Professor Jacob Wentworth is the last of his kind, the only humanities professor at the university. With his retirement at the end of the year, the humanities department will officially be closed. But when the university’s star genius student, Bryce, takes a liking for Jacob and what he can teach him, Jacob stays on indefinitely. Jacob has refused to ever use the Interface directly. He won’t put in the contacts or earbuds that open up a whole virtual world. He doesn’t want to give the Company that much control over his life. In spite of his tutelage, years later Bryce is working on improving the Interface, making it into a brain implant instead of contacts. But Bryce’s connection with Jacob has done something to him, and he finds himself distracted by building a time machine and not wanting to help the Company anymore. Together they decide to bring Abraham Lincoln to the present, replacing him with a double just moments before his death. Maybe it will take a man out of time to save the future.
When this book was submitted to me during my annual review copy open submissions, I was immediately intrigued by the combination of a dystopian future with time-travel and history. Cameron’s story didn’t disappoint. The book gives a unique flair to the concept of fighting an overpowering dystopian government with the addition of time-travel and a historical figure that makes it engaging and highly readable.
The futuristic setting is both well-imagined and evoked in a non-intrusive, showing not telling way. It is easy to relate to Jacob immediately on his walk to work, and the futuristic elements are introduced gradually. It helps that Jacob is a bit of a luddite, as it gives him a bit of an outsider’s perspective to describe things to the reader. The futuristic tech described in the book is well-imagined. High tech contact lenses are definitely the wave of the future, and jumping from that to a neural interface makes total sense. Cameron also takes into account other elements of the future beyond the science, such as climate, politics, and trends. It’s a fun world to visit in spite of it being a dystopia.
Jacob and Bryce start out a bit two-dimensional but grow to be three-dimensional over the course of the story. The addition of the female biologist who assists them manages to add both diversity and a romance, which is nice. She also much more quickly takes on a three-dimensional quality. Having her and the romance around really kick the whole story up a notch. Abraham Lincoln was probably the most difficult character to handle, since he is obviously based on a real person. He is presented respectfully, yet still as a flawed human being. When he speaks, his words are accessible yet sound just different enough to provide the reader with the consistent cue that he is a man out of time.
The plot mostly works well, moving in a logical, well thought-out manner. The end has a bit of a deus ex machina that is rather disappointing.
A main character is saved from death via time travel, thus making all of the main character “good guys” survive the battle with the Company. Stories about battles of one ideal against another are generally better if at least some casualties are had. I do not count a minor secondary character who dies, since that is akin to killing off a red shirt in Star Trek.
Some readers may be bothered by the level of anti-tech found in the book. The Interface isn’t just bad because the new neural version will give the Company control over people. It also is bad because it supposedly inhibits the development of the users’ brains, rendering them to an elementary level of intelligence. The book also strongly argues the idea that friends in virtual reality aren’t real friends, and that old tech, such as print books, are better. Even television is lauded as better than any virtual reality activity. I’m fine with not agreeing 100% with the protagonists in a story. It’s not necessary for me to enjoy it, and I appreciate seeing their perspective and the freedom fight that follows. However, this perspective may bother some readers, so they should be aware it exists within the story.
Overall, this is a well-written, original take on the idea of fighting a dystopian future with an advisor ripped out of time. The book is weakened a bit by a deus ex machina ending. Some readers may not like or enjoy the anti-tech position of the protagonists. It is still a fun frolic through a richly imagined possible future. Recommended to fans of dystopian scifi and US History.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
A new inhabited planet, Lithia, has been discovered, and an exploratory Earth crew of four is sent to determine how Earth will respond to the planet. Ruiz-Sanchez is a scientist and a member of this crew, but he’s also a Jesuit priest. Although he admires and respects the reptilian-humanoid inhabitants of Lithia, he soon decides that the socialist, perfectly co-existing society must be an illusion of Satan, so he advises against maintaining ties with the planet. The vote of the crew is a tie, however, so the UN must ultimately decide the fate. While they are awaiting the decision, Ruiz-Sanchez and the others must raise and guardian a Lithian child who is sent as a present to Earth. Soon, Ruiz-Sanchez starts having fears about just who the child might be.
