The Gabble and Other Stories is a collection of short fiction set in the universe of the Polity series by Neal Asher. I’ve been curious about his books for a long time now, especially since his work has been described as being close to Splatterpunk, a sub-genre often characterized by its depiction of gory graphic violence, fast-paced action, and a tendency to push the boundaries especially in horror-themed sci-fi.
I was not disappointed! Indeed, The Gabble ended up being a lot of fun and I enjoyed a lot of the stories in here. Being an anthology, I also went with the assumption that this book would work well as a stand-alone read, and thus a good place to jump on board. I think for the most part my instinct was correct, though I do have more to add to this. I will go into the details below in my in-depth analysis of each story, but I did notice a couple trends in my overall experience:
1) My favorite stories tended to be shorter ones, while the longer novelettes are perhaps too steeped in the Polity lore for me to get into as easily.
2) If the main focus of a story is aliens or alien culture, there’s a good chance I loved it!
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Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck – 4 of 5 stars A pair of incestuous siblings hires a guide for a killer safari on the planet Myral in this adventure tale that ends in terror as a Gabbleduck appears through the mist and hunts them in return. Honestly, you couldn’t have found a better opener for this book of short stories. The Gabbleduck is of course the creature featured on the cover, a cool and scary looking thing with too many limbs and a duck-bill like mouth full of sharp teeth. Its comical appearance belies its deadly predatory tendencies, and should at once tell you the kind of weirdness you’re in for. Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck is a fantastic introduction to this anthology, to Neal Asher’s writing style, to his world of Polity, to the eponymous alien, and heck, just to everything! I wish more of the stories were like this one.
Putrefactors – 5 of 5 stars A bounty arrives on a planet to kill his target and instead uncovers a corrupt plot that spells dire consequences for the colonists there. By the time he realizes he himself is caught up in the conspiracy’s net, it is too late. Hands down, this was my favorite story in this collection. It was totally awesome, featuring concepts that will leave you feeling disgusted and truly horrified. Not to mention, I will never look at the phrase “a good friend” the same way again.
Garp and Geronamid – 3 of 5 stars Garp is a former policeman and a reification, a corpse kept alive through advanced tech because he simply could not stop doing his job even after his death. Geronamid is an AI, who in this particular story is implanted into a body of an allosaur. Yes, you read that right. An allosaur. Fascinating ideas in this very cool story, but the heavy involvement of things like politics and the underworld drug trade made this one harder for me to follow. It’s got some great twists and turns though, and a sensational finish.
The Sea of Death – 3 of 5 stars Two characters discuss the millions of frozen sarcophagi found below the surface of Orbus, each filled with the remains of aliens that bear some resemblance to humans. This is one of the shorter stories in this collection and can truly be read as a standalone, albeit it is not very exciting and ends quite abruptly. Not bad, but with such an interesting premise, I’d hoped for a bit more.
Alien Archaeology – 2.5 of 5 stars Another tale featuring the Gabbleduck, Alien Archaeology is a novella – and therefore the longest story in this collection – that greatly expands our understanding into the history of alien life on the many worlds of Polity. But what should have been an exciting plot and engaging experience instead left me feeling cold. I could barely keep myself focused while reading, and felt no connection to the characters. The title and some of the mildly cyberpunkish themes of the story intrigued me, as well as the idea that Gabbleducks are actually the “devolved” descendants of the Atheter race. But I just couldn’t get into it. I can definitely see someone who is more familiar with the Polity universe or Neal Asher’s work liking this one way more than I did, though.
Acephalous Dreams – 2.5 of 5 stars Another story featuring the A.I. Geronamid. After the discovery of a Csorian node, a death row prisoner is offered the chance to clear his sentence if he agrees to test drive the device. Having a bit of alien brain implanted in your head versus execution…should have been an easy choice, right? This is another story that should have been awesome, but again it didn’t quite grab me. I liked it, but with such an ambitious plot, I think this one would have worked better given more pages to develop. I might have enjoyed it even more if it had been a full-length novel.
Snow in the Desert – 4 of 5 stars Snow is an albino living in the desert…and everyone wants his balls. Literally! His unique DNA means that he has an exorbitant bounty placed on his testicles. While everyone is hunting him, Snow does what he can to survive the numerous attempts on his life as well as the dangerous conditions of his hot, arid planet. I really liked the crazy, over-the-top premise and nature of this offering. A fun and action-packed novelette.
Choudapt – 3.5 of 5 stars Perhaps a cautionary tale into the dangers of mixing alien DNA just to gain an edge. We venture a little into horror territory here. Truly terrifying. Truly enjoyable. Don’t want say anything more than that for fear of spoilers.
Adaptogenic – 3 of 5 stars It all began with an auction. Two relic hunters go searching for a missing piece of a puzzle, and their efforts land them on a strange planet at the worst time possible. An enjoyable yarn, but not the most memorable. I had to go back to the book to remind myself what happened because I hardly remembered the nitty-gritty details of it, especially since some of the better stories have already gone ahead and the bar to impress me now is set pretty high at this point. Not bad though, and I don’t remember disliking the story when I read it.
The Gabble – 4 of 5 stars We end the same way as we began – with a Gabbleduck! Researchers want to uncover the secrets behind these mysterious and frightful beings. Like Alien Archaeology, this story reveals a little more about the history and connections between different species, especially when it comes to Gabbleducks and Hooders. The Gabble is a great closer for this collection, wrapping things up with a solid tale that ties together threads introduced in some of the previous stories in this book. It’s not an overly powerful or profound offering, but it cuts deeply all the same, making it an apt conclusion.
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On the whole, this is a great collection. Like all anthologies, it has its ups and downs, i.e. some stories are better than others. I’m admittedly not a big reader of short fiction because I so often find stories to be too short (“I want more character development! More world building!”) or too long (“Wait, what’s going on? Am I supposed to understand this part? But I haven’t read the original series, there’s just too much I don’t know here!” etc., etc.) My experience with The Gabble was not so different, but I did enjoy myself more than I expected.
I think this is a decent place to start if you’re curious about Neal Asher’s work and want to give it a try, or if you want just a taste of what Polity has to offer before taking the full plunge. Being new to this universe, I have to say I was pretty impressed, and if you’re already familiar with Asher’s Polity series, you’ll probably enjoy it even more. My interest is certainly piqued; I might have to check out his other books now....more
At first I didn’t think this would be my type of book, with its convoluted politics, bio-engineered super killer soldiers, dispassionate violence and casual sex, not to mention at times the narrative seemed more invested in the technicalities of hand-to-hand combat rather than the time it takes to build a convincing world. I know I’m not exactly selling it so far, but hear me out – because now that I’ve finished Evensong, the heavy emotional impact this book had on me is something I just can’t ignore.
Novels like these remind me why it’s important to step out of my comfort zone, for I ended up liking it a lot. Its dark and cynical futuristic cyberpunk-ish style reminded me a little of Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon, mixed in with a bit of that 007 Casino Royale vibe when it comes to the main protagonist. A biologically-enhanced operative, Anwar Abbas is an introspective character as raw and edgy as an unpolished stone, hardened by his life and work, but who nonetheless cares about standing up for what’s right.
Anwar is disgruntled when assigned bodyguard duties for Olivia del Sarto, the archbishop of the fast-growing New Anglican Church, but finds himself both repelled and intrigued by his charge’s abrasive candor. The morally ambiguous Olivia has an aggressive demeanor completely at odds with Anwar’s stubborn and systematic approach, but that doesn’t stop the two from plunging headfirst into a torrid affair – albeit one that is initially all sex and no feeling. Anwar is more than happy to satisfy Olivia’s voracious appetites, but stays by her side out of a sense of duty more than anything else, tasked to protect her from shadowy enemies who have threatened to assassinate her during a high-profile U.N summit on water rights.
Character development isn’t exactly strong, with both Anwar and Olivia’s personalities coming across as rather stunted and flat, causing me to constantly question their motivations especially when it comes to their relationship. And yet, somehow their affair manages to evolve into something much more nuanced. It’s not a love story, but at times it sure felt like one, even in all its twisted and dysfunctional glory. Here you have two characters on opposite sides of the spectrum; the harder they resist each other the more they are drawn together, becoming like one another. It sounds deceptively simple, but there’s a lot of synergy happening between the lines. It makes Evensong the perfect example of a story where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
John Love’s writing style also strikes me as a bit eccentric, especially since he utilizes a third person omniscient point of view for this novel, and is quite stark as he goes about his storytelling. For my part, I prefer a more personal touch, but admit that the author’s approach is also well suited for the story and its themes. I enjoyed my fair share of contemplation into the book’s more philosophical subjects – religion, human nature, etc. – but as I’d alluded to in my previous paragraph, I was mostly fascinated with the character dynamics and interactions. The author gradually adds layers to everything, so that the longer you read the novel, the more rewarding the experience gets. Like I said, there’s a combined effect at work here. At some point you’ll definitely get the feel of every piece snapping neatly into place, and suddenly it all makes sense.
I did say the novel had a huge impact on me emotionally. The revelations came at me like an explosion at the end, like one moment you’re traipsing down a sunny country lane and the next you’re blindsided by a Mack truck barreling into you at a hundred miles an hour. As the dust settled, I was left with a numbness, a melancholy that even now I find hard to explain, mixed with shock and disbelief…like, did I just read that?!!! The story definitely touched something deep inside me though, especially in light of the nature of Anwar’s character and the decisions he ultimately decided to make.
Certainly I never expected to be so powerfully affected by Evensong, since it’s such a departure from what I normally read. I can’t believe I almost dismissed this book as “not my thing”, and what a tragic mistake that would have been. I’m profoundly glad that I ended up ignoring my instincts, because against all odds, this book ended up working surprisingly well for me....more
When I requested this book from NetGalley, this was in the description: “For readers of A Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games comes an epic new series.” I realize similar claims get thrown around a lot. Still, even in cases where I don’t agree, most of the time I can at least understand why a comparison to ______ might be made.
When it comes to this book though, I’m mystified. This is nothing like Game of Thrones OR The Hunger Games. Not even a little bit. I knew an ambitious declaration like that should have immediately put me on my guard, and I guess I really should have trusted my instincts. “Epic” is also debatable. While we have a story spanning the globe, from the highlands of rural Scotland to the bustling streets of Hong Kong, the scope of the narrative is actually quite limited. Most of what we get is personal drama revolving around just a handful of characters.
Needless to say, Seeker wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. It always pains me to write a negative review, so rather than expound on all the things that didn’t work for me, I’ll just list and briefly talk about them.
