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

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Prism by Austin Bay


Rating: WARTY!

I could not get into this at all and I DNF'd it quite quickly. The problem for me is that this story was all over the place and it never seemed to be going anywhere. I could not get interested in any of the characters or the plot, and despite pressing on past my point of disappointment, I couldn't find anything to draw me in. I began skimming and reading at various points to see if things improved or if I could find something to hook me, but it didn't happen, so I gave up on it.

Purportedly set in the near future, the world has progressed to "mental warfare." To me this ought to have signaled major changes in the world, but judged from the first few chapters, the world seemed to be going on much as it is today, and the shtick of calling in a retired expert to solve a problem is very old and very tired. If you're going that route you really need to bring something new to the pot and this did not. Even the names of the characters seemed worn-out, and not the least bit inventive. The villain is Coleman Oswald Mosley? Really? The main character is Wes Hardin? Honestly? Not for me and I can't commend it based on what I saw of it.


Killashandra by Anne McCaffrey


Rating: WARTY!

This is the second volume in a trilogy and exemplifies why I have such a poor track record with series and why I flatly refuse to even think of writing a series myself. The problem is that, with some rare and treasured exceptions, the second volume must of necessity be a repeat of the first, because it's all you have. Yes, you can bring in new characters, but you're still stuck with the same original character you're writing about, who is going to do largely the same things. It's boring, lazy, and uninventive, and I don't feel that ought to be rewarded.

I really enjoyed Crystal Singer, the first volume, which is why I moved on to the second one, but here's where it predictably fell apart. I should have quit after volume 1! Killashandra is a crystal singer - or cutter. She 'mines' crystal by cutting it with a sonic knife on a cliff face, and in the first novel she found herself a nice claim which had a vein of black crystal. So valuable was it that she got to visit another planet and install the crystal in a communications system. Now in order to try and change-up this story for volume two, the author had her do almost exactly the same thing. Instead of black crystal, which had somehow been tragically lost in a planetary storm, she was mining white crystal - and sure enough he had to go off planet to install it in a system. Same old, same old....

This losing of her invaluable black crystal open-face 'mine' made zero sense. Yes, even give that a violent wind storm could wreck her mine face - which is a stretch - this crystal was so valuable and useful that it was unthinkable there would not have been a major effort to uncover that vein again, so premise was fouled right there. But having her repeat the first story - mine the crystal, escort it to another planet and install it? Boring.

The author tried to change this up by having a ridiculously conformist society whereas Killashandra is a bit of a rebel of course, and have an assassination plot. Yes, Killashandra was hit by what had evidently been an intended three-pronged bolt of death come at her, which she escaped with only minor injury.

Later when she snuck off without her escort, she was kidnapped and abandoned on a remote island. Why did this assailant try to kill her and then when he had her in his clutches, simply abandon her on an island instead of killing her as he had originally intended? It made no sense. But it got worse. She managed to escape from this and get back to society, but coincidence of coincidences, she ran right into the very same man who had tried to kill her and then had abducted her. He didn't recognize her - the most famous woman on his planet - because she now had a suntan. What? But it got worse. She got the hots for him - for her attempted killer and kidnapper. I'm sorry but no! Fuck no! This story sucked and I'm done with this author.


Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffrey


Rating: WORTHY!

I thought maybe I'd read a McCaffrey before this one, but I guess not. I don't specifically remember one and my blog didn't have her name in it thus far. Plus, I'm not a fan of dragon stories, which comprise the bulk of her oeuvre, but here there be no dragons. Crystal Singer is exactly what it says: a woman, Killanshandra Ree, who was let go from her opera academy because of a 'burr' in her voice, and at a loss as to what to do next, discovers that she has an affinity with crystals, which are mined on this oddball planet known as Ballybran (what can I say - the author's Irish!). She happens upon a crystal singer in the spaceport departure lounge, and he tries to talk her out of it. The life is exacting at best, but the more she hears, the more interested she becomes, and she seems destined for the career since she flies through the induction and training.

If there's one thing Ballybran is known for aside from its crystals, it's its storms, which can be horrendous, and when a crystal cutter (aka singer) comes in late, his mining sled badly damaged by a storm which has also fatally battered his body, Killashandra has the smarts to track down the rough geographic area he was mining. Claims are guarded jealously and penalties for claim jumping are severe, but once a cutter dies, their claim is up for grabs, and Killashandra grabs his, which turns out to be a rich one because it has a nice vein of the most sought-after crystal there is: the black crystal, which is worth a small fortune.

With a nice haul in hand, Killashandra is set to sit out the highly dangerous annual storm season, but she's lucky enough to get off planet during it, because she's assigned to set-up and tune the crystals in the planetary system which has bought them to improve its communications. Now that might seem like a lot of spoilers, but it's really not. Plus the novel is almost four decades old, so hardly a new story.

Besides, there's a heck of a lot I haven't told you about this interesting, strong, and self-motivated female character and less about what happens to her during the course of the story. She proved to be completely engaging, and the story moved quickly, and it kept me fully on board, which is not something I can often say about a novel. It's also part of a trilogy, and I'm not a fan of those, but in this case, the first volume was so enjoyable and complete that I was definitely interested in moving onto the next one ASAP, which I could do since the trilogy is so old that all the volumes are out there already! I had problems with volume tow and this is why I am not much into series! More on that in my next review.

