Novel Review: Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Morning Star (Red Rising, #3)Morning Star by Pierce Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel completes the The Red Rising Trilogy in a worthy and satisfying way. The expansive world-building of the second installment pays off as Darrow and company try to realize his martyred wife’s dream of a caste-less solar system.

The entire series is highly recommended.

The first in the series, Red Rising, was easily one of the best debut novels of 2014. It took tones of dystopian, young adult series like The Hunger Games and elevated the dialogue on social justice, honesty and loyalty. The second and best in the series, Golden Son, abandoned all comparisons as the world-building went into overdrive, sculpting the framework for the grand conflict of liberating the enslaved masses throughout the solar system. The plot veered toward Space Military without losing its heart. If anything, the human element matured to a nuanced field of grays.

A year has elapsed between the second and final installments. Darrow is a broken shadow of his former self having endured nothing but torture and seclusion since he’s last been seen. His allies need to be rebuilt and re-earned. And, he needs to rebuild himself physically, emotionally, mentally, and strategically. Much has transpired in his absence vaulting him to mythic status which even he cannot live up to. The expectations are mountainous, and hope dwindles . . .

While coasting on the great work of the second installment, pleasingly this novel doesn’t embrace a fairy tale ending. Unless one means the original Grimm’s tales which were dark messy things embedded with lessons for the ages.

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Novel Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)Illuminae by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This brilliant, hefty tome and yet quick read turns the epistolary novel on its head by presenting a researched dossier submitted by the unnamed Illuminae about a sequence of shocking events in the far reaches of space. With a few “researcher notes” amending the files, the dossier contains intercepted memos and emails, dictations of video footage, interviews and AI internal processing.

Indubitably “Young Adult” with two teenaged heroes. Anti-authority, computer hacker Kady and her ex-boyfriend looking for a leader and a romantic reunion, Ezra, play the star-crossing ex-lovers hoping that their story can end less tragically than Romeo and Juliet’s. The tale is also “Sci-fi”, as everything takes place in a far stretch of the universe, first on an illegal mining outpost on an otherwise insignificant planet, and then later on spaceships crossing the void in order to reach a space station. The vastness of space and the loneliness therein are major themes, so too is the breakdown of civilization and order when outside of the view of the rest of humanity.

More interestingly, the subgenres of the novel defy expectation as they morph from one into another. Each holds its own quite convincingly taking the reader on a desperate ride. The first subgenre is militaristic as notions of business, government and military all roil uncleanly together. Then, an unreliable and independent AI abducts the plot. Finally, medical engineering of the nefarious, speculative sort surfaces turning the novel into a full-blown thriller.

The quick pace has the accelerator to the floor the entire time.

I absolutely recommend this is series opener and look forward to the sequels.
 
 
 
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Original Poetry: The Soapbox

The clusters silenced and turned
toward the makeshift podium
as the youthful male in layered
white robes coughed dryly.

“It has been decreed that we,
as individuals, have the liberty
to choose to be any type of pickle
that we wish, dill or sweet.”

After a brief moment of contemplative
silence, a favored audible
reaction spread in waves pulling
bystanders into its depths.

The old, heavy woman parted
a temporary path to the platform,
then proceeded to nudge the site’s
predecessor from the creaking, old boards.

She scanned the crowd with her non-twitching
eye. “Do you not realize that if
we were truly free, we would have
the opportunity to stay a cucumber?”
 
 
 
 
 
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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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Graphic Novel Review: Liberty: Deception, Issue 1 by Travis Vengroff

Liberty: Deception (Liberty: Deception #1)Liberty: Deception by Travis Vengroff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Liberty page 35 colors jpg

Stunning visuals lead the way with this dystopian graphic novel of a sci-fi off-planet society of sheltered “citizens” and starved “fringers” rumored to be barely human cannibals. The State-controlled media keeps a tight rein on its image, its heroes and its enemies of the State. It’s all propaganda with the biggest “hero” being nothing more than a glorified soap opera actor. That is, until his popularity makes him an extinguishable threat, too.

There exists a fantastic Liberty: Deception, Issue 0 showing the bleak life in the fringe. But this 1st issue follows the condemned actor using his fame and subterfuge to make his way out to the fringe. Along the way, he teams up with some of the previously introduced rogue fringers.

This series is highly recommended.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Black Stain” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

While post-apocalyptic dystopian societies aren’t rare in literature, ones set in Africa are when compared to their American kin. In this tale, the ancient cities of skyscrapers and technology [of the modern world] are deserted husks waiting to be mined for precious metals. And terrifying electrical storms which last for days and flood everything to the horizon are barely survivable away from the villages.

Society has descended into two major races or castes with the darker race, the Okeke, serving as slaves for the lighter skinned, Nuru. Nuru think nothing of killing an offending Okeke as their religion holds that they are an evil people in the eyes of their sun goddess.

Two Nuru brothers lead very different lives when one chooses to mine the ancient cities with his large caravan of slaves and workers and the other resells the gleanings at the family store. Uche, the miner, survives a week-long storm in the desert with an Okeke woman whom he falls in love with. But the greater society isn’t ready for such tradition-breaking action . . .

Unfortunately, the narrative takes a detour about this point as the 3rd-person tale gets recast as a folk tale and varying accounts start to surface, as do supernatural implications on the characters actions.

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
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Novella Review: Gypsy by Carter Scholz

GypsyGypsy by Carter Scholz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Humanity reaching out into space remains a recurring fascination. Sometimes this action is one of optimism and scientific expansionism. At other times, it’s a defensive tactic of desperation as Earth becomes unbearable and unlivable. This sci-fi novella stands as a blend of the two.

As Earth succumbs to the apocalypse of 21st Century Western world lifestyles and the emerging dystopian new world order, a billionaire and his hand-picked team of 20 scientists plan an illegal escape into the vastness of space in an attempt to start anew on an unconfirmed planet in the Alpha Centauri system. Only 16 pioneers make it to the starship for the launch, the billionaire not among them.

The 72-year journey requires the travelers to enter hibernation to survive and slow their aging. The ship has the ability to wake individuals to attend to emergencies and system failures. The awakened individual is meant to decide the corrective action, then document their decision and reasoning both on computer and paper as a guide to the next awakened traveler. Each traveler is under a time deadline after which they won’t be able to reenter hibernation. And no one person can emerge and reenter hibernation more than a couple times over the course of the entire journey before the action kills them.

This tale alternates between pre-launch scenes on Earth with the benefactor choosing his team and technology and splices of time in the journey when one of the individuals is called into action. The first to awaken is Sophie and only 2 years into the trip as the ship, Gypsy, enters the Oort Cloud. The communications to the moon station are offline. There’s also signs of an impact a couple months back. The only major effect she can determine is a slightly slowed speed–the journey will now take 84 years. She corrects some time maneuvers and documents it.

38 years later, Fang is the next awakened. After she adjusts to the one-tenth gravity and effects of hibernation, the biologist attends to her sleeping co-travelers. Two are infected with a fungus resembling the bat fungus known as White Nose Disease . . .

The strength of this novella is in following the lives and decisions of the disparate group of scientists each with their own reasons for embarking on such a desperate journey. The decision-making of each is not unlike Andy Weir’s The Martian. Each decision is life or death when traveling the edge of existence.

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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