In an alternate late 20th century, the Allies are still at a cold war with the Soviets. The Allies’ best scientist, Martino, is working on a secret project called K-88 when there is an explosion. The first rescuers to him are Soviet. The norm is for Allied prisoners to ultimately be returned across the line. But the Soviets claim that Martino’s skull and arm were badly damaged and return him with a metal, robotic head and arm. Is this man really Martino, or is he a Soviet plant?
I was excited to read this book because the idea of a transhumanist/cyborg American made that way by the Soviets has a James Bond like appeal. Unfortunately, it feels a bit more dated than I was anticipating, as well as compared to other older scifi, and doesn’t fully address some questions it raises.
Immediately, there are a couple of plot holes that aren’t addressed until close to the end of the book, which made it a bit frustrating to read. First, why did the Allies put their best scientist in a lab on the border with the Soviets? The answer to this, given at the end of the book, is pretty flimsy, and only works if you are willing to believe the Allies are very stupid. Second, it makes sense that they can’t verify Martino’s identity with his fingerprints, because the Soviets could have taken off his remaining arm and put it on someone else. However, why can’t they verify who he is with DNA? Presumably, he has some living relatives somewhere they could compare to. DNA was discovered in the 1860s (source) so to never even address why they don’t use it is a bit bizarre. The book mentions toward the end that Martino’s parents and uncle are dead, but you can conduct kinship tests using dead bodies. It still baffles me that the government in the book didn’t simply dig up Martino’s father and run a DNA test. Even if DNA testing wasn’t widely known of when the book was published, one would hope a scifi writer could see its future implications, imagine the applicability, and address the scenario. The fact that DNA wasn’t addressed at all, and Martino’s place near the Soviet border wasn’t satisfactorily addressed really removed a lot of the intensity and interest one should feel from the situation.
Another way Budrys showed a lack of imagination for the future is in the strict gender roles and lack of women in the military or the sciences in the future he has envisioned. Women are only seen in the book in strict 1950s gender roles. As wives and mothers and not once in the military or in the sciences. People in the sciences are referred to as the “men” not even leaving room for the idea of a woman in science. I know this is a symptom of the times, but I also know that more progressive and forward-thinking scifi was written in the same decade. It was a bit jarring to me to read a scifi that excluded women so much, when I’m so used to women being present, at least nominally, in scifi.
All of that said, the writing of individual scenes was quite lovely. Budrys evokes setting and tensity well. I particularly enjoyed the scene of Maybe-Martino running through the streets of New York City, which reminded me of an old noir film. Budrys also shows a good understanding of what it is like for people who are incredibly highly intelligent. He writes Martino at a young age as both brilliant in science but also dumb in interpersonal relations. The fact that he got this and demonstrated it in the 1950s is to be commended. There is also some solid commentary on the American education system and a desire for it to encourage more independent thought.
Look–these guys aren’t morons. They’re pretty damned bright, or they wouldn’t be here. But the only way they’ve ever been taught to learn something is to memorize it. If you throw a lot of new stuff at them in a hurry, they’ll still memorize it–but they haven’t got time to think. (loc 9163)
Overall, this is an interesting concept that wasn’t fully fleshed out nor the possible weaknesses fully addressed. It is definitely a scifi of its time, with its hyper-focus on the Soviets and the Cold War that could almost feel kitschy today. A short read with an interesting premise, albeit a lack of female scientists, soldiers, or government workers. Recommended to scifi fans who enjoy some old-fashioned red scare in their reads and don’t need the science to be perfect.
3 out of 5 stars
In an alternate 2010, the world is slowly falling into disarray, partially due to terrorism, but mostly due to a new deadly illness. SLP makes the sufferer an insomniac, unable to sleep for years, until they fall into a state of insanity known as the suffering. The sleepless, as those with the illness are known, change the structure of society. Movie theaters are now open 24/7, there’s an increase in sales of odd and illicit things, as the sleepless get bored. Most importantly, the sleepless have moved much of their energy into online MMORPGs. Some spending countless hours gold farming there, making a good buck with all their hours of alertness.
Park, an old-fashioned cop, is determined to save the structure of society, one bust at a time. He’s committed to his work, in spite of his wife being sleepless and being increasingly unable to care for their infant daughter. So when his boss asks him to go undercover to look for people illegally selling the one drug that can ease the pain of the sleepless–dreamer–he agrees.
Jasper is an elderly ex-military private investigator without much of an eye for sticking to the rule of the law who is asked by a client to hunt down and return to her a thumb drive that was stolen. He slowly discovers that that thumb drive ended up in the middle of much more than some art thieves and finds himself sucked into the world of illicit dreamer.
My partner and I both enjoy a good noir story, so when we saw this summary on Audible, we thought it would make an entertaining listen for our 12 hour holiday road trip. The story was so bad, we could only take it for about an hour at a time and eventually just turned it off so I could read out loud to him from a different book. I eventually soldiered on, though, because I honestly just had to finish it so I could review it. In what should be a fast-paced noir, there is instead an overwrought amount of description of unimportant things that slow what could have been an interesting plot down to a crawl.
Noir as a genre is a thriller that generally features a hard-boiled detective (sometimes a hard-boiled criminal). It’s fast-paced and usually short featuring a lot of grit and mean streets. One thing Huston does that puts an interesting twist on the noir is he incorporates both a cop who is being forced to turn detective and a criminal-style private investigator. He features both sorts of main character. This intrigued me from the beginning. However, the writing includes far too much description of unimportant things for a crime thriller. For instance, there is an at least 5 minutes long description of a computer keyboard. I could literally space out for a few minutes and come back to the audiobook that was playing the entire time and miss literally nothing. It would still be describing the same chair. This really slows the plot down.
