Showing posts with label Alternate history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alternate history. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I was taken by surprise by this book because for a good portion of it, I was feeling quite positive about it. it was no in first person, which was wonderful, and I was able to skip the boldly-marked prologue, so that was fine, but the last section really went downhill fast and spoiled the whole novel for me. I can't reward a novel that just goes from A to B. For me it must go from A to Z, and this one fell short of that, but it's not the destination alone; it's also how we get there. In the end, I felt this one went nowhere good even though there were some pretty sights on the way downhill.

I was particularly disappointed because the novel engaged me from the start and it presented a world which, while familiar in many respects, in others it was pleasantly different. It raised hopes only to dash them at the finish line. Set in 1917 in the US, it's a world where magic is real, but everything else is very much the same as we remember it historically. except that women are the standouts and leaders in one field of endeavor: a magical one. This unfortunately was misleading, as I shall get to in a moment.

Before I start though, I find myself once again having to say a word for our poor trees. If this novel went to a large print run with its three-quarter-inch margins all around, it would kill a lot more trees than it would were the margins more conservative. I continue to find it astounding in this day and age how many authors and publishers seem to truly hate trees, but I seem to be in a minority position, which is depressing quite frankly.

Moving on. The magic is called sigilry, because it's done by writing sigils, which are magical signs that provide the user with some sort of an ability to overcome nature. The most common of the supernatural powers is that of flying, and rather fast, too. Some sigilrists have been clocked at over 500 mph. One thing the magic cannot do is tell you how the word is pronounced! I always say it with a hard G, but it's also pronounced with a soft G. Google translate doesn't help, because the English version is pronounced hard, but the Latin version from which it derives is pronounced soft! I guess it doesn't matter. The Latin is sigillum, meaning a seal - as in seal of office, not in the bewhiskered, flipper toting, dog-like mammal that lives in the ocean.

Robert Weekes is an eighteen year old who lives with his mom, Major Emmaline Weekes, who is a renowned sigilrist who acts like a medic: going to the aid of people - and animals - helping them out, but Boober's mom is getting old, Robert is known in his family as Boober, which is unfortunate, not only in how it sounds but in why the author chose such a name. It seemed pointless to me since it's barely used.

Anyway, Robert wants to join the US Sigilry Corps Rescue and Evacuation Service, which is also unfortunate because men are at best frowned upon in this world of magic. At worst, they're reviled. I found this gender reversal to be interesting because it mirrored the bias against women in the real world, which has eased somewhat of late, but which is still a big problem, and especially so in what have been traditionally regarded as male preserves.

Robert ends up being one of only three students at Radcliffe college - yes, that Radcliffe, the one of Jennifer Cavilleri. It's quite a change since he comes from a very rural part of Montana, but he has two sisters and his father died when he was young so he isn't unused to being surrounded by women. The interesting thing then, is not the fish-out-of-water you might expect, but the reaction to these men from the women, which mirrors what you might have expected from men towards women in the same circumstance.

It was here that I began to find weaknesses in the story. It was tempting to ponder how a female author might have written this, but given how many ham-fisted stories I've read, I'm not convinced they would have done better. Yes female YA authors, I'm looking at you. The girls here seemed far too hostile. That's not to say women cannot be feisty, hostile, and even violent, but it seemed a little out of character for these students to exhibit such flagrant disrespect and such a violent attitude. Women are not men in reverse and this story seemed to behave as though they were. I found that very sad.

Another weakness was that even though this is a story about a man trying to make it in a women's world as it were, the story is largely about the men, and the world at large is still very much a world of men: men in charge, men making decisions, men being called to fight in the 1914-18 war in Europe, men of violence opposed to the sigilrists. Having read through the early chapters, I quickly began to feel that it was a mistake to have it set up the way it was. The impact of the female sigilry was really undermined by the rest of the world being a male preserve. A female trying to make it in this world would have made a much more rational story, but I kept hoping something would happen that would make all this make sense. Unfortunately it did not; quite the opposite, in fact.

Robert gets a girlfriend, and a sterling one in my opinion (and not the one you might think he will become involved with), but despite her accomplishments she seems very much like a secondary character and that saddened me. Why make her such a great and nuanced character and then under-use her? The book is about Robert, admittedly, but it started to feel like even he was as bad as the rest of the men in excluding women, what with his little male clique. I as hoping he would grow and learn, but he did not, and nowhere was this more stark than in that last ten percent. And worse, why make him a man if he's not going to react as many men do when provoked? It made no sense.

I don't want to give away too many details, but the fact is that he quite simply turned his back on someone who had been a loyal and trustworthy friend, who had stood by him through thick and thin, encouraged him and had his back, and he callously betrayed all of that out of pure selfishness. This completely changed my opinion of him and made me dislike him immense. I don't know if the author thought he was creating some sort of Hemingway-eque figure in Robert's unflinching manliness; all it did for me was to convince me that Robert was a complete dick.

In addition to this rather unrealistic conflict between the men and women at Radcliffe, there's a larger, more deadly conflict out in the rest of the country and I'm not referring to World War One. Many people, men and women, but mostly men, are opposed to women having this kind of power. They conflate it with witchcraft and militate against it, in some cases violently, and sometimes the sigilrists fight back with the same deadly aim., although that part of the story went nowhere and just fizzled out. Even here, we hear only of the conflict in the US though and while in a sense, this does match the reality of the isolationist stance of the US prior to both world wars, it means also that we learn nothing of this world outside the US borders (aside from references to the war).

