Showing posts with label sci-fi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sci-fi. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Byte by Eric C Anderson


Rating: WARTY!

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

From the blurb, this book looked like it would interest me, but I knew I was in trouble when I started in on it and it turned out to be first person voice, which is rarely a good choice. That said, I have read some first persons that I enjoyed. I didn't enjoy this one because the first person part narrated by "Roller" was so arrogant and snotty that it turned me off the person, which is hard to do given that she was female, African American, and wheelchair bound. Any one of those, all else being equal, would have interested me. All three together should have been a winner, but having your character insult the reader isn't a winning strategy.

This character was in some ways reminiscent of Odetta/Detta from the Stephen King trilogy that morphed into the endless Dark Tower series which I gave up on, but not as likeable (sarcasm!). You know Stephen King can't write a trilogy without it running to eight volumes. This Roller character couldn't put two sentences together without lecturing the reader on ancient computer history. And some of it was wrong. For example, Stuxnet wasn't given that name by the people who created it but by the people who were deconstructing it to try and discover what it did.

Nor is the British Parliament based "in that temple of democracy, Westminster Abbey." Westminster Abbey is a church, Parliament is in the Houses of Parliament. And "In 2008, when Obama spent $760,000 to win"? No, try $760 million! But anyone can screw up a fact here and there. Normally that wouldn't bother me so much, but the relentless ego of the narrator was annoying at best (especially when coupled with the misstatements). The author realized he had made a mistake when he chose the very limiting first person, and we see this as he resorts to third person to tell two other parts of the story, which made for a really clunky downshift every couple of chapters.

And for a story seemingly rooted in the latest and greatest in high tech hacking, and set in 2025 yet, I was quite surprised to read this:

I've been living here long enough to know bad news only gets dumped on Friday afternoon. Preferably about 5 p.m. Too late for the newspapers to update, and the camera boys are already locking in the nightly news. Yeah, you're right, CNN will carry the latest update, but who watches CNN on a Friday night?

Seriously? In 2025 no one is going to be reading newspapers, which have been in major decline for the last two decades and more, and with the younger generations tied almost exclusively to their smartphones, rightly or wrongly getting their news from social media, no one is going to watch CNN on any night.

I doubt many people are going to care much about newspapers in 2025, let alone plan their news releases around them. I doubt they do now. Nightly news viewership on TV has been falling precipitately and by 2025 it will be similarly irrelevant. This felt particularly clunky for a novel which was at its very core about Internet use (and abuse). The blindness to social media was a real suspension of disbelief breaker.

Those were not even the worst sins though. The worst sin is to be boring, and I made it fifty percent the way through this, growing ever more bored with the complete lack of anything exciting happening. You could barely see things moving, so glacial was the pace, and I lost all interest. I should have quit before fifty percent.

If the main character had been at all likeable, that might have made a difference. If there had been some real action in the third person parts of the story: things happening instead of it feeling like I was watching a chess game in which neither participant had any interest in competing much less completing, that might have made a difference, but as it was, I could not justify reading more of this when I didn't even like the main character, when I found myself much preferring the dark web hacker to the 'good guy' hacker, and found nothing to make me want to swipe to the next screen. I wish the author all the best, but I cannot recommend this one.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

30th Century: Revived by Mark Kingston Levin


Rating: WARTY!

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

I'm not a fan of series except for the occasional rare and treasured one, which is why I felt duped when I requested this from Net Galley, because there was nothing there to indicate that it was book two of a trilogy. Hence I felt lost from the start because this one clearly takes off from wherever volume one left off and there's very little context to help the reader. Add to that the complete lack of world-building, the unnaturally stilted conversations, and the truly simplistic nature of the writing overall, and I simply could not get into this at all. I could not finish it and I quit about a fifth of the way though.

An example of how lacking in interest the writing was is this (and note that this was from an advance review copy, so even though this novel was published last April, it could, I suppose, change!):

The reporter continued. “When the engines failed, the parachute, made of ultra-strong carbon nanotube fibers, was deployed, and according to the crew, it saved all the passengers. No one lost their life, but over four hundred thirty-three were injured out of the twelve hundred twenty-two people aboard this Can-Air 999.”
***
After eight months, the news reporter for the Canadian Broadcast Company announced, “The investigation turned up a possible sabotage of this aircraft. The computer system had been infected with a virus or worm. This is an aircraft designed to hover low over the ground so passengers can see and photograph the wildlife, including moose, polar bears, and deer.”

