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

Monday, September 2, 2019

Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue by Jeff Seymour


Rating: WARTY!

I did not get far with this at all. It sounded interesting from the blurb, but it was worst person voice and I usually find that annoying. I find it particularly annoying when it's happening in real time and the narrator's voice doesn't remotely reflect the terror of enduring a life-or-death experience, as this one failed dismally when Nadya fell from the airship and went plummeting down through the clouds - and her narrating voice remained unchanged! Worse, her description of it was boring!

The most serious problem here was not that Nadya actually had a sky-lung and was stupidly named after it, but that there's no suspense here whatsoever. By definition, there cannot be in first person stories because this girl is narrating the story - what, are they going to stop it 15% in because she died unexpectedly? No! I stopped it at 15% in though, because I couldn't take it seriously. I wasn't openly laughing at it, but it was a close-run thing. Gone is your immediacy. It was sad because the world the author had been building was moderately interesting, but the voice was just not getting me to suspend my disbelief, so I suspended my listening to it instead. I can't commend it based on this experience.


Friday, August 9, 2019

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke


Rating: WORTHY!

This is a sequel to Zita the Spacegirl which I reviewed recently and loved. This one is equally loveable. Zita is irrepressible. I didn't know, when I read the first one, that Zita was actually invented by a fellow college student of the author's named Anna, who would go on to marry him. Paradoxically, Zita was older when she was first conceived than she is now, and the art was much more basic. She then transmogrified into an adventurer a bit like, I guess, a space-faring version of Jacques Tardi's Adèle Blanc-Sec. I'm not sure I would have liked her like that, because I much prefer Zita in the incarnation I first came to know her, which is this early middle-grade femme de feisty.

In this adventure, Zita, who we left thinking she had saved her friend and dispatched him home safely in the previous volume, is brought to trial in a kangaroo court which disappointingly isn't held by kangaroos, but by an alien villain and his hench-robots. His purpose is to recruit people by foul means (fair isn't an option with this guy) and set them to work in his mine in search of a crystal. He doesn't care that removing it will collapse the asteroid which bears the mine, and kill the indigenous life forms which look like lumps of coal with startling white eyes. Why a mined-out asteroid would collapse remains a bit of a mystery, but I didn't let that bother me! This is more sci-fantasy than sci-fi!

Zita meets her usual assortment of oddball alien friends - but even more-so in this outing, it seems - and she attempts to escape, but even when freedom is within her grasp, she can't help but go back and lend a hand to an alien she noted earlier who is being sorely-abused. Since this graphic novel was published just over four years after a Doctor Who episode titled The Beast Below, I have to wonder at the author purloining this idea from Stephen Moffat, but maybe the latter purloined it from elsewhere before that and so it goes. Writers can be a very derivative bunch can't they? Especially if they work for Disney. Remake much? But as long as suckers will pay, they'll be delighted to keep suckering them in won't they - innovation be damned?

But this story was amusing, entertaining, and made me want to read it to the end, so I commend it as a worthy read.


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Swans in Space by Lun Lun Yamamoto


Rating: WARTY!

I suppose I should remind readers up front that I'm not a huge manga fan. Reading backwards isn't my choice, but I can do that if the story is worth it. the problem is that the stories all-too-often aren't worth the effort of reading unnaturally. This was one such.

The premise was amusing and entertaining enough, but in the end it's the story. I can read a story which has no plot if the author writes well enough. I can't read the perfect plot if the story is written badly, uninventively, or boringly. The premise here is that a young girl is chosen in school by a classmate for testing for what seems to be UPS in space, although it's also space police - or maybe something else? I dunno and that's part of the problem. The scope of their 'duties' is so vague as to be limitless.

What were these people supposed to be doing and why are girls taken out of school to do it? No explanation. Their travel results in time-dilation, so their return is only a minute or two after they left, but they have subjectively experienced the entire time - even if it's many hours - that they spent doing this job, which consists of flying spacecraft. These craft are designed to look like swans for reasons which are unexplained - assuming they even exist.

The girls come back already exhausted and still have the rest of their own school day to finish. It's beyond credibility that something wouldn't go wrong, and it's hardly surprising that this girl who recruits the main character into this life is totally shallow. Her brain is probably fried from the insane hours she's been forced to keep.

