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Book Review: The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe by D.G. Compton

September 28, 2021 2 comments
Image of a digital book cover. A phot of a videocamera goes from grayed out to properly saturated to fully blacked out from the top left corner to the bottom right corner. the title fo the book and the author are in a reddish box in the center with pink and yellow font.

Summary:
Katherine Mortenhoe’s world looks very similar to our own, except that in this near future medical science has found the cure for death—or eliminated nearly every cause for it other than old age. So when Katherine is diagnosed with a terminal brain disease caused by an inability to process an ever-increasing volume of sensory input, she immediately becomes a celebrity to the “pain-starved public.” But Katherine will not agree to be the star of the reality TV show Human Destiny, her last days will not be recorded by any cameras. She doesn’t realize that from the moment of her diagnosis, she’s been watched, not only by television producers but by a new kind of reporter, one with no visible camera, who is always recording behind his never-blinking eye. 

Review:
This book was first published in 1973 under the title The Unsleeping Eye. It was then published in the UK in 1974 under this title. It was made as a film in 1980 under the title Death Watch with the books published after that under that title. Then in 2016 it was republished as The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe along with a new introduction by Jeff Vandermeer. All of which is to say, although you may see it listed as published in 2016, this is actually a 1970s vision of the future. This makes its take on reality tv all the more impressive to me.

The story is told in two perspectives from Katherine’s and from the reporter’s. They both live in the near future UK. Katherine is in her 40s on her second husband, childfree (there is no discussion of fertility issues or a desire for children), and works for Computabook’s romance department. Computabook appears to be essentially an AI largely writing Harlequin style romance novels. The consensus seems to be that she could write a great novel and is wasting her time at Computabook. She goes to the doctor quite a bit, which is presented as odd for a time when most illnesses are cured. The gentle opinion seems to be that she has a mental problem skewing toward perhaps hypochondria. But then she gets a terminal diagnosis. The reality tv show Human Destiny is so sure that they will get her to sign on to live out her last days filmed that they secretly film her receiving the diagnosis news, figuring they will get her permission via contract later.

The reporter has just consented to have tv cameras implanted in his eyes, allowing them to film without the presence of any cameras, only him. He cannot be in full darkness for a period of time after the surgery and takes pills to stay awake. He has an ex-wife and son. The ex-wife very much dislikes his work for the producer who does Human Destiny. She does not like this producer.

There are a lot of ex-spouses in this society because they do 5 year handfastings, essentially, and at that point they decide whether or not to recommit for another 5 years. It’s supposed to not be a big deal if folks don’t recommit, but it’s clear from both the reporter’s relationships and Katherine’s that it actually is to the folks involved. While not a focus of the book, I found this interesting.

The book then ultimately explores the ethics of why Katherine might or might not sign on for the show, whether or not the reality tv show is in and of itself ethical, and what the limits of cameras in a person’s eyes are to truly telling the truth. I would also say it explores the impact of your job on your life and your sense of fulfillment. Another theme is how different people’s lives look depending on how much they have “bought in” to the way of life depicted to them as the main choice by the government. There’s also a question of what’s a good death and who gets to choose what that means.

I most enjoyed the exploration of the alternative societies outside of the mainstream. I also found the depiction of near future reality tv very well-imagined. I am happy to report that there is no rape or sexual violence in this 1970s scifi book. There is an instance where it seems a possibility, but it does not ultimately happen. There is medical trauma and some minor violence seen in robberies.

This book ultimately left me pondering if it was trying to say something larger about the male gaze or if that was coincidental. Regardless, it left me thinking about women and our lives and how others view them. A valuable issue to ponder. Plus it was fun to explore this imagined future society.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 264 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Purchased

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Book Review: Three to Get Lei’d by Jill Marie Landis (Series, #3)

Book Review: Three to Get Lei'd by Jill Marie Landis (Series, #3)Summary:
A jigger of tranquility is all Em Johnson wants, but now that her beloved Tiki Goddess Bar has been chosen as the location for Trouble in Paradise, TV’s hot new reality show, life is anything but tranquil. When a member of the camera crew is found dead in her kitchen-stabbed to death with Chef Kimo’s sashimi knife-the scene on the sleepy North Shore of Kauai goes from eccentrically crazy to downright dangerous. Suspects lurk behind every paper drink umbrella.

