Before The Singularity Trap and before the Bobiverse, there was Outland, Dennis E. Taylor’s self-published debut that is now getting a re-issue and making its way to the audio format as an Audible Original. Although the story itself a little rough and unrefined, embedded here are the seeds of the author’s style that would emerge in his later works.
However, unlike Taylor’s spacefaring novels, Outland takes place in the present day or in the near future, and the theme is apocalyptic. Following an experiment gone wrong, a group of students in a university physics lab accidentally stumbles across a new technology allowing them to open portals to other dimensions. As it turns out, one of these dimensions is an alternate Earth very similar to our own, except in this particular timeline, humans never evolved. Students being students though, rather than take their discovery public, the group decides instead to use their newfound portal technology in a get-rich-quick scheme, coming up with a harebrained plan to pan for gold on this pristine and uninhabited Earth. It would be easy money, after all, as there is enough gold in some parts of the Black Hills that would make each and every one of them a millionaire overnight.
But meanwhile, disturbing reports are coming out of Yellowstone National Park about the area’s increased volcanic activity and tectonic actions, and soon it becomes clear that an eruption of its supervolcano is all but inevitable. It has long been hypothesized than an eruption that big would end civilization in the United States as we know it, and indeed, the amount of ash alone would be enough to bury large swaths of the country under three feet of the stuff, not to mention the way it would block out the sun and cause damage to all kinds of infrastructure and equipment. Soon enough, the situation proves even more devastating, and our protagonists are forced to abandon their gold panning ventures in Outland, the name they’ve given to the wild version of Earth they’ve discovered. Refocusing their efforts on saving lives, they only have a small window of time to bring as many survivors as they can through the portal and gather enough supplies to hunker down for the long haul.
Kind of like We Are Legion (We Are Bob), the narrative style of Outland somewhat resembles an extended and episodic world-building exercise where the most interesting things actually happen after a crucial event earlier on in the story. In this case, it’s the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano, making this one both an apocalyptic tale as well as one of survival. From that standpoint, things don’t get any better than this. There are sci-fi elements too, of course, but these are light, serving more as a backdrop for what truly matters, i.e. what the characters actually do to stay alive and speculation as to what would happen to the Earth and human populations around the world if such a major natural disaster did take place. That said, I wouldn’t into his one expecting the thrills of a disaster movie nor too much detail when it comes to the science and technology behind the premise, but at the very least, the story is convincing enough to sustain a high level of tension and an immediate sense of danger.
The humor also makes this one supremely readable. Dennis E. Taylor definitely falls into the category of geek writers which includes authors like Andy Weir or Ernest Cline, as evidenced by the profusion of nerdy jokes and pop-culture references littering the pages of Outland. Despite all the destruction, chaos and mass death, the book still had me chuckling in places, and whether you view it as a weakness or not, what we have here is a light, popcorn-y read. This means yes, the plot can be a little clichéd at times, and the characters a bit cookie-cutter and the dialogue a bit cheesy. Admittedly, there’s nothing too emotionally deep or complicated here, but there’s no denying it’s a lot of fun.
Bottom line, if you’re looking for a good mix of humor and danger in your apocalyptic fiction, consider checking out Outland. While it’s nothing mind-blowing, I did enjoy the colony building aspects and all the “what if” scenarios. I’m glad to hear there will be a follow-up, as I’m curious to keep reading to find out what happens next.
Audiobook Comments: As always, Dennis E. Taylor and Ray Porter make a great team, with the latter’s narration perfectly complementing the former’s writing style. Not only did Porter’s amazing voices and accents bring our characters to life, his performance also transported listeners to a world in which one feels fully immersed. If you’re looking for an addictive and compelling audiobook to listen to, Outland is one I would highly recommend....more
Star Wars audiobooks are always a treat to listen to, but audio dramas are on a whole other level. Performed by a full cast and available only as an audiobook, Star Wars: Dooku: Jedi Lost is an immersive experience that puts your right in the middle of the action and makes you feel like you are in a Star Wars movie, watching all the events and action play out around you.
Since the release of the prequels and the character’s first appearance in Attack of the Clones, the origins of Count Dooku AKA Darth Tyranus has been shrouded in mystery and plagued with questions. We know that he was a former Jedi and a Padawan of Yoda’s before he became the Count of Serenno and the Leader of the Separatists. But what happened in between? What was his childhood like, and how did he fall out with the Jedi leading him down the path to the dark side?
Dooku: Jedi Lost seeks to address all of that, by taking listeners all the way to the beginning when our main character was just a boy at the Jedi Temple, where he is just one of many younglings brought to Coruscant by seekers scouring the galaxy for force-sensitives. He hasn’t even been chosen as an apprentice by Yoda this point, but while on an excursion with his fellow students to the planet of Serenno as part of a cultural exchange presentation, Dooku discovers something about his personal history that will forever change the way he views the Jedi and himself.
I should also mention that all of these past events are told in flashback because Dooku: Jedi Lost is a frame story which places us some time during the Clone Wars when Dathomir Nightsister and dark Jedi Asajj Ventress was still an acolyte to Count Dooku, working as his assassin. Chafing under the Sith lord and tortured with visions and voices in her head, Ventress is given a new assignment to track down a new target—someone close to the Count’s own heart. As she makes her way to Serenno to fulfill her task, Ventress learns more about Dooku and catches glimpses of the most defining moments of his life with the Jedi.
Along with the recently released Star Wars: Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray, new canon offerings like this one are proving to be a blessing for fans who want to know more about prequel era. Clocking in at a mere six hours and twenty-one minutes, this audio drama is nowhere near as long as the series’ typical novels, but it still packs a lot of content. Besides the emotional decisions and the political ramifications that led Dooku to turn his back on the Jedi and take up the mantle of his forebears, this audio drama also delves deeper into his personal relationships including that of his close friendship with Sifo-Dyas as well as his apprenticeship with the famed Yoda. Eventually, of course, Dooku also reaches the rank of Master Jedi and becomes master himself to a hot-headed young Padawan, Qui-Gon Jinn.
Written by Cavan Scott, the story is well-plotted and developed. However, as entertaining was it was, I can’t really see the history of Count Dooku being all that exciting to anyone but the most hardcore of fans. Luckily though, the story isn’t the only reason why people pick up audio dramas. After all, the best and most notable aspects of this format are the audiobook production values and technical qualities, as well as the incredible performances. And I’m pleased to say that in this area, the creators of Dooku: Jedi Lost went all out. Sounds are used to great effect, and musical snippets from John Williams’ brilliant score inject another emotional layer to the experience. Then there’s the incredible talent of all the voice actors and actresses. Compared to regular audiobooks, audio dramas typically demand a lot more acting from their narrators because there is less descriptive text, and so every spoken line has to contain a lot more information in the way it is delivered. For the most part, I feel the cast gave a spectacular performance.
All I can say is, yes please to more Star Wars audio dramas! I can see so much potential for future tales that will work great for this format. Dooku: Jedi Lost is worth checking out for the exquisite audio experience alone, and fans also get a surprisingly in-depth study into one of more enigmatic characters of the Star Wars universe.
Audiobook Comments: If you’re not familiar with audio dramas, some time may be needed to ease into the format. Narrated by a cast of twelve, there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but each voice is distinct enough thanks to the talented readers. Although everyone gave a strong performance, some were better than others. Ironically, Euan Morton’s performance as Dooku was pretty average, though to be fair, he’s portraying a younger version of the character in addition to trying to fill the shoes of some very big names including Christopher Lee and Corey Burton who voiced the character in The Clone Wars and various other Star Wars projects. But standouts in this audio drama include Orlagh Cassidy as Asajj Ventress, Sean Kenin as Sifo-Dyas, Carol Monda as Lene Kostana, Saskia Maarleveld as Jenza, Jonathan Davis as Qui-Gon Jinn, and Marc Thompson as Yoda....more
I’ve really enjoyed Peter Clines’ books in the Threshold series so far (14 and The Fold) which was why I was excited when I found out that he would be releasing a third book as an audio exclusive with Audible. While all these stories appear to take place in the same world, any connections between them are immaterial to their individual plots so each one can be read as a standalone. As such, I wasn’t too surprised to discover that this new book, Dead Moon, would take place in the future on the moon, though I was a little taken aback by the very different tone, style, and overall quality.
That’s not to say Dead Moon was a bad book, but it does feel less well put together compared to Clines’ previous Threshold novels, with a more slapdash plot and characters that aren’t as developed. The premise also comes across as less unique and more commercial, like something I might come across in a B movie on the Syfy channel—as in fun, but superficial. As you can probably figure out from the book’s description, this is a zombie story on the moon. The year is 2243 and overcrowding and environmental degradation on earth has forced humankind to figure out a new way to deal with their dead. The solution? Make the moon a graveyard, where Earth’s wealthiest citizens can launch the remains of their deceased loved ones to rest in peace for eternity looking down on us from the brightest object in the night sky.
But such an enormous undertaking also requires a lot of manpower to maintain. Enter the Caretakers, men who women who live onsite in Luna City, the moon’s largest operations center, where they perform tasks such as grave digging and overseeing the cemeteries. It is lonely and isolated work, but it is also perfect for Cali Washington, who has signed on to become a Caretaker in order to start a new life and escape the troubles from her old one. Not long after she begins her position, however, a mysterious meteor crashes into onto the moon’s surface, affecting the grave sites in a terrifying way. Far away from any help and amidst dangerous dust storm conditions as well as impossible reports about the dead rising, Cali and her fellow Caretakers must band together and try to survive.
Unlike 14 or The Fold, the overall premise of Dead Moon is relatively simple, and the book is what I would call a popcorn read, with a story and characters that present themselves accordingly. There’s also plenty of action, and while these scenes and the dialogue are pretty hammy, there’s no denying the entertainment value. This is a zombie book, after all, and it’s the kind where you know right away what you’re getting into. It will mostly play out the way you expect, though there are also a few twists and surprises thrown in that those who have read the previous Threshold books will probably appreciate more.
In terms of characters, we have a diverse and interesting cast. But as with many of these pulpy space disaster stories, it wouldn’t really be advisable to get attached to any of them, since a bunch of them will not survive. Some were clearly written to be fodder for the zombies, so not surprisingly, character development is on the lighter side. Likewise, the plot has a “throwaway” quality to it, which is pretty typical with these typcs of fluffy reads. I get the feeling that Clines wasn’t overly concerned with any possible plot holes or explanations that don’t sense—like, come on, it’s moon zombies! It’s supposed to be over-the-top and a little silly, so I’ll give it a pass for being so outlandish. Like I said, these aren’t necessarily bad attributes, as long as you come into this with realistic expectations.
In other words, Dead Moon isn’t a deep book by any means, but I had a good time with it, even though I don’t think its quality is in line with the previous Threshold books (especially with The Fold, which I thought was mind-blowingly clever and engaging). For the right person at the right time though, I can see it being very enjoyable. I will give that it is thrilling and great fun—a fantastic audiobook to check out to if you want an easy and fast listen. A solid 3-3.5 stars.
Audiobook Comments: If nothing else, you should be picking up this audiobook for the awesome narration of Ray Porter. I’m a huge fan of his because his performances are always topnotch no matter what kind of material he’s given to work with. The guy brings an electrifying energy to any book because of his great voices and enthusiasm....more
For those of us who can’t get enough of Stranger Things, the good news is that Random House has partnered up with Netflix to publish a number of books based on the hit sci-fi horror web show. Of these, Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond is the prequel novel featuring Eleven’s mother, Terry Ives, who has been a figure shrouded in mystery ever since the series began. If you’ve ever wondered how she became a test subject in the government research program into the supernatural and paranormal, this book will reveal the story and more.
Suspicious Minds opens in the year 1969, and from Woodstock and the moon landing to the Manson murders and war in Vietnam, it was an eventful summer for the youth of America. For a group of college students in the heartland of Indiana, however, life is about to get even more interesting. After learning of the paid volunteer opportunities offered by the psychology department on campus from her roommate, Terry Ives decides to take part in a research experiment in the hopes of earning some extra cash. There, she meets others who have been selected for the program, including Alice, Gloria, and Ken.
But within the research facility known as the Hawkins National Laboratory, Terry soon suspects that not all is as it seems with the experiment or with its director, Dr. Martin Brenner. As she and her fellow test subjects are made to undergo more demanding and unsettling tests, Dr. Brenner also grows more controlling and tight-lipped about the exact nature of his research. Then, there are the children. One day, Terry happens to meet a little girl in another wing of the building, whose files identify her simply as Eight. The presence of other records indicates the possibility of even more kids kept behind the locked secretive doors of the facility, and Terry and her friends are determined to find out why.