Even that might have been manageable if the story itself was worth the reading but it wasn't. It was so bad that just a couple of days later I've completely forgotten it. They didn't really do anything that a decent drone couldn't have done, so again: point? None! If there had been something - anything in the story to give it some oomph, then the rest of this ridiculous situation might have been overlooked. I can even get with whimsy if there's a compelling reason to, but there really was nothing to see here. I can't commend this garbage as a worthy read on any level.


The Time Slip Girl by Elizabeth Andre


Rating: WARTY!

Errata:
“Agnes swung her legs off the bed...” - except that Agnes was sleeping in a chair!
“The clothespins were long and made from one piece of wood with a slat down the middle” - I think she meant 'slot'!

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.


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a fun book for younger middle graders and pre-middle-grade. Zita is outdoors playing with her friend when they find a meteorite crater in a field, with a small meteorite in the bottom of it. There's something sticking out of the meteorite which has a large red button on it, and you know you have to press the button if it's large and red. Zita doesn't listen to her friend, and she presses it, and suddenly a rift in space opens and her friend is pulled through it. After some miserable and desperate recrimination, Zita realizes she has to go through the rift and get him back.

The other side of the rift is very much a United Nations kind of a planet (or maybe not so united - more untied really) with aliens of all sorts, mechanical and meat, and the planet is under threat. Within a short few days, an asteroid is due to strike the planet wiping out everything on it. Zita can't be bothered about that. She has a friend to find and she heads out in her newly-created super hero-looking outfit. She was sort of befriended by a humanoid scientist who is also hosting a giant creature that looks exactly like a mouse, but is the size of a small horse, complete with saddle, and which Zita rides.

From this point on, and heading into the foreboding rust lands, Zita picks up a bevy of oddball alien associates, two of whom are mechanical, one of whom isn't, and finally tracks down and tries to liberate her friend, but there are surprises and betrayals in this story, so you never quite know who your friends are or who the villains are, or when your protective military robot will break down. None of this fazes the intrepid and fearless Zita at all, Not even a phaser fazes Zita, and she kicks buttons and takes names.

This was a playfully, and beautifully-illustrated book with a fun story that I enjoyed despite it being way out of my age group - or was it?! I commend it fully and will look for more from this author.


Monday, July 8, 2019

Sali and the Five Kingdoms by Oumar Dieng


Rating: WARTY!

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

I made it a third of the way through this before giving up due to the story moving too slowly, paradoxically jumping abruptly from one thing to another, and trying to be far too mysterious. It didn't feel very well-written to me. There was little descriptive writing, and none of the characters seemed inclined to use contractions: it was all "I am" and "you are" - nobody seemed able to say "I'm" and "you're" which gave a very stilted tone to the novel. I quit reading this when a 'mineral which isn't on the periodic table' was mentioned.

The fact is that there can't be anything that's not on the periodic table, which contains every element (some of which, such as manganese, for example are called minerals). Even elements we have not yet discovered are on the table with a holding space for their proper place when they're officially discovered and labeled. That's why it's called periodic, because it's predictable. We know where the undiscovered elements will appear on the table, and what their properties are likely to be. Most of the undiscovered ones are so unstable they don't exist in nature except for split fractions of a second in, for example, nuclear reactions. They're highly radioactive and would do no living thing any good. There's a potential 'island of stability' where there is thought to be a spot for a very heavy stable element around 184 neutrons in size. These have not yet been discovered or created in the lab, but they're not complete mysteries, so I don't buy this 'not on the table' nonsense and I don't approve of misleading young people on this score either.

In addition to this, Sali seems to live in complete isolation from the world, having zero friends despite being part of a Tae Kwon Do dojang (that's the Korean version of a dojo) and she seemed very moody and hair-trigger, even more so than you might imagine given what she's been through. The basic story is that Sali saw her mother quite literally disappear before her eyes when she was young, and thirteen years later, no sign of her mother has been found. Sali is a graduate (I guess from college - the story jumped so fast into it that it was hard to tell, which was another problem), and is starting an internship. Younger readers may enjoy it, but it's hard to tell who the book is aimed at because the main character, who unfortunately tells the story in first person, is (apparently) a college grad starting work, whereas the tone of the book is much more middle grade.

