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

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.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Rating: WARTY!

The basis of this sci-fi story, set in 2085, but constantly brought to a jarring halt by flashbacks to previous time periods is that of a medical compound which was developed experimentally which could reverse aging. The details of how this was supposed to work the way it did were kept vague, with some hand-waving at telomeres which are genetic components that seem somehow, to be connected with cell aging and death. I really don't expect a sci-fi writer to explain the details of something they invent, or the science underlying it. I prefer it if they vaguely wave their hand at quantum this, or wormhole that, or at "Vita-Rays"! I'm good with that 'explanation' for the sake of a good story, but if you're going to posit something, then for me you need to be consistent about it, and it needs to make some sort of sense within its framework. This author failed for me in this regard.

In the year 2000, Anny Beth and Melly were very old and not so far from death when they were offered the chance to try a series of injections which would literally reverse their aging, by doctors Jimson and Reed. Jimson Reed? Seriously? When they reached an age they were comfortable with, they would have their medication balanced so that they were maintained at that age indefinitely. There were problems with this, the first of which is that for each year they reversed their age, they would lose a year of their memories. How this worked went unexplained and made no sense. The real problem though, came when they first tried to apply the 'arresting' technique to a volunteer. He died horribly - in a way similar to that in which some vampires die: they rapidly wither and turn to dust. It was silly at best.

Given this death threat, the others were not offered the arresting shots and so continued to "unage" as the author puts it. A better term is that they continued to youth! I think so, anyway. So when we meet our two girls they are literally girls, of sixteen and eighteen, and their future is going to be them 'youthing' all the way back to the moment of their birth, when they will die. Again, how that works is unexplained. Note that the book blurb simply lies when it says, " They have no idea what will happen when they hit age zero." According to the author, who presumably didn't write the blurb, they do know.

The two have chosen to live outside of the community of fellow experimentees, but they're reaching an age when they will need a guardian because they cannot be legally in charge of themselves. When they discover that a reporter is trying to track them down, they go on the run. At that point I knew exactly how it would end, and it ended almost exactly how I had envisioned it, so there really isn't much surprise here. If I can figure it out, anyone can! I'd thought that perhaps they would get cured and start to age (or in their case, re-age) naturally with the guardian they found, but this didn't happen.

The ending was not great, predictable as it was, so it was one more disappointment in a disappointing book and rather reminiscent of the Star Trek episode which has the crew meeting an alien race which lives its life backwards, being "born" as adults (how that worked went unexplained!) and dying as children. That story made no sense either! I cannot recommend this because of the poor writing and wasted potential.

Monday, November 21, 2016

RUR by Karel Čapek

Rating: WORTHY!

Many people believe that Čapek (pronounced like Chappeck) invented the word 'robot', but it's not true. He did bring it to popular attention, but it was his brother, Josef Čapek, who died in Bergen-Belsen in April 1945, who coined it from the Czech word 'robota' meaning labor, particularly drudgery, or slave labor. The word was employed in his 1920 play, RUR (or Rossumovi univerzální roboti - Rossumov's Universal Robots, or more commonly, Rossum's Universal Robots) to indicate a newly-invented sentient automaton which looked very human, but which was made (or grown) from organic substances the inventor had discovered. Thus, the robots were more like what we would call cyborgs or even clones, if we employ 'clone' in the sense of copying inexactly, as when commercial competitors might clone a best-selling product for example, or YA authors shamelessly clone original trilogies to generate sub-standard rip-off versions of their own.

In the three-act play which also has a prologue (and in this case I actually read it, since had I attended this play it would have been the first scene!), we hit the ground running right before the robot revolution. And revolutionary it was, because although this motif of rebellious machines is common now, when we do have real robots among us (and I for one welcome them!), in 1920 when this play was published, there was no such thing. It's quite something to read such a ground-breaking work like this, even though the play itself is less than thrilling as it happens, although it was so short that I didn't feel I'd wasted my time in reading it.

A big difference between this and the more modern narratives is that the robots win! Humanity is wiped-out until only one man remains - the man the robots are counting on to help them reproduce - a facility they do not have. Since he knows next to nothing about exactly how to make them work, their chances of survival are slim, so it's a pyrrhic victory at best.

My problem with this was how to rate it. If it were a modern work, I would rate it negatively. It was far too melodramatic and pedantic, but then I found myself cheating slightly - doing a Dumbledore and awarding last minute points! There are other considerations here, not least of which is this being an historical document! Not this copy exactly, which was a Penguin reprint, but the work itself, which is fascinating for the glimpse it gives us into the way people thought back then, and which allows us to compare and contrast it with how we view that same scenario today.

On top of that, Čapek was hated by the Nazis, who were rather perturbed to find, when they invaded what we now call the Czech Republic and went looking for him, that he had died of pneumonia on Christmas day, 1938. They arrested his brother, who died in 1945, but his wife Olga Scheinpflugová survived him and the war, and died in 1968. This rather contrasted with the story, wherein all the women and all but one of the men were wiped out. In real life the men were all gone and a woman survived! On balance, I decided to stick one in the eye of the Nazis, and rate this as a worthy read taking everything into account, so Čapek-dor wins! I think it's worth a look if you're interested in this kind of thing.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Zoe Dare vs The Disasteroid by Brockton McKinney

Rating: WARTY!

This was another oddity from Net Galley in that it didn't specify that it was a graphic novel when it actually was. It's like this is the inverse of the other two which I'd initially thought were going to be graphic novels, but which turned out to be books of short stories. In this case I felt I was on safe ground since I know the publisher and the cover looked very graphic novel-ish! I really liked the cover and the graphics inside (the other covers inside were not so hot, but the panel work was to my taste and looked really good, I thought).

For me, the problem with this was the story, and it's story I come for, otherwise all you really have isn't so much a graphic novel per se as a coffee-table book. What attracted me to the story was the idea of a kick-ass female Evel Knievel and especially that such a person was the only one who could save Earth from an asteroid which seemed intent upon plummeting into the planet's crust. If it had actually been that, then this might have made for a great graphic novel, but it really wasn't in the end. The blurb was a bit more misleading than blurbs usually are because it turned out that Zoe wasn't the only one who could save Earth.

