Category: sci-fi


Hey all. Sorry for the radio silence, I’ll go into that more in the housekeeping post when it goes up on Friday. I’m running late on a lot of things, so stuff is being shifted over temporarily. For now though, I’ve got an excerpt from Julie E. Czerneda’s To Guard Against the Dark for you all. Enjoy!

To Guard Against the Dark cover

Chapter 1

STARS.

Fingers interlaced, her hair stroking his cheek, they’d walked the nights of ninety-nine worlds. Floated in space to watch planets spin. Lain naked on mossy ground, lost in one another, under so many stars—

Those had been real. These couldn’t be. The ceiling lay be­neath a covering of formed concrete, plas, and a significant amount of natural stone, a roof he’d built to keep out more than the night sky. Could be a dune curling overtop as well, it being sandstorm season.

Yet, still, stars twinkled overhead, wheeling in formation as if he watched them through time.

A dream. That was it. He shut his eyes, fingers straying to the cool metal band around his wrist. Touch seemed odd, for a dream.

He opened his eyes. Looked up. Surely only in a dream could a segment of that starry scape flex . . .

Bend . . .

Lean down, closer and closer, those stars about to crush him—

/need/~location?~/urgency/

For the— “No more!” he shouted, furious. “Get out of here!”

A heavy arm—something arm-ish— lopped across his chest and slid away. Jason Morgan squirmed in the opposite direction. “On! On full!”

The portlights obeyed, blazing into every corner of the room.

He was alone.

***

“I heard you the first time.” Huido Maarmatoo’kk emphasized the “first.” “A Rugheran was on your ceiling. The starry kind, like the ones you saw on Cersi, not the dark greasy kind here. Your shout woke me from a most pleasant dream, you know.” A sigh like rain on plas.

His hands wanted to tremble. Morgan wrapped them around his warm cup, guiding it to his lips with care. The kitchen felt strange. Too bright. He hadn’t, he thought abruptly, sat at this table for— e hadn’t, since, that was it. Hadn’t left his quarters.

Hadn’t bothered to move, in case it hurt. Fine plan, that was. All of him hurt.

Most of him stank.

Not that it mattered.

“Yesterday, you saw a Rugheran in the accommodation. You shouted then, too. And threw a jar of something at it, making a mess, at which point it disappeared. Can’t say I blame it.”

Morgan glowered through the steam at his companion. Gleam­ing black eyeballs, each on their stalk, lined the opening between the gently pulsing disks that served as a head. Unblinking eye­balls. He should know better by now than try to stare down a Carasian. “It’s not my imagination. They travel through—” the M’hir, he almost said, and flinched. “They don’t use doors. You know that. They’re here and they’re real.”

Unlike what else he saw when alone: the curve of a smile, the luxurious flood of red-gold hair, somber gray eyes flashing with sudden heat—

Sira.

Always, always, no matter how he tried to stop there, stay, the ending followed. The furious boil of waves on an unreal beach—

Her fingers, letting go—

That hollow, inside, where she’d been.

He’d curl into a ball and shiver until he fell asleep or passed out, always cold. So very cold—

A soft chink as clawtips met under his nose. Morgan refocused. “What?” He tried not to snap, wearily grateful Huido bore with his tempers and accepted his silence. He wasn’t ready to talk.

They hadn’t spoken in what might be days, come to think of it.

Something was different. He blinked. His friend’s massive car­apace was peppered with gleaming metal fragments, between the usual hooks for weaponry, the fragments from a groundcar that had exploded too close. Huido’d removed the largest to keep as souvenirs—but that wasn’t it.

The black shell was a maze of fresh scrapes and gouges, some deep. “What happened to—” Morgan’s voice broke. Gods. “What did I do?” a whisper.

“You weren’t yourself,” Huido informed him. The big alien eased back, wiggling the glistening pink stub of what had been his largest claw. “Nor am I. After molt, I will be magnificent once again! We need more beer.” In a confiding tone, “Beer speeds things up.”

