Category: sci-fi


Early this week is kind of like late last week, right? I think that’s how that works anyway. I’ve got a review for you all thanks to the nice folks at First Second for sending me a review copy, it’s Spill Zone.

Spill Zone cover

Three years ago something happened in upstate New York. No one’s sure what it was or why it happened. It destroyed Addison’s hometown, leaving her alone to take care of her little sister. Armed only with a camera and her rules Addison dodges both the physics bending horrors within the Zone and the military blockade outside it. All for pictures. All to take care of her little sister.

Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland’s Spill Zone fits pretty squarely in my wheelhouse as far as story concepts go. It isn’t quite fantasy or horror, more something between the two. The format is a bit iffy for me, this is the first volume of a graphic novel so it winds up being largely introduction to the world and characters. In a straight up novel that would be a massive deal breaker for me, it’s a little more forgivable here but does still hurt the story as it stands.

Let’s actually start with that. This is the first volume of Spill Zone rather than the full story all at once and I feel like there are two views that I could take on that. One is to look at it like one of the trade paperbacks of monthly comics, where I know I’m getting an arc and some connective tissue for the main story. That’s the more generous option. The second option is to look at it more like a book that builds to a sequel but has little substance on its own. In a lot of ways I lean towards the second one more. There’s a lot of interesting stuff introduced in Spill Zone volume one, and I do want to know more about what’s going on, but enough is introduced that nothing gets a real in depth going over. That’s where I run into problems with Spill Zone.

There’s a ton of interesting stuff that looks like it’s going to be expanded on in later volumes, but it isn’t expanded on enough in this volume for me to be super into it. Things like Addison’s little sister and her doll. Little sister doesn’t talk, except when she does, but she and the doll have what are apparently mental conversations. Sometimes Addison seems to hear them, sometimes she doesn’t. The doll, Vespertine, gains power from the Spill Zone and seems to rely on regular charges to maintain herself. I would love to see more of that and maybe the mysterious buyer for Addison’s art, Ms. Vandersloot, and have the other Spill Zone in North Korea and all the stuff related to that be introduced in a later volume. Because, as it stands, I feel like that was all just left hanging and could have been done better later.

So, that’s the story as it stands, what about the art? I like it. There’s this slightly sketchy quality to it that lends itself to the comic, especially its more surreal moments. I feel like the art did a lot of lifting to make up for the writing not being super. It’s emotive and atmospheric and, I feel, one of the best things about the book.

Which of course leaves the wrap up. I want to read more of Spill Zone but I’m also really disappointed at how little content it feels like this first volume has. So this is one that gets scored more on where I’m hoping it goes, and what looks like a lot of potential, than its own merits. I’m giving Spill Zone a three out of five.

Gauntlet

So that was a week without a review. Fun. Today though, I have something for you. Thanks to the awesome folks at Ace, here’s Gauntlet. Enjoy!

Gauntlet cover

A year ago Kali Ling was the first female captain in the Virtual Gaming League’s history. Now she’s the youngest ever team owner. With a new tournament starting up, pitting the best gamers in the world against each other, Defiance is definitely on board. But, between the new pods that constantly adapt to players actions and all her new responsibility as team owner, can Kali stick to her convictions or will she wind up being just as bad as the rest of the VGL when the chips are down?

I have issues reviewing this book. That’s one thing I absolutely need to mention first off, because what’s good can be really good. Unfortunately that’s balanced by the fact that what’s bad tends to be really bad. So, let’s get going.

One of the big things with Gauntlet, much like the book before it Arena, is that Holly Jennings tends to do really well with her character stuff. When Kali is interacting with her team there’s this great flow, these are characters who care about and support each other. They work through their issues by talking, and it’s made clear that communication is part of why they work as a team. I love this aspect of the book. I adore that problems get worked through because friendship and communication. But then that’s kind of why I can’t stand the romance between Kali and one of her teammates, Rooke.

