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

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Alice in Virtuality by Norman Turrell

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I got turned off this almost from the start, but pressed on because the topic interested me. In some ways it was reminiscent of the 1992 Al Pacino movie Simone, but whereas that was a simulation, Alice is a full AI. The book was still nowhere near as entertaining as the movie though. I skimmed bits and pieces and the more I read, the worse it got. A third of the way in I gave up on it completely.

Instead of focusing on the Alice character, which is what interested me, the author kept going off at tangents, playing virtual poker, playing a D&D type of game, launching an avatar into a virtual chat room, and all of that was tedious to me. The parts in which Alice was featured were more interesting but even those lacked something and felt repetitious at times. In the end I decided I have better things to do with my time than to pursue this when it was so consistently disappointing. I can't commend it based on what I read.

1996 by Kirsty McManus

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book was advertised in a daily book offer flyer I get, and it was free! The only problem was that the only outlet offering it was Amazon! I refuse to get even free books from Amazon anymore, so I emailed the author asking if there were other outlets, quite prepared to purchase it because the subject so intrigued me. I'm a sucker for a good time-travel novel! The author pointed me to a free copy for which I'm grateful, and we exchanged one or two emails, but that didn't affect my review of the book.

The premise of the novel is quirky, and this was what caught my attention. It's that this woman Anna Matthews, in her thirties and married, is a food blogger and she gets a trial dietary supplement from this business that she promotes. The literature with it says it 'rolls back the years' or something like that, so she tries it, and discovers that it's literally true: she ends up in her sixteen-year-old body in 1996. The effect lasts for 12 hours before she returns to the present in her regular mature body, and nothing she did on her trip back there seems to have affected her present, so she tries it a few more times.

I enjoyed this and read it quite avidly to begin with, but as the story went on, some issues arose. Anna is having some minor hiccups with her marriage, so on a whim, while her husband is off on a business trip, she decides to go back to see him as his 1996 self. He's apparently been a bit secretive about his past. He was eighteen back then and she finally tracks him down and goes to his house to meet him, but there's no answer when she knocks. Why she thought he'd be home on a weekday instead of in school is quietly glossed over. When she hears voices from the back yard, she walks back there to see if it's him, and she sees him sitting out in the sun with his then girlfriend, so she spies on him and she gets really jealous.

I don't want to give away spoilers, but it was necessary to tell you that much because the thing is that on her two previous trips she'd met this guy named Kurt and was warming to him. Given that, it felt really ingenuous of her to get jealous of husband several years before he ever met her, when she's already crushing like a 16-year-old on this guy Kurt, and she's actually a married woman! So now we have a triangle and she's behaving far more like she's sixteen than a mature married woman. This really bothered me because it took me out of suspension of disbelief.

I know this novel isn't aimed at a reader like me, but it all seemed off. It was made worse by this guy Kurt cropping-up improbably often. I know the author's likely plan was to get these two together, but he shows up with a disturbingly metronomic regularity. It felt more like he was stalking her than that these were happenstance encounters. It was too much too fast, and that spoiled the story for me. Anna's immature behavior didn't help. It was like she was already planning on breaking-up her marriage before she ever went back in time and Kurt just happened to be her manly savior. It was too YA for my taste.

On the other hand I have learned what a Queenslander is (it's a single-storey house with a wrap-around veranda), and what a City Cat is! I'd thought that was a bus, but it's a ferry. Also there really is a place called Shell Beach! I first heard that name in a movie called Dark City, but there's really a place called that in Brisbane. Probably lots of places called that, for that matter, but I'd never actually heard of a real place with that name until I read this novel. Since the author is Australian, she might give some thought to how non-Aussies will comprehend terms like 'Queenslander' and 'City Cat' and perhaps add a brief word or two by way of explanation.

So, there came a point where I had to put this down to read some other stuff that had a deadline attached to it, and so I did, but when it came time to resume reading it, I found I had could not raise sufficient interest to pursue it any further. It was the woman's rather juvenile behavior and Kurt's creepy stalking that turned me off, so I didn't pick it up again. Despite reading just over half of it, I really have no clue if my idea about Kurt actually took place or if she instead patched things up with her husband. If it was the former, then I have to say that she's far too shallow to be my kind of a character in a novel anyway, but frankly, by then I really didn't care enough to resume it. I wish the author all the best in her career, but based on what I read, I can't commend this as a worthy read.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Time Travelers Never Die by Jack McDevitt

Rating: WARTY!