On top of the overly descriptive writing, the narration is overwrought, like a stage actor trying too hard. The best explanation I can make for the narration is, if you have ever seen Futurama, the narration switches back and forth between being Calculon and being Hedonbot. Now, I admit, the audiobook narrators played these parts perfectly. In fact, I had to check to see if they’re the same voice actors as Calculon and Hedonbot (they’re not). I really think the audiobook narrators are what saved the story enough to keep me reading. I kept laughing at the visual of Calculon and Hedonbot doing this overwrought noir. But that is clearly not what makes for a good noir. The tone and writing style were all wrong for the plot.
In addition to the writing style, there’s the plot. In this world that Huston has imagined, gamers have become all-important. When people go sleepless, they become intense gamers. If they don’t do this then they become zombie-like criminals. I don’t think this is a realistic imagining of what would actually happen if a huge portion of the population became permanent insomniacs. Not everyone is a gamer or a criminal. There’s a lot more options in the world than that. Additionally, in this alternate 2010, the art world now revolves around MMORPGs as well. The art work that is now sold is thumb drives of the characters that people make in the games. There is a long speech in the book about how making a character in an MMORPG is art. Yes, somepeople might think that. But it is incredibly doubtful that the entire world would suddenly overnight start viewing character building in an MMORPG as an art form. I won’t explain how, because it’s a spoiler, but the gamers also come into play in the seedy underworld of illegal drugs. At the expense of a plot that follows the logic of the world the author has created, gamers are made to be inexplicably all-important.
I also must point out that the science in this book is really shaky. SLP was originally a genetic disease that suddenly becomes communicable. That’s not how diseases work. Communicable and genetic diseases are different, they don’t suddenly morph into one or the other. Additionally, in the real world, there’s no way an illness would be given a scientific name that is an abbreviation for the common name (SLP for sleepless). Think about swine flu. The common name is swine flu, the scientific name is H1N1. Similarly, the drug to treat SLP’s official name is DR33M3R, which is just the street name, dreamer, in leetspeak. This isn’t fiction based in true science.
One thing I did appreciate in the book is that the semi-criminal private investigator, Jasper, is gay. He’s extremely macho, ex-military, and he bangs his also macho helicopter pilot. I like the stereotype-breaking characterization of Jasper. It’s nice to see a gay man given such a strong role in a thriller.
Overall, this alternate 2010 noir gets too caught up in overly long descriptions of mundane things and an overwrought narrative style to keep the plot moving at a thriller pace. The plot features an unrealistic level of importance for MMORPGs and the gamers who play, as well as unsound “science.” One of the hardboiled main characters is a stereotype-breaking gay man, however, which is nice to see. Recommended to those who enjoy an overly descriptive, overacting narration style with gamers featured unrealistically at center stage who don’t mind some shaky science in the plot.
2 out of 5 stars
Book Review: Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh (Audiobook narrated by Kevin T. Collins, Eileen Stevens, and Ali Ahn)
In the future, you can live forever. But only if you can afford to pay to be medically resurrected and any injuries sustained fixed. The rest put everything they have into freezing insurance, getting cryogenically frozen in the hopes that one day, someday, they might get resurrected. At the very least, they wont’ die. But beautiful women who die too young (and too not filthy rich) get a different sort of a second chance. They get awoken and given the choice of going into the cryogenic dating facility. Men will come through and pay to wake them up and talk to them, and if they fall for them, they’ll pay to have them resurrected and their injuries healed.
In this world, three different, yet intertwined stories are told. There’s Rob. A once-musician who accidentally struck and killed a jogger in the middle of his break-up with his reality star-esque wealthy girlfriend. He proceeds to take out a loan to visit the jogger to apologize but slowly the guilt turns into something more. Then there’s Veronika, a dating coach with a bad case of unrequited love and a need to feel like she’s doing some good in the world. And finally, Mira. A lesbian who was placed into the heterosexual cryogenic dating pool back at the beginning before they bothered to wake the women and ask them if they wanted to be there.
I was immediately intrigued by this book’s premise and then realized I’d already read another scifi book by Will McIntosh and enjoyed it. That book, Soft Apocalypse (review), is actually set in the same universe as this one. Although they’re not a series, technically, Love Minus Eighty takes place a bit in the future after the events described in Soft Apocalypse. I enjoyed the future imagined there, so was happy to return to it once again to see where things have gone since everything fell apart for Earth. And oh my have they taken an interesting turn.
The future is a near dystopic mess of most of the wealth being in the hands of the few. While some people have foregone civilization to live off the land, the rest of the have-nots spend their time in body suits, called systems, that are basically like a full-bodied smartphone. They reminded me a bit of Google Glass. Their systems filter out all the unsightly aspects of where they live, including garbage, and they also block pop-up ads that otherwise accost you on the street. Everyone pours their little bit of money into their systems because without one you fall entirely off the social stratum. This is already creative enough to be intriguing, but then McIntosh tosses in this idea that cryogenics and resurrection has been figured out but only the wealthy can afford to be resurrected and everyone else pours all the rest of their money into freezing insurance. Then we get the cryogenic dating program aka bridesicles, and oh wow. Any scifi reader can see what an interesting setting this is.
On top of this setting, McIntosh weaves three different, yet ultimately intertwined narrators. It’s a narrative structure I enjoy but only when done well, and McIntosh mostly pulls it off. Some things sometimes felt a bit like too much of a coincidence, but for the most part the intertwining made sense. All three narrators have unique voices and perspectives. They are well-rounded with flaws, even Mira, who is frozen a lot of the time, but they also are still likable.