This is the third book from the collection of 1950s American scifi classics from Netgalley, which I will review as a whole at a future date. I was surprised that a book that is fourth in its series was included in the collection. Upon investigation, I discovered that this series isn’t surrounding a certain set of events or characters but instead is multiple books around a similar theme. The theme for the series is each book deals with some aspect of the price of knowledge. So each book works as a standalone as well. There is also some disagreement as to precisely what book is what number in the series. I have chosen to use the number used by GoodReads. I had previously read a scifi book with a Jesuit priest scientist visiting a newly found planet (The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, review) and loved it, so I was excited to see a similar idea executed differently. Unfortunately, I found that this book lacked the nuance and subtlety that made The Sparrow such a lovely read.
Ruiz-Sanchez is a rather two-dimensional character who quickly turns into a bumbling priest trope. Very little attention is paid to his credentials as a scientist within the story, so instead of coming to know Ruiz-Sanchez the scientist, the man, and the priest, we only know him in his priest role. This prevents a connection or even a basic understanding of his rather bizarre concerns. Whereas in The Sparrow, the priest wonders how a new planet can be covered by salvation and has a meaningful crisis of faith, in A Case of Conscience, the priest is just busy seeing demons and Satan and the Anti-Christ everywhere in such a bizarre, unbelievable manner that he may as well be holding an end of the world sign on a street corner. It’s almost impossible to connect with him on this level unless the reader also has a tendency to see illusions of Satan and the end of the world everywhere they look.
The plot is fascinating, although it does jump around a lot. Essentially there’s the part on Lithia, which primarily consists of discourse between the scientists. Then there’s the development of the Lithian child into an adult who doesn’t fit anywhere, since he lacked the social training on Lithia and also is a reptilian humanoid on planet Earth. He then starts to incite rebellion among the youth. Meanwhile, Ruiz-Sanchez is told by the Pope that he committed an act of heresy and he must re-win favor by stopping the Anti-Christ aka the Lithian on Earth. All of the settings are fascinating, and the plot is certainly fast-paced. However, the plot is so far-fetched that it is difficult to properly suspend disbelief for it.
The settings are the strength of the book. Lithia is well-imagined, with uniqueness from Earth in everything from technology to how the Lithians handle child-rearing. The tech involves trees since they lack minerals, and the child-rearing is non-existent. The Lithians are simply birthed then allowed to develop on the planet, similar to turtles on Earth. Earth’s setting is interestingly imagined as well. The fear of nuclear weapons has driven humans to live underground for generations with only the elite living above ground, and the UN working hard to keep it that way. It’s a fun mix of alternate alien civilization and dystopia.
Essentially, the book has interesting world-building and what could be a promising plot that get derailed by two-dimensional characters and too many bizarre plot-twists and occurrences. It’s certainly an interesting read, particularly if you are interested in immersing yourself in this odd world Blish has created. However, readers should not expect to connect with the characters on an emotional level and should be prepared for a bizarre plot.
3 out of 5 stars
In a world where the 1% has taken over the government and resources and the rest are left to fend for themselves, the Symmonds siblings seek to keep starvation at bay with their divining abilities. Everyone knows diviners can find a water source with two rods, but the Symmonds siblings can find much more, including lost people. When they are asked to find girls most likely stolen by the government for sex slavery, they must face a choice. Should they risk it all to save them?
I actually hesitated over whether or not to review this book because it does not appear to be available for sale anymore in spite of coming out just this February. This shows me that perhaps the author is already aware that it wasn’t quite ready for publication, so why pile it on? But I did promise a review in exchange for a copy, and I also review everything I read, so I ultimately decided to review. But I will keep it short and try to offer simply constructive criticism.
There are two issues with the book. One is some awkward sentence structures and flat-out wrong grammar. This is something that could be quickly fixed in another editing pass, which I recommend. The other is larger, though. The world building is confusing and weak. It took me until around 75% through the kindle book to finally figure out what was going on in this world, and some of it was still unclear. For instance, what I think is a branch of the government (still not sure) is called the “Jacobs,” but they are just called the Jacobs for so long with no other information that at first it seems that they are a rival family or something. The little information the reader does get about the dystopian world is delivered via information dump. It’s not smoothly written into the story. It is told to the reader like a confusing history book. If this wasn’t a review copy, I would have quit in the first chapter, because it’s simply not pleasant to receive information via info dump. The dystopian world itself, though, is interesting and timely. It’s based around the Occupy movement’s rhetoric about the 1% with the wealthy ultimately blatantly taking over. I could see a lot of people really enjoying the mix of that with the more fantastical element of divining. The characters are also fairly well-rounded and easy to tell apart.
Overall I would say it’s a good idea and a good first draft, but it needs some reworking and editing. I hope that’s what this author is doing and that she keeps at it, because her ideas are definitely unique.
