Blurb Book Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (spoilers ahead)

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Yes, I did get this image from Goodreads.com

I loved this book so much that when I was done I wanted to write the entire thing myself. I wanted to marinate in this universe, explore every option, and exhaust every possibility of every life the main character could have lived. There’s even a smattering of envy that the author wrote this instead of me. Why did I like it? Well, let me tell you a little about it first.

Nora Seed is not enjoying life. The book chronicles several disappointments in her life, culminating in the decision to take an overdose. Rather than outright dying, she ends up in a library filled with green books. The librarian resembles a librarian from her childhood, Mrs. Elm, and shows her The Book of Regrets. This book is heavy, as regrets tend to be, and filled with every regret Nora has had from birth to the overdose.

Mrs. Elm tells Nora that she can peek into another life, another Nora, one where the original Nora didn’t have a particular regret. Nora’s first decision is to eliminate the regret of leaving her partner Dan, and opening a pub with him instead. The librarian hands her a book, she starts reading, and pops into the Nora that lived in the timeline where these events occurred.

This concept fascinated me. I’ve spent a fair amount of daydream time considering how much I’d love to travel back in time and redo an event or unmake a decision, or even make a decision rather than sit idly by. The author’s take was that Current Nora would inhabit Other Nora’s body on the same day as it is for Current Nora. So, no going back in the past. Also, Current Nora didn’t have any of the knowledge that Other Nora had. She had no history in this timeline, so a lot was unfamiliar, including her own body, to some degree. But she did retain knowledge of her original life, so she viewed each new life through the lens of her old life.

The longer she stayed in one place, the more memories would come to her. If she felt any disappointment or desire to return to the library, off she went and met up with Mrs. Elm again. If she decided that this was the life she wanted, she would get to stay.

As long as she was in between life and death, she was in the Midnight Library and could access other timelines. As soon as something happened to her original self – like she died or woke up – the library would vanish and she’d go back to her original body or be dead.

Nora explored many options, everything from Olympic swimmer to famous keyboardist/songwriter in a band to a life working with dogs. The more lives she explored, the more she understood that she had no right to take the life away from Other Nora, and that what she thought was a good life was also fraught with negativity. The whole story reminded me of the phrase: if we all put our problems in a pile, we’d each take our own rather than someone else’s if given the choice. Nora got a nice glimpse into many lives, but ultimately knew the best one was her original one, if the overdose doesn’t kill her first.

The book hooked me immediately. I loved the author’s voice, how the choice of words seemed to bring a lot of information while saying relatively little. Each chapter is small, nicely bite-sized, so I never felt bogged down or like I was slogging through, as I sometimes do with long chapters.

I borrowed this book from the library, but I think I’ll go out and purchase it so I can read it again and again. Maybe even write fanfiction about it so I can live in the world a little longer.

Blurb Book Review: Seven Lies by Elizabeth Kay (spoilers ahead)

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Image from the usual Goodreads.com

I decided to step outside science fiction for a bit and read a gentle mystery. This isn’t a whodunnit kind of mystery, but instead one where the narrator reveals things slowly until the reader has a full picture of the events that took place. There’s probably a name/genre for this type of book. If so, feel free to let me know.

This is a story of the friendship between Jane and Marnie. They were inseparable for over two decades, until things went bad. Jane is the narrator, slowly explaining how things fell apart. She uses seven lies as touchstones. These are lies that she told Marnie, stating that she never ever lied outside of these seven. Not very realistic, but I understood because memory is faulty and sometimes little things get lost in the shuffle. It’s evident that Jane is jealous of Marnie’s husband, Charles though. I thought that jealousy was the ultimate reason for the falling out, but I was wrong.

The story meanders, winds around long curves and wanders through tangents. But at the same time, the author only gives enough information to satisfy. I never felt like I wanted to hurry things along or that the information was irrelevant. Instead I felt like Jane was telling me a story and didn’t want to get to the awful part just yet.

Jane is an unreliable narrator though. She tells the entire story from her point of view, enough so that I felt sympathetic toward her up until the last fifth of the book. Somewhere around there I started to realize that she’s a bit obsessed with Marnie. At first I thought the story was being told as if the reader is the listener, that Jane is explaining things to me. But no, it’s revealed quite late in the book that she’s talking to someone very specific.

The tension picks up very nicely in the last fifth of the book. So much so that I was glued to the pages and ignored other responsibilities just to find out what was going to happen. The end was satisfying. Excellent work by the author for keeping the characters believable throughout, including the epilogue.

This is an excellent story of friendship and how obsession has the potential to destroy even the strongest relationships. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes descriptive prose, slow reveals, and a bit of horror near the end.

Blurb Book Review: Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots (spoilers ahead)

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Picture from the one and only: Goodreads.com

I received this book from the library terribly fast. I really thought I’d be waiting longer for it to be available. I read the first page to see if I should start this book or another, and ended up reading it at every available moment I had. I loved this book. Absolutely adored it. Let me tell you why as succinctly as I can.

The narrative voice was consistent and delightful. My eyes wanted to eat every word so my brain could have something to munch on. I wanted this book to go on forever, yet also wanted to get to the end of the story. Not because I was eager to finish, but because I desperately wanted to know how the author was going to wrap up the storyline.

The author’s choice of descriptors were vivid, delightful, and innovative. I don’t think there’s any repetition (or if there is, very little) in adjectives, which kept the book fresh from page one right to the end.