I don't get how a noisy hovering aircraft would permit passengers to see and photograph wildlife - which would have taken off, scared to death with this huge, noisy machine hovering overhead! And it took eight months to discover that the computer system was infected? No. Just no. That was what all of this writing was like - like the author was so enamored of how it sounded to him that he failed to consider how realistic it was.

He's evidently not paid much attention to how people actually speak to one another in real life, nor has he given any thought to the fact that language a thousand years from now will undoubtedly have changed as much as it's changed over the last thousand years, yet the woman from the 30th century speaks exactly like her husband from the current century.

The whole thing was far too simplistic for me, and I honestly could not get into it at all. I wish the author all the best with his career, but cannot commend this book.


Saturday, July 7, 2018

Infinity 8 Vol. 1: Love and Mummies by Zep, Lewis Trondheim


Rating: WARTY!

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

This graphic novel was a bit of a ill-fated cross between iZombie and the Ood alien race from Doctor Who; it takes the worst elements from them rather than the best. I did not like the story. It made little sense and I DNF'd it about three-quarters of the way through. The main character is far too sexualized and without any good reason for it except that this is what comic books do, of course. It needs to stop.

For reasons unknown, the city-sized spaceship containing a variety of aliens is halfway between the Milky Way and Andromeda when it encounters a debris field. Space being only two-dimensional as it so often is in these stories, the ship can't go over the debris, so it's halted and the captain, again for no good reason, decides to investigate.

The investigation is a joke and goes nowhere nor does it try to go anywhere. Once again, just as in Star Trek, we're faced here with a futuristic society in which all of the robotics, and AI, and drones which we have today, has not only failed to advance, but has also somehow inexplicably been lost to history, so instead of robots going out to investigate, we have to send humans. Fallible. Distractable. Weak. Troublesome humans.

So poor is the management of this ship that aliens also get loose. One of this particular alien race (the Ood rip-offs) is in love with the main character while another of the same race wants her dead - again for no reason, while a bunch more of these aliens are trying to destroy the very ship they're traveling on - and the ship the size of a city evidently has no peacekeepers or law enforcement on board! I think that sense continued the journey while the ship got left behind. That hypothesis honestly explains a lot in this story.

I don't think very many sci-fi writers expend much energy on thinking about how their alien races evolved. They simply create the aliens because they think they look cool and that's the way it is no matter how ridiculous or improbable they all are. So these aliens were once again a poor and irrational assortment, all of them derivative of Earth species, so none of them really looked alien.

Worse, these writers have aliens falling in love with humans without giving any thought to the improbability of it. It would be like trying to get people to take you seriously while your story has a human fall in love with a shark or a boa constrictor. I can't take a story like this seriously, and I cannot recommend this at all.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Leaning Girl by François Schuiten, Benoît Peeters


Rating: WORTHY!

Since Belgium is having such a good run in the World Cup (as of this writing!) it seems like a good idea to review this graphic novel by Belgian comic artist François Schuiten and written by Benoît Peeters. It was such a weird tale that I couldn't not read it!

After a ride on the Star Express roller coaster, 13 year-old Mary Von Rathen starts going through some lean times. That is to say: she is constantly leaning in the same direction, no matter which direction she faces. So let's say purely for example, that she leans towards the east. If she's facing east, she's leaning forwards, if she's facing west, she's leaning backwards and is similarly inclined at every compass point there is. Except that she doesn't lean in an easterly direction - she leans based on something that;s not in this world - a scientific phenomenon that people are studying to find answers.

No one believes that Mary isn't faking this for attention, and she becomes an outcast and eventually she runs away and joins the circus where her balancing act (which requires no effort on her part or parts!) is a sensation, but when she discovers there may be a man who can help her, she runs away again to track him down, and ends up as one of Earth's first astronauts! There she finds what she's been seeking - people with a bent similar to hers, you might say!

This book was beautifully drawn in black and white shaded line drawings, and very well written and it mixes photography with hand drawing and real people with the comic versions. I recommend it.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Chimera Book One: The Righteous & The Lost by Tyler Ellis


Rating: WARTY!

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

I have no idea what this graphic novel was about, even having read it! It made no sense and was so choppy and disjointed, jumping back and forth between sometimes seemingly unrelated events that even when they turned out to be related offered no clue as to what they were actually all about.

The art work was fine enough, but there was no coherent story there so all we had was a coffee table art book. The blurb claims that "...a crew of thieves is hired for a covert mission in the midst of a galaxy being ripped apart by an interstellar holy war." but I don't recall ever a crew being assembled. There was a rag tag group of four creatures who might be the crew referred to, but not a one of them was appealing as a character.

