Blurb Book Review: Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke (spoilers ahead)

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Gerald is looking at a spreadsheet when he gets sucked into Slack. It takes a while for him to convince his workplace friend to believe him, then go check on him. Even after Pradeep finds him, the rest of the office doesn’t really believe he’s in there. Instead they think this is just some elaborate overuse of the company’s new work from home policy.

While that’s happening, another coworker complains of constant howling. She goes missing and it’s like she was never there. Only one other person interacts with her so the question becomes, did she really exist?

Okay, this book is delightfully weird. The entire thing is written out as Slack conversations, including emoticons. The plot is simple and the execution interesting. This is a delightfully refreshing read.

Blurb Book Review: Mickey7 by Edward Ashton (spoilers ahead)

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Mikey Barnes is immortal. Well, sort of. He’s an Expendable, someone who is expected to perform the most dangerous jobs associated with colonizing a planet. When he dies, his body is put into the corpse hole where it’s broken down to its base components. Then another body is grown, complete with his consciousness.

This is Mickey’s seventh life.

During a mission he falls down a crevasse and into a possible lair of creepers – caterpillar-like entities that live underground – and is deemed unsalvageable. Except he’s rescued and when he gets back to his bunk he discovers Mickey8, the newest instantiation of himself.

The subject matter is what drove me to this novel. What an interesting idea, to have an Expendable on board to eat the local cuisine, breathe the air first, and even clean out radiation-thick areas of the ship. The author explained all of this well enough for me to simply handwave away a lot; like anti-matter engines and humans regularly going on one-way trips to colonize other planets.

I would consider this Sci-Fi Lite, if that’s a thing. There’s just enough science to explain things and the main focus is the lead character attempting to figure out how to live with a copy of himself, all while dealing with creepers, a hostile environment, and a ship crew that mostly see him as an abomination.

This is a fast read, with large font, easy sentences, and a tight plot. Some of the backstory dragged a bit, but was important enough to the overall plot line to keep it interesting. I found this novel to be a good example of how much science to include to keep the reader in the know, when and where to give backstory, and how to keep a lean plot.

Overall, I enjoyed this as a bit of science fiction fluff.

Blurb Book Review: Semiosis by Sue Burke (spoilers ahead)

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A group of people travel to another planet to live in harmony and peace. They encounter sentience in ways they hadn’t predicted.

The first generation of people live a hard life of eking out an existence on this new planet. One of the members of the second generation finds a settlement left by another species; a village of glass blocks and rainbow bamboo. The first generation people believe the bamboo – who provided delicious fruit – is trying to trap the humans there and argues against living in the settlement. A small battle ensues and many of the humans go to the village to begin a new life that includes less hardship and more time for pursuit of pleasure.

The bamboo is sentient and knows these new humans will provide gifts in terms of fertilizer (poop) and water. This information was garnered from moths that bit the humans and brought the little chunks back to the bamboo to analyze. The bamboo helps the humans by providing enzymes and nutrients that aren’t available otherwise. It also helps them with medical concerns and in return, the humans cultivate seeds of the bamboo and plant them where indicated.

The worldbuilding in the book is fascinating. I was engrossed throughout as the novel switched perspectives from humans to this bamboo. Both wanted to live a comfortable life and both assisted each other, sometimes reluctantly. The animals and plants were fantastic and richly described so that I was immersed in this new planet every step of the way.

The novel is told over seven generations. Each chapter is like a peek into a new generation or character and references events that happened off the page but are still relevant, like the computers failing and deaths from accidents. These references were a bit frustrating – I’d have liked to read about them – but I understood they’d make the book tediously long.

The conflict is gentle, for the most part. It’s the struggle of humans living with each other and dealing with differing opinions on important matters. One huge difference of opinion is tracking down the ones that originally made the settlement – the Glassmakers – and how to interact with them.

I almost didn’t want the book to end. I really enjoyed reading about the new creatures and how the humans dealt with petty squabbles amongst themselves, all on a colourful backdrop of a rainbow bamboo and glass village. I’d actually like to see this book made into a TV series.

Blurb Book Review: Upgrade by Blake Crouch (spoilers ahead)

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I’m just blasting through books! I have a stack of five more that I want to get read before they’re due back at the library.

I’ve read two other books by this author and I must admit, this one was easier to follow even though it was science-heavy. But easy to follow doesn’t necessarily mean good.

The novel is about upgrading human DNA to improve both physical and mental aspects. The narrator’s mother was a geneticist who tried to improve crops but ended up killing around 200 million people. Genetic engineering became outlawed and the narrator, Logan, is arrested for his part in the massacre. He serves time and gets hired by a government agency intent on locating anyone participating in gene editing.

