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

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Did I get the image from Goodreads.com? Of course!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where did the image come from? Goodreads.com!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where did this image come from? Goodreads.com of course!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where did I get the image? From Goodreads.com of course!

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

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

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

Humans had a different plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blurb Book Review: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (spoilers ahead)

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Yes, this image is once again taken from Goodreads.com

This is another book I read without remembering what it was about or refreshing my memory by reading the jacket flap. I ended up enjoying it quite a lot.

The story is told through the eyes of Klara, an AF (Artificial Friend). This is done so well that after a few pages I could hear her contented tone in every word. She’s obviously programmed to be helpful, kind, polite, and content and that’s reflected in her attitude throughout.

Klara is also programmed, I think, to worship the Sun. This is in part because she recharges using solar power, but somehow comes across as a religious belief. She frequently refers to sunlight as the Sun’s nourishment and she believes it to be a cure-all. Later in the book, Klara decides to ask the Sun to help Josie, the teenager who chose her, to be well. Klara decides that a sacrifice must be made for this to happen, this sacrifice being the disablement of a pollution machine. As a reader, I could see why this wouldn’t work, but to Klara, this absolutely would. She freely donates some of her cerebellum fluid to disable the machine, at the suggestion of Josie’s father. Again, as a reader I could see the father was manipulating her a bit, but she was intent on stopping the machine so she agreed to have the fluid drained.

Oddly, the sacrifice worked. Josie got better.

Better from what is only somewhat clear. Children are lifted, I assumed genetically, to be more intelligent. This lifting caused Josie’s illness. Because everything is from Klara’s pov, the illness is never really explained. Late in the book it’s revealed that Klara’s purpose is to accept an upload of Josie, should Josie die.

Klara stays with Josie even long after Josie no longer has the time or room for her. Josie promised her early on that she would never put her in a closet, but once Josie has other friends, Klara finds a utility closet all on her own and stands in there to be out of the way. After Josie goes to college, Klara lives in the Yard, which is clearly a junkyard. But she never complains, never finds fault with her situation. She’s just pleased to be of assistance.

There’s a background story too, one of the rise of AIs and people’s general paranoia of them, but it’s not explored in depth because Klara’s concerns are with Josie, not the surrounding world.

Information is revealed to the reader by dialogue that Klara both participates in and overhears. I must say, this is where the book faltered for me. Klara’s dialogue was excellent, her voice clear and interesting, but every other character said things in a manner I found false. It was clear to me that the author was just trying to convey information, which annoyed me a bit.

Overall though, I enjoyed this book. Klara is a gentle protagonist and while treatment of her was not always kind, her responses were polite. I’d recommend this book for people that enjoy a different pov and are okay with not knowing the details of the world building.

Blurb Book Review: The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey (spoilers ahead)

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Picture copied from Goodreads.com, as usual

I absolutely loved this book. I started reading it and had no desire to put it down until it was done. As usual, I didn’t read the inside flap of the book so I couldn’t remember what it was about. Because of this, every twist was a surprise for me, and delightful surprises at that.

The narrative style was fantastic. Rich descriptions without using a lot of words, punctuated by a main character who is an island of one, the book felt like Evelyn, the main character, was telling me how she arrived at a particular point in her life.

This reminded me of another book, one with an unreliable narrator, who was telling the story as if to make the reader/listener feel compassion for some truly horrendous acts. I genuinely thought this book would end differently, that I would find out Evelyn did something extreme and awful and the story was her justification of her actions. But it wasn’t, not really.

Evelyn is an award winning scientist. Her research is in cloning people. She can grow a complete replica of another person in about two months. Conditioning the clone is part of the deal, where she helps the clone to ‘remember’ events so the clone can behave as the person expects.

These clones are supposed to be used for organs or to take a bullet, definitely not for long term use. They aren’t considered people, so ethics are as firm as they can be.

Evelyn discovers her ex-husband, Nathan, has created a clone of her, named Martine. She had no idea Nathan had done this, had only thought he was interested in hearing about her research. The author skillfully created Evelyn to be a product of an abusive household, one where the mother tends to the father’s every whim and the father expects Evelyn to conform to what he wants in a child. Evelyn learned to be invisible, to not take up space, to not ask certain questions. This conditioning carries through in Evelyn’s life outside her mother and father, demonstrated by her blindness to Nathan’s cruelty and subterfuge. But also from her lab assistant, Seyed, someone she trusted and felt completely herself around. It’s eventually revealed that Seyed has been stealing supplies for another company and also assisted Nathan in creating Martine.

Some readers might be frustrated by Evelyn’s blindness to the people around her, but for me, this character felt wonderfully well written. Martine as well, she was Evelyn but also not Evelyn. Martine was a blank slate, trained to behave in a specific manner.

Martine breaks through her training to become her own person. She also gets pregnant, something clones shouldn’t be able to do. When Martine questions Nathan about this, about whether or not she was conditioned to want a child, Nathan reacts by trying to kill her. Martine kills him instead, then calls Evelyn in a panic.

They deal with Nathan’s body and soon need another Nathan because if his murder were to get out, Evelyn would lose everything she’s worked for, so they clone him. This is where I thought the book was going to go down a dark, dark path, but it didn’t. The ending, while satisfactory, also could have been written to demonstrate much more disastrous consequences to Evelyn’s actions.

Still, I loved this book. Normally I dislike any title with wife, mother, or daughter in it as it usually indicates that the main female character is only a person in relation to the husband, child, or parent, but in this case, the title was remarkably spot on. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes navel gazing and a deep view into what it’s like to be the product of long term abuse.

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

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Image from the usual place, Goodreads.com

I read a previous book by this author and was delighted to find out this one was xenofiction.

