Cyberpunk and I don’t always make the best bedfellows, but when I read the description to Crashing Heaven I just knew I had to check it out. Published in the UK, I’d initially decided to either get it shipped from overseas or wait patiently to see if it’ll eventually get a release date this side of the Atlantic. To my happy surprise though, I later discovered on the publisher website that it was actually available in the US in audio format. I very excitedly requested a review copy.
What I got was exactly what the description promised, a novel that hits relentlessly hard, fast and without mercy. I could sense the influence of William Gibson and classic cyberpunk in its bleak narrative about a future of an abandoned Earth, AI wars, and people living in augmented reality. After spending years in prison, protagonist Jack Forster is a soldier who returns home with two things: a reputation as a traitor for surrendering to the Totality, and a virtual puppet named Hugo Fist tethered to his mind. Designed as a weapon to fight the enemy, Fist is a combat-AI which would eventually expire and take Jack’s personality and effectively his life with it.
All Jack wants to do is to clear his name, but upon his return to Station, he discovers that while he was away, two of his old friends have met with suspicious deaths. One of them is a former lover, spurring Jack to get to the bottom of this mystery and find those responsible before his time runs out.
The story can be a bit confusing, though to be fair, I have a history of being frustrated with cyberpunk. While Crashing Heaven may be a much easier read than a lot of other books in the genre, I still found many of its ideas abstract and hard to follow, such as trying to imagine Fist as a puppet that mostly exists inside Jack’s head but which can also be “pulled” out to manifest in a form similar to that of a ventriloquist dummy. The writing is also rough in places and not always sufficient when it comes to giving descriptions, which added to my difficulty.
However, I was also impressed by a lot of ideas in this book. Using Fist as an example again, it’s hard to reconcile the fact that such an innocuous-looking puppet can also be such a deadly weapon, with one hell of a potty-mouth on him to boot. The world is a rich tableau of both wonder and bleakness, where myth mixes with virtual reality. Mysterious entities worshipped as gods walk among the populace and grant favor to the faithful. The dead can return in “Fetches”, bodies housing the memories of the departed so that the living can spend more time with those who have passed on. Almost every aspect of the world-building is multi-faceted and gave me a lot to think about.
Still, probably my favorite part about the book is the relationship between Jack and Fist, the complex dynamic between them and the way it evolves as the story progresses. Forever linked together, the nature of their interactions range from the humorous to the grotesque. You can never predict what Fist might say or do next, which might be exasperating for Jack but it works great for a reader watching these exchanges play out. They inject a fait bit of lightness to this otherwise gritty and despairing story.
Narrator Thomas Judd can also be credited for making the Jack-and-Fist alliance the highlight of this audiobook. His performance was overall decent but nothing too remarkable – except for one thing: his Fist voice. It was perfect. It also helped a lot, considering how much of the book is made up of Jack and Fist going back and forth in conversation.
Apart from a few flaws, Crashing Heaven was a good book. The writing may be awkward at times and the plot is convoluted in places, but the entertainment value in the story makes up for that. Furthermore, dedicated fans of cyberpunk will probably like this even more than I did, so if you love the genre, definitely consider checking out Al Robertson’s unique debut....more
For a long time I’ve wanted to read something by Karen Lord, so I was excited when I was given the opportunity to review the audiobook of The Galaxy Game. This latest novel by Lord sounded very promising, featuring a compelling blurb that teases a fascinating premise and hints at some action. Thus I admit I went into it with high expectations, but regretfully came out of the experience feeling rather underwhelmed.
I also feel that I should state that The Galaxy Game is a sequel, which I did not realize until I was about half way through the book. It probably would have eased some of the initial confusion, but I still don’t believe it’s entirely necessary to have read the first book The Best of all Possible Worlds before reading this because I was able to piece together a bit of what happened and follow the main story without too many problems. Plus, while it’s true I might have gotten more out of the story if I’d read book one, doing so still probably wouldn’t have negated some of my issues with this novel’s structure or stylistic choices.
In the book we’re introduced to Rafi Delarua, a teenager who is all but imprisoned in a place called the Lyceum which is a school for young people with psi powers. In a society that deeply mistrusts psionically gifted individuals, Rafi has to endure the education and various treatments designed to control those like him. It doesn’t help either that his father’s unethical use of his powers has left Rafi and his family a legacy of disgrace.
Rafi knows it would have been different if he had lived on the planet of Punartam, where psi abilities would be seen as the norm. So the first chance he gets, he escapes the Lyceum and makes his way there. Punartam also happens to be the home of wallrunning – his favorite sport. With the help of his friend, Rafi manages to find a way to not only play but also to train with the best players. Coming here didn’t mean the end of all his problems, however. There are new deals taking place, changes happening in the dynamics between civilizations in the galaxy. Learning how to integrate into a new society is challenging enough, but now Rafi finds out he will also have a role to play in the coming political storm.
It actually sounds more dramatic than it is. While I wouldn’t call this book dull, it did feel like a considerable amount of time was given to explanations of societal themes and classifications. Like I said, if I had read The Best of All Possible Worlds I might not have felt so lost, but regardless, I don’t typically mind putting in time to familiarize myself with a story’s setting. I didn’t even have a problem with the instances where I had to listen to a few sections of the audiobook over again to ensure I understood the significance of certain details. Lord has actually created a very unique and robust world here, which I really enjoyed. No, my struggles with this book had less to do with the deluge of information at the beginning (though it did make for a rough start) and more to do with the bizarre switches in narrative voice and points-of-view, as well as jumps in the plot.
In some ways, listening to the audiobook alleviated this problem. Narrator Robin Miles’ voice work is really impressive here, especially when it comes to her talent with accents. The result is that it didn’t matter how many times we switched POVs, Miles’ use of different voices made it immediately clear to me which character we were supposed to be following, saving me the time to figure it out. The convoluted plot, however, was another matter. This isn’t a light tale to begin with, and the exposition further weighs things down. The story also takes its time to get going, so some soldiering on is required to get to get to the part where it begins to find its stride, which is quite a bit to ask of readers (or listeners, in this case).
One final thing: I wish there had been more wallrunning. What we get in here does not make the sport sound as exciting as it should, also perhaps because it is so difficult to visualize what the players are doing. Rather than getting me pumped up, the action scenes instead made me feel bewildered and out of my depth.
All told, The Galaxy Game was not what I expected. In spite of a fascinating world, I wish there had been more substance to the characters and plot. Narrator Robin Miles did an excellent job, but even her fabulous performance could not resolve the flaws I found that were inherent to the story. However, I think I would have struggled even more with this book if I had read it in its print form. If I had known ahead of time that this was a sequel, I probably would have started with The Best of All Possible Worlds as my first Karen Lord book, and not least because it is book number one – it also appears that the consensus from those who have read both books is that The Galaxy Game was not as strong as its predecessor. When I read that one I will most likely seek out the audio version as well, especially since Robin Miles is also the narrator, and I expect the experience will be more positive....more
If ever you hear someone say women can’t write military science fiction, please do me a favor and smack them over the head with this book. First Light is the excellent, smart, and action-packed introduction to The Red series, originally indie-published but re-released again recently by a major publisher along with an audiobook – because it is JUST. THAT. GOOD.
Seriously, it doesn’t get more edge-of-your-seat than this near-future thriller, which seamlessly blends advanced technology and military action with political drama. In First Light, readers get to meet protagonist Lieutenant James Shelley in an explosive introduction. Stationed in a remote military outpost deep in the Sahel, Shelley and his team work round-the-clock to enforce the peace and gather intelligence in the area, aided by a cyber-framework that keeps them all wirelessly linked. But that was all before the devastating airstrike.