I did see relentless images of an artist's attempt to invent bizarre and threatening alien creatures, none of which had any inventiveness about them, and some made zero sense, which is what happens when an artist with no idea of biology, or evolution tries to invent alien organisms. I cannot recommend this at all.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Welcome Back by Christopher Sebela, Jonathan Brandon Sawyer, Claire Row


Rating: WORTHY!

This piqued my curiosity because it as about a character who kept reliving her life through the ages, and in assorted genders, carrying on a feud which went so far back in history that no one knew any longer why it was they were feuding.

People are reincarnated and the main character Mali, reappeared this time as a woman named Mali. She is living a quiet life because her father was a serial killer. It's only when she 'wakes' and recovers memories of her past lives that she realizes her father is a reincarnator too, and his serial killing was no more than him 'doing his job' which job Mali now inherits.

Her main foe is Tessa, a kick-ass, short-haired blonde girl who was quite impressive and who was relentlessly if not manically pursing Mali for their showdown, even as Mali backs away, tiring of this endless, pointless, ridiculous war.

I enjoyed this story but it was rather wordy with endless expositional internal monologue, so i will not pursue this series, but this one I can recommend because it had a great ending.


Accell Volume 2: Pop Quiz by Joe Casey, Damion Scott, Robert Campanella


Rating: WARTY!

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

I read the first volume of Accell and quite enjoyed it, but this volume simply did not resonate. It was all over the place, and the artwork was indifferent, so there nothing that special to look at or to read. Accell himself isn't a very impressive character. He's very self-absorbed and self-important, and he objectifies women (maybe it should have been titled Pop tart given the female character who's introduced?). On the other hand, given his jackass of a girlfriend, maybe some of this is understandable.

She was an unrelenting nag, and yet he had no spine to ask her to back-off or to lay it on the line that if she doesn't quit this endless complaining, he was going to be getting out of this relationship; then we get this other girl who's presented as stereotypically evil, but she's not really. It appeared to be a ham-fisted change of wind in relationships, but even that went nowhere. Overall the story was like a day in the life of a superhero, but it was a derivative and boring day.

This character borrows too much from DC's The Flash, and brings nothing new. The guy is supposed to be faster than sound, but there's never a sonic boom when he takes off, and never any complaints about one! And where are the other heroes in this world? Do none of them ever show up to help out a fellow hero when a bad guy turns up? I guess not. I wasn't at all impressed by this outing and I cannot recommend it. I'm done with this graphic novel world.


Summit Vol 1: The Long Way Home by Amy Chu, Jan Duursema


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
Aeropsace on p13 Misspelled.

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

There was an event in which an asteroid nearly hit Earth. The planet was supposedly saved by Lorena Payan, which no doubt is pronounced 'pain'. Some people developed superpowers from this event, but curiously, the event seemed to have a preference mostly for white American adults.

The stories of these mutants are covered in various editions by various writers and artists. This one is the story of one of those white Americans who happened to be actually on the mission: Valentina "Val" Resnick-Baker who rescues and protects a young kid. Can anyone say Aliens 2 Redux?

Frankly this story it was a bit bland, repetitive, and disjointed, but overall it was better than the other two I read in this batch of stories. While I am happy to rate this one as a worthy read, I think I'm done with this whole series which really isn't moving, shaking, or breaking new ground. It's petty much broken and crumbled like the asteroid was at this point.


Friday, May 18, 2018

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff


Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook which I did not like. It looked superficially interesting, but when I began listening to it, it turned out to be nonsensical, poorly thought-out, badly-written, and not entertaining at all, so I DNF'd it. There's no point in plowing on gamely through a novel which doesn't do it for you. if I were being paid for reviews that would be one thing, but this is entirely another, and I quit whenever I want! Being a writer myself, my own writing takes priority over reviewing, so I don't see the point in trying to force myself to read on through someone else's material that isn't entertaining me at all, when I can write my own which I typically find much more engrossing and fulfilling.

My biggest problem was the epistolary nature of this story which is told as a series of asinine interviews and purportedly official records. Typically whenever a novel is written like this - using diaries, journal entries, documents, or whatever, the entries are entirely unrealistic and therefore keep kicking me out of the story for lack of credibility. Most writers don't think about what they're doing when they adopt this method and make these 'documents' far too detailed, like a novel (duhh!), quoting verbatim conversation and so on. No one keeps written records like that. Very few audio or video records are of that nature either.

