Review of The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

17415470Title: The 5th Wave

Author: Rick Yancey

Publisher: Penguin Books

Format: Hardcover

Where I Received the Title: Library

Review:

I first heard of The 5th Wave on an episode of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy and learned this is being promoted (and funded) as the next The Hunger Games. Its alien invasion theme is reminiscent of golden age science fiction and I was eager to read it, seeing it as a potential gateway for younger readers into adult science fiction.

The comparison to The Hunger Games is fair in many respects. One of the primary viewpoint characters in The 5th Wave is Cassie, a teenager who manages to survive the first four waves of an alien invasion. Like Katniss in The Hunger Games, Cassie has a younger sibling that she will risk death to keep safe. Both protagonists find themselves in a love triangle amidst their dystopian environments and struggle to know if their star-crossed lovers are loyal or not.

Yancey’s writing style reminded me of a lite version of John Scalzi  — soft science fiction focusing on character growth with bits of humor tossed in. Even the prose was similar, with chapters often reading like smaller vignettes of a larger story arc. It was effective in making this a page turner (I very easily finished the novel in a day), but the lack of continuity made the novel at times feel gimmicky.

Where I think The 5th Wave fell short of The Hunger Games (or a novel such as Old Man’s War) is in the relationships between characters. Cassie is saved by a seventeen-year-old named Evan, who falls in love with her from afar. This relationship never reaches any point of credibility, nor does Cassie’s boy-crush on Ben, the other main viewpoint character in the novel.

For someone who has now read many science fiction novels, this one just didn’t do a whole lot for me. The story is plays on a common trope without offering much new or inventive. It has some good action, but doesn’t rise anywhere near the level of The Hunger Games. Frankly, I don’t really understand what the aliens are thinking. They want to take over the Earth due to their planet dying and they have this phenomenal technology that allows them to transfer their consciousness from an alien body to a machine and then to a human body, yet they are completely inept in military strategy. They spend six thousand (!) years studying the human race before embarking on a series of attacks that are ineffective in containing them.

I do hope this novel helps science fiction gain a little more popularity and for those foreign to the genre, this may be an enjoyable read. I actually enjoyed the time I spent reading it, but it didn’t leave me with any sort of lasting impression. For a teen looking at getting into science fiction, I would be more inclined to suggest a work like Ender’s Game, but The 5th Wave is highly readable as well. If you’re an adult science fiction fan, don’t expect much.

Review: Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

13539171Title: Pirate Cinema

Author: Cory Doctorow

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Tor Teen

Format: Hardcover

Review:

I have been meaning to read a book by Cory Doctorow and after catching him on a recent podcast episode of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, I decided to give Pirate Cinema a try.

Doctorow is outspoken in liberalizing copyright laws and this novel gets right to the heart of this matter. It features a sixteen-year-old named Trent McCauley, living in Britain, who breaks anti-piracy laws by downloading movie clips to his computer hard drive. His hobby is to splice these clips together to make a mishmash movie of doctored Hollywood movies and show them on YouTube-like channels.

His punishment for his crime is that his family’s internet is revoked for one year. This has terrible consequences for his family — his father no longer can work, his mother no longer can get the medical treatment she needs, and his scholarly sister begins to fail her classes. Humiliated for destroying his family’s posterity, Trent runs away to London.

In London, he befriends another homeless boy named Pip, who teaches him how to get food and find shelter. This friendship leads Trent into an underground society where purveying mishmash films is commonplace. He finds himself at home, creating videos for the pirate cinema with a grand vision of toppling the oppressive laws. Can he stop the law before the law stops him?

When I first picked this novel up, I had no idea it was written for the YA market. YA is not really my thing and I typically only read the mega-popular books (e.g. Twilight, The Hunger Games) or authors that pique my interest (e.g. Paulo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker). I will say that reading through Pirate Cinema works on an adult fiction level just as well as YA.