Shelley barely makes it out alive, saved by the mysterious power of precognition that he possesses, a phenomenon not even the top military scientists can explain. The attack, however, had cost him both his legs, forcing Shelley to agree to an experimental cybernetics program involving synthetic legs and a permanent monitoring “skullcap” implanted in his head. Very Robocop-ish stuff. While recovering, Shelley is hit with another whammy: all throughout his assignment in Sub-Saharan Africa, he and his team had been recorded for a reality TV show. The lines begin to blur for Shelley as tough questions come to the surface. What is real and what is artificial? Who or what is this voice in his head, and is it as benign as it wants him to think? Hidden forces are steering humanity towards an unknown agenda, and for whatever reason, Shelley is at the center of this storm.
There’s so much happening in this first volume, sometimes it gets hard to tease apart the threads. The story’s first act transports readers to its not-too-distant future, describing the soldiers and their state-of-the-art military tech which includes everything from combat armor to surveillance drones. Shelley and his team are hooked into the central intelligence network at all times, physiologically and mentally monitored and even altered by their gear. A process even kicks in for soldiers on the same squad which makes them regard each other as close as siblings, encouraging familial bonds of loyalty while at the same time removing distractions which might be caused by any sexual desire.
But the technology is also far from perfect. It is not uncommon for soldiers like Shelley to become “emo-junkies”, becoming overly dependent on the processes of the skullcaps they wear. You can never be sure whether or not the emotions you feel are really yours, or if they are being controlled or altered by the skullnet. This question of “what’s real vs. what’s not” is a recurring theme that pops up throughout the novel, in many different contexts. War is also introduced as something prevalent and inevitable, a powerful driving force behind the economy. Soldiers are treated like property in this world where reality TV shows can be made of their lives without them even knowing about it, while rich CEOs of big defense contractors play games of political chance using the world as their game board.
This is actually a major premise in the second half of the novel, broadening the scope of the story to tackle conflicts with more significant and far-reaching consequences. The sequence of events that make up the climax and the ending of this book had to be one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had with an audiobook. My heart was pounding the whole time as I listened, and you probably couldn’t have convinced me to take off my headphones even if the house was on fire.
I only have a minor gripe specific to the audiobook, and it is related to the narrator. Kevin T. Collins’ performance was good, and I love his enthusiasm. But this also means he sometimes overacts, his voice bordering on frantic. Good for when we’re in those tense scenes, but very distracting when we’re not.
Nevertheless, this book has my full recommendation, especially for fans of military science fiction. It’s certainly the best of this genre that I’ve read in a good long while. First Light is engaging, intelligent, and full of thrills. It’s been getting all kinds of attention lately, and now I understand why....more
This was a great book. And the only reason I’m not rating it higher is because I’ve read better from Paolo Bacigalupi. If I had read this a few years ago, I think I would have enjoyed it unconditionally, but of course that’s not what happened. Instead, I read The Water Knife earlier this year and loved it, and as I usually do when I read an amazing new book by an author I’ve never read before, I went and picked up a bunch of Bacigalupi’s older titles. I decided to read The Windup Girl first, his multiple-award winning debut that shot him to stardom, and figured too that it was the perfect choice to review for Backlist Burndown.
The book takes place in 23rd century Thailand in a world ravaged by increasing temperatures and rising sea levels. Frequent disasters, both natural and manmade, cause widespread devastation to crops and human populations. Humanity is now dependent on biotechnology for food production, and megacorporations control the market using their own genetically modified seeds, which have all but replaced the natural order. The capital city of Bangkok only survives due to technology, and would be underwater if not for the levees that hold back the flood.
The story features multiple POVs. Major characters include Anderson Lake, a Calorie Man for the megacorp AgriGen, a sort of economic hitman sent to work undercover at a factory in Thailand. It is a front for his real mission, to search Bangkok’s street markets for produce thought to be extinct in order to discover the location of the Thai seedbank. Anderson leaves the running of the factory to his manager, Hock Seng, a Chinese refugee who was a businessman in his former life in Malaysia before being exiled from the country. Seng plots against Anderson, embezzling from the company while planning to steal secret designs and documents from his boss.
Then there’s Emiko, a “Windup Girl”. She is a genetically engineered being, and not human in the strictest sense, due to all the different modifications to her DNA. Windups are made to be docile slaves, programmed to obey. Abandoned by her Japanese master, Emiko lives a dangerous life in Thailand, because she would be destroyed if caught. She is forced to put up with sexual abuse and humiliation at the club where she works, in exchange for a measure of protection against the Thai government. She dreams of a day when she can finally buy her freedom and leave this place forever for a refuge in the north.
What I found interesting are the many similarities The Water Knife had to The Windup Girl. Bacigalupi seems to fancy writing dystopian science fiction about humans screwing up the future of the world. Both stories feature a shortage of vital resources, their supplies controlled by megacorporations or corrupt authorities. Both books even have a corporate hitman/mercenary-type character in a main role. So, perhaps comparisons between my experiences with his latest novel versus my experience with his first novel were going to be inevitable.
First, there’s the realistic premise, an important factor that makes all the difference. For me, dystopian novels tend to be more impactful when they take the form of cautionary tales or commentary on current issues, given how much easier it is to imagine them really happening. I also spent a part of my childhood in Bangkok, so reading this story also had a strong effect on me in more ways than one.
There are some unpleasant and difficult themes to deal with as well. Bacigalupi’s novels are certainly not happy stories. Characters in The Windup Girl live in a grim and very brutal world, and many are subject to discrimination, violence and other kinds of abuse. Emiko, the book’s titular character is especially subjected to the worst kind of treatment – rejected, beaten, raped, tortured, hated – all because of what she is and what she represents. Created to be nothing more than a toy for the wealthy, Emiko is helpless to control her situation or even her own actions because of her genetic modifications.
As well-written as this was, the author has certainly come a long way since his debut novel. The Windup Girl is a fascinating and engaging tale. Compared to The Water Knife though, it’s not nearly as well-plotted or polished. I sensed that Bacigalupi’s storytelling was still outpaced by his imagination at this point, in part due to the uneven pacing as well as the unexpected turn of events in the last quarter of the book. I can’t say I’m too fond of the last 100 or so pages; what should have been a ramp up to a killer conclusion instead had me fighting to keep my interest, but for all that, I still thought this was a great read....more
In this day and age where one can’t even walk into a bookstore’s sci-fi section without a few dozen dystopian titles getting thrown in your face, I have to say Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife really impacted me in a big way. It put me in mind of an eccentric high school teacher I once had, who was a little obsessed with doomsday scenarios. He used to be fond of saying that if the civilizations were to crumble or if the whole world were to go to war, it wouldn’t be over things like a pandemic or nuclear war. No, it would be for water – fresh, drinkable water without which none of us can survive.
Indeed, Bacigalupi paints a rather bleak, hellish picture of a place where water is scarce and more valuable than gold, a resource for which people are willing to kill and destroy. Drought has ravaged the American Southwest, changing the physical and political landscape. States like Nevada and Arizona clash viciously over shares of the Colorado River while bigwig California looks on, and states like Texas and New Mexico have long since given up the ghost. Las Vegas employs mercenaries like Angel Velasquez as “Water Knives”, hired to “cut” water for the Southern Nevada Water Authority and its boss, Catherine Case. This ensures continued survival for her lush arcology developments in the hot desert, where the rich luxuriate in cushy comfort while elsewhere cities like Phoenix dry up and stagnate for lack of water.
