Showing posts with label time-travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label time-travel. Show all posts

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The Time Slip Girl by Elizabeth Andre

Rating: WARTY!

This sounded from the blurb like an interesting novel, reminiscent in some small ways of my own Tears in Time wherein a lesbian girl travels in time. This book was much more straight-forward and simple than mine was though.

Dara, a young woman from 2014, is still suffering from the loss of her Asian fiancé Jenny, who died in a car accident. With Jenny, Dara shared a bucket-list of foreign locales to visit, but she felt she could not go to the next place on the list: China, since that was Jenny's trip. Instead, she visited the next after that: London with her brother, and while touring an Edwardian house, Dara goes off piste in a big way, first entering a dark basement alone, but then falling down the steps and awakening in 1908 in that same basement.

The first person she meets is Agnes, also a lesbian, but neither girl dare reveal her sexual nature to the other for fear of recrimination, repulsion, or derision. Since Agnes lives alone in a 'flat' (apartment) and works a decent job at a local department store, she allows Dara to stay with her until she can find her feet. Agnes slowly comes to accept Dara's story that she's from the future, and is fascinated by her "Butter toffee" skin. Agnes has met no women of color before.

Over the next few weeks Dara starts to settle in, gets a job serving in a disgustingly smokey pub, and meets a man who is studying what he calls 'timeslips' - and through whom she hopes to get back to her own time. In time also, the two young women finally realize they are both the same in terms of their desire for another of their own gender, and this is where the story fell apart for me. There was too much "Darling" this and "Darling" that, and it seemed so utterly unrealistic that it completely kicked me out of suspension of disbelief. It was far too sugary and didn't even sound remotely like anything a young woman of 2014 might say, let alone a woman of 1908, and I couldn't stand to read any more. Plus it was completely inauthentic.

Now I'm not a lesbian - I don't even play one on TV, but my beef isn't with that. It's with Agnes's character. This girl has been portrayed as shy, retiring, reserved, unadventurous, and intimidated by her older, mean, racist drunk of an exploitative brother. He completely disappears from the picture, but the problem for me was that Agnes changes overnight from being this shrinking violet into a sexual tiger in bed, and it seemed so out of character that I could not take it seriously.

If we'd been given some reason to expect this - some inner monolog about how she wants to be more aggressive in bed - that would have been one thing, but this is shortly after her brother is taken out of the story, and while you might think that his absence would liberate her somewhat, it happens so close to that - while she's still in mourning for losing her only living relative, that it fails as a plot device. It comes over instead as a clunky foreshadowing - look, I have no ties left in this life therefore I can come back to the future with you! Like her brother was ever a tie.

Another issue is that Dara is supposedly a computer programmer, so not expected to be dumb, yet never once in the part I read, which was about thirty percent if I recall, did she ever consider that she could maybe find a 'timeslip' to save Jenny from the accident. Perhaps that occurs or even happens later - I can't say, and I had no interest in finding out. I'd completely lost faith in this author's ability to get anywhere interesting or imaginative with this story.

The point was that as mournful of Jenny as she is, it never even crosses her mind, and despite her computer credentials, she never once considers the possibility that she might be able to help this scientist in some way to help herself. No, they had no computers back then - not as we would recognize them anyway, but she did have a logical mindset - you have to have that to be a programmer, yet it never entered her head to see if she could help. So this was a major betrayal of the character's smarts and desires.

So overall, while I was attracted to this story because I like time-travel stories, the execution of it left too much to be desired and I lost interest and DNF'd it. I can't commend it was a worthy read.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Time Machine by HG Wells

Rating: WARTY!

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

Published under the banner of "Classics Reimagined", this is a reproduction of the text of HG Wells 1895 novella. I requested this for review mistakenly thinking it was a graphic novel. It isn't; it's an illustrated novella. In it, a man who is never named in the story, but referred to simply as 'the Time Traveller' (note that this is in an era when characters in stories were often named "Mr B_____" or Mrs "M______", or whatever, builds himself a time machine and travels to the year 802,701.

Why that particular year, I have no idea, but by then London, his starting point, has long gone, as has every vestige of the society he knew. In its place is what appears to be a purely natural world in which dwell two peoples, the childlike androgynous Eloi, and the subterranean-dwelling predatory, and of course ugly, Morlocks, who groom the Eloi as their prey. The time traveller befriends one of the Eloi who is unfortunately named Weena, which sounds to me like some sort of sausage. Why Wells made the predators ugly was to me a bad piece of writing. If you looka t nature, the apex predators are enver ugly - theylre sleek and admirably-appointed - think of the lion, the tiger, the leopard, the jaguar, the cheetah. Often it's the prey who look stupid or behave, well, like cattle. But each writer to their own.

Much of the story is spent with the time traveller blundering-around trying to find his time machine which has been hidden by the Morlocks, but later they use it to lure him into their clutches, not grasping that he can escape in it. For some reason, he next travels some 30 million years into the future where the Earth is dying (this was a little premature by Wells, but he was writing in some scientific ignorance, let's not forget). In that future, the Sun is dying, and Earth is degenerating, exhibiting only lower life forms. After he has returned and told his story, he takes off again, promising to come back, but he never does.

The story is told in a frame set by the time traveller's return from this expedition, where he narrates this entire story, never once interrupted by his guest audience, and his eidetic recollection is miraculous given what he went through, so there's a certain falsity or lack of authenticity about it. It was never one of my personal favorites, and the sad thing for me is that the only difference between this 'updated' version and the original is that it has some artwork added, created by the studio team of 'Ale + Ale'. While the art is quite good in its own right, it really contributes nothing to the story, and the story itself is unchanged. Indeed, the art is false too in some regards, because the Eloi depicted in the art don't match Wells's description in the text, which I found strange. If you're going to leave the text totally unchanged, why add art which differs and detracts from it?

Another problem with it for me was the formatting. There was random block-cap text at various points in the middle of the narrative (a quote from the regular text), and which was larger than the regular text font. It was inserted into the main text like this was some cheap tabloid newspaper with sensationalist headlines. This interrupted the original text and I found it annoying, especially since it was in different font sizes which often stepped on the toes of the rest of the text in the same quote. I saw only the ebook version of this so I cannot comment on the print version (assuming there is one), but to me, the ebook looked messy and unappealing, and that along with the rambling story and mismatched artwork made for a disappointing experience. I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Luisa Now and Then by Carole Maurel

Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Molly Moon's Hypnotic Time Travel Adventure by Georgia Byng

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Doctor Who Dark Horizons by Jenny T Colgan

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Doctor Who The American Adventures by various authors

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Get Back, Imagine...Saving John Lennon by Donovan Day

Rating: WARTY!

NOTE: I understand from the author that this book is undergoing some changes, so this advance review may not apply to the final published edition.

"They wanted a good more than that." A good bit more than that? A good deal...?
"We need to keep our stories straights." - too many esses!
"I’m going back to December 9, 1980" - you'd be a day late. He was killed the night of December eighth!