I used to be a big fan of McDevitt, but lately I haven't liked his new material. Maybe if I went back and re-read some of his older stuff, such as the Academy Series or the Alex Benedict stories, which I loved, I might not like them so well any more, but the last book of his that I read was not entertaining at all. When I saw this audiobook come up on special offer, I jumped at the chance to read something else of his, but I was disappointed in it, too.

Paul Boehmer's narration did not help one bit. I don't know what he was trying to do, but he was making everything seem so dramatic that nothing actually was dramatic, and he put weird inflections on things. He also doesn't seem to realize that coupon does not have the letter 'U' as the second letter, so it's really pronounced coo-pon, Kew-pon. Seriously. That was annoying because it was used often. More on this anon (can I just abbreviate that to moron?!).

Even had I read this as a print or ebook though, I think I would have lost interest in it, because the main protagonist is so profoundly stupid, and events are so predictable that I could barely stand to listen to portions of it. It sounded slow, forced, and pedantic. One of the problems is that McDevitt writes this novel, set in contemporary times (it was published in 2009 based on a novella from 1997), as though no one has ever heard of time travel - not even in fiction.

The main character is Adrian Shelborne, who absurdly goes by "Shel." His father, Michael, has disappeared from a locked house, and no one can figure it out. How they figure he disappeared from the locked house as opposed to just having gone out and locked the door behind him was somehow lost on me. Maybe I missed it because I listen to this while driving and when I need to completely focus on the road, maybe i miss bits, but anyway it's this big mystery.

Adrian's dad has left behind three electronic devices which he inexplcably refers to as 'coupons'. It's like a little Chromebook from what I gathered, and you open it up and set times, dates, and locations, and it whisks you away to whatever you set. There's also a return button, but Adrian is too stupid to figure that button out. His first trip takes him to rural Pennsylvania, which isn't far from his home, but his time-travel visit takes him to the next day and he has no phone or wallet with him. He does this without thinking about what he's doing, like he's booking a trip online. Instead of trying out the return button, he borrows a phone and calls a friend to come pick him up.

When they arrive back at his house later at night, he thinks he sees someone in an upstairs window, but rather than come in with him and check out the house, his friend leaves him there alone and he doesn't even check out the house himself! It was obvious to me that he had seen himself, and this is confirmed later. This is after he spends a totally stupid day at work, not once realizing that he's time-traveled and this explains everything he encounters at work. This man is profoundly stupid. The next thing he does is take a trip back to witness himself and his friend arriving home, thereby confirming my suspicion that he saw his own face in the window.

This read far more like a badly-written middle-grade book than ever it did a grown-up work, and I couldn't stand to listen to any more of it. I can't commend writing like this, and after many wonderful years together, I guess I'm finally realizing that it's time for me and Jack to part ways. I wish him all the best.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Off Course by Simon Haynes

Rating: WARTY!

This was a short story aimed, presumably, at luring people into the writing world of the author in the hopes that you'll stay and buy books. It didn't work on me because I really didn't enjoy this story, so I was glad it was short. It's about a totally matter-of-fact encounter between impatient golfers and an alien spacecraft which has a crew who are evidently intent upon pulling Earth into their galactic sphere of influence. The golfers give them what for. You would think from that premise, that it would be funny, but I didn't really find it very amusing or entertaining, so I can't commend it.

Outlaw by Edward W Robertson

Rating: WARTY!

This was a sci-fi novel which is evidently part of the 'Rebel Stars' series and I should really have paid attention to that - not just that it was a series starter, and therefore I probably wouldn't like it, but also that name of the series which struck me as half-baked and overdone at the same time. I also should have been warned off by the blurb, which, despite this novel being published in 2014, starts out, "in the year 2010, an alien virus nearly wiped out the human race." Funny, but I don't recall that happening!

This is the second story by this author that I've read and I've been pleased with neither of them sdo I guess I'm done reading his material from this point on. He doesn't plot well, and so this idea in this particular story of an alien virus was poorly planned. No such virus is likely to harm humans because viruses, parasites, and bacteria evolve and specialize, so unless this alien virus evolved alongside humans, how is it going to even begin to affect us? Was it genetically engineered? There's no word on that, and the events of the novel tale place a millennium after the virus, so how is it relevant? Maybe it all 'falls together' later, but I didn't have the patience to read that far. To me it just felt like his signature style: poorly thought-out plotting. If you're going to write sci-fi, you really ought to have some knowledge of science!

As I mentioned, the story jumps from the wipe-out to a thousand years hence when humanity ("mankind" according to the genderist blurb, not 'humankind'), has recovered from this virus, so why even introduce the virus in the first place? Aren't we immune to it now? And if it's a thousand years with no return of the virus and no aliens in sight, then why is everyone so jumpy thinking aliens are lurking around every corner? That would be like us, in 2019, living in fear of Attila the Hun. And how are you going to shoot that alien virus anyway, if it returns? LOL!