The good news is, whether you’re a diehard fan of Stranger Things or someone who has never seen a single episode, pretty much anyone can pick up and enjoy Suspicious Minds. Because it is a prequel that takes place well before the events of the show, no prior knowledge is strictly required, though of course if you are familiar with the series you will get much more out of the references and other little Easter eggs thrown into the narrative. No surprise perhaps, but one of my favorite things about this book was getting the chance to meet Kali as a little girl.
However, make no mistake, Suspicious Minds also offers up a completely brand-new experience. We are thrown into another era, the late 60’s in this instance, where the country is a very different place than the 80’s setting of the show—socially, culturally, economically, and politically. Bond has done her homework, ensuring that her story feels at least historically convincing. Furthermore, instead of focusing on a group of middle school protagonists, this novel follows an older crowd—college-aged, to be exact. This not only puts Terry Ives at the right age when all this went down, it also serves to make this book more appealing to a wider audience, i.e. older viewers of the show who might find a “new adult” book more palatable than a YA label.
That said, I can’t help but wonder if this desire to please everyone may have contributed to the story’s general lack of focus. There are times when our 19-to-20-year-old characters seem to act, think, and speak like preteens, or certain sections of the book that droned on and on about the sentimental dramas of youth without adding anything relevant to the overall plot. I also thought the first half of the novel was also better written and organized than the second half, which felt a little rushed and messy—a pattern you see often with an author who has a pretty solid idea of what the beginning and end of their book should look like, but struggles to connect them with everything that happens in between.
Still, despite its flaws, Suspicious Minds was a fun read that offered me exactly the right kind of enjoyment and escapism. I wouldn’t say that it’s absolutely essential for Stranger Things fans in that it won’t reveal any great secrets or hidden plans for the series, but what this novel manages to do is what all tie-ins should—that is, provide more background history into the original’s story and world. If you’re like me and that’s the sort of thing you’re into, I highly recommend giving this novel a go, especially since there’s plenty in it to appreciate if you like the show.
Audiobook Comments: At first, I felt that narrator Kristen Sieh’s voice was a little off (too peppy, too young) for the kind of book I thought this was going to be, but as the story revealed more of its nature and the “new adult” vibes, this discordance became less and less. I ended up being generally pleased with her performance and overall thought this audiobook was a very light and easy listen....more
Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You ended up being as quirky and wild as its title suggests, and quite honestly, it’s rare for a book to be this weird but for me to still like it so much. While you could technically classify it as science fiction with a light sprinkling of cosmic horror, at the end of the day, I believe this strange and slightly freaky novella is simply too unique to be pigeonholed into any one category.
I also have a feeling it would work best if the reader knows as little about the plot going in, but I will say that music—especially the passion and critique for it—is the central theme. The story is told from the perspective of a small-time music blogger who one day stumbles across a mysterious track on Bandcamp uploaded by a new artist he’s never heard of before. From the moment the powerful song hit his ears, however, he knew that Beautiful Remorse would be the next big thing. Fronted by its enigmatic singer, Airee MacPherson, the band promises to release a new song every day for the next ten days, much to the delight of its legions of new fans who listened to the first track and couldn’t get enough. There was just something about the song that was so potently addictive and irresistible, almost transcendent.
Before long, our music blogger gives in to curiosity and reaches out to Airee MacPherson, managing to score an interview and a chance to go on tour with Beautiful Remorse. At first, it’s like a dream come true—that is, until he shows up at their first concert and realizes something is seriously wrong with the whole picture. To say that Airee is nothing like he expected is an understatement, but by the time her true intentions are revealed, it is too late for our hapless protagonist to walk away.
Let me just start by saying that the insanity of this book is a feature, and not a bug. As such, it probably won’t be for everyone, but I genuinely enjoyed every moment of the story and it’s one you should check out if you’re looking for something a little different and offbeat. Clocking in at about 120 pages, this novella was also a quick read and well worth the hour or so it took me to read it. Considering how poorly I usually fare when it comes short fiction, or weird books like this for that matter, it surprised me how riveted I was from start to finish.
I’m sure one thing that helped was the main character’s voice. He’s a music nerd, and as such, his attitude was at once endearing and slightly annoying in the way only someone who is a nerd of anything can be. The author certainly captured the nature of fandom and obsession very well, right down to the zealous online communities to the clamor to be first to discover new things and coin new terms. The writing style was so distinctive and full of wit and personality that I could not help but be sucked in right away.
And yes, this was funny. I laughed a lot, though not always for the expected reasons. There were times where we got legitimate moments of chuckle-worthy humor, while at others, I found myself busting a gut at just the sheer absurdity of it all. In any case, you can’t accuse this book of being boring. Bizarre, yes, and even violently dark in places, but there is definitely no room for any downtime or lulls here. Readers are thrown into the thick of it from the get-go, and this fervent energy continues all the way through with no way to predict how anything will play out.
I wish I could say more, but Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You is really one of those books you have to experience for yourself. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun with this one, and if you enjoy fast-paced eccentric stories and don’t mind a slight horror bent with lots of WTFery thrown in, I hope that you will too....more
Talk about being late to the party. W. Michael Gear has been a name in science fiction for a while, though I only read him for the first time a few weeks ago with Outpost, the first book in his Donovan trilogy that took me completely by surprise. By the time I finished, I already had the sequel in hand and ready to go, so for once, I wasted no time in diving in.
Abandoned takes readers back to Donovan, a colony planet that humans have been trying to tame for the last thirty years. Despite the settlers’ best efforts, Donovan’s wildlife has continued to hold back any real development. Over time, the colonists have come to accept the dangers and learned to adapt to the planet’s harsh environment. But now, a Corporation ship has arrived to take stock of the situation, making the people of Donovan nervous, worried that their way of life is now being threatened. When we last left things in Outpost, things were in a state of flux, with high tensions between the new arrivals and the original Donovanians. And space travel being as risky as it is right now, it’s not even certain that the Corporation ship will be able to make the return trip home to the solar system.
Some familiar faces return, while some new characters are also introduced. Representing the planet’s hub of Port Authority is Security Officer Talina Perez, the de facto leader of the Donovan colonists. Keeping the peace in her town has gotten a little more difficult since the new Corporation settlement has been established nearby in the south. Leading them is Supervisor Kalico Aguila, a rising star in the Corporation, until she made what she figured was the biggest mistake of her life by asking to head this mission to Donovan. Her head of security is now dead, forcing her to rely on the hotheaded and volatile Lieutenant Deb Spiro instead, whose aggressive way of doing things is stirring no small amount of trouble with the people of Port Authority. Resident troublemaker Dan Wirth is back as well, taking advantage of the Donovanian’s libertarian ideology to set up a casino and brothel, fleecing the naïve colonists for everything they have. A ruthless killer, he’s also found that it’s much easier to get away with murder on a planet like Donovan.
As if all this excitement wasn’t enough, this sequel also shines a light on a third faction—the people of the wild. The first book touched upon them briefly, but Abandoned finally gives us a chance to see how these rogue settlers really lived. A new perspective character enters the scene in the form of Mark Talbot, a Marine who didn’t really mean to desert, but it seemed Donovan had other plans for him. Following the crash of his ship and death of his companions, Mark stumbles upon a group of hardy women and their children who have been maintaining their own secret farm settlement in the wilderness. Rebecca, Su and Dya harbor strong animosities towards Port Authority and want nothing to do with the other colonists and the Corporation. They heal Mark and take him in, and before long, he becomes a part of their family.
If there is one message that this book sends, it is that Donovan changes people. Talina, a long-time local, was one of the first to figure this out and accept that there’s no set of rules to follow when it comes to surviving on this planet. Those who come trying to conquer it with rigidity and order are often the first to die. This is a fate that nearly befalls Kalico Aguila, before she was forced to admit she’s in way over her head. Of all the characters in this novel, Mark Talbot was probably the most affected by Donovan, followed next by Aguila. Of course, she wouldn’t be a Corporation supervisor if she didn’t involve herself in some manipulation and scheming, but overall, I was glad she didn’t turn out to be as horrible as once thought.
But then, of course, there are the people who don’t change, but simply get better at hiding their true colors. This is Dan Wirth in a nutshell, though his part was relatively lowkey in this installment, to my slight disappointment (yes, I actually wanted to see him cause more trouble!) The role of main villain was instead hoisted upon Lieutenant Spiro, and boy, was she a piece of work who quickly became the most hated person in the series.
In a way though, Gear’s handling of the characters and the fact they are always shifting, evolving is why I am enjoying these books so much; this is very much a human story involving the triumph of the will to survive, despite the trying circumstances. You gotta love how much the Donovanian colonists take pride in their home, even though it has killed so many of them. Amazingly too, the planet itself feels like a character in its own right, taking on its own life and personality. Donovan’s strange fauna and flora are key to this perception, the way the story describes them as constantly pushing back attempts to domesticate it. And speaking of which, this interaction between Donovan and the human settlers also gets a bit of attention, revealing some of its inner workings which are truly alien in its nature. We get a lot more information about the lizard-like creatures called quetzals, which may yet play a larger role in the understanding of the planet.
But most notably, this volume did not really touch upon the subject of the ghost ship that suddenly appeared back in orbit (which felt like a glaring oversight, considering the big deal that was made of it back in the first book), nor did it go into the mystery of why more and more ships were getting lost in space, though I suppose the author needs to save at least a few aces up his sleeve for the big finale.
All in all, I have to say Abandoned was a sequel that does what sequels generally do—that is, continue the threads established by the previous book while adding some more to expand the world-building and further build upon the plot. On the whole, the novel accomplished this in all the right ways, and I couldn’t be happier with the direction of this trilogy....more
I had high hopes for this first Star Wars new canon novel focusing entirely on Padmé/Queen Amidala, but unfortunately I was left a bit disappointed. On some level though, I think I had anticipated the issues, because from the moment I learned that Queen’s Shadow was to take place in the transitional time between the end of her reign as Naboo’s queen and the start of her career as a senator, I’d wondered whether there would be sufficient material for a well-rounded, interesting story.
The book begins on the cusp of a new election for Naboo’s next queen, and Padmé and her loyal handmaidens are all nervous and excited about what they will do once she steps down as the current ruler. For four years their lives have been tied to the politics of the planet, but soon they will be free to pursue any dream or career they choose. As Padmé watches her handmaidens discuss their future plans, however, she herself is still unsure of what her next move will be. Service to her people is all she’s ever known, and now that her reign is almost over, there is a both a bittersweet sense of accomplishment and loss about a chapter of her life coming to a close.
But with the election of Réillata, the new queen, an unexpected opportunity suddenly falls into Padmé’s lap when her successor asks if she would represent Naboo in the Galactic Senate, replacing another retiring senator. It is an offer Padmé can’t refuse, and though a part of her is sad to be leaving her home planet for the bustling ecumenopolis of Coruscant, another part of her is thrilled to be able to serve Naboo once more, as well as to improve the conditions of the Galactic Republic. For one thing, she would like to put an end to slavery in the Outer Rim. Padmé has never forgotten the boy Anakin Skywalker she met on Tatooine, as well as the fate of his mother Shmi who was left behind on the desert planet.
In the years since that day, Padmé’s youngest handmaiden Sabé, who was also the one most often chosen to be her decoy, has also become one of her closest friends and most trusted confidantes. As Padmé takes her place in the Galactic Senate, it is Sabé that she sends to Tatooine in her stead to search for Shmi and hopefully buy her freedom.
First things first: there’s nothing really wrong with this book—nothing wrong, unless you count the fact that barely anything happens other than a whole bunch of political drama and description into the wardrobe of Naboo royalty. Don’t get me wrong, stories about the politics of the Galactic Republic, and later the Galactic Empire, have always been a prominent part of Star Wars fiction. But to have it as the main focus of a Young Adult book about Queen Amidala? The only result this guarantees is a limited audience, beyond diehard Star Wars fans such as myself. For one thing, this is not exactly the most interesting story you can tell about the character, nor does it have the usual adventure and action of a more typical Star Wars novel, so I doubt it would hook even the mildly interested. Older, hardcore fans of Star Wars will likely also find the conflicts in this story too simplistic and/or juvenile.
That said, the writing’s great. E.K. Johnston also wrote Star Wars: Ahsoka, which I really enjoyed, and she’s brought that same smooth and accessible quality in her prose to Queen’s Shadow. The problem with this book, as I said before, has more to do with the lack of material to work with rather than any weakness in its technical aspects. We’re looking at a very brief and narrow timeframe in Padmé Naberrie’s life, after all, so in a way it’s understandable for some parts of the story to feel slow, drawn out, inflated. To her credit, Johnston did try to work in a separate storyline for Sabé in order to give the plot and setting a little more variety, but as a supporting character, her impact can also only go so far.