The pacing was excellent. Not once did I feel like the book dragged on or skipped anything important. The author had an excellent sense of how much information to give to keep the story moving, but also how little to give to keep my attention hooked.

I loved the main character – Anna – mostly because she felt realistic to me. She was someone I could imagine in real life, ‘warts and all’ as my mom would’ve said. Anna has her faults, she’s vulnerable, but she’s also got a core of toughness that impressed me.

Now I’ll tell you about the story.

Anna is a “hench”. This is someone who works with the villains when asked. Yes, like henchmen but without the gender specification. Anna works for a temp agency that hires out henches. Even Meat – the muscle of the operation, so to speak. She gets a job and is injured by a superhero named Supercollider. The temp agency promptly dismisses her, leaving her out of work and deeply wounded.

While healing, Anna starts checking into the cost of superheroes. How many lifeyears are lost to the supes’ carelessness? How much property damage? That kind of thing. This hooked me immediately. I’ve consumed enough superhero media to ask these questions myself. The supe always saves the day, but at what cost? Anna posts her Injury Report online and gathers a bit of following.

Anna needs a job, and applies everywhere. When on her way to an interview, she’s intercepted by a villain named Leviathan. He wants to hire her for her ability to amass data and parse it in whatever manner is most useful.

This is the story of a budding villain. Anna isn’t necessarily evil, but she does want superheroes to be held accountable for their careless destruction. Her tactics are somewhat evil though, in the sense that she knows how to manipulate people.

All of this is set in a world where people are tested for abilities, then, if they are found to be in great enough quantity, the person is groomed to be a superhero. This world is immersive. I was enveloped in it from the first few pages and only left when I closed the book. Excellent work by the author.

Some other notables: the book felt technically perfect. Every scene had a purpose. Every event had a conclusion. No extra words were used and none were spared. I felt like this is a fine example of constructing a story, one I’d like to remember as I write my own.

I was pleased to read how well the author worked genderfluidity into the narrative. This was done exactly as I’ve experienced it in real life: there are people who prefer they/them, there are trans people, there are people who are not straight. There was no shaming, no shoehorning. The author made this feel remarkably commonplace, and I absolutely loved it. Remarkably refreshing compared to many other books I’ve read.

This book could easily be converted to a ten episode series. More accurately, I want this to be a ten episode series, as long as it’s done well and with the author’s consent and participation.

I heavily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys superheroes, a tongue-in-cheek style of narration, and multifaceted, interesting characters caught in a plot that’s resolved neatly and efficiently.

Blurb Book Review: The Mother Code by Carole Stivers (spoilers ahead)

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Image from my favourite website for book covers: Goodreads.com

Once again I’ve managed to put a book on hold at the library that’s about an apocalypse. Yep. Another one. This one created by humans. I read the first page just to get a feel for it and to decide whether I wanted to read another book featuring a pandemic. I ended up reading the whole book.

This is a story about kindness, love, mothering, and connection with a backdrop of human destruction and elimination.

This book’s pandemic was in the form of a nanobot that could rewrite DNA. Things went wrong, because of course they did, and the solution was to create robotic mothers.

These mothers were to gestate and support a child. Originally, 50 of these Mothers were created, but only 22 survived. The children were connected to the Mothers by a chip implanted in their foreheads/brains. This chip allowed the Mothers to talk to their children.

The scientists in charge of creating these Mothers decided to fashion their personalities after actual women, the same women who would provide the eggs for insemination. This way, the personalities of the Mothers would match those of the child. I know from experience that a child can sometimes barely resemble a parent, but for the convenience of the book, I accepted the premise fairly easily.

The children search for each other. Well, the Mothers do the searching. They find each other in small groups, some remained alone until the Mothers are called to one location. The remaining/surviving scientists figured out how to call all the Mothers to one location to provide the children with shelter, food, and water. This was mostly successful. While there, the Mothers experienced a shutdown where the mental connection to the child was temporarily severed. Also, the Mothers’ programming indicated a threat, so they refused to allow the children to leave the area. One of the children, and the scientists, work together to reprogram the Mothers to re-establish a connection and dismiss the non-existent threat.

So that’s the basic storyline, and it was effective enough to keep me reading. I enjoyed the author’s narrative voice and didn’t find any inaccurate information to make me want to hurl the book at the wall. I felt like the story had been edited well, but I might have liked a bit more filling out.

When the children meet each other, there’s barely any page time about their interactions with each other. One child in particular turns out to be a bit of a conspiracy theorist, not believing that there isn’t a threat. It might have been nice to have that interaction explored a bit further, or even at all, really.

The story jumps time around, but only by about a decade. The author does an excellent job in tying the times together, bringing one up to speed after learning about the other. This style helped me to understand the timeline of the creation of the Mothers, their implementation, the development of a child from 6-10 years old, all with the pandemic in the background killing people and rushing the production of the Mothers.

While the book features some difficult language in terms of biology, DNA, and whatnot, I didn’t feel too lost while reading. I didn’t much understand some of it, but my understanding was basic enough to not get frustrated with the rest of the story.

The cast is diverse, with a spotlight on the Hopi. I very much enjoyed the gentle touch of adding First Nations people and weaving the beliefs through the book. This was done subtly enough that I didn’t feel slammed over the head with it but masterfully enough that I felt the author gave honour to their traditions. Having said that, I’m not really qualified to decide that on behalf of the Hopi.