Review:
This book brought back all the strengths from the first book with the added delight of everyone at the Tiki Goddess Bar being featured on a reality tv show. As a (not-so-secret) lover of reality tv for the over-the-top ridiculousness and a lover of cozies for their delightful tongue-in-cheek puns and ability to not take themselves too seriously, the marriage of the two in this book was sheer delight.

A couple of scenes in particular struck me as the type of mad-cap tom-foolery seen in older 1920s romps, only with the added twist of reality tv cameras following the moves. I honestly would love to see a “The Office” style take on this series…a fake reality tv show version of the Tiki Godess Bar. That’d be a hoot! Anyway, one scene I really enjoyed involves the Hula Maidens in hula costume sneaking around on a golf course. Delightful.

I also like that the plot, although a bit predictable, weaves in a few different elements of various characters’ lives and stories. Em’s life moves forward, as does her uncle’s. Nothing is stagnant, just because murder is happening. I also thought grief and concern for loved ones’ safety were depicted well and realistically without slowing the plot down or removing the joy from the narrative.

All-in-all, a fun entry in the series that left me eager for the next one….and hoping the reality show will be back!

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Gift

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Previous Books in Series:
Mai Tai One On, review
Two to Mango, review

Book Review: Grey by Jon Armstrong (Audiobook narrated by Macleod Andrews)

April 23, 2012 3 comments

Man in a suit looming over a woman.Summary:
In the near future capitalism has entirely taken over, and the world is ruled by a few families….and their corporations.  People from all walks of life are also completely obsessed with fashion.  Michael Rivers is the heir to the River Corporation and is being sent on worldwide-aired dates with Nora, the heir to another company.  Just when they are about to announce their engagement, however, a freeboot shoots at Michael leaving the families blaming each other for the incident.  Michael refuses to accept his father’s demands that he marry a different woman, however, and his quest to figure out a way to Nora leads to some deep dark scandals hid on all levels of the company.

Review:
I have to say that this is the first time I was sorely disappointed by a read I originally discovered via Little Red Reviewer’s blog.  I was intrigued by the idea of fashionpunk, which is what this book is supposed to be.  Fashionpunk is a new genre.  Think scifi with a heavy focus on fashion.  It’s unfortunate that the fashion aka world setting was the best part of the book.

Armstrong richly presents the near future he has imagined.  People’s tendencies to reflect their world views via their fashion choices is completely exploded in this world.  Michael identifies as a Grey.  He wears only shades of grey and chooses everything from what bands he likes to what restaurants to eat in based on the grey fashion’s magazine.  Every other type of fashion is similar.  Even the Rivers security team are referred to by the type of clothing they wear–the Satins.  I know!  This sounds awesome and delicious to be in, and it was. But…..the story, you guys. The story.

This book’s plot is like the Kardashian show if it was written down and entirely sympathetic to Kim Kardashian. I know, right? Even reading that sentence is painful.  It’s not that I’m saying someone wealthy can’t be a main character, but it helps if some aspect of them is sympathetic, and Michael is just not.  He’s whiny and wimpy and sooooo obsessed with inane things and his “love” of Nora completely squicks me out.  It reads more like an unhealthy obsession than star-crossed lovers.  And he never really changes!  No matter what he learns or what happens he’s still the same Michael by the end as he is at the beginning.  There’s just….no character development.  No underdog to root for. No nothing.  I liked seeing Michael’s world, but I really would have preferred to wander off and follow the life of the director or a chauffeur or even the inane girl he goes on a date with who has pink fur growing out of her skin.  See what I’m saying?  Someone with a more interesting perspective.  The problem with Michael is that grey truly is the best way to describe him.  He’s dull and annoying.  Like a grey, rainy day.

So why did I continue listening to it and finish it so quickly?  The audiobook narrator, Macleod Andrews, is completely brilliant.  It was like listening to a one-man show.  He somehow managed to breathe some life into the dull plot.  For that I thank him, and I also will be checking out what else he’s narrated on Audible.

Overall, the concept of fashionpunk that Armstrong has worked out is intriguing and makes for a visually and culturally rich world.  Unfortunately, I found his plot completely unappealing.  Perhaps people who enjoy the lives of the rich and famous would feel differently, however.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: Death Island by Joan Conning Afman

January 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Skeleton hanging from a tree.Summary:
In future America the prisons are so overcrowded that the government needed to come up with a new idea.  So they started sending the worst criminals to a remote island to live out their lives (or deaths).  Naturally, this Lord of the Flies style punishment is also a nationally televised weekly reality tv show.  When Danny is wrongfully accused of serial killing five women with an axe, including his own wife, this reality tv show becomes his stark….reality.

