In all honesty: I had no idea what to expect when I first opened Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton. The cover features a woman’s face with robot hands which instantly intrigued me and made me think “robots are involved, great!” But then the copy on the inside cover flap felt more like a concept than an explanation so I decided to just go ahead and turn to the first page and start reading. Four pages later, I was hooked and almost didn’t put the book down so I could make it to work on time.
Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful is six connected stories exploring what it means to be human in a world where technological and medical advances keep moving forward and let us repair, enhance, and change our fleshy forms. They start out simple enough in our not so distant future. A young boy receives organs from his sister. A teenage girl is part mechanical after being reconstructed after a car accident. The daughter of a reverend with a change of heart has to try and figure out her own life. And then it starts to get a little stranger as we move much further into the future. A genetically modified boy isn’t quite human. A man who was unwillingly modified to be a part-robotic slave runs for his life in Russia. And finally… two teenagers who are what used to be human in a world that uplifts the genetically modified try to figure out what to do when their entire world changes. Each story builds upon the world established in the one prior and moves us further into the future. They could all be read alone but together they form something special.
Admittedly, I didn’t love every story as much as some of the others but every one of them made me think and wonder if this is really the path that humanity in the United States might take. That’s part of what makes this book disturbing at times. While the final story feels a little outlandish with the state of the world, the five prior make its scenario totally plausible. In all honesty, I’m not sure how I feel about how things wrap up but I can understand and respect how Dayton got there which is ultimately more important. My favorite of the stories is probably the second one where Milla struggles with what her body has become in a world where this isn’t considered normal yet. Give me all the partially robot girls and their internal struggles with trying to still feel human.
Ultimately, Stronger, Faster and More Beautiful is one of those books that’s hard to discuss without spoilers because each part is an experience. If you’re interested in a look at the potential path of humanity from an intimate and personal level, this is the book for you. If you’re even mildly intrigued by this book, pick it up. I highly doubt you’ll regret it.
Wunderkind PR/Delacorte Press provided a copy of the book for review purposes.
If you’re American, Eurovision is probably one of those things that you either get or you don’t. An international song competition, it’s absurd to the max and not one of those things you can easily explain because it must be experienced. Personally, I only have fond feelings towards Eurovision and can’t really decide whether I like the performances or the voting part better. (We made a friend watch one year and I think he has slightly less than fond feelings about it although he at least sort of liked the voting.) The competition may get a little heated sometimes but it’s really just a giant disco ball of happiness and we could all use a little of that in our lives.
Point is, all anyone ever had to do to sell me on Catherynne Valente’s Space Opera was say that it’s Eurovision but in space. Sign me the hell up. Very much in the vein of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Space Opera doesn’t take itself too seriously and instead revels in the Eurovision—sorry, Metagalactic Grand Prix—ridiculousness for a enjoyable ride. That’s not to say that the book is all fun and games. After all, the contestants do try and kill each other before the semi final and it’s only Decible Jones and the Absolute Zero since the other Absolute Zero died in a tragic car accident years ago and her death still hangs over them. This isn’t the sort of inspiring story where the human race crushes the Metagalactic competition to pieces and reigns victorious. However, this is the sort of story where you close the book and go, “Huh. Well if there’s Eurovision in space and we’re suddenly invited to join in one day, that might actually be how it goes.” (And now that I’m writing that… oh God we’re doomed.)
Space Opera is flashy and entertaining but also doesn’t let the glitz stop it from saying a thing or two about mankind without feeling like a life lesson. I keep coming back to the word absurd as I think about this book but I meant it in the best possible way. I can’t wait to see how it eventually translates to the big screen partially due to the amazing descriptions of some of the previous Metagalactic acts. (How can you not want to see an industrial sea-shanty called “You Bombard My Heart with Overwhelming Air Superiority” or a neo-gangsta math-rock anthem titled, “This Program Has Executed An Error And Must Shut Down”?) Space Opera lets us escape to a much larger and stranger galaxy and enjoy the glam as humans try and save themselves with a song.
In space, everyone can hear you sing.
Claudia Gray takes us back to the stars except this time, they’re a little bit closer and in our future instead of a long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away. “Defy the Stars” is the story of Noemi Vidal, a teenage soldier who’s preparing to embark on a suicide mission that could save her people, and Abel, a one-of-a-kind mech prototype who’s been stranded alone aboard a ship for decades. Thrown together by chance, the pair embark on an adventure that takes them across the galaxy as Noemi tries to get home in time for her mission and Abel’s programming leaves him with no choice but to help her… until it’s more than just programming that keeps him on her side.
“Defy the Stars” takes our world, leaps forward several centuries in the future, and wonders where we might be once we live on planets aside from Earth. It considers what life for us could be like one day. It ponders what you might do when what you thought was right is upended. And it questions what it means to be human, to be alive, and to have a soul. There’s a bit of a love story, yes, but it’s done so subtly and builds upon the growing trust and friendship between the two characters that the reader, like Abel and Noemi, might not quite realize where it’s leading until they do. “Defy the Stars” manages to be both a very personal story about very likable main characters and a larger story about the galaxy as a whole. Continue reading