Category: soft sci-fi


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.

Someone said my name three times, drawing me back from where ever I’d dissapeared to.  So in the immortal word of Beetlejuice, it’s show time!

Angie Smibert’s latest distopian novel, The Meme Plague, takes up shortly after The Forgetting Curve with our intrepid team of heroes still scrambling to find a way to dodge the TFC chips and spread untampered information to the rest of the world.  The TFC is also stepping up its game as well though with the new chips’ ability to remove and add memories without anyone being the wiser.  It’s a race to see if normal people can stand in the face of a monster they set loose.

So, is it any good?  I’m actually kind of on the fence about this one.  Memento Nora had me excited about a smart YA distopian novel and was enjoyable for its tension and well written side characters.  The Forgetting Curve did a great job of introducing the next step in the TFC threat, interesting new characters, and built on everything that came before.  This one kind of petered out for me.  While it was great to see that the adults are also preparing for what happens next, and in more baseline sensible ways than the teen heroes are, it also felt like the second half of The Forgetting Curve being published as a separate book.  I was really excited reading the blurb for this to be Micah’s book, but ultimately he got shuffled off to one of the many side stories while everyone else chased their story threads.
That said, I can’t knock The Meme Plague.  It does a good job of upping the ante, making the problems that our teen aged heroes have been dealing with bigger by showing their parents and adult neighbors also preparing for them.  It adds a couple of new levels to the mystery of just how the TFC got as huge as it is and what happened to other people who have tried to fight it, and it does an amazing job showing the effects of their new chip and how that stacks the deck even more against regular people.  One last little thing that got me was all of the Matrix refferences, it was kind of cool at first but became almost overly self refferential pretty quickly.
So, final thoughts time, while I really enjoyed The Meme Plague it is probably my least favorite of the three books.  I’d really like to see Smibert take a little more time with developing some of the characters that she’s introduced. I’m entirely confidant that she will, and that the next book will go deeper down the rabbit hole.  I’m giving The Meme Plague a three out of five.

I want it noted now that I am no longer allowed to say I’ll have a review up in “the next couple of days” unless I’ve already got it written and ready to post.  It’s been a crazy couple of weeks and I’ve spent a lot of my non-class time half asleep.  Working on changing that, aren’t I always, but it’s slow going.  But I have a review for you guys.

Claire Edwards’ life is locked in a boring stream of day to day living.  Her teaching job isn’t terrible but it’s terribly unfulfilling.  Her love life is likewise entirely bland.  She’s also haunted by strange dreams about spaceships and has to hide her amazing ability to teleport anywhere instantly.  Then she meets Darl James who claims not only to be an alien but also her life mate and complement.  She can’t deny the soul deep attraction she feels for him.  Their species is marked for extermination by an evil empire though; can their new bond survive the battles to come?

Jessica Inclán’s Intimate Beings sounded like a light weight sci-fi romance novel from the blurb, and that’s what I was looking for when I asked to review it.  It’s a bit more than that though, yes the entire book is based around Claire and Darl getting together but the “boy loses girl” section of the book would have made an awesome book on its own.  These two aren’t just pining after each other while they’re apart; they’re trying to help save their entire race from the very beings that destroyed their parents’ generation.  Claire is connecting with a people she’s just found out she’s a part of and finding family she never dreamed she had.  It’s kind of action-y, which was great.

I’m going to admit that as a generality I don’t like destined love as the focus romance of a book.  It jolts me out of my reader immersion that this person who just happens to be perfect for the main character comes out of nowhere, tells the main character that they’re meant to be, and everything is sunshine and hot sex.  Intimate Beings gets around this for the most part.  No, I didn’t like the destined aspect of Darl and Claire getting together but at least they could stand on their own as characters.  Neither fell totally apart when away from the other.  I was a bit on the fence about some of the side characters, but they got good development for the most part and contributed to the story.  There were also a few parts that really dragged on a bit longer than it felt like they should have, these were few and mostly forgivable but did take away some from my reading.

Over all, Intimate Beings was enjoyable and I would go back and read the first book in the trilogy.  I could have used a little less of the destined love aspect, but it plays into the series and was generally down played after the initial introductions.  I’m giving Intimate Beings a four out of five.

