Showing posts with label dystopian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dystopian. Show all posts

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Parable of the Sower A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia E Butler by John Jennings, Damian Duffy

Rating: WARTY!

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

Having enjoyed a biography on Octavia Butler about three years ago, I've been intending to look up some of her work ever since, but for one reason or another never got around to it, so when this one came up for consideration on Net Galley, I jumped at the chance. It's a graphic novel, so I figured it would be a relatively quick read, and the fact that this version is 276 pages long didn't daunt me, even though the print book itself is only about 75 pages longer! Unfortunately, it didn't work for me.

The first and most obvious problem was the unfinished nature graphics. An understandably huge part of a graphic novel is the graphics, but these looked like the artist had rough-sketched the images and then forgot to complete them, and no colorist ever came along to notice, The result is that every page is rough-sketched - as in, for example, there are no faces on many of the characters, or the face has the cross marking showing where the face center line and the eyes will be, or the entire panel has several overlaid outlines for characters and scenery, like it was rough-sketched out and then never cleaned up!

Initially, I had no idea if this was intentional, or if the comic is still a work in progress. Usually, if that's the case, there's something to indicate that, and at least a few of the panels are done to completion. After a search I did find a small note on one page indicating that it was a work in progress and that it's a combination of sketches, inks, and final art, but all of the art was in exactly the same state with no finished color panels anywhere to be seen. This isn't intended to be published until next January, so why not simply wait until more of it is done and send it out for review later - when we can see what the finished product will be like?! I've never seen a comic book sent out for review in this state. Never.

If that was the only problem, that would be one thing, but for me the story itself wasn't entertaining and wasn't very smart in places either. Set in the mid 2020's, the story focuses on a community in which resides Lauren Oya Olamina (Loo? Being originally from Britain, I couldn't take her seriously with those initials, but I let that slide). Lauren starts her own religion which sounds more like a real cult in that it advocates that humans - with no resources and no plan - leave Earth and settle on some other planet. Why that would make more sense than simply using the exorbitant cost of such a space flight to fix Earth seems to have been ignored, but since I haven't read that far (and Butler never did write that third part of what was intended to be a trilogy), it's hard to say. At this point I have no plans to read any further than the fifty percent of this that I made it through!

I couldn't tell from the rough drawings (which went all the way through the book - I skimmed to check) if this was an entirely African American or a mixed community. I assume it was mixed because there seems to have been an issue later with outside people they encounter not deeming mixed-race couples to be kosher, although again how that back-sliding occurred, I can't say. Nor can I tell who the people were who were breaking in - they were just outsiders, described vaguely as homeless, which begs the question as to why this community had so little charity. I know they didn't have much for themselves, but they did all right, yet never once did they seem to feel the need to try and help any of the outsiders who were clearly desperate enough to break in.

The biggest problem for me was how idiotic these people seemed to be inside the community. Despite continually harping on the danger posed by outsiders, it's only after people start breaking in and stealing that this ever-present threat of people breaking-in and stealing becomes an action item on their agenda! They start minimal patrols of two people, and even then these patrols don't use the guns they're issued. What's the point of the guns and all the target practice exactly, if you're never going to fire them, not even in warning?!

So yes, this community struck me as being exceedingly dumb. Apparently they have several keys to the gate, but they seem as lax in keeping an eye on the keys as Star Trek crews typically are in keeping an eye on the shuttle bay, leading to shuttles being routinely purloined. So no one keeps an eye on those keys either, and it really doesn't matter anyway because people can clearly get in without them. What happens eventually (so I understand, although I didn't read that far) is that the community predictably fails, and a hoard of refugees start a trek to the north, where conditions are apparently better. Why it took so long, I do not know!

This novel was written in the nineties and while Butler got climate change correct, she somehow seemed to think that everything: not just the environment, but the government, the military, the police, and whatever, would fail catastrophically within a quarter century. The military and government are never mentioned - not in the fifty percent of this that I could stand to read. The police are mentioned as a private organization which it's not worth the time and cost to call on anyway. For me the author failed to show how all of this could remotely come about in so short a time. We're just left with the unsupported claim that it did, and this is how things are now in this story. I need a little bit more depth for my fiction than this offered.

Consequently I cannot commend this as a worthy read, and especially not with such scrappy graphics and without even a page or two of samples of the finished product. This really ought to have been held back a month or two longer so that some pages at least could have been finished.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Ironheart by Allan Boroughs

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a dystopian story which I normally avoid like the plague, but his one seemed like it might offer something different, and it did, so I was glad I gave it a chance.

India Bentley lives in what used to be London, on the north bank of the Thames, seeking a sad existence for her family by foraging and trying to avoid the evil people who live on the south bank, and who like to boat across there on occasion and kidnap people. Naturally for this kind of a story, her father went missing and her mother died, leaving her in the clutches of her evil stepmother who seems to be in process of being courted by a sleazy new guy in town who, it turns out, is angling to make young India his bride. So it's a bit of Indiana Jones meets Cinderella meets steampunk (kinda).

It turns out, as India learns during a visit from a female version of Indiana Jones named Verity Brown, who is a tech hunter like her father and who becomes a figure of inspiration fro India, that her dad wasn't prospecting for oil, but for old technology from the time before the fall of civilization. He was seeking the almost mythical Ironheart, a rumored stash of well-preserved old tech which would be worth a fortunate to anyone who found it and which could potentially revolutionize what this society had devolved into.

Verity is escorted by an old tech military android which has the absurd name of Calculus and which serves as her bodyguard. This led to the first example of poor writing I saw in this novel. India meets the android and hears it speak and shortly after she asks, "Can it talk?" What? Yes, you just heard it talk, moron! This evidently came about because the author didn't read back through what he'd written - or more likely added the earlier speech and never read on through to catch the continuity error.

Worse is: "He tensed a thin bicep and invited India to squeeze it." I read this before I decided in a later story that I was very likely going to quit reading novels where the author quite obviously has no clue as to the difference between biceps and bicep. They're not the same thing and while biceps is the plural of bicep, it's not the plural in the way these authors seem to think. I've started to expect this ignorance in YA novels, though, so it wasn't a complete surprise. Just annoying and depressing to think what we're doing to our mother tongue. Another example is: "It is possible," he said eventually, "that you are experiencing some sort of psychic phenomena." Well, it was just the one, so 'phenomenon' was the word required here.

This aside, the story, despite it becoming a bit trope-y and boring in parts, was overall a worthy read with some interesting adventure and action in it, and I enjoyed it, but it was not enjoyable enough to make me want to read any more about any of these characters. As it stands though I commend this one as a worthy read.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Goslings by JD Beresford

Rating: WARTY!

Read rather awkwardly by Matthew Brenher, this audiobook was a quick fail. I am not one for these end-of-the-world survivor stories, but this particular one seemed interesting from the blurb, which means only that the blurb did its job in luring me into picking up the thing.

Once I started listening to it though, it was boring. It was really nothing different from any other apocalypse story, and the characters were completely uninteresting to me. The story was too lethargic; I made it through less than ten percent before I ditched it back to the library in favor of something which wouldn't make me fall asleep listening, which would be disastrous when driving a car! I can't commend it based on my admittedly limited experience of it, but life is far too short to waste on books that don't do it for you right out of the gate.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Rating: WARTY!

Again, what's with this nonsense with putting music on audiobooks? Did Anthony Burgess write music that he then sold along with this novel? No! So why does this audiobook publisher think it's required? I've seen this - or, more accurately - heard it, on many audiobooks and it's pointless and annoying. If the book was about music, then by all means blast away with examples of the music under discussion. I'd expect that as I'd expect an art book to include pictures of the art that was discussed.

