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Emma’s Best Books of 2019

Emma’s Best Books of 2019

The featured image above was specifically designed by Felix Ortiz for Novel Notions’ Top 20 Lists. 


Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m cheating… my Best Books of 2019 post is a little different from the rest of the Novel Notions team.

It’s felt like a bit of a strange reading year for me, with a lot of study, non-fiction, and comfort rereads. My number is sitting at 164 so far, with a whole load getting that very respectable 4 star rating. However, there have only been a small amount that have truly floored me, that have deserved the 4.5 or the big, shiny 5 star rating. These are the kind of books that stay in your memory forever, that you recommend EVERYWHERE and as often as possible. They’re the ones where it’s almost impossible to stop your eyes from flicking forward to see what’s coming next because you’re so excited to get there. When I made that feeling the criteria for my list, it made things immediately clear. I don’t have 20, I have 10. They were all published this year and I loved them all. I hope you consider giving them a go too…

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Book Review: Skyward (Skyward, #1)

Book Review: Skyward (Skyward, #1)

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

“Claim the stars.”

Have you ever loved an author so much that you’re actually afraid to read anything outside of the series by them you’ve come to adore? That’s how I feel about Brandon Sanderson. I love everything about his Cosmere, and all of the series that comprise it. From Mistborn to Stormlight, from Elantris to Warbreaker, he’s crafted some of the most unique magic systems I’ve ever witnessed, and I love that such wildly different series all tie into a bigger picture that is still being woven. Because of my deep adoration of the Cosmere, I’ve been hesitant to read Sanderson’s other works. I read the first Alcatraz book and thought it was fun and cute, but that’s as far as I’ve been able to go. His young adult works, The Reckoners trilogy and Skyward, gave me even more pause, because young adult is a genre that is very hit-or-miss for me. There are so many tropes that have been done to death in the YA genre: love triangles and a special girl who refuses to realize she’s special being among those most often used and happen to be my least favorites. Thankfully, neither of those were present in Skyward. Actually, there wasn’t any real romance. Which I found very refreshing for a young adult book.

“You find a way, and you defy them. For those of us who don’t have the courage.”

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Book Review: Starsight (Skyward, #2)

Book Review: Starsight (Skyward, #2)

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

My rating:  5 of 5 stars

Series: Skyward (Book 2 of 4)

Genre: Science fiction, young adult

Published: 26th November 2019 by Gollancz (UK) and Delacorte Press (US)


Starsight proves once again that Brandon Sanderson is a masterful storyteller across genres and age groups, and who simply excels at writing sequels. 

I’m actually at a loss as to how to start or write this review without sounding like a broken record. As far as I’m concerned, Sanderson is a genius and he has never failed to deliver a captivating story, whether he was writing adult or young adult, fantasy or science fiction. And after reading so much from him and listening to him talk at signings and interviews, I honestly believed that it comes from his passion in just wanting to tell good stories. Notwithstanding the excellent worldbuilding and fantastic magic systems he is so well-known for these were, first and foremost, stories about people.

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Book Review: Death’s End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3)

Book Review: Death’s End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3)

 

Death’s End by Cixin Liu, (Translated by: Ken Liu)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Series: Remembrance of Earth’s Past (Book 3 of 3)

Genre: Hard science fiction

English translation published: 2016 by Tor Books (US) and Head of Zeus (UK).


Death’s End is an incredibly epic conclusion to the insanely imaginative and unpredictable hard science fiction trilogy, Remembrance of Earth’s Past.

I’ve read the first two books of this trilogy more than a year ago. The reason why I did not read Death’s End till now was not because I didn’t enjoy these books. On the contrary, just on those two alone I was already touting Remembrance of Earth’s Past to be one of my favourites. It was due to how well the sequel The Dark Forest seemed to have wrapped up the story then that I didn’t immediately continue with the final book. Each book in the trilogy was so thought-provoking and full of creativity that I found myself needing time to absorb and digest what I’ve read. Death’s End is the ultimate entry in this incredible trilogy which utterly floored me with its mind-blowing ideas that employed real world theoretical and astrophysics in an all-out epic and fascinating narrative.

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Book Review: The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2)

Book Review: The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2)

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, (Translated by: Joel Martinsen)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Series: Remembrance of Earth’s Past (Book 2 of 3)

Genre: Hard science fiction

English translation published: 2015 by Tor Books (US), 2016 by Head of Zeus (UK).


The Dark Forest is a stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed The Three-Body Problem and in my opinion, surpassed it by the magnitude of astronomical units.