In the case of one sigilrist, we learn of her outstanding exploits in that war, but I think this is another weak spot. It's common to many novels written by US authors - no matter how wild and supernatural the story is. We never get a perspective on the world at large. It's like the author is boxed in and can see only the US. It's a very provincial view which cannot see consequences or reverberations that might pass beyond the US borders, nor can it detect any influences or feedback from outside. I find that to be a sad and blinkered position, but like I said, it tends to be all we get in too many novels written by US authors.

So for me the novel was uneven, but even so, I was prepared to follow it to the end. The ironical thing is that had I DNF'd it, I might have given it a positive rating just as I give negative ones to bad novels which I DNF, but no one DNFs a novel they're deriving some sort of entertainment value from (and a from many reviews I've read, a disturbingly large number of readers punish themselves by actually finishing novels they didn't like!). I kept reading because I was curious where the author was going to take this when he seemed to have no endgame in sight. Was this merely the first in a series? The ending brought the whole edifice crashing down, and it was this collapse which made it easier to see fault-lines that I might have chosen to overlook had the ending made sense.

I think this author is a good writer and has a few tales to tell, but in this one case, to see the 'hero' of the story turn his back on people who have helped him, break promises, and leave loved ones in grave danger to pursue his own selfish interests just turned me right off the entire story. Worse, for a novel so centered on a female art form, there really are no strong female characters in this story, We read of past exploits speaking of female strength and heroism, but nowhere is it really apparent during the course of the actual story. This was sad to begin with, but it was exacerbated criminally in the end, through seeing one of the strongest of these devolve into a simpering, wheedling jellyfish, creeping back to a man who had callously spurned her. She deserved a far better ending than she got. Because of these reasons, I cannot in good faith rate this positively.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LaFleur

Rating: WARTY!

I honestly have no idea what this story was about - I mean, what was the aim here? What did the author hope to achieve? The author's name is hilarious because Suzanne means Lily, so her name is Lily The Flower! I loved that. It was the best thing about his whole book. Normally I don't talk about covers, but I have to say this is yet another example of Big Publishing™ getting its hands on your work and ruining it. The cover artist clearly had no clue what was going on in the book because the front cover represents nothing between it and the back cover.

The best thing I can say about it is that it was short, otherwise I would have ditched it as a DNF. It was aimed at middle-graders, so perhaps I'm not in the best position to judge it, but I honestly cannot see what they would get out of it that I did not. One of my kids is middle-grade, though, and the other is just out, and I can promise you that neither of them would have the slightest interest in this book, not even as short as it was.

Yes, it was another audiobook experiment, and it failed, but this is why I go out on a limb with audiobooks - for the one in a handful that really impresses me, and one which I might never have experienced had I not got the audio version of it. The one that makes it worth listening to poor ones like this. The reader didn't do an awful job exactly, but there were two issues I had with Christy Carlson Romano. The first is that she sounded way to old to be reading a first person story by a twelve-year old since she's in her mid-twenties. At the risk of being pounded for suggesting a return to child labor, is it such a bad idea to get a real twelve- (13-? 14-? 15-?) year-old to read these and let the kids earn some cash?

The second thing is that despite her her age, Romano sounded like a Disney princess and this really put me off the story. The sad thing is though, that even had I adored the reader and her treatment of it, I still would not have liked the story, because nothing happened. There was no drama, not even close, nor where there thrills, spills, chills, or excitement.

The whole plot, that we have this twelve-year-old Mathilde Joss going to war sounded interesting to me, but it was completely misleading because she joins military intelligence in one of those absolutely pointless and unsupported non-plots that far too many middle-grade novels employ - it just is. accept it we don't have to justify it. Well, guess what? You do! And Lily the Flower didn't. She didn't even try, so we had absolutely no reason whatsoever for the military hiring these kids except that this is a book aimed at middle-graders and the author says "This is the way it is!".

Mathilde lives in a fictional parallel universe in the land of Sofarende, which is under attack from Tyssia, but this world is exactly the same as ours, except that they don't have radar for reasons unexplained, so they have to use kids to magically predict where the bombers (asininely called "aerials" here for no good reason other than to make them seem alien) will come and bomb next. I kid you not.

Mathilde is yanked into this world, leaving her friend Megs behind, because megs failed the admission test and Mathilde did not, yet later, Megs shows up anyway without any explanation! None of these kids are allowed any further contact with their parents - again without any explanation or rationale.

The weird thing is that it takes twenty-five percent of the novel before Mathilde even gets to this secret base where the non-action takes place. Her task is to talk with a prisoner, but none of their conversations have any value, or bearing on the story, and none of them are remotely interesting or help advance the war effort. In short, it's a completely pointless exercise. So she learns that war is horrible and it's better not to start them, like there's a middle-grader anywhere on the planet who doesn't already know this? If this book was supposed to teach about the horrors of war, it was a major fail.

