It's the year 6036, and thirty-three year old Fran is regretting leaving her comfortable, if dull, life in Adelaide for a colonising expedition in spa...moreIt's the year 6036, and thirty-three year old Fran is regretting leaving her comfortable, if dull, life in Adelaide for a colonising expedition in space. Her ship has been captured, she's separated from almost all of her fellow space-settlers, and the future looks dire. Locked up in a bare cell with a number of other females from different species on the planet of Olman, Fran can only keep young Margaret company as they listen to the sounds of alien warriors being tortured in a nearby cell.
Fran isn't one for sitting down and taking it, though, and she riles up the others to think of escape and freedom. One of her cellmates has an idea, but it requires Fran's willing participation. The warriors are Darkons, and while at the moment they're barely surviving, if they are awakened, sexually, then they become almost invincible. They would certainly be their best bet at escape.
There aren't many options available, and as one of the only human females there, it's up to Fran to awaken the warriors. At the time, she's thinking mostly of escaping this hell-hole, but all too soon the reality of what she's unwittingly committed herself to becomes clear.
I have to be clear: I haven't read Legend Beyond the Stars, the full-length story that begins this series and establishes the whole premise, and I think my reading of this novella suffered for it. The problem was that this was too short a story - too short to explain things, establish anything, create a clear context or even develop the characters. I feel a bit unfair, but all I can do is speak of my experience reading this novella.
While Fran's situation is explained, albeit in short detail, the broader context is missing. There's no explanation for why her ship was captured and all the colonisers imprisoned, or why any of the other females were locked up either. I don't think this would be explained in the first book. There're hints that there is a major inter-galactic war going on, when one of the aliens mentions that the Darkons are resisting and the Elite Guards of Olman are planning a major strike against the Darkon home world. But nothing is explained, and without the right context the scenario of Awakening the Warriors didn't quite hold up. I would hope that the first book fills in these gaps.
But let's take this as the erotic space-opera novella it is. It has a conventional, simple plot structure divided into three short sections: the prison, where Fran sexually awakens the warriors, and from which they flee amid much gunfire; on board the ship they escape on; and the last stage on the space station where Fran and Margaret are nearly captured again. There's not a whole lot to it, which made me think that I prefer longer stories to novellas. But mostly I was disappointed by how formulaic it was. I've read quite a few stories generally classified as Paranormal Romance, and this shared many of the same tropes. The Darkon Warriors could have been alpha vampires, or werewolves. The two Darkon who survive and are awakened by Fran are called Jarrell and Quain. Jarrell is younger, sweeter; Quain is older and very alpha - macho, even.
Since this is a novella, there isn't all that much sex in it - two scenes only, though with two men involved it feels like more. Again, the condensed nature of the novella format made the lusty writing come across as a wee bit silly. I often had to stop myself from rolling my eyes and work at going along with it. Again, the problem with a novella is how squished it feels, how rushed the sexual attraction and progression becomes, and how dependent the story is on romance conventions and familiar language. If you had enjoyed the first book and got into the world-building and set-up, it would be easier to enjoy this for its own sake and not worry about any of these quibbles. I didn't realise it was a sequel or a novella until I started reading it, but for all my criticisms, there were enjoyable elements to this story.
Fran is likeable, she rises to the occasion and becomes a strong heroine. She's got a sense of humour, and she doesn't over-think things or get self-indulgent in her thoughts and reflections. The writing is capable and flows well, and regardless of how corny you might find some of the lines, they are fun and Gilchrist made an effort to add a dash of originality. I found myself more curious about the world and its politics then this short story allowed, and rather wish there was a more serious, lengthy story available that really developed it. It makes me both interested in reading Legend Beyond the Stars but also wary, afraid that my questions won't be explained and I'll come out of it even more confused and frustrated.
Aside from anything else, this is a snappy and exciting story. The fast pace and novella format don't allow for dull moments, and the sex is quite steamy. Unfortunately, the Darkon warriors are under-developed as characters, and come across as mere muscle-men-with-demanding-cocks. Like any other intelligent woman, I find that sexy men are only sexy when they have personality and some brains, too. So overall, this was a frustrating mix of good and unsatisfying, exciting and disappointing.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via Netgalley.(less)
Sixteen-year-old Kira Jordan has been living on the desolate streets for two years after her family is brutally murdered one night and she rejected th...moreSixteen-year-old Kira Jordan has been living on the desolate streets for two years after her family is brutally murdered one night and she rejected the foster care system. She's become an adept shop-lifter and pick-pocket, a petty thief who survives by her wits and has, like almost everyone else, the unlikely dream of one day making it to the Colony, a domed city where people are safe and comfortable and she could go to school again. Those fanciful dreams are even more unlikely when she wakes up one day in pitch blackness, chained to a metal wall by the wrist, and then realises she's sharing the metal box with Rogan Ellis, a teenaged mass murderer.
Unlike Kira, Rogan knows exactly what's going on, because unlike Kira, he signed up for it. Countdown, an underground television reality game show privately subscribed to by viewers who have it beamed right into their heads via the computer chip in the back of their heads. Two contestants are given a set of six tasks, or levels, each progressively worse, and a tight time limit to complete them. There can only be one winner. Rogan was in St Augustine's, a juvenile detention centre, just days away from turning eighteen and being sent to Saradone, a brutal adult prison, when he was offered the alternative choice of being in Countdown. He has little to lose, as either way means likely death, but at least the game show gives him a chance at wiping clean his criminal record as a reward if he wins.
Kira is the first female ever to be on the show, and the first contestant to be press-ganged into it. As such, she's less than willing, but she has to stay within 90 feet of Rogan if she doesn't want her head to blow up. She doesn't know who she can trust but as she learns more about Rogan - and he, her - they come to trust each other as a matter of survival.
But Rogan knows a lot more about this sadistic, murderous game than Kira had reckoned on. In fact, the game - and its creator - are a lot closer to home than she could have guessed. And as the game tries to force them into betraying each other, they instead turn their gazes on the man behind the game itself, and what's really going on.
Countdown was originally published by Shomi in 2008 as an adult novel under the pseudonym of Michelle Maddox. The idea to tweak it a bit for a Young Adult audience worked very well, and the result is a high-adrenaline, fast-paced adventure story with a bit of romance, more than a bit of sexual tension, and a satisfying climax (ha ha). Needless to say, they complete the levels with barely seconds to spare, which makes for some terrific tension.
Even before I started reading Countdown, when I just read the blurb, I was immediately reminded of The Running Man - the old Arnold Schwarzenegger film, not the book which I haven't read yet. And interestingly enough, the story reads very much like you're watching a movie. It has a rather formulaic structure to it, the kind of structure that works very well on screen, and the fast pace, powerful bad guy, slightly conventional plot twists and cinematic-like visuals make for the strong feeling of having just watched an exciting movie.