If you’re looking for a science fiction book that’s not too heavy in science, rooted in love, and a cautionary tale of human’s interference with itself, this may be the book for you.

Blurb Book Review: The Silence by Don DeLillo (spoilers ahead)

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Image, as usual, from Goodreads.com

This book is little, like only 116 pages of big text and wide margins. The words are unjustified (rag right) which looks somewhat amateurish. I don’t know why the author would’ve chosen this, except as a stylistic choice to make the book resemble a manuscript typed on an electric typewriter from the 80’s. Oh, and it’s written in Hemingway style, which forced me to focus on every word. I read the entire thing in one sitting. When I was done, I didn’t quite know what to think.

The characters didn’t seem to be engaging with each other, only existing as separate entities in the same space. The dialogue was jarring and unnatural, the setting barely filled in, and the apocalypse is only vaguely there.

The story felt empty, like there was so much to work with and the author decided to give the reader the barest of bones. There’s an idea of an apocalypse in that a plane (with two of the characters in it) lands suddenly, and a TV (with three other characters watching) goes dark. There’s talk of what happened – no internet, phone, lights, or data – but scantly. I felt like this book was the prologue to a much larger story.

After reading I hopped over to Goodreads to see what others had to say about it, as I felt like I missed something. Boy, did I ever miss stuff.

One review rivaled the book’s length in words. I skimmed through it and realized this person had a much better understanding of the work. Perhaps if I was a literary major, or had any education past high school, I’d’ve found the same references and deeper meanings to the sentences/phrases as the reviewer. As it was, I didn’t. Instead I realized that this book is aimed toward someone who could recognize all the nuances, indulge in them, and contemplate their importance to the world at large. So, not me.

Blurb Book Review: Road out of Winter by Alison Stine (spoilers ahead)

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Image from Goodreads.com

Wow, it’s been a while since I read anything. I participated in NaNoWriMo and finished (yay me!), but my brain felt like it was melting so I took some time off from reading and writing and indulged in the plethora of movies I had queued up and ready to go.

Just as I started to feel like my brain was ready to absorb the written word again, the library informed me of some books on hold. I picked them up just before my city went into another lockdown phase, so, good timing all around. Normally I’d go through the categories I set up for myself and write up a blurb for each one. Not this time. Oh nay nay. I’m just too overwhelmed with life stuff to adhere to such strict guidelines. Instead, I’m simply going to babble like I know what I’m talking about. You know, trade in ‘perfect’ for ‘done’. More of a blurb review than an itty bitty one.


Side note: how the hell am I going to run an author’s website if I can’t even review books on a regular basis? That’s a topic for another day. For now, let’s jump in…

This book is labelled ‘science fiction’, which is probably the reason I wanted to read it. But there wasn’t much scifi to be found. If I squint really hard I can see the apocalyptic future as the reason for the genre, but that’s it.

The premise is that winter never left. There’s no indication of Those In Authority discussing the problem or attempting to find a solution. I would’ve thought the reader would be informed of why winter never left, what did humans do? Or was it an external force? We never find out, which turns out to be okay. The story isn’t about how it got cold, but how Wilodyne (Wil) manages in this new environment.

Wil lives in the Appalachian mountains and grows cannabis in a farmhouse. Her mom latched onto a grower who taught Wil everything, and it turns out Wil is exceptional at the task. She has no idea what caused the cold and seems out of the loop in regards to information. In the day and age of cellphones this had to be explained away. The author did so by saying there wasn’t much service on the farmland so Wil remained unaware of how bad things were getting. Her mom and stepdad leave for California before the book begins, Wil elected to stay behind and tend the cannabis crop.

The cold is like a second, but main, character of the book. It’s ever-present and a constant, gentle reminder throughout the novel. I could feel the cold leeching through the pages and settling into my bones as I read the words. My fingers ached as if I’d been outside shovelling or scraping my car. Excellent work by the author, keeping the theme of cold consistent and never allowing the reader to glance away from it.

The story is about how Wil decides, rather abruptly, to leave the farm and seek out her mom and stepdad in California. She hitches her tiny mobile home to the back of a truck and sets off. By this point she’s already got one tagalong, Grayson, who helps her out a bit. They pick up a couple more people and encounter a few camps, all while the reader learns that Wil might be gay and believes that men frequently pose a threat of some kind.

Overall I enjoyed the book, but it ends open and that bugged me a bit. Wil is headed for California and ends up in a greenhouse – one that’s functioning – somewhere not too far from where she started. It appears to be a nice oasis, finally: a warm and functioning greenhouse, but we don’t get to meet the people running it because the damn book ends. I suppose it can be inferred that Wil flourishes here, as she’s a grower, and will make a suitable home in the snow.

Well, that’s it. Not a bad book, not a great one either. The cold feeling will stay with me for a while, but that might be because of the snow outside my window.

Itty Bitty Book Review: Quarantine by Greg Egan (spoilers ahead)

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Image from the usual, goodreads.com

I tried to read two books before Quarantine and had to put them both down. One because it was labelled as ‘hard science fiction’ but was actually ‘slavefic barely removed from the fan fiction universe with the tiniest hint of science fiction’. It featured a drug that made people acquiescent and I wanted to know more about the development of it and what made the drug necessary in the world. Instead the book revolved around the romance of two people, one who bought the other. Yeah, bought. Not a good concept in today’s social climate.

