If there's one thing I learned from reading Seoul Survivors and now Astra, it is that author Naomi Foyle has a remarkable way of making me feel. I have been shocked and disturbed by some of the ideas in her books, but likewise there have been times where the touching beauty of her writing has bought me to tears. Her stories might not necessarily read like heart-pounding thrillers or page-turners, but no matter what, they always pack a powerful punch.
That most certainly describes Astra, a bold dystopian tale about a girl growing up in a closed and isolated nature-worshiping community called Is-Land. The novel is divided into three parts, detailing the journey of its eponymous heroine as she ages from a child to young adulthood. Because of the format in which her story is told, it's probably going to be easier for me to summarize and give my thoughts and opinions on each part separately.
The first part begins when Astra is only seven years old. In this section, we learn a lot about the nation of Is-Land from her perspective. Life seems wonderful and perfect in her little town of Or, where the social structure is highly fluid and everyone lives as naked as the day they are born in harmony with Gaia's creatures. At the same time, advanced technology exists in his world, used to do things like engineer alt-meat for consumption, or to allow children to learn the ways of Is-Land and Gaia on devices called "tablettes". Starting with Astra's generation, children will also be getting the Security Serum, a shot that would make the subject physically stronger, but would also give them a more obedient and pliable personality.
Not surprisingly, many of the details we read about in this section are filtered through the lens of Astra's youth and innocence. She's lively, curious, and not just a little bit impish. It's challenging to write young characters, but I believe Naomi Foyle nailed it perfectly. Astra is good at driving her caregivers up the wall with her unending questions, quick temper and silly antics -- in other words, she thinks and acts like a very active and bright seven-year-old. Just thinking about the possible loss of that precociousness really hits home, which is what I think the author intended. Receiving the "Sec Shot" would be the end of everything that makes Astra who she is, and so her Shelter-Mother Hokma devises and carries out a plan to help the young girl avoid getting it.
Then the book skips ahead to when Astra is twelve years old. This is probably the longest section, but it was also the one I found the most interesting. While the previous part amazed me with the depth of the world-building, this part blew me away with its character development and unique take on the classic coming-of-age tale. All sorts of changes are happening to Astra at this point, both physical and emotional. The theme of sexuality also features heavily in this section, and I felt Foyle's bold and fearless writing style did an excellent job of describing this stage of Astra's life, conveying all the excitement and poignancy that comes with it. Once again, she gives her main character a voice that is both age-appropriate and believable.
This section also introduces Lil, an orphaned child rescued from the woods who comes to live with Astra in her community. An uncannily realistic "frenemy-like" relationship is forged between the two girls, one of friendship but also rivalry. Astra, who has always felt like an outcast knowing that she has not received her Sec Shot like the rest of her peers, takes an immediate fascination to Lil, who also doesn't seem to quite fit in. Eventually, the latter's ideas of the world begin to bleed into Astra's view of the world, and as everything Astra thought she knew begins to crumble, that's when things start getting very interesting...
The final part, which is also the shortest, focuses on Astra when she is seventeen. This is the section where everything comes to a head. For the last decade, she has grown up seeing the world differently than her "Sec Gen" friends, and that fateful decision Hokma made with her all those years ago finally leads to some widespread repercussions. A lot of dystopian novels come to a point like this, where the main protagonist's worldview is shattered by a life-changing event. I can honestly say, however, that there was no way I could have foreseen what happened afterwards. Indeed the conclusion may come as quite a shock.
Like I said, this book isn't exactly a page-turner, and don't go in expecting too much action or a grand adventure because that's not what it is about. But by following Astra through all three life stages, I feel like I've come to know her very well, and the author has managed to make me care deeply about her character. I didn't even realize how completely immersed I'd been until I reached the end, and tears started coming to my eyes while reading a scene that was particularly touching. I don't know if that would have hit me so hard emotionally if the book hadn't been so well-written overall.
The sequel will no doubt focus more on the bigger world, now that Astra has discovered some truths about herself and Is-Land. This book, however, was an intensely deep, complex and thought-provoking narrative of the main character's life. It's a beautiful story, unique and daring, which serves as a solid foundation for everything else to come.(less)
It's only January, but already I have a feeling that this is going to be one of the more "out there" books I'll read this year. As usual, Jo Fletcher Books continues to push the envelop and explore beyond the boundaries of traditional adult speculative fiction with novels like Seoul Survivor.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I first read the description. With the impending destruction of earth by a meteor called Lucifer's Hammer providing the backdrop for the story, I wouldn't have been surprised to find something along the lines of an apocalyptic science fiction thriller. What I actually got, however, was something all together different. Strange, too -- but in a good way.
The book follows the lives of four characters: Sydney Travers, a former escort from Canada who hopes to start over with a modeling career in a new country; her boyfriend Johnny Sandman, a vicious, sociopathic and just all around disgusting corporate executive and a sorry excuse of a human being; Damien Meadows, so down on his luck and desperate to leave England that he reluctantly agrees to be a drug mule; and finally Lee Mee Hee, a North Korean peasant woman who is smuggled away from death and famine in the false bottom of a foreign aid truck. Their separate paths all lead them to Seoul, Korea where the brilliant Korean-American scientist Dr. Kim Da Mi is the mastermind behind a plan to redesign humanity with genetic engineering and social experiments, in spite of the killer asteroid hurtling earth's way.
Beyond these basics, the book gets more complex and difficult to describe. At times it falls into seriously outrageous and bizarre territory. It also may not be for everyone, and indeed it's not for the faint of heart; there are parts that made me feel downright queasy while reading, especially some of the scenes that depicted acts of a deviant nature as well as the few instances which involved graphic descriptions of sexual violence. I didn't expect it from its cover or description, but this novel is dark and at times twisted, containing some disturbing themes.
At the same time, I couldn't help but be drawn to the characters, and be enthralled by the way their individual dramas unfolded. Confoundingly, none of them are even all that likeable as people, but for some reason their lives are like a car wreck I can't seem to tear my eyes away from. Take the shallow and insecure Sydney who so easily gets manipulated, for example, or timid Mee Hee with the personality meeker than a lamb. Neither of them possess particularly admirable traits, but all the same, their fears and desires make them feel very human. Even megalomaniac Johnny whom I consider to be more monster than man has his part to play, and then of course there is the geneticist Dr. Kim and her eerie charisma worthy of a cult leader.
The setting itself feels like a world in a not-too-distant future, one that feels familiar but also exotic in part due to some of the advanced technology but also because of the foreign culture. From her author's bio, Naomi Foyle spent many years in Asia and it is clear that she drew upon her experiences in Korea to paint a clear picture of the people and places of Seoul. As a reader, you can easily become completely immersed in this milieu.
I also thought the crisis and spectacle of Lucifer's Hammer would feature more prominently in this novel, but aside from Damien no other character takes the meteor all that seriously, and as such it is always in the background but not discussed to a great extent. I wish there had been more; though nonetheless, the all-pervasive undertones of worldwide tension are so strong they are practically palpable. It's interesting because while I wouldn't technically classify this book as apocalyptic fiction, so few novels actually take this "countdown to doomsday" angle.
To put it simply, Seoul Survivors is a book that defies all expectations. Just sitting back and letting the story be what it is can lead to some pleasant surprises amidst the dark twists and turns. The true nature of it can take a while to unravel, but the never-seen-before ideas and diverse cast of characters make this one an intriguing read. It touched me, and it also shook me to my core.(less)
It's no exaggeration when I say these books in the Everness series just seem to get better and better. The adventure that started with Planesrunner only intensified with Be My Enemy, and now the third installment has taken things even further. Seriously -- I really wish there were more young adult novels like this out there.
Empress of the Sun continues the story of Everett Singh and the crew of the Earth 3 airship Everness. Spoilers for books one and two will likely be unavoidable in this review when discussing the third book, though if you haven't read the previous novels you can still probably pick up on the story and follow along, if you don't mind missing out on some of the nuances. Nothing will beat starting this great series from the beginning though, and obviously I highly recommend it!
Because Everness is about alternate dimensions and the Multiverse, you just never know where the story might take you next! That's what I love most about these books. And true to form, Ian McDonald starts this one off by dropping us into most bizarre and incredible parallel universe yet. In order to track down and rescue his father, Everett and his friends have taken to world-hopping. Armed with a jump gun and the Infundibulum, they now have the ability to go anywhere on any one of the 10 to the power of 80 worlds in the Panoply. Something goes seriously wrong with their last jump though, and the airship ends up on a strange version of earth which does not appear to follow the rules of astrophysics.
It turns out that the alternate earth they are on is actually an Alderson Disk. Not being very well-versed in my science fiction megastructures, this was the first time I've ever heard of such a thing. This is some cool stuff! And not only that, the world they are on is one where dinosaurs never went extinct. Instead, they have evolved over the eons to become the dominant species on this "discworld" (Pratchett fans, eat your heart out!) called the Jiju, whose civilization is 65 million years ahead of ours.
Not only is their technology frighteningly advanced, as the main bad guys in this book, the Jiju make the other villains that we've seen so far in this series look like peanuts. What is Charlotte Villiers or even the Nahn compared to these lizard people who have the ability to make the sun dance to their tune? The author sure pulled out all the stops with this one. Blown, my mind is.
