Archive for the ‘scifi’ Category

Book Review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick

November 6, 2015 3 comments

Book Review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philp K. DickSummary:
Earth is overcrowded and overheated but people still don’t want to become colonists to other planets.  The colonies on the other planets are so boring and depressing that the colonists spend all of their money on Can-D — a drug that lets them imagine themselves living in an idealistic version of Earth.  The only trick is they have to set up dioramas of Earth first.  The drug is illegal on Earth but the diorama parts are still created by a company there.  When the famous Palmer Eldritch returns from the far-flung reaches of space, he brings with him a new drug, Chew-Z, that doesn’t require the dioramas.  What the people don’t know, but one of the manager of the Can-D company soon finds out, is that Chew-Z sends those who take it into an alternate illusion controlled by Palmer Eldritch.

I love Philip K. Dick, and I have since first reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? So whenever I see his books come up on sale in ebook format, I snatch them up.  I picked this up a while ago for this reason, and then randomly selected it as my airplane read on my honeymoon.  Like many Dick novels the world of this book is insane, difficult to explain, and yet fun to visit and thought-provoking.

The world Dick has imagined is hilarious, although I’m not sure it was intended to be.  Presciently, Dick sets up a future suffering from overpopulation and global warming, given that this was published in 1965, I find it particularly interesting that his mind went to a planet that gets too hot.  Even though the planet is unbearably warm (people can only go outside at night and dusk/dawn), they still don’t want to colonize other planets.  Colonizing the other planets is just that bad.  So there’s a selective service by the UN, only instead of soldiers, those randomly selected are sent to be colonists.  The wealthy can generally get out of it by faking mental illness, as the mentally ill can’t be sent away.  This particular aspect of the book definitely reflects its era, as the 1960s was when the Vietnam War draft was so controversially going on.

I don’t think it’s going out on much a limb to say that drugs had a heavy influence on this book.  Much of the plot centers around two warring drugs, and how altered perceptions of reality impact our real lives.  One of the main characters starts out on Earth hearing about how the poor colonists have such a depressing environment that they have to turn to drugs to keep from committing suicide.  But when he later is sent to Mars himself as a colonists, his impression is that in fact the colony is this downtrodden because no one tries very hard because they’re so much more focused on getting their next hit of Can-D.  The Can-D has caused the lack of success on the planet, not the other way around.  Whether or not he is accurate in this impression is left up to the reader.

Then of course there’s the much more major plot revolving around the new drug, Chew-Z.  Without giving too much away, people think Chew-Z is a much better alternative to Can-D, but it turns out chewing it puts you under the control of Palmer Eldritch for the duration of your high, and if you overdose, you lose the ability to tell the difference between illusion and reality.  The main character (and others who help him) thus must try to convince the humans that Chew-Z is bad for them before they ever even chew it.  The main character has another side mission of getting people off of Can-D.

It sounds like a very anti-drugs book when summarized this way, but it felt like much more than that.  People chewing Chew-Z can come to have an experience that sounds religious – seeing the three stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (a stigmata in Christian tradition is when God shows his favor on someone by giving them the marks of Jesus’ crucifixion.  In this book, the three stigmata are three bodily aspects of Palmer that are unique to him).  However, the experience of seeing the stigmata is in fact terrifying, not enlightening.  The drugs thus represent more than drugs. They represent the idea that we could possibly know exactly what a higher power is thinking, and perhaps that it might be better to just go along as best we can, guessing, rather than asserting certainty.

All of this said, a few weaknesses of the 1960s are seen.  I can’t recall a non-white character off the top of my head.  Women characters exist, thank goodness, but they’re all secondary to the male ones, and they are divided pretty clearly into the virgin/whore dichotomy.  They are either self-centered, back-stabbing career women, or a demure missionary, or a stay-at-home wife who makes pots and does whatever her husband asks.  For the 1960s, this isn’t too bad. Women in the future are at least acknowledged and most of them work, but characterizations like this still do interfere with my ability to be able to 100% enjoy the read.  Also, let’s not forget the Nazi-like German scientist conducting experiments he probably shouldn’t.  For a book so forward-thinking on things like colonizing Mars and the weather, these remnants of its own time period were a bit disappointing.

