Category Archives: Sci-Fi

Time’s Divide – Rysa Walker (Chronos Files#3)

‘The Chronos Files’ is Walker’s time travel series.  Historians from the future, trained by Chronos, to go back in time to observe.  One person, however, deviates from plan causing a handfull of them to get stuck in their last assignment.  The Revisionist changes key events, creates a religion, and starts a movement causing the entire timeline to shift.  No one can return to Chronos or their time.  Kate’s Grandmother, an eccentric woman she knows little about except her mother hates her, requested she live with her for the summer.  She’s not inclined to, but her college will be paid for if she agrees.  It has a classic leaning, except canon wouldn’t accept a grandmother who technically isn’t born yet.  Kate’s grandmother needs her to fix the past so she can be born.  What I’ve described is the basis of Walker’s trilogy.  The Young Adult time travel series is solid, and complex, enough most people should enjoy it.  There is a love triangle, more or less – it depends on what timeline your in – but it’s handled well.  Walker uses detailed/discriminating theory for her basis of time travel and sticks with it.  People who get frustrated at lengthy scientific explanations shouldn’t be overwhelmed.  Those who need the philosophy to hold up to basic scrutiny will be content.  Walker struck a delicate balance.  Book three, ‘Time’s Divide,’ has twists.  In it she ends her trilogy with Kate being forced to travel to the future despite fears and warnings.

The Cyrists, a religion, has infiltrated governments, law enforcement, and society.  It was created by Brother Saul with help from Sister Prudence.  Saul’s roots are several centuries in the future.  He claims to want to fix the mistakes of the past for a better future, but his motivations are questionable.  The only thing truly evident is he will use any method, or person, to achieve his ends.  He destroyed the future Kate’s grandmother knew.  Kate is trying to fix it with the limited tools, Chronos Keys and Diaries, her grandmother brought with her on assignment.  Keys combined with specific genetics allow a person to travel in time.  The combination is rare.  Kate is her grandmothers last hope at tracking down the remaining unaccounted for Keys.  She is tasked to keep them out of Cyrist hands, and fix the timeline.  Every step forward shifts reality.  Shifts cause confusion, physical pain, and losses.  The last two books dealt with specific events in history, the Chicago World’s Fair, when JFK was shot, etc. Ultimately, in ‘Time’s Divide’ Kate has to infiltrate the Cyrists and travel into the future.  The problem with this is it is an unknown.  Saul’s actions may have destroyed it leaving a void.  She has nothing to research and nothing she can rely on.

Kate Rudd narrated the audio version I listened to, and she does will with it.  She is consistent in her character interpretation and differentiation.  I prefer to listen to this series rather than read it, but you should like it either way.

I enjoyed The Chronos Files trilogy and Kate’s travels to the past.  Walker wrapped up the story well.  She did leave herself an opening to continue but this is supposed to be the last book.  We’ll see.  Since I have more fascination with history than the future this was not my favorite of the series, but it was good.  Walker delivered on her large cliffhanger from the second book.  I think she could have done more with it, but she had an awful lot to complete in this book.  If you are looking for a quick read, small history lessons, well executed concepts of time travel, and action I recommend the series for you.


Book Review: Lexicon – Max Barry

Max Barry combined Poets and secret agents in ‘Lexicon.’  Words can persuade us, lead us in the direction people want us to go.  All a Poet has to do is ask you a series of five questions.  The answers will let them know what words and sounds will bend you to their will.  Ancient stories about the Tower of Babel hold more truth than we give them credit for.  Wil Jamieson is at the center of a search for a word, the Bare Word.  He doesn’t know it but when Elliot finds him in a bathroom, sticks a needle in his eye, and starts asking the five questions he realizes his life is changed.  From here people get killed, Wil is kidnapped by Elliot, and he starts to learn about a life he doesn’t remember he had in Broken Hill, Australia.  He is ‘The Outlier,’ it doesn’t mean anything to him, but it means a lot to these people.

Words are fascinating.  There is a power of persuasion in them, maybe not quite as strong as Barry makes it out to be, but if you study marketing and psychology there is credence to being able to make people susceptible to persuasion.  It can be as simple as the color of the plate you serve food on, the temperature set in a casino to keep you awake and alert, the lack of windows in a casino to discourage the notice of passing time.  These examples are not related to word choice but do relate to the science of suggestion.  Barry takes this real concept and increases the risk and reward potentials with ‘Lexicon’

Emily Ruff is a teenage junkie living on the streets in California.  Her game is Three Card Monte and she is very successful, well, successful enough that she can eat and get a fix.  One day a gentlemen in a cheap suit comes to play.  He’s a mark, she knows if she doesn’t let him win he’ll continue to play and she’ll have a good night.  Just as he is ready to pick she chooses to let him win at the last moment.  She can’t figure out why, but she’s lost him.  You let a guy like that win and they have no interest in playing.  This leads Emily down a path to be recruited for a very special school, one with no name, that teaches her to utilize her natural skill at persuasion.

