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
Hello my lovely readers!
The Little Red Reviewer, a blog I’ve followed since I started my own, had the brilliant idea to do a blind date with a book giveaway a few weeks ago. For those of you who don’t know, a blind date with a book is when a library/bookstore/person wraps a book up and puts a few clues about what the book might be about on the cover. The idea is that you’re matched by concepts instead of cover or blurb. I hadn’t seen this in giveaway form before, and I thought it was super brilliant of Redhead to use it for a print book giveaway. Imagine my delight when I won one of the books!
It arrived still wrapped, just as it had been pictured on her blog.
Since I knew I had won before Redhead mailed out the books (obviously, as I had to provide her my mailing address), I’d had weeks to wonder what book, exactly I was getting! You guys are lucky I manged to be patient enough to take a picture of the wrapped book before unwrapping it. :-P
Anyway, I unwrapped the book to reveal my mystery book date!
The book I won is Hollow World by Michael J. Sullivan! Here’s the blurb from GoodReads:
Ellis Rogers is an ordinary man who is about to embark on an extraordinary journey. All his life he has played it safe and done the right thing, but when faced with a terminal illness, he’s willing to take an insane gamble. He’s built a time machine in his garage, and if it works, he’ll face a world that challenges his understanding of what it means to be human, what it takes to love, and the cost of paradise. He could find more than a cure for his illness; he might find what everyone has been searching for since time began…but only if he can survive Hollow World.
I have to admit, I’m pretty darn excited to read it. A time machine built in a garage? What appears like it might possibly be a retro future world? Yes, please!
Thanks to Redhead for hosting such an awesome giveaway! I might have to steal the idea in the future for one of my own. ;-)
Comment #1 Amanda Ramsay McNeill!
Amanda, your email as entered in the comment form has been provided to the author who will send along the ebook to you.
Thanks for entering!
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