The plot is complex and truly had me on the edge of my seat for the last third of the book. I was rooting for the characters and did not know what would happen. An unpredictable, yet satisfying, ending plays in perfectly with the plot.
I am of two minds about the presence of Mira in the story. On the one hand, I appreciate that McIntosh took the time to think about how the heteronormativity of the bridesicle program could affect a lesbian. On the other hand, it frustrates me that she and her girlfriend have their agency removed and spend most of the story frozen and at the whim of the heterosexual people around them. Having lesbians rescued by the straight folks just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I sort of wish there had been some modern day queer person who helped them out in some way. That was the other thing that bothered me. The only queer presence was from the past in the form of Mira and her frozen girlfriend. In such a sweeping narrative with so many characters that is also set in a city, it seems odd to me we never encountered another queer character. Particularly when one of the main characters is a dating coach.
The narration of the audiobook was wonderful. Having a different voice for each narrator really helped keep the stories straight, and each of the narrators did a wonderful job bringing their characters to life.
Overall, this book presents a richly imagined near-dystopian scifi future that gets the reader to think about if living afraid of death is truly living. The three-narrator structure lends a complexity to the plot that keeps it engaging and consistently moving forward. One of the plot choices might rub some readers the wrong way, but if the world building and narrative structure appeal, it shouldn’t be much of an issue. Recommended to scifi fans who enjoy a city setting and some romance.
4 out of 5 stars
Here on Opinions of a Wolf, I have started accepting review copy submissions for the upcoming year in November and December. Then, out of the books submitted to me for review, I select 12 to review in the upcoming year.
This year, 34 review requests were submitted. This means I accepted only 35% of the submitted books. Of those 34 book submissions, 2 didn’t follow my review request guidelines, so were automatically eliminated. Of the authors submitting, 74% were male and 26% female. The most popular genre submitted to me was thriller with 10 submissions. The least submitted genre (that wasn’t a genre I don’t accept) was a tie between romance, horror, urban fantasy, and fantasy, with 2 each. I ultimately accepted: 4 scifi, 2 fantasy, 2 horror, 2 thriller, 1 urban fantasy, and 1 historic fiction.
The accepted review copies are listed below, alphabetically. Summaries are pulled from GoodReads or Amazon, since I have yet to read them myself and so cannot write my own. These books will be read and reviewed here in 2014, although what order they are read in is entirely up to my whim at the moment.
Bad Elephant Far Stream
By: Samuel Hawley
Genre: Historic Fiction
Bad Elephant Far Stream is an elephant’s life story, told from her own perspective, through her own eyes.
Inspired by the life of a real elephant known as Topsy, it follows Far Stream from her birth and capture in the wild in Ceylon in the late 1860s, through her transportation to America and thirty years with the circus, which ultimately led to her being labeled as “bad.” It’s an unusual and uncompromising novel that explores the questions: What is it like to be an elephant trained for human amusement? What does such a creature think? What does it feel? What does it yearn for?
Bad Elephant Far Stream takes the reader on a voyage of discovery to find out
By: Michael J. Kolinski
Jake Wood receives an e-mail message from his cousin Jana whom he hasn’t seen in over a decade. Jana has learned of Jake’s tragedy: The seven people dead and the downward spiral of depression and survivor’s guilt his life has become. She invites him to leave a bitter cold Iowa winter to visit her in sunny Los Angeles.
Jake accepts Jana’s invitation but when he arrives, she is nowhere to be found. All Jake knows for certain is that Jana was working for renowned primatologist Dr. Gregory Mirek, a scientist with a towering reputation and a wide circle of wealthy and influential friends.
With the assistance of Jana’s best friend Laurie Summers, Jake travels across California and into Las Vegas in search of Jana. It’s a path that leads to a desperate real estate developer, a seedy casino owner, and the discovery that Dr. Mirek has ghastly secrets that he will do anything to protect.
The City of Time & Memory
By: Justin Childress
The City rises up from the silent gray clouds that surround it, structures like tombstones, built with recollections of bad days gone by, populated by fading screams and stale sobs. Unnameable nightmares stalk the streets, the alleys, the stairs, hungry for those unfortunate to find themselves lost in the City of Time & Memory.
Zak awakens to find himself in his room, but not in his house. His doorways no longer connect to the rest of his home, but to silent hallways and endless gray voids. He must find a way out of the labyrinth of alien rooms and endless stairwells, before something finds him.
By: Nick Milligan
Jack is the most famous rockstar in the world… he’s just not from this planet.
Before joining NASA’s space program, Jack had dreams of a career as a professional musician. When a deep space mission goes awry, he crashes on an alien planet. Jack discovers that his new world is inhabited by a race of humans that have evolved in parallel to those on Earth. He picks up a guitar and performs the most wondrous rock songs of his home planet. Neil Young. Leonard Cohen. Bob Dylan. Superstardom beckons as audiences around the globe revere Jack and his apparent songwriting abilities. He basks in the boundless glow of a hedonistic dream world. But Jack soon learns that his lie will have sinister consequences.
The House of Azareal
By: Erik Dreistadt
Christopher Porter lives a peaceful life with his wife and twin children in the mountains of Tennessee. Christopher’s life is about to be turned upside down as he and his family are drawn to a mysterious, old house deep in the woods near their home. After entering the house, he struggles to keep his family safe and try to escape the mysterious creatures living inside.
I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
By: E. A. Aymar
Tom Starks has spent the three years since his wife’s murder struggling to single-handedly raise their daughter, Julie, while haunted by memories of his dead spouse. When he learns that the man accused of her murder, Chris Taylor, has been released from prison, Tom hires a pair of hit men to get his revenge. But when the hit men botch the assassination, Tom is inadvertently pulled into their violent world. And now those hit men are after him and his daughter.
