For the record, Stephanie Allen Crist is a writing buddy so of course I was going to read her memoir. Nothing unusual there. What was unusual was thatFor the record, Stephanie Allen Crist is a writing buddy so of course I was going to read her memoir. Nothing unusual there. What was unusual was that I could not put it down.
Why? Because her story was so ...alive. I know nothing about autism beyond what all of us learn through the media, so learning about Stephanie's boys was jaw dropping to say the least. I honestly do not think I could cope with one autistic child let alone three. Yet it is not the difficulty of Stephanie's life that stays with me, it's the love that shines from every page.
And that is why I could not put her book down - love, respect and a fierce determination to treat her boys as valuable human beings. It is a story we do not hear enough these days. Very highly recommended. ...more
In Lifeform 3, author Roz Morris has created a masterpiece, and I don’t say that lightly. The story is deceptively simple, as is the prose, all held iIn Lifeform 3, author Roz Morris has created a masterpiece, and I don’t say that lightly. The story is deceptively simple, as is the prose, all held in perfect balance to allow the characters to shine. And what characters!
Before I talk about Paftoo, and Pea, Tickets and Pafnine, however, I have to set the scene, just a little. Imagine our world some time in the future. It has become a world of back-to-back cities with podcars that drive themselves while their human occupants sleep. It is a world of rampant consumerism and jaded appetites. It is a world where animals, especially wild animals have become a tourist attraction.
In this world, animals are categorized according to the order in which they were domesticated – dogs are lifeform 1, cats are lifeform 2 and horses are lifeform 3. And yes, that was a clue.
Now imagine a crumbling manor house set in acres of land, a tiny pocket of nature tucked away in a sea of concrete. This is Harkaway Hall, or what’s left of it. Dubbed the ‘Lost Lands’, the estate has become a tourist destination, and is maintained by a small army of bods, humanoid robots with shaggy purple hair and Manga eyes.
Enter Paftoo. Paftoo is a bod, but he is not quite like the other bods. During the day he collects the poop dropped by the animals that roam the Lost Lands, but at night, while the other bods switch off, Paftoo dreams. He dreams of lifeform 3′s galloping across the fields. He dreams of himself riding a lifeform 3.
That is the mystery underlying the story. How and why has this one bod become so different? And why would it dream of horses? Deeper still, though, is a darker theme about intelligence and self-awareness, aspirations and freedom. Paftoo is not human, yet he is not just a machine either, and in his journey we can see a reflection of ourselves. That is what makes this story so utterly wonderful.
For those interested in such things, Lifeform 3 is technically science fiction, but as far as I’m concerned it’s science fiction literature.
Did some of you cringe? Did your eyes glaze over?
Please don’t be put off by the ‘L’ word. Lifeform 3 is not arty farty. It doesn’t use obscure vocabulary just for the sake of it. It doesn’t bore you to tears with pages of flowery descriptions, and it does not go round in circles contemplating its own navel!
Lifeform 3 is science fiction literature because it tells the perfect story. Nothing is missing. Nothing is superfluous. Everything fits, and flows as if it could not possibly be any different. Yet despite that, it’s not predictable.
As a writer who reads a hell of a lot, I often find myself re-writing sentences in my head as I read them, or mentally questioning some part of the plot or characterization. It goes with the territory. With Lifeform 3, however, there was not a single moment when I stopped to re-read a sentence or passage because it had jarred me out of the story. Didn’t happen, not even once. That is the sign of a truly good story.
So… Would I recommend Lifeform 3 to you? You bet I would! Using my own, personal star rating system, Lifeform 3 gets 11/10, and joins a select list of novels that I think will still be wowing readers in a hundred years’ time. That, by the way, is another thing it has in common with real literature – it lasts....more
I finished this wonderful book a long time ago but the death of its author hit me hard and I couldn't face closing off this last, tenuous connection.I finished this wonderful book a long time ago but the death of its author hit me hard and I couldn't face closing off this last, tenuous connection. Rest in peace, Kathryn. Honoured to have known you....more
I stumbled on an excerpt from Snipers and was so intrigued I just had to read the whole book. I wasn't disappointed.
The story is cleverly woven togetI stumbled on an excerpt from Snipers and was so intrigued I just had to read the whole book. I wasn't disappointed.
The story is cleverly woven together from four viewpoints - two from the present, two from the past - and combines elements of science fiction with a murder mystery.
