Blurb Book Review: One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence (spoilers ahead)

39792427. sy475
Oh look – an image from!

I didn’t know this book was the first of a series, but I’ll be reading the other two as soon as possible now.

Nick is in his teens when he’s diagnosed with leukemia. He begins his chemo while still maintaining his weekly D&D games with his friends. Just after the chemo starts, a girl named Mia joins the group. Nick is visited by a man, who turns out to be himself from the future, asking him to complete a mission so he can save Future Mia.

Well told, nice integration of D&D playing and real life adventure. The author does a wonderful job of intertwining the two while still keeping it believable. This book is a fantastic mix of nostalgia and hope for the future.

Even the time travel made sense and was explained in a way that was satisfying and simple. There’s also a couple of good gut punches and twisty bits, enough to keep the ending a nice surprise.

It’s a short book, a little under 200 pages, and well worth the read.

Blurb Book Review: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (spoilers ahead)

54727327. sy475
Book cover from my favourite place,

I tried to make this book go slower so I could stay in the world longer.

Three strangers are stranded on a planet with nothing more than a waystation to keep them occupied. Each one has an errand to run or a place to be and has stopped here for a brief layover. A catastrophic event happens above them and causes all the communication satellites to collide with each other. Now, each traveller must wait here, unable to communicate with their ships.

Ouloo runs the waystation with her child Tupo. Together, they try to keep the travellers comfortable.

The plot is gentle: each traveller gets to know the other as they wait for the debris to be cleared enough to ensure safe travel. I loved this. Sometimes there’s no need to have urgency in the plot, or complicated twists and turns. Instead, sometimes it’s nice to just get to know a bunch of characters, watch their interactions, and bid them adieu when the time comes. There are some conflicts of course, but nothing that caused destruction or alienation of the character. There was just enough tension in between each character that anything added might have felt like too much.

None of the characters are human. I loved this, too. The author did a fantastic job in demonstrating how different each species could be. One read colours as communication, another was more like a lobster, and another similar to a reptile. The hosts felt like dogs or four-legged furry creatures.

I had a clear image of each character throughout, even though I felt a bit more description could’ve been added. The author managed to convey different voices easily and so naturally that the read was smooth, simple, and remarkably creative. There were many new terms to learn, but the context defined the terms well enough that I was able to handwave the unknown away without being frustrated.

I loved this book so much that I’d like to write my own version of it. Something similar, where several alien species are at a layover point and have to get along. No murders, no meanness, just newly blossoming friendships. After all, the best writing is writing that inspires me to write.

While getting the cover image from Goodreads I noted that this book is the fourth in the Wayfarer Series. I haven’t read the other books, but if they’re anything like this one, they’ll be awesome.

Blurb Book Review: Foe by Iain Reid (spoilers ahead)

Where oh where did I get this image?!

This is the creepiest, most sinister book I’ve read in a while.

I’ve read a lot of suspense and horror in my day, but nothing gripped me and held me like this book did.

A visitor arrives on Junior and Hen’s farm and tells them that Junior is longlisted to go to the Installation. That this won’t happen immediately, but to be prepared when it does. A couple of years pass and the visitor, Terrance, appears again, saying the trip to the Installation is imminent. Terrance says he must live with them, to get to know Junior so he may create a copy of Junior for Hen to live with while he’s away.

This book sets the stage immediately. It’s obvious that something is wrong because Junior’s dialogue has no quotation marks and Junior never asks what the Installation is, how he ‘won’ a place there, or whether it’s a choice that he go.

Brilliant storytelling. Fantastic, tight dialogue. Every word has a purpose, every word pulls the story along, every bit is relevant. There is no extraneous information, there’s no draggy parts to the novel, there creepiness and suspense never drops.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who likes books that stick with you after the last page. I definitely want to re-read this, now that I know how it ends.

I mean, I warned you in the title. But here we go, here’s my explanation of what happened in the novel.

Terrance arrives in a black car with green headlights. The green signals Junior to ‘wake up’. Junior isn’t human, he’s an AI living with Hen on a farm while the real Junior is off at the Installation. Terrance talks to the couple as a perfunctory measure, just enough to explain the visit, then leaves.