I finished this book yesterday, and while I went into it thinking "Don't let me down" and so wanting it to please, please me, in the end it didn't come together, and it can't buy my love. This fiction followed a long and winding road like an old brown shoe, as it asked the question, "What if someone could go back in time and save John Lennon from being killed that chill, early December night in 1980?" It sounded like a great premise to me.

Lenny's ("Is his name actually Lennon?" I initially asked, but no, it isn't, I'm sorry to say!) story is that he's staying with his granddad and his granddad's husband (which was a nice touch) while his mom is out of town. Dad left a long time ago for a girl he met at a ball game, and Lenny was angry. He became Lenny the Lion, stealing coffee cups from the display at Starbucks and selling them. This eventually earned him a trip to a psychiatrist's office, which is oddly where he learned to play guitar. Anyone who has actually tried to learn to play guitar is going to resent how easy it was for him. I know I do!

A day in the life of first person PoV Lenny Funk (which is why we get no perspective on Yoko) consists of him playing his guitar in the Columbus Circle subway station to make some cash. Yoko (not that Yoko! This is a younger, modern Yoko who isn't even Japanese) shows up when a bully is giving Lenny grief. Lenny talks her into singing with him, and we read, "A crowd of people gathers around us..." What would have been wrong with writing, "A crowd of people stopped and stared" - a line from the Lennon-McCartney song, A day in the Life, one of the few songs to which they actually both contributed significantly, and specifically, a line that Lennon himself wrote? That would have been so cool, but it was a glorious opportunity missed, and in the end, that came to signify the entire novel. I was guessing at this point that we'd be seeing very few Lennon or Beatles references of this nature, and I was right. It was one in a too-long line of chances which were squandered thoughtlessly. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da!

The real starting point of this story is where Lenny discovers that an iPod nano, given to him by his grandfather, is his ticket to ride a time portal. When he plays a song from a certain time, he can physically travel back to that time and interact with people there, although how this works is rather arbitrary and very convenient for Lenny and Yoko, and when a friend like Yoko says, "I wanna hold your hand" they can travel with him. This is a great premise which reminded me of the Kathleen Turner - Nicholas Cage movie, Peggy Sue Got Married, which I loved and which was also heavily influenced by music. This is a different story, but while it's technically well-written and was quite engrossing to begin with, overall, I can't recommend it as a worthy read because there was far too much wrong with the story to let it slide.

The first sickening problem I had was with the "women are only worth anything if they're beautiful" insult to which far too many writers seem addicted, and with which this novel is replete. I know Lenny is a high school kid and this is his PoV, but he gets on this one-note song and he never gets off it. Pretty much as soon as Yoko showed up, I read, "...but this girl is maybe the best-looking female to talk to me. Ever." A couple of screens after that, he's convinced he's in love with Yoko. This shallowness gave me no confidence whatsoever that Lenny would ever be able to do anything for John Lennon! Worse than this, and at the same time that we’re being told that only beautiful young women are worth anything, we’re also learning not a thing about how Yoko feels about anything, and this is serving only to reinforce what we’ve been told: that what’s going on in a girl's mind is unimportant because only her looks matter. It’s truly nauseating, especially from a near-adult make character.

The litany of beautiful was ugly:

  • Even the most jaded of commuters can’t ignore a beautiful girl singing her heart out.
  • Did a beautiful girl my own age...
  • I'm the one with the beautiful girl...
  • Yoko’s beautiful face pops into my mind.
  • ...where a group of beautiful women are crowded around the owner...
  • There are, of course, beautiful women with them
  • “I knew it was her because she looks just like you, just as beautiful.”
  • She is so beautiful.
None of this necessary, and it's not just with the word 'beautiful' either. It's a full-frontal assault on women's credibility as people as opposed to window-dressings and trophies. Consider, for example, "...the band members are posing with a young, hot Asian woman." It couldn't be merely an Asian woman, or even a 'young Asian woman' or even 'a cool-looking Asian woman'. It has to be a "hot" one. All others can just go home. Then there's this double-whammy: "Instead of beautiful English girls, this club is filled with stunning French women...."

The insults get personal too. Shakira gets this: "Shakira is an exotic beauty" - and this was to imply that Yoko was not, which is insulting at best and racist at worst. It;s insulting to Yoko and to Shakira nbecuase it implies she has little or nothignt o offer other than her looks, which is pure bullshit. I'll bet you didn't know that Katy Perry has nothing to offer but her looks, either did you? That's what this tells me: "Well, John is a man and Katy Perry is a looker..." That insults not only Katy Perry, but also John Lennon! It could have said, "Well they're both talented musicians" but it didn't. It could have said they were both about human rights, but it didn't. Instead, it deliberately took the low road and thereby promoted John as shallowly searching for a hot babe, and Katy Perry as a skin-seep sex doll with no self respect.

Yoko (her name means ocean child, but it can mean many other kinds of child - ko - depending on how it's written) Ono comes in for some abuse later, too. It seems evident from this writing that this author is one of those who blames the Beatles break-up on Yoko, when the truth is that she really had little to do with it. It implies that John Lennon, who had already left the band but had not yet publicized it, has no mind of his own, and it also ignores the fact that the break-up was actually about many things, including Paul's very public quitting. All of this in turn was really all down to the lack of effective and consensus leadership after Brian Epstein died. Paul's hissy-fit over the other three not wanting his father-in-law to run Apple Corps didn't help. Of course, there were more currents running, and running deep here, than can be detailed with any simplicity, but the absolute best you could argue is that Yoko was merely one catalyst. You cannot realistically or fairly make her carry that weight alone.

A major issue for me was how unbelievably expert these seventeen-year-old kids were about the sixties. Yes, I'm sure there are some young people out there who do know more than you'd expect, but these two (Yoko and Lenny) were Mary Sue and Gary Stu. They had an all access pass wherever they went, and they knew everything about everything no matter which time period they were in. it was too much. At the same time, paradoxically, they knew nothing, because their entire focus was on musicians and music and they were completely oblivious to everything else around them. This made then truly annoying, juvenile, and shallow.

The idea comes up in the story that Jim Morrison can be prevented from overdosing, and later, that John Lennon can be saved from being murdered, but never once do we hear it even suggested that they could go back and save Martin Luther King, or Bobby Kennedy, or the passengers on the Pan-Am 103 flight that crashed at Lockerbie, or some three-thousand people in the Twin Towers, or the sixteen thousand or so who have died from the Union Carbide incompetence at Bhopal. This complete lack of awareness and this obsessive-compulsive focus on The Beatles only made the characters seem more dull and more shallow than ever. I get that this was about one theme, but the failure to even mention, let alone address other possibilities made the two main characters callous and selfish. I didn't like either of them.

On a matter of a pet peeve which has nothing to do with this novel, I used the word 'murder' back there deliberately, because from everything I've read about John Lennon, he was one of the least pretentious and most down-to-Earth people there was, and I honestly don't believe that he would want to be put up on a pedestal or compared, via this kind of terminology, to people like Ghandi. If he was that kind of a person, he would never have returned his MBE.

