Tag Archives: dystopian near-future

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc #Crimson Ash by #Haley Sulich #Brainfluffbookreview #bookreview

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I thought this a fascinating premise and am always attracted by a YA dystopian science fiction world as a number of them have proved to be interesting and enjoyable reads.

You may live as a soldier or face death. Choose wisely.
Solanine Lucille wants her little sister back. Eight years ago, the government kidnapped her sister Ember, stole her memories, and transformed her into a soldier. But Solanine refuses to give up. Now that she and her fiancé have located the leader of a rebel group, she believes she can finally bring Ember home. But then the soldiers raid the rebels, killing her fiancé and leaving Solanine alone with her demons and all the weapons needed for revenge.

After raiding a rebel camp, sixteen-year-old Ember doesn’t understand why killing some boy bothers her. She’s a soldier—she has killed hundreds of people without remorse. But after she fails a mission, the rebels hold her hostage and restore her memories. Ember recognizes her sister among the rebels and realizes the boy she killed was Solanine’s fiancé.

As you can see, there are some heavy-duty events along with the resultant emotional cost going on in this story. I had thought the sibling relationship would the at the heart of the story. In the event, because this is an action-led adventure rather than all about the characters, while it is an important part of the plot, it doesn’t particularly drive it forward. Apart from anything else, the sisters spend a significant part of the book at cross-purposes with each other.

To be honest, I’m still not completely sure of my response about this one – there is a great deal of action and the world is bleakly awful, with a psychotic monster running the City of Graven. The consequences of existing within such a dark landscape, pervaded by loss are clearly spelt out – alcoholism and suicide are depicted within the story by some major characters and kudos to Sulich for having the courage to depict protagonists who are not invincibly cheerful in the face of hopeless odds against them.

But I did find the plot looped along a pattern, where something bad happens, one of our protagonists is cast down, painfully rallies to the point of fighting back, only for something else bad to happen so that they are cast down, before rallying… And this happened to most of the main protagonists. Fortunately, the final climax broke free from that.

I found the City of Graven really fascinating and would have liked a bit more insight into exactly how it was set up and why. Overall, it was an action-packed, intense read and is ideal for fans of YA dystopian worlds where it’s all about what happens next.
7/10

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Teaser Tuesday – 2nd January, 2018

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Subversive by Paul Grzegorzek

59% All of a sudden we emerged at another station, the first warning, a still-clothed skeleton that caught Lucy’s foot as we passed. The sound of bones clacking against the rail was almost deafening, as was the silence from behind us at the noise. There was no way our pursuers hadn’t heard that, and if they weren’t sure where we were before, they knew now.

BLURB: London, 2123. A century after ebola-bombs decimated the population, PC Sean Weaver of the Combined Police Force is a drone operative tasked with enforcing the Government’s dictatorial rule. Nearly anything and everything is considered Subversive and the people huddle behind ever-watched walls, under threat of forced labour on The Farms for the smallest infraction. Trust is nearly impossible to come by and terrorists could be anywhere. Trapped within this oppressive regime, Sean has to make do with small, secretive acts of rebellion lest he end up on The Farms himself.

Until, that is, the day he witnesses the mass murder of hundreds of civilians. Events quickly spiral out of control, propelling him into a bloody and brutal conflict where he finds himself faced with the ultimate choice. Accept his fate and bury the truth, or fight back and become… Subversive.

I am really enjoying this one. Sean is a great protagonist and Grzegorzek is very good at throwing him into impossible situations against some truly unpleasant antagonists. If you like your dystopian science fiction thriller heaving with action in a worryingly plausible grim world, then this one comes recommended. Review to follow.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Real-Town Murders – Book 1 of The Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts

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A near-future murder mystery written by Adam Roberts seemed an irresistible combination, but I’m a sucker for a science fiction crime thriller, so was my enthusiasm justified?

Alma is a private detective in a near-future England, a country desperately trying to tempt people away from the delights of Shine, the immersive successor to the internet. But most people are happy to spend their lives plugged in, and the country is decaying. Alma’s partner is ill, and has to be treated without fail every 4 hours, a task that only Alma can do. If she misses the 5 minute window her lover will die. She is one of the few not to access the Shine. So when Alma is called to an automated car factory to be shown an impossible death and finds herself caught up in a political coup, she knows that getting too deep may leave her unable to get home.