Then the novel weirdly fizzles out at the end with the kids being taken from the base, and sent abroad for no apparent reason (except maybe the area they were in, which they'd been repeatedly assured was well away from the fighting, was being invaded? How was that even possible, when areas nearer the front, where Mathilde had come from, were safe? None of this made any sense at all, and not a single one of these kids seemed at all home-sick or traumatized by what they were going through! It wasn't remotely realistic.

The story just fades away at the end, with Mathilde on a boat, alone, since she got lost (that's how intelligent she is!) and that's it. Is this the start of a series? If so the intro sucked and I don't want to follow it. Is it a stand alone? If so, it sucked, and I wasted several hours listening to it when I could have been hearing something worth listening to. That's four hours of my valuable and limited time of which this author has robbed me! But then I may well have robbed people too, with my books, so it all balances out in the end.

So the effect this book had on me was to make me laugh at how pathetic it was, not to make me consider war and suffering. It fails in everything it might be trying to do, but maybe I'm being a bit presumptuous there, because it was so wishy-washy in whatever it was trying to do was being done so badly that I can't honestly be sure it was trying to do anything.

It actually felt more like I was reading excerpts from a longer and better book, and these were the parts the author had torn out in disgust because they were so bland and uninteresting, and because they actually held up the plot of the real book, which is still out there somewhere, going unread. So no, I can't recommend it! My standards won't let me!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge

Rating: WARTY!

This is a steampunk wannabe with far more punk than steam. It was read fairly decently by Katie MacNichol, but this is another audiobook experiment of mine that failed. I made it about a third the way through it, but when it became clear there was a tediously trope triangle forming. The main character, Aoife (it's pronounced Efa which sounds too much like heifer which didn't help in this context) is a girl linked to two guys: her faithful friend Cal and bad boy Dean. I felt so nauseated that I could not continue. The embarrassing lack of imagination exhibited by YA authors in creating relationships is truly stunning. It's the only real viral threat in this novel!

Almost worse than that, this is book one of a series. There's nothing on the cover to indicate that. Personally I think there should be a large warning on the front - like on cigarette packs. This one looked like a stand-alone, and this is irritating. If I'd known it was a series I would more than likely have skipped it. As it was, I wasted time listening to this when I could have been listening to other things!

Nor was it steampunk. It was like the author couldn't decide what the hell she wanted to write and threw everything in. It could as easily have been set in regular Victorian age and been exactly the same story, so the steampunk contributed nothing at all. I felt like it was added in a rather desperate attempt to attract more readers. But there is very little steampunk here.

I've read some good steampunk books, but in the end they all fail if examined too closely because their world doesn't work. Clockwork can only continue for so long without being rewound. Who is going around doing all the winding? LOL! No one ever addresses this. In my experience most steampunk writers are enamored of the genre but have no idea how to write a compelling or engaging story in it. This is why we do not actually live in a steampunk world, because steam and clockwork shrunk into the shadows thrown by the brilliant light of electricity.

In the unintentional humor department, more than once, the author wrote "Cal sighed" evidently in ignorance of the fact that there's an educational institution, the California Institute of Science, which is routinely referred to as Cal-Sci. This is very likely just me, but this made me laugh out loud every time I heard it, given that this was supposed to be a novel about Aoife and her dedication to science.

This novel is set in a city, unimaginatively named Lovecraft, where we have your usual trope dystopian ridiculous societal rules that would never have arisen naturally. There are people named Proctors who are in charge and who are absurdly and inexplicably draconian in their rule. They use clockwork ravens to spy on people, which to me was so laughable, I could never take it seriously. I know how an electric eye works. How does a clockwork one work? How does a steam one work? How do the ravens navigate and find their way back to their owners?

Clearly the author realized that steampunk wasn't going to cut it by itself, since we also have witchcraft and sorcery, and as well, there is a virus loose named necrovirus, which people believe is responsible for a pandemic of insanity which inexplicably and nonsensically attacks people at age sixteen and turns them into some sort of a flesh-eating animal. There is evidently neither police force nor military in Lovecraft to fight off these beasts, hwih makes zero sense. Aoife, of course comes from a family with a history of insanity and she is, of course about to turn sixteen. Yawn.

There is nothing about the age of sixteen which makes any significant changes in a person's body - not like puberty makes changes, for example, and puberty isn't tied to a specific birthday. This made the virus a joke to me, too. Even if I offer my immediate conviction: that this 'virus' didn't actually exist and that this was witchcraft at play here, sending a message to people to get them to rebel against the Proctors (but failing for some reason), it still didn't explain why sixteen was the chosen age. My guess was that Aoife would be the first to understand this message, but it's only a guess, and I really didn't care enough about her or anyone else in this novel to bother reading on to find out. I can't recommend this based on what I listened to.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Dreadnought by April Daniels

Rating: WORTHY!

"With Dreadnought's dead" Makes no sense. 'With Dreadnought's death', or 'With Dreadnought being dead' makes more sense.
Camouflage misspelled at start of chapter 14
Bicep on p115 needs to be biceps!
I wouldn't keep let mom bribe me p115 makes no sense. 'I wouldn't keep letting mom bribe me', maybe?