This book follows Angel as he travels to Phoenix to investigate rumors of a new water source for his boss. The story is told through two other perspectives, including a journalist named Lucy Monroe, as well as a young Texan refugee named Maria Villarosa. Desperate and destitute folk like Maria are struggling to make a living in the city while dreaming of one day having enough money to escape north. Lucy, on the other hand, could have left any time she pleased, but years of living in Phoenix has led her to adopt it as her home, and you get a sense that she’d do what she can to try to help the city. When it appears that California is finally making its move to monopolize the river, Angel, Lucy and Maria end up coming together in a precarious alliance to stop a conspiracy and secure a future for the people of Phoenix.
There are many unsettling themes in this book, and not least of all because the scarcity of potable water is a reality for many people in the world. Talk of droughts in California and in the American Southwest in the news today makes The Water Knife seem less like science fiction and more like a commentary on current issues. If seeing pictures of the immaculate green lawns and freshly filled-pools of the rich and famous during a drought make your blood boil, then this book will take that fury to a whole new level. It’s really hard to read about this divided America where characters like Maria were driven out of Texas after their water got shut off, only to be treated like interlopers when they have no choice but to migrate to Arizona. Girls like Maria’s friend Sarah turn to prostitution as a last resort, servicing those wealthy corporate types for whom a single shower may use up more water than a poor person in Phoenix might see in an entire week. Then to rub salt in the wound, the girls’ money gets taken away by the local gangsters, never allowing anyone a fair shot to work themselves out of this nightmarish situation. There’s a lot in this book that’s hard to take.
It’s also heavy on graphic violence, descriptions of torture both during and after the act, and generally features many scenes of groups of people doing terrible, unspeakable things to other groups of people. If you are squeamish about such things, you should probably go in prepared to read some pretty sick stuff. To the book’s credit, while there’s certainly no shortage of examples in here when it comes humanity’s lowest moments, there are nonetheless many instances of characters stepping up to show an extraordinary amount of bravery and compassion. Despite being categorized as a sci-fi thriller, The Water Knife is also a very human story, where characters are intimately touched by plot events as well as the lives of other people.
The book isn’t exactly a light read, even in the audiobook format I listened to, with its heavy themes and also some parts which are quite drawn out with descriptions. But for all their lengthiness, I think I have these sections to thank for making the world of The Water Knife one of the most detailed and fleshed out dystopians I’ve read. Southwestern America has reverted back to a kind of wildness, a melting pot of disparate rhythms and cultures where Red Cross aid workers, rich Chinese businessmen, underworld crooks, poverty-stricken refugees, sensationalist media journalists, religious evangelists, and dangerous mercenaries all commingled together in a dying city. This also makes the audiobook of The Water Knife worth experiencing, as narrator Almarie Guerra delivers a performance filled with a great variety of accents and voices, and it’s one of the best I’ve ever heard.
This is the first book by Paolo Bacigalupi I’ve ever read, but if this is the kind of originality and well-rounded quality I can expect from his writing, it certainly won’t be the last. I really enjoyed The Water Knife, and I look forward to checking out the author’s previous work as well as his future books.
I was actually first introduced to Departure as an audio title (given how often I browse for interesting new titles to listen to, it was pretty hard to miss how often it popped up on the popular science fiction and fantasy audiobook lists). What I didn’t know, was that the book itself was originally self-published. The news of its success must have caught on though, because I just learned recently too that HarperCollins has bought it and will be re-releasing it later this year. Runaway hits like that often have a way of catching my attention, so my curiosity probably got the better of me when I decided to check this one out.
The story begins with the crash of a passenger plane on route to London from New York. Flight 305 ends up somewhere in the English countryside, its fuselage split in two. In spite of this, there are actually quite a few survivors, most of them from first class because their half of the plane went into the trees while the tail section went into a nearby lake. As the survivors treat the wounded and fight to save as many lives as they can, they soon realize that they have crashed into a very different world. Rescue might be a long time coming. If ever.
There’s not much more I say about the story without spoiling it, but suffice to say, the Lost vibes are strong with this one. If you enjoy mind-bending sci-fi thrillers with a slight touch of creepy mystery, you should give this one a look. On the other hand, if you were looking forward to more of a survival adventure, you’ll probably want to alter your expectations like I did. As someone with a fear of flying, I was really nervous and bracing myself for a heart-pounding intro, but what I ended up getting was barely a notch above suspenseful. After the first quarter of this book, the emphasis also rapidly shifts to the bigger conspiracy.
The focus mainly falls on five passengers: Harper Lane writes biographies for a living, but her real dream is to writer her own series of adventure novels one day; Nick Stone is an American businessman, on his way to a meeting with The Gibraltar Project to discuss the building of a dam in the Mediterranean; Sabrina Schröder is a German medical scientist, making her the best choice to care for the wounded crash victims even though most of her experience was in a lab; Yul Tan, a Chinese-American computer scientist, has just developed a quantum internet capable of transmitting more data farther and faster than anything seen before; Grayson Shaw, son of a billionaire philanthropist, is struggling with alcohol problems after finding out some news about his father.
Unbeknownst to any of them, these five characters are all connected in some way and may hold the clues to the reason why their plane crashed, not to mention an answer to where they’ve ended up. The details are gradually revealed as the events unravel, and it was a captivating journey to discover the truth – even in spite of the many confusing moments along the way. To be honest, this book ventured a little too far into hard sci-fi territory for me to feel truly comfortable, and even though I was able to follow the plot just fine, a lot of the themes that came up later in the book are just not topics I find interesting. Be that as it may, I didn’t actually dislike this book; I found most of the story very enjoyable in fact, and even liked how it ended (as opposed to how I felt about Lost!) but it’s difficult to ignore the technology aspects that I personally couldn’t get into.
As for my thoughts that are specific to the audio version, I’m always happy listening to multi-narrator books and I thought both Nicola Barber and Scott Aiello delivered excellent performances. They portrayed Harper and Nick respectively, and voiced their own characters’ dialogue even when they were in the other character’s perspectives, giving this audiobook a quasi full-cast feel without it actually being a full-cast production. With their natural performances, the two narrators also made a lot of the dialogue sound a lot less awkward than the way it probably looked on paper.
In truth, I don’t think I would have fared as well reading the print version of this, given the propensity for my eyes to glaze over when they come upon pages of technobabble, especially when they have to do with subjects like the quantum theories of time travel. My brain has a better time when this stuff is read to me, so I was quite happy with my decision to listen to Departure in audio format. This is a book I might have enjoyed more if it had been the survival adventure I expected, but all told it’s a pretty solid book with a story that will no doubt appeal more to sci-fi thriller fans who also enjoy some conspiracy with their mystery....more
Imagine living in an ultra-high-tech society, so deeply ingrained in virtual reality and cyberspace that all the actions you make are logged and billed for. Every time you blink, breathe a sigh, shout a swear word, grit your teeth, kiss a loved one, or even just relax in a resting position of your choice – all that information is being recorded into the BodyBank, a computer system implanted in each of our bodies. All your movements are monitored in real time, so that the corporations who own the rights to those actions – whether it be as simple as scratching your head or as intimate as sexual intercourse – can be paid their licensing fees.
Oh, and it’s a perfect process, completely automated and indefatigable, and it doesn’t make mistakes. So don’t even think about cheating the system. You can’t.
Just as you’d expect, living in a world like this ain’t cheap. People go bankrupt or “cash crash” every day, caught unawares by their expensive habits or finding themselves overwhelmed by the incurring charges on everyday actions, i.e. by simply just living. Before that can even happen though, Liquidators like our protagonist Amon Kenzaki are already waiting in the wings, ready to swoop down and capture these “discreditable” citizens, take out their BodyBank, and banish them to BankDeath Camps where they are forever removed from the economy and disconnected from the ImmaNet, a three-dimensional audio-visual overlay that would normally replace our perceptions of the mundane world.