Likewise, if it's a biography about a musician, or even a novel about one, and you, as the author, want to include some of that musician's music, then fine, but when it's about a dystopian future juvenile gang, what exactly is the rationale? The fact that one of the gang members likes classical music? He also likes violence and rape, so should that be included with the audiobook? I don't think so! If the main character in a novel is given to farting, should a little vial of fart smell be included? No thank you! If your main character loves to eat Spaghetti Bolognese, should a meal be included with the book? Good tuck with that! If the book was about Al Pacino's character in Scarface, should a machine gun be given away free with the book as a little friend for the reader? I hope not! Ditch the ridiculous music.

I saw the movie some time back and it was okay - nothing I felt a need to see again, but not a disaster. I never did get around to the book until now, and at last I know why! It was read decently by none other than Spider-Man, Tom Holland (not to be confused with the other English actor Tom Hollander!) who despite being in his twenties looks like he's the same age as the character he narrates, but the novel is really not very good, and notwithstanding its subject matter, is actually rather boring. Anthony Burgess himself has disowned it, and rightly so. It's nothing special. It's about this gang of four mid-teen ruffians, Alex, George, Pete, and Dim. It's tempting to think maybe the Pete and George names came from The Beatles, but this was written before they came to national prominence.

This gang likes to go out of an evening and beat-up those people they're not in the mood to bully or rob. They indulge liberally in robbery, burglary, home invasion, and rape. And they fight other gangs. When the leader, Alex, is caught, he is put into this experimental program aimed at 'reforming' violent offenders by forcing them to binge-watch violent video while being injected with nausea-inducing chemicals so that in a Pavlovian dog(fighter)'s fashion, they become nauseated whenever they even think about violence. It's an idea appropriated in a recent Doctor Who episode, Rosa where the so-called villain from Stormcage has been similarly treated so that he cannot harm others.

What got to me was the artificial lingo with which the story was Balkanized. It was too much. It wasn't unintelligible - in context, you got a good idea of what it meant even if it wasn't exactly clear. What bothered me was the endless use of it. Even if it had all been all in plain English it would still have been sickeningly repetitive to have kept on spouting these words over and over, so I have to congratulate Burgess in that he rendered me in the same nauseated state Alex endured, except mine was inculcated through the endless reuse of these words rather than from the violence, which was relatively mild by modern standards, although I imagine quite shocking for an early sixties story. A Clockwork Orange is the title of a typescript that appears in the novel, by the way!

I don't know why Russian was chosen - maybe Burgess spoke the language. It seems to me that the lingua franca of the future will be a mix of Chinese, English, and Spanish. The Russian words were used and repeated so often that it got in the way of telling the story and kicked me out of suspension of disbelief every time a word was reused ad nauseam. So I can't rate this positively.

An interesting piece of trivia is that Burgess organized his book in three parts of seven chapters each, but when it was published in the USA, the limp American publisher refused to publish the last chapter so American versions were printed without this and Burgess limply went along with it. Dictatorships are not just reserved for leaders of nations. Thankfully, Big Publishing™ no longer has the power it once had to make or kill a career.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

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!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Broken Mirror by Cody Sisco

Rating: WARTY!

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

I didn't know this was "the first novel in a sci-fi detective saga"! If I had, the very word 'saga' would have resulted in me avoiding it like the plague, and I would have been right to do so, because I simply could not get into this novel and I discontinued reading it at the end of part one, which was about one third the way through it. keep tha tin mind for this review. I don't read anything with 'saga' or 'chronicle', or 'cycle' associated with it! I'm not a series fan in general, with very few exceptions, but I did not know that when I requested this, so here we are!

This is an alternate universe world set slightly into our future (but dated earlier), and one where the United States is a fractious union of a handful of regions. How this came about as a result of Mrs Lincoln being shot instead of Abraham Lincoln is a bit of a mystery to me. Maybe if I'd read more, or felt more engaged, it would have all become clear, but the way the country was divided-up made no sense to me.

In this world, there's a problem with some citizens. Mirror neurons are thought to enable empathy, allowing us to feel what another person is feeling, and understand it from the inside, but in this world, in people like Victor, this normal brain function is amplified almost out of control. Indeed, some people do get out of control, and are confined in institutions for the well-being of themselves and others. Victor himself constantly lives on the edge of that confinement, although he is free and managing his condition through medication.

His grandfather dies unexpectedly and Victor discovers that the man was contaminated with polonium: the same radioactive metal which was used to assassinate Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in our world. Victor relied heavily on his grandfather, who was working to find a cure for the extreme version of what is, in us, not only a normal, but a required brain function if we're to get along with others. A mirror neuron fires when we perform an action or experience a feeling, and this same neuron also fires when we observe that same thing in others. At least that's the working theory, but there is still much research to be done to understand these brain cells properly.

Again if I'd read more, maybe I would have understood the world better, but after reading some thirty percent I still felt completely lost and had no interest in events in this novel. The story seemed to have no real direction other than flapping in the wind around Victor's wild speculations and erratic behaviors. Wherever it was going, it seemed to be taking forever to get there, and this is just one volume. The idea of reading a whole series, or even just a trilogy of this stuff really turns me off!

The worst part was that I did not like Victor at all. I don't know what it was about him, but he just did not interest me in the slightest. I think part of the problem was that his behavior was too erratic, and his plan to get off his medication and try herbal supplements was just stupid and had no support - not only in our world for real, but even within the framework of his own world, where nothing was offered to justify this medication realignment, save for his own vague feeling of being a bit 'fuzzy'.

I'd have liked it better had he had some real justification, but he didn't (and in real life you'd be a moron to abandon your doctor's prescriptions and go haring-off after herbal cures, be warned!). The problem here though, was that even when the fuzziness vanished, he was still a complete clown, and really seemed no different to me than he was before.

The bottom line is that I had absolutely no interest in him or his problems, and I really didn't care what became of him. After I'd decided I could not recommend this book, I read some other reviews to see if I'd missed something, and I read one which said that the novel "started bogging down about 3/4 of the way through" - well it started way before that for me, and so i was pleased that I'd abandoned it before it got worse.

The characters were not the only problem for me, though. The story dragged awfully, larded with so much extraneous detail that it was boring to wade through it. Nothing seemed to happen except at a glacial pace (it's a series after all, so what possible incentive can the author have to actually move things along?).

There was also too much fluff in it for my taste. All kinds of word substitutions were put in play to try and make the novel seem different and alternate, and these didn't work. 'Mesh' instead of Internet? 'Sono-whatever' instead of audio? They just seemed pretentious, and felt like a lazy way to try and make the story sound cool without actually doing the work to make it cool. All they did was remind me that I was reading a story instead of actually immersing me in the story.

Why were there 'parts' to this novel - especially since it's evidently part of a series? Parts of a part? When I finished part one, I expected there to be a shift of some kind between it and part two, otherwise why set up a divider? But there wasn't! The novel was set in the early 1990's in that world timeline, but part two continued just two days later! There was no jump or shift of any kind, and it was this which constituted the final straw and made me decide that here was a good point to quit reading.

It just seemed so pretentious to have these parts (at least they were identified as 'Part' and not 'Book' which I would have found laughable), but it wasn't quite as pretentious as having each chapter labeled with a dateline such as "Semiautonomous California 23 February 1991." Several chapters in a row had this same dateline. Why? It made no sense. I felt like it was a silly conceit of unwarranted self-importance, and this became especially true in chapter 6, where the dateline "Semiautonomous California 23 February 1991" was used (as it had been for the preceding three chapters), yet most of that chapter was a flashback, which was given neither date nor a location! It made zero sense!

