When the world is devastated by GMO plants over-running the land and destroying cropland, humanity splits into multiple factions. There’s the people who firmly believe in transforming people so that they can photosynthesize food from the sun–and have green skin. There’s the cannibals, who have returned to a hunter/gatherer way and eat humans when necessary. Unbeknownst to the green folk, there’s a holdout of Old Order Amish. They’ve changed from how they were in the past but still hold onto many of their ways. In particular, they have decided that taking green skin is the Mark of the Beast, and will not go for it.
Tula is a scientist among the green folk who is tasked with assisting cannibal children who are kidnapped and converted. Levi is an Amish who leaves the compound against orders, seeking yet another group of scientists who are supposed to live in a mountain and may have the cure to his dying son’s Cystic Fibrosis. When Levi is swept up in a green raid of cannibal land, his and Tula’s worlds collide with unimaginable consequences.
I picked this up because the cover of a green-skinned woman in a desert appealed to me, and then the description seemed like an interesting post-apocalyptic future. This is certainly and interesting and unique read for any fans of post-apocalyptic or dystopian literature.
The future is imaginative with many different groups and reactions to the botanicaust (the destruction of plant matter that is considered this world’s apocalypse). As someone who has studied the Amish, I appreciated how the author imagined how the Old Order would handle such a crisis and address it for the future. Allowing people into the compound if they are willing to convert seems logical, and showing that the Old Order did accept some technological innovation also makes sense. Similarly, the green scientists who seek to photosynthesize everyone and don’t seem to care too much if the cannibals want to be photosynthesized or not make logical sense. The scientists believe this is the solution in a world without enough food, and hey haven’t bothered to do any cross-cultural studying to see if there is any rhyme or reason or value to the cannibal lifestyle. This again is a logical position for a group of scientists to hold. The other group of scientists who live in the mountain and have managed to find the solution to not aging are a great contrast to the groups of greens. Whereas the greens do sometimes do evil but don’t intend to, they only intend to be helping (with the exception of one bad guy character), the mountain dwellers have been turned inhumane by their abnormally long lives. These three groups set up a nice contrast of pros and cons of scientific solutions and advancement. At what point do we stop being human and at what point are we being too stubborn in resisting scientific advancement? How do we maintain ethics among all of this? The exploration of these groups and these questions was my favorite part of the book.
The plot is complex and fast-paced, visiting many areas of the land and groups of people. I wasn’t particularly a fan of the romance, but I can see where others would find that it adds to the book. I just wasn’t particularly a fan of the pairing that was established, but for no reason other than it seemed a bit illogical to me. Then again, romance is not always logical.
The one thing that really bothered me in the book was the representation of Down Syndrome and the language used to refer to it and those who have it. The mountain scientists have children, but as a result of tampering with their own genetics, all of their children have Down Syndrome. First, I don’t like that this makes it appear as if Down Syndrome is a punishment to the evil scientists who went too far with science. Down Syndrome is a condition some people are born with. It is not a condition as the result of anything a parent did, such as fetal alcohol syndrome. Second, all of the characters with Down Syndrome are presented as large, bumbling oafs with hearts of gold. There is just as much variety to the personalities and abilities of those with Down Syndrome as there are in those of us without Down Syndrome. Finally, the author persists in referring to these characters as:
a Down’s Syndrome woman (loc 2794)
or of course, “a Down’s Syndrome man.” First, the preferred term for Down Syndrome is Down Syndrome, not Down’s Syndrome. This is a mistake that is easy to make, though (I have made it myself), and I am willing to give the author a pass for that. The more upsetting element in the way she refers to these characters though is that she always lists the condition first and then the person, not the other way around. It is always preferred, in any illness or condition, to list the person first and the illness or condition second. For instance, a woman with cancer, not a cancerous woman. A man with PTSD, not a PTSD man. A child with Down Syndrome, not a Down Syndrome child. I cringed every single time this happened, and it happens a lot in the section of the book that takes place in the mountain. Given that this is an indie book, and it is thus quite easy to make editing changes and fixes, I would hope that the author would go through and fix this simple aspect of language. It would be a show of good faith to the entire community of people who have Down Syndrome, as well as their families. For more on the preferred language when referring to Down Syndrome and people who have Down Syndrome, please check out this excellent guide, written by the National Down Syndrome Society.