I'm not a fan of series in general because they tend to be bloated, repetitive, and derivative. I like my novels fresh, not warmed over from the previous volume in the series! Once in a while though, a series comes along that's worth reading, and though it's premature to say so after only one volume, this series, Nemesis, of which Dreadnought is volume one, might be one I can finally stomach! Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the author and the publisher.

Let me address some issues I had with it first. The story was in first person. I have no idea why authors are so addicted to this, but usually it sounds awful, self-obsessed, and totally unrealistic. Once in a while an author can carry it off, and in this case it wasn't bad until it got to about 80% of the way through when the big action finale began, and then it really showed what a poor choice this voice was. No one narrates like that when experiencing horrors or trying to figure out how to set wrongs right in emergency situations.

Yes, I would agree that the actions and thoughts of Dreadnought in some ways showed how new she was to this job, but in other ways it was steadfastly undermined that by how analytical and detailed she was in relating what was happening. Even accounting for the inexperience, for me it was almost completely lacking in credibility. It wasn't god-awfully bad, but the scenes needed to be tightened considerably. There was way too much fluff and filler, and with the first person voice it simply didn't feel realistic. Overall, the finale was not bad in terms of being a finale. It was just poorly executed, I thought.

It may seem strange to make this point with someone like Trump in office, but the extremes depicted in the novel, in terms of how people despised Danny, the mtf transgender girl who became the super hero Dreadnought, were too polarized. It’s like there was no one on the fence - they were either totally supportive or psychotically antagonistic and to me, this lacked credibility. I know there are many people hostile to the LGBTQIA community, and for the next four years, we're going to see them crawling out of the woodwork, emerging from the shadows, and slithering out from under rocks, I'm sorry to say, because they've been invited to do so by one of the most bigoted and insensitive public figures I've ever seen, and unfortunately, because of the complacency of registered voters, he's now in a position of way too much power for four years.

As far as this story is concerned, more nuance would have served it better. Danny's high-school friend, her dad, and the Graywych character at the super hero building came off more like caricatures than actual people, and this robbed them of their power, although Graywych's perspective was an interesting one, I grant. Instead of being threatening though, they were more like "representative' cardboard cut-outs, or placeholder set up to mark a particular perspective without making the perspective feel real.

That said, I really liked this story overall, and I loved how it brought the character into being with a history and a legacy already in place because of the way the mantle is passed on from one Dreadnought to another. Like Danny needed any more pressure! Danny is a girl, Danielle, as she'd like to be, born in a boy's body, Daniel as he was known.

She has felt trapped for seven or eight years, and is desperately counting the days until she's eighteen, and can get a job to save up for the surgery which will make her outward appearance match her inner self, or at least as close as modern medical science can render it. She did not ask for super powers, but once she gets them, and realizes that part of this transference grants some wishes to the recipient we quickly discover (like it was any surprise!) what her dearest wish was, and this is what she got.

Some reviewers, I've noticed have had issues with how 'beautiful' and 'curvaceous' she became, and I’d have an issue with it if that was all she became, but there was more to it and it’s wrong to focus on one aspect to the exclusion of others which turn out to be more important.

That said I would have preferred it if it had been toned-down, or if it was only Danny who considered she was 'beautiful'. This is for two reasons: one, because I'm tired of female super hero tropes where they're essentially nothing more than pneumatic Barbie doll clichés instead of real people, on the outside, and guys on the inside. Two: I think it would have made for a more powerful story and a more compelling character had Danny been just 'ordinary' looking, but was so thrilled to finally 'be a real girl' that she felt beautiful. But that's just me!

One problem here is that she wasn't really a girl, though, not biologically speaking. This part made little sense to me. She got the proportions and outward appearance of a girl, including a 'healthy cleavage,' but inside she was still XY, with no womb. There was no overt discussion of what her genitalia looked like exactly, just the hint that it was entirely female, so what I didn't get was why? Why did she have this limitation? If the mantle could confer femininity on her, why could it not go all the way?

I didn't buy the flim-flam we were given that it was too much for the mantle to confer. Men are really just mutant versions of women when you get right down to it, and there are direct parallels between a male and a female body. What's referred to as a penis in a male is nothing more than a distended clitoris. Men have an X chromosome, so if the changes somehow called for a man to be raised to the power of X to put him on par with a woman, then why couldn't the mantle achieve this? What couldn't the Prostatic utricle become a uterus? Was it because the man-tle was designed by a man?! You could argue that you would lose your transgender character if this had happened but I would disagree with you!

I like the way Danny came into her powers, and I speak not of the initial transference here, but her growth into them over the story, her reluctance to blindly throw in her lot with the Legion, and her willingness to learn everything the mantle could show her, and put it to good use. The other side of this coin is that it made little sense that she didn't stand up to her father earlier, but when you're beaten down so hard for so long, it's very hard to get back to your feet with any strength of conviction, so I was willing to let that go. I felt bad though when Danny's first thought on waking after Calamity's injury was not that of going to see how she was, but a lot of selfish thoughts about how much she was having to put up with herself. That felt like a real betrayal

I adored Calamity. This seems to be my lot on life whether I like the main character (as I did here) or not: I like the 'side-kick' more, although Calamity never was a sidekick, and even had the balls to call Dreadnought her sidekick at one point, which was both beautiful and funny. So enough rambling. Overall I really did like the story despite some issues. It's the first I've read of a series in a long, long time that has really stirred my interest and made me seriously want to come back for more. That's about the biggest compliment I can give it, and from me, it's a heck of a lot!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Bullet Catcher's Daughter by Rod Duncan

Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not a series fan unless the series is exceptional, and this one managed to get under that wire even though it's the inaugural novel in "The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire" series. What this means, practically, it's that it's nothing more than a really, really long prologue, and I am not find of prologues at all. This book managed to persuade me it was a worthy read however, despite the curious title.

