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

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.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Kris Longknife: Daring by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WORTHY!

My plan to review all eleven of the Kris Longknife series I have - ten of which I read some time ago, continues. This was volume nine and finally we get an entry in the series which truly has a different plot from the previous eight cookie-cutter versions. After a couple of real duds, the author gets back on track and they go after these aliens which the Itechee have encountered to their sorrow. Nothing is known about them, but the expedition discovers they're humanoid, uncommunicative, and ruthless.

So, after dilly-dallying around for the first half of the novel, Kris & crew find themselves not "halfway around the Galaxy" (as the book itself and far too many reviewers assert), but a small fraction of the way around the rim. Given that the galaxy is a hundred thousand light years across, it's 314,000 or so light years around, making Kris & crew's paltry trip of ~2,500 light years less than ten percent of the circumference assuming they actually have been arcing around the rim and not zig-zagging back and forth in the same region.

I was glad that in this volume we get back to the topic raised two or three volumes earlier, wherein the Itechee, an alien race with whom humanity went to war eighty years previously, came to humanity to ask for help in resolving a problem of disappearing Itechee space craft. This move was highly improbable given the comnplete lack of contact between the two species for the intervening near-century, but so are all the stories in this series! Here, the Itechee representatives rejoin Kris & crew and they all set off jumping through one wormhole after another in pursuit of these predictably humanoid aliens. When they encounter evidence of their presence, it's in the form of a thoroughly devastated planet.

In a plot straight out of the original Independence Day movie, a people who seem intent upon destroying every sign of civilization in their immediate vicinity in space turn out to be their quarry. This one planet Kris & crew encounter has been razed to the height of complete destruction. It looks like the major political centers were nuked, other major cities destroyed by impact from meteors, individuals on the ground massacred, and the planet strip-mined for resources.

The poor innocent victims were insectoid, which makes little sense except in that sci-fi writers can't seem to come up with original ideas for aliens without rooting them on one of the major classes of animal life on earth and of these, typically vertebrate ones, such as mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, or fish, or at a real stretch, insects. The TV show, (Star Trek) Enterprise outdid itself in this regard by having a season arc tied to the Xindi, a civilization consisting of all of these classes!

Of course the retort to that is that it's hard to write a story of alien interaction if we don't anthropomorphize the aliens, so you pays your money and you takes your choice I guess, but there is a large number of classes of life on Earth, many of which are quite literally alien to us, so I'd urge writers to dig a little deeper next time. The problem with Shepherd's aliens is that they're amazingly like insects on Earth, but he claims that some of the sea-going versions they observe have "calcified skeletons" which makes zero sense, since insects have chitin (a derivative of glucose) exoskeletons, not calcium endoskeletons.

Worse than this, he writes that the people on land - the insect people - have been killed by Sarin gas. On Earth, Sarin acts on acetylcholine in the nervous system and even though it breaks down rapidly, it doesn't break down rapidly enough for you to survive even a tiny dose, especially if the dose enters your skin. Vertebrates did not evolve in quite the same way as invertebrates, so the effect of modern versions of these chemicals is debatable, even though the original form of it (Tabun, or GA) was actually developed to control insects.

The problem with Shepherd's depiction of it, though, is that Sarin is a chiral molecule - that is, it has handedness, like humans might be left-handed or right handed, so unless it can fit like a key into the molecular lock in these alien species, it's simply not going to work. Sci-fi author Larry Niven understands this and exploits it in his novel Destiny's Road (from what I understand - I've not yet read that novel), where the planet humans wish to exploit has proteins of the wrong chirality for human digestive systems to make use of.

The chirality of molecules is actually a fascinating facet of chemical science. Note that I am not a chemist and know only what little I've read on this topic, but one interesting example is that right-handed or D-glucose is a sugar than can be processed in the human body, whereas L-glucose cannot. These two "mirror' versions apparently taste the same, and at one time it was thought that L-glucose would make a great sugar substitute. Even diabetics could use it, but it doesn't occur naturally, and it proved far too expensive to manufacture. Another popular example is limonene. D-limonene has a citrus smell, but L-limonene smells like turpentine even though the two molecules are exactly the same other than their chirality! You definitely don't want the manufacturer of your favorite brand of orange yogurt to mix up those two!

But I digress. The story didn't really pick up until about halfway through and then it took a while to really get going to the point where Kris & crew actually encounter the aliens, launch a surprise attach using questionable neutron bombs, and then high-tail it while the aliens chase them and beat up on them. Of course her escape is no more in question than is the destruction of her fleet, so there's no tension. That return journey is rather drawn-out and then inexplicably, they try to arrest Kris on her return to Wardhaven space, which is insane. How they even knew what had happened at that point is a mystery, but I was skimming and skipping boring bits here and there, so maybe I missed it.

The neutron star bombs are questionable not because they were used to literally destroy half the aliens' massive ship and kill what we're told is billions of these savage ruthless aliens, but questionable as to whether such a bomb (each contained a small piece of a neutron star) is even feasible, and even if it is, why is it any more powerful than a nuclear bomb? It made little sense.

Overall though, despite the usual ridiculous and utterly tedious behavior of Kris's crew which was, I'm glad to report minimized here, and despite the utterly irresponsible act of transporting Abby's teen niece into battle - again - this was a definite improvement on the two previous volumes. I am done with this series though, once I've finished the next two because it's so predictable and so lacking in inspiration and inventiveness. This one though, was okay - a worthy read.

Monday, August 8, 2016

RE*PRO*DUCT Vol 1 by Austin Wilson

Rating: WARTY!

Note: I got this advance review copy from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

From the blurb, this sounded like a good idea for a story, but the execution of it was less than satisfactory for me. It's set in a future world where robots, we're told, have been legally granted the right to life. I have no idea what the author intended that to mean, worded as it is. I mean, is it possibly they could have been illegally granted the right to life?! I took it as meaning simply that they'd been accepted as people. The problem is with defining what 'person' and 'right to life' mean in reference to a mechanical being. Does it mean for example, that they're immortal, always being able to get upgrades and new parts? Does it mean we can make any robot and regard it as a person with no regulation or control? How do the robots come into being in the first place? How did they break out from servitude (or even slavery) into a world of equality? Who instigated it?

There are real issues here which humanity may well end-up facing within the next half century, but they were not explored at all. There is nothing behind that curtain, and instead of anything deep, we got a novel where "the best approximation of a personality" seems to be directly equated with juvenile frat-boy mentality. As such, the story offers nothing which isn't found in those dumb cartoon fathers such as the moronic Homer Simpson and that dickhead from Family Guy, neither of which I can stand.