There is some tidy backstory given on the state of Kira's world, a post-apocalyptic world decimated by the ravages of a plague that wiped out large portions of the population. Her city is mostly derelict, and empty, and it seems like the middle class has mostly been wiped out. The world-building is nicely sketched but doesn't figure prominently, merely supplying the setting for the reality game show: a world where this could be possible.
The characters are few but were nicely developed with plenty of mystery left over to make it hard to know whether to trust any of them. Kira narrates, and while she has her moments, in the beginning, of denial, she soon rises to the challenge and whining is minimal. She becomes a strong-willed heroine, resourceful and intelligent, and between them Kira and Rogan have solid chemistry and plenty of tension. There wasn't anything especially unique or particularly memorable about them, but they were well-written and they hold your attention - and your sympathies.
This is all fun: solid, exciting, dependable fun. If there are "popcorn movies", then this is a "popcorn novel". It is a bit conventional and formulaic, but it's done well and it works, and it's never boring. It achieves its aims admirably and Rowen has delivered a thrilling, compelling story.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via Netgalley.(less)
Based on the character of the 11th Doctor as played by Matt Smith, Jenny T Colgan has brought the Time Lord to life in this well-written, authentic an...moreBased on the character of the 11th Doctor as played by Matt Smith, Jenny T Colgan has brought the Time Lord to life in this well-written, authentic and tightly-paced historical science fiction story.
On a Viking ship headed to Iceland, Henrik - a farm boy given the chance to fulfil his dream of being a Viking warrior - helps guard their most precious cargo: Freydis, daughter of the Duke of Trondheim, who has sent her off to marry the King of Iceland, Gissar Polvaderson. Gissar is old, fat and extremely ugly, and Freydis is not going quietly. But suddenly, she is the least of any Viking's worries: when within sight of land - a weather-exposed Scottish island - a great tentacle of fire bursts from the sea and sets the ship alight. Men fall overboard and are quickly caught by the flames before they hit the water. Utter destruction seems imminent, and only Henrik remembers to release Freydis from her locked storage closet.
On the island, the Doctor has arrived by TARDIS and made his way to the small village near the coast, which is deserted. Everyone has rushed down to the beach to watch the Viking ship approach, bringing their deadliest enemies with it. When the inexplicable fire reaches out like an arm to the ship, no one is moved to help - except the Doctor.
Bringing the poor singed survivors to the hostile islanders, the Doctor encourages everyone to get along while he promises to help them solve the mystery and get rid of the threat. But this is no ordinary fire, and it has a purpose, a desperate, desperate purpose. Can the Doctor figure it out and solve it before more lives are lost?
While I grew up watching Doctor Who on the telly - the ABC used to show it every weekday at 6pm during the season, back in the day when a single storyline took 6 half-hour episodes to tell - this is the first time I've read any Doctor Who fanfiction. (I'm not, in fact, a reader of fanfiction in general, and don't seek it out.) Nevertheless, I was excited to have the chance to try it, and while it was both better than I'd expected and also not quite as good as I would have liked, it was certainly hugely entertaining.
Fans of the contemporary Doctor Who series will surely recognise the eleventh Doctor; Colgan has done a superb job of capturing the nuances and body language, the quiet loneliness tinged with hopeful sadness, the vague dithering punctuated by moments of piercing clarity, the classic eccentricities that mark all the incarnations of the Doctor: fripperies of attire, for example, and a preference for hot tea or some similar foodstuff. The character of the Doctor comes across at once as approachable and knowable, and yet also utterly alien. She was able to bring the reader as close to him as you possibly can, while still retaining that sense of mystery and higher thought, of the gulf of utter loneliness - all of which is made more tangible if you come with some prior understanding of the Doctor's character. Colgan does not expound on a lot of backstory. Alongside his more melancholy side is his trademark humour, which Colgan captures perfectly:
Two men brought forward Corc's boat. It was incredibly small, made of tightly stitched animal skins stretched taut over a frame of bowed wood, with two light paddles. It didn't look seaworthy for a Sunday duck pond, never mind the wild North Atlantic. The Doctor coughed politely. 'Well! Isn't she just lovely! Great!' He took the boat from the men with thanks. It hardly weighed anything. 'OK, let me just go... with this boat... and sort everything out... Who needs a TARDIS, I am perfectly happy not bothering the local ecosystem and causing mass panic... perfectly.' He reached the water's edge, took off his shoes and dipped in a toe. 'It is rather parky, isn't it? I remember this from yesterday.' He put the boat down on the bobbing waves. It immediately capsized. 'Ha! So funny when they do that, isn't it.' [p.79]
True also to the formula, while the Doctor arrives on the island alone, he manages to acquire a couple of temporary assistants: Henrik and Freydis. These two have their own side story going, with a backstory about Henrik surviving a plunge under the ice as a boy and becoming the Miracle Boy who came back to life. Freydis is arrogant and superior with a firm belief in the Gods' plans for her; she matures considerably over the course of the book, and a romance - of the tender, innocent variety Doctor Who is known for - blossoms between them.
The actual plot is interesting and with such high stakes - people die in this story - there's considerable tension. The truth of the fire is intriguing and a problem not easily solved, and you're never really sure what the Doctor is doing or thinking until the last moment.
While Colgan shows an ability to write good, well-researched historical fiction and brings to life the community, culture and individuals of the period and setting, the pace did at times become a little slow - little lulls before the storm, so to speak. I didn't mind except that when the pace drops, so does the momentum. There were several facets to the story: Vikings, more Vikings, Henrik's story, Freydis' coming-of-age, the chief's son Eoric, villagers Brogan and her partner, Braan, the fire, and little Luag, the chief's other son, who is adorably sweet. There's plenty going on here, and yet it did lose some oomph somewhere around the halfway-to-three-quarters mark. I was surprised at the number of typos and other glitches in the text - including a sentence that abruptly ends before it's finished - but these don't detract from the strength of the story. The ending was good, and overall Dark Horizons was an entertaining, thoughtful, satisfying and mostly exciting novel that successfully brought to life the eleventh Doctor.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book via TLC Book Tours.(less)
Seventeen year old Dee and her twin brother Dum, who hasn't spoken a word since a tragedy when they were five, are under the protection of the Mutant...moreSeventeen year old Dee and her twin brother Dum, who hasn't spoken a word since a tragedy when they were five, are under the protection of the Mutant Affairs Council after their home at Elysium, a self-sustaining community, was destroyed. Dee's life revolves around helping and looking out for Dum, who spends his time listening to the music on his iPod. Dee is human but Dum is a mutant with untrained empath powers, and the training that he is receiving at the Council headquarters in Washington DC just isn't working.
