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

Friday, June 1, 2018

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


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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


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


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
Aeropsace on p13 Misspelled.

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

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

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

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


Friday, May 18, 2018

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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


Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Interview by Manuele Fior, Anne-Lise Vernejoul


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, May 4, 2018

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


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Feros by Wesley King


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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


John Grimes: Rim Runner by A Bertram Chandler


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Spaceman by Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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


The World Inside by Robert Silverberg


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 14, 2017

This Perfect Day by Ira Levin


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 1, 2017

Mila 2.0: Renegade by Debra Driza


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

Not for me. Not for me to recommend.


Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Scan by Walter Jury, Sarah Fine


Rating: WARTY!

This was another failed experiment in trying new audiobooks. It failed because the main character is a whiny, self-obsessed, foul-mouthed little jerk who lost my interest in the first few paragraphs. Why anyone would want to read about him, let alone root for him is a mystery to me. The book's narrator, Luke Daniels, was completely utterly wrong for the character. I don't care if he's won a dozen awards, his reading was atrociously wooden. If you've ever seen one of those old Chinese Boxer movies with the impossibly deep, gruff and mature voice in the English dub given to the graceful young male lead, or seen an anime with a little almost feminine male character given the deepest, most commanding voice, then you'll have an idea of how this sounded: WRONG! No, just no.

I don't know exactly what this authorial collaboration is all about but Jury is out. He's a Hollywood insider who seems more interested in writing a screenplay thinly-disguised as a novel than he is in writing an actual novel. Not so Fine is a psychologist who ought to know better. I have no interest in reading anything else from either of these authors. Be warned that Scan isn't a novel, it's an overture to a series which means it doesn't have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's all beginning and there's no end to it. None of this is apparent from the book cover.

It's your tired done-to-death story where the child is being trained up to be a special snowflake, but the idiotic and inevitably single parent(in this case dad plays Sarah Conner) is a clueless jerk, always on his son's case without offering a word of encouragement or rationale, so when he predictably and inevitably gets killed, Tait is completely in the dark.

The reader isn't, however because the author hammers us over the head with painfully obvious foreshadowing. The story is that aliens have been slowly integrating into human society and replacing us for four hundred years - and they still didn't get the job done. That's how incompetent they are. Tait is human, but his girlfriend is an alien. That's no spoiler because it is so obvious to the reader that it serves only to make Tait look like a complete moron that he hasn't figured it out despite all of his training. I guess dad failed.

I gave up on this about a third the way in because it was simply horribly written. Tait is foul-mouthed for no reason at all. I don't care about swearing in a novel if it feels like it's part of the character or the story in general, but in this case, it felt like it was tacked on as a poor place-holder for Tait being bad-ass. Tait couldn't find bad ass with both hands tied behind his back, and his cussing contributed nothing. It felt like it was done by a two-year-old who had heard a bad word, and was repeating it for shock value. It didn't work.

The thing that reveals Christina's alien heritage is a scanner devised by Tait's dad, who evidently has not heard of DNA testing. The story reads like this scanner is crucial because it can distinguish between human and alien, but who cares? Really? If you're going to have a MacGuffin, then please don't insult your readers' intelligence with it! Find one that makes sense and is actually critical.

And on that topic, No, just no to the bad science depicted here! The closest species on Earth to humans is the chimpanzee and the Bonobo, but neither of these can interbreed with humans. How in hell is an alien species from a different planet where it underwent a completely different origin and evolutionary path ever, I mean EVER, even if they look just like us, going to interbreed with humans?

It's fundamentally nonsensical and someone with scientific credentials like Fine, ought to know this, It's basic biology. If two organisms can interbreed, they are not human and alien, but the same species, period. I truly detest ignorant writers who think they can write science fiction, yet don't even have the most basic grasp of the sciences. So no, a huge NO to this novel.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Hollow World by Michael J Sullivan


Rating: WARTY!

Narrated poorly by Jonathan Davis, this was another audiobook fail. Again, to put it in perspective, I tend to experiment more with audiobooks, so they tend to fail more. This one began with a premise that seemed on the face of it to be an interesting one, but which in practice turned out to be essentially a bit of a rip-off of HG Wells's Time Machine, but boring as hell because it read like an episode of Star Trek (the original series), it was that awful: short-sighted, very slow, clueless, cliché-laden and badly-written. It turns out that hollow is the perfect title for a novel like this one.