It’s a real bummer to me that the language about Down Syndrome and presentation of these characters isn’t better, because if it was, this would have been a five star read for me.
Overall, this is an interesting and unique post-apocalyptic future with an action-packed plot. Those who are sensitive to the language used to refer to Down Syndrome and representation of people with Down Syndrome may wish to avoid it, due to an unfortunate section where characters with Down Syndrome are referred to improperly and written a bit two-dimensionally.
4 out of 5 stars
The author has written a thoughtful and kind comment on this post. You may view it by going below. To sum up, she cannot make edits to those book, due to it also having an audiobook version. However, she has promised to edit for these issues in future books containing characters with Down Syndrome. This genuine and thoughtful response is much more than the community of those with Down Syndrome and their families and loved ones often get, and it is very much appreciated.
Book Review: Preserver by William Shatner, Judith Reeves-Stevens, and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (Series, #3) (Audiobook narrated by William Shatner)
Captain Kirk and his nemesis from the mirror universe, Tiberius Kirk, pair up to hunt down the preservers, orbs left by some more intelligent race. Kirk is teaming up with Tiberius because Tiberius holds the key to saving his wife’s and unborn son’s lives. Their quest will reveal hidden secrets about the universe.
This is the second audiobook my fiancé and I listened to on our road trip to and from Michigan. We listened to the previous book in the series, Dark Victory (review), on the drive out. We listened to this one on the drive back. (Each direction is a 13 hour drive). Whereas the previous book kept us entertained and awake for our road trip, this one left us confused and concerned we might actually be drifting off into sleep periodically, because it made so little sense. (For the record, we were not drifting off into sleep. This book just makes very little sense).
All of the audiobook qualities that were great about the previous book stay great here. Shatner’s narration alternates between hilariously good and hilariously bad but mostly is just hilariously Shatner. The sound effects continue to be stellar and one of my favorite parts of the book. It continues to feel like listening to a Star Trek movie as a radio show, and that it was kept me going through it.
The plot, however, just makes very little sense and seems to fall apart. Whereas in the previous book a continuing plot point is Shatner’s ruined hands, in this one it’s Shatner’s unborn (and then born) son who is all kinds of genetically messed up thanks to the poison in his mother’s system from the cloned children of Tiberius. (Are you confused yet?) This could possibly make for an interesting plot, but it’s dropped frequently to pursue the other plot about the preserver orb things. We read this book and both fiancé and I are still unclear as to precisely what the orbs mean. We’re not even sure if they’re good or bad. This is how confusing the plot is, I can’t even properly sum it up for you folks. In spite of the plot being really confusing, there are still some fun scenes, such as when Kirk meets his son for the first time. It’s a short audiobook, so I’m not unhappy I listened to it, even if I mostly only understood the Kirk’s son plot.
Overall, while this provides very little clear closure to the plot point set up earlier in the trilogy, it does feature the birth of Kirk’s son and all the fun of listening to a radio show version of a Star Trek movie. If you liked the previous books in the trilogy and don’t mind a confusing plot, you’ll enjoy finishing up the trilogy.
3 out of 5 stars
Book Review: Dark Victory by William Shatner, Judith Reeves-Stevens, and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by William Shatner)
Our universe has been invaded by the inhabitants of the Mirror Universe–a parallel universe that is a dark, twisted version of our own. Now, Captain Kirk, with the captains and crews of The Next Generation and Voyager must battle evil versions of themselves, led by the evil version of Kirk — Tiberius Kirk. What nightmares does Tiberius have planned for the Federation?
Back in December, my fiancé and I road-tripped to Michigan to visit his family. It’s about a 13 hour drive, and I had Audible credits, so I suggested we pick out a book. We both love Star Trek so we investigated what Star Trek options are available. This one jumped out at us for the obvious reason that it’s narrated by William Shatner himself! Other reviewers complained about sound effects, but that just made us more excited, so we downloaded it, oblivious to the fact that it’s the second book in a series. This book reads like a radio program version of a Star Trek movie featuring a crazy mash-up of the Original Series, Next Generation, and Voyager.