When the director of the Mutant Affairs Council, Seth Copper, tells Dee that the Council will no longer train Dum because of a connection Elysium had with Sakti, a pro-mutant terrorist group, Dee takes matters into her own hands. The only person left who can train Dum is the alpha empath Danyael Sabre, the man who stopped Sakti in their tracks, the man who is considered a threat and a danger to everyone. Danyeal is partly crippled and lives in Anacostia, an impoverished area full of gangs. He works for next to nothing at the free clinic there, and when Dee and Dum turn up one night, he's reluctant to help. But while Danyael may have been written off by the Council and sentenced to life imprisonment, he's a compassionate, caring man who carries the weight of deeds done on his tired shoulders, and he agrees to train Dum.
Wanting to gain some independence, Dee begins looking for work and an apartment, finding both in Anacostia. By day the twins work at a diner, and at night they work at Legends, a nightclub that suffers its fair share of gang fights on the premises. Along with Jessica, an alpha telepath and telekinetic mutant who's not quite fifteen, they settle into the night club and begin to have an effect on the patrons - or, rather, Dum does. As he takes on the job of DJ at the club, weaving his mutant empathic powers into the music he plays, things start to change in Anacostia. Gang members start dancing and hanging out together without fighting. Could this be the answer to solving America's gene conflict and bringing peace to the various factions, mutant, clone, in vitro and human alike? Nothing's ever that simple, of course, and Dee is up against some powerful enemies, but with the new friends she's made, she's no longer alone in her fight to survive and help Dum become normal.
This is a stand-alone spin-off novel to the adult sci-fi Double Helix trilogy, and is written for a Young Adult audience. While it is a spin-off and comes after the events of the previous books, and while there is quite a bit of background exposition provided, I did find myself with many questions and the sad realisation that I was missing some key things because I hadn't read the previous books. The world Kerrion has created is enticing but without the previous novels, there were too many gaps. I felt confused too often and a bit out of my depth.
Kerrion does a great job of filling the reader in, but for every detail revealed even more blank gaps in my knowledge surfaced. It might have been more helpful if it was farther removed from Danyael Sabre's story entirely, set in the same world and influenced by events, but with new characters so that it didn't feel like you'd missed the first half of the book. I won't fully understand everything until I read the previous three books, which are all about Danyael Sabre and Sakti (Sakti and Galahad and the politics behind cloning and in vitro was something I never quite understood). Set in a not-so-distant future America, humanity has divided itself along genetic lines, a new kind of bigotry. Some are born with mutant powers, and find themselves no longer considered human. Others are clones, and others are "in vitro" - two groups I'm hazy about. Along with the "pro-humanists", the resulting clash has devastating and violent results - yet even though it directly affected Dee and Dum's lives in horrific ways, Dee remains upbeat and optimistic and is able to avoid blind hate to see the individual - and to give them a chance to prove themselves.
Dee - whose real name is Suzanna Cortez - is a great heroine, a bit of a smart-mouth and very curious, and egalitarian too, which I love. She irritates the hell out of Dum, and vice versa, but they both keep each other going - the story of Dee and Dum's childhood is very tragic and very scary (their mother nicknamed them after Alice in Wonderland). She is at the lowest rung of society, being an orphan with no friends or family except for her mute brother, no money or connections, but she makes friends surprisingly easily (she doesn't have much of a filter at times) and perhaps because her zest for life and for thinking well of people is infectious, people do things for her - small things, but she finds she's not alone after all. Her goal - of going to university - seems unattainable, but when an idea comes her way she begins to work on it. Contrast her with her old friend Edward who likes to be the victim and have things handed to him, and you can really see how Dee shines. At times things were just a bit too convenient, and yet I also liked being surprised at how things turned out. The message isn't "Oh Dee is just lucky", the message is "How do you know you can't do it until you try?" As in, put yourself out there, ask people who you might assume wouldn't give you the time of day for their advice or assistance, and you just might be surprised at how far you can go. Because no one does stuff like this (starting a charitable foundation) on their own, it just isn't possible.
Her brother is more complex even though, on the surface, he seems simple and simple-minded, and the few times we get to see things from his perspective are enlightening. I would have liked to know him better but the glimpses we do get inside his head more than enough make up for his perpetual silence. There's a lot going on in his head and his empathic ability adds an interesting layer to him. He seems almost afraid of his power, or of its potential, which is probably a healthy attitude to have because the alternative is most likely to abuse your power. I loved the connection between empathy and music. The way music is used to describe emotions was quite beautiful and powerful and works so well.
Another character I came to enjoy was Jessica. It took me a while to get a feel for her - and to like her even - as she comes across as one of those pretty, popular, smart and possibly clingy high school girls who are a bit too good to be true (I wondered at first whether she could be trusted, even), but after a while this fourteen year old girl, who is one of the most powerful telepathic and telekinetic mutants on the planet, starts to get a bit more interesting, namely in her fairly unique perspective on things that adds to the mutant-human moral dilemma (though she remains a bit too good to be true).
"I need more ours. Lunch shift at the diner isn't going to swing it for me." "I could have convinced the owner to give you dinner shifts as well." Jessica looked smug. "At someone else's expense?" Jessica shrugged. Dee scowled. "Your sense of morality is fluid, isn't it?" "I am a leaf in the wind," Jessica said with mock solemnity, but the wicked chuckle that escaped her lips ruined the effect. [p.32]
In fact, the novel touches on several issues that make it highly relevant to the present, and in a way you could even read it as an analogy for our own problems.
"That is the real world, Dee. You think mutants have it bad? The poor have it worse. They've always had it worse. There are no safety nets for them, not beyond the soup kitchens and the free clinic. The hospitals won't take them in. If Danyael's not strong enough to heal them, they die. It's not complicated." How could those people endure a life with so few options? They were among the poor too, weren't they? Their joint income scarcely covered their expenses, and Dum was a mutant. What kind of odds would he have in a world that tolerated neither mutants nor the indigent? What were their odds of breaking free from that world? [p.43]
"Do you want your children and grandchildren to live through the same madness, the same chaos? Yesterday, a pro-humanist group killed an in vitro in Dallas, and a mob of clones killed a pro-humanist in New York. Not a day goes by without someone dying just because someone else doesn't like his genes. The rest of the countries in the civilized world are probably laughing their heads off at how this bastion of freedom and democracy can't seem to find its way out of the genetic paper bag. I'm human, and my brother is a mutant. I want us - both of us - to have a future in this country. It's our country. We shouldn't have to pay the price just because your generation can't get its act together." [p.77]
I never had the sense that the characters who spoke this way were in the habit of proselytising - I picked a couple of quotes out of a bare handful that could have worked right now - but that they had a strong sense of passion and conviction that came out in moments of stress. The novel touches on a lot of hard-hitting issues around the topics of ethics and morality as well as a new black-and-white division in America along the lines of genetics and what it means to be a "real" human, but the story of Dee and Dum never gets drowned in these issues. It's more that Dee and Dum's story is inseparable from them.
While there's still a lot of mystery around Danyael for me because I haven't read the previous books, we see enough of him to form a pretty good idea of the kind of person he is and what he suffers. I don't think the excitement and plot developments of the previous books would be ruined for me, having read this, but I would at least know some details of what was to come that would spoil some parts.
