5 Points Book Review: Zoe’s Tale

Ender Wiggin meets Veronica Mars

Ender Wiggin meets Veronica Mars

1. One-Sentence Sentence: Zoe’s Tale is as engaging a sci-fi story as you’re likely to find, rife with interstellar intrigue, teen angst, and xeno-sociology, and related by one of the most thoroughly engaging narrators I’ve read in quite some time.

2. Op-Ed: Yes, in my initial impressions, I hinted that Zoe herself came across as a little…um, well, let’s just say if she’d gone to college with my group of friends, she would’ve earned the nickname “Small Doses Zoe”. But hey, the girl grows on you, big time. She’s a complete character, fully realized and alive in a genre and setting where this sort of thing is rare enough to be surprising. My hat’s off to Mr. Scalzi, as he’s set the bar extremely high when it comes to mouthy 15-year-old girls. (Just like the protagonist in my WIP/debut novel. Sigh.)

3. Thumbs Up: Where to begin? I think a big part of what I loved about this book is that I was new to the universe. The inter-stellar and inter-racial politics all felt fresh and involving–both to Zoe herself and to me as a reader–and the situations came off as believable and multi-faceted. This is important, as the non-humans weren’t simply presented as faceless bogey-men, and in the case of the Obin, were actually characterized better than most of the human characters. As I mentioned, I adored Zoe, Hickory, and Dickory, and I thought her parents came off well, though I imagine Scalzi did most of their character building in the previous three books. To a lesser degree, I liked Enzo and his role in the story, but Zoe actually being in love didn’t quite come across.

The plot was good and science-fiction-y without feeling forced. The pacing was great and it was actually a joy to find such a realized world in such a short book. But again, that probably has something to do with the fact that it was established and fleshed out previously. This feels very convincing from Zoe’s point of view, as she’s being pushed into a world without having the opportunity to read the wikipedia page, so to speak. Lastly, the dialogue (and Zoe’s internal monologue) practically crackles off the page. It’s sharp, funny, smart, wise, touching, and insightful–often at the same time.

4. Thumbs Down: A lot of the other characters were on the weak side. In particular, Zoe’s BFF Gretchen seemed to have little to offer as she was virtually a carbon copy of Zoe herself. I won’t lie, I enjoyed their bantering relationship, but there wasn’t much else to her. Similarly, General Gau, the nominal antagonist was underutilized and underexplored (Why did he wipe out that colony on the video? What was the goal of the Conclave anyway?) Perhaps these are questions for the next few books in the OMW universe.

5. Recommendation: If, like me, you haven’t read any of Scalzi’s other books (Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony) I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s a breath of fresh air in a genre (military sci-fi) that’s been stifling for too long. Similarly, if you know any YA readers, hook them up with a copy. I can pretty much guarantee that they’ll enjoy it, even if they roll their eyes at the very mention of “science fiction”. Actually, it could work just as well for anti-sci-fi eye-rollers of any age, Zoe’s Tale is that captivating.

However, if you’ve read the others, and in particular if you’ve read The Last Colony, I really don’t know what to tell you. You already know the characters and the setting. Odds are, if you enjoyed them, you’ll enjoy this. If not, the change of focus may still float your boat. It couldn’t hurt to try, right? -4 Stars-

5 Points Review Scale

1 Star: I would never burn a book, but this really tempted me
2 Stars: Read this book only if you have no other books and reading is the only thing that makes the voices go away
3 Stars: Lousy book with redeeming parts or Good book with obvious flaws
4 Stars: Buy it, read it, loan it out, forget who you loaned it to, buy it, read it, loan it out…
5 Stars: This will be on the syllabus in my upcoming seminar: “The Best Books You’ll Ever Read”

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Thanks, Subterranean Press!

French cover to Zoes Tale

French cover to Zoe's Tale

I just got my free copy of Zoe’s Tale yesterday, and per our agreement, I eagerly dove in.

Initial thoughts:

  • Since Zoe is my first experience with either Scalzi or the OMW universe, I like to think I’m coming at it with a fresh perspective, completely unburdened by any omg-it’s-the-same-story-as-The-Last-Colony-Scalzi’s-a-hack! drama
  • I like Zoe, even if i couldn’t stand to be around anyone that mouthy in real life.
  • I like the subtle digs at sci-fi tropes.
  • Um, I like it.

5 Points Review to come!

5 Points Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Don't worry, that's not Elizabeth

1. One-sentence Sentence: On the whole, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was very entertaining and added a new layer of meaning to the Elizabeth/Darcy melodrama, though it was hard not to feel that some of the weight of the original got sacrificed for the zombie and ninja mayhem.

2. Op-Ed: The amount of zombification (no, not the process of turning into a zombie, the process by which zombies are added to a story as a plot device) was surprising. Despite there being an addition on nearly every page (in one of three categories: zombies/zombie fighting, martial arts training, and Elizabeth’s warrior philosophy), the story was essentially the same. This is exactly how the book was pitched, but I was still sort of surprised to find everything working out in the end. Except for poor Mr. Collins, I guess.

3. Thumbs up: The characters of Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane, and Lady Catherine were all improved by the addition of zombie-fighting prowess and martial arts. I especially liked how the kick-assery of the ladies made the battle of the sexes inherent in the story that much more equal. The illustrations were also a great added touch. And finally, the tone and timbre of Ms. Austen is admirably maintained in all the added passages. It really almost reads as a macabre early draft.

4. Thumbs down: Come on, Seth, you couldn’t figure out a way to kill off Miss Bingley? After all, you killed Charlotte, and all she did was try to improve her life. Miss Bingley, the stuck up bitch, should’ve gotten hers in the end, too. At the very least, Kung Fu Jane should’ve beaten her soundly. Also, were the ninjas really necessary? I’m half shocked there wasn’t a scene with pirates or robots to really hit all the points on the Zeitgeist checklist.

5. Recommendation:
Austen fans will most likely enjoy the skewering (and beheading, and evisceration, and pummeling) that their beloved Pride and Prejudice receives. Zombie fans might be a little hard-pressed to fight their way through Jane’s persnickety verbosity. You should read it. If only for the fact that you can prove your literary chops and your pop-culture street cred at the same time. Just don’t read the original and Zombies back-to-back unless you’re prepared for the inevitable regency hangover that follows. -3 Stars-


5 Points Review Scale

1 Star: I would never burn a book, but this really tempted me
2 Stars: Read this book only if you have no other books and reading is the only thing that makes the voices go away
3 Stars: Lousy book with redeeming parts or Good book with obvious flaws
4 Stars: Buy it, read it, loan it out, forget who you loaned it to, buy it, read it, loan it out…
5 Stars: This will be on the syllabus in my upcoming seminar: “The Best Books You’ll Ever Read”