He’d hit bottom, that’s when they’d last spoken. When he’d— Morgan’s face went stark with grief. “I cursed you. Ordered you to leave.”

“Bah. Why would I listen? Your grist wasn’t right.” The intact claw, capable of severing his torso in half, tugged gently at his hair. “Better. Still stinks.”

“I attacked you.” Morgan remembered it all now, too well. He’d been wild, raving. Huido had squeezed himself into the door opening to seal him in his quarters. Morgan had struck out with whatever was in the room—until he’d collapsed, sobbing, at Huido’s feet.

Eyestalks bent to survey the marks. “You tried,” the Carasian corrected smugly, then chuckled. “I’m glad you didn’t hurt your­self.”

Morgan reached up. After a second, the centermost cluster of eyes parted, and deadly needlelike jaws protruded, tips closing on his hand with tender precision. “Huido—”

The jaws retracted and Morgan found himself reflected in a dozen shiny black eyes. “The past.” The lower claw snapped. “The present! Why are the Rugherans here?”

The Human dropped his gaze, staring into the sombay. “They’re looking for—” His sigh rippled the liquid. “For her.”

“To the Eleventh Sandy Armpit of Urga Large with them!” Huido roared, shaking dishware and hurting Morgan’s head. “Tell them I said so!” After a short pause, he went on in his nor­mal voice. “You can talk to them, can’t you?”

“I don’t want to.” It sounded sullen even to him, but Morgan couldn’t help that, any more than he couldn’t help but hear the Rugherans: their matrix-like speech, emotion blended with sin­gle words or the simplest of phrases, flooded his mind despite his tightest shields. Cruel, to come to him here—

—where he came for peace.

It hadn’t always been so. The first time Morgan set foot on Ettler’s Planet, he’d been dumped there. His own fault, having yet to gain the most rudimentary knowledge of what offended non-humans. The Trants could have removed his limbs for suggesting—well, being dumped had been the best option, suffice it to say, and one reason he’d gone on to learn everything he could about the manners of others.

That sorry day, he’d prided himself on a close escape. Instead, he’d been left in the worst place for a telepath, even one of his latent ability, for this world’s Human population contained more than its share of the minimally Talented: those whose thoughts leaked constantly, without self-awareness or restraint. Morgan’s natural shields protected his mind from others.

He didn’t know how to keep their minds out of his.

Half-maddened by the bedlam, somehow Morgan had taken an aircar and flown out into the desert, unable to stop until he reached quiet.

There—here—he’d stayed to recover. Only Huido had been welcome, the painful maelstrom of Carasian thought patterns at a level easy to avoid.

Later, healed, and having traded with Omacrons, non-human telepaths, for their mind-shielding technique, Morgan was able to protect himself. In space, in the Fox, he hadn’t needed shields at all.

With Sira, he’d wanted none. Her thoughts had been his—her mindvoice the last he’d heard. The last he ever wanted to hear. He’d never open his mind to another’s again.

Till the Rugherans, who had no right—

The Human set down his cup. It tipped, spilling dark liquid. Unfair. Huido kept the kitchen spotless. “I’ll get that.” He rose and was forced to grip the table to steady himself. It took longer than he remembered, walking to the counter, and he had to con­centrate: pick up the wipe, return, clean the mess.

Eyestalks twisted, following his slow progress. “You need a molt, too.”

“Wish I could.” Something about molting— “Order as much beer as you want.”

A chuckle. “Fear not, my brother, I’ve taken care of it—and a case of Brillian brandy, for variety.” A less happy, “If not the storms.” The Carasian loathed sand, claiming grains worked into the seams of his shell. He cheered. “While we wait, I could take care of your unwanted visitors.” With a disturbingly coy tilt of his carapace, Huido indicated the weapons, most illegal even here in the Fringe, housed on the pot rack.

Morgan shook his head. “Let them poke around till they’re satisfied.” No need to point out the unlikelihood of any weapon affecting beings of the M’hir.