The two AI robots that were also advertised in the blurb turned out to be a bigger disaster than I'd feared they would be. I wasn't keen on them in the first place, but I was willing to risk those for a good story about two strong female characters. The problem with these robots though, is that they were far more 'A' than ever they were 'I'. I saw absolutely no point whatsoever to them, and their endless spewing of "Hashtag <smart mouth comment regarding current situation>" throughout the comic was fingernails-on-chalkboard irritating. In fact, in terms of being truly annoying, they were the equivalent of the two transformers, Mudflap and Skids in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, minus the racism, but every bit as bad otherwise.

I liked Zoe's "punk rock" sister, but why she was specified as punk when she really wasn't very punk at all, is a mystery. A rad haircut doth not a punk make! Despite this, she was my favorite, with Zoe second, the alien girl third. No one else rated at all because they were nowhere near as interesting as the three girls, which is actually quite a compliment from me! I think the two biggest problems though, were left-field nonsense and what felt like a thrown-together story. The problem was one of weight: there was too much silliness baggage for this story to be able to take off. One problem was how these guys got into space to go after the disasteroid (great name for the story, by the way).

Given that the space shuttle has long been retired, I saw no sense in 'resurrecting' it to get these guys into space, especially since the space shuttle was completely useless for anything other than low Earth-orbit missions. The new Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft being built by Lockheed Martin and the ESA is what's going to be used for these things in future, and that's not likely to be ready before 2024, but it would have been nice to see it enter service in the comic world. The shuttle is way over-used in stories and film, and it's antiquated and tired-looking. Could the writer not stretch a little bit and treat us to something intelligent like that instead?

This wasn't the biggest technological problem. The idea that you can get onto a motorbike (which is powered by internal combustion), and ride it off an asteroid and down to Earth in emulation of the iconic if cartoonish sports-car drop in the Heavy Metal movie, was just ludicrous beyond belief. You can get away with this in cartoons, but if you're trying to make your story seem even remotely realistic, you need to understand some basic physics, the primary problem of which, here, is that an internal combustion requires air. There's no air in space! This is why we use rockets the fuel of which carries its own oxygen supply! Motorbike leathers will not protect you in space! These are childish mistakes which remove all hope of anything even approaching realism. Yeah, it's fine for Saturday morning kid's cartoons, but grown-ups need to be treated with more respect than this. Conversely there is air around the Earth and it will burn you up if you fly back in from space without adequate protection, which a motorbike and leathers will not offer!

This whole thing made me feel like this was fan-fiction, thrown together rather than thought-out, and it was a very unsatisfactory story, with someone who had a death-dealing chest wound coming back to life because "Hey, I'm a stuntman, I do it all the time?" No! Just no! It was simply too nonsensical and too fly-by-night. If the whole story had been goofy form the off, then these things would have fit better, but it wasn't. It was for these reasons that this failed for me, and I was truly disappointed because I had high expectations; but what seemed to offer an original, fun, and engaging story fell apart in the execution. I wish the author all the best. I think he has some good stories to tell, but this wasn't one of them.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Doctor Who The American Adventures by various authors

Rating: WARTY!

This is the first of two novels I got from Net Galley as advance review copies, thinking they were graphic novels! WRONG! Rest assured I shall be very cautious about selecting anything from Net Galley that comes in a flyer advertising graphic novels from now on! Nevertheless I have to read these and see what happens. In this one, the answer was nothing much. I was very disappointed. Had the stories actually been in graphic format, I would still have been very disappointed, because for me the story is more important than the art.

The book consisted of six short stories, each one an adventure featuring the current Doctor (Peter Capaldi) who has been conspicuous by his complete absence this year for reasons the BBC has utterly failed to justify. However, on the bright side, there is a new Doctor Who spin-off titled Class which is set in Coal Hill Academy, and features the exploits of a teacher and five students, and in the first episode, a guest appearance by Capaldi.

But I digress! The stories in this book are as follows, with a brief review of each:

  1. All that Glitters features an alien usurpation of a gold prospector in old California. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. This story lacked any real oomph. Yes, you heard me right: oomph!
  2. Off the trail is about a family traveling the Oregon trail in the old west, who are abducted by aliens. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. Wait! Isn't that essentially what the previous story was about?
  3. Ghosts of New York is about the discovery of a buried spacecraft under New York City during the excavation of the subway tunnels. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. This story happened to be very reminiscent of the 1967 Hammer film, Quatermass and the Pit, which I liked better.
  4. Taking the Plunge concerns a fun fair ride used by an alien to suck life-force out of human riders for later sale. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. This story sounds very familiar to me, too, but I can't think of the Doctor Who story I saw it in. It's like the inverse of the episode The Unquiet Dead which featured Eve Myles before she became a Torchwood cast member.
  5. Spectator Sport is the story of a robot assassin who tries to murder an alien spectator at the Battle of New Orleans. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. This has elements of the episode A Town Called Mercy, but mostly reminded me of the movie Timescape, which was released on video as Grand Tour: Disaster in Time.
  6. Base of Operations features aliens trying to take over Earth by emulating and replacing humans undercover of preparations for the D-Day invasion in World War 2. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right.

The problem with all these episodes is that they were predictable and boring. There was no companion, no humor, no risk that something might go wrong. This is quite literally how it happened - evil alien causes problems, Doctor shows up miraculously and fixes it, Doctor leaves. Rinse. Repeat. It was that monotonous. The stories were simply not entertaining. There was nothing really new or original here, and they failed comprehensively to exhibit the Doctor in a lovable light. The Doctor was boring and essentially a will o' the wisp; he had no real presence and so what;s the point of a Doctor Who story which feels like the Doctor isn't in it for all realistic purposes?

What's the point, for that matter of setting these in the USA? There wasn't anything in any of the stories that really solidly tied the story to the US. The gold rush story had really nothing to do with the gold rush. The Oregon Trail story could have been any road trip horror story in any country. The New York subway story could have been told of any underground railroad excavation anywhere there's an underground. The funfair story could have been any funfair. The spectator sport story could have been told of literally any battle anywhere at any time. The World war two story could have been set in England or anywhere in Europe for that matter, and not have lost a thing. I didn't get the US connection unless it was solely to try and sell copies of this this book in the US.

You can say what you like about Steven Moffat, but one thing he was not, was boring. He produced some of the most amazing Doctor Who episodes ever, he wove the old series into the new often and expertly, he had a great sense of humor, a great way with words, and I will miss him when he's gone. These stories are not a patch on the TV show. I'm hoping that Chris Chibnall will be able to not only carry this heavy mantle but to run with it. These stories didn't cut it for me and I cannot recommend this collection.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Battlestar Galactica Six by JT Krul, Igor Lima, Rod Rodolfo

Rating: WORTHY!

