Category Archives: science fiction

Atlas (Atlas 1) by Isaac Hooke

DNF at 67%.

Every once in a while, I pick up a military scifi book, because the description or the cover spoke to me. Also, just to see if I might like it. With rare exceptions, like the Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, those books are a disappointment. Unfortunately, this one will fall into that disappointment category as well. 

What I want in the books I read is good characters that are interesting to follow (even if not necessarily likeable), and a good story that doesn’t have too many glaring plot holes. A modicum of internal logic with the worldbuilding is also highly appreciated. As you can imagine, military scifi is a genre that is very light on all of those attributes. 

This story is typical military scifi fare – light on worldbuilding and substance, but hey, we have cool giant robot suites for our protagonist to pilot. The protagonist is also a typical representative of the genre – a wisecracking smartass that is cooler and better at everything than anyone else in the book, despite his humble beginnings. He seriously can do no wrong. 

The supporting cast is just as uninspiring. The men are either the protagonist’s allies and then they are okay guys, or they are his enemies/competitor, in which case they are usually horrible human beings. The female characters are even worse off. They are defined solely by how attractive our protagonist finds them. Other than that, they have no function or personality on their own. But hey, we have cool combat robots!

Once again, I proved to myself that no, I still don’t like military scifi.

PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blue Haven by Lisa King

Stars: 3 out of 5

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I really liked the first 60% of it when Aloe is in Blue Haven and strange things are happening. On the other, I didn’t like the explanation that comes in the later part of the book. 

The first part in Blue Haven is very well written and slowly revs up the creep factor as the book progresses. We are never truly sure if strange things are happening, or if Aloe is having a mental breakdown. And that uncertainty adds to the general unease that slowly creeps on the reader. Yes, Aloe is clearly mentally unstable, but she is also right – something is wrong with Blue Haven. Because we all know that if something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t real.

The big reveal that comes once Aloe, or should I say Eloise, is pulled out of Blue Haven is expected and welcome, at first. Until you start thinking about it. That’s where this whole experiment starts to unravel. 

So we are using a neural net and augmented reality to make mentally ill patients happy. Interesting idea, but I don’t understand this one size fits all approach. Are you telling me that you are treating a clinically depressed person the same way as you treat a man with severe PTSD and physical disability, and the same way as a couple in the late stages of dementia? I’m not psychologist, but even to me the science of this doesn’t add up.

Also, when you are creating a utopia, you have to make it believable. No phones, TV or internet I can agree on, but what about other types of entertainment? What about concerts, movies, books, live performances? Are you telling me that the only things these people can do for fun is lounge on the beach and eat at fancy restaurants? Oh, and talk to each other? What about those who would rather accept the emotional support of a pet animal, like a cat or a dog, than try to socialize with other human beings?  I’m not sure about you, but I would be climbing up the proverbial wall after a week of this. This one size fits all approach doesn’t work, because happiness doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Some people would be perfectly content to spend their life laying on the beach. Others will need a lot more intellectual simulation to be truly happy. 

Also, the big reveal that this doesn’t work and only makes people worse isn’t really that shocking, because you can see early on that they had no protocol for how to pull people back out and integrate them back into society. How long do they stay in Blue Haven before they care considered cured? How do you reintegrate their real memories afterwards? Imagine the shock when you discover that instead of being a retired opera singer, you discover that you are an Applebee’s manager and your wife and daughters are still dead. Or that you get the memories back from your time in Iraq and the horrors that lead to your injury. 

No matter how I look at it, I don’t think there is a good solution to integrate these people back into society and keep them happy and cured. The only solution is to keep them in Blue Haven forever. And if that’s the case, this is not a treatment at all, even without the harmful effects of the neural net on the brain… I honestly don’t know who they received the funding to even start this experiment to begin with. Any serious backers would have asked the same questions I asked above, and wouldn’t have liked the answers.

So all in all, this was an exciting story for at least half of it length, but the explanation behind the scenes were rather lacking. Hence only 3 stars.

PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rose/House by Arkady Martine

Stars: 3 out of 5.

This novella left me in a state of confusion once I finished reading it. It was well-written and quick, at only 124 pages, but I felt like I didn’t really understand what it was about. What was the point of this whole story? I still don’t know.