This isn't the only thing which was confusing in the blurb. The blurb also tells us that "Their intelligence is not artificial, and it may not be the best approximation of a personality." Intelligence and personality are not the same thing, which is why we have a different word for each of them. Phrased the way it is, though, I have no good idea what that means, and it isn't explained in the story. How is it not artificial? Do they use human brains or are we to understand that their artificial intelligence evolved independently of human efforts to develop it? Do they reproduce somehow? None of this is explained which is a bit of a gap given that this is volume one of a series. It felt like those shows which take a human world, and install a non-human character, yet make no allowances for it. A good example of this is Sponge Bob Squarepants, where despite living under the ocean, life is exactly like it is on land in an atmosphere of air, so we get ridiculous events like Sponge Bob taking a shower or working at a grill with flames licking up in the saltwater, which is completely insane, of course. People accept this inanity because it can be funny when it's not maudlin (and if you turn off parts of your brain!), but I expected better from a graphic novel like this.

The art work was so-so, consisting of line drawings with a monochromatic palette which changed hue from one section to another of the book. I have no idea what the colors signified - if anything. The stories were uninspired and uninspiring, and this was mainly because I failed to see how, if frat boys had been substituted for these robots, the story would have been any different. In short, the novel contained nothing I'd hoped for in a sci-fi story, and nothing I'd been half-way led to expect given the blurb, so I cannot recommend this at all.

Agenda 21 by Harriet Parke

Rating: WARTY!

Glenn Beck is probably glad he's not the author of this novel. Harriet Parke wrote this, and this audiobook was like listening to bad fan fiction. Seriously. It's set in a ridiculously biased future which is presented to us without any attempt whatsoever being made to justify or rationalize it. It's based on UN resolution known as Agenda 21 (they definitely should have been smarter in how they named it!). The '21' means 21st century, BTW. In mid 1992, 178 governments embraced the philosophy behind it. That was a quarter century ago, and have you seen anything change? I sure haven't. So those morons and imbeciles who are touting this as some sort of totalitarian takeover agenda are quite simply liars, as dishonest as the book cover loudly yelling that this is a work by Glenn Beck, and that's all there is to it.

The US is a very selfish nation in many ways, and I couldn't see any way in which this fictional future could actually happen in this country. No one would be willing to give up their home and their land - or their guns. I couldn't see how everyone even could be herded around as they were depicted here, or for what purpose it was being done, and that was the fundamental problem with this novel. It was a farce.

But the US's main problem is ignorance. No One knows what the heck this policy is aimed at, or at least they didn't in 2012, when a poll of 1,300 US voters found that 9% supported it, 6% opposed it, and 85% didn't have enough information on which to arrive at an opinion. So this novel isn't a fictional account of a dystopian future, it's a political agenda based on radically alarmist lies about guidelines set out by the UN, which are designed to actually help the environment. This is all too typical of the tsunami of propaganda put out by an increasingly radicalized and fundamentalist right wing who seem to have no agenda of their own other than pandering to panic. it;s interesting to note that Agenda 21, the novel, was published that same year, so the author could actually claim ignorance, too: ignorance of reality.

The story makes zero sense, has no world-building, and essentially abandons all of the technological advances we've made in terms of recycling and renewable energy since 1992. For example, electricity has evidently gone, including solar power, in this world, and people physically work to haul other people around in carts or ride energy-creating bicycles or walk treadmills to generate power. Why all this power is needed went unexplained in the small portion of this I could stand to listen to.

The biggest issue with the story other than how profoundly stupid it is, is that it's so poorly written that it's almost a parody of itself, and it's bone-numbingly boring. Instead of inventiveness and foresight, we got asinine nineteen-fifties sci-fi garbage phrases like "nutrition cube" instead of food, and "living space" instead of home. The entire first half-dozen chapters of the novel was one long, biased, brain-dead info-dump which made for truly tedious listening. The author describes someone riding an "energy bicycle" and does a really lousy writing job of it. No one would call it that in the future, they'd simply call it a bike, or call it by whatever abbreviated name it was most popularly known as. The author had no clue how to write, and I have no intention of listening to anything else by this author or by Glenn Beck.

You can see for yourself what Agenda 21 says here, and decide for yourself if it's a sound environmental hope and Glenn beck is inexcusably ignorant and alarmist. Here's the same thing at MIT. Here's wikipedia's article on it.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

Rating: WARTY!

This was an awful novel, badly written and in the audiobook format, badly read. I've been forced to conclude that not only is Isaac Asimov irrelevant, he is antique and I need read nothing further by him. His prose is pedantic and far too absorbed with irrelevant details, and his characters were anachronistic even for Asimov's own time. I don't believe any ever exclaimed "Jehoshaphat" not even when Asimov was alive. It's tedious.

On that score, it seems like everyone but the robots in his world are named after Biblical characters (the leading non-robotic character is Elijah, and his son is Benjamin, for goodness sakes! Why this novel written by an atheist, and set in the future is so obsessed with an antique work of poor history and copious fiction would make for a more interesting book. Supposedly set a thousand years from now, the novel evinces nothing significantly different from Asimov's own time despite the passage of a millennium. People still smoke pipes for goodness sakes! There is nothing inventive here, and the robot is more tedious and brain-dead than Commander Data in the Star Trek Universe. I expected better. Now I know better.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Flood: Race Against Time by Aaron Rosenberg

Rating: WARTY!

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

This is the second 'STEM' novel I've reviewed, but unlike the first one, in this case I have to confess I'm very disappointed in it. It purports to be science-based, but in the end it's really sci-fi and I think this does the STEM objective a grave disservice by removing it from reality. Science is fantastic and engaging enough without seeking to 'amp it up' with unrealistic situations and exaggerated fiction.

This chapter book, augmented with a few images, features five kids who have transferred to a new school named after Einstein - as though he's the only scientist worth remembering. It couldn't have been named after a woman? But why would it be in a novel where genderism runs rampant? At one point I read, "or they’re manmade [sic]" Man-made? Why not simply say "manufactured"? Of course, that still contains 'man', but the root of that word is in reference to the hand, not to the gender.

This wasn't the only instance. At one point, I read, "Her dad commented from the head of the table." Dad gets to sit at the head of the table? Was this set in Victorian times? Even if he does, why stress it? Why not simply have him comment without specifying that he sits in the privileged position? At another point I read, "Anthropology is the study of man" No, it's the story of humans, male and female, boy and girl, and everyone in between.

Genderism wasn't the only problem. An improbably intelligent chimpanzee character which could have been ditched without loss was repeatedly referred to as a monkey, and this in a book purportedly aimed at improving science education? It's inexcusable. Also as inexplicable as it was inexcusable was the military teaching assistant. He was a disciplinary moron, had no place in a classroom and sure as hell didn't represent any military I'm familiar with.

