Top 10 Books of 2017

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Review: Sea of Rust

32617610Title: Sea of Rust (2017)
Author: C. Robert Cargill
Pages: 416

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Brittle, a lone Caregiver robot, scavenges for functioning parts in the desolate Sea of Rust. Along her journey she encounters factions of robots that have differing visions of how the post-human world should be. It’s marketed as something akin to The Martian, but it feels much more like a quirkier story out of The Terminator universe.

This was an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic genre and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The story jumps between pre- and post-robot uprising and I found myself more invested in the chapters that described the history of the world before the apocalypse versus the present day narrative. Every aspect of this “what-if” world is well thought out and nicely conveyed to the reader.

For a story about metal automatons and artificial intelligence, Sea of Rust employs a surprising amount of emotional heft. Brittle’s tale is one of angst, loss, and survival. I couldn’t help drawing parallels to The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis, a favorite of mine that dives even deeper into the psyche of robotkind and explores what it really means to have free will. Sea of Rust is not at that level, but it is a serviceable and enjoyable ride nonetheless.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: American War

American WarTitle: American War (2017)
Author: Omar El Akkad
Pages: 352

Omar El Akkad’s debut novel is an inventive and timely story that uses the framework of what we understand about the United States today and extrapolates a possible horrifying future. A collection of states in the Deep South has attempted secession due to their refusal to cease using fossil fuels. Sarat Chestnut is young girl growing up in a refugee camp within these Free Southern States, while deadly conflict between the Blue (North) and Red (South) explodes all around her. American War explores the future consequences of many of today’s hot-button political issues: drone warfare, torture, climate change, nativism, the American political divide, and several others.

The worldbuilding El Akkad employs is extremely effective. Many things about this dystopian future are clearly communicated to the reader (a redrawn map of the United States, primary source documents) and the rest is interwoven in a subtle way that requires a small mental step to fully appreciate — a character references a Category 6 storm that passes through (oh, there are now storms bigger than a Category 5?) or discussions of the fighting craze “Yuffsy” (an evolved version of the pseudo-sound-alike “UFC”).

Sarat’s unrelenting personal narrative wasn’t quite as compelling to me as the overall world that she inhabited, but this was still a really impressive debut; it just never quite got over the hump to go from “good” to “great.” I would welcome another book set in this world, but I’d happily read anything else El Akkad comes out with next.

★★★½ out of 5