- First, I’m not in the habit of DNFing. I read this whole book from beginning to end, but even now I would be hard-pressed to tell you what a Seeker is exactly, or even what they do, beyond the very generic fact that they should be “fighting evil”. That it’s never explained in detail just seems like a gross oversight to me. When most of the characters are Seekers and the ACTUAL TITLE of the book is Seeker, you’d think something like that would be at the forefront. Instead, there is very little to no “Seeking” going on in the book…or whatever it is that Seekers do.
- What exactly are the Dreads? I know they’re supposed to be witnesses, mediators or judges (Judge Dreads?) but how do they fit into this picture? Where do they come from and what is their history? How did they get involved with the Seekers? I. Have. Absolutely. No. Idea.
- Unsurprisingly, I found world-building to be sorely lacking, practically non-existent. You have to understand, I’m not asking for info-dumps or to have my hand being held through the whole book, but I do need a starting point, SOMETHING to anchor me. I felt like I was thrown into this world and the author just expects me to know everything and doesn’t see the need to provide any background information.
- The writing is simplistic and contrived. There are a couple chapters where things aren’t so bad, but most of the prose feels clumsy. The dialogue feels forced. There’s a lot of telling, and not enough showing. Many strange quirks in the writing, like poorly executed time jumps (I actually thought I missed a few pages) which probably relates back to the lack of world-building.
- Speaking of time jumps, just when exactly are we supposed to be? One moment it seems like we’re in medieval Scotland and the next, BOOM, we’re in present day (or futuristic?) Hong Kong. If you’re going to have your characters jump back and forth through portals, you should establish both time and place!
- The characters are pretty bland and unengaging. Quin is a far cry from the kickass heroine she’s meant to be; instead, it feels like her whole purpose is to be a trophy for the two boys who are in love with her. It was so frustrating to watch John and Shinobu fight over her like she’s a piece of meat. The plot thread that involves her losing her memory also makes me understand now why some readers hate amnesia storylines. So she spent more than a year essentially suppressing her own memories? And she’s suddenly a healer? All that “brutal training” she supposedly received didn’t seem to amount to much.
- The romantic side plot is unimaginative and I wasn’t convinced of any of the relationships. I think this is partly due to the awkward writing style, and unnatural dialogue (especially when the characters were discussing their feelings for each other, I couldn’t help but cringe).
- This probably comes as no surprise, but for most of the book, I felt like I had NO IDEA what was going on. More than a few times, I wondered to myself if my ARC was missing huge chunks of the story, as so much of it made no sense. I’m sure there’s a good overall premise in here somewhere, but it was not well executed. Instead, we are left with a whole lot of confusion.
In general I don’t like to DNF, and not only because I’m a completionist. Sometimes a book can be weak in the beginning, but then redeem itself with a strong conclusion. There have been times where I almost put down a book, only to end up absolutely loving it when I finish. I admit it doesn’t happen often, but now I’ve developed a habit where when book that don’t blow me away at first, I always hold out in the hopes that it will get better. But unfortunately, this just didn’t happen with Seeker.
I did hear that there is talk of a movie adaptation for the book. Thing is, I actually think the book would work better as a live action film with its exotic settings, bombastic action sequences, and young attract protagonists. It would make a great cinematic experience, but to achieve a similar awe-inspiring feeling, I’m afraid large swaths of the book would have to be more rigorously edited and perhaps rewritten. There are lots of interesting ideas in here, with an intriguing mix of science fiction and fantasy, and it’s really just a shame that the book falls short of its full potential. I will not be continuing this series, sadly....more
William C. Dietz brings us an interesting new sci-fi police procedural series set in a plague-ravaged future. Those who survived the bioengineered threat of 2038 were either left completely unaffected or developed a wide range of disfiguring mutations, leaving a great divide – both socially and geographically – between the world’s “norms” and “mutants”. Relations between the two groups aren’t great, to say the least. Anti-mutant organizations sow hatred and incite brutal attacks and killings against mutants, making no small amount of work for Los Angeles detective Cassandra Lee who has built her reputation around taking down some of the city’s worst criminals.
When the daughter of Bishop Screed, leader of the Church of Human Purity, is kidnapped, all signs point to the work of mutants. Assigned to the case is Lee and her new mutant partner Deputy Ras Omo, who must race against time to save the young woman before she is sold and used for breeding by the ruthless human smuggling rings in the Red Zone. And if only that were the end of it. While chasing down leads, the two cops are also hounded every step of the way by Bonebreaker, the serial killer believed to have taken the lives of more than half a dozen police officers, including detective Frank Lee, Cassandra’s own father.
For a first book of a new series, Dietz has established quite a solid foundation for the world of Mutant Files, especially when it comes the social climate with regards to norms and mutants. Stigma is strong against the latter group, a lot of whom live in lawless and run-down “freak towns” where no norms fear to tread. To avoid catching the incurable disease, norms also wear masks and nose filters in the presence of mutants, and while most mutants wear masks too, they do so more to hide their terrible mutations. While world-building elements such as these are compelling, unfortunately they also come to the reader in a series of heavy info-dumps near the beginning of the novel, weighing down the introduction and making the first couple of chapters a slow read.
There’s quite a good story in here too, which, if not immediately apparent, does admittedly take a bit of effort to uncover. The major obstacle was once again the introduction, where I had a very difficult time adjusting to the writing.
Firstly, Dietz seems to have a fondness for frequent point-of-view switches, and not just between major characters. Every so often, minor characters and even random bystanders seem to feel the need to chime in for a paragraph or two, presumably so the reader can get a better feel of a situation by seeing it through their eyes. While I understood the intention, I didn’t think this was very effective and could have done with less of these seemingly arbitrary asides. And because they were often so short, rather than contribute to a scene I found them to be more distracting than anything.
Secondly, the author has a peculiar tendency to insert in-line explanations between parentheses in cases, say, where an acronym is being used or when a character says something in another language etc., and Dietz will place the translation right there in the middle of the prose and even dialogue. Not a big deal to some readers, perhaps, but for me it had a light immersion breaking effect. It would have been preferable if these explanations were naturally worked into the narrative, rather than placed glaringly between a pair of brackets. But then again, it’s also possible this may be changed in the finished book.
Without a doubt though, sandwiched between the beginning and end of the book is where all the good stuff is. The plot is entertaining and fast-paced, and kept me turning the pages once it got going. I did stumble again at the end when things wrapped up a bit too quickly and in much chaos, especially where the Bonebreaker aspect of the story was concerned, but generally I was quite pleased with the overall pacing as well as the characterization of Cassandra Lee, a badass female cop who is great at what she does. There’s always room for improvement when it comes to character development, but nonetheless I found myself greatly invested in Lee and Omo’s relationship.
I would rate this book between a 3 and 3.5 out of 5 stars if I could, with emphasis on the fact I really enjoyed the story but only after a fierce struggle with the writing. To be fair, most of my quibbles have to do with certain quirks of the author’s style, which may not matter as much to another reader. I’d definitely be open to reading the sequel, especially since there are still questions about the Bonebreaker that require addressing, and I’d be curious where those answers will take our protagonist....more
Every once in a while I’ll get this hankering for some military sci-fi, so Unbreakable couldn’t have come along at a better time. Teasing the prospect of large scale ship-to-ship battles and space marines in mech suits, W.C. Bauers’ debut also features a kick-ass female lead who’ll prove to be the bane of space pirates and the Republic’s enemies everywhere.
Meet Promise T. Paen (yep, that’s her real name), the novel’s protagonist who hails from an outer rim colonial planet called Montana caught between the Republic of Aligned Worlds and the Lusitanian Empire. Montana is also a hotbed for pirates, and when Promise witnesses her father killed in a raid, the young orphan decides to enlist in the RAW Marine Corps and leave her old life behind forever.
Promise is happy enough killing lots and lots of pirates in the RAW-MC, but when Montana’s capital and spaceport comes under attack by the marauders, she finds herself ordered back home to head up the counterstrike. After neutralizing the threat, Promise is promoted and, to her chagrin, showered with accolades and labeled a local hero by Montana’s vivacious president Anne Buckmeister. However, quietly watching behind the scenes are the Lusitanians, who decide to take advantage of the weakened Marine forces to launch their own attack to seize the planet.
Happily, despite being filled to the brim with plenty of detailed and sometimes very graphic battle scenes, Unbreakable isn’t all just violent action and no substance. There’s depth to Bauer’s world and characters, achieved through occasional breathers in the narrative. Some of these little breaks ended up being lulls in the story that I had to struggle to push through, but for the most part there are far more ups than downs.
Sci-fi tech and weapon enthusiasts for one will no doubt geek out over descriptions of the RAW-MC’s impressive arsenal. Some of these sections can be lengthy, and yet I didn’t see them as overly obtrusive. The ins-and-outs of pulse guns and armor suits are as much a part of Promise’s life as everything else, not to mention it’s the little details like that which serve to bring a level of authenticity to this futuristic version of the Corps. There’s also room for levity in the form of social gatherings with Montana’s colonists, outlining the quirks of this backwater planet’s culture. And on the other side of the coin, there are the quiet and heart-wrenching moments of grief as Promise and her company honor their fallen. I honestly thought I’d be getting nothing but gung-ho soldiers and their nifty military toys, but there’s actually a lot more feeling here than I was expecting.
When it comes to characters we don’t get too much insight into anyone else in the story, but that’s because Promise takes center stage and she’s also the most developed. I wasn’t initially all that impressed by her, but what eventually won me over was the fantastic dialogue, which ended up being my favorite aspect of Unbreakable. I learned a lot about Promise and those around her — especially her comrades and President Buckmeister — through their passionate and snappy conversations.
Perhaps the only major criticism I have is the matter pertaining to the main character’s mother, who now and then appears in front of Promise as a specter that only she can see, or speaks to her as a voice in her head. Whether Sandra Paen is a true ghost or just a hallucination of her daughter’s, that’s never really explained or made clear. The publisher’s description in the novel’s synopsis of Promise being “persistently haunted” makes this particular plot point sound more mysterious and significant than it really is, and I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t explored further.
Still, Unbreakable was a book that intrigued and entertained me. All told, I believe this is a rousing military sci-fi debut that will make fans of the genre quite happy....more
This book was an awesome read. I first went into it believing it was a brand new series set in a new universe, but it turns out I was only half right. Edge of Dark is indeed the first book of a planned duology, but then I discovered within the first few pages that it also takes place in the future of the same timeline as Brenda Cooper’s Ruby’s Song series. This actually made me very happy – I loved The Diamond Deep when I read it a couple years ago. We’re introduced to new characters here in The Glittering Edge series, but Ruby’s legacy lives on, and the best part is, the new reader can jump on board with no problems.