There were some minor issues here with plotting which are not explained, such as why there has been no effort to make synthetic crystals, the absence of which necessitates a somewhat dangerous and demanding (in ways I haven't revealed!) profession. Neither does the author explain why the bad weather has not been bypassed by mining for the crystals instead of working them in open-face pits. These I was willing to let go for the sake of a good story but they are examples of poor writing.

Anne McCaffrey has been writing literally for decades and so has a lot of experience, but there was a writing mistake in one section of the book where I read, "Lanzekci is generous, and I shall be installing the five interlocking segments I cut in the Trundimoux system." Nope! She didn't cut them in the Trundimoux system, which is what this sentence suggests. She's installing them there. McCaffrey ought to have written, "... I shall be installing in the Trundimoux system the five interlocking segments I cut ." That should make us all feel better that someone of McCaffrey's sterling reputation and long experience can get something wrong! Or maybe most people wouldn't notice - or care. Maybe it's just me.

But that's a paltry issue. I loved this novel and I commend it as a worthy read. I'm looking forward to the next volume, named after its main character.



Friday, March 1, 2019

Black Light Express by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

This is volume two of a trilogy and has a very cool title, I thought. It sounds like the kind of title William Gibson would use. Maybe that's how Gibson makes his money these days in an era of him being much less relevant than he used to be? Maybe he cooks up cool titles and sells them to other authors? LOL!

But I digress. I'm not a series person as anyone who has followed my reviews will know. Apart from my The Little Rattuses&trade children's series I'm in the middle of, I will never write one myself. As to reading them, I'm not steadfastly against it, but I've encountered very few that were worth all the volumes. To me, series too often represent laziness and a lack of imagination on the part of the author.

This one was a rare surprise in that the story was, in a sense, very much completed in volume one, but there was an organic option available for the next episode, so it felt very natural to me. On top of that, volume one was really good and I enjoyed it. The ending was reminiscent of the first volume of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials." In that case and this one, the ending/opening for volume two were strikingly similar.

Volume two began engagingly, although I ran into an issue that bothered me and got me thinking, which is always dangerous! In volume one, the main antagonist, Raven, had orchestrated a scheme to get the main protagonist, Zen Starling, infiltrated into the Noon family by having him pose as a distant relative. In order to do this, he had to sequester that relative, and he employed a young girl to do it. She got caught afterwards and sent to jail.

On this world, crimes are punished by the perp being frozen for a period of time. Quite frankly, I'm not sure how that exactly is a punishment or what it's supposed to achieve, but that's the way it is. I guess if you're put into it for a decade, as she was the first time she was caught, it changes things because fashions change and friends grow older or die, so she comes out feeling literally out of things and having no friends. The world has moved on without her. Maybe that's the real punishment rather than the actual cryo-sleep, but for short sentences, zero degrees makes zero sense.

So this brings us to where the author describes this girl being taken out of her cryo-sleep prematurely. She's a repeat offender, so despite Chandni having been alive for 96 years, she's actually only nineteen years old, physically speaking. Apparently when they put people into the freezer, they shave their head and tattoo a prison number on it. Why, I do not know - it's not explained here. So we have the author describing her coming out of sleep, and he says, "She would have been quite pretty if they hadn't shaved her head." That struck me as a mean thing to say. If the author had had a character say that, then that would have been one thing. People can be mean and thoughtless, but for the author himself to make such a declaration is mean in itself.

There are women who have no hair because of a medical condition, or because of, to mention a well-known example, a cancer treatment regimen. To describe a shaved head of itself as not pretty isn't fair at all. Personally I don't think it makes a woman look less than she did before. I like hair, but I don't find it lessens a woman's attractiveness any more than it lessens a man's purely because they're missing hair for whatever reason. It can often enhance it in my opinion. Just google Budz McKenzie, or Sharon Blynn, or Marielle McKenna, or Rae Ann Reyna or a host of others. It's one thing to write that "she didn't look pretty, but then she never had, even with hair," but to hang it all on her hair (so to speak!), or lack of it, felt like very ill-advised writing, to me.

Anyway, I read on hoping there wouldn't be any more of that nonsense, and while the book took a brief dip into boring me, during which I wondered if I was going to finish this or DNF it, it very quickly turned things around by going off in an unexpected direction which (while in some ways predictable) definitely stirred things up significantly, so I was back onboard. And it avoided more faux pas, so I ended up happy with it and I'm looking for volume 3 next! I commend this one as a worthy read.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

Back when the movie was out - a movie I enjoyed, but which failed at the box office in December 2018 (it made only 80% of its production budget) - you could not find this book at the library at all (they were all checked out), but recently when I went in there to look for the sequel to Philip Reeve's Railhead (which was not to be had!) Mortal Engines was sitting right there - a modest paperback, so I grabbed it. And I loved it despite its three-hundred-page reading length.

The movie follows the book closely to begin with, but then increasingly departs from it. I can see why it does, but it occurs to me that if it had followed the book more closely, it would have done better than it did. The book was beautifully done and doesn't shy away from depicting hard truth and gritty reality. Hollywood not so much, and so it's sad world when a movie makes eighty million dollars, and is still considered a failure, isn't it?!

