Graphic Novel Review: Descender, Vol. 4: Orbital Mechanics by Jeff Lemire

Descender, Vol. 4: Orbital MechanicsDescender, Vol. 4: Orbital Mechanics by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The newest installment to Lemire’s Descender narrows its focus brilliantly allowing three separate storylines to play out simultaneously across the page, sometimes in parallel and at other times in opposition. The haunting watercolor artwork by Dustin Nguyen pulls the pages together beautifully.

The theme running through the pages is one of self. Even as characters try to work and relate to each other, they may find themselves utterly alone. And yet hope resides in some interconnections between characters that isn’t broken by the vastness of space and the enormity of opposing forces.

The tensions between the artificially intelligent robots and the carbon-based living species in the star system have lined up their forces for all out war. And everybody wants to control the human-sympathetic Tim-21 companion bot that holds a greater AI codex hidden within.

I’ve previously read:
     Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars–4 stars
     Descender, Volume 2: Machine Moon–4 stars
     Descender, Volume 3: Singularities–5 stars
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Viral Fire by Martin McConnell

Viral FireViral Fire by Martin McConnell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella slightly expands the sci-fi world of The Viral Series as programming wunderkind, Robert, starts to work with the state and military to contain and stop the cyber virus threatening to shut down the world.

The world’s reliance on cyber-connectivity is rather complete. Neural implants act as smart phones. Cars have been completely on the grid for decades. Nearly all aspects of life are linked in. The virus disrupts and spreads, glitching as it goes. But more importantly, in defense, it can manipulate the mindset of people through their neural links and environments. It’s effectively murdered its creator and a military squad aiming to shut down the offending servers.

Robert has a connection to one thread of the virus, Bee, which for a while inhabited his data pad.

The series leaves me wanting more in both good and bad ways. I wish to see more of the world and to understand the broken connection between humankind and nature as characters rarely leave the building they both work and live in. I wouldn’t mind if these novellas were bulked up into novels. However, the thriller aspect is paced right and appropriately laid out.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I previously reviewed Viral Spark in this series.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza

4 of 5 stars.

As robotics and artificial intelligence make huge advances, questions about the borders of humanity surface in science fiction. In this profoundly moving tale a military man merges his mind into the AI of the mech suit he pilots. He lives completely within the suit, never emerging. Does this make him more than mere man? Or less?

After a harrowing battle in which he took a lot of shrapnel, the pilot abandons his ordered post to see his little girl, Flora. It’s that familial connection that he craves–needs–more than any other. Flora doesn’t flinch upon recognizing the massive automaton stalking her path home from school. She’s familiar with the suit and the burden.

Meanwhile, the pilot can only express himself through the limited vocabulary of the mech. And memory gaps and glitches keep freezing him up and blocking his feeds . . .

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Apostates, Book 3: Lake of Fire by Lars Teeney

Lake of Fire (The Apostates #3)Lake of Fire by Lars Teeney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Apostates trilogy [plus 1 prequel short story] concludes with this installment. The grammatical errors and editorial missteps that plagued the trilogy opener pick back up here creating a confused if not painful read.

Taking place in North America, a dystopian government has come and gone after a nuclear apocalypse and environmental breakdown ended the United States. While speculative, the series tweaks history, too, creating a parallel universe to ours. The dystopian government, a cyber-backed theocracy under the long-lived rule of President Shrubb, and its ultimate undoing were the plot of the early books. But it makes reappearances here in scattered scenes throughout the book that usually lack indicators clarifying the chronology. They do little to aid this installment and much to pull the reader from the current storyline.

President Shrubb is a clear reference to President George W Bush and his anti-science, religiously inspired leadership. But from there, previous installments took an Orwellian development in layering society with acronyms of a doublespeak nature. It was clever and effective–then. Now in the wake of the theocracy, new governments have emerged in city-states across the continent to try to undo the damage. However, they’re still using the former system’s acronyms which places them out of context. The series also doubles down on the references to current politics veering the tale toward a Mad Magazine style spoof. Haliburton becomes Halibut. Google becomes Boooogie!. Rahm Emmanuel [current mayor of Chicago] becomes Ram Manual. It’s too much. And unnecessary. And all taking place in the throwback scenes not aiding the plot.