When the Silence Ends starts off fairly slowly and can be a bit confusing if this is your first introduction to the series, as it was for me. While I found some plot developments to be too convenient and some characters to be a bit too wonderful, I liked the surprising turn of the plot - I mean, I had no idea what direction it was going to take but I vaguely thought it would be more like urban fantasy in that regard, and was pleased when it wasn't anything like that. I would love to know more about the science behind this world, but as a novel about social justice and equality Dee and Dum's story was the perfect vehicle. There are still some open plot lines - not open as in things are left hanging, but open as in the author could easily write more if she wanted to continue things for these characters.
Overall, a fun and at times exciting story about interesting characters in a scary, easily imagined sci-fi version of America; a story that explores pertinent issues around social justice and equality and what it means to be human.
My thanks to the author for a copy of this book.(less)
Seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole has spent the last four years believing herself crazy. She sees ghosts from the past, lifelike images that pop and dis...moreSeventeen-year-old Emerson Cole has spent the last four years believing herself crazy. She sees ghosts from the past, lifelike images that pop and disappear as soon as she touches them. After the death of her parents, her spiralling depression and increased craziness get her committed to a mental health institute for treatment, drugs and supervision. After that, she went to a girls' boarding school and, now that her scholarship has run out, she's returned to Ivy Springs to live with her much-older brother, Thomas, and his wife Dru, an architect-interior designer team that's giving the old town a complete makeover.
Em isn't looking forward to going back to her old high school, but she has time yet. Her brother surprises her with a new consultant, someone they both hope can cure her. His name is Michael Weaver and he's a university student with a flashy car who does consultant work on the side for an organisation called the Hourglass. The connection between Em and Michael is immediate, and not just based on his sexy good looks: whenever they touch they create electricity.
Michael explains to Em that what she sees aren't ghosts, they're time ripples: she's seeing the past. With his ability to see the future, they are like two halves that complement each other, and they have the potential to time travel. He wants her help in going back six months in the past to save the Hourglass' founder, Liam Ballard, from death in a fire at his lab - a fire Michael is convinced another Hourglass member, Jonathan Landers, started to take out Liam so he could take over the Hourglass, using people's varied abilities for his own nefarious purposes.
Having lost her own parents, Em is determined to help - especially after meeting Liam's eighteen-year-old son, Kaleb, who is an empath. But going back in time is dangerous and risky, and there's only a small window in which to rescue Liam before the fire starts. With the help of some renegade people from the Hourglass who live in the house of a drop-dead gorgeous physicist called Cat who can control matter, they might have a chance. But upon the discovery that Jonathan has taken the files from Liam's safe, files containing information about numerous people like Em that he could take advantage of, time is running out to go back in time to save the one man who can help them.
Oh I wanted to like this, I really did. It began so promisingly, setting the scene in a historic old town in Tennessee, and introducing us to an opinionated heroine who more than makes up for her short stature with her mouth - and she does have some good lines, like "My ass was grass, and big brother was the lawn mower." [p.185] The atmosphere was a mix of slightly spooky, intriguing and comforting in the familiar - for all that Em has been through, her family unit is a tight-knit, caring, loving one. Sadly, all too soon it devolved into an unoriginal plot and suffered from that frustrating of all frustrations, Glaring Oversight.
Plotwise, this was just like any number of movies I've already seen, books I've already read. The ignorant but special main character (in this case, also the narrator), who is introduced to some shady secret society that's been betrayed from within, who takes it upon herself to save the day with some sacrifice along the way - but retaining a happy ending regardless. There's the double-crossing, the unnecessary love interest on the side (Kaleb), and the exceedingly, devastatingly beautiful main love interest (Michael) who I just couldn't come to like. Sure he was handsome and caring and thoughtful and considerate, but he was also an utter wet rag, a bit too perfect (any kind of perfect is too perfect), who has unexplained wealth (of course) and rarely makes much sense when he speaks - not if you're paying attention and trying to connect the dots. He came across as a lot older than he supposedly was (nineteen), and his unexplained wealth bothered and distracted me. But it was mostly the way his information and explanations jumped around that really annoyed me.
It's really hard to get into a book when the main character doesn't ask the obvious questions, and their source of information doesn't always make sense. When discovering that the world is not quite what you thought it was, and that you yourself are more than you ever imagined, you're bound to have questions. With Emerson, all too often she forewent the relevant questions in favour of some smart-arsed or bitchy or even sulky comment. I wanted to snap at her, "Focus!" Her reactions were often weird to me, freaking out about some new revelation (another way for her to simply not ask the glaringly obvious questions that really really needed to be asked in order to move the story forward) or, more frustrating still, focusing instead on some really trivial detail.
Rather than utilise the common plot device of ignorant-main-character-asking-questions-about-sudden-new-world, McEntire instead allowed Em to just know things. Reading this was a bit like whiplash, it actually hurt my head how many times I did a "Wait, what?" double-take. Because not only did conversations go strangely, all things considered, they glossed over things that the characters later talked about as if the conversation had taken place! I can't give you examples because it's a matter of reading the whole book rather, but I think I have permanent frown marks on my head now after reading this.
There were times when the dialogue just seemed so contrived, like when Michael discovers Em has tried to research the Hourglass online and found an article about the death of its founder, Liam Ballard. His reaction just didn't make sense - not to Emerson, and not to me. He became quite angry and threatening, and his explanation later was that the new founder, Jonathan Landon, was dangerous - but he never really explained anything (you connect the dots yourself but it's all out of sync with the plot and Em's own understanding), and his whole method of keeping Em in the dark as a way to protect her was laughable and insulting from the beginning. And what, all to create some mystery and a sense of danger? That would have come quite naturally had the right things been discussed at the right time, questions and answers that would have gone a long way to building this new world bit by bit, with some teasing but also by making sense. It felt like a smokescreen, because at the end of it all I reflected back on the story and its plot and it struck me how plain and ordinary it all was.
It wasn't only the dialogue that read as contrived, quite often the plot felt that way too. Little things were just unnecessarily dramatic in order to add, well, drama and mystery and also suspicion (can she trust Michael? That sort of thing). For instance, when Michael is called away by Ava and tells - no, orders - Em to stay home and wait for him to call her, which he doesn't do, why couldn't he have just said to her, "Hey Em, my best friend is on a drunken bender and I've gotta go pick him up and take him home, make sure he's okay. I'll try and call you tomorrow, otherwise I'll see you back here." It doesn't matter that Kaleb is drunk for some deep dark reason that Michael doesn't want her to know about - at least, I think that was his reason, but I don't really know - it doesn't matter because at the time it would have sounded perfectly innocent, completely reasonable, and - this is where it wouldn't have served much dramatic purpose - it would have kept Emerson home and she wouldn't have met Kaleb and so on and so on. But what was the big deal? Why not let her meet Kaleb? She met the others at the Renegade House.