I don't want to spoil the plot so all I will say is that Rusch weaves those viewpoints together seamlessly. Add some great character development to the mix and you have a story that will keep you turning the pages long after you should have turned the lights off.
Lady in the Lazaretto is set in the same, grim quarantine world as The Lazaretto, and includes some of the original characters, but the story is complLady in the Lazaretto is set in the same, grim quarantine world as The Lazaretto, and includes some of the original characters, but the story is completely different, and can be read as a stand-alone novel. That said, I'd strongly recommend reading the Lazaretto first because a) it's a great story in its own right, and b) it will make reading the Lady a richer experience.
Like book 1, the plot of the Lady is a murder mystery, but the core question you will ask yourself is - 'who is the Lady?'
Is it Della, the nurse whose memories begin the story?
Or is it the daughter of Kjarsta Zoltis?
Or is it perhaps Lilly, the woman Gregor Lepov loves but cannot commit to?
Or is it the woman referred to only as The Liar?
Or could it be Major Sun Uijong, the woman sent to make reparations to the survivors of the Lost Platoon who were marooned on the Lazaretto, and all but forgotten by their not so grateful government?
In unravelling the identity of the Lady, the author takes us on a thrilling, but complex journey that weaves the past into the present.
In some ways, I enjoyed the Lady even more than the first book in the series because it delves deeper into the character of Gregor Lepov, and I love knowing what makes interesting characters 'tick'. But, of course, Lepov is only one of the characters you will get to know and love. Lieutenant Ed MacNally is another, as is Della, a childless woman who grows to love her young charge with as much fierce protectiveness as any biological mother.
The Lady ticked all the right boxes for me, and I really do recommend it very highly. This is science fiction at its best....more
Expectations can have a profound effect on how someone reacts to a story. When I volunteered to R4R [Read-for-Review] Ghost in the Machine by C.E.KilgExpectations can have a profound effect on how someone reacts to a story. When I volunteered to R4R [Read-for-Review] Ghost in the Machine by C.E.Kilgore, I vaguely knew it would be a science fiction romance, but I expected the science fiction to be the main focus of the story. When it became obvious the romantic element would dominate, I was disappointed. When I read the first erotic scene I felt uneasy because I don’t really like erotica.
So from my personal point of view, there went one star. I need to stress how very personal that was though. Someone more familiar with the sub-genre would probably be disappointed if the focus had been on the science fiction instead of the romance.
And that brings me to the science fiction elements of the story. I was expecting deep world building and C.E.Kilgore did not disappoint. The political, social and historical elements were well thought out, and I enjoyed them. The actual science however was a little jarring.
Even assuming a technology thousands of times more advanced than our own, why would you have a port hole in a space ship? Quite apart from the fact it would be the weakest point in the integrity of the hull – shields or no shields – what function would it serve when for most of the time, there would be absolutely nothing to see?
Another small jarring moment was the fact that the crew did not stand 24 hour watches. I understand the ship AI was capable of running the ship on autopilot, but when pirates and other hostiles are ‘possible’, I would expect someone to be on watch at all times.
Unfortunately, the most jarring science fiction element was one of the main characters – Ethan.
Ethan is a tall, blue Mecha. A mechanical man. A self-aware automaton with an outer covering of ‘flesh’ that is anatomically correct, up to and including the genitals. Those genitals are not just for show, they are fully functioning.
So far, I can accept Ethan without any problems. What I cannot accept is that Ethan, however advanced he may be, would be exactly the same as a human being. My point here is the word ‘same’.
Ethan is portrayed as a special kind of Mecha who has some kind of psychic aura. I have to assume this aura is what makes it possible for him to feel all the things a human male would feel, including sexual arousal, tenderness, lust, jealousy and love. In essence, Ethan is a big blue man with arrested emotional development who learns to love thanks to his relationship with a good woman.
I have no intention of exploring that Romantic trope, but I would like to point out that human males made of blood, bone and a full set of functioning DNA can lack empathy. Some of them turn into psychopaths.
Now let’s look at Ethan. He is basically a machine run by an AI that is aware, and conscious of its own existence. But that does not make it human, and it certainly does not guarantee empathy. Psychopaths are human, but they do not have empathy. Yet this self-aware machine is supposed to be capable of all the better human emotions – such as love.
