hand is just one piece of a giant robot that predates technology by ~6000 years. Sleeping Giants raises some really interesting questions about extraterrestrials and how small it makes you feel to think there may be other lifeforms far more advanced than you, that have presumably visited your planet in the past and could theoretically return at any time. Especially when that species in the owner of a 200-foot tall killer robot and could conceivably destroy your entire planet if they so desired. I think humans are pretty proud of our intelligence, so it is a humbling thought to think of what it would be like to suddenly realize that you’re not only not alone in the universe, but that you are not the most intelligent life form in the universe either.

I rated both books 3 stars, but I think I liked Sleeping Giants a bit better. The plot felt like it had a bit more direction, whereas in Waking Gods, I really had no clue wtf was happening or where the story was going.

I didn’t think I was going to like the format of the series, which is told entirely through a bunch of interviews, news articles, and journal entries known as the Themis Files, but actually the format really worked for me. Most of the interviews are conducted by a nameless agent who has put together a team of scientists and military personnel to scour the globe for all the robot pieces, study them, and learn how they work. I really liked the team, particularly Kara and Vincent, and I liked that the story spent a lot of time on their personal relationships as well.

Waking Gods opens with the appearance of an unknown robot in the middle of central London. The team has learned a little bit about how to pilot Themis (the name of their robot), but still know very little about where she came from. Waking Gods looks at some really interesting moral issues as well and is a fast-paced apocalyptic novel about a robot invasion, but I found it slightly less compelling than Sleeping Giants. They were both quite good, but I’ve reached the point now where I really need some answers! We did get some insight into the aliens motivation towards the end of the book, but I need to know more!! I think that is part of the genius of the series though. In the scenario of a hostile robot invasion, you probably wouldn’t get a lot of answers and the speculation is what makes the story so compelling.

It really is a hard-to-put down series and I would recommend for sci-fi fans. I’m just not really the biggest sci-fi fan and I preferred some of the other sci-fi books I read this year over the Themis Files. Notably I loved Dark Matter, which is extremely compelling and science-y and Marie Lu’s Warcross, which is arguably a much lighter version of science fiction.

Warcross


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Marie Lu
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Read: Oct. 2017

 

I love being surprised with a good book! I haven’t read Marie Lu’s series Legend, I didn’t really like The Young Elites very much, and sci-fi isn’t one of my favourite genres, so I wasn’t expecting to love Warcross (or to be honest, I didn’t think it would ever make it off my TBR). But I saw so many positive reviews and I was in the mood for something fast paced, so I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did because I really really liked Warcross!

I love the world Marie Lu has built in Warcross. It’s a vibrant tech world in which virtual reality has become a major part of life. There’s no year given for the setting, but it is absolutely believable that our world could one day transform and advance into a place that would look very similar to the world described in Warcross.

The story focuses on Emika Chen, a New Yorker down on her luck, who works as a free-lance bounty hunter by using her hacking skills to track down Warcross cyber criminals. Warcross is the virtual reality game and interface that was invented by young Hideo Tanaka and has completely changed the way people interact. Emika’s life changes when she hacks her way into the Warcross championship opening games and is whisked off to Tokyo to compete undercover in the games.

I really liked Emika. She was very gritty and real. I liked her backstory and really enjoyed watching her grow throughout the novel. She’s always operated alone and it’s hard for her to suddenly have to begin working as part of a team. I loved her teammates Asher, Roshan, and Hammie, and I loved watching Emika learn to trust other people and the relationships she developed with them. My only complaint about the Phoenix Riders would be that I would like to learn more about Asher, Roshan, and Hammie’s backgrounds. They were good characters for Emika’s development, but I hoping to see more individual development in the next novel!

Finally there’s Hideo Tanaka. He was a very interesting character too. I wasn’t really into the romance – I thought it was predictable and I didn’t really buy into it. But I really liked Hideo’s backstory and I think the ending leaves a lot of room to get into some really interesting moral themes in the next book! Where do we draw the line with technological advances? What are the risks to humans with the advance of artificial intelligence? Is violence ever an okay means to advance an end? Can there ever really be world peace? Is protesting against the law? Can we assume that all laws act in the best interest of the people? Without dissent, how can we change the law?

Like I said, so many fun places this story can go – I’m super excited to see where Marie Lu takes things in the next book!