Humanity, desperate to save themselves from oncoming meteors that will destroy Earth, builds two spaceships and binds them together into one unit. They fill it with the best and brightest of humanity then send it off into space, with nanobots working to keep them all perpetually the same age they were when entering the ship, hoping that they will find another habitable planet. But over the thousands of years of searching, the two ships have slowly evolved into one of beauty, order, and plenty of food. The other has become a prison ship, full of starvation and degradation. Both ruled by an artificial intelligence known as Ark. When a man awakes on the prison ship, he must discover who he is and why he has been awakened.
The basic idea of a ship full of thousands of people wandering outer space for thousands of years and how that impacts their culture is a good one. But it is unfortunately supported by weak characterization, quite a bit of telling instead of showing (often in the form a conversational infodump), questionable science, and aggravating plot twists.
I am not a scifi reader who expects everything to be Asimov or heavy on the science. I enjoy the broad range that scifi has to offer. But I do expect a scifi that takes itself seriously, as this one does, to have: a plot that makes sense, at least two characters who are well-rounded and richly presented, and any science within it to be accurate or at least plausible. This scifi definitely takes itself seriously, but it fails on these marks.
The book opens with a first person narration of the nameless hero (later named Harbinger) believing he is being dissected by an alien race. It takes quite a bit of time to find out that he was cryogenically frozen on this ship, and the rebels of the prison ship have woken him up. If this wasn’t a review copy, I probably would have given up before Harbinger figures this out, because the reader has zero reason to care about this character who is being dissected, apparently. It’s quite jarring to open up the book that way, and it’s hard to read with no investment in any of the characters at all. It’s a rough beginning.
Harbinger has amnesia, so he can’t help the rebels figure out why exactly he was on the ship. But they do discover that he has superhuman powers, just as the rebels were hoping, so they want him to help them fight for access back to Echelon–the ship that is not a prison (There are names for both ships, but I honestly can’t remember what the name of the prison ship was.) The rebel character who works closest with Harbinger is a woman named Leema. Harbinger gets slightly more characterization than Leema, because we are inside his head. But both come across as flat. Their actions appear to exist entirely as plot devices and not out of real, rich motivation. For instance, Leema seems mostly to exist to give Harbinger information, to have sex with, then to spur him to make certain decision. She doesn’t come across as a person so much as a plot device. The same can be said for the leader of the rebels, Argus, an older man who calls people “son.” He simply does not feel real. He feels like a plot device who pops in whenever it’s necessary to make something happen to Harbinger.
The writing often relies on conversational infodump, which is a shame, because when there are action sequences, they are interesting and exciting. The periodic action sequences are what kept me reading. They are well-written, particularly the fight scenes. But when the characters talk, the conversation doesn’t feel real. It feels like the author is speaking directly to the reader through the characters, often to provide background information. This is known as an infodump, and it’s frustrating to read. It would be better to work this information into the plot, rather than have characters sit in a room and say it at each other for chapters at a time.
The science is a bit shaky. For instance, the spaceship is decorated with marble. Real marble. Real marble is incredibly heavy, and there’s a weight limit that spaceships can handle. It’s hard to imagine a people desperate to save humanity from meteors wasting precious weight space on marble decorations. Similarly, Harbinger is never fully explained. He appears to be human and bleeds but can’t feel pain, has superhuman strength, can only be killed by cutting off his head. Is he a robot? Or a genetically modified humanoid? Maybe a clone? Leema explains “his kind” being created but she seems to know very little about it, which makes it odd that she and the rebels knew enough to know how to break him free from Ark by cutting into him and adjusting things inside his body. The core of the idea is good but it’s just not explained enough. That is really what makes some of the science in the book weak. It’s not gone into in enough depth to make enough sense.