Still, some positive things to note include all the wonderful references to other people, places, stories and events in the Star Wars universe, including an appearance by Senator Clovis, who was first introduced in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars television series in one of the few Padmé-centric episodes. I also liked how this book expanded and developed Padmé’s personality, so that we got to know more about her as a person with her own private hopes, fears, dreams and ambitions. So where Queen’s Shadow failed to deliver on good pacing and compelling entertainment, at least it worked extremely well as a character study.
Regrettably, the same could not be said of Sabé, who fulfilled her supporting role duties valiantly but was otherwise wasted in her potential. While her loyalty was admirable, it just sucked that her entire world and life’s purpose—by even her own admission—revolved around Padmé and serving her wishes and desires. If the ending to this book is indeed a setup for a Sabé story, my hope is that she will gain some of her own agency.
In short, Queen’s Shadow is probably a book I can only recommend to readers who really want to know more about Padmé, or if you’re generally into everything about Star Wars. While I count myself among the latter group, even I must confess it is one of the less engaging of the new canon novels I’ve read and not very memorable.
Audiobook Comments: Admittedly, I’m way more used to having January LaVoy read as the female narrator for Star Wars books, but for Queen’s Shadow, how could I say no to Catherine Taber, who also provided the voice for Padmé on The Clone Wars cartoon series? Just like the audiobook of Star Wars: Ahsoka, getting the voice actress for the title character to narrate the book was a stroke of genius and brought an extra layer of immersion to the listening experience....more
I confess I’d never heard of the Limetown podcast, but when this prequel novel arrived for me by surprise from the publisher, I thought it might be worth checking out. Apparently you could read it independently of the podcast, and I figured even if I had no idea who all the character were or the background of the story, the fascinating premise should at least help carry me through. After all, a paranormal mystery about a mass disappearance sounds like just the thing I would enjoy.
The story is told through the eyes of two main characters. Lia Haddock is a seventeen-year-old student journalist whose life is changed forever the day she hears about the disappearance of three hundred men, women, and children at a research facility in Limetown, a small community in Tennessee. There is also a personal connection, as one of the missing is her uncle, Emile Haddock. The event sets Lia on a path to uncovering the mystery about what happened to the people of Limetown, as well as her own family’s connection to the place. Why are her parents so reluctant to talk about Emile and what might have happened to him?
Alternating between Lia’s chapters, we also get Emile’s POV, which takes place years before. Emile is revealed to have special powers, and his strange, secretive ways also makes him a bit of a pariah at his school. He and his brother Jacob (Lia’s dad, who is much younger here) live with foster parents, but Emile cannot stop obsessing about the whereabouts of their missing mother. Running away to look for her, he winds up at a secret research facility where his psychic abilities are identified, resulting in him becoming a subject of forced experimentation.
So yes, after reading Limetown, I have concluded you can indeed pick this story up without having any knowledge of the podcast. But should you? Probably not. After some research, I did learn that Lia is the narrator of the podcast, in which she is a reporter chronicling her investigation into the missing people of Limetown, presenting her findings in a serialized fashion over the course of six episodes in the first season. Perhaps if I was a listener of the podcast, I would have felt a deeper connection to her character, but I found myself really struggling to engage with her chapters while reading the book. Granted, being somewhat reticent and aloof might have been part of her personality, but because the writing seemed to always keep the reader at arm’s length, I never felt truly invested in her storyline.
Emile fared a little better. While Lia was all about getting down to business, Emile had an openness to him as well as a humanness to his conflict which made him a more sympathetic character compared to Lia. However, after a while, his storyline paralleled hers so neatly and unconvincingly, that gradually it began to feel more forced than mysterious.
Though I hate to say it, things became rather dull after that. Part of the problem is that the mystery became lost in all the plodding details about family drama and other unnecessary distractions. The connections and big reveals were also predictably spelled out for you, so as a reader I didn’t even have to work hard to figure things out. It made me question the point of this novel. Obviously, you don’t get any answers about Limetown, since those are probably held in reserve for future seasons of the podcast, leaving this book feeling like a hastily thrown together side story with too much padding.
All told, as someone entering the world of Limetown for the first time, I found it hard to care about anything that went on in this prequel novel. Based on my experience, I can’t really say it worked too well as a standalone, but it is now also clear that I am not its target audience. Perhaps the podcast’s fans will find some things in here that will enhance their experience, especially if you are interested in getting more of Lia’s backstory....more
These days, more and more YA authors are turning to popular and beloved stories to create their own worlds or to put their own spin on familiar ideas. In fact, it’s become so ubiquitous that it’s no surprise that a significant portion of my YA shelf is made up of retellings. With fairy tales and classic lit being the most common sources of inspiration, I’m at the point where yet another Beauty and the Beast or Shakespearean retelling would hardly make me bat an eye, though every once in a while something will cross my path that still manages to spark curiosity and makes me sit up a bit straighter.
Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell was one of these books. When I first heard that it was modeled after Les Misérables, I was immediately intrigued. Leaving aside the fact it’s not every day you come across a Les Mis retelling, such an undertaking would also be incredibly ambitious and—as I would imagine—extremely difficult. But if the authors can pull it off? Well, then this could be a brilliant and awesome novel indeed.
The first installment of a sci-fi series called System Divine, named after the far-flung star system in which this story takes place, Sky Without Stars introduces readers to a futuristic society divided in a class system reminiscent of the three estates hierarchy used in pre-Revolutionary France. Back in the time when the First World fell, the planet of Laterre meant hope for all survivors of the Last Days. Hundreds of years later, however, it has become a place where the rulers and nobility of the First and Second Estates reign supreme, while the Third Estate—the poor common class—are left to starve in the streets.
We mainly follow three key protagonists who come from very different backgrounds, though their destinies will be forever entwined and changed by this story’s events. First, we have Chatine, a young thief whose only goal in life is to scrape together enough money to buy her way off Laterre and escape the cruel regime. Next, we have Marcellus, a promising young officer whose grandfather is also a powerful general of the Second Estate, or the class of enforcers who serve the planet’s rulers by keeping the masses of the Third Estate in line. And finally, we have Alouette, an acolyte of a secret order sworn to protect the written history of the planet, hidden in the last surviving library underground.
The three of them are brought together when, in desperate need of more funds, Chatine is forced to take on an assignment to spy on Marcellus, doing it under the guise of her male alter ego, Théo. Because his father was a notorious traitor imprisoned for his crimes years ago, Marcellus is believed by his grandfather to be ripe for recruitment by the resistance group Vangarde, prompting the need for his surveillance. Meanwhile, curious about life on the surface, Alouette sneaks out from her underground refuge for a quick peek, only to become embroiled in world of chaos and rebellion as news of a brazen attack against the First Estate ripples across the whole of Laterre.
For a YA novel, Sky Without Stars is a massive clunker of a book, as I would expect any retelling of a Victory Hugo classic would be. While I wouldn’t say each and every one of its nearly 600 pages were enthralling or hard to put down, for the most part I think the authors should be commended for doing a great job with the concept, especially given the restrictions they were working with and the fact that they injected a lot of their own ideas. This made for some truly fascinating world-building, the sci-fi setting with its advanced tech contrasting nicely with the historical events the story is based on—namely the events leading up to and surrounding the June Rebellion, the anti-monarchist uprising that inspired Les Misérables. Issues like the wealth disparity between classes and the overall poor living conditions of the Third Estate played well into the novel’s dystopian themes of injustice and revolution, and the world itself is strongly influenced by French culture and language.
Despite the length of the novel, I also managed to get through it rather quickly, thanks to the rock-solid writing and smooth pacing. I do think that most of the book’s readability can be attributed to the use of multiple POVs, which were some of most balanced I have ever seen in that I didn’t think any of the characters were over or underrepresented. When you’re dealing with a huge tome like this, and an author collaboration to boot, so many things could have gone wrong with regards to character development, yet I felt Chatine, Marcellus, and Alouette’s roles were all equally well written and explored. This resulted in surprisingly few lulls in the narrative, because I genuinely found them all interesting to read about.
Needless to say, fans of retellings will eat this one right up, but I also wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this novel to readers of epic fantasy or anyone who enjoys a rich and textured sense of vastness to go with their stories of layered adventure and intrigue. Considering the many ways this Les Misérables retelling could have strayed from its intended course or blown up in all our faces, Sky Without Stars actually turned out to a surprisingly well-rounded and entertaining read. I will be sure to pick up the next volume....more
Children of Time was my first experience with Adrian Tchaikovsky, and it was like a revelation. This was a book I loved so much, I wasn’t even sure I had room in my heart for a sequel, so I admit when I heard about Children of Ruin, I approached it with no small amount of skepticism and trepidation.
Well, it seems I needn’t have worried, as Children of Ruin turned out to be a very enjoyable follow-up. I’ll also say that while the first book ended in a very good place, I was surprised to see how much more Tchaikovsky was able to build upon its foundations, adding to both the story and the universe. Essentially, you get everything you loved from Children of Time and further exploration of its themes, including the implications of a future shared by humans and uplifted creatures. Of course, we get to see Kern again as well as the spiders, but to my delight, this book also introduces more worlds and species like octopuses and other surprises. In addition, once again we have a narrative that spans many, many years—the better to examine the growth and evolution of societies, cultures, intelligence and communication over a long period of time.
Following the events of Children of Time, the humans and spiders have formed a mutual but somewhat uneasy alliance. In a joint venture between the two species, a space exploration vessel has been launched after the detection of a series of radio signals indicating the evidence of more life out there in the universe. However, in their quest to make contact, the crew encounters a new world and a hostile reaction from its alien inhabitants, putting all their lives at stake. In another thread, we discover how in the ancient past, another terraforming attempt led to the discovery of a planet the explorers dubbed Nod. Since I want to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, what happened there is best left for the reader to find out on their own, but what I can tell you is that the connection between past and present will eventually be revealed. With careful attention to detail and balance, Tchaikovsky presents a long and complex (and sometimes disturbing) history of this universe and its intelligent entities, and a few of the developments might even chill you to the bone.
Because so much of this book builds upon Children of Time, it is most assuredly not a standalone sequel. Still, it is a must-read if you enjoyed the first book, and now, it is doubly worth your time to start this series if you’ve been curious about it. I still need to read more books by the author, but so far, with this series and a couple of his fantasy novels under my belt, I’m definitely feeling more of an affinity towards his sci-fi. With every page of Children of Ruin, I just grew more and more amazed at the depth of his ideas and creative genius. In book one, I thought the spiders were cool, but in book two, it was the octopuses who completely stole the show. I mean, come on! Octopuses! In space! Just when I thought Tchaikovsky could push the boundaries of this series no further, he goes ahead and proves me wrong. Furthermore, he does our new octopus characters justice, portraying them as both strange and familiar all at once. We know that as creatures, they’re scarily intelligent, but in their society as imagined in this book, they’re too disunited and fragmented to truly reach their full potential. Reading about them as was fascinating as reading about any alien culture, and the best part was that they were also different enough from the spiders to allow this sequel experience to feel unique, despite sharing similar themes with the first book.
If I had to compare the novels though, I would say Children of Time still maintains the edge. Like I said, there are many parallels, which in part removes some of the novelty. As well, I found there to be more exposition in this sequel, which led to some uneven pacing. On the bright side, however, I thought Children of Ruin did a fantastic job exemplifying the “biopunk” nature of this series, placing much greater emphasis on topics like population biology and social organization, examining a species’ social behavior through an evolutionary lens. Needless to say, the science nerd in me could not have been happier with the new direction.
All told, Children of Ruin follows closely in the footsteps of its predecessor when it comes to providing a smart and fresh take on our favorite science fiction themes, including alien contact and space exploration and colonization. If you loved the first book, I think you will also feel right at home with this one as Adrian Tchaikovsky once again delivers an engrossing storyline with lots of unexpected twists as well as sympathetic characters—human and nonhuman—that you can easily root for. Only two books in, Children of Time series is already proving to be a must-read for all sci-fi fans....more
When it comes to science fiction, there are few things more irresistible to me than a story about killer robots or rogue AI. This is the premise behind Toxic, a young adult space adventure set aboard Cyclo, a massive state-of-the-art live ship that’s the first of its kind. But of course, being an actual biological construct, Cyclo isn’t your typical sentient ship. Like anything alive, it also experiences senescence, and now it is slowly but surely dying.
In order to study such a momentous and scientifically significant event, data collectors have been dispatched on a one-way trip to Cyclo to document the ship’s final days. Made up entirely of criminals, this group was never intended to make it back alive. Among them is Fennec, who has signed on for the mission as a way to repay his debt to society. He’s determined to fulfill his contract so that his sister will be taken care of when he’s gone, because when the ship dies, he and his team will soon follow.
