Predator cities are on the move, a robot grapples with its own identity, and 3 teenagers go on a quest to bring back magic in a tyrannical empire
Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeve
“It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.” In this post-apocalyptic epic, steampunk “traction cities” roll across the land on huge caterpillar treads or gargantuan wheels. Always needing more fuel and resources, the moving metropolises devour smaller cities and towns and strip them for parts, either allowing the original inhabitants to become citizens of the larger city or forcing them into slavery.
At the opening of the book, London, now an aging traction city, has come out of hiding in the hills to go hunting again. But plans are afoot that will bring to light dark and buried secrets at the heart of London, and young a Guild of Historians apprentice named Tom Natsworthy is soon forced into a terrifying journey across the ruins of Europe. Traveling alongside the mysterious Hester Shawe, Tom is forced to confront his assumptions about the world he lives in and come to terms with his identity as a Londoner.
While this book alone is a great steampunk adventure to enjoy on a rainy day, it also raises questions about important topics for the modern world such as urban sprawl and destruction of the natural environment. The picture painted by Reeve is that of mud and oil and a wasteland churned flat by greedy cities, but also of hope and kindness even in a darkening world. Such a theme only makes it more appropriate for this current era of politics where climate change is being denied and competition for resources grows with the earth’s population. Read this fantastic novel now in time to see the movie adaptation being released December 2018:
Learn more at: http://www.philip-reeve.com/mortal-engines/
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.” All Systems Red is the first book in the Murderbot Diaries quartet, which explores what it means to be human, or not so human, through the eyes of a robotic “SecUnit” which refers to itself as Murderbot. In the future Wells envisions all scientific projects and exploratory missions have to be funded by one of a few manga-corporations that control a large percentage of the galaxy’s wealth. To ensure expedition members play by the rules, the company provides a mandatory SecUnit to monitor the scientists. To ensure the SecUnits play by the rules, they are implanted with “governor modules” that regulate their behavior. The SecUnits aren’t deprived of free thought, just free will. They can still feel guilt and horror when forced to do bad things, they just can’t stop themselves from doing them.
The main character, Murderbot, is haunted by this paradox of personality and hacks its own governor module to gain more freedom. At first, all Murderbot does with this freedom is watch a lot of soap operas, on an internal screen, 24 hours a day. But soon the expedition crew Murderbot is tasked with protecting is plagued by a string of mysterious “accidents” that Murderbot suspects are sabotage. Murderbot is faced with a choice: use its unusual abilities to help itself and its crew and risk being decommissioned in the process, or follow company regulations that may be designed to kill.
Despite its length, only 144 pages, All Systems Red tackles a lot of complicated questions about AI and the nature of sentience. In an era of high budget sci-fi where there seems to be no end to cheesy action-movie plots, Martha Wells stands out as an author willing to tackle complicated ideas in her genre. In 2018, Wells was recognized for her achievements with four prestigious science fiction awards: the Hugo Award for Best Novella, the Nebula Award for Best Novella, the Alex Award, and the Locus Award. All Systems Red is a short read that you can finish in one or two sittings, but if the ideas it raises stay with you as long they did with me you’ll be glad to hear that there are 3 more books in the series of novellas, as well as a planned full length novel, following the adventures of Murderbot and its quest to discover its own identity.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
“Thwap, thwap, thwap!” With the first line, Children of Blood and Bone plunges you right into battle. Two fighters stand toe to toe in a sawdust ring beneath a colorful tent, trading blows with carved staffs. The elderly Mama Agba doles out wisdom on battle techniques, as well as warnings about what the Guard might do if you’re not prepared to fight. During her battle training, Zélie Adebola has flashbacks to the day twelve years before when she was unable to fight for her family which allow the reader to piece together the story of this world.
That day toddler Zélie watched helplessly as her Maji mother was dragged out of their home by the king’s soldiers and brutally murdered. In the years that followed, Zélie and her brother Tzain spent their childhoods watching the kingdom of Orïsha sink deeper and deeper under the oppression of King Saran, the tyrannical monarch who ordered the systematic genocide of Orïsha’s ten Maji clans. Before the Raid, as that terrible night came to be called, each clan wielded a unique school of magic. Healers cured disease, Grounders crafted impossible buildings from the desert sands, and Zélie’s Reaper mother commanded the spirits of the dead. But after the Raid all magic vanishes from Orïsha. This hate-filled rule can only end with rebellion, but such an uprising would be impossible without magic.
All hope seems lost, until a mysterious artifact surfaces in a coastal village. As unlikely as it seems, the key to magic’s return lies in the intertwined fates of the three narrators: Zélie, the King’s daughter Amari, and Amari’s brother Inan. They can only succeed by overcoming impossible odds to complete a thrilling and magical journey across the land, and perhaps change the future of Orïsha forever.
Like all the best sci-fi and fantasy authors, Adeyemi masterfully uses her genre to deliver a powerful message about the world we live in; “It’s an allegory for the modern black experience, … So even though we are in a fantasy world and they have a very specific fantastical goal, you’re going to see references to police brutality, and racism and colorism and general oppression. … The power of fantasy is that you can make people understand the deeper realities of our world in a way that they wouldn’t normally be able to because of all the things in our world that closes them off.” (Tomi Adeyemi, http://www.tomiadeyemi.com/faq-2/)
Since its release (March 2018) Children of Blood and Bone has been a #1 New York Times bestseller and been published in 22 countries around the world. A movie adaptation is currently in production at Fox 2000/Temple Hill Productions.
Learn more at: http://www.tomiadeyemi.com/
Former Editor in Chief of The City Voice, finally graduated City High Middle School as part of the Class of 2022.