I also can't decide what I love more about this book: the world building or the character development. The former has clearly impressed me, but as ever, the people in the stories are the most important to me when I read. With every book in this series, I feel closer and more amiable towards Everett and the crew. The relationship between him and Sen is moving forward nicely, and we're getting to the point where their feelings for each other are starting to come to the surface. This book also explores the friction between Everett and Sharkey. The two have not gotten along since the weighmaster suggested selling Everett out to the enemy in order to save the ship, but there is clearly a lot more to this precarious friendship than meets the eye.
The members of the crew aren't the only ones getting further developed in this novel. In Be My Enemy, readers were introduced to an alternate Everett, a version of him from another earth who was kidnapped and forced to take the place of real Everett, in order to spy and report to the nefarious factions in the Plenitude of Known Worlds. This doppelganger played a somewhat antagonistic role in the last book, but this one humanizes him and lets us see that deep down he is just like any other boy, with feelings and fears like everyone else. We also get a part of the story told in Charlotte Villiers' perspective, and even though she is the main villain, we are shown that there is a reason for all the things she does. To sum it up, this book just does a fantastic job all around at fleshing out everyone. As someone who places such high importance on characters, I couldn't be happier.
Action, adventure, and rollicking good fun! Empress of the Sun has all of that. And of all the books so far, I also have to say this one was the most humorous. There are some sections of dialogue that just made me laugh out loud, especially when it came to the conversation between Everett and Kax the Jiju about human reproduction. Oh my, I still can't stop chuckling when I think of that scene.
I'm so glad to see that there will be more of these books. The crew of the Everness still has much to do, and there are still so many worlds out there to explore. I can't wait to see where they will go next.(less)
You know how some books you just don't realize how addicted you were to them until it occurs to you how badly, desperately, severely you're craving the sequel? Yeah well, this is one of those cases! I even broke away from my February reading list to fit this one in as soon as I received it for review, because I knew I couldn't wait any longer.
I'm happy to report Honor's Knight is just as much fun as the first book. In that, it certainly did not disappoint. But speaking of which, before I go further it probably behooves me to warn readers that this review might contain spoilers for Fortune's Pawn. I don't think there's any way around it when talking about this book, since it picks up right after the events of the last one. So if you'd like to skip this and read my review for the first book instead, I'll totally understand. Better yet, you should just pick up Fortune's Pawn! It was the most fun I've had with a sci-fi in a very long time.
As I'd expected, it was a joy and a treat to catch up with Deviana "Devi" Morris. I've always enjoyed courageous and determined women characters in science fiction, and Devi lends her own brand of cool to this spirited space drama, which in my opinion single-handedly makes this whole entire series. Even though she begins this book with her mind tampered with and her memories wiped, she is still the Devi I know and love. She can't remember how her security team partner was killed or why a single glance at the ship's cook now makes her feel physically ill, but none of that's about to stop her from doing her job.
Nevertheless, the wrench thrown into the relationship between her and Rupert Charkov damn near killed me. These two belong together, and to see them apart pains me, especially when I understood the reason for Charkov's tortured reactions but meanwhile Devi can't even hold on to his name. Can you tell that I'm really into this romance? Because I am. I'm not usually so taken with this much drama in romantic subplots, but I think this an exception because of how candid Devi is with the situation. There's no angst or sensationalism; she handles all her problems with the same direct, no-nonsense way -- with her wits and with her guns. I love it.
If you enjoyed the story in Fortune's Pawn, then you'll definitely like Honor's Knight as well. The first book alluded to a mystery involving the crew of the Glorious Fool, and rest assured everything is revealed here at last. The story also takes us to new places, including a handful of exotic planets as well as a brief sequence in which Devi returns to Paradoxian territory. In fact, I wish we had been able to see more of the world in those scenes; more details about the culture in which she grew up would have been very interesting. Regardless, it was pure satisfaction to watch all the puzzle pieces finally fit together, but there were still plenty of twists and turns. Alliances will shift and secrets abound as Devi becomes embroiled in something huge, something that puts the safety of the entire galaxy on the line.
When Rachel Bach/Rachel Aaron goes for action and thrills, she's clearly not afraid to go all the way. So far this series has been wildly entertaining, but to me it has also become a lot more than just a sci-fi adventure story about Devi blowing away big bad aliens (though there is also plenty of that). Like I said in my review for Fortune's Pawn, what started off as a popcorn read has gotten me more emotionally invested than I realized, and I find myself caring deeply for the story and characters. Will Devi and Rupert end up together? (I hope so.) Will she achieve her dreams of becoming a Devastator? (I'm guessing probably, but after all that she's been through, a life as a Devastator now seems kind of tame!) I'm very curious and eager to see how all of this will play out.
In short, Honor's Knight picks up the energetic pace set by the first book and runs with it, carrying on with the momentum and revving it up even more. If this trend continues, the third and final book should be outstanding. I can't wait.(less)
With its intriguing application of quantum physics and topic of parallel earths, Planesrunner secured its spot as one of the most unique young adult novels I read last year. And of course, who could forget the heart-pounding airship battles? When it comes delivering excitement and adventure, Ian McDonald knows his stuff, and I could not wait to get my hands on the next book. Seeing as the third installment of the Everness series is already on the horizon, I thought it best to get right on that post-haste.
But first, bear in mind that this review may contain spoilers for book one, since Be My Enemy immediately picks up where Planesrunner left off. Last time we saw Everett Singh, he had managed to escape his enemies by transporting himself and his new Airish friends to another parallel earth. His computer device holding the Infundibulum and the key to the multiverse is safe for now, but it's only a matter of time until their pursuers catch up. Plus, Everett still needs to figure out a way to rescue his father, a seemingly impossible task, seeing as Tejendra Singh is now stranded somewhere on any one of the possible parallel worlds -- 10 to the power of 80 of them, to be exact. Yep, it's a big multiverse.
Everett's search for answers eventually leads him to E1, the first Earth to develop a way to jump between parallel universes. It's also the only world amongst the ten known Earths that is sealed off, quarantined, nothing going in and nothing coming out. I won't deny it, I was thrilled that the characters ended up here. The speculations drove me insane in the first book, leaving me wondering and guessing what could have happened to E1 to make everyone so afraid, and now thanks to this sequel, I finally know why. And the reasons are hair-raising indeed! I doff my hat to you, Mr. McDonald.
But wait, that's not all. One thing about this book is that it simply does not stop with the surprises, and not least of them is the lengths the bad guys will go to in order to get what they want. Everett's enemies have some wily tricks up their sleeves, stopping at nothing to gain control of the Infundibulum. All I'll say is that in time, the perplexing introduction to Be My Enemy, not to mention that curious title, will be explained. I can't even begin to ponder the future implications of everything that happened here. Take everything that made Planesrunner so great, dial it all up and you get this book:
Action? Check. In fact, this story has it in spades.
Cleverness? Check. No doubt the book fudged a lot of the science, but it's done for the sake of top-notch storytelling. In spite of that, this book does not patronize the reader, which makes me think this series would appeal to adults and young adults alike.
Interesting characters? Check. This book gave me a more in-depth look into Everett's personality, in the most unexpected and unique way possible. As for the supporting cast, I feel like I finally have an idea of who they are. I never gave much thought to Sen in the first book, but now I find her to be a delight. I loved the brief glimpses of the story told from her perspective, and couldn't help but think how awesome an entire novel in her point of view would be. I can dream, can't I?
And what about the world building, you ask? Big check. Absolutely fantabulosa.
After all, anything can happen when it comes to a story about parallel earths. I was impressed with Ian McDonald's imagination at work in Planesrunner, the way he brought the Airish culture to life and the incredible way he described the world of E3. True to form, he does not hold back for the sequel either, giving the same creative treatment to settings like E1 or the frozen wasteland at the beginning of the novel, despite these being much bleaker and darker worlds.
You never know where the story might take you, or what amazing things you'll see next, and that's one of the main reasons why I'm having so much fun. Bring on the third book, I'm ready!(less)
Sanderson's work is always top notch, even his shorts. I loved Steelheart, so picking this one up was a no brainer. Mitosis is basically a mini story...moreSanderson's work is always top notch, even his shorts. I loved Steelheart, so picking this one up was a no brainer. Mitosis is basically a mini story that takes place after the Reckoners reclaim Newcago, welcoming new citizens to the city while guarding it from any opportunistic Epics who might seek to fill the void left by Steelheart.
Not much more to say other than it was a quick and fun read. You won't be missing any important information for Firefight even if you don't read it, though it might get you excited for the next book if you aren't already, and even more pumped if you are. A very fast-paced story which does a good job presenting the atmosphere of Newcago post-Steelheart, and features a very cool villain and many suspenseful action scenes.(less)
Add Ian McDonald's Planesrunner to the list of the most interesting and well-written young adult novels I've read this year. With the third book coming out soon, I'd initially picked this up to get caught up with the series, but in doing so I also finally discovered why so many readers have been raving about Everness. Adventurous and fun but also fresh and clever, if you're looking for a YA offering that's a little different but has a great story at the same time, consider checking this one out.
