Interesting and thoughtful, but fundamentally flawed, Yesterday's Kin is a book that ultimately fell flat for me. There's no question that Nancy KressInteresting and thoughtful, but fundamentally flawed, Yesterday's Kin is a book that ultimately fell flat for me. There's no question that Nancy Kress is a woman of ideas, it's just that I don't necessarily agree with (or appreciate) all of them.
My biggest quibble with the tale is how overwhelmingly pessimistic it is. Really, it offers a very dim view of humanity throughout, continually harps on our fears and prejudices, and then wraps it all up with an extraordinarily heavy-handed reminder of how violent and spiteful we can be. While many other authors have used their science fiction to explore our darker side, there's usually a redeeming quality there, a glimmer of hope that at least some of might succeed despite ourselves. Still others throw out that pessimism at the end, as an ultimate sort of twist, but there's no such twist here, just the acknowledgement of the inevitable conclusion.
My secondary quibble - and this one, I admit, may be deliberate - is that there's no sense of wonder or awe to the story. We start it in medias res, with the aliens already here, and their ship already in orbit, denying us that all-important glimpse of first contact. The aliens themselves are very human (that is, in fact, the point of the novel), so there's little sense of wonder there, and we don't really get to see much of their technology (beyond the energy shield, which fields so much of the pessimism). Like I said, I understand that much of that is likely deliberate, in that it help feed the suspicions the characters have as to the aliens' true motivations, but I would have taken a different approach.
My final quibble is that, for a story that's so much about family and relationships, I didn't care for a single character. Seriously, I found them all odd, cold, distant, and unlikable. There wasn't much personality to any of them, and there's so little context to their relationships outside the alien crisis, I found it impossible to connect to them or really care about their dilemmas.
Having said all that, the idea of the aliens is interesting, and there are some nice cultural flourishes towards the end. The story does move at a decent pace, and there is some real tension to several aspects of the story. None of that is enough, however, to redeem the flaws or to endear me at all to Yesterday's Kin. It's not altogether a bad novel, but there's really little to distinguish it.
Okay, so let me put this one into context for you. I don't read nearly as much science fiction as I used to, and military science fiction is a sub genOkay, so let me put this one into context for you. I don't read nearly as much science fiction as I used to, and military science fiction is a sub genre I've really only dabbled in. However, I do appreciate a good alien invasion story, and I was already curious about Weston Ochse's Seal Team 666 series, so I decided to give Grunt Life: Task Force Ombra a read.
While I likely didn't enjoy it as much as a fan of the genre might, it was still a good, solid read with some elements that surprised me. The story has an interesting start, with a well-foiled suicide attempt atop a bridge that includes a pop-culture Lethal Weapon reference. It's an important connection, in that both are action-packed stories, with moments of sorrow and darkness, and elements of dark humor to alleviate that darkness.
In fact, the idea of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are not just elements of the story, but the driving force behind Task Force Ombra. By taking a hard look at where such dark thoughts come from and what they can do to a human being, Ochse sets up an interesting sort of evolutionary defense against the overwhelming psychic influence of the alien invaders.
As for those invaders, I like the fact that Ochse allowed to be so . . . well, alien. Although insect-like in their appearance and behavior, there's more to his aliens that just that easy sort of comparison. Their mental/emotional abilities dwarf anything humanity can imagine, and their motives are incomprehensible. In fact, while there is some debate about who they are and what drives the alien Cray, understanding that motivation simply isn't important to a grunt - understanding how to stop them, hurt them, and kill them is.
The opening arc of the story was, by far, the most interesting to me. Getting to meet the suicidal men and women recruited for Task Force Ombra, seeing how they're trained/conditioned in prison-like conditions, and watching as they engage one another in a confessional sort of catharsis is fascinating. Ochse devotes a considerable amount of time to setting the stage for his grunts, and I liked that. The explosion of all-out hostilities and actual war against the Cray, lacks quite the same depth, although it never forgets where it (or its grunts) came from. Having said that, there are still some interesting elements to the war, with experimental guns, swords, and well-armored mecha providing a very sci-fi contrast to the very human (and haunting) idea of massive airliners being used in suicidal attacks.
A fast-paced story with some daring ideas, Grunt Life: Task Force Ombra is a must-read for fans of the military science fiction genre, and definitely worth a read for sci-fi fans in general.
