Category Archives: Science Fiction

Review: A Better World by Marcus Sakey

  • Series: The Brilliance Saga, Book Two (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (June 17, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781477823941
  • Source: Publisher

The world first became aware of the brilliants in 1980. Approximately 1% of the world’s population were born with gifts that set them apart from everyone else. At a young age, children are tested for special abilities. If found to be gifted, they are sent off to an institution where their powers are fine-tuned. For the last three decades, tension has been growing between the brilliants and the “norms.”  A battle is raging. A terrorist led by the brilliants cripples shipments to three major cities. Without power and the most basic of supplies, citizens are scared and confused. Barricades prevent them from seeking refuge elsewhere.

Nick Cooper is a brilliant, his ability to read a person’s mannerisms to predict their actions has given him a high-level position with a secretive government agency that eradicates violent brilliants.  In a new role as advisor to the President of the United States. Cooper has a difficult time gauging which side he should belong to. Individuals he was once fighting against have proven themselves to be adversaries. Unfortunately, there is little time to devote to proving one’s allegiance; a group of radical brilliants known as the Children of Darwin are attempting to take down the US government.  Nick Cooper is one of the select few who can put a stop to the chaos and prevent the third World War from commencing.

Let me start off by saying that I don’t review titles published by Amazon. I just don’t. It’s a personal preference that I really don’t sway from. Except in the case of Marcus Sakey. Known by many as a truly talented crime fiction author, Sakey shocked hundreds of readers by leaping into the world of science fiction. Admittedly, I was quite wary of this decision. Yet when Brilliance was released, I was knocked into stunned silence.

Sakey has managed to create a truly brilliant (no pun intended), wholly unique series. Other reviewers have likened the world that Sakey has created to that of X-men, yet I tend to believe it is far more terrorizing. The brilliants Sakey has created are far more plausible and believable than any comic book creation.

In A Better World, the story picks up right at the end of the previous novel. A battle is raging between the brilliants and the norms. It’s hard not to pick up on the social commentary Sakey has weaved into this series. Individuals, born different than others, torn away from their parents’ arms at a young age to be raised in an institution? It isn’t difficult to find parallels in the history of our country.

The intensity of this novel hits you from the start, unrelenting through nearly 400 pages. Like the characters, readers will question whose side they should take, questioning everything they’ve learned so far. Ending with a powerful cliffhanger, Sakey leaves readers with a quick tease as to what is yet to come.

As this is the second book in a series, I do recommend that you start at the beginning with Brilliance. While Sakey does provide a bit of backstory, new readers will have a difficult time catching up with all that transpires. Trust me, it’s well worth the read!

Bottom line: the Brilliance series is a must read for readers of all varieties, from science fiction to thriller to dystopian. You’ll devour the books in no time, counting down the days until the next book is released. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon (Audiobook)

  • Listening Length: 16 hours and 23 minutes
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (April 8, 2014)
  • Source: Publisher (via Audiobook Jukebox)

The death of print is eminent. Books, magazines and newspapers have been replaced by Memes, handheld devices that are not only communication tools but sensitive enough to sense our every want. It is also connected to a virtual marketplace called the Word Exchange that allows people to create and sell language.

Anana Johnson and her father, Doug, work at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL). Doug’s passion has always been the written word, refusing to embrace technology. His latest project is the last print edition of the dictionary to publish.  His passion is so great that, when he disappears, Anana is immediately concerned. The only evidence Doug leaves behind is a code word he and Anana would use when one another was in danger: Alice. As Anana begins her hunt for her father, a “word flu” has begun to devastate the population.  This illness forces people to speak in gibberish, spreading quickly with devastating results. When her closest ally in her search, her colleague Bart, becomes infected, Anana is even more determined to locate her father, certain that locating him will provide the answers to her unending questions.

The Word Exchange is a brilliantly executed cautionary tale about the dangers of technology. Set in the not-too-distant future, Graedon has created a world in which everyone is connected, virtually, long-ago abandoning the very thing we should hold near and dear to our hearts: the written word. Citizens were repeatedly warned of the potential consequences of such technology, yet these warnings went ignored. The conveniences of such devices far outweighed any consequences.  The fate of humankind is now at risk, the damage irreparable.

Alternating in points of view, readers get a glimpse of what transpires through the eyes of Anana and Bart. As Bart declines due to illness, his slips in language are made obvious in his dialogue. Listening to the audiobook, at first I assumed the narrator had misspoken, quickly realizing this was an intended point of confusion, further detailing the impact of the word flu.

