Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
In the first book in a science fiction trilogy for teens, life on Earth changed over a decade ago. A red star, called Calamity, suddenly appeared, and some people developed extraordinary powers, and became the Epics. David, 18, has been studying the powers and habits of Epics for ten years, since the day Steelheart killed David’s father in a bank. Steelheart is the ruler of Newcago, formerly Chicago, which he has coated in steel. Tunnels and rooms of steel are now underground. People don’t mind living underground because Nightwielder, another Epic, has blotted out the sun over Newcago. David hopes to join the Reckoners, an underground group secretly plotting against the Epics. Are all Epics evil? David thinks so, but his father believed differently. A quick, fast-paced read that will leave the reader waiting for the next book in the series.
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Allegiant, the third novel by Veronica Roth, goes on sale today, and is sure to be a young adult bestseller. I recently finished reading Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent. This dystopian series is set in a future Chicago, and the architecture of the Loop makes a good backdrop for the series. Tris Prior, who earlier picked the daredevil Dauntless faction over the humble Abnegation of her upbringing and over the intellectual Erudite, has an exciting scene in Insurgent when she and others cross the Chicago river from underneath a bridge, and try to break into the Erudite headquarters. But I didn’t find this book as interesting or exciting as Divergent. There are so many characters that the author expects you to remember from the first book, and I didn’t. Tris feels guilty for an act she was compelled to take in the first book, and is still mourning some of her family. Her boyfriend Tobias wishes Tris wouldn’t be so reckless, frequently risking her life, but Tris doesn’t understand her own motivations. In this book, the Factionless are introduced, and are shown to be other than the powerless outsiders Tris expected. The factions are still alternately fighting, being controlled by simulations, and working together. It’s not uncommon for middle books of a trilogy to be the weakest, and I hope Allegiant is everything Roth’s fans are hoping for.
The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer
What happens after the world as we know it changes forever? According to author Susan Beth Pfeffer, love and family ties are still important, but life can be rather bleak. This is the story of Jon Evans and his extended family, four years after a meteor struck the Moon and moved it closer to Earth. His sister Miranda narrated the first book in the series, Life as We Knew It. Now it’s little brother Jon’s turn to grow up. Jon isn’t always likeable, as he is the privileged younger brother with better food, less work, and even filtered air on the bus that takes his soccer team to games. He lives with his stepmother Lisa and little brother Gabe in upper-class Sexton, rarely seeing the rest of his family, who live in working-class White Birch. His conflicted relationship with his sister Miranda and his guilt over the loss of a friend make Jon a realistic character. When a riot after a soccer game changes his life dramatically, he has some hard choices to make. Sarah, a doctor’s daughter, and Ruby, Lisa’s domestic worker, help open his mind to the injustices of life for those in White Birch.
Wool by Hugh Howey
Wool is a science fiction novel about a time in the earth’s future when the planet’s surface has been rendered uninhabitable. The soil is dead and the atmosphere is lethally toxic The remaining earth survivors live in a giant silo dug out of the earth by huge digging machines that were buried at the bottom of the silo when their mission was over. he silo has 150 levels and is a self-sustaining entity unto itself. There are hydroponic gardens for food, energy for electricity, oxygen for breathing, everything to sustain life, kind of like living in a giant submarine. However, in order to maintain the silo’s functioning and ensure its long time survival, the inhabitants live in a brutal regime of onerous rules and regulations. For each birth there must also be a death. Talking about the past, or thinking about changing their current situation is forbidden. Breaking the rules can mean being sent to the surface and perishing in a deadly environment.
The plot revolves around one character, Juliette, a worker in the mechanical section, who is seen by the current mayor, a woman named Jahns, as a good candidate to succeed her, someone who will let nothing stand in the way on knowing the truth, even if it means destroying their current way of life. Bernard is the head of IT, and the chief keeper of the secrets. The characters are fully developed and the surprises keep coming. Everything is not as it seems.
Juliette reminds me a lot of Ripley from the Alien series, which may be why the film rights have been acquired by Ridley Scott.
Wool started as a self-published serial work in five parts. I read the Omnibus, which was all five parts in one book.
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Cassie, 16, is a survivor. Her little brother Sammy, age 5, might be. Cassie’s two prized possession are a rifle and her brother’s teddy bear. She has lived through three attacks on Earth by an orbiting spaceship, and has survived the 4th wave so far. The 1st wave was a pulse that knocked out the power grid. The 2nd wave caused tsunamis, wiping out the coastal cities. The 3rd wave was plague. The 4th wave is worse; some humans now have alien minds. After her parents die, Cassie is alone, possibly the only real human left. Her goal is to reunite with her brother. She meets Evan Marshall, who takes care of her when she’s wounded. Distrustful, Cassie is stubbornly independent and resists his help. At a military camp, Cassie’s classmate Ben meets Sammy, now nicknamed Nugget, and befriends him. As Cassie, Evan, and even Ben try to rescue Sammy from the camp, the awful truth of the 5th wave becomes evident, and Cassie doesn’t know who to trust. Sequels are planned, and movie rights have been sold. 5 book trailers can be viewed on the author’s website. This is yet another dark, post-apocalyptic book written for teens, of which there are many, but the 5th Wave stands out for the exciting plot and the memorable characters, who manage to be likeable under the most trying circumstances.