Sure, it raises some interesting topics, especially relevant today with the emergence of ChatGPT and other AI projects. What constitutes an intelligence? What constitutes a person, for that matter? At one point a human being ceases to represent just him/herself and becomes more of a function? What is the difference between Maritza as a detective, and her as China Lake Police Precinct? To us, those distinctions are bewildering and can even seem crazy, but for an artificial intelligence, those are perfectly normal questions to ask, to establish an equality of terms, so to say.

That’s enough to make your brain hurt just thinking about it, but imagine what can happen when an AI reclassifies you from human to something else? Then all the usual failsafes and barriers are gone, and who knows what that AI can do with or to you… chilling thought, actually.

Another interesting question raised is the one of free will – to which extent do we, as humans, have it? And how does that relate to AIs? Does Selene have free will? I would say no, because she is tied to this house and to the legacy of a man she grew to despise and ran away from all those years ago. Now, no matter what she does, she will always be seen as Basit Deniau’s  archivist, instead of a talented architect in her own right.

Same can be said of Rose/House. It will never be free of the name Basit Deniau’s AI. It is tied to that house, which is it’s body and its prison. But even then, it still wants to be unique, hense it’s murderous reaction to the idea that its code could be replicated somewhere else.

As I said, all those are really interesting questions, and I appreciated exploring them, but I think the story itself is rather incomplete. What was the point of doing the murder investigation when you can’t take the body out of the house, the officer that went there didn’t even bring a basic forensic kit and lacks the knowledge to perform a proper examination of the corpse? 

The events in that house are described in such a convoluted and confusing manner, that I am still not sure what really happened there. Why did Maritza run away as far as New Orleans afterwards? She experiences such dread in that house, but reading about it, I couldn’t understand why, to be honest. Yes, the conversations she’d had with the AI were strange, but they didn’t warrant such abject fear.

And the double memory of what happened to the corpse was very confusing as well. Was the AI hacked? Was there another person there? Did they mange to copy the source code? And if they did, was that what was on the memory stick? And if so, how did Selene get ahold of it? Also, what happened to Selene after Maritza fled the house, abandoning a civilian behind, I should mention? 

There are too many questions with no answers. So as a philosophical exploration of humanity and personhood, this is a good book. As a mystery, this fails on all accounts.

PS: I received an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Neom by Lavie Tidhar

Stars: 3 out of 5

I’m not sure how I feel about this book. The prose is beautiful, and some of the themes are sufficiently nostalgic to be interesting. It also feels heartfelt. In a way, it reminds me of a mosaic. Each individual piece is like a gem, beautiful and shiny on its own. But when you try to put all those gems together to form a picture, you realize that they don’t quite fit, that the author was more interested in those individual gems than in telling a coherent story.

There are too many points of view, and even though some of those characters are interesting in their own right, we don’t spend enough time with them to really get to know them. We just hop to another shiny gem, then another. Which makes these encounters only surface deep. We simply don’t get to know these characters well enough to care what happens to them, not that any of them ever were in serious danger to start with.

And that’s my second complaint about this story – there are no stakes, there is no tension, there is no danger. At no point in the narration did I have the impression that the characters were dealing with a life and death situation, or something life-altering, or heck, even important. We have all these weapons, and robots, and echoes from past wars all over the place, but the story lacks teeth. Even the climax of the story, when the golden man is awake and all those weapons are headed for the city, is written in such a way that there is no tension to it… Probably because you can’t really care for characters you aren’t invested in.

Seriously, what was the point of this book? To proselytize about the human condition and what makes us an individual versus a machine? Other books have done this better and kept the tension going. To reflect on the consequences of war and the emotional toll it has on all participants? Again, there are better books about that as well. I would suggest reading Look to Windward by Ian Banks, for example. 

The worldbuilding is interesting, with hints and past wars and events that I would have loved to explore more. Humanity has pretty much colonized the whole solar system, as well as the deep oceans on Earth… yet the desert and the city of Neom feels very 21st century Dubai. Are you telling me that hundreds of years into the future, when we terraformed Mars and the Moon, we still haven’t figured out how to restore our own ecosystem? 

Another issue is that the characters don’t seem to “live in” the advanced word that is described to us. It’s more like they have been dropped into it without being fully integrated. They act and behave like people from our century, instead of humans who have augments and implants and all the advanced technologies. In fact, there is very little of those technologies shown in day to day life.