The man is in an unexciting marriage of many years. The marriage produced only one child who hung himself in his teens in the garage, for reasons which I never found out since I didn't listen that far. The man has now been diagnosed with a terminal illness which he has kept from his wife whom he thinks had an affair. The man is supposed to be almost sixty, but he behaves like a YA character (and from me, that's not a compliment).

He develops a time machine and decides to go to the future to see if he can find a cure for his illness, but he ends up in a world in which he initially thinks he's the last human alive which he considers ironic since he expected to die while everyone else lived on. He discovers there are others eventually, but they are ridiculously pigeon-holed into asinine and amateurish gangs which made the story ridiculously juvenile and short-sighted. No one can be pigeon-holed so neatly, let alone have everyone so pigeon-holed.

I don't know if these bizarre categories were supposed to have come about through evolution or through genetic tinkering, but it as simple stupid, and major evolutionary events don't happen that fast, so if he is blaming that, then the author seriously needs an education in evolutionary biology. And BTW: deleting the Y chromosome doesn't make you genderless, it makes you sick unless you replace it with a second X in which case it makes you female (speaking purely from a bio-genetic PoV). And if these people were genderless, why did they all have male names?

What I did listen to was so pathetically written that it was just stupid. For example, the author wants us to believe that the time traveler would pull so much juice from the power grid for his machine that half the city would black-out, but it ain't gonna happen. They did this same thing int hat limp rebooted Fantastic Four movie. The time-traveler was an engineer so he ought to have known better, but the author is really the one who ought to have done his research. And he apparently funded this on kickstarter. Seriously? Write your novel on your own time and dime like the rest of us! You don't beg others for money and then turn out something as poor as this. That's just rudely taking advantage.

A simple Internet search would have told him that houses have circuit breakers which cut the current at a certain point for safety. The typical domestic home, unless it's been specially-wired, isn't going to pull more than a couple of thousand watts before something gives. There's no way in hell it's going to pull megawatts. Even if you bypass the circuit-breakers, the wiring itself will melt before then and the house will burn down! So it was pathetic. The author could have said the guy installed solar panels and amped-up the output with some gizmo to supply the required wattage, and I would have been fine with that even if it was a bit limp! I don't ask for miracles from authors, although I sometimes get one, but this one was apparently far too lazy to do his homework, and I don't have to reward people who are lazier even than I am!

Worse (if it can get worse at this point), is that he was writing so obscurely when the traveler met the remaining humans that it was simply annoying rather than intriguing and that's the point I gave up on it. I can understand an author wanting to reveal his big idea slowly, but there's a difference between teasing and frustrating as any lovers will know, and this was nothing more than boring.

Worse than this, he began waxing philosophical about meaning of life and the religious experience and I'm like "Check please!" at that point. This was supposed to be a novel about time-travel, but all the author did was to bookend it with that, and then forget about the sci-fi, and instead, lard-up the middle with a high-school-level agenda. Don't lie to me that this is a sci-fi novel if you're just going to blather on about boring philosophical stuff in place of some actual sci-fi! I refuse to recommend something as bad as this was. There's better-written fan-fic out there.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Counter-Clock World by Philip K Dick


Rating: WARTY!

I've decided I like Phillip Dick better when his works are translated to the screen than I do in the original. I don't think I've read one of his books that entertained me, so this is the last of his that I'll be reading. It didn't help that it was read by Patrick Lawlor, one of my least favorite readers.

We're told that "the world has entered the Hobart Phase–a vast sidereal process in which time moves in reverse. As a result, libraries are busy eradicating books, copulation signifies the end of pregnancy, people greet with, 'Good-bye,' and part with, 'Hello,' and underneath the world’s tombstones, the dead are coming back to life." This is a lie.

If time were truly reversed, then people wouldn't come back to life in their grave, not unless they'd been buried alive. Nope. The grave would un-fill, a service would be held, the coffin would be un-lowered from the grave and carried (with cars driving in reverse) to the funeral home where it would lie in state until the body was carried back to the hospital where it would come back to life (assuming it died of old age or of some accident). There it would improve its condition until it was able to return home, or maybe back to a motor vehicle accident which would un-happen. People wouldn't greet each other with "Good-bye," but with "olleh" and they'd part with, "eybdoog." But at least climate change would have a viable solution to look forward to, as would pollution.

Actually I was quite willing to let Dick get away with that for an interesting story, but there the problem lay: it wasn't interesting. In the end he has some good ideas, but as a writer he's really rather poor. It turns out Dick is just another of these pedantic authors who comes up with a wacky idea that might just work, and then spoils it completely by weighing it down with leaden philosophy and juvenile religious claptrap. Yawn. Check please, I'm done here.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Apes and Angels by Ben Bova


Rating: WARTY!