I was convinced initially that this was going to be the classic closed-room mystery – until the action suddenly kicked off, the plot jinked sideways and it all turned into something quite different… I love it when that happens! There are only a handful of writers that can pull off these flourishes with such panache, but Roberts happens to be one of them. The story surged forward, as the worldmaking redefined this thriller into something quite different.

Alma is stuck in the real world, tethered by the specific needs of her lover who has been struck down by a genetically specific cancer attuned to Alma’s DNA, meaning that she is the only one who can successfully nurse and treat Marguerite. Alongside the case, Roberts rolls out this intriguing world where increasingly the majority of people live and work in the virtual paradise that is the Shine. So what happens to the increasingly lopsided power dynamic between the virtual governing body and the real-time government?

Amidst the mayhem of full-on action scenes, there are some also genuinely amusing moments – I loved the faces of famous Britons that have been carved into the chalk cliffs of Dover to try and provide some belated attraction in the real world. Rebranding the town of Reading as R! also is funny and authentic as the kind of meaningless fluff the powers-that-be indulge in to be seen to do something about the increasing inequality between the real and virtual world.

The initial murder throws up all sorts of issues and pitchforks Alma into the middle of a really scary adventure, which bring her to notice of some very dangerous people – although, worryingly, it seems she has already been on somebody’s list. She is an enjoyable, sympathetic heroine, though if I have a grizzle, it’s that the characters seem to be able to soak up an insane amount of physical damage and still stagger forth. However, that is a minor grumble – overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable near-future whodunit and I notice with joy in my heart that it is the first in a series. Yippee!

While I obtained the arc of The Real-Town Murders from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 16th August, 2016

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Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Autonomy by Jude Houghton
34% The tour included endless rows of pristine assembly lines, the workers silently and efficiently autonomyconstructing components, machine shops full of smoke and dust and grease, a triage centre, a cafeteria that fed a million people a day with jellyfish and insects, and even an underground catacomb of stone shelves where workers in tightly overlapping shifts were allowed to rest for a couple of hours.

“So in total we have seven hundred and fifty buildings, each with twenty thousand workers, and a turnover of over thirty-five million employees a day,’ Solquist said proudly.

BLURB: Balmoral Murraine works in a Battery, assembling devices she doesn’t understand for starvation pay. Pasco Eborgersen is the pampered son of an Elite, trying to navigate the temptations of the Pleasure Houses, the self-sacrifice of the Faith, and the high-octane excitement of Steel Ball. They never should have met, and now they will rip the world apart.

What happens when ninety percent of the world lives on skaatch – a jellyfish and insect composite?
What happens when mankind spends more time in alternative life sims instead of in the “real” world?
What happens when economic interest is the sole determinant of global decision making?
What happens when a single secret is discovered that calls into question everything we have ever believed?
Welcome to the Autonomy. Welcome to your future.

This is a compelling near future tale about what happens when civilisation crashes in 2020. The remnants of world leaders decide in their wisdom (highly plausible when you think that many current governments are clearly unfit to lead us out of a wet paper bag…) that runaway capitalism is the way to keep humanity alive. The writing is smooth and readable, the plotting sharp and the message very chilling… I’m loving it.

2016 Discovery Challenge – March Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. How have I done in March?

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
I have to thank NetGalley for this book, as I would never have considered it otherwise. But I’m so glad I read it.

radiosilenceWhat if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong? Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside. But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral. Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down and she will need every bit of courage she possesses to help herself, and her friend.

I really like this book’s examination of growing up in the modern world and the struggle for teenagers to find their own identities, amidst the peer pressure, demands of school, parental expectations and hopes as well as the pull-push that is social media. Oseman demonstrates both the opportunities the internet can provide for isolated people to express themselves – and the bear trap it can become when online attention turns carnivorous. It helps that Oseman is only twenty-one and therefore, of the generation who has been through this process. Read my full review here.