So briefly, the story is of a future, but rather steampunk world, that when analyzed makes little sense. Cities are no longer places you go to, they're places that come after you in what's repeatedly referred to as Municipal Darwinism. It's a city-eat-city world, and this is how the cities are powered and grow: by traveling the land, hunting and wrecking other cities, absorbing their populations, and recycling their raw materials as fuel and building supplies.

The biggest problem for me was the energy requirement. I'm not saying you couldn't build something that huge and have it move, but the power required to move it would be exorbitant, and where would it come from?

This story isn't set a hundred years hence, but several thousand, after a disastrous global war. Even if society could rebuild itself and take its cities mobile, the fuel (you name it: natural gas, coal, oil) would have long run out by that time, so what are they running the cities on? It's never actually discussed, only vaguely alluded to!

We're running out of oil now, something the gas-guzzling USA, with its car manufacturers ditching decent-mileage passenger cars for poor mileage SUVs and trucks while the rest of the world wisely looks to renewables. This is touched on in the story, with the USA described as an abandoned wasteland.

The story focuses on Hester Shaw, a badly-scarred young woman (the movie beautifies her giving her only a scar. She is much more disfigured in the novel), and on Tom Natsworthy, a third class historian trainee who lives in London. Hester is in a smaller village and purposefully, it turns out.

The village is absorbed by London, bringing Hester into contact with her quarry - a man named Valentine, beloved in London, but who murdered her mother. She almost manages to kill him, and then escapes by jumping into the waste chute when pursued by Tom. Inexplicably, Valentine pushes Tom down there after her, because he thinks he knows too much. I did not get that part at all - in the movie or the novel.

Tom loves London and is in denial. He forms a very uneasy relationship with Hester and each grows, over an extended time, to respect and then love the other. They have multiple adventures - more-so than in the movie - being captured twice, the second time by pirates.

The ending was very different from the movie and was amazing. I heartily commend this novel as a worthy read. There are three sequels, but I'm not sure I want to read those because I fear the first will be sullied by reading any more!

Why authors feel this need to squeeze the life out of their inventions by forcing them into ritualistic trope-filled sequels escapes me. I know it's very lucrative for publishers and authors if they can get a good pot of serial novels like this boiling, but to me it's lazy and avaricious - and abusive of readers, so I think I'll stop at this one. I had a different experience with Railhead, where I do plan on reading the next volume. Hopefully that will not become something I regret doing! LOL!


Monday, January 28, 2019

Railhead by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

Having DNF'd a younger children's novel by Reeve, I'm happy to report a worthy commendation on this one, aimed at a young adult audience and the first of a trilogy. I'm not a fan of the inevitable YA trilogy or the series, for the most part. I refuse to write them myself; they smack of lazy writing and avarice, dragging a one-volume story out over three.

I blame authors, readers, and publishers equally for this rip-off, but this particular one caught my imagination because it tells an honest story and doesn't pad it. I am intent upon reading the next volume which is a rarity for me. However, once again it failed to reveal on the cover that it was the first volume in a series. Fortunately on this occasion I knew it was, so it did not piss me off with the cliff-hanger ending.

I saw a review in The Guardian which compared this novel to other works of sci-fi, but to me it is most comparable to the His dark Materials trilogy by another Philip - and this one a Sir Philip Pullman. The way this is told and the way int ends - about to enter a new world, very much reminded me of The golden Compass and the ending to that.

This one is more hardcore sci-fi though. The protagonist, Zen Starling is a shoplifter and pick-pocket from the end of the line world called Cleave which is like the wrong side of the tracks, and rail metaphors are apropos here because the way one gets form one world to another is be sentient trains (and Reeve takes great delight in describing them!) which can traverse special tunnels which link one planet in the system to another which will be many light years away through normal space.

The story hits the ground running with Zen running after stealing a necklace. There is a drone following him but he manages to shake it - so he thinks, and gets back to Cleave, but the girl who knew his name and tried to waylay him in the street shows up in Cleave and he's on the run again. He's picked up by the Railforce - the interplanetary police - but after escaping them when their armored train is wrecked, he ends up with arch-villain Raven, who seems to have a personal vendetta against the ruling emperor family which goes by the name of Noon.

It turns out that Zen is related to the Noons and as such, he can board their special train, wherein lies an artifact which Raven wants Starling to steal for him. This seems to go well at first and then all hell breaks loose, and things are complicated by the fact that Zen, against his better nature since androids (and gynoids!) are detested in Cleave, finds himself falling for Nova - Raven's Moto - and the girl who tried to help Zen after the necklace theft.

There is much more to the story than this, including the mysterious guardians that Raven has tangled with in the past, and the strange, ethereal 'angels' which often appear over the track when a train comes out of a transition tunnel known here as a K-Gate. I enjoyed the story immensely and look forward to volume two, hoping it has the same power of engagement and drive that this one had.


Friday, January 11, 2019

Despicable Deadpool Bucket List by Gerry Duggan, Matteo Lolli, Christian Dalla Vecchia, Scott Koblish, Ruth Redmond


Rating: WARTY!