Here it is, the third and final of the Marshall Cavendish books I was sent, also the one I originally requested.  I’m also going to be doing a give away of a signed copy of Memento Nora to celebrate its release, more on that after the review.

Angie Simbert’s Memento Nora isn’t the kind of thing I’d expect to find aimed at younger audiences.  Near daily attacks drive people to Therapeutic Forgetting Clinics where with one little white pill they can leave their fears behind.  Nora has her first visit after the bookstore she and her mother are about to visit blows up in front of them, dropping a dead body right at her feet.  So, off to forget she goes, at least until she sees mystery guy Micah spit out his pill.  At least until she hears what her mother is forgetting.   She decides to remember and, alongside Micah and his best friend Winter, share their memories through a comic, Memento.

As I said at the beginning, I hadn’t expected this to be aimed at younger teens when I first read the blurb on Goodreads.  It deals with some pretty heavy stuff from government conspiracies to issues at home, and does so without flinching away from the characters reactions.  The characters were well thought out, though they felt a little older than their listed ages.  The chapters for Micah and Winter were limited and scattered throughout the book, but did an excellent job of developing their characters and back grounds.  Memento Nora gets a bit scary when you pause to think about it, that world is something that I could see people letting happen.  It’s built on fears and worries that most people seem to either lack or be content to ignore, and on the idea that we as people will trade our very memories for an illusion of safety.  I give it a five out of five and look forward to seeing what Simbert does if she writes another novel.

On to the giveaway!  Because I enjoyed the book and because I feel like it, I’m going to giveaway one copy of Memento Nora signed by the author.  Interested?  Just post a comment below, something about the book or current world events, and your email address.  On April 1st I’ll announce the winner.  Winner will have three days to get back to me with a mailing address, if they don’t then I’ll choose another winner.  Thanks!

A quick edit, I’ll only be able to send to commenters from the Continental United States due to issues with shipping.

Posting this now because I’m not sure if I’ll get the chance next weekend.  Really looking forward to the next one of these.  As to the contest mentioned as of the edit, over at the Smutketeers’ blog they’re giving away some nifty stuff to celebrate the release of  R.G. Alexander’s final new book of 2010, My Demon Saint.  Based on the blurb and the name of the blog, I’m expecting sex and computer games.  Fun right?

Every year there are a scattering of books that I really look forward to seeing released.  Ann Aguirre’s Killbox, the fourth Sirantha Jax novel, was one of them.  With the Farwan Corporation gone attacks on merchant ships have increased drastically and the Morgut are becoming a larger and larger threat as they strike and devour Federation settlements.  As a result the crew becomes central in the formation of the Federation Armada, which due to lack of funding or training is quickly filled with some of the same pirates that they are fighting.

I really liked the minor characters getting a bit more development in this one.  It was nice to see Dina and Hit become more three dimensional and less defined by their jobs on ship.  One of the most emotional scenes was effective because it was Dina showing vulnerability rather than any other character.  It is also great to see the dynamic between Vel and Jax further developed, though I am a bit worried that Vel’s being set up as the third corner of a romantic triangle.  Seeing Doc humanized felt like a bit of a missed moment, and I’m hoping that Aguirre will do more with him in the next book. I would have like to have seen more trouble with the pirates that were recruited, to all accounts they just fit right in with no problems based on old allegiances or places they had attacked. As a final note on characters, I was glad to see Aguirre bring back characters from the earlier books rather than just adding copies to the cast.

Killbox is a good deal more emotionally self-reflective than the previous three books which can get really old really fast.  Add that the reader is dealing with Jax’s emotions from inside her head and there are times where she feels like a different character from the Jax of Doubleblind.  Jax and March are still mostly worried about each other, but they aren’t allowed to do things their way anymore due to his being the Armada’s Commander.  Many of the plans used throughout the book are strictly regulated as opposed to having a plan but then winging it.  The more structured plans added another level of difference between Killbox and the previous installments in the series.  Even with both characters being irreplaceably important Jax and March still find time to do really idiotic, really heroic things throughout the book which is both irritating and endearing.  My biggest complaint on that has to be Jax’s habit of yo-yoing over her own decisions, especially towards the end.  Since it is from the middle of the series, I’m not going to suggest Killbox on its own.  It is a good read, but not standalone.  It isn’t the best of the Sirantha Jax novels so far, but is still an enjoyable book and I am quite looking forward to the next one.