The novel was a tedious read and after these people got into two bar fights in the first few pages, I decided I had better things to do with my time than plow through this anymore. I can't commend it except as trash-ready garbage.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Ambassador Seeing Red by Patty Jansen

Rating: WARTY!

Once again a novel where the blurb makes it sound interesting, but the practice of reading it was an exercise in tedium. I really must quit reading the first book of a series in the hope it might be worth the journey before we get to the end, especially if it's in first person because that's nearly always a grave mistake. The main character here, Cory Wilson, seemed so self-obsessed and self-important, and so profoundly stupid, that I was ready to barf, and I gave up on this tedious tome in short order.

It's supposed to be all on this guy to stop an Interstellar war. Ri-ight. I had no faith in him doing a damned thing, especially not in volume one of a series that I now discover has at least ten volumes. That tells me this author has no idea how to concisely tell a story and is more in love with her own writing than actually getting on with it and having a start, a middle, and an ending. No thanks. Here's hoping the aliens win! At least they, so the author, without a whit of irony, tells us, know how to get to the point!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Doomed by Tracy Deebs

Rating: WARTY!

This was another tired novel in first person. I think I'm going to systematically survey all of my books and give away or delete every last one of them that's in first person because I'am so tired of that worthless voice that it almost makes me ill when I see it in a book. Also, if I'd known that this author was a 'professor of writing' at a college, I would never have picked this one up on the first place. Such people are usually the very worst people at writing novels in my experience, but I've had it on my shelf for some considerable time, so maybe I was less picky when I picked this up!

The story launches into tropes form the outset - the disaffected teen who is parentless, the two guys, one a 'bad boy' and one a good guy for the inevitable YA lust triangle, and the ditz of a female main character who is so useless she can't possibly choose between them and leads both of them on like a cruel mistress for the entire trilogy. Get a tomb! Apparently this professor of writing teaches that it's best to rip-off every story that's ever gone before instead of writing something new and fresh. Either that or she teaches writing originally, and then hypocritically does just the opposite when it comes to her own projects. Either way this is not a person i want to learn anything from.

Main character Pandora wakes up on her birthday. Despite knowing better, she searches desperately for an email from her mom, but there is none. Yes, she's not an orphan per se, but her mother works for Big Fossil, aka Big Oil, and is often gone, and her father has been long gone, yet he's the one who sends her an email. How mom comes to leave Pandora all alone at home with no-one to keep an eye on her is a mystery. It's not like she couldn't afford a live-in caretaker for her daughter, but this lazy writer doesn't even bother to address that.

Pandora is quite obviously, it quickly comes to light, not the brightest silverware in the drawer. When she sees an email from her father, and despite being warned by her mother to delete on sight any emails he might send, she opens the lone one he does send and then clicks on the website it links to. This act unleashes something take instantly takes over the entire internet. Yes, everything, worldwide! No one is better than this hacker. No security is equal to it, so everything goes down. Then Pandora's computer lights up and she's offered the chance to play a game and save the world. Also, her two male consorts are let in on the game. How her father would even known she was hanging out with these two guys these days is one of endless questions left unanswered.

Idiot Pandora, despite the entire world being offline, decides they can go get pizza. This leads to a truck broadsiding them, and it was when Pandora, in first person, was describing in detail the accident that I decided I wither needed something to prevent severe nausea, or I needed to get the hell away from this piece of garbage. I chose to ditch the book. It's trash. I'm done with this author, too.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Djin Wars by Christine Pope

Rating: WARTY!

This one sounded interesting from the blurb and started out well, so it encouraged me to keep going. That's always nice in a book!

It begins with this woman, Jessica Monroe, who is a teaching assistant, starting to hear about a disease that seems contagious. It's on both coasts of the USA, but not in Albuquerque where she lives. It quickly shows up there though, and the mortality rate is extremely high. She sees her brother, her mother, and her father all die quickly from it. She seems very ill-informed about how to deal with an extremely high fever, giving her mother ibuprofen and putting damp cloths on her head when her temperature was 106 degrees and she should be putting her into an ice bath!

But it seems like there's nothing even hospitals can do, and once her family is dead, and the power goes out in her parents' home that same night, she decides to drive over to her uncle's house the next morning to see if they're alive. Apparently she's unaware that you can call people on your cell phone! LOL! Maybe the cell phone service is out now too, but the fact that the author didn't even mention it and somehow rule it out was a bit of a writing miss, I think. Jessica seems to have no friends, either, because she's not thought a single thing about calling any of them, nor has anyone called her.

