When out-of-work actor Lorenzo Smythe is approached in a bar by a space pilot with a job offer, he agrees to at least go meet the man’s boss and discuss it. Quickly, however, Lorenzo finds himself being kidnapped into outer space and impersonating a missing important politician, John Joseph Bonforte, under slight duress. They must keep the public from knowing the politician has been kidnapped and successfully participate in a Martian adoption ceremony or face interplanetary war.
I was excited to pick up another Heinlein, and he definitely didn’t disappoint. Similar to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein presents a delightful mix of wit, Hollywood glamor, and thought-provoking political speeches all in a well-imagined and engaging future society.
In this version of the future, space exploration has led to the discovery of inhabited other planets and two distinctly different opinions on how to interact with those lifeforms. Either dominate in a manifest destiny style or come to mutual cultural understanding and trade. The politician Smythe must impersonate, Bonforte, is the leader of the latter faction. This novel could easily have turned preachy with such a premise, but Smythe himself isn’t too keen on being friends with the aliens. As an actor, he is committed to playing his role beautifully. As a person, he isn’t sure he agrees with Bonforte. This position allows Heinlein to explore both sides of the question, as well as the gray area in-between. No easy answers are presented, but slowly what is more just is revealed.
Juxtaposed with the political plot is the whole aspect of Smythe being an actor who believes fully in his craft as an artform. Smythe takes himself very seriously even when others do not. At first, others view him as full of himself, but slowly they come to respect him and his talents. Smythe’s large self-esteem may at first cause the reader to roll their eyes as well, but it gradually becomes apparent that having confidence in yourself and your abilities as a professional is not a bad thing.
I was a professional, retained to do a very difficult professional job, and professional men do not use the back stairs; they are treated with respect. (loc 1660)
Although characters at first seem two-dimensional, the main characters slowly become more fleshed out and well-rounded. Nothing and no one is quite as simple as it at first seems, and Smythe is a great example of that.
What really makes the book, though, is its unexpected wit. It’s not so much a laugh out loud book, but it’s very much a snort of amusement style of humor that takes the book from interesting to highly enjoyable.
My vocal cords lived their own life, wild and free. (location 40)
I was as angry as a leading woman with her name in small type. (location 1068)
The romance lacked creativity or sparkle. It is easy to spot the instant it comes up, but it doesn’t come across as natural or meant to be. It mostly feels like the woman transferring her affection for Bonforte onto Smythe. I found it a bit squicky that she fails to ever really see Smythe as Smythe, not even after falling in love with him. Thankfully, the romance is an incredibly minor part of the book. The book is also slightly dated by the overwhelming presence of paper and microfilm. We’re talking the spaceship has a library with print books and microfilm. In general even classic scifi tends to imagine a future with at least slightly different versions of books and information exchange. I found it a bit odd that Heinlein failed to do that.
The ending is not unexpected entirely but it is satisfying and with enough fun details to entertain. Of the various options for an ending to this story, the one Heinlein took is enjoyable and makes sense within the world he has created.
Overall, this is a fun piece of classic scifi that tosses together acting and politics in outer space with Martians who look like toadstools and a heavy sprinkling of wit. The romance leaves something to be desired, and the tech isn’t particularly predictive or imaginative, but these are minor aspects of the story. Recommended to fans of witty scifi who don’t mind a dash of political intrigue.
4 out of 5 stars
Kitty loves being engaged to Martini, her super-sexy alien fiancee from Alpha Centaurion. But she’s not super into the whole wedding planning thing. The issue gets pushed to the forefront, though, when Martini’s estranged extended family on AC announces their intent to visit and determine the worthiness of the marriage. It seems Martini is actually royalty. Meanwhile, some new aliens crop up, and they just so happen to be Amazonian terrorists. It’s an awful lot for the Super-Being Exterminator team to handle.
This is a hard review to write, because I *loved* the first two books in the series but this one left such a sour taste in my mouth, I won’t be continuing on.