Finally, the plot makes quite a few quick zany twists, most of which I was willing to give a pass. The final twist, however, made me want to throw my kindle against the wall. (I didn’t, because I like my kindle). I’m sure the final plot twist was intended to make the reader want to continue on to the next book in the series, but it actually just left me feeling deeply unsatisfied and frustrated. If I had to put my finger on what made it so frustrating, I’d say that it felt forced, not organic.
Overall, this book consists of a good basic idea that suffers from infodumping, weak characters, and being forced to stick to a plot that doesn’t feel organic. Rich characters who drove an organic plot free of infodumps could have made this into an interesting world and cultural exploration. Instead, it’s a frustrating read.
2 out of 5 stars
Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
In the future, people’s memories are backed up on sticks like external hard-drives, and when someone dies, they can just be put into a new body or resleeved. Criminals are put into the brain bank for a set period of time to serve their “prison” sentence before being resleeved. Kovacs is an ex-UN envoy but he’s also a criminal, and he wakes up one day in a new sleeve on Earth, not his home planet, before his sentence is up. A rich myth–someone who has been alive for centuries in the same body, due to their wealth–has been killed. After being resleeved, the local police told him it was suicide, but he doesn’t believe them. So he’s hired Kovacs to figure it out for him. If he solves the mystery, he’ll get sent back to his home planet and get a sleeve of his choice without serving any further sentence. If he doesn’t, he’ll serve out the rest of his sentence and get resleeved on Earth, far from home. Kovacs has no choice but to try to figure out who would waste their time killing a man who has endless sleeves to burn?
I love a good noir, and I liked the futuristic scifi sound of this one (the most famous futuristic scifi noir is Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, in case you were wondering). Unfortunately, in spite of the very cool resleeving concept, I was left quite bored by the plot.
The setting and ideas for this future scifi world are fantastic. Earth has colonized various planets, and each planet was colonized by different mixes of cultures. Kovacs’ planet was colonized by the Japanese and Nordic cultures. When he was a UN envoy he fought on one colonized by Middle East cultures. So each planet has its own distinct culture, and, Kovacs at least, clearly feels that Earth is quite backwards. For instance, Earth has a cadre of people who believe that resleeving is unethical and sign documents saying they are ethically opposed to being resleeved. It sounds as if no other planets have that faction. Similarly, it sounds as if only Earth has people wealthy enough to become myths–people who can afford to be resleeved in new clones of their own bodies they grow and keep safe, as well as back up their brains at frequent intervals into a cloud. So Kovacs has some immediate culture shock, which is interesting to see.
Also, obviously, the idea of people’s brains being kept on usb sticks (basically) that you can just stick into the brain stem of another body and what implications that would have is just brilliant. It’s cool to read about, and it’s an interesting take on longevity. I also particularly appreciated that people *can* still die in various ways. For instance, if you shoot someone where this brain stick goes in, you ruin their stick and they therefore can’t be downloaded into a new body. This whole setting gives both a cool futuristic vibe and a complex environment for solving murders in. It’s hard to solve for murders when people can just be rebooted, basically.
There is a lot of realistic diversity in the book. The lead cop on the assignment is a Latina woman. Takeshi Kovacs is clearly intended to be biracial (white and Japanese). There is a big bad (who I won’t reveal) who is an Asian woman. The only other major characters are the myth and his wife, both of whom are white. However, the surrounding and minor characters all demonstrate a clear melting pot of race and creed. I appreciate it when futuristic scifi is realistic about the fact that all races and cultures and creeds would most likely be present.
One thing I do want to note, although I do think the book tries to address the obvious issue of what if a person gets resleeved into a race or gender different from their own, I’m not sure it was successful. Takeshi immediately notes that he is in a Caucasian sleeve, and that irritates him some. He continues to act like his own culture and exhibits a preference for the food of his home world but he doesn’t seem to be too bothered by being in someone else’s body. (Criminals get resleeved into other criminals at random. That is part of the punishment…not getting your own body back and knowing yours is out there being used by someone else). It is explained that Takeshi is able to deal with the dysphoria because he was trained for it in the UN Envoy but I do wish a bit more explanation was given to this issue. For instance, is being resleeved into a different race usually ok for the person? Or is it difficult just like every aspect of being resleeved into a new body is difficult? Does it vary person to person? This was unclear, largely because Takeshi’s Envoy training makes it a bit of a non-issue.
