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

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein

Rating: WARTY!

In this, the last Robert Heinlein novel I shall probably ever read, Podkayne Fries, an eight-year-old Martian girl (15 in Earth years), fantasizes about visiting Earth even though she doesn't see how it can sustain life. She battles with her younger, trouble-making brother who smuggles a nuclear bomb onto their transport, she gets kidnapped and escapes. In the original she was killed saving a child from a bomb blast, but Heinlein caved to Big Publishing™ despite being an established author by then, and changed the ending so she was injured, but lived.

Spineless is the term for that, and yet one more reason to never go with Big Publishing™ because I don't believe for a minute they would not put this same kind of pressure on an author today, especially if that author wasn't as well established as Heinlein was. Well, not me. Screw that. I'd rather never sell a novel than let a publishing conglomerate tell me how to write my novels.

If the novel had been brilliant, I might have had some nice things to say about it, but it frankly sucked. It was mire din antiquity. Yes, the novel was written in the early sixties, a decade which doesn't remotely deserve the proud boasts it has garnered for itself, but it sounded far more like the early fifties, and there was zero in this novel to make it sci-fi.

The exact-same story could have been written as Podkayne of America, with the US replacing Mars and Europe or Africa replacing Earth, and ships or airplanes replacing spacecraft, and everything else remaining the same, and it would not have needed to be told any differently. Sci-fi? Bullshit! There was nothing remotely science-y or futuristic in it and it was so condescending and fatherly as to be embarrassing.

The best thing about it was the girl who was reading it, Emily Janice Card, who did a really good job with antiquated material. I'd listen to her read something different, but I cannot recommend this musty, moth-eaten fabrication.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Quantum by Dean De Servienti

Rating: WARTY!

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

The first problem I encountered with this was that it's the first of a trilogy, which means it's really not a novel, but a prologue. The funny thing about that was that there is an author's note, an introduction, AND a prologue in this volume. Now that is serious and hilarious overkill. I do not read introductions, prefaces, prologues, author's notes, or any of that stuff. If you want me to read it, put it in the main text. Anything else is as antique as it is pretentious.

Despite this being a trilogy overture, I decided to take a chance on it anyway because it sounded interesting, but in keeping with its tripartite roots, it moved too slowly for me and didn't offer me much reward no matter how much I let slide. This is why I so rarely find series of any value. The first volume was boring - at least the fifty percent of it that I read - and it should not have been. I can't see myself being remotely interested in reading three volumes if they're anything like the portion I read of this one.

The second problem is that there are far too many characters introduced far too quickly. All this means is that we never get to know a single one of them in any depth, and so we have no one with whom to identify or for whom to root. This is another problem for me. I am not a fan of novels which jump around like this, especially when it's after as little as a single paragraph as often happens here. It moves so rapidly from one person to another, and one locale to another that it's likely to induce whiplash in many readers! It also pretentiously announces each paragraph with a dateline, like this is somehow crucial information. It's not, so why the pretension? Who reads datelines anyway?

This is translated from the Italian (as far as I know), so I readily admit something may have been lost in translation, but I doubt so much could have been lost that a brilliant novel in the native language would have been rendered so uninteresting in English. What bugged me most about this though, is that it was set in the USA. Italy has so much to offer - why betray that and set your novel in the US? Was it to avariciously pander to an insular US audience which evidently can't stand to read a novel unless it's native? And I don't mean Native American! I felt it would have been more interesting had it been set elsewhere, and Italy would have been a fine place to set this.

The most amusing thing was that Kindle's crappy app on my phone, which is the medium I read most of this in (and the formatting was, for once, fine) told me on page one that there were six minutes left in the book! Right, Amazon! Seriously, you still need to do some work on your crappy Kindle app. You're pulling down enough profit from your massive global conglomerate, so I know it's not that you can't afford to hire top line programmers; is it just that you're too cheap to hire them? Or are you purposefully trying to force people to buy a Kindle device?

The story opened amusingly: "Rome was beautiful in spite of the annoying wind that had been buffeting the city for the past couple of days." How might wind make it unattractive? Was Rome farting?! I liked Rome when I visited, but felt it was rather dirty - more-so than London is typically asserted to be, but that was a while ago. I don't know what it's like now, but I promise you the wind cannot make it ugly, so this struck me as a truly odd way of expressing a sentiment. Another translation problem? I can't say.

There were other such issues. One of them was that the artifact they found was six inches in diameter, yet it's referred to as a cane and a walking stick?! Again, this might have been a problem with translation, but with that repetition, it didn't seem so. I think it's funny that the artifact is described as sparkling, yet one guy assumes it's made from gold. Again, a problem with the translation? I don't know.

The truly bizarre thing is that I read, "Whatever metal it's made of isn't known to us." I'm sorry, but this is bullshit. We know all the metals in the universe. They're in the periodic table, and scientists can reliably project what others may be found. There are almost none beyond Uranium that are remotely stable. They can be created in the lab, but are so loosely wrapped that they exist for only minuscule fractions of a second, so this 'unknown metal' which often appears in sci-fi, is nonsensical.

The author would have made more sense and impressed me more if he'd talked about an unknown alloy instead of an unknown metal. I would have been more impressed still if he'd gone for one of the unstable metals and reported that it had somehow been rendered stable in this artifact (but then it might still have been radioactive), or if he had gone with one of the projected stable metals which are way off the end of the current periodic table. There's supposed to be one somewhere in the vicinity of Unbinilium. It hasn't been found yet and may not exist, but something like that would have been sweet to read about instead of this amateurish 'unknown metal'.

The story itself made no sense. The idea is that medical volunteers in the Sudan find a metallic cylinder, which was evidently embedded in rocks a quarter billion years old. Instead of asking permission from the powers-that-be in the country, they simply assert white man's privilege and steal the thing, transporting it to the west like the Sudanese have no business with it at all, and no say in the matter. They're black and African so why would any white scientists care at all? That can and has happened, but the fact that there isn't one single voice of dissension recording how utterly wrong that is bothered me intensely, and spoiled this right from the beginning.

The next absurdity is that the three major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) cease all disputes and come together as one, Israel sending the Mossad after this object. why? There is no reason whatsoever given for this intense religious interest, and for why it is only those three, like there are no other important religions on the planet! Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shinto, Falun Gong, and Sikhism are all larger than Judaism, so this seemed like an utterly arbitrary choice.

Anyway, all of the scientists contact their families and tell them not to try to contact them (!), and then they disappear. They're accompanied by and protected by a guy named Yoshi, who has a really interesting and overly intimate (but not sexual) relationship with his sister. Those two intrigued me more than anything else in this story, though they 'skeeved out' at least one reviewer I read, but they were switched-out with other characters almost interchangeably, so we never even got to learn why those two were like they were, although this may have been revealed in the second half of this first volume which I did not read. Life is too short!

So overall, based on the half of the volume I read, I cannot recommend this. It's too dissipated: all over the place and completely unrealistic, and it offered nothing to hold my interest.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Broken Mirror by Cody Sisco

Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I didn't know this was "the first novel in a sci-fi detective saga"! If I had, the very word 'saga' would have resulted in me avoiding it like the plague, and I would have been right to do so, because I simply could not get into this novel and I discontinued reading it at the end of part one, which was about one third the way through it. keep tha tin mind for this review. I don't read anything with 'saga' or 'chronicle', or 'cycle' associated with it! I'm not a series fan in general, with very few exceptions, but I did not know that when I requested this, so here we are!

This is an alternate universe world set slightly into our future (but dated earlier), and one where the United States is a fractious union of a handful of regions. How this came about as a result of Mrs Lincoln being shot instead of Abraham Lincoln is a bit of a mystery to me. Maybe if I'd read more, or felt more engaged, it would have all become clear, but the way the country was divided-up made no sense to me.

In this world, there's a problem with some citizens. Mirror neurons are thought to enable empathy, allowing us to feel what another person is feeling, and understand it from the inside, but in this world, in people like Victor, this normal brain function is amplified almost out of control. Indeed, some people do get out of control, and are confined in institutions for the well-being of themselves and others. Victor himself constantly lives on the edge of that confinement, although he is free and managing his condition through medication.