Additionally, the setting of the book is futuristic, but there's nothing in the opening chapter which reveals this, so when Sali gets into her car and uses this way-advanced heads-up display to navigate to a rendezvous, it really stood out starkly against the low-tech background the story had been residing in up to that point. It was quite a jolt. I let that slide, but as these minor hiccups kept coming, they became collectively too big of a hiccup to enjoy the story after quite a short time, and like I said, I gave up about a third the way in due to lack of interest in pursuing this. I'm not a fan of first person to begin with since it nearly always seems so very unrealistic, but that wasn't really the issue here, so that was a pleasant surprise!

But there were many problems. At one point there was this seemingly random information tossed into story about the discovery of a hive of wild bees - this supposedly 39 years after bees had become extinct. Note that 39 years is a heavy foreshadowing of three times thirteen - the number of years since Sali's mom disappeared, but that wasn't the problem. The problem here is that there's absolutely no talk of the issues it would cause if bees actually did disappear. Bees pollinate 70% of the crops that feed 90% of the world! You can't have bees disappear for almost forty years and there be no impact on society, yet this is how this story read. Again, unrealistic - serving further to isolate Sali and her story from the real world (that is, the real world as depicted in this story).

One problem for me was the disjointed writing style - with large jumps between one event and another with little or no indication of the time elapsed. When this happens between chapters, it's not so bad, but when it happens between one paragraph and the next with no effort to clue the reader in to the passage of time, it's confusing or worse, annoying, and this happened after Sali had foolishly gone to a rendezvous after some guy left a note on her car. Fortunately the rendezvous is in a public place and Sali has some martial arts skills, but it's not a good idea to let young readers think it's okay to meet a stranger, especially not when, as I write this, a young woman's body was found in a canyon after she met someone in Utah who evidently did not have her best interests at heart. Sali should have at the very least told someone what she was up to.

There were two problems with her meeting this guy. The first is that while the guy she meets actually does have information about her mother, as usual, it's very vague. He palms her off with advice to ask her father, and despite his having a folder with some extensive documentation in it, he never shares that with her, which begs the question as to why he's carrying it around in the first place. I'm not a fan at all of a writing style which creates an artificial 'mystery' by withholding information from the reader (and the main character) for no good reason at all. It makes the story seem amateur and fake, like bad fanfic.

The second problem is that Sali seems far too lax in pursuing this new information with her father. The story tells us it's several days after she met this guy Simon before she calls her father about it, which seemed unrealistic given how much she still suffers from her mother's abrupt and dramatic disappearance. You'd think she'd want to pursue it immediately and we're given no reason why she doesn't. More realistically, she would have called her dad the same night and the hell with waking him up, but this isn't the only weird jump in time. The very next sentence after she hangs up the call with dad begins, "It had been a few weeks since I had met with Simon Freitz". Just like that! There's no new chapter, no section symbol to indicate a gap.

Instead, there's one short paragraph where she relates that she's still angry with her dad, and then in the very next paragraph after that, her dad is arriving with her grandpa in his truck! He's back from London and there's no preamble or heads up, which could have been related in that previous paragraph. It's just so disjointed! This kind of thing turned me off this story pretty quickly.

Oumar Dieng motivational speaker, storyteller, author and life coach, and while I wish him all the best in his career, I can't commend this one as a worthy read.


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.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook which started out great, got a little lost in the middle section, but came out entertainingly enough at the end for me to rate it a worthy read for the middle-grade audience it's aimed at. It's in the 'Rick Riordan Presents' series, which apparently meant he offered some advice during her writing of it, but what that would have been, I do not know since shortening the middle section was what was required, and he either never suggested that, or she didn't listen if he did! I guess it's good of him to give a boost to other writers (depending on the motive behind it!), but I am not a fan of his writing at all, so seeing his name on something is more likely to turn me away from a book than onto it! Fortunately in this case I read the blurb before I ever saw the Riordan name on it, and I was interested enough not to put it back on the shelf.