This combines issues 1 through 5 of the individual comics and tells the story of a character from Battlestar Galactica, the rebooted TV series from 2004. I wasn't impressed by the overuse of "cover" (or cover backing or facing) illustrations - there are six of them before the story even begins. I know this is the way it's done in comic books, so they must really hate trees! This was clearly designed for a print edition with zero concessions made to the ebook format.

I really don't care about covers, not even for comic books. It's the story which is important to me and in a graphic novel, artwork that looks like it mattered to the book's creators. Other than that it can come without a cover for all I care. It sure doesn't need three such that I have to swipe through six screens before I can start reading the story! If you want to include those, fine! Put 'em in the back where I don't have to swipe through 'em to get at the story! For a futuristic story, the e-design was antiquated.

Aside form that, the book was fun and interesting. I think it could have been better told, but following the stories of several different versions of Six was entertaining and worthwhile reading from my PoV. She was one of the most intriguing characters from the TV show, and the actor who portrayed her is currently in the TV show Lucifer which happens to be a favorite of mine. Tricia Helfer is playing another great role as Lucifer's mom!

The interior artwork was very good. Some pictures felt merely functional, like they had been rather dashed-off, but others felt like they were really cared over. I particularly liked one of the full page spreads, especially an early one featuring six in a space suit heading down to the mine she worked in, with the nighttime backdrop of the planet Troy visible through a window. I also liked the action scene where the jerk of a guy tries to rape Six when she's showering, and he learns that you really don't want to mess with a Cylon, not even one who looks like she might be easy-pickings.

We get to see several stories, all of them for one reason or another ending up in the rebirth tank on some Cyclon installation. The feeling of coming home and being among friends or family is well done, and even a bit startling given the negative impression people had of the Cylons in the TV show in those early days. Overall, I recommend this as a worthy read if you're interested in the Battlestar Galactica world, and perhaps even if you're not and might want to read a bit about it.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

Rating: WARTY!

I don't normally review covers, because they have zero to do with the author (unless they self-publish), and my blog is all about writing, not pretty wrapping and pretension. The problem with this cover though, was glaring. There is a white woman on the front (actually, half a woman) and a half a white man on the back, yet the indication from the text, in the case of the "aliens" is completely unambiguous: they're brown. It was less obvious with the woman, whose only description (in the portion of this I could stand to read) was that she had brown eyes, but given the author, I took a leap here and guessed that the woman was also brown, yet the cover depicts her as white.

A review I read (the only one I saw which actually mentioned skin color) indicated that the text later confirms that she isn't white, so this is yet another in a huge and depressing list of books where the cover artist didn't even bother to read the novel. How pathetic is this? This is why I refuse to run with Big Publishing™. They're so profligate, and if that means I never have a publishing career, then so be it. It's a price I'm perfectly prepared to pay. This cover is racist, period. In some ways I wanted to ditch the novel right there, but then again, as I said, the author has nothing to do with the cover.

This author's debut novel won some literary award or other and that should have warned me off this book, but I didn't know that until I already had it home from the library! The blurb had made it sound like it might be interesting, which means only that the blurb did the job it was supposed to do, and lured me in. Congratulations to the blurb writer. You fooled me again. You should have won the award!

The problem is that this kind of writing is a bit suspect for something so prestigious as a literary award in my amateur opinion.
It's a sci-fi novel about a threatened culture, and it's told (unfortunately in first person, the weakest voice in all of literature) by character Grace Delarua, who is a liaison with a guy from the culture that's at risk of becoming extinct. The author admits how weak her voice is when she finds herself forced into third person at one or more points elsewhere in the story beyond the twenty-five percent that I read. For goodness sake find the courage to admit to how pretentious and useless first person is, and have the good sense to write in third person! Enough with this I2 crap!

I could not tell from the writing if these threatened people were actual aliens, as in space aliens, or merely a distant branch of the human tree; that's how bad the writing was, and for someone who seems to have the aim of integration, the author sure spends a heck of a lot of time talking about how divided everyone is. The blurb describes them as aliens and if that's the case, then the 'romance" is doomed from the off because there's no way in hell they could even reproduce - which is Grace's purpose, as she's frequently reminded. This author may garner literary awards but she'd never earn a common-sense science award; however, to be fair, she's not alone among sci-fi writers in that regard. On the other hand if the term 'alien' is being used merely to mean estranged humans, then reproduction is a possibility.

The next problem was that this novel was really a romance novel with a gossamer-thin veneer of sci-fi sprayed on it. It's not really a sci-fi novel at all. Exactly same tale could have been told of two travelers in the American West right around the time that the natives were starting to become forcibly extinct. Even were we to grant that it might conceivably be allowed under the wire as a sci-fi story, the sci-fi is of such generic trope quality that it really doesn't count. There's nothing new or inventive here.

Where, exactly, did this cliché of calling people from Earth "Terrans" arise? It's never used in our language today so where would it evolve from? I know it ultimately comes from Latin, but no one uses it except in the form of terra firma, so I don't get the rationale for its appearance in so many sci-fi novels. It's like everyone blindly signed on for it without a second thought. I think I'd rather read about Earthlings than Terrans which sounds like some species of aquatic reptile! 'Earthlings' is of course as awful as it is antiquated. I don't know who conjured that one up, either. Earthites isn't any better, although perhaps technically more accurate, and Earthens sounds like some sort of pottery. I don't get why sci-fi writers don't simply use the word Human to describe people from Earth. It's not exactly rocket science.

A second trope is absurd spellings and pronunciation for alien names. This problem also extends into fantasy stories. Unless the aliens use the same alphabet we English speakers do, then what's with the spelling of the alien's name: Dllenahkh? We're told it has a Zulu 'dl' to start with and a throaty, hacking 'ch' at the end, but since I don't speak Zulu, I have no idea what a Zulu 'dl' sounds like! Maybe 'tl'? If that's the case, then spell the fricking name starting with a 'Tl'! Seriously. Could we not simply have a phonetic spelling with a bit of plain English tosse din to help with the sound?

The trope aliens are called Sadiri, but they're really Vulcans from Star Trek under a different name, so this was simply sad. The tyranny of trope and cliché continues, but not here. I cannot recommend this novel based on what I read of it. It was boring, plainly and simply. Which means it's probably due for a literary award of some sort.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Waiting Booth by Brinda Berry

Rating: WARTY!

