Book Read: Shift by Hugh Howey

Shift by Hugh HoweyMy second book of the year (2016).

When I bought this book, I didn’t know whether to read it before or after WoolShift is a prequel to Wool, but is the second book in the series. A discussion with the kind book seller (at Waterstone’s in Amsterdam) didn’t help. I bought the book anyway, but left it on the shelves until I had bought and read Wool. Then I left it for another few years…

Although I didn’t remember the details of Wool, I soon realized that there were people in this book who had also appeared in Wool. In fact, we get the back story for what happens in Wool. Not surprisingly, of course, since it’s a prequel.

The story starts with a world as we know it, and then works towards the world in Wool. We find out why the silos were built, and we’re introduced to some of the silo secrets that we were totally oblivious of in Wool. I found some of the story a bit slow. In particular, I found that I wasn’t too interested in the back story about how the silos came about. On the other hand, I loved the story of Jimmy in silo 17, whom we follow through the years. He’s also a (minor) character in Wool, and I very much enjoyed finding out how he became the person we meet in that first book.

Amazon says:

“In 2007, the Center for Automation in Nanobiotech (CAN) outlined the hardware and software platforms that would one day allow robots smaller than human cells to make medical diagnoses, conduct repairs, and even self-propagate. In the same year, the CBS network re-aired a program about the effects of propranolol on sufferers of extreme trauma. A simple pill, it had been discovered, could wipe out the memory of any traumatic event. At almost the same moment in humanity’s broad history, mankind discovered the means for bringing about its utter downfall. And the ability to forget it ever happened. This is the second volume in the New York Times best-selling Wool series.”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Number of pages: 570

First published: 2013

I got this: bought at a bookshop

Genre: Post-apocalyptic


Book Review: The Subprimes by Karl Taro Greenfeld

The Subprimes by  Karl Taro GreenfeldThe Subprimes : What it is about

From the publishers: “In a future America that feels increasingly familiar, you are your credit score. Extreme wealth inequality has created a class of have-nothings: Subprimes. Their bad credit ratings make them unemployable. Jobless and without assets, they’ve walked out on mortgages, been foreclosed upon, or can no longer afford a fixed address. Fugitives who must keep moving to avoid arrest, they wander the globally warmed American wasteland searching for day labor and a place to park their battered SUVs for the night.

Karl Taro Greenfeld’s trenchant satire follows the fortunes of two families whose lives reflect this new dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-financially-fittest America. Desperate for work and food, a Subprime family has been forced to migrate east, hoping for a better life. They are soon joined in their odyssey by a writer and his family—slightly better off, yet falling fast. Eventually, they discover a small settlement of Subprimes who have begun an agrarian utopia built on a foreclosed exurb. Soon, though, the little stability they have is threatened when their land is targeted by job creators for shale oil extraction.

But all is not lost. A hero emerges, a woman on a motorcycle—suspiciously lacking a credit score—who just may save the world.”

The Subprimes : What I thought

This was a great read, very funny, even though a lot of the story was so unpleasant. People thrown out of their houses and moved on from place to place, because their credit rate is “subprime”. A man arrested for playing football with his son and some other boys. A big, big fracking machine en route to start digging in a housing estate where a group of subprimes have started a new life.

The story follows both a group of subprimes and two families that are well off. I found it sometimes hard to distinguish between the men in those two families and ended up mixing them up every now and then. But the story lines nicely interact and this story ends with a very satisfying Grand Finale in which all the main characters are present and work towards solving a major problem.

One mysterious woman with incredible powers keeps saving people, by handing them money, solving their problems, healing them. This made the story supernatural. But only as far as that one woman was concerned. In all other respects, most of the story could really happen, unfortunately.

A quick, fun read about injustice and the power of the government and of big corporations. But also a story of people wanting better for themselves and starting a new life outside society.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (good to very good)

Number of pages: 320

First published: 2015

I got this book: for review from the publishers, Harper Collins

Genre: science fiction, dystopia

Also read by this author: Triburbia


Book review: The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

The Ship by Antonia HoneywellThe Ship: What it is about

From the publishers: “WELCOME TO LONDON


Oxford Street burned for three weeks. The British Museum is occupied by ragtag survivors. The Regent’s Park camps have been bombed. The Nazareth Act has come into force. If you can’t produce your identity card, you don’t exist.

Lalla, sixteen, has grown up sheltered from the new reality by her visionary father, Michael Paul. But now the chaos has reached their doorstep. Michael has promised to save them. His escape route is a ship big enough to save five hundred people. But only the worthy will be chosen.