On top of all the other issues, Yenny and Loko were shown to be incredibly stupid, making the same chronically bad decision twice in a row in allowing someone to stay back in time for a visit. Lenny in particular was shown to be thoroughly clueless and incompetent with his decisions. This occurs often in time-travel movies. For example, Marty McFly's decision in Back to the Future to add only a few minutes to his return time to save Doc Brown's life, when he could have added an hour or a day or a week is a direct parallel to Lenny's last minute idiocy. Authors so easily forget that these are time travel stories: you can go back and back and back again until you get it right, unless there is some feature to the travel which prevents it. Indeed, this was a feature of Bill Murray's Groundhog Day movie, but Lenny never gets it. Yes, his time is dwindling, but he still has plenty of time and he fails.

If this had been one of those 'butterfly effect' movies where something that's changed in the past results in a horrible dystopian future, I could see how the ending, while still poor, might have made a limp kind of sense, but we'd already been shown that this isn't he case, so that excuse wasn't on the table. If we'd been shown that fate intervenes to 'correct' changes that are made, this would have been another validation, of a weak kind, of the ending, but none of that held, so the ending made zero sense. However, it was infinitely better than the dumb alternate universe we did see, which was truly sad (and not in a good way).

Even the times he does go back he fails in an epic manner, and he's too stupid to figure out why. We can work it out, but he evidently can't. At one point, a simple call to the police would have fixed all of his problems, but he's quite evidently not smart enough to entertain such an idea. One of the best loved episodes of time-travel sci-fi series Doctor Who actually makes a virtue of the "Why don't they ever go to the police?" question, and is the better for it. Unfortunately, Lenny doesn't know how to ask for a little help from his friends!

The overall impression I had from this was that the story had not been well thought through, so it's hello, goodbye to this one, and I feel fine about that. It read more like a second or third draft than a finished story, and on top of that, something about the way it portrayed John Lennon, particularly in the later chapters, felt disrespectful. While I could bring up other issues, I think this is plenty to make my point. I can't in good faith recommend a story which is obviously lacking so much in plot and character and where, in the end, the sum total of what we learn about the main character is that all he needs is love, but the fact is that he's a real nowhere man and this bird has flown.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Supreme Blue Rose by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay

Rating: WORTHY!

In this beautifully illustrated futuristic time-travel graphic novel, Diana Dane, an investigative journalist who is out of work at present and not able to afford all the meds she believes she needs, has a weird dream in which she's informed that she should not trust Darius Dax. Curiously enough that's the name of the man she meets during her appointment the next day. Dax hires her for a considerable sum - with even more on offer should she succeed in locating what it is that Dax seeks.

It's not an object he wants as much as it is a time and place, but in ignorance of this, Diana is driven away in a stretch limo by an enigmatic chauffeur to investigate what as reported as an airplane crash. Dax doesn't believe the press. Diana, who looks strangely like talented artist Tula Lotay (who incidentally illustrated this novel!), is expected to unearth the truth. Her problem is that her dreams seem to be bleeding into her reality. Or vice-versa. Wait, is that Diana's dreams or Tula's? I honestly can't day! But maybe that's just a result of time being periodically revised?

This novel penned by Warren Ellis was entrancing and haunting with a bit too much mystery, but definitely an alluring lead-in to what is at least a seven volume series.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

All Clear by Connie Willis

Title: All Clear
Author: Connie Willis
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Rating: WARTY!

Read shrilly by Katherine Kellgren.

This was awful! I can't believe how bad this was. I think it's very possibly the most irritating and boring novel I've ever not read - I listened to it. Or to as much of it as I could stand anyway. I got only 10% of the way through it before I threw it away. Not literally, I dutifully and promptly returned it to the library.

It’s book 2 in what’s at least a dilogy, something which I didn’t know, going in. Not that it really matters that much. Connie Willis herself warns at the beginning that you really ought to read book one before you start on this, but what’s the point, honestly, of issuing that warning when you’re sitting there driving down the highway (or even up the low-way) listening to it already? What I’m saying is that it’s a bit late at that point!

I got this from the library and there was nothing in the description on the library's website to warn me that I should read book one first – or even to say this was book two! Here’s the library’s blurb:

Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author Connie Willis returns with a stunning, enormously entertaining novel of time travel, war, and the deeds, great and small, of ordinary people who shape history.

“Connie Willis returns” tells me this isn’t her debut novel. It doesn’t tell me this is book two of a series! Shame on you librarians who evidently just lifted a blurb from somewhere and thought no more about it! (I love them really!) The reader was Katherine Kellgren, and her voice was appropriate to the era, but this merely meant that it was high pitched and shrill, which was really, and I mean really, off-putting. If you must read this, I recommend that you actually read it, and avoid the audio book version.

As for the story itself, I didn’t see the point. This is supposed to be sci-fi time-travel. To me there’s nothing more exciting, which makes me wonder why so many writers use that frame as nothing more than a bait-and-switch tactic to lure their readers into what is, in the end, merely an historical fiction, or worse, an historical romance. Seriously?

If all you’re going to do with your time-travel story is trap your main character in some historical setting, then I’m sorry but you’re really nothing more than a con-artist mis-representing your story! I will resent your tactics and read no more of your oeuvre. For me, there actually has to be some real sci-fi in a sci-fi story!

In this case, a team of time-travelers, who were evidently studying history (you’d have to have read book one to really understand what they were doing or why it even - supposedly - made sense), were somehow trapped in World War two London in 1940 during the blitz, of course, and were in complete disarray. For the first two disks they were obsessed with a store by the name of Padgett's and with whether three people or five people had died there. It went on and on - for two disks. God it was boring!

They're from the future, but were evidently and inexplicably completely bereft of any kind communication devices, and the entirety of the first two disks consisted of some time-traveler woman whining shrilly about her own personal circumstances amidst the destruction, death, and din of London. That was two disks too much ‘whining and dinning’ for me. I can’t recommend this.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Repeat by Neal Pollack

Title: Repeat
Author: Neal Pollack
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

I requested to review this novel because it sounded very reminiscent of one of my favorites of all time: Replay by Ken Grimwood, which I reviewed last September. In that novel, a man in his early forties finds himself inexplicably transported back into his body as a college undergrad, and has to live his life over again - but he has all his memories intact from his original life. Rinse and repeat. There is a twist or two however, making for a varied and really engrossing read.

In this novel, a man named Brad Cohen, on the cusp of his fortieth birthday finds himself inexplicably being born again, and going through the entire forty years of his life once more, but with his original memories intact. Breast-feeding wasn't fun. Rinse and repeat. There are significant differences between this novel and Replay, the most immediately notable one being this issue of starting his life over from birth each time. Fortunately, we don't follow him through his formative years each time he cycles back.