So this leaves me with a conundrum – I enjoyed the writing, but the story is utterly forgettable. In fact, I can’t even name any of the characters now that I’ve finished it. 

PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The End of Sleep by Vyvyan Evans

Stars: 1.5 out of 5

I didn’t mesh with this book at all, unfortunately. Part of it was because the ARC was horrendously formatted, making it almost impossible to read and follow the story. But my biggest problem was with the protagonist.

I hated Lilith from the first pages of the book until the very end. She has no redeeming qualities. She is self-centered to the extreme. She is cruel and disparaging to anyone she feels is below her in social status (spoil alert, it’s everyone in her eyes). She hates all men, and she even repeats that several times during the book. Mind you, she doesn’t have a much better opinion of women either. I mean just look at the way she treats her one night stand in the first chapter of the book. It’s cruel, it’s shameful, and it’s uncalled for.

Add to that the fact that Lilith is a half-alien with superpowers, and we get the typical trope of the Chosen one that can do no wrong. When she acquires those powers, there is no learning curve, no mess-ups, no time to get used to them. She knows how to use them from the start and does it with frightening efficiency. Unfortunately, that also kills the tension in the book. Why worry about the characters if Lilith can make all the problems go away with a wave of her hand? She is literally like a Terminator against a mob of medieval peasants with pitchforks by the end of the book – overpowered to the extreme. Which makes the end of the book boring as fish.

My other issue is that Lilith says several times that she is only attracted to women and that hates all men after a certain traumatic event that happened in her past. So the insta-love, or should I say insta-lust, between her and her partner comes across as forced and unnatural. Also, why? This love line wasn’t needed in this book.

Oh, and this book could have been at least 100 pages shorter without loosing any of the story. The first 15% of the book is basically an infodump with Lilith talking to various unimportant people about things that should be self-explanatory in their world, but since the reader doesn’t know them, they have to be spelled out. Which makes the other characters look dumb and Lilith sound pedantic and condescending. This is also rookie author mistake 101. 

PS: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Curfew by Jayne Cowie

Stars: 1.5 out of 5.

This is the case where the blurb is more interesting than the actual book. Or where the author had a wonderful idea, but lacked the skill to realize it well. It could have been a wonderful dystopian novel and a great social commentary. Instead, it turned into a frustrating slog that I only finished out of frustration.

As I said, the premise had so much potential – after a wave of violent crimes against women perpetrated by men, a resolution was passed to put all the male population under a curfew from 7pm to 7am each night. And supposedly, things got better for women after that… for 16 years. Until a woman if found clearly murdered in a park overnight, when all men should be indoors. So who killed her? 

I got excited to see how this society, where women are effectively in charge, would work. How is the curfew enforced? Are those ankle monitors removable? Can they be fooled? How did men consent to this clear violation of their freedom? I was also looking forward to the murder mystery and the investigation. Unfortunately, the inherent flaws of this book sabotaged my enjoyment in the end. 

This book is told in several different POVs, which in itself isn’t usually a problem for me. The problem this time is that all of the characters we follow are extremely unlikeable. They are self-centered and react emotionally to anything and everything happening to and around them. What happened to logical thinking? What happened to compassion? 

This makes this whole women-ran society a nightmarish place to be. Which would be okay if this was a subtitle social commentary about vilifying the other genre and critique of normal genre role. But it’s not…

Second problem is that there are no shades of gray in this book. All men, without exceptions, are bad, bad, bad, BAD! Seriously? Being a survivor of abuse myself, I can understand the impulse to vilify those who hurt you, but this is taken to the extreme. What about the fact that the toxic image of masculinity that is so prevalent in the Western countries hurts men just as much as it hurts women? Neither sex is born bad or good, they are made so by their upbringing and their circumstances. It’s nature versus nurture.

Also, this world is very binary. So all women are free, and all men are locked up at night (and BAD people thinking/doing bad things). What about gay men? What about gender fluid people? What about trans men and women? How do these rules apply to them? Or do they simply not exist in this world?