When Logan is the victim in a bombing, his genes become altered via a virus. He becomes a kind of superhuman. The government captures him and observes him to track the extent of his changes. While the changes are setting in, a mysterious figure breaks him out. This mysterious person turns out to be his sister – also upgraded – who wants to follow in their mother’s footsteps and upgrade all of humanity. He believes he must stop her at any cost.

I had no connection with the main character. I didn’t care about him at all, which made it hard to care about the story. I also found the author’s style to be a bit distracting. This novel was definitely easier to follow but I had a sense of general misogynic threads. As an example, Logan was seeing a psychologist named Aimee. Not “Dr. –“, but Aimee. Also, Logan’s wife, for no reason at all, gets into a bathtub with Logan while he’s in pain from the upgrade. Why would she do that except to have the reader imagine her naked? A regular bathtub barely fits two people, which made this whole scene just a bit distasteful.

The author also used nouns as verbs. The character ‘glassed’ the area (looked through binoculars), and ‘badged’ in (used a security badge to electronically open a door), and ‘broomed’ the area (swept it). While I can accept these, they did pull me out of the story a bit.

Overall, it was entertaining enough to finish. I was curious about how Logan would save the world, but I admit I rolled my eyes at the solution. While it was good, it was also a bit hokey.

Blurb Book Review: City of Orange by David Yoon (spoilers ahead)

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This book left me thinking about loneliness, being alone, and survival.

Adam wakes up in some sand surrounded by cement, with a head injury and no idea who he is, where he is, or what’s happened to civilization. He finds a strange key in his shoe and a bottle of pain relievers in his pocket.

Assuming the world has ended somehow and that he’d been attacked by someone, he begins to figure out how to survive until he can remember things. He finds a few tools in the flotsam of the dried up river and a faucet with running water. After a short time he also finds someone’s shelter under a bridge. Inside the shelter is a camping stove, matches, and some canned food.

Anything that brings memory back is pushed away. Can labels are removed and he pulls himself out of memory as quickly as possible. He knows that whatever is lurking in his head is bad and he’s just not ready to face it yet.

While surviving, he encounters a young boy, Clay, who becomes a sort of friend while Adam tries to navigate this new world.

What got me was how Adam was alone and nobody seemed to be looking for him. He had no phone and no thoughts of one, except that they were things people had Before. Before what? The reader isn’t told until near the end.

Everything is explained, slowly, in little bits, in a way that satisfied my curiosity.

This novel made me think of our online world and how if we simply stop posting something, we just disappear. If we have no contacts in real life, our disappearance is barely noted. Some may wonder where we are or what happened, but our attention is quickly taken away by some other tidbit of information swirling around us.

It also made me think of how alone we are even when surrounded by people. Sometimes an event will shatter our world and even though we’re reeling, others are carrying on with the mundanity of life.

Excellent book, highly recommend it.

Blurb Book Review: The Shimmering State by Meredith Westgate (spoilers ahead)

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This story takes place in a world where memories can be extracted and put into pill form, called Memoroxin. These pills can be consumed by people and they’ll experience those memories as if they were their own. This process becomes part of a new medical therapy for Alzheimer’s patients, where they can experience their own memories in hopes of repairing the mind or at least staving off the disease for a while.

The pills are also used recreationally by others.

At no point in the narrative did I read that consent was given by the memory’s owner to be shared. The implication could be that people voluntarily sold their Memoroxin pills for money, but other than that, each consumption of the pill, when it was someone else’s memory, was without consent.

On to the characters.

Lucien moves to Los Angeles to be with his grandmother while she undergoes this treatment for Alzheimer’s. His mother died of cancer very recently and he’s still raw with the loss of her.

Sophie moved to Los Angeles to advance in ballet. She got the lead in a production, La Sylphide.

Dr. Sloane runs a rehab clinic for people who have become addicted to Memoroxin, as well as heads up the research for Alzheimer’s patients.

Lucien sees his grandmother’s pills and yearns to feel closer to his mother. He steals a few of the pills and consumes them, learning about a secret his grandmother had as well as how much love his grandmother had for him and his mother. When his grandmother dies he takes the remainder of the pills all at once.

The novel opens with Lucien entering a rehab facility and agonizing over a secret baby. From this intro, I thought the novel would be about revealing the secret and the consequences of that action. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. The secret is revealed to the reader, but the information goes nowhere. Lucien doesn’t use it for anything other than to feel closer to his grandmother.

Sophie works as a waitress while not training for her performance. There, she sees others spaced out on Mem. She also spies a particularly distasteful man, Ray, who is a mover and shaker in Hollywood. He regularly uses Mem and encourages young actors to do the same. Sophie doesn’t like him, she merely tolerates him.