Overall, though, this is a complex book that deals with human perception and ability.  Are we alone in space? Can we ever really be certain that what we are seeing is in fact reality? How do we live a good life? Is escapism ever justified? Is there a higher power and if there is how can we ever really know what they want from us?  A lot of big questions are asked but in the context of a mad-cap, drug-fueled dash around a scifi future full of an overheated planet and downtrodden Mars colonies.  It’s fun and thought-provoking in the best way possible.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant

October 30, 2015 Leave a comment

Book Review: The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy BryantSummary:
Running from his demons, a man crashes his car and wakes up being assisted by a deceptively primitive people–the kin of Ata. He discovers that he’s been mysteriously brought to an island inhabited only by these people.  As time passes, he comes to learn there is much more to them than first appears.

I can’t recall exactly how this ended up in my tbr but I am certain it had something to do with it being older feminist scifi/fantasy, which I collect and read as much as possible.  What I was expecting, particularly from a book from the 1970s, was a wishful book about an impossible utopia.  What I got instead was a spiritual parable that left me breathless, surprised, and craving more–not out of the book but out of life.

The book starts slowly.  The entire first chapter has the main character driving angrily down a road just after committing a murder during a fit of rage.  He is not a character with which you can particularly empathize at this point, and it is confusing as to just when the titular Kin of Ata will show up.  I admit that the first chapter moved so slowly and was so difficult to relate to that I was expecting the book to be a slog, but I persevered on, and in retrospect I appreciate the first chapter quite a bit.  I’ll discuss why at the end of my review.

The man wakes up to people getting him out of the car and bringing him to a cave.  They then bring him out of the cave to their hut-like homes.  He perceives of them as primitive and judges them harshly.  Gradually over time he comes to better understand them and their ways and to understand that he is not with primitive people hidden in the woods near his home.  He is on an island, and he somehow was spirited there.  I won’t discuss much more of the plot, because it could ruin it, but essentially the man is a stand-in for the reader.  The Kin of Ata have spiritual lessons and teach them to the man, and in turn to the reader.  It comes across much like a parable.

The Kin believe that humans need to remember and respect their dreams (actual dreams we have at night).  They view our sleeping lives as just as important, if not more so, than our waking ones.  They thus design their waking lives to be lived in the right manner so as to elicit the most powerful dreams.  This means things like working but not too hard.  Thus making yourself tired enough to sleep but not so tired that you sleep the sleep of the dead.  It also means discussing your dreams every morning upon awaking.  It means listening to your dreams and choosing daytime activities that suit what they are telling you.  Put another way, the Kin choose daytime activities that fit the callings of their deepest souls.  They essentially live a very mindful life that helps them achieve happiness and a peaceful community.

The main character starts out as a deep blight on the community.  He keeps trying to force his ways upon them. He comes across as an angry cloud.  In addition to being a murderer he also rapes one of the female Kin early on in the book.  I found the depiction of this rape fascinating.  The man sees people having sex with each other in what appears to him to be whenever one person demands it.  In actuality, the people are choosing each other and subtlely letting each other know whether they want to have sex or not.  The man decides he wants to participate and goes after one of the women.  She indicates to him through cultural body language (these people do not speak much) that it is the wrong time.  He does it anyway and she does not resist but she also does not participate.  The whole community judges him as it being a wrong and a rape in spite of the fact that the woman never said no.  The whole community views sex as only consensual if joyous consent is given, not just if the word “no” is not said.  The man is startled and yet also immediately understands their point.  He felt dirty and wrong after the sex and wasn’t sure why but now he understands and doesn’t know why he never thought of it this way before.  He is utterly ashamed of himself.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I struggle with plots that ask us to empathize with a rapist.  It honestly surprised me that this scene didn’t turn me off the book entirely.  Yet this is also a huge turning point for the main character.  He realizes that his way of doing things leads to him feeling bad and wrong and negatively impacts others.  The woman spends several days in a cavelike place, which is basically where the Kin go to meditate.  When she comes out, she forgives the man, because harboring a grudge against him would hurt her own ability to live the right path.  I found the whole event of how the community confronts the man about his wrongdoing, how he responds to this confrontation, and how the woman handles it to be incredibly thought-provoking.  It made me think about how much culture impacts people’s ability to even recognize when they’ve done something wrong.  Also, much as I had heard many times growing up how harboring hate in your own heart poisons yourself and not the one who harmed you, seeing a character fully embrace this after a traumatic experience made it sink in much more for me than just hearing the saying ever did.

