Miranda and her mother and brothers have barely survived the long winter that came right after the moon was knocked out of orbit by an asteroid, bringing an apocalypse. She’s been wondering for months what happened to her father and his pregnant new wife. She’s thrilled when they show up on the doorstep when her newborn half brother, but she’s not so sure about the three extra people they’ve brought with them — an adult man and a teenage boy and his little sister.
The third book in this series reverts back to the Miranda’s journal format of the first. While I appreciate bringing the diverse characters from the first two books in the series together, the use of Miranda’s journal exclusively in telling the story renders the tale a bit less interesting and strong than it could have been.
It should come as no surprise that a YA series featuring a girl in the first book and a boy in the second will bring the two together in the third. I must admit that although when I finished the first book I was very eager to read more about Miranda, when I finished the second I was intrigued at the idea of a series that saw the same apocalypse lived out in different places by different people throughout. That said, getting to know the extensive background of the love interest is appreciated and different but it is a bit jarring to go back to Miranda’s diary after getting to know Alex so thoroughly in the second book. The book could have been much more powerful if Miranda’s journals were interspersed with chapters from Alex’s perspective. Getting this perspective would have helped make their love seem more real, as opposed to just convenient. (Alex is the only teenage boy Miranda has seen in a year). Additionally, in spite of Miranda falling for Alex so fast, he mostly comes across as cold and overly religious in this book, whereas in his own book he was much more empathetic. Certainly the need for survival will make him come across stern, and we know that Alex has a tendency to say important things in Spanish, which Miranda cannot understand. Both of these facts means it would have worked much better to have alternating perspectives, rather than just Miranda’s.
The plot, with the exception of the instant love between Alex and Miranda, is good. It brings everyone into one place in a way that seems natural. The addition of new characters also breathes new life into Miranda’s situation. Plus, Pfeffer does a good job of forcing the family out of their stasis in the home, something that both makes logical sense (these people were not preppers, they are not equipped to stay in their home forever in the apocalypse) and also keeps the plot interesting (one can only read about people holed up in a house for so long). The plot developments also make more sense, scientifically, than in the previous books.
Religion is handled less smoothly here than in the previous two books. Everyone but Miranda’s mother and Miranda has church on Sunday (Protestant or Catholic), and Miranda doesn’t have enough of a reaction to or thoughts about this. She doesn’t really think about faith or spirituality. Church is just something some other people do. This is unrealistic. A teen who has just gone through a disaster and sees her father suddenly take up faith would definitely at the very least have some questions. Given that Alex has a very strong faith and they are interested in each other, one would think they would have some conversations about religion that go beyond whether or not they can have sex before they get married, yet they don’t. The first two books sets a great stage to talk about faith in its many forms, as well as lack of faith, yet the book backs away from actually tackling this issue. If it had, it would have offered something truly thought-provoking in the read. Instead it’s a post-apocalyptic survivor romance. Not a bad thing but not what I was expecting based on the first two books.
Overall, this is an interesting next entry in the series that brings Miranda and Alex back to the readers and moves the plot forward. However, it dances around the issue of faith vs. lack of faith brought up in the first two books, eliminates Alex’s voice from the story, and suffers from some instant romance. Those already invested in the series will still enjoy seeing what happens to Alex and Miranda, although skimming for plot points is recommended.
3 out of 5 stars
Seventeen-year-old Alex Morales works hard with his eyes on a good college. He even works in a local pizza joint to pay for his own private Catholic school uniforms to help his Mami and Papi. Papi is in Puerto Rico for his mother’s funeral and Mami is working late when an asteroid strikes the moon and everything changes. New York City is struck by flooding and loss of infrastructure. Alex is left alone to care for his two younger sisters, Julie and Briana, and slowly he begins to think that maybe things will always be this bad. Maybe Mami and Papi will never come back, the moon will never look right again, and there will never be a world where he can go to college and not be left caring for his little sisters.
I inhaled the first book in this series, in spite of the scientific flaws (which I addressed in my review of the first book). Miranda’s journal ends so abruptly that I was eager to get to the next book right away. I was surprised, then, when the second book starts back before the moon is struck with an entirely different family in a different area of the country. This book shows Pfeffer’s abilities as a writer by showing the same apocalyptic event seen in the first book from the perspective of an entirely different family.
Miranda’s family is suburban-rural, agnostic/atheist humanist, blended (divorced parents with one remarried), and white. Alex’s family is urban (NYC), Latino, and devotedly Catholic. Both families are given room to have strengths and flaws, most of which have nothing to do with where they live, their ethnicities, or their religions (or lack of one). I honestly was startled to see Alex and his and his sisters’ strong faith treated with such respect in this book after Miranda’s lack of faith was treated with equal respect in the first. It’s easy, particularly in a book written as a journal, to mistake a character’s beliefs for an author’s, and Miranda, a teenage girl, has very strong beliefs. This book reminded me that those beliefs were just Miranda’s, just as Alex’s beliefs are just his, and it shows how well Pfeffer is able to write characters.