The school is different from any you have ever seen.  It is very strict.  Boxers fists are considered lethal weapons because of the damage they can do.  Just imagine if your words had the same power.

Barry’s thriller is good.  I love the concept.  The anachronic story is told from multiple perspectives at different time frames.  The pace becomes frenetic towards the end – especially since you have key pieces of information the characters don’t.

Caring about people, things, or ideas is a danger to Poets.  The more someone knows about you the better they can control you.  After all, it only takes five questions to categorize the average person.  Poets guard against affiliations, love, want, and need eternally protecting themselves from compromise.  So, what happens if you break the rules?  This aspect of the story I found compelling, but it also opened the door to handling relationships/lack of relationships and sex in a very base way.  If I believed Barry meant for it to come off crass I think I might respect the way he handled it better even if I did not like it.  In this book, women seem to be categorized as an “Eve,” women who tempt men into compromising situations because of their own wanton desire.  Both Bronte and Wolf exhibit these behaviors and they are the only women in the book with real character developement.  It wasn’t flattering, and interesting that men were seen to be more controlled/moral. From this aspect alone, I would have thought ‘Lexicon’ was written at an earlier time.  It’s an outdated notion.  It’s not a huge part of the book but is important to the story

I listened to Heather Corrigan and Zach Appleman’s narration.  They did a good job.  Appleman, specifically, did a fantastic job with Wil’s Australian accent and the character’s personality change.

The book is interesting and for the most part enjoyable.  I think many people will like it despite the concern I mentioned above.  There are a lot of concepts that make it worth reading

Time Salvager – Wesley Chu

A couple of things up front.  I love Wesley Chu’s writing and adore his Tao Series.  I was more than a little excited to get this.  I preordered the audio version assuming Mikael Naramore was narrating it as he did the Tao Series.   I didn’t check in my bouncing anticipation.  – So, this is where I say the experience was not what I expected.  I did like it – once I got over the fact it was narrated by Kevin T. Collins.  He’s not bad, but he was not what I was anticipating.  That, combined with the fact I listened to the first two chapters at 1.25 speed by accident, didn’t help the situation.  The first two chapters did not impress me.  I had new characters.  I grew to love Grace, The Mother of Time, but I was disgusted with her decadent and crass introduction.  I need to reiterate, I did grow to like ‘Time Salvager’, but I stopped listening after the first three chapters.  I had already read one book recently where I had pushed on when I was not in the mood for it.  It did not help that situation and only led to me being unhappy and grumpy about it.  I wasn’t going to make the same mistake with this book.  I waited.

So, it was with much lower expectations, I started to listen to it a couple of weeks later – at the correct speed and no unfair expectations for Collins or Chu.  It was much better.  Time Salvager is basically a Space Opera about a time-traveling, drunk, bounty hunter named James Griffin Mars.  He’s not very old but he’s precocious in becoming a weathered old grouch.  He’s also not really a bounty hunter.  He’s a respectable chronman who travels to the past, with very specific and important rules, to steal power generators and technology moments before it’s to be destroyed.  – All in the pursuit to save humanity.  It’s a losing battle.  The future is not bright and the worst thing about his job is coming back to his present time.  Most Chronmen don’t last very long.  They either die during a job or fly off in a blazing suicide.  Very few can buy out of their contracts and many try to hide in the past.  That creates time ripples, however, so the Auditors must come back for you, kill you, and anything and everything you screwed up to fix the timeline.  It’s not a happy situation.

When James and his best friend (only friend) and handler gets news of a job that can shave years off their contracts they jump – as much as a man like James jumps at anything.  It’s shady, for the Valta Corporation, and his Handler has to keep him sober enough to get through the psychological review for this certain death job.  This job destroys everything in James life.  He will break the time laws he holds sacred, become a traitor to Chronocom, lose his mind, and maybe find a chance for redemption.

Space Opera is not my first love, but I adore time-travel and science fiction.  I say this to give you some context to my opinion.  Chu created a dystopia.  It is dark, but Chu is Chu, so he still laced in humor and characters I grew to love despite their flaws.  What isn’t obvious is the book is about relationships, trust, loyalty, and people allowing themselves to feel emotion – any emotion.  When the future is so dark you stay drunk on really bad whiskey so you can get to the past to drink amazing vintage bottom shelf whiskey this is a challenge.