Here’s what to know: long ago, society exiled a small subset of the population who wanted to start a machine revolution. Seen as abominations, these people who essentially wanted to meld their minds into robot bodies were summarily banished to the far edges of the solar system to waste away and perish without the access to sunlight and resources. But instead of dying out like they were expected to, these exiles flourished, growing into a formidable force of near-AI entities who call themselves the Next. Now they’re more powerful than ever before, and they’re coming back.
When that happens, the characters in this book all have a lot to lose. Charlie is a ranger who has spent his whole life trying to restore the ecosystem and natural wonders of Lym, a planet which will be one of the first casualties if humanity goes to war with the Next. The Next have already claimed a research station called the High Sweet Home, killing all its inhabitants and turning many into robots with sentient minds like themselves. Nona Hall is from the space station Diamond Deep, which would suffer similar consequences if the Next attack, but she has other worries to deal with. For you see, Nona’s best friend Chrystal was on the High Sweet Home, and the scientist’s fate still remains a mystery.
Edge of Dark was a delightful surprise which completely took over my life for two days, and I don’t regret a second of it. The book features a rich story that held me captive from the get-go, introducing deep characters in a well-established universe with a long and interesting history. Charlie and Nona are two disparate souls who nonetheless find comfort and solace in each other. One was born and raised on a wild and savage planet, while the other has lived on a space station her whole life, never having seen the sky. When Nona arrives on Lym to live out a lifelong dream, Charlie expected to hate her. However, she turns out to be very different from the rest of the high-and-mighty Diamond Deep elite, and the two quickly strike up a quiet friendship. Edge of Dark is not a romance by any means, but it does have a thread of a love story woven through the plot, and I just happened to be in the mood for it.
The beginning of the book was also my favorite part, because having grown up in cities my whole life, I was able to relate to Nona and understand her reaction to the natural beauty of Lym. Also kudos to Charlie and the rangers for the work that they do. I can appreciate the environmental message there, but more importantly, it was not in-your-face about it.
Then comes the Next. I was unsure about them at first, these Borg-like machines who take over human beings with ruthless abandon, downloading a person’s consciousness into a carbon fiber body and incorporating them into a greater network, all without the victim’s consent. The result is something that almost looks and acts like a human, but they are not alive in the strictest sense. They don’t need air, food, or sleep. Their artificial bodies are stronger and more powerful. However, every Next’s mind once belonged to a living, breathing person. And like all living things, they have the drive to propagate and survive. So where does this put them?
What felt like an urgent escalation towards a tense space adventure began easing off instead, becoming something more understated. I think those anticipating a bigger payoff might come away disappointed, but I found myself drawn to the rest of the story. These kinds of books that feature themes of transhumanism or explore what it means to be human always seem to get me for some reason. Add Brenda Cooper’s unique portrayal of artificial intelligence to that, and I had a very good time with this novel.
Edge of Dark won’t be for everyone, but it worked for me. I certainly didn’t expect to like it so much, and was surprised at how addictive most of the story was, especially in the beginning. One of the more enjoyable sci-fi reads of the year for me so far....more
Does the idea of a unique, sc-fi thriller excite you? Read this book. Love wild, mind-trip movies like Inception? Read this book. If you’re looking for a smart, entertaining, and psychologically hard-hitting novel, this is what it looks like. READ THIS BOOK.
Touch was, in a word, fascinating. “Have you been losing time?” I don’t think I can ever hear or read this phrase again without getting a shiver down my spine. Imagine, if you will, a group or species of near-immortal people (they call themselves “Ghosts”) that can jump from body to body, taking their hosts over and seeing through their eyes, feeling what they feel. They can choose to be anyone they want, live any life they want…and all it takes is a single touch – and JUMP. Whether the possession is for two seconds, two days, or twenty years, the hosts won’t remember after the Ghost jumps away to another body again. Have you ever looked at your cellphone and see a call you don’t remember making? Or found yourself somewhere, without knowing how you got there? Have. You. Ever. Lost. Time?
Our protagonist is one of these Ghosts, given the name “Kepler”. The story begins with Kepler dying in her/his latest body Josephine Cebula, gunned down in a Turkish Metro station by a man who is clearly aware of Kepler’s nature and unique abilities. Kepler jumps bodies in pursuit of the mysterious killer hoping to get answers, and ends up wearing the killer’s body itself. Someone or some organization has been hunting down and destroying the Ghosts, and Kepler is determined to find the truth and avenge her/his beloved Josephine.
This book is getting lots of love from me based on the inventiveness and ingenuity of the premise alone. It’s especially a great read if you enjoy what-if stories and thought experiments, though imagining possible scenarios based on the theories in this novel might take you places you don’t want to go. Imagine being an unwilling victim of a Ghost, waking up having no idea where you are, with these people you don’t know who claim to be your children, finding out it’s suddenly twenty years later, and the last thing you remember is shaking hands with a stranger – a lifetime ago. Imagine the violation and trauma of knowing someone else had been in your body, using it doing God knows what. Imagine the memories and experiences you’ll never get the chance to have, because precious time was stolen from you.
Some Ghosts give very little thought to their hosts but Kepler is different, having cherished her/his hosts through all the centuries he/she has been jumping bodies. But everyone, even Ghosts, have their limits when pushed, and will do anything it takes to stay alive. At times, Kepler might come across as selfish and callous, but these situations only arise when he/she feels threatened and cornered. Small consolation for the victims who lose their lives because of Kepler’s actions, perhaps, but it does make me think slightly better of her/him.
This book reads like a mystery for the most part, relying on the unknown and strategically dropped hints to keep the plot moving evenly along, though it also has a handful of the most memorable action sequences I’ve ever read. Claire North makes good use of a Ghost’s body-jumping talents, almost taking them to gimmicky heights, to write some insanely good gunfight scenes. Just think about it. Yes, they are as awesome as you can imagine.
Of course, it also wouldn’t be such a unique book if it didn’t present its own set of potential problems. There will be moments of confusion, and it can’t be helped. The narrative jumps around a lot because of the constant body switching. There are flashback chapters that help us understand the main character, but they can also break up the pacing and slow things down. The story builds and builds and gets so complicated at times that it stumbles over itself. But for me, all that is a small price to pay for such an incredible and original story. As always, YMMV!
All told, Touch was a delightful surprise. Above all, I adored the concept and I think this would make an excellent movie, if only someone could pull it off (quick, someone send a copy to Christopher Nolan!) Thrilling, imaginative and entertaining, this book kept me reading well into the night....more
My thoughts on The Affinities in a nutshell: Loved loved loved the idea, but not so keen on the execution. Social science fiction is an enjoyable subgenre for me, but when the socio-political part of that equation gets lost in the narrative, I confess having trouble getting into the story. Nevertheless, there are a lot of interesting themes in here, many of which can be gleaned from the general description of the novel itself.
The book begins with an introduction to our narrator, Adam Fisk. At loose ends with his life and career, one day he decides to sign up for Affinity testing, the newfangled social phenomenon that has taken the continent by storm. That decision will change his life forever. Adam’s results ends up qualifying him for entrance into the Tau Affinity, one of twenty-two exclusive social groups whose membership is determined by a complex battery of personality tests. Tau becomes Adam’s new family. His fellow members don’t need to know him to understand him or to be his friend; they’re all Tau too. It’s “Tau telepathy”, everybody just gets everybody else.
Yet as the years go by and Affinities become more entrenched in our societies, new problems start to manifest themselves. The people in the twenty-two Affinities are happy with their new friends and new lives, but what of the people who don’t want to join an Affinity or whose tests don’t qualify them for any of them? And because members within an Affinity are so adept at working with each other, it is inevitable that the bigger and more influential Affinities begin to accumulate real political and financial power – Affinities like Tau and Het, whose differences eventually lead them to war against each other.
It’s all very fascinating, and indeed, I enjoyed the first hundred pages or so of the book immensely. Alas, around the halfway mark is when things started unraveling. While I liked the concept of Affinities, we don’t get near enough of the science or technology behind it. I felt like I was expected to just roll with the punches, ignore the implausibilities and just move on, so to speak. Which would have been fine with me if the story had been more satisfying on the social commentary front. But it wasn’t either, not particularly. With regards to the book’s topics, it felt like the author was biting off more than he could chew, resulting in limited implementation of the main idea when its potential in fact demands so much more. While reading The Affinities, I frequently caught the sense of the story crying out, begging to be a lot bigger, but it nonetheless fails to break out of the superficial plot that confines it.
Granted, writing stories that explore human behavior is always tricky. What Wilson endeavored to do here is admirable, but in the end I think the concept he put forward was treated too simplistically. Perhaps this is because we only focus on a single affinity, Tau, and didn’t get to see much of what happens within the others. I didn’t feel much of the “affinity-sympathy” between members of Tau, and instead felt more of the differences between the people associated with Affinities versus those who were not. The first group unfortunately came across as a bunch of insouciant, promiscuous pot-smoking shallow snobs, while those against the Affinities were portrayed as stuffy, bigoted, corporate-machine-loving ignorant right-wingers (most notably illustrated by Adam’s family). I don’t think this was the point of the novel, but that was a strong impression it gave off. Our main protagonist is neither of these two extremes but ends up being a rather passive entity caught in the middle, which in some ways made his character even more irksome.
Perhaps what excited me most about this novel was its setting. Toronto is my hometown and I loved that Robert Charles Wilson (who resides there) did it plenty of justice by illustrating what a vibrant city it is, made up of diverse neighborhoods filled with diverse people. It is also Canada’s largest city and economic powerhouse. Arguably, its qualities make it the perfect milieu for stories like The Affinities to take place, because it has all the necessary ingredients.
In the end, I don’t want to sound overly critical or make you think that I didn’t enjoy the book, because I did. There is a very interesting story here; when I wasn’t frustrated by it, I actually really liked it,. Notably, the plot picked up again in Part Three as Tau wages war with their rival, Het Affinity. It becomes a more direct and intimate story at that point, bringing suspense and even a few thrills into the picture. Unfortunately though, whatever comment this book hoped to make about society was lost in the hustle and bustle. Still, there are many things this book does right, and it’s worth reading....more
Echo 8 is the first novel I’ve read by Sharon Lynn Fisher, but I’d known from before that her work is usually characterized by mixture of Science Fiction and Romance elements. That sounded just fabulous to me, and well, ultimately I believe one’s overall enjoyment of this book will entirely depend on how much you prefer in your balance of each genre!
With themes like alternate worlds and parapsychology at its core, Echo 8 follows a brilliant young researcher named Tess Caufield in a near-future where doppelgangers have begun appearing mysteriously and randomly from a parallel universe. As far as Tess and her team could tell, these shadowy “Echoes” are from an alternate earth that has been struck by an asteroid, but how these hapless individuals ended up being here, and how to keep them alive on this world after they have teleported are questions scientists are still trying desperately to work out.