After a speedy progression through his childhood in this first re-incarnation, we skip it in repeat visits to focus on the differing ways in which his life progresses because of the choices he makes. His first repeat is a much more industrious and serious life than his original was, the second much less so - and for me, boring because of it. I could have done without forty pages of his efforts to win on Jeopardy which for me, trivialized the whole reincarnation experience. I skimmed this part. In some ways it was understandable that he did this because he realized only too painfully after his first reincarnation that while he could predict accurately what was going to happen, he couldn't do anything to change it, and he'd given up trying. That surmise still didn't prevent it from being a boring read, though.

In his third reincarnation, the seriousness comes crashing back with a vengeance, but this is a very short recounting. Unexpectedly, the perspective changes after that and focuses somewhat on something upon which his focus has been entirely absent up to this point: his wife Juliet. I really appreciated this change of pace and view-point, but it didn't last long before Brad showed up, and this is where there's a really big give-away about what's been happening to Brad.

Two things bothered me here. The first is that Juliet wasn't bothered that Brad came across like a really creepy stalker. This kind of writing disturbs me. She doesn't know anything about him, but he knows everything about her, and whenever she expresses an opinion or a preference he tells her he knows, and this doesn't creep her out at all!

I know the both of them are pot-heads, but even given that, her evident lack of street smarts is off-putting to say the least. I'd have liked it better had it been written better here, especially the conclusion to this particular repeat. We know that Brad he isn't a stalker - at least not in the usually understood sense! - and we can believe that he's unlikely to do her any harm, but she doesn't know that.

The second thing which bothered me is Brad's complete lack of a clue on how to initiate his re-acquaintanceship with a woman whom he knew, in his original life, for years. You would think he would be smart enough to be circumspect on how he contacted her and how he came to ask her for a date, but he isn't. This shouted a complete lack of empathy for a woman he knew better than anyone else. It makes him look unfeeling at best, and like a jerk at worst. The fact that given his creepy approach, Juliet readily agreed to a date and was ready to jump into a car with him based solely on how cute she thought he looked was truly sad, and spoke badly of her mentality, too.

In the end I can't in good faith recommend this as a worthy read. Some parts are really good, but others (as identified above) were really not interesting. The basis of the plot was telegraphed way in advance, which in turn predicted the ending, so there really were no surprises, and it began to lag and drag a lot after that first reincarnation was over with.

In the end it seemed to me that this story was really a mash-up of Replay, Groundhog Day, It's a Wonderful Lifeand The Wizard of Oz, but it didn't have the best elements of any of those stories. This writer does have talent however, so perhaps another time, another story, I can reach another conclusion.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Cutting Room by Edward W Robertson

Title: The Cutting Room
Author: Edward W Robertson
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Rating: WARTY!

"pods'" should be "Pod's" since it's a possessive of the singular 'pod' referred to earlier.

This is a novel which originally appeared in episodic form, but which is now compiled into one complete volume. The premise here is that there are parallel universes (or at least parallel Earths!), but in only one of these is it relatively easy to travel back in time (which means you know that the plot is going to hinge on there being another one of these worlds where time-travel has also become possible). The inhabitants of this special one call it Primetime, which I found hilarious.

The problem is that the Primetime line isn't any better than ours: there are still sick and twisted people there who think it's wonderful to mess with other time-lines in destructive and murderous ways. How this interference and time travel is possible isn't explained, nor is it explained why these events seem to take place in the past of the parallel time-lines rather than concurrent with the present in Primetime or in the future. In fact, a lot of things go unexplained here, unfortunately.

It's the job of the time police in Primetime to go back and prevent these disruptions, so in some regards, this story is very much that of the Jean Claude Van Damme movie Time Cop (minus the parallel streams, of course), a movie which I happen to love. The story is narrated by one such cop, Blake Din, who is, when we meet him, back in a time somewhat prior to our present trying to prevent the (unsolved) murder of a child in that time-line.

It evidently takes far too much energy to travel back much further than the relatively recent past, which immediately begs the question as to how the villains manage to generate the energy and why the time cops aren't actively searching for such energy use. Another unexplained plot hole. Din believes that the murder was perpetrated by a time-jumper who simply left the time-line to escape being caught, and so he's following the child (and whatever leads pop-up) in an effort to figure out who this murderer is, to prevent the murder, and to reset the time-line back to its original path.

How they determined that this isn't the original path isn't ever explained. They seem to know when there's a violation, which means they have a record of the time-path in its pristine state, for each of the parallel worlds. That's a heck of a lot of data storage! The problem is that there are other times when they act like they can't be sure if there was s violation or not, which means they don't have a good record. Again this is bad plotting and confusion. It's really poor writing, and very annoying, when the story's internal rules change to accommodate the plot rather than vice-versa.

There's always a real problem in time-travel stories which I do not believe anyone has solved yet. Indeed, it may well be insoluble because of the cat-out-of-the-bag nature of time-travel: it's very effectively a get-out-of-jail free card. You can always go back and undo (or re-do) whatever anyone else has done/undone. Steven Moffat had great fun with that concept in a Christmas charity comedy broadcast of Doctor Who (featuring only non-cannon Doctor Who characters played by the likes of Rowen Atkinson, Hugh Grant, and even Joanna Lumley). It was titled The Curse of Fatal Death, and the master was played by the very estimable Jonathan Pryce.

But I digress. The problem I had with the investigator's behavior was that he was starting out several days before the child's murder trying to spot clues to who the perp might be. Why did he not simply go to the dumpster where parts of the body were found and track backwards (or forwards if back-tracking isn't possible) from there to discover who the killer was, and then return and prevent it? It made zero sense to me to do it the blind way he was doing it. Even that might have been fine if some explanation had been offered as to why he had to do it this way, but none ever was.

This same thing happened in the very next murder investigation he's on; then we get the Back to the Future plan of sending them back to the "wild" west, for no good reason other than that many writers seem to think it's cool to send time travelers back there. Other than these sorry plot holes, the novel was technically written well with some nice humor, but for me it was really boring with long periods of time with nothing happening, journeys back and forth, dead ends, none of which seemed to do anything for the plot.

I freely admit that the 1PoV didn't piss me off as it all-too-often does, so that was a nice plus for me, but in the end, the novel was too tedious to continue reading. I found myself skipping larger and larger portions of text and then I skipped the whole rest of the novel because I didn't care about the characters or about where this plot was taking them. Life's too short to waste on novels that don't addict you! I can't recommend this.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman

Title: The Wells Bequest
Author: Polly Shulman
Publisher: Audio Books
Rating: worthy

The Wells Bequest was read by Johnny Heller and I was not impressed. His voice was entirely wrong for this novel and his delivery, while not horrible, just wasn't there for me.

I pulled this off the library shelf thinking that it looked interesting. I had a choice between this and the first one in this series, and chose this because it was shorter (less time wasted if I didn’t like it!), and because the two entries in the series didn’t seem to be connected at first. They are connected, even employing some of the same characters, but they're not a series in the usual sense. The Wells Bequest is billed as a companion to the earlier volume (titled The Grimm Legacy), so it might help to have read that, but you actually do not have to have read the earlier one to read this.