Back in Arena, Rooke was brought in to replace one of their other teammates. He was new and hot and kind of a jerk, so obviously he’s the love interest. It felt under developed then. In this book though we start off with the relationship reset, Rooke has cut Kali out and left the team with no explanation. He did it for her own good, so he says, which immediately loses my interest. It feels like a lot of the Kali and Rooke working things out got cut in an earlier draft and was only left in so that she would be as off balance as possible at the beginning of the book. There was a lot of really self pitying stuff from Kali regarding how she’d been just as bad to him last year that just didn’t really pan. I could have done with a lot less of it, especially since the whole Kali and Rooke thing feels like Jennings was told she had to have a love interest in there somewhere.

Gauntlet can also feel very scattered. At first the deal is that Rooke fell off the wagon and what if he can’t sort things out. Add to that Kali not being able to balance leading the team and doing her job as the team owner. Add to that the tournament itself and something being off about it. Add to that the team being attacked in the tabloids. Add to that Kali still wants to fight corruption in the VGL and do what’s best for her teammates. It can alternate between feeling like there are three different plots that never really go anywhere and feeling like everything is happening at once. A lot of that could have been cleaned up by removing repetition and focusing more on the tournament itself and any single one of the other problems. There was a lot of repetition, mostly things that the reader really shouldn’t have needed to be reminded of like Kali worrying about doing what’s best for the team.

I would have personally loved to see more of the tournament itself. Jennings does a great job with her action scenes and, with the core idea the book is being sold on being a massive tournament, I feel like going more into the game itself would have been an excellent choice. It’s hard to overstate how much I like the fight scenes here. They feel visceral and epic. They’re the place where the characters are in both the most and least amount of danger and that lends them an interesting weight that a lot of the rest of the book lacks. The fights feel a lot like a well done boss fight. They feel like Defiance is up against the wall.

When we finally get the big fight scenes it’s, of course, near the climax of the book. So, it’s actually kind of fitting that my last issue with Gauntlet is with its ending. There were a couple of places where it would have felt really natural to end Gauntlet. They would have been solid and left it open for the next book without feeling like an ad for it. The author went past both of those and just went ahead and set up book three. My issue with this is twofold. One, it gives up a more solid satisfying ending for a much weaker one. Two, it makes the rest of the book feel like less. Suddenly it feels like reaching the end of a game and finding out that the ending it paid DLC. It feels like there is less point to Gauntlet because here’s this cliffhanger that steals this book’s resolution for another book’s beginning.

So, where’s that leave Gauntlet? A big part of my issue with reviewing Gauntlet is that the stuff I didn’t enjoy made me dislike that I enjoyed the stuff I did. For every time there was a scene of Defiance being a great team and friends and just really jiving well together, I remembered that Kali and Rooke didn’t have that for their scenes as a couple. For every awesome fight, there were a bunch of other scenes that felt like repetition for the sake of padding. For all that I really enjoyed the bulk of the book, the ending left me feeling like I just discovered that my Little Orphan Annie decoder ring was an ad this whole time.

It’s a decent enough read, and a good sophomore novel. There’re definitely bits that need work. Jennings could certainly tighten up her writing some, get rid of some repetitiveness. But at the end of the day, even with its issues, Gauntlet is a fun read. Frustrating because of the bigger problems, but fun. It’s definitely a three out of five, but I think with a little more time and a couple more books Jennings could be a five star writer.

Necrotech

So, things should be back to normal posts wise here soon. I will of course be rambling about things that aren’t books, but that’s just business as usual. There’s also a review. The book was sent to me for the purposes of an honest review by the awesome folks at Angry Robot. Enjoy!

Waking up not remembering the day before sucks. Waking up having lost months, with your girlfriend turned into a tech zombie and your team thinking you sold them out? So much worse. Riko’s reputation is shot and the only people who could help her aren’t so willing to help. To find out what happened, or even just make it until tomorrow, she’s going to have to fight smarter and harder than ever.

K. C. Alexander’s Necrotech reminds me very much of Shadowrun Returns, with it’s used future feel and the sharp delineation between the corporate haves and the everyone else have-nots. That just on its own doesn’t really do the book justice though. There’s a thread of desperation to the first third, with Riko trying to figure out just what happened to her and Nanji. Everything Riko’s built in her life has fallen apart, seemingly overnight, and she has no idea what’s going on or what to do about it. That works fantastically well.