I'm a fan of the movie universes created by Marvel and DC - if you can call that latter a universe - so obviously more of a fan of Marvel than DC, but Wonder Woman is still the most kick-ass female hero so far in those movie worlds. Comic books have never been my thing. Even as a kid I was not a great fan, although I read quite a few. Since I left that phase of my life, they've mostly felt too juvenile for me, although I've read a few recently which transcended that problem. Comic books in general still have some big fish to gut before they can fry them, sexualisation of females being the prime one.

But that wasn't the problem here. The thing here is that there's nothing more asinine than two people locked in a supposed life-or-death struggle and exchanging quips throughout the fight. It's utterly ridiculous, but it's de rigueur in comic book hero fights. It occurs twice on the early pages here, once between Deadpool and Rogue, and once between the merc with a smirk and a villain who was too laughable to take seriously. And whose name didn't even register.

Not that there ever is an actual life-or-death struggle in comic books because no matter how "final" a demise is, the character always comes back whether they're good or evil. It doesn't matter, so the story itself didn't matter when you get right down to it. It's a farce and not even amusing in the best tradition of British farce.

Comic books are a Buddhist's worst nightmare - trapped on the eternally cycling wheel of suffering, and while a good Buddhist would never espouse this, the only solution is to kill off the villain! Don't lock them up in the same prison they already escaped from fifty times before. Slay them! Burn their bodies to ash! Seal the ash in lead, put that urn on a rocket, and fire it into the heart of the sun! End of story. Invent a new and different villain for next time instead of resurrecting the zombie villains of yesteryear. Quit taking the lazy way out.

Frankly, it really is boring to have the same hero battle the same villain over and over again, or if not the villain, then the villain's evil daughter - or some other relative. These writers need a new shtick. The Joker is a joke. The Mandarin is as toxic as Agent Orange. Find fresh villains for goodness sake! It's reached a point now where one universe isn't enough for the comic book writers and they have to bring in other universes/parallel worlds for no other reason than that they can lazily repeat the same stories, but with non-different characters.

By that I mean the character is supposedly different, but not really, and so we get the same stories warmed over with a different color palette. Winsome repeat is all they seem to have. This is why I quit watching The Flash TV show because every season was an exact repeat of the previous season: a "new" villain just like the one from last season - evil and faster than The Flash - and Flash had to defeat him, and always did. It was tedious.

The most annoying thing about this particular volume is one that seems to be common in Marvel's arena: writers cannot produce a comic about a super hero these days that doesn't grandfather-in a host of other heroes and villains from the Marvel stable. So we have Deadpool, who I love in the movies, supposedly going through a bucket list of items, each of which is apparently a cameo appearance of other notables from the Marvel world. Although I confess I did find Stevil Rogers amusing.

Deadpool cannot die. This is a given, so at least they're owning that fact of comic book super hero life up front, but why he thinks he's in a position necessitating a bucket list is a mystery. This was volume 2 and I didn't read volume 1 because celestials forbid that a publisher should actually inform the reader right there on the cover of which volume in what series this is! So maybe it was explained, but let's run with it, ready or not.

So anyway Deadpool starts out fighting Rogue, who he evidently had a thing with in a previous volume. Rather than sit down and talk, they start smashing the hell out of each other. That's a great plan for a relationship isn't it? Never once did she consider bringing along a collar from the Ice Box and snapping that on him to take him down. Nope! They smash-up everything around them and take no responsibility for it. It's like Sokovia never happened. And given comic book penchant for redux up the wazoo, maybe it didn't in this particular universe.

So the story is that a male writer has a female hero take the brute force approach rather than an intellectual or cooperative one. You know, someone did a study of comic-book violence in terms of who perpetrates it, and it turns out that the super heroes are more violent than the super villains. How did that come about? It's reported at https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-11/aaop-gi102218.php. But I digress.

Rogue has apparently acquired many powers, including the power to fly and hover, as well as to recover from what would otherwise be debilitating - if not death-dealing - injuries. Good for her. After Deadpool escapes her, he takes on a complete nonentity and has Marvel guest star The Collector pick him (or her) up and cart them away; then it's Marvel Guest Star Captain America putting in an appearance to star in a redux of the Deadpool origin story where he gets pinned to the cement by a large, shaft of steel. Who says male super heroes aren't sexualized?!

After that we get a visit from Colossus and Kitty Pryde, which frankly sounds like the name of a cat toilet product. I'm sorry, but there really was no story here. It was all one long and tired cliché, and I refuse to commend something as unimaginative as this.


Friday, January 4, 2019

Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack


Rating: WORTHY!

I encountered this in my luscious local library, and I could hardly not pick it up after writing Cleoprankster! I was curious, since both Maihack's Cleo and mine are roughly the same age (middle grade) what he had done with her.

I'm happy to report that this graphic novel is entirely different from my chapter book. Whereas I tried to be historically accurate and make the book educational - both to an extent! - this one went the other way and made a complete fiction of it, but I enjoyed it and consider it a worthy read.