The other book was one I’d been looking forward to because I enjoyed the author’s first book. But it featured a pandemic. While the subject wasn’t a problem for me, I couldn’t get past how the characters continued shaking hands. I mean, the book was written before covid entered our lives, and the handshaking is a minor point, but it bugged me enough to close the book.

So when I was notified that the library had Quarantine ready for me, I jumped on it. I’d put it on hold after stumbling over recommendation after recommendation to read it, so I was wondering what all the fuss was about. Plus, it features quantum physics which is a topic I’ve been looking to read.

There are a lot of complex ideas in the book, complex enough for me to have a hard time grasping them. The author presented the information well, I just think my brain filled up too quickly and felt stuffed early on. Nevertheless, I persevered.

To Start: The starting concept of the book is a near-future detective hired to solve a locked room mystery. By the middle, the story evolves into dealing with collapsing the quantum wave into one single reality. The learning curve felt steep but manageable.

The book was written in 1992, so before the Internet. This is usually a big red flag for me because technology has changed so much since then and become integral to daily lives. Most fiction doesn’t represent the near future well as it’s remarkably hard to predict. This one though, this one did a good job on showing what life would be like with mods installed in the brain. Nowadays that mod would include a connection to the Internet, but in this book the mods are nanomachines and I believe information is kept on ROMs. Oh my.

While it’s only 220 pages, it packs a wallop.

The Gloss: The cover image is a representation of the double slit experiment. In this image, the slits are the words of the title and the white is the wave pattern of unobserved particles. Excellent representation of the book.

The font was slightly squared and easy to read. Nice for my eyes.

The Characters: One main character: Nick Stavrianos, a private investigator or detective. He’s well rounded and likable. He talks to his dead wife a lot, in the form of a hallucination/hologram created by a mod in his brain. This image of her is realistic to him, but also a bit of an embarrassment that he’d even have that mod. He’s a logical thinker and pretty much accepts whatever life throws at him.

The rest of the cast was diverse enough for me to be pleased, considering it was written almost thirty years ago. None of the other characters had much of an arc, but that’s okay. The book is written in first person so I only expected to be able to follow one character’s arc.

Nick falls apart, slowly and surely, as the book progresses. He is someone who’s in control of his life and the discovery he makes about a company named The Ensemble (who he ends up working for, pretty much against his will) causes his mind to collapse in on itself. It’s subtle, how he goes from confident to questioning.

The Plot: Nick is hired to find a woman, Laura, with severe mental disabilities. She’s escaped from a locked ward at a psychiatric facility. In his investigation he shows up on the radar of the people studying her, and they ‘recruit’ him to work for them. In this world he’s drugged and wakes up with a new mod: loyalty. Because of this mod he works for The Ensemble without question. He ends up unravelling a much bigger mystery of how The Ensemble was using Laura’s disability to learn to exist without collapsing the quantum wave.

The Story: As indicated above, Nick gradually loses his mind. He begins as a fairly normal guy who’s good at his job and doesn’t question the world around him too much. During his investigation he’s recruited to join The Ensemble and is guarding someone who’s using a mod to choose the direction of silver atoms. This person is testing the mod to eventually be able to exist without collapsing the quantum wave. Steep learning curve here.

Nick’s mods falter and he learns he can ‘borrow’ her mind to move through reality without collapsing the wave, thereby ensuring that out of the millions of possible outcomes for any scenario, he will always have the most desired one. This is tested by him performing increasingly difficult tasks – like breaking into a building across town – as his confidence wavers. He ends up questioning everything and unable to simply accept the world at face value.

I believe Nick is also part of the testing program, not just a bodyguard. His mods interact with the person he’s guarding, and The Ensemble put mods in his head, so it’s likely that he’s a volunteer participant in this study as well. Although he’s told he’s just a bodyguard and he believes that.

A background story item is The Bubble. Thirty years prior, this Bubble surrounded the solar system and blocked out the stars. No reason was given for this Bubble, but late in the book it’s revealed as a parallel to the wave function collapse storyline. Somehow, aliens knew humans were collapsing the wave and so our solar system was sectioned off from the rest of the galaxy.

The World: The worldbuilding was wonderfully integrated into the story. The reader is immediately alerted to the mods (which are helpfully bolded) and their basic function. Nick explains the mods to the reader in a way that’s natural. Kudos to the author on that one.

In addition, nanomachines are mentioned as something commonplace. These machines assist the mods in mapping the brain for compatibility, which makes sense, and also regulate the body’s needs, like suppressing hunger and whatnot. This is logical.

One aspect I enjoyed was how Nick thought of his mods. He understood he had a loyalty mod which made him loyal to The Ensemble, and he knew this thinking was out of line for a person without the mod. Just like the sentinel mod made him able to sit for hours and remain alert without getting bored. He knew his thinking was altered, and that knowledge made it easier for him to accept his behaviour.

Excellent bit of worldbuilding there, the idea that the mods work with the brain’s systems, not to change anything, but to enhance specific areas to produce the desired result. Need to be on a stakeout? This mod will allow you to remain alert without ever getting bored or hungry. Nick was a cop and “primed” by priming mods that made him less human but more capable of reacting unemotionally to any situation as it rose. Sudden bomb going off? Primed mods directed Nick’s behaviour to survive and assess the situation calmly.

