The Genome caught my attention with its name, since I am a molecular biologist who has worked with several genomes in the past. The science fiction as...moreThe Genome caught my attention with its name, since I am a molecular biologist who has worked with several genomes in the past. The science fiction aspect of the story in The Genome, in addition to the space dwelling human and Other empires, is well fleshed out. It should be said that some aspects of enhancing humans by reprogramming their genetic material at puberty is simply impossible due to physical and molecular constraints, some depicted in the novel are plausible (though very far away from what we can achieve today). So I don’t expect superhuman-powered speshes to populate the universe anytime soon (certainly not in mid-21st century), but it is an exciting and interesting premise for a novel.
The story follows the adventures of Alex Romanov, a master-pilot spesh, who is discharged from the hospital on an industrial planet after a work accident that cut him in two. Right out of the hospital, Alex’s life gets complicated, where he helps a girl escape from some thugs, and protects her while she goes through a complicated metamorphosis (indicating that she too is a spesh). Having been forced to find a new job right away, Ale accepts the captain position in a firm he has never heard of before flying a nice vessel for a good salary for an unknown purpose.
The setup is rather mysterious and engaging. Alex has his doubts about the job he has acquired, simply to have the money the salary was offering so that he can help the girl. His doubts multiply as he hires a new crew, each member possessing some impressive skills and some quirks that make him worry. The plot thickens as things seem better than he had hoped (turns out they are going to carry alien races for tourism purposes), but complications multiply still.
And then… And then the space sci-fi adventure turns into a classic whodunit, complete with Sherlock Holmes! This was rather unexpected, and I believe makes the book rather unique in the genre. On the one hand, Sherlock in space seems rather odd, on the other, it works well, because all the elements of a classic “impossible” crime is well laid out: confined location (spaceship), a brutal murder, each and every person on board a suspect with good motives, many secrets… The switch to classic mystery type plot in the middle was a bit of a shock, but in the end, I liked it (somewhat like Firefly, where the concept of cowboys in space seems weird at first, but works in the end).
Character development is another story, and perhaps the reason why I would rate the novel a 3.5/5 and not higher. I understand that Lukyanenko explicitly declares that he will not attempt to be politically correct. And he is Russian, so if we are to impose on him the prejudices he finds easy to write with, we would not expect him to be politically correct, anyway. So when the sexy white girl is petite and described repeatedly as a nymphet, and the sexy black woman is rather aggressive and “voluptuous,” when he (through the main character, Alex) comments on how feminists would never work in the kitchen to serve food for others, when he allows the only unlikeably bitchy character on board to be the only gay man, and then he turns him straight… Well, we are reminded that he knows all of this is on purpose, may offend others, and he is nor apologizing for it. Good for him! I wasn’t offended by any of this, but I did wonder if Lukyanenko can write any other way than sounding like a typical heterosexist Russian male (complete with the soft, rather hapless inside, affable likability, and a desperate need to be loved). Perhaps we’ll find out in the future. Until then, I am not judging either way. (I have not read Night Watch and Day Watch, but I have seen the films, which probably do the books no justice, and do not give me any real idea about his writing style.)
Beyond Alex, the other characters are mostly rudimentary. Kim and Janet, the female sex partners of Alex (and others) are probably the second most developed characters in the book. Considering that some key developments will require the reader to understand how things came to be, the lack of character development for some characters was not something that thrilled me. Edgar, perhaps the most intriguing character in the novel, was developed somewhat better, but the complete character switch halfway through the story was a bit unrealistic, though Lukyanenko tries to explain this in the plot.
Some would say the main story of the novel is about being human. More specifically, about the role our ability to fall in love plays in being human. There are many monologs, via Alex and the narration, about love, falling in love, what love requires, how it is not to be able to fall in love, what could substitute for love, what, if anything, could oppose love, who would benefit from not being able to love anyone. In addition to the discussion of love, there is plenty of philosophizing about the difference between master and slave, and how, genetically programming humans so they cannot do certain things and can only do other things may turn them into slaves. Some of the more minor concerns discussed include moral implication of cloning and consent.
In general, these themes and ideas were more successful in dialog form than in long monolog form. Lukyanenko does both, mostly relying on monologs in Alex’s head about the nature of love and being human, and on dialogs between characters about clones, slavery, and consent. The ending is interesting, though a bit open-ended, in this regard, where Alex claims he has fallen in love with Dr. Watson (though, going back to character development, it is impossible to really see how he was able to fall in love with her, unless he is just in love with her looks, because we know almost nothing about her, except for the fact that she is nice and smart. Perhaps that’s all Alex needs to fall in love, or perhaps he thinks he is in love… It is more believable that Dr. Watson has fallen in love with Alex, since she had ample time to study him, learn everything about him, and obsess about him during the murder investigation.) We do not know if Alex has gained the ability to love despite his spesh abilities, or if he is not as spesh as before, or what.
As this was a translated work, I will have to say something about the language. For the most part, the translation reads smoothly. Some things that bothered me were clearly based on the way Lukyanenko writes (a few stream-of-consciousness sentences in the middle of a larger paragraph, the overwhelming usage of “rainbow” especially in the beginning of the novel, some repetitive clichés) and not the translation. Two things stuck out that may be related to translation: “s/he started” and “rejoined.” These seem archaic usages that are not common in English today, and they read awkwardly in the text. A few places could have been trimmed for a better, tighter translation (easier said than done!) despite the fact that the original was probably not edited to be tight either. Lukyanenko also has a propensity to tell rather than show, but this is typical of sci-fi and fantasy writing, so I cannot complain too much.