Similary, at one point a male character is resleeved into a female body, specifically because sleeving across genders is perceived of as an act of torture in this world (it is a bit unclear to me if this actually happened or if it’s virtual reality, but it is made very clear that virtual reality feels exactly the same as reality to the person in question, so the fact remains). I thought this was interesting and a nice send-up to trans issues. However, in the next breath, the character mentions that he can tell he’s in a woman’s body because he FEELS THINGS MORE EMOTIONALLY. *sighs* (I would provide you with a direct quote, but I don’t always manage to successfully bookmark passages in audiobooks, and this was one of those times). I get it that this passage is supposed to be a complement to women. The man in question talks at length about how women feel things so much more and isn’t that nice and what a burden it must be and men should understand it more. Yes, ok, fine, the character is being nice about it, but it’s still sexist. The character could have had the same experience and limited to just this sleeve without making it about all women, but no. He mentions that he’s been sleeved in women’s bodies before and this is how it always is.
On a related note, I just want to mention for anyone who might be triggered by such things that there is a rather graphic scene in which the same character inside a woman’s body is raped by torturers with a rod of hot iron. Just once I would like to get through a noir book without someone being raped, just saying. (If you appreciate warnings for this type of content, see my dedicated page here).
So the characters are interesting and diverse, and the scifi world is creative, but the plot is a bit ho-hum. Part of the problem is that I just honestly cannot make myself care about the rich myth and his problem. The second issue comes up though when Takeshi ends up having a problem that intertwines with the myth’s, and I just can’t care about his either, largely because it revolves around protecting someone who the reader meets for about two minutes of audiobook, so I’m imagining that’s only a few pages of the book. It’s basically big money all coming up against each other, and that’s a plot I personally struggle to really be interested in unless there’s at least one character I can really root for, and I just couldn’t root for any of these. I also think that it didn’t help that compared to how creative the world-building was, the plot is very average. So I was given high expectations with the world-building in the first few pages only to have a been there, seen that, reaction to the plot.
What lifted the book up from 3 stars to 4 for me was actually the audiobook narration. Todd McLaren does an awesome job of producing many different voices and accents for all the different characters, helping to keep complex scenes straight. He also has a great noir detective vibe to his voice when he speaks for Takeshi. I will note, though, that I did have to speed the audiobook up to 1.25x to match my listening speed. But I tend to listen fast, so other readers would probably prefer the slower speed.
Overall, scifi readers who also enjoy noir will most likely still enjoy the read, in spite of a seen it before plot, because the world-building is unique and creative. I would recommend that readers who enjoy both print and audiobook check out the audiobook, as I feel it elevates the story.
4 out of 5 stars
This erotica short story collection was quite hit or miss for me. The stories that excelled were creative and unique, but the stories that did not featured some problematic elements that prevented me from enjoying the erotica.
When I read a short story collection, I always individually rate the stories. My rating of the collection as a whole is just the average of those ratings. The highest rating any story in this collection received from me was four stars. There were three stories I gave four stars, and two of them were the first two stories in the collection, so it definitely started out strong for me. One is a F/F story featuring a woman who is also a flower (or a flower who is also a woman). It is poetic and heart-quickening. The second story features a sentient house that has missed its owner and demands attention. This made me laugh, and I enjoyed the oddity. It read like a lighter-hearted, erotica version of dark fantasies where there is an evil house–this one is just horny. The third four star read was enjoyable for a different reason. It’s a scifi erotica where two lovers are in a spaceship that is running out of air. They decide to make love, even though they will die quicker. It was so heart-breaking and beautiful that I wished it was a whole book.