As for the Rugherans’ reaction . . . should more than a jar be tossed at them?

He’d prefer not to—

The kitchen tilted. The Human lurched into his chair, sending the rest of his sombay, and cup, to the floor. He cursed under his breath. A newly hatched Skenkran was stronger. “What’s wrong with me?” under his breath.

Shiny black eyes converged on him, then aimed idly—and simultaneously—anywhere else: the weapon-containing pot rack, the ceiling, the floor, the walls.

Done it to himself, that meant.

Morgan let out a slow breath, tasting the stink on it, the truth.

He’d ignored his body’s needs. Refused food. Drank himself to sleep. Refused to move. He’d a vague memory of feeling the pinch of shots. Stims, likely.

For how long?

Judging by the tremor in his hands, it could have been weeks.

Neglect? Cowardice. He winced. Hadn’t he told Sira: Let go and live?

Hadn’t she asked the same promise of him?

Shouldn’t have taught her to be a trader, he told himself, meaning not a word.

Morgan summoned his remaining strength and stood. “To­morrow,” he announced.

One eyestalk swiveled back to him.

“Tonight, then.” Three more joined the first. Doubt, that was. “Some supper—just not—make anything,” he capitulated. “I’ll eat it.” No guarantees it would stay down.

The full force of the Carasian’s gaze returned. “At the table?”

“Don’t rush me.” The Human pretended to squint at the lights. “Too bright. And the Rugheran ruined my sleep.”

But his lips cracked, stretched by the ghost of a smile. The first—since.

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To Guard Against the Dark cover

Today, I have information about the giveaway for Julie E. Czerneda’s new book  To Guard Against the Dark currently running through the link, and also a giveaway here as listed below. Enjoy!

#againstthedark Giveaway Details (US and Canada)

Enter your comment below to be eligible to win a mass market of The Gulf of Time and Stars plus Julie’s latest book in hardcover, To Guard Against the Dark. US and Canada.

To enter the tour-wide giveaway of the entire nine-book series, click here: https://sweeps.penguinrandomhouse.com/enter/clan-chronicles-series-giveaway

Project Pandora

And I’m late again. Thanks for sticking with me folks. This one was kind of hard to get done, so that wasn’t fun. Right, so the review of the week is thanks to the nice folks at entangled teen. This is Project Pandora. Enjoy!

Project Pandora cover

Apollo switched back to Tyler in the middle of a job, something that shouldn’t have been possible. Tyler’s aware of his burner phone, though not its implications. He doesn’t know about the second life in the shadows of his everyday, not until it starts bleeding through. Not even when he realizes that the girl he’s crushing on has a phone just like his. They’ll have to learn quickly, find out what’s at the core of Project Pandora, before they’re tracked down and reprogrammed.

Aden Polydoros’ first novel, Project Pandora, is not a book that would find itself in my top or bottom ten for this year. This is one of those books that, it’s not bad but it also isn’t memorable. There are a lot of solid ideas here and I feel like the book could have been really good with a little more refining. In short, it feels very much like a solid first book.

The official blurb promises action and mystery, danger. While the book itself takes a very slow burn approach to its plot. That’s not in and of itself a bad thing and, in all fairness, in a more solidly plotted book could have been a fantastic way to flesh out the characters. Here it winds up dragging on and feeling like padding. We get these scenes of our characters going about their regular student lives and having their YA romance stuff going on, and it isn’t bad but it also winds up feeling disconnected from the plot really quickly. I feel like if more had been done with their programming breaking down earlier in the book it would have been better and could have lead to more of the mystery that was promised in the blurb. As it stands, the Project Pandora stuff is mostly carried by one character and, since he’s got no other life, it doesn’t really give use any build. That more wasn’t done with that side plot is really disappointing, that was one of the more promising ideas presented.