I think the character names might have been better chosen! I'm sure that pandering to a western audience wasn't Lee's first thought in writing this, Indeed, in some ways the novel is bigoted in that it presents a sci-fi scenario where everything is Chinese which is just as bigoted as a writer who presents the future as American or any other nationality.

I'm sure the author felt the names were great, and objectively they probably were, but looked at from the point of view of a person listening, who may not be used to Chinese names, hearing something like 'Yune Me', especially while distracted by driving to one extent or another, made the name sound rather like 'You and Me', and so it went! One character was named Min, but it was pronounced like it read 'mean', so that didn't work too well for western ears. The final amusement was a character named Inspector Suk (not sure about the spellings since this was audiobook).

But maybe that's just me who loves playing with words. The story itself was quite interesting, being a blend of sci-fi and fantasy. The main character is Min, who is described as a 'fox spirit' who is also a shape-shifter, but she never changes into a fox (not that I recall, although I did skip some parts during the boring bits!). Her brother Joon, is in the military as a cadet on a spacecraft, but he has disappeared. When a government official arrives in Min's insignificant little village on an insignificant little half-terra-formed planet, Min's trouble-making ways are highlighted, and she's threatened with being shipped-off to stay with an auntie. She is not pleased by this.

Rather than let that happen she runs away, and eventually winds up - in a bit too much of a coincidence - on the same ship her brother was on. Since she can shape-shift and see ghosts, she makes a deal with the ghost of another cadet who had died during an encounter with pirates, to impersonate him. I somehow missed how it was that his body never gave her away. The idea was that in impersonating him, she could help him move on to the spirit world, and for herself, learn what happened to Joon. The ghost really is of no help to her, so I was at a loss as to why he was even included as a character in the story at all.

The biggest problem was that for me, this is where the story ground to a halt. Min spent far, far too much time dicking around on the ship learning how to be a cadet and learning nothing of what happened to Joon. Recall that this is a girl who can shape-shift and is good at it, so she could have impersonated anyone, gone anywhere and discovered anything, yet it was all cadet all the time, and it was boring.

I began skimming the story at that point until she finally got off the ship and went unsurprisingly to what was called a Lost Colony not because they didn't know where it was, but because they couldn't use the planet due to the prevalence of unfriendly ghosts there. That's where Min found the Dragon Pearl and became a hero.

That part was also much better and was highly amusing in parts, so this is why I gave this book a worthy rating, although it had problems. Those problems did nothing to win me back to thinking that Rick Riordan knows how to write! All he's ever done is steal Greek mythology, inexplicably move it to the USA and put a white savior in charge. That's not my kind of writing, but for this audiobook: a worthy read with the above caveats.


Athena's Choice by Adam Boostrom


Rating: WARTY!

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

I liked this story initially, but I had several problems with it: some of the writing was a bit off, the story moved slowly, the main character seemed really quite stupid at times, and the premise of a stolen genome was really thin. Even so I might have been willing to rate it positively, but the ending was such a let-down that I honestly can't bring myself to commend it was a worthy read.

The basic story is that of a future world which is highly technological and idyllic, and in which men are completely absent, having died out as a result of a plague which inexplicably seems to have afflicted only men. The story tells us that the plague attacked the Y chromosome in several different ways, which was why it was so successful, but it fails to address the fact that the Y chromosome is largely a degraded X chromosome, so it begs the question as to why this plague didn't affect any women? Why didn't it affect male animals? The chimpanzee genome is almost identical to the human genome, so did all the male chimps die out too? Again, it's never even mentioned, much less addressed. Closer to home, the question of what happened to transgendered people is completely ignored - like they don't exist or worse, don't matter. This was a bad no-no.

Equally bad was a complete failure to address how this had affected the world of human society and industry. While I don't doubt that there are women who would be thrilled were there no men around (and sometimes I don't blame them quite honestly!), I can't imagine that every woman on the planet would have been happy that no men were left. How did that affect life? How did they start to recover? Given that men are so pervasive in business and sports and so on, how did it affect those things? Women can of course fill any role that a man can, but that doesn't mean they come to that role with the same experience as the men who had been, prior to their disappearance, doing it on a daily basis, so what happened in the interim, until the slack was taken up? Did robots fill in?