His grandfather dies unexpectedly and Victor discovers that the man was contaminated with polonium: the same radioactive metal which was used to assassinate Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in our world. Victor relied heavily on his grandfather, who was working to find a cure for the extreme version of what is, in us, not only a normal, but a required brain function if we're to get along with others. A mirror neuron fires when we perform an action or experience a feeling, and this same neuron also fires when we observe that same thing in others. At least that's the working theory, but there is still much research to be done to understand these brain cells properly.

Again if I'd read more, maybe I would have understood the world better, but after reading some thirty percent I still felt completely lost and had no interest in events in this novel. The story seemed to have no real direction other than flapping in the wind around Victor's wild speculations and erratic behaviors. Wherever it was going, it seemed to be taking forever to get there, and this is just one volume. The idea of reading a whole series, or even just a trilogy of this stuff really turns me off!

The worst part was that I did not like Victor at all. I don't know what it was about him, but he just did not interest me in the slightest. I think part of the problem was that his behavior was too erratic, and his plan to get off his medication and try herbal supplements was just stupid and had no support - not only in our world for real, but even within the framework of his own world, where nothing was offered to justify this medication realignment, save for his own vague feeling of being a bit 'fuzzy'.

I'd have liked it better had he had some real justification, but he didn't (and in real life you'd be a moron to abandon your doctor's prescriptions and go haring-off after herbal cures, be warned!). The problem here though, was that even when the fuzziness vanished, he was still a complete clown, and really seemed no different to me than he was before.

The bottom line is that I had absolutely no interest in him or his problems, and I really didn't care what became of him. After I'd decided I could not recommend this book, I read some other reviews to see if I'd missed something, and I read one which said that the novel "started bogging down about 3/4 of the way through" - well it started way before that for me, and so i was pleased that I'd abandoned it before it got worse.

The characters were not the only problem for me, though. The story dragged awfully, larded with so much extraneous detail that it was boring to wade through it. Nothing seemed to happen except at a glacial pace (it's a series after all, so what possible incentive can the author have to actually move things along?).

There was also too much fluff in it for my taste. All kinds of word substitutions were put in play to try and make the novel seem different and alternate, and these didn't work. 'Mesh' instead of Internet? 'Sono-whatever' instead of audio? They just seemed pretentious, and felt like a lazy way to try and make the story sound cool without actually doing the work to make it cool. All they did was remind me that I was reading a story instead of actually immersing me in the story.

Why were there 'parts' to this novel - especially since it's evidently part of a series? Parts of a part? When I finished part one, I expected there to be a shift of some kind between it and part two, otherwise why set up a divider? But there wasn't! The novel was set in the early 1990's in that world timeline, but part two continued just two days later! There was no jump or shift of any kind, and it was this which constituted the final straw and made me decide that here was a good point to quit reading.

It just seemed so pretentious to have these parts (at least they were identified as 'Part' and not 'Book' which I would have found laughable), but it wasn't quite as pretentious as having each chapter labeled with a dateline such as "Semiautonomous California 23 February 1991." Several chapters in a row had this same dateline. Why? It made no sense. I felt like it was a silly conceit of unwarranted self-importance, and this became especially true in chapter 6, where the dateline "Semiautonomous California 23 February 1991" was used (as it had been for the preceding three chapters), yet most of that chapter was a flashback, which was given neither date nor a location! It made zero sense!

Here's another example of how silly this was:

Semiautonomous California 24 February 1991

The morning after the funeral...
Well duh! Of course it's the day after! The dateline already told us! So what was the point of the dateline again?! Or conversely, what's the point of specifying it was the day after if the dateline already told us? I got the impression that the author had seen this dateline nonsense done in someone else's novel, and was anxious to copy it without having any real justification for it. Of course I could be completely wrong about that, but I see no justification for this kind of thing in any novel, unless the novel is written as a diary, in which case I wouldn't read it anyway.

So given a novel with a main character I really could not stand, and a story which seemed to be going nowhere slowly, and the pretension in the way it was laid out, this novel was not a good fit for me! It offered nothing to appeal, and while I wish the author all the best, I cannot recommend it for these reasons.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Rating: WARTY!

I got this as a wish granted on Net Galley - for which I thank the publisher. I'm not normally a fan of novels that obsess over looks and fashion, because those things are as shallow as the people who focus on them to the exclusion of all else, but this one was more of a dystopian novel where beauty was a magical power given to some to bestow onto others. In fact, it was almost a weapon.

This interested me initially, but by the time I was about three-fifths through the novel, I became thoroughly disappointed as I learned this was essentially no different from any other of the LCD young adult novels I've read and the author was in fact betraying her own premise. Instead of being different, the novel was just the same, and employed the same tropes and clichés, as all the other poor YA novels, the most egregious of which was the triangle between the first person narrator, a 'bad' boy, and a 'good' boy, and it was truly nauseating to read.

In very general terms, the novel was set in a quite well-realized world, with some beautiful writing and elegant descriptive prose, but the more I read, the more this was sadly let-down by some glaring holes in the logic, and some truly nonsensical and clunky inventions. The novel was also far too long. This was caused by a rambling tone in which everything took forever to get underway. This wasn't so bad in the early pages, but the more I read, the less I wanted to be swamped with yet more descriptive prose as another page went by with literally nothing happening unless you count strutting, and preening and posing as events.

Additionally, there is only so much mystery and so many unanswered questions you can heap upon your reader before your reader starts to suffocate, and you need to start offering answers - or at least look like you're about to do so - but by sixty percent in, there continued to be questions, and not an answer in sight. This was deeply disappointing and made me feel, since this is the start of a series, that no real answers would be forthcoming until the final volume of the trilogy or whatever this ends up being.

At one point early in the reading, I'd been prepared to suggest that there's a raft of YA writers who seriously need to read a few books like this before they write any more of their own, but I changed my mind quite quickly. I know this is an ARC, and so is unaccountably sent out for review with no guarantees and insufficient vetting, but this author has a masters, and some of the issues I came across made me despair for our education system. And they had nothing to do with it being an "uncorrected proof" and everything to do with being poor writing or poor word choices by someone who should know better.

While I readily acknowledge that language is a dynamic thing, especially in this era of sound-bites and texting, I think there are some things which didn't ought to change so readily! How many times have I read an author (particularly in YA writing) using 'bicep' (as this one does) when the term is biceps? There is no excuse for this, not even the ever-convenient UPE (uncorrected proof excuse).!

Chaise longue is dyslexically rendered into 'chaise lounge'. Now I have come to grudgingly accept this as an Americanism which isn't going away, and normally I would just roll my eyes and read on, but here, in a novel which is explicitly set in a heavily French-accented milieu, I found it inexplicable that the author should resort to the lazy Americanism instead of the French original!

In another instance combining poor writing and bad French, I read what was supposedly a note from Camellia's mother in which she instructed her in the use of a magic mirror (more on the 'borrowing' habits of the author later!), "Prick your beautiful little finger and drop the blood onto the handle, and it will show you what you need to see. I love you, ma petit."

The first problem with this is that it read so false to me to suggest that Camellia's mom would write "beautiful little finger". It was quite literally sickening to read, and it felt completely unrealistic. Maybe there are some idiot moms who would write such flowery prose like this while trying to convey something of vital importance to their daughter, but it made me laugh because it was so bad.

It was not as bad as the wrong-gender French in a novel set in a French-flavored world. 'Petit' is masculine. It goes with mon as in: mon petit. The phrase the author needed here (since the message was addressed to her daughter) was the feminine: 'ma petite'.

I've never seen fleur-de-lis rendered as fleur-delis, which makes it sound like the name of a sandwich shop! After consulting this same novel in Bluefire Reader though, I discovered that it had been rendered correctly as fleur-de-lis, and it was Amazon's crappy Kindle app which had randomly deleted hyphens (and spaces, I discovered as I read on), so this was not the author's fault at all, except in that she and the publisher had placed far too much faith in Amazon not to mangle their hard work. Amazon had, with its usual disregard for literature, once again let them down. This is merely one reason why I have neither time nor patience for Amazon, and partly why I quit posting reviews on Goodreads, Amazon's unholy-owned tributary.