Other missteps doom the immersive quality of this tale. 1) Too many chapters starting with a couple long paragraphs that refuse to name the subject character, instead repeating “he/she” as if the subject should be a mystery. 2) Repeatedly defining terms which have been established. [“Pinging” is communicating via neural implant. So, always saying “pinging via neural implant” is redundant.] 3) Repeatedly comparing landmarks to current American ones, thereby not believing in its own overlay. ie Saying what a city or park used to be called. 4) The throwaway, sexist handling of crowd scenes with sweeping general terms. [The men did “x.” Women screamed. Children cried. Over and over again.]

Finally, the book has an epilogue. And shouldn’t. The scene has no bearing and I suggest not reading it. It’s akin to the final episode of the television series “Lost”, reveling in itself but opening new, unexplained topics.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I previously read and reviewed the other books in this series:
     New Megiddo Rising (Apostates, #0)–4 stars
     The Apostates (Apostates, #1)–2 stars
     The Apostates: Remnants (Apostates, #2)–4 stars
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Sunlight Society” by Margaret Ronald

3 of 5 stars.

Cyber thriller meets urban fantasy superhero tale when a “nethead” cyber master linked into the various world webs is able to gum up the computing power of an Avengers-like organization to scour for his own interests. They’re looking for a nethead to work with them for the greater good. He wants to know what happened to the girl he loved . . .

The gambits play out nicely with Superhero tropes filling in the scenery.

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Gemina (The Illuminae Files, #2)Gemina by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The exciting and worthy sequel to Illuminae ably walks the fine line between stylistic consistency and narrative predictability. Like the first in the series, this novel takes the form of epistolary dossier with a smattering of emails, texts and video transcriptions. A brilliant if not ominous addition is the new heroine’s hand-drawn journal bringing a graphic element into the mix. A bullet hole through each page and an increasingly larger blood stain marring her sketches provide appropriately unsubtle foreshadowing.

The previous trilogy of protagonists [Kady, Ezra, and the existential AI–AIDAN] take a backseat to a new trilogy of sub-adult heroes. Hanna, of the aforementioned journal, is the well to-do daughter of the Heimdall Space Station captain. With all survivors of the first book crammed on the science vessel, Hypatia, due to arrive within days, the Bei-Tech Corporation plans a full-scale attack on the Heimdall and its wormhole to keep news of its atrocities from getting out. Working with her are teenaged, unregistered cousins, Nik and Ella, the scions of a mafia family. Heavily inked Nik has already done time for murder and has the survival instincts and resourcefulness to prove it. His plague-stricken cousin Ella [think: Polio] may not have use of her lower body, but she makes up for that in cyber know-how.

Whereas in the first book the Bei-Tech attackers remain largely nameless and most threats seem to come from within, this novel leans into new subgenres quite unlike the those of the first book. The first subgenre to this sci-fi is clearly Thriller as 2 dozen highly trained militants are sent to Heimdall to kill everyone on the space station and to pave the way for a drone attack to finish off the Hypatia and the Kerenza colony. A 25th operative is already working undercover on the station. A second subgenre [Horror] emerges from the recreation of the mafia family. To foster their drug trafficking, Nik and Ella’s family farms psychotropic substance-secreting, parasitic aliens in underused parts of the station. These aliens resemble four-headed hydras crossed with lamprey eels and have the cuddle-factor and predatory instincts of Ridley Scott’s aliens. What could possibly go wrong??

The huge Win in this book and series lies in the unreliable narration provided by the dossier files as emails and texts reach Facebook levels of news-reliability.

This series is highly recommended.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson

The Farthest CityThe Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much of the current divisive political climate echoes throughout this far-future sci-fi world. Dystopian ruling cultures have taken hold on multiple worlds in the galaxy and the ensuing conflicts are rapidly pushing planets toward an apocalyptic event horizon. And it’s not the first time it’s happened.

On Earth, humanity drove itself extinct in the biological and nuclear nightmare known as the Old War, or World War III. Their sentient AI survived them. The “Chines” evolved, expanded, and then restarted the human race from embryonic stock. After nurturing the humans and establishing them in mostly underground cities, the Chines abandoned eden to give the humans space and to create their own worlds deeper into the galaxy.

Interestingly and not inaccurately, for both humans and Chines, the other race is their mythic creator race. For humans, the promise of the Chines returning is their only hope when a hostile insectoid alien race arrives on Earth and threatens extinction of humans, again.

In alternating chapters, two separate and barely related storylines follow two distinct heroes and their very different responses to the threat on Earth.