Here's another example of how silly this was:

Semiautonomous California 24 February 1991

The morning after the funeral...
Well duh! Of course it's the day after! The dateline already told us! So what was the point of the dateline again?! Or conversely, what's the point of specifying it was the day after if the dateline already told us? I got the impression that the author had seen this dateline nonsense done in someone else's novel, and was anxious to copy it without having any real justification for it. Of course I could be completely wrong about that, but I see no justification for this kind of thing in any novel, unless the novel is written as a diary, in which case I wouldn't read it anyway.

So given a novel with a main character I really could not stand, and a story which seemed to be going nowhere slowly, and the pretension in the way it was laid out, this novel was not a good fit for me! It offered nothing to appeal, and while I wish the author all the best, I cannot recommend it for these reasons.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Rating: WARTY!

I should have followed my very first instinct which was to put this book back on the shelf. I just could not get into it at all. I got maybe twenty percent in before I gave it up as a bad job. Life's too short. The audiobook reader, Kim Mai Guest (a guest reader?!) was actually pretty good. Except for this one dumb voice she did, which I hope I'll never hear again, I'd listen to a different book read by her, but the story itself was bloated and confused, and the 'big reveal' was telegraphed from the beginning - the prisoner who has lost his memory is, I'm guessing, the prince who supposedly died. Boring!

You know I've often wondered how these readers of the books for the audio version feel about the books they read. Do they hate some of them, but can't say because it might jeopardize their prospects of being hired again? As readers only for our own personal entertainment, we can ditch a book that gets boring, but if you're hired to read a book, you have to stay with it until it's done satisfactorily. That, to me, would be torture!

So the story here is that Incarceron is a living prison. I don't know what that means - where it's actually some kind of living thing, or merely an advanced AI. It would seem to be the latter, and it appears to have taken pity on Finn, the flat and whiney male protagonist, by freeing him from his cell, but all this leads to his imprisonment in a larger and unprotected environment which is still a prison, so how is this doing him a favor? Finn initially wakes (we're told in an info-dump) to find his memory lost and himself incarcerated in a cell that appears to have no door. He gets food handed twice a day through a slot, and his 'waste products' are removed the same way.

One day a door which had been invisible in the wall opens and he gets out into a seemingly endless, straight, white tubular corridor. He follows it in one direction until he's too tired to walk. When he wakes, there is food right by him, so maybe Incarceron is helping him, but the description which started out quite interestingly, got lost in bad writing, as he whines (endlessly) about his wandering for days unsure if he was even moving

His evacuation of waste products seems to cease at this point, because he could tell if he was back-tracking by finding evidence where he'd previously urinated or defecated, yet none of this is covered, nor does the writer explain how he knew he was going in the same direction every day since he apparently left not even those markers. What if he got turned around in his sleep and went back the next day over the same ground he covered the day before? We'll never know because this author evidently never even considered this.

It was at this point that I quit reading, out of a complete lack of interest in any of the characters. There was the inevitable female counterpart to the male (because gays and transgenders never do end up in dystopian stories for some reason, I guess they're smarter than the cis population....). She was the warden's daughter and she was on some quest or other that I simply could not for the life of me make heads or tails of. There was some mysterious Lord (or course) who was evil evidently because he was overweight. There were robot rats which spied on people, even on the warden's daughter. Why rats? Why not drones? None of this made any sense at all and it feels like such a huge relief that I do not have to follow this story anymore!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Genesis by Bernard Beckett

Rating: WARTY!

This was another experimental audiobook read not badly, yet not inspiringly by Becky Wright in her first audiobook reading evidently. Bernard Beckett is a New Zealander who seems to think that because he shares a famous last name, he must have writing chops somewhere in his genome. Maybe he does, but it's not evident through the lens he lends us here with which to examine it. All we get is a poor reproduction of Orwell's 1984.

This story was amateur at the level of fan fiction. It was trite, boring, and framed in the mind-numbing tedium of student defending her thesis. The title is entirely wrong. Instead of Genesis, meaning 'beginning', the author should have gone with Akharith, meaning 'ending' because the main character, in her fruitless pursuit of academic excellence here, is about to meet her mocker.

As is all-too-often the case with this kind of story, we find ourselves in a dystopia which has no logical origin, and which is hilarious when you think about it, because this society is supposedly founded on Greek principles. Many of the characters, such as the main female character, have Greek names from antiquity. Hers is Anaximander, though she goes by Anax, and it really ought to be Anthrax, so diseased is her story.

The thesis-challenge idea is a good one, but it fails in this case because all it is, in the end (and the beginning and the middle) is nothing more than a massive info-dump, which is dull in the extreme, with vacuous, cardboard-thin characters and motivations, and a transparent and done-to-death plot. All it did was make me detest Anax and her hero, Adam, about whom her thesis was written. Their fates were just deserts, appropriate rewards for vacuity.

The predictably inaccurate blurb on Goodreads claims that Anax endures a "grueling all-day Examination" but it last only five hours, with lots of breaks, and most of it is spent watching endless, tedious holographic movies, about which she occasionally is asked a question. Grueling? No! All-day? No! Unless the day on her planet is about a quarter the length of ours! I think someone is greatly exaggerating for dramatic effect.

This tired business of reviewing the video record is nonsensical because it's so unrealistic, especially when done on television or in the movies, where the actors are clearly playing to the camera rather than realistically experiencing an event. It's just as bad here. At one point towards the end, the author has a character ask, "What good are stories?" and I say that's a valid question. If they're like this story, then the answer is: no good at all.

We're offered absolutely no rationale whatsoever (not that I consider worth its salt, anyway) for why this island society should drop everything else, and turn to Greek philosophy and principles, much less why everyone suddenly adopts Greek names. Nothing is that extreme, and no group of people are that uniformly conformist. It makes as little sense as the asinine 'five factions' in the execrable Divergent series, which, after a strong start, completely tanked at the box office thereby proving it had no legs outside the YA crowd, whose tastes, let's face it, are starved for clues far more often than they are a hunger game.

It makes a little more sense that the islanders are hostile to foreigners given that there's your trope deadly plague loose in the world, but even that makes zero sense in the grand scheme of things, and for them to be so inexcusably hostile to all foreigners is ridiculous.

A " brilliant novel of dazzling ingenuity"? I don't know what the writer of this blurb was on (a stipend maybe?), but I want some! The story is purported to examine what consciousness is, and what makes us human, but it really examines what stupidity is, and what a juvenile, whiney little brat Anax's hero is, and it can give us no answers.

This obsession of Anax's (with Adam Forde) is bullshit, and the fact that in a mindlessly ruthless society like this, he is apparently the only "rebel" yet gets cut so many breaks makes zero sense. If you want my opinion, then please don't waste your time on this bloated exercise in self-indulgence and pointless fawning over ancient Greek civilization. The only thing you'll find in ancient grease is ancient fries, and they're neither edible nor edifying! If you don't want my opinion, that's fine, but then why are you reading this?!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials by Annie Bellet

Rating: WORTHY!

This is one of two short stories by Annie Bellet that I will review today. Both get a worthy rating. They're also both available (at least as of this review) for free on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords, although I have to say Apple and Kobo seem much more interested in getting in your face than in getting you to your reads. This author has quite the oeuvre, and some of her other materials are free, too.

This short-story-for-free idea seems to me to be a good one. Yes, you can get a sneak preview of most books before you buy them these days, but all you get is the beginning, and while this does clue you in to how the author is going to approach a story (and happily allows you to reject stories which are first person voice as I habitually do!), this gives you no sense of how an author can carry a whole story, or bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, so it seems to me to be a valid approach for an author to put out short stories for free.