It was an odd experience, listening to this, because I started out liking it, then became disenchanted with it, then started liking it again at the end. Maybe reading the novel would have presented me with a better experience, but my problem with this novel wasn't confined merely to the audio experience. The story itself appeared to be going nowhere. Yes, the reader wasn't right for this novel; his voice was way too mature, and of the wrong type for a story about sixteen-year-olds, and this was not at all helped by the fact that the story seems to have been written at a maturity level below that of the characters in it, but the novel itself wasn't interesting in large part. The characters were flat and a bit tedious, and I found myself skimming tracks rather than listening all the way through because there were a lot of uninteresting bits.

The novel is the second in a series about a circulating library which lends out not books, but objects from fiction, which have the same powers in real life as the fictional objects did in their initial setting. I don’t see how this is supposed to work within the framework of the novel. You possess HG Wells's time machine and you’re going to loan it out like a library book so anyone can play with it?! That's simply not going to happen in any realistic story framework! So the premise doesn't work unless you're writing this for ten year olds or younger, which the style in this volume supported. Unfortunately, the characters are in the mid teens, which made no sense to me.

The villain was once again a Brit. They seem to have taken over from Middle Easterners as the designated villains in movies and novels lately. The problem with this villain was that his only motivation was unrequited "love", and for this he was prepared to petulantly destroy whole cities. It doesn’t work, and especially not when his entire life's philosophy is turned around at the end by true love, and so rather than face consequences for his actions, he's rewarded, and he magically forgets all of his interest in his previous obsession? It doesn’t work. Neither does the issue of time-travel unless it’s exceptionally well done, because no matter what goes wrong, you can always go back to an earlier time, and fix it. Too few writers seem to get this, or they do get it, yet they cook-up really asinine excuses as to why it’s not possible to fix things that way in their novel!

I adore time-travel stories if they're done well and as I said, I had the chance to pick the first in this series (not actually realizing it was any kind of a series), but I rejected that because it had more disks than the second and I wanted to start in on this author with a relatively short tale in case it was less than thrilling! It was less than thrilling; now I don't want to listen to anything longer by the same author, and certainly not one which is read by the same reader!

One reviewer said, "Leo and Jaya figure out a plan to use the time machine from Orson Wells' book, go back in time, and warn Nicolas Tesla" Someone has a wire or two crossed! I rather suspect the reviewer meant HG Wells's book, and Nicola Tesla! This same reviewer added later; "There were a lot of fun historical notes in this book, about both historical figures (such as Leo Tesla)..." Ah, the value of a good editor! Having said that, it seems that a significant number of those who disliked this novel actually did like the first in the series, but I can't comment on that.

I mention other reviews not to make fun but to demonstrate what a hard time I had in deciding how to rate this. Like I said, I was all set to declare it warty, and then I listened to the last disk and it turned out that I started liking the novel a lot more at that point, so I'm prepared to rate it worthy with a note that I didn’t like all of it (but I did like just enough, apparently!). One of the biggest problems, as I've mentioned was Frank Heller's reading. I think that had a much larger influence on my view of the novel than it ought, and certainly more than I thought I was allowing for. There's a caveat there for future reference!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick

Title: The Time Fetch
Author: Amy Herrick
Publisher: High Bridge Audio
Rating: WORTHY!

Very competently read by Luci Christian

This is one of the rare occasions where I don’t start the review until after I finish the book, which means I have to review the book - literally - to write the review. Weird. The basis of the novel is that there's a parallel world inhabited by creatures which live off time energy - rather like the Weeping Angels, of Doctor Who fame. They periodically open a portal into this world and travel through in a tiny ship (the Fetch) that looks like a rock. They exit the Fetch and wander off like tiny flies, harvesting the moments in time which will not be missed - that minute or two you zoned-out? They took it. That hour you were having so much fun that it zoomed by? They filleted it.

There's a problem here in Herrick's logic in that she offers nothing to show how these little "Time Flies" (lol!) discern what are non-missable moments. How do they know how to take ones which will not be missed - which will cause no harm? Or do they simply take whatever and we subsequently perceive it as zoning-out or time flying by? That latter explanation makes more sense given what comes later, but Herrick doesn't make it clear. The problem is that there's a queen in each Fetch, and she calls the Time Flies back before they can gobble up every moment, so clearly they don’t have any way to know what they're doing. They're just parasites. The queen dies in singing them back, but the Fetch seals them in and it’s safe, ready for retrieval. The problem is that in this novel, some of them escape, they start multiplying and literally do start eating all the time (so to speak; this is such fun to write!).

The time gobblers disguise the Fetch like a rock because people ignore rocks, but this shows a serious deficit in Herrick's understanding, I feel. OTOH, she had to have something which would be stolen or the Fetch would never have got off the ground. Literally. I'm loving this! The problem is that people pick up rocks. They collect them. They throw them. They skim them off water surfaces. If the time fetchers really didn’t want their ship to be disturbed, they should have designed it to look like bird droppings, or something like that! But they didn’t.

Edward's school project was to go to the park and find a rock representative of a moraine deposit. He didn’t. Edward is a slacker who tries to be invisible so he can glide through life with the least hassle. He picks up a rock from under a tree in his yard on the way to school that morning, and it's the Fetch, of course. Now that it's been touched, it appears on the radar of people who want to steal it for their own ends. Edward discovers that he attracts these people to him as long as he has the rock, but he doesn’t know why, and these events begin to weird him out. Eventually, the Fetch passes through the hands of three of his school-mates: Brigit, Danton, and "Feenix" (Herrick stole my name from a children's book I wrote years ago! I know she did!). The novel is told from several different perspectives, but fortunately not in the obnoxious first person. kudos to Herrick for that.

Danton is a school jock, but he befriends Edward, so he's not the clichéd stereotype you might fear. I had thought his name was 'Denton' from the audio, but it’s not. That's another problem with audio books: we have no idea how the characters spell their names! Feenix is mischievous and likes to get people going, particularly her teachers. She consistently refers to Edward as 'Dweebo'. Some might see her as mean, or even as a bitch, but she's actually insecure and protects herself by means of presenting a thorny exterior. Brigit is the most pointless character. She's almost a mute, which means that the ending will hinge on her voice being found at the right time - no spoiler there - but she really has very little going on for almost the entire novel. It seems a bit unfair on her as a character. It’s just as well that these four touched the Fetch, because as time starts to end, they're the only ones who notice it.

