Graphic Novel Review: Descender, Volume 3: Singularities by Jeff Lemire

Descender, Volume Three: SingularitiesDescender, Volume Three: Singularities by Jeff Lemire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fully realized sci-fi space drama beautifully realized by artist Dustin Nguyen cashes in on all of its previously offered potential with this excellent third installment. The first two volumes of this series centered on a 9-planet star system rife with humans and aliens 10 years after an unnatural apocalyptic event wasted large portions of the planets and populations. In that short-lived but huge event, planet-sized robots called Harvesters laid waste to carbon lifeforms. In its aftermath, the survivors declared genocide on all robots working and living within their interplanetary collective despite the lack of evidence that Harvesters and the system’s robots had any connection.

The story centers on a naive, pre-teenaged companion bot named Tim-22 that survived for the 10 years in a sleeplike charging state on an outer mining moon while the populous was evacuated during a poisonous gas leak. His human “brother,” Andy, evacuated, while his mother died on the moon. Tim-22 is wanted by both robot scrappers and the government for his potential link to the decade-old event.

The episode takes a smart step to the side. The component stories each tell the 10 year back story of many of the filler characters, and it’s fascinating. One could sense the richness of the world and its development beforehand, but now it’s laid out clearly and many characters have stepped up from being mere fillers. Expect the story to proceed forward again when the 4th installment comes out.

This series is highly recommended.

I’ve previously read and reviewed:
     Descender, Volume 1: Tin Stars–4 stars
     Descender, Volume 2: Machine Moon–4 stars
 
 
 
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Novel Review: The Black Hole by Michael Robertson

The Black Hole (The Shadow Order #1)The Black Hole by Michael Robertson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Filtered through the lens of a selfish, short sighted man-child, the world-building for this series fails to engage. This, despite the great world-building provided by a precursor short story to this world called “The Arena” which accomplished much and to great effect.

Seb Zobo is a self-absorbed fighter by nature with the remarkable–if not superhero–ability to slo-mo his perception of time and to spot the ultimate weaknesses in any challenger’s body. It doesn’t matter if he’s never met a species of alien before, he can discern the one spot that will bring them down with a single punch. Conveniently, every species of alien has that one spot. Nearly every species is also taller than humans, smells of feces and has bad breath.

The redundancy of every encounter is taxing. And the plot, while driven, doesn’t satisfy or grow the hero to a likable level.

The strength of “The Arena” is utterly missing here. All other series by this author are recommended over this galactic tale. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s:
The Alpha Plague–5 stars
The Alpha Plague 2–4 stars
The Alpha Plague 3–5 stars
The Alpha Plague 4–4 stars
“The Arena”–5 stars
Crash (Crash, #1)–4 stars
New Reality: Truth (New Reality, #1)–3 stars
New Reality 2: Justice (New Reality, #2)–4 stars
New Reality 3: Fear (New Reality, #3)–3 stars
 
 
 
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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: 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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Novella Review: Inhuman Garbage by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Inhuman Garbage: A Retrieval Artist Universe NovellaInhuman Garbage: A Retrieval Artist Universe Novella by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella taking pace in the lunar dome-city of Armstrong fits into the larger Retrieval Artist world, but stands alone quite well [in the opinion of this reviewer who’s never read anything by Rusch before, nor heard of this series].

The novella opens with the promise of a tight detective tale with alternating POVs between detective Noelle DeRicci and coroner Ethan Broduer as they both investigate a body dump in a crate of compost slated to be spread over the dome-city’s food farms. Things get more complicated in the identification process in this world of natural humans, aliens, and both slow-grow and fast-grow clones. Laws are different around each with clones merely counting as property for their creator.

While the larger human rights issues surface, especially as it deals with clones, the tale zeroes in on the convoluted politics of the crime families, ruling Earth Alliance, and the dirty city politics. Surprisingly and disappointingly, more POVs are added to the rush of narrative pulling the tale cleanly away from DeRicci and Broduer. The head of the main crime family whose fired nanny was the composted body, his head of security, and DeRicci’s politically motivated boss take over the narrative leading to a largely unsatisfying non-ending.

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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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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