It's better yet if those stories are somehow tied to her main works, so you also get a sense of the entire world in which the main story takes place and might well be more willing to buy one of the other books in that world. I'm not a huge fan of short stories in general, but I've written one or two myself (contained in my Poem y Granite collection), and I've read and reviewed a few that were worth the time. These two are definitely worthy. I found it interesting that both of the stories told a similar tale: a young woman scavenging for a living, scarred, outcast, in danger, who ends up rescuing someone. Despite the underlying theme being the same, both stories were well-told and happily different.

This particular one is a sci-fi tale set in your standard dystopian future, where a young woman, Ryska (great name for one who takes risks!) who had evidently spent time in a research lab with many other children, being experimented upon, has escaped somehow and is now making her own way in the world. Why the kids were lab rats in the first place goes unexplained in this story. It seems the main character was purposefully blinded, and fitted with whiskers which feed her senses with sufficient information that she can get by without her eyes, and which supply her with sensory input that her eyes could not deliver. Why this was done is again unexplained.

On the one hand this seems stupid. Human cheeks are not cat or rat cheeks. Fitting whiskers to an area which is not rich with sensitive nerve endings will not give humans the same sensory capabilities that whiskered animals enjoy. Besides, animals have whiskers on their nose, not their cheeks, a fact of which far too many writers seem lamentably ignorant. I was willing to let that slide though, since my needs are simple. If you tell me this is the way it is in your story, I'm happy to go with you on that as long as I don't have to hike with you down the road to Dumbsville in the telling, and as long as you don't spend pages coming up with ridiculously lame "explanations" for why this is this way.

Talking of Dumbsville, this was yet another case of a publisher putting an inapplicable covers on books! Do cover designers never read the book they design for? This is yet another beef I have with Big Publishing™ or Big Publishing™ wannabes. This book has two covers that I know of, and neither shows a girl who looks like she's blind or who sports whiskers! The one cover shows a slightly steampunk-looking girl with goggles on her forehead. Why would a blind girl need goggles? LOL!

Perhaps that's why they changed the cover, but thee are still no whiskers on the new one, and this girl isn't dressed like she lives on the streets! In short, these covers are just plain stupid. This is why I don't review covers or wax about how great they are because the cover is window dressing only, and it has zero to do with the story inside. I'm sorry, but if you judge a book by its cover, then you're stupid. Had I done that, I never would have read either of these short stories.

The story (yes, I'm getting to it!) is that Ryska is scavenging and finds herself in a situation where violent men are searching for a young child. She doesn't want to get involved, but when she recalls the children at the lab, where she escaped and they did not, she feels compelled to counterbalance her failure there with a risky attempt at rescuing the boy here, which she does with inventiveness and courage. It turns out the boy has mob connections, so maybe Ryska's action will bring a reward or some favors? We never find out - not in this story. But that's fine. I really liked this, and I recommend it.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Deviants by Maureen McGowan

Rating: WARTY!

Another throw-away outreach attempt at another YA dystopian writer with the same result: uninventive, derivative, boring trash. This is the first of a series of course, because why bilk your readers for one inadequate volume when you can pad a short story out into a trilogy or better? God bless Big Publishing™ for without their avarice there would be no crappy YA troll-ogies.

The predictable first person female has predictable hots for a predictably potential bad guy, but is predictably distracted by her BIG SECRET™. These people - all mysteriously YA age (at least the only ones we really hear about), and they're predictably living in a dome in a predictably trashed world, and predictably have to escape. Predictably, I quickly grew to hate it and predictably the main character, a female created by a female author is a dumb-ass. Why women do this to their main characters is actually less of a mystery to me than why so many readers enable and facilitate them, but I don't have to support this crap.

So, what is no more than a bloated prologue is fluffed-up with inanity into the first volume of the predictable YA trilogy. Yawn.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Agenda 21 by Harriet Parke

Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Children of Icarus by Caighlan Smith

Rating: WARTY!

The blurb tells us that "Caighlan Smith loved to build and navigate pillowmazes (sic)" and an "adoration of Greek mythology soon followed." In case you wondered, it's pronounced like Kaylan, but one immediate problem I had with this novel wasn't with the pronunciation of the author's name; it was with the disconnect between the blurb and the novel.

I don't hold the author responsible, since authors have little or nothing to do with blurbs and book covers unless they self-publish, which is why I don't usually have a thing to say about book covers - my blog is about writing, not about pretension and posing. It's also a given that blurbs are overly dramatic and misleading, but I found Greek mythology to be conspicuous by its absence in this novel while the lack of any real feel for Greece and the Greek language ran rife. This was only the first of myriad (<- Greek roots word!) problems.

One issue was with the author's complete lack of attention to the language (English or Greek). She had an archer "notch" an arrow when she should have said, "nock", and she referred to a notch as a nook! She had a climber scrambling for a perch when it would have made more sense to have him scrambling for purchase. These might seem like relatively minor issues, but they're important because the more we abuse the language the less we can use it. George Orwell exploited this to great effect in 1984. I'm sorry more people haven't learned from this, but I do expect fellow writers to have considerably more respect for the major tool of their trade, and for their craft, than this.

Yes, the author gave a nod and a knowing wink to the mythology, but it really wasn't there, and for me the novel suffered for that. I've visited Greece more than once and I really like the country, notwithstanding the recent political and economic troubles as exemplified in a scene from the new Jason Bourne movie. Greece has a deep history and none of that was in evidence here. The novel was a contemporary one, and it read like it was set in the USA, not in Greece. Characters were named Clara, Ryan, and Tanner, not Chloe, Rihardos, and Theseus, although to be fair, there was a Theo and a Cassie.

Therein lay a potential problem, because Theo was the good guy and Ryan the bad boy, and it looked like there was a tedious YA triangle forming there with the mc. This is such a tired cliché that it's almost like a Greek tragedy, but with nowhere near the pedigree when it's included in a YA novel! I can't be sure that this was where it was headed, but it certainly had the hallmarks.

The novel was rooted, loosely, in the myth of Daedalus and his Labyrinth, yet throughout we got not Greek, but Latinized names. Ikaros became Icarus, and his followers the Romanized Icarii. Animals and plants were given not Greek names, but ones worthy of Carl von Linné, so the Greek mythology angle felt like a fraudulent veneer.

In the myth, Daedalus built the labyrinth as a prison for the half-breed son of a king, but Daedalus and his son Ikaros were imprisoned in it. Their plan to escape using feather-encrusted wings came to a sticky end when Ikaros got waxed, flying too close to the sun. In this updated version, youngsters aren't sacrificed to the Minotaur, but are sent into the labyrinth as chosen ones of "Icarus", and they expect to become angels and live forever. In truth they're still sacrifices, and are set upon by fantastical beasts as soon as the labyrinth door is closed behind them. Only a few survive, and they're adopted by other survivors, who have formed a clandestine society hidden deep in the labyrinth where they hope they're safe from the beasts, but hard-won resources are slim and a crisis is approaching.

Thus far we have a form of The Maze Runner, and it was different enough to be a good start, but though the beasts are rooted in mythology, they're not readily recognizable as such here. I got the feeling that authentic (<- Greek roots word!) Greek mythological creatures were not good enough for this story, so they had to be amped-up a bit. Perhaps this is why the story quickly abandons both the beasts and the labyrinth in favor of high-school drama and bullying in the survivors hideout? In short, this story becomes less of a clone of The Maze Runner and more of a clone of Divergent and the utterly dumb-ass "Dauntless" faction, which I took delight in parodying in my Dire Virgins novel.