This novel was recommended to me after I read and adored The Lexicon by Max Berry. Both books are tremendous feats of the written language that will force readers to reflect upon the very thing that ties us all together: language.  Devastating in its plausibility, there is no doubt that readers will contemplate putting away their electronic devices, stepping away from the computer, in favor of embracing the print word.

A note on the audio production:
This title was narrated by Tavia Gilbert and Paul Michael Garcia.  Overall, this was an outstanding audio performance. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for Garcia to intentionally slip up in word usage, using completely incorrect, or in some cases, gibberish words, to replace normal speech.

That said, there was something in the quality of the audio recording that irritated me. At times, it seemed as though excerpts of the book were edited in for the tone and quality of the narrator’s voice shifted into an almost hollow sounding tone, as if they were speaking from a hole or through a long tube. So obvious, this shift in quality, it would take me a few seconds to recover and become once again attentive to the narration.

At first, I thought perhaps this was just me, but when I played segments for others they experience this shift as well. So, while the narrators did an an outstanding job, something in the editing of the overall performance elicited a less than stellar listening experience. My personal recommendation would be to skp the audio, embrace the print version of this novel instead.

Bottom line: The Word Exchange is a must read for fans of the written word. Thought-provoking and lasting in message. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (June 10, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0385537093
  • Source: Publisher

In Robopocalypse, humankind was at war with robots. The world as we know it is destroyed, a pathetic wreckage of what once existed. Once Archos, a “super” robot is destroyed, civilization has the potential to recover. . .or so they think.

Copies of Archos were spread far and wide and are now slowly awakening. Unfortunately, they are at odds at one another, the most vocal and terrifying being Arayt Shah. Focused on creating a fighting force strong enough to survive the “True War,” one fought between highly intelligent machines, Arayt Shah is quickly proving to be a robot to be reckoned with!

In addition the characters who survived the first wave of attacks, several new and innovative characters join the motley cast of characters. A mash up that completely blew my science fiction/horror-loving mind was a human/robot hybrid, in which the majority of the human dies, replaced with a stronger, deadlier robotic version. Unexpectedly, however, the human identity remains, cognizant of the world around him/her. Think of it as a self-aware robotic zombie.

This new war is far more deadly than the previous. Alliances are destroyed.  With a host of technical “mutations,” the line that separates human from robot is far more vague and unclear.

Chapters are developed as narratives of the key players in this latest battle, including humans, modified humans, freeborn robots, and the humans infected with robotic parasites.  While the narratives are many, Wilson excels at creating a unique and memorable voice for each “individual”.

As noted above, this is the sequel to Robopocalypse, one of my favorite books of 2011. While Wilson does a pretty decent job of filling in details about each character’s back story using each characters own narrative, I honestly believe you should read the first in order to get a good understanding of what happened before and how/why the characters  have evolved into their current state of existence.

The great thing about these books is they are just as applicable for fans of general fiction as they are to science fiction fans. They require readers to contemplate the implications/possibilities for something like this to happen and to reevaluate the technology that we see and use every day. Bottom line: Robogenesis is just further proof of the genius and creative mind of Daniel H. Wilson. Highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: Runner by Patrick Lee

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. This week’s featured title is the audiobook production of Runner by Patrick Lee:

  • Listening Length: 8 hours and 39 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio (February 18, 2014)
  • Source: Personal copy

Sam Dryden is taking a nightly run when he runs into a young girl. The look of terror on her eyes instantly has his undivided attention. When it becomes obvious that the men chasing after her have deadly intentions, Dryden uses his skills as a retired special forces operative to help her evade capture.  After her attackers flee, Dryden learns that this eleven-year-old girl, Rachel, was held captive in a secret prison. She remembers only the last two months of her life, nothing of her existence outside the prison.

Dryden lost his wife and daughter in an accident five years ago. Seeing the genuine terror and fear in Rachel’s eyes, he vows to help her get answers.  Little does he realize how much his experience in a black-ops will help them in their attempt to elude her captures.

What they learn in the next few days is life altering, for both Dryden and Rachel.  It’s quite possible that the memories Rachel is desperately trying to recover are of a danger so unimaginable that millions of lives are at stake.

I’m intentionally being quite vague in my summary of this title for it is best to be experienced first hand, without any preconceived notions of what may transpire. The best way to put it would be a combination of the thrill of a Jack Reacher novel meeting the science-fiction-esque aspect of a Joe Ledger novel. What results is a novel jam-packed with a unique thrill and intensity.  Each time I paused in my listen of this audiobook, my heart would be pounding.  I made every excuse I could to listen to more, including taking the longer route home or sitting in front of my  house listening to just a few minutes more.