What about her scholarship - her brother seems to make loads of money, so why need a scholarship? (The answer is, she didn't, it's connected to the plot, but badly.) Why does Michael sometimes talk about time travel like they do it all the time, and yet when discussing it with Cat it becomes clear that they've never done it? Why is the Renegade House described as a bungalow when, inside, it has an upstairs floor full of bedrooms and bathrooms? Little things like this just weren't explained properly and didn't, at the time, make sense. Sure later when more information is finally given, some things might make sense, but the problem is that Em doesn't seem confused, as if she already knows it all and so doesn't ask. And her reactions to learning about people's different abilities was just plain weird - what person in this day and age, someone who has their own ability, would be so completely shocked and overwhelmed to learn of others'? And how can she be so utterly incurious about it all?? I couldn't relate to her, and I couldn't follow the way her mind works - which frankly, didn't seem to work at all most of the time. I mean, incurious is fine in a person, plenty of people aren't particularly curious (though it's hard to believe when faced with this kind of scenario), but not when it's just a lazy character trait used to avoid having to make things make sense.
The plot, too, was very predictable. I wasn't even trying and I could have told you who Jack is, and what would happen. I could have told you who the spy amongst them really was - and the red herring was laughable. Oh so disappointing. I did like Lily, who sadly doesn't get much of a presence, but since she too has a gift (so not a spoiler, it's clear early on), I'm sure she'll be drawn into it in the next book or something. Chemistry-wise, sure there was some between Em and Michael, but since he acts like an overbearing, overprotective big brother - rather like her real brother, Thomas - it was actually a bit icky. He was also a bit condescending at times, which again made him sound rather old. And his refusal to start a relationship with her never made sense, not until the truth finally came out, which is fine except that, for readers, if it doesn't make sense at the time, it's frustrating to have the heroine accept it as if it does. Just one of the many things that did my head in - and it's not like some complicated time travel stories that loop around and become tricky: this doesn't have any time travel in it until the last hundred pages.
I do enjoy a good time travel story, and I LOVE stories about people with special abilities (big Obernewtyn and X-Men fan, me), but sadly this one just didn't have any chops. While not original, it still had good bones and could have been really exciting, just like a good cheesy movie can be, but McEntire wasn't able to build a mystery, gathering the threads together, leaving the right kind of clues behind, building on your knowledge and finally spinning you for a loop. It would need a great deal of re-writing for that. Still, I know from a quick glance at Goodreads that plenty of people loved this and didn't have my critique, so it clearly didn't bother everyone. Overall though, the mess of the structure, contrived plot-building and rather bizarre dialogue really spoiled this one for me.(less)
This review contains quite a lot of plot description, which you may want to avoid. Skip down to read my spoiler-free review.
Juliette is safe in Omega...moreThis review contains quite a lot of plot description, which you may want to avoid. Skip down to read my spoiler-free review.
Juliette is safe in Omega Point, an extensive underground bunker for people like her, people with unusual gifts. She's safe from the Reestablishment and safe from Warner who wants to use her - or encourage her - to use her power for her own gain. But her demons follow her even here. Convinced that the people of Omega Point avoid her, warn their children away from her, are afraid of her or see her as the monster she sees herself as, she hides away in her training room, achieving nothing. With pain and death coming from any touch with her bare skin, only Adam, the Reestablishment soldier who helped her escape from Warner's sector, can touch her. But something's not right there, either.
When Juliette learns that Adam has been having himself tested for evidence of his own ability, she's concerned. When she sees what he's going through, the pain it causes him, she goes into an enflamed rage and causes severe damage with her gift. And when she learns that Adam's gift is essentially to disable other people's gifts, that he has been doing it instinctively but that Juliette's touch has been causing him pain because he's so open to her, the pain and sorrow are all hers. Knowing she can't take the risk of killing the man she loves, she makes the decision to separate from Adam.
It takes the harsh words of Kenji, their friend and the second-in-command at Omega Point, to shake Juliette out of her pity-fest, her wallowing, her misery, and motivate her to learn how to control her gift and focus on the bigger picture. When several of their team are kidnapped and held hostage by the Reestablishment, it is Juliette who is called upon to make a prisoner swap. But it is not Warner behind this ploy, it is his father, Supreme Commander Anderson.
The leader of the Reestablishment within North America, Anderson makes his twisted son sound like a kitten. His aim is perfectly simple: in order to break his weak son Warner out of his attachment to Juliette, he arranges for her to come to them so that Warner can kill her. But Anderson is so accustomed to everyone doing his bidding and behaving like petrified, useless idiots in his presence, that he has met his match and is about to learn a new - and painful lesson.
Now Juliette and her friends have an enemy in their midst: Warner. Hoping to exchange him for their imprisoned friends, they place far too high a value on Anderson's love for his son and Warner's worth. And Warner causes trouble until Juliette is brought to him, where she will learn new truths that will shake her fledgling understanding of the world and her self.
While I enjoyed Shatter Me, the first book in the series, and indeed found much to love, certain things held me back from fully loving it. I went on to read the e-novella, Destroy Me, which is told from Warner's perspective and fills the gap from the last time he saw Juliette to the next time he thinks he sees her, and reading that really got me excited for Unravel Me. But I could never have imagined how much I would love this book. I haven't been this engrossed and completely addicted and totally caught up in a YA fantasy novel since Eclipse and its predecessors. I can't express how all-consuming this volume was, how quickly I tore through it and how much I hated tearing myself away so I could get some sleep (or how long I stayed awake that night, thinking about it).
Again told in Juliette's distinctive and highly original voice, I found it easier to enjoy the poetry and symbolism in it than before, because while she does become as self-indulgent as in Shatter Me, each time she pulled back just before annoying me beyond salvage. And Mafi's prose really is something special, at times. Her writing is strong and confident here, well-practiced and smooth. Mafi is fully in control and no longer just experimenting (or building on an experiment). The style has become Juliette's voice and captures her character, her anxieties and even her slight split personality, extremely well. I couldn't imagine this series written in any other way. The prose is not just poetic, it's beautiful, and captures Juliette's consciousness and feelings in a way that regular prose could never do, adding an extra dimension to the story. Here's a sample from early on:
Now my mind is a traitor because my thoughts crawl out of bed every morning with darting eyes and sweating palms and nervous giggles that sit in my chest, build in my chest, threaten to burst through my chest, and the pressure is tightening and tightening and tightening Life around here isn't what I expected it to be. My new world is etched in gunmetal, sealed in silver, drowning in the scents of stone and steel. The air is icy, the mats are orange; the lights and switches beep and flicker, electronic and electric, neon bright. It's busy here, busy with bodies, busy with halls stuffed full of whispers and shouts, pounding feet and thoughtful footsteps. If I listen closely I can hear the sounds of brains working and foreheads pinching and fingers tap tapping at chins and lips and furrowed brows. Ideas are carried in pockets, thoughts propped up on the tips of every tongue; eyes are narrowed in concentration, in careful planning I should want to know about. But nothing is working and all my parts are broken. [p.2]
In the first book, I found myself torn between loving how the prose captured so perfectly Juliette's inner demons, her self-hate, her despair and victimisation, her loneliness and isolation, and finding that it went a bit too far, or that Juliette's extremely dismal self-esteem and sense of self-worth got tiring. I still think that Mafi didn't quite achieve a balance that time, but in Unravel Me the balance is just right. This is the story where Juliette grows, grows strong and confident and learns that she's more than a deathly touch, that she's not a monster, that she's worthy of love and loyalty. But it's also the novel where she questions herself even more, just along different lines than before. Warner makes her question so many things about herself, especially as owns up to her attraction to him. Every time she started turning into a character that I shook my head at and lost respect for, Mafi pulled back and turned the scene, the conversation, the theme, in another direction and not only kept Juliette the kind of person I grew to really like and admire, but she often threw interesting spanners into the works and took you, the reader, in whole new directions.