However, instead of finding Cyclo completely evacuated, Fennec and his fellow mercenaries discover a lone girl on the ship, who apparently has been left behind. For seventeen years, Hana has been kept isolated and hidden because her very existence would have been a violation of the strict population laws. Created illegally by her mother and cared for by Cyclo, Hana dreams of the day she will finally be revealed and accepted by the outside world. But one day, she wakes up to find her mother gone, the entire ship empty. She is devastated when Fennec and his team arrive, informing her of Cyclo’s impending demise and the reason for their mission. Hana doesn’t understand why she has been abandoned and left to die, but for the first time in her life, she has gotten a taste of freedom and knows she will do anything for a chance to live.
Toxic was an interesting book, even if the pacing was uneven in some places. I loved the opening chapters which introduced Hana and her fascinating backstory, as well as Cyclo’s role in her upbringing. Speaking of which, the ship itself was one of the novel’s best characters. While Cyclo is a complex and intelligent entity, it nonetheless possesses many traits that remind readers that it is a creature of instinct. As such, many of its behaviors and actions are completely unpredictable and made this one a joy to read. Biological technology is something I love seeing in books, and Lydia Kang explored the idea in a way I found quite unique and engaging.
That said, compared to the first riveting chapters, I thought the middle sections of the novel dragged a bit. The story doesn’t waste time establishing an attraction between Hana and Fennec, which I thought was a mistake. Given the circumstances—him being literally the first boy she’s ever met, and she being the last human girl he’ll have contact with before his final sentence is served—the entire situation kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. The focus on the romance also diminished the presence of the others around them. As I sit here writing this review, I find that I can hardly remember anything at all about the supporting characters, who mostly served as background distractions.
Thankfully, the story picks up again in the last third. I was quite taken with Kang’s writing, and was especially impressed with her characters’ dialogue and banter. I also liked how Fennec and Hana were able to bond over a shared interest in antiquities, so that there ended up being something deeper driving their relationship. Most important of all, the mystery reaches its climax in this section. Toxic is a standalone so you’ll get all the answers before it’s over, and there are plenty of surprises and twists to keep the momentum going until the very end.
As usual, the somewhat awkward handling of the romance was what affected my overall enjoyment of the novel, but only slightly. All in all, Toxic ended up being a pretty good read, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Its minor flaws aside, I thought the book displayed a high level of creativity and depth of thought, and some of its darker and more disturbing moments also made for some incredible atmosphere. I would recommend it for YA sci-fi fans, and Lydia Kang is an author whose work I’ll be keeping my eye out for in the future....more
I was happy to find that The Rosewater Insurrection was as weird and wonderful as its predecessor. In many ways, I even got along better with it because the story was slightly simpler and easier to follow, and it also features one of my favorite characters from the first book as the protagonist.
This time, we get to ride along with Aminat while her lover Kaaro, the main character from the first book, takes on a more supporting role. This sequel brings us back to Rosewater, the Nigerian city which has sprung up around the dome-like alien lifeform known as Wormwood. The country’s political climate is thrown into chaos as Jack Jacques, Rosewater’s mayor, makes a brash attempt at declaring independence, antagonizing the president of Nigeria who is not about to stand for such noncompliance.
Meanwhile, in a quiet neighborhood one morning, a woman named Alyssa Sutcliffe wakes up in her home with no memory of who or where she is. The man sleeping beside her, presumably her husband if the photos around the house are any indication, is a stranger and she has no recollection of them ever getting married. There is also a daughter, whom Alyssa does not recognize at all, and she can’t even remember ever giving birth. A trip to the doctor finds nothing wrong with her physically, but alerts others who might have an idea of why she is experiencing such strange memory loss. Working as a government agent, Aminat is charged with finding Alyssa for her possible part in a greater fight to save the human race even as shadowy factions conspire to keep a rising alien threat secret.
In The Rosewater Insurrection, Tade Thompson continues to expand the world of his series, peeling back even more layers to explore the inner workings of this strange and fascinating setting. Even after two books, the novelty has not faded for me; I still feel as amazed as ever by the incredible world-building as well as the author’s unique take on the concept of alien first contact and invasion. As you’d recall, it’s a particularly insidious kind of takeover, involving the slow and gradual replacement of human cells with xenoform biology, which infuses this series with a subtle eeriness that is very effective. Due to some of the events in this book, the sense of danger feels much less abstract this time around, becoming more imminent—and more personal, in a way—ramping up the intensity of the suspense and action.
Following in the tradition of Rosewater, this sequel is also told via multiple POVs with a narrative that jumps around in time. While I’m still not the biggest fan of the non-linear storytelling, my experience with the first book had primed me for what to expect in this follow-up, and admittedly, the plot is intriguing enough that I would be willing to give these novels a pass on anything. Plus, I loved our new characters. As much as I enjoyed following Kaaro’s point-of-view in the previous installment, I was excited when I discovered that Aminat was going to be the protagonist in this one. We got to see a deeper side of her here, and together with Alyssa the two of them made an efficient team even when their interests didn’t always align. The mercurial Jack Jacques was also a perspective character, his inconstant motivations presenting yet another puzzle piece in this ever-widening mosaic of events.
It’s difficult to say much more about this book, not only because of obvious reasons involving spoilers but because there’s also the complexity of the plot to consider. There’s a strange kind of beauty about these novels that’s hard to put into words, an uncanny perfection in how all these different parts come together. Needless to say, Tade Thompson somehow connects all these various elements and and makes them work in balance and synergy. All in all, The Rosewater Insurrection is a masterfully well-crafted sequel that ties together plot threads while further expanding the world to prepare for even greater revelations in the coming finale....more
Occupy Me was probably one of the chanciest books I have ever attempted to read, knowing full well from the blurb and countless reviews how strange and bizarre it would be. I’ve made it no secret that I don’t always do well with “weird” books. But still, I decided to give it a try because I was in the mood for something a little outside of the box, and I was also curious to see what the science fiction literary awards circuit had been raving about.
And wow, what a trip this was. I’m not even sure how to describe the story, so I’m going to let the publisher description do most of the talking: “A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world.” Pearl is the woman with wings in question, an “angel” who works for a nebulous organization known as the Resistance. Posing undercover as a flight attendant, improving the world a little bit at a time with small incremental acts of kindness, she secretly hides an uncanny past and is determined to track down a killer responsible for pulling her out of her dimension and trapping her here on this earthly realm.
However, the killer is actually her prey wearing another man’s body. Dr. Sorle is not Dr. Sorle, for he has someone else living inside him. He is also in possession of an ordinary looking briefcase that is in fact an interdimensional gateway defying all the rules of time and space—an item which Pearl is in desperate need to get a hold of, for only then will she be able to unlock the mystery of herself and find her way home. But the briefcase isn’t going to yield its secrets freely, nor is Sorle willing to relinquish it that easily. Released from the Resistance, Pearl is forced to embark on her quest alone, chasing down this unpredictable madman and his freaky briefcase that can open into any number of dimensions, allowing all kinds of creatures to escape.
Obviously, if you’re looking for a coherent and straightforward story, you’re not really going to get that here. Occupy Me is mind-bendingly weird, there’s no doubt about that. Thing is, it’s not exactly weird in the “I’ve eaten a bunch of mushrooms and I’m all tripped out” kind of sense. I would say it’s more weird in the way that a lot of people find anime “weird”. The book is certainly contained in its own eccentric, quirky little world, and like all unfamiliar and odd things, it takes getting used to. The plot itself is actually quite easy to follow, and I enjoyed it immensely once I fell into the rhythm of not expecting anything to conform to reality. For me, I think that happened around the time a fucking pterosaur flew out of the briefcase.
Still, I’m not going to lie and say it was smooth sailing from there. I struggled plenty to wrap my head around a lot of the ideas and crazy concepts to spring forth from the hyper-imaginative mind of Tricia Sullivan, but I will say, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. While everything about the book was unusual, I also thought it was highly entertaining and even humorous in many places. Pearl is a hoot to follow with her unique personality and background, not to mention her forthright way with words. Never knowing what to expect around the next corner meant at no time did I find myself caught in a dull moment, and I always felt on guard trying to prepare myself for whatever strange surprise might pop up next.
Needless to say, it’s very difficult to recommend books like Occupy Me. Because they are so different and unusual, they may only appeal to a thin slice of the speculative fiction audience. All the same though, I feel that they also demand a certain level of admiration, if nothing else for being so boldly imaginative and fearless in defying genre expectations and convention. This novel is most certainly not for everyone, but if you’re looking to shake up your reading with something outside your comfort zone—something that might twist your mind and kick your imagination into high gear—then it might be worth a look....more
I have been most impressed with Claudia Gray’s books in the new Star Wars canon, and I have to say, she has yet to disappoint me. Now she’s at the top of her game once again with Star Wars: Master & Apprentice, a novel set a handful of years before the events of The Phantom Menace which shines the light on 17-year-old padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi and his complicated relationship with his mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn.
When the book begins, the two Jedi have already been working together for several years, though deep down, both suspect that their current arrangement may be soon coming to an end. They are simply too different in their views of the Force, with Qui-Gon with his unconventional thinking and sometimes flagrant disregard for the Jedi Council’s advice while Obi-Wan is more of a stickler for the rules. These differences have created a tension between master and apprentice that both know can’t go on for much longer.
So when Qui-Gon is unexpected offered a seat on the Council to replace a retiring member, a part of him believes that the change may be for the best. No one would expect him to turn down such a prestigious position, and consequently, Obi-Wan can be transferred to a different master out of necessity. But before the older Jedi can make such a momentous decision, he knows he must meditate upon it, and in the meantime, he and his apprentice are dispatched to the planet of Pijal where an old acquaintance of Qui-Gon’s has requested their assistance in defusing a political situation between the royal house and their opposition.
This contact is Rael Averross, a rogue Jedi who was also a former student of Dooku, like Qui-Gon Jinn. Averross is currently serving as lord regent to Pijal’s princess, her Serene Highness Fanry, who is only fourteen years old and is heir to a throne fraught with a history of political tension. Her planet is now in a position to affect the economic futures of other worlds in the region, and a corporation called Czerka also has stakes in the new hyperspace lane venture that is being discussed. When terrorists threaten to place that all in danger, Averross decides to call upon his old friend Qui-Gon despite the two of them having drifted apart over the years, because he knows Pijal is going to need all the help it can get. The urgency of the situation also leads the Jedi to enlist the aid of a couple of jewel thieves named Rahara, an escaped slave from Czerka, and Pax, a social outcast raised by a crew of protocol droids aboard an abandoned ship. Despite their differences, our motley crew of characters must work together to protect Fanry and safeguard Pijal’s interests. Meanwhile, Qui-Gon also needs to figure out what to do with his apprentice, as well as sort out his doubts with regards to his beliefs in ancient Jedi prophecies.
For a media tie-in novel, Master & Apprentice is surprisingly complex and layered. There’s certainly a lot to unpack here, compared to some of the more recent releases in the Star Wars canon. However, the central theme of the book is undeniably the relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Gray explores this dynamic using a number of ways, including flashing back to Dooku and Qui-Gon’s time as master and apprentice to show how an individual Jedi’s views can be shaped by their style of training and instruction. It is perhaps no coincidence that both of Dooku’s students, Qui-Gon and Rael Averross, have ended up with rebellious natures, given the kind of person their teacher was and the Dark Side path he chose.
But back to the relationships between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan: in the late 90s, I started reading a series of now-Legends middle grade novels called Jedi Apprentice, the first book of which was called The Rising Force and told the story of how they became master and apprentice. As this series was marketed for children, I didn’t demand too much from it, though I do recall wishing it had been a deeper exploration of the two characters’ personalities and bond as it went along. Twenty years later, it’s like Claudia Gray has finally written the kind of story I wanted. Qui-Gon’s fear of failing his apprentice is written incredibly well, and likewise so is Obi-Wan’s struggle to understand his master and his determination not to disappoint him. It was heartbreaking to read about their anxieties, knowing that deep down, they both loved and respected each other very much.
And of course, another one of the novel’s major topics is prophecy. I mean, considering how the Jedi prophecy of the “Chosen One” was the main impetus behind Anakin Skywalker and the whole Star Wars saga, this is huge—and accordingly, Gray gives this theme the gravitas and weight it deserves. Qui-Gon’s views on prophecies, which also explained his motivations in The Phantom Menace, were addressed here in Master & Apprentice, and also sets up a number of theories for Star Wars fans to chew on with regards to the new movies.
Typical of the author’s Star Wars novels, the characterization was also done extremely well. There’s a clear emphasis on developing relationships, and there are a whole web of them here to consider. The story takes a look at both past and present, examining the relationships of multiple sets of masters and apprentices, as well as the role the Jedi Council has played in those dynamics. In addition, we have the side characters and their relationships to each other and the protagonists. Following in the footsteps of a long line of rogue Jedi in Star Wars fiction, Rael Averross’ infectious personality and emotional openness completely stole the show for me. Rahara and Pax were also a joy to read about, and their personal stories offer some commentary on darker activities that still go on in the Republic, including smuggling and slavery. And then there are the shadowy villains and other dubious organizations like Czerka and or the Opposition on Pijal, though Gray is so subtle and clever with her writing that there will be twists and surprises you won’t see coming.