It's always problematic trying to write a review for a book which isn’t aimed at me - because I'm older or the wrong gender, or something. I can’t tell people what to read nor would I wish to. All I can do is give my opinion and if you tend to find yourself in agreement with those opinions (or I tend to find myself in agreement with yours!), then this might be of use to one or both of us, or it might not!

I started reading this one because I'd enjoyed this author's short story about mermaids, but I have to report that this effort at a middle-grade story was a failure for me. I get that it wasn't written for my age range, but it wasn't written well for any age group it seems to me, and a lot of it made very little sense. There were writing issues, and I felt that it also sent the wrong message about how young girls should behave when confronted with strange men who are less than equitable and considerate in regard to interpersonal relationships.

The basic story is that Middle-Grade Mia, in process of conducting a science project which involves motion-triggered photography, discovers two strange guys wandering around her father's property. Rather than alert an adult, she gets involved with them herself. This tells me she's profoundly stupid. If you're going to force a child to take on something like this, then please for the love of writing give me a reason other than that she's a moron! Her name is also hilarious given that it's an acronym for Missing in Action, which her brother has been for two years and her brain is all the time it would seem. Names are important. Please don't get caught putting so little thought into your character's name!

On that same score, these guys are inexplicably young to be police. Again, give me a reason. I can understand a potential need to induct young people into a system to get them properly trained, but that offers no explanation in this case as to why they need to start young, and it sure as hell doesn't offer a reason for sending young people out in an enforcement role. I know this is aimed at the young, but please give me a reason why children are doing potentially dangerous jobs that adults normally do! It's not rocket science! It's writing!

Their concern about viral contamination of this Earth from a nearby one is flimsy. Viruses evolve with their host organism(s). That doesn't mean they never can infect something outside their preferred circle, but the chances of a virus being able to magically leap into an alien species it's never encountered before and become a threat are slim because it has not evolved to attack the genetic code of that alien species. There should be no need to spell out that sci-fi involves a little science in the fiction!

Another serious writing issue I encountered is one I've seen many times in assorted novels I've read. The problem arises from an author seeing their work only on the printed page instead of seeing it in 3D as it were: as real events out there in a real world. This is why it helps to read your story out loud at least once, picturing the events in a 3D world, and hearing the actual words spoken in conversation. In that way some of the problems with it will be highlighted for you in a new way. Poorly written or ill-considered conversational exchanges will stand out (hopefully! You’re in trouble if they don’t!).

The worst mistake is thinking of your story only as words on a page. In that way you see it merely as something that's being read, not as events that are actually happening. That's not as good perspective to hold. Take this quote from the book as an example:

“Regulus thinks I was wrong to grab you last night, but I am a little impulsive sometimes.” The guy with the blond hair was still smiling.
“Listen, I told your partner, Rejules—”
“Regulus…like Regulator,” the blond said.

You can see from this that the author is seeing the character's name, Regulus, not as a spoken name, but as writing on a page. It’s obvious from the main character's rejoinder, when she pronounces it with a 'J': Rejules. You can only see it that way if you're reading it. If someone has just said Regulus, with a hard G, which is what happens here, there's no way you can get a soft G from it even if you don’t get the whole name. That's where the second problem here comes in.

Regulus is the name of a star, which I grant not that many people would know, but it was also the name of Sirius Black's brother in the Harry Potter series, where the whole Black family seem to have been named after stars: Sirius, Regulus, Andromeda, Bellatrix, and a big deal was made out of discovering who this person was. A host of children now know the name Regulus very well. It seemed likely that the character in this novel would have also heard of it. And Yes, there is a galaxy, the closest one to our own, and into which we are going to crash in about four billion tears, named Andromeda; there's also a constellation of stars in our own galaxy, and an annual meteor shower named after it, but all of these take their name from the stars in the constellation.

At one point, when Mia feels threatened, she manages to wangle a trip to the bathroom with her cell phone, but instead of immediately calling the police, which was her intention, she completely forgets about it and fails to make the call at all. Please, give us a reason why she didn't, and not simply that she forgot such a crucial thing when she feels threatened and has the phone right there! All she proves here is that she's a moron. I don't want to read about morons - not unless you have a really good or funny (and preferably both) story to tell me! Almost worse than this, when her captors retrieve the phone from the bathroom after this idiot Mia leaves it there, they fail to check if she called the police or anyone else! In short, they're morons, too! And they're supposed to be some sort of policing organization?

The excuse given here is that there's a chance to find out what happened to her brother, but never once is she suspicious about the motives of these two guys. Never once does she consider, even for a second or two, that they might be outright lying to her. In other words, she's a moron. Again. Her brother has been gone for two years. Obviously that;s not something you forget or put behind you, but neither is it something you carry like an overbearing weight two years on - not unless you're also under psychiatric care. That this was so raw and held such an overpowering hold on her didn't jibe with the two-year gap. Had it been three months, or something like that, it would have made more sense. Time does heal - if you give it a chance.

Here’s another problem quote: "Anybody would be blinded by the good looks of these two. Arizona seemed so harmless. Any girl my age would fall victim to his easygoing manner" - this is hardly what a young girl her age would actually think. It is what an older writer would write if they weren't putting themselves into the shoes of the character about whom they were writing. This is a problem with first person voice. If it had been written in third person, that would have been fine because the narrator would have been expressing that thought, instead of a thirteen-year-old. You just can’t write things like that in first person and have them sound authentic. It doesn't work. This is one of many reasons why I detest first person voice. It's almost never realistic.

There were inconsistencies, too. Because the main character's brother had gone missing, Mia's dad won't let her go to comic con, yet he routinely leaves her home alone when he goes on overnight business trips? This made no zero sense. He's either overly protective, in which case he would not let her go to comic con or be home alone, or he's not so protective in which case, if he feels fine trusting her safety in being home alone overnight, then why is it he object to a trip to comic con with two close friends?

At one point, after Mia is already aware of the inter-dimensional portal, and has seen Arizona and Regulus both use it, I read, "I envisioned the two would demonstrate a scientific phenomenon by exiting via dimensional doorway." She's talking like she hasn't already seen this, but she has already seen it, and not that long before. This was about a quarter the way through this novel, and it was also where I quit reading, because it was one faux pas too many. This novel is not well-written, and it was not entertaining me at all. It was just irritating, and life is far too short to keep stubbornly pursuing a novel that doesn’t grab me. This one didn’t. I wish the author well, but I can’t recommend this effort by her. Read the mermaid story instead!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Vicky Peterwald Target by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WARTY!