Once on board, as day follows identical day, Lalla’s unease grows. Where are they going? What does her father really want?


The Ship: What I thought

I love post-apocalyptic fiction. What I love most about it is discovering a new world. And every post-apocalyptic book has its own, different world. Authors have such great ideas about what is happening in their version of the future. I always enjoy reading those.

In this book, the world is seen through the eyes of 16-year-old Lalla. She doesn’t know a lot about her world. She has been kept indoors a lot and hasn’t suffered hunger and homelessness like many other people in London. Even so, the situation of Lalla and her parents gradually gets worse, and they decide to board a ship that will take them away.

The ship is organized and stocked by Lalla’s father. Here is one of several things that I wasn’t sure about: How could her father get hold of the ship and the many things he has on board in this time of scarcity? Why did the authorities let him and the other people get away? Was he maybe himself very high up in the ranks? Because Lalla didn’t know, the reader doesn’t know, either.

Lalla is a spoiled girl, and not a very pleasant one. But she is asking the right questions. While the rest of the passengers are just happy to have food and shelter, Lalla, who is used to those things, wants to look beyond this. And she doesn’t like the answers she gets.

I liked how she starts off as a passive, ignorant girl, and eventually becomes a woman who thinks about her situation and takes action. I didn’t like her too much as a person, but I loved the voyage we, as readers, make with her in this strange and dangerous world.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (good)

Number of pages: 320

First published: 2015

I got this: for review from Orion Publishers (Netgalley, ebook)

Genre: science fiction, dystopia

Book review: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone Clocks by David MitchellThe Bone Clocks: What it is about

From the publishers: “One drowsy summer’s day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for ‘asylum’. Decades will pass before Holly understands exactly what sort of asylum the woman was seeking . . .

The Bone Clocks follows the twists and turns of Holly’s life from a scarred adolescence in Gravesend to old age on Ireland’s Atlantic coast as Europe’s oil supply dries up – a life not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality. For Holly Sykes – daughter, sister, mother, guardian – is also an unwitting player in a murderous feud played out in the shadows and margins of our world, and may prove to be its decisive weapon.”

The Bone Clocks: What I thought

Reading this book was not an undivided success: The beginning and the end were beautiful, the middle dull, and the fight between the two secret societies (let’s call them that) ridiculous. I didn’t care much about those societies; I found them unconvincing. Their story was a clever idea, but for me that part of the book was really just a story.

I think the problem was that we were initially (and indeed in the second and third instances) given second-hand information about the societies and their workings. Holly Sykes, a 16-year-old who had run away from home, experienced some odd moments, which could later be explained as the result of the actions of the members of these societies. I would have much preferred to have seen this story from the point of view of one of these members much earlier than was the case so I could see firsthand what happened. Hindsight explanations are fine, but it would have been much more convincing to experience this firsthand.

Anyway, the story of Holly, both in the first and the last part of the book, was interesting. But it felt as if there were two different Holly’s: one was sixteen years old and ran away from home, the other was in her seventies and grandmother. During the intervening years, we came across Holly only occasionally and not as a main character. Because we always looked at her from the perspective of someone else, I did not feel attached to her so much and I found it hard to see in the old lady the same person as the young Holly.

The book is divided into six parts, with each part told from the perspective of a different character, except the beginning and the end, where Holly plays the lead role. Each part is placed further in time, such that the book takes place over a period of about sixty years. The division into parts was not unpleasant but some parts went on for quite a long time. Indeed, I wonder whether the book really should be as big as it is (around 200,000 words, phew!). It is packed with great insights, observations and ideas, but whether these all had to be present in one book? Cut to the chase! I would occasionally cry, but then I politely continued reading. Until there was that fight between the secret societies. I’ll be honest: During that part of the story, I skipped a bit here and there. The rest of the book I completely read, but that fight felt like a cliché adventure story.

In contrast, the ending was again superb! We are then in 2043, in a post-apocalyptic world where the Chinese are in charge, there isn’t enough food (there is a food bank where everyone (everyone!) gets their weekly portions) and many items are no longer for sale. Electricity is scarce and the Internet is irregular (and is already limited in scope).

A nasty world, while it had started so innocently in 1984.

This is a book full of ideas and events, but a very big book. For the real Mitchell enthusiast this is a must of course. Others may just think twice before they start reading it, because it’s an investment in time – but you certainly get something for your trouble!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (okay to good)

Number of pages: 608

First published: 2014

I got this: from the Dutch publishers

Genre: Contemporary fiction


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