Category: soft sci-fi


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.

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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.

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.

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.