She's started hearing this voice in her head that seems to appear randomly, telling her not very useful things, and she thinks she's imagining it, but she doesn't seem to be getting sick. The voice could have easily told her what it was up to and where it was directing her to, but it never did, meaning that yet another female writer has put her female character into the hands of a manipulative and domineering guy, for no good reason, and had her sappy female character goes along with it like a zombie. I'm sorry, but no. Pope the author seems to have as little respect for women as does Pope the Vatican guy and his church.

That next morning, with the power out, she looks out of her window to see the automated sprinkler system working across the street. I guess the author didn't think about how that would work with the power out. Another example of poor writing. Jessica sees the neighbor's dog out in their yard and adopts it - without even checking to see if the neighbors are alive - and sets off to visit her uncle.

So yeah, there were multiple issues with the writing, but I was curious about the story for a while. Before I knew more, I'd assumed it's called djin wars because there are jinn involved in the story and that's what the voice is that she's hearing, but how that would pan out given that it's supposed to be a romantic series, remained to be seen. I was merely hopeful to begin with that the writing quality wouldn't slip and Jessica wouldn't become too damned sappy, but my faith in such things is low and that's what killed this in the end. That and the poor writing, and Jessica's gullibility and stupidity. I don't mind an author's faux pas here and there. We're all prone to that, but if the story is good I can overlook those. I can't overlook really stupid so-called romance stories, and that's why I can't commend this. I'm done with this author. Next please....

Friday, November 1, 2019

Lake Ephemeral by Victoria Strauss

Rating: WARTY!

Famous author name, infamous writing! This is a Strauss waltz, but it waltzed off into boredom. It's a seriously weird story - but while it began as quite entertaining, it petered out a log way in and made me resent reading it at all.

It was set in Australia which made a very pleasant change from every YA story taking place in the USA as though there is no other country on the planet - or at least no other country worth telling stories about! Sara Finn has been an orphan since she was left by a woman at the age of five, who told the orphanage staff that the child's mother was dead. When Sara turns twelve, she's suddenly advised that her mother is alive and someone is going to transport her 'home' to the comfortable living she had enjoyed until she was 'kidnapped'. It's pretty obvious that the woman who dropped her off in the first place actually was her mother who was attempting to save her from whatever is happening back a the compound, so no mystery there at all.

This marked the first of some annoying 'glossing-over' episodes which haunted this story: things which happen way too conveniently, or coincidentally, or even inexplicably to be taken seriously. I was willing to let them go because I was enjoying the story, but eventually they began to trip the story up because they were too common, and other readers may have less patience with that than I did. I can't pretend they didn't cause my enjoyment to snag every once in a while. Be warned that I'm going to give spoilers here because I want to cover these problems with the writing. My issue with this first episode is that there's nothing whatsoever done by the orphanage to protect Sara - whose name, it turns out, is actually Seraphin, not Sara Finn - from the possible falsity of this new information. They do nothing at all to verify that this story they've been fed by a strange man is true - they just let Sera go! Maybe they're just more trusting in Australia?!

Anyway, she arrives at the compound and is told that her mother is sick and she cannot see her, and Sera accepts this without question and indeed shows no desire whatsoever to see her mother. If she'd been presented as a morose and troubled child, then maybe she wouldn't react normally, but she's not that kind of child. She's there quite some time before she evinces any sort of need to visit with her mother. These people won't even let her look in on mom. That whole business struck me as inauthentic. I don't know of any regular child who wouldn't make a fuss about seeing her mom after being forcibly kept apart for such a long time.

After this follows a strange time at the compound. Schooling is haphazard at best and the half-dozen or so children are pretty much allowed to run wild and even be mean or cruel to one another with little discipline, Sera learns that her father died after being trapped by one of these huge carnivorous plants that tend to grow in this particular locale. Sera also accidentally kills a girl who lives there while the kids are playing a game that this girl devised. The police are not called and no one seems to find anything wrong with that. It's kind of like being in China when you're under 13 years old and you kill someone. There really are no dire consequences for that, and there were none here. Finally, Sera decides she wants to see her mom! Subsequently she and mom plan an escape, but in the pouring rain while they were being hunted by the other people at the compound, the two of them fall from a roof.

Apparently her mother died from this fall, and Sera was put into one of these coffin plants which, it turns out, will preserve life if the victim doesn't struggle. The plant gives nutrients to the victim while sucking the victim's blood for its own uses. This is all 'explained' in some flashback mumbo jumbo which I skipped. But the thing is that after the fall from the roof, when she wakes up, Sera finds that five years have passed. The plant has kept her alive while her body healed, but she has also aged appropriately - and conveniently, and by that I mean not just her body but her mind!