On that score, this world, replete with AI, seems inexplicably devoid of robots and by extension (so to speak) of male sex dummies! Did every woman become lesbian? How? Why? Did the women immediately start trying to work out how to clone more women? How did that fare? Were there setbacks? Fights? Civil war between women? None of this is addressed. It's like the loss of the entire male half of the population was a complete non-event! While that's amusing to postulate, in practice, it needs addressing. The thrust of the story is not about that, so I didn't expect reams of backstory on the topic (that would have been boring), but to fail to address it at all, not even in passing, in casual remarks here and there perhaps, is inexcusable.

Anyway, after so much time without men, there is a movement and a scientific project that's been going on for five years, to recreate the male genome. It's not explained how come there isn't anywhere a computer file, hard drive, set of disks, or textbooks or anything remaining as to the male genome.

Given that the male genome is almost identical to the female one, it isn't explained why it's taking so long - except for some vague and farcical hand-waving about the virulence of the virus, and the fact that the genome must be robust enough to counter it, but this made little sense. If it attacked only human males and all human males died out, then the virus had to either die out along with them, and so would not be a problem, or it had to find a reservoir in which to survive and in time, to evolve. If it evolved, it would be a huge and ongoing problem, threatening even the female population! None of this is addressed, not even in passing.

One of the biggest problems in these dystopia type of stories is the failure to address the rest of the world. Did all humans die out or was it just in the US? If so, there are already males in other countries! Did even the males on the International Space Station die out? Those on remote islands? Even if they did, other countries are probably working on bringing men back and at the very least, they certainly have the genetic information available, but this story behaves as though the US is the only country on the planet!

Unfortunately, that's the blinkered tack that far too many of these futuristic stories take, and it makes the story seem really dumb. None of that was adequately addressed. I don't imagine for a minute that if all men disappeared, suddenly every country would get along and throw away its nationality to join together and make a world alliance. People aren't like that, not even women. If the US Republican women can't bring themselves to join the US Democrat women in issuing a condemnation of the president's repeated misconduct (at best) towards women, how can you expect women from entirely disparate nations to ever agree on anything like a world government?

Even without all of those issues though, the big problem with this novel was that the main character repeatedly came off as being less than sharp. She kept having dreams in which an urgent message was imparted to her. Now admittedly in keeping with this kind of a story, the message was vague to the point of uselessness - and frustratingly and irritatingly so - but this doesn't change the fact that something urgent was going on, and yet Athena never once reacted to this like it was an issue. She just let it wash over her like nothing was wrong, no problem existed, she was not somehow chosen to resolve a supposedly serious issue, and so on. This made her look stupid to me, like some sort of lackadaisical country bumpkin who just didn't get it.

Like I said, it didn't help that the dream warnings she kept getting were annoyingly vague. It's so reminiscent of other stories or movies/TV shows I've encountered where the psychic gets warnings of an impending murder or a disaster, yet they never get detail enough to stop it. Instead of "Stephen Davidson is going to be murdered by David Stephenson on the corner of Fifth and Main in Big City with a knife at two in the morning on Tuesday the eighteenth," all they get are the most worthless and vaguest of details and it's really irritating.

It would have been far more interesting had the warnings been specific, but something else had prevented the protagonist from getting the problem solved, but this was not such a novel. This one was of that same, vague, irritating nature, and given where the warnings were coming from, they ought to have been much better, but the worst part about this was again Athena's complete lack of motivation. She was so passive throughout, that she herself was annoying.

The reason that the premise was thin with regard to the genome being completely gone was several-fold. First is the ambient ignorance that seems so pervasive when it comes to how information is stored in a computer. There seems to be this crazy notion that if the information is copied, it's not really copied, but instead it's actually removed from the original and shifted entirely to another location. This isn't how copying works.

The problem here seemed not that someone had copied the genome, but that the genome was gone: i.e. erased. It is possible to delete the information, but deleting normally doesn't actually delete it, it simply marks the location as vacant - so it can be used for other storage, but unless the storage has been significantly overwritten since the deletion (which is how it's truly deleted), it's quite possible to recover it.