Junior asks some questions, mostly in his head, but doesn’t challenge anything. He simply accepts what Terrance says and makes an effort to live his life. Hen is aloof and standoffish at first, which Junior waves away as stress from the idea that he’ll be going to the Installation soon.

Hen lives with this version of Junior because she must, not because she was given a choice. Or at least, not a choice that she made willingly. This Junior is here, therefore, she must exist with him but she doesn’t have to like it. She keeps distant from him but does as he requests.

An example of this is the piano. She used to play a lot, but doesn’t much anymore. Junior suggests that she play because in his mind she loves to play. But later she tells him that she actually doesn’t like playing which is why she doesn’t do it much anymore. Junior excuses her minor outburst as her being out-of-sorts and of course she’ll want to play the piano later.

Terrance returns after a couple of years and says that because Junior is leaving soon, he’ll stay with them both and observe them. His reasoning is that if he observes Junior, he can give Hen a replica of Junior for when he goes to the Installation.

But the more Terrance is around, the more he talks to Hen. The reader isn’t given insight into what the conversations are about, but Junior becomes more and more antsy about them.

Then Junior arrives. The Junior that we know gets upset and says he’s the original. But this new Junior has quotation marks around his dialogue and refers to the other Junior as ‘it’. The first Junior leaves and the second Junior stays

The second Junior is immediately irritated with how Hen behaves. She doesn’t seem as attentive to him, not like her usual self. One day he goes into the kitchen and finds a note with his name on it. The note is blank.

Terrance arrives in the car with the green lights. Hen’s dialogue doesn’t have quotation marks and she’s much more attentive to Junior. I think Hen has been replaced by an AI and this Junior doesn’t notice.

They’re both living in a simulation. The entire farm property is a well-designed, immersive, VR simulation. But the people with dialogue are real. The bugs that appear in the story are a physical manifestation of bugs in the programming.

Blurb Book Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (spoilers ahead)

Did I get the image from Of course!

This is a story of living in boxes, or self-contained units. The story loops around and around between memory in the narrator’s head and memory he re-lives by visiting with his time machine.

Charles repairs time machines for a living. This doesn’t really satisfy him, but it’s work. He and his dad invented a time machine but that model failed. His dad has gone missing and Charles doesn’t quite know how to look for him, until he encounters himself and starts a time loop.

In this loop, Charles revisits memories of his dad and the building of the time machine. By watching these memories like an observer peeking through a window, Charles comes to understand his dad as a person, not just a parental figure. He watches his dad’s device fail when it’s demonstrated to a bigwig. What Charles knows, but his dad didn’t in that moment, was that another device was created and worked. Now people can travel back and forth in time as a form of recreation.

Charles’ dad spent all his free time in his garage building a machine that would allow him to spend more time doing what he wanted. His dad was insulted at the idea that each moment only comes once and can only be experienced once, so he designs a device that allows the person to revisit events, like how memory works. Ironically, his son spends a decade of his time in between times. He’s jammed the shifter in Present-Infinite where he just hovers and doesn’t move forward or backward.

This could be an allegory to how people hover in time by scrolling through websites, visiting social media, watching television or movies, or playing mindless games on their phones. When doing this, people aren’t engaging with their lives, they’re allowing their lives to slip past them, they’re hovering in between tasks, in between events, in between duties, just like Charles in his personal time travel box.

Charles’ mom is also stuck in a time loop, this one bought and paid for by Charles. In it, she makes dinner over and over and over again to feel helpful and useful, as her husband is missing. She designed the loop and visits the loop often, but also indicates that she’d like to be free of it.

Charles finds his dad in the past, which could be an example of dementia. He was unable to rescue himself and needed someone else to come get him.

Overall, the book was confusing, but good. At times it rambled on and felt repetitive, but that’s how memories are. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys time loop stories, albeit this one is told in a more relaxed plot structure.

Blurb Book Review: The Future is Yours by Dan Frey (spoilers ahead)

Where did the image come from?!