I pass on this next spoiler because it leads directly to another problem with authenticity. Despite being in some sort of suspended animation for five years in this plant, when Sera gets out of it, and manages to escape, she finds her muscles haven't atrophied at all. That doesn't happen. If the author had said something about muscle therapy during those five years, or about the plant doing something to keep her in shape, that might have helped gloss over it, but she didn't, so we're left with another lapse in suspension of disbelief instead.

Now she and this guy named Kite whom she knew from when she was twelve, who has also aged of course, finally flee the compound, trying to make their way to Europe to get to the bottom of the origin of this place they both just escaped from. Very conveniently, just when they need to take an airplane flight, they happen to run into a party from the school Sera used to attend before she was sent back to the compound, and lo and behold, one of the people on the trip is her best friend from back then, who is with her boyfriend! Neither of them want to go on this trip and both of them are willing to give up their passports and tickets so Sera and her friend can take their places. This was really way the hell too convenient, but by this time I was curious as to where this was all leading so once again I let that slide.

I wish I hadn't. Normally I'm not this generous with novels, especially YA novels, but this one was different - and not set in the US, and not a sappy love story, so I was willing to grant it a bit more leeway, but these were all problems that could have been solved by better writing, and the fact is that things simply didn't improve. The longer I read, the more frustrated I became with the writing, until I simply gave up out of sheer frustration quite close to the end because i was so tired of the dragging story and the sloppy writing. I can't commend a book that was way too long and so haphazardly written.

The Glitch by Elisabeth Cohen

Rating: WARTY!

This was a book I found in the library and which sounded interesting from the blurb - a highly-driven professional woman literally meeting herself and - I was thinking - maybe learning something from a stepped-down version of herself, but it didn't turn out that way.

The book began with the family (this woman, her husband, and their daughter) on holiday. The daughter disappeared while both of them were on their phones conducting business. She apparently was taken home by some guy, who then called the parents to tell them that she was safe and sound. That just creeped me out. The book was supposed to be funny, but it wasn't, not remotely. Kirkus Reviews - clueless as they are, described it as a "painfully funny satire". The got the pain right. If I'd known beforehand that they'd recommended it, I would have fled from it like it was Ebola virus. But as it is, no, just no. The more academic the writer, the less I tend to like their pretentious pap. This novel sucks as befits a person who has a masters in writing. Now if she'd said she had a mistresses in writing, maybe that would have been funny.

Forced in Between by Alexandra Ispas

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was an odd story to which I'm sorry to report I cannot give a positive review. The author is really quite young, and I think that might be the reason why main problem with it is that while it's superficially a book written for adult readers, it reads more like a book for middle-grade or younger because of the writing style. I think the author has talent and a future in writing if she works at it, and my advice to the author before she embarks upon another novel, is to read some good novels on the same topic that she aims to write about, and learn from them with regard to writing style, as well as dialog and descriptive writing.

The story is sci-fi and the plot is of an ongoing war between what I assume is humans, and an alien race, but details of the war are really non-existent. I'm not much of a fan of huge backstories and certainly not of info-dumps, but the problem here is that we get no backstory at all, so the basis for the war, or how long it's been going on, is a mystery. Perhaps this was intentional, but still I feel something could have been offered. These are students, remember, in a classroom environment, so this is the perfect venue to offer information about the war and its causes and so on, as well as about the aliens, during the normal course of the day's studies, but we get nothing of the sort.

The real problem though is that this story isn't about the war at all. It's about these students training to fight it, and even then we get more of a melodrama about the students interacting on a personal level than ever we do about training, or any information about when these students are likely to graduate. Despite the focus being on the students, we learn very little about them at all. They felt more like chess pieces being moved around the story by the author rather than real, self-motivated characters with agendas of their own. Because of this I found I did not care about any of them, much less what would become of them. This was part of the reason I did not wish to read on.

Even that isn't the oddest problem. To me, the oddest problem was why these students, who at one point undergo aerial bombardment from the aliens - all without anyone fighting back! - are practicing sword fighting! When are they ever going to sword-fight the aliens? There is some unarmed combat, which is fine, but almost no training in weapons, or tactics, or leadership. These students are being prepared for failure, not for becoming soldiers. Again, maybe it's what the author intends, but I read through some fifty percent of this book, and nothing changed. If the author had at least shown us the students in a class during the earlier part of the novel, learning about alien physiology and psychology, this could have been used to prepare us for what happened later, but this was another opportunity that was missed.