Our favourite characters - Adam and Warner - are of course back, and new layers to them are revealed. I could feel Juliette's love for Adam and his for her, as well as their pain at discovering that Adam isn't after all safe from her touch. And Warner, ah Warner. I am a complete and utter sucker for this kind of character, the bad guy in love with the heroine - it's such a perfect recipe for the best kind of emotional intensity and mental anguish! He is becoming increasingly complex and so interesting that he's starting to overshadow Adam - and as much as I love Adam, I'm not sorry for this new development. They each speak to the different sides of Juliette: the side of her that wants to feel love and protection, tenderness and compassion, and the side of her that is darker, grittier and capable of so much.
And then there's Kenji. In Shatter Me he was the mildly annoying soldier friend of Adam who I didn't quite trust: he was too perky, too silly, too much, and the way he turned up like that, well, I didn't trust him. And he annoyed me a bit. But oh does he come into his own here!! Kenji becomes one of the strongest and most interesting characters in the book. We learn that he has the power of invisibility, that he put on the goofiness as a tactic in Warner's sector because of Warner's "knack" (i.e., gift of empathy) for detecting traitors and liars. We learn that he is looked up to by everyone at Omega Point, that he was informally adopted by Castle, their leader, as a boy, and we learn that behind the smile is a very intelligent, very determined, very brave and loyal young man. He is the only one who tells Juliette to snap out of it, grow up and think of others, to stop wallowing and join them. I don't think he is or will ever be a romantic interest - Juliette's already got two, she doesn't need more, she needs a friend who will tell her like it is; besides, I don't like a heroine whom everyone loves, that's way too much and just not believable. But he, too, started to overshadow Adam. Makes me wonder how things with Adam will play out.
In fact, I have no idea where the story will go from here, and I love not knowing. The ending isn't quite a cliffhanger, though Mafi could have done that, but it does leave a really open ending, with a lot of key players and events sort of up-in-the-air. Things beyond Juliette's personal life are heating up and getting serious - and dangerous - and with this background context for the private war Juliette's going through as a character, it makes for one very high-adrenaline story. Waiting for the next book is going to be really, really hard.
There are plenty of surprises here, and lots of excitement. It's hugely gripping and deeply absorbing and will definitely keep you on your toes. I've always been a big fan of stories featuring people with special abilities, powers, gifts - my first foray into real fantasy was, after all, the Obernewtyn series. This satisfies the X-Men fan in me. I'm floored by how intense this book was, how emotionally engaging, how hard it was to put down. Mafi took all the things readers loved about book one and stacked more and more love on top of them. This is a sequel that more than holds up; in a way it supplants the first book entirely - yet this is an illusion, for without the depth and detail of the first book, this one would have much less meaning.(less)
This mind-twisting story about a young woman who's suddenly and abruptly ripped from her life to live a parallel, and very different, one, is a mature...moreThis mind-twisting story about a young woman who's suddenly and abruptly ripped from her life to live a parallel, and very different, one, is a mature, intelligent, and engaging debut novel dealing with second chances.
Abby Barnes is a girl with a plan. For years now her goal has been to attend Northwestern University's journalism program after high school, and works on the school paper and is a member of the cross-country team. But on the first day of grade twelve, in 2008, she has to pick a new elective after the "History of Music" is cancelled. Shuddering at the idea of "Principles of Astronomy" she picks "Drama Methods" and somehow, to her utter shock, ends up landing the lead in the school play. A casting director attends the opening performance, there to see her nephew, and invites Abby to audition for an upcoming Hollywood movie, Everyday Assassins. Originally told the film would be shot over the summer, leaving her plenty of time to get to Northwestern before classes start in September 2009.
This new plan backfires when the film is held back again and again by script rewrites, and Abby ends up living in LA for far longer than she had anticipated, pushing back her university studies and career goals to see out her contract. But on the night before her eighteenth birthday, Abby goes to bed feeling a tremor - hardly unusual for LA. The unusual things start the next morning, when she wakes up to find herself not in her shabby-chic hotel room, but in a dorm room at Yale University in Connecticut.
With no idea how she got there or what's going on - a situation made worse by the fact that everyone, including her perky roommate Marissa, seems to know all about her and has memories of her from the past weeks that she lacks - Abby does what she always does: she calls her best friend, Caitlin. Caitlin, whose mother was a model and her father is a scientist, is also studying at Yale, her life-long dream, in the physics department - Caitlin has to be the most fashionable and beautiful science student anyone's ever seen. She's going out with their other mutual best friend from school, Tyler: that at least hasn't changed.
Caitlin has different memories of how Abby ended up at Yale, too, but she's open to Abby's new version of events and takes Abby to see a professor who has his own theories about what might be going on. Dr Gustav Mann is a Nobel Prize winner who used to teach at Yale; he recognises Abby because in the world she now finds herself in, he taught her "Principles of Astronomy" class the year before - a class she took because, in this parallel world, an earthquake the night before school started knocked out the power and made her late for school, so that by the time she learned she had to pick a new elective, "Drama Methods" was full.
Dr Mann explains his theory about parallel worlds, and that the earthquake they felt a year and a day ago was no earthquake at all, but two parallel worlds colliding and becoming entangled. Abby learns that her parallel is a year and a day behind her, and that any new directions or choices her parallel makes will alter her present reality, so that she can't know from one day to the next what will change, or even where she'll wake up. And her own memories of her parallel's life are also a year and a day behind, so that there is a big year-long gap in her memory, a gap no one else has. She has retained her memories of her other life, and has no control over her new one. Or does she?