I’ve got a system now. I put a book on hold at the library and when I pick it up I don’t read the blurb. Instead, I open the book and start reading. I try to figure out what the book is about based on the cover and note how long it took before I could figure out the premise.

This one I got right away. The text is the green of old computer text, the last two words are broken, and there’s a clock in the upper left corner. I figured it was time travel, involved computers, and was broken. I was pretty much right.

This is an epistolary novel – one written in a series of documents. In particular: emails, texts, social media posts, articles, and congressional hearing notes. Normally this format wouldn’t appeal to me but time travel is my jam so I read on. Also, I was drawn in immediately. The premise was given in the opening document’s first few lines: “IT WORKS! Seriously, you did it.” and goes on to say this is an email sent from future Ben to past Ben. So there we have it: time travel and future. But the reader knows it’s broken because of the text.

Ben and his friend Adhvan develop a quantum computer that can see one year into the future. They call the company The Future and plan to sell units to the population. The novel doesn’t go into too much detail about what can go wrong, but it does touch on a few things like the future of sports at risk because people can see the end result of the game in advance, the military wants the technology because of course they do, and being able to see your own future.

Ben and Adhvan test their technology out by finding a local news story and trying to prevent the death of someone. This fails. The future, it appears, is set. But as the novel progresses the future becomes unstable. Discrepancies start popping up, between what the prototype computer revealed at different times. The reader finds out why at the end and when it’s revealed some other things fall into place.

The author made time travel remarkably easy for me to follow. Much of the time I’m along for the ride but I can barely comprehend the plot, consequences, or technology. In this novel, I could understand all of that. The plot itself is simple, thankfully, and resolves well.

The author also dealt with exposition exceptionally well. Normally there’d be infodumps or exposition as dialogue as characters explain time travel to each other so the reader can understand it. But here, because the format is documents, the exposition was kept at a minimum and infodumps were inferred. All the emails read like emails and all the texts read like texts between friends. The congressional hearing documents read as I’d expect a transcript to read. The author also managed to keep the character’s voices distinct by demonstrating how they formatted emails, worded texts, and used all caps in addition to their choice of words and sentence structure.

I’d recommend this book to anyone. This is a good entry-level time travel book, a good primer before getting into some seriously confusing novels.

Blurb Book Review: The Long Walk by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) (spoilers ahead)

28187217. sy475
Cover image lifted from as is the norm now

I read this book when it was released in The Bachman Books back in 1985 and it stuck with me until now. I remembered the grueling walk and that the main character is the winner, but the meat of the book was lost over the years. Because I enjoyed it so much then I decided I should read it again now.

The story is about one hundred boys teenaged boys that go on The Long Walk. This is a walk at four miles per hour, continuously. There is no stopping for any reason, none at all. Any stopping is met with a warning. Three warnings and the boy is shot on the spot. Attempt to leave the road and you’re shot. Anyone watching cannot interfere or give aid. Any warning can be walked off in one hour. The winner is the last boy walking.

Each walker applies for the honour of participating and must pass a physical and a written exam, including an essay on why you want to join. The prize for winning is anything you want for the rest of your life.

This book takes place over five days of continuous walking. Each walker that dies is mentioned, the author doesn’t skip any, although some are merely a passing reference to the sound of gunshots and a body falling. Others are given a more gruesome end.

This was originally written in 1979 and it shows. I didn’t notice the terminology or flinch at certain words the first time around, but there was no reason to. I was old enough to understand the references and felt like it fit in with society as I knew it then. Now, however, I could see where a lot of it was definitely a product of its time.

The main character, Ray Garraty, is struggling with perhaps feeling some sexual interest in other men. This isn’t outright stated anywhere, the author mentions that Ray has a girlfriend and enjoyed making out with her quite a lot. But Ray also experimented a bit with another boy, saying it was the boy’s suggestion to strip down and touch each other, and also doesn’t quite shy away from another male character offering a hand job. I didn’t see this the first time around, but now I wonder if the bisexuality was intentional and perhaps a reason why Ray signed up. Several characters mention that they signed up to die, as a slow version of suicide, because they knew what was expected, they knew walkers were shot. Although knowing this and experiencing it are two very different things. One or two of the characters say they thought the gun would have a paper flag that said ‘bang’ on it, rather than a real bullet.