The Sector – Book 1 of the Non-Compliance series by Paige Daniels
Shea Kelly had a brilliant career in technology, but after refusing to implant and invasive government device in her body she was sent to a modern-day reservation: a Non-Compliance sector, a lawless the sectorcommunity run by thugs and organised crime. She’s made a life for herself as a resourceful barkeep, and hacks for goods on the black market with her best friend Wynne, a computer genius and part-time stripper. Life is pretty quiet under the reigning Boss, apart from run-ins with his right hand man, the mighty Quinn: until Danny Rose threatens to take over the sector. Pushed to the edge, Shea decides to fight back…

Set in a dystopian near-future, where a series of environmental disasters and illness have swept through the population, an increasingly controlling government decides to chip everyone. The story is unrolled with the punch and pace normally reserved for urban fantasy, right down to the first person viewpoint and feisty, kickass character. I really enjoyed this one and tore through it far too fast – although that won’t be a problem, as we do have the other two books in the series. Read the full review here.

Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell – a prequel to the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry
Make no mistake, the Underworld is not a cheerful place. Brinkloven Crowley the Third is a Prince of brinksunfortunateescapeHell and he does NOT like living among his kind. He searches tirelessly for a way to escape. Then an escape finds HIM, and it is most unfortunate… Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell is the prequel to the middle grade series Skycastle, the Demon, and Me.

Brink is a protagonist I found it easy to sympathise with in this chirpy Children’s Fantasy offering. It is easy to understand why he’d hide away and read, given the unpleasant characters wandering around Hell – not least his large, loud-mouthed brother. I found the latter scenes in the book easier to visualise than the earlier ones where he is scurrying through Hell and the grey demon Torque was one of my favourite characters. And the final interchange between Jack and Brink suddenly brought the story to life in a way that made me want to check out the first book in the Skycastle series. Read the full review here.

 

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
Kit has been projecting into other species for seven years. Longer than anyone else at ShenCorp. Longer than any of the scientists thought possible. But lately she has the feeling that when she jumps she isn’t alone…manyselvesofkatherine

Since she was twelve, Kit has been a phenomenaut, her consciousness projected into the bodies of lab-grown animals for the purpose of research. Kit experiences a multitude of other lives – fighting and fleeing, predator and prey – always hoping, but never quite believing, that her work will help humans better understand the other species living alongside them. But after a jump as an urban fox ends in disaster, Kit begins to suspect that those she has trusted for her entire working life may be out to cause her harm. And, as she delves deeper into the events of that night, her world begins to shift in ways she had never thought possible.

Geen’s writing is amazing as she immerses us in Kit’s projections into a variety of animals in the beautifully depicted first person viewpoint. This is firmly in the realm of science fiction, so we have a ringside seat as Kit struggles to acclimatise to the new body – there is even a plausible-sounding name for the sensation overload – Sperlman’s syndrome – as her human sensibilities have to adapt to the new sensory input produced by different bodies. Geen’s prose gives us a masterclass in sensory writing at its best. I will be posting this review in early June, when this book is released, but I featured it in the Teaser Tuesday here.

Once more, I managed to exceed my target – in fact, I doubled it by reading four books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered. So far, 2016 has been a remarkable reading year – and this Discovery Challenge has been a major factor in ensuring I continue to read more enjoyable, well-written books by talented women authors.

Teaser Tuesday – 8th March 2016

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TeaserTeaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Flawed by Cecelia Ahern
6%: I understand the rules. But today I feel that the rules have been blurred, because today they were flawedliterally on my front doorstep.

BLURB : Celestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan.
But then Celestine encounters a situation in which she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule and now faces life-changing repercussions. She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found FLAWED. In a society where perfection is paramount and mistakes are punished, Celestine decides to take a stand that could cost her everything.

This is an ARC I’m reading, provided by NetGalley and is Ahern’s first foray into YA. It’s early days, but so far, so good! I’m really enjoying it…

Review of Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

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Well, this is an interesting one… I scooped it off the shelves, after hearing some mixed opinions about it. Would I enjoy it?

memoryofwaterWhen Noria Kaitio reaches her seventeenth birthday, she is entrusted with the secret of a freshwater spring hidden deep within the caves near her small rural village. Its preservation has been the responsibility of her family for generations. Apprenticed to her father, one of the last true tea masters, when Noria takes possession of the knowledge, she becomes much more than the guardian of ancestral treasure: soon, she will hold the fate of everyone she loves in her hands.