Raul Esparza’s narration of this book just added to the intensity. His tone captured the feel of the moment so expertly, demanding the listener’s undivided attention.

Runner is truly one of the best thrillers I have listened to in some time. I’m new to his work and it is now a personal mission of mine to read it all. I’m ecstatic to see that this is the first in a new series. Dryden’s character is the best of both worlds: a character that is both sensitive and flawed but also intense and unrelenting. I honestly cannot wait for more. Highly, highly recommended!

 

Thank you to Bob at The Guilded Earlobe for the recommendation. Once again, my zombie-loving friend, you are spot on!

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (February 11, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0804139024
  • Source: Publisher

Mark Watney is one of several astronauts making up the crew of the Ares 3 mission to Mars. Just days into their mission, the Acidalia region is hit by a dust storm. Believed to be killed during the storm, Mark is left…alone…on Mars.  He has the food rations that would have lasted the crew two months but it’s going to take much longer for NASA to realize he is still alive…and to come up with a means of rescuing him.  Watney uses his ingenuity to come up with means to survive until help arrives (including growing quite the impressive harvest of potatoes). Will all this ingenuity be enough for Watney to survive the harsh and unforgiving Mars terrain, repeatedly hammered with obstacles to test his survival (and his sanity)?

The Martian is a truly tremendous novel, one of the best I have read in some time. It reads like a nonfiction narrative of a survival story, for Weir’s knowledge of the subject matter is quite vast and impressive. While there is a great deal of technical and scientific jargon, rather than bogging the reader down I think it added a level of believability that will allow readers to grasp the severity and intensity of Watney’s survival.  Personally, I found myself devouring the novel, hungry to learn what next great feat Watney overcame.

The character Weir builds in Watney is outstanding. Though it’s obvious he is terrified about his fate, he keeps a level head on him, using quite a bit of sarcastic humor that lightened up an already dark and devastating storyline.  Watney’s human spirit was tremendous. One can’t help but root for him and pray for his safe return to Earth. I found myself forgetting that he is a fictional character, assuming that I can look up his name online or turn on the news to hear about his death-defying saga. At the end, I did find myself missing him quite a bit. I plan on checking out the audio book soon, desperate to reunite with this character.

You don’t have to be a fan of science fiction to appreciate this novel.  It’s a truly intense analysis of human character and survival, dozens of unknowns on such an unknown planet. This is a novel people will be raving about, I guarantee. Months after reading it, I countinue to rave about it (including it as  my monthly recommendation for Bloggers Recommend).  Highly, highly recommended.

Mini-Review: Ex-Purgatory by Peter Clines

  • Series: Ex
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (January 14, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0804136610
  • Source: Publisher

George Bailey is your average, everyday kind of guy. During the day, he works as a handyman at a local community college. His nights, however, are filled with magnificent dreams in which he’s a super hero, battling hordes of zombies. In his dreams, he sees other individuals with similar powers, including an armored robot and a woman with stealth ninja-like moves.

One day George is stopped by a young, pale girl in a wheelchair, Madelyn Sorenson.  Madelyn tells George about the existence of another world, one in which he is one of the last remaining heroes.  In this world, society has fallen victim to a zombie plague. George, and the other heroes, are its only salvation.

It isn’t until his two worlds start colliding that George finally believes what Madelyn has been telling him. The sudden realization that this life, the only life this George has known, is all a facade is startling, to say the least. With the help of Madelyn, George locates the other heroes in an effort to bring down the individual responsible for what has transpired.

Although Ex-Purgatory is the fourth book in the Ex series, it could definitely serve as a standalone.  Cline once again manages to combine the very best qualities of zombie fiction and science fiction into a beautifully executed and highly transfixing novel.  Fans of Marvel comic series and The Walking Dead are in for a treat! If this is your first taste of Clines’ Ex-series I guarantee it will not be your last. Highly, highly recommended.

Audiobook Review: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Unabridged edition (April 10, 2007)
  • ISBN-10: 0061341045
  • Source: Personal copy

Twelve-year-old Stephanie is confused when, after her eccentric uncle passes away, she is on the list to attend the reading of the will. There, a stranger appears, a man bundled up in a scarf, coat, and hat.  He’s introduced as Skulduggery Pleasant, a close friend of her uncle. When it comes time for the reading of the will, Stephanie is shocked to learn she’s inherited her uncle’s home.

Stephanie is attacked her first night staying alone in her uncle’s home. It is Skulduggery Pleasant who comes to her rescue, but Stephanie sees him for what he truly is: a walking, talking skeleton detective. She quickly becomes immersed in a world of magic in which an evil creature by the name of Nefarian Serpine is attempting to get his hands on the Scepter of the Ancients, a weapon that will wield him limitlessness power.  Together, with Skulduggery, the unlikely duo must confront this ancient evil and prevent him from taking control over the world!