The action starts right away, which was admittedly a bit confusing, since we hadn’t read the first book. It starts with Tiberius and his crew escaping into our own universe, and Kirk and his trying to battle them. Also, Kirk’s hands are mysteriously mangled from something that happened in the first book. Ultimately, we were able to catch up with the plot and follow it somewhat. Kirk is in love with a woman who is pregnant with his baby. Tiberius seems intent on getting to some orbs that the Federation wants to protect. Kirk wants to stop him, but the Federation and some spy branch of theirs are trying to keep him from engaging in the fight anymore. They even go so far as to lie to him and tell him that Tiberius is dead. It’s a complex, twisting plot that makes some sense when listening to it, although summarizing it is nigh on impossible. Suffice to say, that if you enjoy the concept of the mirror universe and the characters from three series all interacting together, you’ll probably enjoy this plot. Plus, there’s also Kirk’s wedding in this book, and that is just not to be missed. (There are horses! And red leather outfits!)
What really made the book for me was the audiobook presentation of it. It is presented like a radio program, complete with amazing sound effects. The communicator actually beeps! There are impact noises from shots at the Enterprise! There are even whinnies from the horses. If you’re a more serious Star Trek fan, you might be irritated by the relative kitsch of this book and its reading, but if you enjoy Star Trek for its periodic utter ridiculous, then you’ll enjoy the way this audiobook is presented.
Shatner’s narration is sometimes good but often hilariously bad. His voice for women is unnaturally high and soft, making me giggle each time, and mysteriously, he uses the same voice for Captain Picard as for women. Listening to him narrate anyone who is not Captain Kirk is a bit like watching Captain Kirk “fight” in the Original Series. I enjoyed it for its ridiculousness, not for its quality.
Overall, if you’re a Star Trek fan who doesn’t take the show too seriously, you’ll enjoy this radio program like audiobook with a plot mashing up everything from a mirror universe to somehow placing Captains Kirk, Picard, and Janeway on the same ship.
4 out of 5 stars
Previous Books in Series:
When Australian astronaut, Jack, crashlands on a planet during a mission and is the only survivor, he fears the worst. What he finds is a planet surprisingly similar to Earth–even speaking English–only with a culture of peace and non-violence. Seeking to survive as a homeless person, he starts busking with a guitar he finds, playing Earth songs. Before he knows it, he’s discovered and becomes a rock star, introducing the planet to Earth’s greatest rock songs, while claiming to have written them himself. But rock star is an awfully high profile for someone who is technically an alien.
This was my final accepted ARC from 2014, and I think it’s a fitting review for the last day of 2014 here on Opinions of a Wolf. This was an interesting read that kept me moderately entertained, although it wasn’t the rollicking good time I was initially expecting.
The book jumps right in to Jack as already a rock star on Heaven (the alien planet) and tells of his arrival and how he became famous through a series of flashbacks. This nonlinear storytelling works well with the plot. Starting with semi-familiar rock star territory, the book slowly reveals what is different about this planet, as well as about Jack.
It is evident that this was originally a three part series, as the plot consists of three distinct parts that, while connected, keep the book from having an overarching gradual build-up of suspense. Jack has three distinct episodes of action, and that lends the book and up and down quality that feels a bit odd in one novel. I actually think I might have enjoyed the book more if it was kept as a trilogy with each part’s plot fleshed out a bit and the overarching conflict made more evident. An overarching conflict does exist, but it is so subtle that the opportunity to build suspense is mostly missed.
Personally, Jack didn’t work for me as a main character. While I don’t mind viewing the world through a bad guy’s eyes, I usually enjoy that most when I get a lot of depth and insight into who that person is. Jack holds everyone, including the reader, at arm’s length, so I both saw the world through his objectifying eyes and couldn’t really get to know him at all. That said, I can definitely see some readers enjoying Jack and his viewpoint. He lends the unique ability to let people see the world both through a rock star’s eyes and through an astronaut’s. A reader who is into both famous people’s biographies/autobiographies and scifi would probably really enjoy him.
Similarly, the humor in the book just didn’t strike my funny bone. I could recognize when it’s supposed to be humorous, but I wasn’t actually amused. I know other people would find it funny, though. Readers expecting a Douglas Adams style humor would be disappointed. Those who enjoy something like Knocked Up would most likely appreciate and enjoy the humor.