2 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
Currently unavailable to buy, but check out the author’s website
R is a zombie, and he remembers nothing about his life before he was one–except that his name starts with the letter R. He and his group of the other living dead inhabit an old abandoned airport and are ruled by the bonies. They hunt the living not just for the food, but also for the memories that come from ingesting their brains. It’s like a drug. One day when he’s out on a hunt, R eats the brain of a young man who loves a young woman who is there, and R steps in to save her. It is there that an unlikely love story begins.
Now that I have a new job I decided to stop going through the rigamarole that is finding something you actually want to read as an audiobook in the public library and subscribe to Audible, especially since I always have my kindle with me anyway. I decided to choose audiobooks to read from the bottom of my wishlist, so everything you’ll be seeing on here (unless it was free on Audible) was put on my wishlist a long time ago. Half the time I couldn’t remember why it wound up there. That was the case here. I mean; I’m assuming it was there for the zombies, but I basically had no other idea about it heading in. This is partly why my mind was blown, so if you want a similar experience I’m telling you to go get yourself a copy right this instant! Vamoose! For those who need more convincing, though, please do read on.
Perhaps surprisingly, I have read zombie love stories before, so I wasn’t expecting too many new or particularly engaging ideas. This book is overflowing with them though. Everything from zombies getting high on other people’s memories to getting to see both the zombie and living side of the war to the concept of what the war is ultimately about to even what a zombie is was all brand-new. And it pretty much all makes sense in the world Marion has set up and is engaging. I could not “put the book down.” I listened to it in every spare second I had. Nothing went the way I predicted and yet it all made complete sense.
R is far more complex than what you’d expect from a zombie, even before his symbolic awakening. Julie is everything you would want from a heroine. She’s pretty, smart, and she says fuck! She can hold her own but is still emotional and vulnerable. She’s exactly what any artistic, strong woman would be in a zombie apocalypse. Even the more minor characters are well-rounded, and there is the racial diversity one would expect from a zombie apocalypse in a big city.
Alas, the narration was not quite as amazing as the story. Although Kenerly does a very good job, sometimes he fails to convey all of the emotions going on in the scenes or doesn’t switch characters quite quick enough. Don’t get me wrong, it was very good and didn’t detract from the story at all, but I also don’t feel that it added a ton to it.
This is a book that I know I will want to read again, and I may even need to buy an ebook or print version just to do so in a whole nother way next time. It is an engaging new look at a zombie apocalypse that reads more as a dystopia than post-apocalyptic. Anyone who needs restored faith in the ability of humanity to fix where we’ve gone wrong should absolutely give this book a shot.
5 out of 5 stars
In an overpopulated future, a city stands where there are not familial or close relationships, but everyone celebrates every night. Air was recently relocated to a new position as a purger, and he slowly discovers the sinister side of the city.
This is an interesting concept that is poorly executed, badly edited, and takes a turn for the worse at the end.
Anyone who follows this blog knows that I love an overpopulation scifi story. Stoker has an interesting take on it–the world is overpopulated so constantly at war. A city arises where the residents can stay young forever but must follow a series of articles that removes the true joy of living from them. The problem is that I just stated that more succinctly than Stoker does at any point in the novel.
What we have here is the classic example of a good idea poorly executed. The basic concept is great. But the main character’s flashbacks and current thoughts are difficult to read. I found myself constantly skimming the flashbacks, because they were so confusing to read and lent so little to the story.
More upsetting though were the constant errors that had less to do with typos or difficult grammar and more to do with poor understanding of the English language. Examples:
A golden metal sat at the top of his desk. (location 2879)
Won’t even know your there (location 3148)
I thought we we’re in this together (location 4225)
He put Air to sleep so he could remain innocent in the cities eyes (location 4509)
A transport past by (location 4588)
You can’t bring people back once their dead. (location 5050)
I am ti sro and you are the villain. (location 5083)
Anybody, understandably, would be frustrated with this amount of errors.
Perhaps more distressing is the “surprise” ending, which to me was just confusing. Essentially, five infants are killed every 50 years to keep the city of 30 million people alive, yet the science of that is never explained. The key to scifi is plausible science, yet Stoker ignores that entirely. It’s a good idea, but without plausible explanations and good writing, it falls flat. I’d recommend he gets a solid editor before his next attempt.