Nitpicks: The conclusions Nick drew were accurate, but not probable. I’ve read many mysteries and although I know that books are contrived because they have to be, Nick’s conclusions felt too pat, too easy for them to be correct, and yet they were correct. Minor point, I know. The book was about collapsing the wave function and the mystery part was the secondary aspect, but it still bugged me.

Overall: Holy cats I enjoyed this book. It was hard and rewarding. I think I’d need to reread it to fully understand some of the quantum stuff presented, but I still understood enough of what was written to enjoy the story. Although perhaps not enough to be able to give a coherent review about some of the more difficult ideas.

The author’s writing style was easy for me to read and the info dumps were acceptable. Luckily, those dumps were short and compact, which helped.

The book held up well considering it’s thirty years old. I don’t have much faith in older books when viewed in today’s light, but this one passed easily.

I think I need to buy this book so I have a copy of my own. Maybe read it again when my brain feels less full.

Itty Bitty Book Review: The Companions by Katie M. Flynn (spoilers ahead)

Image from Goodreads.com and resized because it was freaking massive.

When I put this book on hold, I had no idea I’d be reading it in the midst of a pandemic. By the time I picked it up from the library I’d forgotten what it was about or that there was a quarantine happening inside the pages. Pretty coincidental and really good timing for the author.

Any story about uploading consciousness interests me, so this was a delight to find. An extra delight was enjoying the author’s language and storytelling.

To Start: This is a character-driven book, which I adore. The science fiction part of uploaded consciousness was integral to the story and plot, but the mechanics of how it’s done isn’t the focus at all. Instead the story is told through eight characters’ experiences in dealing with companions or, in some cases, becoming or being a companion, all with a pandemic as a backdrop.

The Gloss: This is a little book at just over 250 pages. A nice, quick read as well.

The cover has an interesting pattern on it. I’m not sure if the swirls are supposed to represent partial fingerprints, glue lines (like under linoleum), or soap smears, but it’s kinda interesting. The lettering clears the smears away to reveal bits of a person. This imagery is interesting because companions are uploaded consciousnesses, so the cover could easily represent how companions are only a bit human, or that we’re given only a glimpse of their humanity.

The font was big enough for my eyes to read, which was pleasing but otherwise unremarkable. The copy I read is from the library and it was neither easy nor difficult to hold.

The Characters: There are eight. Some have a bigger part to play, some are mere glimpses into another point of view. Each character felt well developed and fully rounded, so major kudos to the author there. Diverse cast as well, also excellent.

LILAC is the main character. She’s one of the first to be uploaded and starts out in a ‘can’ and upgrades to a skinjob. The main plot line is hers.
CAM works in an elder care facility when we meet her.
ROLLY is a teenager who cares for his five-year-old brother and works on his dad’s failing farm. Because the farm is failing, the dad earns money by deactivating and incinerating/crushing discarded companions.
JAKOB is an actor who didn’t know his consciousness had been uploaded, or that a double/copy had been made of him.
GABE is a nine year old orphan when we meet her. Gender felt fluid with this character in the beginning. Established as female later on.
RACHEL is a companion that was once an elder in the care facility Cam worked in. Also, she was a friend of Lilac’s when they were teens.
KIT is Diana’s consciousness uploaded. Diana is a doctor who worked on the code to create companions. We get a pov from Kit but not Diana, which was interesting.
MS. ESPERA is a wealthy woman who’s debating about whether or not to upload. She chooses to and becomes a nanny for another wealthy woman.

The Plot: This book had a simple plot: Lilac wants to find out who murdered her. The book opens with Dahlia asking Lilac to tell her “the story” and as Lilac does so, the reader learns how she died. Lilac learns she can disobey her programming and after attempting to suffocate Dahlia’s mother, Lilac gets into an elevator and escapes. She uses the bit of information provided by Dahlia to go on a search to find one of her friends from the night of her death.

The Story: The story was more about how companions evolve over the span of the book. Lilac starts out in a ‘can’, which seems to be a tube on tread wheels with pincer grips for hands, to a ‘skinjob’ which can look remarkably human. The reader learns that companions are leased by family members but ultimately owned by a company called Metis. Once Metis learns of Lilac’s disobedience, the recall is inevitable. Many companions try to live out their lives anyway because after all, they were human before they were companions.

A pandemic is in the background, brought up lightly in bits where masks are mentioned or how life was before quarantine. The question of how the virus came to be is addressed and solved, which was nice, and that plot point didn’t have too much attention put on it, which was also nice.

The story intertwines all eight characters. They all meet at some point, but forgive me please for not remembering if each and every one meets all the others.

The World: The story is set in our near future so technology and whatnot remains the same, except for the ability to upload a consciousness into a computer/robot of some kind.

The author did an excellent job in demonstrating how we’d treat companions and how human consciousness would feel when injected with programming. It’s a hard thing to admit, but people would mistreat robots, even uploaded consciousnesses, because we don’t see them as people or of equal value. They don’t need food or rest and can be programmed to do any distasteful job, so yeah, we’d treat them poorly.

The author also addresses the changes that would take place in a consciousness. Would the person be the same before and after uploading? Mostly, but not completely. Any programming would alter how the consciousness perceives itself and the tasks assigned. I mean, some of the companions were used for sex (although this is never explicitly described) and remember, that companion was a human once, a real person, not just a computer simulation or approximation of a person.