The story itself began as an interesting one. In the fictional Kingdom of Orléans, a tiny subset of young females, known as Belles have special powers known as Arcana. In this story, the Belles, only six of them, are considered sisters even though they are unrelated, and they all adopt the same last name: Beauregard. The first names of the other five are: Ambrosia, Edelweiss, Hana, Padma, and Valeria. I saw a writing opportunity here which was badly wasted. More on this later.

Camellia is the sixth girl and the first person narrator. She bears the name of a flower, but it's an Asian flower, so why she had that name in a French-influenced novel, I do not know. She does go by Camille, but this name, storied as it is in history and literature, has nothing to do with the name of the flower (which is after a guy named Kamel! LOL!). This is why names are important, so this whole naming thing was a bit confused in this novel.

This was one of many things which started tripping-up the world-building for me. To me, names mean things and far too many authors ignore that in their blinkered rush to choose either a trope name, or an overly-exotic name for their character. In this case I wondered if the author had chosen the name like I would do, to represent something, since Camellia is known for the tea which can be made from the leaves, and the oil which can be pressed from its seeds. I guess I'll never know! For me though, I could not hear that name without thinking of a camel which, and this is just a wild guess, is probably not what the author had intended.

On the brighter side, the first person voice wasn't awfully bad in this novel for which the author has my sincerest thanks. I've read some truly horrendously-written first person voice novels. Why authors, particularly in the YA world, are so sheep-like in their addiction to this voice is a mystery to me since it's so limiting and so fake. I guess I'm just going to have to quit reading any YA novel told in first person if I am to escape it.

Anyway, each of these six girls has within her some sort of ill-defined blood-power, which evidently resides in proteins they get from leeches, which begs the question as to why anyone cannot slap a leech on themselves and get the power. We're told the girls are born to be Belles, but we never learn how or why that is so, or why there are so few of them. And why only girls? Maybe this comes to light in a future volume. Although it's denied that these girls perform magic, this is exactly what they do, employing blood-magic to transform people's physical appearance.

This began a host of unanswered questions notwithstanding the world-building and in the end, the weight of all these loose threads began to drag the story down for me. For example, on the one hand science seems to be quite advanced in this nation (they know what proteins are), but there's no electricity to be had. We're supposed to believe that Belles are celebrated and revered almost to the point of being gods, but on the other hand, they're universally treated like slaves. The belles are supposed to be experts in how to mold people, literally, into personifications of gorgeous, yet these people treat them like dirt and order them around, telling them what to do instead of allowing the Belles to do their job. None of this made any sense at all to me.

These powers they have come in three "flavors" or forms: age, aura, and manner, but later there's a hint, which may be just a rumor, that there is a fourth form. This hidden fourth power is straight out of Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy.

These powers enable the girls to physically transform other citizens who are known as 'gris' (the French word for gray), and who are dismissed as plain and even ugly, into what is considered the epitome of beauty. The ideas here seem perhaps to have been borrowed from the citizens of Panem, as depicted in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy, but whereas the extravagant beauty (so-called!) in Panem was merely a backdrop, here it takes center stage. There are other ideas borrowed from Hunger Games such as the 'post-balloons' which deliver items much like the parachutes delivered gifts to the competitors in Collins's trilogy.

Camellia is one of the six finalists for a position at the royal court. It's her lifelong dream since her mom held that same position, which lasts, inexplicably, only for a year. She travels with her competing 'sisters', who while they sometimes fight and snipe at each other, are like family, but only one of these Belles can take the coveted royal position.

We know it's going to be Camellia, since she's the one narrating the story in first person and you can't tell the reader what's going on if that first person narrator isn't present - unless you want to admit your poor choice of voice and switch to third person periodically, or have major info-dumps to bring the main character up to date about things which happen out of her ken. Thus the weakness of this voice.

What made me truly start feeling nauseous in this novel though, was the introduction of your standard love triangle. I had, when I began reading this, not only hoped, but also genuinely believed that here was an author who was above this sort of cheap shot. Consider my disappointment then when I saw her launch with gay abandon into proving that even she had no qualms about descending to the level of hack YA writers when it comes to asserting that every woman desperately needs to be validated by, in this case, not one man, but two.

The reason I found this so totally obnoxious here is that the whole basis of this book, so I'd been led to understand, was that it was ultimately to be an indictment of the shallowness of the beauty and fashion industries which are an appalling bane on the lives of women, and particularly young women, everywhere. These women are told that unless they're rail-thin and gorgeous, they're pretty much useless and have nothing to look forward to. That's what fashion and cosmetics are all about: telling you that your face is ugly and must be disguised if not covered with a beauty mask, and your clothes are trash and must be replaced regularly with these which we will happily sell to you, assuming you can lose enough weight to fit into them.

The sad fact is that nowhere did I see any evidence of any indictment. Even if that is still to come though, say in volume two or three, or even if it curiously took place upon the very page after I quit reading this novel, my question is: how is it to the benefit of young women (talking of getting the skinny) to rail at the cosmetic industry on the one hand whilst simultaneously undermining their independence by asserting confidently that your YA female is utterly worthless unless some guy adores her? It was sick quite frankly, hypocritical at best, and a sorry betrayal of women everywhere at worst, because here. the author is telling us that Camellia is so comprehensively useless that she needs male validation.

These purveyors of barefoot, pregnant, and in the bitchin' kitchen were Rémy the studly, upright bodyguard, and Auguste, the standard trope YA bad boy. As for Rémy, there was no reason whatsoever for his existence. There's no threat to Camellia, unless you consider someone putting old rose petals in her bathroom to actually endanger her life. So why does she need a permanent 24/7 personal bodyguard - except of course to put her into close proximity to one third of the triangle?

This was done so clunkily that it was truly pathetic. I mean it was farcical in the extreme. Poor Rémy never even gets to sleep - I am not kidding - he's on the job all day and night every day and every night. It was absurd. And how did his sisters ever get into the palace? Do they have a 'bring your sister to work day' for palace guards? The writing had gone from sublime to substandard at this point.

Auguste was even less explicable than was Rémy. As is tediously trope in this lower class of novel, Auguste shows up out of the blue, putting Camellia in danger, having no respect whatsoever for her, and being far too 'chummy' and familiar. In what is the vomit-inducing trope for these novels, she does not reject him out of hand as anyone in her position actually would were the story true to its roots and framework. Instead, she gets the hots for him immediately. Evidently the camel is in estrous. All-bluster continues to stalk the camel - and yes, that's exactly what it is, but the author wants us somehow to think this is playful flirting and courtship. Well there's a humongous bot-fly in that stodgy ointment: he's one of the three suitors for the princess.

Yes, there are guys in real life like Auguste, so this was not the problem. The problem was Camellia's reacting like a bitch in heat to his advances. It was her complete lack of not only morals and propriety, but her total disregard for others. Despite the fact that she knows he's Sofia's suitor, she sees absolutely nothing wrong, neither in his behavior nor in her own! If this tells me anything about her, it's that she's a moron and certainly not someone worth knowing. much less reading a whole series about.

Despite the fact that she could get fired for associating with him, Camellia is so profoundly stupid that she just swallows everything Auguste says. She purposefully flirts with him when she's not endlessly describing what are evidently Queen Alexandra Birdwing butterflies stomping around in her stomach.

The biggest fail though was that on one occasion, the stalwart Rémy was right there with her, her bodyguard, yet he did nothing whatsoever to break-up her flirting with Auguste. He's guarding her because of dead roses, yet here is a guy hitting on her right in front of him - a guy he doesn't know, and one who could be concealing a knife, yet he says not a word. That's how completely useless he is. even if the guy was not a threat to her life, he is a threat to her career and reputation. Rémy cares nothing for that? The name derives from a Latin word meaning oar, so it's hardly surprising Camellia's up the creek without a paddle.

Auguste is quite literally nothing save overly familiar and worse, controlling, and comes with not a single thing to recommend him as a viable suitor for Camellia, let alone for Sofia, yet never once does a single thought enter her pretty little head that what she is doing is not only mean to Sofia, but also self-destructive to her own career aspirations. Never once does any thought along these lines enter her empty head! That's how clueless a character she truly is, so maybe I was wrong: maybe she's one of the tiny minority of co-dependent women who actually do need a couple of guys to validate her.