At one point there is this thing going on about this secret weapon, which (the description was vague) appears to be a set of little disks that can project holograms, such that when they're laid on the ground, the disks make it look like there is a person there above it. During the aerial attack, students are out there placing these holo-disks and I had to ask to what purpose? It assumes the aliens have vision exactly like ours and that they can be fooled by static holograms, 'killing' those instead of killing real people. This also assumes that the aliens don't have any other technology than their eyes and their eyes work just like ours. It assumes they wouldn't seek to thermally-image targets - so they can see that it's literally a warm body and not an empty shell of light. Militaries do some dumb things, but I can't believe this would be a real project thought-up by the military when they could be spending that same huge budget on advanced weaponry. It's not the way any military works.

The other oddity is that the main character, Jennifer, is the only woman in the entire academy, yet no one ever really remarks on this. Why is she the only one there? In fifty percent of a novel I expect to get some answers about that, but none were forthcoming. The thing about Jennifer is that she makes close contact with an alien but never reports it. She seems predisposed to believe what the alien tells her rather than suspect this alien might be a spy. Clearly the intention is that the alien is friendly, but we're not offered any good reason why we should buy into this idea, and it seems particularly ironic that we should be expected to believe the aliens are benign right after they have bombed the crap out of a site that's not even a military base per se, but a school. How friendly can they be?

Those were the most egregious problems with this novel. In short, it made little sense, it moved ponderously slowly, it was written in a rather juvenile voice, and I never found myself becoming even interested in, much less invested in any of the characters. I've tried not to be cruel in this review because the author is young and I believe she has talent, but I would be doing her a disservice were I not to tell it like it is. I can't commend this novel, but I do hope the author continues her writing trajectory and sticks with it. I honestly believe there are successful places she can go with her writing.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Destruction by Justin Edison

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I was interested in this novel despite it being not the sort of novel I tend to like: the idea of interstellar war I find rather laughable. I think aliens would have better things to do with their time and resources, so it's really hard to find a good novel, let alone a series of this genre, and by good I mean not only engaging, but also realistic. I was hoping this would be different, and what intrigued me was the idea of the female sniper, June Vereeth who is the main character. In the last analysis though, I didn't like it, and I'll tell you why.

Note first that this is volume 2 of a series - again something I am not much a fan of (both series and volume 2's!), but at least I went into this knowing it was a series and that this was not the first volume, since this one is billed as ' Woman at War Book II' (that's Roman two, not eleven or "Aye-aye, Captain." It's nice that a publisher announces this right there on the front cover. Far too many do not, and I find that intensely irritating.

Among the many problems with a series is that unless you're binge-reading them after the series has been released in its entirety, you discover that the author is stuck between info-dumping to bring you up to date with events over previous volume(s), or leaving you in the dark. It seems very few authors can find the happy path between those two extremes. This author went the 'in the dark' route, so I was clueless about what had been in the first 'book'. I also had no idea if this was set in Earth's future and these people were descended from people on Earth and intermixing with - and in some cases fighting against aliens, or if everyone was human or none of them were.

That wouldn't have been so bad had there been some rationale and consistency in the story-telling, but it seemed like a bit of a jumble to me. Terms were tossed around, including names for possible alien species, with zero actual detail revealed, as though the reader was expected to know all about them. Perhaps the expectation was that those who wanted to review this would have read volume 1, but this is an ARC and there was no option to try volume 1 before I reviewed volume 2. I don't recall ever seeing volume 1 of this series on Net Galley, and this one interested me, so I tried it. That said, some guidance interleaved with the action in this book would have been appreciated; not that there was really any action in the portion I managed to read before I gave up in dissatisfaction.

As an example, we got long distances given in miles, but then short distances given in 'legs'. I have no idea what a leg was. Weights were given in 'bars' - again - no clue what that was supposed to represent, and there was no guidance on how to translate it, so in the end it was quite meaningless. If every measure had been given in alien terms, that would have been one thing, but to mix it like that with terms that aren't even in use today was just annoying to me. Maybe if I'd read volume 1 it would all have been clear, but I guess I'll never know. Since I'm done with this series, it doesn't really matter at this point. And no, I didn't go looking in the back of the book in case there was a glossary - I shouldn't have to!

What really turned me off the story though was the tediousness of the opening sequence, where soldiers were climbing these giant rock pillars. The pillars (so it seemed, although it wasn't exactly clear) were a natural formation of individual and extremely high rock columns with flat tops. In a highly unlikely event, an allied spacecraft had crashed on top of one of the pillars and these soldiers had been sent in to recover something from it. The job was rendered all-but impossible because the rocks were shrouded in fog which inexplicably never dissipated or blew away, so visibility was down to very little. Definitely not more than a few 'legs' - or maybe not! Who knows? Is moving over a short distance called 'pulling legs'?! To make things worse, the rocks were magnetic, which prevented anything electronic from working in their vicinity.