One Death at a Time
By: Thomas M. Hewlett
Genre: Urban Fantasy
“People think Alcoholics Anonymous is for drunks. It’s not. It’s for us, the real drinkers. The blood drinkers. All the rest of those meetings are just for show.”
Los Angeles, 1948. Detective Jack Strayhorn is killed while chasing down a suspect in the Black Dahlia murders all by himself.
Los Angeles, 2010. Jack Strayhorn is back in L.A. as a private investigator with a simple mission: catch the bad guys and try not to kill any innocent people along the way.
To him and his kind, human blood is the strongest drug in the world. Fortunately for Jack, he found the secret group within AA dedicated to helping Vampires survive the madness and destruction of their disease.
When a city councilmember with ties to a drug-dealing Fae clan is found dead in his home and the woman lying next to him is Jack’s current missing person’s case, tracking down the ghostlike hitman will test him like nothing before.
But this time, Jack won’t be alone. With the help of his unique powers of investigation, his magically talented friends, and a Medical Examiner with a few secrets of her own, Jack will face down a gang of outlaw biker werewolves, spell-casting Fae high on pixie dust, and an underground order of Vampires intent on ruling the world.
As Jack learned long ago, the only way to get through eternity is one death a time.
The Reflections of Queen Snow White
By: David C. Meredith
What happens when “happily ever after” has come and gone?
On the eve of her only daughter, Princess Raven’s wedding, an aging Snow White finds it impossible to share in the joyous spirit of the occasion. The ceremony itself promises to be the most glamorous social event of the decade. Snow White’s castle has been meticulously scrubbed, polished and opulently decorated for the celebration. It is already nearly bursting with jubilant guests and merry well-wishers. Prince Edel, Raven’s fiancé, is a fine man from a neighboring kingdom and Snow White’s own domain is prosperous and at peace. Things could not be better, in fact, except for one thing:
The king is dead.
The queen has been in a moribund state of hopeless depression for over a year with no end in sight. It is only when, in a fit of bitter despair, she seeks solitude in the vastness of her own sprawling castle and climbs a long disused and forgotten tower stair that she comes face to face with herself in the very same magic mirror used by her stepmother of old.
It promises her respite in its shimmering depths, but can Snow White trust a device that was so precious to a woman who sought to cause her such irreparable harm? Can she confront the demons of her own difficult past to discover a better future for herself and her family? And finally, can she release her soul-crushing grief and suffocating loneliness to once again discover what “happily ever after” really means?
Only time will tell as she wrestles with her past and is forced to confront The Reflections of Queen Snow White
The Running Game
By: L. E. Fitzpatrick
Her father called it the running game. Count the exits, calculate the routes. Always be ready to run because they’ll always be coming for you. Whatever happens, they’ll always be coming for you.
Rachel had let her guard down and they had found her. She could run now, leave the city and try her luck beyond the borders, but with no money and a dark secret to hide her chances of survival are slim.
But then she meets two brothers with a dangerous past and secrets of their own. Can they help her turn the game around?
The Second Lives of Honest Men
By: John Cameron
Genre: Scifi, Historic Fiction
On the evening of April 14th, 1865, a flawless duplicate replaced the 16th President an instant prior to his assassination. Two centuries later, Honest Abe opened his eyes to a world in desperate need of guidance.
By: Paul Bussard
Stinger Stars is the story of mankind’s first contact with another intelligent species—a man-made species that can enable humans to regenerate lost or damaged body parts. Tragically, the intelligent creatures must be repeatedly maimed in order for them to produce the regenerative agent that makes them so useful. Set in a world of rival genetic research companies, ruthless alpha males, unauthorized experiments, and industrial espionage, Stinger Stars follows Maria de la Cruz, a lowly biology student with a stunted arm, as she struggles with the very personal moral and ethical issues—whether to protect the intelligent animals from cruel exploitation or benefit from their suffering to regain the use of her arm.
The Underworld King
By: Ranjit More
60,000 miles below the surface of the earth thrives a kingdom inhabited by daityas – giant, fanged beings of the night who sometimes travel to the surface above and eat humans in the hearts of grim forests. Their four-armed king, Drumila, faces a new peril, and this time it is advancing upon him not from the heavens, where his eternal enemies reside; but from the darkest depths of creation. The naagas -giant, flame-breathing serpents- are traveling towards the capital of daityas, intent upon reducing them to ashes, and Drumila must do something about it. For no matter how strongly he detests his subjects’ lifestyle and nature, it is his duty to protect them as king.
Moved by Drumila’s plight, the powerful sage, Shukracharya, swims down into the underworld upon the back of his giant crocodile and convinces his disciple-king to migrate to the surface of the earth.
What follows is an epic exodus to the world above and a strange encounter with a beautiful girl thereupon. Nandini seems to be human, but all signs point towards her having descended from the heavens, the least of which are a delicate waist and long eyes extending up to her ears. But is this a trick of the gods? Drumila will find out soon enough, when the battle begins.
Since 2011, I’ve been dedicating a separate post from my annual reading stats post to the 5 star reads of the year. I not only thoroughly enjoyed assembling the 5 star reads posts, but I also go back to them for reference periodically. It’s just useful and fun simultaneously! Plus it has the added bonus of giving an extra signal boost to the five star reads of the year.
With no further ado, presenting Opinions of a Wolf’s 5 Star Reads for 2013!