The overarching plot is good. Yes, it’s a bit ridiculous that Martini is royalty, but anyone who’s read the first two books in the series should expect and embrace the ridiculousness at this point. The added twists from the AC homeworld make the wedding plot more interesting and unique. Every wedding is unique in its own way, but this gives Kitty and Martini’s wedding a decidedly paranormal romance flair. I didn’t find the Amazonian terrorist plot particularly necessary but it was well-done and kept the action moving.
The writing continues to be tongue-in-cheek dirty wit.
I hated having to be someplace on time, it took away so many potential orgasms. (page 40)
But the relationship between Martini and Kitty gave me reason to pause this time around. They continue to have excellent chemistry, which is fun to see. But there are two glaring issues in the relationship. Martini is overly jealous, in a cartoonish, immature way. He doesn’t get jealous in a way that is sexy. For instance, he doesn’t see men looking at Kitty and hold her hand to show they’re together. He actually growls. And yells. And clearly doesn’t trust Kitty. Of course, that lack of trust could be justified since Kitty repeatedly wonders if she’s choosing to marry the right man. Not just that, she thinks about whether she should marry any myriad of her guy friends and ex-lovers. Plus, she continues to flirt with just about anyone, in spite of Martini telling her it makes him uncomfortable. These are issues that should have been worked out prior to an engagement, and they don’t bode well for a future marriage. I wouldn’t mind the issues, but the couple are presented as the ideal couple. They aren’t presented as a couple who has some issues to add some realistic drama to the story. This is paranormal romance. The main romantic couple *should* be a bit idealized, but they aren’t.
A much, MUCH bigger issue to me though is how rape is handled in the book. This comes up in two different scenes. There is a scene where Kitty is fighting some bad guys and accidentally ends up in a room with a football team visiting Vegas. Half of the team makes a very overt attempt to gang rape her, but the other half of the team (plus an alien pet Kitty picks up early in the book) puts a stop to it. Then later the leader of the rapey half of the team comes to help fight the bad guys and apologizes, and Kitty recommends that they be added to the secret forces. She shrugs off the rape attempt as everyone makes mistakes and they apologized and essentially recommends they get hired to her company. I’m ok with a heroine narrowly escaping a rape attempt, as that could happen. I’m not ok with the heroine then shrugging it off, accepting an apology, basically saying that a rape attempt is just a mistake, and trying to help the career of the attempted rapist. What. The. Hell?!
In the second scene, Kitty is hanging out with her friend, Chuckie. Chuckie is, at this point in time, her boss. He’s also her almost life-long friend, she’s had sex with him in the past, he’s asked her to marry him before, and she’s periodically wondered throughout this book if maybe she should be marrying him instead of Martini. At the end of their conversation, they’re getting ready to go, and this happens:
He [Chuckie] took my [Kitty's] shoulders and turned me around. “God, it’s as bad from the back. Really, go put on some clothes.”
“I don’t have a wrap, okay?”
“Find one. Before I rape you.” He gave me a gentle push toward the bedroom.
“Fine, fine.” (page 434)
So, Kitty’s friend: A) judges her clothing and deems it immodest B) orders her to change her outfit C) casually jokes about raping her D) victim blames rape victims with his comment implying clothing causes rape. And of course Kitty just takes this all in stride and doesn’t see anything at all inappropriate about what Chuckie says.
There is just far too much casual boys-will-be-boys acceptance of rape and rape culture in this book that supposedly features a strong female lead and *romance*. And a wedding! Paranormal romance fans deserve better. Men deserve to be treated as not mindless animals who will tackle anything in a sexy dress. Women deserve better than to be blamed for rapists’ behavior. Toss in the relationship issues between Martini and Kitty, while the relationship is treated by the book an ideal one, and no amount of sexy humor, wedding dresses, and aliens could save it for me. I’m very disappointed in the turn this series took. If you’re interested in the series, I would recommend reading the first two and stopping there.