I also think Ray inadvertently killed the second-to-last walker. As Ray went up to him and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, the boy turned and said, “Oh, Garraty!” and fell down. Since both walkers were near-dead, I wonder if Ray accidentally gave this other boy a heart attack by surprising him like this.

While I was engrossed every step of the way I also noticed the writing was a bit clunky or clumsy. I think if this was written today an editor might be a bit more harsh about things like fragments of ideas, dialogue that wasn’t quite smooth, and what might be some shifting pov problems.

This book was just as creepy as the first time I read it, just as disturbing, and just as engrossing. The author has a talent for describing mounting psychological horror and mental breakdowns especially in the earlier works like this one. The goriness is also described easily, as easily as one would describe a meal, and something I’ve come to expect from the author. One thing stands out though, and it’s something that stood out when I first read the book: the author describes bodily functions like urinating, defecating, and even ejaculation. Most other authors skip this as the reader innately understands that bodies do these things, but this author includes the information. For this book, it was relevant to the plot and added a facet to the characters.

It’s never explained why this contest is held every year or what kind of world would have such a brutal contest. That banged around in my brain quite a lot but I was satisfied with the book without the answer.

Would I recommend this book? Maybe, as long as the reader is prepared to read something from a different time, with different references, and possibly offensive language and word choices. The story itself is hauntingly good.

Blurb Book Review: The Ninth Metal by Benjamin Percy (spoilers ahead)


Where did this image come from? of course!

I’m not sure what I think of this book.

The cover is fantastic. Little sparkles dot the blackness and the extended fingerprint pattern is shiny. In the upper left corner is a pale rectangle with “A Comet Cycle Novel” inside. So this is the first book of the series. I liked the way the coloured pattern merges with the title on a backdrop of space. It’s accurate to the book in that this ninth metal, or omnimetal, merges with some humans.

The book itself was easy to hold, small enough for me to use only one hand. The binding wasn’t too tight. But I’m stalling.

I liked the author’s ability to describe the environment and the characters. Rich enough that I felt immersed throughout. The story was interesting enough: a meteor shower pummels Earth and leaves this ninth noble metal in its wake. The metal absorbs energy through kinetic force and is highly sought after. Two corporations – one that mined iron in the area and one that is trying to move into the area – fight over the land and the rights to mine this omnimetal.

That’s just the backdrop story though. This novel is more about the birth of superhumans. A boy and a man both are infused with this metal and have the ability to store up energy from destructive forces like gunshots and grenades and then propel that energy outward.

A third story exists as well. Some people are smoking and snorting the ground up metal. These addicts are called ‘metal-eaters’. Their eyes glow with the metal, they lose their hair, and they become focused on worshipping the metal. Near the end, the metal-eaters that lived on a kind of commune vanish through a gate of sorts. A gate that an addict created for the sole purpose of entering. The reader is not told where these people go.

So it’s a book with these three stories, all told fairly well. But I had to focus my attention to get through it. I was easily interrupted and didn’t mind putting the book down. This was in part because the first two thirds of the book felt like an introduction and there were enough characters that I got confused about what was going on. I suspect that if I’d read with more vigor I wouldn’t have been as confused.

I do have a couple of nitpicks. One character, Stacie, always ate sugar. She’s a peacekeeper/police officer and would offer Starburst candies to everyone. I could not, at any point, believe this to be true. I felt like the reason for her sugar addiction/intake would be explained but it wasn’t, not really. Except to say that she believed her offerings to be disarming or something. Honestly, I found it annoying. Like yes, fine, okay, sure, she’s offering candy again. And not just any candy, but Starburst. If this was a movie then I’d be certain that Starburst paid for product placement.

One line slipped past the editors but stood out to me. On page 214 a character is making a fishing fly. In between dialogue the author wrote, “With his thumb he tested the prick of the fly’s barb with his thumb.”. This author has written several novels, all of which were likely edited. How was this missed?

I’m hoping the next book in the series is a bit more engaging and holds my attention better than this one. I still recommend it, but only in passing.