Your life is virtually over if you cash crash, basically.
As someone who knows better than most exactly how this system works, Amon himself lives an extraordinarily frugal life. He scrimps and saves in whatever ways he can, typing messages in nigh indecipherable script so that he doesn’t get charged for using licensed words, even going as far as taking instructional courses on how to blink less or breathe less. His attention to details does not go unnoticed by his superiors, who inform Amon that he is being considered for a promotion. Everything is going well, until one day, Amon notices an incredibly expensive charge called “jubilee” on his BodyBank account, an action he is completely unfamiliar with and is sure he did not perform. But how could this be? After all, the system doesn’t make mistakes.
The whole story behind Cash Crash Jubilee could almost be humorous if it weren’t also so damn scary. Eli K. P. William does a fantastic job here creating his vision of a futuristic Tokyo, a cyber-dystopian society at its most extreme. Apparently it’s not enough just to watch our every move, but they’ve found a way to make it profitable too. Everyone is so obsessed with technology and corporate branding that almost every shred of humanity and emotion has gone out the window. The concept of Free Will has been distorted, for it is not free will at all if you have to think and calculate the cost of every action before deciding to perform it.
On the other hand, might it be possible to find a sliver of a positive side to this gloomy situation? Citizens are probably less likely to do and say things they would regret, if they have to stop to think twice before actually doing it, versus simply acting on impulse. How many wayward spouses might we see, for example, if a pre-nup in your BodyBank authorizes an automatic and immediate transfer of half or all of your funds to your other half the moment you commit infidelity?
Yeah, probably not a lot, is my guess.
Cash Crash Jubilee is utterly fascinating, from cover to cover. The premise is disconcerting, with details that sometimes bordered on the absurd, but it did make me think. Nothing delights me more than a book that gets my brain juices flowing, and I could even overlook the slow introduction to this story, simply because I found myself so completely absorbed in the sights and sounds of William’s dystopic Tokyo. It’s a trove of insanity and wonder, all in one place.
You might also recall a while ago in another review, I wrote about my feelings on cyberpunk. As a subgenre of sci-fi, I’ve definitely experienced more misses than hits when it comes to recent offerings. When I looked at Cash Crash Jubilee though, I saw a very different kind of cyberpunk. The author uses a lot of familiar elements in this story, but the way he rendered the ideas made them unique and stand out. And rather than going through my usual mental gymnastics trying to piece together all the abstract concepts commonly found in this genre, I found William’s descriptions of the ImmaNet overlays extremely intricate and detailed, but at the same time also very easy to visualize. The mystery plot was genuinely interesting, with the suspense and action in all the right places.
In short? This one scored a major hit in my books. It deserves a lot more attention, let’s hope it gets it.
All told, Cash Crash Jubilee is eye-opening, eyebrow-raising, grip-the-edge-of-your-seat read. Good thing I don’t live in Amon Kenzaki’s world, because if I had been charged for all the times I made those actions, I’m pretty sure I’d be bankrupt many times over by now....more
Mother of Eden certainly wasn’t a bad book, not bad at all. Still, I have to say it’s a far cry from the first book, which I absolutely adored.
First, it’s important to know that Mother of Eden isn’t exactly a direct follow-up to Dark Eden, taking place roughly five or six generations in the future. Be aware that if you are thinking of reading it as a stand-alone though, you’ll miss out on a lot of the background information in the first book. Remember how I’d ended my review of Dark Eden with the theory that characters like John Redlantern, Tina, Gerry and Jeff would eventually become the stuff of legends to their descendants, much like how “First Couple” Angela and Tommy became revered by Family? Turns out that is exactly the case, so it wouldn’t hurt to be familiar with the events of book one.
Still, the world of Eden has changed a lot since John Redlantern first destroyed Circle of Stones and took his supporters away from Circle Valley and over Snowy Dark. There are now thousands of humans living across the planet, divided into two main groups: Johnfolk, those who were descended from John and his followers; and Davidfolk, descendants of those who remained with the original Family led by David, John’s greatest rival. There are quite a few offshoot populations as well, and our protagonist Starlight Brooking is a young woman from one such tribe, a member of the Kneetree Folk who live on a tiny island far away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Eden.
But Starlight has always wanted something more out of her life than just catching fish and making boats. She convinces her uncle, brother and a couple friends one day to travel with her to Veeklehouse, a kind of trading port where many of Eden’s tribes converge to buy and sell their goods. There she meets handsome Greenstone Johnson, a Johnsfolk man from across Greatpool who came in his colorful wraps and mighty sail boats to trade his shiny metal. Greenstone is drawn to Starlight right away and asks her to return with him to his home of Edenheart, and sensing her chance for a great adventure, she agrees. After all, Greenstone isn’t just a descendent of John, he’s the great-great-grandson of John himself, and is a prince of sorts among his people. Starlight is even more excited when she discovers that as Greenstone’s “Housewoman”, she’ll get to wear the legendary Gela’s Ring and take on the mantle of Mother of Eden.
As she soon discovers though, living in Greenstone’s home of New Earth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, life is downright unpleasant if you’re not one of the “Big People”, and even “Small People” make themselves feel bigger by pressing semi-intelligent creatures into slave labor. If you’re a Batface or have any other type of physical or mental deformity, you’re immediately relegated to the lowest rungs of society and it’s the metal digs for you! Greenstone himself isn’t a bad guy, but his father the Headman as well as Edenheart’s Chiefs and Teachers will throw you to the Fire if your beliefs deviate from the “correct” version of history, and if you’re a woman you’ll have no say in how Edenheart is run because your opinion means nothing.
This is how Starlight quickly realizes that even though she is the Ringwearer and the beloved Mother of Eden, she actually holds little to no power at all. And that is NOT all right with her, and neither are all of New Earth’s injustices. Starlight’s character is probably my favorite part of this book; she plays a similar role to John Redlantern’s from the first book, but for one key difference to me: while both John and Starlight are initiative-taking people who are constantly seeking something more, John sought glory only for himself, versus Starlight whose ultimate goal was to better the lives of others. Huge respect. I found myself rooting for her every step of the way.
Now for the book’s not-so-great parts. Like Dark Eden, it carries on its commentary on the evolution of civilization and culture, language, religion, etc. But whereas the social-fiction elements in the first book were more understated and nuanced, Mother of Eden has a clear message and it is delivered with the subtlety and grace of a wrecking ball. Never mind that I agreed with and admired Starlight for everything she tries to do for New Earth, like fighting to give better quality-of-life for Small People and a voice to women, or the fact that I loved this book for its heartfelt attempt to honor the role of motherhood and the power of a mother’s love. All that’s fine and good but only when it doesn’t affect the quality of writing or give rise to frequent character actions and dialogue choices that feel incredibly awkward or out-of-place. Too bad that in this case, I felt it did.
My biggest problem with Mother of Eden though was the ending. Even if I hadn’t found it unsatisfying – and it really was off-putting – I still probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it. The thing is, “unsatisfying” endings I can live with, but “incomplete” is a whole other matter. Unfortunately, everything after the climax felt rushed and not entirely all there, with multiple skips of varying degrees in time and a lot of important events happening off the page. Up until that point, the author had more or less kept us in the loop with what’s happening across multiple locations by giving us a wide range of character perspectives. But when it came to the ending where it really mattered, the scope narrowed so much that I was left wondering what happened to a major character, whose fate was only then mentioned in passing in one of the final chapters in Afterwords section (and I felt that character totally deserved to be handled better than that).
