Category Archives: Science Fiction

Sixteen by Jen Estes

Here is a tale of teen angst with a twist. You have the social misfit who despite her lack of popularity, is best friends with the prom queen and dating the Captain of the Football Team that she met while fulfilling her court mandated community service as punishment for buying drugs (sleeping pills) from an undercover cop. To complicate matters, the one person who provides emotional support has run off with her obnoxious foster sister. Sounds like your typical YA novel, yet there is a whole other story written between the lines which moves Sixteen by Jen Estes up a notch from normal expectations.

Those of you who read Fifteen, the first novel in the Dreamwalker Diaries Series by Jen Estes are familiar with Ashling Campbell, a Dreamwalker who is the only one that can stop the depraved Jumlin from achieving immortality for himself and his spawn, thus gaining the ability to enslave or destroy mankind. Luckily this can only be attempted once every fifteen years and requires the help of the reincarnated Laughing Bear who is human despite being a descendent of the Jumlin. The Dreamwalker is able to travel 15 years forward through time in order to find a way to thwart these potential cataclysmic events. Their progeny is then burdened with the same task until the Jumlin either succeeds in his task or is destroyed.

In Fifteen, Ash discovers that the Jumlin is actually, Walker Smith, the supposed father of best friend Skykar (who was actually switched at birth with his real daughter – Nadette – by the predecessor Dreamwalker). In order to prevent her horrific recurring nightmares from becoming true, Ash convinces Nadette (her foster sister) to run away, not realizing her buddy Tate would go along for the ride. It’s not that she totally resents his attraction to her malicious “adopted” roommate, it’s that she doesn’t have anyone else with whom she can share her most intimate nightmares without being declared insane.

Sixteen advances the saga as Jen tracks down her half brother who has the key to finding another way to “redo” her previous feat in order to “undo” the accidental shooting death of her mother. Success in this quest would result in a boring plot, so the unexpected repercussions of her actions alert the Jumlin to her presence, endangering her friends and family. Forced to expand the circle of individuals who know the truth, they must band together and make some difficult decisions on how to keep the demon Walker from unearthing any further secrets while destroying the minions who make up his empire – all without being thrown into prison for murder or ending up hospitalized/dead.

The trouble the author, Jen Estes, faced was how to weave the two stories together. It’s been two years since Fifteen was published, so a little refresher was welcome, but as Ash explains the whys and wherefores to a widening circle of people in the know, the reader is forced to hear the details over and over. Flashbacks and old diary entries fill in additional blanks as Ash solves some of the remaining riddles. While the repetitions get annoying at times, the plot has enough booby traps to keep it interesting along with some gratuitous violence to appeal to readers who additionally enjoy stories with vampire or dragon slayers. Of special interest was the blending of past, present, and future as Ash interacts with various individuals from her life at different stages in their existence.

Expect an abrupt culmination with a cliffhanger ending leading into the next novel where the teens, armed with what normal people would consider insane facts, are determined to spend the summer tracking down and destroying this evil which threatens the world.

Not quite as groundbreaking as the first novel, three and a half stars and a thank you to Curiosity Quill for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads and Amazon.

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Robota by Doug Chiang, Orson Scott Card

First off, Robota doesn’t necessarily prescribe to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. On this alien influenced earth, robots carry the ability to think and they want to take over the world. Whereas once flesh and metal lived side by side, over time they became enemies – each striving for survival. While not all robots are bloodthirsty, Kaantur-Set, the general of the robot army, is obsessed with destroying all carbon based life forms on the planet. Enter Caps, a man whose amnesia leads him to search for the truth. Cap ends up joining a rag tag team, consisting of a monkey-like creature, a young woman raised by robots, and a yeti-looking gorilla, all out to get revenge. It’s kill or be killed, yet they discover not every enemy is set on destruction, when they add Elyso, a robot whose sect refuses to harm humans, to their team.

While this world at times represents the Earth we know, the majority of the planet is fascinatingly bizarre yet somehow enticing, encouraging the reader to try and decipher the underlying meaning behind the fast paced, albeit confusing events. The stunning illustrations by Doug Chiang (who has numerous film credits to his name including Star Wars) creates a breathtaking fantasy world. Unfortunately, the narrative by Orson Scott Card, well known for his work in the SF genre, is totally perplexing, like a rough draft that has left out some pertinent details. Perhaps Chiang’s prologue would have helped set the stage, but it was blurred and unreadable in my ebook. Luckily Wikipedia has the complete backstory, filling in the numerous blanks and providing the reader with enough details to obtain somewhat of a grasp on the plot line.

I find it especially annoying that there was no attempt to revise the written portion of the 2003 publication for this new 2016 edition of Robota, although there is the addition of a forward by Garett Edwards and some extra concept artwork by Chiang to enjoy.