In a human being, electrical signals travel from the nerves to synapses in the brain. Picture a whole heap of roads that all meet on the shores of a lake. To get that signal across the lake you need a boat[s]. If the signal is very strong, a big boat made of chemicals/hormones will ferry the signal across the lake to multiple roads on the other side. If the signal is weak, the boat will be small and may only take the signal across to one or two roads. [This is an analogy only. The exact process is rather different but explaining it would take volumes]. As the signal passes from synapse to synapse it either gets stronger or weaker.
That interplay of electrical and chemical elements is a huge part of what makes us human, makes us feel. Electrical impulses alone do not get the job done.
So right from the start I could not accept that Ethan was, to all intents and purposes, a man. Sadly that made the love story fall flat for me. As the romance between Ethan and Orynn [the female protagonist] is essentially the plot in book 1, Ghost in the Machine just didn’t have the wow factor for me. That said, the ending of the book hinted at a stronger, and for me, far more interesting plot evolving over the rest of the series.
Finally a word about the writing itself. On the whole, the author writes well, and by the second half of the book the prose was strong and created vivid images. But. ‘May’ instead of ‘might’ consistently jarred me out of the story. ‘Might’ is the past tense of ‘may’, so if the story is written in the past tense, which it is, ‘might’ is the correct word to use. A small point, I know, but it kept jerking me out of the story.
Overall, Ghost in the Machine was an enjoyable debut novel, with signs that later books in the series would be stronger in terms of plot. It did not, however, meet my expectations of a science fiction story with an element of romance. That said, someone with different expectations should find it very enjoyable.
[I should point out that I am a 60 year old female who has been reading classic science fiction for 40 years]. ...more
Written by Alma Alexander, Midnight at Spanish Gardens is not the kind of story that fits neatly into a pigeon hole. The writing is beautiful, almostWritten by Alma Alexander, Midnight at Spanish Gardens is not the kind of story that fits neatly into a pigeon hole. The writing is beautiful, almost poetic, yet it never forgets that it is meant to be prose, or that it has a story to tell. So based on the quality of the writing, and the fact the story is set in modern times, I could easily describe Spanish Gardens as contemporary literature.
Yet as I read on, I discovered that the mysterious bartender named Ariel is somehow sending the five main characters back in time to live the lives they might have lived if things had been... different.
How do I describe that? Contemporary metaphysical fantasy literature?
Yet even that convoluted category doesn't accurately describe Midnight at Spanish Gardens, because how the main characters come to relive their lives is less important than what they do with those second chances. Or the choices they make when Ariel calls them back. Will they choose the first life? Or will they choose the new life they have made? Sadly, they cannot choose both.
For some of the characters, their new lives are better than the old, happier, more fulfilled. For others, their new lives turn out to be more successful in some ways, but ultimately devoid of meaning in others. Yet the story of these lives, and the choices the characters make is no morality play. Rather it is the tender exploration of what makes all of us human, without judgment, and without condemnation.
Whether the character is male or female, each one feels real and intensely believable. Some I liked more than others, but each one touched me deeply, and in my opinion, that is a psychological tour de force.
So what is Midnight at Spanish Gardens? Psychological metaphysical contemporary fantasy literature?
Nope. :D The book is much simpler than that - it is nothing more nor less than a work of art.
If Midnight at Spanish Gardens contained even a smidgeon of science fiction I'd give it 11/10. As it is I can only give it a 10.
Joking aside, I truly loved this book, and I promise, hand on heart, that if you read it you will not be disappointed....more
Let me start by saying that John Barlow is fast becoming one of my favourite authors, indie or otherwise, and he doesn't write science fiction! What hLet me start by saying that John Barlow is fast becoming one of my favourite authors, indie or otherwise, and he doesn't write science fiction! What he writes is the thinking [wo]man's crime.
Long before I ever read my first science fiction novel, I read a psychological 'crime' thriller by the famous Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The book was called 'Crime and Punishment' and has been my benchmark for character development ever since. Decades later I read Ian Rankin [Rebus] and Robert Wilson [Blindman of Seville], and added them to my pantheon. Now I am adding John Barlow as well. He really is that good.
If you follow my reviews you will know that I loved John Barlow's first book - Hope Road. In it, Barlow introduces us to a wonderfully flawed character by the name of John Ray, but we are only given hints as to why the character is so flawed. In Father and Son we find out.