Maybe a sequel to Dark Eden really wasn’t needed, but nevertheless I’m not sorry I read the book. It was fascinating to see what Eden has become. If Chris Beckett were to write a third Eden book I would likely still read it. Hopefully it would redeem that disheartening ending....more
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
How do I know when a book has got its hooks in me? I read the digital ARC of Zero World from NetGalley which actually ends at 78% with the rest of it being bonus material. Of course, I had no idea of this going in and didn’t find out until I hit the Acknowledgements page. Having expected this unbelievably gripping story to go on for about a hundred more pages – then having that expectation cruelly ripped away from me – my resounding wail of “NOOOOOOOOOOO!” probably could have been heard from all the way down the street. As you can imagine.
Seriously, what can I say about this book that would do the sheer ingenuity of its premise justice? It’s like James Bond meets Memento meets an episode of Star Trek. Let’s just say the tagline of Zero World – “This will be the most interesting mission you’ll ever forget” – serves its story well, a promise of adventure and thrilling action packed into those ten simple words.
The story follows biologically enhanced secret agent Peter Caswell, who undertakes every single operation he gets with a clean conscience – literally. With the help of an implant surgically melded into his brain, he never remembers his missions; everything from dossier details to the number of people killed while he is in the field always gets thoroughly wiped from his mind upon completion. In many ways, he is the perfect superspy. And now he’s embarking on his most dangerous and secretive assignment yet, one that will take him beyond reality into another world entirely.
After passing through what appears to be a tear in the fabric of space, Caswell finds himself on an Earth eerily like his own. A lot of is the same but so much more is different, and in this alien yet familiar world, our protagonist must track and kill his quarry before irreparable damage can be done. To his surprise, Caswell receives help from an unexpected source in the form of Melni, an undercover agent on this mirror world who is also seeking the same target, but for very different reasons than his own.
If you enjoyed Jason M. Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle, picking up this book is a no-brainer. This is without a doubt his most exciting and ambitious work yet. The author’s penchant for rich world building and writing about incredibly innovative tech has always impressed me, but what I love about his science fiction is the fact that it’s also so accessible. Zero World blends futuristic elements with the best parts of the spy thriller genre to great success; the story captured my attention from the get go and it never relented with its nail-biting suspense. There were some pretty huge twists around the midway point too, leading to staggering implications for the plot and the characters. Add the seemingly insurmountable obstacles for our protagonists into the equation, and you can see why this novel kept me reading well into the wee hours of the night.
The team of Caswell and Melni is also a very unique and enjoyable partnership, one in which each of their participation is refreshingly equal. It’s always interesting to read about characters from different worlds meeting for the first time and their eventual teaming up, and I had a very good time following their exploits and watching the interplay between their personalities. Melni fascinated me with her loyalty to her organization and their cause, despite being looking down upon and treated like a foreigner by her own people. Caswell is an even bigger enigma, given how integrated he is with his implants. I have to wonder, can his attitude towards the morality of his actions be simply chalked up to denial, or might it be tied up in something much bigger? Hough’s subtle probing into the complexities of the human psyche surprised me a bit here, but I liked the depth it gave to his characters.
There’s actually some irony in the fact that Peter Caswell can’t remember his missions, because I think his adventures in Zero World are sure to stick with me for a long time. Needless to say, I really enjoyed this book and didn’t want it to end, and I believe I’ve already made those feelings glaringly clear in my opening paragraph. I despaired when I turned the page and realized the book was over. Can you tell I’m desperate for the sequel? Be sure to check out this novel if you enjoy your sci-fi thrillers filled with adrenaline rushes and high-energy action sequences; I promise you won’t be disappointed....more
I’ve been dreading the thought of writing this review for a while, because I know it’s going to be a doozy. For one thing, I just know I’m going to come off sounding way more negative about this book than I mean to – which just kills me because there’s actually a lot to like here. Sadly, I just can’t talk about any of it. None at all. Yes, you heard that right; most of the good stuff is spoiler territory, so you’re all just going to have to bear with me.
You know how everyone has been saying that the less you know about Alive before going in, the better? Listen to them; they’re absolutely right. The best part about reading this book was being wrapped up in the mystery, slowly gaining more answers the farther into the story you get. However, this does make for a pretty rough beginning, and a fair bit of patience and investment is required to get to the payoff.
First of all, the book starts off sounding like it was written by a twelve-year-old. However, I’m not sure if this even counts as a criticism. Yes, it was maddening, but at the same time also very appropriate. Alive is told through the eyes of a girl who wakes up on her twelfth birthday, but she has no recollection of who she is or what her life was like before she went to sleep. She finds herself in darkness, trapped in an enclosed space that feels disturbingly like a coffin. After breaking out, she realizes something feels seriously wrong. She is supposed to be twelve, but her body looks like it should belong to someone older, like a woman in her late teens or early twenties. She then finds a plaque engraved with her name at the foot of her coffin – M. Savage.
Dubbing herself “Em”, the girl looks around the room and sees it lined with dozens more coffins like hers, but only a handful of them contain other survivors. All of them look physically like young adults, but they also say the same thing as Em – today is their twelfth birthday, and none of them can remember how they ended up in their coffins. In the end, only six of them emerged; everyone else is dead and shriveled in their receptacles or lying on the ground in piles of bone and ash. Because she was the first to break out and wake the others, Em assumes the role of leader of their little group. Now she bears the responsibility of their survival, but they’ll first have to learn to trust each other and work together if they’re all going to make it out alive.
So, probably the most trying part of the book was the first hundred pages or so. It was a little like reading Lord of the Flies except we’re in a labyrinth-like setting and the characters are all pre-teens trapped in the bodies of Abercrombie & Fitch models. Em cannot seem to go five pages without remarking on how strikingly beautiful every one of her companions are, and as a leader she keeps making one terrible decision after another. Like I said, mentally Em is only twelve years old. I’m still not sure how to judge her language, thoughts and actions when they are probably consistent with what the author thinks a tween girl should sound like. Still, I think the writing style will be the biggest hurdle for some readers, since Em also strikes me as an especially petulant and somewhat naïve child with her constant obsession to be in charge.
In spite of it all, the book grew on me. After the midway point, the story gets substantially better as we find out more about the survivors’ situation. I can’t say more without giving too much away though, which is always every book reviewer’s quandary (I’m ever striving to keep my reviews spoiler-free anyway, but in this case Scott Sigler even has a whole afterword imploring readers not to spoil anything via the internet, so I’ll take extra precautions and simply avoid talking anymore about the plot). Suffice to say, in time we do get enough information to piece together some answers. And it ends up being pretty cool.
I discovered afterward that Alive is apparently part of a series called the Generations trilogy. Even so, it could work as a self-contained novel. In light of everything that happened in this book though, I don’t think I can bring myself to stop with just one. I’m very curious to find out what will happen next, so I will most definitely pick up the sequel....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
Readers are taken on a wild ride through the dark side of the internet in what might be Chuck Wendig’s most ambitious novel to date. Exploring the world of hackers, cybercrime and artificial intelligence, Zer0es is a sci-fi thriller featuring the largest cast he’s ever written, as well as a scope that spans the entire nation. As a fan of the author, I knew I had to check this one out as soon as I learned about it, and by the by, I also found reading it to be an enlightening experience given how different it is from his past work I’ve enjoyed. It was easy to spot areas where Wendig played to his strengths and conversely those areas where he may have been out of his comfort zone. Any way you look at it though, this was an interesting one.
Zer0es basically makes for fabulous popcorn entertainment, like a summer Hollywood blockbuster in book form. In fact, as strange as it sounds, all I could think about was the movie Now You See Me as I was making my way through the first handful of chapters – not that the film bears any similarity to the book’s story at all, other than the fact both feature a group of extremely talented individuals (in NYSM, street magicians; in Zer0es, hackers…though to a computer programming and coding noob like me, hacking might as well be magic) who are brought together by a mysterious benefactor. No, what struck me was the similar tone of both movie and novel, exuding a vibe meant to provide both fun and entertainment to the consumer experience. You know those kind of stories.