Review:
At this point, the idea of a reality televised punishment type thing run by the government is relatively passe.  A trope of the dystopian scifi genre, even.  However, Afman does bring a unique twist to this basic idea that keeps the book fresh and engaging.

For instance, the inhabitants of the island are not forced to pit themselves against each other.  They sort of naturally divided up into the Village, the Tribe, and the loners.  The Village consists of those men who feel badly about their crimes and are trying to live out their lives with some semblance of normalcy.  A lot of them have formed couples and shacked up.  The Tribe are basically the psychopathic killers who periodically get drunk on their homemade rum and randomly attack others on the island.  The loners are relatively self-explanatory.  Having this type of conflict naturally happen instead of forcing it upon the participants is a nice throwback to The Lord of the Flies.

On the other hand, the fact that Danny proclaims his innocence and is innocent makes the plot far less appealing to me.  There’s no real moral ambiguity at the center that would drive the reader to question her own belief system or the concept of justice in general.  It’s odd to me that Afman chose Danny as the main character when there is a minor character on the island who admittedly committed a crime but perhaps for the right reasons.  This is where the meat of a real story would lie.  Choosing Danny instead makes it sort of like those tv shows people put on for background noise but don’t pay any real attention to.

Of course, Danny is not the entire plot.  We also have the minister’s wife, Charlie, who firmly believes in Danny’s innocence and works toward freeing him.  She provides the connection to the real axe murderer and a really odd romance layer to the book.  Seeing the program how those in America do is interesting, but wouldn’t it be more interesting to travel around to various viewing parties in the US?  Perhaps to those who are blood-thirsty to the casual viewers to family members of those sent to the island, even.  Instead, every time Charlie’s plot interrupts Danny’s it’s distracting.

All of those things said, it’s not that the book is badly written.  It’s not.  It’s just not amazing or even very good.  It’s just good.  It entertains for a couple of hours and then is easily tossed aside.  Perhaps for some people that’s enough.  Personally I was hoping for more.

Overall, I recommend this book to those who are a fan of the concept looking for a light, quick read.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: LibraryThing’s EarlyReviewers

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Book Review: Point by Thomas Blackthorne (series, #2)

September 7, 2011 4 comments

Text-heavy black book cover.Summary:
Mysterious cutter circles are showing up in the Britain of the future.  Thirteen teenagers gather in a circle, then slice the wrist of the person next to them all the way around the circle.  The MI5 recruits a neuroscientist to help figure out the circles before they reach epidemic proportions.  Meanwhile, her boyfriend, Josh Cumberland, finds himself sucked back into his old special forces unit when a civilian job reaches a mysterious end.  Are the two events connected?

Review:
I received an ARC of this book through the Angry Robot Army, and I sort of wish I’d noticed it was the second in a series.  I just dislike reading books out of order.  Also, I think perhaps if I’d read the first book in the series, I wouldn’t have been so misled by the cover.

In case you can’t see the cover, it says, “Britain, tomorrow.  The latest craze: cutter circles.  Thirteen kids. Each has a blade. On a signal everybody cuts. What else is there when life has no point.”  This makes it seem like this will be a book about depression and suicide in a post-apocalyptic world, right?  In fact the people committing suicide have been brainwashed by music in an emotiphone to further a political power move.  Which has…..nothing to do with real suicide or depression.

There’s nothing wrong with being a political intrigue book, but I am a bit disturbed at how Blackthorne utilizes psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience in the book.  He makes it look like in the future we’ll be able to just….program people out of it or to do whatever we want them to do.  The brain is much more complex than that, and I just don’t like the message that such a plot device sends.

When looking at the book as the political espionage it actually is, as opposed to a book about mental illness in a dystopian world, it’s not a bad book.  I have the feeling that those who enjoy political intrigue books will enjoy it.  Josh is your typical wounded hero, and I did enjoy the scenes of him training.   Blackthorne creatively incorporates reality tv into the plot-line that many readers will enjoy.  The characters aren’t flat, but also aren’t particularly well-rounded.  That’s ok, though, because the focus of the book is the action and political intrigue.

Overall, the book seems to be an average future political intrigue action flick…in written form.  I recommend it to fans of that genre, but others will probably be bored.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: ARC from publisher

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