My commitment this year was to read and review all of the eleven Kris Longknife books I had on my shelf, and that has been met. I also had one Vicky Peterwald book, which spun off from the Longknife series after "Daring". I have read half of this and gave up on it. It was was awful! Yes, it was blessedly free of the tedious Longknife crew and their inane smart-mouthing, and it was free of the stuck-in-a-rut plotting of that series, but it was boring as hell! Nothing was happening except a deadeningly tedious and repetitious cascade of assassination attempts on her life - even more than Kris Longknife typically gets.

The most pathetic aspect to all this is that Peterwald knows who is behind this and all she has to do is kill the vicious stepmother who is doing this, yet she does literally nothing. In short, this is not the Vicky Peterwald I started liking from the Longknife books. This is a paradoxically shy and retiring nymphomaniac, but the sex scenes were evidently managed by a prude, and ruthlessly cut short or not featured at all, so even they go nowhere. On top of that, Peterwald makes me dislike her from the start by throwing Kris Longknife under the bus after the battle with the aliens in Daring. This is after the two of them had begun bonding in previous books. It made no sense. Yes, she has to protect herself and explain the loss of her mini-navy in that battle, but the reasons for it were obvious and for her to simply betray someone with whom she was becoming friends made zero sense and made her look like a complete jerk. I no longer like her.

I have to ask then, what is the point of this novel? It offered no adventure as the Lognknife books did. It offered none of the sex it might have been deemed to have promised given Vicky's rather, shall we say, relaxed approach to morality (and as the Longknife books didn't), and it had nothing of any real interest going on. I'm sorry, but what's the point in reading this series? At least, on occasion, the Longknife books had some things of interest here and there even if they were predictable and she had the dullest clique surrounding her that it was possible to conceive. These Peterwald books offer nothing at all if they're all like the first one. I am done with this author. It's long past time for something new and stimulating in the sci-fi department.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Timescape by Gregory Benford

Rating: WARTY!

I'm a sucker for a good time-travel story, Unfortunately, this wasn't! It sucked big time. It was tediously slow-moving and could have been about half the length it was if all the fluff had been vacuumed out of the corners. Seriously, do I really want to know that someone is taller than someone else but the other person is only five feet six anyway? No, not unless it's important to the story or an important part of a character's make-up!

Do I really need another story which rambles on about someone's obsession with coffee? No! Do I really need to read a whole chapter about some ruffian harassing an old woman because he has nothing and she's reasonably well-to-do? No! Not when you already told me the situation was dire. Please, dispense with this and get on with the sci-fi story I wanted to listen to in the first place!

Yes, this was another experimental audiobook, and the experiment failed, as many of these do. The readers voices, Simon Prebble and Pete Bradbury were not great, but not dire. The story was the problem, and it felt like listening to Professor Benford giving an insufferably rambling lecture on astrophysics at the University of California. Yuk! I feel bad for his students - assuming he still has any!

I didn't finish this because I don't waste time on stories which don't grip me. Life is far too short and books are way too many! That doesn't mean I don't owe an explanation as to why I didn't finish it, and the reason was as indicated. The story was ponderously slow. It took many chapters before anything happened. The novel needed to start at the point where contact was first made - hazy as it was - between 1998 and 1962. I didn't need a multi-chapter prologue which was tiresome at best. I cannot recommend this one.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Seventh Element by Wendy Mass

Rating: WARTY!

This was another audiobook I tried as an experiment and it failed. These things happen more frequently with audio than other media because I take more risks on audio. The story was poor even for the juveniles at which it was aimed. I assumed from the behavior and language level of the characters that it was aimed at middle-graders, but it was juvenile even for them. My kids are just edging out of that zone and they would have had no interest whatsoever in this.

It didn't help that this was book sixth in a series, I admit. Things were definitely missing, so you cannot read any one of these, I'd guess, as a stand-alone, but that wasn't why I failed this one. I didn't realize it was a series when I grabbed it in haste (obviously!) off the library shelf. This because I don't judge a book by its cover, given that authors have very little to nothing whatsoever to do with designing their cover unless they self-publish, so I do not linger on it and missed the tiny '6' up there under the massive series title. I really must start paying more attention before I flip the book for the back cover blurb! I don't normally read series for the very reasons exemplified here. Judged by the amount of fluff in this book, all six volumes could have been contained within one volume and it would have remained rather slim!

The novel had poor science, and it was silly and ill-conceived, and it was simply not worth my time. The title says it all. It was volume six, but it was the seventh element? Not well-planned!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

PePr Inc by Ann Christy

Rating: WARTY!

This was nothing more than a thirty page teaser for a series which I have not read and have no intention of doing so after reading this. The story is not a stand-alone because there is far too much in it that is tied to other stories in this series, and which made no sense without knowing those other stories, so it was largely unintelligible to me, and what was understandable was not at all entertaining.

Evidently this is a world wherein robotic companions have been designed for humans, and humans are not allowed to have intimate relationships with other humans, but must have one with a robot? Robots of course cannot reproduce, so the children have to be born by usual means, but then only one of the parents gets to raise the child? It's ridiculous. How would a system like that ever develop?

The story devolved into rambling on about how the robots were slowly growing more independent and pursuing their own lives, and contemplating maybe taking over or maybe living alongside humans, but as a separate society. None of this made any sense whatsoever. I can't recommend this based on this teaser. If the author is trying to win more readers with this kind of thing, which isn't a bad idea, I suggest she make the lure more appealing and a lot more intelligible. The author is an ex Navy officer. It seems to me a woman from the Navy ought to have far more interesting and more realistic stories to tell than this one.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Kris Longknife Defender by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WARTY!

This is the last volume of the Kris Longknife series I ever intend to read. It's been a long run and I enjoyed some of the earlier volumes, but as the series dragged on, the stories became more and more formulaic and less and less interesting, more trudging and more boring. I don't know who his editor is, but Mike Sbepherd is still using the wrong words here and there (like amend when he needed append, for example).