Four of the stories received three stars. In each case I felt the story either didn’t take an idea far enough or the story wasn’t long enough to tell the story. Take it farther, and these all could be just as good as the first three I discussed.
Unfortunately, there were two stories that were big clunkers for me, with each receiving only one star, and they both had almost the same problem. “Hunting Hound” has a woman mating with a werewolf. She meets him when she is out riding, and they start making out against a tree, with her a willing participant. Then this happens.
“Stop” she said, and his face darted in toward her own with a low growl. “Too late to stop.” (loc 1650)
He proceeds to penetrate her. There is nothing sexy about a woman asking a man to stop and him claiming it’s too late and proceeding to rape her. It is never too late to stop, and it’s never too late for a partner to change their mind. It really bothers me that this type of scene is still being presented as sexy. I know everyone gets off to their own thing, but this is such a clear scene of consent being removed and then ignored that I just cannot say to each their own in this case. I also want to mention that the book blurb claims that this story features “consensual sexual violence” but it definitely did not read that way to me.
“Summer Nights,” which also received one star, has a similar problem. This story features a woman who keeps seeing the same mysterious man at parties. She goes out to the woods behind the house at one of these parties, and he follows her. She finds out he’s a vampire. She stands in the woods talking to him, holding a wineglass, when this happens:
“he struck like a train, his swinging backhand sending the wineglass flying toward the treeline, and I faintly registered the tinkling shatter of it, perhaps hitting a rock, or a fallen log.” (loc 5654)
She finds the fact that he just hit a glass out of her hand to be massively sexy and proceeds to bang him. This is, again, something I feel like I shouldn’t need to say, but there is nothing sexy about a partner violently hitting something out of your hand. Nothing. Sexy. This is not a sign that oh man she should totally bang this vampire. It is a sign she should run because she is alone in the woods with a violent motherfucker. This could have so easily been foreplay if, instead of hitting a glass out of her hand, he said something like, “I want you now,” and he gently took the glass from her hand and tossed it away. Or if she said, “I want you so much,” and tossed the glass over her shoulder. It would be so easy to have the same erotica about a powerful vampire alone in the woods with a woman without it turning into problematic territory.
I truly wish these last two stories were not in the collection. The rest of the collection is creative, features some fun queer content (the F/F story and a gender-swapping story), and in the case of the best three stories, has some unique ideas. Where the collection flounders is, interestingly enough, with the two most mainstream stories that take the agency out of the hands of the women in them and instead retreats to the tired idea of violent men being sexy.
Overall, if a reader is looking for some quick fantasy erotica, most of the stories in this book will satisfy this need, although I would recommend skipping over “Hunting Hound” and “Summer Nights.” The reader who enjoys the other stories for their uniqueness will most likely be disappointed by the “sexy violence” in these two.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
It’s 2015, and Denny Younger of New Cardiff, California, is a caste of 8. He loves reading and studying but he knows he will probably end up working in the shops just like his father. But when he takes his placement test, he’s offered a position that he is promised is better, but he can’t know anything about it until he starts working, and he must leave his family behind. Denny’s family life is in pieces, so he eagerly agrees. Before he knows it, he is re-caste as a 5 and soon discovers that he will be traveling through time as an observer, recording family histories for the elite. Even the smallest error in time-travel can have far-reaching consequences, and before he knows it, Denny finds himself racing against time (and other time-travelers) to fix everything. But what does fixing everything actually mean?
I love a good time-travel book, so when Audible offered this one up to me for review, I eagerly agreed. This is an action-packed book but with far less time-travel than it originally appears and much more parallel universes.
The basic premise of the book is that this is the year 2015 in a wold where the American Revolution never occurred. Without the American Revolution, the British Empire ended up taking over most of the world (except East Asia). Everyone is sorted into extremely strict castes, and family history is everything. These people haven’t made it to the moon yet, but they have managed to discover time-travel. And they use this discovery solely to send people called “rewinders” back in time to verify people’s ancestry to solidify their ranking in this world. Now, this was my first major problem with the book, and it’s a plot point I just never was able to let go of. This society acknowledges the risk of the butterfly effect and yet they brazenly send people willy-nilly through time risking everything for what? Geneaology. And this has been going on for decades with no ill effects. Perhaps other readers can get past the idea that a federally (er, royally) backed agency would do this, but I simply could not.