One thing I really liked about Herrick's book is that she delivers on something which is sadly lacking in YA fiction; good, solid, sound science! She offers none to explain how all this fantasy works, but she offers more than sufficient to give you have a handle on what real science says about the why and how of things that are happening in the novel - like dimensions and time, for example. If there were only two dimensions - everything had no height, for example - then you would not see it. It’s not like you could see it from overhead, but not from edge-on: it would quite literally disappear, because it has absolutely no height, not even a nanometer - there is no edge-on view. She argues the same thing for time - like it’s the fourth dimension, and if there is no time, then you can’t see anything, any more than if there was no width or breadth. Things would disappear, and this is indeed what starts to happen as the Time Flies eat all the time.

She screws up here, IMO, because she depicts all this as things aging - both people and buildings. I can see how she derives that (if moments are extracted, then everything ages faster), but this seems at odds with her stated premise that things become invisible when one of the dimensions is missing. It makes a kind of sense, but it seems odd; then most things in advanced physics do! She reverts to the original premise as the story continues, with great gaps of nothingness opening up all over the city in the space-time fabric of the universe. I loved the novel for this. Given the poor state of science and math education in the US, it's shameful that more YA writers don’t do a better job, but then those writers are a product of the same society which turns out people with a lousy understanding of science and math in the first place, so how are they to do better? Vicious cycle! It’s sad though, especially given that so many YA writers are university or college grads. So huge kudos to Herrick for this.

There are, as I've indicated, some plot holes and some problems, but overall, this was a really good novel. You may find yourself struggling through some parts which should have been trimmed severely or edited out altogether, such as Feenix's pointless sojourn with the three witches, and Edward's bizarre disappearance and reappearance at a crucial time in the finale, but there are also joys to be had as one oddball thing after another crops up, and is integrated effortlessly into the story like another piece in a jigsaw

The characters are good, if a bit thinly-sketched. Feenix was my favorite. Brigit seemed like she need not have been there. I liked the interaction of the four, and that they came together as a team whereas before, they weren't even friends. There's no sappy absurd romance here, or love a triangle. They're simply four people - equals, gender checked at the door. This was wonderful. I liked the part where Herrick aged the four of them rapidly, and they got to see each other as grown-ups. I found it inexplicable as they reverted back to their original ages when there seemed to have been nothing to account for the reversion! Plot holes!

Overall, I rate this a very worthy read. Yes, it’s sad that there are some poor parts which you just have to wade through, but the good parts more than made up for that. Overall it’s well worth the time for as interesting, inventive, original, and fun story as this was.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Emerald Green by Kerstin Gier

Title: Emerald Green
Author: Kerstin Gier
Publisher: Henry Holt
Rating: WARTY!

I started blogging novels just this year, and the first two novels I blogged were the first two of the Edelstein (or Ruby Red) trilogy, so it's fitting that I end this year with a review of the final volume of the trilogy, Emerald Green You can read my review of Ruby Red and of Sapphire Blue.

Once you've skipped the prologue as I did (this is the third in a trilogy! Were not the two previous volumes prologue enough, for goodness sakes?! Enough with the worthless prologues!) this novel starts out with the ultimate in cut-price fakery: Gwen having a nightmare of being stabbed in the heart. That cheap fraud was entirely unappreciated, but it does have a small bearing on a prediction her supposedly psychic relative makes later in the novel. Then we're plunged into Gwen's rather tiresome moping over leading male Major Jerk Gideon (that's not his rank and name, it's merely his entire personality). Gier repeats this type of cheap thrill again at the end of chapter nine. I thought she was a more seasoned writer than that.

I love Gier's trilogy, but for pity's sake can we not find any YA writers who can write a decent love story? The fact that this is a juvenile novel does not automatically entail a juvenile romance! Can we not find YA writers who can write a novel which actively teaches young women that pricks like like Gideon are not worth an ounce of emotion or a teaspoonful of tears? Must we brainwash our young women into thinking it's okay, even normal, to be a puppet in some manipulative scum-wad of a guy's self-idolization side-show? That it's okay to be abused and ill treated? Seriously, something needs to be done about this.

Gier does provide some humor (notably from Gwen's awesome friend Lesley) that lightens the load, and the 'fairy dies' remark was hilarious and very welcome, but even the humor is severely retrenched as compared with the first two volumes. Lesley carried the first volume, and Xemerius the animated gargoyle carried the second, but no one is shouldering that task in the third and it suffers for it. Gier doesn't lard-up the pages with tragedy anywhere near as thickly as some other writers do, but it's still tedious to read repeated references to "Gwen's tragic love life" on page after page after page. We get it. She broke up and she's broken up. Enough already. If I wanted to read reams of trash like that I'd buy a Harlequin or a Mills & Boon for goodness sakes!

In this volume, it turns out that Gwen is really Harry Potter and must die before they can be free of the evil! I am not making this up. On the good side of things, Gwen does start taking charge of her own life at this point, which is a welcome relief. Aside from her sorry and debilitating poor judgment with regard to Gideon the Asshat, she's making her own decisions and not at all willing to be buffeted around by the winds of male whim. She even makes a time travel trip when she's already in a time travel trip, which was much welcomed, and very cool. Nothing bizarre happened from it, however, which I confess I found a bit disappointing!

She finally starts to get somewhat suspicious of Count Saint-Germain, which is about bloody time, but even when she tries to impress upon Gideon how important this is, he's still a jerk. Her sister Charlotte is a jerk, too. The 'no-one is telling anyone anything' rule is still in play, so despite Gwen's importance to this project, no one is telling her a thing, not even her "mother" whom I have long suspected actually isn't her mother.

We do finally get the reverse angle on the scene from the first novel where, on her third accidental time-travel trip, Gwen sees herself in an upstairs classroom at her school. We also get a rather limp attempt by Gier to explain away one of the big issues I had in the first two volumes with this urgency to have Gwen do this on that date and time, and do that on this date and time. She can time travel for goodness sakes! It doesn't matter if she goes to the ball on this day or ten years from now - it's in the past and she can go there whenever she wants! Nor does Gier's "explanation" cover the fact that there were mysterious events in the past which a quick and surreptitious time-travel trip would have resolved, but for unexplained reasons, no one ever did this or even thought of it! Amateur hour.

Gier's excuse is that the Count is orchestrating all this and calls the shots, but neither Gwen nor I bought this! And personally, I see no reason whatsoever for her to actually go to this ball at all - except that there's this serious fracas at the ball (which would not have taken place if she and Gideon had not been there). Nothing else happens, so this stands out as no more than a really weak attempt at plotting on Gier's part.

So in the end, for once, I was pretty much right about everything I'd predicted for this trilogy! You know the writing's bad if my guesses are good. I never thought I'd do this after enjoying the first two volumes so well, but I have no choice but to rate this volume as warty. The story was dull; I found myself skipping page after page because it was, quite simply, uninteresting. The secrets were not even secret. Gwen's tiresome behavior was, well, tiresome. Gideon's big reveal that oh-so-predictably won her clueless heart in the end did nothing to excuse his behavior. The ending went on for far longer that was tenable, dragging out forever with tedious and pointless fancy dress party, and then a lousy excuse for a showdown that was over before it got underway. The epilogue wasn't worth reading. Sorry, but WARTY! What a horrid way to end the year - and to wait so long to end it this way! Then it was Twenty-THIRTEEN...!

