Book Review: Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

From the moment you first begin reading Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut makes his distinctive voice and writing style very apparent.  When I first picked up the book in the science fiction section, I expected to find a run of the mill sci-fi epic, but instead I found a book that I think is one of the most unique I have ever read.

It begins in Newport, Rhode Island at the renowned Rumfoord estate, where a crowd has gathered, as usual, to watch the materialization of a man and his dog. The crowd is denied access as always, but they continue to show up, as they hope for even the smallest of chances to witness this miracle. This miracle is the appearance of a man by the name of Winston Niles Rumfoord and his dog Kazak, which has happened once every 59 days, due to a mysterious concept Vonnegut has concisely named “Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum”. This phenomenon stretches Winston and his dog Kazak out across all of space past present and future, making him extremely sought after as a sort of fortune teller who has almost absolute knowledge about the human race and their future as a civilization.

By giving Winston the ability to basically know everything at all times I think Vonnegut makes him a very interesting character, as his actions are the driving force in the story but the purpose behind them isn’t revealed at all until the very end. I would definitely say this makes him the most intriguing character in the book, because from different perspectives he can be seen as the protagonist, antagonist, or even an omnipotent third person at times.

The story begins when a man named Malachi Constant gets a rare invite to this materialization, and ends up on a grand tour of the solar system that Vonnegut uses to question the concepts of free will, friendship, and loneliness. Winston tells Malachi that him and Winston’s current wife Beatrice will fall in love, and end up living out their final days on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Malachi and Beatrice’s absolute refusal of their fate and the futility of their actions in the end makes a powerful point about free will, and the progression of these two characters also give the reader insights into Vonnegut’s opinion on loneliness and friendship.

Personally, I really liked this book, because the plot is very unconventional, and Vonnegut’s vision of space and the story he writes are both extremely imaginative. The book also frequently employs the use of satirical and dark humor, which I thought was pretty fitting with the tone of the book as a whole. However, because of the unconventional plot structure of the book the writing can come across as a bit hard to follow, as the story is not made entirely clear until the very end and at many times the setting and focus of the book completely shifts out of nowhere.

Overall, I think this book is worth reading for anyone who is interested in sci-fi used as a medium for a greater message, such as the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey or the Dune Series by Frank Herbert, but also for anyone who wants to try something new or wants a unique and interesting read.

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

With society threatened to be overrun with Hunduns, it is necessary for humans to utilize Chrysalises in order to fight against these mechanical creatures. But in order to function these machines needed to defeat these invaders in their surroundings, a boy must be a pilot while a girl acts as his concubine. It is common for the girl to die when in the Chrysalis for an unexplained reason, however, it is seen as the one of the most honorable things a girl could do in this sexist society.

When Zetian’s older sister is killed in this process by a famous pilot, she has made it her goal to avenge said sister through murder. So she signed up to be a concubine for that pilot herself and kills him swiftly. But this accomplishment only creates hysteria surrounding Zetian, earning her the name “Iron Widow” who killed off boys in the Chrysalis instead of the other way around.

In a way to control her extraordinary mental strength, they pair her off with another pilot, Li Shimin, who has been notorious for killing off every girl he is paired with as well as other actions he has done in the past. Whilst attempting to survive every battle with Shimin, she also wishes to avenge more than her sister and all of the girls killed in battle with the pilots everyone praises. Do girls die just because that is their fat in the Chrysalis or are there other factors at play hidden in the darkness of secrets?

Though this is Xiran’s first novel, it is one that I will never forget and admire so much. I was reading this book in the New York train for 2 hours and when I reached my final destination, I wish I could stay and read more. Do you know the feeling when you wish to read through a book fast so you know what happens next but also wish to read it slow since you don’t want to finish it too fast and feel sad? That is exactly what conflict I had when reading this book. It has wonderful representation of strong female characters, queer romance, and asian culture I was glad to learn about. If I must recommend a young adult fantasy book to someone, this would be the book I would tell them to read. I rate this book a 10/10 stars and wish for anyone and everyone to read this spectacular book. I cannot recommend enough!

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao is available to download for free from Libby.

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

The world of Dune is vast, with the first book barely scratching the surface. Leaving many fans asking author Frank Herbert for more. 4 years after the release of the first one, Frank delivered Dune Messiah. Taking many of the criticism of his previous books and proving them wrong, by introducing us to the dark side of destiny. If I were to describe the book in one word, it would be sinister. Everything about it, from the villains, the heroes, the politics, and the philosophy. There are moments when you will feel dirty as if you participated in some evil plot. But this is exactly what Herbert wanted, he wanted to show how power is corruptive, and how even the noblest of heroes have a dark side.