Planesrunner tackles a topic in fantasy and science fiction that I have a great interest in: multiple universes and alternate dimensions. I have rarely seen it handled with such detail when it comes to YA fiction, though. The protagonist is Everett Singh, whose father is a brilliant scientist and one of the leading researchers in the study of parallel earths. But then Tejendra Singh is kidnapped from the streets of London one day, leaving his son with a mysterious file on his computer called the Infundibulum.
The Infundibulum ends up being a map to the parallel earths -- all 10 to the power of 80 of them! -- making Everett the guardian of the most valuable tool in the whole entire multiverse. But there are others who see the Infundibulum as a powerful weapon, nefarious factions in the group of plenipotentiaries of the Ten Known Worlds. To escape their reach, Everett travels to a very different parallel earth. With the help of new friends, he is determined to find and rescue his father, while fighting to protect the Infundibulum at all costs.
Hard sci-fi readers will probably find the science behind the quantum physics and theory of multiple universes to be on the light side, but I still find Planesrunner to be a fabulously clever novel. There's enough information to enjoy this fun and action-filled story without getting bogged down with details, and when it comes to his imaginings of parallel earths, Ian McDonald takes things all the way.
The sights and sounds in the world Everett ends up in, designated E3, are beyond amazing. It is a world where fossil fuels have never existed, leading to a society powered by a system that can only be described as a souped-up version of steampunk or, as Everett so amusingly observed, "electropunk". Everett ends up being taken in by an airship crew, thus introducing the reader to the rich, imaginative culture and language of the "Airish". The author certainly does not skimp on the descriptions of the people and their way of life, making it easy to picture the setting and put myself right there.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the characters, though Everett himself comes off as a bit unrealistic as a 14 or 15-year-old boy. The extent of his intelligence is played up and so farfetched it's difficult for me to feel otherwise, but on the other hand, his more mature point of view and way of thinking might make him more relatable to a non-YA reader, thus making Planesrunner a book that may appeal to a much wider audience.
And finally, this book was just plain fun. Where else would I be able to get the craziness and thrills of an actual airship duel outside the pages of this awesome novel? I love YA fiction like this -- quick, clever and full of great ideas. The Everness series is simply "bonaroo"! Looking forward to continuing Everett's journey with the next book, Be My Enemy, and then on to Empress of the Sun, dropping early next year.(less)
I had trouble categorizing The Well's End, which should already tell you that this is quite a unique piece of YA fiction. Part science fiction and fantasy but also a bit of mystery and thriller, the book is a fast-paced adventure that sets itself apart with an imaginative scenario and memorable characters.
The book follows Mia, whose fall down a well when she was four years old made her a local celebrity. Twelve years later she is still known to everyone in town and at the exclusive Westbrook Academy where she goes to school as "Baby Mia". The experience left her with a fear of water and tight dark spaces, which only led to my increased admiration for her as I watched her fight through many frightening situations in the course of this story.
Mia had even joined the swim team and become its star. On the eve of a big meet though, a sudden emergency causes Westbrook to go into lock-down, the cause of it being a deadly virus that speeds up the aging process in its victims so that those infected die within hours. It feels a bit wrong of me to say this but, NICE! A story about a killer virus and quarantine in a YA novel that isn't related to zombies for once!
Once the news breaks about the virus, that's when the plot really takes off. Seth Fishman nails the atmosphere of Westbrook and makes the social aspects of the school very believable (when I was a teen I spent a couple years overseas stuck in a high end international school and a lot of the different cliques and students' attitudes there were actually a lot like what I saw in this book). Some of the best scenes were at the beginning of the novel where the students first learn that they are not allowed to leave the campus, resulting in the utter chaos you would expect from the reactions of privileged kids used to getting their own way. It was frightening, it was intense, and it was brilliant.
The book only had a couple weaknesses, one being the uneven pacing of the story. It slows a little after Mia and friends escape the school grounds and start heading towards the Fenton Electronics Company located in "the Cave", a front for where her father works. There's a burst of excitement again when the teens hit up the aqueduct and run into all sorts of trouble there, but it calms down again once they find the Cave and realize it's not what they thought it was at all. The explanation for the virus situation felt a little drawn out and there was also a sudden shift in perspective here that might jar some readers. There were also a few interactions between the characters that felt awkward, especially the one between Mia and the new kid Brayden. Their relationship felt too fast and too sudden, though as the story progressed, I started to understand why it might have been that way.
The big reveal about the Cave was a real game changer though, ratcheting the excitement up a few notches. As the pieces of this puzzle fell into place, all the strange things that had baffled me finally made a lot more sense. Here we tread further into fantasy territory, and with the secret nature of the Cave still mostly unknown, the stage is set for all kinds of possibilities.
In the end, this debut by Seth Fishman did not disappoint. I found out he is the literary agent of a couple of my favorite authors, so he definitely knows a good story. His first book was indeed a promising start to a new series though be aware that the ending is very abrupt, leaving things open for an inevitable sequel. There's no question I'll pick it up though; I'm invested in the story and these characters and I'm eager for answers.(less)
Douglas E. Richards is known for his mind-bending science fiction thrillers that are a touch different from the mainstream variety, not to mention a penchant for throwing in unexpected twists that will leave you reeling. I finally got the chance to experience Richards' work for myself with his newest techno-thriller The Cure, and it appears that his knack for storytelling has not been exaggerated.
But first, readers should be aware that the prologue contains extremely graphic and brutal violence. I had a very hard time getting through it myself, and was tempted to skip the entire scene all together. However, as abhorrent as it was, this section served its purpose -- we are introduced to the main character Erin Palmer, whose entire life was shaped by a severely traumatic experience with a psychopath when she was just eleven years old.
Now a grad student, Erin has dedicated much of her life to studying and trying to understand psychopathy. When her research attracts the attention of neuroscientist Hugh Raborn who contacts her with a possible treatment and ultimately a cure for the condition, one would think Erin would be over the moon. And yet, she is troubled by the ethical implications of a such a revolutionary scientific breakthrough, not to mention her suspicions that Raborn isn't being completely honest with her.
Then, enter the HUGE twist. Let's just say I spent a lot of time during the first third of this book scratching my head trying to figure out where the "science fiction" aspect comes in with regards to the plot. Granted, the author gets innovative and very high-tech when it comes to the science and medical theory, but up to this point, The Cure came across as more of a suspense-thriller. Suffice to say, everything changed when Richards drops a huge bombshell, at once giving me my sci-fi fix and taking the story in a direction I never would have seen coming in a million years!
For obvious reasons, I can't say much more pertaining to this development without revealing any major spoilers, and really, where would be the fun in that! If the book's plot sounds intriguing to you though, I do encourage you to check it out; albeit I admit I was initially skeptical over this new turn of events, they gradually grew on me. By the end of the revelation I was at least curious enough and willing to go along to see where Richards will take me, and it's a good thing I did because the rest of the book can only be described as one wild ride -- and emphasis on wild. If nothing else, this twist has definitely piqued my interest in the author's other books.
When first faced with the driving pace and unique blend of suspense and science in The Cure, one of my earliest thoughts was that Douglas E. Richards' style reminds me very much of the late Michael Crichton's. It also came as no surprise when I finished the book and did some further reading to discover that many others have made the same comparison. The writing took some time to get used to, since at times it was awkward and seemed almost didactic in nature, but it is clear Richards knows what he's talking about. I am no molecular biologist like the author, nor am I well-versed in fields like quantum physics or psychology, but he took some very complex theories and made it straightforward enough to make the story compelling, and for me to understand that there is a lot at stake.
The book wraps up nicely, which is astounding in light of the widely different subjects involved as well as multiple twists in the plot. The story is suspenseful, audacious and a lot of fun, especially if you're a fan of the kind of science-fiction thrillers by authors like Crichton or Douglas Preston. Once in a while, a book like this comes along and shakes up my reading list, which is something I can appreciate, and on top of that, it gave me plenty to think about.(less)
Being a type A personality and stickler for organization, I employ the use of many different shelves to sort my books on Goodreads. Anyway, just to give you an idea of the kind of book we're talking about here, these are just some of the ones I've tagged for The Daedalus Incident: Action-Adventure. Aliens. Alternate History. Fantasy. Magic. Science Fiction. Time Travel. Oh and I almost forgot, Pirates, too.
As you can see, this is a novel that mixes elements from many genres. We're talking about some pretty wild stuff here, like 18th-century ships sailing between planets, or famous historical figures like Benjamin Franklin being one of the most skilled alchemists to ever come out of the American colonies. And that's just in one timeline. Another story thread takes place in 2132 in a whole other universe, where the personnel team on a trillion-dollar mining operations taking place on Mars has been experiencing some strange things lately -- things like a 300-year-old journal that is writing itself, or like a giant pyramid forming itself out of the desolate terrain.
What do these two disparate timelines have to do with each other, you ask? Now that's the million dollar question of the day. The answer is a journey that will take you beyond the limits of time and space, introducing you great characters you'll care about and fantastic new worlds to boot.
It did take a short period of adjustment, but once I got into the rhythm of jumping between the two different story lines, I started having a lot of fun. Admittedly, the 18th-century timeline was the one that held a greater appeal, featuring a world that was more interesting with its alchemical-powered ships, alien races living on different planets, and the explosive clashes against space pirates. In some ways, it read much like a high fantasy plot line done up in a different package, so you get things like planets instead of faraway kingdoms, alchemical artifacts instead of treasures troves, ancient alien forces instead of an evil demonic adversary, etc. No doubt my usual preference for the "historical" over the "futuristic" probably has something to do with it as well.