While there is a huge clue in the subject matter – the tea ceremony isn’t exactly crammed with fight scenes or car chases – I would like to emphasise that this is science fiction with a strong literary component, therefore the pace is on the leisurely side. For action fans, the compensation is beautiful prose and a ringside seat as a complex, all too flawed character flails around trying to do her best with an increasingly grim situation. Indeed, I spent the second half of the book wishing I could shake some sense into her. But it was all too feasible, as Noria is hopelessly ill equipped to deal with the forces ranging against her, given her training and inclination.

The worldbuilding is subtle and believable. Sadly. The fact that the military is desperate to gain control of all water sources is chillingly plausible – as is their tactic of steadily poisoning the population by squeezing their water ration until people are forced to drink almost anything liquid. It’s a devastatingly effective form of genocide, given how fast we die once water is withdrawn. So there is an inevitability to the outcome. Though I didn’t see the manner in which it unfolded… As for the Epilogue – well that’s a blinder! It completely changed my outlook on the book and its intent. I found myself reappraising Noria’s actions in the light of that final snippet of information and wondering if there was a way things could have ended differently. And concluded they probably couldn’t.

You’ll have gathered this book really got under my skin. I cannot recall feeling quite so churned up about an ending, which means that the book has succeeded – I read a fair amount and though I never bother finishing a book I don’t like, most don’t lodge like a burr at the back of my brain in the way Memory of Water has. I’d love to know what other folks think of this book – so if you have read it, please drop by and tell me your opinion of it, especially that ending!
10/10

Review of The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

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Anyone who has spent any time on this site will know that I’m a huge fan of Mitchell – Cloud Atlas is one of my alltime favourite books. So would I enjoy this offering?

theboneclocksRun away, one drowsy summer’s afternoon, with Holly Sykes: wayward teenager, broken-hearted rebel and unwitting pawn in a titanic, hidden conflict. Over six decades, the consequences of a moment’s impulse unfold, drawing an ordinary woman into a world far beyond her imagining.

Right from the first page, I was drawn into this episodic narrative. Holly has run away after discovering her best friend in bed with her boyfriend. Though I was reading it on an autumn night, I was whisked away to the blistering heat as Holly has an emotional meltdown. And during this starting point, events unspool during that particular afternoon that go on having consequences for decades to come. The next five episodes that comprise the whole narrative all circle around that primary event, in one way or another as we also chart Holly’s life. It’s a difficult life. Being singled out doesn’t make for an easy time of it. But Mitchell does what he does best – provide a series of sharply written, beautifully crafted slices of action that allow us to join up the dots and provide the overarching narrative. My personal favourites are the first one – ‘A Hot Spell’, ‘The Wedding Bash’ and the chilling final ‘Sheep’s Head’.

However, it is a masterpiece of storytelling and the themes are around the notion of good and evil and what makes someone a survivor. As well what the cost of survival may be. If you enjoyed Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – see my review here – you may have a clue about the narrative, but as Mitchell slowly reveals the heart of the story in careful stages, only revealing the whole enormity of the plot by the end of the fifth section, I’m not going to venture into Spoiler territory.

While you won’t find Mitchell on the shelves marked Sci F and Fantasy – he is regarded as a Literary writer – there is a fantasy/science fiction mash-up at the heart of this story. He is always worth reading and the fact that in this book, he ventures yet again into one of my favourite genres is a major bonus. And if you like your fantasy with a quality label on it, then give this a go. No one writes his particular brand of fiction better…
10/10

Review of Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch

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I loved the look of the cover and having all the depth of a pavement puddle, the book was off the shelves and into my hands before you could blink. In addition, the writer wasn’t a name I recognised – and as one of my targets this year is to read more books by authors I don’t know, I came away very pleased with myself…

tomorrowandtomorrowTen years after the attack that reduced Pittsburgh to ashes, all that remains is the Archive: an interactive digital record of the city and its people. John Dominic Blaxton is a ‘lucky one’. He survived the blast, but, crippled by the loss of his wife and unborn daughter, his days are spent immersed in the Archive with the ghosts of yesterday. It is there that he finds the record of a forgotten body. Who was this woman? And why is someone hacking the system to delete her seemingly unremarkable life? The hunt for the truth will drag Dominic from the darkest corners of the past into a deadly and very present nightmare.

