Across the Universe (2011) A Sci-Fi Thriller

Across the Universe is the first Sci-Fi thriller I’ve ever read. It’s also a YA novel and the first in a trilogy. Luckily it’s not the type of series beginning without a proper ending. There are open questions but the mystery is resolved, the perpetrator is caught.

Amy follows her parents on a mission to a planet that is three hundred years away from Earth. Her parents are part of a project crew needed to terraform Centauri-Earth. They have agreed to board the spaceship Godspeed and to be cyrogenically frozen. Three hundred years in the future they will be unfrozen. Amy didn’t have to follow her parents. They gave her a choice: she could stay with her grandparents and her boyfriend or travel to a new planet with her parents. Her love for her parents is stronger than anything else and she accepts to be frozen. The description of this is actually extremely well done. I could almost feel the ice in my veins.

Fifty years before they should land, someone brutally unplugs Amy. Luckily Elder, the future leader of Godspeed, Eldest’s heir, finds her in time. He’s fascinated by Amy, who is a redhead with translucent white skin and green eyes. Nobody looks like Amy on Godspeed. Everyone looks exactly the same: olive skin, dark eyes, brown hair, tall and strong. Eldest, the current leader, is far less thrilled. He’d like to open a hatch and throw Amy into space. He thinks that having someone on board who looks so different, who knows what it was like on earth, poses a huge threat to peace and stability on Godspeed.

Amy and Elder find out that Amy’s attempted murder probably was a mistake. Someone is targeting the crew of the project, which means Amy’s parents are in danger.

The plot is gripping enough but that wasn’t what I liked about this book. What I liked was the world Beth Revis created. The spaceship Godspeed is like a snow globe. I happen to love snow globes, those mini-worlds inside of glass bubbles filled with water. So naturally, I loved the setting. Godspeed has many layers and is like a replica of the earth. While there are no seasons, there’s still weather; they have rain and wind and they grow plants and have cattle.

For those who were born aboard Godspeed their environment poses no problem, but for Amy the ship is claustrophobic. She knows that the stars on the ship’s ceiling are fake. When they discover that there is a hidden window which allows to look out into space, things become dramatic. People are only docile and agreeing to work like slaves because they know nothing else. But once they would realize how vast the world is outside of the ship, things could change. We soon understand that Godspeed is not so much peaceful but totalitarian.

Amy and Elder try to find out who wants to kill the frozen crew members and they try to make sense of many inconsistencies. Someone, for example, has changed the books on Earth’s history. Facts are distorted and used to manipulate people.

I enjoyed this novel. I loved the setting, I thought the book had many thought-provoking elements, the plot was suspenseful, and Beth Revis has a knack for descriptions. There’s a love story but it’s not too romantic. The character’s are a bit flat and Amy thinks a few silly things, but I didn’t mind. I read this as highly entertaining guilty pleasure. Plus it’s an interesting genre mix that works really well. A bit like a locked room mystery set in space.

Frank Herbert: Dune (1965) Book II Muad’Dib

It’s time for the second Dune readalong post. The readalong is hosted by Carl V from Stainless Steel Droppings,  The Little Red Reviewer and (slight change of the initial three) Grace from Books without any Pictures. This weeks questions have been sent by Redhead (The Little Red Reviewer). Check out the other links here.

I’m happy to report that I liked part II much better. There is far less dialogue and if there is, it is an exchange between two people and not purely an instruction of the reader.

Was Liet’s identity a surprise?  Who do you think he really works for?

I’m not totally sure about this question. I thought he died? I thought since he was a Fremen he also secretly worked for them.

What do you think of the Fremen culture?  Is this a culture you think you’d enjoy spending some time with?

They sound like a very proud and interesting people and reminded me a bit of the Tuareg or any other desert dwelling nomads. A lot of Dune is inspired by North African culture. But since I like rain and plants more than anything else in the world and as appealing as I think some of it sounds, thanks but no thanks, I wouldn’t want to live with them. Furthermore I’m not into duelling. A fierce fighting people isn’t the kind I would want to spend time with. One aspect that I liked is their patient attempt to re-green the desert. Their elaborate plans sounded very convincing.

What do you think of Count Fenring’s unusual verbal mannerisms?  

I found it quite annoying and was trying to imagine how it would sound. I’m not sure what Herbert wants to tell us with this?

This is a far future empire with very little in the way of computerization. Information is often passed down orally, and schools (such as the Mentats and the Bene Gesserit) have formed to train young people in memorization and information processing.  What are you thoughts on a scifi story that is very “low-tech”?  Does that sound like a feasible future? A ridiculous one?

This is precisely the reason why I thought from the beginning that it really is a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy blend. Considering the fact that resources are limited on earth, and very likely on other planets as well, low-tech seems a more viable way to go. These people are advanced in other ways. The mental faculties are far more developed and this would be something to wish for. Unfortunately, humans stay humans, and will, even with low-tech support only , try to exploit others. At least that’s how it is on Dune.

If you found the beginning of the book tough to get into, do you find that you’re having an easier time with the middle portion, now that all the “set-up” is complete?

Yes, it is far easier, as I said in the intro, there is much less dialogue in this part and finally people seem to talk to each other. At least to a certain extent. In part I the dialogue was meant for the reader to understand life on Dune, which is a highly artificial way of getting information across. Since a lot is “set-up” now, he did let go of this. The reading was more fluent and there was quite a bit of action. I liked the part when Paul and his mother are on their own. That part was quite gripping.