He broke the mold of the classic “hero’s journey” and focused on the hero’s psychological transformation. As Paul Atreides struggles to deal with his “horrible purpose”, visions of destruction, and a horrific injury. Despite this intriguing concept, the book is not without its failings. Unlike its predecessor, the book has hardly any action, focusing almost entirely on dialogue. This can lead to parts of the book coming off as filler, or self-aggrandizing philosophical nonsense. However, it makes up for it in the best endings I’ve ever read. The final act of the book is simply breathtaking, hard to put down, and yes, it’s incredibly sinister. In many ways, it’s the complete opposite of its predecessor, which had an incredibly lackluster ending. Leaving me with only one question, what could the next book have in store?

-Parker K.

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner is the first book in its trilogy by James Dashner, published in 2009. It follows the main character, Thomas, who wakes up with no memory in a strange elevator. He only remembers his name and does not know where he is. The elevator doors open, and he is exposed to an entirely new world. Thomas immediately meets new people that are trapped in his new abode, they are all teenage boys who work every day out in the Glade, an area with foliage and farms that is surrounded by a huge, stone Maze. He befriends a few of the boys, Minho, Newt, Chuck, and Alby who introduce him to everything and explain where he is. All the boys have the same backstory: They were placed in an elevator and brought down here, with no memory of their former lives except for their names.

They are surrounded by the Maze, an intricate labyrinth with moving doors and large stone walls that are impossible to climb over. There is seemingly no exit, and the boys have been trying to escape from the maze ever since they got there. While there are many jobs that keep the little community they have formed going, the most important of them all is the Runner. Runners are sent into the Maze during the day to try and map out an exit but to no avail. Runners also have the most dangerous jobs, as if they cannot find their way back to the entrance before night they are trapped in the Maze with horrible, stinging monsters called Grievers whose sole purpose is to kill the boys. Thomas’ only goal is to become a Runner, and as the Maze closes one night when his friends Minho and Alby do not return, Thomas runs into the Maze after them.

He saves them and is quickly promoted to a Runner. However, strange things begin to happen around the Glade. A girl named Teresa arrives in the Box with their last shipment of supplies, and Thomas befriends her quickly. He is the main suspect of these happenings, but his friends must learn to trust him in order to solve the puzzle of the Maze.

I loved this story. It kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, and the ending was phenomenal, even though it was a cliff-hanger. I had to read the entire trilogy, and all of the books were amazing. I would definitely recommend checking this one out, as it has some great plot points as well as surprising twists. The Maze Runner is filled with turns that will make you want to read every chapter. One reason I like this book so much is because of its amazing descriptions. How everything was described allowed me to imagine the story and picture all the characters, especially the Maze and the Grievers inside.

If you are looking for a good read that has a great story, then you should check out Maze Runner. After reading, I checked out the next book in the trilogy, The Scorch Trials, right away. This book may not be for everybody, but if you enjoy adventure and science fiction, then you should read The Maze Runner. Thanks for reading my review!

-Brandt D.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby.

Book Review: Children of Dune

Minor spoilers for other Dune books

Children of Dune is the 3rd book in Frank Herbert’s Dune series. It was published in 1976 a whole 11 years after Dune, and 6 years after Dune Messiah. The story follows Paul Atreides’ children, the twins Leto II and Ghanima as they navigate political plots, religion, and mental turmoil. Both twins are “pre-born” meaning they have the knowledge of all those who came before them. This causes them to struggle, as they navigate physically being children, but mentally being thousands of years and thousands of people all in one. The Bene Gesserit are incredibly afraid of pre-born believing that they could turn into abominations. This simply means that they can become possessed by the evil people of their past who haunt their minds. Ideas like this are what make the story so interesting. Herbert always shows the dark side of power and the consequences of losing your humanity. The twins acknowledge and know about this dark side, seeing it in Alia, and in Paul’s supposed death. Yet, they are forced to use their powers and risk their humanity for the greater good. In Leto II’s opinion, they must go where Paul never could go, where he even was afraid to go. 

Many would consider this blasphemous to say, but it’s a bit like Star Wars Episode 7. By this I mean the story is a bit of a retelling of the original story. But it’s more fun and has enough new and interesting content to make it a great read. Some might even find it superior to the original. I probably would if it wasn’t for a few specific issues I had with the story. I dislike the ending of the story; it’s too similar to the first book and doesn’t show enough of Leto II’s potential. Perhaps this is on purpose to get us excited for the next book, but I’m not a fan. I also dislike how little Herbert does with Ghanima. I find her far more interesting of a character than Leto II (who in many ways is the same character as Paul) yet she hardly does anything. That being said I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what the next book and the books after that have to offer. 

