Short Story Review: “Secret Identity” by Kelly Link

2 of 5 stars.

Identity and identity disassociation, recurrent tropes in many superhero tales, center this tale of a 15 y.o. girl that’s run off to NYC from Iowa to meet a much older man, 20 years her senior, she met online. They met as avatars within a game playing chess. But Billie actually used three different avatars, all leaning into different tendencies of hers, in the course of the game. She also lied about her age and much of her life story [borrowing from her much older sister] as they got to know each other allegedly outside of their respective avatars.

Coincidentally or not, the hotel where the two are to meet in NY is host to a Superhero convention. Everyone there has layers of identities. Many of the superheroes are also looking for sidekicks that are willing to lose their independent identities in favor of a new one based on their association with their respective superhero.

Convoluted? Indeed. It doesn’t help–but it gets the point across–that Billie flips between telling the story of her weekend in the third person with the first person and frequent references with her avatar identities as independent of herself. . .

This tale appears in the anthology, Superheroes edited by Rich Horton. I’ve previously read this author’s “The Cinderella Game”, “The Game of Smash and Recovery”, “I Can See Right Through You” and “Monster”.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Anthology Review: Kabu-Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor

Kabu KabuKabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This anthology is a collection of short mostly speculative stories with tinges of sci-fi, fantasy, folktale and the supernatural. A few come from the same world in which a few individuals have the ability to fly. These are excerpts from the author’s unpublished novel. Many fall short of feeling fully developed, resting instead at vignette status. None stand far above or below the rest.

One commonality throughout the collection is Nigeria as a background, often with American narrators. The uneasy pairing of Nigerian and American interests and values is the greatest strength to the anthology.

I rated and reviewed all of the component short stories to this collection:
     “Asunder”–4 stars
     “The Baboon War”–3 stars
     “Bakasi Man”–3 stars
     “Biafra”–2 stars
     “The Black Stain”–2 stars
     “The Carpet”–2 stars
     “The Ghastly Bird”–2 stars
     “The House of Deformities”–3 stars
     “How Inyang Got Her Wings”–3 stars
     “Icon”–3 stars
     [w/ Alan Dean Foster]–“Kabu Kabu”–2 stars
     “Long Juju Man”–2 stars
     “The Magical Negro”–2 stars
     “Moom!”–2 stars
     “On the Road”–2 stars
     “The Palm Tree Bandit”–3 stars
     “The Popular Mechanic”–2 stars
     “Spider the Artist”–4 stars
     “Tumaki”–3 stars
     “The Winds of Harmattan”–2 stars
     “Windseekers”–2 stars

Also by this author, I’ve previously read:
     “Hello, Moto”–2 stars
     Binti [Binti, #1]–4 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

Half a War (Shattered Sea, #3)Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the worthy conclusion to the Shattered Seas trilogy. While not rising to the level of the second in the series, this installment is very good nevertheless. The trend continues of new protagonists steering the plot, while the series’ previous protagonists take strong secondary positions.

War has spread across the land as the High King and his vast armies look to overtake the loosely allied and normally mutually hostile nations of Gettland, Vansterland, and Throvenland. Whereas, the previous protagonists all arose from the capital of Gettland, the book follows Skara the princess of Throvenland as she finds her life and country upended. The competing and chafing goals for each nation threaten to break the alliance at every turn. Princess Skara’s initial introduction parallels that of Prince Yarvi in the first book. But it’s soon made clear that Skara accepts the duty of the crown and the pressures of diplomacy while Yarvi took his cunning in a self-serving, scheming direction.

The primary theme to the book explores what makes for a good warrior and a good war. What makes hostility justifiable.

The secondary theme to the book explores duty and love. Skara struggles to find the balance between what she wants and romantically and the expectations of her role. Meanwhile, young Koll and Rin have become romantically involved with each other since their introduction in the second book. However, as Yarvi’s apprentice for the Ministry, Koll is expected to give up notions of marriage and romance. In both cases, no room for compromise is left open.

I’ve previously read and reviewed:
     Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1)–4 stars
     Half the World (Shattered Sea, #2)–5 stars
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novel Review: Steel Victory by J. L. Gribble

Steel VictorySteel Victory by J.L. Gribble
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An uneven smorgasbord of fantasy and urban fantasy tropes jumble together in a post-nuclear apocalypse setting. A millennia after the nuclear war, society has reformed with humans, elves, vampires, mages, and were-creatures of all sorts. The political entities are the New World Greek city-state of Limani and the British and Roman Empires somehow revived after the wars. This unlikely mix stretches the suspension of disbelief to the breaking point in its refusal to world-build with any sort of coherence.

POVs alternate between a thousand-y.o. vampire, Victory, as she juggles the politics of Limani dealing with both internal xenophobic pro-humanists and external Roman aggression and that of her adopted, mage-warrior teenaged daughter offering the angst-ridden, young adult angle.

Eyebrow raising developments lie around every plot twist. The implication of a bonded pair of mage-warriors. The implication of said pair being separated. An unexplained curse that stops one from doing magic. The threat of a 1000-y.o. nuclear missile without a delivery system.

The convoluted cultural and historical structure assumed in the tale would strengthen with careful pruning. This would allow the two themes of conservative xenophobia and imperial expansionism to take root. Each has merits worth exploring.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]