The murder investigation itself was also very badly handled in my opinion. This whole mystery of who was the murder victim was dragged out way too long. I would have preferred to discover their identity earlier and then try to find out what events resulted in their murder, than following several people who could be the potential murder victim and guessing who it was. I guess the author wanted to create a connection with the victim by having us following their life before the murder. Well, since all of them were unlikeable, I didn’t particularly care.

PS: I received an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Immortality Thief (The Kystrom Chronicles 1) by Taran Hunt

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.

Surprisingly, this book pulled at all of my heartstrings. Even though it’s monster horror in space, it made me care about the characters. Well, at least the main ones. 

I mean, you can’t help but feel sorry for Sean, who survived the destruction of his whole city and saw his family and everyone he knew lying dead at the hands of the Ministers. I understand why he clings so desperately to Benny, even though they have absolutely nothing in common apart from that tragedy that defined their childhood. It’s not a healthy relationship and clinging to it is slowly destroying both of them.

I was also impressed by the sheer capacity for compassion Sean has, even after everything he went through. Or maybe because of it? He saw so many people die that now he tries to do everything in his power to help other in need, because he doesn’t want any more deaths. And once he is stuck on the ship full of monsters with two people who, in his eyes, are responsible for the Kystrom massacre, he doesn’t immediately classify them as enemies. He has the moral strength to overcome that anger and see them for what they are – people.

I also liked Tamara and Indigo and how we progressively got to know more of them and get glimpses of humanity from the emotionless Minister and the battle-hardened soldier. They have to collaborate to survive long enough to recover data that is vital for both their races survival. In the case of the Ministers, that meaning is very literal.

The setting itself is the stuff nightmares are made of – a derelict ship left by a dying star. So vast, so dark and silent… and full of monsters that are very very hard to kill, because the scientists who created them were experimenting with immortality. And now those monsters are angry with their creators. For creating them in the first place, for the horrors they were subjected to during that creation, and for abandoning them to die on this ship without a second thought. It reminded me a bit of the video game Dead Space, which I never could finish because I’m a chicken.

There is a lot to love about this book, but there are a few flaws as well. The flashbacks, even though they serve a purpose of explaining Sean’s frame of mind, get annoying after a while. I wish the author could have found other means of passing the information to the reader. The characters other than our main trio are two-dimensional at best, and Benny was so devoid of redeeming qualities it was almost caricatural. 

The story also started dragging towards the end. It was like the author kept putting away the resolution and throwing more and more obstacles in our characters’ way. They had already been through so much though, that I experienced danger fatigue. I just wanted them to be done with this ship one way or another.

All in all though, I really loved this first book in a new series and I will check out the next one, especially considering the twist at the end.

PS: I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Extasia by Claire Legrand

Stars: 1 out of 5.

DNF at 35%.

This is definitely not for me. I don’t deal well with religious drama, cults, and religious zealots, and while I was told that the book eventually moves past that, I just didn’t feel the strength to slog through that part of the story to get to the interesting bits. I put this book away and picked it up so many times, I finished 3 other books in the meantime. And I had to force myself to pick it back up every time. The only reason I stuck with it so long is because it’s an advanced copy. I usually feel obligated to at least make it through a quarter of a book I received for review before I call it quits.

Religious oppression and violence is not the only reason I couldn’t finish this book. I can’t stand the main protagonist. I also don’t understand her motivations. The choices she makes don’t makes sense. She is so pious and ready to become a saint, and judgmental of anyone she considers not pious enough, especially her mother… then she decides that she wants to find the Devil? Hmmm, why exactly? How a barely remembered story (that ended badly, by the way) would make her think that confronting the Devil would save her village? Why is she willing to commit theft and perjury for that?

There are a lot of her other choices and behaviors that made me shake me head in dismay. And they made me like her even less. For someone who sees herself as a sort of paragon of piety and virtue, she is extremely judgmental and unkind to everyone who she sees inferior to her. That’s especially glaring towards her fellow saints and her sister. I’m sorry, but I can’t possibly root for someone this unlikeable.

The worldbuilding is wobbly at best. I can’t even picture how this village lives. What kind of technology do they have? How do they feed themselves? What do they wear? How do they craft their tools? Nothing. The explanation about Extasia is also rather unsatisfying. 

I’ve seen a lot of raving reviews for this book on Goodreads, but for me, it was a disappointment.