The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future
By: Chris Guillebeau
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: Crown Business
Genre: Nonfiction Lifestyle
Themes: independence, success, small businesses
Guillebeau investigated what makes microbusinesses (small businesses typically run by one person) successful by conducting a multiyear study interviewing more than 100 successful microbusiness entrepreneurs. Here he presents his findings on what makes for a successful microbusiness and offers advice on how you can become a successful microbusiness entrepreneur too.
I refer to things I learned in this book at least once a week. Guillebeau offers practical advice for the aspiring small business owner on everything from choosing an idea that will work to setting the right price to marketing. The things I’ve been able to try from the book so far have worked. This book shows what happens when a nonfiction book bases its advice on solid research.
The Curse of the Wendigo (The Monstrumologist, #2)
By: Rick Yancey
Publication Date: 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: Horror, YA
Themes: love lost, the nature of good and evil
Will Henry, 12 year old orphan and assistant to renowned Monstrumologist, Pellinore Warthrop, is shocked to find a refined woman on Warthrop’s doorstep. She is the wife of Warthrop’s best friend who has now gone missing in rural Canada while looking for the elusive wendigo (aka werewolf). Warthrop insists that there is no such thing as a wendigo, but he agrees to go looking for his missing friend anyway, even if he believes his mission was ridiculous and an affront to monstrumology’s reputation.
What I remember when I think about this book is the beautiful language and the dual setting of the horror. Setting the book both in rural Canada and urban New York is part of what made it feel so unique to me. A horror that travels instead of being trapped in one setting isn’t seen as often. The book is beautiful and grotesque at the same time. A rare find.
By: Frederik Pohl
Publication Date: 1976
Publisher: Orb Books
Themes: transhumanism, artificial intelligence
The first Earthling reworked into a Martian would be Roger Torraway. Martian instead of Earthling since everything on him had to be reworked in order to survive on Mars. His organic skin is stripped off and made plastic. His eyes are replaced by large, buglike red ones. He is given wings to gather solar power, not to fly. All of which is organized and run by his friend, the computer on his back. Who was this man? What was his life like? How did he survive the transformation to become more than human and help us successfully colonize Mars?
This has a scifi plot that both explores an issue I’m interested in (transhumanism) and managed to surprise me at the end. It’s a short book that makes you think and has compelling three-dimensional characters. I’ll definitely be keeping this one and seeking out more of Pohl’s writing.
A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology, and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today
By: Kate Bornstein
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: Beacon Press
Genre: Memoir, GLBTQ
Themes: religious abuse, trans rights, gender, Borderline Personality Disorder
Kate Bornstein is a playwright, gender theorist, and queer activist. She chose to write a memoir as a way to reach out to her daughter, Jessica, who is still in the Church of Scientology, and thus, must not speak to her. Her memoir talks about growing up Jewish in the 1950s, feeling like a girl inside a boy’s body. It then talks about why and how she joined Scientology (still identifying as a man, Al), climbing Scientology’s ladder, marrying, fathering Jessica, and finally getting kicked out of Scientology and becoming disillusioned. From there the memoir explains to Jessica how and why Al decided to become Kate and talks about the person behind the queer theory, trying to explain who the incredibly unique parent she has truly is.
This memoir is engaging right from the title and stunning in the level of honesty Bornstein displays. Bornstein eloquently presents the reality of being trans, entering a leaving an abusive religion, and the complexities of gender. An incredibly readable memoir that stays with you.
Succubus Dreams (Georgina Kincaid, #3)
By: Richelle Mead
Publication Date: 2008
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Themes: the grayness of good versus evil
Seattle’s succubus, Georgina Kincaid, has a lot on her hands between dating her human author boyfriend, Seth, (and not sleeping with him to protect his life energy), adjusting to her new managerial position at the bookstore, and her usual succubus requirement of stealing good men’s life energy by sleeping with them. So the last thing she needs is another new assignment from hell, but that’s what she’s getting. Seattle is getting a second succubus, a newbie she has to mentor. When she starts having dreams about having a normal, human life and waking up with her energy drained, it all turns into almost too much for one succubus to handle.
This series glows in my mind as a favorite that I will return to again and again. This book is where I truly began to fall in love with it. The third entry shows that urban fantasy can be more than monster of the week. It does what genre does best. Ponder real life questions in an enjoyable wrapping.
Succubus Revealed (Georgina Kincaid, #6)
By: Richelle Mead
Publication Date: 2011
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Themes: soul mates, forgiveness, personal growth
Seattle’s succubus, Georgina Kincaid, is incredibly happy to be back together with her previously ex boyfriend, Seth Mortensen. But getting back together with him came at the price of hurting his once-fiancee and having to leave her previously loved position managing the bookstore. It’s all worth it to be with Seth, though. But then a transfer notice comes in, sending her to her dream job in Las Vegas. It’d be a dream come true, except Seth can’t come with her because his sister-in-law has cancer. Georgina starts to wonder just why so many elements seem to keep coming together to try to drive her and Seth apart.
This an amazing series finale that reveals so many aspects of the overarching plot that I wanted to go back and re-read the whole series immediately just to look for more of the overarching plot that I was oblivious to the first time around. It’s a wrap-up that is satisfying without making everything too perfect for the characters. It has a lot to say about love and redemption. And it made me cry.
Succubus Shadows (Georgina Kincaid, #5)
By: Richelle Mead
Publication Date: 2010
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Themes: facing your past
Seattle’s succubus, Georgina Kincaid, cannot believe she has been roped into helping plan her ex-boyfriend’s wedding. It’s enough to make anyone depressed. But she can’t afford to be depressed, because every time she starts to feel down, a mysterious force tries to lure her away to what must be a dangerous place. Georgina is fed up with all of these mysterious attacks on Seattle. It just doesn’t make sense. What is making them target Seattle? And seem to be maybe targeting her?
