Oh boy, it's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but with that special Breaking Dawn-brand treacle added to make the story both derivative and sickly...moreOh boy, it's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but with that special Breaking Dawn-brand treacle added to make the story both derivative and sickly-sweet!
Yeesh. Thank God I only borrowed this from the library. (less)
I decided to read Insignia after I ran across its sequel on the HarperTeen site, then realized my library had the first installment. My initial expect...moreI decided to read Insignia after I ran across its sequel on the HarperTeen site, then realized my library had the first installment. My initial expectations were low, especially when I realized the MC was a 14-year-old, as I haven't had a lot of luck with young-YA books in the last few years. I'm not going to say Insignia is a great work of literature, but it's entertaining, funny, and plays on two of my favorite themes: evil corporations taking over the world and life after your brain is augmented/replaced by an ultracomputer. While there are echoes of Ender's Game and even original Star Trek episodes (does anyone else remember "A Taste of Armageddon", in which Kirk & Co. encounter the society embroiled in a simulated "war" that nonetheless kills people by requiring them to report to suicide booths within 24 hours of being "killed"?), the plot is interesting and fast-moving and the characters were clearly drawn by someone who knows this age group well.
Now, there are times when you really have to will yourself into keeping that disbelief suspended. For example, the military and a bunch of (evil) corporate suits give a bunch of 14-year-olds super-abilities and tens of millions of dollars' worth of wetware, without much in the way of limitations or safeguards. Okay, everyone over the age of 16: does that sound like a good idea to you? I mean, at the age of 14, I was a certified Good Girl who got straight A's without trying and never broke the rules, and even knowing all that, I wouldn't trust the 14YO version of myself with that kind of power. However, if you don't expect too much in the way of realism, is a quick read with an engaging plot and a sizable vein of humor. (less)
NOTE: My rating for this is actually 2.5 stars. I've rounded up because I thought the author did a surprisingly deft job in portraying through her cha...moreNOTE: My rating for this is actually 2.5 stars. I've rounded up because I thought the author did a surprisingly deft job in portraying through her characters the deep depression, numbness, anger, and counterproductive actions/behaviors that people often manifest after they've lost a loved one.
**spoiler alert** One more warning: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
You have to be kidding me. Aliens are making and controlling the androids??? And they're doin...more**spoiler alert** One more warning: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
You have to be kidding me. Aliens are making and controlling the androids??? And they're doing it to control those in power, like the president? This is the big shocking reveal at the end of the story, setting up the inevitable and oh-so-suspenseful YA second installment cliffhanger? ALIENS??? Come on, Robison Wells! That idea was worn out in 1955. Today it's just pathetic.
Full review to come when my disgust has cooled into contemptuous amusement. (less)
NOTE: I received a publisher’s ARC of Erebos via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
One Sentence Summary: Erebos has a cool central idea, but...moreNOTE: I received a publisher’s ARC of Erebos via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
One Sentence Summary: Erebos has a cool central idea, but it’s weighed down by numerous instances of poor execution.
London high school student and All-Around Average Guy Nick Dunmore doesn’t really notice that some of his schoolmates are behaving oddly until his friend Colin changes overnight from a frequent companion to a hostile acquaintance bent on ditching him. Eventually Nick finds the source of the changes: an odd, intense, and apparently omniscient MMORPG called Erebos. Those of you who know your Greek legends are probably guessing from the name that Erebos the game is bad news, and of course you’re right. The game is first intriguing, then enthralling, and finally an overwhelming addiction. Players get little sleep, try to avoid meals and bathroom breaks, and eventually miss school to stay in the game. The short list of rules is spelled out at the beginning of the game, à la Fight Club. Break the game’s rules and you’re out, with no second chances. Most disturbing of all, the game is asking players to handle tasks in the real world – and it knows without fail if you’ve completed them....
Put all that together and you have an intriguing story on your hands – and for the most part, Erebos is an entertaining read. The plot is lively, interesting, and close enough to realistic at the beginning that by the time you realize it’s strayed from the path of possible, you’re having too good a time to care. Author Ursula Poznanski believably portrays the different forms of social ostracism the game’s players mete out to those who aren’t yet in versus those who have been kicked out of Erebos. It was nice to read a book involving gamer culture that didn’t trip all over itself trying to make sure everyone reading it could easily understand it.