Some readers may find it odd and frustrating to go back in time to relive the apocalypse over again with different characters. I personally enjoyed it, because the world falling apart is one of the best parts of post-apocalyptic fiction for me. I also liked having the opportunity to see differences in how the apocalypse plays out based both on the location (suburban/rural versus urban) and the characters’ personalities and reactions. However, that said, I can see how this set-up of two vastly different sets of characters in books one and two could be off-putting to certain readers. Some religious readers may be turned off by the first book and Miranda’s staunch atheism. Those who read the first book and enjoy it for precisely that reason may similarly be turned off by the second book’s heavy Catholicism and faith. The diversity is a good thing but it also makes it hard to pinpoint an audience for the series. Those who are open to and accepting of other belief systems would ultimately be the best match but that’s a demographic that can sometimes be difficult to find or market to. However, if a reader is particularly looking for a diverse set of viewpoints of the apocalypse that is more than just characters’ appearances, this series will be a great match for them.
It should also be mentioned that this book is not a journal. It is told in third person, from Alex’s viewpoint, although the dates are still mentioned. It makes sense to do it this way, since Alex definitely does not come across as a character with the time or the inclination to keep a journal. It would have been interesting to view the apocalypse from the viewpoint of a boy who did keep a journal, however.
The plot makes sense and brings in enough danger without being overly ridiculous. It would have been nice to have maybe started the book just a bit earlier in the week to see more of Alex’s day-to-day life before the disaster. Instead, we learn about it through flashbacks, which makes it a bit harder to get to know him than it was to get to know Miranda.
Overall, this is a surprising and enjoyable second book in this post-apocalyptic series that lets readers relive the apocalypse from the first book over again with a different set of characters. This approach lends diversity to the series, as well as bringing in a greater variety of scenarios for those who enjoy the apocalypse process. Recommended to those looking for a diverse presentation of beliefs and how those impact how characters deal with an apocalypse.
4 out of 5 stars
John Perry joined the Colonial Defense Force on his 75th birthday. Americans aren’t allowed to be colonists in outer space, but they can defend the colonies in the outer space army. Old folks join for many reasons from boredom to having always wanted to see outer space, even though details of what goes on out there are kept secret from Earth. In spite of all the secrecy, the rumor is that those who join the CDF get to be young again, and who wouldn’t want a second chance at life?
Multiple friends have read this book and loved it, and of course I found the idea intriguing, who wouldn’t? So when a friend offered to loan me his copy, I took him up on it right away. I was not disappointed in the world Scalzi has created, it is endlessly fascinating, but the main character’s arc failed to be quite so interesting to me.
I can’t imagine how anyone would not find the basic premise of this book interesting. Outer space colonies that are kept a mystery from Earth. Only certain countries allowed to colonize (primarily those suffering from population overload). Top it off with a colonial army made entirely up of old people who supposedly get to be young again? Completely. Fascinating. And Scalzi really comes through on the science of all of this, the politics, and manages to have some surprises in there, in spite of the what seems to be very straight-forward book summary. And the world beyond the soldiers and the colonists is utterly fascinating as well. The aliens are incredibly creatively imagined, not just in their looks but in their cultures. They feel real. And that extends to the battles and spaceships as well. The worldbuilding here is phenomenal. It is an example of how scifi worlds should be built.
The main character, though, as well as his character development arc, fail to live up to the incredible worldbuilding. John Perry, from early on, is talented at war, in spite of having only been an advertising slogan writer for his whole life. He has no real life experience that would make one think he would be good at war. Additionally, even when he is doing battle, he’s kind of flat on the page. He doesn’t jump off as the leader he supposedly is supposed to naturally be. Other characters feel that way, but not John. In fact, I frequently found myself far more interested in the secondary characters around John than in John himself. I was willing to give this a bit of a pass since, well, the character has to live for us to continue to see the wars he’s fighting, and maybe Scalzi has a thing for unlikely heroes. But his character arc takes an odd turn at the end that really bothered me.