This relates directly to ownership. All companions are owned by the company Metis and leased to whomever has the money. These were real people once, who are now in android bodies and owned by someone. This was absolutely believable to me. Horrid, but believable that we, as humans, would do this.

Gender was also touched on in the story when a companion is put into a body of opposite sex. This concept marvelously demonstrates how people aren’t just the body they occupy, but the attitudes and beliefs of the mind. Being able to hop into a different body would be fantastic. To be able to decide how you want to present yourself would be awesome.

Another aspect of the world was the pandemic that had occurred. The specifics were never discussed, nor the difficulties of transitioning into quarantine for the first time. But it was a huge part of the setting of the story. I liked this as it didn’t overshadow the characters, just gave rules for them to live by.

Nitpicks: Eight characters was hard to follow sometimes, especially because I read the book in small chunks when I had time. Once or twice I had to flip back to the last chapter with that character to remind myself of who they were. This also made the last quarter of the book a bit confusing and that part felt a bit rushed.

Overall: I enjoyed the book very much. I love reading about people’s lives and how they react to their environment/circumstances and this novel provided that for me. Each character was interesting enough and I never felt any drudgery when entering a chapter with a new perspective.

I especially loved how the reader received some insight into a character before and after uploading, but not so much that it bogged the story down.

I’d recommend this book to people that want gentle, character-driven science fiction.

Itty Bitty Book Review: The Last Human by Zack Jordan (spoilers ahead)

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Image from Goodreads.com

I’ve been looking for books featuring non-humans because I’m writing a novel from an alien species’ perspective and so much writing advice is ‘read your genre’. Xenofiction is a limited genre and while there is some out there it’s hard to find much written after 2000. I really dislike reading science fiction written before then both because of the huge technological changes that have taken place and because I’m really tired of reading books featuring mostly men.

Having said that, The Last Human is written primarily from the human’s pov. There are aliens in it, and we do get to see things from their perspective, so it counts as xenofiction. If any readers find any other current xenofiction, please let me know so I can give it a read.

To Start: This book made my brain feel good. Every loose end was neatly tied up and I felt like there was nothing missing in the story. I didn’t feel like there were extra words here and there cluttering up the pages, and I enjoyed the syntax very much. I’d read something by this author again purely because of that last point.

The Gloss: I like this cover. A human right at the center in a caution symbol and surrounded by many different types of aliens. The title font reminded me of old-timey futuristic font, back when people thought our future had hope.*

The font inside was nice and easy to read. A note at the back of the book said this is in Sabon typeface. I love when books have that little paragraph at the back about the font. No idea why I like it, but I do.

Rather than the page headers be on top, they appeared on the outside edge of each page. Interesting. It helped give the book an odd feel which suited the alien parts nicely.

The copy I read is a library copy and newish, so the pages were unmarred, nice to feel, crisp edges, and good glue.

The Characters: The main character is Sarya the Daughter, a human. Her arc is good. She starts as a human that has to hide her identity to being a human that has the courage to face whatever comes next in her life.

Sarya the Daughter makes some alien friends in her journey, and those are fairly distinguishable from each other. I never confused any of them or had any difficulty in knowing who was speaking.

All of the service drones had some intelligence, like they were AIs. They reminded me of dogs: happy to work, pleased to be assisting higher intelligence entities, and loyal/faithful. I don’t know if the author intended to give that impression or not, but I loved it. They also had some sass and that was fantastic to read.

The Plot: It was easy to follow. Sarya the Daughter starts off wondering what bleak future she has because she’s registered as Spaal, a lower intelligence species, and can’t ever let anyone know she’s human. Because of her lower tier, job opportunities are few and far between. But then someone called Observer tells her they know she’s human and asks if she’d like to meet more humans. Why yes, of course she would. This starts her tumbling off on a wild adventure to save, or destroy, the universe. Or several universes. The whole story gets really big but easy to follow.

The Story: While saving the galaxy/known existence is the plot, the story is more about Sarya learning what she can do as a human and how her actions impact galaxies as a whole.

Overall, this works. There were a few parts that felt like they dragged. The books starts with the immediate questions of why humans are hidden and why she’s the last one. These are both answered very nicely.

The author did a great job in wrapping the story up. The last chapter had a bit of review, which was nice, but not too obviously A Review Of Events. It helped remind me of how far Sarya had come and how much confidence she’d gained.

In between some chapters we had a bit of information disguised as a “Welcome to the Network” manual. This also worked well to supply a bunch of exposition to the reader without feeling like an info dump.

Also, there’s a fair portion of the book taken up by Sarya’s adopted mother’s memories. They help provide some context about what’s going on and the reader gets to see a human through an alien’s perspective.

The World: Very well developed. Beautifully done.

The author didn’t go to great lengths to explain everything, but did manage to indicate that living spaces were engineered for the widest possible array of species. This included food, water, and atmospheric conditions.

Everyone was connected via the Network, an implant in your brain. Sarya didn’t have an implant because the surgery would’ve revealed her human status. Instead she had a bulky prosthetic which was changed early on to a necklace and earbuds. The Network enabled telepathy, including emoticons, even with maintenance drones. Every entity also had a Helper assigned to them, which would be like if you had a constant companion in your head that can offer information, research, advice, or even just a sounding board. This was cool, especially since Sarya learned how to manipulate hers to provide information on humans by saying she had a friend who wanted stories about them.