There are certain passages that sometimes struck me as a sour note among the rest of the writing. Perhaps these are passages that would be humorous to other readers, but to me just felt odd and out of place in the rest of the writing. Most of the writing at the sentence level worked for me. It was just the right tone for the story it was telling. But periodically there are passages such as the one below that made me gnash my teeth:
Natalie is a rare beauty. A creature of potent sexuality. Someone you would step over your dying mother to penetrate. (loc 8803)
I take a seat in McCarthy’s desk chair. It’s comfortable. Luxurious in the way a set of stainless steel steak knives might feel to a psychopath. It’s beautiful and firm and smells nice, but in the wrong hands this chair could be used for evil. (loc 6821)
Again, perhaps this is humor that just didn’t work for me. I’m not certain. If you like the concept of the rest of the book, there are only a few of these passages that are easy to pass over. If you enjoy them and find them humorous, then you will most likely enjoy the book as a whole as well.
Overall, this is a piece of scifi with the interesting idea of turning an Earth astronaut into a rock star on another parallel planet. Potential readers should be aware that the book was originally told in three parts, and that is evident in the book. They should also be aware that the main character is both a self-centered rock star and a self-centered astronaut, while this viewpoint may work for some, it will not work for others. Recommended to those who enjoy both celebrity autobiographies/biographies and scifi who can overlook some bizarro coincidences.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
Miranda and her mother and brothers have barely survived the long winter that came right after the moon was knocked out of orbit by an asteroid, bringing an apocalypse. She’s been wondering for months what happened to her father and his pregnant new wife. She’s thrilled when they show up on the doorstep when her newborn half brother, but she’s not so sure about the three extra people they’ve brought with them — an adult man and a teenage boy and his little sister.
The third book in this series reverts back to the Miranda’s journal format of the first. While I appreciate bringing the diverse characters from the first two books in the series together, the use of Miranda’s journal exclusively in telling the story renders the tale a bit less interesting and strong than it could have been.
It should come as no surprise that a YA series featuring a girl in the first book and a boy in the second will bring the two together in the third. I must admit that although when I finished the first book I was very eager to read more about Miranda, when I finished the second I was intrigued at the idea of a series that saw the same apocalypse lived out in different places by different people throughout. That said, getting to know the extensive background of the love interest is appreciated and different but it is a bit jarring to go back to Miranda’s diary after getting to know Alex so thoroughly in the second book. The book could have been much more powerful if Miranda’s journals were interspersed with chapters from Alex’s perspective. Getting this perspective would have helped make their love seem more real, as opposed to just convenient. (Alex is the only teenage boy Miranda has seen in a year). Additionally, in spite of Miranda falling for Alex so fast, he mostly comes across as cold and overly religious in this book, whereas in his own book he was much more empathetic. Certainly the need for survival will make him come across stern, and we know that Alex has a tendency to say important things in Spanish, which Miranda cannot understand. Both of these facts means it would have worked much better to have alternating perspectives, rather than just Miranda’s.
The plot, with the exception of the instant love between Alex and Miranda, is good. It brings everyone into one place in a way that seems natural. The addition of new characters also breathes new life into Miranda’s situation. Plus, Pfeffer does a good job of forcing the family out of their stasis in the home, something that both makes logical sense (these people were not preppers, they are not equipped to stay in their home forever in the apocalypse) and also keeps the plot interesting (one can only read about people holed up in a house for so long). The plot developments also make more sense, scientifically, than in the previous books.
Religion is handled less smoothly here than in the previous two books. Everyone but Miranda’s mother and Miranda has church on Sunday (Protestant or Catholic), and Miranda doesn’t have enough of a reaction to or thoughts about this. She doesn’t really think about faith or spirituality. Church is just something some other people do. This is unrealistic. A teen who has just gone through a disaster and sees her father suddenly take up faith would definitely at the very least have some questions. Given that Alex has a very strong faith and they are interested in each other, one would think they would have some conversations about religion that go beyond whether or not they can have sex before they get married, yet they don’t. The first two books sets a great stage to talk about faith in its many forms, as well as lack of faith, yet the book backs away from actually tackling this issue. If it had, it would have offered something truly thought-provoking in the read. Instead it’s a post-apocalyptic survivor romance. Not a bad thing but not what I was expecting based on the first two books.