An alien race finds out that a human, Andrew Martin, has solved the Riemann Hypothesis and that just would not do. They sent someone out to ensure this information didn’t spread through humanity, and that someone is the narrator of the story.

The alien takes the form of Andrew and attempts to adjust to being human while trying to delete all evidence of the solved hypothesis. This alien was to murder anyone with whom Andrew shared the knowledge.

At first disgusted by humans, AlienAndrew grows to enjoy the company of the son, Gulliver, and the wife, Isobel and chooses to keep them alive rather than kill them. This, obviously, causes problems.

The author manages to highlight a lot of the dichotomies of being human and does so in a manner that never let me forget that the main character is an alien. There’s a lightness in the narration of heavy concepts, which I found delightful.

The book is remarkably moving, well written, and a curious glance into what it means to be human. Definitely would recommend to anyone.

DNF: Machinehood by S.B. Divya

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DNF. Stopped at page 9.The reasons why bugged me so badly I had to type this out.

A direct quote from page nine, italics are the author’s: “Jack Travis had been a mentor, almost a father, and he’d never talked down to his squad in spite of getting ripped by other men for leading a bunch of girls.”

Okay, stop. Just stop. This book takes place in 2095. Gender neutral pronouns are used. Diversity is shown by the author telling the reader about the character’s ancestry. More on that in a moment. All that, and men are still being ripped for leading ‘girls’? Not, say, ‘women’? Or maybe, ‘people’? FFS why in hell’s bells would a man be teased for leading a squad of not-men? WHY? If the author can include diversity and gender neutrality, the author can omit ancient ideas about how girls aren’t as good as boys in the military. For that matter, while I’m ranting, the author’s choice of the word ‘girls’ is a tad degrading. As in, ‘throw like a girl’ is an insult to men because it indicates the man is weak. ‘Women’ at least indicates adults, ‘girls’ just sounds like prepubescent people.

Now for the rant about diversity. Do I love diversity in novels? Yes, yes I do. The world is made up of a glorious mix of people and that mix should be shown in all media. I understand that describing characters can be difficult without having that character look in a mirror and describe themselves, but I really do dislike it when the author takes an easy way out. In one segment from page 2 & 3, the main character Welga’s lineage is discussed. Literally. Welga asks a vendor how they know she isn’t Indian. The vendor explains that because they’re human, they can see past Welga’s brown skin and dark hair to notice nose and cheek shape. Just before this exchange is the quote, “The mix of Russian and Mexican in her parentage usually made it hard for people to guess her origins.” Oh thanks author, for sounding somewhat patronizing and condescending at the same time while very obviously pointing out the non-whiteness of the character. Ugh! There are better ways of describing characters, ways that don’t feel so amateurish.

/end rant. YMMV.

Blurb Book Review: Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley (spoilers ahead)

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Oh yeah, cover is from Goodreads.com

This book was recommended through Goodreads and involved aliens, so it was right up my alley. Besides, how could I say no to a cover like that? So bright and colourful 🙂

The book felt like it was going nowhere for longer than I’d prefer. The story was told in snippets and it was a bit difficult for me to keep up to what was going on. It all made sense eventually, but I could see why some may not finish the book. I enjoyed it overall though, and would read it again, especially now that I know how it all fits together.

Let’s start with the characters. Two of the three main characters run a bar/inn called Skyward Inn. Jem is human. Isley is Qita. They’re both veterans of the war between their planets. Skyward Inn is inside the walls of the Western Protectorate, which is a walled-off area that doesn’t participate in technology or politics. The Protectorate is where Devon, England is now.

The third character is Fosse, Jem’s son. Jem gave him up practically at birth to join the military. Fosse lives with his uncle Dom, who is Jem’s brother. The parent/child relationship is nonexistent. I didn’t feel like Jem had any connection at all with this person she brought into the world. I had the impression she might have liked to get to know her son better, but made little or no effort to do so. This boggled me, but I can forgive it because the author had a different story to tell.

At Skyward, people enjoy drinking Jarrowbrew. This is a concoction of Qita and helps relive memories with exquisite clarity. The story opens with Jem drinking some to relate a story of her impressions of Isley’s homeworld. As the story progresses, I had the feeling that Jem wanted more than just friendship with Isley, but the mechanics weren’t possible. Qita species isn’t really described much, except to say they’re blue-skinned and humanoid.

The war was somewhat peaceful. Qita surrendered easily and without fight. Humans thought they won, but they didn’t, not really. Qita welcomes new arrivals because they absorb them and become one big mass of organic matter. But this isn’t revealed until near the end of the book.

The hint is that three new arrivals to the Protectorate do a magic trick where they can merge hands. They lay their hands upon each other and become one. Separation is possible in the beginning stages. Humans think this is a disease. They quarantine the affected area, but there’s no stopping it. Qita don’t fight it at all. This is part of their evolution process. They merge with other species and themselves, then are separated from the whole to live again.

Memories are shared by all during this merging. Time is also a non-issue during the process. Jem begins to merge with Isley so she can experience her son Fosse’s future memories as he hikes with a Qita guide to learn about their planet. Ultimately, Jem chooses not to join the merging. There’s no expectation that anyone must join, it’s always presented as a choice. Fosse, however, struck by being the last human around after the hike with a guide, does choose to join the merging. From what I understood, all of Earth was merged as well because Qita and Earth are connected by a Kissing Gate in space. So the surrender of Qita was actually the first stage of what humans would call an invasion. By the end, humanity is mostly (or all) wiped out.

The novel left me with questions, but in a good way. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good twist (although I spoiled it here, but the title warned of that). The details were revealed in a way that felt linear and satisfying, but it was hard to get into.