This story is nowhere near as awful as the Divergent trilogy, rest assured, but it was highly reminiscent of it in its brutality and its brain-dead 'survival of the toughest' mentality. That motif has been done to a sorry, but welcome death, and so this novel dropped considerably in my esteem because of its addiction to something which is ancient creak. The novel is also the start of a trilogy, which means this volume is nothing more than a prologue. I have no time for prologues or the "it has to be a trilogy so we can milk it for all it's worth" mentality so rife in the YA publishing industry. I think the problem was that, knowing there was a trilogy coming, there was no incentive at all for the author to make this volume be all it could be.

Some parts were engaging and interesting. Indeed, it was better in some ways, than The Maze Runner (watch that get quoted as "better—than The Maze Runner"! LOL!), but by the time I reached about half-way through, it was clear that the first of the three most severe problems with the story was the main character, and it wasn't with the fact that she is never named. My problem was with the fact the Girl with No Name (GwNM) was consistently weak, ineffective, weepy, and soft throughout the entire first half of the novel.

Maybe she changes later, but if she does, it has to be through magic and not through growth, because that wasn't happening, not even in embryonic (<- Greek roots word!) form, and in this case it was direly needed. Any possible change came far too late for me, especially given that there was no hint of it when I quit reading. Even if she does grow a pair of bulls later, it would have been thoroughly unrealistic to me, given what preceded it or or more accurately, what failed to precede it.

While I'm not a reader who demands that characters necessarily grow and change (I think there are very interesting stories to be had about people who don't change), I am a reader who demands that something happen during the course of a story, or all we have is dehydrating paint. It also helps if the arthritis (<- Greek roots word!) meds kick in before the half-way point, but here, the plot was stagnant when it wasn't staggering. Perhaps in remembrance of the slaughtered maze runners after the beast attack, nothing was moving. The novel, like a corpse set in amber, and not even a pretty shade of amber, simply lay there.

Not only did the story not go anywhere, neither did GwNM, and this was a story where she needed to show some growth if she was ever to become a heroic figure. Hell, even Triscuit™ in Divergent showed some change, but there was no such thing in evidence here, and the victimization of this girl in the form of a near-rape, and later a beating with no justice to be had for either was nauseating as was GwNN's total lack of a measurable response to it.

It made no sense, because she started out all weepy as a survivor of a slaughter, even after she knew she was safe, but now she's brutally attacked - twice, by two different guys - and she shows no response at all: not anger, not upset, not reticence, not fear, not the trembles, not catatonia, not anything? It. Just. Doesn't. Happen. Like. That! And especially not with a young person like the one GwNN has proven herself to be to her core by this point.

If I'd had some sort of a feeling, in fifty percent of the book, that she was on a slow burn, building up to something, that might have lured me into sticking around, but she is such a vapid wallflower that I not only lost all interest in her, I began to despise her as much as Ryan purportedly did (though I never did buy into that sleight of hand!).

The fact that she told a ridiculous and insupportable lie which led to the second attack was another example of her spinelessness, and while it doesn't justify the unwarranted assault by any means, neither does it afford us any sort of explanation as to why she did it or why the consequences of it were so dire. It's simply presented as the way things are done around here, with no foundation in any world that's been built here. I'm sorry, but I'm really tired of female authors rendering female characters into professional victims and making a trilogy out of their suffering.

The girl I wanted to read about was the one who went out with the scavengers, and therein lies another problem. Why was this novel so genderist - in that very nearly all the guys were the hunters and very nearly all the girls were the home-makers? There was only one exception to this that I was made aware of, and she had to be given a masculine name: Andrea! If you understand anything about Greek, then you know that's the feminine form of Andreas, which means manly! Seriously? The only girl who gets to hunt is manly? Not acceptable.

The third big problem was that the story made no sense. Exhibit one: I'd like to present the courtyard with a labyrinth! A labyrinth which had no roof. The people in it could have climbed the walls (and in at least one instance they did), and scouted their routes, but they never seemed to have thought of that. Instead, they were reduced to blundering through the maze and tediously mapping it corridor by corridor! Zeus, these people were dumb! But then they showed no real interest in looking for a way out which was in itself as foul as it was fowl.

While many beasts lived down in the maze, some were capable of flight, and all of the ground-based critters were large and dangerous. How those things survived when being fed only once a year is not so much glossed-over as completely ignored. The really ridiculous part though, is that not a single one of these animals, not even the airborne ones, ever found its way out to stalk the ample food supply in the nearby city whence all their food ultimately comes it would seem! There was no explanation offered for why these critters voluntarily confined themselves to the maze, and no one ever voiced any curiosity about it!

For me, this was just one more example of a story which was poorly thought-out, and where the world-building was as crumbling as the maze in which it was set. That it's the first volume of a trilogy is no excuse to stint on creating a rich novel, but far too many trilogy writers do this with a disturbing consistency. They need to try writing some stand-alone volumes, to learn the craft of creating tight, self-contained fiction, instead of padding out a single volume to make a lucrative trilogy.

I wish the author all the best with her YA trilogy career, but I cannot in good faith recommend a story as thin, weak, and derivative as this one is.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Reboot by Amy Tintera

Rating: WARTY!

If Nicole Ritchie had ever written a zombie novel, it would have been this.

The story is of this world where a new virus runs riot through the human population. A side effect of the virus is that when people die, they sometimes come back to life - rebooted. They are six million dollar people: faster, stronger, more good looking (I am not kidding you!). And young. Adults, for reasons unexplained (a heck of a lot is unexplained here), do not do well on reboot. The reboot (a title chosen only for kewl factor, and no other reason, evidently) is known by the number of minutes it was between death and rebooting, so the main character is 178 (which is of course very unusual in its magnitude, to the point where she's legendary). Her real name is Wren. What? Yes, Wren! Weird. I frequently felt like giving Wren the bird. She was not kick-ass. She wasn't even interesting.

The world-building is poor. I'm not one of these readers who demands excellent world-building. I don't care if it's sketchy if the story itself is good, but even by my low standards, the world-building in this novel was atrocious. The status quo was just put out there as fact with no effort at any kind of backstory or any sort of explanation as to why it was this way. I don't want an info-dump, of course, but some credible words here and there about how things came to be as they are is really required if the story doesn't make it self-evident, and this was far from it.

Let's ask a few questions which this novel fails to answer: Why would a virus evolve to reboot people? Nature has no plan of self-improvement. The purpose of life is to survive and to reproduce, and a virus, even though it is on the border between biochemistry and chemistry, is no different. It has no agenda. Unless what happens to its host is beneficial to the virus spreading, there is no evolutionary impetus to promote it. So how would a virus evolve which revivifies people and makes them pretty? It makes no sense at all. What a virus needs is a host which doesn't die so quickly that the virus fails to spread. That's it! That's all! There is no benefit to resurrecting the host once it's dead or in prolonging life bizarrely, much less in bringing back the dead. Indeed, with Ebola, it was the fact that the host became bloody and died which helped it to spread given the practices of some peoples in various African nations, in preparing the dead for burial. The same kind of thing help Kuru to spread amongst the Fore people of Papua New Guinea, although Kuru is a prion disease, not a viral one.

Even if we buy into this though, how does this virus do what it does? Why does the person die rather than just become prettier, and faster and stronger? Given that they do die, how are they brought back to life? Nothing in nature does this - not literally die and come back to life - so where did this even come from? If it's merely a form of hibernation, then why call it death? What does this bizarre turn of events do to suicidal people? Do suicides increase? Decrease? Are people killing themselves so they can come back pretty, and strong and fast? We're not told, because this is a first person PoV novel and we're limited, confined, hobbled, constrained, and cocooned - in every sense of those restrictive words - to the perspective of Wren. This brings me to my next issue: even if we accept all of this so far, why would a reboot tell a story like this? Given the reboot's character and the perspective she gives us on reboots, it makes no sense that one of them would narrate their life, and even if we allow that one would, then the very least likely one to do this would be Wren. Again, no sense!