As Abby and her parallel self navigate their lives at different ends of a spectrum, they both focus on different boys: Abby meets Michael through her roommate at Yale, while her parallel meets "Astronomy Boy", Josh, in her Principles of Astronomy class. But Abby has no real memories of Josh and no idea what happened between them; she only has her own memories, and the new ones she's making with Michael. As she tries to take charge of her parallel life and fix the perceived damage her parallel self - someone she continues to think of as a different person entirely - makes in the past, Abby has to face a new reality, new consequences of bad decisions, and decide what she really wants for herself.
I must say that this book took me on a bit of a mental roller-coaster ride. My feelings and impressions changed quite a bit over the course of the story, though when I got to the last page and the wonderful ending - which, silly me, I hadn't seen coming at all - I closed the book with a "Wow." I love that kind of experience.
For the most part, I absolutely loved this. From the opening pages, it drew me in with its smart, funny, opinionated heroine. Lauren Miller writes with intelligence and an astute eye, and has created a very interesting, creative, sophisticated story that is deeply refreshing and much more mature than most of the YA I've read in recent years. It all comes together so beautifully, and I loved watching Abby grow and mature and really settle into her own skin. Having her parallel, younger self make crappy decisions or change her plans in ways that are unpleasant to Abby, forces her to reassess her priorities and realise some hard truths about herself.
I must admit, though, that I had a hard time following the physics of the premise, though. While the conversation Abby and Caitlin have with Dr Mann in which he explains his theory - the theory that Abby is now living out in truth - was well written and easy to follow, it only raised more questions for me and left me confused. I never quite managed to wrap my head around it. I'm a visual learner, I like maps and diagrams and other visual guides, and felt the need of one here. I also struggled with understanding properly where Abby really was, whether she was in a different, parallel universe while her own went on without her, or...? I mean, even when Dr Mann explains it, I don't quite follow it - I can't picture it, and if I can't picture it, I'm lost. It did my head in, trying to understand it in a way that works for my brain. I was missing the "key", that little bit of information, that single sentence that would make it all click into place for me. As a writer, there's no reasonable way Miller could get every reader's "key" into that scene, or the book, and I appreciate the sensible explanation we do get. It just didn't make sense to me, and parts of it just confused the hell out of me. There were times, in the middle of the story, where I felt extremely frustrated and struggled to stay calm. Then it would seem straight-forward, for a bit, and I would think I got it, but that never lasted. By the end, I had to reconcile myself to not fully understanding the concept, but not letting that ruin the story for me.
I do have to quibble the premise that sees Dr Mann teaching at Abby's high school - with Caitlin the science nerd handy, did we really need Dr Mann in parallel-Abby's school? Caitlin tells Abby that he had taught at Yale but lost his tenured position when he published his controversial theory on parallel worlds. This pulled me up short because as far as I understood, the whole point of tenure is so that academics and researchers could publish work that might be controversial, or attack some big corporation, and be protected. Otherwise, they'd all be muffled and censored. So I'm not sure that that made any sense at all, though I was reading an uncorrected proof.
While reading this was a lot like having the hiccups - little bumps in the narrative that made my brain tighten in confusion - where the story was particularly strong was in the writing, the character of Abby herself (or two selves, as the case may be), and the strength of the male characters, Josh and Michael. Caitlin was a little bit bizarre as the gorgeous, well-dressed science geek with dyslexia, but beneath that exterior description she was a very warm, caring, real person. It was just hard at times to look past appearances. But Abby, Josh and Michael were much more subtle, and lived and breathed on the page. I loved how it all came together, the surprises and twists that felt so right, and how, along with Abby, Josh goes from being a stranger to someone you want to love (I never really liked Michael all that much, or trusted him or felt that comfortable with him. There was just something slightly off about him, which adds to the tension as the story progresses).
I love how this story came together, how all the strands become tangled and then, suddenly, smooth out into that "wow" moment at the end. It was just plain awesome. I loved Abby (both of them), for her flaws and her strengths and her convincing, engaging narrative voice. I loved Caitlin and Tyler and, when I got to know him better, Josh. I loved the premise, even if I didn't fully understand it (and oh how I wish I did, because it makes my brain hurt, not being able to fully grasp something!). I love Miller's writing style, the humour and the maturity and how she made me really care. Even though I was a bit lost in the middle, there was so much to love, and for all those reasons and more I highly recommend this. No doubt, you'll have no problem following the collision of parallel worlds and can come back and help explain it to me!
My thanks to the author for a copy of this book.(less)
Henry Jacobson lives in Sodium Falls with his mother, Jane - manager of the Shine Bar - and father, Jacob Jacobson, head of the Upgrade Processing Dep...moreHenry Jacobson lives in Sodium Falls with his mother, Jane - manager of the Shine Bar - and father, Jacob Jacobson, head of the Upgrade Processing Department. He's recently had his thirteenth upgrade, know to be the most difficult, and a virus that wasn't fully eradicated has given him a debilitating tick that forces him to shut down all his apps and programs, resulting in failed exams and humiliation for Henry. He works part-time at his mother's salon, giving precise instructions to the human unit and doing the finer tasks it can't handle (which is most of them). His mother's CRZ78BX-22 Drudgery unit is a particularly inconvenient model from HueMaTech, for an appliance, and on this day it goes Berserko and smashes mirrors with a broom while garbling its last instructions.
Henry's mother takes care of the rampaging appliance with all the self-assurance of her top-of-the-line managerial model (the Zolot 5.0). When they get home, Henry's eager to share the story with his father, only to find that Jacob has company: his boss, Marcus Erickson, who asks the family to test-drive a new model human unit, the ETC-420-GX-2, which comes with several outfits, fuel and an instruction manual. It will sleep in the box it comes in. Henry is excited; they've never had a human in their house before, and he's looking forward to having help with his chores. But his first meeting with the ETC-420-GX-2 model leaves him worried and certain that they're in danger of it going Berserko. It doesn't speak like a normal human appliance - it keeps saying "hay" for starters, and it somehow has the ability to make up words. It doesn't want to sleep in its box, but flattened it and created a pillow for its head. Something's definitely not right with it, but Henry's parents find its usefulness and ability to understand instructions highly convenient.
When Jane takes the human unit to the Shine Bar to attract her customers back after they were scared off by the berserko human, it proves to draw a huge crowd, as well as a journalist. Henry's jealous that it gets to do things at the salon that Jane's never allowed him to do, but the robot and the human later bond over comic books. Soon they're best friends, and Henry comes to accept that not only is "E", as he calls him, a super-advanced human, but he also comes to see him as a living creature rather than an appliance. Now his parents are concerned that Henry thinks of the human as a "he" instead of an "it", and his mother especially starts paying attention to the fear-mongering from the media about the new-and-improved ETC model being a secret weapon of destruction, a military project. The human can withstand water, and seems capable of so much more than any other human appliance.
With the threat of compaction hanging over E's head, Henry escapes with him and goes with E to the capital, where E plans to break into the Mainframe and discover once and for all why he was created. What they learn though is something even more shocking than they could have imagined, and will change the way Henry sees his world forever.