This scene also served another purpose.  It reminded me that we’ve all done things we’re ashamed of and showed a path of redemption.  The man starts to pursue living the right way.  He has set-backs and stumbles.  It sometimes takes years for him to see the results of certain actions that he starts doing the right way.  It takes perseverance, unlike living the easy way, like he used to.  It’s a powerful parable for practices such as meditation, for which you often don’t see results right away.

Similarly, again, I don’t want to spoil it, but the book demonstrates how it takes a community living right for a truly peaceful and happy community to exist.  It also demonstrates, though, how one person who is very strong in their commitment to this right path can impact a whole community that is lost.

I promised to touch back on why I came to appreciate the first chapter.  I appreciate it because it shows us the main character living his life following the wrong path within his own original community.  It shows us where he came from before showing us how he develops into a life so much better through his work with the Kin.  It also makes for a powerful bookend with the final chapter, whose surprise I will not reveal.

This is a powerful parable that demonstrates how much impact living mindfully can have, and also how important developing healthy communities is for the happiness and peace of all.  It shows how wrong cultural ideals can lead people astray and hurt even the perpetrators of violence.  Some may struggle with parts of the book, but that is part of the process of learning the lessons in the parable.  I highly recommend this short book to all seeking a thought-provoking read.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: UnWholly by Neal Shusterman (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels)

October 21, 2015 Leave a comment

Book Review: UnWholly by Neal Shusterman (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels)Summary:
Picking up where Unwind left off, UnWholly finds Risa and Connor managing the Graveyard full of unwinds themselves with no adults in site, and Lev struggling to find a purpose now that he’s both free of clapper chemicals and under the watchful eye of the government.  Into the mix comes Cam, the first ever “rewind.”  He’s been assembled completely from the parts of unwinds of every race and religion.  And his creator intends to meddle with the runaway unwinds too.

I picked this up right after finishing the first on audiobook, because finding a fast-paced story with a good narrator can be harder than it sounds.  So once I found that with the first book in the series and I saw the rest of it had the same narrator, I figured I may as well continue along with it.  While I found the first book engaging and thought-provoking, I found myself periodically bored with the plot in this one, and also found it more difficult to suspend my disbelief than before.

The basic premise is that Connor is all torn up over having the arm of his once-rival (who also just so happened to threaten to rape his girlfriend, Risa).  He thus holds Risa at arm’s-length (pun intended) because he’s afraid of what his own arm will do.  While I appreciate the fact that it must be truly atrocious for your boyfriend to now have your attempted rapist’s arm, I think the fact that Connor lends the arm so much agency is a symptom of one particular idea in this world-building that just doesn’t work for me.  The idea that body parts have their own spark of soul or agency or thought.  It’s rife in this entry in the series, and it’s just plain weird to me.  I can understand a character not bonding with a transplant that was forced upon him. I can understand it being weird for loved ones.  I don’t, however, find myself able to suspend my disbelief enough to believe that someone’s arm has their personality in it so much that the person who it was transplanted onto would be afraid of it.  It’s an arm, not a piece of brain or even a heart. The author does provide links to sources about transplant recipients feeling connected to the person whose body part they received or having memories or what have you.  I appreciate that.  But for me personally this plot point just does not work.  Other readers may be able to suspend their disbelief better than I was able to.  I for once can’t imagine not going near my own girlfriend because I was afraid of my arm.  I also just disliked how much agency Connor removes from himself for his own temper.  If he hits the wall when he’s angry it’s not him hitting the wall, it’s the arm hitting the wall.  The arm got mad. The arm got out of control.  There’s just a ridiculous lack of agency there, and I’m not super comfortable with that level of lack of agency being in a book marketed toward teenagers, who are at the best point in life for learning agency and responsibility.

I similarly have a hard time believing, from a neurological perspective, that the rewind boy, Cam, could exist.  His brain is dozens’ of peoples all wound together.  I could believe replacing a brain piece here or there with transplant technology, I couldn’t believe mish-mashing many together and having them actually function.  Let alone with the only issue being that Cam struggles to learn to speak in words instead of metaphors.  While Cam did strike me as grotesque, he mostly just struck me as an impossibility that I was then supposed to have sympathy for because he’s a person with his own feelings…but are they really?  The whole thing was just a bit too bizarre for me.

On a related note, I found the scenes where Cam wakes up and learns to talk and slowly realizes what he is to be very tedious to read.  They move slowly, and there is an attempt at building of suspense, but it is clear nearly immediately that Cam is a Frankenstein’s creature like experiment, even without Cam himself knowing it right away.