Chu wrote a good story.  I enjoyed it but he indulged in creating his own futuristic lingo and curses.  I understand why people do it.  I agree that people in the future will say different things than we do and to use current slang will date it, but I hate it.  I hate when anybody does it.  It’s not just Chu.  The rest of his writing is fine.  He uses more profanity, both modern and made up, compared his other books but it was only noticeable in the first couple of chapters.  It is something to be aware of, however, if it bothers you.

I will definitely be reading the second book that is planned.  The story has good bones.   I will also listen to it.  I was not initially impressed with Collins narration but it grew on me.  He established a rhythm and distinguished Chu’s characters.  In the end he won me over.

The Library at Mount Char – Scott Hawkins

This is unique.  It impressed me with both its concept and writing. The first third of the book I almost put it down.  It is dark but not in the common build to shock and gore.  It handles pain and evil in a dissociative manner.  The emotion is separated almost completely from our cast of dangerous and broken librarians.  That’s right.  This is about librarians, maybe not the local city branch librarian, but they are still librarians.  While it is dark it is also a funny book filled with both vengeance and redemption.  I’ve never found so much hope hidden in such a modern grim book.

Imagine a dark god from the old days, pre-christian mentality, adopting a bunch of kids in the wake of a horrible incident that incinerated their parents in the 1970’s.  These kids have glimpses/faint memories of life before Father filled with hotdogs, breakfast cereal, and Saturday morning cartoons. After adoption day everything is different.  They enter The Library and start their new life in the manner of the old people, the Pelapi.  Life starts with a new language and incessant study of their catalogues.  They are not allowed to share their knowledge at the risk of angering Father who believes in disciplinary lessons.  Consequences are tailored to fit the offense.  It’s harsh, cruel, and the scars leave you wishing they were physical, but Father can heal those – including death.

Carolyn is the manic pixie dream girl, but only if you recognize that you are there as her plot device, and can accept the wake of violence and destruction she perpetrates carelessly in the execution of her plan.  Don’t underestimate Carolyn.  I like her so much.

Carolyn takes us through her childhood to the present and introduces us to her brothers and sisters.  The relationships between Carolyn and her family are very complex and important.  With Father everything is a lesson and it’s rarely the one you see on the surface.  In this library they study the art of war, death, medicine, the animal kingdom, language, mathematics, and the list goes on.  They apprentice to fathers friends.  Changes come when Father disappears.  Carolyn and her brothers and sisters are locked out of the Library.  They must find out what happened, and a way back in.  For the time being they’re stuck in America trying to blend in…

In a lot of my reviews I can liken the book to another one or to an author.  I can’t liken this to anything.

It is definitely science fiction with maybe a splash of fantasy.  It reminded me why I started reading these two genres in the first place.  They provide an escape, but to simplify it to just that is a disservice.  In these genres you get a new world, a new future, or a new science to process the same issues we’re forced to actually live with.  It provides a place that doesn’t exist to process the messier darker sides of life. ‘The Library at Mount Char’ does that and does it correctly.  Carolyn and her family are survivors.

I said this is special.  I meant it.

I received this book from Netgalley and Crown Publishing in return for an honest review.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley

This book is hard for me to categorize.  A review I read called it Steampunk but this 1880’s version of London doesn’t have to fall in an alternate timeline, and while clockwork gears and machinery play an important role, it is not fantastical.  Natasha Pulley’s novel plays with the line between fantasy and realism/ science and clairvoyance.  It is beautiful.  Thaniel shortened from Nathaniel, to distinguish himself from his father Nat, is simplified to match his unaffected straightforward character.  He is the center of this novel.  Keita Mori, Grace, and even Dolly circle arround the choices of this man.

Thaniel is a telegraphist. His profession isn’t world-changing and doesn’t hold much growth, but it allows him to live a sparse existence while helping him provide for his sister and her sons.  He doesn’t mind it.  His days blend until he goes home to his barely lived in room to find it burglarized.  I need to rephrase that, someone broke into his apartment.  Instead of taking anything they left him a gift in the form of a beautiful watch.  This is curious behavior.  It is something he could never afford.

When threats of a bomb meet his office he is told he must draw up a will.  This is laughable Thaniel doesn’t own anything – except the watch. His sister would never sell it, out of sentimentality, so he tries to pawn it.  The brokers, however, won’t take the piece of clockwork ridiculously claiming it will disappear.  Thaniel keeps it and when his office is bombed the watch chimes its alarm just in time to save his life …and make him look like a suspect.  Out of fear, anger, and no better idea, Thaniel drags himself bleeding to acclaimed watchmaker Keita Mori’s shop.