2 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from the author in exchange for my honest review
When cop Rick wakes up from a coma brought on by a gun shot wound, he discovers a post-apocalyptic mess and zombies everywhere. He sets off for Atlanta in search of his wife, Lori, and son, Carl, and soon teams up with a rag-tag group of survivors camped just outside of Atlanta.
I just want to point out that this review is purely focused on the graphic novel, not the tv series. I haven’t even seen more than 10 minutes of the tv show, so remember this is about the books not the show. Thanks! Moving along….
I almost gave up on this within the first few pages, because COME ON. Can we PLEASE get over the whole oh I had a coma and then woke up to a zombie apocalypse trope, please? First, it is so highly statistically unlikely that it was laughable the first few times it was used in my beloved dystopian novels, but at this point it just looks lazy. Come up with some other way to start the apocalypse, ok? I don’t care if your main character is out of touch with reality for a few days because he’s on a drug-fueled sex streak. At least it would be different! Also, a cop, really? You want me to root for a cop? And everyone trusts him because he’s a cop? A cop is the last person I would put in charge if I was a member of a rag-tag bunch of survivors; I’m just saying.
Once we move on beyond the initial set-up though to the group of survivors caravaning their way across America, the story vastly improves. The people are real. They’re scared. They’re angry. The snap easily. They hook up with whoever is convenient (and not necessarily young and hot). They teach the kids to use guns. It’s everything we know and love about post-apocalypse stories.
The artwork is good. Scenes are easy to interpret; characters are easy to tell apart. The zombies are deliciously grotesque, although I did find myself giggling at them saying “guk.” Guk? Really? Ok….
The best part, though, is the people that in your everyday life you are just like, come on, god, bolt of lighting, right here? They’re the ones who get eaten by zombies! It is excellent. So that really annoying chick in camp? Totally gets her head bit by a zombie. It’s cathartic and awesome.
The cast is diverse, and no, the black guy is not the first to be eaten (or the red shirt guy for that matter). It wouldn’t kill Kirkman to be a little less heteronormative, but he’s still got time and more survivors to add.
Overall, this is a good first entry in a zombie apocalypse series. Kirkman needs to be more careful to stay away from expected tropes in the genre and bring more of the creativity it is apparent he is capable of. I recommend it to fans of zombies, obviously. ;-)
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Public Library
In the near-future humanity is increasingly facing over-population and all its consequences. In reaction to this, most world governments have established population laws and eugenics boards. In this overly crowded, information overloaded, perpetually on the brink of war society exist Donald and Norman, healthy bachelors who must live as roommates due to the housing crisis. Donald is a dilettante, an information specialist on reserve to be activated as a spy when needed for the US government. Norman is a Muslim African-American working his way up the corporate ladder of the most important technology firm in the world–GT. GT houses the world’s most brilliant computer named Shalmaneser. The intertwining lives of these two oddly well-suited roommates gradually unfold amid digressions into the lives of those they come into contact with and information from the modern-day philosophies and advertizing.
What is most memorable and striking about this book is not so much the story, although that is fairly unique, but the way in which it is told. Brunner does not simply tell the main storyline, he also immerses the reader into the world the characters live within. To that end, the main storyline (continuity) is interspersed with chapters focusing in on minor characters (tracking with close-ups, essentially short stories), plunging the reader into the middle of the advertizing of the time (the happening world), and works of importance to the world (context). The result is that, although it takes a bit of work to get into the book, in the end the world these characters exist in is much more vivid and clear in the reader’s mind, thus allowing her to more fully understand the characters.
Sometimes this method of writing is a bit difficult to read, of course. For instance, one chapter takes place at a party, and Brunner simply streams all of the conversation together as you would hear it if you were at the party yourself. You catch snippets of bits of different conversations taking place, but never an entire one all at once. It’s the most immersive party scene I’ve ever read, but also took me an inordinate amount of time to get through.
It was also refreshing to have one of the main characters in a futuristic scifi book be a minority. This in and of itself made Stand on Zanzibar a unique, interesting read, and I believe Brunner did a good job portraying both Norman’s struggles with still prevalent racism and presenting him as a well-rounded character.
The major themes of the book, beyond the incredibly meta presentation style, are the very real threat of the loss of privacy and the dehumanization of dependence upon artificial intelligence.
The dehumanizing affect of overpopulation is evident in the language employed by the characters early on in the book.
