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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.

Review:
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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2015’s Accepted Review Copies!

January 24, 2015 5 comments

Here on Opinions of a Wolf, I open up to submissions of review copies in November and December.  I predetermine a number I will accept to be reviewed the following year.  You can view more about my review process here.  You may view the accepted review copies post for 2014 by clicking on the year.  For 2015, I decided to accept 6 books.

This year, 37 review requests were submitted.  This means I only accepted 16% of the submitted books.  Put another way, each book only had a 16% chance of being accepted.

Authors submitting to me were 59% male, 38% female, and 3% preferred not to say.  Last year only 26% of the submitting authors were female.  I am pleased at the increase for two reasons.  I’m a female author myself and like to support other female authors, but also the world is approximately half female, and I’d like for my submissions to reflect that.

14% of authors submitting self-identified as GLBTQA! I am really pleased at this, as I actively sought out authors identifying this way.  However, 19% of the books were identified as having significant GLBTQA content.  This means that more than just GLBTQA people are featuring GLBTQA characters, and that makes me really happy.

Graphical depiction of genres submitted

The above graph depicts the genres submitted to me.  I only accept the genres listed in the graph.  You can easily see that scifi was by far the most submitted genre, with 35% of the books.  This is followed by thriller and horror with 24% and 16%, respectively.  Nonfiction was clearly the least submitted, with only 6% of the books being any type of nonfiction at all.  Next year, I would like to see more variety in my submissions as far as genres go.  More cozies, paranormal or western romance, and nonfiction.

When I was doing my initial pass through of the books submitted to me, I created a document of blinded book summaries.  This means I only saw the summaries of the books, no other data, not even the title.  They were also randomized so I had no idea which were submitted when.  Using this technique, I eliminated half of the books.  In the final pass through, things like gender of the author, genre, and GLTBQA content were taken into consideration to give me a more diverse reading list for the year.  I also took into consideration whether or not the author was willing to participate in a giveaway, as well as the format of the book being offered, particularly when doing a tie-breaker.  For instance, all other things equal, if one book was willing for me to host a giveaway and another wasn’t, the one with the giveaway won.

I provide these stats for two reasons.  First to give everyone an idea of the competition the accepted books were up against.  It’s an accomplishment to be accepted for review here!  Second, I want those considering submitting to me this November and December to look at these stats and take them into consideration when submitting.  Consider the fact that I don’t want to read only scifi all year.  If you have a nonfiction or a cozy waiting to be reviewed, it has a higher chance of being accepted.  But enough stats!  It’s time to get to the accepted review copies!

The review copies are listed below in alphabetical order by title.  The authors of the accepted review copies are half female and half male.  One of the authors identifies as GLBTQA, and one of the books has GLBTQA content.  Summaries are pulled from GoodReads or Amazon, since I have yet to read them myself and so cannot write my own.  These books will be read and reviewed here in 2015, although what order they are read in is entirely up to my whim at the moment.

cover_the everlastingThe Everlasting: Da Eb’Bulastin
By: Rasheedah Prioleau
Genre: Horror
Summary:
After another incident of sleepwalking, Aiyana Gamelle wakes up lying under the stars on the Beach of Sa’Fyre Island, an island off the cost of South Carolina with a rich Gullah and Native American history.

Knowing these incidents of sleepwalking have something to do with her long awaited transition into queen of the island, Aiyana shrugs them off as little more than a nuisance to be expected since her lineage leads to a mysterious African goddess.

Aiyana moves forward with plans to host a week long festival that will end with her succession to the island throne, but the murder of an important guest and the passing of her grandmother threaten to bring the festivities to a screeching halt. Then Aiyana learns that the transition involves an unwanted possession and the revelation of a dark family curse.

cover_markMark of the Harbinger: Fall of Eden
By: Chris R. McCarthy
Genre: Scifi
Summary:
Stranded from Earth for five-thousand-years with no hope of rescue, a deep space colonization ship named Eden becomes the new home for humanity. Half its population lives a life of luxury, while the other live in destitution. When a man wakes aboard the ship without memories, he must uncover the clues of not only his identity but his origin.