However, Echoes also have the unfortunate tendency to drain the life energy from people they come in physical contact with. This consequently led to the assignment of FBI special agent Ross McGinnis to Tess’s security detail, much to her chagrin. This arrangement is further strained when Jake, the latest Echo to dislocate to Seattle Psi from the other earth touches Tess and almost kills her, setting off a chain reaction that will have profound significance for all three lives.
Remember what I said earlier about how you like your balance of sci-fi and romance? After finishing Echo 8, I’ve determined that this book is without question heavier on the latter. The scientific theory and technology involved in here is sufficiently explained but clearly written in a way so that the reader can enjoy the story without having to look beyond the surface details. Those used to harder sci-fi with a stronger emphasis and comprehensive look at the technical aspects won’t really find it here. On the other hand, if you’re fancying yourself a good romance, then you definitely won’t be disappointed.
No question about it, Fisher has a real talent for writing hot, sweaty, passionate lurrrrrve. Perhaps a bit too fast and intense for me, if I’m to tell the truth. Heck, I’m all for scorching love scenes, and I’m not exactly a fan of crawling slow burn romances either, but I’d prefer to see a relationship proceed at more of a simmer. In Echo 8 we’re thrust into a complicated love triangle almost right away, and the first time two characters get together it happened very quickly, too quickly for me to be truly convinced of their feelings for each other.
In general, the weight of the romance also came at the expense of story and character development. Often I could tell that the plot yearned to be something bigger, something more, but all told it ended up being rather straightforward and predictable. There’s not much depth to Tess beyond her obsession to help Echoes and her complete lack of concern over whether or not she gets killed trying to do it. This drives Ross crazy of course, but his soft spot for Tess means it never takes much to talk him into letting her do anything she wants. We go through this cycle repeatedly with these two characters, while Jake pines for Tess and struggles with his feelings for someone he knows he can never have…or can he? Like the science fiction aspects, we’re given just enough information about the three main characters to appreciate the twisty relationship dynamics behind their…unique situation. The level of romantic drama here is extremely satisfying, but once again, some readers might find themselves wishing for more out of the plot and characters.
In sum, Echo 8 has a very interesting and ambitious premise, even if it doesn’t quite reach its full potential. It is first and foremost a Romance, and in this area the book indubitably excels, practically burning up the pages with its fast-paced love story and red-hot desires flying all over the place. It’s perhaps too strong on the romantic side of things for my tastes, but I suspect those readers who are more inclined towards that will enjoy this novel very much. Everything about it is designed to appeal to genre fiction readers who enjoy a very healthy dose of romance, and without a doubt it is successful in this endeavor. And I have to say, even with the issues I mentioned above, I liked this book and found it to be a fun read....more
Like many Star Wars fans, I was initially disappointed by the news earlier this year that Lucasfilm has pretty much nuked most of the franchise’s Expanded Universe, declaring all of it as no longer official canon. But after some thinking, I’ve come to terms with it and now actually believe that it was a wise decision. Having ballooned into this humongous bloated entity after all these years, if anything needed a hard reset it was the Star Wars EU. And having been a long time reader of Marvel and DC comics, I’ve grown more accustomed to stuff like retcons and massive wipes by now.
Besides, I can finally give up the New Jedi Order for good without feeling guilty about stalling halfway through the series since like forever. Move over, old school stuff, it’s time for new stories. Time for the very aptly named A New Dawn.
As the first Star Wars novel integrating input from the Lucasfilm Story Group, A New Dawn is set in the time between the movies Episode III and IV, not long after the fall of the Republic and the legendary Jedi.
It probably also behooves me to mention that I’m currently following the new animated series Star Wars Rebels, which had a role in motivating me to pick up this book. I’m enjoying what I’ve seen so far, so it was only natural that I was interested in reading this. It serves as a prequel to the show, taking place roughly six years before the events in the first episode, and two of the lead characters are featured as protagonist in the book as well. Essentially, it tells the story of how the former Jedi Kanan Jarrus and the Twi’lek rebel Hera Syndulla first met.
That said, you don’t need to know anything about the show to read the book. In fact, I find that the two are completely different in tone and vibe. The show feels geared more towards a younger audience; being on the Disney X-D channel and all, that’s perhaps not too surprising. The book, on the other hand, is more mature, and I’m guessing most people who read it will agree that John Jackson Miller did not dial anything down.
Still, I can’t describe A New Dawn as anything other than standard Star Wars fare, in terms of the quality of writing and story. This was a slight downer, given the publication significance of this book and the fact it marks a new beginning, I had hoped for something a little more…well, just MORE. But on the bright side, it should make readers of Star Wars fiction feel right at home. You have the very recognizable character types, such as the Jedi-in-exile and hotshot starship pilot. You have a ruthless villain and Imperial tyranny. You have sweeping battles in space and the spark of rebellion. So on second thought, being the same-old-same-old might not be such a bad thing.
I also loved the characters. They’re the best aspect of this book, and not just because I really like Kanan and Hera from the animated series (though that helped). John Jackson Miller goes into the background of both characters, giving us great insight into their personalities and motivations. On the show, they’re not only the leaders of their crew but almost like the father and mother figures, and I can appreciate the nature of their partnership so much more after reading this. Other supporting characters that I’ve only met for the first time in the novel were well-written as well, most notably the former Clone Wars veteran and conspiracy theorist Skelly, whose persona is as volatile as the incendiary devices he loves so much.
All told, this wasn’t a bad book, but it’s also unlikely that it’s going to end up on my shelf of favorite Star Wars novels. Still, I enjoyed it well enough. While A New Dawn had a decent story that was entertaining but not all that memorable, the strength really goes to the characters rather than plot, and that’s a huge redeeming factor. It would also make a great jumping on point for new fans, which is why I think all the more a shame that it wasn’t more special, but I think the majority of readers will like it just fine and won’t be too disappointed, which is where I’m standing....more
The Heart Does Not Grow Back was an unexpected surprise. I saw some readers designate it as Science Fiction, others who describe it as Horror, and even a few who tagged it as a superhero novel. As it often is in these cases, every single one of these categorizations are accurate, but none of them tell the whole story. It’s definitely a tough book to describe, but I’m also really glad I went into it with very little information, because I loved how everything unfolded before me and threw me for a loop at every turn.
The introduction was probably the most powerful but also most brutal part of the book. When I was reading the first few chapters, my mind went to Stephen King – not really in terms of the storytelling or writing style, but in the whole vibe of a boyhood camaraderie that binds together two young friends, and how even in small sleepy towns you will find evil people with darkness in their hearts. Once upon a time, a geek and a jock met each other on the playground and became the best of friends. But months before their high school graduation, a violent and unthinkable tragedy destroys Mack Tucker’s chances of ever becoming a professional baseball player, and Dale Sampson loses the love of his life but also discovers he possesses the ability to regenerate.
Dale’s story takes a turn for the grim and bleak, full of regrets and what-could-have-beens. Despite winning the evolutionary lottery with his amazing regeneration powers, he falls into a downward spiral of depression and apathy, until one day a girl from his past walks back into his life and gives it some meaning again.
So, what can a guy with the miraculous ability to heal and regenerate himself do in order to turn his life around, become the hero and save the girl? Dale gets together with his old friend Mack and the two come up with a plan that ends up being as insane as it is darkly hilarious. Two words: Reality TV. I wouldn’t have seen that coming in a million years.
As outlandish as the premise sounds, Fred Venturini makes it all work wonderfully, making this an intensely engaging read. I was always left wondering where the story will go next, even though the characters themselves remain quite static and predictable when it comes to personality. Mack is a crude womanizing meathead, and Dale is a sad one-man pity party who hits rock bottom and stays there for much of the book. None of the characters are particularly likeable and there was no one in this book whose neck I didn’t want to wring at least once, though there is no doubt that all of this is by design. The author clearly meant for his narrator to be deeply flawed and broken with a defeatist and almost transgressive attitude towards life and love – a result from the traumatic events of his past. Dale is standoffish and has deep-seated issues when it comes to women, but at least we are in the position to understand why.
The ending is what really pulls it all together, resolving the conflicts and all the relationships while offering a glimmer of hope and a reason to be optimistic. Still, I wouldn’t go as far as to call this a happy book. I enjoy stories where characters are put in difficult situations; part of the fun is watching them overcome those obstacles to emerge victorious, after all. But Venturini is an author who seriously puts his characters through the wringer. I mean that as a compliment more than anything, given the way Dale to pushed to the very edge thus making his eventual turnaround all the more satisfying and meaningful. Nevertheless, I still felt the need for a cheerier book after this.
Was it worth the read, though? Heck, was it ever. I was surprised when I looked up the author and saw that The Heart Does Not Grow Back was his first novel (though it was first published a few years ago under a different title, The Samaritan) because of how strong and polished the writing was. I’ll be keeping an eye out for any other books by him in the future....more
If you haven’t read Lock In yet and have concerns about being overwhelmed by the details of Haden’s Syndrome, or if you’ve finished the book and would like to know more, I highly recommend checking out this companion novella that you can actually read online for free here.
Told in an epistolary format in the form of collected interviews, Unlocked features narratives from many different people, all in one way or another intimately involved in the history of Haden’s Syndrome and the Great Flu that precipitated it all. It’s meant to give you more information about the condition, as well some history on how the world struggled with and recovered from the epidemic only to end up trying to find a way to help the millions that experienced “lock in”.
Through the various perspectives, we get to find out what the devastating flu was like, how it was spread, as well as the response when everyone realized that the illness was unlike anything the world has ever seen. The most relevant part, of course, is what happens afterwards, when Haden’s Syndrome rears its ugly head. As someone who read Lock In first before checking this out, I knew that President Haden had a major role in galvanizing the country and uniting everyone’s efforts in finding a way to help the victims of the condition, and I was so happy that I got to have the whole story of how it happened here, in all its glory.
Just in keep in mind that this novella is meant to inform, so it wouldn’t be fair to go into this with the usual expectations for a story. There’s not a lot of plot or character development, which is okay because that’s not its goal. Nonetheless, I was completely fascinated by the way this book went through the different stages of the whole Haden’s Syndrome saga. Several of the characters also made themselves stand out with distinct “voices” as they related stories of their experience with Haden’s.
Unlocked shows just how invested John Scalzi is into the world of his book Lock In, and perhaps he rightly recognized that readers will want to know more about it. It probably doesn’t matter whether you read this before or after you read the full-length novel, but all I can say is, either way it’s worth it....more
I thought I would be going into Echopraxia with two strikes against me. First, the fact that I haven’t read Blindsight which is the first book in the Firefall series, and second, there was the worry that the book would be too “hard sci-fi” for my tastes. Fortunately, neither really ended up being an obstacle. Sure, I had my issues with this novel, but those have little to do with my original concerns.