In this introduction story, Cleo is abducted from Egypt and transported to a futuristic school out in interplanetary space, where she learns combat and weapons inter aliens. Fortunately everyone speaks Greek (which was Cleo's native language, although she spoke many others - at least as an adult - including Egyptian, which none of her Ptolemic forebears ever took the trouble to learn) so there are no language difficulties. Or maybe there's a universal translator in the air. I don't know. It's been a while since I read this! Anyway, Cleo goes on a mission and performs exemplary work, and that's about it. But then this is volume 1, so presumably there's more to come. I don't feel any great urge to rush out and get volume 2, but I might at some point, assuming there's one to be had.

As it is, I commend this as a fun and breezy story, although it won't tell you a thing about Cleopatra. She never did, for example, have a Louise Brooks-style 1920's bob. More than likely she was bald! Because of the head lice which were rife in Egypt, everyone shaved their heads, and kids ran around butt-naked. Cleo would have worn, if anything at all at that age, a wig which she could happily take off and have cleaned and maybe a short skirt. But its fiction, so what the hell!


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Sky Doll by Alessandro Barbucci, Barbara Canepa


Rating: WARTY!

Written and illustrated by both Barbucci and Canepa, this story tells of Noa, a life-like female android, otherwise known as a sky doll, and as such, having no rights. She serves the state, but gets other ideas after encountering two people who aid in her escape after which she begins to learn that there is more to her than meets the thigh.

I was unimpressed by this story and I believe (it was a while back since I read it), that I ditched it DNF. I can't commend it. It had so much potential, but that seemed to be lost under cheap genderist superficiality. You'd think the female contributor would have done a better job.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Godshaper by Simon Spurrier, Jonas Goonface


Rating: WORTHY!

Written well by Spurrier and illustrated well by Jonas Goonface (is that really his name?!), this graphic novel impressed me as an original work that refused to take the same old rutted path that far too many writers and artists take. The premise, for which the author offers no explanation or rationale, is that in 1958, the laws of physics stopped working - at least that's what the blurb tells us, but that's patently a lie, because most of the laws of physics seem to be perfectly functional - gravity and electromagnetic energy, for example seem to be sterling working order. How it is that mechanical and electrical machines fail to work is a bit of a mystery and it remains so throughout this novel.

The blurb "explains" that an alternative was provided in the form of a personal god (which look like animals and mythical creatures and are slightly transparent and come in a rainbow variety of colors). How this is an alternative is also a mystery because while some of these gods can haul transportation, very few of them seem to actually be engaged in that task, so while some are "the new fuel" I don't see how they are the "currency of the world." The whole idea of economics is a bit murky here as is the bigger picture of what happened to the country and the rest of the world. It's very much just a local, personal story of a guy named NA - or Ennay as it's rendered.

He's a skinny, black, bisexual musician which questionable friends, and equally suspect morality. He has no god. Such people are rare and shunned by society except when their help is needed because they have the power to 'shape gods' - although what exactly that means is a bit of a mystery too. It seems to mean more than just literally changing the god's shape. It seems to mean changing the god's abilities or powers, which means these people ought to be the most respected and highly paid in the land, but they're not - again, no explanation is offered for this paradox.

But Ennay has an advantage that most "nogodies" do not: he has a god who has no human (gods typically die when their human does, so we're told). This god is named Bud, and he hangs around with Ennay like they're best friends. His god looks like a traditional white-sheet-covered ghost, but he has legs, and a penchant for wearing hats. We learn later that his hats cover a curious disk-like object which sits atop his head, but what that is isn't explained - or not well enough that it registered with me.

Naturally this ghost is way more important than Ennay realizes and this later drives the story into something other than Ennay's simple wish to make his way to California to play a gig. I agree with some other reviewers that the ending is a bit confusing, but I liked the way people were portrayed both art-wise and character-wise in this and despite the unnatural world, they behaved a lot more naturally than too many graphic novels would have it. Overall, an despite its flaws, I really enjoyed this story and consider it a worthy read.


The Ark by Patrick S Tomlinson


Rating: WARTY!

This is purportedly a sci-fi novel, but it’s really just a detective story which takes place on a generation ship carrying the last fifty thousand humans to some planet out Tau Ceti way. Why there in particular goes unexplained. How they even knew there were habitable planets there is a mystery, but maybe they figured it out from the extra-solar planetary search. Tau Ceti is the closest single G class star to our own sun (which is G class), and it does have two planets in the 'habitable zone', but there's nothing known yet to indicate they might be anything like Earth or habitable at all. The bigger problem though is that the system is young and is awash with debris, so impacts of meteors on those planets would be huge. It would be an extremely dangerous place to live.

Two weeks out from the planet, a research lab operative goes missing, which is highly unusual since everyone has an implant which allows them to be tracked. There is a 'cop' on board who is assigned to investigate the disappearance, but the guy isn’t actually a police officer. He used to be a zero gravity sports star. How this remotely qualifies him to investigate crime in his retirement years is a mystery. Was he the only applicant when the position became vacant? Why did he even retire? The game was played in zero G so there's no major physical requirement like there would be on Earth for a sport. You need to be agile of body and mind, but how can you get too old for a sport like that when you’re still young isn’t explained here.