Needless to say, in my eyes, Master & Apprentice is one of the new canon’s better books. Personally, I also think it’s one of Claudia Gray’s bolder Star Wars novels, where she tackles more mature themes and uses some modern vernacular and risqué language which felt a little out of place at times (keep in mind I’m talking by Star Wars standards here, and I know some people let their younger kids read Star Wars tie-ins, so reader discretion is advised). To sum things up though, I had a great time with this novel, and after reading it, I also think it would be fantastic to see more prequel or pre-prequel era Star Wars books in the future.
Audiobook Comments: I absolutely adored Jonathan Davis’ performance on the Star Wars: Master & Apprentice audiobook. He’s always been known to me as “that Star Wars narrator who can do an amazing Darth Vader voice”, but obviously he’s incredibly talented and can do a lot more than that. Short of getting Liam Neeson himself to read this book, I don’t think you could have gotten a better voice actor for Qui-Gon Jinn. Stellar performance, as always....more
Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have done it again. While Aurora Rising is no Illuminae Files trilogy (but let’s face it, we all knew that filling those shoes would have been an extremely tough thing to do anyway), it does bring its own brand of excitement and entertainment to the table, offering a solid YA adventure that should satisfy any sci-fi fan looking for a thrilling space romp.
The year is 2380, and at the prestigious Aurora Academy it is the eve of the Draft, which has been on cadet Tyler Jones’ mind for as long as he has been looking forward to graduation. As the school’s star student, he would have the pick of the best recruits for his squad. However, an unwavering sense of duty leads him to answer a distress call that night, causing a huge kerfuffle resulting in Tyler missing the most important day of his life. In the aftermath, he is left with a crew of misfits, the leftover dregs of the academy that no other squad leaders want.
Nevertheless, Tyler is determined to be a good leader, resolving to live up to his reputation of “golden boy” and to do the best with what he’s got. First, we have Scarlett, Tyler’s twin who joined the academy in solidarity with her brother, and likewise she has decided to stick with him now out of a sense of loyalty, serving as his squad’s diplomat. Next, we have Cat, an ace pilot who has been friends with the twins since they were all children. It’s also something of an open secret that she’s always carried a torch for Tyler, though all of them tiptoe around the fact. And then we have Kal, a member of Syldrathi race, an alien species affectionately referred to as space-elves. Kal, however, is no willowy sprite; he’s got a fiery temper and serious anger management problems, which is why no one else at the academy would touch him with a ten-foot pole despite his legendary fighting prowess. Also, we have Zila, the squad’s brilliant science officer, except she’s so volatile and prone to get trigger-happy that not even the promise of her genius can overcome others’ fears of working with her. And finally, there’s Finian, the team’s second alien member, of the Betraskan species. Frequently underestimated by others because of his impaired mobility which requires him to wear an exoskeleton suit for support and movement, Fin is a tech expert who is the best at what he does despite the massive chip on his shoulder. Together, the six of them make up Squad 312, our novel’s heroes.
But wait! There’s one final surprise member of team, a wild card no one anticipated until she made her presence known on the crew’s first official mission after stowing away on board their ship. This is Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, a girl who finds herself in an unfamiliar world after waking up from being cryogenically frozen for the last two hundred years. And as if this strange future wasn’t scary enough, for some reason there are hostile forces hunting Auri, and she’s also developing superhuman abilities that both terrify and fascinate her. As Squad 312 struggles to decide what to do with their newest crewmate, they also must worry about their own safety as Auri’s powers grow more dangerous and her pursuers close in.
First thing I noticed about Aurora Rising is that there’s something very Star Trek-y about its setup, which immediately biased me towards its story and characters. For one thing, I’m a real sucker for ensemble casts in my space operas and sci-fi adventures, and the motley crew of this book promised great and interesting things. I also liked how the authors actually gave our characters genuine personalities and background histories. I’ve come across way too many YA novels these days that promise diverse characters, but in reality, what we end up getting is a parade of diversity labels and shallow characters who are empty husks defined only by their race/gender/sexual orientation/disability, etc. Honestly, this gets tiresome after a while, not to mention it’s a bit insulting. Which is why I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to read about Squad 312 and have them actually feel like well-rounded and authentic people who have experienced real emotions and lived real lives. And quite frankly, I would have expected nothing less from Kaufman and Kristoff, who have already shown us they can write amazingly well-developed characters with their Illuminae Files series.
But while I would have no hesitation whatsoever recommending Illuminae Files to anyone, regardless of their age, I do have to mention that Aurora Rising feels more skewed towards a younger audience, with a stronger “teen read” vibe. The characters’ attitudes, dialogue, and sense of humor seem to reflect this. Like for example, the ridiculous number of times Tyler’s attractiveness was mentioned or how he was constantly referred to as “Captain Hotness” (I swear, if I had to read about his damn dimples one more time…) Then there was Auri’s annoying way of calling Kal “Elrond” and making endless stupid Lord of the Rings references. So if this is the kind of stuff that grates on your nerves, your eyes are probably in for some epic rolling.
The premise of Aurora Rising is also not as complex as any of the books in the Illuminae Files trilogy, nor is it anywhere near as unique. It’s pretty much your standard heist plot, but in space, and I’ve read better. Still, to its credit, this book is exciting, if a bit drawn out at times—though often when we get lulls, it’s because of character development, which is why I give some of the wonky pacing a pass.
All told though, Aurora Rising was a satisfying read with fantastically developed characters (in spite of all the snark) and a decent plot with well-written action. I truly did not think it would reach the heights of Illuminae, so I’m glad I kept my expectations realistic, but still, overall I am very happy with how this book turned out....more
If you’re ever in need of something to brighten your day or give you a nice shot of energy after you find that a string of heavier, ponderous books has sapped your all your motivation, Finder by Suzanne Palmer is exactly the kind of pick-me-up the situation calls for. It’s nothing too deep or fancy, but it sure as hell gets the job done.
This is a tale set in the far-flung future, following the escapades of our protagonist Fergus Ferguson. A self-described finder, it’s his job to chase down some of the galaxy’s most notorious criminals to retrieve lost or stolen items, a position which hasn’t earned him much popularity, though the same cannot be said about the number of his enemies. His latest gig is a mission to steal back a spaceship from a egomaniacal ex-nobleman turned crime lord named Arum Gilger, who has been making a big splash lately with his ever expanding sphere or influence and power. However, as Fergus makes his way to the remote system called Cernee where he has located Gilger and the stolen ship, the cable car he was traveling in is attacked. Fergus barely escapes with his life, but his fellow passenger, a kind and pleasant older lady with whom he had established a friendly rapport in the introduction to the novel, does not make it.
Little does he know, that brief connection they shared will lead to much deeper and wide-spread consequences. Recovering from the attack, Fergus finds himself tangled up with the locals and their plight. Cernee is now plunged into a civil war, and our protagonist will have no choice but to fight alongside his newfound allies against Gilger and his dastardly plans to seize control over their colony. Meanwhile, the fight is further complicated by the emergence of a mysterious alien species that was long thought to be a myth, adding another layer of action and intrigue to an already compelling mix.
Finder was a boatload of fun, no other description really required. It’s the kind of book where you can let your thinking mind take a backseat while you break out the popcorn and indulge in a breakneck, high-octane space adventure. But most impressively, despite all the nonstop action, Palmer still manages to set aside some time for world-building and character development, creating in Fergus Ferguson a well-rounded and likeable protagonist you just can’t help but root for. Although he was born on Earth (hailing from Scotland, naturally), Fergus blew off the earth at a young age and has been bouncing around the galaxy ever since, making a name for himself as a kind of space repo man. As far as sci-fi scoundrels go, I love the direction the author has chosen with our main character, and his personalities traits and life experiences are as interesting as you’d expect.
Then, there’s the humor. Featuring a mixed bag of genuinely laugh-out-loud comedy combined with a healthy dose of groan-worthy jokes and cheesy slapstick, this novel is guaranteed to have something for everyone. The lightness also keeps this one from becoming too gritty and dark amidst all the explosive violence and action. Fergus has a talent for getting himself into tight situations again and again, but tensions are lessened by the slick dialogue and the story’s easy ability to make you laugh.
Fergus’ interactions with the other characters also deserve a mention. No matter how endearing or charismatic they are, few characters can carry a story on their own, and to be sure, much of the entertainment I derived from Finder was thanks to Fergus’ personality and background being bound up in the lives of the other supporting characters he meets. The people of Cernee felt real, and so did their problems. Palmer’s world-building skills are on full display here, when you consider the sheer effort that must have gone into the creation of this intricate little community and their role in the wider network of systems beyond. The emotional connection I felt towards Fergus’ new friends came very naturally, and consequently their relationship dynamics and interactions also felt well-written and believable.
All told, Suzanne Palmer has brought to life a surprisingly developed and well-layered space adventure, considering how strong the emphasis was on delivering fast-paced action and thrills. A novel debut for her, Finder clearly shows that making the jump from short stories to long form fiction is not a problem for the author. While you won’t be getting anything too deep or sophisticated with this one, there’s no denying that it’s a lot of fun....more
Lots of interesting and unique ideas are happening in young adult sci-fi and fantasy right now, and when the author can pull them off while being diversity-minded and still nail the trifecta of characters, story, and world-building, it can be incredible thing to see. However, I’ve also found these cases to be extremely rare. To wit, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve come across a book with amazing representation and great ideas, only to have everything else be a convoluted and fractured mess. And it pains me greatly to admit that this was similar to what I found with Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy.
Credit where credit is due though, I have to say this was one of the most ambitious YA novels I’ve read in years. When I first heard about a gender-bending queer retelling of the King Arthur legend in space, I knew I had to read it, but I was also curious to see how it would be done. As it turns out, the answer is a doomed cycle and some nebulous form of reincarnation. In a nutshell, this means that all the characters of the Arthurian legend have come back again and again in one form or another, ever since the time of the first Arthur.
So now far into the future, in a universe ruled by an evil megacorp called Mercer, we get to meet our 42nd reincarnation of the great king, who is a determined teenage girl name Ari. Cut off from her home planet of Ketchan, which has been barricaded off by Mercer, Ari finds herself constantly on the run with her brother Kay to avoid being captured. Then one day, she crash-lands on Old Earth and finds an ancient sword among its ruins. You know the rest of the story: the chosen one, awakened when the world is at its greatest need for heroes. In due course, Ari rallies a group of loyal knights to her cause, including Lam, Val, and Jordan, and even finds her queen Gwen, the ruler of the medieval recreation planet Lionel.
Of course, we also mustn’t forget Merlin, the man of myth and magic. And here’s where things get a little weirder. Cursed to age backwards reliving the tragic story of King Arthur over and over, this iteration of Merlin emerges from his crystal cave the moment Ari draws the old sword, looking younger than ever before. Fearing what would happen if he fails his liege this time, Merlin places his last desperate hopes on Ari, who granted isn’t the Arthur he expected, but might turn out be the one to finally break the vicious cycle.
I’ll give Once & Future this: considering all the elements the authors had to pull together to make this work, the ideas behind the book are surprisingly well realized and great fun. I also didn’t think I would enjoy the style of humor, but I did. Offbeat but not too silly, the jokes and playful banter actually helped make this novel a smoother ride and more enjoyable.
That said though, I found most of everything else to be a struggle, especially the story. Despite the high stakes, there’s a distinct lack of depth to any of our characters’ actions because all the plot points involved are so shallow and simplistic. In a way, I suspect this might in fact be a side effect of the world-building, which I also felt was flimsy and superficial and even a bit goofy—though on this point, I am less sure whether or not this is by design. We seem to be constantly waffling back and forth between a serious space opera in which our characters deal with some pretty grave matters versus an over-the-top sci-fi comedy where the lines between retelling and straight-up parody are being blurred. As a reader, I found this split incredibly jarring and difficult to engage with.
Furthermore, after the first quarter of the book, we started to run out of things to feel excited about. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the refreshing diversity of our characters and the representation in the novel, but like I always say, a gesture like this is diminished if everything else—story, characters, world-building, etc.—isn’t tightly written. And indeed, a lot of these elements fell a bit short. The pacing was haphazard, with examples like our characters becoming best buds in an eyeblink, or time jumps being handled less than ideally. The plot, which started off being so promising and chockful of all these wildly creative ideas became progressively less interesting as the story retreated back to more familiar territory with regards to aspects of the King Arthur legend.