Worse than this, the story is supposed to be gripping, but when you remove it from the reader like this by making it sound like the proceedings of an official enquiry, all immediacy and therefore any hope for excitement, is gone. The stupid attempt at having a boy-girl love-hate relationship (at least I assume that's where it would end up) is not only tediously overdone, it was in this case ridiculous and turned me off. I cannot recommend this because of how poorly thought out it was (assuming thought entered into it), and how scrappily thrown together it was based on the portion I listened to, which was not very much.


Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer


Rating: WARTY!

This was a short audiobook that I did not enjoy at all because it made no sense, and the narrator, Carolyn McCormick, reading in a first person voice which I typically do not like anyway, did not help the book's case, because her reading felt false, stilted, and ultimately unrealistic.

The premise is that four women are entering 'area X' (great imagination used in the description there huh?! I'm surprised it wasn't designated Unobtania'...) to investigate a bizarre locale in which humans do not seem to have fared well and nature seems 'off'. A dozen previous teams have disappeared or gone insane, or had other negative outcomes, yet these four female volunteers are sent in alone, with small arms, but with no armed escort, to try to find out what's going on in there, and not a one of them is allowed to carry any communications or electronics? There are no drones or robots to help out? This made zero sense and wasn't explained in the 30% or so of this story I could stand to listen to. How the hell are they going to learn anything on the outside if those on the inside cannot pass word out as to what is happening? It's stupid from the outset.

The girls find what the narrator stubbornly insists upon calling a tower even though it's buried in the ground just like an underground silo. It has the weird fungus growing on the wall which spells words, and the narrator naturally gets 'infected' with spores while examining it. That's as far as I listened because the narration was annoying, the story nonsensical, and my reasons for pursuing it beyond this point non-existent.

None of these women had a name, merely a profession, so one was the biologist, one the psychologist, one the linguist, and so on. This was asinine! Even if they'd been issued some sort of instruction not to use names they inevitably would have, because who on the outside would even know? This felt completely inauthentic and felt like what it was: a guy writing about women without really understanding how they think or work together. It was merely one more reason not to take this seriously. Based on what I heard, I cannot recommend this at all.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Interview by Manuele Fior, Anne-Lise Vernejoul


Rating: WORTHY!

Translated from the original Italian (L'intervista) by Jamie Richards, this graphic novel tells a strange story of an alien invasion - or maybe it doesn't? Maybe it's just a collective breakdown of society.

Set in the near future, it had a feel to it like Stephen Speilberg's Close Encounters of the third Kind but without the embarrassingly juvenile effects. This was especially highlighted by a a parallel encounter with oddity at a railroad crossing at the start of the story, but rest assured this is much more subtle and a much deeper story than that ever could have hoped to be.

I loved the artwork. The book was gorgeously and richly illustrated in a soft, dark, gray scale palette, and I adored the main female character Dora. Both she and the main male character Raniero were not your usual comic book icons of masculinity and femininity and yet both achieved that end.

In an acknowledgement at the back, the author gives thanks to Anne-Lise Vernejoul for conceiving and creating special effects, but it makes no specification as to what they were or on which pages they appeared. I wondered if it was some of the night scenes, particularly the encounter between Raniero and Dora between pages 86 and 115. I don't know.

I can say this made for a wonderfully illustrated and entertaining story, if slightly confusing over the ending! I enjoyed reading it though and in the end, that's all that matters! Do note that it is a quite graphic graphic novel so be prepared!


Friday, May 4, 2018

The Castoffs Vol3 Rise of the Machines by MK Reed, Brian Smith, Wyeth Yates, Kendra Wells


Rating: WORTHY!

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

The machines march relentlessly onwards in vol 3, but I must confess up front that I have not read volumes one or two. I asked to review this one because I thought it sounded interesting, and though it was rather hard to get into because I'd missed two-thirds of this story so far, I have to say overall I liked it even though some of it made little sense to me.

'Rise of the Machines' sounds suspiciously like an entry in the Terminator movie series, doesn't it? Wait! It is and entry in the terminator series! Couldn't we have 'Onslaught of the Machines' or 'March of the Machines' here, since they're already quite risen it would seem?! A little more originality never goes amiss.

The story itself was a bit slow-moving and it was rather side-tracked from the main issue which was, believe it or not, the march of the machines. I found it hard to believe that if this were a real life adventure, the main characters would be so distracted by relatively petty village problems that they would forget that an army of robots led by an evil woman were bearing closer with each passing minute.

Instead of going out to harass and attack the machines, or prepare traps for them, they spent their time fixing village issues which would be rendered completely irrelevant if the village was razed by the oncoming machines! They evidently didn't take the threat seriously until it was almost upon them.