Improbability was running high here, though. The children have their parents sign a blanket release form for field trips, then the teacher takes them on an experimental automated school bus - which has no driver? They almost get into an accident, but it's brushed-off as a science lesson! Even a capitalist corporation (or is it a person?) like Google doesn't let its robot vehicles out on the streets with no driver! And for good reason: we're a very long way from automated driving.

As if this wasn't bad enough, the children are taken to a field camp studying flooding, where there are unstable fissures in the ground, and the teacher leads the kids past police barriers warning that it's unsafe. Parents were given no information about the field trip, or about the use of the automated bus! This was not only a poor lesson in safety, it was ridiculous in the extreme. No wonder the author wasn't credited in the copyright (which was to the publisher, not to the author!). I wouldn't want to be credited for this kind of a book!

The point of the trip to the flood site wasn't made (unless it popped up after I quit reading). There seemed to be no point for the kids to be there other than putting them in danger, and indeed no point for the scientists and engineers to be there since there was literally nothing they could do, and no reason for them to be so close to danger, especially since they had by that time failed to take any action before the flood which might have prevented or ameliorated it, yet this tardiness in action was never raised as part of the problem!

There were other such issues, one of which included at least one poor definition, such as specifying that NASA is "the United States government agency responsible for space travel" - yes, it is, inter alia. It's not all that NASA does, hence the 'aeronautics' portion of the name. The definitions themselves were odd, in that they were (I assume) intended as footnotes, and were visible in the really crappy presentation in the Kindle app, but absent from the excellent presentation and formatting in Bluefire reader on the iPad. In the Kindle they were randomly mixed in with the text, rather than at the foot of the screen. I know this was an ARC, but this is really inexcusable in this day and age.

Be warned that the Kindle app is pretty much guaranteed to scramble anything containing images or special formatting like drop-caps, for example. In this case it scrambled that, the images, and the paragraph formatting so that some lines ended in the middle of the screen before continuing on the next line down. Even the Bluefire version, which is normally first class, suffered in that several sections were missing text. I only knew this because of the abrupt starting of sentences which did not follow from the previous sentence, and because the Kindle app had the missing text. This seemed to begin around page seventy. There was a section missing on p71, starting after "much fun and delicious?" And ending right before "103 and then headed down to the lab." Another instance was on p107 running from "engineer with the city" to "seep through". There were other such cases, but I gave up reading this novel at around eighty percent in because it was too stupid to live. I actively dis-recommend this as a STEM fiction book.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, Dallas Middaugh, Niklas Asker

Rating: WORTHY!

I tried this novel in the form of an audiobook not long ago and was disappointed in it, which itself was a disappointment because the premise is an intriguing one. When I saw the graphic novel version on the shelf at my lovely loquacious local library, I decided this was the way to go, and I was not wrong. I really enjoyed the novel in this version. The story was adapted by Dallas Middaugh, who evidently hails from the Slash & Burn school of adaptation, because this was stripped right down to the bone. This might not appeal to everyone, but it appealed to me because my biggest problem with the audiobook was how much it ramble and meandered. The art work by Niklas Asker was fine.

The story is, I assume, aimed at middle-grade readers, since the main characters featured here were quite young. Whether they match the age as envisioned by the original author I can't say. The City of Ember is in perpetual darkness and relies on an increasingly unreliable electrical system to keep it lit during the "day." The citizens lead deprived and unhappy lives, constantly unhappy and often short of food. Corruption is rampant. They're assigned work at a young age, and have no choice in their occupation. Our two main characters, Lina and Doon (Lorna Doone anyone?!) however, buck the system and exchange jobs, both getting the one they preferred, but their collaboration doesn't end there.

The two of them start feeling like there are secrets being kept and that living this life in this city isn't all they and their fellow citizens were meant for. They pursue their suspicions and discover an amazing secret. Amazing to them, that is! It's pretty obvious to the reader by then what's going on. The 'ending' was beautiful. I put it in quotes because of course it's not an ending: it's the start of a series. Yet despite that awful and debilitating drawback, I recommend this graphic novel as a worthy read.

Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim, Jesse Hamm

Rating: WARTY!

This is a graphic novel which is well illustrated and decently written but I had some problems with it. For one, there is a disconnect between the cover image and the interior images. If this were a novel, I could understand such a difference (between the cover and the character description inside) because the author has no say in the cover and the cover artist (in my experience) either has no clue what the novel is about, or simply doesn't care.

This is why I pay little attention to the cover of a novel, but with a graphic novel, it's different: the creators also do the cover, so why the cover image shows one body style and the interior a completely different one is as inexplicable as it is inexcusable to me. The cover image matches the text in that the main character, Grace, is "chubby" (to use a term employed in the novel). The interior images show a slim main character, which makes no sense when she's described (even vindictively) as chubby. Did the artist not read the novel until it came down to finally painting the cover?! Given this disconnect, parts of the story make no sense.

I'm typically interested in time-travel novels, and this one is a such a story in a sense. Grace is evidently a 2nd gen Korean teen living in the US. Her parents speak an oddball brand of English which I associate with racist stereotypes. Yes, I know the author, at least as judged from his last name, may well have Korean ancestry, but this doesn't excuse him from employing racial stereotypes. The mom and dad also run a convenience store. Seriously? Could we not get away from that and have them do something non-stereotypical or must everyone be pigeon-holed? This story makes the same mistake that stories featuring western characters do: it's all Caucasian, with only a token sprinkle of Asian and African. This story puts that in reverse: it's all Korean, with a token sprinkle of Caucasian. That doesn't make things better; it makes them just as racist.

On her eighteenth birthday, Grace breaks a piƱata, and soon discovers that she has somehow unleashed three other versions of herself: a six-year-old, a twenty-nine-year old, and an elderly one. Despite the fact that Grace's life seems to be well on track and she's heading to Stanford after graduation, she seems to be inexplicably in disarray. She's unhappy with her lot, yet we're offered no valid reason whatsoever as to why this is. The only hint comes late in the novel and is embedded in the title: Grace had an older sister, Lily, who died young. I guess Grace felt like she never measured up to Lily, but since Lily died young there never was anything to measure up to in any practical sense, and nowhere in the novel do we ever get any real sense that Grace's problems lie with her parents' love or with her prematurely-deceased sibling.