This is entirely the wrong lesson to teach young women: that your ideal lover is a guy who has no respect for women, who never balks at risking Camellia's job or reputation, or at getting her into trouble, who is controlling, and who has no respect for the fact that he is potentially betrothed to Camellia's employer, The fact that this author is, on the one hand supposedly calling-out the cosmetics industry, yet on the other, is actively undermining the independence and self-determination of women is a disgrace, and I have no desire whatsoever to read any more of this novel or to read anything else by this author. I cannot recommend this by any measure.

If the author had been serious about her writing, and really wanted to make a go of this, then what she ought to have done is kept it to a single volume, told it in third person, and switched between the perspectives of all six Belles. That, right there, would have been a story worth reading, but instead all we got was a silly little palace love triangle about a vacuous girl, and it's a story that has already been done to death a billion times over.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Girl Parts by John M Cusick

Rating: WARTY!

This is funny because as I was writing this, our Rumba, which we call Sparky, and which frankly, is a useless robot in its blind and random - and very inefficient - seeking out of dirt (I cannot recommend that either!) got stuck on something and I had to stop what I was doing, and go rescue it! Some day we will get it right, but we're nowhere close yet.

I had issues with this novel, and while for most of the reading of it, I was looking on it favorably, it went to hell in a hand-basket in the last third. In the end, there's one major reason why I cannot rate it positively: the whole book was about companionship and healthy relationships, but all of this was betrayed when the author made it quite clear that the only value a woman has is her vagina and her willingness to allow a man to penetrate it. It's particularly ironic then, that for this, the woman is destroyed!

The story was a bit improbable to begin with - that a corporation was allowed to sell life-like female robots as companions to teen boys. Yes, it was in the end, a scam, but the robots were real, and very lifelike and very female - except for the fact that they had no primary sex organs. Not that this would make her any less female, but it is nevertheless how women are viewed in the western world, and this author buys right into it and does so completely and unapologetically.

Rose is a one-of-a-kind advanced gynoid. We're not told why she's one of a kind. She's bought by David Sun's rich father. When he finds out he cannot penetrate her and leave his mark of ownership, he ditches her and she tries to decommission herself by jumping into a lake. She's rescued by school nerd Charlie. The dip in the lake confuses her programming somewhat, and detaches her from her wireless link to her corporate "owner" (how that works since David's dad actually bought her is a mystery, but some of this book is quite confused).

Rose and Charlie start building a relationship, but rather than have that blossom and develop, the author takes the low road and has some chop-shop fit Rose with a vagina so she and Charlie can have sex. After that she's evidently of no more use. the company reclaims her and presumably destroys her, and Charlie takes up with a human female, never giving Rose a second thought. This is entirely the wrong message to be sending to young readers: that women are commodities and disposable. They're already thought of that way and it needs to change. This book does nothing to help. The ending betrays the whole story that has gone before, and I cannot recommend this as a worthy read.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Molly Moon's Hypnotic Time Travel Adventure by Georgia Byng

Rating: WARTY!

This is the third in the Molly Moon series and also - due to some confusion about titles, the first I read - or rather listened to since I go the audio book read very charmingly by Clare Higgins (who you may remember as Ma Costa in The Golden Compass movie). I was not very impressed with the story, unfortunately. The plot is that Molly Moon is kidnapped several times at different stages of her timeline, by a villainous Indian whose purpose was never clear to me, although I did DNF this, so I may well have missed it.

The Indian employed a lackey who was the one who actually kidnapped Molly. The lackey wanted to get back to the fountain of time or whatever it was, which he thought would restore his youth and looks (time travel apparently turns people into lizards, if they overdo it). The problem was that the entire story was one long repetitive slew of time jumps, which was interesting at first, because it was quite engagingly described, and one example of hypnotism was really quite beautifully done, but after the story kept repeating endless time jumps, and with Molly's dog being kidnapped to forced Molly's compliance, and then she getting it back and then it begin kidnapped again, it was tedious, to say nothing of confusing. I may have missed this, too, but I never did understand why they needed Molly.

On top of this, the story sounded faintly racist to me, as the Indian bad guy was given this absurd affliction of spoonerism, which rapidly became annoying to me. Obviously the story isn't aimed at me, it's aimed at middle-grade readers, so they may have a different take on it to what I did, but I can't recommend this one.

Molly Moon Stops the World by Georgia Byng

Rating: WARTY!

This is the second in the Molly Moon series and also - due to some confusion about titles, the one I read after I read the third one. I haven’t read the first, and I decided I really don’t want to, not after reading the second and in particular, the third. Technically I listened to these rather than read them, charmed by the hypnotic voice of Clare Higgins who does a better job reading than the author did writing.

In the first volume, Molly learns how to hypnotize people and turns it to her advantage before “retiring” from her successful, if fraught, career on stage, and taking over control of the orphanage where she was raised, making it a decent place for kids to live. In this volume, Molly inexplicably decides she ought to try hypnotizing inanimate objects and by doing do, discovers that she can atop time, freezing everything – living and inanimate alike – except herself, who can then moves through this frozen world with impunity. Of course this attracts attention from someone else who also has this power, and thus the adventure begins.

The problem with these books is that they're so repetitive, and this turned me off them. I did skip to the last disk in the set and was quite charmed by the writing during a part of the ending, but overall, I can't recommend this. Less discriminating readers of the appropriate age range might have better luck.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Doctor Who Dark Horizons by Jenny T Colgan

Rating: WARTY!

Doctor Who is always a visual medium for me, and though I've tried other media: graphic novels, ebooks, print books, they're never as good or as satisfying as really good TV ep. This print book was always bordering on failing, but because I'm such a fan of Doctor Who I kept-on plugging away at it, hoping against hope that it would eventually shine, right until the middle of page 192, which was 62% of the way through it. It was there that I read this: "It turned their oceans from teeming with life to devastated in point four of a parsec."

Had anyone else said it, it might have been okay, but this was The Doctor speaking, and there is no way in the Matrix a Timelord would ever make such a grotesque mistake. The 'sec' in parsec is not one sixtieth of a minute, i.e a measure of time, but an arcsecond, i.e. 1/3600 of a degree - in other words, a measure of angle and thereby, distance. Don't get me started on the morons who try to retcon this same blunder in the original Star Wars movie, which was doubled-down on in the ridiculous remake called The Force Awakens.

So I quit reading this dumb-ass book right there and I refuse to recommend it. I also think I'm done reading Doctor Who adventures. As for the plot? What is it with Doctor Who and their obsession with Vikings and Romans? The show was originally, being BBC, intended to have an educational component whereby some history could be taught, but this was soon abandoned and for the good; however, this obsession with sending the Doctor back to the tired old standards needs to end.

If you must go back to Earth's past, then can we not find something new for the Doctor to visit? And can we not find some primitive people who are terrified of the Doctor and his machine instead of jovially accepting it and even learning how to operate it? This book, frankly, sucked. it was poorly written, made out that the Vikings had no word for the color blue since they never saw it. I guess they never looked at the sky? Never looked at a Hepatica flower or a Blueweed flower, both of which are native to Scandinavia?! These kinds of mistakes are pathetic and amateur, and inexcusable, and Jenny Colgan is off my list of authors I'm ever going to consider reading again.<\p>

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Prankster by James Polster

Rating: WARTY!

This is a sci-fi novella on three disks (I think it's about ninety pages long). I found I wasn't as impressed with it as I thought I would be when I read the blurb!

There's supposed to be this galactic TV show, and the aliens' idea of entertainment is to watch this one celebrity named Pom Trager messing with things on our side of the universe. The guy claims he's tinkered with every president since Nixon, bringing hassles into their life, although why he's so obsessed with US presidents goes unexplained other than that the author is American, which is pretty pathetic and thoroughly uninventive. Why the universe is so interested in Earth is another unexplained mystery (other than that the author is from Earth). I find these conceits to be provincial and annoying.