The tone and pacing is more at the literary end of the genre, so don’t start this book expecting to be immediately whisked into a breathless whirl of action. After the initial shock, Sweterlitsch gives Dominic plenty of time to establish his daily routine, rambling through the digitised streets of Pittsburgh and haunting his longlost home with his wife. The prose is beautiful – shot through with yearning and loss.

This is the overarching theme of this book – what happens to the griefstricken when they can revisit events from their past, still have conversations with their dead partners and interact with them? The answer Sweterlitsch gives, is that there are some who are unable to move on – who spend all their time and resources stuck in the past. And Dominic is one of these lost souls…

The first person, present tense viewpoint gives us a ringside seat into his life and character. In order for this story to really work, we need to care about him and his predicament – which means that while we sympathise with his dogged determination not to move on from the life he built with his young wife in Pittsburgh, we also admire his inability to let the unknown young woman fade into obscurity. As we journey with Dominic on his travels, the constant pornography and gratuitous sexual content to sell everything and everyone – from celebrities to cars – is shocking. Sweterlitsch doesn’t hold back – think of the worst excesses committed on Facebook and Twitter, multiply it by a factor of ten and then normalise it – and you have the world Dominic inhabits.

As the story progresses Sweterlitsch handles the rising tension very well. While the pace is on the leisurely side, the sense of wrongness steadily increases, so that once the action really picks up, this book is difficult to put down. I stayed awake far too long once I got within touching distance of the denouement to discover what happens.

While this is flagged as Sweterlitsch’s debut novel, he is clearly no raw beginner. The prose is accomplished, the characterisation detailed and complex, the world vividly depicted and the unfolding situation handled with a sure deftness that means the climax doesn’t fall flat. The ending ties up all the loose plotpoints and gives each character within the story a reasonable journey. Any niggles? I did feel the villain at the heart of the conspiracy was rather two-dimensional and if he had been the only antagonist, this would have been a real problem. However there was another far more plausible antagonist, so this wasn’t a dealbreaker.

And if your taste runs to well depicted, science fiction thrillers, then go looking for this book – you won’t be disappointed.
9/10

Review of The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

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The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant – and in her world, the world of Scion, she commits treason by breathing.

bone seasonAnd that is the first half of the rather chatty blurb about this intriguing world of Shannon’s. She has landed an eye-bulging amount of money for this seven-book series, apparently. Paige is definitely another gutsy heroine out of the same mould as Katniss Everdeen, although clearly looking for a strong father-figure as she takes far more nonsense from Jaxon than she should… I liked her spikiness and the glimpses of this alternate future England, where the memory of Edward VII is reviled as the wicked Jack the Ripper for feeding his unnatural voyant talents with murder and mayhem. The current despotic republic has frozen fashions, so that everyone is wearing Victorian garb and while there are some techie gismos, Paige doesn’t have access to them. She is busy using her unusual talents to give her crimegang family access to ill-gotten gains. Until everything changes…

Shannon has an eye for a striking turn of phrase and gives us occasional vivid pictures of her world. I also enjoyed her underworld slang, which was a pleasing mesh of invented words and historical phrases and – in my opinion – worked well enough without the thoughtfully provided glossary.

However there is a but lurking… While I did enjoy the book, the pacing is very uneven. There are periods where I was almost skimming, as Paige internally wrestles with the forces ranged against her, but when the action suddenly kicks off, it continues accelerating, adding a series of major revelations about the world in amongst all the chases and violence, so that I ended up rereading a couple of sections, to make sure I knew what was happening.

I also found the worldbuilding a tad frustrating. I get that this is a layered, intricate place with a lot going on. But far too much was withheld initially – I had no clear idea about the overall political structure. And as for the Warden and exactly who was whom in that setup later in the novel – again, I found the lack of information starting to interfere with my enjoyment of the story. The Enims felt too much like an additional menace that had to be added to keep everyone sufficiently penned up, rather than an integral part of the world, for instance. With the first person viewpoint, we got a very blinkered slice of the world and while I generally am quite happy to go with the flow, I did find there were far too many unanswered questions at the conclusion of this book for it to be a truly satisfying read.

However I’ve reviewed it, because despite my reservations, I enjoyed the story and found Shannon’s voice sufficiently compelling to want to track down the second book, The Mime Order, when it becomes available. If only to answer one or three of those unanswered questions about exactly what is going on…
7/10