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Borne by Jeff VanderMeer, a SciFi review

If I could type out the noise of a standing ovation I would but since I can’t, I’ll settle for writing this review. Jeff VanderMeer has you wrapped up in the story almost instantly! I should probably preface that by saying this was my first read by him but it sure as hell won’t be the last!

Borne initiates in a post-apocalyptic Earth where the whole world has gone to shit basically humans just kept following their own self-destructive path. In this world there’s a company (ingeniously referred to as “the company”) that’s somewhat like Umbrella corporation in resident evil…or Monsanto in real life (JK Monsanto, don’t sue me). “The company” experimented with all the taboo areas of genetics and biotech eventually creating at least one major thing the town near it would learn to fear. I’m referring to a flying (levitating?) sky-scraper sized bear that can make smaller versions of him (about grizzly bear size) with just as much bloodlust of course! Now this isn’t your average yogi the bear environmentally friendly type, in fact he probably starts more fires than he puts out. You can imagine that most people in this world either spend their time hiding from this bear called Mord (he’s quite Mordifying … to be fair my editor said to leave that joke out) or they spend their time dying.

Fear not however because Mord isn’t the only thing causing havoc in the city. Rachel, our main character, has cojones the size of coconuts (she’s a scavenger) and decides one day to jump and climb on Mord’s fur to see what she could find (scavenging is actually pretty common although many people have died doing it). One day, she finds something that almost looked like a blob plant thing glowing on Mord and takes it back with her like an good scavenger would. What Rachel doesn’t know is that what she found wasn’t your everyday household plant. This “plant” ends up being a sentient life form that learns to speak and shapeshift, you could say it was Borne to be wild…ehem.

Rachel is torn juggling raising her new “child” Borne, and calming her lover, Wick’s justifiable caution of the creature, after all most things in this world you either eat or get eaten by. In fact Wick at one point worked for the evil company in question and it’s thanks to his biotech-savviness that Rachel has lived this long. Wick also has reason to suspect Rachel’s newly adopted alien-child may be a weapon of some sort from his old employer (Maybe part of his severance package?). Vandermeer makes us question what it means to be human and even what it means to love. You can’t help falling in love with the characters and find yourself rooting for them when they get into trouble. Some of the greatest moments are the dialog between Rachel and Borne while she is trying to raise him.

‘“I’m going outside. I’m going on a scavenging run. I’ll be back before dark.”

“What’s a ‘scavenging run’?”

“Doing Dew,” I said, “Doing Dew for you.”

“I want to go,” Borne said, as if the city were just another tunnel. “I should go. It’s settled. I’ll go.” He liked to settle things before I could decide.

“You can’t go, Borne,” I said.

But Borne was undaunted by my resistance.

“I have an idea,” he said. “Don’t say no yet.” Another favorite gambit. Don’t say no yet. When had I ever really said no to him? The number of discarded lizard heads gathered in a wastebasket in a far corner of the Balcony Cliffs was testament to that.

“No.”

“But I said you can’t say no!” In a flurry and fury, he expanded in all directions and covered walls like a rough, green-tinged surreal sea with what now became two huge glowing red eyes, staring down at me from the ceiling. I smelled something burning. He knew I didn’t like that smell. (Unfortunately, he didn’t mind the smell of me farting in retaliation.)’

The language feels so real and that’s what makes the characters so believable, it has you anxious when they’re in danger, laughing when they are joking, and in tears when they feel pain. Not enough for you you might say? Well don’t worry, Wick has an ex-colleague, going by “The Magician” making things more difficult for everyone in their ruined city by trying to take on our lovely mascot, can’t have Mord getting ALL the attention now can we? Listen, all in all this is a great SciFi read and you should definitely give it a gander. If you have read it, leave a comment below and let me know what you thought about it!

Get your own copy of Borne here and let me know what you thought about it.

Featured Image from: https://arstechnica.com/the-multiverse/2017/06/in-borne-theres-a-biotech-apocalypse-so-weird-its-almost-plausible/

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Speaking about Speaker for the Dead

If you’ve read my first review on Ender’s Game then you probably already know that I’m a fan of the series, what you might not know however is just how different this sequel really is. Allow me to preface this by reiterating that the reason I decided to start reading Ender’s Game was because when I watched the trailer (yes for the movie) I was hooked by battle ships and aliens (which is really all I need to watch/read a SciFi book/film). That being said, Speaker for the Dead takes on a whole different turn and is not nearly as actioned-packed as the first book in the sense that there is no “war” going on… at least not in the traditional sense.

