After spending a couple of months obsessively listening to audiobooks of Nora Roberts’ future mystery romance series In Death, I decided to switch it up with a couple of other science fiction picks. Here’s what I’ve been “reading” lately. =)
A Closed and Common Orbit
After reading Becky Chambers’ debut novel The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet several months ago, I couldn’t wait for the sequel to be released this year. Her science fiction achieves this balance I haven’t seen in other fiction: It’s smart but reads simply, focused on characters and cultures in a way that is considerate towards them rather than rife with conflict. I highly recommend the first book if you like character-driven sci-fi that explores alien cultures.
So far, A Closed and Common Orbit follows a similar vein in its emphasis on the characters, but this time it’s about a whip-smart techie who goes by the name Pepper (she was briefly in the first book) and an artificial intelligence who is in a humanoid body for the first time, trying to pass for human (this story carried over from the ending of the first book). While it’s an interesting premise, it feels slower-paced than The Long Way, thanks in part to its lack of alien characters (so far). Also, a big part of the book are the frequent flashbacks to Pepper’s past in a machine-run factory of child workers; while these scenes drag a bit, I’m looking forward to seeing Pepper’s transformation.
I have a ways to go with this one still, but so far, it’s a strong story that’s just not quite as much fun as The Long Way.
The Handmaid’s Tale
This Margaret Atwood book has been on my to-read list for a very long time, so I finally picked up (well, downloaded) the audiobook last month, narrated by Claire Danes. Danes does a phenomenal job of reading each line thoughtfully, subtly, without overdoing it but with heart. In any case, the novel shook me in a way few other books have my whole life.
Set in a dystopian future in which women are treated like property, it’s narrated by a 30-something woman whose job is to breed children for an important man and his wife. It’s chilling to read about this highly religious society — and the quiet, dangerous rebellion going on behind the scenes.
But my favorite parts of the book are when the narrator recounts her past, before the societal shift, when she was just a woman like any of us today, living happily with her husband, daughter, and job. It’s terrifying to read about how each of those was taken from her, gradually, during this cultural revolution that stripped women of their basic rights.
It’s feminist fiction at its best, and even after being in print for over 30 years, it feels fresh and relevant in our current troubled times. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.