Less fantastically, the pacing gets really slowed down in the middle section of the book. That can make it feel like a bit of a slog at times, especially since Riko keeps going over a lot of the same topics repeatedly. Given that one of those problems, Malik Reed, both feels like he’s being set up as a later romance interest and really doesn’t go anywhere as a character the slow down can hurt the book a lot. I really didn’t enjoy Malik as a character or Riko’s reactions to him. While Riko being bisexual is a part of her character, the power difference and back and forth between them really didn’t work for me.

That said, aside from the slowdown, Necrotech is fast, violent, profane, and utterly enjoyable. It’s got a great feel for scenery when it needs it. The tone stays on point for most of the run. And I really enjoyed the mix of futuristic technology with everything being so worn down and broken.

So, where does that leave Necrotech? I’m still pretty frustrated with the middle bit and Malik, but I also really want to read the next one. So, it gets a four out of five from me. There are issues, but I want to see how they’re worked out more than I am frustrated with them.

The Killing Jar

Is this really what it looks like? I’ve posted a review after all this time and it’s not even a holiday. Speaking of, I know what I’m gonna do for Halloween. More on that in a bit, for now, enjoy!

The Earth is wrecked.  Staying outside without a respirator is certain death and most of humanity lives in domed cities while scientists on the moon colony search for an acceptable new home world. Unfortunately something keeps killing them.

The Killing Jar by R. S. McCoy is an interesting piece of apocalyptic sci-fi in part because most of its individual parts should be bog standard by now, but they are combined into something quite entertaining. That’s largely because of the characters but also because each subplot has a sense of weight to it, like it’s going somewhere big.

This is one of those books that was really hard for me to review, largely because most of the issues I have with it are things that could have been dropped without a ton of change to the book proper. A big example of this was the, essentially, caste system that this society runs on. It wasn’t much of a bother to me until later in the book as I was thinking back on things. There was also some relationship stuff that really irked me, I’ll get to that later though.

So, there’re three tiers of society, plus a garbage level for people who don’t fit their caste or run off for whatever reason. Scientists get a bunch of genetic modifications to be tall and smart, they get the best pay, and they’re generally the most respected, but they don’t get to fall in love and they don’t get art or music. Craftsmen don’t get the genetic modifications, don’t seem to get paid much, and do most of the work building and maintaining everything, but they seem to get more personal choices than scientists. Then there’s artists, they don’t really seem to have a place in this world. Artists legitimately seem to exist in the plot for the male lead to get angsty over having to give up music and so his best friend can abandon him and science for his boyfriend. That’s probably a writing oversight thing, the book doesn’t really go into any caste except the scientists.  But if the author was going to use this particular convention, complete with mandatory selection day when you come of age, I really wish she’d done more with it.

My second big thing, as mentioned, was some of the relationship stuff.  Most of the relationships are painfully surface level and, much like the social striation could have been cut pretty easily. There’s a couple of exceptions that I feel like were done pretty well, but they were the exception rather than the rule. It’s not like the ones that weren’t done well were a huge part of their respective plots, it’s just that I feel like they either could have been done a lot better or came out of left field.

Now, all that said, I really enjoyed the book for the most part. It had a few more side plots than I would have liked, but they felt like they were going places instead of just being there as filler. The characters didn’t communicate well, but half of them are teenaged and the other half have hidden agendas. I definitely appreciated how much each character was gone into, especially given the number of side plots going on. The ending leaves me, instead of disappointed, curious to see where everything goes from here and how it all ties together.

So, all that said, R.S. McCoy’s The Killing Jar gets a four out of five.

Alright everybody, I’ve got the winners for the Navigators of Dune giveaway!

Congratulations Elise Smith and abbyesque, you each win a hard cover copy of Navigators of Dune.

I’ll need both of your snail mail addresses so that you can be sent your prizes. You can message me here with your email and I’ll get them that way, or you can email me through the tympestbooks email in the Review Requests page.