Thaniel, at the request of his boss, goes undercover.  He believes the watch and Mori are linked to the bomb.  Thaniel isn’t convinced.  The night he met Mori, this kind and unassuming man, offered him tea, a clean shirt, and a room to sleep in so he wouldn’t die trying to walk home injured.  Keita’s shop is a mystery filled with clockwork birds, watches, and a strange clockwork octopus that likes to steal ties and socks.  It appears to have a life of its own, but Mori assures that he created it as a pet.  Due to how the gears and magnets are programmed it only appears to have choice in its seemingly random actions.  Mori’s friend and pet plays a joyful and strange role in our tale.

Pulley’s comfortable and charming style of writing draws characters that feel real and carry the style of the 1900’s.  They play their roles in the politics boiling in London – including the early meetings for suffrage, the socialist movement, and the tentative international relations specific to Japan and  Brittain.  The mystery of who Keita Mori circulates through the story.  Mori has an uncanny ability to know what one will say and do.  Is it clairvoyance, trickery, or something more? Thaniel’s chance meeting with Grace, pulls her into the mystery. She studied physics at Oxford but did not receive a fellowship. That lack of fortune has her family pressuring her find a good man to take care of her.  She has a house left to her by an Aunt, but she only receives it if she is wed.  The women in her family historically are weak and unintelligent, so her own intelligence is seen as eccentricity and madness rather than ability.  The possibility to study this scientific phenomenon draws her in.

Mori’s unconventional and unexplainable way of living scares many, including Grace.  Her desire to understand the ether, the unknowable, makes her simultaneously drawn to and afraid of Mori. The man can manipulate events? These two characters, and the way they see life clash and pull Thaniel in alternate directions. Pulley’s novel boils down human actions questioning our ability to choose.   It takes predestination out of religion.  Can we control our actions, are our ideas and lives random, or are we really just ingenious clockwork? Humans may not be so very different from Katsu – the clockwork octopus.  Pulley’s placement of this story in the 1900’s is perfect, set at a time where the old ways that allow for magic and ‘the other’ fall to science and mechanical industrialization.

I listened to the narration by Thomas Judd.  He is the perfect voice to read Pulley’s work.  I am sure I would have enjoyed reading ‘The Watchmaker of Filigree Street’ but Judd’s voice captured every character.  He handled the assortment of accents with ease.  He was faultless and enhanced the experience of the book.  I would encourage people to listen to it first.  His reading made me feel like I was curling up in a blanket with a cup of tea in front of a fireplace.  Perfect for the books atmosphere which is predominantly drizzling and cold.

I loved this novel.  The end is quick – almost abrupt.  The slow thoughtful novel moves at a frantic confusing pace towards the end.  This is purposeful, and necessary, but it had me rereading/relistening to sections.  I wasn’t sure I followed Pulley’s frenetic path correctly.  This may take away from the reading enjoyment for some, but I encourage almost anyone to read it/listen to it.  If you like China Mieville and 1900’s history mixed with an ever so small amount of science fiction/fantasy this will appeal to you.  It is not as complex as Mieville and does not fit with the New Weird but it has some similarities.  Also, if you enjoyed The Golem and the Jini you will likely enjoy this.  Pulley created something special and something I will reread.  It became a friend.

I received ‘The Watchmaker of Filigree Street’ from Audible in return for an honest review.  If you would like to sample the narration click on the link below.

The Fold – Peter Clines

The more I think about this book the more I like it.  It’s clever, complicated, and funny.  Clines, with ’14,’ generated a campy following that loved a throw back to Scooby Doo and Lovecraftian Horror.  I loved it.   ‘The Fold’ carries some of that with better writing, a fleshed out unique story, interesting characters that come across a bit more real, alternate dimensions, and don’t worry Clines gave us some monsters.  We get a little Lovecraft style at the end.

The fact is I’m impressed.  Our main character looks like a young Severus Snape.  He’s a genius but doesn’t want to be.  Why, you ask? Well a genius with an eidetic mind is going to research what other geniuses have gone through. When he sees that it’s not all roses but depression and disappointment he makes a decision, at a young age, to limit himself.  He chooses not to research everything despite the fact he can.  Instead he chooses to be an English teacher at a run of the mill high school.  He purposefully leads a “simple life” in an effort to be happy.  That’s smart and quite the twist – not one that most people can understand.