While I hold the first book in high regard, I had to admit that characterisation was sidelined in the narrative which focussed heavily on the science and plot. The sequel’s storytelling approach was more balanced with the hard science toned down somewhat and character development emerging more prominently. The leading character in this respect is Luo Ji, an astronomer and sociologist, who was given cryptic advice by the person responsible for the events leading to the impending extraterrestrial invasion. Luo Ji cuts an anti-hero figure who wanted nothing to do with saving the world and just continue flitting around in life, almost frivolously, as an ordinary person. On top of becoming invested in his person, I was also delighted that arising from his POV we have the return of my favourite character from the previous book, Shi Qiang (nicknamed Da Shi), the hard-boiled ex-policeman who works for the Planetary Defence Council security department. Between Luo Ji and another prominent character, Zhang Beihai, a naval political commissar turned space officer, the story and its central plot weave a compelling, fascinating and unpredictable path through the epoch-spanning narrative.

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Book Review: The Three-Body Problem ((Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1)

Book Review: The Three-Body Problem ((Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1)

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, , (Translated by: Ken Liu)

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: Remembrance of Earth’s Past (Book 1 of 3)

Genre: Hard science fiction

English translation published: 2014 by Tor Books (US), 2015 by Head of Zeus (UK)


This critically well-acclaimed science fiction novel certainly deserves its laurels.

“Wildly imaginative, really interesting..” so proclaimed Barack Obama about this trilogy. From what I can gather after reading this book, I already wholeheartedly agree. The Three-Body Problem is a truly unique and original science fiction within the realm of plausibility. Melding real-world science, history, philosophy, religion and fantastical ideas, this novel delivers a beautifully-written (and translated) narrative which engages the mind, heart and soul.

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Book Review: The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates, #1) by A.K. Larkwood

Book Review: The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates, #1) by A.K. Larkwood

ARC provided by the publisher—Tor UK—in exchange for an honest review.

The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: The Serpent Gates (Book #1 of 3)

Genre: Fantasy, High fantasy, Science-fiction, Space Opera

Pages: 496 pages (UK hardcover edition)

Published: 20th February 2020 by Tor (UK) & 11th February 2020 by Tor Books (US)


The Unspoken Name is a terrifically-written debut that merged science fiction, space-opera, and high fantasy into one inventive book that’s incredibly suitable for SFF enthusiast.

One look into the striking cover art by Billelis, and I already wanted to speak about this book. My urge to read this book increased when both Nicholas Eames—the author behind The Band series— and Dyrk Ashton—the author behind Paternus trilogy—recommended the book to me. Then I found out that Lindsey Hall, the editor behind two books—Kings of the Wyld and the upcoming The Bard’s Blade by Brian D. Anderson—I truly loved edited this book too, suffice to say that The Unspoken Name has attained all the package that made it a necessity for me to read; I’m glad I did.

“Csorwe had spent a lifetime readying herself to die, not to talk to strangers.”

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Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”

The origin of this novel is almost as famous as the book itself. A group of friends seek to outdo one another with their ghost stories. Mary, the youngest and least famous of the group, writes not a ghost story but a brief novel that has far outlived the works of every other member of the party, and that is often cited as the first science fiction novel. I recently attended a lecture on Frankenstein, in which the lecturer pointed out that there was no real science present in the novel as Mary had not been well educated in the subject, and so cannot really be considered science fiction. While I admit that she has a very valid point, I still believe that Frankenstein is indeed science fiction because the plot could not have existed without some nebulous and unexplained scientific discoveries, and helped propel this speculative genre into the popularity it still enjoys today. Even though Shelley was poorly educated in the sciences, she created something that continues to entrance and repel members of the scientific community hundreds of years after she first penned her only famous work of literature.

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Book review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Book review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

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Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

My rating : 5 of 5 stars

Series: Standalone

Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller

Published:  July 26th 2016 by Broadway Books

“Every moment, every breath, contains a choice. But life is imperfect. We make the wrong choices. So we end up living in a state of perpetual regret, and is there anything worse?

Dark Matter made for an exhilarating, unsettling, intense and thought-provoking reading experience!

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Forward: Amazon Original Stories

Forward: Amazon Original Stories


I love how short stories are making such strides in popular fiction, as is speculative fiction. The Forward Collection is a great demonstration of this, and brings together vastly different authors to theorize on what the future might look like. What binds these stories together is their exploration of possible technological advancements in the not too distant future, without ever really giving away if the changes such advancements would bring would be for our collective good or ill. In most of these stories, technology is both our destroyer and our savior. Below you’ll find micro-reviews of each story, progressing from those I enjoyed the least to those that resonated the deepest. As I listened to the audio version of each story, readers are mentioned with the authors.

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