This one, volume eleven, was better than the previous volume, but nonetheless tedious. Nothing happened for most of it. The big battle took place in the last twenty pages of a 370 page book, and was by rote and uninventive, so in the end this volume was just like the last one: a prologue for the next one where, I presume (although there are never any guarantees in this series) there will be a final showdown with the belligerent alien race the humans have encountered, and on their home turf. That makes two successive prologues. I am not a fan of prologues and I skip them as a matter of habit. I'm glad I'm now done with these.

For the first time in this series that I really found myself skipping and skimming, especially during the pathetic and amateur "romance" scenes between the now-married "Jack" and Kris, who despite being this Mary Sue commander who never loses, still needs "Jack"'s protective arms around her to feel safe.

Most of this tedious book was about logistics, with the occasional light fight with roaming belligerent alien ships to leaven it not much. There was their rescue mission to locate the other ship which had escaped the previous battle, and the search and rescue was performed like an afterthought despite all the pompous posturing about "leaving no one behind". Seriously? One of the things which turns me off this series is the jingoism and bullshit infallible military pomp.

The worst part about this book though, was that the humans had no problem whatsoever raping and pillaging the alien planet for resources. Yes, they were short of food, and they needed materials for the fight (this is the first book in the series in a while - perhaps since the first one - where the title actually described the overall story!), but this doesn't excuse the takeover of the benign alien planet with little regard for the locals. It made Kris & crew look far more similar to the belligerent aliens than to decent human beings. And they're still stripping gas giants for "reaction mass" to power their ships. Apparently they have learned nothing from disasters on Earth from poor management of resources, from reliance on unsustainable resources, and from pollution and contingent climate change!

I didn't get the issue with the food. The author is evidently telling us that in several hundred years of expansion into space, the only technological advances humans have made are all tied to militarism, and none to human comfort. Space-farers in the future will still have to haul food supplies with them evidently, since they have no means whatsoever of manufacturing food on-board their spacecraft. They still have to wholesale slaughter living things on random planets they pass to get 'fresh meat'. Shepherd seems not to grasp that a planet's ecology is tightly interwoven. Things do not evolve randomly, but in step with the environment and with other living things. The chances of humans being able to actually digest things which have grown on alien planets is highly questionable at best due to a crucially differing biology and genetic roots.

One thing the author did mention here, if only in passing was the pointlessness of considering trade to be an option over interstellar distances. I've raised this issue in several reviews of space-opera style stories, and finally the author agrees with me, but it's passed over too quickly evidently for him to realize that everything he's written previously about trade between planets is negated by the few words he typed out here. I rest my case.

I can't recommend this, and I can't recommend the series overall unless you want to turn off your brain and just have some dumb-ass and very light reading. That might work, but even then you have to face the formulaic nature of the stories which are, until the last few volumes, simply the same story told over again with slightly varied situations and actors. Even for the last few volumes, they were largely the same when you get right down to it. It's tedious to keep reading of the same situations, and hearing the same conversations, the same pat assessments, the same stock phrases all of which appear to be tied to American ancient history (as it would be in these novels), and seeing the same characters in different guises, and hearing the "homespun wisdom" of the old timers spouted endlessly over again.

The one character conspicuous by her absence over the last few volumes was Vicki Peterwald, because she was being spun off into her own series. This doesn't account for the fact that she was bonding with Kris after being mortal enemies, yet now seems to have reversed her course, so I am curious about that, and I have one volume of her series which I shall also review, but I have to confess right here that I'm not holding out much hope for it. We'll see!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Kris Longknife: Furious by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WARTY!

Finally I arrive at one in this series that I haven't read before, and I discover this one is the worst novel yet - completely boring. Quite literally nothing happens in the entirety of this novel except that Kris - finally it would appear, and after nine-and-a-half novels - loses her virginity. At least I assume that's what's going on here since there's been nothing but high-school quality pining up to this point for her entire life, and especially between her and Jack the jock. otherwise this is nothing but a book-length prologue for the next novel in the series, which is the last one I intend to read. I will post that review later this month.

The plot, that Kris is now a wanted person for crimes against humanity (not one of which can evidently be enumerated), makes zero sense, especially since she was appointed to a specific post in a specific location. Anyone who wanted to find her knew exactly where she was, so the warrant out for her arrest was a joke. On a whim, she then busts out of there and goes AWOL, returning to the very place where she's most wanted - by her family to keep her out of trouble. There's no truly valid reason whatsoever for her to go there. She spends the first half of the novel on the run, and quite literally doing nothing but hiding. It is so BORING. If I hadn't committed at the start of this year to post a review of every one of the first eleven in this series that I have on my shelf, I would have quit this one half way through and read no more of a series which, notwithstanding that I positively reviewed several of these books already, including the last volume, has been going steadily downhill for some time.

Longknife is not only a special snowflake, she's also a Mary Sue. The amount of fawning over her "royalness" is excessive in your average volume, but here it was worse than ever. It was sickening to read it. No matter what she does, it's right, and good and true. She never makes a mistake, and everyone is either doting on her or trying to kill her (and those latter people are in the minority). She surrenders herself to one of the planets which has an arrest warrant for her and becomes a heroic figure to the entire planet's population, all of which are Japanese. This author cannot come up with an original society to save his life's work. An earlier novel had them on an Hawaiian planet. Now we go to a 100% Japanese planet which actually has a royal family which embraces her as one of their own. The Japanese, like the Hawaiians. are patronized and stereotyped. It was truly pathetic to read.

Where did the Japanese royalty come from? Were they elected like Kris's own King (which is how she became a "princess")? Why would the Japanese elect a monarchy which is evidently spoiled rotten? How does a whole planet get to be taken over by one small nation and one tiny culture (and one which at present doesn't even have a space program that involves sending humans into space)? You could take the entire series and set it in the future and confine it to Earth and have exactly the same stories. Space isn't needed because there's nothing out there in these stories which isn't rooted in Earth culture and Earth history.

And what's with the subtitle? Furious? There is no fury here at all. Kris kicks a wall at one time but otherwise there's plodding and endless fantasizing about jack which never goes anywhere despite Kris and he having endless hours together. She's always whining about having no time to pursue the romance, yet we read frequently of time spent traveling between jump points in the spacecraft, and idle time awaiting on other things happening. What. they didn't want to get jiggie together then? I think the author is in love with his character and wants to keep her for himself, which is why she never gets laid - to speak of! LOL! In short, this story truly sucked and I am so glad I have only one more to read before I'm done with this ride.

Skeen's Leap by Jo Clayton

Rating: WARTY!