His government stooge of a friend derails all that planning with the best of intentions and an opportunity of a lifetime.  Any geek, nerd, or layman with a penchant for pop culture will love the asides and references sprinkled into ‘The Fold.’  They are salted throughout the text and they are fun and fit.  I mentioned Clines is clever and I meant it.  I don’t like spoilers and I avoid them, but I need to give you the basics.  Mike Erickson (The Severus Snape/Alan Rickman look-alike) gets drawn into a top-secret project, as government oversight, that is a gateway to worlds of possibility.  His eidetic mind is challenged and changed irrevocably.  His life is changed permanently, as all good stories and twists do.  He also becomes the only hope the project scientists, who resent him, have.

I liked ’14’.  I enjoyed and respect ‘The Fold.’  Well done Clines, well done.  I don’t believe this will become cannon or required reading, but I can say it satisfied me.  It is well written, I liked the characters, and at the end I was satiated.  I believe others will be too.  Is that enough to get you to read it?  If not, well, my powers of persuasion are not enough…

I listened to it through Audible.  I was lucky that I recieved it in return for an honest review.  The fact is I would have paid for it happily, and maybe I’m showing my hand in a garish and impolite way, but I don’t care.  Ray Porter narrated it.  He was able to differentiate characters with ease while embodying the main character of Mike Erickson expertly.  I was impressed at his capability to handle both female and male characters equally well.  I relished listening to it.  I’m sure I would have appreciated reading it just as much, but listening to it was a joy.  If you are curious about ‘The Fold’ at all, but maybe don’t want to invest in the time to read it, I say listen to it.  I would be suprised if you come away disappointed, but if you are skeptical at all, you can go to the audible site through the link below and listen to a sample of Porter’s narration and form your own opinion.  It is a good representation.

I haven’t decided if this is a five or a four for me.  It keeps hovering in the middle and I argue with myself where it belongs. Either way, it really doesn’t matter that much.  I enjoyed it.  I believe you will enjoy it.  Go and read or listen to it already….

I received this audio book from Audible in return for an honest review.

Contact – Carl Sagan; Faith and/in Science


Contact’ deserved the Locus Award it won for Best First Novel in 1986.  Unfortunately, it is the only piece of fiction Carl Sagan wrote.  It, however, is not the only book he wrote.   Sagan wrote several works of non-fiction including ‘Demon Haunted World.’ which is great.  As an astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, and author he created many works that popularized and made science accessible to the general public.  With ‘Contact,’ you do not have to question whether the science behind the science fiction is credible.  I can see how the theorizing and long passages devoted to philosophy could be taxing if you’re looking for action, but it is a big piece of what I love about it. The heart of this book asks what is faith and belief. Sagan proposes faith in a religion and having faith that life exists on other planets is not so different.  What is different is how people react to faith.  Scientists work to prove a thought or belief through analysis and experiment. If evidence proves them wrong they change the construct of their belief.  Religion does not rely on proof believing faith does not require evidence. Politics is concerned with how to deal with or manage a result or the effect of faith.  Sagan takes these strong black and white constructs and shows us how they overlap infinitely …like a circle in the universe.

Ellie Arroway is a scientist and astronomer.  Since she was young she did not accept answers she could not prove herself. She pursued her love of science and despite her step-fathers discouragement through school.  Ellie was going to college in the 70’s and was frequently the only woman in many classes, lectures, and departments.  Instead of accepting professors ignoring her questions and statements she just spoke louder.  This brought her friends and enemies but Ellie wasn’t bothered by other people’s opinions.  She found those who she could relate with and didn’t spend time on the others.  Ellie gravitated toward radio astronomy and Professor Peter Valerian.  In the academic world every professor was allowed an idiosyncrasy and Valerian’s was the fascination with extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI.)  Ellie loved and fell for the romance of the possibility of life on other planets. As a result, Ellie chose the development of an improvement in the sensitive receivers employed on radio telescopes for her dissertation. It permitted her to continue her discussions with Valerian-but without taking the professionally dangerous step of working with him on extraterrestrial intelligence.”  She succeeded developing a ruby maser and improving radio astronomy to the level that she detected remnants of the Big Bang. I’d say that’s not bad for a graduate student.  It put her in the position to manage Project Argus and oversee numerous radio telescopes in New Mexico – dedicated primarily to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). To keep funding they would take other projects and when Professor Drumlin gunned to end all funding for SETI, which he found a ridiculously romantic and feminine notion in Arroway, she found the signal.  A signal she sent to multiple nations astronomers to verify it.  The government was not keen on her involving them before they had control of the situation.  What ensued after was years of recording the signal, decoding the message, and building the specifications for a machine that is believed to transport them to the alien intelligence.