That’s where a lot of my apathy about Project Pandora comes from. There’s a lot of good ideas for the plot and characters both, but those ideas are fumbled in the writing itself. We have these two pairs of characters, the nice young folks who don’t realize they’re assassins and the beauty and the beast pair who have this instant attraction for each other. We follow all four of these characters, which winds up both killing any mystery that could have happened and leads to a lot of overlap in storytelling. There are so many ways this could have been taken and built upon, but what we got was a lot of teens pining after one another and stressing over high school stuff plus Hades’ issues. The ideas were there and so were the bones of a good story, but they weren’t fleshed out well.

I have very few feelings about this book beyond wishing that the author had done just a little more with it or refined it more. Part of this might be that Project Pandora suffers from being the first in a series, maybe some stuff was left out on purpose so it can be filled in later. Part of it might be that this is the author’s first book and he’ll improve with more practice. Either way it gets a three out of five. I might give Aden Polydoros’ next novel a shot, but this one didn’t impress me.

Frost

Not much to blurb about today. It’s quiet in my neck of the woods and that’s pretty ok. I did wind up cutting several things from today’s review for spoilery reasons. So, if you all are cool with tagged spoilers in the reviews, let me know in the comments. Today’s book is courtesy of the nice folks at Scholastic. Here’s Frost. Enjoy!

Frost cover

At sixteen Frost has never been outside the apartment she grew up in, and with good reason, the world outside is a hunting ground for ravenous cannibals and robots gone rogue. It hasn’t been a safe place to live since before she can remember. She needs to leave though. Her pet, Romes, is dying and she can’t bear to see him in pain. Even as the memories of her father try to hold her back, to keep her in her safe prison with the family robot for company and protections, she knows she has to leave and save the only living thing left to her. She grew up on stories about the utopia at the other end of the city, the Battery, where all the science that’s been lost still exists. With Bunt’s help she might be able to make it.

So, M. P. Kozlowsky’s Frost is an odd book. I mean that in a lot of ways. Part of this comes from the fact that Frost feels very much like the first book in a series rather than a standalone novel. It builds slowly for a good two thirds of its page count, then crams in a ton of stuff that could be pay off but that also feels like set up for next time. This book is kind of a mish mash of ideas, so it can be a little difficult to separate them all out.

Let’s start there though. This book is a mess of ideas that could be really cool but then don’t really go anywhere. There’s too many separate threats and concepts for the time spent on any of them. We get a lot about Frost’s feelings and several imaginary flashbacks to before everything fell apart, but not a ton of world building. For example, the Days of Bedlam are the in world name for whatever happened to lead to the current world. It involved robots. That’s about all I know about it from reading the book. Building on that could have been a great way to show more of the world and to explain some of the other stuff. The cannibalistic Eaters, the Broot, the rogue robots, even the climate being messed up all seems to stem from this one set of events. How? It’s mostly waved away as people going too far and it blowing up in their faces, but that’s not satisfying and ,again, leads to this feeling like the start of a series.

There’s also not a lot going on here in the character department. Frost is our ingénue main character innocent, naïve, and just out to save her pet but she doesn’t really seem to change or grow in the course of the book. She’s out in the world for the first time in her life, finds out all this life changing stuff, deals with some seriously messed up situations, but then at the end she’s not a more mature character or more aware. She’s still desperately searching for the same thing she was at the beginning of the book and with not a lot of change in the tone of it.

But she inspires hope in people who meet her, that’s got to count for something, right? Not so much. The side characters she inspires hope in, Flynn and Barrow, are initially written as being hardened by the world they live in and the tragedies of their pasts. Then in comes this random girl, who is super sure that if she can just reach this mythical place she’ll be able to save her pet. She’s so sure of this thing that they both think is impossible at best that they both start believing in hope again. Flynn this could work with if it was done better. He’s the same age as Frost and, despite his tragic back story, is given several moments where he’s shown to want something to believe in. His father, Barrow, not so much. Barrow’s arc feels like it was cut short, which is unfortunate, it was a pretty standard “guy wants to protect his kid even if it means doing questionable things” but it felt more grounded than any of the other character arcs.