I'm sure the author thought he'd done everything to render this climb and tedious exploration of the tops of hundreds of these pillars inevitable, but he's missed a few things. One of these things was a magnetic survey. Yes, the rocks were magnetic, but so was the spacecraft, presumably, so any distortion in the more or less regular pattern of the rock formation might be a place where the ship had ended up. Another option that went unexplored was sonar. Signals beamed down from up above and the rebound recorded would have been able to map the rocks in sufficient detail to identify the one which contained the crashed craft and magnetic interference was irrelevant.

Perhaps landing atop the pillars using was an option. if a spacecraft could accidentally crash-land on top of one, a glider could sure make a controlled landing! It would have been no more risky than the climbing they were doing! Another option would have been to explore the foot of the pillar formation for debris from the crashed ship. Not every last piece of it was on the top of that one pillar. There has to be debris. That would have at least narrowed the search down.

The author had mentioned some brush down at the bottom, interfering with access, but I don't imagine that would have been an insurmountable obstacle. Setting fire to the brush would have lifted the fog! A final solution would be to have bombed the crap out of that entire area, to destroy the ship so the alien enemy couldn't recover it. Just mentioning these as not feasible for whatever reasons would have been a good idea, but to pretend like scaling the pillars was the only option was a bit short-sighted.

But sometimes the military does make really dumb decisions and it costs lives, so I was willing to go with that, but the story was so ponderous, and so repetitive with the long climb of that first pillar and then the traversing from one to another by stringing lines across the tops and shimmying along them. It was frankly a boring read. Worse than this, Vereeth was a sniper. Why send her to a place where there's no visibility? It made zero sense.

The disappointing part about her involvement was that she was supposed to be a trained soldier and yet she seemed appallingly weak, especially for this mission. Were there no other snipers available? Again this wasn't explored. The situation was exacerbated unacceptably once more by the story being told in the first person, so she came across as a chronic whiner, which turned me right off her. First person voice is worst person voice for precisely this reason (inter alia). For a number of very good reasons, it's typically a bad choice for telling a story - especially a young adult story, which this fortunately wasn't - and if I'd known beforehand that this was a first person voice novel, I would not have requested it for that reason alone.

So while I wish the author all the best with this series, for all of the reasons I've gone into, I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Proto Project by Bryan R Johnson

Rating: WARTY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

"We can't be a minute to soon or late." - should be 'too soon'

This book didn't sit well with me for an assortment of reasons. Opening it with the main character looking in a mirror is old hat, so when I read, "Jason Albert Pascal stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror" I was already starting-off on the wrong foot. Note that this novel isn't aimed at me; it's aimed at middle grade and I am far from that, but I've read many middle grade novels that have appealed to me. This wasn't one of them.

It's subtitled "A Sci-Fi Adventure of the Mind" and I'm honestly not sure what that meant because this was hard sci-fi, not fantasy or psychological, about two kids who come into possession of an advanced AI in the form of a tiny mechanical 'transformer' that can reshape itself from a walking pseudo-spider to a wristwatch look-alike and so on. It also changes color to exhibit mood. On top of that it's really dumb about some things and amazingly advanced about others. In short, it was too good to be true.

I've seen characters like this in movies and TV, such as Commander Data in Star Trek Next Generation, for example, who was quite simply absurd in his mix of complete naiveté about common situations, to his annoyingly trivial pursuit of others. It made no sense, and can only ens up making the AI look moronic.

Perhaps kids of the age-range this is aimed at will not see anything wrong with this, but for me, too cutesy pets and robots are nauseating. My own kids have grown beyond this age range, but I don't feel they would have been much into a story like this when they were younger. Not that I or they speak for anyone but ourselves, but on this matter of age range, another problem was that the kids seemed to express themselves way beyond their age and even beyond realism at times, employing terms like 'nefarious' for example, which struck me as inauthentic at best.

The biggest problem though was that once again the kids are doing all the investigating with little to authenticate it. Obviously in a story like this you don't want the kids calling the cops and then sitting around at home playing video games while the cops nab the bad guys! You have to get the kids out there and put them at some risk, but I don't think you can realistically do that any more without offering some sort of rationale as to why it is that they can't just call the police. We never did get such an explanation here; all we got was one kid's hunch about the FBI agent being a bit suspect, and then they were running with it.