I'm sure we've all been there, but sometimes people become so desperate to tell a certain story in a certain way that that they forget the reality of the characters in the story they're telling. They forget that they are people with strengths and weaknesses, and with hopes, dreams, and desperation, and with problems and pains, and so end-up with a story in which characters exhibit unrealistic behaviors. I always let the characters tell the story once they've been fully-created, because it makes for a much more realistic story-telling for me, and it often takes me (and the characters) in interesting and quite unexpected directions.

That said, this story was interesting and the relationships quite engrossing. The art work was decent, but initially, it was hard for me to tell the gender of the characters from the illustrations. That's not necessarily a bad thing and normally I would approve of it, but having missed the first two parts of this story, I felt a bit lost, and a little more cluing-in would have been appreciated since the names were not a good guide! I spent most of this story thinking Rosaiba was a female! It wasn't until close to the end that I realized he was not!

So in conclusion, while I do not personally feel compelled to pursue this story any further after this volume, I did enjoy what was offered to a certain extent, and so I recommend it with the caveat that you start with volume one! These are not stand-alone volumes!


Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Feros by Wesley King


Rating: WARTY!

Here's yet another from my overblown collection of print books that I've picked up from all over the place. This one was bad, folks. Really bad! It's yet another middle-grade (or maybe young adult but it read like middle-grade) story of kids with super powers. I believe it's book two of a series but this wasn't apparent from the book cover. I guess they're trying to hide that secret!

I could not make it past the start of chapter two which began: "Lana sprinted down the long hallway, her legs pumping beneath her." Her legs were beneath her? Whoah! What a mid-blowing concept. I guess that's her super power - having her legs are beneath her. Hey author, why not simply, "Lana sprinted down the long hallway"?

That was bad enough, but there was another gem to come just one more sentence later: "When she approached the opening, she burst through." Not when she reached the opening, not when she arrived at the opening, not even simply, "She burst through the opening," but when she approached the opening she burst through! That's her superpower! She can burst through something before she actually gets there! She only has to approach it!

I've written like that - when I'm parodying stories like this (Baker Street comes to mind), but I don't expect to actually read that in a purportedly seriously-written book. I stopped right there because I know when I have this much of an issue with a novel and I'm barely started on chapter two, that me and the novel are not going to work out.

It's better to make a clean break so both sides know it's over, so I said "Let's part as strangers," and I walked away. I'm going to apologize up front for inflicting this book as a donation to this little village library near where I live, but maybe someone who hopes for less in the writing than I do, will like it. Maybe someone, somewhere, somehow, will approach it and burst through it. I know I can't.


John Grimes: Rim Runner by A Bertram Chandler


Rating: WARTY!

This is not by The Bertram Chandler but by A Bertram Chandler, so beware of false authorship of sci-fi! Initially when I first saw this I thought the author's name was John Grimes. You know how those publishers and maybe authors like to promote the author as though she or he is the story? Well they're not. The story is the story, so I tend to be skeptical of novels which have a hugely-emblazoned author's name at the top and a tiny title at the bottom. This was not the case here, but in the end it made no difference.

Unfortunately, the novel was so trashy as to be awful. It felt like it was written in the fifties, whereas it was actually written a whole decade later! This is actually a collection of four stories written from '64 through '71. I didn't get past page 28 of the first of these, when John Grimes, rim runner (and that tediously overused sci-fi phrase is not meant in a sexual sense), having set his spacecraft on course, sat down with his senior officers and started smoking a pipe. I should never have read that far.

The warning signs were already in place. All the senior jobs were held by men, all the junior jobs by women. The only woman who wasn't in an inferior position was the female main character who was defined solely by her looks and so sexualized as to be unreal. In fact, I should have never got past the cover, but I don't hold authors accountable for their covers unless they self-publish. The cover in this case featured a tough-looking, rugged male in your usual overblown and impractical space cowboy outfit. He was, of course, holding the bigger gun; in fact, he had two guns! And hilariously, he's posed rigidly like a GI Joe doll. The frosty-faced woman was wearing the tight scarlet outfit with the scoop neck, the better to expose her cleavage. In yet another case of the cover artist having no clue whatsoever what's in the novel she was depicted as a brunette whereas the actual character is blond (of course).

This book is not to be missed; it's to be avoided like the plague. There are those who would say that you cannot hold a book written half a century ago to modern standards, but actually, yes, you can! And even if you can't, I will. I give it a hulk-sized thumbs-down.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Eternity by Matt Kindt, Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn, David Baron


Rating: WARTY!