The novel is very much like the movie Heart and Souls, wherein several recently deceased people attach themselves to a still-living guy and he, resentfully, has to help them complete unfinished business before they can move on in the afterlife. The same thing applies to Grace's three visitors. They have something to do and it's not clear what. At random points in the story, they disappear one-by-one having completed whatever it is they needed to, but the story is so vague about what it is, we get only the haziest notion of what they accomplished that helped them graduate, and so we receive no solid sense of closure for each of these phases of Grace's life.

For me, the biggest problem though, and why I'm rating this negatively, is Grace herself. We're told that she's going to Stanford, but never does she come off as very smart, or creative, or imaginative. Never do we get any idea as to why she's so down on herself and she never tries to figure it out, smart as she's supposed to be. When the school play production runs into a roadblock, she fails to apply her intellect, and fails to solve it. We're never told why so much money is needed to put on this play, or why inexpensive minimalist solutions wouldn't work.

When the school budget is cut and the golf team survives while the arts are cut, no-one organizes any sort of protest. The 'solutions' run to juvenile car washes and bake sales instead of having people simply approach local businesses and ask for donations of time, talent, or necessary items. There's no way they can earn thirty thousand dollars this way, and there's no justification given as to why thirty grand is better spent on producing this play than in being applied to a more worthy or more encompassing cause.

Grace is also pretty dumb about the guy who's interested in her. It's the tired old chestnut of lifelong best friends not realizing they're destined to be together. It's been done to death, and we're offered nothing new or original here: no twist, no great insights, no passion, no creative interactions, no imagination, and no romance. It's boring and uninventive, and I can't recommend this novel.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Kris Longknife: Redoutable by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WARTY!

Redoubtable! What an amazing word this is! Doubt means to lack trust something or to have little faith in its credibility, so you'd think, if language made sense, that redoubt would mean you have no more faith the second time than you had on the first consideration, but redoubt is precisely the opposite of that! It means strong and resourceful - something in which you could have faith and trust. How bizarre! I love the English language. The problem is that re-doubt (about the author's abilities) is exactly what I had, having read this novel and found the quality of it doubtful at best.

This is the eighth in a series which has thirteen volumes out so far, and I'm going to review only the first eleven of these since they've felt like they’ve been going downhill over the last two or three, and this one didn’t halt the slide at all. Of course, some may argue they've always been downhill and I can’t completely disagree with that. I read them once before (except for volume 11), and I thought they were okay for a mindless read, but this second read-through, looking at them with a reviewer's more seasoned (and cynical, I have to add!) eye, makes me see them in a rather different light. They've come to exemplify the reasons why I'm not a fan of series unless they're exceptionally well-done, and evidently I've learned a heck of a lot about quality writing from my reviewing.

In this particular story, Kris is helping her one-time arch enemy, Vicky Peterwald (who now has her own series consisting of three volumes so far) to resolve some of her issues. The Peterwald empire is rather like the Soviet Union, and on the planet of interest in this story, the cities are even named after Russian cities. How that worked out is unexplained, but what's even more unexplained is that everyone on this planet apparently speaks Spanish! I have no idea what was going through the author's head when he cooked that up. Not world-building, that's for sure.

The weird thing is that in the previous volume in the series, the big deal was linking-up with representatives of the alien empire - the one they had been at war with eighty years before. The aliens, known as the Itechee, had been losing spacecraft while investigating a new star system and came to the humans for help, but then all that was forgotten! Instead of taking this opportunity to break new ground in his novels, the author ditched that story and retreated safely into tried-and-tested territory: villains subjugating a planet and Kris rides to the rescue. It would have been more realistic if she'd been in charge of air (or space) cavalry instead of marines given how monotonously she rides to the rescue. Not that it makes sense that a lieutenant in the navy is in charge of marines anyway.

This new novel is still ignoring that interesting alien topic and focusing on the fried-and-molested recipe: like how the honorable, upright, democratic and capitalist empire which Kris represents is going to help out the evil, corrupt authoritarian empire which Vicky represents by beating-up on evil villains who are keeping the poor folks downtrodden. LOL! Like I've said in some of my reviews, you kind of have to turn off parts of your brain to cope with these novels. Every one of them pretty much boils down to the same overall plot with a variation here and there - such as the name of the planet and the name of the villain. They're a bit like Bond movies but nowhere near as inventive or exciting.

The stories make little sense if you think about them too deeply. Some make no sense with minimal thought being required: such as why a princess is doing this to begin with. How she's even a princess, and her brother isn't a prince. How a king gets elected. Why Shepherd's entire universe is based solely on the USA (with the villains being based on the old USSR). Why, given that it's based on the USA writ large (and the empire is named the United Sentients, so every ship gets to be the US something-or-other), yet despite this addiction to the US, it's still a monarchy.

The questions abound: Why is Kris Longknife still not a captain after ten volumes of unrelenting and overwhelming success, much less an admiral, yet is in now charge of a small fleet of vessels in space? Even Kris herself doesn't have it clear when she's supposed to be a princess and when she's a Lieutenant-Commander. Why is there no clear chain-of-command in her little operation? Why is she the only Wardhaven military detachment which is doing this job? The questions abound. LACs can't land on land?! Their designers are too stupid to filter reaction mass, so when they use water the ducts immediately get clogged with pond weed? They can't use air for reaction mass?! Why are they in Greenfield territory in the first place? And the real humdinger: why is the midnight to 0400 shift quiet IN SPACE?! Seriously?

Given that she runs up against violent, merciless evil on every trip why is she addicted to using "sleepy-darts' instead of simply gunning down the bad guys? Why is she so well-equipped with super-smart nano-probes, but doesn't have a single drone to do her dirty work, which instead requires her to send in the marines every time, over which she frets endlessly about risk to life? Why is there a sentient personal computer which she travels with everywhere, but not one single robot anywhere in this universe

How does anyone manage to make any money out of interstellar haulage given the massive costs of space travel and the piss-poor return on the shipping simple everyday products to planets which can make or grow them themselves? Why is every single planet on the outer rim - without even one exception - under the thumb of villains who are without variation through-and-through evil, and which she has to take down usually - although not this time - against impossible - or at least extremely adverse - odds? Why does every planet's population consist of good-old-boys who adore her, and cardboard villains who hate her? Why is she always able to carry out these operations with almost no pain or cost?

I guess Shepherd found a formula that works and sticks to it because he can't think of anything else. No doubt his publisher is proud of him, but this repetitiveness and complete lack of inventiveness and imagination is why I really don't like series. It doesn't help when Kris herself comes out with bizarre phrases like, "I want that store torn apart with a fine tooth comb." Seriously? Where is the editor here? Or is the publisher so mesmerized with the sales figures that Shepherd does whatever he wants and no-one dare tell him he's wrong?