A few weeks ago, I put out a request on Twitter for audiobook recommendations. This series was one of the first recommendations I received.  I don’t listen to a lot of middle grade/young adult audio books so I was really looking forward to this adventure. And boy, was it an adventure! Skulduggery Pleasant encompasses so much that I feel is missing in middle grade books! A young, female protagonist who, despite her age, is quite strong and fearless. The addition of Skulduggery himself adds a sense of humor and wit that lightens a potentially dark plot line. A sci-fi/fantasy meets detective story! But what really stands out for me is the audio book production.  Not only is there an outstanding narrating performance by Rupert Degas, but each chapter leads with catchy (ok, and a little bit cheesy) music. It’s almost as if you are listening to a television series or a radio show.

Finally, while the cover looks a bit creepy, the tone of the book is actually not. I have both an eight and a fourteen year old and I think this would be appropriate for both!  I guarantee any fan of mystery or magic of any age will fall in love with this unlikely duo of evil fighting heroes!  I cannot wait to listen to the next book in this eight book series! Highly, highly recommended.

#Mx3 Review: Parasite by Mira Grant

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit (October 29, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0316218952
  • Source: Publisher (via Netgalley)

Sal nearly lost her life after being struck by a vehicle, so close that her family was days away from pulling her from life support. Then she woke up. Her miraculous recovery was attributed to the Intestinal Bodyguard, a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the worm boosts the host’s immune system, protecting it from illnesses. Now, six years after her accident, Sal is struggling to get her life back to normal.  When she awoke she had no memory of her life before. She had to learn to talk and walk again, essentially reborn. Now, nearly every human has this tapeworm living inside them.  SymboGen is ecstatic with the popularity of their miracle treatment.  However, as of late, a noticeable side-effect has reared its ugly head. In some cases, the tapeworm makes its way to its host’s brain, taking control of the body it once protected.  The repercussions are deadly, the “sleep” the victims experience varies; some simply “shut off” mentally while others turn murderous, striking out against those closest to them.

Although Parasite set over twenty-five years in the future, it is a very timely novel. As of late, a lot of studies have shown that our own bodies, so full of antibiotics after being inundated with them as both treatments of illnesses as well as in our food, do not have an immune system powerful enough to stand up to horrific diseases.  The flora that once resided in our digestive system has all but disappeared, forcing the creation of a whole host of innovative treatments for disease. Therefore, the world that Grant builds in this novel is so plausible, so believable, that it adds a completely different factor of fear.

Grant starts off each chapter with text somehow relevant to the storyline, including test from unpublished manuscripts and footage from SymboGen’s research.  This addition is ingenious; it gives the reader necessary backstory and additional information to the history of the Intestinal Bodyguard. Had Grant added this to the novel itself, it would have changed the pacing or would have added unnecessary bulk to the length of the novel.  That’s not to say that Grant rushes into the climax of the novel. Instead, she carefully builds up Sal’s character, allowing Sal to be the focus of the story, instead of the implant itself.

Sal’s character is extremely well-developed. Due to her accident, although she is in her mid-twenties at times she seems naive and infantile. She’s a blank slate, naive in how to properly interact with people socially. The reader can sense, and empathize, with her frustrations. Her boyfriend, Nathan, a parasitologisit, is her saving grace. Although he is extremely interested in Sal as a medical miracle, he is truly in the relationship due to love and commitment. He serves as Sal’s saving grace and sounding board, providing a level of understanding to her situation and what she must be experiencing.  Their relationship adds a sense of humanity and tenderness to a novel that might otherwise feel sterile and scientific.

Parasite is the first in a new series by Grant.  Fans of Grants Newsflesh series will be pleased to learn that her unique sense of humor and snark make an appearance in this series as well. While technically it’s too early to say just how fantastic this new series will be, if this first book is any indication of what is to follow, I am sold.  Parasite is an incredibly intense and addictive read. I will be impatiently awaiting the next title in this series, Symbiogenesis, due out in November of 2014.   Highly, highly recommended.

As if the novel was not enough, check out these ingenious videos to accompany the book:


2013MX3

Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition edition (June 18, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1594205388
  • Source: Personal copy

Imagine a world in which a few words can illicit a response from an individual, relinquishing their ability to resist commands.  That world is real. In an exclusive school outside of Arlington, VA, students aren’t taught the typical reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, they are taught to persuade, manipulating words as potentially dangerous and powerful weapons. Only the best students move on to become poets, an elite group of individuals who become part of an unnamed organization.