Having said that and in view of some information that became revealed later in the story, it's possible the thief did erase the information, and in such a way that it was impossible to recover it, but never once was this mentioned, nor was it explained how this thief got by the AI watchdogs. Instead, there was just this bland and blind assumption that it was gone and there were no backups, which was profoundly stupid. Of course there are backups, and unless the people operating the system are complete morons, the back-up is off site and in a secure location, preferably on a different medium that does not permit electronic outside access. So for example if you have some songs on your computer and also stored on disks, then if they're accidentally erased from the computer, you can restore them from the disks.

Now if even one person had simply asked, "It was deleted? Can't we recover it from off-site backup?" and was given a definitive "No!" (because the backup had been tampered with, for example), then the story would have made a lot more sense, but no one, not even the police captain in charge of the inquiry, ever asks this. It was a glaring hole through the whole story, but nowhere near as glaring as the fact that this whole thing was a charade, but I can't go into that without revealing a plot point (not that the plot ever pursued that point - which accounts for my dissatisfaction with the ending, an ending which just sort of fizzled out).

There were some oddities in the text here and there, such as when Athena who has of course never met a man, views them fantasy-like as having rough, calloused hands and strong arms. Whence this idea of what men were like? Maybe she read it somewhere? The thing is that it doesn't say that in the text, so it leaves this question hanging as to how she knows - or more accurately, why she has this bizarre idea of what a man is like. It's never addressed, nor is it addressed why Athena, evidently a lifelong lesbian, is suddenly fantasizing, completely out of the blue, about strong men.

At another point in the text I read the word "brusk" - except that it's not a word. The actual word is 'brusque', which comes to us from the French, via the Italian, via the Latin (as always it seems!) from a word meaning a brush, so it's really apt, but you'd never know that from 'brusk' which sounds like some sort of snack food for a teething toddler. It would seem that the misspelling used here is disturbingly becoming acceptable. The problem with such linguistic languor is that we lose the root of the word, and our language becomes poorer for it.

At another point I read, "The sky had turned from dark black to dark blue" but isn't dark black just...black? Another kind of oddity arrived when I read, "At the bottom if the box lay a small, pink, sapphire object." The problem with this is that sapphire isn't pink. Sapphire is a precious way of saying of aluminum oxide and it can come in orange, purple, and yellow as well as the more commonplace blue, but if it's red, then it's not a sapphire, it's a ruby! So whence the pink sapphire? No idea. By 'sapphire-like' was the author talking about the shape of it? But 'sapphire' isn't a shape, so I have no idea what was meant there.

One more thing I found confusing was when Athena, looking out of her apartment window one morning, spies a river of delivery drones so thick it obscures the pedestrians below it on the street. The thing is that in this world, everyone apparently has 3D printers in their home to make things, such as clothes, and even breakfast, so why is there this massive need for delivery drones? What are they delivering - masses of printing 'ink'? This seems to have been one more case where this world hasn't quite been thought through, and it happened way too many times. That and the thin plot and lackluster main character really disappointed me, and I therefore cannot commend this story.


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.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Sector 7 Adventures - The Battle at Half Dome


Rating: WARTY!

This was a dumb-ass comic book that came with the Blu-Ray of the movie Bumblebee. I've always had mixed feelings about the Transformers so this was a good way to get into a discussion of the whole genre under the guise of reviewing a graphic novel - of more like a graphic pamphlet in this case. I used to review movies on this website as well as TV shows, but I ditched all of that to focus on books when it became more work than I had time to do.

The first Transformer movie that came out back in 2007 was, I thought, really good - amusing, realistic (for the genre) and entertaining. The military battles seemed quite authentic to me (but what do I know?!) - certainly better than in too many military action movies I've seen. After that though, the movies began to go downhill, and for me they have never recovered, not even with two reboots (2014's Age of Extinction and its sequel which fared badly, 2017's Transformers: The Last Knight which I never bothered seeing, and the aforesaid series 'reboot' Bumblebee movie of 2018).