If the lieutenant had been painted as a dumb-ass from book one, who typically mangled such phrases, then that would be one thing, but she never has been rendered in that light until she spouted this ridiculous phrase in this volume. That right there was what got this a negative rating regardless of whatever else was in this book, and believe me I 'tore it apart with a fine tooth comb'.

Once again this story dumps her into a ridiculous situation, and she wins out. There is an added (but not new) twist to this one in the form of a kidnapping. This niece of her maid, Abby (who is also army intelligence and says quaint phrases like "Baby Ducks"), is so stupid that she sneaks off the space craft and goes wandering around alone on a hostile space port. Why this twelve-year old is even on Kris's spacecraft is a mystery. Kris routinely runs into danger. She's repeatedly talked about getting the child off the ship, yet despite there being several opportunities to leave her at Wardhaven where she'd be safe, and could get a good life and a good education, she's toted around like a mascot and taken repeatedly into danger.

It's as inexplicable as it is inexcusable, but these novels never have exhibited a whole heck of a lot of common sense despite the author touting quaint down-home catch-phrases as though they're all-powerful amulets against evil, which is another issue. Kris is always righteous, and has a whole passel o' quaint but extremely tired-old-phrases to express it, and woe betide any negative word be expressed about her super heroic and saintly space marines who are inevitably successful in every adventure. Where's the tension? Where's the unpredictability? Not here, Baby Ducks!

So no, not this one, and the way things are going, probably not the next three either! How my tastes and standards have changed in such a short time!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Kris Longknife: Undaunted by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WARTY!

My attempt to get through all fourteen (or whatever it is) of the Kris Longknife (aka Mary Sue) series this year, continues apace. This here is volume seven of the series, so I'm half way through, but I can pretty much cut & paste my review from previous volumes since they all run along the same lines. Indeed, I routinely copy the title from a previous review, and simply change out the third word, and it seems like the review could follow that same sort of principle since the stories are typically so formulaic. This is one reason I am not a fan of series, but I think even the author was getting bored with himself since this one was rather different in some regards - but depressingly the same in others.

This departure made it interesting to me to begin with, but it went downhill pretty quickly. I don't know if the author couldn't flesh out a plot for his usual "the hapless Kris & crew stumble upon a remote planet which the rival Peterwald family is trying to take over, gets into bombings and firefights, wins over the local down-home populace with her self-deprecating style and comes out victorious," or what, but this one failed disastrously. There seemed to be no intelligence built into it at all. Kris meets the Iteeche. They refuse to talk to anyone but Kris's "Grampa Ray," despite the fact - we learn later - that channels have been kept open with the Iteeche! It all comes down to this impossible 'chance' meeting in remote space between the 'son' of the Iteeche leader and the daughter of the Human leader? It's not remotely credible.

From the point onward, the story meanders pointlessly. The aliens, which the author makes a valiant attempt at rendering them alien initially, turn out to be exactly like humans in everything but physical appearance. They're more like centaurs with beaks and extra arms, yet they're purportedly descended from an aquatic species. And despite this, Kris finds herself physically attracted to the leader? What?!!! The Iteeche young are spawned in shallow saltwater and left to the mercy of predators, until they're later "chosen" by an adult to raise to adulthood. These then become 'family'.

This makes zero sense from a biological and evolutionary perspective. No organism on this planet, least of all the sentient ones (and with an odd exception or two such as the cuckoo), grow and raise young in this manner. It couldn't work for a truly human-like species, notwithstanding the fact that humans have historically adopted children here and there. I'm talking about biological evolution here, not culture.

It's a sad fact that Americans are really poor at science and it's also a fact, in my opinion, that we'd get better sci-fi if we had a better science education, but given that the US reading audience is just as poorly educated about science as far-too-many sci-fi writers are, I guess it doesn't really matter in the final analysis, does it?! Except that we'd get far better and more compelling and engrossing stories if this sorry state of affairs was rectified. There's a quiz at the link. I got 100%, which surprised me, because I thought I might have missed at least one question, but at least now I can say I know what I'm in the top 6% and I know what I'm talking about! LOL!

Back to the novel in progress. Instead of getting Ron directly to King Ray, the perennial Lieutenant Kris meanders through space to visit her "aunt" Trudy because of problems she's been having with her personal computer, Nelly, which are never actually resolved. Far from it. Instead of fixing it, Nelly buys computers for the closest people in Kris's retinue, so the problems of one computer are now exacerbated several-fold. Only then, when Kris has her personal needs taken care of, does she get back to the diplomatic mission and they go visit King Ray, who offers them nothing whatsoever, so off they trot into space. Kris never stays on the ground.

Instead of going off investigating the Iteeche disappearance problem, she calls in at a planet named Texarkana which is based on American (surprise!) interests and which has a city folk v. country folk mentality. Yawn. Kris gets blown up, the bad guys are captured in short order, Kris's millions open a bank and the local problem is solved. Everybody loves Kris-who-can-do-no-wrong. Boring.

This one was different in that the usual bombing/firefight was merely an end-note to the main story which was the discovery of the Iteeche in "no man's land" space between the human and the Iteeche empires. Of course Kris does everything right and befriends them even though the evil Peterwald contingent is trying to shoot the crap out of them. This was interesting to me because in every volume the evil Iteeche are mentioned, yet we learn literally nothing of them. There was a huge war eighty years previously, documented in a previous series by this author. I have no interest in reading that. Here we learn something about them, and it turns out that there's something the Iteeche have discovered with which they need human help. I found this a bit too incredible to believe.

The Iteeche have lost three scout ships in a certain part of remote space they were trying to colonize. It would seem like this story would lead to an investigation, but it doesn't - it's merely a cliff-hanger for a subsequent volume in the series, which means there isn't really a story here. This volume is more of a place holder while the author actually thought up a plot for the next volume. It leads to Kris transporting the Iteeche to Wardhaven so the leader - who is known as Ron - can meet with Kris's grandfather, the elected king (don't even ask; Kris is a princess, but her brother isn't a prince?!) of the United Sentients - named that way so the author, who is as gingoistic an American as ever lived, can name his warships the 'US Whatever'. They did the same thing is Star Trek which despite the fiction that it's an all-inclusive united federation of planets, is really American from root to core to stem to bloom. Despite the fact that the United Sentients are supposed to be descendants of the entire planet Earth's population, we only ever really meet white southern Americans with patriotic values and guns.

Then Kris takes the Iteeche back to her own planet and then back again out into space. Huh? We get the usual 'everyone disses Kris and she doesn't even react any more', yet the same people who diss her are utterly devoted to her safety and welfare. Despite having been in firefights and bombings. Kris routinely tries to slip her marine guard and personal body-guard, Jack (the tediously trope-ishly named jack). This is how she gets blown up. She's a moron here.