I should say I am not a fan of titles of this format: "The X's Daughter" where X is typically some sort of male profession, and the novel is typically historical, often Victorian. While I readily concede that such titles are inherently intriguing and provocative, I have to also argue that they're rather demeaning because they define a woman not in her own right, but as an appendage of a man, which I find insulting, so it's with mixed feelings that I enter the world of such a novel, seduced by the blurb, but uncomfortable with the pigeon-holing. As it happens, the main character isn't the bullet catcher's daughter, so there! And I still await a novel of the form "The X's Son" where X is a female profession.... Maybe I'll have to write that one myself.

This is a YA novel as well as both an alternate reality and a steam-punk novel, and one negative review I read railed against that, sternly admonishing the author to keep their genres straight, but I have to reject that! Why should the author be confined to a single genre? The author can do what they like as far as I'm concerned. They can completely mash-up genres. In fact, I applaud with authors who skirt the rules, although I don't guarantee that I'll like such a novel. It's not the reviewer's choice, it's the author's. We don't have to like it, but we do have to respect it! Think of this as primarily alternate history, but with a nice dash of steam-punk which complements the story without burying it in clouds of steam.

Talking of skirting the rules, the big attraction for me was the cross-dressing detective. She's a woman in a man's world and the only way she can make her own way is to be a woman by daylight, and a male detective by night. There's nothing sexual in this - it's purely practical. Hailing from a circus background, she is an expert at disguising herself, having spent her childhood years as a male impersonator in her father's traveling show. In this novel, the UK has become divided, after a second civil war, into the Anglo-Scottish Republic, which is essentially everything north of Leicester (pronounced "Lester"), and the Kingdom of England and Southern Wales (everything else).

One minor problem resulted in Leicester being slashed in half, the northern part of the city being in the dour, strict, man's world of the ASR, where women cannot hold property or serious jobs. It's a cross between cold-war era Soviet Russia and Victorian England if you can even picture such a mashup. The southern side of Leicester remained in the more flamboyant south, and Leicester itself therefore, a city not very far from my home town as it happens, became like cold-war Berlin - a hotbed of sly border crossings, spying, intrigue, subterfuge, and under-the-table dealings.

Elizabeth Barnabus grew up in the south, but had to flee it as a child after the Duke of Northampton bought up all her father's debt and promised to ruin him if he didn't pay it off by trading his debts for his young daughter's servitude with the lecherous not-so-noble man. What the Duke never understood was that his target was both Elizabeth and her own brother, Edwin. She fled the arse-ocratically controlled, but very liberal south, which she loved, for the protection of the dour and oppressive north, which she pretty much hates. Nevertheless, she managed to eke out a living there, using Edwin as the breadwinner. She is also earning a small keep herself by tutoring Julia, the daughter of her landlords, about the legal system. She doesn't have rooms, but lives on a steam boat on the canal, a boat which she is in danger of losing if she cannot come up with the final 100 guineas (a guinea is one pound and one shilling) which she requires to own it outright.

She's thrilled therefore to be given a very lucrative commission by the Duchess of Bletchley (that last word being a famous location in British intelligence history) to find her missing son. Elizabeth isn't quite so thrilled when her pursuit of this case brings her into conflict with the International Patent Office, otherwise known as the gas-lit empire - the multinational and all-powerful controlling body for all new inventions. She is perturbed to discover that one of their number has been stalking her, and resolves to quit this job, but you know she won't! it was at this point that I feared an inappropriately clichéd and tedious romance, but the author was smart enough to avoid that like the plague, so kudos and gratitude to him for this!

The same plaudit goes for his female character. She is a very strong woman even as she has moments of weakness and doubt, even though she gets things wrong and screws up some times. She is not strong in the sense that she can kick anyone's butt, yet she's inventive, smart (for the most part!), and largely fearless - or perhaps more accurate, not so much fearless as she is courageous, dedicated and brave. Yes, she despairs, and wavers, but in the end she comes through. This is why I liked her so much. This male author seems to understand what a strong female character is, and curiously understands it better than far too many YA female authors do. Why is that? I recommend this heartily and look forward to the sequel. It's really nice to be able to say that!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

It's the End of the World As We Know It by Saci Lloyd

Title: It's the End of the World As We Know It
Author: Saci Lloyd
Publisher: Hachette
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. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

In this book, there are so many deliberate misspellings that it's hard to tell what's intentional and what's not, but for the record, it's 'au naturel', not 'au natural'.

In this novel, chapter one starts on page five. It had a prologue. I skipped it. The Adobe Digital Editions version what a bit weird - it didn't recognize page numbers as you can see from the images on my blog. Type in page "27" and it tells you there's no page 27! I can assure you there was, as indeed there was a page 35!