It’s hard to explain a book like Echopraxia; this is one of those cases where it’s probably better to just let the publisher description do the talking: “The eve of the twenty-second century”, “a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues”, “genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans”, “soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat”.
It’s a whole other world, with a very different status quo. People like biologist Daniel Bruks who is adamant against upgrading himself with any implants or enhancements are seen as “old school”, living fossils that are still clinging on to an extinct way of life. While working in the field in the middle of the Oregon desert, he finds himself entangled in a conflict between a vampire and her entourage of zombie bodyguards versus a faction of technologically advanced Bicameral monks. Now he’s trapped on a ship headed to the center of the solar system to learn what happened to Blindsight, the expedition which took off years ago to investigate what appeared to be an alien signal.
The ideas here are wild, spectacular and ambitious. The plot, on the other hand, is quite thin – another reason why it would be difficult to describe this novel. Echopraxia is a book that feels less concerned with providing a cohesive narrative, instead focusing more heavily on philosophical discussion and debate on the human condition. Great if like these kinds of books, not so great if you don’t. Personally, I really enjoyed the first hundred pages or so because it contained most of the story. Watts established the setting, the main characters and the conflict. But everything started unraveling after that point, and became unfocused and disorganized.
The challenge for me was in trying to tease apart the jumble of ideas without allowing myself to be driven to distraction. Watts’ writing is laden with scientific jargon and not very easy on the eyes, making this one a slower read. Given the heavier themes and tinge of gloom, not to mention the fact there’s barely any plot, there’s just not too much energy to push it along. Not that I’m saying Echopraxia is a bad book. Far from it, in fact. I feel it has all the right ingredients, but the actual execution of all those great ideas leaves something to be desired.
Over the years, I think I’ve come to gain a deeper appreciation for hard sci-fi. It’s still a struggle sometimes, I admit, but it’s no longer the insurmountable hurdle it once was. However, plot and characters rank high on my priority list. Compelling and cogent storytelling is still somewhat of a requirement in the question of whether or not I’ll enjoy a book. Unfortunately, parts of Echopraxia are just too inconsistent for me to embrace it with open arms, but Watts should be recognized for his incredible talent of making everything he writes about sound fascinating and convincing. This is not a book you’ll want to pick up for a light afternoon of reading, but it’s worth it if you’re up for a thoughtful discourse on the complexities of the human mind and consciousness....more
I’ve actually not read the first book of the Brilliance Saga, but was reassured when told I could read A Better World without having to tackle Brilliance first. And that was absolutely correct. Not once did I feel lost or confused, thanks to a detailed recap of prior events in introduction chapters. As a new reader, that’s always appreciated (and I’m sure those familiar with the series might also find the reminders helpful, if it’s been a while since you read book one).
Taking place in the not-too-far future, this series is based on the premise that 1% of the population are born as “Brilliants”, individuals who possess special abilities allowing them to do some pretty amazing things. After 30 years, this has created a growing social chasm between these exceptional people and the vast majority who are “norms”. As with the case of most societies where such a divide occurs, you have dissension and a clashing of ideologies. And then you get the violence.
Fear has led the government to clamp down on brilliants, leading some of the extremist groups to fight back. A terrorist organization of brilliants called the Children of Darwin have shut down Cleveland, Tulsa, and Fresno, cutting off power and supplies to these cities. Nick Cooper, former anti-terrorism agent and a brilliant himself, has been called in by the president to help stop those responsible and to prevent a civil war.
Those who have read Brilliance would already be familiar with Cooper, though I was only meeting him for the first time. As a character, he makes a fascinating study. He’s a brilliant, but also a dedicated to hunting down abnorms involved in terrorist activity. The crimes perpetrated by the Children of Darwin go against everything he stands for, but the methods used by the government for controlling brilliants have also proven questionable, like taking Tier 1 children from their parents and placing them in “academies” which are nothing more than maximum security prison camps and brainwashing facilities. Cooper has realized that the situation isn’t black and white, and has already shifted alliances once. The questions and the indeterminate grey areas continue, and because things are never as they seem, you never know what’s going to happen next. Cooper, who has always believed in doing the right thing, is placed in one moral dilemma after another when he realizes he could be harming more people than he saves.
Even good intentions can lead to disastrous consequences, and I think it’s this theme which makes Cooper’s personality easier to take, separating him from the multitudes of do-gooder protagonists from a lot of other books. He came across initially as a rather self-righteous and naïve character, but by the end I could hardly fault him, as he goes through a rather rough time learning these difficult lessons. There were several tremendous game-changing developments I hardly saw coming, which just thickens the plot. As tensions between norms and abnorms continue to escalate, and the population in the besieged cities grow ever more desperate, I started to wonder if war really was inevitable. The ending will probably shock you as it did me.
There were only a couple issues that took away some of the impact, which I think bears mentioning. In the book, the government was able to mobilize 75,000 troops in a matter of hours to the rural plains of Wyoming, but then struggles to find enough manpower to shift and transport food to three mid-sized cities full of starving people even after a week? I don’t know if I buy that. Debating plausibility in a science fiction novel is probably a moot point, but the story still takes a hit in my eyes, mainly because the plight of Cleveland plays such a huge role. I also love the idea of brilliants, and the explanations for individual powers are pretty unique; in many of the cases, they are based on principles of science and physiology. A woman can become “invisible”, for example, moving unseen simply by being able to predict exactly when to move where no one will be looking. A man seemingly moves at super human speeds, but only because he perceives time differently than everyone else, experiencing each one second as slightly more than eleven. In contrast, I wasn’t entirely clear on the nature of Cooper’s own gift, which involves “reading intent”; perhaps it was better explained in the first book, but rather than a brilliant, he really just came across as a regular guy who was extraordinarily bright and perceptive.
Otherwise, I thought this was very enjoyable. While jumping on board mid-series might work with this book, it may not be possible for the next. A Better World does end on a pretty serious cliffhanger, and author Marcus Sakey sets us up for big things in book three. I can’t wait to see how things will resolve after that climactic ending....more
It always pains me to write a negative review, especially for a book I had high hopes for and had looked forward to so immensely. As mythical or legendary creatures go, harpies don’t get near enough attention in fantasy, and I was very excited to see a novel feature them with such prominence and with a background that sounded so incredibly fascinating and unique. Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy this book. I try to look at the big picture when reviewing, taking into account both story and writing, and there were too many issues with both that prevented me from getting into it.
The first thing I noticed was the very awkward and clipped writing style. A lot of telling and very little showing, laying out the character’s every single thought and action. There’s a clear message of environmentalism, but it’s delivered with the elegance and subtlety of a sledgehammer. Sometimes I would come across phrasing or word choice that is just plain odd, especially in dialogue. I couldn’t help but recall a piece of writing advice I once read, suggesting that writers should read their dialogue out loud to see how it comes across. Does it sound natural? Is it something you can picture a real person saying? A lot of the conversations in this book don’t pass this test, sounding very forced and scripted.
I was also distracted by too many discrepancies and questions that nagged at the back of my mind about the story. The book takes place on the planet Dora, following a young woman named Kari whose life was saved by a golden male harpy when she was a child. Ever since that day, Kari has been obsessed with harpies, particularly with her special golden named Shail, whose coloring is an extremely rare form of the half-bird, half-mortal species. Her father sends her to earth for ten years out of concern for her, hoping she would forget the harpy, but of course she doesn’t. Kari returns to Dora feeling bitter and angry, and more in love with Shail than ever.
I’ll be honest. When they were finally reunited, I was more confused than happy. Was I supposed to see Shail as an animal or a person? Kari treated him like a pet more than anything, giving him pats on the head and even calling him “Good boy”. I was at a complete loss as to what to make of their relationship, because calling it a romance felt horribly wrong on so many levels. The writing didn’t help this, describing their lovemaking as more animalistic (not in the good way), biological and Darwinian, completely devoid of emotion or passion. It’s also unclear at the beginning whether or not Kari truly fell in love with Shail, or indeed he had cast his “harpy spell” on her; if the latter, clearly there are disturbing implications, especially since he makes his first sexual advance on her out of instinctual desperation and while she was half “caught” in his magic. To be fair, a lot of this was semi-explained later on in the novel, but it still made me very uncomfortable and the relationship didn’t sit right with me at all.
Also, about two thirds of the way through the book are not one but two very graphic and violent rape scenes. Major trigger warnings should come with this novel. It’s an adult book with many adult themes, and while I don’t shock easily, I was a bit unprepared and blindsided. The mature and graphic content caused my brain to struggle with the dissonance caused by the relatively simplistic style of storytelling, and nothing in the description indicated that the book could take such dark, violent turns. Readers be forewarned, these are some very distressing scenes.
Finally, perhaps one of the biggest factors preventing my enjoyment of this book was Kari herself, who plays a disappointingly passive role in what is supposed to be her story. She’s a self-proclaimed recluse and standoffish, and a self-absorbed snob to boot, which by itself wouldn’t be so bad if she also wasn’t so weak of character. In the last half of the book, her involvement in resolving the conflict was practically nil, shrinking in on herself and relying on others to take charge and solve the problem. The concept of harpies in this book is underdeveloped and not very convincing, but (and minor spoiler here) what rankled me most about them is the idea that female harpies lose their minds out of grief if their mates die, and they either die themselves soon afterwards from despair or committing suicide. As someone who prefers strong, proactive female characters in my fantasy, both this aspect of harpies and Kari’s helplessness and utter lack of drive really bothered me.
I ended up finishing this book, and I don’t regret that, but I really wish I had liked it better. Ultimately, there were too many issues with the story and writing, and even a trivial detail like the fact I couldn’t stop picturing Shail as Brad Pitt (the author dedicated the book to the actor for providing the inspiration for Shail, and her bio on her website actually states all of her protagonists resemble a young Brad Pitt) compounded to make me rate the book the way I did. I wanted badly to like this book, but in the end it wasn’t for me....more
Many will probably read Sword of the Bright Lady and think what a peculiar world our protagonist Christopher Sinclair has landed in, with all these funny magical rules and strange way of doing things. On the other hand, if you’re a gamer, then you just might see things a bit differently, and a lot of the elements will have that persistent, familiar ring.
As already pointed out by many reviewers, the world of this book feels reminiscent of a video game. For example, gaining ranks and becoming more powerful by defeating your enemies, then plundering their bodies for loot is like the foundation of any role-playing game. Fortifying your base, allocating your resources, and delegating responsibilities to your minions while arming your fighters and supplying your crafters to make sure they churn out raw materials and products for the war effort also happens to be essential for strategy games. And the golden rule of battles and duels in Sword of the Bright Lady – that is, fight and deplete your opponent’s tael before they deplete yours – sounds extraordinary like the tongue-in-cheek “advice” I used to tell my raid group back when I was leading 25-mans in World of Warcraft: “Let’s all try and get the boss’ hit points to zero before he gets our hit points to zero, please.”