On the other hand, the 2132 Mars storyline started losing me around the halfway point -- though to be fair, I'm thinking that it's not the book. It's me. Start throwing around terms like "non-ionized radiation" or "particle physics" and you might as well be spraying your book with a big dose of anti-Mogsy repellent. I can't help it; my eyes seem predisposed to glaze over whenever they wander too close to hard sci-fi territory. I'm really more of a life sciences kind of person, whereas the more complex workings of the physical sciences tend to go over my head.
Nonetheless, I very much enjoyed the characters -- in both timelines. I love the immersive quality of Lt. Thomas Weatherby's voice, which sounds convincing coming from a man of his time period in the 1700s. There were a lot of memorable characters in that alternate universe, including Dr. Finch and Anne Baker. In the future Mars timeline, I liked following the central character of Lt. Shaila Jain, mostly because of all the different relationships she has to juggle while trying to keep things from falling apart at the mining base. And don't even get me started on that critical moment when the characters from both worlds finally meet -- oh come on, you had to have known that they would at some point! Anyway, it was definitely a scene worth waiting for, not to mention the full scope of the events that follow.
It's true that this one had its ups and downs, depending on where I was in the story, but I have to say the overall premise is unquestionable unique. I would recommend this to fans of cross-genre fiction or anyone looking to check out a book that blends fantasy and science fiction in an innovative way.(less)
To my surprise, Dreamwalker turned out to be a pretty big departure from C.S. Friedman's previous works. Still, I was no less charmed by the remarkable story and characters than I had been before I realized this was a book more geared towards the young adult audience. After all, YA fantasy has so much to offer these days, and as someone who enjoys reading this category quite a bit, I found Dreamwalker to be a promising start to what has the potential to become a great new series.
I was hooked right away with the introduction to the Drake siblings, Jessica ("Jesse" to her friends) and her little brother Tommy. The book starts off by throwing them into some pretty heavy situations, and I don't doubt for a second that this had something to do with why I was so taken with these characters. Jesse and Tommy's father, who doesn't actually appear in this novel, still casts a dark shadow on the family even years after he walked away from them, by claiming that Jesse is another man's child. To prove to him that this is not true, Jesse's mom takes her to get a paternity test.
Yikes, what an awful situation for anyone let alone a teenager to find themselves in, but Jesse's composure and steadfast support for her mother made me appreciate her more as a protagonist and narrator. But of course, these problems are just the beginning. When the DNA test results come back, that's when Jesse's true mettle will be tested. What would you do if you discovered that you weren't the person you thought you were? What would you do if you found out you might not even be part of this world? A new term has gained significance with Jesse: Changeling. Desperate to make sense of her life, Jesse goes on the search for answers and instead finds many others who are in similar situations like hers.
The family's problems have touched Jesse's brother Tommy's life as well, though they have affected him in different ways. I have to say his obsession with gaming in the wake of his father's departure broke my heart a little; having spent years playing online games myself and in doing so meeting people who have used this hobby as an avenue of escape, I understand all too well how someone could turn to virtual worlds and internet friends in order to drown out painful feelings. It could happen to anyone, young or old. For me, it is another point to Jesse's character that she doesn't judge her brother, and instead tries to share in his interests by letting him use her weird and disturbing dreams as inspiration for his roleplaying campaigns.
When a stranger comes poking around the Drakes' lives and Tommy is kidnapped however, Jesse begins to have the dreaded suspicion that it is all because of her and her dreams. Her mission to get her brother back is what leads her and her new friends on a journey to another world, one that the author has done a phenomenal job of creating. I really enjoyed the premise of this novel, which explores parallel universes and alternate realities. In doing so, Friedman also addresses important social issues like race, poverty and human rights. Overall this is a fun and adventurous novel, but there are definitely some weighty topics of discussion in here.
Perhaps my only issue with the book is how jumbled it feels at certain times, perhaps due to the frequent switching of first-person to third-person between some chapters. This doesn't usually bother me in other books, but for some reason it is quite noticeable here. My guess is it has something to do with chapter length and how short some of these third-person intervals are. Some parts of the plot are also resolved too neatly, or too conveniently. For example, at one point in the novel Jesse and her friends meet a character who essentially hands them everything they need to succeed in their quest, though how that character managed to obtain the tools and information in the first place is not really addressed.
There are also lots of ideas in play, and how they all relate to each other does make itself apparent until much later in the book, so the first half of the story may feel a bit disjointed. Personally I don't mind stories like this, which are like mysteries that I know will unravel in time. As such, this was a fast read for me because I found I couldn't stop myself from turning the pages. Every person you encounter is a question, because you don't know whose side they're on. I just couldn't wait to see how all the puzzle pieces would fall into place, and the ending was sadly over much too soon. I was actually a little surprised at how quickly it wrapped up.
Even so, the ending leaves things wide open for more of Jesse's story (though it is not a cliffhanger, thank you!), and I know I will want to be there to see what happens next. I think as long as you go into this with the knowledge it is going to be different from the author's other books, Dreamwalker may yet surprise you. This is C.S. Friedman tackling the young adult fantasy genre, and I feel she did an impressive job.(less)
The Mad Scientist's Daughter ended up giving me all sorts of contradictory and inconsistent feelings. Even though I loved this novel, there were still a ton of things that drove me nuts about it, and yet I can't help but suspect a lot of it was by design.
First of all, while I enjoyed this book, I also have to say it was also one of the most depressing stories I've ever read. Even though the tagline is "A tale of love, loss and robots", I don't actually think it was meant to be that depressing (in fact, it's got a pretty happy ending) but here you have a main character who's just so pitiful and tragic and even pathetic, I couldn't even bring myself to hate her for her many, many flaws.
At its heart, The Mad Scientist's Daughter is a deep analysis and portrayal of Caterina Novak, daughter of a brilliant yet a eccentric inventor and cybernetics expert, and we follow her character's development from childhood to her adult years. Cat is five years old when she first meets Finn, the android her father brings home to be her tutor. But as Cat grows, she discovers Finn is different from other androids. With every year that passes their relationship becomes increasingly complicated, as Cat starts to see Finn as someone more than just a tutor and friend.
And yet, what Cat attributes to love for Finn, I see it more as an obsession. I wouldn't really consider this book a love story or a true romance, and if it was meant to be, then it missed its mark completely. If you're looking for romantic tension or chemistry between two characters, you're not really going to find it here. For most of the book, Cat's feelings are mostly one-sided, and for all the times we're told Finn is sentient and one of a kind, the author still never manages to make him seem quite human enough.
So yeah, I pretty much just spent a lot of time feeling bad and really sorry for Cat. Like I said, depressing.
Still, the fact I am able to express any sympathy for her at all is an incredible achievement in itself. It's like Cat is always in her own little world, with Finn being the only thing ever on her mind. She snaps at people, not understanding why they might not feel the same way about androids as she does. She marries a man (who turned out to be a grade-A dick but genuinely did love her) out of convenience. She donates to a charity that defends androids, but I'm not convinced she actually believes in the cause or if it's more likely she's driven by her guilt and Finn obsession.
By rights, such a self-absorbed and angst-ridden character should turn me right off, but somehow Cat manages to make me like her. Maybe it's because we all know nobody's perfect. Or that when it comes to that special someone, no one can help the way they feel. I felt Cat's pain of loving someone she believed she could never have. I felt her helplessness of knowing she shouldn't have those feelings but turning them off is also easier said than done. We've all been there. That I could relate to her made it easier to overlook her many faults.
Before this, I'd only read Cassandra Rose Clarke's young adult novels and I was really keen to see what she could do with a longer, more mature story. In the end I was quite happy with the book The Mad Scientist's Daughter turned out to be. It isn't an exploration into the humanity of intelligent machines like Asimov's Bicentennial Man or the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence, or at least it isn't its central focus; instead, the delineation of Cat's personality takes center stage, and the plot takes a backseat to the dynamics in her relationships with Finn and, to a lesser extent, her mother and father. The premise is a cool idea, even if the story ultimately turned out to be a horribly heartbreaking one for me.(less)
I'll start by saying that I've never read James Dashner before this, but I know his name is well known in the world of Young Adult science fiction with his books in the Maze Runner series. Why I chose to tackle this book instead of starting with The Maze Runner is simple: I was initially drawn to the gamer culture aspect in the description, and it sounded enough like Ernest Cline's Ready Player One (which I loved) to make me even more curious.
There are definitely some similarities; the book follows Michael, a young man who spends most of his time in the VirtNet, a virtual reality network that offers total mind and body immersion so that anyone plugged in can experience any one of thousands of fantasy worlds like they are actually there. That's pretty much where the resemblance ends though. In Michael's VirtNet, a new cyber terrorist known as "Kaine" is purportedly hacking the code and trapping people inside games, so that in-game deaths lead to real life casualties and victims becoming brain-dead.
The best part about being in the VirtNet was never having to worry about risking your life, but now all that has changed. VirtNet Security forcibly recruits Michael, a talented gamer and hacker in his own right, to hunt down this dangerous enemy threatening the whole system. From here on out, the rest of the book is laid out in classic action-and-adventure format, where the hero and his two friends set out on a quest to find Kaine, picking up clues and investigating leads along the way.