(Spoiler’s from Ender’s Game ahead, read at your own risk)

See after Ender essentially was tricked into killing nearly every bugger in existence he understandably feels a deep sense of regret and heartache (I mean how would you feel if every kill you every got in a video game turned out to be real?). Luckily there was a ray of hope; a phoenix from the ashes in the shape of an unhatched hive queen who can communicate in what I can only assume is telepathy. Since the military basically is indebted to our “Hero,” they give him his own starship and he decides to fly around at light speed with his sister Valentine and our beloved queen in the attempts to find her a new home. Now there’s a lot here that happens politically during and after the war that’s worth mentioning. Ender’s brother, Peter Wiggin, (remember the entire family are geniuses) starts to write influential political pieces alongside his sister (he pretty much manipulated her) under internet aliases to manipulate public opinion on the alien war, international political relations, and other global issues. Well Ender’s sister keeps writing under her Alias and eventually writes a series on the Formic Wars and adds Ender’s The Hive Queen to it.

Since they’re all traveling at light speed hundreds and thousands of years go by (for everyone else) as they travel from planet to planet looking for a home for the hive queen. Humans have now colonized tens of hundreds of planets and Valentine’s work had become almost like a religious text in popularity. Humankind seems to rebuke the actions of Ender Wiggin in this future and of course Ender himself is going by an alias and working as a “Speaker for the dead” now. This is where Speaker for the Dead picks up and continues the adventure.

It’s probably worth mentioning what a “Speaker for the dead” really is at this point. A Speaker in the Ender universe is basically a person that’s usually requested to come out after the death of someone and speak about them and their life in all aspects both good and bad so people could really know who that person was. Think of it as a secular funeral speaking but no real bias is intended since it’s a third party doing the speaking. At this point in humankind, they’ve developed certain protocols in dealing with alien life and eventually humans find intelligent life again on a planet called Lusitania. Since the planet is discovered to harbor such life the humans are only allowed to establish a small colony within certain borders that are never to get past a certain size. They are allowed to study and interact with the aliens (that they call piggies because of how they look) but their every interaction has regulations and limits regarding how they ask questions with the intention being to not affect their natural development (so no sharing tech or teaching them to farm, they’re very primitive in regards to technology).

The whole story revolves around how (mostly because of these regulations) the xenobiologists studying the piggies would often be murdered by them because of the communication regulations. If the humans were allowed to speak freely with them they would’ve been able to understand each other. After the first xenobiologist is killed, one of the colonists requests a Speaker to come on his behalf. Suffice it to say this is not like Ender’s game in the sense that you have and all-out war among different species but what makes this story great is all the depth involved in the Card’s story telling. You have the unhatched Hive queen convincing Ender that the planet Lusitania is perfect for her, while Ender deals with the politics of the Catholic church receiving him (Lusitania is a religious colony), Ender also has an A.I. friend that literally NO ONE knows exists and she helps him out a lot, you have the whole communication barrier with another species, and the drama that comes with the xenobiologist’s family who have been studying the piggies for a few generations now. Although this book isn’t overflowing with violence like Ender’s game, there’s definitely enough moving parts and character development to keep you interested. My guess is if you enjoyed the writing style of Ender’s Game, you’ll like this book too.

The A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) that helps Ender is probably my favorite aspect of this story, her name is Jane. The interesting part about Jane is she doesn’t really know how she was made. After humans started using bugger technology to communicate (the ansible) instantaneously through space, with enough time and random code falling to place Jane basically was created. Slowly but surely she became self-aware and started researching all the information available to her, after researching human history (along with the bugger war) she concludes that for the time being it’s best not to make her existence known for fear that humans would see her as a threat and try and kill her. After some time she finds The Hive Queen and easily connects it to Ender Wiggin and decides if anyone can change human opinion of “different life forms” so they don’t see her as a threat, it’s Ender.

The whole concept of Artificial Intelligence is one that both excites me and scares me simultaneously. The reality is, we’re getting closer to that possibility every day. Baidu’s A.I. team was recently able to teach a virtual agent the same way you would teach a baby human. The short summary is that the virtual agent can get a grasp of grammar and apply what it’s learned to other situations, something that previous computers/programs have an issue with. It looks like a lot of the philosophical questions posed in Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead might have to be answered (at least discussed) sooner than some of us would like to admit. If we do develop A.I. how to we handle it? Is it morally right to kill it if we perceive it as a potential threat? What if we’re wrong? The list can go on and on, it’s just amazing that we live in a time where a lot of Science fiction has or is becoming science fact!