The main male character is Mikey Malone, whose only interest is in getting into a girl's pants - and I don't mean he wanted to wear them. His inevitable female counterpart is Kix Kaloux who is inevitably hostile, so we all know exactly Where this relationship is headed.

Due to unspecified activity at CERN - the site of the Large Hadron Collider which is largely in France (with bits of it in Switzerland), and the place where, on July 4th, 2012, came the discovery of what appears to be the long sought-after Higgs boson, a rip is opened in space-time connecting Mikey's world (our world) with Kix's world - where things are so cool they're actually nauseating, but which is a dystopian world, nonetheless.

If had been just that, it might have been bearable, but Kix's world is weirdness squared - and sometimes cubed - and for me it wasn't a good thing. One of the main characters was the miniature bot named Bitzer, who became really annoying really fast. I have no idea what the author was intent upon creating, but it felt vaguely racist to me.

Pretty much the sole defining trait of Bitzer was that his speech had all the 'S's replaced with 'Z's. The result of this, from an auditory PoV was pointless because it sounded exactly the same, so I don't get why this was done other than as a rather pretentious attempt to make the text seem cooler, I guess.

A standard Bitzer sentence would be something like , "Thatz what we'z trying to work out. Quit it with the dramatix." It didn't work for me. Neither did the bizarre naming of the cube characters: Σëë and DØØ, who were given a variety of dyslexia for no apparent reason. Maybe this will appeal to younger kids?

Another annoyance was the authors insistence upon spelling out sounds to an irritating degree. At one point (p65) the word 'ping' was repeated 51 times. I really, really appreciated that. In fact, I dub it 'Area 51' in its own honor. My life could not have been as complete as it is today without this unique contribution to literature. In the end, that's what this novel became - a meaningless string of annoyances matched for sound and color, and it wasn't even that which turned me off. It was the sinking feeling in my stomach that this could have been so much more.

Please note that the role of the tracker-jacker in this novel is taken by the 'calabrones', little electronic hornets. Everyone throws up their arms at these evil little bugs, claiming helplessness and fleeing to hide amongst the tigallos (tiger buffalo hybrids - and yes, inexplicably two 'L's), when all it would take was a little EMP and the hornets would have been completely disabled. In the end a new too-cute-for-words character shows up ex machina and brings them down with honey, claiming he doesn't work in a bio-lab lab and learn nothing. Evidently, in his case he does, since these weren't biological organisms, but it made as much sense as the rest of this novel.

Mikey is so dumb that despite seeing how utterly different this parallel world is to his own, he's nevertheless convinced that somewhere in this world he has an inevitable counterpart Mikey who is inevitably getting into some girl's pants - and I don't mean he's wearing them. Mikey is completely obnoxious in all dimensions.

One third of the way through this novel, Kix observes, "We're in a hole, BitZ." and I couldn't agree more. That's where I climbed out of this hole and ditched this novel. Life is too short to waste on stories which don't completely thrill you. I moved on to a different universe.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Henni by Miss Lasko-Gross

Title: Henni
Author: Miss Lasko-Gross
Publisher: Z2 Comics
Rating: WORTHY!

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. The chance to read a new book is often reward aplenty!

For reasons which really rather escape me, I fell in love with Henni Hogarthe from the first few panels, where we find her chasing a dragonfly and excitedly calling her father over to share in her discoveries and excitement. Henni is a cat-person - not a cat lover, but a person who is a cat - or at least very cat-like! She lives on another world where religion is insane and cruelly dominant - not very different from Earth when you get right down to it.

The artwork in this graphic novel is simplistic, but I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. The coloring is also simple, but it’s perfect. The drawings are clean and focused, and overall the effect is really pleasing, very artistic, and they're another reason why I quickly warmed to this story.

Told in several episodes, the story hits us almost immediately with the injustice perpetrated upon a society where one small group of privileged individuals gets to dictate what reality is and how people should behave. Her first experience is her father being hauled away as a heretic, and her mother doesn't even shed a tear for this despicable unbeliever she has found in her home.

Henni's next revelation about religion is that the priesthood lies and is corrupt. No surprises there! Periodically, food has to be taken as to the church as an offering, and Henni discovers that these treats are nothing more than disguises to hide bribes which in turn sway the priesthood into acting favorably towards marriage proposals for those who submit sufficient cash. Even Henni's own mother sends bribes.

Henni is eventually kicked out of her village for trespassing on a holy site which has an unearned reputation, and she has to find a life elsewhere. Branded (quite literally) and with no possessions other than the fur on her back, she discovers that her new home is hardly an improvement. People think she's primitive because she wears no clothes. She ends up in trouble there, too, but she's smarter and more cunning now, and she talks her way out of a death sentence, getting herself banished from this village as well. Where will she end up? I’d really like to find out in the next volume because this one ends in a most stirring and intriguing way.

I loved this intelligent and engrossing story, and its fearlessness in exposing ignorance and bigotry championed as religion and faith. The main character is one which really spoke to me - again for reasons I can’t reliably articulate. I felt sorry for her, yes, but I also admired her resilience and persistence. It’s really nice to find stories with truly strong female character, and Henni is one if I ever saw one. Bring on volume two!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

Title: Shades of Grey
Author: Jasper Fforde
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: WORTHY!