That I could live with, but when the guy ends up being a complete moron, I can’t read about him. The obvious place to get rid of a body in space is to flush it out the airlock, but that's the last place this brilliant detective thinks to look. The fact that they discover the body out there is complete luck. No alarm sounded when someone opened an airlock in space? Instead of sending a robot out to get the body, the detective, who has zero experience in space, demands to go get it himself. The spacecraft is inexplicably a single-seater, so he's literally by himself. He fouls up completely (turning off the com is his first arrogant and stupid mistake). He almost loses the body and he almost dies. Despite being in trouble, the crew explicably did not send out another spacecraft to rescue him despite having many of them on hand.

The thing is that when you flush something out of an airlock, the object is catapulted with some force because of the escaping air. It’s rather like firing a BB gun. The body would move away from the spacecraft with some significant speed, and if it were gone for a couple of days, it would be so far out and so dark, that it wouldn't be visible. Given how dirty space was this close to the planet, it would more than likely be undetectable by any means from the spacecraft, being yet one more cold, dark object among many. Yet they find it close to the craft and largely undamaged.

In the hospital, his female doctor is inappropriate with him, but that's just fine because he's being inappropriate with a subordinate colleague so everything balances out, right? No. When he wants to leave, he asks the doctor where his clothes were and she says, “We had to cut them off.” Why? If he'd been injured in a serious accident, then yeah - swelling and the need to get to him quickly and fix wounds would necessitate cutting off clothes, but all he did was pass out. What, they had to remove his clothes to put an oxygen mask on his face? No! They didn't have to strip him at all, yet this doctor did. I assume because the author is male. And that wasn't the only way she was inappropriate. Who knows, maybe his doctor used to be a car mechanic before her current gig. For them it’s routine to strip things down so they can charge you more for labor....

It was after the incident with the doctor that I quit reading this garbage. The story was poor and amateurish before then, but this was nonsense, and I had no intention of reading on at that point, much less of reading any more volumes in the lame series that this was intended to become. I can’t commend it at all.


Friday, November 2, 2018

Phase Two by Chris Wyatt


Rating: WORTHY!

This is an audio retelling of the wildly successful movie Guardians of the Galaxy that came out in 2014. Read pretty decently by Chris Patton, it was pretty much a word-for word copy of the script, with some minimal description tossed in, but unlike the movie, it isn't even PG-13 rating - it's more like a Disney animated film rating, so all questionable comments and references are omitted or re-worded. Other than that it's a pleasant listen for anyone interested in the Marvel universe.

I'm not sure there's anyone out there who is even moderately media-aware who doesn't have an idea what this movie was about, but if there is, then briefly, the story is an origin story of the formation of the Guardians, from a rag-tag band of misfits, disaffected revenge seekers, con-artists and thieves, into a genuine family of caring team-mates who don't actually save the galaxy (that comes in volume two!) but who do save a planet and defeat a brutal psychopath known as Ronan the Accuser.

The story starts with the young Peter Quill, so terrified by his mother's impending death that he won't hold her hand. Instead he runs out of the hospital only to be 'beamed up' into a space craft. The story then resumes twenty years later with that same Peter, now a mature (or maybe not) man who calls himself Star Lord, and who is on a mission to recover an artifact, which he tries to sell outside of the outlaw group who captured him all those years ago. His mission fails.

Oh, he gets the artifact, but he's captured when he tries to offload it, and he's tossed into a brutal space prison with three other villains, two of whom are the bounty-hunting team of Rocket and Groot. Groot is an alien species superficially resembling a tree, but who has legs and arms and the ability to speak and regenerate, although all he ever says is "I am Groot" in various tones which represent what he really means. Rocket, created by Marvel writers based on an old Beatles song (Rocky Raccoon) is a genetically-modified talking raccoon, whose experimental test designation was 'Subject: 89P13'. Now he's highly inventive, agile, scheming, and dangerous.

The third party is Gamora, another alien who was adopted by super villain (or is he?!) Thanos, whose self-appointed mission is to wipe out a random half of the universe in order to provide better living conditions for the other half. He adopted Gamora after killing her parents, and she became his trained assassin, but she's now decided to betray him to bring his murderous scheme to a halt.

These four meet the final member of their team in the prison. He's Drax 'the destroyer' (although he looks nothing like a navy ship...) who has a personal vendetta against Thanos and Ronan because they killed his family and he wants to kill Gamora, but Peter talks him out of it and the five of them join up to sell this artifact that Peter recovered, which turns out to be one of the six Infinity Stones which have been in existence from the start of the universe. Thanos wants them to complete his mission, Ronan steals it to pursue his own mission, and the Guardians are the only people who can stop him!

No one ever explained, neither in the movie nor in this novelization, why it is that Thanos isn't smart enough to know that with all six Infinity Stones, he can remake the universe however he wants without killing anyone! I guess he doesn't have the stones.... It's a pity one of these stones wasn't called the Smart Stone - with the ability to make people think critically and rationally.

So, fun stuff and a lot of laughs. The audio doesn't have the same magnetism and charisma of the movie, but it's a decent substitute and I commend it.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Artemis by Andy Weir


Rating: WORTHY!

This audiobook, written by the author of The Martian and of a short story called The Egg that I read and enjoyed back in March of 2015, turned out to be quite entertaining, but I still feel no compulsion to read The Martian especially not after having seen the movie.