There are many more examples like this, and as the author had confirmed in a comment on another blogger’s review that he had intended to write a book exploring what it would feel like to be an actual person in the games we play, I had a lot of fun spotting the similarities and wondering what aspects might actually be subtle references to gaming. The concept itself is REALLY cool. The book begins with Christopher waking up in a strange, new world with no memory of how he got there. How many game narrative start off just like that? He gets drafted into an eternal war (as an online gamer, a war that goes on forever was one of those “AHA!” moments for me, because we all know in an MMO you can never truly “win”) by serving as a priest of the Bright Lady, joining the ranks of her followers who can heal wounds by using their magic and, for the right price, resurrect the dead (another “AHA!”) But then, drawn by the opportunity to return home to his own world, Christopher goes and pledges himself to the god of war, which sets off a series of unpredictable and violent events.
By all rights, I should have fallen in love with Sword of the Bright Lady. After all, I usually find myself drawn to any story with a gaming angle, no matter how tenuous the link. However, in the end “love” might be too powerful a word to describe how I felt about the book, though I did have fun and enjoyed reading it quite a bit. There were just a few things that added up to keep me from embracing this one completely.
Firstly, something about Christopher just doesn’t sit right with me. While I don’t pretend to be an expert on how a person would react when waking up to an unfamiliar world surrounded by strangers, still, Christopher’s behavior and many of his decisions and actions just didn’t seem realistic or normal to me. And while he clearly didn’t know about all the ways of this new place, he did seem to know quite a lot – perhaps too much to be believable. And though I was aware of the nature of this fantasy world, the people took to Christopher’s new ideas and projects much too easily, with not much fuss or resistance at all, which also didn’t feel very believable to me.
This segues perfectly into my second point, which is that the whole premise of this novel feeling like it’s hovering in this awkward place between trying to convey the realism and authenticity of this world but at the same time negating a lot of that by throwing in some pretty outlandish situations that make the story feel almost satirical. The book feels like it wants it both ways, which is a difficult balance to strike. I’m not sure I liked this “in between” feeling, and in fact if Christopher’s experience is meant to be a parody of sorts of what it might feel like to be a person in a video game – which is quite an ingenious and unique idea – I’d actually have liked to see the author carry that premise even further.
To sum it all up, I think there are a couple of missed opportunities to make this book stand out more, which for me is the only factor holding it back from being a truly excellent read. But I can’t deny there are some fascinating ideas in here, and overall it’s a very strong novel from author M.C. Planck....more
All Those Vanished Engines was a real doozy to read and rate, as you would expect of meta-fiction. I admit I’m quite inexperienced when it comes books that use it as a literary device, and my feelings for this book remain rather mixed. On the one hand, the ideas and themes in here intrigued me and I found the execution of those themes to be quite clever. That interest alone fueled me throughout the novel, but on the flip side, I don’t know if I could have soldiered on if the book had been any longer. At a quick 269 pages, I have to confess that was also just about as much as I could take.
Told in three sections, the story first begins in the post-Civil War era. The north is ruled by a Queen, who has negotiated a two-nation settlement after the conflict. The narrator here attempts to reconstruct her past through a series of journal, about a fanciful and bizarre future. The second part is told in an auto-biographical style, taking place somewhere in northern Massachusetts where Park recounts a story about a secret investigation during World War II. Within this section are also elements from a writing project by one of his writing protégés, as well as Park’s own Wizards of the Coast novel that he is working on at the time. The third part finishes things off supposedly in the future, with aliens from history. Again, it’s told in an auto-biographical style, but at this point my perception of these realities have become so frazzled, I’d long given up on teasing out any semblance of a plot or purpose.
In case you couldn’t tell, all of that was my clumsy and very inadequate attempt to recap the book. I found it very difficult to extract a summary from the prose alone, and I had to have help from the book’s own description to fill in some of the blanks for me. This is because all three sections and their characters and stories are jumbled or nestled within one another, making it never really all that clear what “reality” I’m in at any given time. I think the best way I can think of to describe this mind-bending approach is by using the example of the artist M.C. Escher’s Drawing Hands, which as it happens also gets a mention somewhere in the novel. The art piece depicts two hands rising from wrists that remain flat on a sheet of paper, drawing one another into existence. Like the hands, the three sections of All Those Vanished Engines feel as though they are both feeding and taking from one another, all at once and all together. It’s as confusing as it sounds, but I also thought it was original and quite ingenious.
Obviously, this novel is intended for a very niche audience. A lot of readers will no doubt struggle with it, and personally, I’m surprised I was able to read it almost to completion without getting the urge to abandon it. My taste in speculative fiction doesn’t typically run towards the abstract and “weird”, and this book most definitely fits both those labels.
But thanks to some of the reviews I’ve seen for this book, I was prepared to read this with a whole different perspective, and going in fully expecting that I was going to be stepping out of my comfort zone helped me immensely. Knowing what I do about this book now, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if I had to do it all over again, but I also can’t deny a certain appreciation for particular aspects of it so hence I can’t say the experience was all that unenjoyable. I’d say give this one a shot if you’re into meta-fiction or if you’re feeling brave and hankering to take on something unconventional and way, way, way outside the box....more
I have my husband to thank for my love of Star Trek. I wasn’t a fan before we met, but back when we first started dating he sat us down in front of the TV with a bunch of Star Trek shows and movies and sought to make a new convert out of me. And of course, he insisted we just had to start with the 1960s Original Series.
Yes, when you watch TOS now it does seem cheesy, with the special effects and props looking stunningly fake, aliens that look almost undistinguishable from humans, newly discovered planets with landscapes that look suspiciously like Northern California, and William Shatner’s Captain Kirk coming across as a bit of a lech given his inclination to jump into bed with any beautiful female no matter her shape, size, or species. But all that was part of the show’s charm, and it’s the reason why a lot of my all-time favorite Star Trek episodes are from that series. And no surprise, it’s also what makes Willful Child such an uproarious work of genius.
Steven Erikson essentially takes the tropes and campiness we know and love from TOS (and some from a couple other Star Trek series besides. The part with the Bor–I mean, Plog Collective had me in stitches), transforming and packing it all into this clever and downright hilarious novel which is one of the best spoofs I’ve ever read. These are the voyages of the starship A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations and wreak havoc upon them all. Led by the fearless but not terribly bright Captain Hadrian Sawback, who has an insatiable appetite for sex and a scary tendency to ignore all Affiliation regulations, the crew of the Willful Child traverses the galaxy and gets up to all kinds of shenanigans in this non-stop rollicking space adventure.
This is definitely new territory for me when it comes to Erikson. Prior to this book, I’ve only read his first Malazan Book of the Fallen novel, and so seeing him do over-the-top humor and sci-fi was a bit of a double treat. Obviously, Willful Child is a very different kind of book, being a parody of sorts. With the nature of comedy being so subjective, it probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously. The book is pulpish in the best way, featuring exaggerated larger-than-life characters, exotic places, bizarre aliens and outlandish villains. Still, there is no doubt Erikson is a passionate fan of Star Trek. Behind his merciless lampooning of the genre, I also see a loving homage. Readers will find this book highly amusing and Trekkers especially will recognize the references and source for a lot of the jokes, resulting in lots of laughs.
Sweepy spoke up, “Captain. I recommend we displace a squad down here and send them through. That way, should they all die, well, we only lost a few faceless nobodies. Excepting the chief engineer, sir.”
“Hardly seems challenging,” said Hadrian, rubbing at his manly jaw. “I was thinking of going through first, actually.” ~pg. 158
As with most works of satire, I was actually quite curious as to how Erikson would handle the storytelling. Turns out, the pace is snappy, heavy on the dialogue, and each story arc immediately segues into the next, emulating the episodic format of a television serial (in a couple instances, characters even break the fourth wall by referring to the situation as an “episode”). Fast-paced and filled to the brim with witty japes poking fun at Star Trek tropes and sci-fi themes, I really couldn’t have asked for more.
Needless to say, books like these are difficult to review and likely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, often because of how over the top they are. And yet they are fully intended to be this way, and as long as you know what you’re in for and recognize Willful Child as the entertaining parody it is, I think you’ll find it to be very enjoyable. For me, it was a nice change of pace, something I could sit back and read with abandon and simply indulge myself in its silliness. As every avid reader probably knows, every once in a while you just need a FUN! book like this in your life!...more
I confess, I’m not very good when it comes to pulling information out of book descriptions. But all I know is, when I first heard about The Girl with All The Gifts, it piqued my interest right away. Here you have a story about a bright young girl named Melanie, who for some reason everyone seems deathly afraid of. Being held at gun-point while being strapped into a wheelchair just to go to class? Judging by level of paranoia with which she’s treated, you’d think little Melanie was Hannibal Lecter. The book jacket may be a little scarce on details, but there’s definitely something strange going on.
So it really shouldn’t have surprised me when this book turned out to be Horror, and yet it did. Finding out about the genre, however, just made me even more excited to read it. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, OH HELLO, THEY DO!
By now, I gather it’s pretty safe to explain why I had myself a personal little freak-out when it hit me just what I was in for with this story. After all, the revelation comes very early on in the novel and is hardly a spoiler, not to mention the book has been out in the UK for months now and the cat is out of the bag. But avert your eyes now if you would prefer to know absolutely ZIP about the book going in. Anyway, my excitement levels exploded when I realized that The Girl with All The Gifts…has zombies.
And I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. What makes this a great zombie book – a great book, PERIOD – is the science. Ah, gotta love science. Like I always say, if you want to see some scary stuff, look no further than Mother Nature. Heck, some of the most frightening, bone-chilling things I’ve ever seen in film aren’t in horror movies, but are in those dang Planet Earth documentaries. Who could forget the “Jungles” episode and the importance of fungi as illustrated by the life cycle of Ophiocordyceps unilatertalis? Oh, the sheer horror of watching the parasite take over an ant’s brain before the fruiting body explodes out of the back of its victim’s head, all while Sir David Attenborough goes on calmly narrating in those smooth, dulcet tones. That sequence was beyond traumatizing – but also fascinating. I remember being obsessed with the idea, thinking to myself, holy crap, someone pleeeeease write a zombie book based around this!