One can’t help but be reminded of authors like Ayn Rand, who use fiction as a vehicle to distribute their ideas. For some, this may be a turn-off, but I actually enjoyed reading Ayn Rand’s fiction (The Fountainhead, in particular). Likewise, while Pirate Cinema may be a bit preachy on the surface, the story and characters are compelling enough that it often goes unnoticed.

What worked well in the novel was Doctorow’s unveiling of a previously unknown niche of society to me — patrons of the pirate cinema. I wasn’t familiar with such a hobby and it was interesting to be drawn into a world of people demonstrating so much passion for their art. Trent (who later calls himself Cecil B. DeMille) rises from sleeping in a homeless shelter to stardom and is the target of police raids while winning the affections of an attractive teen named 26 (she goes by Twenty for short — something I suppose a teen would think is pretty clever).

Yes, a lot of the consequences suffered in the novel seem a bit severe (such as the calamities his family suffers without the — *gasp* — internet at home or Trent’s happenstance falling into a group of like-minded individuals in urban London). Regardless, it still is a fun romp through the sewers and abandoned houses of the city.

Pirate Cinema is a good read with likable characters. The plot is a bit contrived and teeters at the edge of the suspension of disbelief, but it still makes for an interesting, quickly-moving story.

Review: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Title: Ship Breaker

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi

Rating: 

Publisher: Brilliance Audio

Format: Audio CD

Review:
It’s probably unfair of me to even try to rate Paolo Bacigalupi’s venture into YA novels. First of all, I found his debut novel, The Windup Girl,  to be brilliant, leaving me with expectations that are perhaps a bit unrealistic. Secondly, I am not well-acquainted with many of the current young adult novels (aside from bestsellers like The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and *gasp* Twilight). What makes me even further unqualified is the fact that I didn’t actually read the novel, but rather listened to the audio version. If you had any sense, you’d stop reading now and ignore the rest of my review.

But alas, here I am, rating and reviewing Ship Breaker. The novel begins with the main character, Nailer, crawling through an abandoned ship duct to gather copper wiring. Economic conditions are dire in Orleans and gathering recyclable materials from sunken ships is the only opportunity for a teen to make a living. While Nailer is scavenging for material, the duct collapses and he nearly drowns in a pool of valuable oil. His misfortune continues when he is confronted by his drug-addicted and abusive father. Making matters worse, a devastating hurricane soon strikes the city, nearly taking Nailer and his father with it.

After the storm settles, Nailer and his crew boss, Pima, come across a sunken, luxurious yacht. They board the ship, eager to claim their new found wealth, but their lucky strike has one survivor — a rich girl named Nita. Her life is the only thing that separates Nailer and Pima from a new life. It is a bad time for Nailer to get a conscience and he must decide if he should save the swank girl or collect his treasure. Either way, his father will come looking for him, and won’t play nearly as nice.

As one would expect from Paolo Bacigalupi, this novel is a dystopian adventure that is bleak to say the least. It is certainly more mature than the other YA books I have read, sparing no violence or grim imagery. Nailer is a likable character — he has conflicting emotions about the swanks and his father, but is generally a moral creature. I sometimes questioned his motivations (such as when he returned to his abusive father after he nearly drowned), but he is a teenager and teenagers don’t always do things that make sense.

The story and world building are good. The settings of the abandoned ships are rich with imagery and Bacigalupi is effective in drawing the reader into the story. It’s a hard novel for me to criticize, but I will admit I was hoping for something more. I would have liked to understand the economic conditions of the world in greater depth — why ship breaking was such a valuable operation and why the raw material couldn’t be used to manufacture goods of their own. It would be believable with an anarchic society, but the light and heavy crew were highly organized and worked directly with major corporations.

Nit picks aside, Ship Breaker, is an enjoyable read and I will likely pick up The Drowned Cities to explore the world in greater depth. If anyone is looking for a dark YA dystopia or wants to explore more of Bacigalupi’s works, Ship Breaker is a good novel. If you are new to Bacigalupi, I recommend that you start with The Windup Girl.