With the help of a female rebel he becomes embroiled in the plot to overthrow an oppressive regime, and forced to decide if doing so could cause the extinction of the human race.

cover_mediatorpattern2The Mediator Pattern
By: J.D. Lee
Genre: Scifi
Summary:
Some ​people wait an entire lifetime for purpose. Some don’t find it at all. Some spend an eternity searching for paradise… for a Utopia. But sometimes purpose and paradise come at a cost.

BelisCo-San Jose boasts all ​the latest breakthrough technology: the fax machine, the electric typewriter, the tri-ox system transport vehicle and the newest technological breakthrough, the porta-fax. With innovations ​galore, BelisCo-San Jose is a modern-day Utopia—perfect​ly designed, complete with adult-only zones, smoking and non-smoking zones, cannabis, cigarettes, food, work, income, and reliable, clean transportation—all provided by BelisCo.

But things are not entirely as they seem in San Jose. It is here that jaded, chain-smoking Marcus Metiline’s world is turned upside down. ​After taking a mediation job with the ​ubiquitous BelisCo and meeting a peculiar doctor beyond the city’s zoned limits, Marcus’s world quickly unravels.​ It all starts with flashes of déjà vu and memories that have gone astray. ​As Marcus searches for answers to the increasingly strange events around him, it’s not long before he discovers that the fate of the world rests ​in him.

He’s been told exactly what he needs to do… But is something bigger moving him along?

cover_porcelainPorcelain: A Novelette
By: William Hage
Genre: Horror
Summary:
Out near the Pine Barrens in New Jersey sits the Whateley Bed & Breakfast, home of a wide collection of knick-knacks and antiques for its guests to view, including a beautifully ornate porcelain doll. However, after the Whateley’s latest guest purchases the doll as a gift, a horrifying series of nightmarish events begins to unfold.

cover_setadriftSet Adrift
By: D.S. Kenn
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Summary:
Terric Blythe is a hybrid demon and wolf shifter whose life has largely been spent in anonymous cities, moving among people while keeping them at arm’s length. The list of those who matter to him is short, but when he cares, he does completely. He has allowed himself to love the one person who truly knows him.

Jordyn Kinsley is an achingly beautiful vampire, haunted by her past. Choices and chance brought her into a world filled with evil, tragedy, and loss. At her lowest point, she encountered Terric. She learned to trust him, her demon with the heart of a wolf.

Their anonymous life in New York made it easy for Jordyn to isolate herself. Realizing she needed a change, Terric found their new home in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The tip of Cape Cod, where paranormal beings live easily among humans, is filled with closely guarded secrets. As Jordyn begins to heal and discover her strength, it’s clear she will one day be ready to stand on her own. The wolf must decide if he will return to existing in solitude or if he will follow her lead and explore what life has to offer.
Set Adrift is a story of love and loss, of deeply abiding friendship, and of sacrifice. The Immortal Isle series will grab ahold of your heart and have you falling in love with the inhabitants of this small coastal town.

cover_Unreal cityUnreal City
By: A.R. Meyering
Genre: Horror
Summary:
Sarah Wilkes is desperate enough to do anything, even make a deal with the devil—or in her case, a familiar spirit.

After her twin Lea is murdered, Sarah finds college life impossible and longs to escape. Everything changes when Sarah realizes a familiar spirit is stalking her and offers to transport her to the terrifying and fantastical realm of Unreal City. The payment for admission? A taste of her blood. Unable to resist, Sarah is drawn into an alternate reality that is a dream come true…at first.

The deeper she explores Unreal City, the more Sarah’s reality becomes warped. Death surrounds her as people are murdered in the same fashion as her sister. She has no choice but to continue her visits to Unreal City, which grows darker by the day.

Is finding out the truth worth becoming part of Unreal City forever?