Sarya’s manipulation of drones and her Helper was a bit of foreshadowing about how a much higher tier intelligence manipulated several other species, and Sarya, to end up at a specific juncture.

Tiered intelligence? Why yes. Every species is rated by intelligence level with drones being the lowest. There are five tiers of intelligence in the book, and Sarya meets someone in each tier. The author manages to explain higher intelligence well and without much confusion, and how small an individual human can be in relation to the galaxy, but also how pivotal that same human is to the galaxy.

I loved how there was no war, no fighting between species. As it’s pointed out late in the book: the universe is vast and empty so when you find others, you get along instead of destroy. Unless you’re human, of course.

Nitpicks: I don’t have any. Huh. Weird for me.

Overall: Tightly written with no extraneous information. It’s like every word was selected with care so as not to have too much additional filler. I’ll edit some books as I read them, this was not the case here. Very well done.

All plot points made sense, although some felt contrived…but aren’t all books contrived to some degree? But really, having Sarya’s home destroyed made it so she couldn’t return and had to carry on. This was good, but a bit convenient. Just like Sarya having no Network implant felt a bit convenient, but it made sense. Also, Sarya could download her adoptive mother’s memories, which was cool, but also a convenient way of adding a bunch of exposition and explanation.

I really enjoyed how the author pulls the reader from the mind of one lowly human all the way up to an entity in charge of the universe, and then back down to one human mind. That’s quite an accomplishment.

Would I read this again? Probably not, but that’s not unusual. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys character based stories with battling forces in the background.

*has anyone else noticed that back in the 1950’s the future was represented as hopeful, innovative, and interesting? Now, our future is represented with dystopia, desolation, overlord monitoring, and lack of privacy.

Itty Bitty Book Review: The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson (spoilers ahead)

The Andromeda Evolution (Andromeda #2)
Image from Goodreads.com

This book confused me at first. I saw it in the bookstore and thought, “hasn’t Michael Crichton passed?” The answer is yes, yes he did. So why is his name taking up the top third of the book? An eye-grabber no doubt. Effective too, dammit.

I was vaguely aware that he wrote The Andromeda Strain some fifty years ago but I’ve never read the book. I have, however, read many others by him and enjoyed every one. I’ve also read a couple of books from Daniel H. Wilson so I thought I had an idea of what to expect.

Because I was confused about who wrote this book and why two authors would have their names on the cover, I flipped through it while waiting in line at the bookstore. An afterword by someone named Sherri Crichton shed some light. Apparently, to paraphrase a bit, SC collaborated on this book with DHW and was excited to have MC’s world spotlit for new readers.

So, the collaborator’s name didn’t appear on the cover, but the deceased person who created the world took up the top third. Okay. I mean, I feel like that’s a bit unfair, but okay. This made me believe the book is basically fan fiction that I paid for instead of reading it for free on AO3.

Let’s jump in.

The Gloss: I bought the trade paperback size which was nice. Not too big and not too small. I really enjoy reading books in this format, so it was a delight to hold.

It has the same rubberized texture that I’m starting to see is common now. The red lettering stands out nicely on the black cover, but the silver lettering of the title blended into the background too much. It’s almost like the publisher wanted to catch people’s eye with the author name rather than the title.

There’s a hexagonal pattern evident as well, this relates nicely to the story and is effective in giving a pleasing, simplistic cover design. The Moon for an ‘o’ in ‘Andromeda’ is a nice touch, but irrelevant. The International Space Station would have been a better choice, but it doesn’t look like an ‘o’.

The pages were a nice off-white and thick enough that the print didn’t bleed through to the flip side. The font was nice too, but unremarkable. Good glue as well, giving a nice relaxed and light feel to the book.

The Characters: There were many. I won’t name them all because I don’t remember them all. The team dealing with the Andromeda strain/evolution was five. Diverse cast, something I’m interested in reading as not everyone has skin the colour of mayonnaise.

None of the characters stood out though. I don’t recall any character development and I couldn’t tell them apart in their dialogue or actions. Considering I read books for characters, this was not good.

The Plot: It was weak. Basically, the microbe was discovered by a team whose purpose it was to look for it. Once found, Project Wildfire was activated, a diverse team sent out to….eradicate it? Battle it? Study it? I’m not really sure. Twist was that the International Space Station was involved, specifically one person who spent her lifetime preparing for just this moment. There’s potential for a lot of action or tension, but the book lacked both for me.

The Story: In a nutshell, the story was about humans fighting against each other, both sides believing their view is The Right One, with an alien microbe as the false antagonist.

For most of the book, the story was about Project Wildfire’s mission to get to the microbe. Almost all of it was unremarkable. Some of the team died. They were warned off but continued. They arrived. The team discovers the microbe, which is growing out of the earth as a giant protrusion. It’s part of a power station and is evolving into a space elevator. The International Space Station would be the weight at the end of the elevator. There’s a battle between the ISS inhabitant and the remaining members of Project Wildfire. Now that part was reasonably interesting and, in my opinion, could have been expanded a great deal, but it was in the last bit of the book.

The format of the story is reconstructed/recovered footage. Sometimes this can work. It didn’t here. I knew humanity as a whole survived because someone assembled all the data for the reader to view. This removed the threat of the Andromeda Strain away, successfully decreasing any tension.