This idea in particular is problematic, because it's like the author wants to criticize the US but doesn't have the guts to do it directly, so he puts the observations into the mouths of aliens, like he knows what aliens are thinking, but it turns out that the aliens' minds work exactly like human minds, so it's not only unimaginative, it's also boring and it makes the aliens look like morons. It's really no different than what Star Trek did with Commander Spock in the original series, Commander Data in the Next Generation, Neelix (whom I couldn't stand) in Voyager, and full circle back to the resident Vulcan, in the form of Commander T'Pol in Enterprise. Yawn. And Yuk. Star Trek Discovery will no doubt be exactly the same.

In this take on it, Trager falls through the divider between his world and ours, and ends up in the Rio Grande about a half hour out of Santa Fe. There's a reason things go wrong and it's so trite as to be worthy of a high-school story writer. Trager has to make it to San Francisco to catch a portal back to his own world otherwise he'll be trapped here in our world and that's your story. The handling of it was amateur and painful, and in the final analysis, it's not even remotely about aliens, it's about us - again. It just felt like a poor idea for a story. The length of it is just right for a movie, and given Polster's professional history, this is probably what was intended. So it failed as a screenplay, and now the author is trying to unload it on us as a novella? No thanks!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Rating: WARTY!

This was yet another take-a-chance audiobook from the library. It sounded good from the blurb, but was less than satisfactory when I got into it. It's the start of a series, because why write one book when you can drag it out and bilk your readers for a trilogy or more? It was also first person voice, which is a voice I'm growing to thoroughly detest, especially in YA novels. It's so unrealistic and whiny, and self-obsessed. This was made worse by the author admitting she made a huge mistake in choosing first person, because has then has to tell it in two different first person voices, which is laughable to me. The first voice was this young girl Amy (how young wasn't specified but she seemed like she was a very juvenile sixteen maybe?). She and her parents are being cryogenically frozen for a three-hundred-year trip.

Apparently the crew which is putting them under has never heard of sedatives, so the procedure is brutal, but what really bothers Amy is that she overhears one of the crew mention that it's 301 years instead of the original 300, and Amy all but freaks out over this. She idiotically seems to think this extra year in journey time means she could have spent another year on Earth with her boyfriend. how she gets that from learning that the journey itself - not the start of the journey, but the journey itself - is being extended by a year is completely out of left field. She's quite obviously a moron, so I lost all interest in her.

This was farcical, but not as sad as the fact that the author is evidently quite clueless as to how big the universe actually is. Three hundred years, even if you could go at the speed of light, which you absolutely cannot, wouldn't even get you out of our galaxy, let alone 'across the universe'. Three hundred years gets you three-thousands of one percent the way across our galaxy. That's how huge it is. Across the universe, my asteroid.

From other reviews I've read, science is not the author's strong point. I'm not saying you have to be a scientist to write a sci-fi book! In fact I prefer it if you're not, but you can't write dumb things and not expect those with even a modicum of basic science not to be kicked out of suspension of disbelief by them.

Even my kids know that an object in space keeps moving in the same direction and at the same velocity as it began with unless it gets caught in some planet's or star's gravitational field, or hit by another object. Things don't slow down just because their engine is turned off. This author needs to learn that as much as she needs to learn that (with few exceptions) one gene doesn't equal one trait. Gene groups or networks are what give us our traits and they are often complex and interact with and affect one another, so if she's going to continue this series I recommend some basic physics and genetics courses. Or at least read a good non-fiction book on each topic.

The idea is of course that these people going out there to populate a different planet. The girl is put under and apparently doesn't lose consciousness. She spends her time dreaming of her left-behind boyfriend Justin. That's how vacuous she is. And no, if you're frozen, you don't dream, which depends on biochemical reactions in your brain, which wouldn't be happening if you're deep frozen. The other guy, known only by the absurdly juvenile title of 'Elder' is some kid who sounds like he's ten years old. He's training under Eldest (I kid you not) to run this vessel (which is of course the spacecraft that Amy is on). Obviously the two meet, save each other and fall deeply in love in record time. Barf.

The Elder portion of the novel was so ridiculous and puerile that I took to skipping it and listening only to Amy's chapters, but as I said, she's a vacuous moron and I quickly lost interest in her. It seemed obvious that this journey was going to be a complete lie, and only Elder and Amy were going to be able to save the world (or spacecraft, in this case), so where's the suspense? In the cliff-hanger ending to this first volume? I can live without it. How you're going to stretch this tedious drivel to a series is the only mystery here, but why would the author or publisher care, as long as they can find suckers tu buy it?

What Light by Jay Asher

Rating: WARTY!

This was another experimental audiobook (experimental for me, that is, probably not for the author or the audiobook reader!) about this girl who spends two months each year in California selling Christmas trees with her family, and the rest of the year growing the trees back in her home state of Oregon. That idea of a divided life intrigued me, and I was curious to know how it affected her, but the answer is not at all, because the novel had really nothing to say about living two separate lives except in a distant, tangential sort of way. It was essentially nothing more than a juvenile romance story and as I began listening to this, I found myself increasingly thinking: what a waste of a good novel idea.

The writing is so young in terms of how it describes these kids and their behavior. I know sixteen-year-olds are very young, but at first I thought this girl was something like thirteen-years-old. It turns out she's sixteen or something like that. You wouldn't know it from the writing, or from the reader's voice. Apparently all she has on her mind is guys, despite denying interest in them earlier. This makes her far too shallow and uninteresting for me to care about. Then she meets this guy and it's instadore, and I'm outta there. Check please! Gotta go! I can't recommend this based on the small amount of it that I could stomach.

Saturn Run by John Sanderson, Ctein

Rating: WARTY!

If you want to know what five hundred pages of pure crap looks like, then this is definitely the book for you. Saturn Run Off at the Mouth would have been a more apt title. Eric Conger's reading of it in the audio version also was not entertaining. As a result, I'm done reading anything by either of these authors ever again. This is my first and last.

This was a long, long novel in which literally nothing happened. If you love authors who are so obsessed with parading their technical chops - even when it's complete fictional horseshit - then you'll love this. But it was way the hell too Clancy for me. If they had cut all of that out, and reduced the length of the book to about two hundred pages - the last two hundred - then I might have merely considered it to be garbage, but I sure would have appreciated the trees they saved (or in this case petroleum products since this was on CD).

The premise is that in 2066, a spacecraft is observed (by accident) entering orbit around one of Saturn's moons, and two rival spacecraft from Earth (one Chinese, one American primitive as they are), are dispatched to rendezvous with it. It leaves before they get there, but the moon it orbited turns out to be an automated space station and a technology goldmine. This lethargic approach to the story was the problem for me. It was some fifty chapters before they ever arrived at Saturn's moon, and when they did the aliens were gone! So what, exactly, was the point of the story? That people are greedy, mercenary, and untrustworthy? We already knew that.

This was boring and I started skipping tacks very early. It got to the point of skipping whole sections just to see, out of pure curiosity, if they ever would arrive at Saturn. They did, but then the story was nothing but a Chinese stand-off, with no one apparently questioning the divine right of humans to pillage the property of others whenever they feel like it. It sucked.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Chimpanzee Complex Vol 2 The Sons of Areas by Richard Marazano, Jean-Michel Ponzio

Rating: WARTY!

Here's a problem with series that single books never have to face: unless you, as a reader, can get your hands on the compendium edition, you have to root out all the individual volumes! Thus, series are in no way written for the reader, but for the lucrative gratification of money-grubbing authors and publishers. This is one major reason why I will never write a series. It's not worth selling out for.

And how dumb does a publisher have to be to favor a series (which you know they do, especially in the YA world) when they have no idea how good it's going to be? All they have is the first volume and a promise of two or more follow-ups. They have no way of knowing how good or bad those will be, yet they would rather commit to that, blinded by cash rewards, than give three single-volume authors a chance because they can only rake in one third the money with one volume? Screw them. That's not a world I want to be a part of.

Thus my issue with this, a graphic novel translated from the original French (Le Complexe du Chimpanzé: les Fils d'Arès), the very medium which tends to be, almost by definition, episodic. The library had volume two on display which was odd, and it looked interesting from a brief skim. The artwork by Jean-Michel Ponzio looked pretty good, but they didn't have volume one. It would have been wiser on the part of the library to have not put this out there without including the first volume.