The penultimate book in this series isn’t afraid to go dark places with tough questions. It also addresses the issue in urban fantasy that a lot of people joke about: gee that’s sure a lot happening in this one town! Mead addresses this in a tongue-in-cheek manner that also ties into the overall plot. I was amazed at how well this series incorporates both all the things that make urban fantasy fun (demons! sex! supernatural battles!) and an overarching plot that tugs at the heart strings and makes some of the bizarre things that happen make sense.
The Time Machine
By: H. G. Wells
Publication Date: 1895
Publisher: New American Library
Genre: Scifi, Classic
Themes: dystopia, time travel, evolution, class divides
Nobody is quite sure whether to believe their eccentric scientist friend when he claims to have invented the ability to travel through time. But when he shows up late to a dinner party with a tale of traveling to the year 802,700 and meeting the human race, now divided into the child-like Eloi and the pale ape-like ground-dwelling Morlocks, they find themselves wanting to believe him.
I’m so glad I added this scifi classic to my list of books I’ve read. I of course had heard of the general idea of the Morlocks and the Eloi, but reading about them for myself, I was easily able to see how this became a classic. It kept me on the edge of my seat, concerned for the scientist’s safety, even while exploring issues of inequitable class divides and pondering the future direction of the evolution of the human race.
Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers
By: Karyl McBride
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher: Free Press
Genre: Nonfiction Psych, Nonfiction Relationships
Themes: overcoming adversity, mother/daughter relationships, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, abuse
A guidebook for adult women raised by a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Dr. McBride is a therapist with many years of experience treating daughters of NPD mothers and also with treating people with NPD. Additionally, she herself is the daughter of a woman with NPD. The book is divided into three sections to help the daughters of mothers with NPD to heal and take charge of their lives. The first section “Recognizing the Problem,” explains what maternal NPD looks like. The second section, “How Narcissistic Mothering Affects Your Entire Life,” explains the impact NPD mothers have on their daughters, both as children and as adults. The third section, “Ending the Legacy” is all about healing from the NPD mothering and breaking the cycle of Narcissism. Dr. McBride offers clinical examples from her practice as well as detailed, clearly explained exercises to aid with healing.
This is one of the best books I’ve read for adult survivors of abusive childhoods. It works because it focuses narrowly on one type of relationship and one type of dysfunctional, abusive childhood to be overcome. McBride explains what happened to the adult survivor when they were a child, how that affects them now, and how to overcome it. She does this while neither excusing nor demonizing the mother’s behavior. A great book for anyone with an interest in how mothers with NPD affect their daughters.
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books. It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole. These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another. Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.
In the not-too-distant future, the heavily populated world is run by corporations instead of governments. The corps keep their workers and people in Compounds where they’ll be safe from the rampant crime in the rest of the world. Supposedly. Those who can’t get jobs at a corp must live in the pleeblands, essentially ghettoes. The pleeblands are haunted by painballers–people who fought their way out of prison in a gladiator-style competition and who are usually now addicted to drugs.
The world isn’t entirely humans and corps, though. There are also a whole slew of new GMO plants and animals, such as rakunks and pigoons. Children can buy bracelets with live fish inside them as wearable pets.
Jimmy works in a corp with Crake. Crake is a genius who the corp allows to create basically whatever he wants. They share a love interest in Oryx, who works with them, caring for the creations Crake makes. Toby lives in the pleeblands, working in fast food restaurants. She is being pursued by a violent stalker, who she is sure will kill her one day. Then she discovers God’s Gardeners, a vegetarian cult that lives on the rooftops of the city gardening, learning all the species of the planet, and preparing for the impending End Times. And the End Times come in the form of a virus released by Crake to destroy humanity and make room for the new breed of humans he has created in his lab–Crakers. Crakers are herbivorous, polyamorous, and turn blue when they are in heat. The pandemic wipes out almost everyone, but not quite. Jimmy is left to care for the Crakers, and Toby survives, reminiscing about how her life has gone. And there are some that Crake gave an immunity drug to. They gather together and attempt to survive, guide the Crakers, and ponder on how things turned out this way.
The future world, prior to the virus outbreak that destroys most human life, is incredibly imaginative and simultaneously realistic. It is by far the strength of the series. Atwood takes real modern day science and intelligently extrapolates how that combined with our evolving culture would affect life on Earth. The change from politicians and nations controlling the world to corporations doing so makes excellent sense. The types of animals those corps create are also logical both within that context and from a scientific perspective. For instance, the mo’hairs are sheep who have had their genetics modified so that their wool is instead human hair to makes wigs out of. How the world works makes sense and is slightly frightening at the same time. It’s a subtle dystopia.
The post-apocalyptic setting is slightly less creative. Only a few humans survive and quickly leave the cities to live in the countryside. Conveniently, at least half of the group of survivors are from the vegetarian cult, God’s Gardeners, who predicted the end times, and so are well prepared for living in the wild. This setting is much staler compared to the pre-apocalypse dystopia. It feels as if the characters are just sitting in a clearing in the woods chatting at each other. This would not be a problem if the characters were rich enough to sustain the plot when the creative world has disappeared. But most of them are not.