Her personality is somewhat irksome to me, but I’ll admit she’s a well written character. She’s anxious and is the kind of person that goes along to get along. At one point, Ray corners her into accepting a drink with him.

She knows he takes Mem. She knows he forces it on others. Yet she accepts a drink with him rather than have him mad at her. After all, he can make one single phone call and she’ll never work as a waitress again. This bothered me so much. There are plenty of restaurants in Hollywood and what, he could ruin her chances at earning minimum wage plus tips? This storyline felt weak.

Anyway, she accepts the drink and, surprise surprise, it’s laced with Mem. The memories she ingests are violent cravings for injuring people. These violent tendencies linger after the Mem wears off, enough that she seeks out more Mem and cannabis to numb herself. She spirals out of control and ends up in the rehab facility run by Dr. Sloane.

Dr. Sloane is barely more than a secondary character, but it’s worth noting that while she and her partner developed these pills, she ingested some of her partner’s memories. She saw herself, unflatteringly, through her partner’s eyes. At her rehab facility she treats a man named David, who turns out to be her daughter’s boyfriend.

During treatment, the patient is given a pill bottle full of their own memories. They take them in a controlled setting to help heal traumas and even erase disturbing memories.

Dr. Sloane’s daughter, Remy, takes David’s pills as a way of remembering him. Dr. Sloane finds out by accident, just before Remy is hit by a car. Brain damage results and Remy is taken to the rehab center as the facility deals with memory loss and brain injury. Dr. Sloane takes it upon herself to remove all of Remy’s memories of David under the guise of protecting her daughter.

Then Dr. Sloane takes her daughter’s pills, the ones with the memories of David. The author writes that Dr. Sloane feels like she understands her daughter more as a result, and even knows that this action is a violation.

I almost threw the book at the wall.

So the doctor, who took the pills without her partner knowing, also takes her daughter’s memories away and consumes them for herself and is somehow supposed to be sympathetic to the reader? No.

The other two characters, Lucien and Sophie, fall in love at the facility. When they leave, their memories of the facility are erased. They find each other anyway afterwards and start to fall in love again.

I could have been satisfied there. If this book is considered a love story, well the circle is complete, the couple is together.

But the author ties up one more thread.

Sophie goes to the restaurant/bar where Ray is hanging out. She’d selected one of her post-therapy pills that was thick with her disgust for this man, her and her coworkers’ contempt for him, and her overall loathing for him. She crushes the pills and slips them into his drink.

So, she was violated by being drugged with horrible memories and her reaction is to violate him with distasteful memories. The author gives the impression that Sophie is proud of herself, that Ray will feel these awful feelings and they will impact him in the same way the violent memories impacted her.

But they won’t. Why? Because of the person Ray was. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t care what a bunch of waitresses think of him. Their opinions are beneath him. I’m sure he’d feel awful for a moment or two, then shrug it off as ‘a bunch of bitches’ or some such thing.

That ending left a foul taste in my mouth. Revenge is never a good answer. While in this novel you can make a person feel what you feel by ingesting their memories, you can’t forever change their outlook on life based on that dose. How a person reacts to feelings, emotions, and memories is just as important as feeling something someone else feels.

Anyway, the narrative style was rich with imagery while also feeling like the author was telling me the story. An odd combination that frustrated me throughout. The concept was interesting though. Extracting memories and consuming them is fascinating.

I really didn’t like lack of consent throughout though.

Blurb Book Review: The Book of M by Peng Shepherd (spoilers ahead)

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This book was fantastic, multi-layered, and engrossing. I’m honestly not sure where to begin.

The plot: People are losing their shadows. Without warning and without prejudice, the shadow just detaches and vanishes. When someone’s shadow is lost, they can do magic.

They can re-route roads, create walls of water, put wings on antlers, or make entire areas disappear. But there’s a cost: the loss of memories. The pull of magic is almost too much to resist, so the person will eventually forget what food or water is and perish.

While the book is told from four character’s perspectives, two stood out to me.

The first was Max. She loses her shadow two years after the phenomenon begins and decides to leave her husband, Ory, and the safety of the abandoned hotel they’d been holing up in. She takes her tape recorder with her and dictates her memories. While travelling she meets up with others who are heading to New Orleans, where they’d heard there might be help for the shadowless.

The author did a fantastic job of writing the slow loss of Max’s memory. At first Max doesn’t seem to be forgetting anything, but once her memories are noticeably failing, they degrade rapidly.