Anyway, I figured to take a chance (and it failed)! The story made no sense whatsoever, and I suspected that even had I read volume one, and assuming it had impressed me enough (of which I confess I have some serious doubts) that I ever made to to volume two, it would still make no sense. The problem (again definitive of series) is that the story really goes nowhere. In volume two there can be no beginning - that bus left with volume one, and since there is a volume three, there can be no ending here. So all we have is this free-floating story fragment, and I could make neither têtes nor queues of it.

The plot? Well, that's an open question. Other than its dedication to cheapening the achievements of people like Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin, what does it offer? Nothing that I can see. In volume one, set in 2035, a space capsule plunges into the Indian Ocean and when it's recovered, it's found to contain Armstrong, and Aldrin - and no Michael Collins apparently! Collins became the most isolated and lonely man in the world (or rather out of it) in 1969 when, having dropped off his two companions on the Moon's surface, he went behind the Moon alone, and was out of touch with the rest of humanity for a period of time! Yet not a word about him!

In this volume, we meet this woman who is going to Mars, leaving behind her daughter. No father is evidently in sight although there is this guy who is supposedly in charge of the young girl, but who he was I have no idea. He wasn't very good at what he was charged with undertaking, for sure. But more to the point, what woman would do that to a young child? Going to the Moon for a week or ten days, I can see, but going on a round trip to Mars for a year? That's child abuse. Her daughter feels it pointedly too, and runs away from home (she seems to be completely unsupervised), yet while I was mildly interested in the daughter's adventure, I had no interest whatsoever in the mother's non-adventure, which while commendable in that she was not your usual pale Caucasian protagonist (she was Asian) was boring.

And who, in 2035, has an encyclopedic knowledge of Russian cosmonauts from 1961 (I love the rotational symmetry of that year!) - such that she knows the middle name and exact dates of Gagarin's life milestones? This is an example of truly bad writing, and frankly, that was the weakest link here - not only did the writing make no sense, it wasn't even inspired. I really disliked this story.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Infinity's Shore by David Brin

Rating: WARTY!

This really isn't much of a review because this novel wasn't much of a novel - not the slim portion of it I could stand to listen to, anyway. I consider audio books experimental: I take more risks on them than other formats, which is why so many of them fall by the wayside. It's worth it to find a gem here and there, but this was (infinitely) far more a coal in the stocking than ever it could hope to be a diamond in the rough.

I really liked Brin's Kiln People, but this one bored the pants off me right from the start. The writing was pretentious and extravagant, Brin clearly adoring his own voice far more than ever he was interested in entertaining his readers (or listeners in my case). If this book had been submitted by an unknown writer, it would never have got published, and justly so, which only goes to show how stupid and short-sighted Big Publishing&Trade; is: it's not what you write, it's whether you already have your foot in the door.

As if the writing wasn't bad enough, the reader, George Wilson, seemed determined to give Brin's trilogy diarrhea its full due, and he ably discharged tedious torrents of it, so I flushed it. I simply could not stand to listen to him, nor could I stand the thought of getting the print or e-version to read myself after having listened to the first of twenty-two disks. No way I'm going to subject myself to that when other books are calling with sweeter voices!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Count Zero by William Gibson

Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook. I'd read and enjoyed Neuromancer a long time ago, and Gibson followed-up with this sequel, the second in his so-called 'sprawl trilogy' but even though I also read this one, I could not remember what happened in it! That ought to have warned me right there. This one started out well enough, but after the first ten percent or so, it devolved into the most tedious rambling imaginable, and I couldn't stand to listening to it any more.

I found myself phasing it out of my consciousness, and focusing on other things instead. Since I typically only listen to audiobooks when driving, I'm used to focusing on other things, namely traffic, but I always come back to the book - it's always there on the periphery even if I'm focused on some traffic situation, but in this case it disappeared and I didn't miss it! It was minutes later that I recalled I was supposed to be listening to it, which is a sure sign the author has lost me as an audience and it's time to return this to the library and let someone else suffer through it!

The sequel to this, and the closing volume of the trilogy is Mona Lisa Overdrive, which is an awesome name for a novel - as good as Neuromancer, so I will give that a try if the library has it. Again, I've read it before, but I barely remember it, so I'm not optimistic about liking that after this experience.

Gibson's problem is that his books now seem awfully dated. They're set in a high-tech future, but now have the same quaintness that those 'predictive' books of the nineteen-fifties had: so optimistic about technology, but so wrong about how it came to be and how it's been applied. Gibson's future is relentlessly negative, which hasn't come to be and most likely will not, unless climate changed brings us down badly. He thought we'd be getting our news by fax instead of through cell phones! His future hasn't heard of personal communication devices or anything like the world wide web.

He has medical science making huge leaps in body repair and enhancement, which is slowly coming to pass, but while he futuristically has people jacking into 'cyberspace' directly, instead of interfacing through keyboards and monitors, he has them completely unprotected against viruses and worms. This isn't credible. Neither is it credible that anyone would put their brain at risk like that unless they were nuts to begin with. On the other side of the coin, he does see corporate globalization as being troublesome, but I think Melissa Scott does a better job of visualizing the future in her Trouble and Her Friends than Gibson does in anything he's written (that I've read).

The story began interestingly enough with a mercenary by the name of Turner, being blown-up and rebuilt. He's recuperating with a fine girlfriend, but he doesn't realize she's been paid to nursemaid him until Conroy shows up. An old colleague, Conroy wants Turner's help in extracting a member of one global corporation and delivering him to work for a rival company. Meanwhile, the standard Gibson style hacker, Bobby Newmark, the Count Zero of the title, almost dies when trying out some new software. He's saved by the daughter of the man who Turner and Conroy are trying to extract. Her name is Angie Mitchell, and she has the ability to "jack in" to cyberspace without a jack.

As you can see, Gibson's work has heavily influenced what came afterwards, notably, the Matrix trilogy of movies, and the Thirteenth Floor movie which got very little traction, but which is a favorite of mine. The problem with him, for me, is that he's pretty much remained static, with his one-hit wonder, Neuromancer, the only thing to have honestly impressed me of all he's written, and a large part of that was Molly Millions, aka Sally Shears, who makes only the briefest of appearances in this middle volume before playing a larger role in the finale.

I can't recommend this one, though.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Genesis by Bernard Beckett

Rating: WARTY!

This was another experimental audiobook read not badly, yet not inspiringly by Becky Wright in her first audiobook reading evidently. Bernard Beckett is a New Zealander who seems to think that because he shares a famous last name, he must have writing chops somewhere in his genome. Maybe he does, but it's not evident through the lens he lends us here with which to examine it. All we get is a poor reproduction of Orwell's 1984.

This story was amateur at the level of fan fiction. It was trite, boring, and framed in the mind-numbing tedium of student defending her thesis. The title is entirely wrong. Instead of Genesis, meaning 'beginning', the author should have gone with Akharith, meaning 'ending' because the main character, in her fruitless pursuit of academic excellence here, is about to meet her mocker.

As is all-too-often the case with this kind of story, we find ourselves in a dystopia which has no logical origin, and which is hilarious when you think about it, because this society is supposedly founded on Greek principles. Many of the characters, such as the main female character, have Greek names from antiquity. Hers is Anaximander, though she goes by Anax, and it really ought to be Anthrax, so diseased is her story.

The thesis-challenge idea is a good one, but it fails in this case because all it is, in the end (and the beginning and the middle) is nothing more than a massive info-dump, which is dull in the extreme, with vacuous, cardboard-thin characters and motivations, and a transparent and done-to-death plot. All it did was make me detest Anax and her hero, Adam, about whom her thesis was written. Their fates were just deserts, appropriate rewards for vacuity.

The predictably inaccurate blurb on Goodreads claims that Anax endures a "grueling all-day Examination" but it last only five hours, with lots of breaks, and most of it is spent watching endless, tedious holographic movies, about which she occasionally is asked a question. Grueling? No! All-day? No! Unless the day on her planet is about a quarter the length of ours! I think someone is greatly exaggerating for dramatic effect.