Navigators of Dune Giveaway

Alright everyone, I’ve got something super cool for you today. It’s a giveaway of the final Great Schools of Dune novel, Navigators of Dune!

navigators-of-dune-cover

Set ten thousand years before the series began, the Great Schools of Dune trilogy sets the stage for everything that has happened in the long running series. And, thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, this is your chance to get a copy.

I’ve got three copies of Navigators of Dune, that means three lucky winners!

How do you enter? It’s easy, follow my blog and leave a comment, tell me what your favorite bits of sci-fi are whether that is a series of books, a trope that gets played with, or something else.

The giveaway runs from today as of posting until midnight central time on the 20th. Winners will be selected using random.com and announced on the 21st. I can ship the book to anywhere in the United States or Canada. I will also need you to be willing to send me your email and mailing address if you win, so that the book can be sent to you.

Alright everyone, good luck!

Late as always, but not by months this time. It’s a review! Enjoy everyone.

Some years ago humanity began settling a new planet so that they could leave the polluted shell that was Earth and once again feel the sun on their skin and breath without respirators. They terraformed their new home, built cities, and started shipping in colonists and animals. The planet is a perfect place for humanity to start again, or would be if not for one minor issue. The planet’s natives, the Indigenes, aren’t happy with their aggressive new neighbors and want their home back from the beings that drove them under ground. Not all is what it seems and, between an alien world and an inhospitable Earth, it can be impossible to know who to trust.

Eliza Greene’s Becoming Human is the kind of book that I really wanted to like. It had enough elements that I usually love that I should have liked it. Unfortunately, it also feels very much like a first attempt at writing and had a lot of pitfalls that go with that. I’m imagining that she will improve as she continues writing.

Becoming Human’s biggest issue, to my mind at least, is that it spends the first half of the book introducing characters but giving the reader no time or reason to care about them. Most of the characters who are given point of view chapters could have been safely omitted from the novel to focus more on Bill, Stephan, and a couple of others who were directly important to the plot. The flip side to the lack of character development winds up being one of the villains, Bill’s boss, she gets a couple of chapters of focus and they don’t do anything to make her a more engaging character or a better villain. I’m certain that I, as the reader, am not meant to like her. But rather than not liking her because she’s doing terrible things, I don’t like her because it keeps being drilled into my head that she doesn’t like other women and that she has to have things done “the Japanese way”. It’s acknowledged in text that Japan was where she was trained, but that’s pretty easy to forget and the focus on doing things “the Japanese way” feels less like she’s an exacting highly organized villain, and more like the author didn’t really have characterization set for her.

So that’s my biggest issue, the other big one I can think of is the ending. The author spent the first half of the book or so introducing characters and not really going anywhere with the plot. When the plot finally shows up it’s jumbled and feels rushed and then, just as the heroes are actually going to do something, the book ends. It’s a painful set up for the next book given that the reader doesn’t actually get much story in this book, just a lot of characters that don’t go anywhere and build up. This one actually bothers me more than the characters not being well done, but it winds up being a smaller issue as a whole because not being invested in the characters leaves me not invested in the series.

So, with those as my big issues for the book, what works? I did enjoy the idea of the Indigenes and the initial deal with Stephen sneaking around trying to figure out how humans work. There were a number of ideas on the Earth side of things that, while fairly stock at this point, could have been pretty awesome with a little more work. This being stuff like going more into how Earth wound up with a single government for the whole planet, how people dealt with the air being poisonous if you didn’t wear a mask, or even what was done to prevent near endless worker casualties with the combination of ridiculous work weeks and stimulant pills.

How, then, does it rate? Being Human has a lot of minor issues and two really major ones and, unfortunately, the parts it does well don’t do well enough to make up for those. It felt very much like a first book and could have done with a bit more polish before being released. That said with work from this point I think Eliza Green could become a solid author. So at the end of the day, it earns a two out of five.

So, one of the reviews I have coming up is for the first book in Eliza Green’s Exilon 5 trilogy. She’s been excellent to work with. Enjoy!