Friday, November 1, 2013

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

Title: All Our Yesterdays
Author: Cristin Terrill
Publisher: Hyperion
Rating: WARTY!

All Our Yesterdays is actually the name of an old British TV shows. I found this in the library and wished I hadn't! It's another one of those novels that, even though it's not technically badly written you wonder how it ever got past an editor, much less a publisher. It's a YA time-travel novel and I think this will be the last one of that combination I ever read since they seem to be almost universally garbage (Kerstin Gier being a notable exception, of course!).

Have you noticed how nearly all these writers have a dot com address for their personal web site, not a dot net? Interesting, isn't it, in this day and age? They may write ebooks, but unlike Elvis Presley (here at his most charming in G.I. Blues), they do have a wooden heart: still rooted in trees for books and traditional publishing business!

All our yesterdays is a mess, yes, and since I didn't even hope to finish it, I can't tell you what it's all about. The story begins with Em, in a harsh prison cell (harsher than you might expect, let's say!) next door to a guy called Finn with whom she's evidently in some sort of love (but with no explanation for this). She has been tortured, as has Finn, who was apparently tortured when Em wouldn't give up information. She's obsessed with the drain in the floor of her cell, and finally (and improbably) opens it using a plastic spoon, to find a piece of notepaper in a plastic bag, written in her own hand-writing and at different times. Of course, she can’t simply write, "Here's what you need to do to fix this…" and detail it, she has to be obscure even to herself, which struck me as downright stupid. The final words on the note were "You have to kill him", without specifying who or why (or if it does, that's not shared with we readers!). My feeling out of nowhere is that it’s Finn she must kill because he's the bad guy here. I would hope that's the case and we can thereby dispense with awful teen YA "no-mance", but I guess I'll never know because I could not finish this crap. Yawn.

Next thing we know, Em has traveled back in time and we're suddenly confronted with airhead Marina, who is frankly sickening, but who is also Em four years previously. It's pretty obvious when you get over the initial shock of reading a story in present tense first person PoV (which I thoroughly hate and avoid like the plague these days unless a particularly interesting-sounding story comes along - I guess I learned my lesson huh?!) and then having a flashback and it's still in present tense! There are some authors who could carry time travel and tenses. Terrill isn't one of them. The novel then swings violently back and forth, less like an Einstein-Rosen Bridge and much more like the Tacoma Narrows bridge right before it collapsed.

The story begins with Em, in a harsh prison cell (harsher than you might expect, let's say!) next door to a guy called Finn with whom she's evidently in some sort of love (but with no explanation for this). She has been tortured, as has Finn, who was apparently tortured when Em wouldn't give up information. She's obsessed with the drain in the floor of her cell, and finally (and improbably) opens it using a plastic spoon, to find a piece of notepaper in a plastic bag, written in her own hand-writing and at different times. Of course, she can’t simply write, "Here's what you need to do to fix this…" and detail it, she has to be obscure even to herself, which struck me as downright stupid. The final words on the note were "You have to kill him", without specifying who or why (or if it does, that's not shared with we readers!). My feeling out of nowhere is that it’s Finn she must kill because he's the bad guy here. I would hope that's the case and we can thereby dispense with awful teen YA "no-mance", but we'll have to wait and see.

The problem is that it goes nowhere, and doesn't look like it has any intention of going anywhere - not in the first 200 pages, anyway. And I skimmed most of that once I found out how bad it was. It's deranged. It doesn't change. It doesn't move. It doesn't improve and it sure doesn't groove. The first chapter was great, but then we went back four years in time and got stuck with a twelve-year-old who was utterly wretched in every regard, clueless, uninteresting, and irritating, and the story never recovered from that set-back for me, nor did it pretend it would. The worst part about it is that it's the start of a frickin' series! Can you believe that? WARTY!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Erasing Time by CJ Hill

Title: Erasing Time
Author: CJ Hill
Publisher: Katherine Tegen
Rating: worthy

I detest book "trailers" but there's one here if you like them. Personally I think this one's pretty sad. There's a sequel to this novel due out in December 2013.

OTOH, I love a good time-travel novel and this one starts out rather intriguingly 435 years into the future (from the publication date of the book) in 2447. The people there live in a disturbingly changed society where there is no democracy, and where every citizen is tracked by means of a data disk in their wrist. We're told that all animals have died out, but the citizens still have meat to eat because they create it with their technology. When the twins have a ham sandwich, it tastes like the real thing, so this raises the same point made in the movie The Matrix: if all animals have died out, how could they replicate the taste of various forms of meat? Or is this extinction a complete lie, and this meat actually comes from real animals?

The remaining city states, we're told, are isolated, existing under protective domes, and are at odds with one another. This particular domed city in which the twins reside, Traventon, owes a lot to the capital city depicted in The Hunger Games in terms of fashion sense. Some of its architecture is odd. None of the stores have walls, but this begs not the question the twins ask (why does no one steal?) but a different question: why do they even have stores 400-some years from now? Why, in such a controlled society is there even money?

Another big difference is that speech has changed as much between now and then as it has between Shakespeare's time and ours, so while the spoken word isn't exactly clear, it is discernible with a bit of effort, although how this difference is presented in the novel is not done very well IMO. On the good side, organized religion has been banned as being nothing but fairy tales and a nuisance at best (but that might be a very misleading situation! More anon).

Into this world are brought twin sisters from 2012. By means of a "time strainer" they were scooped out of their present, converted into an energy stream, and reassembled in the future. The scientists conclude that something went wrong: the time strainer aimed for a scientist, whose name (Tyler Sherwood) is quite similar to the combined first names of the twins; Taylor and Sheridan. Interesting, huh? Taylor is an advanced placement student and is very much into science. Sheridan is also smart - not as geeky smart as her twin, but she is in honors English. The novel is told largely from Sheridan's perspective (fortunately from my perspective, not in first person!).

How this time-travel is supposed to work is a bit of a mystery. It's supposed to key on a person's DNA, the atoms of which vibrate at a unique frequency for each individual, which is how they lock on to someone to "strain them out", but this is patent nonsense to begin with! If Hill had said the DNA had a vibration, she would have been better served with this scheme, if still adrift, but the fact is that while genes differ between people they don't differ much, and every single gene is composed of the same small set of atoms, regardless of which person it resides in!

Taylor and Sheridan are identical twins, not clones, per se, but even clones are not completely identical. There's more to DNA than simply the codons. There's epigenetic material and there's some 90% of the genome which is junk - it neither is genetic nor does it regulate the genetic material, and so it can mutate dramatically and vary wildly even between "identical" twins. All of this is ignored by Hill. So the problem is this: since the twins, while identical, are so different in their behavior, there is clearly significant difference in the make-up of their genome, so I have to wonder how the strainer managed to latch on to both of them, especially given that the scientists can have access to only a very small amount of DNA to work with when trying to specifying exactly who to strain out of the time-stream. But let's let that go before I get a headache!