The beginning had me pretty interested. The VirtNet system is very well described, especially with the setting of the game "Life Blood" serving as the opener. I loved the idea of how realistic and immersive these worlds are, and the infinite possibilities they present. The novel had a great intro, and a quick subsequent build-up to the main part of the story. I really thought this was going to be a winner.
But then something stalled along the way. The tight focus that was maintained throughout the first part of the book gradually unraveled, so that by the time we're in the middle chapters I felt that the story had lost its steam. It almost feels like the author had a clear vision of how the book begins and how it ends, but didn't really plan well for everything that needs to go in between. Michael and his friends' journey felt far too prolonged and lost its direction, leading me to ask myself several times while reading this, "Wait, what are they supposed to be doing again?"
To the book's credit, the ending did indeed hook me back in, but by then it was a little too late for me to feel the full impact. In any case, the big shocking twist at the end was certainly well worth it, though like I said, at that point it did not have the effect that it should have had. I also wonder if this novel would have been better served told in the first person; I think that would have given me a deeper connection to Michael's feelings, especially during that final revelation.
All in all, not a bad book, but I'm still debating whether or not I will pick up the sequel which is slated for a summer 2014 release. I very well may end up checking out The Maze Runner before I get a chance to read book two of this series.(less)
V-S Day is a bit of a departure from my usual reads, but I've made made a resolution this year to tackle more books that are outside my comfort zone. And while I may not be a World War II buff, I do love novels of alternate history and have seen authors come up with some terrific ideas when it comes to this era and genre.
To tell the truth, I almost balked and ran after the first chapter. It wasn't WWII history that made me hesitate, but in fact it was the rocket science that intimidated me. To be fair, it doesnt take much to make me feel out of my depth; a few mentions of things like insulated hoses, radar arrays, and liquid oxygen and nitrogen tank pressurization and you'll find me starting to sweat. I can't help it, I just start to feel my attention waning whenever descriptions get the least bit technical.
But then, things turned around completely. The book may have opened on the scene of a hectic space-plane launch in 1943, but suddenly with the next chapter we are looking in on a gathering of family and friends in the present day. As it turns out, this is a reunion party for a group of pretty important people, made up of the brilliant scientists who thwarted a Nazi plot to attack New York City in the war during the 1940s. Of course, due to its highly classified nature, no one had any idea about it.
But now, journalist Douglas Walker is here to find the truth, interviewing the men about their time with Robert Goddard, inventor of the liquid-fuel rocket, and their project that changed the world. To counter the Nazi's development of a manned orbital spacecraft capable of traversing long distances to drop a bomb on the United States, Goddard and his team had to figure out a way to build their own spacecraft to take down the enemy's rocket. Thus, a race between two secret military projects was born.
But before I go further into what I thought about this book, I have to say it was the espionage angle that finally got me on board. When rocket science fails to hook me, I can always count on the plot elements that have to do with spies and intelligence gathering to get me excited. And once that got me into the story, I just ate it right up and blew through the pages.
In the end, I actually came to follow the progress of the American program with much enjoyment, and in a way the rocket ship project itself became a central character, and -- believe it or not -- my fascination with it eventually overshadowed my interest in the human players. This was a rather new experience for me, where the scientists became almost the supporting cast, while the research and development of the spacecraft Lucky Linda actually took center stage. For someone who typically places a lot of emphasis on characters in a novel, I was surprisingly okay with this.
It also wasn't until later when I read the author's afterword that I found out, at one point, the story of V-S Day existed in the form of a screenplay. That actually made a lot of sense. Reading this book did make me feel uncannily like I was watching it in a movie or a series on TV, thanks in part to the flashback style and the way the events were told through the eyes of multiple major and minor characters. If anything though, I thought the chapters that gave us a glimpse into von Braun's program in Germany were the weakest, though I saw the need for them, since the reader has to know the progress of each side to get a sense of the urgency and what's at risk.
At its heart, V-S Day is a book about a very different space race in a time where rockets only existed in science fiction magazines or in the minds of those who dared to dream. I ended up enjoying this book quite a bit, and was glad I didn't let myself put this one down. The final revelation at the end was a nice touch. However, it was the climax that made it all worth it, with the tension culminating into a conclusion that made me understand the reason for all the build up. (less)
My brain does not feel fully equipped to handle Lockstep. Obviously, this is not a criticism of the book; rather it is one on my limitations in spatial-temporal thinking. For you see, the whole book revolves around a fascinating but sometimes confusing concept of coordinated hibernation cycles. With no warp drives and light-years between colonized planets, it's the most efficient way to keep a civilization going in a huge galaxy.
In this Lockstep system, worlds are carefully timed on a "sleep-and-wake" schedule, and this also allows travelers to lie dormant during long trips between planets. Whole populations can go into cold sleeps for decades while only waking for a few weeks, but even after many cycles it could feel like hardly any time has passed at all. So in essence, there's "real time" and then there's "Lockstep time". The main character Toby experiences this the hard way, having gone to sleep after being lost in space, then waking up 14,000 years later in real time. But in Lockstep time however, only about four decades have passed.
I've been noticing a lot more books featuring wild and innovative ideas dealing with space and time in recent years, and I think it's totally awesome! The concept behind the Lockstep Empire is one of the best and most original yet. In spite of this, the book is not without its problems and for me they mainly stem from the confusing execution of those ideas.
First of all, the Lockstep system by itself is not a very difficult one to grasp, but the book will keep throwing factors into the mix making the story a lot more complicated. Take for instance, worlds that don't operate on the Lockstep schedule, or are set at different intervals. Or how about different characters in different contexts, popping up with their ages all over the place relative to Toby and his friends'. Whenever the author states how much time has passed (presumably in Lockstep time) or whenever a character goes to sleep and wakes up again during space travel, I would always wonder when I actually am.
The creative plot line and world building notwithstanding, I also only felt lukewarm towards the story. I was drawn by the ideas in this novel and the intrigue of Toby's messed up family, but I was never made to feel truly excited about where the book was going. I also won't deny this might have played into my overall uncertainty of the Lockstep premise. It pretty much mirrors my experience with hard sci-fi. While I don't really consider myself a big fan, I wouldn't mind hard sci-fi novels as long as they "hook" me in some way, making it easier for me to wrap my head around technobabble and the more complicated ideas. I think the same can be applied to Lockstep, but in this case the storytelling, while ambitious and inventive, just didn't really do it for me.
To sum things up, this book has lots of great ideas and world building, worth reading just to be hit with the awesomeness of the Lockstep system and learn about its ins-and-outs. The story could have been written in a way to make it easier to understand, but the concept is still nothing short of incredible. My main issue with the book isn't so much that I found the Lockstep system confusing (like I said, that's my problem, not the book's) but the fact the story itself did not excite me. I enjoyed it, but could it have been more? I think so. Still, not bad, not bad at all. (less)
Dystopian fiction seems to be all the rage these days, but if you're hankering for a book that sets itself apart and that is not a Young Adult novel, then boy do I have a gem for you.
The Detainee is set the distant future, where society as we know it has essentially collapsed, the economy and infrastructure in tatters. The population is kept in line by security satellites in the sky, constantly watching. Do something against the rules and -- ZAP! -- you're either disabled, dying or dead, depending on the severity of your crime. But if you're a troublemaker, the authorities would sooner just throw you away than deal with you. Anyone who represents a burden is unwanted, dumped onto The Island like the rest of the Mainland's garbage.
But what makes this book stand out is the main character Clancy, also known as "Big Guy" on account of his huge size as a youth, a trait that gave him such an edge as a former mafia goon. He is also sixty-three years old. Now, with people living longer and longer these days, I don't know if I would really call that old ... but the point is, Clancy certainly identifies himself as elderly. So, that's a bit different. I don't often come across stories told from the point of view of someone "aged" (for the entire duration of the book) and I thought Clancy's position offers a very unique perspective, as someone who has watched the "good old days" turn gradually into the hell they live in now -- piece by piece and slippery slope by slippery slope.
Because of his age, Clancy is also an involuntary resident of the Island, because those who are past their prime are seen as nothing more than takers and freeloaders. Elders in this society are not revered but instead treated like scapegoats for the system's collapse -- along with the sick, the poor, and even children. There are many young people at the Island too, many of whom ended up there because their parents chose abandoning them over being cast off themselves. These kids are rounded up and manipulated by the island's Wastelords who use a regime of drugs and abuse to create a brutal child army, which they use to set against the old people who live in the village.
Like I said, this is not your teenager's YA dystopian. In an ironic twist, the youth are the enemy, the face of death to Clancy and his friends. Their village becomes a bloody battlefield whenever the fog rolls in, because that's when the kids come raiding, knowing full well their activities are obscured from the gazes of the uncompromising satellites.
Powerful and provocative, you can practically feel the weight in Peter Liney's writing. The Detainee paints a hollow, painful existence for everyone living on the Island, for while the book is told in first person from Clancy's point of view, we find out later on that things are just as bad (if not worse) for the young people at the Camps. Instead of focusing on a single age group, the author has taken things further to explore the unpleasant effects of a dystopian society across multiple generations. But the novel is also hopeful and inspiring; even in a world of misery, the protagonist Clancy forges several unlikely relationships that give him reason to carry on. In time he learns when it comes to love and suffering, age is just a number, and that everyone longs for freedom the same way.