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

This was available on net Galley as a 'read now' and sometimes such books can be gems; other times they can be awful; upon another occasion, they can be simply just not appealing. This was in the latter category, I'm sorry to report. mat Kindt's writing was nothing out of the ordinary - not bad, but not really anything new or special. The drawings (ink by Ryan Winn, pencil by Trevor Hairsine) were okay, but nothing thrilling. Colors by David Baron were brilliantly hued, but still failed to impress somehow.

This new world felt drab despite the bright colors. It felt confusing, and uninteresting, and full of vague new-ageisms instead of anything solid or gripping. The story is of a black couple whose child is taken into this parallel dimension (or whatever it was) to replace an 'observer' who was killed. The only observation worth making here is that he evidently didn't see it coming!

The way the child was drawn made him look far older than the way he was depicted through his behavior. I don't know if any of these artists have young children of their own, but they should probably study a few crawling kids before they draw any more of them.

This death of the observer creates a panic for reasons which are entirely unclear. The rest of the story is of a battle between human cavemen who wish everyone to have self-determination, and the parallel world people who apparently don't. The bottom line is that none of us truly has free will (changes have occurred in our brains long before our conscious mind becomes aware of us making a decision), so if the people in this story had been less new age mysticism, and more science-based empiricism, they would have realized their conflict was pointless! I couldn't get anything out of what proved to be a very forgettable graphic novel, and I cannot recommend it.

On a technical note, my iPad, using Bluefire Reader, had issues with disappearing speech on pages 8, 60, and 77 (as measured by the Bluefire Reader page count - the graphic novel has no page numbering. When I loaded this into Adobe Digital editions, however, the text was there =- there were no blank speech balloons, so be aware of this issue.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Spaceman by Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso


Rating: WARTY!

With utility art by Eduardo Risso, this hardback graphic novel had looked interesting on the library shelf, but as soon as I began reading it, I realized it made little sense and it was obvious I'd made a wrong choice here!

The story began with an introductory news item about a scientist who had illegally bred children to be biologically kitted-out for a trip to Mars. How they were supposed to be so well-adapted was never explained, but apparently the way to breed a person for a Mars trip is to make them look like a caveman - and not even a Neanderthal, but some weird large breed that had long skinny legs, a weight-lifter sized chest and a relatively tiny skull with a pointy dome and brow ridges. They were exclusively male of course, because Darwin forbid we should have any females going to Mars! It is the god of war's planet after all! The women can all be packed off to Venus, right?!

For as little sense as that made, it made more sense than the rest of the story put together - at least as far as I read, which was about halfway before I gave up in disgust. All the characters spoke a weird-ass pigeon English which simply didn't work. It made half of what they said unintelligible, but I guess at least that kept it in line with the story itself which was apparently about some young girl being kidnapped. The story alternated between hairy Mars men on Earth, one of whom found the kidnapped girl accidentally, but never did turn her in to the police, and hairy Mars men apparently on Mars. I saw absolutely no connection whatsoever between these two stories - not in the part I read anyway. I had no idea whatsoever what was going on in the Mars portion of the story.

Though there were surprisingly few of them in this boys' fantasy, every adult or near-adult female who appeared in it was sexualized in the typical adolescent comic-book fashion, including the news reader at the start whose only appearance was one frame of her torso, leaning her ample and exposed cleavage into the camera's greedy eye. There was some sort of sex worker who was barely dressed, but this was not only when she was performing as might be expected, but also in every other appearance. Apparently she spent her life in her skivvies, day and night, indoors and out. It was pathetic.

Even had there been a coherent story it would not have excused this antiquated approach to femininity. This comic was published within the last decade so it looks like we have a hell of a long way to go, doesn't it? I dis-recommend this one.


The World Inside by Robert Silverberg


Rating: WARTY!

The cover image says it all: the exploitation of women in a novel only a male author could have got so wrong.

Silverberg was in his mid-thirties when he wrote this 1971 novel, two years before the World Trade Center was opened. It's interesting to speculate about whether those massive towers influenced his writing at all. The novel is set in 2381, and it posits a dystopian future where, in order to accommodate Earth's burgeoning population and provide food for everyone, massively tall towers have been erected, each containing a thousand floors, thereby leaving the land free for cultivation. The logic behind this rather escapes me, and the fact that everyone seems to be in complete compliance with it simply isn't credible. You'd think someone writing immediately after the close of the rebellious sixties might have thought about that!

Within these absurd accommodations, there is a set of "Urbmons" consisting of 25 self-contained "cities" of 40 floors each. People, we're supposed to believe, live in this confinement without ever leaving their 'city', much less leaving the building. I found that hard to credit, people being who they are. Everyone was supposed to be contented, but clearly they were not. I don't see how they could be, given that they were essentially being treated like cattle.