Viruses, with very few exceptions, are literally microscopic things which contain very little DNA. They require the host's DNA to even reproduce. In short, there is insufficient DNA even in the largest of viruses, to make all those changes to physiology that this story requires. There is no mutant X gene as Marvel comics would have it, that can give rise to a gazillion different and beneficial mutations. It doesn't happen.

Why is there no commentary on what the religious community had to say about people being resurrected? The novel is completely silent with regard to what religious leaders had to say about this! Not that I personally care what they have to say, but the fact is that if people started being resurrected, the christian religious community in a fundamentalist nation like the USA would be all over this: either seeing it as a sign of the end times and the devil's work, or as a sign of the rapture or something like that. Yet we get not a single word about that here! Again, it's poor world-building. Far too many young adult dystopian authors are like this! They get this one idea and fail comprehensively to apply it to the real world and explore the ramifications of it really happening. This is why they miss out on writing what would have been a much more interesting, faceted, and complex story. Instead we get vapid clones of other dystopian trilogies (they're always trilogies, aren't they, driven by the stark capitalism that is rampant in Big Publishing™?! Sad but true.). It's not interesting. It's not imaginative. It's not inventive. It's really a waste of trees or bandwidth.

Even if we accept all of that(!), then I still have to ask: how did society ever let it happen that these reboots became a police force, instead of simply sending them back to their family? Why do they even need a police force of reboots? Why are we told the reboots are emotionless, when they're obviously subject to emotions? Why label them as "not human" when they're exactly like humans: they laugh, they cry, they dream, they get scared, they have sex, they eat, they sleep. And why train these people to be a very efficient and ruthless para-military force when there has apparently already been strife between them and the non-rebooted humans? Why would they even work for the humans from whom they could simply run away, when they go out on patrol unsupervised? The Stupid is strong with this one. It made no sense to me. There were interesting bits, but also trope and clichéd bits which irritated me to no end.

I wouldn't have minded it quite so much if the author didn't flatly contradict every assertion she makes about the reboots. They're supposed to be 'not human', but there is nothing whatsoever about them that is different from humans - except they're faster? They're supposed to be emotionless, yet the record holder for biggest gap between death and reboot - the one who is supposed to be least human and least emotional - behaves exactly like the humans and shares the same emotions. She has her memories from when she was alive previously. How can she have all of this and not be human and not experience emotions? It's not possible.

She says the reboots don't need to eat as much as humans, yet they have a faster metabolism. How does that work exactly? Where does their energy come from? It has to come from somewhere unless this is really a book about magical beasts and where to find them! This is what happens when someone with zero science education starts writing science fiction, and it's not good enough. I don't demand that an author go deep into scientific detail to explain every last detail of the worlds they create, but I do like the world to make sense within the framework they've created. This one was like the kind of story my thirteen-year-old would write: everything is to be taken on pure faith without a shred of foundation being offered, and while I tolerate his stories, I'm not willing to extend that same largesse to an adult writer who should know better, and especially not when there are so many more, better-written novels out there pleading with me to read them! I cannot recommend this one.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons

Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with The Glass Arrow by Gerald Verner , this novel was awful! Pretty much from the first track (I listened to the audio book) it was tedious, trope-filled, irrational, and not remotely credible. That it was first person PoV did not help. I detest that voice because it's so rarely done well, and on audio it can sound bad even when the writing is good, depending on who reads it.

The story is about Aya aka Aiyana, a fifteen year old girl who is a free woman - that is, she's not owned by anyone. She lives in the wilds with her sister and some twins, Tam and Nina. Because women are so rare in this world, they are hunted brutally, and enslaved by men. That should have stopped me right there. I honestly don't know why I even picked this up from the library because it had trope trash written all over it. Well not literally, but, as Doctor Who said, give me time - and a crayon....

My problem with it was the absurdity of the opening chapter, where Aya comes back to her 'family' to discover that they're being hunted. The males and older females are killed, and the young one - that would be Aya and the twins, are taken. There was no explanation as to how the world got like this (maybe that came later - I didn't want to hang around to find out) and the premise, now that I think about it, is ridiculous on the face of it, but my real problem was Aya's narration of coming back "home" and finding devastation caused by the hunters.

Her narration bore no relationship to what a fifteen-year-old - even a wild, self-sufficient one - would deliver. I seriously doubt that she would be calmly describing her discoveries and her thoughts and her family relationships at a time like this. It was so unrealistic it almost made me laugh, but the laugh was stifled by the fact that this only made me so sad that we're seeing this kind on nonsense ever more often in YA novels. The only advantage this one has, so I understand, is that it isn't a trilogy so the author deserves a freaking medal for that, but for me, even that was not enough to make me keep on listening when other novels beckon so temptingly!

I can't imagine a girl calmly describing the scene as Aya did in first person. A disinterested third party observer - one ho with a complete lack of passion - may well have delivered this narration, but not the person to whom it was happening. This is one of the problems with this voice - it's completely unrealistic. It didn't help that the narration by Soneela Nankani made the first person voice even worse. Great name, poor reading voice. Instead of delivering anger or outrage, we got wheedling and stupidity in the narration and the voice didn't help. It turned me right off this story. I gave up and returned it to the library where scores of other audio books beg to be listened to.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Rating: WARTY!

I should have known I would not like this book, but when I requested the audio book from the library, I didn't know it was a Newbery winner or I wouldn't have bothered. Medal-winning novels have been very nearly a consistent waste of time for me. I deliberately put them back on the shelf if they have some medal listed on the cover. This one turned out to be no different from nearly all of my previous experiences!

The biggest problem with dystopian novels is the utter lack of rational explanation as to how the world actually became dystopian in the first place. Most dystopian novels simply take it as a given - this is how the world is, and vaguely wave their hand at some tragic past, such as nuclear war, or disease pandemic, but this fails for me because while it explains that the world changed dramatically, it fails to explain why it changed in the way the author depicts it did. The author of the Divergent disaster, for example (who evidently borrowed heavily from this novel), simply took the brain-dead position that "Hey, it's perfectly natural that people would automatically migrate, like sheep, into one of five ridiculous factions, and we're expected to accept that all humans are alike, all conform readily, there's only one rebel, and no one else ever questions anything. That's major BS right there. Humans are not like that and it's an insult to the human race to suggest that everyone is.

In this novel, which is part of a connected series I'm sorry to say, everyone lives in supposed communist conformity, and children are assigned at age twelve into one of a limited number of assignments which last a lifetime. No one complains, no one rebels, and those who feel they don't fit will request to be forced into "release" - which is that they're murdered. Sorry but this won't work. It doesn't even make any sense.

In this world, all pain and hunger and suffering are taken away, but the "price" for this is the loss of music, art, and other human expressions of joy, such as love? Nonsense! They can't even see - or at least don't even know - what colors are? Seriously? It doesn't work in such a literal black and white manner, and it's not so much naïve to believe it would, as it's profoundly ignorant on the part of an author to even think that it does and that we as readers, would swallow this crap.

Perhaps a better writer might have made this work, but this author fails because the writing is utterly boring. It's so boring in fact that the audio book creators felt the dire need to inject irritating, jarring, monotonous musical interludes randomly into the text. Where those in the original novel? Did you open page 55 and suddenly a piano trilled forth? I seriously doubt it. So what is on the unimaginative brains of these imbeciles that - in a story where music is banned - a mind-numbingly mediocre musical measure or two are injected over the narration? You can't get that dumb naturally. You actually have to really want it and fight for it, to get it as chronic as these guys had it.