2 out of 5 stars
Ty lives with his pioneer family subsea but he can’t convince his crush Gemma to leave Topside. Why is she so afraid of subsea? This was his biggest problem until his parents get kidnapped by surfs when they attempt to do a trade. Plus, Gemma wants to convince her fugitive brother to let her tag along with him. And townships keep disappearing, only to turn up later, chained up and anchored subsea with everyone dead inside. It’s a giant web of mysteries but do they intertwine at all?
I absolutely loved the first entry in this scifi series, which is unusual for me, since it’s YA. Not generally my genre. So I was excited to see the sequel available on Audible. It’s still an exciting adventure and interesting world but not quite as tightly and expertly constructed as last time.
Whereas Ty’s voice worked perfectly in the first book, in this one he reads a bit young. He went through a lot in the first entry, he should have presumably matured a bit more than he has. Similarly, Gemma hasn’t developed much since the first book either. I think these characters should have been given more space to grow more. Particularly in a YA series, it’s important to let the characters develop and mature at a more rapid rate. That’s the reality for teenagers after all.
Plot-wise, I honestly felt that there was a bit of a deus ex machina at work that also didn’t fully play into the rules of the world as originally set up. Still, though, the mystery is well-plotted and difficult to predict. It includes real danger without being too violent. It’s the perfect level of thriller for a YA reader who’s not so into the gore. On the other hand, I also found it frustrating that Ty’s parents aren’t around for most of the book. One of the things refreshing about the first one was that his parents were actually present and helpful without being too pushy or overshadowing. This time around, Falls went the more popular YA adventure route and just flat-out got rid of them for most of the book.
But the world Falls has built is still rich and unique, and she expanded upon it. We now get to see more of what the surf life is like, in addition to more of the shady side of things, such as the boxing/fighting rings. We also see some more of the government and law enforcement and have a better understanding of the world as a whole. It’s all richly imagined and drawn, right down to what styles of clothes different groups wear to what they eat. One detail I particularly enjoyed was that the surfs, a poor outcast lot, eat a lot of fish and blubber because it’s easy to catch, whereas Ty’s family eats a lot of vegetables because they grow them. Details like that really make a world.
The audiobook narrator, Keith Nobbs, read the whole thing a bit flat for my taste. He didn’t have as much enthusiasm and inflection as I thought was appropriate for a book about a subsea adventure starring two young teenagers! The production quality was high, he was easy to understand, but he didn’t really bring Ty to life. I’d recommend reading the print book over the audio, honestly.
Overall, then, the characters are a bit slow in their development and the plot feels a bit lazier than last time, but the characters are still well-rounded and the plot maintains an appropriate level of mystery. Toss in the richly imagined and describe post-apocalyptic and very wet world, and it’s well worth the read.
4 out of 5 stars
In the future when humans have evolved to have much smaller brains and the ability to swim like penguins, a long-lasting ghost from the prior stage of human evolution tells us the tale of how it all went down. How overpopulation of the old-fashioned, big-brained humans, a very bad economy, and a series of unfortunate (fortunate?) events led to an odd group of humans being marooned in the Galapagos, surviving the worldwide fallout, and evolving into the smaller-brained, fish-eating, natural swimmers we have today.
I picked this up during a kindle sale for incredibly cheap purely for the author. I’d read three other Vonnegut works previously: Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five (read before my book blog), and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (review). I enjoyed the first two and felt meh about the last, so I was fairly confident I’d enjoy another Vonnegut book. So when one night my partner and I decided we wanted to read a book together (out loud to each other), we looked on my kindle, both glommed on to the name Vonnegut, and chose this as our first read together. So my reading experience was a mix of listening and reading out loud myself, which I am grateful for, because I honestly think Galapagos sounds even more absurdist aloud.