The other main characteristic was the complete lack of exclusive relationships. People got married at an early age (mid-teens!), but all the marriages were open, which begged the question as to what was the point of marriage in this society? I suppose it gave a stable platform for raising kids, but people were not allowed to have kids willy-nilly. Well, maybe nilly, but certainly not willy: they had to be approved, but having large families was paradoxically encouraged in this crowded world! And no one saw a contradiction in this!

Once the kids were there, it seemed like it was the female job to stay at home and take care of them. Guys were out working, so there was a real fifties vibe to this, rather than a 23rd century vibe. Guys would routinely wander the halls and floors at night, and stroll into any apartment they chose (doors had no locks on them), whereupon the woman was expected to accommodate them sexually even if her own husband was lying in the bed right next to them. The women didn't ever seem to roam, although it seems that they were technically allowed to do so.

Everyone seemed fine with this arrangement and it was, we're told, fostered to relieve tensions and avoid violence in this world. I found it hard to believe that there were no couples who wanted to enjoy an exclusive relationship, and who resented that any guy could bed any woman whenever he wanted. It sounded to me more like a male writer's fantasy world than ever it did a realistic projection of human society into the future. The problem was that anyone who exhibited any sort of rebellion or dissension from these arrangements was tossed down a chute to become generator fuel - and no one seemed to have a problem with that either!

Even if I'd been willing to accept all of this at face value, which I really was not, there was still the problem of the story being boring. There were several stories told, each about a guy, but these guys were (and predictably so in a society like this) indistinguishable from one another. One story even featured a woman, but she was also indistinguishable from the guys! Even when one of the guys snuck out of the building into the agricultural world outside, the story didn't improve any. It was at that point that I DNF'd this. I cannot recommend it. It was an exercise in adolescent fantasy as pointless as it was fatuous far as I could see.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

This Perfect Day by Ira Levin


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook, but atypically, not much of an experiment for a change. I'd read the print version many years ago and largely forgotten what happened in it as it turned out. It was almost like reading a new book listening to this version, and I enjoyed it. I felt the ending was rather cut short, but that was no big deal.

Levin wrote a sequel to what was probably his most famous novel, Rosemary's Baby, which I have not read. I doubt I will read it because that novel, it seemed to me required no sequel and it feels to me like he only did that because he was out of ideas for writing anything original. This novel, the only one of his first six novels which was not made into a movie (which is quite a record of success!), might have made use of a sequel had it been written well.

This is an "in a world" kind of a story! Chocolate gravel voice on: In a world where life is controlled down to the finest detail by a computer called Unicomp ("Thank you!" - "No, thank Unicomp!") and people are maintained in a passive and submissive state through regular injections of a lithium-based concoction, where movement is tracked through scans of identity bracelets, and even visits to one's parents are is controlled, and where even parenting itself is restricted, one man stands up the the faceless machine!

That man is nicknamed Chip, but his 'real name' is Li RM35M4419. He has had only minor infractions against decorum (aka Unicomp until he joins a band of rebellious people who find ways to get their treatments reduced and so to come alive, but this band is quickly uncovered and disbanded, with everyone including Chip, being put back on their treatments.

It's only many years later when Chip recalls Lilac, the girl he was attracted to during his brief rebellion, that he really and truly begins to rebel. He kidnaps Lilac and treats her rather violently, including unforgivably raping her one time. Nevertheless, when she recovers from her submersion under Unicomp's drug routine however, she forgives him and sides with him. They make it to a rebel island only to discover that all is not quite what they had thought it would be.

Not sure how to feel about the rape scene as part of the bigger story, frankly. That kind of thing should neither be treated lightly nor thought of lightly. There really is no forgivable rape, or if forgivable (by the person who was raped) certainly not excusable not even by arguing that he knew no better given the way he was raised (and then not raised, as it were). The whole story had people operating under unbearable circumstances while not even realizing it as they did, so things were warped throughout the story. I can't help but wonder how a woman might have written this story. But that issue aside, I liked the writing in general, and the pace of the story and Chip's smoldering desire for lilac, although not how he acted on it. To his credit, I should add that he did not fall to temptation despite being plied with it to betray Lilac at a later point in the story. Chip was stronger than Winston Smith, but then he did not have to face the terror that Smith did!


Friday, December 1, 2017

Mila 2.0: Renegade by Debra Driza


Rating: WARTY!