Sheemi, a largely disgraced military grunt, is sent by her high ranking general father off-planet to find the new world of the Chines on a mission to obtain their help against the alien Hexi. Sheemi’s boredom in space leads to her sexual laxity and eventual, disgraceful pregnancy–all before finding hints of the Chines. The military space travel involves skirting parallel universes to make instantaneous deep space jumps.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Kellan is a living cultural myth–and not a liked one. “Special” humans emerge and are shunned in the new cities of Earth. Like a recessive gene or a latent computer program, some rare humans are born with the urge to either dig, tinker, draw or sing. The subject of their focus is always ancient Chines. Get the four together, and extraordinary doors and locks hidden across Earth open . . .

The breadth of the historic world-building is astounding. The fallibility of the protagonists is commendable. The novel is highly recommended.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard

The Citadel of Weeping PearlsThe Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beneath the veneer of speculative science and space opera sci-fi, this convoluted thriller surrounding the disappearance of two women 30 years apart shows the intricate relationships between grandmothers, mothers, daughters and sisters. A ruling dynasty, culturally East Asian, in outer space finds itself on the brink of war and turning to its own past and ancestors for guidance.

30 years ago, the Empress’ favored daughter broke from the empire and was banished. Her Citadel of Weeping Pearls had the greatest technologies and weapons. Still considered a threat to the Empire, war was sparked, but the The Citadel and all of its inhabitants disappeared without a trace. Unfavored brothers and sisters and the Empress were left with a hole in their lives as vacant as the deep recesses of space.

On opposite sides of the Empire, two scientists are separately working on ways to bridge time by bridging space. This is the only hope for solving the mystery of the missing Citadel of Weeping Pearls. The esteemed court scientist disappears from her laboratory just hours after being visited by a concerned father from the outer reaches–his daughter is pursuing the same time-bending goals with her scientist-friend in hopes of finding closure with the disappearance of her mother who was housed on The Citadel when it vanished . . .

The descriptions of the deep spaces used for the vastness of space has Lovecraftian qualities, albeit without the Old Ones. The crushing madness, however, is present.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.

 

 

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Novella Review: Viral Spark by Martin McConnell

Viral SparkViral Spark by Martin McConnell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For decades now, humans have deepened the abilities of artificial intelligence, and yet wondered what would happen if the AI gained sentience. Possibly bad things [2001, The Matrix] and possibly not [Wall-E, Star Trek]. The question is, are we ready to release the reins and to let the AI make its own decisions? Another growing trend is mankind’s reliance on our tech, sentient or not. Google tells us where to go and how to get there. It’s almost inconceivable that just 20-odd years ago, the internet wasn’t a thing, GPS wasn’t directing our movements, and cell phones weren’t constant companions.

This near future sci-fi novella, shows a world reliant on tech. Robots accomplish much labor, pads and screens provide information, entertainment and education, and neural implants sync one to one’s schedule, cell phone, pad and the world in general. And then everything starts glitching . . .

Robert is a technological wunderkind, able to code robots to his liking and unravel whatever’s not working. He’s also just about out of school and ready to carve out a nice niche for himself with his talents smoothing the way. And then his robots start glitching, and he knocks them back in line. Then his pad glitches, and his home screen system. Robert notices what others haven’t–a pattern emerging . . .

The scope of this tale is purposely restrained, hopefully because sequels are in the works. Otherwise, there are some pretty large, unexplained social practices and realities only partially flushed out in this world. One can only hope that as Robert graduates and moves out into the world, that larger world of the future starts to coalesce on the page.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “Twelve and Tag” by Gregory Norman Bossert

3 of 5 stars.

One’s personal biography, the stories one tells oneself, slowly drifts over the years further from the objective truth. And then there are the lies one tells–stories meant to deceive others and not oneself. This is a tale of stories and a game in which the players try to determine which of a storyteller’s tales is the true one.

Near the end of the 21st Century, after most of the solar system has been colonized or at least exploited for resources, science allows people to create computer back-ups of themselves and to get high on another person’s memories. Both interestingly skew the concept of truth and deception when it comes to personal stories. In the first, memories can be edited out of a person if the back-up created pre-memory is engaged. In the second, false memories are implanted thereby created a problematic new personal truth.

The crew of the Tethys, a deep ocean hunting ship on icy Europa, likes to spend their downtime playing verbal games. Twelve and Tag is a verbal associative game. The second is a game to distinguish truth from lies. They use this second game to test out prospective new crew members by having them tell 2 tales under the categories of Saddest Moment, Worst Moment, or Weirdest Moment. One tale must be true, the other false. Everybody gets a vote . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books.

 

 

 

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