I've also reviewed Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair and One of Our Thursdays is Missing

This is about a place called Chromatacia, a society which is left after the collapse of our own, evidently. There is a class system in place defined and controlled a person's ability to perceive colour! Most people can see only one hue, some, two. Those who cannot see colour are referred to as 'Greys', and they occupy the lowest perch in the tree. Color plays a larger part than this, however. People's names and the names of locations also derive from names of various colors, and some colors have beneficial or deleterious health effects; Lincoln Green is a powerful illegal drug, for example. People in the lower ranks are treated in some regards as servants of those who are higher.

I saw this novel on the library shelf, and smirked because of the title. I will never read 50 Shades of Gray or any of its derivatives, but this title made me want to at least read the blurb, wondering how this poor guy Jasper Fforde is coping with a novel which came out the year after his did, and has a title so similar to his. Is his novel garnering greater interest because of that or has it been lost in the shuffle? Once I'd read the blurb, however, I just could not put it back on the shelf, so here we are! If you like Douglas Adams, you will more than likely enjoy this.

Wikipedia has an article on the EM spectrum. The visible light spectrum is a tiny, tiny fraction of this. How we see light is a fascinating story in itself, and the development of receptors in the eyes of various organisms is an entrancing example of the modern synthesis of Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution.

The story is narrated by Eddie Russett from his unfortunate position head down inside a carnivorous tree, the Yateveo, but at least it's not a carnivorous swan..... From his unenviable position, he relates events of the last four days when he travels with his father, a swatchman (a color doctor) on their way to a distant town called East Carmine - a journey upon which Eddie befriends an aging Yellow fellow. Eddie has better than average red perception, and has a good chance of an upwardly mobile marriage to Constance Oxblood, but on a visit to a town nearby while waiting for the train for East Carmine, and visiting the sights (the Badly Drawn Map, the Last Rabbit, etc - you know, the usual!), Eddie and his father come across an injured Purple (who is really a Grey masquerading as a Purple), and save his life. Indirectly because of this, Eddie meets a Grey girl named Jane who apparently has no problem treating Eddie (who with his slight color perception merits a much higher class rating than she) with no respect whatsoever. He's quite captivated by her, but has to catch his train and so is prevented from pursuing her.

But would you believe it, when he arrives at East Carmine - a lowlife of a town - the Grey maid who's assigned to work one hour per day at his house is: Jane! (Jane Grey, get it?!) Her attitude towards him hasn't improved. She pretty much threatens to break his jaw no matter what he says to her, but when he fails to turn her in, she does at least warn him not to eat the scones she just prepared - not that we find out what the heck happened to those who ate the scones. This town is even more quirky than the story has been so far. On a guided tour of the town by a lowlife Red called Tommo, who is highly entertaining, Eddie meets the town's top banana - a Yellow who isn't quite at the pinnacle, but will be once his mother is out of the picture. He tries to lure Eddie into 'bending a few rules' for him.

Eddie's father takes over as the town's swatch-meister, treating the sick. The two of them venture into the ghost city of Rusty Hill, where the mildew struck down everyone. Eddie has a list of items to recover, including a Caravaggio painting which makes him somewhat of a hero, although his heroism is somewhat undermined by the fact that Jane lured him into a Yateveo tree trap. How did this happen? He saw her in Rusty Hill - who knows how she got there? and then simpleton that he is, she lured him into the trap with the dishonest promise to tell him the truth. Oh, and he also saw a Pooka - a ghost, which seemed to be able to see him and tried to tell him something but disappeared right when she opened her mouth.

So are Eddie and all the people he knows actually ghosts - and that's why they can't see colors so well? Are they not the survivors of the Something That Happened but the victims? Is the mildew merely their passing on to the after life? Who knows! Eddie gets an offer of 100 merits to visit the newly opened derelict town of High Saffron - where 85 people have disappeared never to be seen again. They desperately need to mine the color from there. Will he go? Let's read on! Oh, in passing, let it be noted that on p111 Fforde doesn’t seem to grasp the difference between ancestor and descendant. Just saying!

Eddie continues to try to befriend Jane and she continues to sarcastically and aggressively rebuff him, although she's becoming progressively less aggressive. She challenges his ingrained dogma at every turn. His friend Tommo (his village guide) is trying to get him to marry his sister while the girl who Tommo himself likes, Lucy Ochre, appears to be a green addict. She, in turn, is convinced that there's a harmony in the Earth in E flat. Since Earth isn't flat, she's likely to be wrong! Lol! But seriously, she's smarter than she lets on. She friends Eddie, and she wants to pay him for her to practice her kissing skills on him, but she doesn’t explain why. He seems to be friending quite a few people, including the adorable Daisy Crimson, and also the Green who lost an eyebrow when he made the deadly mistake of coming-on to Jane.

Eddie makes a bit of a fool of himself trying to chase after Travis Canary - the yellow he befriended on the train - who walks off into the darkness one night to be taken by the night terrors! Although there is a certain amount of heroism involved in his action, too, so this brings him kudos. There seems to be an irrational fear of the dark amongst the citizens, not just in this village, but everywhere. Indeed, the only one who seems to have gone out into the dark and returned whole is Jane Grey.