But even without that pain in the eardrum, even had I been reading it, I would have found myself skipping over paragraph after paragraph because it wasn't remotely interesting. Did I really want to listen to, in the space of four short paragraphs:

And today, now that the new Elevens had been advanced this morning, there were two Eleven-nineteens...Very soon he would not be an Eleven but a Twelve...Asher was a four, and sat now in the row ahead of Jonas. He would receive his Assignment fourth....Fiona, Eighteen, was on his left; on his other side sat Twenty...

I'd rather listen to paint drying. It's much more restful. I'm sorry but I can't get into a novel that plods the way this one does, with nothing happening save for one long info-dump of a set-up which occupied over half the story. Yes the novel - novella, whatever - is short, but it's still way too long for my taste. Any hopeful young writer who came out with this garbage as a first effort today would rightly have it rejected, yet it won a medal? For what?! The music?! It just goes to show how utterly worthless a Newbery is. I can't recommend it based on what I listened to, which was far too much. A real dystopian society would make you listen to books like this.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Last Girl by Joe Hart

Rating: WARTY!

It was funny to start reading this one (note there are several novels with this same title; this one is by Joe Hart, and is the start of the inevitable YA dystopian trilogy I'm sorry to report). I was woken up by a massive crack of thunder and a heavy rainstorm with flash flood warnings on my phone, and having had a decently early night, I was no longer sleepy enough to doze off readily, so I started on the next book on my Net Galley list, which was this one, and it began with the lead character waking to a rain shower! I guess I liked the synergy, because I proceeded to blitz through the first 20% in short order. This means it moved and entertained, but I have to confess that a lot of it made little sense to me, and while I was leaning towards favorably rating this for a long time, there were, in the end, too many plot holes and problems. What really let it down for me was the ending.

The basic plot is young adult dystopian (are there any dystopians that are not young adult these days?! LOL!) but at least it's not told in first person. That counted for a lot with me, and it was the only thing which prevented me from DNF'ing this story once it started going downhill. It's set in a near future when a virus has evidently culled the female population dramatically, and the few precious youthful ones that are left are kept under guard in a facility where they're not even allowed pets for fear of disease. All the guards and the administration of the facility are male and they have no problem with institutionalized violence which is bizarre and, I have to add, not credible given how precious these girls are supposed to be. That said, this is a pretty decent microcosm of how women are far too often viewed in this world: they're useless if they're not young and pretty.

There appears to be only one older female in residence, and she's the teacher, but the students have only the one textbook, which is nothing more than a history of the plague and the revolution which followed, and which overthrew the US government. Clearly the author is using this as a very convenient device for info-dumping on the history of these United States of Dystopia, but it's still an info dump and it makes no sense that there would be no other books available, or that they would be simply reading this book over and endlessly over again in class. The reason for the absence of other books, if there is one, is never given, and that's part of the problem - there is far too much in this world which is simply there without rationale or reason, and it really tripped up credibility for me.

There were other issues too: given the total absence of books, where did Zoey get her math education? Given what was ultimately happening to these girls (which was pretty obvious from the start at least in general terms), why did the men bother to give them any kind of education at all? Why not just have them sit around and talk, and do crafts? Clearly education is a good thing and there are far too many places in the world where women are ill-served in that regard, but in this context, it made no sense, especially not given how badly abused these purportedly precious resources are in every other facet of their lives there.

Other things which are more a case of inexplicable presence rather than absence, are not explained either. Not only do we have to explain where the books came from, but more importantly, where is the food coming from and if the world outside the compound has gone to hell, then where is the food being grown? And cigarettes? Who is still making cigarettes for goodness sakes? Where are the batteries coming from? Where is the gasoline and Jet A fuel for the helicopters coming from? Despite info-dumping and, yes, monologuing from the villains at the end, none of this is ever explained. I can see how they might have guns, but where is the ammunition coming from if it was expended in the civil war? And why do they need to carry handguns in the compound given that they have armed guards on the compound walls and the females are outnumbered several to one?! I know women are dangerous, but seriously?!

What really bothered me is that no one inside the compound ever questions any of this. Main character Zoey and her best friend Meeka, who was sadly under-used, were slightly rebellious, but they were nowhere near far enough along that path to accomplish what came later, not to have it spring out of nowhere like it did.

A lot of rationale is missing here, too. When the girls reach twenty-one, they leave the facility, but no one knows where they go or what happens to them, other than that the girls supposedly rejoin their parents and live a happy life. Yet no one seems to question why they needed to be taken from their parents, evidently by force, in the first place, and no explanation for this is offered an no one questions it.

One of the biggest failings here was that the girls are disturbingly incurious about their lives or future. Although at least main character Zoey, and to an extent her best friend, are skeptics, which I appreciated, the girls seem to be very dull and incurious people overall. Only Zoey has any depth at all to her, and she would have been a much more appealing person had she exercised her mind more. I found myself wishing that Meeka was the main character instead of Zoey, but I often find myself liking the side kick character in YA novels than ever I do the main one. I think a lot of YA authors would serve their readers better if they wrote their first draft as they wished, then when going through the editing process, subtly changed the story sufficiently that their main character became a secondary one, and the best friend became the main one. What a wonderful world of YA that would bring us! But that's not going to happen unfortunately.

There is also bullying, even among the handful of girls here, which I thought was not merely overdone but ridiculous, and yet another subtle undermining of female bonding in YA stories. It's pathetic that there has to be an antagonist/bully, just like there has to be a love interest, although in this case, that particular aspect was dealt with differently. I'd be tempted to say it was handled better than most, but it made absolutely no sense whatsoever in the end, so I was forced to ask myself what the point was of even having it, just as I was forced to ask what the point was of the antagonism.

Obviously the sole purpose of the bullying to get Zoey into trouble so she's thrown into solitary which in turn toughened her up which in turn supposedly gave her the backbone to do what she did next, but it really didn't work. The bullying was such an obvious prop that it failed for me. It would have made more sense to me had Zoey done this alone, and it was written as a natural arc of her development, from curiosity to minor rebel to major rebel. This would have been organic and supported what happened later instead of undermining its credibility.

It seems more natural to me that women would bond in a situation like the one we're presented here, where the brutality is extreme. Women tend to handle social situations better than men do and I don't see them infighting in a situation where men are presented as such starkly caricatured bad guys in harsh black and white line drawings. To offset that tired trope (a bit) there is one handicapped girl named Lily, who seems to have some sort of intellectual deficit, but is treated as all the other girls are, although she needs help. Zoey has rather taken her under her wing, but the bullies predictably despise her. It would have been nice to go against trope and have one of the bullies adopt Lily, but that's not this story. It made no more sense that Lily would be treated as she was than it did that the girls would be harvested a the age of twenty one rather than at, say, eighteen, or sixteen, or even thirteen given what was going on here and how little respect the men had for the women as people.

To me, the revolution made no sense either. According to the info dump, hundreds of thousands rose up against the US government and overthrew it eventually, but there's no explanation for why this revolution took place, and none as to why there was not another group of hundreds of thousands rallying in support of the government. Again, explanations go wanting. I'm not someone who demands every detail be worked out. In fact, seeing how poorly some of these YA stories have been 'worked out', I'd much rather the author simply waved a hand at some (hopefully fairly reasonable) explanation and left it at that without digging into details, but, of course, then you get a travesty of a story like Dire Virgins - excuse me, Divergent, which was so laughably unsophisticated it read like a story written by a child.