My biggest problem is that I can't take the premise seriously which means I have a hard time taking the movies seriously. They're flawed from the start, and admittedly they began as a kid's franchise - toys and then cartoons, but when they moved into adult/young adult movies, they became fair game, I think for some serious reviewing. The biggest problem is the colonialist attitude of American writers and film-makers in that everything is always about the USA. In one regard, it's understandable because these things originated in the US, but this fiction that all of this presents - that everything and anything of importance must take place here is provincialism at best and bigotry and isolationism at worst, and since the US is taking that path right now politically, I just think it's a bad time to be championing such a thing in fiction - like there's ever a good time!

So this leads to a race of robots that speaks American English and which comes to Earth for no reason. Let's face it, they're robots! They may need resources, but they do not need a planet which can support carbon-based life and which has an oxygen atmosphere, so why come to Earth? The Autobots (why do they already have an English name?) are supposed to be benign, yet they brought their troubles here and now Earth is suffering. That's not the act of a benign race! The Decepticons (again and English word meaning, essentially, evil!) follow them. Admittedly there was a reason for this in the first place, but once that was gone, then why the hell would they care where the Autobots go or what they do once they've left the home world? Why would the earlier Transformers come here at all in Earth's past?

Why are the transformers exactly like humans emotionally, behaviorally, and socially? They display the same facial expressions, the same emotions, the same need to talk rather than simply transmit by radio or some other means? Why are all of them built to resemble machines or animals you find on Earth? Even their home planet, Cybertron, has an Earth name! None of this makes any sense at all. Why would they have eyebrows and eyelids, and lips? Yes, obviously it's to humanize them, but none of this makes any sense subjectively.

Why do their weapons do so little damage to each other? The transformers are made from precisely the same finite set of known elements that the rest of the universe is, so how is it they can sustain so much damage? Why are there no EMP weapons in their world? Why didn't the damage done to Megatron in the first movie actually finish him off for good? And why does every Transformer have an Earth name?! Clearly the flaws are endless and while I was willing to overlook his for the first movie, the more they tried to add to the mythology in subsequent outings, the more laughable it became to me and the less interested I was in watching further editions of what is essentially just anthropomorphized robots fighting each other and causing horrific destruction wherever they go.

The presumption that the American military could go into a Muslim country on a whim in the second movie was shameful. I can't believe there wasn't more outrage over it, because it's this colonialist attitude that we can go wherever we want and do whatever we want, and permission, treaties, agreements and accommodations be damned which pisses off people and makes them want to hit back with terrorist strikes.

As far as this particular graphic novel is concerned, it's a microcosm of the larger problems. It's meant to be a prequel to the Bumblebee movie. Bumblee, one of the least capable Autobots, is sent to Earth for no reason at all, and of course is discovered by Blitzwing, but rather than utterly destroy Bumblee, all Blitzwing does is disable him. Why? Because Bumblebee has to survive, not because it makes any logical sense!

So in short, no. I saw Bumblebee in the theater because I didn't have to pay for the ticket, otherwise I would have skipped it, and I really wouldn't have missed much, because now Transformers have come full circle, going from toys to movie icons and now Bumblebee had brought them right back to where they're nothing but toys again. I'm done with Transformers.


Frank Einstein and the Space-Time Zipper by John Scieszka


Rating: WARTY!

I have to say up front that this audiobook (read averagely by the author and Brian Biggs), was far too boring for my taste. Younger children might like it, but I am far from convinced. Maybe it'll put 'em to sleep which would be of some utility. There was just something off about the book, and I'm not sure I can really put my finger on it, but it was not a pleasant listen at all. It was just tedious and didn't seem like it had any ambition to go anywhere interesting.

The story is about a bunch of chimps in a primate facility who have apparently taken over the operation and are running it themselves. I have no idea what they story was actually about because I simply could not get into it, let alone follow it, and soon I started skimming. It did not improve or become any more intelligible. Maybe chimpanzees will understand it, but it didn't feel like it was of value to humans, and I cannot commend it as a worthy read.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Prism by Austin Bay


Rating: WARTY!

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

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


Killashandra by Anne McCaffrey


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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


Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffrey


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, March 1, 2019

Black Light Express by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, January 28, 2019

Railhead by Philip Reeve


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, January 11, 2019

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


Rating: WARTY!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, January 4, 2019

Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack


Rating: WORTHY!

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

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

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

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