Sagan’s main focus is not on the science of the message or even in decoding it.  The core of the book is on how humanity relates and responds to the message.  Ellie, who has spent most of her life focusing on finding communication from other planets, is now a major voice in the political scientific community.  The message effects how countries interact with one another.  It could create war as easily as peace and is a landmine to be navigated.  Public interpretation must be carefully handled.  Is it to be controlled? Can the message be manipulated?  Will it be seen as a message from God or the devil?  Is it to be feared or welcomed?  Most importantly, what is the message and what is the intention of this extraterrestrial communication?

Sagan wrote this in 1985 and takes place primarily in the 1990’s.  Some ideas included are still science fiction but many concepts are surprisingly accurate to how time has progressed.  We haven’t had a female president but in some ways feminism has come further than Sagan predicted.  We could take some pointers from Sagan in others.    He created an interesting character in Ellie Arroway.  He borrowed characteristics for her from colleagues and others from himself.  Sagan could be considered brash in shutting people down if their science or explanations did not make sense much like Ellie.  Also, like him, she became a public image for the scientific community and held atheistic beliefs that could create tension when dealing with highly publicized scientific questions.

Sagan, studied potentials for extraterrestrial life, but held strong attention to physical realities and analysis.  Sagan seems to channel his own expectations through Peter Valerian’s character because Valerian, “…repeatedly stressed that speculation must be confronted with sober physical reality. It was a kind of sieve that separated the rare useful speculation from torrents of nonsense. The extraterrestrials and their technology had to conform strictly to the laws of nature, a fact that severely crimped many a charming prospect. But what emerged from this sieve, and survived the most skeptical physical and astronomical analysis, might even be true. ”  Sagan was a champion for discrediting pseudoscience which he felt hurt the relationship of the public to the scientific community and its pursuits.  During the 1960’s and 1970’s, when there was a public fascination for UFO’s, he worked to prove and disprove information considered “scientific evidence.”  People who have watched ‘Ancient Aliens’ on the History Channel would be interested to know that the night after Erich Von Daniken went on the Johnny Carson show, promoting ‘Chariots of the Gods,’ Carl Sagan made an appearance.  His connection with Carson and his scientific knowledge did little to help Daniken’s theories of aliens visiting Earth in the ancient past.  If you are interested in Carl Sagan and his role in the study of extraterrestrial intelligence and fight against pseudoscience a good article by Keay Davidson is The Universe and Carl Sagan.

The narration by Laurel Lefkow on audible is superb.  She handles multiple accents as well as interpreting Ellie Arroway wonderfully.  Whether you read it or listen to it I believe it is a fabulous experience.

The beauty of Sagan’s work in ‘Contact’ is his showing humanity working together to decipher what the message is and who is sending it.  At the end of it all he focuses on the ability of people keeping an open mind when working with one another – treating each other with love and respect in dealing with one another.  It is the heart of communication – whether it is on Earth or Vega.  He takes the word faith and presents it in its multiple definitions.  It is a beautiful study of humanity and who we try to be.

Sins of the Father – Thelonious Legend

Sins of the Father

I hear ‘Sins of the Father’ and I think crime novel or mystery/thriller but not a badass middle grade novel about three teenage black girls with superpowers.  That said, as you read the book the title makes perfect sense.  It’s fun and it had me laughing genuinely as an adult without kids.  I hesitate in calling it badass because Thelonious Legend was very age appropriate and had no profanity in the book, but I just can’t find a more appropriate word.

The Parker sisters are affluent, intelligent, and athletic.  They are competitive and excel at what they put their mind to at their private school or in martial arts.  They are no strangers to success, but when their athletic capabilities improve drastically they start to question what is going on.  Gwen has become increasingly strong and Eve can move faster than lightning…ok, not quite that fast, but close.  While Ana’s sisters are going through these physical changes her above normal intelligence has become genius level allowing her to amass a small fortune in off shore accounts from stock trading.  She also is able to comprehend biologically and chemically what is happening to them which is great since the one doctor they went to has no idea what is going on, and died mysteriously after meeting with them.  The race is on to find out what is happening to the Parker sisters for multiple reasons.  These girls want their lives back.  Their powers have made it so they can’t compete for fear of hurting those they care about and because they can’t expose their secret.  They don’t want to be scientific guinea pigs but that isn’t the worst thing that could happen.  They have a clock on them because there are negative physical effects that come with their superpowers.  As the powers increase so does the danger.

