Friday, July 25, 2014

The Circle by KM Montemayor

Title: The Circle
Author: KM Montemayor
Publisher: Smashwords
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

Once again I have a novel with a prologue which I once again skipped. Prologues are all about telling, aren't they and I'm just not into them. This is the first Smashwords published novel that I've reviewed as far as I remember (the novel interior says Smashwords, the net Galley page says Create Space). K. M. Montemayor is a Texas author who has a really cool website, but I could not get on board with this novel. I think it had a lot of potential, but I don't think the potential was realized.

This novel is book one of a series, and it's blessedly told in third person for which I applaud the author heartily. It's tempting to rate it a worthy read for that alone - a young adult novel told in third person? Unheard of in this day and age! On the other hand, it's yet another YA trilogy with a circle on the cover, and that's never a good sign in my reviewing experience.

In the end, I could not give it a passing grade and I'll tell you why right here. This was a novel I couldn't properly get into and after about five chapters I could not bring myself to read any more. It was too simplistic for me, too young and too shallow, and it was far too focused on teen romance for my taste. In short, it wasn't at all what I'd expected to find based on the book description.

Set in the 1980's for reasons which were not apparent to me in the portion I read, this novel is about Liliana Garcia, something of a loner girl in high-school, who is on the 'drill team' yet isn't a part of the crowd. The first chapter lays out her life - which sadly seems to render her more of an appendage than a person.

Lilly's mom is a single mom who still has not got over separating from Lilly's dad. This is why, Lilly surmises, she works two jobs - doing something unexplained on weekends and also working the evening shift at the hospital where she's an ICU nurse, to occupy her time. What was confusing to me in this first rush of information was the time-line. We're told it's the last week of summer break, but apparently it's the last weekend; then suddenly it's school and band practice and there's a new guy in the band - a senior year transfer in. I got confused by how rapidly that went by.

On reason that this was hard to get into is the episodic nature of it, and the jumps in time between each episode. In each chapter, we're treated to a series of vignettes separated by triple asterisks, and that gave the novel a disjointed feeling to me, more like a dream than a narrative, or like looking at a series of snapshots in a photo album instead of watching a movie.

For senior high-school students, Lilly and Claire seemed rather juvenile to me. Despite their being seventeen, Lilly's friend Claire gushes over her boyfriend's purchase of a charm bracelet for her as though she's twelve, and Lilly's entire repertoire of thought is confined solely to how attractive people are. She's so shallow that eyeglasses are a huge turn-off for her. Charlie wears eyeglasses.

The big twist here is that this new guy, Charlie, hasn't transferred in from another high-school so much as transferred in from outer space. He's an alien supposedly here to learn what 'Earthans' know about space exploration, what kind of technology they have, and to prevent humans from learning about Charlie's own Sentrian civilization.

To me, this made no sense! Surely the best way to prevent humans from finding out about Sentrians was to keep the heck away from humans rather than send people to live amongst them? The best way to learn about Earth's activities in space, and human technology was to read about it in books, newspapers, and magazines. There's no reason whatsoever to have anyone go to high-school!

Besides, if the Sentrians have the technology to transport themselves over trillions of miles of space and seamlessly integrate themselves into human life undetected, what on Earth (literally) do they have to worry about? Clearly their technology is far beyond that of humans. I didn't get what their problem was at all.

I don't get the use of the term 'Earthan' either. Why not simply call them humans, or use whatever name they have for Earth in their own language? These Sentrians inexplicably all seem to have human habits, human names, and human customs whilst at the same time seeming baffled by human language and customs. That made no sense to me, either.

Sentria is evidently based on a Soviet Union mentality, which may be why the author set this in the eighties, but if Charlie thinks that humans have it free and easy, he's clearly spent zero time in the Islamic republics or in communist states! Why is that? Why did he come to the US in the fifties and right back there again in the eighties? If they already knew about human technology from the fifties visit, whence the need to come back at all? This was one more in a growing list of questions I had. Admittedly I didn't read much of this, and perhaps at least some of these questions were resolved later, but by that point I had no interest in pursuing them, nor any faith that the romance would allow these questions to be answered.

There's one section about Sentrians loving Earth coffee, but being unable to grow the plants on Sentria, and being unable to brew the coffee with Sentrian water. This, I'm afraid, is patent nonsense. Water is water no matter where it is in the universe. It's H20, dihydrogen monoxide, and that's all there is to it, but that's not the biggest problem here.

There's actually a good reason why humans can assimilate coffee and that's because we 'grew up together'. That is, we all share the same basic genetic code (with obvious differences). We evolved together on the same planet from the same genetic roots. Animals on Earth have evolved enzymes to consume Earth vegetation (and other Earth animals). It's a complete and tightly-integrated eco-system. There's no reason whatsoever to believe that we could automatically eat and enjoy, and digest and garner nutrition from, alien plants and animals any more than aliens can avail themselves of ours.

If this novel had been written without the romance and for a younger audience, I think I would have had fewer problems with it, but as it was, the science was still not quite right, the plotting didn't mesh, and this isn't something I got anything out of, so I cannot recommend it.

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