I don't believe kids should be talked down to or written down to. Kids these days are more sophisticated than ever, having seen TV and movies about a whole variety of topics, including police investigations, science fiction, super heroes and on and on, where grown-up language and attitudes are expressed (and where nefarious isn't spoken even once!), so I think you have to give them a fair shot at a realistic story; however, this one had too many holes in it, with them being thrown into risky situations inorganically, and in one case where a parent actually puts them at risk.

That latter scenario came about when mom, the inventor of the AI, had built a second one in captivity, and used the communciation element to convey her whereabouts to her children. I had it ask why? Why risk putting them at risk? Why not use the communication opportunity to call in the police? If there had been a reason given why it must be this way, that would have been one thing, but it made no sense to have her put her kids any further at risk than they already were for no good reason.

A bit more social conscience wouldn't have been amiss either. For example, this AI must have had the most amazing battery ever invented, because it never recharged and it never ran low on energy! That kind of technology could revolutionize the world and free us from a lot of fossil fuel dependence, yet it was being used in what was little more at that point than a cute toy! Clearly no thought had been put into how this toy was supposed to function!

For one more example, I read early in the novel some speculation by the boy on what his mom was doing in her secret lab at work. He asked himself, "was she working on space tech to colonize another planet in the event of a global warming crisis?" Well, we're already in a global warming crisis, so no, it's not coming: it's here now, and kids need to be educated about this. But the way to fix it isn't to abandon Earth, it's to stop pumping CO2 and methane into the atmosphere and take urgent steps to scrub those gasses from the very air that we've ignorantly spent the last 200 years polluting with them! "In the event of" doesn't get it done. Not remotely.

I was disappointed in the educational opportunities that were missed here, and the flights of loose fancy that this novel indulged in. It was a sound basic plot, but for me nowhere near enough was done with it. I can't commend this as a worthy read based on the sixty percent of this I read before I decided to DNF it.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Nightmare City by Jack Conner

Rating: WARTY!

"You're 'friend'?" should be "Your 'friend'"
"Kat ducked under it, hurt a splash, and smelled something foul." Heard a splash?

This book had a few typos which is not big deal for me. The ones I noticed are listed above. The story started out great. Set in an alien world (or maybe Earth of the future, but gone real bad!), Kat is a petty thief operating on the edges of major crime boss territories.

One blurb has it that "In the dystopian, steampunkish city of Lavorga, the young and beautiful thief Katya has stumbled upon a plot that may spell the end of the world . . . and only she can stop it." Why beautiful has to be spelled out I do not know. I don't recall reading that when I found this book on offer. If I had, I would have rejected it out of hand. What makes her special if her only qualities are young a beautiful? That's pathetic. When she grows old is she going to be worthless? That is what Hollywood seems to think, so maybe this author - or the blurb writer - has bought that kettle of rotting fish. The young are often beautiful; youth is often the mistaken for beauty. They're two sides of the same coin and tell us nothing.

The thing is I started out liking it, but once the big crime boss she goes on a spying mission for welcomes her back and is uninvitedly manhandling her, and she offers no objection to it, I lost all interest in it and ditched it right there.

The story hadn't been making a lot of sense, but it was engaging, as was the character (but not for her youth and 'beauty'). The problem was that life ran a little too smoothly for her, and I could see exactly where this was going as, returning from her mission, the waifish girl was subsumed by the big muscular man. I had no desire to go there with it. Grab a barf bag if you plan on reading further than I did. You'll need it. I can't commend this based on the sizeable portion I read.

The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

Rating: WARTY!

I guess I'm not an Asimov fan and this is the last of his I will review. I've tried his work before and never got along with it. This one sounded interesting, if a little dumb, premise-wise: "In the twenty-second century Earth obtains limitless, free energy from a source science little understands: an exchange between Earth and a parallel universe, using a process devised by the aliens. But even free energy has a price. The transference process itself will eventually lead to the destruction of the Earth's Sun-and of Earth itself."

The thing is that we already get free energy from the sun without any destruction of anything - if we were only smart enough to understand that and avail ourselves of it. Asimov offers no rationale for a need to try alternate energy sources. That wasn't the biggest problem here though, and I was willing to overlook his gross error for a good story, but that's not what he offered. The story starts with chapter six for no reason I could discern. At first I thought I'd missed something but no - he even has a footnote on that same page explaining that it will make sense, but it didn't!

Instead of counting down from there or whatever, he starts counting up from chapter one and then reverting back to 'chapter 6 continued' periodically. Even that I could have coped with, but the story was nonsensical and utterly boring and I gave up on it in short order. Maybe there's a good story in there somewhere, but I lost patience with it and couldn't be bothered trying to search for one when other books were calling and willing to share their story without requiring a contortionist reading position. I can't commend this one and I'm done with Asimov.

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!

“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.