Reached by Ally Condie
Reached is the final book in the Matched trilogy. The Rising against the Society has begun, and Cassia, Ky, and, surprisingly, Xander are all working for the Rising. Ky is a pilot, Xander is a medic, and Cassia sorts, trades with the archivists, and starts an outdoor art/poetry gallery. Xander and Ky both love Cassis, which is no secret to readers of Matched and Crossed. Rarely together, the trio still work in concert to find a cure for the plague, which has mutated, and to search for their families. Cassia learns that she has lost memories from taking the Society’s red tablets, and struggles to remember a red garden day with her grandfather. The story is fast-paced, with lots of action, and reads quickly for a 500+ page book. There is often a question of who to trust, as well as the motives of the mysterious Pilot, leader of the Rising. A very satisfying conclusion to the trilogy; new readers will want to start with Matched, the beginning of this popular young adult series with crossover appeal for adults.
The Last Policeman, by Ben Winters
This is not another post-apocalyptic novel. Instead, it is set in Concord, New Hampshire six months before a very large asteroid will collide with Earth. Many people have left their jobs to check off the items on their bucket lists, while others have gotten married or moved somewhere with a better climate than Concord. Sadly, some people have given up and died. Rookie detective Hank Palace, known as Stretch, senses something suspicious about the recent death of Peter Zell, a quiet man who worked as an actuary at an insurance company.
Many of Hank’s colleagues don’t see why Hank is trying so hard, and are reluctant to help. Hank’s sister Nico asks him to track down her missing husband, and Peter Zell’s sister keeps avoiding Hank. This is a fine, melancholy police procedural. The next Hank Palace book will be set three months later.
Many authors have wondered what the world would be like if something big happened and the world changed. Many of the future earths imagined are rather bleak and more about survival then creating new futures. S. M. Stirling has a different viewpoint. When the Change happens to our characters in the Pacific Northwest, they see a dazzling flash of light, and find that higher technologies stop working, such as electricity and combustion engines. Chaos, disease, accidents, and hunger mean that a year later many people have died. The people still living have mostly gathered in small communities where archaic ways of life have become popular. Medieval history professor Norman Arminger takes charge of Portland, creating knights and serfs. Musician Juniper MacKenzie moves to her uncle’s farm and ends up chief of a Celtic clan which practices Wicca and trains youth in archery. College faculty form a democracy, and a monastery becomes a Catholic stronghold. A pilot with a teen passenger who’s a Tolkien fan become leaders of the Bearkillers and Rangers. Three books, starting with Dies the Fire, describe the development of the new societies. Another series, starting with The Sunrise Lands, tell the story of those leaders’ grown children and their quest to travel across North America fighting villains and bringing communities together. The characters are realistic, the author’s imagination fascinating, and the unfolding story lines and curiosity about the future engaging, as is the question of why and how the Change occurred and if a mystical sword will change things back.
Ashfall, by Mike Mullin
Alex Halprin, 15, is alone for the weekend in Cedar Falls, Iowa, while his parents and sister are visiting his uncle’s farm in Illinois. Suddenly, his world changes when a huge rock falls through the roof. Taking refuge with his neighbors, Alex learns that Yellowstone’s supervolcano is erupting, 900 miles away, showering them with ash, and days of sonic booms and darkness. Alex finds skis and travels east to find his family, scrounging for food and water along the way. Darla Edmunds and her mother take him in when Alex collapses after a fight. Darla has rigged up a bicycle to grind corn, so their farm is self-sufficient.
Later Darla and Alex search for a way across the Mississippi River while conditions (ash, snow, and anarchy) worsen. There is plenty of violence, so this gritty post-apocalyptic read is not for everyone. Alex and Darla are convincingly flawed, and we root for them as they fall in love and struggle to survive. For more about the author and a sequel, Ashen Winter, visit his website. This would be a good readalike for Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer. For more dystopian or post-apocalyptic books like Ashfall, check out Denise’s book display of readalikes for The Hunger Games. Another readalike is Shipbreaker, reviewed earlier.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
Children of the 80s, this one is for you. Despite taking place in 2044 and mostly in a completely immersive online simulation called the Oasis, this is really a tribute to the culture (popular and otherwise) of the 1980s. The Oasis is the creation of Richard Halliday—a videogame programmer who used music, movies, TV, books, and videogames to escape his dysfunctional home. His expertise and desire to escape lead him to create an online experience that becomes the escape for most of the population. The glimpses Cline gives of America in 2044 are bleak—resources like gasoline have been depleted so everyone lives in cities since they can’t travel and the poorest people live in trailers that have been stacked to form dangerous towering units. The Oasis provides them with a nicer, more hopeful world. Part of that hope comes from the hunt for Halliday’s Egg. Before he died, he hid three keys and three gates in the Oasis and left clues for egg hunters (nicknamed “gunters”) to find the first one. Whoever finds all the keys and makes it through all the gates will gain control of the Oasis. Millions of people studied the things Halliday was obsessed with to try to figure out the clues. Teenaged Wade Wilson is the first gunter to find a key. His fellow competitors Aech, Art3mis, Shoto, and Daito meet him along the way and sometimes offer help and camaraderie while trying to find the keys themselves and fending off the evil Sixers that want to gain control of the Oasis for their own profit. The plot is familiar but the setting and Cline’s love of the 80s makes this a fun read. You don’t have to be familiar with all the references and the really important ones are explained but you may find yourself wanting to dig out your old cassettes or find Family Ties on DVD.
Ernest Cline has a mix tape with all the songs mentioned in Ready Player One but some of them are spoilers
His blog is also full of 80s geekery.
There’s also a pretty rad fansite set up to look like the channel Wade Watt’s Oasis alter ego Parzival runs.