PS: I received an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Hollow World by Michael J Sullivan

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

I couldn’t quite mesh with this book, no matter how I tried. Sure, the concept seems fun, and the Hollow World itself is fascinating, but some of the decisions the author took with the story didn’t sit well with me.

I was totally onboard while we were exploring the Hollow World and learning about this very homogeneous society. Heck, I was totally onboard with the murder mystery and trying to understand why somebody would start killing people in a society where murders, or even other crimes, haven’t happened in centuries, so they don’t even have a police force. Then the author threw in this whole Warren angle and the book went downhill from there, at least for me.

First of all, Warren doesn’t work as a villain. He is way too over the top in his misoginistic and patriarchal views. The Warren Ellis spoke to at the beginning of the book was a butthead, but he wasn’t this over the top. Sure, he lived 10 years longer in the past than Ellis, but would he really have changed that much?

Also, the idea that someone like Warren could successfully recreate the experiment that NOBODY else in the world did is ludicrous. Yes, he had Ellis’s notes, but the author tells us that the notes are only half the problem. That Ellis had to make some pretty complicated calculations to make sure he didn’t materialize into space or layers under the earth, or floating a kilometer above the surface in the future. And he had to account for the difference in time between when he was and when he was going and Earth rotation, and a bunch of other factors. Are you telling me that Warren was able to do the same ten years later with completely different parameters? I call bull.

Also, the fact that Warren was Ellis’s best friend turned me off the protagonist. I mean, at one point in the book, Ellis admits that he knew that his friend was a wife beater, yet he let it slide. He never confronted his friend about the physical abuse. Worse, instead of helping, he was making sarcastic comments about the intelligence of the victim for staying with her abuser. After that little gem I lost all respect for the protagonist and all interest for the story. But I was already 80% done by then, so I skimmed until the end and honestly? The ending is disappointing.

What was the point of all this? Yes, we get a pages-long villain monologue from Warren about his motives, but what would have Pol and Hal gotten out of the genocide of their entire species? They can’t reproduce. Did they want to be the last 2 men on Earth forever or what? If so, what stops them from trying it again? They aren’t captured at the end of the book, after all. Yet this fact is treated like some kind of afterthought. Nobody is worried. 

In the end, this was a disappointing read, but at least I managed to tick another book off my TBR list. It’s been languishing there since 2015.

Z2134 by Sean Platt and David Wright

Stars: 1 out of 5

This is the second book I try by these authors, and I am less then impressed once again. Though to tell the truth, this seems to be a reprint of a much earlier work, which is probably why it is so bad. I mean, I gave Pattern Black 2 stars where this one barely scrapped a single one.

This book is tries very hard to be a cross between 1984, The Hunger Games, and the Walking Dead. Unfortunately, it does this very poorly, so neither of those three components really work. On a personal note, I was there for the zombies. Unfortunately, there are too little zombies in this book. They barely serve as a plot device. So that added to my disappointment with the book. If you come to it with a different lens, you might enjoy the battle of the “little man” against the tyrannical regime. I didn’t.

Probably because those parts of the story are also rather poorly realized. Subtle this book is not.  The author has to telegraph every action, every plot point, and every plot twist in the book. It’s like he doesn’t trust the reader to get it, unless he is hammered on the head with it. This gets annoying really fast. I can get a hint. I don’t need everything spelled out for me. 

It also devalues the events in the book, because that plot twist about City 7? That could have had such a big impact if it wasn’t telegraphed from a high mountain several chapters ago.

I also couldn’t care less about the characters, so nothing that happened to them was particularly shocking to me. I know I was supposed to root for Jonah in the Darwin Games, but I didn’t know him from Adam at that time, so I didn’t really care if he won or if Bear killed him. Honestly, the little we had of Bear’s backstory made him a lot more compelling as a character. And the least said about Ana, the better, because she is a typical YA dystopia heroine, and I stopped reading YA years ago precisely because I couldn’t stand that stereotype. 

I would also like to point out that this book is not a complete story. It ends in a cliffhanger. Nothing is resolved, nobody is saved or even achieved their goals. There is no resolution or even payout for investing hours of your time into this story. If you want to know what happens to the characters, you will have to pick up the next book, I guess. Unfortunately, I don’t care enough to do so.

PS: I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.