I really liked this novel when I started it. It was fresh and things were happening, and the main character, Skeen, was not only older than your usual character in this sort of novel (sci-fi/fantasy) which made a refreshing change, she was strong, capable, fun, interesting, and engaging. That lasted for the first third of the book! The next sixth dropped precipitously into the doldrums and began to trudge tiredly, and I eventually lost all interest in pursuing the story. I found myself skipping several parts that I found uninteresting, in particular the stories Skeen told, but I continued reading in the hope it would perk back up to its original quality. It didn't, and by the half-way point I decided I could find something better to do with my reading time.

I noticed an error or two, but not many, in the text, such as "Skeen sat in the saddle watching all this activity with interest and some impatient." That last word ought to have been 'impatience'. In another instance, I read, "And he didn't want to hear her fell him how it excited her." Clearly that should have been 'tell him', not 'fell him'! As a writer myself I recognize that errors like this are things a spelling/grammar checker might not catch and as such, are the bane of every writer's life! I can readily forgive a few of those if the novel is otherwise a worthy read.

In addition to this, there were some oddities, such as Skeen's use of a made-up cussing language. She persistently describes one character, Tibo, as "Tibo that baster." I originally assumed it was meant to be a euphemism for bastard and meant to be pronounced bass-tuh. Pronounced as base-tuh, it's a word that describes a person or thing that bastes - i.e. moistens meat as it roasts! Curiously, 'baste' also means "to sew with long, loose stitches"! Hmm! Maybe the author meant that instead? Unfortunately Jo Clayton died in 1998 so no one can ask her! If she hadn't used any made-up words, I would have taken it for the 'loose stitching' definition, but because there were other made-up words, it was impossible to know what she meant! That's worth keeping in mind if you're a writer.

In another instance I read, "...a mountain could fall on her and she'd not bother waking." This is less of an oddity than an interesting exercise in speculating how you would write it. It's obvious what the author means, and you can argue that if that's the case, she did the job just fine, but the way she expressed that idea felt wrong to me; clearly if a mountain fell on you, you'd be dead and not wake-able - except as in a funeral wake! I'm not sure if that's what she meant to say here. Again, it's worth thinking about as a writer. No phrase in unimportant. If it is, it probably shouldn't be in the novel! But again, things like this are not deal-breakers for my enjoyment of a novel. The writing was, however!

I did love the off-hand and playful chapter titles, such as this one: "A DAY, A NIGHT, ANOTHER DAY OF DULL TRAVEL. WE'LL SKIP ALL THAT AND GET RIGHT TO THE NEXT EXCITING BIT." The novel was full of such titles (and other sentences) like this, and it was one of the things which won me over and drew me into the story in the first place. Another item of interest was Skeen's trusty sleepy-dart pistol. That in itself isn't new - in another novel series for example (Mike Shepherd's Kris Longknife series) which I'm reviewing this year, those weapons are used frequently, but in Skeen's story, the idea is slightly different. The darts are not metallic, but made of ice which is coated with the narcotic agent. She never runs out of darts, we're told, because there's always water around, yet we're also never told how she coats them with narcotic since we never see her do this. Maybe it's all done inside the pistol and all she has to do is slap a cartridge of narcotic in there and load it with water and she's good to go.

On the TV show Mythbusters, which I admired very much, they once explored whether or not a lethal bullet could be made from ice and discovered it could not. The friction and heat of the discharge melted the ice or made it so fragile that it wouldn't travel any distance or impact with any penetrating force. There's a reason bullets are typically made from heavy metal like lead! In Skeen's case, she does not use bullets, but darts fired with compressed air, so the author even talked her way out of that, which was nice to read. On an aside topic, Mythbusters also showed how powerful water is at stopping a bullet. They fired bullets into a swimming pool which slowed them down so much that they were not lethal after only dozen or so feet. On another show on Netflix, called Street Genius, host Tim Shaw demonstrated how weak a Magnum pistol is when firing through water balloons. The water really took the power away from the "most powerful handgun in the world" big time.

But the problem with this story, as I said, was that it died before the half-way point and the author failed to resuscitate it. Skeen, who was a light-footed (as well as light fingered) solo operative became bogged down with people and stuck in a single location, from which the only move was to another single location (on board a ship), and the story became likewise bogged-down so badly it effectively ceased to move for me. Even so I was prepared to press on for a while to see if it would perk up, but then I was hit by a scene involving rough sex with Skeen and a traveling companion and it simply turned me right off, because what had been a strong, independent, and somewhat heroic figure was now rendered into a weak, dependent, and needy woman, and I lost all interest in reading about her. I can't recommend this based on the first fifty percent.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Rocketeer The Complete Adventures by Dave Stevens

Rating: WARTY!

I had mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand the story and artwork were pretty decent: well drawn and credible adventures for the period in which it was set. But on the other hand, the "hero" Cliff Secord, aka The Rocketeer, was a complete dick - or perhaps more in keeping with the era, he was a dashed cad and an utter bounder, don't you know!

There were also issues with the plot given how advanced German rocket technology was in World War Two, the issue ought to have been the other way around - the Americans stealing it from the Nazis (which is what they did after the war was over) - not the Nazis looking to steal it from Americans who were way behind them technologically!

Cliff Secord may have been heroic in his actions regarding his rocketeering activities, but I can't get past his jealousy and his OCD behavior towards Betty who was a loyal and decent friend and partner. He treated her abominably, and he never showed any sign that he was about to change. Worse than this, Betty repeatedly came to heel no matter how she was treated. On that basis, I can't recommend this graphic novel at all.

Rooted in King of the Rocket Men from the late forties, and Commando Cody from the early fifties (separate stories about different men who happened to wear exactly the same outfit!), I could have understood this if it had actually been written in the forties or fifties, but it wasn't. It was created in the eighties, so there really is no excuse for Cliff's domineering behavior or for Betty's meek, submissive acceptance of it. I've never seen the movie that came out of this, so I can't comment on that, but I can't condone a modern comic book in which the purported hero treats women this way.

I've seen reviews which try to white-wash this comic by appealing to the fact that it was an homage to Betty Page, but this doesn't excuse the treatment of this woman nor does it excuse a semi-naked Page every few pages, which does nothing to advance the story. I've also seen reviews which suggest that if only Stevens had been allowed to perpetuate these stereotypes, he would have had a chance to mature the characters, but the fact is that he had the chance in this series and he not only failed to address it, he also failed to redress it. The person who really needed to mature here wasn't Cliff Secord, it was Dave Stevens.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Resurrecting Sunshine by Lisa A Koosis

Rating: WARTY!