Blurb Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (spoilers ahead)

If you guessed I pulled the cover image from, you’d be right.

I loved this book. I loved it so much I wanted to read it again it immediately after I finished it. I was so invested in the book/world that I didn’t want it to end and that I wanted a sequel, even though the storyline ties up all neatly at the end.

The book is about a last ditch project to save Earth. There’s an alien life form eating the sun at an alarming rate and scientists discover one star that isn’t affected. The Hail Mary is to go out to that star, figure out why this life form isn’t eating it, and send the information back to Earth.

Ryland Grace is a junior high science teacher. He’s the one that discovers how to kill this sun-eating stuff and how to reproduce it. His involvement in the project is not exactly voluntary, but his desire to learn and use science drives him to keep going. Ryland wakes up on the Hail Mary with no memory of how he got there or why. Information is revealed to him, and the reader, in satisfying bursts of memories.

During the journey, another alien makes contact with him. This alien, who he names ‘Rocky’, is an engineer. His whole crew died during their journey to Tau Ceti, as did Ryland’s other two crewmates, and he’s been left alone to try to figure out how to stop his own star from being eaten. Together, they learn how to communicate and figure out a way to save both stars.

Every bit of this book, every line of text, is packed with information. The author uses a lot, and I mean a lot of science-y terms but it’s phrased in a way that I could understand almost all of it. Brilliant work, to make so much jargon understandable and even interesting.

The book has a great deal of humour as well. It never felt forced or overdone though. Instead it was light and immersive and kept me firmly in Ryland’s head the entire time.

Was the story contrived? Yes, of course. All books are, that would be the purpose of books. I did think that it was a bit convenient that Ryland met Rocky and helped him through it. I also thought it was a bit convenient that Ryland lost his memory, it felt a bit like the author needed a way to explain everything to the reader. These are very minor points though. I noticed them, yes, but I (mostly) forgave them because I was hooked from the first word.

I would recommend this book to everyone. Anyone. All people who like books. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some time to read it again before returning it to the library.

Blurb Book Review: The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham (spoilers ahead)

Image pilfered from the usual site:

This was published in 1944. I don’t normally read books from that era – I dislike the depiction of women – but this one was recommended by one of my sons, so I figured I’d give it a read. I was pleasantly surprised.

This novel feels like the opposite of what novels are today. There was very little ‘showing’ except to demonstrate that living in high society isn’t for everyone, nor is living moment to moment in search of God. Otherwise, the entire book was ‘telling’. The narrator (the author himself, I believe) tells the story of Larry Darrell’s search for meaning after fighting in the first world war. An opposite to Larry is Elliott Templeton, a snobbish man with a generous heart who worms his way into high society. Where Elliott can’t imagine living without being seen and invited to important dinners, luncheons, and events, Larry can’t imagine a life so constrained by rules.

The narrator tells the story as if the highlights to his life are the interactions of these characters, plus a few more others thrown in for good measure. I believe readers today might not appreciate this format. Rather, they’d expect the narrator to be a major character, not someone simply observing the lives of other characters and offering little to no opinion about the happenings. Writers today are drowned in advice to make sure the characters are all active, never passive. But here, in this book, the main character of the narrator is passive. He is a vehicle for Larry and Elliott’s stories.

Current authors are also inundated with advice to give the characters what they need, not what they want. This book is the opposite, where the narrator actually says at the end that each character got what they wanted out of life. To quote: “Elliott social eminence; Isabel an assured position backed by a substantial fortune in an active and cultured community; Gray a steady and lucrative job, with an office to go to form nine till six every day; Suzanne Rouvier security; Sophie death; and Larry happiness.”

I admit that while reading, I expected things to go horribly wrong for the characters and for them to learn what they really needed was more important than what they wanted, but this didn’t happen. Yes, Gray lost all his money in the stock market crash of 1929, but with Elliott’s gracious assistance they were able to float along until a time when Gray could find proper employment.