It’s 2163 and the Earth has become uninhabitable due to overcrowding and poor air quality. Medical interventions mean people can live longer and genetic manipulation clinics provided by the World Government allow the population to look good while doing it. In the beginning, clean green policies were high on the World Government’s agenda until industries began to create their own energy. Not one to miss an opportunity to earn a little cash, the World Government swiftly taxed clean fuel until industries fell back into old habits of relying on cheaper alternatives, like fossil fuels. With 20 million people presently living on Earth, the planet is bursting at the seams. Increased investment in space exploration has allowed the World Government to search for a suitable exoplanet to live on. They finally discover Exilon 5.

 

When I wrote Becoming Human, there were a lot of things I had to get right. How much would the population realistically increase by in 150 years? How long would it take to reach a new planet? How would they get there? What would they find on the new planet?

 

Earth’s decimation was easy to write. Air pollution close to the scale in my story is already happening in Beijing. In my future Earth, people must wear gel masks to help them breathe. The sun’s diminished access to the planet has cooled the planet’s surface and temperatures struggle to climb above a few degrees Celsius/Fahrenheit during the day. Overcrowding is already happening in countries like Africa, India, and China. Access to resources is at a low for the majority of the population. In Becoming Human’s Earth, food farms no longer exist, land belongs to the wealthy and food replicators keep the rest of the population fed.

 

I created Exilon 5 in the image of twentieth century Earth when air was cleaner—well, cleaner than the Earth in Becoming Human—and when technology had not yet invaded our lives. In Becoming Human, the population of Earth relies on virtual assistants, virtual worlds and genetic manipulation clinics to help them cope with everyday life. And when they’re ready to die, termination clinics are at hand. It’s a bleak world they live in and Exilon 5 is everything that used to be great about Earth. But the discovery of a race already living on Exilon 5 causes tensions.

 

There is an alien race that lives on Exilon 5. Known as Indigenes, they differ greatly from humans in appearance. Their skin is hairless and almost translucent in appearance. They need lower concentrations of oxygen to breathe safely. Exilon 5’s atmosphere caters for their needs.  When humans arrive on Exilon 5 they terraform the planet to alter the atmosphere. Their actions drive the Indigenes underground where they live today.

 

Becoming Human is a story about the humans and the Indigenes and what happens when they’re forced to share a world. Who will reign supreme or will they live in harmony?

The Body Institute
Release
Date: 09/01/15
Entangled
Teen
Summary
from Goodreads:
Meet Morgan Dey, one of the top teen Reducers at The Body Institute.
Thanks to cutting-edge technology, Morgan can temporarily take over
another girl’s body, get her in shape, and then return to her own body—leaving her
client slimmer, more toned, and feeling great. Only there are a few catches…
For one, Morgan won’t remember what happens in her “Loaner” body. Once
she’s done, she won’t recall walks with her new friend Matt, conversations with
the super-cute Reducer she’s been text-flirting with, or the uneasy feeling she
has that the director of The Body Institute is hiding something. Still, it’s
all worth it in the name of science. Until the glitches start…
Suddenly, residual memories from her Loaner are cropping up in Morgan’s mind.
She’s feeling less like herself and more like someone else. And when protests
from an anti–Body Institute organization threaten her safety, she’ll have to
decide if being a Reducer is worth the cost of her body and soul…

Buy
Links:

 

About
the Author
I’m
a YA writer represented by Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary. My sci-fi
novel THE BODY INSTITUTE explores the themes of society, identity, and body
image. I live in the beautiful, green state of Oregon and have a Studio Arts
degree; I’m an SCBWI member.

You’ll usually find me in my writing cave, surrounded by my dragon collection
and the characters in my head. I also enjoy reading–mostly young adult
novels–as well as drawing, painting, and quilting. I also attend writing
conferences, walk with my husband, and enjoy music and dance of all kinds. 

Author Links:

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Blending Magic and Technology in The Left-Hand Way.

The second book in my American Craft series, The Left-Hand Way, is a new set of adventures for the magician-soldiers and psychic spies I call “craftsmen.” These craftsmen are armed with both spells and bullets, and my books have been described as fantasy techno-thrillers. This sounds like a contradiction in terms. Fantasy is associated with magic and supernatural creatures. The techno-thriller is associated with gritty, concrete details of the latest gadgetry, weaponry, and military/intelligence practices. How did I go about combining these disparate story forms of magic and tech?