At one point there was a promise for the creation of a video game using the Robota theme, although I would prefer to see an action movie visually bringing Chaing’s conceptualizations to graphic life. There are a few glimpses of the possibilities on utube, where several 2 minute vignettes (with and without sound) are available to view. As I was reading the book, I couldn’t help visualizing the animation possibilities which were more exciting than the written word. Yet, while the illustrations remained stupefying, they didn’t always jive with the narration, despite their astonishing content.

Five stars to Chiang, 2 stars to Card for a total of 3.5 stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Dover Publications for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Reading Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is like walking through a maze – well not exactly since a maze has a beginning and an end, more like a labyrinth with a multitude of paths leading nowhere.

Jason Dessen has the perfect life with his wife Daniela and son Charlie. Perhaps he had to give up a high level career and settle for a professorship in physics at a small college and his talented wife never achieved the artistic fame she had once sought, but they were content. Jason has a chance to find out that happiness doesn’t hinge on money and prestige when he is basically kidnapped and sent to an alternative universe (multiverse) while someone else takes over his idyllic life. The new world is a nightmare and in order to maintain his sanity, Jason needs to find out where he is and how he got there in order to have any hope of discovering the path back “home”. What makes matters worse is that second guessing his own motivations only creates more chaos in an already disjointed and deranged world.

What a wild ride! Just when you think you’ve got things figured out there’s either a dead end or an unexpected plot twist. While I was able to foresee a few events there were others which astounded and the ending remained as bizarre as the original premise. At times the author’s explanation of the scientific phenomena of the Schrodinger’s Cat Paradox and quantum physics were repetitious and frankly, over my head, although I did grasp enough of the essence to accept the situation as plausible in a demented sort of way. The singlemindedness of Jason was both annoying in its doggedness as well as endearing for its root causes. It certainly kept me engaged, especially with the crazy climax which appeared to have no acceptable resolution. Crouch definitely induces the reader to analyze their own motivations in life, pondering the various “what if” alternatives which might have been chosen. The one weakness of this novel is the lack of depth in the characterizations which would have provided some substance to the reasonings of the supporting players instead of leaving open ended suppositions about their particular actions for the reader to contemplate.

I find this novel difficult to categorize – is it an existential love story or a science fiction tale of horror or a psychological thriller? You pick.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Crown Publishing for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

You can tell the authors had a blast writing this book. This is not your “father’s” science fiction – it is an SF saga. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff lacks the typical narrative – in fact there is no story, at least not in the typical prose. The reader discovers what is happening through various discourse, documents, and diagrams as found in the report of events prepared by the Illuminae. It’s as if we are experiencing life as it happens via emails and memos – a technique which not only engages the reader, but takes them prisoner as they become compelled to discover what happens next.

On the day after 17 year old Kady dumps her boyfriend Ezra, all hell breaks loose when their home planet is attacked by BeiTech Industries in retaliation for their illicit mining activity. That’s one way to eliminate the competition. Luckily Kady had taken the car to school that day and reluctantly allows Ezra to ride along as they race to one of the two shuttles which are able to make it safely off the annihilated planet to the protection of space ship Alexander (who luckily happened to be close enough to intercept their SOS). Although Flagship Alexander successfully fights off the attacking enemy ship Lincoln, its capacity to jump through space has been so badly damaged that travel to the safety of the nearest space station will have to be the slow, old fashioned way.

Danger continually pops up throughout this epic (600 or so pages), sometimes in the form of a rogue computer reminiscent of 2bi001’s Hal or via a bio virus which rapidly spreads and turns those infected into raving lunatics – a sort of outer space version of Night of the Living Dead. If that doesn’t cause enough of a crisis, the Lincoln is in pursuit while the damaged Alexander has to shut down their Artificial Intelligent computer, AIDEN, after it has gone rogue and taken command (with devastating results). Throughout, Ezra (an innately talented fighter pilot) and Kady (a secret, but effective, computer hacker) find themselves on separate ships, interacting through correspondence and other activities as they strive to reunite and rekindle their former romance.

The authors keep you guessing with death and violence more prevalent than survival. Expect to hold your breath on more than one occasion and don’t get too attached to any of the characters (although many become endearing through their brave actions as reflected via internet dialogue). There are lots of heroes in the midst of tragedy with a sliver of hope that our favorites will survive. Even if you think you’ve figured it all out, there are too many surprises to be smug about correctly envisioning future outcomes. The diabolical AIDEN, with its flawed inner core, leaves us conflicted with love/hate feelings as we at first root for its demise and then want it to survive against all the odds.

Four and a half stars plus some excited anticipation for the rest of the trilogy coming out in 2016 and 2017. This one should make a big impact on the young adult crowd which could easily eek over to adult and teenage readers. I personally think it is a little violent for younger children, but it’s not as if The Hunger Games and Divergent were G rated books either.

A thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for sending this ARC in exchange for an honest review.