-Parker K.

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert is available at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby.

Nightfall and Other Short Stories by Isaac Asimov

Nightfall and Other Stories is a collection of works written and compiled by Isaac Asimov, who was considered a major science fiction writer in the 1900s. Though each narrative is a classic in its own right, I’ve picked out a few that stood out so that I may write a short explanation and/or analysis. Here goes! 


“Nightfall,” regardless of its age, has certain themes that are quite relatable. For one, its premise  speaks to readers with caution, as it demonstrates our stubbornness and our outright rejection to believe what we cannot see, and so when an outcome occurs the consequences are far more severe. Therefore, despite its shortness in length, Asimov is able to structure his points skillfully. To explain, as his main purpose is to establish the ease at which people lose themselves once shown a foreign situation, he creates a civilization that has never been covered in darkness. In turn, once citizens are able to see their first eclipse, none can take the experience (and go mad as a result). In this manner, Asimov illustrates the importance of balance: we cannot learn to appreciate light (yang) if we’ve never felt our way out of the dark (yin). 

Fun Fact: “Nightfall,” which was published in 1941, was soon voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America as the best science-fiction short story ever written. 

Green Patches

“Green Patches” was an unexpected surprise, as it questions our private values. It asks us whether we could survive as a single “organism” (or consciousness), or if our human instincts for independent growth and movement would smash that chance. In this case, Asimov demonstrates that despite our cries for unity, society thrives on anarchy and thus prefers chaos over peace. 

Fun Fact: “Green Patches,” which was published in 1950, had its title changed to “Misbegotten Missionary” (which was later on changed back to “Green Patches”). 

Eyes Do More than See

In “Eyes Do More than See,” Asimov paints out a distant future in which humans have given up their physical forms (and become energy beams). However, these entities soon realize the repercussions of such a choice, for they can remember memories that spoke of earlier passions, love, and far off adventures. In turn, readers are met with a lesson that hints at appreciation – in other words, we should learn to value our concrete, more tangible lives that we abide to, in which we experience sorrow, passion, and loss. 

Fun Fact: “Eyes Do More than See” was nominated in 1966 for a Nebula Award under ‘Best Short Story.’ 

-Emilia D.

Comparing Series: Shatter Me Series vs. The Cruel Prince Series

The Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi and The Cruel Prince series by Holly Black are both amazing fiction book series. The Shatter Me series consists of 6 books and 5 novellas while The Cruel Prince series consists of 3 books.

The Shatter Me series involves the main character, Juliette, who has the ability of the touch of death. Meaning that whoever she touches dies. We follow her through her challenges of finding herself and struggling with being wanted. As a child Juliette was neglected for being they way she was. Throughout the series she finds connections with many characters and she truly finds meaningful relationships. The series has a big plot twist that no one expects in the last 3 books. Each book keeps you wanting more. The first 3 books are in Juliette’s POV while the others are in multiple POVs.

The Cruel Prince series follows a human named Jude. She wants to live in the High Court of Faerie instead of the human world. To live at the court she has to trick the cruel prince named Cardan. Cardan is the youngest prince and he and Jude hate each other. Jude throughout the series finds out she is good at defying people and causing bloodshed. Later in the series Jude becomes the brain behind all of Cardan’s decisions and finds she is a powerful political leader. She has to maintain order in Faerie and keep everything under her control.

In both series there is a powerful female character that is in charge. Jude and Juliette have to maintain order and to do so they have to face many challenges. They overcome their troubles and do what’s better for society instead of themselves. Jude and Juliette learn to sacrifice their own happiness for the better of society. Being powerful rulers, they need to be selfless and Jude and Juliette show this trait throughout the series. Both series also have major plot twists towards the end of the series.

The series have their differences as well. The Shatter Me books are more science fiction while The Cruel Prince series is more fantasy with non-human creatures. The Shatter Me series is focused around overthrowing the corrupt government controlling everyone and everything. They have laws restricting the people in the series and the main character’s main goal is to make the world return to normal. The Cruel Prince series has non-human creatures that are cut-off from the human world. They are separated and the main character, Jude, is a human trying to maintain peace in the non-human world. So, though both series are fiction, they are different types of fiction.

Both series still reflect the same messages. The main characters learn to form relationships with the people they love, showing the message of not having to be alone forever. You will find people that respect you and want to be a positive influence on your life.

Both series were a 5/5 star rating and I definitely recommend reading them!

-Kaitlyn D.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Son: An Ambitious Ending, or a Massive Misstep?