This is the second disappointing novel from this author for me, so I am quite done with him as a source of entertaining reading from this point onward. This is described as the second in a trilogy, but the first in the 'trilogy' is also described as a sequel to a previous novel so how this works as a trilogy rather than a quadrilogy or even a series is a mystery.

I made it almost half-way through, and while I was initially interested in how the story would pan out, the writing was so bad that it felt like I was reading some middle-grade school essay. Add to that the fact that it was read by Stefan Rudnicki (again), a reader whose voice just grates on me and it was not an appealing listen.

In my review of Bova's Transhuman I said that Stefan Rudnicki reminded me of the kid in the Home Alone trilogy, who in one movie records his own voice on a tape recorder, then slows the tape down to make it sound adult. Stefan Rudnicki sounds exactly like that, and it was really hard to ignore that and focus on the story. Nothing's changed in this outing.

Had this novel been written in the forties or fifties, I can see how it ended up as it did, containing genderism and racism and other isms, but it was released in 2016, so there's no excuse for this kind of juvenile, clueless writing, especially not from a supposedly seasoned and respected name in the genre. Note that there is a difference between this and in having a racist or genderist character in a story who makes inappropriate comments. There are people like that, so it's fair game to portray them in novels, but for the writer himself in his narrative to do the same thing is unacceptable.

Women were routinely reduced to eye-candy in this story, with not a one of them having an important role to play, and the senior female crew are portrayed as shrill harridans. One of the main characters was an Australian aborigine, and Bova never let us forget how short, round and black he was despite the fact that the average height of such people is about five foot six, which is not exactly pygmy-sized. The only amusing thing in this was that the reader, in trying to pull off an Australian accent, made this guy (whose name, believe it or not, was Littlejohn) sound like he was South African.

Those issues were enough to can this novel, but the problems did not stop there. This novel was purportedly hard science fiction, but the science failed, being completely fictional. According to the inane blurb, "A wave of death is spreading through the Milky Way galaxy, an expanding sphere of lethal gamma radiation that erupted from the galaxy's core twenty-eight thousand years ago." Humans are supposed to be spreading-out to aid other planets with intelligent life to avoid being wiped out. Given that our planet is only 25,000 light years from the galactic center, the radiation has already passed Earth, so how humans hoped to get ahead of it when it's moving at the speed of light is a mystery. I assume they have some sort of faster-than-light travel available to them, but very little was said about that.

They are apparently putting up some sort of shield which will save the planets. There's no reason they could not simply do this and move on, but instead, they've spend a year 'studying' the Mithra system and its three life-supporting planets. There's no explanation given for this lollygagging. three planets here support life, but it's significantly below the human level of advancement, and one species lives entirely underwater, so it would not have been hard to have installed the protective devices and gone unnoticed, without any contact with the inhabitants, yet here they are dicking around! It makes no sense. Since about 14 feet of water can stop gamma radiation, the underwater inhabitants are perfectly safe, so what gives?

More damningly, this radiation has been expanding in a sphere for almost thirty thousand years. According to the inverse square law, the density of the radiation, and therefore the danger it represents, has to be so low now that its impact on planets would be considerably reduced, if not negligible at this point. Bova never tackles this. Neither does he seem to understand the difference between philology, the study of written language, of which there is none to be found in this solar system, and linguistics, which is the study of language. Nor does he grasp the distinction between anthropology and sociology.

Worse yet, the main character, Brad, is such a special snowflake as to be thoroughly nauseating. He's credited with coming up with 'brilliant' ideas which are in practice nothing more than common sense and certainly something many others would have thought of, yet he's portrayed as being almost magical to think these things up! There's this dumb-ass computer which has all manner of useful information but which apparently was never programmed to volunteer information - although it actually does do so all the time. It's the dumbest AI ever, and the humans around it even dumber in not knowing what questions to ask it. Except for Brilliant Brad, of course.

Additionally, two of the planets in this system they're studying are in eccentric orbits and this author expects me to believe that they pass so close to each other that their atmospheres mix, yet while he talks about storms and tidal waves, he says not a word about the inevitable cataclysmic, life-destroying earthquakes which would occur if they were really that close! In short, Bova is in way over his head here and needs some serious schooling in physics, biology, evolution, linguistics and sociology before he ever writes another sci-fi story along these lines. I'm done with him.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Podkayne of Mars by Robert Heinlein


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, July 21, 2017

Quantum by Dean De Servienti


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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