This story, read beautifully by Rosario Dawson, and written quite well until the ending which sort of fizzled a bit for me, still managed to squeak in as a worthy read. It's about Jasmine "Jazz" Bashara who is a smuggler on the eponymous Moon colony. She's hired by billionaire Trond Landvik, who lives on the Moon with his crippled daughter because it's the only place she can be mobile on crutches. Given his billions, this made no sense to me but I let it slide. Landvik, wants Jazz to destroy beyond repair the four moon harvesters used by the corrupt Sanchez Corporation to mine aluminum, the processing of which creates oxygen which is consumed in the city. This will allow him to take over the mining operation.

Why the four huge harvesters are all conveniently in exactly the same place goes unexplained, as does why it is that a constant resupply of O2 is needed. They don't recycle the CO2? Anyway, Jazz manages to cripple only three of them and now she's being hunted by a hitman from O Palacio, the Brazilian crime syndicate which runs Sanchez, and by Rudy, the Artemis 'police chief'. She discovers there's something else going on here and as body count rises, she sets out to solve it, almost wiping out Artemis as she does so.

Throughout this story I had mixed feelings about Jazz who alternately annoyed and amused me. She managed to avoid pissing me off so much that I wanted to ditch the story, although the ending was far too convenient given the major crime that Jazz is responsible for. I can't imagine the movie company that is supposedly turning this book into a movie will actually let the plot stand as is, but I guess we'll see if it ever comes to fruition.

That said I did enjoy this for the most part, so I recommend it as a worthy read, although you are advised that it's best to check parts of your brain at the door before going into it. I think a better story would have been about Landvik's daughter taking over his company when he dies, but that's just me not wanting always to go for the lowest common denominator as too many authors seem to do these days.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Luisa Now and Then by Carole Maurel


Rating: WORTHY!

Published in French originally as Luisa: Ici et là (strictly speaking, Luisa Here and there), with this English version adapted by Mariko Tamaki and translated by Nanette McGuinness, this oddball time-travel fantasy brings a younger Luisa to the future to meet her older self, and neither is well-pleased with the other.

Teenager Luisa sets off on a bus trip and ends up falling asleep. When she awakes she's at the end of the line and gets out to discover she's nowhere near where she thought she was, not in space or time. A young, but mature woman to whom Luisa is loosely attracted helps her and slowly it dawns upon Luisa that this woman lives across the hallway from her own older self, so to the outside world, the younger Luisa feigns being a cousin of the older until they can sort out what happened and how to put it right. It's a learning experience, and not a pleasant one, given how prickly and persnickety the two of them are. Or should that be 'the one of them is'?

The young Luisa refuses to believe that she ends up as this 'spinsterish' older woman whose life is unadventurous and downright boring. Yeah, she lives in Paris, but whoa, is this second-rate job the one young Luisa dreamed of getting? No! Older Luisa has tried to make her life pain-free, and appears to be in serious disagreement with Socrates that 'The unexamined life is not worth living'. In arranging her life thus, she's failed to realize that she's attracted to females and in particular, the very one across the hall that younger Luisa finds so appealing.

So far so good, but the longer they spend together, the more alike the two of them become and they realize that it's urgent that they split up before they become indistinguishable from one another. Young Luisa must return to her original time and place. This book is done as a fine art piece, with entrancing line work and watercolor painting, and it was a pleasure to read: fun, engaging, and overall a worthy read. I commend it.


Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an hilarious middle grade (or lower) illustrated sci-fi chapter book about Astra, the only child of a space-traveling family who were put into cryogenic sleep for the 199 year trip to Nova Mundi, the planet where they will live. Philip Reeve, better known for his Mortal Engines series (the movie for which is due out this year - 2018), does a fine job with the writing, and Sarah McIntyre goes to town on the charming, somewhat sepia-tinted illustrations which literally run riot through the story.

Unfortunately, Astra was a bit peckish before settling down, so she headed off to the dining hall to request that the AI there bake her the most scrumptious cake ever - a cake unequalled. It did exactly as she requested. As passengers slept, it experimented with making cakes and eventually created ravenous cakes - not cakes that you want to eat ravenously, but cakes that will eat you! These cakes begin roaming the spacecraft, and poor ardua ad Astra, who wakes early, has to do battle with them.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the spacecraft is drifting off course and is overtaken by multi-eyed pirates who are seeking to rob it of all its spoons. Yes, spoons. Don't give me that - like you have no idea how valuable spoons truly are. You're fooling no one with your feigned ignorance. Can Astra save the day?! Of course she can. Why even ask such a dumb question? Well, to tell the truth, I'm working on my blurb writing skills and they consistently ask ridiculous questions like that. You have to really disrespect the reader to be a successful blurb writer, and treat them like morons, so how did I do?

But seriously, I thought this book was a joy! Some readers might find it a bit trite or silly, or caked with sugar, but I'm guessing the readership at which this is aimed will love it. I did, and I'm not ashamed to admit it! I commend this as a worthy read, and I promise you it's not half-baked.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Evolution's Shore by Ian McDonald


Rating: WARTY!

Published originally in Britain as Chaga, this novel has too many pages and too little happening in them, and this rang the death knell for it for me. To make it worse, it's merely book one in a dilogy, which means it's a prologue. I so don't do prologues.