The concept of turning the human-robot dichotomy on its head was an engaging one and drew me to this book. We have a real fascination with the idea of creating robots and androids, and of them having a mind of their own, feelings and a soul. Part of me has often wondered whether this is a primarily masculine preoccupation - in the beginning at least - engendered by men's inability to physically create life in the same way women can, and a possible deep-seated, subconscious envy over that fact. That if they can create a robot that has life and a soul, they will have achieved everything, conquered all and be like women who, if you look at it stripped of all other mythology but the essential, are godlike in this ability, regardless of the role men play.
Interestingly though, the Japanese - who will probably be the first to create a real, useful, everyday robot - have no such concept. They see the robot as entirely manmade, without feelings and a soul, and can't comprehend the idea that a robot could attain one in any way. So it's definitely a cultural thing as well. Either way, it's a fascinating thing to me, and the moral and ethical as well as cultural and ideological questions raised by the concept of robots and androids, make robot stories very interesting to me. This one was no exception.
While it did take me a while to get into it because of the made-up technical language and the world-building, it was a highly readable story on many levels. You can read this novel as an action-adventure story, the classic kind involving children and corrupt adults and a tearing-away of innocence. You can read it as a literal allegory, a work of irony as everything is turned upside-down: here humans are drudges, morons barely capable of opening a door without help or precise instructions. Made rather than born, they're designed for a purpose and the idea of them being in possession of feeling or an advanced thought-process is alien to all robot-kind. By spinning the robot-human relationship around so that robots are on top - on their own world, with their own history and evolution science - the novel shines a light ever more astutely on how humans in our world treat "lesser" beings, and how we perceive robots. It's both entertaining and thought-provoking, the best kind of book.
In fact, humour and a more serious meaning go hand-in-hand throughout, like when Henry's reading the ETC's manual and it goes through all the ways in which the unit can malfunction or be damaged, and what to do - namely, call your service provider.
In addition to sleep, your ETC-420-GX-2 requires eight to twelve MARFEL meal-pellet meals a day to maintain its energy supply. You will know when your ETC-420-GX-2's energy is low when it responds slowly to commands and makes frequent errors. In extreme cases, your ETC-420-GX-2 might cease to work entirely and will simply lay its head down on a table. To restore normal function, apply two MARFEL meal pellets immediately and count to twenty. [p.30]
Sounds like a typical teenager doesn't it? ;) But after reading all the care instructions and all the maintenance problems that come with a human unit, Henry starts to wonder, What's the point? He even starts to think along the lines of marketing gimmicks, that "the human was just a way for HueManTech to sell junk to gullible customers."
The robots on the planet of Ferrous might see humans as just an appliance, but they have a complex and comprehensive understanding of evolution, hierarchy and the ethics attached.
The Use Chain described the machine hierarchy on Ferrous. Machines at the top of the evolutionary ladder, such as robots, were free to use the machines below them on the ladder in any manner they saw fit. Consolis, for example, a dependent mineralizer that grew in open fields, was harvested, treated and loaded with software to be used as video game consoles. Sedanmobiles, which roamed the Vast Open Space of the Very Far West, were caught and domesticated to be use as cars like his dad's Esperzo or his mom's Ergmenty.
Some robots argued that it was wrong for any machine, including robots, to use another machine. They believed all sedanmobiles should be set free and all consolis left alone to grow wild. They were even against the domestication of small machines as household pets, even though those machines were protected and treated kindly.
Anti-Use-Chainers argued that the invention of human technology made the need for machine exploitation unnecessary, since humans were created specifically to do the jobs robots didn't want to do. If humans could fulfill a function, then there was no reason for robots to exploit their fellow machines on Ferrous. [p.37]
But as Henry knows, humans aren't good for very much. They mind coal, the energy source for robots, or operate elevators. "But they'd never be as efficient as a calculator."
E is different. E can think for himself. He can invent words, something robots are incapable of doing - though he teaches, or encourages, Henry to learn how. It takes Henry time to overcome his suspicion that E is dangerous, but after that they become best friends. And finally, Henry understands the difference, what makes E both unique and dangerous: his imagination.
That was it, Henry realized: E had an imagination. By picturing data that didn't exist, he could produce solutions that weren't based on fact. Henry could not. His algorithms followed logic protocols, so the only solutions he could produce were logical ones. But with the ability to go beyond the limits of logic, E could take processing to new heights.
And just then, Henry got it. Finally, he got why his mother and the newsbot and all of Sodium Falls were so worried. Yes, E was different from other human units. Yes, he could process complex commands or reasonate complicated problems or even store huge amounts of data on his cortextinator. But that wasn't what had their worry meters set to MASSIVELY WORRIED. No, it was the fact that Henry [sic] could do anything in the world. He had no limitations. No boundaries. No restrictions. No restraints. No protocols. He could do whatever he wanted. Nothing was off-limits. Nothing was forbidden. His potential was endless. Given the right circumstances, E could do things Henry couldn't even begin to process. Things nobot could.
And that was terrifying. [p.118]
Little typo on the name aside, this is a very astute passage. And turning it back around again, this is why we humans agonise and worry over the possibility of robots having souls: because we can imagine it. The dark side of being a human is our endless imaginations, it's both a positive and a negative. Hence the expression "ignorance is bliss", which doesn't relate just to knowledge or experience, but to imagination as well. Fear, anxiety etc., all originates with imagination. If you can't imagine being abducted or raped or shot or losing your child etc., you'd have nothing to fear. But I don't want to get sidetracked onto the topic of fear and the human psyche, which is just as complex. Basically what Henry is getting at is that E could be a military weapon, a threat to robots, simply by existing.
And that's where the action-adventure plot comes in, which I won't tell you about because it gets pretty interesting, though not entirely unpredictable. I did feel that the memo that comes before the last chapter should have gone at the very end, for maximum impact and suspense/tension, even if it is a bit of cliched device, like that ominous last scene in a movie that shows that everything's not alright, even though the main characters think it is and have finally relaxed. Like the last shot in Jurassic Park, or countless horror films. Either way, it does imply that there could be a sequel coming, which I'd love to read.
Messina does some impressive and detailed world-building here, and created a believable robot society and a robot hero who manages to be relatable and familiar as a thirteen-year-old human boy, while still retaining all his robot characteristics, making for a main character who is both unique and familiar. It's a very nicely constructed balance, especially as robot society looks a lot like ours. Interestingly, it was the idea of wild automobiles roaming free until they're caught and tamed for domestic use, for example, that had my imagination spinning rather frantically. In fact, the whole concept of machines evolving and all was tricky to get my head around, purely because I like all humans have been conditioned to view toasters, for example, as inanimate objects with a specific function and a limited lifespan, not as a pet.
I could clearly see this as a movie, while I was reading it - especially one of those Pixar or Dreamworks computer-animated films that are so wonderful, often thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time. This novel would be ideal for adaptation.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book.