Legend’s characters are likable.  They are not stereotypical and kids reading this book will be able to relate not only to the Parker sisters but to their parents, friends, and the rest of the supporting cast.  Another bonus is the characters are diverse.  Friendships cross cultures without it seeming contrived or forced.  Parents, while they are not main characters, play a more active role than several young adult books out there.  They are people who, while not perfect, are role models and appropriate supports to their children.  These girls are confident individuals and, like most teenagers, first try to solve their problems without the help of adults.  What teenager really thinks adults are capable to understand and help their situation?  They do seek support from their parents…eventually…partially.

The writing is good.  It is a middle grade book, however.  The set up is a bit different from an adult book.  The level of detail and introspection is lighter than adult fiction.  As mentioned above, it lacks profanity and sexual material.  There is a light teenage romance but it’s not something concerning for a child of any age to read.  I believe there are two kisses total.  One kiss between the parents showing affection as natural/positive and one chaste kiss between the oldest Parker sister and a boy in her class.  What surprised me and was really enjoyable was the humor.  The Parker sisters are very funny with one another. There was a point I was reading lines aloud to my husband.  He wanted to know what kept making me laugh out loud.  It’s definitely a middle grade book but I would recommend this to adults as well as kids.  If you enjoy superpowers and/or middle grade books I recommend you pick this up.  I dare you not to enjoy it!

The Genome – Sergei Lukyanenko

The Genome

Sergei Lukyanenko is an author I will pick up even if the book doesn’t sound like something I will like.  His Night Watch Series is amazing.  I loved getting the perspective of a Russian author, a non-western perspective, of fantasy and science fiction.  When I saw this was available I snapped it up even though I’m not generally a fan of space opera.  I enjoyed it.    Lukyanenko successfully created an interesting futuristic world.  People are part of a socially stratified society of Naturals, Speshes, Clones, and Others .  Speshes are humans whose parents paid to have them genetically augmented for a profession.  You have fighter speshes, captain speshes, and even street cleaning speshes.  Naturals are humans that were born without augmentation and are seen as less than speshes.  Clones are below speshes, and Others are aliens.  Naturally each group has their prejudices.  The social stratification and focus on difference is integral to this novel. The first half is impeccable.  The second half, unfortunately, isn’t on the same level.

Alex, a pilot, who recently has been released from hospital with only the clothes on his back is our main character.  He heads into the city on the train to find a job.  On that train he finds an orphan juvenile spesh on the verge of metamorphosis.  Speshes genetic augmentations don’t fully realize until metamorphosis in the teenage years, but what this young juvenile is doing on her own at such a time makes no sense.  As a pilot spesh his sense of responsibility is enhanced pushing him to spend the small amount of money he has on food and a room for the juvenile to go through her metamorphosis in.  To fund this undertaking he takes a questionable job.  It makes him a captain and comes with the added benefit of picking his own crew, but it clearly is to good to be true.  This part of the book was interesting.  I fell into a trance and I didn’t allow myself to be interrupted from it.

The second part, where the crew is on the ship, gets convoluted.  They are flying Zzygou tourists, an alien race similar to humans.  Every crew member has a reason to not want to fly to the destination of Edem, fly with the Zzygou companion of a clone, or fly with Others.  When one of the Zzygou is murdered on the ship it is learned she is an important figure. A detective clone, by the name of Holmes,  and his assistant ,Watson, are brought on the ship to determine who the murderer is. They must solve the case or war will break out, a war that will only end with the extermination of two civilizations.

The book delves into what makes a person human, unique, and individual.  Part of a pilot’s specialization leaves him without the ability to love.  Alex implanted an emotion sensor in the shape of a demon to allow him to read the emotions he doesn’t feel.   He consults it regularly. His curiosity for the emotion of love and what it would mean to have it grows as he enters into sexual relationships with his crew members.  This caused me some frustration.  The two women on board are vastly different but are also blatant stereotypes.  They are cardboard.  I normally would see this as a literary failing in the book but the speshes are created to be stereotypes.  They are genetically engineered stereotypes.  Lukyanenko sheds light on this in later chapters.     The captain, however, entered into a sexual relationship with the young fighter spesh he helped through her metamorphosis.  She is also a hetaera spesh, similar to a geisha, that is genetically enhanced to provide sexual pleasure and fall in love with her companions for the brief amount of time she is with them.  The genetic alteration seems to excuse what the reader will see as an irresponsible and predatory act.  Lukyanenko addresses this too.  It is an interesting facet of the book.  Lukyanenko utilizes this along with other poignant situations to show how this genetic alteration takes both feeling and freedoms away leaving a level of servitude that is questionable.  I recognize what he is doing, but I’m not sure I find the gender role stereotyping or situations excusable even though he is using them to make a point.  If it had been executed better I wonder if I might feel differently.