The marines are incessantly praised as the ultimate mean, tough, disciplined, incapable of failure fighting force, and the reader is constantly hit in the face with this ad nauseam. The author is completely in love with the phrase 'full battle rattle' to the point where it's a mantra chanted endlessly - again, tedious. The author repeats tired old military phrases and similies like they're fresh and new (such as 'no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy') and like the reader has never heard them before - and in this same series.

In addition to this there's the same nonsensical crap about interstellar trade, which is farcical. Yes, even with jump points that allow ships to bypass light-years of space, it is still not economical to transport trade items unless they're desperately-needed items that cannot be grown or fabricated locally, or very expensive items such that the transportation coasts are more than made up for in sale price. No one is going to be transporting weapons or tractors, unless a planet is freshly being colonized. So, yes, I've let more than one volume in this series slip past as a worthy read, but this one I cannot. It was less than it ever should have been and simply not worth reading. I will contend right here that you can skip this one altogether and move to the next in the series without missing anything of import or utility.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Kris Longknife: Intrepid by Mike Shephard aka Mike Moscoe

Rating: WORTHY!

In the sixth volume in this series, about which I have mixed feelings, but find generally favorable overall we get, once again, the same story warmed-over as we've read in several of the previous volumes, with names places and details tweaked to give it the appearance of something fresh. This is one reason I'm not a fan of series. Sometimes I happen across one which is worth pursuing, but most are of this nature: uninventive and derivative, which makes them boring to me. This series really skated along the edge of being irrelevant, but in general I liked it sufficiently to keep reading it like a guilty pleasure, ans I really can't say why.

The plot runs along tried and tested lines: Kristine Anne Longknife, a Lieutenant in the Wardhaven Navy (a planetary alliance many light years from "old Earth", and also a princess by dint of the fact that her dad was elected - yes, you read that right - king of the planetary alliance) is wandering through space - she apparently is allergic to setting foot on a planet unless she has to kick someone's butt. When she happens across a planet which has villains in need of a butt-kicking, she lands with her marines which she commands even though she's navy and they're not, kicks butt, makes nice with the planets' important people who are always down-home "old farts" who also adore her, and jets off to do the same thing elsewhere in the next volume.

She's a bit of a Mary Sue (actually a lot of one), incapable of wrong-doing, morally superior to everyone, a brilliant tactician and unbeatable in battle on the the ground or in space, no matter who she faces, and despite the fact that she's always outgunned and outnumbered, and usually taken by surprise. Oh, and although she is militarily magical and has medals galore, she never gets promoted above the rank of lieutenant. She's not even referred to as captain when she's captaining her own ship! LOL! She gets no respect from anyone around her, but they all love her unconditionally and would do anything for her. She has a down-home maid who uses ridiculous phrases like "baby ducks" and who shows her no respect, and who was caught selling information, yet she was never fired. The maid is really an ex army intelligence operative who always has precisely the right weapons Kris will need for her next engagement even if she doesn't know what it's going to be.

Kris never has sex or even thinks about it beyond occasionally contemplating, from time to time, her physical attraction to her bodyguard whose name is, naturally, nauseatingly, Jack. She never has a period, either, curiously enough. The Wasp, her space craft, is supposed to be a ship of exploration, like the Enterprise is in Star Trek. yet exactly like the Enterprise, it never explores. instead it gets into one conflict after another, usually against the Peterwald empire, which is a big rival to Wardhaven. After having a date with the male heir to the Peterwald empire - which is exactly like a monarchy despite it being modeled after Communist Russia (precisely, in fact, as is the empire in the David Weber Honor Harrington series, but this one isn't as tedious or as plodding as that series became) - Kris learns over the next few volumes that he's just as bad as his dad. Eventually he gets killed, which leaves his sister Vicky, on a murderous rampage against Kris, but in this volume, the two bond and become bosom buddies, and Vicky branches off into her own series - in a universe where sex exists apparently, from what I've read, although I have not read any of that series yet.

The stories are curiously addictive and I wish I knew why, so I could write a dumb-ass series like this and have people still read it! In this volume Kris learns of a Peterwald-funded, but cut-price attempt to take over another planet for avaricious gain - although there is nothing on this planet that would make the expense of the journey to it worthwhile. Kris defends it successfully of course, even being merciful to a murderous enemy and makes friends with her opposing Colonel. As if that isn't enough, she also saves the life of Vicky;s father, which is what leads to them bonding. All ridiculous, but, as I said, curiously addictive! So, I recommend this one if you check your brain at the door, as I have to!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Blasphemy by Douglas Preston

Rating: WARTY!

This one had a great opening chapter about some apparent entity appearing in a black hole created by a particle collider, and then for the NEXT FIFTEEN CHAPTERS it completely abandoned that and went meandering everywhere but in pursuit of this beginning. It was so tedious it made my eyes water. Either that or I was crying over the loss of my time in listening to this garbage. We were slammed with one new character after another, NONE OF WHOM DID A DAMNED THING, and all of whom were the most simplistic trope cardboard cut-outs imaginable. This novel sucked green wieners big time. I am done with this author. But I do appreciate his putting "A Novel" on the cover because I was so convinced that this was a learned treatise on a victimless crimes that I was ready to send him money finance his campaign! Waste. Of. Aluminum and petroleum byproducts.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Guardians Disassembled by Bendis, Bradshaw

Rating: WORTHY!

Not very long ago I reviewed a (non-graphic) novel about the Guardians of the Galaxy and I was not impressed with it. Since I've never read a Guardians graphic novel, I was curious to see how it compared with both that and the movie. My excellent local library had several on the shelf. I chose this one because the title was such an amusing play on "Avengers Assemble!" The interesting thing about this though, was that in many ways it paralleled the earlier novel in having the team split-up at the beginning and get back together later, so it was also a really good novel to compare to the previous one. I have to say now, having finished it, that while I still had a problem or two with it, this graphic novel was light years ahead of the text novel I reviewed here.

What was missing was the humor that I had come to expect, having been first exposed to this team through the excellent Marvel movie, but that aside, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Nick Bradshaw did a pretty decent job. The novel seemed much more focused upon violent conflict than ever it did in other forms of entertainment, but aside from that, the novel was in many ways reminiscent of the movie (or vice-versa!) so it was familiar territory and it worked pretty well for me.

