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Rachel is a doctor in the slums outside of London. It’s not a great place to live, but it’s safer than a lot of the other options available. She’s also a Reacher with telepathic powers. Since she was a young girl, she learned to hide her abilities and always know her exits so she could run at any time. But when two brothers show up, one a wounded Reacher, and tell her a mobster sent them looking for her, she has to decide whether to run again or trust the brothers.
Near-future dystopias will never cease in their appeal to me, and so I was fairly quick to accept this one when I was choosing ARCs to read for 2014. The book offers a grim dystopia but far less running than one would imagine from the title.
The book establishes the overall dreary setting of a dystopia fairly quickly. Rachel’s work at the hospital and commuting home from it is dirty and grimy. Society is clearly barely functioning, a fact that is smoothly and clearly established. It takes a bit more time to learn more about the over-arching world, and the fact that Rachel is a “Reacher,” a person with some form of telepathic powers. For some reason, the government is seeking to eradicate all Reachers, whereas the church, which is illegal, views them as angels sent from above, metaphorically speaking. It’s an interesting world but our view into it is quite narrow, so there’s a lot of questions left unanswered.
Rachel is a good, strong character who is well-rounded in spite of knowing little of her backstory. The brothers, on the other hand, are kind of annoying and two-dimensional. They and the general crime lords/corrupt cops feel much more cookie cutter than Rachel does. In a way, they drag her down. It’s hard to root for her when she chooses to cast in lots with this bunch.
Similarly, the plot focuses in on what feels more like a standard crime thriller plot, rather than a dystopian one. It’s a good crime plot, but it’s not a dystopian one. The title implies a much more dystopian style book, such as Rachel using her powers to outwit the government and start a new colony or something like that. Instead it feels a bit more like an urban fantasy style crime plot that just so happens to be surrounded by society breaking down, somewhere out there. I think marketing it as a running game, rather than as the crime mystery plot it really is hinders the book a bit. Readers who would like an urban fantasy style futuristic crime novel might miss it, because it sounds so dystopian. The title and summary give the vibe of a Logan’s Run or Maze Runner style book, when that’s not what it is. What it is is a perfectly good futuristic crime novel, but that’s not what it sounds like.
Overall, this is a quick-moving tale of futuristic crime with a dash of telepathic powers and an easily imagined setting. Fans of near future, fantasy, and crime will enjoy seeing the three intertwine. Those looking for more of a scifi or dystopian focus should look elsewhere.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
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