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

Resurrecting Sunshine was a real disappointment for me. I felt like it was a bait-and-switch story and I got the lesser half of the deal. The titular character, Sunshine, aka Marybeth, is being cloned, and she had a major story to tell, yet we never get to meet her at all. All we get is Adam's perspective, in first person, which can be tedious, and Marybeth never got to tell her story. In fact, she got shorted badly and I resented that.

The story is set about a decade into the future and is all about the adolescent yet juvenile Adam, an emancipated and emaciated spoiled-rotten seventeen-year-old, self-pitying drunk, who is one of the most tediously self-obsessed, self-centered, and monotonously whining characters I've ever had to put up with in a novel. The first person PoV, which is nearly always worst person PoV, did not help at all. He was nauseating. After about sixty percent of the novel, I began skimming because I could not stand to listen to him and I resented the endless, uninformative flashbacks. I found myself wishing that Adam had died and Marybeth was telling the story. As a resurrected clone, it would have made for far more interesting reading.

More than one person has rudely tried to impose upon me the assertion that you cannot review a novel if you haven't read it all, but those people are not only crass, they are delusional. I read sixty percent of this one and skimmed the rest, and it not only did it never improve, it never went anywhere I didn't expect it to go. I rest my case.

It was utterly predictable in pretty much every major facet, so there were no surprises at all. Except one: I was surprised that I never got to meet Marybeth, but having met Adam, I was left in no doubt as to why she killed herself. He was insufferable. And yes, it's no spoiler to reveal that fact, because like several other things in the novel, such as how Adam and Genevieve would end up as an item, and what her story was, it was so predictable, and it was quite obvious that "Sunshine" had rain in her life despite the author's inexplicable, yet extreme reticence in revealing that obvious information.

Adam was the guitarist in a four-person band of which Sunshine was the star. All of the others are dead, and so it's Adam who's approached by a rather secretive organization that's intent upon cloning loved ones. He's told they can bring Marybeth back, and they need him because her memory record, which they had taken when she was in the hospital, is corrupted in part. He knew her better than anyone, and he can help fix the omissions.

This was one of several issues for me in a novel that was far more fiction than science. Yes, we could technically clone a human. Whether it's ethical or advisable is another issue, but this cloning was glossed over so thickly that it stunk of varnish. How did they get her cells? How did they record her memories?

Growing an embryo into a seventeen year old girl in a few weeks or months? It's too much. Recording memories? I found it hard to believe they'd been able to get access to someone like Sunshine and record her memories as she lay dying or dead without anyone finding it strange or questioning what they were doing. There are ways to explain this, but it never was explained - it was simply a given. And never were the ethics of this shady business seriously questioned. The second instance of this memory mapping is even harder to explain, and so it goes unexplained, but I can't go into that without giving away a rather large spoiler, even though it became obvious what was going on well before the author revealed it.

I really like a good cloning story and this one started out quite well, and at least the story took off quickly, which is always a plus. Problems arose for Adam as soon as he arrived on the Island of Doctor Morose. He's missing booze of course, the islanders seem to think there are ghosts at the clinic, despite all the secrecy - or perhaps because of it - and even as he pines for Sunshine, he's forming a relationship with another young girl there, whose name is Genevieve. This was another sad case of instadore in YA "literature" and it was one more sorry aspect to this story. Adam isn't fit to be in a relationship with anyone and Genevieve is a moron if she thinks she's in love with this dick after a few troubled weeks.

As for Sunshine, despite being the titular character, she's conspicuous by her absence. She's been cloned, Adam is told, but not yet fully matured. In the story, the clones undergo an artificial maturation process (which the author amusingly calls 'aging', like the clones are wine or cheese!), so he isn't allowed to meet her until they've finished calibrating his mind and retrieving his memories. The idea is that Adam will recall memories of Sunshine and these will themselves be cloned and used to fill the gaps in the clone's mind - suitably altered to make them look like her own memories rather than his. How that will work goes unexplained. The author hasn't specified why this is necessary - why they couldn't, for example, simply tell her she's lost some memories.

This was one of the major problems because the author seems to have a poor understanding of how memories are made and stored. Or is it that she has a great grasp of it, but chooses to ignore it for the purpose of this fiction? I don't know. I can't remember accurately! LOL! Seriously though, there's this fiction in fiction that the mind is like a computer hard drive constantly recording everything, and that whatever is stored there can be recalled exactly as it was when first stored - it never changes. This is completely wrong. Human memory is much more like stew than it is like a hard drive, with memories constantly mixing with and flavoring others.

Memories are modified every time they're recalled, and what's stored in the first place isn't an accurate record of what you experienced. Most things your senses encounter are filtered out, and only what your mind considers crucial to your survival is stored. Even our definition of survival is different these days from what it was when we lived on the Savannah in Africa. This laxity in our memorizing is why eye witnesses are the worst kind of evidence in a court case, and our poor understanding of memory is why jurors so idiotically put so much stock in what an eye witness says. It's not possible to pull up your entire past because it simply isn't there to be pulled up, and what is there isn't authentic, so it actually wouldn't matter if the clone is deemed to have false memories! Our own "real" memories are false to a disturbing degree!

One question I kept asking is "Why make her a clone?" She could have been be a ghost or a twin sister and this story would have been largely the same, especially since she never got to actually tell her story. All we ever got was Adam endlessly going back into his recollections and "interacting" with Marybeth in holodeck simulations right out of Star Trek. I felt cheated.

At first this wasn't bad and it was actually integral to the story, but when it went on and endlessly on and on and on, it turned me right off the story. It became boring, tedious and unengaging. Even if Adam had been a guy worth reading about, and he wasn't, it would have been mind-numbing with the monotonous flashbacks. The truth is that Adam was a complete dick, and I loathed him. At one point he even alienates Genevieve who has been inexplicably patient with him. He pisses her off so much that she refuses to hang with him or speak to him, and I can't blame her at all. She's a smart woman! Or she was until she has a brain fart and returns to him.

In the end I felt mugged of the story I'd been promised - or at least the story I felt I'd been promised from the blurb and the title, and what I got instead wasn't nearly as entertaining as what I'd expected. I wish the author all the best in her career, but I cannot in good faith recommend this one.