Well, even though the video game The Last of Us might have done it first, M.R. Carey ended up granting me my wish. And he does it in such a spectacular way, wrapping this fantastic idea around a story filled with mystery, action, and lots of gut-wrenching heartbreak. The Girl with All The Gifts is everything I look for in a zombie book – tight, energetic pacing with all the savagery, suspense and tension – but it’s also so much more. For me, this book is the next step in zombie fiction, delivering on the survival and post-apocalyptic elements we all know and love, while pushing the envelope with new ideas and deep characterization.
Due to its nature, it’s not surprising that the zombie-apocalypse survival subgenre tends to feature ruthlessness and characters with hard hearts who show no pity. But seeing the themes of mercy and compassion enter into the equation here is a nice change of pace. A lot of this is due to Melanie. If you also guessed from the description that there’s something different about her character, you’d be correct. Melanie is definitely a special little girl, and she’s part of what makes this book such an exceptional, atypical zombie novel and such a joy for me to read.
Even though I can probably go on for another couple pages about why I loved this book, I really don’t want to give too much away. There are lots of surprises, including an unpredictable ending that truly stunned me. I loved this book to pieces. Haunting, powerful and poignant, The Girl with All The Gifts is a novel I would recommend highly and without reservation. ...more
Cyberpunk is another one of those science fiction subgenres that have been more miss than hit with me in the past, but that hasn’t stopped me from giving more of it a try, hoping to find something that’s more my liking. So even after my inability to get into William Gibson’s Neuromancer – a book considered a seminal work in the cyberpunk field – I still decided to check out Tomorrow and Tomorrow, which has been described as leading in the next wave following in the footsteps of Gibson.
Indeed, in the classic cyberpunk tradition, the book has its setting in a near-future dystopian with elements of hard-boiled detective film noir and overall a very bleak worldview. The city of Pittsburgh is a pile of rubble and ash after its destruction by terrorists in a nuclear blast. Ten years later, survivor John Dominic Blaxton still mourns his wife and unborn child while most of the world has moved on. Our protagonist is a marginalized loner, addicted to drugs as much as he is addicted to his memories of his lost life by immersing himself in the Archive where he can relive moments with his wife in a fully interactive digital reconstruction of Pittsburgh.
Dominic’s work also involves investigating deaths recorded in the Archive for insurance companies. One day, while pursuing a claim, he becomes obsessed with the apparent murder of a young woman when he discovers that her records have been tampered with, evidence that someone is trying to cover up the circumstances of her death. His digging around doesn’t go unnoticed. Like many cyberpunk protagonists, John finds himself manipulated by higher forces and trapped into a situation where he has little control.
Thomas Sweterlitsch has created a future where technology runs rampant. Everyone has an adware implant in their head and access to information is near ubiquitous. People have become wholly dependent on the computer chips in their brains, and the result is a dehumanized society with a strong sense of disenchantment and nihilism. Feeds run continuously in an endless stream, with up-to-the-second news updates. Grisly details of accidents or crime scenes are made public at the speed of an eye blink, along with the darker secrets of the victims’ lives. The society eats up their sex tapes as voraciously as they revel in the graphic violence.
It’s this brutal, emotionally numbing aspect of cyberpunk that makes it so hard for me to click with this genre. Strangely enough, I can handle most kinds of gritty, dark fantasy without issue, but these near-futures and the negative effect of technology on human society have a way of cutting too close for comfort. All everyone seems to care about anymore is pornography and violence, and it is so off-putting not to mention mentally draining. The themes of grief and loss are also at the forefront of this novel, which makes reading it a real struggle if you’re not feeling in the mood for something so despairing. It’s hard to watch Dominic go through life relying so heavily on the Archive; instead of helping, the technology has pretty much halted his healing all together, and he hangs on to his grief like his wife died yesterday instead of a decade ago.
This wasn’t a bad novel, however. I thought the world-building was fantastic and the mystery, hardboiled noir and crime thriller elements were done very well. This is a story about a man destroyed by tragedy and the events that ultimately pulled him out of his funk and allowed him to move on, but it is for the most part a very stark, very depressing and sometimes disturbing book. I don’t regret reading it and I would recommend this to cyberpunk fans, but consider holding off if you’re in the mood for something lighter....more
Is Radiant science fiction? Or is it fantasy? Perhaps it is both, just as I like to think this book could fit comfortably in both the Adult and Young Adult categories. No matter how you look at it, it seems there’s something for everyone in this brilliant and unique cross-genre piece from debut novelist Karina Sumner-Smith.
It all begins with a ghost. Teenager Xhea may have been born without magic – not one bit at all – but she has a power that allows her to see and speak to the dead. Forced to live in the Lower City where those with little to no magic struggle to eke out a living, Xhea manages to survive by scavenging and selling her services to the haunted, offering to take on their ghostly burdens for a few days in exchange for some food or money.
This is how Shai comes into Xhea’s life. Even as a ghost, Shai has so much magic that she can use it to generate the power that keeps the floating towers of the city’s upper class supplied with endless fuel and energy. This is because Shai is a Radiant, a rare individual who is literally a magic generator and there are powerful factions out there who will stop at nothing to get their hands on her. To these individuals, Shai is nothing but a tool. They care nothing about the pain and torture her ghost will endure, and it is up to Xhea to protect and fight for her new phantom friend.
The story of Radiant revolves around this incredibly beautiful relationship. Xhea is a down-on-her-luck outcast who has survived years of abuse and trauma. Shai is a dead girl who, in her living years, only knew a life of luxury and comfort, albeit burdened with the responsibility of being a Radiant. And yet, a friendship is forged between these two very different characters, and the bond only strengthens with every page.
This central dynamic serves as the novel’s entire backbone, and I’m glad for it. There is very little fluff or filler content to distract from the main plot, no stale romantic arcs or angsty teenage drama to get in the way, just a compelling journey of two strong young women who go through many adventures and much strife in order to help one another. Even divided into three parts, the story is tightly told, and I enjoyed Sumner-Smith’s straightforward and easy-on-the-eyes writing style. She doesn’t go overboard with descriptions or the details of the characters’ backgrounds, providing enough to keep the reader engaged yet also satisfy the folks like me who crave world building and character development.
The remarkable friendship between Xhea and Shai alone makes this a very special novel, but I also loved the world the author has created here. Like I alluded to in my introduction, it would be impossible to assign just one genre to Radiant – and quite honestly, it wouldn’t do the book justice if I did. There’s a mix of so many things here. Potent magical spells existing in harmony with advanced technology. The images of glimmering gargantuan towers in the sky suggest a futuristic setting, while the dirty and crumbling ruins of buildings and defunct subway tunnels in the Lower City are reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic dystopian. Mindless, shambling undead creatures resembling zombies stalk the broken streets at night, injecting a bit of horror into this already mind-blowing blend of spec fic elements.
Radiant truly stands out. As a debut novel from an author already highly acclaimed for her short stories, there is a quality of rawness to some parts of it, but it’s nevertheless a very polished and great book. Karina Sumner-Smith is one to watch, and I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the next installment in the Towers Trilogy....more
I’ve been a great admirer of James Luceno’s Star Wars work in the past, especially his book Darth Plagueis about the eponymous Sith Lord who was the master of Darth Sidious. Having experienced Luceno’s approach to writing Star Wars villains and the credit he does them, I didn’t hesitate to add Tarkin to my reading list with high hopes for the author’s insight into the formidable Grand Moff.
Even if you’re only passing familiar with the films, you’ve probably heard of the name Tarkin. Introduced as the primary antagonist in the first original Star Wars movie, you may recall he’s the evil bastard who threatens Princess Leia with the destruction of her home planet Alderaan if she doesn’t give up the location of the rebel base, and then turns around and blows it up anyway when she gives him a name. But he’s also a soldier and a politician. A scion of a great house. A former Republic proponent and friend of the Jedi. This novel explores all this and more as we delve deeper into this notorious character’s background and history.
In the wake of Palpatine’s rise to power, rebels and freedom fighters continue to be a bane to the empire. As a trusted advisor to his emperor, Tarkin is tasked along with the fearsome and mysterious Darth Vader to squirrel out pockets of the insurgency and extinguish the spark of rebellion before it has a chance to catch.
As expected, Luceno’s work here is solid. If I have any criticisms at all with this novel – and I do have a few – it would have absolutely nothing to do with his writing or storytelling. Quite simply, the author does a thoroughly impressive job pulling together the past and present in order to paint a comprehensive picture of Wilhuff Tarkin. The story is deftly told using a combination of flashbacks and memories woven into the narrative that tells us what’s currently happening. Considering the way we go back and forth throughout the course of the story, I’m somewhat surprised that the pacing did not suffer.
Instead, most of my problems with this book lies with the character. Let’s face it, despite being one of the most ruthless and cold-blooded villains in Star Wars history who even holds “Darth Vader’s leash”, you’re just not as sexy or high on the popularity food chain if you aren’t swinging a lightsaber or wielding the force. Luceno had his work cut out for him making Tarkin a more interesting and appealing character, and I don’t know if he quite manages. We all know Tarkin’s an evil bastard. And after this book, he’s still an evil bastard. Sure, there are some great insights into his past here, such as how his experience playing “Survivor” in the Carrion honed his future skills as a cunning soldier and military strategist. But what does that tell me about the man inside? Everything we learn about him merely scratches the surface while the core of his personality remains aloof. There’s scant little dynamic in his character and I felt like an observer kept at arm’s length.
However, we do gain more understanding into Tarkin’s relationship with both the Emperor and Darth Vader. These were the three who controlled the galaxy by sowing fear after the Clone Wars, and long has it been speculated that Palpatine partnered up the other two on purpose so that they could benefit from each other’s skills. The story in this book showed how that plan ultimately created one of the most fearsome teams that ever existed. In a way, the plot here played out almost like a twisted buddy movie, with the added irony that Tarkin and the Jedi Anakin Skywalker used to be friendly and worked quite closely together. It’s the little moments, like when Tarkin regards Darth Vader and starts surmising his true identity that are probably more rewarding than anything else.
This book was actually quite enjoyable, even if it probably won’t rank up there with my favorite Star Wars novels. It doesn’t stand out, though not for want of trying. Luceno did a great job on the writing front, and was probably only held back by the limitations that are inherent in Tarkin’s character himself....more
When I think about Young Adult books from Pyr, words that spring immediately to mind are “distinct”, “unconventional” and “unique”. I guess that’s why I’ve been counting on this book to lift me out of my YA slump. I’ve been feeling rather burned out by the love triangles, broody heroes, and paranormal/fantasy settings in this category lately, and Earth Girl looked like the perfect cure to this particular malaise.
My instincts proved correct.
The story of Earth Girl takes place in the far-flung future, narrated by eighteen-year-old Jarra. There are many names for people like her. Handicapped. Throwback. Nean. Ape. All of them mean one thing: that she is among the one in a thousand born with an immune disorder that confines her to earth. Humans have developed portal technology at this point, using it to colonize a multitude of worlds, but Jarra can’t visit any of them. If she traveled anywhere she would go into anaphylactic shock in seconds, and die if not returned immediately to earth’s atmosphere.
