Blurb Book Review: Dead Space by Kali Wallace (spoilers ahead)

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Image pulled from that wonderful place, Goodreads.com

This is a locked room mystery, in space.

Hester Marley is the main character, who was a survivor of a ship explosion. She received medical care and prosthetics, as well as indentured servitude to pay for those prosthetics. Her job and life shifted from being an AI programmer to an investigator for a company that doesn’t care about solving crimes, just sweeping stuff under the rug.

Another survivor of the explosion, and a friend of hers, David Pressenko, is found dead on a mining asteroid with less than a dozen inhabitants. Shortly before his death, he sent Marley a cryptic message. She goes to investigate his death and gets caught up in a terrorist plot.

I love mysteries even though I sometimes have trouble following all the clues. I like that the clues are subtle and I like when all the loose ends are tied up, but I do find it frustrating when there are too many diversions. This book had too many diversions. It was hard for me to keep track of what was an important clue and what was just information.

I felt like the first quarter of the book was backstory. Every time something new happened, the reader was treated to Marley remembering something about her past. This information was relevant, absolutely, but I found it annoyingly long in places and was happy when the plot finally started moving forward. The pacing was slow at first and ramped up significantly toward the end.

Everything does get tied up neatly, with a surprise or two thrown in for good measure. The book is written as though a sequel could take place but also could stand alone.

This book was listed as LGBTQ+ because the main character was a lesbian, her partner in the investigation is a gay man, and her former/part-time lover is non-binary. There’s no romance in the book – thankfully, as it wouldn’t fit well – but it’s mentioned here and there.

The non-binary character was written so smoothly that it took me a couple of pages to realize the pronouns were they/them. I loved this, I absolutely adored how seamless it was to read a non-binary character this way, as just another character and not someone who needs to be pointed out to the reader or put in a spotlight.

Overall, the book was good enough to hold my attention and make me want to keep reading, even with the frustrating way the backstory was integrated.

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

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Oh look – an image from Goodreads.com!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Book cover from my favourite place, Goodreads.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where oh where did I get this image? Goodreads.com!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.