The only other problem I had with it was that the creators seemed to have taken the disassembly to a rather extreme level, getting off topic (it seemed to me) towards the end of this story to the point where I wasn't even sure it was the same story, but comic books have always been rather loosely wrapped for my taste, so this didn't faze me that much, and overall I liked it. I especially liked the chance to see Captain Marvel aka Ms Marvel make a guest appearance, since this is also to be an upcoming (and long, long overdue I have to say!) female super hero movie from Marvel. The novel introduced a host of other super heroes, with only some of whom I was familiar, so this was interesting too.

Star Lord (also known by the unfortunately phallic monica of Peter Quill) and his team are disassembled on the orders of his dad, who is the despotic ruler of a stellar empire. Apparently dad wants his son back in the fold, which begs the question as to how truly evil this guy is. It seemed a bit of a stretch to me that he would bother to do this, but in order to achieve his aim, he contracts a diversity of other villains to take the team apart, selling off Rocket for scientific experimentation, bringing Peter home, turning in both Drax and Gamora over to the villainous groups who had the biggest ax to grind with each, and so on.

The rest of the novel is about their individual experiences, and about them getting back together. As I mentioned, there was a lot more fighting in this than I was accustomed to from the movie and a lot less interesting inter-character interactions. In the movie, the action scenes were fun, but mainly because they were interspersed with sections which explored character idiosyncrasies and which allowed the viewer to really get to know and empathize with the characters. It made me really invest in them. The graphic novel - not so much, although I imagine you would be more invested had you been following the comic book series.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Above World by Jenn Reese

Rating: WORTHY!

Read excellently by Kate Rudd, this remarkable novel, which to be honest did have a couple of stagnant portions, came bouncing back from every dip, was inventive, amusing, adventurous, playful and fun. It's the start of a series, which I don't intend to pursue at this time but to which I may return when I've addressed other books in an ever-growing virtual pile which I am excited at the prospect of reading. That's the best feeling in the world, isn't it? A new novel?! Writing it, reading it - it doesn't matter!

Aluna is on the cusp of young adulthood, but despite her human roots, she's lived her whole life in the sea, with her people, the Coral Kampai in the City of Shifting Tides. When she incurs the disfavor of her stern father (rather like Ariel the mermaid!) she leaves with her best friend Hoku on a quest to free Willy. No, I;m kididng,. She;s on a quest to find a solution to the problem of the Kampaii's failing breathing apparatus. Yes, despite frequent denials, the Kampaii are humans who need an oxygen extraction device in order to breathe, and have to take a genetic pill at Aluna's age, in order ot exchange their legs for a tail - a sign they are now adults in the eyes of their people.

Aluna isn't there yet, and it's fortunate because she needs those legs to explore above world - on the alien dry land, where she has to track down the hydro-tech corporation which supplied them with their under water technology many years before. This is, inevitably, going to bring her into contention with Fathom, not remotely human any more, and the evil leader of a large band of misfits who have taken transhumanism to scary levels. Why? Because he can.

The book fell down in small ways, such as the world building. While it was great and glorious, some of it made no sense at all. Other parts of it were wonderful. I completely fell in love with Barko, the talking dog and Kate Rudd's representation of him was first class. Also, as at least one other reviewer has pointed out, the past tense of 'tread' is 'trod', not 'treaded'. Tires are treaded! Any decent spellchecker should have caught this. Those quibbles aside, I really liked this novel and I recommend it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

Rating: WARTY!

I made it through 43% of this advance review copy, which I honestly felt was way more than it deserved. The blurb leads in with a virtually breathless rant about climate change and freezing winters (Note to blurb writer: snow in Israel isn't uncommon as it happens!), but climate change was irrelevant to this novel. The same novel could have been written about survivors of a plane crash in the desert, scientists cut off in in Antarctica, shipwreck survivors on an island, or people living in a Biosphere 2 type of environment. It would have made no difference to the story, so I didn't get the deal with the climate change at all. Maybe in the second half of the novel things happened to make it more relevant, but I was so bored with it that I could not bear the thought of reading any more to find out.

There was no indication given (not in the half I read) as to how things got so bad so quickly. This novel is set just three or four years from now, and while climate change has indeed reached a point of no easy or sure return, and governments are still doing diddly about it there's no indication it's going to go south (or in this case north) so quickly.

One of the characters was gender queer and I didn't get her purpose either. I mean it's great that we're seeing this kind of diversity in a novel, but if all we're seeing it for is its novelty, then it really contributes very little. Admittedly, this could have turned around and become a truly dramatic pivot point at 44% in, but from what I read, this was seen as a handicap and treated like one, and it seems to me that it would have made no significant difference - actually it might have made for a better read now I think about it - if this same character had had an actual handicap, such as a mobility issue (being confined to a wheelchair for example and dealing with slippery ice and slushy snow) instead of simply a gender trait, so I really didn't see what this brought to the story that was supposedly so vital.

The two main female characters in the novel were actually offered-up not as strong women, but as maidens in distress, held hostage and threatened by the ice dragon, and the guy shows up like a latter day St George to slay the beast and rescue them from its evil clutches. It was rather disgusting, and none of these characters was particularly interesting to me. It felt like the author had created a bunch of quirky characters and tossed them together expecting them to cook up a story. They didn't. It doesn't work like that. You have to have a story too, not just quirks on legs, and the story actually has to go somewhere.

As stories do go, this one does not go well. There was screen after screen of largely unattributed speech followed by long paragraphs of description, followed by more lines of largely unattributed speech which made for tedious reading. A better balance would have made for a better read. The speech was odd, too. Brits tend to denote speech with single quotes at the start and the finish, but this novel had only an em-dash to mark the start, and no indication of when it ended. Most of the time you could guess that it had ended when a new line was begun, especially if that had an em-dash at the start, too, but sometimes it would end with a period and on the same line we would get "she said" or something tacked on the end. It was just irritating trying to read that, because it looked at first glance like that was a continuation of the character's speech rather than, as it did at forced glance, an attribution.

So, while I wish the author well as always, I can't recommend this based on what I read. It didn't hang together well, and it didn't inspire interest. I mention the 43% because I typically quit a novel like this at around 25%, but then people complain and say, oh you should have read on, it gets better. I have two responses to this, neither of which are rude! First of all, if it doesn't get better until 26%, then make whatever you have at 26% be the start of the story for goodness sake! Secondly, in this case I did read past 25% - I read another twenty percent past it, and nothing changed. I rest my case!

On that topic, this novel has a prologue which I skipped as I do all prologues (maybe that's where it gets explained how things went north so quickly? In that case it's an info dump and just as unwelcome as a prologue). The funny thing is that I advise writers that if it's worth telling, it's worth putting into chapter one instead of a pretentious prologue, but in this case, chapters one and two, and maybe three and four (I forget) were also prologue. I think the story could have started significantly later than it did and not have missed out on a single thing. That's never a good sign. I hope your mileage is better, but I'd rather chill out with a nice read rather than an ice read.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Millennium by John Varley

Rating: WARTY!