The World: This is our world with an alien microbe that exists in our atmosphere. That’s all we’re told. It attacked humans with one strain and matter with another, and those two strains pretty much ignored each other. There wasn’t much mention of how the strain impacted humanity or space travel, and the strain was kept confidential. I was disappointed in the lack of world building here.

Nitpicks: Oh my. Here we go. I had several nitpicks with this book.

Let’s start with pov problems. Here’s a direct quote for me to nitpick:

“Putting the dream out of his mind, he focused on the brightening jungle outside. He must have felt a sense of raw anticipation. As a child raised by a daredevil scientist, he had finally, at the start of his fifth decade, found himself joining an adventure to rival his father’s.”

That first sentence allows the reader a glimpse into the character’s head. He’s putting a dream out of his mind. Okay, I can accept that. But then the second line, about how he ‘must have felt’ a sense of raw anticipation…..no. The author already allowed us into the character’s head. It’s jarring to read how the same damn character ‘must have felt’ rather than telling us how he felt. Or showing us, which would have been better all around. Point being: the phrasing felt amateurish to me.

Also, this bit: “child raised by a daredevil scientist” bugged me. All characters had descriptors like this. To me, it’s just lazy writing, like the author can’t be bothered to develop a character and instead trusts the reader will believe this description without any kind of backup activity/action/demonstration.

Next, the dialogue had a lot of exposition. On a television show, characters frequently state things that they should already know. Mostly because the medium doesn’t have time for a lot of backstory and it’s a good shorthand to get the story moving. Books, however, have the time. Sometimes I can forgive it, sometimes I can’t. I couldn’t here:

“It wouldn’t,” said Stone. “A weapon like that only works if the microparticle spreads everywhere life could possibly evolve–all over the galaxy–lingering in the upper atmosphere of any planet or moon with an atmosphere. It’s John Samuel’s Messenger Theory–one of the first ideas put fort by my father to explain the Andromeda Strain.”
“Clarify,” said Vedala.
“The Messenger Theory was proposed as the best, and possibly only, way to communicate…..”


Stop. Just stop. Don’t authorsplain something. Find a better way of including the information from the previous book or create better dialogue so it’s not so obvious that the author wants the reader to know this bit.

Also, the bunny-hopping of time was annoying to the point that I had to forcibly tune it out by page 50. This is where the author provided new information, then went back to explain something, then back to new information, but wait let’s go back again and give old information, then new information and so on. I believe the author could have found a better, smoother way of integrating information from the original book.

Yet another nitpick was the foreshadowing. It was heavy-handed and much too frequent. Like the author was always saying, “oh look here! Look at this! Remember this part!” Very annoying. There simply wasn’t enough time to build tension before yet another dollop of foreshadowing.

Speaking of tension, there was none. At no point in the entire book did I feel like I was on the edge of my seat or wondering what was going to happen. I wasn’t invested in any character and didn’t care whether they lived or died. Even the twist was meh. Actually, the last bit of the book, when the team discovered what the mircoparticle did, was somewhat interesting. The real story began there. In my opinion, the chunk before that should have been edited harshly, then extend the battle between the space station and Earth.

Am I done with nitpicks? Oh nay nay. I felt like this book didn’t see a professional editor. An example of this was a toxin introduced on top of page 123. This toxin is used by local tribes to hunt monkeys. Then, at the bottom of page 124 it’s mentioned again and explained again that the toxin is used to hunt monkeys. I felt like the author couldn’t trust the reader to retain the information. Again, amateurish. I really wanted to throw the book at the wall over this but I just painted and I didn’t want to wreck the new coat.

On to some more nitpicking. Setting this book up as an exploration through recovered footage does not allow for describing a recurring dream of one character. The two are jarring together. The only way I could see this as a resolved issue was if we, the reader, followed the dreamer exclusively throughout the story. No head-hopping, no omniscience, just living inside this character’s head to flesh out the documents and footage. This was not the case in the book. So, so frustrating. Also, while I’m on this topic, the dream itself was reasonably relevant, but the author never addressed why this character would have this dream, why it would recur, and whether or not that recurrence was due to the microparticle or just plain luck.

Hoo boy. Here’s another one: footnotes. I don’t mind them, sometimes the information adds something to the story. Here, though, some didn’t, so why were they there? Why would the author include a footnote about the US Navy and tobacco sales? Why? Does this serve any purpose in the story? No. Was it interesting? Somewhat, but it’s complete irrelevance to the narrative made it a distraction that yanked me out of the story.

I’m almost done. Last point: don’t include pictures in the book. Just don’t. As an author it’s your job to explain something to me in a manner in which I can picture it in my mind. Am I going to picture it exactly as the author intended? No. But that’s okay. You don’t need to have a ‘recovered’ photo of a space elevator, or a diagram of the International Space Station, or a diagram explaining a fulcrum. Although, yes, this book was formatted as recovered documents, so I guess the one photo could be allowed as a piece of recovered information. The diagrams, however, were irritating and unnecessary.

Overall: I had to drag my eyes through this book. I wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t paid actual money for it. I’ve read other books by this author and don’t remember being quite so frustrated with the text. Maybe I was though, maybe I blocked it out. I definitely wasn’t reading with a critical eye like I do now though.

As I prepared to type this review I re-read the afterword and remembered it was a collaborative effort. My harsh, salty, last thoughts are: the book was poorly constructed, badly told, and weak in story. I expected better from this author and I don’t know if the poor result was because of collaboration or because the author lent the name to the book while it was ghostwritten by someone else.