John meets a special forces woman who is in his dead wife’s body. Basically, his dead wife’s DNA was used as a base to build a genetically enhanced body. Ok, I’m fine with that, even if it seems unnecessary. But then John becomes obsessed with her, and she with him, even though she is very clearly NOT his wife. Then at the end, he asks her to move to a colonial farm with him when they retire. And she says yes. Whaaaaat?! This isn’t romance; this is gross! The special forces woman has as much in common with John’s wife as her sister would at this point, since they have messed with the DNA so much. This is like John pursuing his dead wife’s sister, who is emotionally only 6, since she was put into a fully adult body 6 years ago and had no life prior to that. It’s gross. It is not romantic. And I really think the reader is supposed to see it as romantic, when instead it squicked me out far more than any of the aliens in the book, including the ones with slimy appendages or the ones who eat humans.
Overall, this is an utterly fascinating scifi world with a bit of a ho-hum main character. The ending may disappoint some readers, and Scalzi’s politics can come through a bit obviously sometimes. However, those at all intrigued by the plot summary or interested in high quality scifi world building should check it out.
4 out of 5 stars
Science is moving forward to and through transhumanism to posthumanism, and no society seems to quite know how to handle it. China is using the tech in their armies, Thailand is interested in its use to enhance meditation and zen, and the US government banned many of the different treatments and drugs after they were used by cults to make cloned children into killing machines. Kaden Lane knows about the potential dangers, but he and his lab partners are still invested in making their brain nanotechnology drug, Nexus, work. It makes minds meld together, able to feel others’ suffering, and they think it will lead to world peace. Samantha Cataranes was a victim of a transhumanist mind control cult as a child, now she fights on the side of the FBI putting a stop to any science deemed too dangerous. When Samantha and Kaden meet, their worlds and worldviews start colliding.
I had honestly kind of forgotten what this book was about, beyond it being scifi, by the time I picked it up to read it. I thus was able to experience most of it as a surprise. It’s a book that’s a modern twist on cyberpunk with plenty of action to boot.
Jumping far enough ahead that some transhumanist elements already exist is a smart move. It lets the book think forward further than the initial transhumanist elements that it’s generally easy to see the advantages of, like fully functional robotic hands, into the grayer areas with things like cloning and mind control and making soldiers who are super-soldiers. This is a more interesting ethical dilemma, and the book doesn’t take very long to set up the world and get into it.
Nexus itself is a fascinating drug that combines nanotech and drugs. It’s easy to see that the author knows his science and has extrapolated into a possible future with a lot of logic based on current science. That’s part of what makes reading the book so fascinating and slightly frightening. It feels like an actual possibility.
The world building is done smoothly, incorporating both in-plot mentions and newspaper clippings and internal briefings to establish what is going on in the greater world around Kaden and Samantha.
The characterizations are fairly strong. Even if some of the secondary characters can seem two-dimensional, the primary characters definitely are not. Seeing a woman as the world-wise, transhuman strong fighter, and the man as the physically weaker brains was a nice change of pace. Additionally, the book embraces the existence of gray areas. “Bad guy” characters aren’t necessarily bad, and “good guys” aren’t necessarily good. This characterization helps tell the nuanced gray area story of the overarching plot.
The beginning of the book was weaker than the middle and the end. The first chapter that has a character testing out Nexus by using it to land sex with a hot woman almost made me stop reading the book entirely. It felt like some pick-up artist douchebro was imagining a future where tech would make him irresistible to women. Frankly, that whole first chapter still feels extremely out of place to me now. It doesn’t fit into the rest of the presentation of the character throughout the book. It feels like an entirely separate story altogether. I would encourage potential readers to skim it, since it barely belongs, then get to the rest of the book.
After the first chapter, the next few chapters feel a bit overly rose-colored lenses at first. Almost as if the author sees no gray areas and only the potential good in humans. Thankfully, this is mostly the rose-colored lenses of a main character that quickly fall away for the more nuanced storytelling of the rest of the book. But it did induce a few eye-rolls before I got further along.
The middle and end of the book look at human potential for both good and evil within the context of both science and Buddhism. It’s fascinating stuff, and makes a lot of sense since quite a bit of modern psychiatry is working hand-in-hand with ideas from Buddhism, particularly about meditation. This is where the more interesting insights occurred, and also where I felt I could embrace the book a bit more.
Each of us must walk our own ethical path. And together, men and women of ethics can curb the damage of those without. But for you…if you keep vital knowledge from others, then you are robbing them of their freedom, of their potential. If you keep knowledge to yourself, then the fault is not theirs, but yours. (loc 5597)
Overall, this cyberpunk scifi that mixes transhumanism and posthumanism with nanotechnology, fighting big governments, and Buddhism tells a fascinating tale full of gray areas that will appeal to scifi fans. Some may be turned off by the first few chapters that lack the nuance and likeable and strong characterization of the rest of the book, but it’s worth it to skim through the first few chapters to get to the juicier middle and end.
4 out of 5 stars