There is an incredibly unique writing style to this particular scifi book. So much so that my boyfriend and I wound up researching to find out if, perhaps, Vonnegut wrote this toward the end of his life when he was perchance senile. (It was not, although it was published in the 80s, unlike my three prior Vonnegut reads, which were published in the 60s). Then we wondered if maybe Vonnegut had Asperger’s, although we didn’t bother checking up on that. Why these wonderings? Well, Galapagos is a very odd book. The premise isn’t that odd for scifi — a projected future evolution of humans and telling how we got there. But the ultimate future is kind of hilariously odd (penguin-like humans). Mostly, though, the way the tale is told is odd and unique in a way that took time to grow on me.
Beyond the whole odd scenario, there’s the fact that if a character will be dead by the end of the chapter, an asterisk appears next to their name. And the names appear a lot. Vonnegut is incredibly fond of naming everyone and everything by their full name every time they appear. He also loves lists. (This is the part that had us wondering about Asperger’s). At first this is grating on the nerves, but with time it comes to feel like the vibe of the world you’re visiting when you open the book.
Similar to the lists and constant naming, there are philosophical asides. Some of these are worked smoothly into the story thanks to a handheld computer device (similar to a smartphone) that pulls up relevant quotes to read to the survivors. Other times, though, they are truly random asides that go so far off the path of the story you’re left wandering around in a cave in the woods instead of on the nice paved road. But then everything comes right back around to the story, and you can’t really be upset about spending some time listening to an old ghost ramble. For example:
What made marriage so difficult back then was yet again that instigator of so many other sorts of heartbreak: the oversize brain. That cumbersome computer could hold so many contradictory opinions on so many different subjects all at once, and switch from one opinion or subject to another one so quickly, that a discussion between a husband and wife under stress could end up like a fight between blindfolded people wearing roller skates. (page 67)
Off-topic? Yes. Quirky? Absolutely. Interesting and fun nonetheless? Totally.
The plot, in spite of being deeply meandering, does develop and actually tell a story. We learn how overpopulation caused disaster and then how a few humans managed to survive on the Galapagos Islands and evolve into the futuristic penguin-like folk. Along the way we have some fun side-trips like an Argentinian military man appearing on a talk show and trying to explain that Argentina really does have submarines, it’s just that once they go underwater they never show up again.
Although I did ultimately appreciate the absurdity and the quirkiness, I must admit that I think it was perhaps a bit overdone. At the very beginning of the book when the list-making and other elements like that were much more prevalent, I was more annoyed and might have stopped reading the book if it wasn’t for the fact that my boyfriend and I wanted to finish the first book we started reading together. It took until about 60% of the way in for the list-making to ease off a bit and the style of the book to really start to work for me. I could easily see a reader being totally lost by some of the more annoying elements of the book, and I wonder what the effect would be if the order was reversed. If the quirks built throughout the book instead of starting that way. Or even if they were just dialed back a bit. I think just that tiny bit of editing would have made me love the book.
Overall, this is a fun piece of absurdist scifi that examines evolution from an over-the-top hypothetical situation. Potential readers should be aware that this book is even more absurdist than Slaughterhouse-Five, so you must be willing to do some more intense suspending of disbelief and be willing to do some meandering and read some lists. If absurdist fiction is something you enjoy and meandering and lists won’t bother you, then this humorous examination of overpopulation, end-of-the-world, and future evolution might be right up your alley.
4 out of 5 stars
Amy is 5 year old robot. An exact replica–iteration–of her mother, who is in a relationship with a human male. Her parents are restricting her food to raise her slowly at a human child’s pace instead of at a robot’s. But when her grandmother shows up to her kindergarten graduation and threatens her mother, things go haywire. It quickly becomes apparent that the failsafe that makes robots love humans innately and makes them incapable of withstanding seeing violence against humans has failed to activate in Amy. She finds herself full-grown and on the run from humans and her robot aunts alike as she struggles to figure out who she is and what her existence means to humanity.