One morning Eddie goes off with his dad to visit a nearby village of Rusty Hill. They travel along the perpetulite road - a self-repairing, self-cleaning material - in an old Ford Model T. Perpetulite seems not to recognize bronze. This might be important! The village they're visiting was wiped out by the Mildew. Eddie has a shopping list of things people have asked him to bring back for them, including spoons and sugar tongues. Yes, spoons! Even though spoons are banned as eating tools, everyone tries to own at least one during their lifetime, and if it has a post-code engraved on the handle, it’s almost invaluable.

Eddie gets a bit depressed walking among the bones of those who died. He's also startled by encountering a Pooka - a spirit like representation of a human which still appears before him when he closes his eyes. Just as the woman opens her mouth to speak, she disappears. He's even more startled by running into Jane there! This is not only because she's there, but because he has no explanation whatsoever for how she traveled there so quickly in the first place without the use of a motor vehicle. Later, Jane enigmatically explains that she knows how to use the perpetulite road.

She lures Eddie into an embarrassing trap under the carnivorous Yateveo tree, from which he is extricated by his father. Later, he learns that East Carmine has opened up the defunct seaside town of High Saffron for exploration and excavation. There is a 100 merit bonus for those who go, but no one wants to. The 85 people who have previously gone there have never returned; however, the color shortage is becoming so severe that they're willing to go to even to these extremes to mine color.

Eddie eventually speaks to the Apocryphal Man, who evidently thought no one could see him. He didn’t realize that everyone was simply ignoring him. He's a historian and he agrees to answer questions for Eddie in return for loganberry jam.

Eddie has been striking up a relationship with the Colourman whom they met at Rusty hill. He's rather a legendary figure for no other reason than that he works for National Colour. He's ostensibly in the area to conduct the Ishihara test which will determine Eddie's (and others) futures, and checking on the colour supply pipes, but as he grows closer to Eddie, he reveals on the down-low that he's actually trying to track down saboteurs, one of whom is Jane. Eddie knows this, but Matthew, the Colourman, does not. Eddie keeps his secret while trying to figure out if he should tell one or the other about the other, but in the end seems to decide to do nothing. He enters into a somewhat under-the-table relationship with Matthew, and in return gets a shot at joining National Colour, which is the ultimate dream job.

During a weekly meeting of the Colourgentsia, some interesting speculations and revelations come out of the Apocryphal Man (who has now, since he knows he can be seen, has taken to applying personal hygiene and clothes to his body) via an old granny who doesn’t seem to care that she's relating what he says. I was laughing out loud at this part of the novel. The Apocryphal Man lives on the upper floor of the house which Eddie and his dad are occupying, but he seems unaware that there is also someone else living up there with him! Eddie encounters this other person using the bathroom, but the other person secretes themselves behind the shower curtains so Eddie can’t actually see who it is. Neither does this person speak - communicating only through rapping one tap for 'yes', two for 'no'!

On border patrol (the village has signed up Eddie for everything they can get out of him: he's almost become an institution there after only a few days, and he's now teaching in the local school!) Eddie is shown the original Fallen Man (as opposed to the bar of the same name). The Fallen Man quite literally fell out of the sky. There's very little left, but it looks like he was some sort of jet pilot who ejected and landed exactly where he still lies. The village people have surrounded his chair with a cement wall and put guinea pigs inside it to keep the grass trimmed short. Eddie also finds Travis, the guy who walked out into the night. It looks like he was struck by ball lightning, his patrol partner assures Eddie, but when Eddie examines the remains of his head more closely, he finds a metal object the size of a chess piece - some sort of exploding bullet? Who knows! It's a mystery how many mysteries there are in this novel!

Unfortunately, Eddie can't keep the murder information to himself. Courtland, the second top banana or his mom are the guilty party and Courtland reacts immediately by trying to shoot Eddie with the copper spike used to defuse ball lightning. Having failed with that, he and his mum try to bustle Eddie out of the city, but he changes his mind and ends up going to High Saffron after spending the night with Violet deMauve, his new Fiancé who claims she;s pregnant by him because Eddie's own father showed her an ovulating patch guaranteed to make her ovulate and get pregnant. In the end, though, he doesn't go alone.

Violet, Tommo, and Courtland set off with him. When Violet is injured and returns to the waiting car, Tommo and Courtland lock Eddie in a room, but fortunately for him, Jane was sneakily following them, and she rescues him. Tommo is so badly injured in the fight which ensues that he returns to the vehicle where Violet awaits. The remaining three, Eddie, Courtland and Jane continue. They reach High Saffron, but Jane saves Eddie from the mildew which waits every visitor by revealing one of her many secrets. Mildew isn't caused by a fungus but by exposure to a certain color. And Jane can see in the dark. This is why no one returned from High Saffron because the plaza at the entrance to the city is that color. Courtland dies from the rot, and Eddie and Jane return - after Jane has first stuffed him under the Yateveo tree and then rescued him from it to give their cover story for Courtland's death some verisimilitude.

They pledge their selves to each other, but they never do get to marry - why? You'll have to read the ending for yourself. And it's a doozy.

I thoroughly, highly, and heartily recommend this novel.