Atwood is known for writing richly imagined female characters in scifi settings. Unfortunately, this series is dominated by men, with the women mostly relegated to secondary roles, with the exception of Toby. Toby starts out strong, and the book focusing on her story (The Year of the Flood) is the strongest of the series as well. But in the post-apocalyptic setting, Toby loses all of her vim and three-dimensionality. She becomes a woman obsessed with a man and pining for things she can’t have. The male characters who dominate the story lack anything compelling. Crake reads precisely as a slightly creepy genius. Jimmy is difficult to get to know since he spends most of the series narrating when he is out of his mind from the effects of the apocalypse. And Zeb reads as a muscled thug who comes to his senses when it best suits him. None of these male characters show real breadth or true humanity. They could have carried the story well, although I would still have missed the strong female presence Atwood brings to scifi. However, these men seem more like caricatures of types of men we meet throughout our lives.
The plot is clearly meant to show us how the world could be destroyed and also how new life begins, complete with religious mythology. Some of the plot twists that go with this core of the plot work and others don’t. For the world destroying, the plot approaches it in two ways. There’s telling how the world ends from an outsider, underprivileged perspective of a woman who happens to survive. This aspect of the plot had enough twists and differences, such as Toby’s involvement in the God’s Gardeners cult, that it maintained interest. The plot also tells how the world ends from the perspective of a man caught in a hopeless hetero love triangle with a kind woman and an evil genius. This common trope takes no different plot twists or turns. It is entirely predictable and dull. A bit of a flop. The twists in the final third of the story, how the world begins and the last of the prior world fades out with a murmur, does nothing truly daring. Toby’s romance ends essentially as expected. Loose ends are tied up. And the Crakers take over with a new mythology given to them by a flawed human being. I’m sure this is meant to say something radical, and maybe someday to someone it will, but to the reader who has already read many thinly veiled take-downs of religion and where it comes from in scifi, it was rather ho-hum and long-winded. Particularly when compared to the much shorter and more richly written work by Atwood taking a similar anti-religion stance: The Handmaid’s Tale.
Overall, this is a series with two-thirds of the plot set in a richly imagined and intelligently extrapolated subtle dystopia future. The basic plot of dystopia to apocalypse to post-apocalypse is told slightly non-linearally with some interesting poetic-style writing inserted in-between chapters. Most of the characters feel flat against the rich backdrop, although one female character at first stands out then slowly fades. Recommended to readers interested in a realistic near future dystopia who don’t mind a rather typical plot and two-dimensional characters will enjoy most of the series, although they may enjoy the first two books more than the third.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Source: PaperBackSwap, library, and Audible
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
Book Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by Bernadette Dunne, Bob Walter, and Robbie Daymond)
The world has been mostly wiped out by a virus released by Crake, who thinks he’s helping save the earth with a cleansing flood. The survivors who are left are some of the scientists who worked with him, some people who were following a crunchy granola earth-centric cult known as God’s Gardeners, and Painballers–dangerous drug addicts who survived a gladiator-style fighting ring. There’s also the Crakers. Genetically engineered by Crake and the scientists, they’re a new version of humans who are herbivorous and naturally poly. They also are only attracted to sex when the women are in heat and visibly blue, thus preventing sexual violence amongst themselves. The God’s Gardeners, scientists, and Crakers comes together to try to survive in this world and defend themselves from the painballers. Toby, a God’s Gardener, ends up leading and educating the Crakers. She also rediscovers Zeb, the God’s Gardener leader’s brother who she previously had a crush on. Zeb tells her the story of how his brother, Adam, came to be mad.
I was under the impression that this was supposed to be a set of two companion novels, not a trilogy. So when this book was released, I was surprised and excited. The prior two books left the reader hanging, not knowing what really happened after the flood, and I was eager to find out what did happen. I wish this book had lived up to the creativity and excitement of the second one, The Year of the Flood.
At first it appears the sole narrator of the book will be Toby, the woman from The Year of the Flood who flees to God’s Gardeners to escape her dangerous stalker and slowly grows in strength. Slowly, though, she begins to share narration with Zeb, who tells her his and Adam’s background stories. Interspersed in this is Toby’s evening bedtime stories to the Crakers, who insist upon this and treat it with respect and ritual. Eventually, one of the Crakers tells some of the evening stories. The format isn’t bad, although it’s odd that when Zeb is telling his story to Toby, she’s talking about him telling the story to her in the third person. So the book will say “Zeb remembered” or “Zeb thought,” instead of just having Zeb take over the narration of the story. It felt especially odd since the audiobook had the narrator change from the female voice of Toby to the male voice of Zeb who proceeded to refer to himself in the third person. Similarly, although the bedtime stories to the Crakers were well-written, easily elucidating a bedtime story and letting the reader imagine the questions and comments from the Crakers that we don’t actually hear, a lot of the stories didn’t feel as if they added much to the book. They felt a bit like page-fillers. I get it that Atwood is trying to show where religion comes from (blind trust in a fallible person), but it felt a bit heavy-handed and unnecessary to me.
Toby’s character progression from a strong, creative, firecracker of a woman to someone who second-guesses herself, bemoans her inability to properly defend people, and moons after a man obsessively was rather jarring and disappointing. I’m all for Toby having a love life, and I think her having one as an older woman is something we don’t see enough in literature. But I don’t feel like her excessive pining and worrying over it was totally within character. Similarly, she seems to lose all ability to trust in herself and her capability in defending herself and others in bizarre situations. The one thing that did feel within her character was her taking the Crakers under her wing. These flaws in the characterization of Toby are kind of a big deal since she’s the only female narrator out of three narrators, and since she was such an amazing main character in The Year of the Flood. She deserves to have more of the story and more presence of personality than she gets.
That said, Zeb’s backstory is interesting and lends a lot of light to some of the mysteries from the previous two books. In some ways they were the best parts of the book, since we get to revisit the incredible pre-flood world Atwood created.
