Exo by Fonda Lee – What if Earth was invaded and colonized by aliens? This sci-fi offers a fantastic, nuanced glimpse

Summary:

It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip . But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one . . .

My review:

While reading, Exo by Fonda Lee, I just kept thinking, ‘Finally. FINALLY.’

Finally, a young adult dystopian/science-fiction novel with a writer that understands the nuances and complexities of colonialism and oppression. Finally, a story that isn’t just about the suppression of individualistic expression and calling it oppression, but a story that understands that oppression is systemic, involves power, and is more than about teens spearheading a revolution for the sake of plot and action. Finally, a book that has delivered a very nuanced story that shows that systemic oppression and overcoming it is not simple, but can be morally grey.

For this reason alone, I loved Exo instantly.

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Difficult Women by Roxane Gay – A collection of stories as subversive and complex as its female protagonists

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the marriage of one of them. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.

My biggest thanks to Hachette New Zealand, for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The more and more I think about it, the more certain I am that Difficult Women is a masterful collection of short stories.

To describe it simply, Difficult Women is about just that – it is a collection of twenty-one short stories that are about the so-called ‘difficult women’. Underneath that though is a nuanced and complex portrayal of women in modernity – and the images are haunting and riveting, and will inevitably sear your memory.

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Kindred by Octavia Butler – A powerful historical/sci-fi; absolutely exceptional in every way

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Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life. During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

Kindred is a truly outstanding book. Not only is it the first science-fiction written by a black author – making it an incredible piece of black American literature – but it is an amazing book by its own merits. And there are many.

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adam

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Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.

Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a masterpiece – or, at least, I think it is.

For this book, I’m going to do something a little different. For this book, I’m going to set aside the ‘serious’ tone that I adopt for my reviews. This book is widely read and there are many reviews of this book – most more eloquent than I could ever hope to be! – instead of a conventional review, I’m going to lay out three reasons why you should read this science-fiction classic.

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Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

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When a plane crash strands thirteen teen beauty contestants on a mysterious island, they struggle to survive, to get along with one another, to combat the island’s other diabolical occupants, and to learn their dance numbers in case they are rescued in time for the competition. Written by Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.

Beauty Queens delighted me in every way possible. Brandishing dark comedy and satire, it elucidates and explores complex themes such as feminism, racism, ethnicity, identity, disabilities, gender, sexuality, prejudice, and social standards. That’s a lot of themes to explore, but Bray has done it fantastically. Paired with its plot – when a plane crashes on a remote island, thirteen beauty pageant contestants are the only survivors – the result is an excellent book that manages to be ridiculous but also incredibly intelligent, honest and genuine.

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