However, the frequent moments of clunky writing kept interrupting my fun. For instance, who calls someone “sister” in the 21st century? Not when they’re referring to a sibling or a nun, but as a supposedly everyday piece of slang, i.e., “Forget it, sister”? There are times when it feels as though the author’s throwing in random expressions out of the 1930s. I was waiting for one character to say to another, “Now you’re on the trolley!” (10 points if you get this Simpsons reference). To be fair, this book was originally published in German, so I don’t know if the odd expressions and slang are just a translation issue or if they’re a decision of the author, but they’re out of place in Erebos.
Even more off-putting are the harsh transitions: one minute Nick’s at school, and then, boom, he’s suddenly at home eating dinner or playing the game, with no information as to how or why the setting changed. I was constantly backtracking and trying to find the part I’d skipped, until I realized that’s just the way the book is. The transitions are irritating enough that my resulting frustration kept knocking me out of the story. I had much less of a problem with the constant changes in tenses (while Nick is playing the game, the story is told in present tense from the perspective of his character, whereas Nick’s life in the “real world” is written in past tense). Yes, it was odd to keep switching, but I liked the distinction the change made between the game world/Sarius and the real world/Nick.
The plot becomes less and less believable until about the last fifth of the book or so, when it goes off the rails entirely. The climax of the story is oddly small-time in scope, the ending is unsatisfying, and don’t even get me started on exactly how insane the explanations about the game’s designer and all the things he supposedly invented to make the game work are. I was also very frustrated by the fact that no main characters and only two secondary characters face any long-term negative consequences. If you wanted to consider what happens to Nick’s best friend a long-term negative consequence for them both, I suppose you could, but by the end of the story everything’s all hunky-dory. Judging by the last 10% of the book, I can easily imagine the kids brushing off everything that happened during the game and forgetting about it after a few months. On the other hand, I wasn’t invested in what most of the characters thought anyway, because the vast majority of them were throwaway, paper-doll stock stereotypes – the “depressed mom”, “bully dad”, “bitter fat chick”, “angry nerd”, etc.
Erebos has quite a few defects, but its compelling central idea is enough to keep those who start it reading until the end. The book is at its best when offering us a story of a school taken over by a maliciously addictive new trend and the choices the characters face in dealing with it. My thanks to the people at Annick Press and NetGalley for the ARC! (less)
NOTE: I received a publisher’s ARC of The Best of All Possible Worlds via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I’m not quite sure what to make o...moreNOTE: I received a publisher’s ARC of The Best of All Possible Worlds via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I’m not quite sure what to make of The Best of All Possible Worlds.
The general framework for the story is that a race of somewhat-human beings, the Sadiri, has been all but wiped out in an unprovoked act of genocide. Only a small number of Sadiri survived, predominantly males. Now a large group of them has settled on planet Cygnus Beta, a place that is already populated by a mix of many other displaced races and groups, in the hopes of establishing a new enclave for the Sadiri where all their traditions, customs, and teachings can be imparted to new generations. I was hoping for a rather in-depth look at the diaspora and the massive impact such a horrifying event would have on the Sadiri and the other races of Cygnus Beta. To my surprise, the book was rather light for such a weighty starting point; rather than taking us along on a deep plunge into murky waters, author Karen Lord keeps us swimming laps across the surface.
In addition to being a sort of sci-fi melting pot, Cygnus Beta also has the distinction of being home to a population that has a high overall amount of Sadiri blood. This is apparently a matter of major importance to the survivors. The Sadiri are a branch off of humanity’s genetic tree – telepaths who observe very strict mental and emotional controls. Now, because only a small percentage of Sadiri females survived the genocide, the Sadiri leaders hope to continue their culture by sending many of their males to Cygnus Beta and having them find brides with strong Sadiri genetic characteristics from this population, thereby preserving as much of the Sadiri genetic heritage as possible. To this end, the Sadiri councilor Dllenahkh is dispatched to the planet to serve as a liaison between those settling on Cygnus Beta and the Sadiri governing body. There he is befriended by the other main character, Grace Delarua, a minor bureaucrat with a knack for languages who comes from a mixed-race background typical for Cygnus Beta. To me, the idea of selecting brides first and foremost for their genes is a little creepy, but our heroine takes the notion largely in stride as she befriends and works with Dllenahkh while they visit and investigate the various Sadiri outposts across Cygnus Beta.