This is book 2 in a series, which was not known to me when I picked it up, otherwise I would have put it right back down. It looked interesting from the blurb (but doesn't it always?): an android on the run. Count me in! Why they don't call the female ones gynoid, I don't know any more than I know how there can be such a thing as a female android - or even a male one for that matter since they are robots and incapable of reproduction (one assumes!). I just did not get along with this novel at all though. The blurb online says it's "Perfect for fans of I Am Number Four and Divergent" which would have turned me off at once had I read that on the back of the book.

So Mila is on the run from General Holland and Vita Obscura, whoever they are. She's hanging with a guy, who to credit the novel where it's due, is not your usual type of studly YA male, although he does sport the ;laughable name of Hunter which is one of the go-to names for YA novels. The two of them are supposed to be looking for a guy named Richard Grady who is evidently someone who can tell her about how she came to be, but neither of them is smart enough to get that he is undoubtedly being watched and she will be captured as soon as she shows up in his neighborhood.

This was the biggest problem. Mila is dumb and she's obsessing on Hunter and none of that made any sense, but the dumb part was what really got me. She's too dumb to know that these people who are trying to track her might be using her own Internet searches to pin down where she is. I can't stand reading novels about dumb girls, and YA is replete with such novels. If she starts out dumb and wises up, that's one thing, but to be dedicatedly dumb is a huge turn-off for me, especially when the novel spends more time focused on how pretty Mila is than anything else.

Not for me. Not for me to recommend.


Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This is a very short story (56 pages in Bluefire reader on an iPad), and it's less of a sci-fi (notwithstanding the cover which I pay little attention to anyway!) than it is a 'sigh and fie on you!' story, but in the end it was just the right length. Any longer and it would have been padded, and I would not have liked it so much. Any shorter, and it would have been inadequate.

The world this is set (Mexico in the near future) reminded me very much of the kind of world William Gibson created in Neuromancer. This author does it just as well if not better, but here it's nowhere near as hi-tech, so it's more relatable. In this world lives twenty-five-year-old Amelia with the emphasis on old, because that's how she feels. Another two years and she won't be able to make money by selling her blood to old farts who think it will rejuvenate them. Amelia's only dream is of visiting the colony on Mars.

She lives with her sister Marta, who extracts a steep price for her sister's iffy employment prospects by using Amelia very nearly as a full-time baby-sitter and school bus for her kids in lieu of a decent contribution to the rent and food. Other than her blood, Amelia's only utility seems to be through her assignments from the Frienderr app which pairs companions with people in need of one.

Amelia doesn't even do so well at that because she's really not a people person, but she manages to keep a regular gig with an aging B movie actor named Lucía, who likes Amelia to sit with her while they watch her old movies and she talks about them. She's supposedly working on a memoir, but doesn't seem to make much progress.

Things look like they might change for Amelia when her old and wealthy boyfriend Elías shows up, "renting" her company on Frienderr. Amelia feels like she has to go because she really needs the money. It's obvious that her boyfriend wants her back, but you never get the impression that things are going to follow your typical romance novel path, or worse, your typical young-adult author path, especially since when he left before, Elías did so abruptly and without a goodbye.

That's the beauty of this novella, because the author keeps throwing you for a loop as soon as you get comfortable with the way you think this story is going. She never takes the easy path either, and I could see that right from the off, because she wrote it in third person whereas a lesser author (and your typical YA author!) would have gone for worst person voice (aka first person) which would have ruined this story for me, as it has far too many others which I've DNF'd sadly.

You can't enjoy a painting if your nose is pressed to the canvas nor appreciate a posing model by putting their skin under a microscope. There needed to be a certain distance from this character so you could properly enjoy who she was becoming, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia delivered it like an expert sculptor, exposing every graceful curve, chipping steadily down to every artful dimple and shadow with very little waste, nearly every line contributing to the final image of a strong woman, the like of which we see far too little in sci-fi stories.

The sole exception to this, for me was the movie dialog. Some chapters began with a lead-in, in the form of a movie script based on one of the movies Amelia watched with Lucía, but tailored to Amelia's life. I took to skipping these because I felt they took away from the story rather than added to it. If the last one had been left in place, but the rest removed I would have probably ended-up building a santuario religioso to this author! And that's another joy now that I think about it: she's Mexican by birth and uses some Mexican terms in the story without any apology and without a tedious translation en suite. I appreciated that: that she treated her readers like adults, not students who needed to learn a foreign language. It was perfectly done.

I loved this story and I highly recommend it. I shall be looking at other work by this author and I wish her all the best in her future endeavors.