A lot of my issues boil down to being issues about character work or world building. There’s a lot of potential to Frost, lots of interesting ideas. In a few instances there’s a quality pay off to an idea established earlier, but there isn’t enough of that for the book as it stands. The book is also very simple both in how it deals with its characters and how the reader is fed how characters feel, almost to the point of it just being straight up telling. In a more solidly written book that wouldn’t have been as much of a problem, but here it goes back to feeling like the author had so many ideas that he didn’t have time to develop any of them.

That’s kind of where I ultimately land on Frost. It’s way too underdeveloped, if Kozlowsky had taken any one of the ideas he introduced here and focused on it the book could have been fantastic. Most of the other issues I had could have been forgiven if the story had been tighter. As it stands though everything is too scattered and underdone so what could have been a solid three to four book winds up being a two out of five, not because it offends me but because it needed so much more work. I might give Kozlowsky’s writing another shot down the road, but it would need to be a book that I’d heard good things about.

I’ve been having the hardest time getting this done. Seriously, I spent more time staring at a blank page on this than I spent on some of my papers back in college. I keep going off on Holtzmann related tangents, which is fun but not what I’m here for. A lot of my stuff also winds up being pretty cyclical, so there’s that too. Plus writing this up makes me want to do another thing about the characters specifically later on and I kept getting side tracked by that. Quick note, the version of the movie I have is the theatrical release, not the extended cut, so I may make reference to the movie not having certain scenes that were restored for that. It’s a lot later than I meant for it to be, but hopefully still fun. Enjoy!

General Feelings:

The Book: So, one of the big things with this Book vs. Movie is that both tell, essentially anyway, the same story. I went into a lot of my stuff with the book in my review, but I feel like I need to repeat that my main issue with it stemmed from its having a set protagonist in Erin. That the book is based on the script for the movie also means that a lot of moments I really enjoyed in the movie are absent because they were improvised by the actors. That said though, there are a number of flashbacks early on that fill in both Erin’s tragic back story and what happened between her and Abby. The movie doesn’t suffer hugely from not having them, but they did make me appreciate Abby a lot more.

The Movie: This is one where I saw the movie several times before I read the book. I am distinctly hoping that a sequel happens, maybe set after the upcoming comic or something. The movie is a horror comedy, much heavier on the comedy than the horror. It could have used some of the flash back stuff the book had to beef up the initial dynamic between Erin and Abby and, not going to lie, I would have had less Kevin but it’s solid and funny. It also has a lot more Holtzmann and Patty, due to the actresses physically being there, which is something I’m never going to complain about.

Erin vs The Ghostbusters:

Dr. Erin Gilbert: I’m not a huge fan of the book’s version of Erin.  It isn’t that she’s a bad character so much as that the way she’s written tends to make her feel stiff and unconnected to other characters. Part of this is that a number of shared scenes in the movie are Erin’s thoughts in the book or cut down to being between her and Abby. Book Erin is a protagonist who lends herself to over thinking things and worrying more about her/their credibility being acknowledged than actual accomplishments. Now, the flipside to this is that the book being so Erin focused pulls her issues to the front. She’s noted the day of her tenure review on her calendar as V day, validation day. That no one believed her as a child when she talked about the ghost is something that gets touched on a lot and built on. Eventually other people’s disbelief lead her to taking an authority figure’s advice and abandoning the paranormal, her research, and Abby. It’s something she struggles with throughout the book.

The Ghostbusters: While the movie does still tend to focus more on Erin and it could be argued pretty easily that she’s still the main character, I very much prefer how present the other characters are in the movie. Admittedly a big part of the other characters being more present is that their actresses are physically there, even if only in the background, so even if a character isn’t doing anything that effects a scene they’re still there doing something. Because there was a lot of improvisation on a lot of lines there was more interaction between the Ghostbusters and that did a lot to sell them as a team. There’s more cohesiveness as a result and that means I care more about what happens. That I’d watched the movie first and Holtzmann and Patty are my favorites affects this greatly. They’d probably still be my favorite characters if I’d read the book first, but that’s a lot to do with seeing more of them in the movie.