Ironically, I think it’s the reincarnation angle that’s the most intriguing but also the most restrictive feature of this story. Here is a retelling of the Arthurian legend in space where the possibilities are essentially limitless. However, because of the direction the authors have chosen, we’re locked into the same patterns that we’ve seen countless times before, superimposed upon a typical YA dystopian tale of oppression and resistance, reskinned with a sci-fi setting with planets and spaceships.
Ultimately, I believe Once & Future was a case of many well-developed ideas and themes that sadly did not come together as well as they could have. Taken individually, I loved many aspects of this book, including the central premise and diverse characters, but presented as a whole, the experience somehow felt empty and unfulfilling. I’d say this novel is still worth the read for the things it does well, but at the same time, be prepared for the things it doesn’t....more
Exit Strategy closes out the Murderbot Diaries quartet of novellas, and while it’s a bit on the tame side compared to all that came before, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to tie everything together. For those who have been on this crazy ride since the beginning, you will also be delighted to know this book takes us back to the beginning, to the event and people who started it all.
At the end of the last book, Murderbot had just made a significant breakthrough in its investigation of the shadowy corporation GrayCris and has decided the time has finally come to seek out Dr. Mensah, the lead researcher we first met in All Systems Red. But there’s only one problem: it appears Mensah has been kidnapped in a preemptive move by GrayCris to prevent a lawsuit from being brought against them. Murderbot now has no choice but to take it upon itself to rescue Mensah, but first it must take care of another predicament. Word is out that a rogue SecUnit is on the loose, and the authorities are out in force looking for Murderbot, threatening to end its mission before it even begins.
After making its way to the space station where Dr. Mensah is believed to be held, it’s a heartfelt reunion as Murderbot is reconnected with the other scientists from the original exploration team. But none of it is going to compare to the moment when our protagonist finally comes face to face again with the person who had always known Murderbot’s true nature, treating it as an individual and a friend. Needless to say, the idea is a bombshell for an A.I. who has always had difficulty coming to grips with its emotions. In one of the most compassionate and revealing moments of this entire series, the famously snarky and misanthropic Murderbot must consider how these feelings will affect its perceptions of humans, as well as what this might mean for the future.
Like all the Murderbot Diaries novellas that have come before, this final one really packed a punch. But while action and intrigue have thus far been major elements in the previous volumes, perhaps it is no surprise where Exit Strategy hit the hardest was in the emotional department. I felt it was an appropriate and natural next step following the intensity and energy of Rogue Protocol, and the more reflective tone of this book allowed for the attention to shine on everything going on in Murderbot’s mind. We’ve seen how each installment has built upon the previous one, forming a larger narrative while always increasing the stakes. Having recognized this trend, I expected a lot from Exit Strategy and in the end I was not disappointed. We have now witnessed the nearly complete transformation of Murderbot. It has gone to great lengths to augment itself to look and act human, and the final step was learning how to feel human.
For those of a mind that a person alone with no community, friends, or family can ever truly grasp the full human experience, you will probably appreciate the themes in this series. Murderbot began as an artificial intelligence freed from its programming. Hilariously though, before Dr. Mensah’s team came along, it was content to simply use its newfound freedom to enjoy the limitless offerings of TV shows available from the human entertainment networks. From the beginning, that part of Murderbot’s personality set the stage for the type of humor and charm you would find throughout this series, but it goes deeper than that. I’d really like to think that the soaps was what set our protagonist on its path to empathize with and relate to humans, ultimately discovering the importance of meaningful relationships and value of friends and other people who will have your back—no matter what.
All told, the Murderbot Diaries series has been an absolute delight. All four novellas have been quick and easy reads, but nevertheless, they’ll be hard to forget. I’m very excited for the upcoming full-length novel, because like many others, I have not had enough of Murderbot yet, not even close. I’ll be looking forward to see where Martha Wells will take the character next....more
The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling is a story about two women who have more in common than either of them would like to admit, but by the time they realize how much they mean to each other, it might already be too late. Gyre was only a little girl when her mother abandoned her, leaving only a vague note with an invitation to her daughter to come find her when she is ready. Now twenty-two years old, our protagonist has finally decided it is time. But first, she’ll need to make enough money to get off her backwater planet and begin her search, and to do that, she has forged her credentials and work history in order to sign on to a dangerous mining operation known to pay its cavers extremely well.
Given how much she was offered for the job, Gyre expected to be assisted by team of specialists and scientists, but instead, she finds herself alone in the deep, dark tunnels of the planet with only a single overworked individual on the surface remotely monitoring all her life support and suit controls. Introducing herself as Em, her handler is secretive and uncommunicative in her lofty position of authority, which immediately sets off Gyre’s dislike and mistrust of her. But very soon, as the mission becomes increasingly difficult and treacherous, the two of them have to learn to work together and let each other in, because only then can they save one another and put the ghosts of their pasts to rest.
I was torn between like and dislike for this book, and it kills me to have to give this one anything less than 3 stars because it had its moments. However, there were simply too many other things about it that left me feeling disenchanted and utterly frustrated, making it hard to justify a higher rating. The truth is, I probably would have enjoyed the story a lot more had it been presented in a shorter, less repetitive and more condensed form, but as it is, I felt that too many pages were devoted to pointless back-and-forth or were squandered by following our characters as they—quite literally in some cases—walked around in circles.
What’s more, I feel the publisher description has done the book a great disservice by comparing it to The Martian and Gravity, because the reality, as I found out, was much different. For one thing, the “intensive drive” that was promised was virtually non-existent. A heart-pounding thriller this was not, so don’t be expecting anything like The Descent. I just can’t emphasize enough the slowness of this book, even though, in all fairness, I have no doubt the measured pacing here was entirely intentional. The plot featured here is the kind that relies heavily on character development and relationship building, a process that understandably cannot be rushed.
But back to my issues with the blurb: as you would recall, both Mark Watney and Ryan Stone in the respective tales of survival were quick-on-their-feet problem solvers who kept their cool and used their wits to apply their knowledge and resources available to them in order to overcome obstacles. In awe of their inventiveness and ability to find quick and clever ways to get out of tight spots, never once while watching them did I think to myself, “Wow, that was dumb.” Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Gyre, a recalcitrant, reckless and naïve protagonist who frequently and actively sabotaged her own chances of survival with her tunnel vision and less-than-intelligent decisions. That she never learned from any of her mistakes or the fact that the narrative fell back again and again into the same tiresome, infuriating patterns was simply another nail in the coffin. I mean, if you have reason to suspect your mental capabilities may be compromised, perhaps then you shouldn’t rely solely on your own impaired judgment? Sure, Em’s not perfect, but maybe trust that as mission control, she has at least some idea of what she’s talking about? But no, pretty much the entirety of this 400-page novel consisted of repeated variations of the following conversation:
Gyre: “I’m going to go ahead now and do something stupid.” Em: “No, don’t do it, Gyre. That would be really stupid.” Gyre: “Fuck you! Just because you’re my boss doesn’t mean you can boss me around!” *Gyre goes ahead and does something really stupid* Gyre: “Well shit, I guess that really WAS stupid. I might have just doomed myself with my stupidity. Dammit Em, why didn’t you stop me?” Em: “You’re right, I really should have tried harder. I’m so sorry that I’m such a monster.” Gyre: “Damn right you are, and I’m not about to let this happen to anyone else. To do that, I’m going to go ahead now and do something stupid.” Em: “No, don’t do it, Gyre. That would be really stupid.”
And on and on, ad nauseum. Granted, the first couple of times this exchange happened, it gave us great insight into the characters’ personalities and dynamic. However, tighter writing and more concise storytelling could have probably conveyed the same ideas in half as many pages. The F/F relationship was also not very satisfying, and considering so much of it was developed under mental and physical strain or was fueled by desperate need and duress, I just couldn’t see it as either healthy or sustainable. Furthermore, I was never convinced of Em’s true intentions of sending people down into those caves. The explanations given were so underwhelming, initially I thought they were a smoke screen to obscure the true reasons which would later be revealed, but nope, that was it.
Still, I did mention the book had its moments. First of all, kudos to the author for pulling off what is essentially a novel featuring an extremely limited setting and only two characters. And while at no point did I personally find this “horror” novel scary or disturbing, Starling nevertheless did a fantastic job evoking an atmosphere of isolation and claustrophobia, especially in the sections with the sumps. At times, the hopelessness of Gyre’s situation really got to me, not to mention how all the uncertainties had a way of messing with your head. Scenes of breathless action were few and far between, but whenever they cropped up, they were also well written and suspenseful. Plus, the tunnelers were pretty cool, though we didn’t get to see nearly as much of them as I would have liked.
However, at the end of the day, the positives were still outweighed by the negatives, which greatly impacted my experience with this book. Namely, slow pacing and aggravating characters were my main issues, compounded with the possibility that my expectations had been set too high by the synopsis. That said, I don’t want to discourage anyone from checking out this novel if the story’s description calls to you, or if you this is something you might enjoy. Good luck, and happy caving....more
Not gonna lie, I’ve always been hard on the romances in my fiction. While I have nothing against romance, I’ve always said that if there’s going to be a romance arc in any book, it needs to be convincing—not to mention I also want the characters, plot and other story elements to be strong. It also helps when a novel is upfront with the reader on what to expect. In the case of Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik, it is an example of a sci-fi romance mashup that handles all these points very well.
The protagonist of this tale is Lady Ada of High House von Hasenberg. As the fifth of six children, her usefulness to her family only extends to her marriageability into one of the other High Houses, and only so that her father can have a spy in a rival’s house. To avoid that fate, Ada ran away years ago and has since survived on her own by living under the radar on space stations and mercenary ships. But unfortunately, her luck has just run out. As our story begins, Ada finds herself in a holding cell with another high-profile prisoner named Marcus Loch aboard a bounty hunter’s ship, soon to be handed off to Richard of High House Rockhurst, the man she was supposed to marry. Though Ada knows better than to trust Loch, a known dangerous criminal, she’s also aware he’s her only chance to escape. And so, the two of them strike up a tenuous alliance, agreeing to work together until they make it some place safe. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Loch is hot as hell and has the body of a Greek god.
However, Richard is not about to give up so easily. For some reason, House Rockhurst is really keen on having his and Ada’s arranged marriage go forward, presumably to get their hands on her dowry. But what exactly is it that they want? And why does Richard also seem to want to capture Loch as badly as he wants Ada? As our two fugitives go on the run together, they end up finding the answers to all these questions and more. In order to protect her house and prevent war, Ada will need to recruit more help and put a stop to Rockhursts’ plans. Meanwhile, she’s also realizing that Loch is more than he seems. He’s certainly not the heartless mercenary she had expected him to be, and as the two of them grow closer, Ada must also admit to herself that Loch has become more to her than just an escape plan.
In case it’s not glaringly obvious, Polaris Rising is mostly a romance first, and a genre novel second. By that, I mean it can be awfully self-indulgent at times, being predominantly interested in focusing the attention on the romance arc between Ada and Loch, and it does that boldly with no apology. For one, the plot is light and leaky and doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. World-building elements are plentiful but just robust enough to get by. Characters are also on the conventional side, with Ada being your typical heroine with a fierce personality and a strong independent streak, while Loch is even more clichéd as the tall, dark, brooding and possessive alpha male whose sculpted face and abs appear to be his main appeal. As they’re both archetypal to an extent, neither instilled much likeability at the beginning, though credit where credit’s due: both scored high on the believability meter. Ada and Loch are flawed characters each dealing with a painful event in their past. Ada’s prevents her from letting anyone get close, while Loch has done some terrible things that he’d rather forget. Again, it’s not the most original setup, resulting in drama that could have been predicted from miles away. And yet, the emotional growth they each experienced was convincingly written and fun to watch, and in the end, isn’t that why we read such stories?
Another point for this book: the supporting cast. Characters like Veronica, Rhys, and Bianca are fully-fleshed individuals in their own right, adding much flavor to the story (not to mention a nice break from the smoldering gazes our two protagonists are constantly throwing at each other). Even if romance isn’t your thing, you’ll love the meaningful relationships that these other characters add to the equation. And ultimately, that’s what I enjoyed most about Polaris Rising—the fact that there’s so much else to like beyond the main romantic arc. In spite of the light world-building, there is also a clear and strong effort to make the sci-fi setting as authentic and full-bodied as possible. It feels developed from the ground up along with the story, and not as though it was slapped on as an afterthought. And of course, if you’re here for the romance you’ll leave very happy, but those of us who require an actual plot with some action too will certainly not be disappointed either. Mihalik manages to balance the sexy times with enough suspense and thrills so that neither aspect overshadows the other, leaving both coming through very naturally.