As the title suggests, the relationship between father and son is at the heart of the character's ambivalence towards his life, and the mess he has made of it. He always wanted to be the white sheep of the family, the one who got away from the culture of crime, the one who could make it without lying or cheating or stealing or killing. But escape from a family of successful criminals is never just a case of doing something else.
How can you sever ties with your family when so many of your childhood memories are good? And you still love them?
That is a question we all have to answer to some degree because we are all products of our environments, cultures, and most especially, families. Learning to see all those elements for what they really are is an integral part of growing up. Making conscious decisions is not enough. To truly come of age, we have to shed the comforting illusions of childhood as well.
For John Ray, this coming of age does not happen until his forties. Despite his background and obvious intelligence, he is still strangely naive, seeing his father as a good man at heart. Yet the fact remains that his father built a highly successful criminal empire that only ended with his stroke. Can anyone 'do the crime', and still retain some basic integrity?
To me, that is the core question of the novel, for both father and son. To discover the answer, we have to follow John Ray on a brutal journey that begins in the past, with a bomb and a dead baby, and ends in the present, with a series of gruesome murders. Along the way, this child of crime discovers that the sins of the fathers really do pass down from one generation to the next. But can that cycle ever be broken?
I have my own ideas about redemption, but they may be different to yours, so all I will say is that 'Father and Son' is even better than 'Hope Road'. In fact, if you'll allow me to make a foodie analogy, 'Father and Son' is the main course to Hope Road's appetizer. I really can't recommend this novel enough, and I sincerely hope there is a dessert in the pipeline.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Despite the fact the main protagonists are children, this is not a children's book - far from it. The story doesn't pI thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Despite the fact the main protagonists are children, this is not a children's book - far from it. The story doesn't pull any punches about the conditions that exist in the many slums of Haiti, and contains layers of philosophy and social commentary that are extremely thought provoking. Most of that you will not notice until the end though because the story is so gripping, and the characters so compelling. Only once you've reached the end will you find yourself thinking about it again and again. ...more
The first thing I noticed about The Lazaretto was its size. At 2,650KB, it is a big ebook. Luckily I adore big books. Once I become seduced by a worldThe first thing I noticed about The Lazaretto was its size. At 2,650KB, it is a big ebook. Luckily I adore big books. Once I become seduced by a world or setting, I never want to leave, and I was seduced by the Lazaretto.
Imagine a moon with a breathable atmosphere where it rains a lot, and the clouds never part to allow the sun to shine through. I cannot think of anything more physically bleak. Now imagine a city on this moon, a city built for the sole purpose of quarantining travellers passing through to other worlds. In such a city, fear of contagion would underlie all social interactions, amongst both travellers and permanent residents. In such a city, people do not shake hands.
But the Lazaretto is more than just a quarantine station, it is also a prison without walls where the sick languish until they die. You see, the only purpose of the Lazaretto is to stop contagion from spreading. Finding cures is not part of the protocol.
As readers, we are introduced to the Lazaretto through the eyes of Gregor Lepov, a private investigator looking for a missing person last seen living and working in the city. Lepov is an interesting character, but he is only one of the main characters populating the story, and that is both one of the strengths and weaknesses of the novel. All of the main characters are well drawn, but none of them captivated me, except perhaps for the villain of the piece – The Collector.
Having so many main characters also had the effect of slowing the pace. And that is really the only criticism I would level at The Lazaretto – the story just moves a little too slowly.
In essence, the plot revolves around a number of mysterious deaths that are classified as murders, but leave the police baffled as to means and motive. Finding the ‘murderer’ involves the coming together of a number of disparate characters and story arcs, including that of Gregor Lepov.
All of these characters and story arcs contain a piece of the puzzle, and how they are woven together is both organic and very clever. But it does happen slowly.
In some ways, the structure of The Lazaretto reminds me of Tad William’s Otherland. As in Otherland, the story revolves around an ensemble cast, rather than just one or two main characters. Unlike Otherland, however, The Lazaretto is not a series, and so has had to compromise between the needs of the individual story arcs and the plot.
As with any compromise, something has to give, and in the case of The Lazaretto, the pace suffered. But only a little. Overall, my enjoyment factor was very high, and I found myself thinking about the world and its culture long after I finished reading. For me, that is always indicative of a very good story.
I should also mention that the writing is excellent. This is a mature novel by a very good writer. I would recommend it to anyone who craves something more than just a quick read and light entertainment. ...more