Naturally, when our brave hero goes back in time, he is the first to woops his way into a butterfly effect. He knows he’s probably done it (he causes someone to leave a location 12 seconds late), but he still pops back up into the present to check on things. Once there, it takes him days to figure out that he’s changed history. Daaaaays. It should really not take him this long to figure this thing out. Denny causes a change. Denny pops up to the present. Denny has troubling connecting to his companion (a person in the present who grounds the person time-traveling), so he gets sick for a few days. Denny then wanders through our universe’s New York City and can’t figure out what’s going on. It takes traveling to California’s New Cardiff (in our world, Los Angeles) and seeing that his family home is gone to figure out what’s happened. Really? A person who has been trained in time-travel takes this long to figure out this very basic time-travel problem? It’s hard to believe, especially after we’ve been told repeatedly how smart Denny is, that he could be that stupid.
Denny then starts living in Los Angeles to investigate this parallel universe. He naturally meets a girl and falls for her. He then has trouble deciding whether to put everything back or not. And of course there are other rewinders out there he must contend with.
The basic plot idea is interesting. What would have happened if there had been no American Revolution and how would a person from that society react if they discovered a different option for their lives? But how the author gets there isn’t fully thought-out or fleshed-out enough. There are too many logical fallacies, such as the ones I’ve laid out above. That said, it was a fun read with a different plot than what has been coming from a lot of YA recently. I was glad to see a scifi that contains some history for YA readers. I also appreciated how many women characters are present in the book, including Denny’s trainer and his nemesis. Similarly, Denny’s world is extremely lacking in diversity due to the success of the British empire and its traditionalism. When he travels to our world, he immediately encounters greater diversity, both of race and of sexuality, and he seems to appreciate that, which is a nice touch.
The narrator does a good job both keeping a good pace and setting the tone for the book. While I understand why the narrator uses a British accent for the British characters from the 1700s, the history geek in me was frustrated, since the stereotypical modern “British accent” didn’t exist back then. (I knew this from my History BA, but here’s an article that explains what I’m talking about).
Overall, this book has an interesting premise and fast-moving plot. It has some romance, but is thankfully free of any love triangles. Time-travel fans may be frustrated by how easily characters brush off the real presence of time-travel issues. The science of time-travel is simply not explored enough, nor is history. However, YA readers looking for a quick read and something different in the genre will most likely enjoy it.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Free download from Audible in exchange for my honest review
When the world is devastated by GMO plants over-running the land and destroying cropland, humanity splits into multiple factions. There’s the people who firmly believe in transforming people so that they can photosynthesize food from the sun–and have green skin. There’s the cannibals, who have returned to a hunter/gatherer way and eat humans when necessary. Unbeknownst to the green folk, there’s a holdout of Old Order Amish. They’ve changed from how they were in the past but still hold onto many of their ways. In particular, they have decided that taking green skin is the Mark of the Beast, and will not go for it.
Tula is a scientist among the green folk who is tasked with assisting cannibal children who are kidnapped and converted. Levi is an Amish who leaves the compound against orders, seeking yet another group of scientists who are supposed to live in a mountain and may have the cure to his dying son’s Cystic Fibrosis. When Levi is swept up in a green raid of cannibal land, his and Tula’s worlds collide with unimaginable consequences.
I picked this up because the cover of a green-skinned woman in a desert appealed to me, and then the description seemed like an interesting post-apocalyptic future. This is certainly and interesting and unique read for any fans of post-apocalyptic or dystopian literature.