The other big new character is Starkey, a boy who was storked who is brought into the Graveyard.  He’s basically exactly the same as Connor (he’s even still a white boy), the only difference being that was a stork and that he has no Risa to ease down his temper.  I found his characterization to be uncreative, even if the building up of strife between the storks and the rest of the unwinds was a good plot point.  It would have been better if the leader of the storks was more creative.  Similarly, Starkey’s two main assistants are a black girl and an Indian-American boy.  Just as with the first book, non-white people exist, but only as seconds to the white people.  Why couldn’t either of them have been the leader of the storks?

All of these things said, there was still a lot of plot to keep the interest.  I’ve barely touched on a couple of them.  The world is still engaging, even if it’s hard to suspend the disbelief for it.  I doubt I’d keep reading if I was reading this in print, but the audiobook narration makes it feel like listening to a movie, and it’s the perfect match for my commutes and doing dishes and such.  Plus, now I’m curious as to where else the plot will go.  I’m betting it will end up going in a direction I find it even harder to suspend my disbelief for, but it’ll be a fun ride seeing where that is.

Overall, fans of the first book may be disappointed by the slightly more meandering plot in this one.  The addition of two new characters to follow will be distracting to some readers while others will find it adds to the interest and suspense.  Some readers may be turned off by the continued lack of diversity in such a large cast of protagonists.  The plot is engaging and the world is unique, though, so fans of YA dystopian scifi will probably still enjoy it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Unwind, review

Book Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels)

September 29, 2015 7 comments

Book Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman (Audiobook narrated by Luke Daniels)Summary:
In the near future, the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life debate explodes into a war called the Heartland War.  The only way the war could reach a peace was to come to an agreement.  There would be no abortion but when children are between the ages of 13 and 17 their parents can sign an order to have them unwound.  New scientific technology allows doctors to transplant all of a person’s body parts.  They will then “live on” in a “divided state.”  Teens whose parents choose to sign an unwind order for them are rounded up by juvie cops and brought to Harvest Camps to await their fate.  Some families, particularly from fundamentalist branches of all faiths, believe in tithing 10% of their children, and will have a child simply to raise them to be a tithe.  Additionally, many children end up unwanted and living in State Homes, where they are all given the last name of Ward–for ward of the state.

Connor is a light-hearted bad boy who just accidentally found his own unwind orders in his parents’ desk and immediately goes on the run.  Lev is a tithe who is on his way to Harvest Camp.  Risa is a ward of the state, and she is on a bus to be unwound, because she isn’t deemed exceptional enough to justify her upkeep.  A series of events throws them into each other’s lives and leaves whether or not they will be unwound in question.

This was recommended to me years ago, but when I first read the description I was skeptical that the book was anything but Pro-Life propaganda.  Years later I decided to check it out again, and most reviews mentioned how neutral the book was.  Additionally, I read some interviews with the author where he stated he genuinely was trying to present a neutral story that analyzes some tough questions, so I thought I would give it a shot.  Ultimately, the author has succeeded at creating a future world that is fascinating to visit and that also analyzes medical ethics in a creative way.  I would honestly say the book is much more about medical ethics, particularly in regards to transplants, than it really is about abortion rights.

The basic plot is that three very different teenagers are supposed to be unwound but then find themselves on the run instead of actually at Harvest Camp.  The book is in the third person but from the limited perspective of one character, and that one character switches around.  It is predominantly Connor, Risa, or Lev, but it is also sometimes someone like a juvie cop or a parent.  Sometimes this narrative structure works really well, providing many different perspectives on the same event or issue.  Other times it feels too contrived.  The perspective switches at just the right moment to keep the reader in the dark, or to reveal something we wouldn’t otherwise know.  Sometimes this structure builds suspense and other times it kind of ruins it.  Overall, though, I enjoyed the structure and found that the multiple perspectives really added to the world and the story.

This narrative structure is enhanced by clippings from real, modern-day newspaper articles and blogs, as well as fake advertisements and news from the future the book is set in.  Partially due to the Audible narrator, who did a fantastic job at the ads, I really enjoyed these snippets of media from the future.  They are very tongue-in-cheek and adult, but will still appeal to teens reading the book for their over-the-topness.  I found the modern day news articles to be less interesting, and mostly felt a bit like scare mongering.  They read as a bit heavy-handed in pushing the “this could really happen!” angle.