The story is supposed to be about an alien invasion after a fashion, whereby the aliens send a conversion process to planets they want to colonize, which spreads unstoppably and converts local organic material to reprocessed organic material. In short, these aliens are evil no matter how benign their aim might seem.

So this meteorite hits Africa and starts changing everything it touches and becoming ever more widespread. Never once do people think of nuking it for reasons which went unexplained in the portion I read - which admittedly wasn't much. If they didn't want to nuke it there are other ways, such as chemical treatments or burning. None of this seems to have been considered, although I did not read far beyond the point where this begins spreading.

From the reviews of others I've read, apparently even the author thought this story was too boring to pursue, so he felt compelled to turn this into a love story. Evidently he needed to validate his female lead, Gaby McAslin, with a man, and so he had her taken in hand by someone with the highly appropriate name of Shepherd! From that point onward, so I understand it became a love story and the spreading contagion was nothing but backstory. Go figure. I'm glad I quit when I did.

I skimmed here and there beyond the point where I quit reading properly and saw nothing about any change to the woman. The book cover artist appears to be as utterly clueless here as book cover artists typically are everywhere, which I why I pay little heed to book covers. There is no transformation which involved a woman growing butterfly wings so why the artist chose that remains a mystery. I saw two different book covers and both featured a female rear elevation. I can only guess this artist (or these artists) love painting women's asses. In each case though, her hair is entirely wrong since the novel informs us it's long: down to the small of her back. So this is yet another case where the artist hasn't even read the book, a situation which is otherwise known as bait and switch for those idiots who buy books to read based purely on their cover.

I cannot recommend this based on the sorry portion of it I read.


Monday, October 1, 2018

Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore


Rating: WARTY!

After, Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue, I was a fan of Kristin Cashore, but that didn’t help with this novel, which bored the pants off me. Fortunately not literally. This is her first novel since the end of the Graceling Realm trilogy, and I have to say that, given the time it evidently took to write it, it wasn't worth waiting for. Evidently, it was planned as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story, and then morphed into a regular novel with five parallel universes that are Jane's potential directions, but I was turned off this long before that point. And how she's unlimited when there are only five options, I do not know.

Jane's parents are dead and her only living relative, her absurdly named Aunt Magnolia is also apparently dead after she went missing in Antarctica. One thing her aunt bequeathed her niece was the extracted promise that, if ever she received an invitation to visit the mansion named Tu Reviens (French for 'you come back'), she must accept it. Personally, that would persuade me to avoid it like the plague, but not Jane. When her erstwhile school friend, the absurdly-named Kiran Thrash, a bored, rich bitch, reconnects and invites Jane to visit, Jane accepts.

At that point - her arrival and first day at the mansion, this audiobook had become so utterly boring that I quit listening to it, which is unusual in a case like this, because as the blurb informs us, "the house will offer her five choices that could ultimately determine the course of her untethered life." Actually it offers her a choice between five options, but let’s not quibble about that! Normally something like that is really attractive to me - a story about someone's opportunity to change what’s happened - but I never read that far. I was pretty much bored to tears at this point and Rebecca Soler's reading of the audiobook would have made me want to quit even if I had been enjoying the story, so I gave up on it.

Based on the small portion I listened to, I cannot commend this effort. Hopefully Cashore will be back on form with her next effort, but the gods alone know when that will come out.


Quantum Mechanics by Jeff Weigel


Rating: WORTHY!

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

This was one of the most entertaining graphic novels I've read in a while. Free-wheeling, fast moving, full of heart and invention, and original story, engrossing, and not a human in sight! I don't know if it's aimed at younger readers, but I found it perfectly fine and I'm definitely not a younger reader, but it will serve them too, especially girls who already really know they can do anything, but perhaps need an occasional bit of encouragement to keep them reminded so they don't get remaindered! I'm always an advocate of US writers getting away from the idea that the 'US is the only country worth writing about'. It;s such a trope and this story isn't only outside the US, it's quite literally out of this world.

It's about these two alien girls, one of whom is orphaned. The other lives close by with her mom and dad. Dad is a mechanic and they live on an asteroid surrounded by a mess of defunct spacecraft. The two girls are always trying to fix up something they can fly and all-too-often lack the pristine parts they need to do the work properly, leaving them with less than desirable results, but they're optimistic and inventive, and they never give up.

Into this sweet life comes an old acquaintance of their dad's asking for help in repairing his spacecraft - the Quasar Torrent - a request dad flatly refuses. His daughter decides this is a nifty way to make some cash and buy new parts for their own projects, so Rox and Zam offer to fix the problem only to discover, when the work is done, that they're no longer on the asteroid and are now part of a pirate crew in space - kidnapped!

As their tenure aboard as resident mechanics continues, and they fix all sorts of problems and befriend the easy-going crew, they realize there's more to this pirate life than they'd thought, and they also realize their captain isn't a nice guy at all. Plus, there are stowaways aboard!

Zam and Rox manage to juggle all these issues while keeping their sense of humor and upping their skill set, and a great story with a sweet ending is the result. The story is intelligent and fun, and the artwork is wonderful. I fully commend this as a worthy read (with a great title!)


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Byte by Eric C Anderson


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

30th Century: Revived by Mark Kingston Levin


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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