The future is imaginative with many different groups and reactions to the botanicaust (the destruction of plant matter that is considered this world’s apocalypse). As someone who has studied the Amish, I appreciated how the author imagined how the Old Order would handle such a crisis and address it for the future. Allowing people into the compound if they are willing to convert seems logical, and showing that the Old Order did accept some technological innovation also makes sense. Similarly, the green scientists who seek to photosynthesize everyone and don’t seem to care too much if the cannibals want to be photosynthesized or not make logical sense. The scientists believe this is the solution in a world without enough food, and hey haven’t bothered to do any cross-cultural studying to see if there is any rhyme or reason or value to the cannibal lifestyle. This again is a logical position for a group of scientists to hold. The other group of scientists who live in the mountain and have managed to find the solution to not aging are a great contrast to the groups of greens. Whereas the greens do sometimes do evil but don’t intend to, they only intend to be helping (with the exception of one bad guy character), the mountain dwellers have been turned inhumane by their abnormally long lives. These three groups set up a nice contrast of pros and cons of scientific solutions and advancement. At what point do we stop being human and at what point are we being too stubborn in resisting scientific advancement? How do we maintain ethics among all of this? The exploration of these groups and these questions was my favorite part of the book.
The plot is complex and fast-paced, visiting many areas of the land and groups of people. I wasn’t particularly a fan of the romance, but I can see where others would find that it adds to the book. I just wasn’t particularly a fan of the pairing that was established, but for no reason other than it seemed a bit illogical to me. Then again, romance is not always logical.
The one thing that really bothered me in the book was the representation of Down Syndrome and the language used to refer to it and those who have it. The mountain scientists have children, but as a result of tampering with their own genetics, all of their children have Down Syndrome. First, I don’t like that this makes it appear as if Down Syndrome is a punishment to the evil scientists who went too far with science. Down Syndrome is a condition some people are born with. It is not a condition as the result of anything a parent did, such as fetal alcohol syndrome. Second, all of the characters with Down Syndrome are presented as large, bumbling oafs with hearts of gold. There is just as much variety to the personalities and abilities of those with Down Syndrome as there are in those of us without Down Syndrome. Finally, the author persists in referring to these characters as:
a Down’s Syndrome woman (loc 2794)
or of course, “a Down’s Syndrome man.” First, the preferred term for Down Syndrome is Down Syndrome, not Down’s Syndrome. This is a mistake that is easy to make, though (I have made it myself), and I am willing to give the author a pass for that. The more upsetting element in the way she refers to these characters though is that she always lists the condition first and then the person, not the other way around. It is always preferred, in any illness or condition, to list the person first and the illness or condition second. For instance, a woman with cancer, not a cancerous woman. A man with PTSD, not a PTSD man. A child with Down Syndrome, not a Down Syndrome child. I cringed every single time this happened, and it happens a lot in the section of the book that takes place in the mountain. Given that this is an indie book, and it is thus quite easy to make editing changes and fixes, I would hope that the author would go through and fix this simple aspect of language. It would be a show of good faith to the entire community of people who have Down Syndrome, as well as their families. For more on the preferred language when referring to Down Syndrome and people who have Down Syndrome, please check out this excellent guide, written by the National Down Syndrome Society.
It’s a real bummer to me that the language about Down Syndrome and presentation of these characters isn’t better, because if it was, this would have been a five star read for me.
Overall, this is an interesting and unique post-apocalyptic future with an action-packed plot. Those who are sensitive to the language used to refer to Down Syndrome and representation of people with Down Syndrome may wish to avoid it, due to an unfortunate section where characters with Down Syndrome are referred to improperly and written a bit two-dimensionally.
4 out of 5 stars
The author has written a thoughtful and kind comment on this post. You may view it by going below. To sum up, she cannot make edits to those book, due to it also having an audiobook version. However, she has promised to edit for these issues in future books containing characters with Down Syndrome. This genuine and thoughtful response is much more than the community of those with Down Syndrome and their families and loved ones often get, and it is very much appreciated.