This tired business of reviewing the video record is nonsensical because it's so unrealistic, especially when done on television or in the movies, where the actors are clearly playing to the camera rather than realistically experiencing an event. It's just as bad here. At one point towards the end, the author has a character ask, "What good are stories?" and I say that's a valid question. If they're like this story, then the answer is: no good at all.

We're offered absolutely no rationale whatsoever (not that I consider worth its salt, anyway) for why this island society should drop everything else, and turn to Greek philosophy and principles, much less why everyone suddenly adopts Greek names. Nothing is that extreme, and no group of people are that uniformly conformist. It makes as little sense as the asinine 'five factions' in the execrable Divergent series, which, after a strong start, completely tanked at the box office thereby proving it had no legs outside the YA crowd, whose tastes, let's face it, are starved for clues far more often than they are a hunger game.

It makes a little more sense that the islanders are hostile to foreigners given that there's your trope deadly plague loose in the world, but even that makes zero sense in the grand scheme of things, and for them to be so inexcusably hostile to all foreigners is ridiculous.

A " brilliant novel of dazzling ingenuity"? I don't know what the writer of this blurb was on (a stipend maybe?), but I want some! The story is purported to examine what consciousness is, and what makes us human, but it really examines what stupidity is, and what a juvenile, whiney little brat Anax's hero is, and it can give us no answers.

This obsession of Anax's (with Adam Forde) is bullshit, and the fact that in a mindlessly ruthless society like this, he is apparently the only "rebel" yet gets cut so many breaks makes zero sense. If you want my opinion, then please don't waste your time on this bloated exercise in self-indulgence and pointless fawning over ancient Greek civilization. The only thing you'll find in ancient grease is ancient fries, and they're neither edible nor edifying! If you don't want my opinion, that's fine, but then why are you reading this?!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Rating: WARTY!

I can't give you a full review of this one because I grew tired of it so quickly and simply didn't want to read on when I have so many other books calling to me. I read about a tenth of it and I simply couldn't get interested in it. It moved so slowly and was so self-obsessed that it was tedious to read.

The basic plot is that psychiatrists are using a new device to invade dreams to try to help people with mental issues, but are being overtaken by the dreams and driven insane. Well yeah, since dreams are essentially meaningless drivel, it would be a nightmare for even the dreamer to try to unravel them - assuming that's even possible - let alone some stranger try to figure out what it means, so the premise wasn't exactly a charmed one and in the end, it just didn't appeal to me at all.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Red Angel by CR Daems

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an interesting novel, and the start of a series which I'm not sure I want to follow even though I liked this volume. I'm not a huge fan of series. Once in a while I find one I like, but more often than not, series seem to me to be lazy, derivative, and unimaginative, essentially traveling over the same ground that's already been trampled free of all character. I prefer stories that take the road less traveled, which is impossible with a series, by its very nature. I'm especially not enamored of trilogies which everyone and their uncle seems intent upon writing, particularly in the YA world.

This novel had some issues. It could have used a good editor, because parts of it were repetitive, saying the same thing over that had just been said a couple of paragraphs before, but that didn't happen often. Additionally, the story had a juvenile feel to it - like fan fiction, but for me that wasn't really a problem. I'll forgive a writer a lot if they tell me a good story, and this was a good and original story.

Main character Anna has an interesting companion. Her entire family was dying of the Cacao virus when she was four, but this krait, a type of snake, latched onto her and bit her, and the venom held the virus at bay. It did not cure her, nor did it kill her. The rest of her family died, and had the snake left her, Anna would have died too, but for reasons unknown, the snake stayed with her into adulthood, living wrapped around her neck or on her arm or leg, biting her once in a while to feed on her blood, but keeping her alive in the process, so she learns to live with it and eventually considers it to be a friend and a pet. The friendship aspect is covered a lot more than the biting and blood-sucking aspect!

The snake is repeatedly described by the author as poisonous, but snakes tend not to be poisonous: you can eat them without dying! What the writer means is that the snake is venomous, and the venom in this case is usually deadly except to Anna. People avoid these kraits like they would avoid someone who has the virus, but once it gets known that this red-headed krait can 'cure' the virus, Anna becomes a target of desperate people who also want this 'cure', so it's hard to find her a secure location with a foster family.

After a bullying incident at a boarding school, Anna comes to the attention of a navy magistrate who ends up adopting her, and thus Anna is trained at a naval academy, and there she thrives. When she's eighteen, she's offered a job with an investigative division in the Navy and she accepts. The team begins to investigate a wide-spread smuggling operation and Anna is instrumental in the pursuit. It's never quite clear what they're smuggling, although drugs are mentioned a lot.

The only problem I have with this is my generic one with these space operas. Space is far too large and habitable planets too few and very far between to make any kind of commerce financially viable unless the products are considered extremely valuable. Why would anyone pay for something to be shipped from many light years away when the can fabricate the same thing on the planet where they need it? Most sci-fi writers gloss over this, and pretend it's not a problem, but it distracts me from the story, so unless the story is really very good, I can't take it seriously.

Other than that, the story wasn't bad at all. it moved quickly and was engaging. Once in a while it was annoying. For example, Anna was, we were repeatedly told, a very mature young woman, but she presented as a rather immature one most of the time. Fortunately this was not a killer for me. Neither was the occasional grammatical or spelling gaff. For example at one point I read, "he'll made admiral some day" when obviously it should have been 'make', not 'made' (and you can also argue that 'some day' should be rendered as a single word if you like), but I'm willing to forgive these too, if the story is a good one, so this one passes and I recommend it. I might even read volume two of the series should I ever come across it, but I don't feel compelled to rush out find it.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials by Annie Bellet

Rating: WORTHY!

This is one of two short stories by Annie Bellet that I will review today. Both get a worthy rating. They're also both available (at least as of this review) for free on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords, although I have to say Apple and Kobo seem much more interested in getting in your face than in getting you to your reads. This author has quite the oeuvre, and some of her other materials are free, too.

This short-story-for-free idea seems to me to be a good one. Yes, you can get a sneak preview of most books before you buy them these days, but all you get is the beginning, and while this does clue you in to how the author is going to approach a story (and happily allows you to reject stories which are first person voice as I habitually do!), this gives you no sense of how an author can carry a whole story, or bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, so it seems to me to be a valid approach for an author to put out short stories for free.

It's better yet if those stories are somehow tied to her main works, so you also get a sense of the entire world in which the main story takes place and might well be more willing to buy one of the other books in that world. I'm not a huge fan of short stories in general, but I've written one or two myself (contained in my Poem y Granite collection), and I've read and reviewed a few that were worth the time. These two are definitely worthy. I found it interesting that both of the stories told a similar tale: a young woman scavenging for a living, scarred, outcast, in danger, who ends up rescuing someone. Despite the underlying theme being the same, both stories were well-told and happily different.

This particular one is a sci-fi tale set in your standard dystopian future, where a young woman, Ryska (great name for one who takes risks!) who had evidently spent time in a research lab with many other children, being experimented upon, has escaped somehow and is now making her own way in the world. Why the kids were lab rats in the first place goes unexplained in this story. It seems the main character was purposefully blinded, and fitted with whiskers which feed her senses with sufficient information that she can get by without her eyes, and which supply her with sensory input that her eyes could not deliver. Why this was done is again unexplained.

On the one hand this seems stupid. Human cheeks are not cat or rat cheeks. Fitting whiskers to an area which is not rich with sensitive nerve endings will not give humans the same sensory capabilities that whiskered animals enjoy. Besides, animals have whiskers on their nose, not their cheeks, a fact of which far too many writers seem lamentably ignorant. I was willing to let that slide though, since my needs are simple. If you tell me this is the way it is in your story, I'm happy to go with you on that as long as I don't have to hike with you down the road to Dumbsville in the telling, and as long as you don't spend pages coming up with ridiculously lame "explanations" for why this is this way.