Featured image came from:

http://enderverse.wikia.com/wiki/Andrew_Wiggin

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Enders Game, my 1st Sci-Fi book

If you’re anything like me I couldn’t wait to graduate from college so I could finally have some free time to read the books I wanted to read instead of the mandatory dribble dictated by my course curriculum. However after graduation I faced a problem I really didn’t think I would have… where to begin? I knew I was into anything space related so I knew Science Fiction would be the genre for me but even with that narrowed down there was still a mountain of books and authors to choose from! Luckily I saw a trailer for a movie (I know, I know, the movies are NEVER as good as the books right?) called Ender’s Game and immediately thought I HAD to check it out. Although I was a little cautious with child actors (scars from The Last Airbender movie *cough cough*) I decided I’d give it a shot mainly because it was in space and there were aliens in it, basically anything with aliens I’m checking out.

So there I was, just a small town boy, living in a lonely Sci-fi world, watching the midnight showing with a bunch of friends (or maybe I was alone). Needless to say I enjoyed the movie and many of the scientific concepts it portrayed. The concept of Battle school for starters, was this large space station that utilized centrifugal force to generate gravity (something we’re looking at accomplishing in the near future by the way link). The anisible was perhaps even more interesting still even if the movie hardly touches on it, basically it is technology that allows the humans to instantaneously communicate with any other human no matter how far in the fabric of space they were. The book does touch a little more on it and how it was reverse engineered from the formic technology but this is definitely something humans will eventually have to face when we start venturing further and further into space. Oh! How could I forget the zero gravity laser tag training room!? Who else saw that and thought forget paintball and sign me up for cramping-disabling laser pain! (I know I did!) Suffice it to say there were enough elements in this movie to get me interested in the book, so I went to my local library (those still exist) and picked up a copy… sort of.

After several trips to the library I actually couldn’t find the book (apparently more than one person had the same idea as me), maybe looking for a book right after its movie had come out wasn’t the brightest move, but lucky for me a friend of mine had a copy she let me borrow. What excited me initially about the book was that there were quite a few books in the Ender universe and I knew if I enjoyed it I would have plenty of material to keep me busy for a while (not the fastest reader here). Without spoiling too much of the book, it was actually pretty close to the movie as far as main plot line but the book painted a more in-depth picture of the entire universe. Orson Scott Card does a fantastic job developing his characters, some of which barely were mentioned in the movie (like Bean my personal favorite, he has his own series which I think is more interesting). The book also delves deeper into the different technologies and how they work. Battle School for instance is explained by using centrifugal force that creates artificial gravity by constantly rotating. They even specify how the closer to the center of the station you got, the less the force of the gravity would become (hence why zero gravity laser tag was at the center of the ship).

All this writing and I just realized I haven’t even gotten to the plot! Basically there are these aliens that invaded Earth years ago called “Buggers” (although officially they are called Formics, and you learn why in one of the prequels called Earth Unaware), Earth was barely able to fend off the first alien invasion but in the aftermath they were able to reverse engineer some fancy war technology and now they were bringing the fight to the nasty buggers. Since the alien menace works a lot like an insect hive, they can change and react to situations very quickly. In order to combat this ever adapting threat, all of humanity unifies under one banner and creates a “Battle school” where they send Earth’s brightest children (the idea being children are much better at adapting to situations on the fly, where adults are much more stuck in their ways) to get the best military training the world has to offer. Ender, coming from a family that apparently has great genetics (both his brother and sister went to battle school), is sent there as humanities last hope.

The book touches on so much more than a simple war among intergalactic neighbors though, it’s intertwined with elements of philosophy and questions relating to whether its right or wrong to kill an entire species. I especially enjoyed the twist of how the Formics communicate, the whole war basically is brought on by the fact that all attempts to communicate with the Formics had failed and they were just assumed to be blood thirsty-warmongering savages. In reality humankind in their arrogance assumed that all species would communicate more or less like humans and there lies the single most contributing factor to the war.

I definitely recommend the book and movie, they both captured my interest (one led me to the other) and I’ve began devouring the series since. Now, now, I’ll be up front and say I’m just starting to get my Science Fiction reading feet wet and am open to recommendations (once I’m finished the series) but in my ever so humble opinion, if you like space, aliens, well developed characters, and of course a good story line pick this book up.

Featured image came from:

Book Review: Ender’s Game