One way these elements fit together in my series is, paradoxically, through the tension and conflict between their world views. The fantasy perspective allows for a critique of our reliance on tech and may reaffirm the continued importance of personal trust and connection. For instance, the villain of The Left-Hand Way has a preternaturally augmented ability to interfere with the texts, voicemails, and other communications of the heroes. The heroes are nonetheless able to find and help each other because of their mutual knowledge and trust, yet they also have a lot of low-tech self-reliance when isolated from modern networks.

The technological perspective may in turn provide a critique of the elitist or anti-democratic elements that are inherent in many fantasy tropes. With magic in the possession of an aristocratic few, my mundane authorities have a continuous problem of keeping even loyal practitioners in check. As much as I may sympathize with the perspective of my magical heroes, it’s easy to see that their very existence could pose a threat to democratic institutions.

The conflict between these elements comes to a head with the problem of life extension. Up until now in my cryptohistory, the quest for practical immortality has been the monopoly of evil practitioners, the so-called Left Hand.  But as technology increases, so does the prospect of significantly enhanced life spans for all. Why should my characters continue to forego immortality or other magical abilities that may be available to everyone through technology within a generation or two? In our real world, should financial elites forego certain post-human technologies or alterations, at least until they are generally available? Such questions lead to the corruption of the craft secret services, and will continue to haunt my third book, War and Craft.

But of course, the merging of fantasy and technology in my series can’t be exclusively through their conflict; they must also dovetail cooperatively to fit into the same world. Part of how I keep the fantasy elements in line with a “realistic” techno-thriller tone for my novel is by excluding any nonhuman magical entities. I’m as big a fan of a good vampire, werewolf, or elf tale as the next fantasy reader, but some techno-thriller fans will tune out of a story that includes such creatures.

Another way that I keep the story tone appropriate for a techno-thriller is how I handle the magic itself. First, rather than contradicting what we know of the world, my magic system largely fits beneath the facts of science and history, and my modern characters think of magic in the language of technology. The protagonist of my first book, Dale Morton, describes his spells as skewing the probabilities of events rather than running directly contrary to natural law. Certain uncanny incidents in American history, such as how George Washington’s army was saved at Brooklyn Heights, are almost as well-explained by magic as anything else. Arthur C. Clarke wrote that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” but what my characters think is that any sufficiently advanced magic is also indistinguishable from technology.

Also, the magic in my series has limitations similar to other armaments. It has logistical issues: craftspeople find it easier to recharge their power on home ground. Magic is also like a normal physical ability. A well-rested and healthy craftsperson will have more power than one who hasn’t slept or is wounded.

For my practitioners, magic is not viewed as contradicting their religious or other beliefs and practices. Craftspeople come from the full spectrum of belief or non-belief. For my modern-day Puritan protagonist of book two, Major Michael Endicott, magic fits within his ideas of Christian prayer. In terms of ritual language, simple words in the native tongue of the practitioner often work best, so long as the mind is properly focused.

A last component of having my supernatural elements fit into a techno-thriller context is the realism of my locations. In The Left-Hand Way, my characters are scattered across the globe in cities such as London, Tokyo, and Istanbul. I can make my far-flung settings seem real to the reader because I’ve been to most of them, and I think the spells in a location seems more concrete when the sights and smells are true.

Thanks to Tympest Books for inviting me here. If you like to find out more about The Left-Hand Way and my other stories, please go to www.tomdoylewriter.com.

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Tom Doyle is the author of the American Craft fantasy series from Tor Books. In the first book, American Craftsmen, two modern magician soldiers fight their way through the legacies of Poe and Hawthorne as they attempt to destroy an undying evil–and not kill each other first. In the sequel, The Left-Hand Way, the craftsmen are hunters and hunted in a global race to save humanity from a new occult threat out of America’s past. Tom’s collection of short fiction, The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories, includes his WSFA Small Press Award and Writers of the Future Award winners. He writes science fiction and fantasy in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. You can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website.