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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.

Review:
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.

*spoilers*
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: Sleepless by Charlie Huston (Audiobook narrated by Ray Porter and Mark Bramhall)

January 18, 2014 2 comments

A city in sepia tones with the title of the book in fuzzy white letters over the black sky.Summary:
In an alternate 2010, the world is slowly falling into disarray, partially due to terrorism, but mostly due to a new deadly illness.  SLP makes the sufferer an insomniac, unable to sleep for years, until they fall into a state of insanity known as the suffering.  The sleepless, as those with the illness are known, change the structure of society. Movie theaters are now open 24/7, there’s an increase in sales of odd and illicit things, as the sleepless get bored.  Most importantly, the sleepless have moved much of their energy into online MMORPGs.  Some spending countless hours gold farming there, making a good buck with all their hours of alertness.

Park, an old-fashioned cop, is determined to save the structure of society, one bust at a time.  He’s committed to his work, in spite of his wife being sleepless and being increasingly unable to care for their infant daughter.  So when his boss asks him to go undercover to look for people illegally selling the one drug that can ease the pain of the sleepless–dreamer–he agrees.

Jasper is an elderly ex-military private investigator without much of an eye for sticking to the rule of the law who is asked by a client to hunt down and return to her a thumb drive that was stolen.  He slowly discovers that that thumb drive ended up in the middle of much more than some art thieves and finds himself sucked into the world of illicit dreamer.

Review:
My partner and I both enjoy a good noir story, so when we saw this summary on Audible, we thought it would make an entertaining listen for our 12 hour holiday road trip.  The story was so bad, we could only take it for about an hour at a time and eventually just turned it off so I could read out loud to him from a different book.  I eventually soldiered on, though, because I honestly just had to finish it so I could review it.  In what should be a fast-paced noir, there is instead an overwrought amount of description of unimportant things that slow what could have been an interesting plot down to a crawl.

Noir as a genre is a thriller that generally features a hard-boiled detective (sometimes a hard-boiled criminal).  It’s fast-paced and usually short featuring a lot of grit and mean streets.  One thing Huston does that puts an interesting twist on the noir is he incorporates both a cop who is being forced to turn detective and a criminal-style private investigator.  He features both sorts of main character.  This intrigued me from the beginning.  However, the writing includes far too much description of unimportant things for a crime thriller.  For instance, there is an at least 5 minutes long description of a computer keyboard.  I could literally space out for a few minutes and come back to the audiobook that was playing the entire time and miss literally nothing. It would still be describing the same chair.  This really slows the plot down.

A golden robot holding a gun.On top of the overly descriptive writing, the narration is overwrought, like a stage actor trying too hard.  The best explanation I can make for the narration is, if you have ever seen Futurama, the narration switches back and forth between being Calculon and being Hedonbot.  Now, I admit, the audiobook narrators played these parts perfectly. In fact, I had to check to see if they’re the same voice actors as Calculon and Hedonbot (they’re not).  I really think the audiobook narrators are what saved the story enough to keep me reading.  I kept laughing at the visual of Calculon and Hedonbot doing this overwrought noir.  But that is clearly not what makes for a good noir.  The tone and writing style were all wrong for the plot.

In addition to the writing style, there’s the plot.  In this world that Huston has imagined, gamers have become all-important.  When people go sleepless, they become intense gamers.  If they don’t do this then they become zombie-like criminals.  I don’t think this is a realistic imagining of what would actually happen if a huge portion of the population became permanent insomniacs.  Not everyone is a gamer or a criminal.  There’s a lot more options in the world than that.  Additionally, in this alternate 2010, the art world now revolves around MMORPGs as well. The art work that is now sold is thumb drives of the characters that people make in the games.  There is a long speech in the book about how making a character in an MMORPG is art.  Yes, somepeople might think that. But it is incredibly doubtful that the entire world would suddenly overnight start viewing character building in an MMORPG as an art form.  I won’t explain how, because it’s a spoiler, but the gamers also come into play in the seedy underworld of illegal drugs.  At the expense of a plot that follows the logic of the world the author has created, gamers are made to be inexplicably all-important.

hedonbot holding grapes and apologizing for nothingI also must point out that the science in this book is really shaky.  SLP was originally a genetic disease that suddenly becomes communicable.  That’s not how diseases work.  Communicable and genetic diseases are different, they don’t suddenly morph into one or the other.  Additionally, in the real world, there’s no way an illness would be given a scientific name that is an abbreviation for the common name (SLP for sleepless).  Think about swine flu.  The common name is swine flu, the scientific name is H1N1.  Similarly, the drug to treat SLP’s official name is DR33M3R, which is just the street name, dreamer, in leetspeak.  This isn’t fiction based in true science.

One thing I did appreciate in the book is that the semi-criminal private investigator, Jasper, is gay.  He’s extremely macho, ex-military, and he bangs his also macho helicopter pilot.  I like the stereotype-breaking characterization of Jasper.  It’s nice to see a gay man given such a strong role in a thriller.

Overall, this alternate 2010 noir gets too caught up in overly long descriptions of mundane things and an overwrought narrative style to keep the plot moving at a thriller pace.  The plot features an unrealistic level of importance for MMORPGs and the gamers who play, as well as unsound “science.”  One of the hardboiled main characters is a stereotype-breaking gay man, however, which is nice to see.  Recommended to those who enjoy an overly descriptive, overacting narration style with gamers featured unrealistically at center stage who don’t mind some shaky science in the plot.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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