“The Final Six” by Alexandra Monir

I read this book a while ago–by a while ago, I mean a month ago at least. And it’s a very topical book about the effects of climate change, so I’m finally going to post a review. Lately, I’ve been feeling pretty distressed about the overall movement or lack thereof towards preventing global warming.

I currently live in Australia, and I see the effects of industrialization firsthand. The state I live in, Victoria, has cleared a tremendous amount of land for farming to support a growing city, aka Melbourne. This means that many species of native plants and animals are either threatened with extinction or going extinct. Also, there’s a colony of thousands of bats in the park behind my place, which are extremely sensitive to a slight increase of temperature. By extremely sensitive, I mean, if it gets too hot during the summer, they die from heat distress.

Two fluffy fruit bats (grey-headed flying-foxes) from the large colony in the park by my place that are threatened by global warming.

I don’t like to talk about this much because it’s depressing. But global warming is a global issue that must be addressed. We need to come up with solutions to reducing carbon emissions and decreasing the greenhouse effect and preferably before it is too late.

Which leads me to Alexandra Monir’s book. When I used to talk to my peers way back in grade school about global warming and ruining our planet, some kid would inevitably state, “Well, we’ll just find another planet to live on.”

This point of view is incredibly dangerous, since the more you learn about the ideal conditions on Earth that led to the evolution of human beings and the ability for life to be sustained, the more you realize it’s going to be pretty hard to find another planet with similar conditions out there. Plus there’s the entire issue of space travel (it’s really risky) and whether the planet will be close enough to reach.

Basically, we should try to save the earth we’ve got now, instead of relying on a highly hypothetical “other planet” that we can hypothetically move to and pollute.

“The Final Six” takes this premise. Earth is uninhabitable due to global warming. Constant natural disasters and rxsising sea levels have made it extremely dangerous to continue living there. So, the world proposes a solution. A group of teenagers is recruited for a space mission to prepare one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, for colonization.

“The Final Six” follows the selection and astronaut training of the ideal group of teenagers. We follow the points of view of Naomi, a Persian American recruit, and Leo, an Italian recruit. Both of these characters view the mission very differently and provide contrasting views. Naomi wants to stay on Earth with her family and doesn’t believe that a space mission is the right way to solve anything and is terrified of the risks. Leo is a patriot and wants to be part of the solution to save the world.

I really appreciated how Monir took the time to really explore the benefits and risks of trying to colonize another mysterious planet, or I guess in this case, technically, a mysterious moon. The two characters had great chemistry together as well. However, the plot line of training and elimination of recruits, although compelling, lasted too long for my tastes. In fact, it lasted the entire novel. Which means I still don’t know the key questions raised at the beginning of the narrative:

1) Will the teens reach Europa?
2) Is Europa inhabitable?
3) Will other humans come to Europa?
4) Is Europa the solution to a broken planet?

I guess I have to wait until the sequel to find out.

However, kudos to Monir for writing a compelling narrative that explores a possible future if global warming progresses too far and shows the risks of a dangerous solution. It is a timely topic to discuss before we reach such desperate measures and one that is swept under the rug too often.

 

“Warcross” by Marie Lu

“Warcross” has been showing up a lot in my Twitter feed, so when I saw it on the shelf at my local library, I was super excited. And when I entered the futurist world of Emika Chen, well, I was hooked. I didn’t put this thing down for two days, reading long into the night.

Emika Chen is a pretty badass bounty hunter, and the opening sequence in the first chapter is to die for. I learned a lot about good writing by reading the beginning. Not only do we sympathise with Emika as a struggling teen whose just trying to pay her bills, we also are faced with very high stakes. If Emika doesn’t turn in this criminal to the police for the reward, she will be evicted from her apartment by the end of the week. And of course, the action scene where she chases around the criminal around New York City on an electric skateboard is super exciting. By the end of the first chapter, I was committed to the story.

Then, the story gets more involved when Emika tunes into the opening game of the Warcross Championships. Still desperate for cash, she decides to hack into the opening game, but a glitch pushes her into the action and she is viewed by everyone–the competitors, the audience–everyone.

After her failed stunt and sudden fame, it isn’t surprising that the game’s creator, the super rich and famous Hideo Tanaka wants to meet Emika. Hideo flies Emika to Tokyo and makes her a deal. Emika isn’t the game’s only security problem. And Hideo thinks with her help, he can finally get this other security problem under control.

This novel is really stunning with its depiction of the future. The virtual reality is flawlessly described. And the description of the Warcross games were believable and pulled upon various video game tropes. I have to admit though, however good these descriptions were, I’d rather play a video game in real time than read a second-hand description in a novel. It’s sort of the difference between watching and playing sports.

Still, the future that Marie Lu creates is pretty credible. Sometimes I read sci fi where the coding, virtual worlds, etc, are all too fantastical and not grounded in probable technology. Not in “Warcross.” This is the real deal.

Also, the characterisation was really good. I loved Emika. I loved Hideo. Their personalities shone in the plot.

In fact, the only true beef I have about “Warcross” is the ending. It made me mad. Without spoiling too much, there are tons of loose ends you have to discover the answers to in the sequel. After such a great ride, the ending felt like a huge letdown. I felt like, “I read 353 pages for this!!!” Which just goes to show how invested I was in the characters and their story, but still.

Cliff hangers. I think they’re for the end of chapters. Not for the end of stories. Grump, grump, grump.

I guess I’ll have to be patient and wait for the sequel to discover what happens next.

“Winter” by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles)

I just read Marissa Meyer’s “Winter” and it did not disappoint. Ever since “Cinder” stole my heart with her cyborg awesomeness, the Lunar Chronicles have made a serious impression on me. There’s a strong message of being yourself no matter your background and abilities. Each novel in the series introduces a new character and romance to the cast to overthrow the cruel Lunar Queen. And each is loosely based on a popular fairytale – Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White.

“Winter” is the final episode in the battle against the Lunars and is a hefty volume at 823 pages. Of course, the cast of characters at this point in the series has become quite large, so Meyer needed a fair amount of space to describe each of their contributions.

At first I found Prince Kai’s participation in the plot a bit tiresome – how many times must he attempt to bait the Queen into a marriage that will make her empress over the Commonwealth? And then, it hit me over the head with the brilliance of it. This complaint is usually one I have for female characters. Why is Princess So-and-so only valued for her marriageable eligibility and sex appeal? Why is her only plot device the betrothal and the wedding?

Here, Prince Kai is the sex muffin who is traded around in marriage, a typically female role. His love interest, Cinder is the one who has to save him – a girl who’s part cyborg, part human. Now, I’m back to remembering why I love this series so much. The feminine empowerment is incredible.

Winter, the newest character in the cast, suffers from mental illness. In spite of her struggles, she triumphs. Cress overcomes her shyness. Scarlet tames the beast. I found the parallels between the long list of couples to cause characters to become indistinct at times, however this didn’t freeze my heart to “Winter.” The message of loving someone despite of their flaws is a good one.

Will they all live happily ever after?

Read “Winter” to find out.