Artificial Intelligence/Robot books tend to take a bit more to draw me in than say a zombie book. It’s really hard to do AI in a way that is simultaneously scientifically/culturally believable and unique. Frankly, I need a bit more believability in an AI book than in a zombie one, since AI is real science. Plus, the book should examine their cultural place in the world, and that needs to be believable. I am pleased to say that this book gets it mostly right. It’s enjoyable, scientifically minded, culturally thought-provoking, and examines a real life issue in the context of genre, which long-time readers of this blog know is something I highly enjoy.
The first thing that made me know this is a smart book is the source of the robots (called Von Neumanns after their creator). A fundamentalist group in the American South decided that the humans left behind after Jesus’ Second Coming should have someone to help them through the Tribulation, so they invented humanoid robots to be ready to help. Clearly, the Second Coming didn’t happen, and the fundamentalists ended up selling Von Neumanns, and the Von Neumanns wind up a part of the cultural backdrop, not to mention the porn industry. As a character says to Amy:
There are only two industries in this world that ever make any kind of progress: porn, and the military. And when they hop in bed together with crazy fundamentalists, we get things like you. (location 1944)
This is the most unique and engaging origin story for robots that I’ve seen, plus it makes sense and provides cultural commentary. The Von Neumanns originated as a religious experiment, were swiped by the military and the porn industry, and became a part of everyday life. It’s just an awesome origin story for the world that Amy is in.
The characters, including the robots, are three-dimensional. Everyone has complex motivations and the main characters definitely grow and progress with time. No one is presented as pure evil or good.
The plot is similarly complex. There’s a lot going on in Amy’s world, and none of it is predictable. What is the failsafe precisely and is it a good or a bad thing? Is it a natural progression that it doesn’t work in Amy? What about how Amy’s mother and grandmother reacted to the human world around them? Did they see accurate shortcomings or were they just malfunctioning? And what about how the various humans use the Von Neumann’s? For instance, pedophiles acquire Von Neumanns and keep them young by starving them. Is this a good, harmless thing since it protects human children or have robots evolved to be far more than just a machine? The world is complex and full of tough questions, and thus is challenging and unpredictable, making for an engaging read.
What I most enjoyed though was how the whole book presents the question of nature versus nurture in a genre setting. Are we our parents with no hope of improvement or escape? Or do we have more say in the matter than just our genetics or “programming”? Amy has a psychopathic grandmother and a mother who has made questionable choices. Does this mean that Amy is evil or malfunctioning or even capable of being something different from the rest of her family? All of these questions lead to some interesting stand-offs, one of which includes my favorite quote of the book:
An iteration isn’t a copy, Mother. It’s just the latest version. I’m your upgrade. That’s why I did what I did. Because I’m just better than you. (location 2581)
All that said, there were two things that kept this back from five stars for me. First, some of the writing style choices Ashby uses drew me out of the story a bit. They are periodically highly artistic in a way that didn’t jibe with the story for me. I get why she made those choices, but as a reader they aren’t ones that generally work for me. Second, one thing that really drew me out of the story is the fact that the robot’s boobs don’t move. This is mentioned at one point as being a way to tell if a woman is robot or not. This drew me out of the world very hard while I laughed uproariously. I’m sorry, but machines designed by men would simply not have hard plastic boobs. Their boobs would bounce, dammit. This would at least be in the top 10 list of robot requirements. It simply wasn’t a realistic design choice, and it pulled me out of the story to such an extent that it lost the believability for a bit for me.
Overall, this is a creatively written and complex scifi artificial intelligence story that examines not just what makes us human but also individuality and uniqueness separate from parents and family. Some of the more artistic writing choices and high levels of violence might not appeal to all audiences, but if you’re an AI or scifi lover with an interest in nature versus nurture and stories featuring strong female leads, you should definitely give this a go.
4 out of 5 stars