I did find it a bit frustrating that all three of the main characters are white and straight.  While it is acknowledged that a few people (primarily adults) could be GLBTQ, the assumed norm is straight and cis, no matter what social organization is in control.  Whether it’s mainstream society, rebels, or anyone in-between. The norm is always straight cis.  Similarly, while the author does include non-white people to a much greater degree than non-straight/non-cis people  (there are a wide variety of ethnicities and religions represented in the society), they are all secondary characters.  One thing that really stuck out to me was that at one point in the book we meet a Chinese-American girl who is being unwound because her parents wanted a son, and they just kept trying until they got one and then picked a daughter to unwind, because they couldn’t afford all the kids.  She’s also got an interesting punk aesthetic to her.  What an interesting main character she would have been!  Can you imagine her in the role of Connor? They are both running away from being unwound, and she could easily have taken that main character role.  It just bothers me when a book has three main characters who are all in a similar situation due to society-wide problems, and yet they are so non-diverse, with just a nod at gender by having one female character.

With regards to the female character, Risa, I must say I was very disappointed to have one plot point be an attempted rape of her, and her then being saved by a male character.  First, we only get one female main character and then she naturally is almost raped.  Then naturally she must be saved by someone else.  The whole scene sickened me, especially when I thought about teen girls reading it.  It was just a completely unnecessary plot point.  I once read an article that talked about how often rape scenes (or attempted rape scenes) are a sign of lack of creativity. I don’t think all of them are, but this one certainly came across that way.  Unnecessary and a convenient plot point without thought to how it would affect the readers.

In spite of these characterization and style complaints though, the plot is very good, and the world is fascinating.  Characters in a natural manner talk about and explore the ethics of life, when life begins, and who has the right to life, as well as who has the right to end it.  The plot is fast-paced, and I read as quickly as I could to find out what happened.  There are also a couple of twists at the end that rocked my socks off and left me immediately downloading the next book in the series.

All of that said, I have a few questions about the world that were never addressed.  First, if everyone who is unwound is between the ages of 13 and 17, how does that work out with transplantation?  People have not yet finished growing at 17, especially their minds.  Does this mean a 67 year old woman would have a 15 year old’s arm if she needed a transplant?  If so, that sounds very grotesque to me, and I wonder how society has learned to deal with something so mis-matched.  This isn’t particularly addressed, except to say that sometimes it’s weird to look at someone with two eyes that don’t match.  Similarly, the world at large isn’t really talked about at all.  The kids who are trying to escape being unwound don’t even consider running into another country but they never explain why.  How has the world at large reacted to the United States’ new law? Is there any country that would be a safe-haven for unwinds?  Are there other countries following suit?  The international impact is woefully underaddressed.

In spite of these various shortcomings, the plot and the world still sucked me in.  It was a quick read that left me wanting more.

Overall, fans of dystopian ya looking for another series to whet their appetite will definitely enjoy this one.  It’s a completely different dystopia from most of the ones that are already big, and I am sure YA readers who are currently teens themselves will find the idea of their parents being able to sign an unwind order on them chilling.  Dystopian YA fans should definitely give this one a go.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: The Mediator Pattern by J.D. Lee

September 15, 2015 Leave a comment

Book Review: The Mediator Pattern by J.D. LeeSummary:
In an alternate history, the personal fax machine, not computers, became the quintessential technology, and one company, BelisCo, is running much of the United States.  San Jose is now run entirely by BelisCo, and it boasts all the best of modern planned living: adult-only zones, smoking and non-smoking zones, clean and reliable transportation, and legal weed.  Marcus Metiline is a PI in San Jose, and his whole world gets turned upside down when he agrees to take a job for BelisCo itself.

This is one of my accepted ARCs for 2015, and I went for it due to its interesting slight twist on the noir genre.  I was intrigued at the idea of a PI in an alternate world where fax machines were the status quo instead of PCs. It felt almost like a steampunk. Techpunk? There should be a world for this when the old tech isn’t steam-power.  In any case, although I found the world very interesting and I enjoyed visiting it, the plot left me dissatisfied.

This book is an enjoyable read even when the plot is doing weird things.  The sentences flow smoothly, and the settings and characters are clearly rendered.  I really enjoyed this alternate world.  I liked it so much that I was disappointed by how little time we spend in it.  Marcus is quickly scooped out and plopped into another world, and I didn’t like that one nearly as much or find it as interesting.  The first world Marcus inhabits is creative and new.  The other worlds are more dull and are things I’ve seen before.