Still, what I really want to talk about in this review are the characters. This group of five hackers calling themselves “the Zeroes” – Chance, Reagan, Aleena, DeAndre and Wade – held the key to my experience of this book, and were often at the center of what I loved and what I didn’t love about it. In a general sense, the type of Hollywood blockbuster energy that came off the story wasn’t so very different from what I got off of the characters either – to a one, they were intelligent, charismatic and witty, delivering line after line of cleverly constructed dialogue like they were all reading off a written script. Wendig is a master of dialogue writing after all, and he has a very distinct and droll sense of humor that’s unmistakable when you see it; it is this talent of his that made me fall in love with his protagonists Miriam Black or Mookie Pearl in their respective urban fantasy series.
In a book like Zer0es though, I think the biggest challenge was to make each of the five hacker main characters stand out, and the results came out mixed. Wendig crafts very compelling characters, and I can’t deny that all of them are memorable and unique in their own way. At the same time though, Zer0es is probably also the most “mainstream” book I feel the author has ever written, complete with an improbable yet wildly enjoyable premise that’s heavy on the edge-of-your-seat action and suspense. In keeping with this, the characters also have a very “Hollywood-movie-like” feel to them, despite efforts to give them convincing backgrounds and personalities. In many ways, they remain as archetypal as the hacker roles they are pigeonholed into – the bombastic no-filter-between-her-brain-and-her mouth Reagan is of course the professional online troll, for example, and the libertarian hippie gun-loving conspiracy theorist Wade is naturally the aging cipherpunk who still prefers to do things the “old-school way”.
Still, while the characters may be thinly-written, they were still a lot of fun to read about. The five of them have mass audience appeal, perhaps precisely because they play to reader expectations. Of course, the downside of clichés is that it also makes it harder to care about the characters. I readily admit to having trouble engaging with any of them at the start, which was absolutely not helped by the fact all of them came off as arrogant, snarky snobs who were too smart for their own good (but like I was saying, when you’re playing to the hacker stereotype, all that is most likely by design). Of all of them, Reagan was especially off-putting (again, by design) and I never grew to like her, though by the end of the book I did develop a soft spot for Wade, partly because he showed the most leadership but also mainly because he’s someone very different from a lot of Chuck Wendig’s other characters. This is the first time I’ve seen him juggle this many characters in a novel, and even though the balance wasn’t perfect, there was an undeniable thrill to reading all the different POVs.
Then there was the story. For a novel of this length, I blew through it relatively quickly. Like Wendig’s other books, the prose was smooth, easy to read, and the narrative was extremely addictive. As someone who knows completely zip about hackers and hacking, I was thoroughly captivated by the premise, though someone with greater knowledge in networks and cyber-security might find it overly simplistic. Regardless of who you are though, some suspension of disbelief is most definitely required especially once we move into the second half of the novel and the plot starts getting involved in some really insane and out-there theories. But hey, isn’t that what I signed up for? Hollywood blockbuster, remember.
All in all, while Zer0es probably isn’t my favorite book by Chuck Wendig (that distinction still belongs to The Cormorant, third book of his Miriam Black series) I still feel that it’s a bold move in the right direction. It’s always exciting to see one of my favorite authors do something different, and this was an unexpected delight indeed. Well played, Mr. Wendig. I hope to see more of the Zeroes in the future....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
This series definitely deserves to be getting more attention. Karina Sumner-Smith’s debut novel Radiant was one of the most unique speculative fiction titles I read in 2014, and it’s so good to see that its follow-up Defiant is still pushing genre boundaries and keeping things exciting.
Two months have passed since the events at the end of the last book, and we catch up with Xhea as she attempts to heal from the chaotic aftermath, though nothing seems to be helping her badly injured leg. She and the ghost Shai, her ever faithful friend, are holed up within one of the towers called Edren. Shai’s radiant powers essentially makes her an enormous battery, so her very presence is making Edren magic rich and that is definitely not sitting right with the rest of the towers who are stirring up political trouble in order to balance the scales again.
As things heat up, Xhea and Shai find themselves embroiled in a brutal power struggle. Everyone is looking to get their hands on Shai, but in a shocking turn of events, it is revealed that Xhea may be just as important to the survival of the towers. For someone who has always been dismissed, disdained or pitied for her lack of magic, this is a great change for Xhea. At last, she learns the dark nature of her own power, and it’s something that both thrills and frightens her. Then tower Farrow proposes a deal, offering her something she’s ever only dared dream of, but is it going to be worth what they are asking her to do?
Defiant expands greatly upon the world that we were first introduced to in Radiant, now that Xhea’s no longer on the streets scrounging work from people with ghost problems. Her life may have been hard, but at least it was remarkably simple: find food and a place to sleep every night. Ever since she met Shai though, things have become infinitely more complicated – and dangerous. Now we’ve shifted from the hardships of the Lower City to the cutthroat political arena of the towers. It’s a whole different ballgame, and yet this sequel retains so much of what I enjoyed most about the first installment.
As ever, the dynamics between Xhea and Shai make me cheer in support for meaningful friendships between strong female characters. Their loyalty to each other warms my heart, it really does. In fact, one plot development that got me down early on in the novel is the fact that Xhea and Shai become separated after a disastrous incident, and neither has any idea about the fate of the other. It’s only been one book, but already in my mind it feels wrong to see Xhea without Shai, Shai without Xhea. This could probably account for the part right after in which I felt the plot faltered, when Shai’s chapters felt weaker and lacked a bit of direction compared to Xhea’s after her tether to her friend is severed. Thankfully, the story picked up again very quickly, and even when the two of them were apart, their concern and thoughts for each other served to deepen their friendship in my eyes, adding another layer of complexity to it. Without each other, they were still able to accomplish some great feats on their own, proving just how powerful each young woman is in her own right.
There’s also a greater focus on the magical systems and concepts. In this world of radiants and floating towers, everything runs on magic. It can be found within its denizens and in its very infrastructure. Magic is treated on such a vast scale here that it boggles the mind; it’s infused everywhere to such a degree that an entire city literally comes to life. I’ve only read a handful of books where a physical location or the actual setting itself is rendered akin to a living breathing entity, and it’s always an amazing thing to experience.
As far as I can tell, there’s no sophomore slump here; this sequel is as rich and engaging as the first book and gives us even more in terms of surprising twists and revelations. Like its predecessor, Defiant is a brilliant cross-genre piece that blends elements from many sources so that the result is something new and never-before-seen. Looks like Karina Sumner-Smith has scored another hit with her second novel, offering a spellbinding story and characters who are sure to captivate a wide audience....more
I won’t lie, Old Man’s War is probably one of my favorite books of all time. I’ve always been more of a Fantasy reader, and around the time that book came out, my Science Fiction reading was pretty much limited to Star Wars novels and the occasional Star Trek title thrown in. However, Scalzi’s sense of humor along with the rollicking space action and adventure in these books really helped me along, showing me that there’s a lot more to the genre than just hard science and media tie-ins. I’ve followed the Old Man’s War series ever since, and all the books have brought me no small amount of entertainment.
So it was with great excitement when I heard that a sixth novel will be coming out in 2015, a direct sequel to The Human Division. And like The Human Division, the plan was for The End of All Things to again be serialized, except the proportions will be changed. Instead of getting sixteen episodes, this time we’ll only get four, but each part will also be longer, so they’ll be more like novelettes.
