“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.

“Boy 23” by Jim Carrington

“Boy 23” is a strange dystopian sci fi thriller. The boy in question, Jesper has only known the four walls of My Place, a comfortable room with his pet squawk and a screen where he interacts with The Voice. He has never met another human being. He has never left My Place. This is the extent of Jesper’s experience.

Until one night, Jesper’s abducted and abandoned in a forest and forced to run for his life. The Voice claims that he’ll meet him somewhere far, far away. But can Jesper trust The Voice? Why was he kept in My Place? Who can he trust?

This book is a quick read. There’s a lot of interesting information about the setting and Jesper’s adaptation to the real world. There’s other points of view in the novel, however none of them were as strong as Jesper’s. I liked the science behind the story, as well as the unusual setting. However, I didn’t understand how all of the character’s viewpoints came together in the end.

 

“The Cage” by Megan Shepherd

When Cora wakes up in an usual landscape with a group of teenagers – none of whom she’s ever met before – she is determined to solve the mystery. However, what she finds out she could’ve never anticipated. The teenagers are kept as test subjects in a human zoo. As for their captors… well… they aren’t exactly human.

This book has a lot going on and I’m not exaggerating when I say it is one of the most well-thought out sci fi YA novels I have ever read. There’s some pretty “Lord of the Flies” dynamics going on between the teens in captivity. Although everyone’s on the same page at first and wants to escape, various factions and alliances develop over time. I also really enjoyed the dialogues about ethics and purpose. What is the essence of humanity? How can you convince another being about your apparent intelligence and what rights you deserve if they are convinced otherwise?

Although the science in this book was somewhat fantastical at times, it was grounded in some pretty stable discussions about experimental conditions where the teens tried to figure out exactly what was going on. And the characters had substance. Cora has a pretty intriguing back story that isn’t divulged right away and is linked without her knowledge to one of the boys in “the cage.” She isn’t just some flat action hero advocating for justice.

The back of this book really advertises Cora’s romance with her captor and although this is a factor, this book really achieves so much more. I found the teenage interactions to be much more interesting than the so-called romance. This isn’t “Twilight” with an alien folks. This is a physiological discussion of exploiting living creatures as resources. Although there is a fair discussion about what makes humans tick, there is a clear parallel with how humans treat other living creatures on our own planet as well.

The one complaint I’d have is about the ending. Since this is the first book in a series, obviously not everything will be resolved. However, I would’ve liked something to be tied up, instead of being left with a collection of loose ends. Although I must admit, I’m happy to read the rest of the series to see what happens next.

“Slated” by Teri Terry

What if the government could wipe your mind and you’d start a new life with a new family as a new person? How would you know who you really are without your memories?

This is what happens to Kyla. She is what the government calls Slated. Once she leaves the hospital, she joins a new family, which sounds hard enough, but also her mood is constantly monitored with a device called Levo. If she gets too sad or angry, an electric shock goes to her brain and kills her on the spot.

The government claims that she was a terrorist and that their treatment of her and the other Slateds is justified to protect society. That they have been lenient by giving Kyla a second chance.

But Kyla has scary dreams that might be her memories. What are they telling her? Who is she really?

This sci fi thriller had me flipping pages as quickly as possible. Terry’s writing is addictive. You have to learn what the deal is with Kyla. Was she really a terrorist or is she an innocent person the government targeted for asking too many questions? What is the real deal with the Slateds? Who can she trust?

Themes of governmental control and individual freedom, as well as a heightened teenage search for identity run through “Slated.” As always, it’s useful to ask how similar Kyla’s world is to our own. How is a person classified as dangerous to society? How much control should the government have over our own lives? Also, the book kind of creeped me out – in a good way.

I’m definitely hooked and going to read the next installments of the series.

“Mind Games” by Teri Terry

Luna is a Refuser. In a world where everyone uses Virtual Reality nonstop, she is one of the few who refuses to have an implant. Unlike her Refuser peers, she does not have a religious or medical exemption. Luna refuses to get an implant for a seperate reason. A reason she keeps secret. Why?

“Mind Games” is a science fiction thriller full of secrets. It is these secrets that keep the reader wondering who Luna is, who Luna’s mother was, who can she trust, what is the sinister company PareCo up to. The list goes on.

When Luna is taking for PareCo’s two standard tests, rationality and intelligence, she is forced to stop hiding from her abilities. She has to decide whether to work with the company or fight it.

I found this book relevant to today’s society where we are on the brink of developing virtual reality. Already, I find that the internet is addictive in itself and virtual reality seems that much more seductive.

Will humans prefer to escape constantly in fantasy worlds? Will we abandon our bodies entirely to live in our minds?

I wonder.

Although “Mind Games” is very concept-driven for a book, there are some interesting character connections as well. Particularly between Luna and Gecko, and Luna and her former good friend.

One small complaint I had with the novel was the treatment of Hacking. Certain Hacking was compared with magic. Although you could imagine that in virtual reality hacking may look more visual and awesome, in reality the virtual reality framework probably will involve lines and lines of code.

Coding can feel magical certainly, but the book took a more fantastical approach. Although there was nothing wrong with that! It could be boring hearing how Luna types code or reads code or destructs code or whatever. I just had difficulty understanding the ending because of it.

Overall, I liked the themes and concepts in the book. Certainly thinking about how virtual reality should be handled is a topical issue.