It’s difficult to review this book without giving much away, but suffice to say that there is physics in the book, and while I appreciate the fact that science of it is good and well-explained, it also is a physics I’ve seen in scifi many times before, and I don’t think this particular rendering brought anything fresh to the table.

There are three really important characters in the book: Marcus, the owner of BelisCo, and a doctor.  All three of them are male.  This makes the book read a bit like a boys’ club, and it bugged me.  The book would have instantly been more unique and interesting if, say, Marcus had been a hard-boiled woman PI.  When every main character is basically the same (an intelligent white male), it’s just dull.

So, the non-spoiler reason of why I wasn’t into the plot is that I felt it took things just one twist too far, rendering things a bit ridiculous.  If you want more explanation, see the spoiler-filled paragraph below.

Basically, Marcus finds out that San Jose is some sort of Matrix-like simulation aka not the real world, and he is encouraged to break out of it.  When he does, the buildings of San Jose start falling apart and people are mad at him.  We discover that the reason for this is that the simulation was being done on a bunch of cancer patients.  The science here didn’t make much sense to me at the time, but basically they would live longer if they were in the simulation, giving them more of a chance to beat the cancer.  Everyone entered the simulation through Marcus, and they had to keep him believing it to keep the experiment going.  This whole experiment is highly illegal, and they blow up the building to get rid of the evidence.  There are then hints that there are more worlds and simulations than these.  First, I found the whole we’re in a simulation and this isn’t real life thing to be a very been there done that plot.  It took us out of the much more interesting simulation world and into a computer simulation that I’ve seen before.  The second twist of it actually being cancer treatment and them needing Marcus to stay in the world just sent the whole thing off into left field for me.  Particularly since I found the science of the cancer treatment to be weak compared to the physics earlier.  While I appreciate to others it may read more like a cool idea, to me it just took things on a path from super interesting to I’ve seen this before to wtf was that.  It just really didn’t work for me.
*end spoilers*

Overall, readers who are intrigued by the world in the summary and who don’t mind multiple plot twists and a predominantly male cast will enjoy this read.  It is well-written and interesting, but readers expecting to linger in the fax machine world of the plot summary should know that this world is soon left behind.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Cowboys and Aliens by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg (Graphic Novel)

August 18, 2015 Leave a comment

Book Review: Cowboys and Aliens by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg (Grahic Novel)Summary:
In the American Wild West, invading aliens show up, intent to colonize the planet and enslave or destroy the humans.  The warring white settlers and Native Americans must put aside their own battle for control of the land and defend it from offworlders.

This was given as a gift to me, because when the movie Cowboys and Aliens came out in 2011, I was super into the idea of two of my favorite things being combined–a western and scifi.  A friend gifted this to me, and it languished on my TBR Pile for years.  I finally picked it up, and while I enjoyed the read and the art, I did not enjoy it as much as the movie, finding it to be too heavy-handed and obvious in its message, as well as a bit too stereotypical in how it handled its Native American characters.

The art is bright and colorful with easy-to-follow panels.  The book opens with a clearly laid out parallel between the colonizing alien species and the white settlers in America.  It’s clever to make a group actively colonizing another group suddenly the victim of colonizers themselves.  However, the direct juxtaposition jumping back and forth between the two visually is too heavy-handed.  Readers know about colonization on our own planet.  Just tell the story of the aliens and let us see the white settler characters slowly realize that they’re doing the same thing to others.  Instead, the readers are shown several times both the parallels between the two and one of the white settlers suddenly dramatically realizing the similarities in the situations.

The Native American characters aren’t horribly handed, however they are treated a bit too much magically for my taste.  Thankfully, how they help fight the aliens mostly comes from ingenuity, not magic.

Both of those things said, the aliens in the story are diverse and interestingly drawn.  Seeing Native Americans and white settlers battle the aliens with a combination of their own gear and stolen alien items was really fun to read.  Just not as much fun or as well-developed of a plot as it was in the movie.

Overall, this is a quick graphic novel that would be a fun read for either hardcore fans of the movie or those interested in the basic idea but who prefer graphic novels to movies.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Book Review: Mark of the Harbinger: Fall of Eden by Chris R. McCarthy

August 11, 2015 2 comments

Book Review: Mark of the Harbinger: Fall of Eden by Chris R. McCarthySummary:
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

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