My other son mentioned this whole need/want shift might be tied to capitalism. My brain churned. Before, back in 1944, there was a middle class in America. People not only got what they needed, they had the freedom to reach and grab what they wanted. But as the middle class fell away the message shifted. Now, authors are telling stories about how people reach for what they want and instead grab what they need as determined by an outside force. Getting what you want is reserved for the elite, not the masses, and those masses should be grateful for receiving the gift as presented.

Overall, the book was quite good. I’ve indulged in many slice of life stories where events take place over generations and this novel fit right in to that framework. There was no inciting incident or climax to be seen. Instead it was the tale of one man’s search for meaning in life contrasted by another man’s burning need to be accepted by those of high standing in society. The narrator also points out that Larry was able to ‘loaf’ around because of independent wealth, and I appreciated that bit. Without money, people’s choices are much more limited.

Nitpick: near the end of the book the narrator is talking to Larry about Larry’s plans to go to New York. He says this: “Well, it’s your own money. You’re fee, white, and twenty-one.” But wait. The book starts in 1919 and carries on to mention the second world war, so it spans over twenty years. Larry is said to have joined the military while being underage – seventeen, I think – so he’d be over 40 by the time the narrator utters that line.

Otherwise, I see why this author is recommended. The narrative style and rich characters held my attention throughout.

Blurb Book Review: Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill (spoilers ahead)

55003957. sy475
Where did I get the image? From of course!

This is a book about an eight year old boy and his nannybot tiger Pounce. Or, conversely, this is a Calvin and Hobbes fanfic book with an apocalypse as a backdrop.

Pounce discovers his box the same day the world changed forever. He knew he was a nannybot, but seeing the box he came in was a bit of a shock. Discovering his owners kept the box because his charge, Ezra, would outgrow him eventually so he’d be shut down and stored. Seeing his box also changed how he thought of himself, if only slightly.

The day the world changed was the day that a town just for bots was to be opened. These bots are without owners and have been allowed to continue existence as free robots. The town was built by Isaac, the oldest robot, and was to welcome all robots.

Humans had a different plan.

The story is told through Pounce’s pov, so the reader has limited information. Humans bombed Isaactown, robots reacted by sending a software update to all robots, one that would turn off their Robot Kill Switches. This RKS stops robots from killing humans, it enforces Asimov’s three laws of robotics. Robots start killing people. Domestic robots kill their owners.

Pounce manages to save Ezra by running to a panic room in the house while the domestic, Ariadne, kills the parents. From there, Pounce tries to protect Ezra at all costs.

The story is satisfying, good pacing, with nice reveals. The idea of robots killing humans feels a bit worn out to me though. Pounce also has programming called Mama Bear which unlocks a ton of military strategic knowledge. This helps Pounce keep Ezra safe. The end of the book is satisfying and leaves the story open for a sequel of sorts. Actually, I could see this as a movie or mini series.

I had two major problems with the book.
1 – the mention of Apple products. One robot is an iAssist. This bugged me enough that I wanted to stop reading. I don’t like brands in books and I really don’t like the brand Apple. I have nothing good to say about them and I hated reading the name in a fictional story. Verizon was mentioned as well, but fleetingly. I don’t care about Verizon.

2 – UBI, or Universal Basic Income, is cast in a negative light. This was bothersome because,
A) The story was from a nannybot’s pov. Why would a bot have an opinion about UBI? Why would a robot be programmed with an opinion on the matter? What purpose could this information serve?
B) Studies that have been done on UBI have shown a positive result. People are mentally healthier when they don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, how to pay their bills, and whether or not they’ll have shelter the next day. Money for UBI comes from other social programs that wouldn’t be needed like welfare, disability, and whatnot. UBI has been tinkered with during covid, some places call it ‘stimulus cheques’, and the effect has been positive. People are spending money on long-awaited home improvements, treats for themselves, and bills. Will some people abuse the system and not work? Yes. Absolutely. Those people are also abusing the system as it stands right now.

These two problems made me feel like the book was actually propaganda rather than a fictional story for entertainment. I wondered if the author received some kind of kickback or super fat advance if these attitudes and brands were included in the work. Sure, I may be paranoid, but this is what I thought and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Based on that, I would only recommend the book if the reader is aware of the potential propaganda.