Overall, I had a really good time with Polaris Rising. Admittedly, the romance genre is still not something I can take in large doses, but I love throwing a book like this into my reading repertoire whenever I feel like I need a change. Like a rich, fluffy, decadent dessert, I can only read these types of novels once in a while, but whenever I do, it’s always oh so satisfying and delicious....more
The Lost Puzzler was a puzzle, in more ways than one. Not only was the story shrouded in mystery, the plot was also slow to unravel, inviting the readers to seek the solution to the big question while doling out clues gradually in a teasing fashion. In addition, the structure of the book felt like a series of many separate and dissimilar segments making up a whole, thus making it feel very fractured.
For obvious reasons, novels like this often present me with a conundrum: how to rate it when I enjoy some of its pieces but not the others? In the case of The Lost Puzzler, I loved everything about the first half. We begin the tale through the eyes of a lowly scribe of the Guild of Historians who has been tasked with a dangerous mission to discover the fate of a boy who disappeared more than a decade before. This boy—named Rafik—is said to be a Puzzler, an individual with a special talent to unlock mysterious puzzle box-like nodes that are scattered across the world, hidden away in labyrinths and other dungeon-like places, where they guard the valuable treasures of the lost Tarkanian civilization. Following an apocalyptic event known as the Catastrophe, those who survived have split into different groups, and one of these groups called the Salvationists believe that the answers lie in the ancient technology of their forebears. They send teams on dangerous expeditions to plunder Tarkanian strongholds, where the Puzzler will attempt to crack their defenses while the rest of the squad protects itself from threats like traps and attacking lizard-like creatures.
Soon after the intro though, the narrative shifts to tell the story of Rafik. He was born in a community that has reverted to the old ways after the Catastrophe, becoming deeply faithful to the new gods they worship while shunning everything to do with technology. When the strange tattoos marking him as special began appearing on Rafik’s fingertips, his parents feared their son cursed, sending him away to a “friend” of the family who promised to get a good price for him at auction. Recognizing his value, a powerful guild ends up purchasing Rafik at a high price, nearly bankrupting themselves in the process. To ensure a return on their investment, Rafik’s new handlers begin grooming him for the demanding role of Puzzler, putting him through rigorous training exercises to prepare him for his first expedition.
The book flips the reader back and forth between these two timelines—the one in the present, where our historian attempts to extract Rafik’s story from a woman who used to know him, and the one in the past, which flashes back to her knowledge of the boy’s history and her recollections of her time with him. The awkward transitions notwithstanding, I generally liked how the two narratives were presented, especially the way they framed Rafik’s backstory while doing an excellent job filling in the lore and background of the setting. Like I said, I loved the first half of the book, particularly the parts detailing the initial stages of Rafik’s exile, from the time he discovered the telltale markings on his hand to the harrowing journey on the road where he is traded from master to master.
Not surprisingly, some of my favorite moments from the book came from these early segments, with Rafik’s time with the charismatic Captain Sam and his supertruck Sweetheart immediately coming to mind. The problem, however, is that many of these fascinating encounters are much too short. While I really enjoyed Rafik’s backstory, I wasn’t so much a fan of the episodic nature of his narrative. It felt really fragmented, with his character being passed like a hockey puck from one situation to the next, not to mention how a lot of the entertaining side characters end up sticking around just long enough to endear themselves to the reader before they are swiftly left behind and never to be seen again. It seemed a little wasteful, in a way, how many of the incredible characters and concepts presented here were never explored to their full potential. It made me think that much of Rafik’s backstory of his time before being sold to the Salvationist guild could have been cut down or reworked because of the way it plodded and meandered.
The novel also started losing me in its second half. After Rafik is bought by the guild, the story descends into a confusion of ideas that remind me of a bit of a fantasy RPG campaign mixed with the premise of a YA dystopian like The Maze Runner. These elements didn’t mesh as well with the rest of the world-building. I also didn’t feel as invested in the story once the present timeline took over for good. And while the conclusion provided some answers, the explanations given were convoluted and I didn’t find them particularly helpful, especially since they led to even more questions.
All of this led to my mixed opinions on the The Lost Puzzler. At times, it was a compelling page-turner where all I wanted was to know more about the life of Rafik and his abilities; other times, I was uncertain how I felt about the story’s direction and disjointed sections. That said, on the whole I found this to be an entertaining read and a fairly solid debut, and at this point I’m up for giving this world another go if there is a sequel....more
After Station Breaker closed on such an open-ended cliffhanger (*shakes fist*) I picked up Orbital immediately afterwards to continue following the action-packed adventures of former-pilot-turned-space-ops-astronaut David Dixon.
If you thought the first book was too extreme and ridiculous with its over-the-top antics, the good news is that this sequel takes a more laid-back tone. Thankfully though, it’s no less intense. While Station Breaker was your equivalent of a summer action blockbuster, Orbital reads more like a slick spy thriller. Picking up directly from the previous novel, the story sees David back on Earth, hailed as a hero for averting a global disaster. Unfortunately, the damage caused by the media circus has been done. David is let go by his employers at the aerospace company, and even though he was exonerated of all charges, the stigma of being labeled as a terrorist at one point means that no other agencies are willing to touch him with a ten-foot pole. The chances of David being able to fly again are looking quite bleak indeed.
Then one day, David is contacted by a covert government intelligence agency through one of his new connections. As it turns out, some of the enemy technology he encountered in the last book was actually stolen or leaked from a top-secret lab originating on an orbiting science space platform. While David is no spy, his experiences with these types of clandestine operations in space make him the most qualified to infiltrate the platform and sniff out the one responsible for the theft and leaks. Finding the culprit will also hopefully lead them to discover the identity of the shadowy agent known as Silverback, a highly placed mole in the US government.
After the rollercoaster ride that was Station Breaker, the beginning of Orbital was a nice chance at a little breather. Granted, the story was a little slower to take off this time, and in a lot of ways, the way things started reminded me a lot of another Andrew Mayne sequel. In his Naturalist series, the protagonist Theo Cray becomes anathema to the academic community after his involvement in a high-profile case to help catch a serial killer. Likewise, David Dixon manages to save the world but the fallout from the highly-publicized incident immediately kills his chances at ever being hired again by a legitimate aerospace company. In both cases, the characters are forced to take on any kind of soul-sucking work they could find. But because Orbital also needed to tie up a lot loose threads left by the non-ending of the previous book, the intro section was further protracted (which is another good reason why authors should just end a book properly.)
The good news is, once the story gets going, it gets REALLY going, and after the first third, the book gets hard to put down. Most of it takes place primarily aboard the orbital space platform where David must pretend to be a fellow researcher while trying to root out the traitor without arousing suspicions. David’s not the world’s best secret agent, but he does a relatively good job blending in, poking his nose discreetly into everyone’s work while schmoozing his way into the commanders’ good graces and politely holding off advances from lusty astronauts. A lot of the interactions are entertaining as you would expect, given our protagonist’s sense of humor. There are some amazing characters in Orbital—and also some great technology. This one’s a bit heavier on the science and jargon compared to the first book, but astronautics doesn’t have to be in your wheelhouse for you to appreciate this series. All of it is fascinating stuff that should be easy to take in and digest, and my favorite parts all involve David trying to MacGyver his way out life and death situations.
For fans of mysteries set in space, it doesn’t get much better than Orbital. It’s also a very clever and funny, and yet that humor does not come at the expense of the suspense and thrills. While the book sets a different tone than its predecessor, it’s no less addictive and fast-paced. Highly recommended....more
Rosewater was weird, but in the best way possible. And that’s not something I can say about a lot of books, given my low weirdness tolerance. However, this was an instance where I was glad I kept an open mind, because while the story and I may have started out on shaky ground, it eventually expanded and developed into something strangely wonderful and compelling.
The book opens with our protagonist, Kaaro, arriving to work at the secret government facility known only as Section 45. The year is 2066, and the world has seen dramatic changes since the arrival of an alien lifeform which has settled itself near right outside of Lagos, Nigeria, where most of this story takes place. There, the alien presence has taken the form of a biodome, giving rise to Rosewater, the name of the community that has sprung up around its edges. Every so often, the dome would also split apart, releasing a mysterious substance rumored to have strong healing powers. As a result, Rosewater has become a destination for some of the world’s most hungry, sick, and desperate.
Kaaro himself has been changed by the biodome. He is among a group of individuals “infected” by the alien presence when it first arrived, which has granted them these uncanny telepathic abilities. Called sensitives, they share a special connection with the living dome, allowing them to pick up on thoughts and other signals to glean information and knowledge. When Kaaro first discovered he was a sensitive, he used his newfound powers to steal, but now he has joined many others like him, coerced by Section 45 to work for them as an interrogator to extract information from prisoners. But something odd has been happening lately. Visions of a woman with butterfly wings inside the biodome keep appearing to Kaaro, and soon many of his fellow sensitives are getting sick and dying. Is this a targeted attack on those like him, or something else? And will he be next?
I won’t deny this was a story that took a long time to take shape and gain traction. There’s a lot of world-building to establish, not to mention a lot jumping around in the timeline—something I admittedly struggle with when I encounter non-linear storytelling. And I would say Rosewater did take a while to generate interest, but once it dug its hooks into me, I was sold. Around the time Kaaro was informed of the many other sensitives like him dying under mysterious circumstances, the mystery plot came into the forefront and became the most important element of the book. At this point I finally felt like I was in my element, that there were tangible conflicts to which I could latch onto and focus my attentions.
That said, I also don’t want to give the wrong impression of this book. Yes, it is strange, and there are many moving parts, with the story taking a long rambling route to where it wants to be. Despite this though, Rosewater is very readable and accessible, even if it did require a fair bit of investment on my part. It is almost overwhelming in places, due to the sheer amount of information one must take in, from reanimates to secret portals and angel-like extraterrestrials. Suffice to say, we would be here all day if I were to detail all of the crazy inventive stuff I found in this novel, because pretty much everything was just so damn cool.
And to be honest, Rosewater only started to grow on me once all these ideas had their chance to settle. It wasn’t until much later that it occurred to me, this novel that I held in my hands was much more than a sci-fi mystery. It is also a tale of alien first contact, but unlike any I’ve ever read before. Revolution simmers beneath the surface, in this future version of Africa where many of the rights and freedoms have still yet to reach the people. Nigeria has become a gathering place for much of the world’s disenfranchised, who have come to the biodome with hopes of salvation.
Now might also be a good time to point out this is not a very cheerful tale; it is set to the backdrop of a lot of unpleasantness and misery, and Kaaro is a character with whom readers might have a hard time connecting. He fits the profile of a film noir protagonist in a lot of ways, namely being a socially estranged loner with a lot of existential angst—much of it not unwarranted, I might add. He has a complicated past, a result of coming into his powers at a young age. The rapport he has with coworkers and fellow sensitives also belies the fact he despises working for Section 45, though the details of his history with them isn’t revealed until much later. His experience with the alien lifeform, Rosewater, and his own powers are dominated by emotions of uncertainty, and it is this vulnerability that makes him feel so genuine to me. Such a complex portrayal of a multilayered, often contradictory protagonist is never easy, but I was really impressed by the work Tade Thompson has done.
So, if you are feeling brave, please think about giving Rosewater a chance. Personally, I am glad I did, despite my initial worries that it would be too weird or confusing for my tastes. Frankly, it is an rare and beautiful thing for a book to start off by filling me with doubt, only to turn around and sweep me off my feet, leaving me with a strong and lasting impression by the end. It’s a real treat, one I hope many others will be able to experience with this incredibly unique and thought-provoking novel....more
Despite being the son of a wealthy renowned bioengineer, Ashton Collins is just your ordinary teenager. In fact, due to his strict and protective upbringing, Ash is probably much more sheltered than the average kid. But when he is ambushed in his home by a squadron of armed invaders, he finds himself on his own and without anyone to turn to. His only lifeline is a panicked message from his father right before the attack cut the feed, telling Ash to head to the Red Zone, located in the dangerous heart of Los Angeles, in order to find a group known as the Street Freaks.
Once in the Red Zone, Ash finds himself swallowed up by this futuristic dystopian mega-city, a world he knows next to nothing about. Luckily, the Street Freaks find him before he can get into too much trouble, inviting him into their circle. They’re a band of adolescent outcasts, including a young woman with super-strength, a boy with more robot than human parts, a synth created to be pleasure bot, and many others. Brought together by the street racing scene, the Freaks also run a vigilante-style operation on the side, and Ash’s photographic memory and near perfect recall are skills that immediately make him an asset. But Ash is also on a personal mission to find answers, like the identity of those responsible for the attack on his home. News of his father’s death also turns his world upside down, though not for a second does Ash believe it was a suicide as reported.