What you'll find here is a compelling story about adaptability, compassion and courage. Clancy is a very interesting narrator, with the experience of his years behind his character, and who ultimately discovers you are never too old to surprise yourself. I could be wrong, but I think The Detainee is a stand alone novel (EDIT: seems that I am wrong, I'm told there is a book 2 in the works YAY!) It reads perfectly fine as one, in any case. I would have liked to see more from the story about its world's history and background, but I found the book thoroughly enjoyable. Perfect for fans of dystopian fiction who are looking for an exceptional novel to dive into.(less)
Besides being a pretty damn good book, Nexus also has the distinction of being the first cyberpunk-ish novel that I've genuinely enjoyed. There's not as much as a barrier when it comes to diving right into the story, and there's just something about the characters that kept my interest levels high from beginning to end.
Despite being a futuristic techno-thriller, certain aspects about it will feel just familiar enough to cause a teensy bit of discomfort when imagining a world like this could be right around the corner. When bio-engineering meets nano-technology meets the drug scene, we get Nexus, the new pleasure drug that allows users to integrate their consciousness, linking mind to mind. What could this mean for the future of our society?
The book's protagonist Kade Lane believes he has the answers, aiming to improve Nexus along with a cadre of his idealistic friends. But while people like them may have humanity's best interests in mind, others' intentions are not so benevolent. There are those out to exploit Nexus, those who would use it as a weapon. As well, there are factions that wish to outlaw it, put an end to its use all together. When Kade gets caught making his own modifications to Nexus, he is pulled into an international web of conspiracy, intrigue and lies.
The action and thrills aside, I found the most compelling aspect of the book to be the various characters' perceptions of this nano-drug as well as the outlook for its future. There is no doubt Nexus could do the world a lot of good, but so much evil could come of it as well. Kade is an interesting character; I think it's a shrewd decision by Naam to write about such a bright young man who can also be so naive. At the same time, we inevitably come to the question of whether or not to throw out the baby with the bath water. Do we stamp out and reject the positive along with the negative? Do we say no to something wonderful like Nexus, a new technology that can improve billions of people's lives, just because of the potential for abuse?
Anyway, the reason why I don't read as much hard sci-fi is because I'm typically the kind of reader whose eyes glaze over at the sight of too much technobabble. But like I said, this is a very easy book to get into. Ramez Naam has a very impressive author's bio, being a computer scientist with knowledge and experience in the fields of artificial intelligence, software development, and biotechnology. Clearly, he knows his stuff. However, not once did I feel out of my depth or overwhelmed by the science and tech in Nexus; the author makes everything clear and easy to understand, never allowing the heavy details to get in the way of his fast-paced action plot.
I really enjoyed Nexus; the story itself is great, but it's the philosophy and moral questions behind it that makes it even better, catapulting this book into the realm of being something truly special. A worthwhile read.(less)
The Diamond Deep was a very pleasant surprise, one of those books that I have a feeling should deserve a lot more attention than it gets. Nevertheless, I'll admit I knew very little about the book when it first came into my possession, and for that reason, I almost relegated it to the "save-for-later" pile. Boy, am I so very glad I didn't.
It was reading the first page containing the Author's Note that first transformed my mild curiosity into awed interest. There, Brenda Cooper writes that Evita, the musical about Eva Perón, was the main inspiration for the book's story. Something about this struck me, made me want to know more and read the book right away. Cooper further writes, though, that The Diamond Deep is simply the story Evita's legend teased out of her. And knowing what I do about Eva Perón, I could definitely see how her life and legacy inspired this novel, but the story is also a very fascinating piece of social-science-fiction, a class-oriented space opera with elements of action and suspense.
The book's main protagonist, Ruby Martin, is a very strong and complex character, much like the historical figure she was based on. She and the inhabitants of their discovery ship are heading home from a multi-generational journey, and from the sound of it, things haven't been easy. I have not read the first book of the Ruby's Song series, The Creative Fire, but it is clear that there'd been a rigidly divided social structure on the ship, before a movement spearheaded by Ruby and others brought a change.
Just as Evita had been an actress before becoming First Lady of Argentina and a political leader in her own right, Ruby started off as a robot repair assistant and a singer before becoming partners with the ship's leader Joel North. And just like Evita during her short life, Ruby's character is controversial, as adored as she is hated by her crew. When they finally reach their destination, her leadership is further tested when it turns out their new home is nothing like any of them expected.
After being away for so long, they are immediately dismissed as primitive and naive, given no status, voice or power. Having just rid their own society of inequality, they arrive at The Diamond Deep space station only to be treated like beggars and slaves, the lowest of the low. They are used and manipulated by parties who deliberately and shamelessly keep them in the dark, knowing that there's nothing they can do about it. As with most fiction concerning sociological speculation, this book is a reflection of some of the current issues in our own contemporary societies, and it can be quite upsetting and infuriating to read about Ruby and her crew's situation.
Ruby herself is an interesting protagonist. She has a very dominant and energetic personality, but her love for her people is boundless. She can also be a tad vain and wrapped up in her own self-importance, but perhaps that's the point the author is trying to make about Ruby and her leadership -- that even strong characters are flawed and fallible, and that they can make mistakes and cause pain unwittingly even when they have good intentions or think they are doing the best for others. Ruby cares too much, perhaps, unwilling to accept that she can't be everywhere at once and do everything for everyone at the same time.
I think my appreciation for her character also increased after I finished this book and began researching more into the life of Eva Perón, which opened my eyes to more parallels made by the author. Moreover, though, I liked this book for its themes, which explore matters such as power, poverty, and the responsibilities of a society to its members. It is a very compelling story of revolution, and one woman's journey to fight for her people's voices to be heard.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. (less)
There are so many things I want to say about this debut novel by Ann Leckie, but first I just have to express my awe and admiration for some of the themes and concepts in this book. I went into Ancillary Justice after having heard a lot of praise for its originality and imaginative ideas, and now that I've finished it, I can only echo those sentiments.
The book follows Breq, a soldier who is more (and, I suppose, also less) than she seems. An "Ancillary", Breq was formerly one of many corpse soldiers all linked up with an artificial intelligence as part of a massive starship called the Justice of Toren. So in a sense, she is the Justice of Toren. Breq as well as all the other corpse soldier "segments" who were treated as appendages connected to the Justice of Toren were collectively considered part of the ship. It's a complex but incredibly elaborate concept to wrap my head around, but reading about it made me exultant.
Anyway, after an act of treachery, Breq was the only one who made it out of the subsequent disaster, making her the last surviving remnant of the Justice of Toren, left alone and isolated in a human body. Now she sets herself on a path of vengeance to track down and kill Anaander Mianaai, the multi-bodied and near-immortal Lord of the Radch who was responsible.
As I said, I think the ideas here are very inventive and original, and the way they are executed is also quite clever, if confusing at times. Breq's narration reflects the fact that she is a part of a ship, a bigger whole. In chapters where she is linked up to the rest of the Justice of Toren, we see through the eyes of multiple Ancillaries, which in essence are all one entity. Because the ship's Ancillaries are everywhere, the narrator is aware of things happening around all her different segments who are in different places at the same time. This "omniscient effect" is no doubt a challenge to write, and I think Leckie did as well as anyone possibly could.
There were many times, though, where this book made me feel completely out of my depth. The style of the narration I described above is one reason, but also because of other factors such as Breq's approach to using only the female pronoun to refer to other characters. This gender ambiguity is another point to the innovation and cleverness of this book (and since we humans refer to our ships and other vessels as female, seeing it happen the other way around is so deliciously apropos!) but it also made reading this book a slow and purposeful experience, since I did not want to risk missing anything in the writing.
Added to this is the skipping back and forth in time, as well as the massive amount of information piled upon the reader to digest in the first part of the book. To be fair, lengthy explanations and commentary are probably unavoidable given a book with a premise like this, and a part of me also wonders if Ancillary Justice might be better suited for readers with more experience with science fiction, who'd be better able to adapt to the peculiar pacing. I love this genre, and the details don't get too overly technical here, but I still couldn't help but feel overwhelmed and out of my comfort zone at times.
As such, it wasn't until deep into the later chapters that I finally felt settled into the rhythm of the book. Once the time switches come to an end and the plot moves forward, I found myself a lot more engaged with the story. And indeed, this is a compelling novel, and it raises some interesting questions and themes about freedom, identity, independence and choice.
I think I would have liked this book a lot more if I didn't hit so many speed bumps in the beginning, but working my way through to the end was worth it. The finale was pure action and suspense, and as a character, Breq has certainly made herself memorable. The ideas in this book will stay with me for a long time, and this is overall a great debut.(less)
23 Years On Fire was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Not really knowing what to expect when the book arrived from the publisher for review, I didn't exactly plan on reading this right away, seeing as it is described as the fourth Cassandra Kresnov novel and I generally prefer not to start reading in the middle of a series if I can help it.
However, my curiosity became too hard to ignore. Plus, the sleek, elegant cover image was part of the attraction, appearing to show an armored female black ops-type soldier in the midst of performing a military free fall jump. I flipped it open to read the first line, with the intention of just checking out the first few pages...only to get pulled in by the explosive opening scene of a covert assault on an enemy base. I ended up finishing the whole book in a matter of days.