Rowan North:

Book: Rowan is much more a foil to Erin in the book. They both had rough childhoods due to their parents not understanding them and kids at school being aweful. They both have an interest in the paranormal, Erin to prove it’s real with science and Rowan to end the world and rule over the ghosts. They’re both smart, having attended and graduated MIT. But then Erin is a partical physicist, because she gave up on the paranormal and ran away from her research to try and be normal, while Rowan is a janitor who hates his job and everyone he interacts with. Erin is self destructive in a way that leads to no validation being enough, she needs everyone to know that this thing was real all along. Rowan doesn’t seem to care what anyone else thinks of him, he’s put himself above it all, if people don’t accept him then that’s fine they were worms anyway. His back story is more than a little cartoonish, but so is he. Rowan is one of the only characters that I feel benefitted totally from the book. He gets point of view scenes and seeing that makes him familiar. The book grounds how fantastical Rowans plans are in a character who is at once both the ineffectual loser who doesn’t people well and also the guy driven enough by his anger to build bombs in his basement.

Movie: In the movie Rowan loses out on almost all of the point of view bits he has in the book. This loses a lot of what made him work there and makes him a limp villain with not a lot of drive. We get a scene where he monologues to himself about going from having been bullied to being the bully, but that doesn’t work for me, it’s too neat. We don’t get anything on his background beyond that. We don’t get as much of the utter distain for humanity. He feels more like he’s there because they needed a bad guy and less like he’s be hording ammo if the Fourth Cataclysm didn’t work out.

Character Moments:

Book: As I’ve mentioned before, the book doesn’t have a ton of little character moments. That does make the moments that it does have stand out more. My biggest example is towards the end of the book, Erin’s punched a blogger and left the headquarters to be alone and we get Patty and Holtzmann going out to get sandwiches. This bit has next to nothing to do with the plot, but it lets us get to know both of them better and shows them interacting and being friendly. There’s also the bit right before it with Holtzmann trying to cheer Erin up after the fallout from her decking the blogger.

Movie: The movie is made of character moments largely, again, because the actresses are physically present and it featured a lot of improvisation. It bounces in importance from Holtzmann flirt dancing to “The Rhythm of The Night” which is awesome but minor, to the Swiss army knife/side arms scene which is both a character moment and also important to the big fight at the end of the movie. While he’s not my favorite, most of Kevin’s non-plot scenes are from the movie. Plus, again, with the movie we’re out of Erin’s head and so see more of how the other characters react to things.

Conclusion:

This is a case where I like the movie better, hands down. While the book clarifies things that the movie could only hint at, it only does so for one character. The ghosts of the book, Slimer excluded, were also less cartoony because I was imagining them rather than seeing them and the book goes a little more into the descriptions for it’s mooks. Meanwhile the movie benefits massively from its actresses which the book, by virtue of being a book, doesn’t have. That’s pretty well what a lot of my feelings on the book boil down too, it was entertaining and fun but it didn’t have the characters as I knew them while also being similar enough that it felt weird. If you can find the book, give it a shot. If not, grab some friends and watch the movie.

Confession time. I know this is the full name for the movie, so I’m only assuming that it’s also the novelization’s proper title. If anyone knows, give me a heads up. Anyway. There’s a review to kick off my throwing so, so many words at the new Ghostbusters. Enjoy!

Ghostbusters Answer the Call cover

Dr. Erin Gilbert has moved past the strangeness of her childhood. She’s respected in her field, up for tenure at Columbia University, and then some guy shows up with a copy of the book she thought she’d buried. To protect her safe, normal life Erin’s going to have to confront her former friend Abby and her new co-worker Holtzmann. Confront them and then wind up working with them once she’s booted from Columbia and determined once again to prove the existence of ghosts to prove she isn’t lying or insane. Strange things are happening in New York and it’s going to be up to the Ghostbusters to get to the bottom of it.

Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, the 2016 movie, was one of my favorite recent movies. It isn’t a perfect movie by any means but it’s solidly entertaining and a lot of fun. This isn’t a review of the movie though, this is about the novelization by Nancy Holder. This bit is mostly here to point out that I’m not really reviewing the story here, I like the story it gets a four out of five from me. This is mostly going to be me talking about the writing itself.

One of the big differences here is that the novelization has a set main narrator where the movie is more of a group thing. Erin Gilbert is the decided lead of the novelization, she’s the one we’re following and it’s her head we’re stuck in for the bulk of the story. That’s both a positive and a negative. Being in Erin’s head lets us dig a lot more into her character stuff it makes it very clear that she’s got anxiety and serious issues with needing validation from the most conventionally normal people possible. That’s fantastic and is both heavily supported by her back story as well as doing a fantastic job informing her actions in the story proper. The flip side to being in Erin’s head is that she’s not an incredibly likeable character here, she’s judgy and picky and can be just generally unpleasant. I do feel like a lot of that comes from the  writing itself. Erin’s thoughts have this weird stilted diction to them that would have been great if she was one of several leads, it is really notable and feels fairly technical in a lot of places. Unfortunately it can put me in mind of “not like other girls” YA protagonists.

That’s actually kind of a thing with the writing throughout the book, it can feel very like a bad young adult novel when it’s at its worst. There’s a couple scenes that do nothing for the book where Erin talks to other, basically one off, female characters and they feel very like something that would pop up in bad YA. These one off characters exist to mock Erin, and to a lesser degree the other Ghostbusters, which serves to reinforce her not fitting in but the scene doesn’t really work because they have no bearing on anything. Another bad YA moment is when Kevin is introduced and Erin’s brain literally stops working for a paragraph or so. Points for her losing interest as she realizes how incredibly dumb Kevin is.

I feel like I’m being unfair to the main character here. I sort of am. These moments are pretty spaced out and the unlikablilty would probably not be nearly as much a thing for me if I hadn’t seen the movie first. What’s it like when other characters get the spot light? There were some bits before Patty joins the party and towards the end with the other Ghostbusters as the point of view characters. I would have loved to see more of that. We also have several short bits throughout with Rowan, the antagonist. Those have a lot of the same bad YA feel, but they work a lot better for me because Rowan is a character that I’ve known people who were like that. He thinks he’s much better than anyone else, that his station in life is an unfairness inflicted upon him by the innumerable fools he must constantly suffer. That whole feel ties in really well to his driving thing being, essentially, revenge against the world as a whole. Rowan is stilted and full of himself in ways that can often throw a fantastic dark mirror to Erin. I adore that. The idea that, in another iteration of the story, their places could have been swapped interests me. Though, I do feel like more could have been done with him to solidify that and make him a bit less cartoony.

What this all boils down to is that, while Holder does some fantastic character work that I would have absolutely loved to have seen more of on more characters, the same character work can come across as more than a little juvenile. And that can be jarring. There’s a section that I actually read like five times featuring Holtzmann and Patty that was really good, it made me wish there was more of them in the book. It felt like a genuine moment for both of them and, after so much Erin angsting over her past mistakes, it felt really good to just have them getting to know each other. As with many things I’ve mentioned here, I would have really enjoyed more of that kind of moment during the quiet points of the plot.

So, I’ve already said at the beginning that I enjoyed the story. I’ve talked a lot about the writing itself being solid but cartoony or overly exaggerated, about it needing a little more. That’s kind of what decides it for me. Ultimately I would read Nancy Holder’s writing again whether another movie novelization or original fiction, but the need for just a little more in a lot of the character work leaves Ghostbusters: Answer the Call with a three out of five all told.