I confess, I’ve not been a big reader of Terry Brooks over the years, despite him being a huge name in fantasy fiction. That said, I know enough about his work to know Street Freaks is a bit of a departure for him, exploring the sci-fi dystopian landscape with a Young Adult bent. However, what I did not expect was how skewed it was towards younger readers, for it does not feel as though it carries much crossover appeal, unlike a lot of Brooks’ other work. While the characters are likeable, they’re still very much the teenagers they’re supposed to be—impulsive, snarky, somewhat hot-headed and volatile and oftentimes immature. For fans of the YA genre who are familiar with the typical YA character shenanigans, I don’t think this will pose much of a problem, but for readers expecting something more serious and hard-hitting, you may find that Street Freaks has little to offer beyond surface-scratching territory.
To its credit though, the book does reads like an action movie, the plot’s lack of depth be damned. The scenes of the street races were almost reminiscent of the podraces of Star Wars complete with roaring crowds and fiery explosions, and I can’t help but think Brooks might have been channeling a little from his time writing the novelization of The Phantom Menace. These types of action sequences, which bordered on blatantly gratuitous, were nonetheless entertaining and provided well-timed bursts of spirit and dynamism in between sections where the narrative attempted at discussing weightier topics, such as the ethics and social consequences of genetically or technologically enhancing humans.
But ultimately, Street Freaks ended up being a rather typical YA sci-fi dystopian—though I don’t want to paint that as too much of a negative. The book is a mystery adventure-thriller, but at its heart also explores important coming-of-age themes such as finding yourself and seeking acceptance. Brooks’ style trends towards being lighter and not too subtle, which worked well in this particular case. However, his tendency to tell-versus-show made the romance (yes, of course there’s a romance arc) feel forced and awkward, and not even listening to this in audio made it any less cringey, though happily, this was probably the worst of my complaints.
Bottom line, I won’t deny I wish Street Freaks had been more. Still, at the same time, it was also pretty much exactly as I expected, so I can’t say I was too disappointed. It’s certainly accessible enough for Terry Brooks fans coming from his fantasy, and to many, the fun and readability might be all that matters.
Audiobook Comments: I make it no secret that I am a huge fan of Simon Vance, who is one of the most talented and versatile audiobook narrators in the industry. However, my first impression was that his voice might have been too mature for this very YA tale, though in the end he managed a fine job of it in any case. A good narrator can sometimes compensate for some weaknesses in the writing, and I felt Vance fleshed out a lot of the characters by bringing them to life with his voice....more
Stars Uncharted is an adventurous romp through space with three extraordinary characters: Nika Rik Terri is a talented body-modification artist who has made a name for herself with her innovative designs and methods; Josune Arriola is a traveler who has just signed on with the crew of the cargo ship The Road to the Goberlings, working as their junior engineer; and Hammond Roystan is the captain of that ship, who has just stumbled upon a find of a lifetime in the form of the disabled exploration ship Hassim whose databanks are said to be a treasure trove of uncharted worlds.
But what makes this story interesting is that no one is who they say they are. On the run after getting mixed up with some dangerous people, Nika flees from her old life aboard The Road with a rookie modder named Snow in tow. There, they get to know Josune and Roystan, who are dealing with their own set of problems. That’s because Josune is in fact a crew member from the Hassim, who had originally joined up with Roystan in order to spy on him and arrange a meeting between their two ships. Unfortunately, her plans go awry when it turns out that the Hassim was attacked by pirates, and everyone on board was massacred. With some very powerful enemies after her, she is now stuck in a precarious situation. Meanwhile, Roystan is also hiding his own share of secrets. His ship has become a target now that everyone thinks he holds the key to unlocking the mysteries of the Hassim, and the added threats are doing nothing for his already stressed mind and ill health. Traveling under a false identity, Nika beings to suspect that not all is right with The Road’s captain or his engineer, as her experience with body modding allows her to identify inconsistencies both their stories.
Stars Uncharted turned out to be everything I expected from a rollicking space opera: heavy on the action and adventure, though admittedly a little sparse on the details surrounding the world-building and technology. That said, the story was for the most part vastly entertaining. The first few chapters did feel slower, perhaps because of all the setting up required to establish the book’s premise and characters. However, once Nika, Josune, and Roystan finally met up and became a team, things got exponentially more interesting. Not surprisingly, it’s because the story’s three protagonist are at the heart of Stars Uncharted. The dynamics between them made this novel thoroughly engaging and addictive despite, or perhaps because of, all the secrets flying between them, for even though they come from different backgrounds, a sense of “We’re all in this together” prevails. Each character is well-developed with multiple layers of emotion and personality, which also interlock with each other to holds those relationship bonds together.
But as I made mention before with regards to the world-building and the technology described in this novel, those elements were relatively light. This, I believe, was a purposeful and practical decision, for it would have been no good to bog down the flow of this perfectly exuberant space opera with reams of techno-jargon and hard science. On the other hand, there’s not much in the way of guidance provided when trying to navigate this book’s universe, as readers are thrown into the thick of things from the very first page.
In order to keep up the story’s fast pacing, I suspect a lot of details were sacrificed, though there is one exception to this: body-modding. The narrative goes much deeper into the subject of body modification than it does for any other topic, though considering the role it plays in the story, I can see why. Incidentally, I also found it to be one of the most compelling issues in the book. As Nika’s specialization, I loved that she treated her work as an art as much as it is a science. While her job is to cater her designs to her clients’ needs, she isn’t shy about adding some flair of her own, which is why some laud her as a revolutionary trendsetter while others accuse her of being a rule-bending menace. However, the general idea is that identity is a much less important factor in the world of Stars Uncharted, since whatever you wish to be or look like can be arranged with a bit of money and a few hours spent inside a modding machine. The social implications of this is something I wish the story had spent more time exploring, though a lot of fascinating information can also be gleaned from the attitudes of the characters aboard The Road.
All told, it was a pleasure to finally read something by S.K. Dunstall. The pen name of this sister writing duo first landed on my radar with the Linesman trilogy and I’ve been curious about their work ever since. Stars Uncharted might not be breaking any new ground, but it sure managed to pull off exactly what it set out to do, which is to provide a fun sci-fi read full of exciting twists and other genuine delights, and the authors did a superb job....more
From the moment I picked up Girls with Sharp Sticks, I found myself drawn in by its spell and mysteries. Right away we’re thrust into a setting of what is ostensibly a school, except I was seriously weirded out by the major Stepford Wives vibes and surreal attitudes of its students. The young women in this all-girl elite boarding school are all beautiful, poised and well-behaved—unnaturally, painfully so. Their bizarre curriculum includes subjects and activities such as “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden”, while their report cards employ a scale to measure their level of obedience. The mostly male teaching staff have a creepy tendency to get too handsy and seem all too comfortable in taking advantage of the girls’ eagerness to please, hiding their true intentions behind patronizing smiles and empty warm words.
So, exactly just what the hell is going on at this so-called “Innovations Academy”? The need to find answers was what kept me turning the pages. The plot of Girls with Sharp Sticks follows Philomena (Mena to her friends), who is one of the dozen perfectly proper and physically flawless young ladies in her peer group at the school. The girls rarely get to leave the premises, except for the rare field trip where they are closely chaperoned. On one such outing, however, Mena manages to slip the notice of the academy guardian, chancing to meet a boy named Jackson while buying candy at a gas station. But their moment doesn’t last long before Guardian Bose catches Mena, berating her cruelly before violently dragging her back to the bus. From them on, she begins questioning the ways of the school and the behaviors of her teachers. Then when one of the girls is suddenly taken away for “Impulse Control Therapy”, Mena starts to fear for herself and her friends. What are the little “vitamins” the doctor dispenses to them each night? Why won’t their teachers allow them any interaction with the world outside the school? And why did Jackson look upon her with such confusion and horror when she told him what goes on inside its walls?
Gradually, the truth of Innovations Academy comes out as the story unfolds, in a way that almost sneaks up on you. Of course, the feelings of “wrongness” about Mena’s entire situation are present from the very first page, but they start off subtle—particularly because the reader takes their cues from the protagonist in response to the various scenarios. The genius is in the way Mena is written, and the progression of her character growth as her thinking and attitudes transform over time. She begins this tale as one of the academy’s top students, completely buying into their mission and methods. Instead of feeling frustrated with Mena though, I think this only made her a more likeable character and made it easier to sympathize with her—for even as when she was beating herself up over the gas station incident, I burned with indignation on her behalf, knowing that soon enough she will be looking back on this moment with a whole new perspective.
Indeed, despite the conditioning, Mena is a strong and tenacious girl with a curious streak that cannot be suppressed for long, no matter how hard the academy tries to control her life. It is only a matter of time before her eyes are opened and she realizes that not only are Innovations Academy’s methods unusual, the staff have also been lying to her and her friends about what they’ve been doing at the school. Speaking of which, one of the most notable strengths of this book is the bond between all the girls. While it was Jackson who first “awakens” Mena to the possibility that not all is at it seems, I was glad to see ultimately that his role was limited and that it was she and her friends who worked together to save themselves. At its heart, this story features a strong sense of female friendship and sisterhood, something we honestly don’t get to see enough in YA.
I also loved that Suzanne Young did not shy away from darker or more difficult themes, including physical violence or psychological manipulation and abuse. While this resulted in some distressing moments or scenes that made this book hard to read, the overall mood of eeriness and suspense created was very effective. There’s a dreadful anticipation in knowing that none of the girls are safe, that every time you turn the page is another potential for a bombshell twist that brings bad news for Mena and her friends. But if you feel angry, disturbed, or creeped out at anytime while reading this novel, then that means the author did her job right.
All in all, I had a great time with Girls with Sharp Sticks. I would take a look if you enjoy intense dystopian stories, but personally, what I loved best about this novel was the strong character relationships and reading about how these amazing young ladies banded together to support and protect each other. The ending was a little out of left field but not entirely all that shocking, considering all the other surprises in the plot. Regardless, this novel was absolutely worth the read and I look forward to Suzanne Young’s next installment in the series....more
After completing his Bobiverse trilogy, Dennis E. Taylor tries his hand at something a little deeper and more serious in The Singularity Trap. Despite the slight drop in humorous moments and the pacing being a little uneven in places, it was still a very entertaining read complete with an old-school sci-fi feel and plenty of nods to hard science.
The story begins on the mining ship Mad Astra where readers are introduced to protagonist Ivan Pritchard, the most recent addition to the crew. With no other options left for him on Earth, Ivan has risked everything he has left on this venture in the hopes of providing a future for his wife and kids. But the asteroid mining business can be risky too, and if the Mad Astra can’t pull off a successful run this time, Ivan will be even worse off than when he first started.
Against all odds though, the miners wind up hitting pay dirt, finding an asteroid loaded up with all kind of valuable materials…among other things. While investigating an anomaly on the rock, Ivan unwittingly triggers an extraterrestrial booby trap which releases an unidentifiable substance onto his arm. Despite the crew’s best efforts to cut off the contaminated parts of his suit before returning him to the Mad Astra, the next morning Ivan wakes up to a shocking sight. The affected arm has been transformed completely into living metal—and it doesn’t seem to be stopping there. Even amputation is no use, as it is discovered that alien nanites have infected Ivan’s bloodstream, and they would simply strip the ship for resources to rebuild the missing limb.
Little by little, Ivan becomes replaced by the new alien technology. Soon, he even begins hearing a voice in his head, the one belonging to the artificial intelligence that has taken over his body. It reveals it mission: to convert and upload all life it encounters for its masters—and unfortunately for humanity, it’s next on the list.
If you enjoyed the Bobiverse books, the good news is that The Singularity Trap will scratch a lot of the same itches. It’s another unique premise offering a few twists on some classic ideas, and it also presents hard sci-fi concepts in an fun and accessible package.
However, it’s also clearly meant to be a more serious endeavor. For one, it’s not as light as the Bobiverse books, with less action and humor. There’s also a lot more exposition as the author waxes on about technological and scientific concepts. All this is interesting stuff, though admittedly not as engaging when it’s constantly hampering the flow of the plot. The book suffers pacing issues near the beginning, taking a long time for the story to get started, and then again in the middle as the parties involved in determining Ivan’s fate are locked in tireless discussion over what to do with this nanite-infested self. I won’t lie; staying focused was a struggle at times, and Ivan as a character was nowhere near as likeable or endearing as any of the Bobs. He didn’t seem to do much either, playing a relatively passive role for much of the book until the very end.
Still, despite my gripes, I suppose The Singularity Trap was enjoyable enough. The ending was satisfying, even if the climax was not as intense as it could have been. I think I had expected something a bit more from Taylor, after seeing what he was capable of in his previous trilogy, but overall I had fun.
Audiobook Comments: I was really happy to see Ray Porter on this project, because anyone else narrating a Dennis E. Taylor book would be a travesty. His reading was brilliant as always, adding an extra layer of immersion to the story. Sound effects were also a pleasant surprise and a nice touch!...more