Written 19 years after the first book, Son is the fourth and final book of the “Giver Quartet” by Lois Lowry and it undoubtedly had a weight to live up to. As with each book in the series, the audience is thrust into a world of questions. Only unlike its predecessors, Son has answers.

The story follows a girl named Claire as she fights to be reunited with her son (hence the book’s name). She lives in the same community as Jonas from The Giver. Because of this community, she gives birth to a son that she is banned from being with. While she originally tries to be with her child, the events that end “The Giver” drastically affect her as she winds up in a new colony, with no memories but her name. It is here that she is taken in by a village elder and nicknamed “Water Claire.” She steadily gains her memories, particularly those relating to her lost son, and gains her strength. The village is surprised that she has never seen mammals, pets, or even seasons. But she’s surprised that the village doesn’t have any knowledge of written language, electricity, or medicine. While she does enjoy her time in the village and builds connections with several characters, she eventually embarks upon a daring climb to meet with an old villain and makes a dangerous bargain to be reunited with her son. This part of this story is amazing, particularly Claire’s relationships. She’s a remarkably well done and relatable character, risking everything just being reunited with her son. Lowry is truly the best at creating mini-worlds filled with enjoyable and believable characters.

However, from this point onward the story starts to unravel. We get to see the colony her son lives in and his relationship with old characters like Jonas and even Kira. Yet unlike my previous praise, these characters don’t have that powerful relationship or believable attitude. Then we get to see her son’s battle against an old villain, but it’s just weak. Claire climbing a mountain carries more weight than a battle against an embodiment of evil. I don’t understand what happened, it was as if Lowry had a single day to write the ending of the book. It failed to be as powerful or emotional as any of the previous books when it desperately needed to, resulting in a book that is three-fourths fascinating and enjoyable and a final stretch that’s remarkably bland and an overall disappointing end to a wonderful series.

-Parker K.

Son by Lois Lowry is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

The War of the Worlds is a highly-influential science fiction novel by H. G. Wells.  The story seems to be set around the late 1800s.  When a supposed meteorite crashes near the narrator’s home, little to no suspicion is aroused.  However, on closer inspection, the object appears to be a huge, artificial cylinder.  Ugly, grotesque aliens emerge from the cylinder, only to retreat back inside.  A group of people attempt to greet the Martian visitors, only to be shot down with a heat-ray.  More and more aliens arrive, and it becomes apparent that Mars has plotted an invasion of Earth.

This book is one of the first science fiction stories of its kind.  It seems almost cliche now for a science fiction story to include an alien invasion, but this was one of the first novels to explore that concept.  The story uses many creative elements that seem ahead of its time, such as tripod-like alien fighter machines that shoot heat-rays.  In a strange way, I enjoyed reading about the humans’ pitiful attempts to defend themselves against the Martians.  The Martians possessed highly-advanced technology, which made it extremely difficult for humans to defeat them with traditional weapons.

I would consider this book a must-read for science fiction fans.  It may be one of the most popular and influential books of its kind.  It is written in a way that makes it seem like an actual historical event, which makes it even more thrilling to read.  Like many of H. G. Wells’ novels, the tone of this book feels dark but engrossing at the same time.  Some people may find the book a bit hair-raising and even frightening, but I enjoyed it thoroughly and would highly recommend it.

-Oliver H.

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Following a devastating global war called World War Terminus, the radioactive fallout in the Earth’s atmosphere has left the planet near inhospitable, driving entire species of animals into extinction. Most of mankind has fled from their homeworld, preferring to live in off-world colonies. The humans who remain desire any living creature, and for those who cannot afford one, incredibly realistic copies of any creature can be made to order, from sheep to ostriches to anything in between – including humans.

While the androids were originally designed to assist the immigrants to Mars, their frightening indistinguishability from actual humans caused them to be banned from Earth. Some rogue androids, or “andys,” however, escaped, and now live among human beings undetected. Because of this, official bounty hunters are commissioned to find these androids and “retire” them.

Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter living in what was once San Francisco, is tasked with finding a special group of andys, designated Nexus-6, a highly intelligent model made of organic material so similar to that of humans that only an invasive posthumous procedure can determine the difference. While Deckard begins his commission believing it to be ultimately no different from his other missions, he quickly realizes that this is far from the case. The advanced androids are so indiscernible from regular humans that Deckard begins to empathize with them, finding it harder to complete his mission as it goes along. However, the andys are not human, and when faced with certain death, they are completely willing to fight for their survival by any means necessary.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick is simultaneously an intriguing science fiction novel and an analysis of the psychological impact of loneliness and what it means to be human. The action-filled plot takes the reader on a rollercoaster of emotions with a twist ending. This book is definitely recommended to fans of the sci-fi or dystopian genres.

-Mahak M.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.