The second was The Amnesiac. This is a character who, just before The Forgetting incident, was in a car accident and lost all his memories. Diagnosed with complete retrograde amnesia, he recalls how to speak, what to eat, and whatnot but has no personal memories. While he’s told he loved sailing, it was just data to him, not something where he could feel the salt spray on his face.

He works with a doctor and the very first person to lose their shadow. As The Forgetting progresses, The Amnesiac tries to continue the doctor’s work of searching for a way to re-attach shadows to people. These new shadows don’t hold the memories of the person, though. A shadow of a rock will make a person comatose. A shadow of a book will give false memories.

The Amnesiac is able to use the dictation to create a new shadow, but does that shadow belong where it’s stitched? The author had me guessing right up until the reveal, which was fantastic.

I want to read this again, just to see if I can pick up the clues of the ending sooner. Also because the author’s rich worldbuilding had me engrossed from the first page to the last. Excellent book, and I’m eager to read more by this author.

Blurb Book Review: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel (spoilers ahead)

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It’s been a while since I read a book. I’ve been working on a synopsis for my novel and I must say, that document was harder to write than the actual book.

Like previous books by this author, this novel tells the story in alternating points of view that are woven together. By the end, everything is tied up in neat little knots, which is something I admire.

This book is about time travel and how one person, Zoey, believes they are living in a simulation because of an anomaly that happens where three timelines overlap briefly. At first, the reader is led to believe the anomaly is caused by a maple tree, the location of the two earlier timelines. This turns out not to be the case.

The time travel aspect of the book is one where no matter what you do to alter the past, you have done already. Gaspery doesn’t follow instructions and ends up creating the very anomaly he’s investigating. If he hadn’t created it, he wouldn’t need to investigate it.

Thankfully, the book doesn’t go into any technical discussion about time travel or physics, instead it’s more of a backdrop to the exploration of how our actions have consequences and how we’re frequently unaware of what ripples we’re creating.

Good book, definitely in line with the others the author has written.

Blurb Book Review: The Seep by Chana Porter (spoilers ahead)

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What a fantastic book. Absolutely wonderful.

The Seep is a gentle alien invasion. The entity merges with humans to make them happy and give them peace. Police officers are no longer needed and jobs aren’t mandatory. People can grow wings, hooves, and unicorn horns. In addition, the environment changes so that if you drop dirty clothes on the floor, the floor washes and dries them.

Humans’ relationship with animals change as well. Pets are willing companions and not leashed. Animals are no longer bred to be eaten.

Trina and Deeba are married. Deeba announces she’d like to be a baby again and receive the love she didn’t when she was a child. Trina is unable to accept this change, and actually seems to feel there’s too much change already. She barely enjoys everything The Seep has to offer because The Seep took her wife from her. Deeba goes through the transformation anyway and Trina plunges into depression and becomes neglectful of herself and her environment.

When Trina meets a boy who’d never experienced The Seep (these people live in the Compound), she gives him directions, then decides to find him. Make no mistake, she’s not looking for him to help him, she’s looking for him to help her.

The book is immediately engrossing and the worldbuilding rich and intricate for such a little book. I’ll be buying this one so I can read it again and again.

Blurb Book Review: The Unfamiliar Garden by Benjamin Percy (spoilers ahead)

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This is the sequel to The Ninth Metal. I found it to be much more engrossing than the first.

To recap, a meteor struck Earth and left behind a ninth noble metal, one that has kinetic energy properties.

This novel follows the path of a couple: Nora, a detective and her husband Jack, a biologist who studies mushrooms. Their daughter Mia goes missing on the night of the meteor and this apparent abduction tears the couple apart. Nora dives into her work and Jack becomes a shell and almost ruins his career.

Five years after the meteor and the loss of their daughter, it rains heavily and mushrooms start popping up everywhere. People become infected with the fungus (grossly, but still interestingly) and begin killing each other in what looks like a ritualized fashion. Nora investigates the murders while Jack investigates the mushrooms.

The first book is referenced most of the way through this one. There’s nothing to tie them together except the meteor. None of the characters from the first book appear in this one. They’re both in the same universe, both involve the metal, but both have different story lines. But they both lead to the same thing: the creation of a door.

The first book had this door made of metal, created by the metal-eaters. This one was a door created by mycelium. This mycelium door is actually a kind of coffin for the daughter, Mia, who is miraculously still alive. She infects her parents by giving them some fungus to eat and they become a kind of hive mind.

This novel was much more interesting to read. The characters were easier for me to relate to and the story a bit easier for me to follow than the first novel. I’m looking forward to the third installment.

Of note: this is the fist book to mention COVID outright. Masks and sanitizer are mentioned, so is Seattle’s reaction to the virus. I was pleased to read this bit of actual history in a novel, and pleased that one character still wore a mask afterwards.