The center portion of the book is still pretty dialog heavy, but what I’ve noticed is the subtlety of the dialog. Things left unsaid are often more important than things that are said.  What do you think of that as a stylistic choice? does it make the dialog more interesting? less interesting? 

Any change in the dialogue form was a welcome change for me. I appreciate it much more the way it is handled here but it is still far from realistic. And whenever the parts are centered on the Baron, the dialogue is still heavy (meaning too much and artificial).

Dune was written in the 60’s. Does it feel dated to you? How does it compare, writing style-wise, to more contemporary science fiction you’ve read?

I don’t know any new science fiction. It doesn’t feel dated, no. Maybe the strong Arabic element is dated. I have a feeling a contemporary writer wouldn’t use a word like jihad and would try to be more inventive in terms of cultural elements and not just pick from existing cultures.

If you’ve never read this book before, where do you think the storyline is headed?

I’m really not sure. I start to have a feeling that we will be left with a lot of open questions at the end of Part III. It’s epic, so that seems logical. I wonder if we will even get introduced to the Princess Irulan. I would like to read something about her. But – should anyone wonder – I will not go on reading this series. The moment I close part III, that’s it for me.

Frank Herbert Readalong: Dune (1965) Book I Dune

It’s time for the first Dune readalong post. The readalong is hosted by Carl V from Stainless Steel Droppings, Kailana from The Written World and The Little Red Reviewer.

It’s a bit different from other readalongs I have participated in so far, as we are all sent questions to answer. I like this different approach and will dedicate the whole post to those questions and not summarize anything at all. I think some of the answers should suffice to help potential readers decide whether or not they want to embark on the Dune journey as well. This week’s questions have been sent by Carl V. Don’t forget to head over to his site and check out the links for the answers of the others.

1.  What, if any, preconceived ideas did you have before you started reading Dune and how has the first section measured up to those preconceptions?

I will keep this answer quite short as part of this question will be answered when I answer question 5.

I had not a lot of preconceived ideas regarding the story. I knew that it was called an epic but I had never read a summary and so pretty much the whole story came as a surprise. I had preconceived ideas regarding the form. I had read that it was compared to Lord of the Rings, I never thought this meant that the story was similar but that I would find engaging, fluent writing. That is not what Dune is like at all. I found it very unwieldy so far.

2.  What did you think about the plot device of the early revelation that Yueh was to be the traitor?

This type of revelation doesn’t always work well but here it added to the feeling of threat. Knowing more than the main protagonists made me feel closer to them. A bit as if you knew friends are in danger and you wanted to warn them. Despite the fact that we know he is a traitor, we do not know everything yet and the outcome of the whole episode remains surprising.

3.  What was your favorite part of this first section?  Which character(s) do you find most interesting and why?

I really liked the description of the planet and the over-importance of water. I couldn’t help and find it prophetic. When Herbert wrote this, our planet wasn’t as polluted as it is now and, if we believe what certain experts say, the importance of water might sooner look like it is described in Dune, than we would like.

Another uncanny element is the use of Arabic sounding or genuinely Arabic names and concepts. There is talk of a jihad and the emperor’s name is Shaddam…

The scene in the wet-plant conservatory was one of my favourite ones. I liked the description a lot and also the way lady Jessica finds a hidden message. It is one of the rare scenes in the book with hardly any dialogue (see answer 5).

I find all the Bene Gesserit characters extremely interesting. The mental training they undergo, how they master themselves and others is fascinating. The Lady Jessica is a favourite but I also like Paul, her son, a great deal.

I also liked the idea of “spice” a lot. Something that enlightens and can make you dependent at the same time.

There were a few almost scary elements which I appreciated as well. Those sandworms could also be used in a horror story to great effect.

4.  Did the revelation about the Harkonnen surprise you? Why or why not? Thoughts.

It did surprise me to a certain extent but I wasn’t sufficiently interested in that part. The conspiracy, the treachery, that was not what interested me the most. I liked other elements better. I am not often reading for suspense, I like well-drawn characters, descriptions, settings and scenes.

5.  Finally, please share some overall thoughts on this first section of the book.  Are you finding it difficult to follow? Easy to understand? Engaging? Boring?  Just share what you are thinking thus far.

The writing in Dune is as dry as the planet Arrakis. I did find the beginning extremely difficult to follow because of the concepts and words that you had to look up constantly in the glossary at the back of the book. It gets easier after a few pages.

The biggest problem I had was the story telling itself. I’m sorry to have to say this but I think Frank Herbert cannot write. I don’t think “show but don’t tell” is something you have to follow religiously when writing literary fiction but it is needed in genre fiction. Dune is probably the most extreme example of genre fiction to disregard this advice. This is all tell and hardly any show. The first part consist to 80% of dialogue. And even the thoughts are rendered in “direct speech mode”. Whenever he described something, I came up for air and also enjoyed parts of it. More scenes and less dialogue would have made me like it more.

I am very honestly, disappointed in this book so far. If the story telling was half as good as the concepts, ideas and characters, this could have been terrific. I will still go on reading, hoping for a change of style in part II. So far… It’s a bit of a chore.

A Dune Readalong

I discovered yesterday that Carl V from Stainless Steel Droppings, Kailana from The Written World and The Little Red Reviewer will host a group read of one of the most famous Science Fiction novels there is.
I always wanted to read Dune but never really got around to doing it. Now is the time.
The book is divided into three parts and so the readalong will take place over a period of three weeks, starting this Friday, July 1st.
Details can be found on Carl’s blog.
I’m looking forward to it.
Will you join as well?