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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I bought this book because my library is still closed. Don’t get me wrong, I want it to be closed because of a tiny virus making a big impact on the world, but I do prefer to borrow a book rather than buy it. I rarely read a book twice and just about never read it more than twice, so buying them seems a bit wasteful. Except they fill shelves and it’s nice to have a physical reminder of the words I’ve consumed, I suppose.
Anyway, I was glad I bought this one because I might like to read it again, now that I know how it ends. I suspect this book will reveal things to me that I didn’t see during the first read, and that I’d understand better now that I know the ending.
Forewarning to readers: this book was a bit disturbing.
The Gloss: This is a little book. Smaller than a trade paperback, larger than a pocketbook, and only 213 pages. The pages are soft, the typeface (thankfully) sharp and clear. Pleasant to hold and easy to read.
The cover is made of that nice, slightly rubberized stuff that’s popular right now. It makes the book feel like my fingers can grip it easily and without sending my fingertips into sensory overload.
There’s a fracture in the title. Nice and subtle, but there nonetheless. This is an excellent representation of the main character’s fractured personality. Not too broken, just slightly, uncomfortably, off. Well done.
I also like the image of the kinked hose. From my perspective, that image reminds me of one of the minor annoyances of life. I mean, has anyone else felt that grumbling irritation of having to unkink a hose? In addition, the kink indicates a pressure buildup, but one that’s contained. There will be no explosion, no debris scattered everywhere, just a rush of water the instant that the line is free.
The Characters: Thomas is the main character and the book is entirely from his perspective. He’s detailing his past to the reader, explaining why he did what he did, how he arrived at one particular decision.
Miriam is Thomas’ wife, Ava his daughter. Both are presented entirely as Thomas remembers them. The author maintains this perspective throughout, enough so that it’s a bit frustrating as the reader. I wanted to know things from Miriam’s pov, or even Ava’s, but I also know that additional perspective would’ve tainted the story.
There are other, tertiary characters, like his mom and sisters. The mention of his dad, but not too much. Instead, the author demonstrated the impact the father had on Thomas without Thomas saying too much about him. Enough to know that the father was abusive to the children, and that Thomas had a few of the more unpleasant traits like controlling behaviour and narcissism.
Readers do get a glimpse of Thomas in how other characters react to him. Or, more accurately, how he remembers people reacting to him. One scene describes Miriam talking to a group of people, how easy and relaxed she looked, until she saw him. Then she flinched hard as if struck. Thomas waves this away, makes excuses for what someone else might think is a hint of abusive tendencies.
The Plot: Simple and elegant. No extraneous plot lines, no plot points left without explanation.
Thomas has everything: prestigious job at an advertising firm in Manhattan, wife and daughter, and is a devoted family man. His ego is rocked and he does something horrible that he can never undo. The book details his introspection leading up to the pivotal event.
The Story: Beautifully told with rich language. Tidbits of foreshadowing are doled out just often enough to add a sense of foreboding. As a reader I was never rushed to learn something, nor ever left wondering where the tidbit led.
Thomas goes back and forth in time during his introspection but the reader is never left wondering when he’s talking about, nor are the transitions sudden or difficult.
Nitpicks: I didn’t have any. Nothing stood out as annoying or out of place. The only thing would be the near constant opera references, but those serve to highlight how Thomas views himself, so they have a solid purpose. They were abundant though, and for someone like me who knows absolutely nothing about opera, the author gave enough information that I wasn’t frustrated by the references.
Quick edit: The book has no quotation marks for dialogue. While this can be confusing, it fit well with the formatting of the story. Also, quotes weren’t required as Thomas was relating the dialogue to the reader, rather than have the characters speak for themselves, which also reflected the story well.
Overall: This book is excellent. Early on I had the sense that Thomas was an unreliable narrator, that perhaps the image he was presenting was false, but it was subtly done. Enough so that I could identify with him on several occasions, and felt bad for him.
I loved the language used, the way the author describes everything. Ani Katz is an author I’d read again regardless of content.
It took me a while to finish this book. Actually, if I’m honest, it took me a while to even start this book. There’s a lot going on in the world right now, plus I managed to get a job, so my time’s been limited.
I borrowed this one from the library because I really liked the author’s other book The Gone World. I will read any genre if I like the author, so I figured this was a sure bet.
I was wrong.
The Gloss: I like the cover art here, but I thought the book might contain elements of inter-dimensional travel or alternate worlds. It did, sort of, but not in the way expected.
Otherwise, I have nothing really to say. The typeface wasn’t remarkable, nor were the pages.
The Plot: was so confusing. The book started with a murder mystery, kind of a hard-boiled detective drama, and ended with a conspiracy….I think? I admit that I read this book in fits and starts so maybe I couldn’t hold on to the details of the plot like I would’ve if I’d read it in larger chunks. But there were several things going on and somewhere just after the middle I got lost.
What I do remember is that the plot of the person who died took a back seat to the plot of covering up other deaths. Maybe. I really need to talk about the world before continuing.