Emily is a runaway who lives on the streets of San Francisco.  She makes a living taking money from those who play her curb-side card game. Her talent of manipulation gains the attention of  the recruiters of this organization. She’s “enlisted” in the school and becomes part of a world in which individuals are no longer referred to as their original names, instead using names like Bronte or Yeats instead.  She soon discovers that individuals can be categorized by personality type and, using a select group of words they are forced to memorize, their minds can become unlocked, dominated by those who utter these words.  Never one to submit to authority, Emily prevents anyone from getting too close to her…until she falls in love.  Submitting herself to this “human” emotion weakens her, allowing her to be controlled, unleashing a power that is horrifically dark and deadly.

Meanwhile, Wil Parke is attacked and ambushed in an airport bathroom. Seemingly innocent on all accounts, his attackers claim he is an outlier, an integral part in a secret war of which he has no knowledge.  He is taken to Broken Hill, Australia, a town supposedly decimated by toxins. There, he and his remaining attacker hide from the nameless organization and its mind-controlling poets. What actually resides in Broken Hill is something so powerful it caused an entire town to destroy itself.

What is this war they are fighting? Wil & Emily are connected, but how? Who comes out the winner in this unknown battle?

I’ve owned a copy of this novel since it was released earlier this year. Admittedly, it’s been collecting dust on my virtual bookshelf since then. I found myself in a book funk, of sorts, after re-reading an absolutely outstanding novel (Oryx and Crake) and couldn’t find a book that would capture and keep my attention.  Then, for some reason, this novel called out to me. I clicked on the cover of the ebook and within minutes my attention was not only captured, but I found myself a victim of Barry’s writing. Like so many individuals in Lexicon, I found myself relinquishing my free will to the power of words, of language. But unlike those unfortunate victims in the novel, I didn’t inflict pain or leave a trail of victims behind. Instead, it forced me to reevaluate the power of the written (or spoken) word.

In Lexicon, words are as powerful as the deadliest of viruses. The general public fall victim to this, manipulated to do things using targeted advertising and politicized media.  I  won’t be able to take another random poll or quiz without wondering how the results will be used. The world Barry creates is tremendously inventive, a mind-altering novel that will keep you thinking long after you’ve turned the last pages.  There isn’t another novel like Lexicon. Never before has a novel elicited this sort of response in me. Without a doubt, this novel will top my favorites of not just 2013, but of my lifetime. Highly, highly recommended.

If words were weapons, which poet would you be? Take this quiz to find out.

 

RIP8main300

 

Frightful Friday: 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured book is 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad:

  • Listening Length: 8 hours and 43 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio
  • Release Date: April 17, 2012
  • Source: Publisher

It’s been four decades since the last manned space shuttle explored the moon. NASA, desperate for funding, creates a massive international contest in which teenagers can enter to win a week-long trip to the moon base DARLAH 2. No one but top NASA insiders are aware this moon base exists.  The three winners-Antoine, Midori, and Mia-have no real interest in space travel and are shocked to learn they won the contest.

Before heading to NASA for training, each of the winners witness strange experiences meant to deter them from their journey. This is unknown to each of them and they proceed with the mission as planned. Little do they know there was a reason NASA hasn’t embarked on a mission to the moon…a dark and deadly reason.

After two months of training, the mission begins. It’s not long before they touch down on the moon that everything starts going wrong: computer malfunctions, sightings of mysterious individuals…and death. Soon, the crew has been nearly depleted and it is up to the surviving teens to find a way to get back to Earth.

172 Hours on the Moon is a completely engrossing and intense read. Quite frankly, I was surprised I haven’t heard much about this book. The premise is completely unique and original. By far one of my most favorite things about this book was the character development. Harstad devoted nearly a third of the book to building up the characters. A great deal is learned about Antoine, Midori and Mia before their feet even touch down on the Moon. The pacing of the novel follows this progression, starting out slow with the development of the characters and dramatically intensifying as soon as the mission begins. And the ending!? Wow…I was floored, never anticipating it!

I listened to the audiobook production of this novel. The narrator, Casey Holloway, does outstanding job of portraying the teen voice of each of the main characters, each from different nations and with different accents. I found myself forgetting there was just one narrator for her range of accents was so profound and distinct.

While I am happy that I listened to the audiobook, I am sorry I missed out on the photos and illustrations that apparently grace the print version. That said, I’m making it my mission (pun intended!) to get my hands on a copy!

Bottom line: 172 Hours on the Moon is a completely thrilling, chilling and frankly, terrifying novel. It will most certainly be making an appearance on my favorites list this year!