I kept hoping that this one would not turn out that way, and while for the most part it was well written technically speaking, and left the absurdly gullible and simplistic Divergent in the dust, it also left too much to be desired. The ending was particularly disappointing for me. Just when I was hoping that Zoey would unleash hell on her captors, the story descended into drawn-out monologuing and interludes and piano-playing, and mindless meandering, and pointless chases, and it really fell apart for me. The ending was far too stretched out and didn't leave me satisfied at all. It needed some serious slash and burn to get it into shape I think this author has a future and I wish him all the best, but I cannot recommend this particular volume as a worthy read.

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Rating: WARTY!

I wonder how many of you realize that it's quite illegal in the USA, on pain of death, to publish a YA novel that's not told in first person? This is only an assumption, mind, but it's the only logical conclusion I can draw from the overwhelming numbers of such cookie-cutter novels I find. I am forced to assume that it's also illegal to publish a dystopian novel which is not part of a trilogy, too, and for the same reason.

This is all driven by Big Publishing who are far more likely to take you on if you can show them that you can bring them a cash cow by making three volumes out of a story that's hardly worth one. I think Amazon bears more than its fair share of blame for this. By forcing book prices down to a standard 99 cents (like a 100,000 word book takes no more effort to produce than a two minute song), it has also forced writers to break a single novel up so instead of one ninety-nine cent volume, the author at least gets a three dollar 'series'. Such is the world we have created for ourselves.

In this trope clichéd effort, Ruby is a 16-year-old girl who is forced into a camp for special kids (in this case, that's kids who have some sort of psychic power). This is all done in a grotesque, and conveniently unexplained fashion. The kids are brutally contained for no reason that's given (not in the portion I listened to which was about one sixth of the novel). Within a few paragraphs (it's hard to judge in an audio book) I had heard more than enough to turn me (and my stomach) against this novel because it was so ridiculous as to be a joke. This trilogy is quite evidently a great parody of something, but I can't figure out what it's parodying. Neither can I recommend a trashy novel like this, so cynically written to take advantage of YA mediocrity and a gullible and undiscerning readership. The narration by Amy McFadden was far too 'Valley Girl' for my taste, which didn't help. This is not a worthy read, and it's cured me of any desire to read or listen to any more novels form this author.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Rating: WARTY!

I came to this by way of the movie, which despite some large plot holes, I really enjoyed for a dumb action movie. The novel I liked less and less the more I listened to the audio book version which has not one, but two narrators one for the female 1PoV and one for the male. First person is bad enough when only one person is doing it, but you multiply the mistake when you admit to its weakness and have to add a second, third, fourth, whatever, PoV. I do not know why authors are so addicted to it. I can only ascribe it to chronic laziness and lack of imagination.

Here's the major flaw: 16-year-old Cassiopeia Marie Sullivan is shot in the thigh by a sniper. She's bleeding out and lying under a car trying to stanch (not staunch, but stanch, authors please note) the blood flow with a tourniquet (if you apply a tourniquet BTW, please realize that you are acknowledging the loss of the limb on the distal side of it). Despite her panic, her loss of blood, and her fear, this youngster calmly observes and analyzes every single thing in detail. No, I'm sorry, but you just kissed off realism, credibility, and my faith in your ability as a writer. We're told to write what we know, but that's bullshit. No one really does, nor should they - or us.

Personally I don't require that an author be shot in the thigh in order to write about it, but I do require that they use some thought and imagination. There was none in evidence here. This was YA at its dumbest, and this is where I started thinking I did not want to listen to any more of this. What convinced me was reading some reviews from people I follow, and their take on what was coming next is what persuaded me to say-onara...! Apparently this is really just a rip-off of Stephenie Meyer's The Host, and I have zero desire to read anything Stephenie Meyer ever writes, even if it's written by Rick Yancey instead.

The main character is known as Cassie. How many times has this name been over-used for a main female character? I'm starting to feel as nauseated by it as I am by 'Jack'. I refuse to read any novel which has a main character named Jack precisely because it is so prevalent and as to be in need of the urgent attention of epidemiologists. The story is the usual 'aliens are inevitably evil and despite there being literally billions of planets in this galaxy alone, Earth is the only one worth stealing'. These aliens are as retarded as you can get. They have been surveilling us for six thousand years, yet only now, when in all of those six thousand years we are best able to defend ourselves, do they decide to start a war with us?

For reasons unknown, instead of starting with the third wave and severely depleting our numbers with a deadly plague, they start out with an EMP even though such a thing is not guaranteed to completely disrupt society and even though critical military targets and matériel are EMP defended - which they ought to have known after 6K yrs of watching! I guess they're not so smart after all, but it's easy to see why a 16 year old American, raised on a diet of dumb-ass YA romance novels, would not have the intellectual wherewithal to understand this much.

So the EMP purportedly destroys all things electrical and electronic. The second wave is purportedly perpetrated by dropping metal rods, twice as heavy as the Empire State building on cities. Such a weight has fallen on Earth many times. Not in modern times, but the Barringer crater - the mile-wide one in Arizona, USA - was made by such a weight hitting the Earth. A metal rod would burn-up significantly, and break up in the atmosphere - something Yancey apparently forgets, and a metal rod dropped form the ionosphere carries nowhere near the kinetic energy as a meteor coming in from deep space.

A single such rod would, though, still make a significant impact, and destroy a city, but it would not wipe out the planet. A host of them hitting every major city begs two questions: where are they getting all this metal, and why are they taking an action which would effectively destroy not just humanity, but the entire planet if enough of these were dropped, making it entirely uninhabitable? And why go to the trouble of manufacturing neat two-thousand foot long metal bars rather than simply attach mass drivers to asteroids and direct those at Earth? None of this makes sense. But they are alien, Maybe they're imbeciles? Maybe they're merely teenage hooligan aliens out having a joyride? Whatever they are, they're in no way smart.

This is Yancey's biggest failure. What is the end-game here? Do they simply want to destroy a planet? Why? Do they merely want to wipe out humans? Why? And if so, why not do it with disease, leaving the infrastructure intact and the planet still habitable? If they hate us so badly, why let us develop for six thousand years before starting in on us? None of this makes any sense whatsoever. This is the start of a series - one more YA series I will not be following, but if they're such advanced engineers and technologists, why not bio-engineer Venus or Mars, both of which would be more habitable than Earth after they're done spreading disease and dropping steel dowels on us!

After the Pointless EMP and the tsunamis induced by the dread 'turds of rebar', we get the disease, which doesn't even get a scientific name. It's the bird poop disease! LOL! Yes, this is what the author wants us to believe: Ebola, engineered to be airborne, and delivered via bird poop, ravages the entire population, killing 97% of us. No, even Ebola isn't that efficient, especially not delivered in bird poop. Why not simply aerosolize it and spray the planet from orbit? None of this makes any sense. Either that or the aliens are, once again, morons.

Next, the aliens inhabit humans! If they can do this, why did they not simply do it from the beginning before they rendered the planet uninhabitable by disrupting nature, and causing a firestorm and dust cloud which would have brought on a "nuclear" winter and killed off pretty much everything that lives? So we have:

  1. EMPeeing
  2. Rebar none
  3. turds of birds
  4. alientrusion (aka silence is the new human)
What was that fifth wave again?

Watch the movie instead. It's still dumb in places, but it's a lot tighter and better written. You can tell it's a decent movie because critics almost universally panned it. That's how I know it's worth a look - movie critics are elitist morons! Ringer/Marika is the best character in the movie. The book is a waste of trees. Maybe it was written by evil aliens....