The World: People have implants in their brains called adware. This is a spiderweb-type interface that allows the user to overlay virtual reality with actual reality. This was awesome and well constructed. Pop-up ads invaded the character’s life, which absolutely would happen and would be targeted to the user.
This adware also comes in the gleaming, fantastic, expensive version and the low-end version, also very accurate to what I’d expect. Well done.
A huge part of the world is a city, Pittsburgh, that had been blown up ten years prior. The main character’s spouse and unborn child died in that explosion. With adware, the characters can visit the city any time they want. All footage is provided by an archive project to preserve what was once there. I can definitely see this happening, even at the loss of privacy to the residents.
The Characters: The story followed one, John Blaxton, as he tried to solve a murder. Everyone else was secondary with every woman being beautiful.
The Story: The cybernetics kept me reading through the confusing plot. I enjoyed the way the main character wanted to stay in the virtual world and how it affected his daily operation. I didn’t enjoy the number of times I read about how beautiful a woman was. That got pretty old.
Nitpicks: Apparently the book was written in journal style, which I didn’t know until I read a review on it. I didn’t like it. No I did not.
The author used more emdashes than I personally like to see. Every conversation was fragmented, every idea cut off. This broke the flow up for me and made it really difficult for me to follow along. Now that I know the book is supposed to be a journal it makes more sense, but the story ended up feeling discordant to me.
Overall: I was disappointed. I couldn’t follow the plot, the story kept referring back to Pittsburgh and that bugged me. Yes, the city blew up, but it didn’t need to be mentioned as much as it was. I felt like the author couldn’t trust me to remember the bombing of the city.
As for the discordant feeling, well, if I pretend like I have adware attached to my brain then I feel like I’d be interrupted often also, so there’s that. Maybe the author wanted to portray a disconnection feeling or constant interruption feeling through the body of the story. If so, then success! If not, then frustration mounted early.
After attempting to read four other books, I made it through this one. Why? Mostly because of the author’s voice.
I know a lot of people will chose books by genre or subject matter, but I will often chose by the author’s writing style. Well, that and character development over plot development. This book is a good example of that. Let’s get started.
The Gloss: The cover art fit the story quite well. I wasn’t sure about it but the more I read the more I understood the artist’s choices.
Four leaves could represent the four daughters nicely, but could also represent how the book is quartered into seasons. Note the leaves are in varying stages of decay.
Genres seem to have specific art formats and this one fit the general fiction category.
The rest was disappointing. Nothing special about the font, or the texture of the pages/cover. I borrowed the book from the library and the cover had the standard plastic over the dust jacket. The glue to bind the pages was strong and the book heavy.
The Characters: are many. There’s the main couple and they’re four girls, plus the tertiary characters. This is a lot to keep track of but the author did a good job. Multiple points of view were presented in each chapter but it flowed surprisingly well.
Thinking of pov, what stood out was how well the author managed to view everyone through different eyes. Each character had a different view of each other, just like real life. I mean, you know your own life and your own choices, but how someone else views you could be remarkably different than you would believe. The author represented this beautifully.
Each character is wonderfully well rounded, something I appreciate in a book. I could understand each character’s motivations and behaviours with ease. Delightful .
The Plot: Um, I’m not sure of the main plot line. This isn’t a bad thing, I don’t mind a meandering story.
I’d say it was about a woman who got married, had four children, and experienced life with a man she loves.
Another plot line: one daughter gives a child up for adoption and that child re-enters the family’s life. How each character deals with that child is demonstrated. I was wrong about who the father of that child was though. The author hinted that the child’s mother had sex with someone another sister would find upsetting. I guessed the father was the sister’s new husband and I guessed wrong. But I didn’t mind being wrong. By that point in the book I was in it for the character development and not the Big Reveal.
The Story: was about the characters, and I really enjoyed that. I felt as if each character was presented softly, gently. Even at their roughest points I felt as if I was viewing them through the hazy lenses of memory.
The author gave a huge amount of information about each character, but did it in a way that I found easy to track and understand. At no point did I wonder who was talking or which head I was in.
I’d also classify this book as gentle erotica. There were a lot of references to sex. Having sex, talking about sex, and enjoying sex, all without explicitly describing sex.
Nitpicks: If I saw one more emdash I was going to throw the book at a wall. This drove me absolutely bonkers. I felt like the majority of dialogue was interrupted, jarring, and hesitant and it irritated me to no end. I get it, people talk like that in the real world, in incomplete sentences and repetitious phrases, but I read a book to escape my real life. I wanted to yell at the author to just let the damn characters speak.
The two main characters, Marilyn and David, were in lurve. I got that early on. Cool. No problem. But I was so sick and tired of reading about their sexual life that my eye sockets hurt from the orbs rolling around in there. This couple had sex like they were new-ish lovers throughout the book. Always ready for each other, making out like teenagers, semi-public sex, all good things but seriously pulled me out of the story after a while. I was expecting their sex life to change much more than it did.