But even in the year 2788, humanity has its bigoted attitudes. So when the time comes to enroll in university, Jarra chooses her preferred subject History, but decides to invent a fake military background for herself to apply at a school on another planet whose class of norms who would be on earth for the first year of practical studies. Jarra is sick and tired of being looked down on for being handicapped, and she’s determined to show a bunch of stupid Exos just what an ape girl is capable of.
There is therefore nothing subtle about the social message in Earth Girl. This is a book infused with emotion and meaning. But even beyond this, there is so much more to love. While the plot may be a bit predictable at times, very little else about this novel falls prey to clichés, especially when it comes to the characters. You meet Lecturer Playdon, for example, and might immediately label him a hardball professor, bent on giving our protagonist a hard time – because adults obviously are in YA novels just to get in the way! Or take Dalmora Rostha, daughter of a rich, famous vid director. She’s totally going to be the snooty, spoiled and annoyingly fake arch nemesis in this story, am I right? Now the lascivious pair of Betas though, surely they are there just to provide comic relief, cause trouble and flunk out?
Nope, nope, and nope, wrong on all counts. This book will surprise you at every turn, and I can’t tell you how refreshing that is.
I also confess, I have another reason for loving this book. For you see, in the context of Earth Girl, Jarra’s “practical prehistory studies” is just another word for Archaeology. And I love Archaeology. While studying it and going on digs in college, I’d always entertained thoughts of future archaeologists excavating our modern cities and wondered what they would make of our civilization from the things they find. It’s like the author was reading my mind! When Jarra and her class dig up the ruins of New York, the methods and technology they use may be very different, but still the systematic methods are there and so is the culture and spirit of a dig site. World building is fantastic in terms of creating a great atmosphere.
My only quibbles are minor. The dialogue can be stunted at times, making Jarra and her friends sound and act like they are much younger than their eighteen years. Fian, the romantic interest, is probably the worst offender. Jarra also seems to be an expert at everything. A character even makes a joke about this at one point in the novel. As well, there is a tendency to tell instead of show and moments of overt info-dumping, but as many of these instances are worked into a classroom setting, they were easily forgivable. Other than that, as you can see from my rating, this book was close to perfect.
Thank you, Janet Edwards, for breathing some new life into YA for me. Earth Girl was a very enjoyable read and I’m looking forward to the next book. ...more
Don’t let my middling rating fool you, because I really did enjoy this book. It was like eating a big bowl of popcorn for lunch; sure, you didn’t really get much out of it, but boy, it filled you up nicely and gobbling it down felt so wickedly good and yummy. Like a B-action movie, I don’t think Koko Takes a Holiday will stay with me for any significant length of time, but it was some great pulpy fun while it lasted.
The book takes place five hundred years from now, starring ex-merc Koko Martstellar who has retired from the hired soldier gig to run a brothel at the tropical archipelago resort known as The Sixty Islands. A place for tourists to indulge in their sexual simulated violent fantasies, the SI is rather like a playground for adults and Koko’s taking full advantage of the decadent life, surrounded by her boytoys and booze. She figures, what the hell, she’s having a good time and she’s earned her rest.
But then an old comrade-in-arms had to show up and ruin it all. Portia Delacompte, former-mercenary-turned-corporate-bigwig, blazes into town with a mind to see Koko dead. With her bar and brothel utterly destroyed by Portia’s deadly hired goons, so ends the good times for Koko, who is forced to take a holiday from her holiday to escape being hunted by her ex-buddy. But Koko, the very picture of a kickass heroine, hasn’t forgotten the tricks of her old trade – and she isn’t going to go down without a fight.
A lot of people have said this book reminds them of a graphic novel, for good reason, and not just because of the eye-catching art style on that fantastic cover. More likely it’s due to the story itself being very fast-paced, action-filled, and quite heavy on the dialogue. However, Shea’s descriptions of the various extraordinary and outlandish places also make it easy for the reader to picture his world in their mind’s eye. The very nature of the novel’s futuristic setting lends itself to this; it’s a high-tech dystopia with rampant corruption and depravity, and it’s also disturbingly vivid.
As you would expect, there’s nothing deep here. Koko Takes a Holiday goes for fast, shameless fun and it achieves that marvelously. You won’t be able to stop yourself from turning those pages. Delightfully unrestrained and bombastic, the book is heavy on violence and explosions but light on plot and characters, but hey, sometimes that’s exactly what you need.
I had a good time with this book, but admittedly the experience is already fading fast. Summer is long behind us now, but I would recommend this if you’re in need of a good beach read type of book, or just something like this to pick you up on a crappy day. It’s hard to go wrong with something this high-energy and entertaining....more
Jarra has carried out a successful rescue mission, saved lives at the risk of losing her own, and received the Earth Star and the highest honor of the Artemis medal. But still our protagonist finds herself defined by her disability.
I’d been eagerly waiting to read this book ever since I read Earth Girl. Earth Star is the sequel, picking up right where the first book left off. Things have pretty much returned to normal after the events of the unprecedented solar storm that put the New York dig site and Jarra in the spotlight. The whole world knows she’s Handicapped now, that she is among one in a thousand born with an immune system disorder that confines her to earth. But while most of her classmates have come to terms with learning her secret, not everyone has been so accepting of Jarra.
I continue to enjoy this series for its ability to engage as well as its departures from the usual YA conventions. Unsurprisingly, these books probably won’t be for everyone, though I do wish more people knew about them. Not only is there an important message, I also love the universe Janet Edwards has created, and here she expands the idea further by throwing humanity a curveball – the possibility of aliens on Earth’s doorstep. When the military discovers a strange sphere in orbit, the planet goes into high alert and Jarra is drafted to help.
You would think that the arrival of an extraterrestrial presence might bring humankind together, but that isn’t the case. The book continues the theme of showing how deep-rooted bigotry and intolerance can be, even though Jarra has proven herself to be as capable as any Norm time and time again. The prejudice against the Handicapped has been ingrained in this society for generations, and Earth has become a second-class planet, with those who have the immune disorder somehow seen as less than human.
But there is hope yet. There are plenty of those who don’t share those close-minded views. Jarra and her boyfriend Fian have gotten much closer since the first book; the two have pledged their commitment to each other and Fian continues to be Jarra’s strongest and most loyal supporter. But like I said, we aren’t going to be treated to the same old tropes here, so Jarra and Fian’s relationship also has a completely different dynamic than your typical YA novel. I wouldn’t recommend going into these books expecting a strong romance plot. It’s just not that kind of book, and I’m cool with that. Still, that doesn’t mean that it is completely devoid of romantic tension. A private person by nature, Jarra still struggles with opening up to Fian, and Fian comes across as almost insecure in his desperation to get through to her. His role feels slightly diminished here, but then I suppose the force of Jarra’s personality has a way of overshadowing those around her.
For make no mistake, these books are all about Jarra’s journey, her own exceptional fight against adversity, from without and within. But I also like the fact she is not painted as the invincible hero. Reviewers including myself have noted in the first book that her character seems to be an expert at everything and know all the answers. In spite of that, I see now that she has her fears and doubts. The message is clear: as a Handicapped, Jarra is nevertheless able to do everything that a Norm can do, but it works both ways. She’s also just as liable to fall victim to her own anxieties and lose confidence in herself, just like everyone else. After all, she’s only human. Like all of us. ...more
“Out of the frying pan and into the fire”, so the saying goes to describe going from a bad situation to a worse one, and that’s exactly what happens to Clancy “Big Guy” and his friends after they escape from the Island only to find out that the mainland they hoped to return to is not the home they remembered.
Into the Fire is the follow-up to Peter Liney’s The Detainee, an adult dystopian novel that impressed me by setting itself apart with its dark brutality but also a beautiful, compelling message about love and courage. The most exceptional aspect of the first book was Liney’s ability to tell a story which explored the unpleasant effects of a dystopian environment across multiple age groups, detailing the horrors that befall both the young and the old. The main protagonist himself is sixty-three years old. Along with others who are past their prime, he was banished to the Island with society’s other castoffs like the sick, the dying, and unwanted children.
I admit, I had my doubts when I first found out about Into the Fire. My first thought was, Does The Detainee really need a sequel? After all, I was quite satisfied with the way it ended. Obviously, Clancy, Lena, Jimmy and Delilah managed to find the way off the island with the children they befriended and adopted, and it was the classic moment of triumph as we leave them swimming across the channel towards freedom. It’s always nicer to leave things on a high note, and I might have been content with simply imagining bright and pleasant futures for our beloved Big Guy and the gang as they make brand new happy lives for themselves back on the mainland. Into the Fire, of course, erases those hopes.
However, with a sequel also comes an opportunity for something I didn’t think we were going to get after the end of the first book. Clancy’s past has always been shrouded in mystery, and we knew from occasional mentions that it was a checkered one. When he was younger, his huge stature served him well as a mafia crime boss’ thug, a position which required him to commit no small number of unsavory “errands” for the crooked Meltoni. Decades later, upon his return to the radically changed mainland, Clancy must turn to his old life again in order to help his friends survive and also save the woman he loves.
Clancy always was a captivating character and narrator for me, with many more years of experiences under his belt than most protagonists. Going back to some of those years and finding out more about his life working for the mob was one of the highlights of this novel. In my mind he was always like a Clint Eastwood, someone you wouldn’t want to mess with no matter what his age. Despite his desire to turn over a new leaf, his fierce loyalty also makes him capable of showing no mercy to those who would do his loved ones harm. It was interesting to see that young or old, Clancy was and still is a force to be reckoned with.
Into the Fire was thus a worthy follow-up, but The Detainee was a strong debut that was hard to beat. We went from a small island where the dynamics and everyday dangers were well understood to a large city where too much seemed to be happening at once. It was hard to visualize this society and figure out how everything was supposed to work, and it really wasn’t clear to me how scattered pockets of the city such as doctors’ offices, sushi bars, gaming arcades etc. could still be operating like nothing was out of the ordinary while most of the place burned and crumbled, with hordes of sick people wandering the streets, refugees looting stores left and right, and Infinity just gunning down people indiscriminately.
While the setting wasn’t as coherent as it was in The Detainee, that was probably my only stumbling block. I love the story and the characters, and we get lots of development into both in Into the Fire. Peter Liney takes this world he has created and carries its background and history even further, which is something I really wanted to see, and this book sees some major changes in the characters’ lives and I couldn’t even begin to guess where the author will take us next. This is shaping up to be a fascinating series, one I would recommend for fans of dystopian fiction looking for something different....more