As it turned out, not having read the first three books that came before did not hinder me too much, and I was able to follow this one just fine. It can definitely be read by itself, and the main character Cassandra "Sandy" Kresnov's backstory is easy enough to unravel just based on what unfolds in this book alone. An artificial person or an android called a "GI", Sandy was created by the League but defected to the Federation to join their security forces on the world of Callay.
That decision had a lot to do with the one thing Sandy would not stand for, which is the mistreatment of her fellow GIs. Just because they are synthetic doesn't mean that they do not possess humanity, and when it is brought to light that New Torah is involved in ruthless experimentation with artificial soldiers, Sandy leads a mission there to investigate. What she finds on New Torah, however, is a lot more than she bargained for.
Before this, I never would have thought military sci-fi would be my kind of thing (actually, I hadn't even read enough of it to determine whether it's my "thing" or not) but this turned out to be highly entertaining. It rather reads like a summer Hollywood sci-fi flick, and as such I thought the sex was a little overplayed and the book is heavily indulgent on the action, gun fighting and explosions, but it is a high-tech in-your-face roller coaster ride as it should be.
Sandy herself is somewhat of an enigma, even though I think she's a great character. She's certainly a different and unique kind of protagonist, being a synthetic human. Because she is a more advanced designation, this also gives her higher intellect, thus leading to her ability to have a wider range of emotions, to question her circumstances and form her own moral code.
As a result, she has a developed personality but also a childlike attitude towards certain topics, sometimes caring too much about something and at other times caring too little, and often her approach is very direct. I think Joel Shepherd did an incredible job giving Sandy an identity that stands out and at the same time making it clear that she is hardwired to be a certain way. I still don't know what to make of her yet, but then again I didn't have the benefit of getting to know her from the beginning of the series.
Ultimately, I went into this book knowing very little about it, but came out glad for the experience. Furthermore, I enjoyed this even though it has a bit of a cyberpunk feel to it, which was surprising but also a credit to the author, given how that has been a subgenre I've had little luck with in the past. A lot of the ideas I encountered were very interesting, and the book proved tough to put down.
Note: I received a review copy of this book compliments of the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinions. My thanks to Pyr Books! (less)
This book first caught my attention because I noticed a blurb likening it to a Young Adult version of LOST - which was actually a show I really enjoyed before it turned all WTFery bizarre. The result however, was not quite what I expected. I wouldn't say I'm disappointed, though; The Living wasn't a bad book, just different.
I'm also not surprised to see that opinions are all over the place for this one. It is a book made up of several different sections that feel completely dissimilar from each other in terms atmosphere, setting, pacing. It is part disaster story and survivor narrative, but also with some hints of apocalyptic fiction and mystery. Try and imagine the movie 2012 meets Castaway, then maybe throw in a bit of 28 Days Later.
We start the story on a luxury cruise ship, which I thought was a rather unique and exciting setting. The international crew and passengers make for a very diverse cast, with characters hailing from all over the world. The protagonist himself, Shy, is a Mexican-American teenager whose home town is near the border, an area ravaged by a new illness coined Romero disease. Ever since the disease claimed his grandmother, Shy has been working for the cruise line in order to earn money to support his family.
Shy employed on board a ship and near Hawaii when "The Big One" hits, a megathrust earthquake that completely destroys the west coast of North America. The resulting tsunami sinks the ship, and while most perish, Shy manages to survive.
One more movie reference and I swear I'll be done, but I just wanted to point out that The Living ruined cruising for me by traumatizing me the same way Final Destination did with air travel. The scenes leading up to, during, and after the sinking were gripping and terrifying. Which was probably why it felt so incongruous when this section was followed up with a part featuring days of drifting aimlessly on the open water as Shy is marooned on a lifeboat. This section had its moments too, but it had nowhere near the heart-pounding force or intensity.
I was also slightly disappointed when I got to the final few pages and found a wide-open ending, and what was a very obvious lead-in to a series. I'd hoped that this would be a stand alone, though I'd had my doubts even before I started when I saw the slimness of the volume. As I got closer and closer to the last page I already suspected the author wasn't going to be able to wrap everything up.
In fact, as a first book to a planned series, The Living actually had the feel of very long introduction. But for all that, I still can't deny it has me hooked -- Matt de la Peña did a splendid job setting up an intriguing story and a lot of interesting relationships between the characters. I'll most likely pick up the sequel when it releases.(less)
Rachel Bach is also Rachel Aaron, an author who put herself on my radar earlier this year after I read The Spirit Thief, the excellent first book of her fantasy series The Legend of Eli Monpress. That novel really impressed me with its light-hearted yet suspenseful story, not to mention the fun, down-earth-characters. So while we may be heading to a place a little beyond earth's atmosphere this time around, I had good a feeling that Fortune's Pawn would be just as enjoyable and entertaining.
Fortune's Pawn introduces us to Deviana "Devi" Morris, a Paradoxian mercenary not content to settle for anything less than the best -- and the best, to her, is a position with the Devastators, the elite armored branch of the king's fighting force. But achieving such a decorated post won't be easy, and Devi knows she will need a lot more experience to even get herself noticed.
Following a tip from a friend, Devi applies for a job on the Glorious Fool, a tiny trade vessel with a reputation for being a "cursed ship". Trouble seems to always follow the Fool, and it is said that one year of security work there is equal to five years anywhere else. If experience is what the Devastators want, Devi figures there's no better place to get it. After all, she's confident her skills can get her through anything.
Not entirely true, of course, as we the readers can expect. Secrets and a multitude of dangers await Devi, the kind she never would have thought to prepare for in a million years, including...love? Now, what's this? Romance in my science fiction? Oh boy, I was tickled pink when I found out, practically cackling and rubbing my hands together with glee. This is one instance where the addition of a romantic arc was definitely most welcome. I didn't think much of Devi at first, being all brawn and ambition, but throw in her feelings for Rupert Charkov, the Glorious Fool's sexy, charming and mysterious cook and suddenly she became a much more interesting and deeper character.
The plot, which I also thought would be rather simple and straightforward, took a few startling turns as well. To be honest, I'd picked this one up as a palate cleanser after my recent string of emotionally-heavy books, fully expecting it to be mind-candy I'd been looking for -- quick, uncomplicated and fun. I had anticipated a few action scenes involving high-tech battles with aliens to be the highlight of Fortune's Pawn, but much to my surprise, I quickly discovered a lot more below the surface. The book is indeed a lot of fun so I got what I wanted, but there's also an intriguing mystery here, a teasing thread that gave the story that extra boost and made it more special.
In any case, Fortune's Pawn was exactly what I needed, with its strong protagonist and her candid narrative, a colorful and interesting supporting cast (a crew member who is essentially a giant chicken as the ship's second? Brilliant!) and the story's dynamic, spirited pace. All this made it a great book that was really hard to put down. (less)
Whoa, where do I start? My head is still reeling with all the things I have to say about Red Rising. Now let's just hope I can consolidate them all into a coherent review without having it devolve into unrestrained, mindless gushing. In any case, I expect this book will be wildly popular -- though only time will tell, of course. Nonetheless, 2014 appears to be off to a great start with debuts like this one from Pierce Brown.
Meet Darrow, a miner on Mars. His people, the Reds, occupy the lowest rungs of society. And like all Reds, Darrow is resigned to a life of hard labor, of digging under the planet's surface for the rest of his days. He thought it was for a noble cause, that his hard work will provide future generations a safe place to call home. Except, as it turns out, it was all a lie. Mars had been habitable for generations, and the decadent Golds have been maintaining this charade all along to uphold their hierarchical system of castes and slaves.
Let me just get it out of the way now and say that comparisons to The Hunger Games will be inevitable. You have a dystopian society featuring a main protagonist who rises from the poorest, most downtrodden and oppressed section of it, hoping to destroy the system from within. But before that can happen, he has to go through a transformation to help him fit in with his enemies. You have a competition in which the hero must come out on top at all costs. The war games involved are observed by many, in this case the Proctors of the Institute as well as thousands of Aureates and important Golds who follow the results eagerly, hoping to find their future apprentices amongst the competitors.
But now that that's taken care of, I can also tell you all the ways it was different. First and foremost, the world of Red Rising is hands down in a league of its own. The descriptions of the society and its people and its cultures all overwhelmed me. I credit much of this to Pierce Brown's writing, which is just gorgeous. How does he do it? How does he paint the picture of a life as a Red with so much suffering, hardship, and horrors and yet still manages to fill it with so much beauty? The first chapters were simply astounding, introducing you to Darrow, who comes across as much older than his sixteen years thanks to the experiences he's had as Helldiver, the most dangerous position on a drilling team. His people value song and dance, because even in the darkness there is a kind of hope in expression through music. It's all so lovely, just absolutely surprising and heart-breaking.
Oops, I'm treading dangerously into gushing-territory now, aren't I? Thing is, so much of my thoughts for what I read is tied up in emotion, and no question about it, this one gave me all the feels. There's a keen bite to the story, which will rub your emotions raw if you're not expecting it. Even knowing beforehand that some terrible event is going to set Darrow off on his mission for justice, I was not prepared for the number Red Rising did on my poor, battered emotions. I'm not typically one to give in to tears while reading, but when I saw that we weren't even fifty pages in yet and I felt like bawling my eyes out, I knew at that very moment I was holding a truly remarkable book in my hands.