There's an interesting paradox here, too, which is what really makes time-travel interesting. The way Sheridan and Taylor are scooped up is that they're both attracted to an inexplicable ball of light in one of the rooms upstairs in their home. They would not have been in that particular place had they not seen the light (so to speak!), so if they would not have been there but for the light, and the light is caused by the portal opening where the twins are known to have been, how does that work exactly?! Yet another conundrum for any time-travel writer to solve.

But anyway, the fact is that the twins do get "strained" into the future, where they meet a younger man. His name is Echo, and he warns the two of them not to reveal that they're twins. This was the first thing which really struck me as stupid. They’re identical twins and everyone there knows that they're sisters, so why they think this twinship can be kept secret is a mystery. Why they haven't even been asked if they're twins is a bigger mystery given how obsessed this culture is with avoiding twin births. Echo advises them of this because he is a twin himself: his brother died only a month before, under violent circumstances. Twins are considered excessive in this society where all birth is regulated. Young girls are nipped in the bud so to speak: they cannot have children and all births are managed and controlled (probably by men - so what’s new?!) in order that only healthy children will be born, virus-free and protected against the savage plagues which have assaulted society in the last four hundred years.

Given the level of technology these people enjoy, it’s a mystery why they seem so strapped for things in their society (especially cures for viral plagues!), and why they can't resurrect animals! Indeed one of the twins asks this very question: if they can scoop people from the past, why not animals, and repopulate their world? She gets no answer. I found that revealing: perhaps the truth is that they don't actually need to resurrect any animals. It certainly suggests that there are big fat lies being told somewhere along the line. It's also hilarious because people have pet robots in the form of all manner of animals which never would have become pets had they been real. But this also poses a writing problem: why is it that we see animal robots galore, but no utility robots anywhere? The closest thing they have to a robot is the transportation system, but these are merely small automated cars which run on fixed tracks.

Taylor and Sheridan discover that they cannot be returned to their own time. They are prisoners: the time strainer is a one-way trip. For now, their captors have to let the twins enjoy status quo in case more information is required from them in this dedicated pursuit of Tyler Sheridan. As this novel continues, the twins' situation grows steadily more precarious. The futuristic city looks ever more like a prison camp and less like a home, and word comes down that the twins are going to be given a memory-wipe to integrate them better into this society, although Echo and his father Jeth seem to think they can short-circuit this order and erase it from the computer. How they hope to get away with that without the powers-that-be knowing that they have derailed the order is a mystery, but in the end it never comes to that.

Sheridan and Taylor begin hatching a plan to escape, and turn to one of the people working with them, Elise, for assistance, since she knows The Doctors - a group of people who might be able to help. There's bad blood between Echo and Elise, which has me wondering why he would tell them that Elise is someone who can get them out of the city. Is Echo merely setting them up? In pursuit of this escape, they request a trip to see the city - and the city walls. The whole complex lies under a dome, and the 'walls' are of the 'force-field' variety, yet we're expected to believe that they need huge support beams? I don’t get that bit at all. The relationship between Echo and Sheridan heats up somewhat as he kisses her. Sheridan is confused and she vows not to let that happen again, but it's patently obvious that she's completely deluding herself in that resolve.

On a note of propriety, this kiss was actually a form of abuse, since Sheridan and Taylor are being held under the authority of people like Echo. It’s not very kosher for someone in a position of power, as Echo is, to take advantage of his charge. But this isn't the only problem with this relationship. Echo is nothing but a YA trope male as we can tell when we're notified of this standard tedious trope trash: his eyes are startling and piercing, he has "well-defined" muscles, and he's rumored to be a bad boy. Sorry, but I call nauseous maximus on that. Echo also demands to join them when they escape, and funnily enough, Elise demands this same thing! So which of these two is going to betray them?

When we, along with the twins, learned that Echo's twin brother Joseph was shot by the Dakine, a criminal organization (shortly after it became known to Elise that Allana preferred Joseph and was going to dump Echo) my mind started working overtime, which is a real time-strain, let me tell you! A video of the shooting was recorded by a security camera, and it was while I was reading about Sheridan watching this video that it occurred to me that Echo isn’t Echo at all, but Joseph. It was Echo who was killed that night of the shooting and Joseph took on his identity! Of course, this is pure supposition, and we all know where those go when they emanate from me. Having said that however, I have to add that I was very nearly exactly right about 'Tyler Sherwood' and there is some entertainingly ambiguous writing going on when Echo reminisces about his and Joseph's past!

Another interesting thing we learn during the twins' trip through the city concerns religion. At one point Echo gives Sheridan a picture of Santa Claus. He's under the impression that this is god and he was worshiped in the past! On top of this, and despite religion being supposedly banned, the twins notice that some people have their clothes, hair, and make-up so designed as to convey a religious affiliation. One woman looks like a nun, for example, and another is espied with a red spot on her forehead in the manner employed by some Indian women. Not that the bindi spot really has any religious significance per se (if it ever truly did). At one point Sheridan notices a store which is decorated with Stars of David. I got the impression, rightly or wrongly from all of this, that the real power behind the throne in this society is religion. Or perhaps, given Taylor's proselytizing, religious groups are fighting against the status quo under the guise of being 'doctors'?

Hill offers some amusing observations on 21st century society, but there are some real clunkers tossed in with them. I have to disagree with her when she says at start of chapter 22, "High heels weren't some sort of punishment inflicted by men on the female gender." Indeed they are, when you get right down to it! It's just another example of men playing with dolls, except that in their case, the dolls are real women, not toys. I rhapsodize humorously on this topic in my forthcoming Baker Street, Ace 'tec' which I hope to have out before the end of the year. But be warned: that novel will wreck your brain.

As the twins feel the net closing in on them, their fledgling plan for escape is kicked out of the nest far too early, and they find themselves hitting the ground running. Sheridan and Elie escape, and Elise puts Sheridan into a car and sends her to a misleading location from which she's supposed to walk two miles north to the real venue - but in a domed city, how do you tell which way is North?! LOL! In the end, both twins are recaptured, but Echo (or is it Joseph?!) engineers their escape by allowing the Dakine into the mix, so now the two are still prisoners, just with a different jailer. Taylor, desperate to get free of all of this, programs the Dakine door alarm so that it sounds continuously. This forces the Dakine to eventually turn off the alarm until a fix is arranged, and this, in turn, permits the twins to escape by any exit they choose, without fear of triggering an alarm! Kewl!

The twins, of course, escape and set off towards the safe city of the "Doctors", but that's all I'm going to reveal. I liked this story well enough to finish it, so I give it a worthy rating, but I honestly don't feel any compulsion to read any sequels. It's not that enthralling. You'll have to make up your own mind, of course! Hopefully this review has given you sufficient material to get your teeth into and figure out if it's worth looking at this one for yourself.