Not cities in the old sense of grouped buildings occupied by families, but swarming antheaps collapsing into ruin beneath the sledgehammer blows of riot, armed robbery and pure directionless vandalism. (page 52)
These are no longer human cities. They are crawling ant-piles. The vision of piles of swarming ants is simply not a pleasant one. This concept of humanity as a pest is carried even further in a poem from one of the context chapters entitled “Citizen Bacillus,” which begins:
Take stock, citizen bacillus,
Now that there are so many billions of you,
Bleeding through your opened veins,
Into your bathtub, or into the Pacific
Of that by which they may remember you. (page 115)
Not only is this poem taking into account the increasingly suicidal tendencies of the human population in this future society (something that is seen in the animal kingdom when a population becomes overcrowded), but it also is blatantly calling humans a bacteria (bacillus).
The book repeatedly addresses through vignettes, samples of books of the time period, and the lives of the main characters that overpopulation leaves people without enough room to think and figure themselves out in.
True, you’re not a slave. You’re worse off than that by a long, long way. You’re a predatory beast shut up in a cage of which the bars aren’t fixed, solid objects you can gnaw at or in despair batter against with your head until you get punch-drunk and stop worrying. No, those bars are the competing members of your own species, at least as cunning as you on average, forever shifting around so you can’t pin them down, liable to get in your way without the least warning, disorienting your personal environment until you want to grab a gun or an axe and turn mucker. (page 77-8)
In the book “turning mucker” is when a person inexplicably loses their mind and attacks strangers near them. This happens increasingly throughout the book. Thus Brunner’s main point that humans are our own worst enemy is repeated throughout the book.
Added on top of this is the fact that artificial intelligence is outpacing humans. The characters literally cannot keep up with the information overload. They have nightmares about it. They simultaneously depend on the computers and dread them. When one goes awry, they hardly know how to continue on, but simply flounder around. Chad Mulligan (one of my new favorite literary characters) sums it up eloquently:
What in God’s name is it worth to be human, if we have to be saved from ourselves by a machine? (page 645)
Thus, Stand on Zanzibar through postulating an overpopulated future that is overly dependent on technology demonstrates the very real dangers humans pose to ourselves if we outpace either our own minds or our environment’s ability to house us. It is a brilliant read for the meta-literature aspect alone, but the content is also challenging and thought-provoking. I highly recommend it to scifi fans.
4 out of 5 stars
Daisy’s stepmother has convinced her father to send her off to England to live with her aunt and cousins, and Daisy really doesn’t mind. She hates her life in NYC anyway, and life in the countryside seems like a welcome change. Her cousins are quirky and fun, and Aunt Penn is sweet and practices a relaxed parenting style. When Aunt Penn goes away for a work trip, terrorist acts occur in London effectively leaving the kids on their own. On their own to explore feelings and actions they might not otherwise have felt free to.
The big rumblings about this YA book is that there is incest in it. In the grand scheme of shocking incest though, this incest is just….not that shocking. It’s between two cousins who’ve never met until they’re teenagers. *shrug* Plus, the incestuous relationship is really not the main focus of the story at all. It holds center stage for maybe two chapters. Two very chaste chapters. Oh sure, an astute reader knows what’s going on, but there are no lengthy sexual passages. The most we get to witness is a kiss. So, this book is really just really not about incest, ok? If that was keeping you from reading it, don’t let it. If that’s why you wanted to read it, go read Flowers in the Attic instead.
So what is the story about? Quite simply, it’s about the impact living in an age of world-wide terrorism has on young people. On their perceptions, decisions, morals, and more. As someone who was only a sophomore in highschool when 9/11 happened, I feel safe in saying that Rosoff depicts the experience of a young person growing up in this world very well. The mixture of relaxing and having fun while the adults panic around you with nights of fear are perfectly woven.
Daisy’s voice is wonderful to listen to. She’s an appealing, funny narrator with an acute wit. She is truly someone to like and root for. Similarly, her female cousin, Piper, who she becomes a pseudo-parent to, is extraordinarily interesting and appealing. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to name a character who isn’t well-rounded.
Unfortunately, all of these positives about the book come to a crashing halt at the end. All I can tell you without spoiling the ending is that Rosoff did not take her themes as far as I was hoping she would take them. In my opinion, she copped out, and I was sorely disappointed. The ending reads almost like the beginning of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, and I was just left feeling as if Daisy and her cousins had let me down. What could have been an extraordinary book became just average.
Thus, if you are looking for a YA take on the impact life with terrorism has had on the younger generation, but aren’t expecting anything mind-blowing, you’ll enjoy this book. If what you’re after is shocking YA, however, look elsewhere.
3.5 out of 5 stars