Overall, The Genome was an engaging, fun read with some surprises, mostly due to style than plot twists. Coming back to the name of the book, I think The Genome fits the bill well, but an equally good argument could be made for “Sherlock in Space!”
Thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media for a free digital copy of the book for my honest review. (less)
So at the end of Chimera Book Three I realized that this is not a trilogy. I don’t know why I thought this. Anyway, not a trilogy.
The third book of th...moreSo at the end of Chimera Book Three I realized that this is not a trilogy. I don’t know why I thought this. Anyway, not a trilogy.
The third book of the series was more fun to read. Some of the emotional arcs were more fleshed out and characters’ motives became clearer. Alliances also became somewhat clear, though there is no end to the cunning plot twists in the world of Chimera; make no mistake! All in all, most of the big questions raised in the first two books were finally answered in the third book. Though nothing was shockingly surprising, I imagine a young crowd will be pleased at the answers. Most importantly, Gomm gave the “bad” characters some more dimension, allowing the tones of grey that make the story more believable at an emotional level.
One could read these three as a stand-alone trilogy, I suppose. But really, I want to know what happened! (No, I’m not hooked. I can stop reading this series whenever I want. No, really!)
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free digital copy of the book in exchange of my honest review. (less)
The second book of the Chimera adventures immediately starts with twists and turns, and by the middle of the book all that was sure before seems unsur...moreThe second book of the Chimera adventures immediately starts with twists and turns, and by the middle of the book all that was sure before seems unsure. Every character seems unreliable, some overtly changing sides, some pretending to do so for nobler causes. Or are they? As the reader, it is difficult to even believe in the good in Kyp, as he seems to lose that belief himself. Perhaps those moments when he gives up are the most poignant, but this is mostly lost in the fast paced race and double-crossings that become dizzying at some point before the book finally gives in to some sort of cliff hanger stop.
Although the first book made me think that the series would be appropriate for younger children, the second book tells me that perhaps an older crowd is better. There is a lot of violence, which only escalates in the third book. And though most of the violence is caused by and inflicted on “things,” these things do have “life” in them. Regardless, the menacing greed and hatred is blatant in the second book, making the plot all the more exciting, but some character decisions all the more cringe worthy.
Book Two is a successful follow up to the first Chimera book, and it manages to return to the fuzzy spots in the first book to really render them clear and memorable.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free digital copy of the book in exchange of my honest review. (less)
The first of the trilogy by Phil Gomm starts off with Kyp being taken to a used furniture (and etc.) store by his parents. He is upset at his parents....moreThe first of the trilogy by Phil Gomm starts off with Kyp being taken to a used furniture (and etc.) store by his parents. He is upset at his parents. He is upset at the whole world. And soon he is in another world, where terrible creatures are hunting for him, and it is difficult to know who is his friend and who is working with the enemy.
The world Gomm creates is vivid and interesting, and provides some long awaited answers: where the heck are my socks, and that book I swear I put right here on this shelf? The creatures of Chimera are born out of those lost to our world and they dazzle and scare and hunt and grab and suck and talk and fly and cuddle... But beyond the creatures, beyond the quest to escape Chimera (or help the children stuck in Chimera), the book is about loss, both in terms of losing someone or something that is dear, and in terms of being lost. It is also about being missed, being wanted, and belonging. There is a good balance of melancholy and good humor and creative genius of this strange world that keeps the story flying.
Perhaps one tiny complaint is that there is a lot of ground covered in a short amount of time, making it difficult to fully soak up some of the fantastical places in Chimera. In the end, I am a bit fuzzy about the purpose of things and how they connect and what drives the whole thing. Perhaps, I am meant to be fuzzy on these; this is the first of a trilogy after all.
I am also hoping the timing of the attack by the Oblivion Three has a purpose, that it wasn't some coincidence that they managed to get where they were always banned from just when Kyp ended up in Chimera.
Overall, Gomm captures the cranky disappointments of Kyp very well, and both the character development and plot are captivating. I will definitely read the rest of the trilogy based on this first book.
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a free digital copy in exchange of my honest review.
Thanks to Yale University Press and NetGalley for a free copy of Suspended Sentences in exchange for my honest review.
There are many similarities amon...moreThanks to Yale University Press and NetGalley for a free copy of Suspended Sentences in exchange for my honest review.
There are many similarities among the three novellas in Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas, thus the thematic aggregation makes sense. However, I would have rated the book higher, based on the first two pieces, as the third had two major problems: one, that the rambling memories told in staggering jumps between now and then and sometime in between that made the first two pieces (Afterimage and Suspended Sentences) intriguing and engaging took a rather repetitive and lost shape in the last piece (Flowers of Ruin), which made the third part of the book seem to drag; two, that the Suspended Sentences and Flower of Ruin pieces had some parts that were almost exactly the same, which added to the drag towards the end of the book for me.
Beyond this, the collection is a gem. The stories are about identity and memory and the difference point of view makes in our personal even national reality. They are also about forgetting, fading away, becoming invisible, and disappearing. Every story has a narrator who knew little about what was actually going on around him, who tries hard to remember and reconstruct what was and what wasn't, who was and who wasn't, and who could it have been. As the fragmented memories paint an incomplete, often unsure picture of France under occupation and after, there is something dark and sinister lurking behind the canvas, threatening to surface every now and then, but ultimately remains unseen. Modiano also presents one of the most haunting uses of a simple list of things, things past, things gone, things unsure and unknown, listed across the page like a shopping list of insignificant items...
The translation is successful in yielding a clear and effective prose that evokes the full range of emotions required by the stories. Modiano's prose is haunting, as are his characters.
Suspended Sentences is a great read for anyone who likes haunting memories wrapped up in mysteries that are long forgotten.(less)