If The Human Division taught me anything, is that I don’t mind the serialized format. There’s a certain kind of pleasure to be had, watching a bunch of self-contained little parts come together to form one complete, coherent whole. And if anything, the smaller number of episodes as well as their greater length improved the overall flow of the story in The End of All Things. It was a good book, and a worthy addition to the series. The only real downside is that this would make a poor jumping-on point for new readers. So if you’re fresh to the Old Man’s War universe, you probably wouldn’t want to start here; there’s a lot of history you’ll be missing, and not least because this book deals with a lot of the consequences of events from the last few installments. I recommend starting from the beginning, because you’ll definitely want to know all the details – and because it’s amazing.
Below you’ll get my thoughts on each episode as well as a more detailed analysis.
THE LIFE OF THE MIND
This is the story of how our main protagonist and narrator Rafe Daquin became a brain in a box.
Yep. The Life of the Mind embodies everything I love about the Old Man’s War series. Missing ships. Kidnapped pilots. A mysterious organization conspiring and gathering strength in the shadows. Daquin finds himself entangled in this mess, but even when he is captured by aliens and forced to do their bidding, his first instinct is to fight back and find a way out of his predicament. The fact that he doesn’t have a body anymore and is just a mass of brain tissue hooked up to a ship computer is just a setback. Just another problem to be solved.
The protagonist’s personality and attitude made this one a winner. In the face of overwhelming odds, his optimism was infectious, even if it was sometimes driven by the desire to stick it to the alien Rraey. You know within the first few pages that he makes it out okay, but the conclusion to this section was still oh so satisfying. A really great intro episode to this novel that sets the tone and starts thing off with a bang.
THIS HOLLOW UNION
We switch focus in this one, following Hafte Sorvalh, the Chief Advisor to the head of the Conclave, General Tarsem Gau. She’s probably the second most powerful being in the universe, but as she reminds us, being second isn’t always all that it’s cracked up to be.
I admit to feeling slightly disappointed when I realized this would be a more political story. But after some major twists, I changed my mind. This might not be my favorite episode, but it’s undoubtedly the most important; something huge happens that will throw the entire Conclave into disarray and the ripples will be felt across the galaxy.
CAN LONG ENDURE
Can Long Endure was probably my least favorite episode, but it also showed a very different point of view. In this story, the focus shifts yet again, this time on a group of Colonial Defense Force soldiers who are now busy scrambling from planet to planet, stomping out the sparks of rebellion before they can catch fire and spread. But the will of a huge administrative entity like the Colonial Union is one thing. What about the lives of its soldiers with their boots on the ground, carrying out orders from on high?
This episode lacked the scope of the previous two, perhaps, but it was also the most “human”. It’s a very intimate look into the mind of a CDF officer Heather Lee, just another grunt doing her duty for the good of the CU. But she’s her own person too, and the costs of her government’s decisions are beginning to open her eyes to some ugly truths. And it’s time for Heather to make her own choices.
TO STAND OR FALL
This final episode brings the story to a conclusion. There’s a marked difference in tone from the beginning of the novel, in stark contrast to Rafe Daquin’s snarky attitude and spirited narration. Instead, a certain gravitas surrounds the story, which is fitting I suppose.
In this story, we see the return of several familiar faces here, including a couple beloved personalities. We are also presented the resolution to the problem posed by the shadowy organization calling itself Equilibrium. Given all the build-up, this finale should have been epic and glorious. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite get that. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good ending, because it was. I just couldn’t help feeling it should have been more.
This final episode was not what I expected, but it did its job nonetheless. To Stand or Fall was a punchy and cleverly executed conclusion to The End of All Things, as well as a pretty solid offering as the latest piece of the story to the Old Man’s War saga thus far....more
Dark Orbit is a fascinating novel and I enjoyed it a lot, but the book description is misleading, making it sound like it is a murder mystery (it’s really not), as well as a first contact with an alien species is involved (well, only sort of). However, I was hooked by the idea of an interdisciplinary team of scientists going on a research expedition to study a strange new planet, and as an Anthropology nerd, I was especially intrigued that an “exoethnologist” would be one of the main protagonists.
Said exoethnologist is Saraswati Callicot, who is also known as a Waster – someone who spends her life traveling to study worlds that can be light-years away, using wayport technology. Even though leaping across those great distances feel almost instantaneous to her, decades could have passed by in the normal flow of time. Sara is no stranger to leaving family, friends, and homes behind, not knowing if they will still be there when she emerges on the other side.
Her latest mission takes her farther than she has ever been, 58 light-years away to a newly discovered planet surrounded by dark matter, believed to be uninhabited. Sara’s official role on the ship is to study the interactions of the science team, even though that is only a cover for her real assignment to keep an eye on a fellow crewmate, a mystic named Thora Lassiter. Once a member of the elite, Thora has since fallen from grace due to her involvement in an uprising on the planet Orem, and the experience has left her somewhat unstable. This has also made Thora a political target, which makes Sara’s protection all the more important. However, not long after their arrival at the new planet dubbed Iris, a dead body of a crew member is found brutally decapitated, and on the landing crew’s first venture onto the planet surface, Thora disappears. The scientists also discover that Iris is in fact home to a civilization of people who are unable to see but have instead developed extrasensory perceptions to help them adapt perfectly to their lightless environment.
Nothing is as it seems in this story about facing an uncanny new world and being presented with the bizarre and unexplained. Dark Orbit explores important questions about human reactions to never-before-seen experiences, like encountering unknown alien societies and cultures. Unlike a lot of other narratives in this vein, the scientists in this book actually take a benevolent and holistic approach to the task, combining knowledge from their respective areas of expertise to solve the mystery of Iris while trying (as best they can) to follow all the interplanetary rules of establishing first contact. I found all this rather unique. I also think Anthropology enthusiasts will get a kick out of ideas presented in this novel which combines a variety of concepts from the study of humankind, and at the center of everything are the issues of cultural relativism and cultural preservation.
Newly discovered cultures are treated as a valuable resource, a font of information to learn from. Even an experienced and well-traveled exoethnologist like Sara starts to see things differently when she comes in contact with the blind society of Iris. Of all our senses, sight is perhaps the one we most take for granted, and this book definitely puts it in a whole new light. Carolyn Ives Gilman shows how important context is when looking at the way traditions develop, presenting it as a process that involves biological and environmental factors. In a less direct manner, the story also provides fascinating commentary into the nature of disability and the idea that it is relative, both physically and culturally. For instance, Thora is as helpless as a baby in the caverns of Torobe where the darkness is absolute, and multiple attempts to “teach” a local girl Moth how to see are met with failure because it was never an adaptation she needed in the first place.
Though I found Dark Orbit utterly engrossing, it’s also probably safe to say I enjoyed the book’s ideas more than the actual story. The plot itself is somewhat disjointed and hard to make sense of, and I did not much care for Thora’s point-of-view being told through the format of a transcribed audio diary, or her character herself that matter. In sum, this reads more like a philosophical piece than a mystery or a traditional tale of first contact, very different from the kind of story indicated by the novel’s blurb.
However, I was won over by Gilman’s deft handling of subjects that I have a deep interest in, even though this normally wouldn’t be my type of book. If you enjoy thought-provoking science-fiction, this might just work well for you too....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
Full disclosure, though I am writing this review for the ARC, I actually had the distinct pleasure of being a beta reader for an early draft of Time Salvager last year, and I just want to say now that being able to experience this story again felt even more amazing. Wesley Chu has already shown a flair for writing thrilling sci-fi adventures with his Tao trilogy, and there’s no doubt that his new novel is another strong entry into the genre.