Hey all, check it out, I’m on time this week. Super impressive, I know. I have a review for you all. It was a little hard to write, because spoilers, and I’m not totally happy with parts of it but the whole isn’t half bad. Thanks to the nice folks from Harper this is The Book of Joan. Enjoy!

The Book of Joan cover

Ciel was meant to be a haven for the chosen few of humanity. An Eden away from an Earth wrecked by wars and over consumption. That ended almost as soon as it began, when the charismatic Jean de Men took full control. When the wars started back up because Earth didn’t want to, couldn’t, send the supplies Ciel demanded he lead ruthless attack after attack. The rebels had one hope, a girl with a glowing mark on her face and a song pulsing in her being, Joan. They never stood a chance. Earth fell, Joan was martyred, and only the faintest memory of her song remains. But there is power in songs and more in stories. Jean de Men’s rule is iron fisted, but rebellion is stirring again even among the withered denizens of Ciel. A story can light the fires of rebellion, and a song can shake the heavens, but not even Joan can know how either will end.

So, Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan is a really weird book. It wants to be smart and literary and all that. It wants to explore what it means to be human and humanity’s relationship with the Earth. But it has a lot of spinning its wheels and drama on the way there. It also doesn’t mesh well with its blurb, which made writing the summary a little iffy.

Let’s just jump in on that. When I say this book wants to be literary but spins its wheels, I am mostly talking about the way words get used. Everyone is overly verbose, everyone uses five dollar words where something more common would serve just as well. Just as well or better, honestly, since everyone includes the foulmouthed child soldier. The use of SAT-esque vocabulary makes the whole reading experience feel clunky and obtuse, which of course makes for a really dull read.

I do feel like a lot of the big, look at how smart I am, words are part of the wanting to be literary thing. The Book of Joan wants to impress you with how literary and important and think-y it is, but then doesn’t have a solid line on what it wants to say and what it wants to make you think about. It is sound and fury signifying nothing, and that is unfortunate because there are some nifty ideas buried in the text. A side effect of that is that there winds up being a ton of sex and gender weirdness.

In the early parts of the book we are introduced to the idea that the people of Ciel have been warped by radiation. Their hair has fallen out, their skin is bleached, and their genitals are either sealed shut or shriveled. This leads our point of view character for the Ciel bits, Christine, to contemplate humanity and the loss thereof. Which means she talks a lot about sex and how that’s lost to the people of Ciel. This could have been something about a loss of connection in a better book but, given how The Book of Joan also keeps going over how withered and useless the remaining humans’ genitals are, it doesn’t land well enough to work on any level.

There’s also some gender based stuff that really rubbed me the wrong way, especially towards the end. Because spoilers, I’m not going to go super into it here. Basically though, the end winds up throwing in stuff about women being around to be mothers out of nowhere. It also really didn’t work, because there wasn’t anything to support it as part of the narrative. It also didn’t work for me personally because that’s just not a sentiment I can get behind. There was also an eleventh hour character reveal that pissed me off so badly I nearly threw the book.

There were some ideas I found interesting. The grafts, particularly the stories rather than the skin art, were a nifty idea that I’d have liked to see more about. The change from humans as we know them to the hairless withered version of the book, if that hadn’t happened in a laughably tiny timeframe, I would be super interested in. Ciel itself strikes me as a place very similar to Bioshock’s Rapture, with only the best of the best and the richest able to go there but then also having such a reliance on the world they left behind. That kind of stuff fascinates me and could have been the base for a really interesting story. But it wasn’t.

So, where does that leave me with this book? The Book of Joan is sci-fi that wants to be literature when it could have been fantastic genre fiction if only it felt comfortable being genre fiction. It wants to be big and important and smart and fails utterly on all counts. I do still think some of the ideas from this book could have been good, if they were handled by another author. I admit, my score for this is pretty heavily affected by the thing at the end. That took the book from a meh three to a one out of five.

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.