I applaud the concept and truly enjoyed the first half of the book.  The second half is not executed as well and leaves Lukyanenko’s impact to fall a bit short.  I would still recommend this for the world building, and interesting concept.  I would recommend this for fans of space opera.  For those who love the Night Watch series this is not fantasy and may not satisfy.

I received this from NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media in return for an honest review.

Blackout (All Clear#1) – Connie Willis


Connie Willis created a beautiful piece of time travel/historical fiction with ‘Blackout.’  Depending on how you want to look at this book it is either the first book in the All Clear series or the third installment of the Oxford Time Travel series.  ‘Blackout’ includes characters from ‘The Doomsday Book’ with Colin Templar and Mr. Dunworthy.  They are not the stars of this double-decker novel but they do play very important roles.  ‘Blackout’ revolves around three historians from the future sent to observe different key events during World War II.  ‘Blackout’ is the story of what happens when their assignments end but they can’t get back home.  They either can’t get to their drops or they are damaged and won’t work.  Oxford should send a retrieval team.  ‘Blackout’ is what happens when they don’t show up.

I’ve read this and ‘All Clear’ three times.  I’ve listened to them and read them and enjoy it both ways.  What Connie Willis does extraordinarily well with these books is make the experience of the everyday person who didn’t enlist in the war accessible.  During World War II people in London were shop girls, children, and old men.  She focuses on the every day heroics of the people who lived at the time and took the famous words of Churchill to heart, ” Keep calm and carry on.”  These words that have been appropriated by a new generation were originally meant to steady a people who were sleeping in bomb shelters and waking to find their homes and places of employment bombed.  People who would never have been thought of heroes are highlighted as old clerics joining the fire brigade to keep St. Paul’s safe, the shop girls who signed up to become Ambulance drivers and WRENS, children under the age of 16 who were collecting scrap metal and lying to become ARP wardens.  Willis paints a realistic picture of rationing and living conditions during one of the coldest, wettest, and bleakest winters in England during 1940.  Our historians experience this from the perspective and benefit of privilege.  They are from the future where the living conditions and medical breakthroughs make life much easier.  They haven’t had to deal with shortage.  They are historians and they researched the conditions but research and experience are two different things.  They have the advantage of knowing that they win the war but the tables are turned when they can’t get home.  There is a fear that they have changed events.  What if they did something to alter the course of the war?  They become the contemporaries they were studying.  Their only hope is to find  other historians studying World War II.  If they can find another drop site they will have found a way home.

Willis explores the invasion of Dunkirk, experiences of the evacuated children, the fall of the service class, the Blitz, and the V1 attacks.  Her research is solid.  She did eight years of research to complete these two books.  Some have found the books to be daunting and long due to the amount of detailed historical information included.  This, however, is what makes this book special for me.    She provides great information sources, but one in particular caught my attention. She utilized the Mass Observation Diaries heavily and credits them as being invaluable.  The diaries came from observers and volunteers in London recruited by Mass Observation.  Harrison founded the organization in 1937 with Madge and Jennings to  create an ‘anthropology of ourselves’. The writers chronicled the lives of ordinary people in Britain. By luck, the study neglected to tell the volunteers writing the journals the study was ending prior to the start of World War II creating an amazing resource of first hand accounts detailing the everyday lives of Brittish citizens during the war.  Follow this link to find out more about the original Mass Observation project.  I can see why some people would have a hard time engaging in the All Clear Series. It is a commitment to read them.  Blackout is 512 pages and All Clear is 643 pages. Willis refers to them as a double-decker novel because Blackout ends abruptly and starts up immediately with All Clear.  Many have argued it should have been one book, but if two is a bit unwieldy one would have been extremely off-putting.  You will want the sequel immediately.  Plan to either download ‘All Clear’, buy the physical book when you get three fourths of the way done,  or download the fabulous narration by Katherine Kellgren immediately after finishing ‘Blackout.’

I  do not recommend this for people with a short attention span, or those who are looking for a light read.  It is hopeful, but it is also drenched in data.  If you want a light time travel piece I would encourage you to pick up Rysa Walker’s ‘Timebound’ or ‘Just One Damned Thing After Another’ by Jodi Taylor.  ‘Blackout’ is a great time travel novel and is a personal favorite.  Rarely have I seen an author be able to weave such great fiction around factual history.  Usually you get one or the other.  If you enjoy historical fiction with the added enjoyment of science fiction time travel this is perfect for you.

If you like this you may like:

–  The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

–  Crytonomicon by Neal Stephenson

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