Talking of Dumbsville, this was yet another case of a publisher putting an inapplicable covers on books! Do cover designers never read the book they design for? This is yet another beef I have with Big Publishing™ or Big Publishing™ wannabes. This book has two covers that I know of, and neither shows a girl who looks like she's blind or who sports whiskers! The one cover shows a slightly steampunk-looking girl with goggles on her forehead. Why would a blind girl need goggles? LOL!

Perhaps that's why they changed the cover, but thee are still no whiskers on the new one, and this girl isn't dressed like she lives on the streets! In short, these covers are just plain stupid. This is why I don't review covers or wax about how great they are because the cover is window dressing only, and it has zero to do with the story inside. I'm sorry, but if you judge a book by its cover, then you're stupid. Had I done that, I never would have read either of these short stories.

The story (yes, I'm getting to it!) is that Ryska is scavenging and finds herself in a situation where violent men are searching for a young child. She doesn't want to get involved, but when she recalls the children at the lab, where she escaped and they did not, she feels compelled to counterbalance her failure there with a risky attempt at rescuing the boy here, which she does with inventiveness and courage. It turns out the boy has mob connections, so maybe Ryska's action will bring a reward or some favors? We never find out - not in this story. But that's fine. I really liked this, and I recommend it.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Midworld by Alan Dean Foster

Rating: WARTY!

This author is a veteran of sci-fi. He's written scores of novels, and done many novelizations of movies (such as the rebooted Star Trek, the Alien movies, the Transformers movies, and so on). This makes it intriguing that I found poor writing and errors in this novel, such as his use of the term 'googolplex' which he renders as 'googaplex'!

Midworld is a 1975 novel set in a Foster-created universe and is a part of a series comprised of almost a dozen standalone novels. Why Foster never launched a lawsuit against James Cameron and others associated with the 2009 movie Avatar is a bit of a mystery, because the similarities between this novel and that movie are quite startling.

The borrowing (to put it politely) from Foster's book is extensive, including six-legged native species, an intensely harsh jungle environment with luminescent plants, arboreal living quarters which are actually named Hometree, interloping humans intent upon exploiting the planet, the planet's living things all connected in a web of life, and so on. The differences are also notable. In this case, the natives that the interlopers encounter are actually humans from a colony ship who were stranded on this planet centuries before. They have quickly evolved somehow to be smaller, although they still speak English. There is also a second species on the planet which is both native and sentient (and six-legged), and which seems to have partnered-up with the humans who have now become native.

That said, I adored the Avatar movie. I discovered recently there is now a planned four sequels to it, running through 2023 for release dates, and I'm really looking forward to them. The first Avatar earned almost three billion dollars. My guess is that they're going to re-release it when the sequel comes out, so it could top three billion when it's done. I'd certainly like to see it in 3D again in the movie theater. It's the best exponent of 3D in a movie that I've ever seen.

But I digress! This story is of a tribe of diminutive humans (not hobbits!) living in a hellish hostile jungle, where the ground is deemed too dangerous to inhabit, so the humans live in the trees, hence the name 'Midworld": there are several levels in the canopy from ground to sky, and this one has proved the safest, despite it still being a nightmare. Here's where problems may arise for some readers because although Foster evidently understands evolution, which is a refreshing change from a disturbing number of other authors, particularly YA ones, he still had inexplicable organisms which make little sense even in context.

Just as it is in Avatar, although less extreme there, this earlier work has nature so hostile that it exists at war zone levels. You can argue that it's dangerous on Earth, for example in a jungle where plants, insects, and predators make life highly risky, but here in Midworld, it's like every single step risks an encounter with a virulently deadly organism of one sort or another, each of which seems to have highly-developed poison or predatory traits.

I found it hard to believe that anything could survive on a planet like this except for the apex predators, who would quickly be forced into cannibalism as their hapless prey became extinct. Normally organisms only evolve to a level at which they can survive (or they become extinct because they fail to adapt). There is no impetus to evolve beyond that because evolution involves no intelligence whatsoever, regardless of the clueless claims of the brain-dead creationist community, and no planning for the future.

You can argue that snakes have no need for their venom to be so potent, and this is a good argument if your 'science' background consists of the book of Genesis, but in the real world, this view actually ignores evolution. For example, snakes did not evolve with mammals, which are a big component of their prey today. Snakes evolved with other reptiles whose metabolism was much slower than that of mammals, and so the toxins needed to be overwhelming and fast-acting. Snakes which had such toxins survived better than those without them.

When mammals came along later, these poisons worked even better on the hyped metabolism of this new prey. This is why you cannot ignore evolution when world-building in a story like this. For me it was more of an annoyance than it was a fail initially, because some of it was interesting and inventive. It was the extension of this into sheer idiocy which turned me off the story eventually. The real problem though, was that the author seemed to have become quite carried away with his own creation and like a parent obsessed with their young child, expended far too much time telling us stories about it, writing pages on the locals' battle with flora and fauna, at the neglect of getting on with the larger story.

Another issue I had was with the names given to the local life. Historically, when humans have expanded into new areas, they have carried with them the baggage of their previous life, and this would have been the case with the colonists who landed on the planet all those centuries ago, so it made no sense that the local life was not named after life on Earth. I can see some new names coming along for things which had no good counterpart on Earth, but when we're introduced to a creature described as reminiscent of a pig, which lives in the trees, why was it called a Brya instead of a Tree-pig? From a writing perspective, it bears thinking about, and evidently this author didn't think enough.

The way Foster would have it is that pretty much everything in this world is an apex predator and that's impossible. You can't have organisms this deadly without having a completely different ecosystem than the one that's presented here. Predators must necessarily be fewer than their prey otherwise they would die out from lack of same, yet here we see only predators, they're always hungry, and there's virtually no prey save the small group of indigent humans! It makes no sense. It was done only for "drama" but it was way the hell too dramatic to be either realistic or entertaining.

Additionally, Foster seems to forget that you not only have to give a serious nod (and no winking!) to evolution, but you also have to stay within the bounds of physics, unless you're positing an entirely different universe than the one Foster created here. One example of this is the ridiculous height of the 'trees'. The tallest known tree on Earth is close to the maximum limit. It's around 115 meters, and the limit is about 122, so it's pretty much there already. Taller than this, the trees cannot suck up water to the top, but Foster is claiming the trees on this world are half a kilometer, or over four times as tall as is practical and realistic. That's not gonna happen!

Here's a poor writing example from about sixty percent through the novel: "The Silverslith was moving slowly, deliberately, playing with its intended prey." The intended prey were the humans who were sleeping and unaware of the predator, so how, in any sense, was this playing with them?! And what's with the Silverslith name? Was this a snake of some sort? The description is too vague to determine properly what it was, but whatever it was, why was it called a slith instead of a snake or whatever?! Worse than this is that this is yet another example of the dangerous wildlife hijacking the story, and some of the wildlife, such as this and the ant-like (in behavior but not in size) Akadi hoard are far too improbable to exist in any reality.

Of course, the Silverslith is only a poor excuse to make the humans travel to a lower level of the forest so Foster can exhibit even more insane predators than the ones which exist in the upper canopy. It was so transparent and amateurish that I began to dislike the story at this point. Even when the danger of the Silverslith was over, these people stayed down there! I'd had it repeatedly drilled into me, during the entire first half of the story that it was far, far, far too dangerous to travel down to the lower levels, yet this group of travelers stayed down there for several hours for no reason! I'm sorry, but this was not only unnecessary, this amateurish approach rendered all the previous talk into pure bullshit! If a first time writer had submitted this story, it would have been rejected, but because Foster was established by then, he could get away with it.

One amusing part was when one of the visiting humans felt death was near. The panicked statement came out, "Not like this...not this way" which was very reminiscent of what Belinda McClory's character Switch's last words from The Matrix said, right before she died! But that kind of humor was unintentional and very rare. Unlike in Avatar there was no humor here, and the story suffered for it.

Part-way through chapter ten, or around 65% in, I'd had enough of this endless onslaught of absurd and improbably predatory creatures and lack of a direction to the story, so I quit reading this as a waste of my time. I can't recommend it. It's #4 in the so-called 'humanx' commonwealth series, but I will not be reading any more. I recommend watching Avatar instead. It's more realistic (for its framework) and inventive, and it tells an amusing and much more engaging story.