I was excited about this, and really wanted to like it, but it just fell flat for me. The characters were bland and simplistic, almost like they sidesI was excited about this, and really wanted to like it, but it just fell flat for me. The characters were bland and simplistic, almost like they sidestepped not from another time/universe, but from another genre altogether. Even though it's been done before, the whole question of whether aliens are interfering to save us or doom us is one I usually enjoy, but I didn't feel this added anything new or unique to the theme. As for the writing itself, it was average - not nearly as smart or as polished as I've found his previous work to be - and the plotting was straightforward to the point of being predictable.
Ultimately, I just couldn't maintain enough interest to keep reading....more
Science fiction is a genre that generally falls into two widely different scopes (the epic, action-packed, space opera; and the intimate, character-foScience fiction is a genre that generally falls into two widely different scopes (the epic, action-packed, space opera; and the intimate, character-focused, story of ideas), and two equally diverse themes (that of the truly 'alien' threat from beyond the stars; and that of the the 'human' threat, emerging from much closer to home).
With ARIA: Left Luggage, Geoff Nelder opts for the more intimate scope, but pairs it with the alien threat. It's a combination that's particularly difficult to pull off, but he manages to do an admirable job.
Taking his cue from the Greeks, Nelder pulls a Trojan Horse ploy, depositing an innocuous looking piece of alien luggage on a human space station. Due to a mixture of arrogance and curiosity, the contents of that luggage - Alien Retrograde Infectious Amnesia (ARIA) - are soon shared with all of humanity. Before long, people are having their memory erased quickly and progressively. Lost, confused, angry, and scared, the world finds itself in dire straits . . . but there may just be hope.
The contagion itself that is the initial draw here, and Nelder does a superb job of exploring the intimate, personal details. We see precisely how individuals suffer under its infection, and watch how their lives are destroyed. He also extrapolates the impact of a mass case of alien dementia, giving us the bigger picture of a society falling into ruin. Its fascinating, terrifying, and heart-breaking as well.
Of course, exploring the impact of ARIA can - or make that should - only be taken so far. Like a plague-ridden post-apocalyptic nightmare, the horror can quickly wear thin, trying the reader's patience and causing them to lose interest. That's where Nelder wisely turns to a story of heroism and hope, as a small group of survivors attempt to understand where the infection came from, why humanity has been targeted, and what can be done to halt the infection in its tracks.
The characters are strong, more than capable of carrying a tale that moves along at a good pace. Even those minor characters who come and go so quickly are well-drawn, human beings with human sufferings. The story does lag in a few places, as Nelder catches us up on the 'how' and 'why', but for the most part he keeps the pace moving. The core mystery is handled exceptionally well, never overburdening the story, but never getting lost in the chaos either.
Considering all that's going on, I expected a more confused and convoluted tale, but was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to follow (and relate) to events. It's not quite a door-stopper, but Nelder has written a science fiction novel that offers a good, solid read, with plenty to absorb and enjoy. More importantly, he has written a story with a great deal to think about, wrapped up in a story that makes you want to think.
Imagine, if you will, a table with three different puzzles sitting upon it. Now, imagine somebody taking a handful of pieces from each of those puzzleImagine, if you will, a table with three different puzzles sitting upon it. Now, imagine somebody taking a handful of pieces from each of those puzzles, carefully placing them together, and creating an entirely new fourth puzzle. The pieces almost fit, and the picture they form is clear to the eye, but there are gaps between some pieces, and places where others overlap.
That's the best way I can think of to describe what Tony Evans has done with Code Name: Atlas. At different times and in different places, we're presented with a heart-wrenching tale of a post-apocalyptic journey, a fascinating science-fiction tale of big ideas, and a coldly efficient military/techno-thriller of a society at war. The three individual story elements do come together, linked by the character of Atlas, but it sometimes feels like there is something lost between the pieces. That's not to say it's a bad novel - I quite enjoyed it - but the gaps certainly preyed on my mind.
As the story opens, our world has been destroyed by unknown forces. Entire cities are in ruins, electronics are useless, and packs of scavengers are the closest thing remaining to organized leadership. Evans weaves in some really interesting ideas as to how our end came about, and who was behind it. In a series of flashbacks we're introduced to an escalating battle between science and religion, one that is compounded by the paranoid fears of governments across the globe. The ways in which the line between the reason and faith is blurred are fascinating, but it's a theme that is largely dropped for the rest of the novel.