It only gets better. That darkness and poignancy lasts for the whole book, even when the focus shifts to the games at the Institute. Saying that all hell breaks loose at this point would be a gross understatement -- but in a good way. Oh, in the best way. I expect this is where most people will draw parallels to The Hunger Games, but interestingly enough, my own mind went straight to Age of Empires. No doubt it's the gamer side of me coming through, for I could not read about the characters gathering resources, dividing their forces up for different tasks, commanding armies and conquering other Houses' bases and their Fog of War maps without reminiscing about some of my favorite real-time strategy games with fondness.
Seeing as how the game at the Institute makes up the bulk of this novel, this book would have been anywhere near as addicting or intense for me if not for the descriptions of the tactics and strategies involved. And yet, it is still a very human story; Pierce Brown takes the reader straight down to the trenches where we experience everything from terror and triumph as the competitors fight tooth and nail to try and conquer each other. One could hardly miss the symbolism behind it, a decadent pantheon watching on with amusement as the puny mortals below go at each other like depraved animals.
Ultimately, comparisons will probably abound no matter what. But none of them will change the fact that Red Rising is a very special book, filled with beautiful and terrible things in equal measure. It definitely has what it takes to shine on its own, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. (less)
Jack McDevitt has been writing books for a long time, but it wasn't until Starhawk that I finally got a taste of his work. I was initially uncertain about jumping on board with this one, seeing how the book's main character as well as the setting have been established for a while in McDevitt's The Academy series. However, after discovering that Starhawk is actually a prequel of sorts, I took the opportunity to use it as a starting point. How happy I am that I did! Starhawk is amazing, introducing me to a whole new world of space exploration and adventure.
The book takes readers back to the earlier days of Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins, to a time when faster-than-light travel is still relatively new, and earth politicians rage over the future of human expansion into space. People are also unhappy at the methods used to prepare alien worlds for colonization, which involves terraforming, a process that essentially strips a planet of all life.
Supervised by her mentor Jake, Priscilla has just achieved her life long dream of becoming an interstellar space pilot, passing her qualifications flight with flying colors. But due to the uncertainty of the times as well as her own tenacity, she is soon finding out the hard way that the right piloting job is hard to come by. Priscilla, however, is not one to be discouraged and soon she finds herself involved with all sorts of conflicts, including dealing with bomb threats, sabotage, rescue missions, and even the possibility of making first contact with extraterrestrial life forms. All of it will test her new-found knowledge of piloting as well as her own courage and force of will.
My friends who are fans of The Academy series love Priscilla, or "Hutch" to her friends, and I can see why. Even at this early point in her life, she is showing signs of the strength in her character, though at times I feel she is written somewhat awkwardly. For example, the book's description makes her out to be the main focus, but I don't always get the sense she is coming through as the "hero" of the story. At the same time, I realize this is supposed to be a prequel novel showing how she is still learning the ropes and coming into her own. In that sense, I can understand why she might be portrayed in more of a support role as the inexperienced new pilot. Regardless, I was completely unfamiliar with her character before this, so Starhawk was my first introduction to Priscilla and I liked enough of what I read.
The storyline in this book, however, is nothing short of incredible. Personally, the idea of being stranded in space scares the bejeezus out of me and is quite possibly one of the worst fates I can imagine. As such, I've never had the desire to go to space...but I do so love reading about it, for the thrills and tension! A lot of the situations in this book involve such dangers, and so a high level of suspense is constant during those scenes, and of course my own fears made reading this one even more intense. At times, the story even crosses the line into unsettling and downright spooky territory. Like I said, it makes my skin crawl and my heart clench just thinking about being lost in space, all alone in that big wide emptiness, thus making space disaster plot lines like the ones in this book very effective on me.
The fact that events take place in this amazing time of change is another reason why I liked this book so much. Jack McDevitt paints an interesting future, which despite having all this fascinating tech and being around a couple centuries ahead doesn't actually feel too distant. He really puts you there, including made-up pop culture references and the fictional names and accomplishments of famous figures which adds a realistic touch. The highlight for me was also the epistolary content at the end of each chapter, whether they are excerpts from Priscilla's journal, ship logs, news feeds and even internet chatter. It left me almost charmed and a little amused to read about how, even this far into the future, society still has the same concerns like politics, environmental change, education of our children, sports, etc. Oh, and that there will also always be internet trolls.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the novel though, is a theme alluded to in the prologue, where Priscilla ponders all those old science fiction stories featuring aliens that show up to take over earth and kill us all. That humans may be the terrifying invading aliens in this case, destroying all living creatures and ecosystems on entire worlds using terraforming to suit their own needs, is a central conflict in this novel. The story takes place in that awkward "in-between" stage where space exploration is still such a young discipline, and the human race becoming a species capable of long-ranged space travel is a process requiring lots of growing pains. The bulk of my recent science fiction novels have been space operas where humans have had the means for space travel for a long time, so long that it has become a given. So it's pretty fascinating to be reading a book where going into space is still considered a new idea, with so few safety precautions set in place that heading into space is considered dangerous and a topic of much controversy. I just really enjoyed how this book looked at a lot of things in a different light.
I had so much fun with Starhawk, I finished all 400 pages of it in less than a day. It wasn't just the plot that engaged me, it was the character and the setting and the whole package. I'm definitely going to look into picking up The Academy series, to see how things turn out for Priscilla/Hutch.(less)
Note: received this one a while ago from a goodreads giveaway. Thanks!
This wasn't bad at all -- but ultimately, probably not my cup of tea. I enjoyed...moreNote: received this one a while ago from a goodreads giveaway. Thanks!
This wasn't bad at all -- but ultimately, probably not my cup of tea. I enjoyed the characters and the overall story, but I admit, reading this felt more than a little strange, though it's through no fault of the book itself. Admittedly, being more used to reading space operas that are military and war-based has pretty much made reading this "YA dystopian romance in space" a very surreal experience. Probably a good choice for YA readers, especially if they're interested in the space-faring angle of the setting.(less)
Not for the first time, I wish I had a system in place for giving two ratings to a book: 1) An objective rating in which I give a book stars based on its own merits, uninfluenced by my personal feelings, and 2) A subjective rating which is based on how a book worked for me personally, or how well it meshed with my personal tastes. This is going to be a very tough review for me to write, simply because I've never read a book like this, where those two ratings could not be any more different, but I'm also glad I have the chance to explain why.
The book begins with a young man named Cooper waking up in an unfamiliar place to two strangers fussing over his sudden appearance, and the answers he gets are decidedly not reassuring. Apparently, he is dead. Contrary to what we know about death, when someone dies they merely wake up as themselves somewhere else, appearing on one of a possible million universes where they will once again live out their lives and the whole process repeats itself. That is, until you reach the end and wind up at the City Unspoken, also known as the City of the Dead, because only on this world a person can find true death.
This is where Cooper wakes up. But he has also come at a very unsettling time, where something seems to be preventing True Death from happening, leading to widespread frustration and panic among the denizens of the city. There are some who believe Cooper may be the solution to the problem, as he is different. For one thing, he has a belly button. A navel is really nothing but a scar left over from the attachment of the umbilical cord, and because all are born only once but die many times, waking up on new worlds with their bodies whole and unmarred, the fact Cooper has one holds great significance. He may not be really dead.
And from here on out, it gets even stranger. But hey, you'd too if you were Cooper, dragged across the metaverse by a goddess, kidnapped by faeries, drugged by Cleopatra, engulfed by a machine-flesh creature, and pursued by undead monsters and evil elf beings. I love it when I find a unique book with very different, offbeat ideas, but The Waking Engine treads into seriously bizarre territory. More bizarre than I could handle, perhaps. It's the kind of book I can't tackle at night right before bed, because I wake up in the morning and can't remember if I actually dreamed or read these weird images. I tried really hard to embrace the weirdness, but it soon became clear that I was in way over my head.
And that's a real shame, too. It almost breaks my heart to say I didn't like this one as much as I thought I would. The ideas in this story are some of the most original ones I've ever encountered in science fiction and fantasy, and the characters are unconventional and diverse as well. Unfortunately, the strangeness was a barrier for me, preventing me from appreciating all of the positive aspects of this book to its fullness. It's difficult to connect to a character, for instance, when instead I'm putting all my effort into trying to make sense of everything that's happening. The world is also wildly imaginative, which is another huge plus to this book, but words cannot describe just how amazing and fantastical it is. I mean that literally in this case; I get the sense from Edison's writing that the environments he pictures in his mind are so vast and visionary that they transcend mere language.
I wanted to like The Waking Engine so much because objectively, it is a great book, deftly and beautifully written with ground breaking ideas, interesting characters, and incredible world building. But I have to be honest, it was just not my style. There's lots to love about this book, but it just has to find its intended audience, which unfortunately is not me. On the other hand, I think fans of "un-reality" or the metaphysical or more abstract elements in their speculative fiction will be very well pleased with this one. Give it a shot if that's the type of stories you like, I guarantee you won't be disappointed.(less)