In comparison, the post-flood world is dull and lacks creativity. It’s essentially a bunch of survivors living in a jungle with some genetically engineered humans. The only extra or special thing added into this basic formula is the Crakers, and they are not that engaging or interesting. They’re mostly just a little creepy and off-putting.
The main conflict of the plot is rather predictable, although the ending is a bit of a surprise. The end of Toby’s story moved me the most, and that’s not a surprise since she is by far my favorite character in the series. The end of the book makes it clear that this is really more about the Crakers and the basis of their society, which I think explains my lukewarm feelings about the book.
The audiobook narrators all did a lovely job emoting the various characters they played. The choice of having a male narrator speak for Zeb’s story even though Zeb isn’t actually speaking was a bit odd, though.
Overall, those who enjoyed The Year of the Flood the most of the first two books will be a bit disappointed in Toby’s characterization and probably find the post-flood world a bit dull, although they will still enjoy seeing the end of Toby’s story. Those who preferred Oryx and Crake and have a liking of or interest in the Crakers will likely enjoy this finale to the series the most.
3 out of 5 stars
In the future, men have discovered the ability to jaunte–to teleport from one location to the other. The only catch is that you can only teleport to a place you have previously been. This means that jauntes around the world are the domain of the wealthy who can make the journey first. In this future of teleportation and telepaths, the rich have become a hipster elite, showing off their wealth by using outmoded and and outdated methods of transportation like cars and trains.
Foyle is one of the working poor. A hand on a spaceship that has an accident, leaving him in a closet grasping to the last straws of oxygen. Another spaceship passes him by, after clearly seeing his flare, and he vows vengeance upon them if he ever escapes alive. Which he does. What follows is a tangle of intrigue across time and space.
I got this in a collection of 1950s American scifi classics from Netgalley (which I will review as a whole at a future date). I was surprised to discover that I already had this particular book on my wishlist tagged simply as a scifi classic. So I went in with an enthusiasm that was definitely well-met. This book is worth reading for the world-building alone, even if the main plot and point of the novel doesn’t particularly speak to you.
The world Bester built for this book is complex and unique. Many authors would have left the future building at the jaunting alone. These people can teleport (and some are telepaths), what more is needed? But Bester takes it out a step further. Giving jaunting a limitation allows him to further expand upon how the change impacts people and culture differently based upon their wealth. On the one hand, since jaunting is only possible if you’ve physically been to the place you want to go, it becomes a bastion of the elite who can afford to travel there first.
They would memorize jaunte stages in widening circles, limited as much by income as ability; for one thing was certain: you had to actually see a place to memorize it, which meant you first had to pay for the transportation to get you there. Even 3D photographs would not do the trick. The Grand Tour had taken on a new significance for the rich. (loc 2465)
On the other hand, the wealthy will show off that they don’t need to jaunte because they can afford outmoded means of transportation like cars and trains.
As men climbed the social ladder, they displayed their position by their refusal to jaunte. (loc 2595)
Jaunting impacts the world further with the wealthy building labyrinths so that people can’t easily jaunt within their estate and home (since you can’t jaunt someplace you can’t see). In contrast, the working poor jaunte everywhere they possibly can to save their precious time and energy. On top of all of this, there’s space travel and space colonization, complete with slavery to mine the outer planets. But even the working poor who aren’t officially slaves are still essentially slaves to the wealthy elite. It’s a nightmare of a future where a few big corporations, and thus a few families, own the majority of the wealth, power, and luxury, and are unafraid to stomp on the poor to get ever more.
It makes sense that a good plot for this world would be a poor working man out to get vengeance on the corporation that left him to die in space. But Foyle isn’t a good guy himself. At first, none of his quest for vengeance is noble or is about anything other than himself. Plus, Foyle is an animal of a man. The book clearly believes that this animal state is the fault of the corrupt imbalance of power in the world. The wealthy elite have made many of the working poor into nothing more than scrabbling animals who will take what they can get violently when they can and live based on the more baser urges. As Foyle gradually climbs the social ladder in his espionage, he slowly learns what it is to be human and develops a conscience. I’m not a fan of this idea that the poor are forced into an animal-like state by the elite. Living without luxury doesn’t make a person animal-like. A lack of moral education contributes more than anything, and that can occur at any level of wealth. Thus, although I appreciate the fact that this vengeance plot allows for us to see the entire world from the bottom up, I’m not a fan of how Foyle’s growth and change is presented.
Some readers may be bothered by the fact that Foyle early in the book rapes someone and then later earns redemption, including from the woman he raped. The rape is described as part of his animal state, and he has now risen above it. When the rape occurs in the book, it is off-screen and so subtle that I honestly missed it until later in the book when someone calls Foyle a rapist. I appreciate that Bester does not depict the actual rape, as that would have prevented my enjoyment of the book. I don’t like the idea of rape being something only done by someone in an “animal state” or the idea that it’s something a person can ever redeem themselves from. I don’t think that’s the case at all. However, this is a very minor plot point in an extremely long book. Most of my issues with it are tied into my issues with the plot overall. I was able to just roll my eyes and tell the characters that they are wrong. It’s not that hard to do when most of them are presented as evil or anti-heroes to begin with. But this plot point might bother some readers more than others.
Overall, the world building is so excellent and gets so much attention from Bester that it overshadows the more average vengeance plot with iffy morals. Readers who enjoy immersing themselves in various possible futures will revel in the uniqueness and richness of the future presented here. Those who believe firmly in punishment for crime as opposed to redemption may not be able to get past the plot to enjoy the setting. Recommended to scifi fans interested in a unique future setting.
4 out of 5 stars
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