As they pick up other survivors along the way, Atlas quickly takes on the leadership role to which he is naturally suited. Before long, he finds himself at the head of a newly emerging civilization - one of two significant societies that have risen from the ashes. What we're eventually faced with is an interesting conflict between a warlord and a dictator, neither of whom would be necessarily attractive in a democratic society, but both of whom are uniquely suited to the realities of a post-apocalyptic society. Atlas isn't perfect, and he regularly allows practicality to overrule sentiment, but he's a man with a difficult job. There are a few instances where he crosses a line, taking an action that is logical yet entirely distasteful to the reader, but I have to give Evans credit for maintaining that militaristic edge.
Hovering over everything (literally and symbolically) is the threat of alien invasion. We're teased and tantalized throughout the book with facts and theories about the forces behind our fall, but most of the reports we're presented with are tainted or unreliable. It's an interesting layer to have added to the overall story, but the alien paranoia is never quite played out to the extent I would have expected, and its rather sudden resolution significantly alters the course of the novel yet again.
At its heart, plotlines and themes aside, this is a story about the powers and the burdens of heroism. Atlas is not just the protagonist of the tale, he really is the tale. Remove him from the story, and it all falls apart without his motivations to tie everything together. Some of the secondary characters are better developed than others, and a few manage to endear themselves to the reader, but their primary purpose is to either support or illuminate the character of Atlas. Even the villains only seem to exist in contrast to his heroism, which allows for some interesting parallels to develop, especially in terms of loyalty and betrayal.
The concluding chapters suggest there is more of the story to come, so perhaps those gaps and overlaps I mentioned will be smoothed out in future volumes. Regardless, the novel works as a self-contained piece of storytelling, intriguing and exciting, with an ending that largely satisfies, even as it tantalizes the bigger picture.
A relatively short (under 200 pages) but interesting novel that puts a unique spin on the apocalypse. As the title suggests, each chapters carries usA relatively short (under 200 pages) but interesting novel that puts a unique spin on the apocalypse. As the title suggests, each chapters carries us backwards or forwards in time, telling three intersecting stories:
AFTER THE FALL: A claustrophobic, emotionally charged, post-apocalyptic tale of dying adults, damaged adolescents, and stolen children.
BEFORE THE FALL: Cold and efficient, a contemporary drama surrounding one woman's struggle to decipher a mystery while preparing for single motherhood.
DURING THE FALL: Brief, tantalizing, and the heart of the story, these mini chapters offer a terrifying glimpse into just how simply catastrophic change can begin.
This is a book where execution is everything, where the telling of the story trumps the story itself. Personally, I saw the 'twist' revelation coming very early on, but that's OK. Instead of being something that hooks the reader or sets the stage for an earth-shattering climax, the twist is more a key to unlocking the melancholy truth behind the end of human civilization.
Fortunately, the telling is solid, populated by characters who may not be entirely likeable, but to whom we can either relate, or with whom we can sympathize. Pete (AFTER) is a spoiled teenager, a sad, angry, lonely young man who fills his time by having emotionless sex with teenagers as damaged as himself, and with secret, painful, unrequited longing for an older woman who serves as teacher, mother, doctor, aunt, and friend. His only escape from The Shell (a sterile bubble in which the human race has been preserved) is through brief jaunts into the past, where he steals supplies he doesn't understand . . . and young children to help repopulate the race.
Julie (BEFORE) is a lonely, independent, brilliant mathematician who has been helping the FBI to find a pattern in the bizarre string of child abductions and store thefts. Having become too close to her FBI partner, she chooses to embark on a path of single motherhood, even as she finds herself cast adrift by an agency that doesn't believe her theories. Driven as much by her need to find a purpose behind the pattern as she is by the need to protect her child, she sets herself on a course that will ultimately see her cross paths with Pete . . . before it's too late to satisfy either need.
A solid effort, with a well thought out, appreciably detailed, yet somehow understated catastrophic end to humanity's reign in the final chapters. I would have like a bit more insight into the aliens, but that's a minor quibble and doesn't detract from my appreciation for the story Nancy Kress has crafted here.