Time Salvager takes us to a future where Earth has become a toxic wasteland. Those who could afford to get off-planet have long since taken their lives to the outer solar system, but this dispersion has also created a greater need for resources to support the population – resources that Earth is no longer in a position to provide.
Enter ChronoCom and their elite corps of time-traveling agents, aptly known as “Chronmen”. If the present can’t provide the resources that humanity needs, then they shall plunder the past. However, messing around with the chronostream is always dicey, so chronmen are dedicated to keeping their ripples in the past as small as possible so that the timeline can heal itself before effects can be felt in the present. This means that a lot of rules put in place, and the harshest punishments are brought down on those who break them.
Unfortunately for chronman James Griffin-Mars, on his final mission in the twenty-first century to secure his retirement, he experiences a moment of madness and breaks the most important and unforgiveable rule of all. Unstable and already close to snapping, James spontaneously decides to rescue a young woman named Elise from her fated death and brings her back to his time. Viewed as a temporal anomaly that must now be eliminated, Elise is forced to go on the run with James as the full might of ChronoCom descends upon the two fugitives.
Firstly, time traveling stories are always tricky to pull off, and admittedly I can’t think of too many where some willingness to turn a blind eye to temporal paradoxes and contradictions is at least required. Time Salvager is no different, though to Chu’s credit, the time traveling system he proposes is compelling and well-developed. Even though it may not stand up to heavy scrutiny, the process behind the technology lends itself perfectly to the story which will delight readers who are in it for the action and the entertainment. In other words, yes, you’ll probably have to roll with the punches, but at the same time I’m hard pressed to think of any other instance where doing so has been more fun.
Those who have read the author’s Tao series may also notice that the story of Time Salvager has a darker, more despairing vibe. Much of this has to do with the protagonist of James, whose long years working for ChronoCom and salvaging dead-end timelines has exposed him to too much death and destruction. Added to his overall jadedness are the dangerous physiological effects of doing too many time jumps, the character of James Griffin-Mars is definitely not singing a song of sunshine and rainbows. Perhaps the only reason I like Wesley Chu’s Tao books slightly more is because of the emotional cocktail of desperation, hopelessness and pent-up rage that is James’ personality. It fits who he is and makes for interesting development later on in the novel, but it does give Time Salvager a certain gravitas and makes it a heavier read.
Chu, however, did impress me with his characterization of Levin Javier-Oberon, the ChronoCom auditor tasked to capture James and Elise. With his complex view of the world and the way he believes things should be, Levin became my favorite character as soon as he was introduced as a point-of-view character. I can’t even really bring myself to name him as the antagonist; it doesn’t seem fair just because Levin is rigidly tied a set of moral standards that happens to be the antithesis of James’. I hope we’ll see more of Levin in the next book, because I’m not ready for his tale to be over yet, especially given how the book ended.
It goes without saying, I’m really looking forward to the sequel. Time Salvager feels like the next big step in Wesley Chu’s writing career, which continues to rise promisingly. This book does a fantastic job setting up for a fast-paced sci-fi thriller series that is brimming with potential, and you really can’t ask for much more....more
The Fold is an amazing book. I couldn’t put it down, which is not something I normally write in reviews because it sounds so much like a cliché. In this case, however, it’s absolutely true and no exaggeration. This book even caused a moment of blustering indignation at one point, because it was 4:30 in the morning but it still wasn’t letting me close it up and get some sleep. And that is the story of how I finished this almost 400-page book in a little more than a day.
Needless to say, I was already feeling beyond excited when I first learned that Peter Clines was going to have a new book out this summer. I’m a big fan of the author and his genre-mashing stories and writing style, after having read his novel 14 and gobbling up every book in his Ex-Heroes series as they are released. So when The Fold finally landed in my grubby little hands, I could hardly wait to get started. What does it have in store for me, I wondered, if it wasn’t another Ex novel about the zombie apocalypse versus superheroes?
Well, my excitement only grew when I started reading and discovered that The Fold is actually kind of a “side-quel” to 14. And while the novel’s protagonist Leland “Mike” Erikson might not be a superhuman, with his powerful eidetic memory and the ability to perfectly recall anything he has ever heard or seen in his life, he may as well be. This part is really cool: Mike visually pictures all his memories as bits and pieces in his head, carried by a swarm of ants all constantly seething with information and interpretation. The ants allow him to take in the sights and sounds, and organizes them with his thoughts. He can put together graphs and statistics, even overlay them in 3D representation if he wants, all in a blink of an eye. Captain America or any movie that’s ever been made can be instantly replayed in his head whenever it pleases him, as long as he’s seen it before. Man, what I wouldn’t give to have a gift like his.
But then, there are the downsides. Mike can never forget anything, which includes bad memories. Traumatic experiences stay with him forever and with awful clarity, like they only happened five second ago. Between that and the overwhelming, all-consuming way his ants seethe and swarm when he lets them out to do their thing, I can understand why the guy just wanted to fade into obscurity and teach high school English in the-middle-of-nowhere, Maine. It’s a safe place without any great challenges to tempt the ants. It’s a place where he can just be normal.
All that changes one day, when his best friend Reggie drops in on him with a job offer, one that he knew Mike could never refuse. Out in the California desert, a team of DARPA scientists have figured out a way to transport matter in a mode that is effectively as good as teleportation. By “folding” across dimensions, their invention called the Albuquerque Door makes the difference between point A and point B almost negligible, so that the subject can simply travel across that distance with a single step. The Door works. And it’s safe. Those are facts no one can dispute. However, the scientists are refusing to go public with it for some inexplicable reason. On top of that, Reggie can’t shake the hunch that something about the project just feels wrong, so he sends Mike out there to scout things out and report back to him before the government approves funding for another year.
What follows is riveting and unique genre-mashing experience, taken to a whole new level. After all, that is what Peter Clines does best. The Fold starts off reading like a Michael Crichton novel, with 100% more pop culture and geek references. Despite its nature as a sci-fi thriller-suspense mystery, the book is surprisingly easy to enjoy without the reader feeling inundated with heavy science and tech terms – an impressive feat, considering how so much of the premise deals with topics like quantum physics or cosmological theory. Information was doled out in unobtrusive ways which often meshed neatly with the plot, like during the course of a funding review, or in casual conversations between characters over drinks at a bar.
Though the writing style isn’t anything special, the smooth flow of the prose almost makes reading this book like watching a movie. Mike is like a modern Sherlock Holmes, gathering clues with his photographic memory to build a framework of evidence to bring back to Reggie and DARPA. There’s always an air of suspense just hanging over your head, especially in the beginning when you don’t know what’s going on, and the scientists’ strange attitude towards Mike can’t be explained away by simple hostility. Even when nothing much is happening in a scene you can still feel the increasing tension and expectancy, which makes it really hard to stop (in case you’re wondering, this is how yours truly got in trouble and ended up being awake even five hours past her bedtime).
There’s a marked difference in the second half of the book, when the story take a turn for the creepy before arguably veering into horror territory. If you’ve read 14, you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about. It actually surprised me how pleased I was to see the green cockroaches in The Fold, as that was the first hint that the two books were connected. In fact, The Fold reads a lot like 14; the two books share more than just the same world, as they are also similar in tone, style, as well as structure (though ultimately I think Clines handles the themes and pacing much better here). And just like my review of 14, I can’t really go into the second half of The Fold without giving too much away, though I will say everything reaches critical mass in a significant, explosive way.
The Fold is hands down my favorite Peter Clines book to date. It’s got everything – mystery and suspense, humor and horror, science fiction and the paranormal – all perfectly blended together with a bizarre twisty ending that will keep you saying, “Just one more page…” A fun and enjoyable read all around....more