Overall, this is an interesting next entry in the series that brings Miranda and Alex back to the readers and moves the plot forward. However, it dances around the issue of faith vs. lack of faith brought up in the first two books, eliminates Alex’s voice from the story, and suffers from some instant romance. Those already invested in the series will still enjoy seeing what happens to Alex and Miranda, although skimming for plot points is recommended.
3 out of 5 stars
Seventeen-year-old Alex Morales works hard with his eyes on a good college. He even works in a local pizza joint to pay for his own private Catholic school uniforms to help his Mami and Papi. Papi is in Puerto Rico for his mother’s funeral and Mami is working late when an asteroid strikes the moon and everything changes. New York City is struck by flooding and loss of infrastructure. Alex is left alone to care for his two younger sisters, Julie and Briana, and slowly he begins to think that maybe things will always be this bad. Maybe Mami and Papi will never come back, the moon will never look right again, and there will never be a world where he can go to college and not be left caring for his little sisters.
I inhaled the first book in this series, in spite of the scientific flaws (which I addressed in my review of the first book). Miranda’s journal ends so abruptly that I was eager to get to the next book right away. I was surprised, then, when the second book starts back before the moon is struck with an entirely different family in a different area of the country. This book shows Pfeffer’s abilities as a writer by showing the same apocalyptic event seen in the first book from the perspective of an entirely different family.
Miranda’s family is suburban-rural, agnostic/atheist humanist, blended (divorced parents with one remarried), and white. Alex’s family is urban (NYC), Latino, and devotedly Catholic. Both families are given room to have strengths and flaws, most of which have nothing to do with where they live, their ethnicities, or their religions (or lack of one). I honestly was startled to see Alex and his and his sisters’ strong faith treated with such respect in this book after Miranda’s lack of faith was treated with equal respect in the first. It’s easy, particularly in a book written as a journal, to mistake a character’s beliefs for an author’s, and Miranda, a teenage girl, has very strong beliefs. This book reminded me that those beliefs were just Miranda’s, just as Alex’s beliefs are just his, and it shows how well Pfeffer is able to write characters.
Some readers may find it odd and frustrating to go back in time to relive the apocalypse over again with different characters. I personally enjoyed it, because the world falling apart is one of the best parts of post-apocalyptic fiction for me. I also liked having the opportunity to see differences in how the apocalypse plays out based both on the location (suburban/rural versus urban) and the characters’ personalities and reactions. However, that said, I can see how this set-up of two vastly different sets of characters in books one and two could be off-putting to certain readers. Some religious readers may be turned off by the first book and Miranda’s staunch atheism. Those who read the first book and enjoy it for precisely that reason may similarly be turned off by the second book’s heavy Catholicism and faith. The diversity is a good thing but it also makes it hard to pinpoint an audience for the series. Those who are open to and accepting of other belief systems would ultimately be the best match but that’s a demographic that can sometimes be difficult to find or market to. However, if a reader is particularly looking for a diverse set of viewpoints of the apocalypse that is more than just characters’ appearances, this series will be a great match for them.
It should also be mentioned that this book is not a journal. It is told in third person, from Alex’s viewpoint, although the dates are still mentioned. It makes sense to do it this way, since Alex definitely does not come across as a character with the time or the inclination to keep a journal. It would have been interesting to view the apocalypse from the viewpoint of a boy who did keep a journal, however.
The plot makes sense and brings in enough danger without being overly ridiculous. It would have been nice to have maybe started the book just a bit earlier in the week to see more of Alex’s day-to-day life before the disaster. Instead, we learn about it through flashbacks, which makes it a bit harder to get to know him than it was to get to know Miranda.
Overall, this is a surprising and enjoyable second book in this post-apocalyptic series that lets readers relive the apocalypse from the first book over again with a different set of characters. This approach lends diversity to the series, as well as bringing in a greater variety of scenarios for those who enjoy the apocalypse process. Recommended to those looking for a diverse presentation of beliefs and how those impact how characters deal with an apocalypse.
4 out of 5 stars