Overall: Very enjoyable. The book was like a slow, epic saga without being an actual epic novel. I was in it for the character development and wasn’t disappointed. Each person grew and changed throughout and interacted with each other in a realistic manner.
But dammit older couples just don’t make out like teenagers at every opportunity. I had a hard time accepting that tiny bit.
I’ve read a lot of book reviews and many don’t cover some of the elements I’d like to know. So, with that in mind, my Itty Bitty Book Reviews will include those elements. Things like cover art, how the book feels in my hands, world building, general impressions of the characters, and possibly memorable moments. Basically just a mishmash of what I want to say about the book. I prefer physical copies of books because the story isn’t the only part of the book to have personality. Other elements like the weight, page appearance and feel, typeface, and glue help me grasp this portal into a new world.
Please keep in mind that I’m not a professional editor, just a reader who likes books. Now let’s begin.
The Gloss: Let’s start with the colour. Oh my goodness I cannot rave about this enough. The photo doesn’t do it justice. This outstanding bright blue is a definite eye-catcher. I’d like to paint every wall in my writing room this colour. I mean, that might be overwhelming, but still. This colour is amazing.
The texture is rubberized somehow. Not a lot, not enough to feel like the book is sticking to my fingers, but enough that the book feels warm and cozy in my hands. The image of the fingerprint isn’t rubberized, it’s pleasantly smooth. The black chosen for the lettering stands out against the stunning blue in a way that draws my eye away from the blue.
I love the fingerprint as the ‘O’ in the title as well as the background image. This gives a visual of the plot very nicely.
The glue to hold the pages to the spine is gentle, so when I open the book and hold it in my flat palm the book stays open. Someday I’ll learn the right terms for this, the kind of glue and the effect it has, but that day isn’t today. By the way, my arthritic hands really appreciated the gentle glue. It made reading the book a delight as I was able to simply lay it flat on my desk instead of hold the pages.
The pages themselves are delightfully textured to give a gentle feel of recycled paper. Not too smooth and not too rough, the parchment colour was easy on my eyes. The pages were thin enough to see the reverse side’s text through, which was a bit annoying at first but I got over it fast.
I loved the font. Easy to read, structured, and even. I don’t know the typeface and there wasn’t a note at the back of the book, but whatever it is, it’s pleasant.
The Characters: …are two dimensional. I didn’t see much of an arc for any of them. The husband of the MC was irritatingly congenial about having had his body taken over by his wife. I’d’ve had a lot of issues with that and he seemed to get over it pretty fast. None of the characters grew much or had much change happen. I felt like many of the characters were simply vessels to move the plot forward.
The Plot: The story jumps between current day and past, but in a way that’s easy to follow. I think of the overall plot points as bunny-hopping, which can be good. Each time there was a problem, a solution occurred right away, with the exception of the main plot line which was revealed in bits. I didn’t mind this bunny-hopping until near the end. By that time it was tiresome and I’d think, “oh look, a problem, solution’s gotta be a few pages away”. I felt exhausted by the end from the sheer number of mini plots or obstacles to overcome.
The Story: Different from points on a map like plot, the story of being able to project your consciousness into another person is interesting. “Big Corp” takes over and develops the technology while the underdog fights the Big Wigs. Giant spoiler: underdog doesn’t quite win. The ending is a bit vague and didn’t give me the satisfaction I’d hoped for in taking down a huge corporation. Judging by the structure of the plot points, I felt like the ending was a solution to a problem that would simply net another problem, as had happened so many times before.
The World: The author did a fabulous job in developing the world. I mean, let’s think about this: if you can hop into another body then biometrics would be useless for security. Travel by plane would also become rare instead of the norm, and renting out your body for money would be prolific. The author even addressed the underground economy, the ‘dark share’ idea that people would hop around into other bodies for nefarious purposes and the hosts would be paid well for the time.
The author also addressed the concept that some wouldn’t be able to host or hop into another body. This helped flesh the world out nicely. I always like to see a good consequence to an action.
Because the world was so well laid out, I can see fan fiction being created out of it. I definitely felt like I didn’t get to spend enough time meandering around in the world and would’ve liked to read more of the character’s experiences with body-hopping. While a lot of this fanfic could be smutty – I mean come on, someone hopped into another body, there’d be sexy time stuff happening on a grand scale – a lot could be a deep dive into occupying a young body or going on an adventurous vacation.
Nitpicks: Some things bug me in books and pull me out of the story. In this case, it was the author’s use of underlining instead of italics for emphasis. This jarred me every single time.
Another tiny nitpick is the structure of dialogue. Occasionally there’d be a line spoken by MC, then two sentences of what MC is doing, then another line of dialogue by MC. I had to check to see who was talking each time because, to me, if the same person is speaking and the speech is bracketing action it can all be done in the same paragraph. “New speaker = new paragraph” comes to mind and isn’t used in the book.
Overall: I really enjoyed the book. I love books about consciousness/body sharing and found this one to be an easy read with a good story line. I may read it again sometime, and that says a lot as I don’t generally read the same book twice.