Varley is a writer whom I like, but this novel left a lot to be desired in the writing quality department. I first saw this story as a movie starring Kris Kristofferson and Cheryl Ladd (that's how old it is!). I loved the movie. It, in turn, was based on a short story titled "Air Raid" which appeared in the inaugural edition of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine in the spring of 1977. I reviewed it in October 2013. I think this novel was - in the incestuous way that Hollywood has - taken from the movie, so it feels a lot more familiar than Air Raid did, but it's written to be somewhat different for some inexplicable reason.

This novel is one that has such an absurd premise that you have to turn off brain cells and skim the most superficial level of it, if you want to enjoy the story. The movie was a critical and financial disaster, but I actually liked it. It was rated badly and made less than seven million (in 1989) which is a fortune to you and me, but a sorry waste of time in Hollywood dollars. Cheryl Ladd was a breath of fresh air which more than made up for Kris Kristofferson's predictably wooden performance. I'd recommend it over the stories, though.

Varley has a real problem with time in this novel - and I don't mean in the actual story, but in the details he writes, which keep changing. As far as I could tell, that is set in a future as far ahead of us as the Copper Age coming to the Fertile Crescent is behind us. It's a society where we're led to believe that though this world is at an end, with pollution and genetic deterioration running riot, the amazingly advanced technology they have - including time travel - cannot do a thing to help? The plan they develop is to go back to the past and collect healthy human specimens which they will then dispatch to another planet so the human race can start over. How they managed to be eight thousand years into the future and not even begin to colonize other planets is a mystery which goes unexplained, as is why they waited so long to implement even this solution.

The plan for collecting healthy human specimens is to scavenge air disasters and other disappearances. What they do is scan history to find an airplane crash. Before the crash happens, they link to the airplane and send in a team to remove the living humans and substitute zombie-like replicas which bear a superficial resemblance to the rescued people. This was before the age of DNA "fingerprinting" so all they do is replace the teeth in the zombie with a set which matches the rescued human and they're good to go.

Given that they want healthy human specimens, it makes no sense to collect a random sample from a jetliner. Wouldn't you want to run tests and take the most genetically fit specimens if you want to reboot the human race and give it the best chance? Yes, it's Eugenics, but this is the end of the entire race we're talking about here (and it's fiction), not some Nazi ethnic cleansing. Besides, healthy specimens come from all races, not just the so-called Aryans. So why focus on taking passengers from US air disasters? Seriously?! Oh that;s right! It's another US author for whom the rest of the world simply doesn't count! Got it!

To be fair, there is mention of taking others, including the largely fictional Roman 'lost' legion, but it would seem to me to be a lot easier if they had taken people from prehistoric times, who would not only be genetically healthier than modern humans, but also a heck of a lot easier to snatch without causing problems down the time line. "Hah! Got you!" I can hear you saying, "If they did that, they could wipe out whole populations of humans which descended from a couple of initial individuals, if they took either one of those 'founding parents'," but here's the thing: there are engineers in this story whose job it is to scan the timeline and discover suitable people for this abduction. All they have to do is scan them to their death and snatch all the ones who don't live to old age right before they're schedule to die in their original time. Easy-peasey

Not that they had no harmful genes a hundred thousand years ago, but they had fewer than we do today because most of those with genetic defects above a certain level of severity would not survive, unlike today. And why take only white folks, when Africans have the greatest genetic diversity, even today? I should note that it's the movie, in true Hollywood tradition, which shows the rescued passengers to be almost exclusively white, not the novel, but the novel never said a word about seeking genetic diversity or representation. Perhaps the author expected us to assume this, but it would not have hurt to clarify it.

For me, the biggest unanswered question was, given the technology they have, why can't they fix these genetic problems? Another good questions is, if they can time-travel, why not go back and fix the issues that led to the appalling pollution and genetic issues, so they never happen in the first place? This is what I mean by setting your sights low if you want to enjoy the fantasy of this story. Do not go looking for good science or logical moves in this fiction! Yes, you can argue that doing something like that would screw-up the time line, but would that be any worse than doing nothing which has already screwed-up the future here?

Having said that, that was one thing I did like: is that the future people dare not make big waves in the time stream. Chronoclasms will echo down the ages if they mess with the wrong thing, changing their present (in the future!). This is why they take the passengers who are doomed. They will die in the crash, so if they substitute bodies and remove the living, no one will know they were snatched.

Of course there were many ways to achieve this same aim without limiting oneself to jetliners which is what the movie did. Why not get all those children who go missing every year? Bring them to the future, educate them in schools specifically structured to teach them what they need to know to survive on this new planet, and when they're mature enough, send them. The haphazard nature of this 'culling' in which they indulged themselves (and the future of the human race!) seemed ridiculous and dangerous to me.

There are many ways a writer could have gone with this and it's a bit depressing to think that someone of Varley's stature made so many poor choices. Dual first person narratives were really annoying. I am not a fan of first person voice by any stretch of the imagination and having two of them makes it twice as bad. The movie thankfully dispensed with that. In this case, the alternating narratives come from Louise Baltimore (all the future people are named after cities - mostly US cities) and Bill Smith, who is an investigator trying to figure out how two planes collided in mid-air (presented in a delightfully disturbing manner in the movie). The more he investigates, the more suspicious and confused he becomes. Baltimore is sent in to try and fix these issues, and ends up making them worse.

The writing overall isn't bad. There's too much info-dumping (which is a side-effect of the ill-chosen voice, I have to add), but aside from that, it's written reasonably well. There was only one big error I noted, which is that on page 36 it's 7:15, but two pages later, during the same sequence, it's only "oh-seven-hundred." Someone wasn't watching the clock! This is funny because later there is a problem raised with all the watches from the plane's victims showing the wrong time.

The problem as we begin the story is that one of the team who switches bodies loses her stun gun, and that kind of technology cannot be allowed to surface back in 1955. It gets worse when another such gun is lost in 1980. Louise Baltimore (everyone in the future seems to be named after a city) is sent back to recover it, and ends up encountering Bill Smith, one of the crash investigators, who is starting to suspect something truly weird is going on here. Love ensues!

There is some unintentional humor which leavens this book, such as where I read about the temporary morgue, wherein the head of the local NTSB board had "somebody" set it up. That struck me as hilarious, but maybe it's just me! The bottom line is that the movie is far better. Skip the book and go straight there. If you can still find it in this purported age of instant access and steaming video.