The book is driven by the two main characters and particularly by Delarua (as she is usually called), who narrates 90% of the story. Despite a dark starting point and Dllenahkh’s rather disturbing goal, the story is more a slightly stilted romance (albeit one with sci-fi and fantasy elements) than it is anything else. There is little central plot – the main focus is on Delarua and Dllenahkh as they grow closer over the course of roughly a year and a half. The Best of All Possible Worlds has the feel of a collection of stories rather than a novel, in that many of the incidents (days at work, excursions and visits with friends/family, stops on an around-the-planet tour, etc.) are loosely connected at best. Others have commented on the similarities to Jane Austen’s works, and I can certainly see some in the rather formal dialogue, the slowly-building romance between Delarua and Dllenahkh, and the feeling throughout the story that the eyes of the “community” are watching and evaluating the pair. At one point late in the book, Lord even throws in a direct comment to the “Reader”.
There are a few dark moments (the visit to Delarua’s sister’s family being the most jarring), but for the most part the tone of the book is surprisingly light. It’s not that I expected nonstop tragedy and despair, but I confess I spent most of the book waiting for the story to deepen and explore the overwhelming act of destruction that set the stage for the story. A host of minor characters come and go without much in the way of development to make them memorable. By the end, the two characters from very different cultures/mindsets have Learned to Respect, Understand, and Love Each Other (cue the swelling optimistic music).
In the end, The Best of All Possible Worlds is a decorously-paced romance in a sci-fi setting, delivered almost as a series of short stories with the two main characters, the genocide of the Sadiri, and Cygnus Beta itself as the only common elements tying the tales together. Some of the episodes from the book are interesting and some are less so, but by the end I’d decided that I wanted to hear more about the genocide and the effects of the resulting diaspora Lord created as a framework for her story and less about Delarua and Dllenahkh. Judging by other reviews, however, I’m in the minority on this, so take this review with a grain of salt and try The Best of All Possible Worlds for yourself. (less)
After some internal debate, I'm giving Ready Player One three stars as a compromise. The book's overall plot and ideas were in four-star territory for...moreAfter some internal debate, I'm giving Ready Player One three stars as a compromise. The book's overall plot and ideas were in four-star territory for me, but the writing was clumsy and unpolished enough that I often felt as though I were reading the first draft of a self-published novel.
The story itself is entertaining enough - the death of a billionaire who was basically a combination of Bill Gates and Howard Hughes sets off an enormous contest in which gamers of all stripes compete to win the billionaire's fortune and control of the corporation that owns and operates the world-dominating OASIS system. They have to use their knowledge of the billionaire, who was apparently obsessed with music, television, movies, and gaming from the late 1970's through the mid-1990's, to decipher his clues and complete the trials he set for each level. I genuinely enjoyed many of the details about the world Cline created. The ad-hoc transformation of trailer parks into violence-ridden "stacks" where poor Americans live 15 to a double-wide was extremely disturbing, while the description of mega-corporation IOI as an entity with its own police force and the power to force those who fall behind on their bills into a lifetime of involuntary indentured servitude was believable enough to make me shudder.
However, it appears Cline either never heard the dictum "show, don't tell" or was too lazy to care about it. His protagonist, Wade Watts, spends much of the book telling us virtually EVERYTHING. And the sheer amount of infodumping, particularly in the first half of the book, is unbelievable and really takes away from the story.
Cline definitely had the seeds of a great book in Ready Player One, but all too frequently lapsed into lazy storytelling. For his next book, I hope he finds an editor who can help him work through his weaknesses. (less)