Book Review: The Trials of Koli (Rampart Trilogy #2) by M.R. Carey

The Trials of Koli by MR Carey

Rating:  ★★★★★

The Trials of Koli picks up where The Book of Koli left off.  Koli and Ursala and Cup are heading to London and chasing the signal of The Sword of Albion.  Meanwhile, we are also treated to Spinner’s POV, and following her journey in the present timeline.  

This book seemed to have more action in it than the first one, but even without the action I was hanging on every word.  If you liked the characters the first time around, they’ll hook their claws in you in book two and not let you go.  Ursala and Monono seem to take a step back. They are still there and active in the story, but the reader is given more insight into Spinner and Cup and it’s impossible not to care about them.

Carey builds upon the world he’s made here- giving us glimpses of how other villages live, of other tech that exists, of belief systems, ruins of the old world and defenses used, etc.  Where I felt unsure about how dangerous the world really was in book one and wanted to see more of it- the danger is full blown here. I was left wondering how anyone at all is left alive. (In other words- were I a character in this book, I doubt very much I’d have lived past page one…)

The writing style is still very much the same (stream of consciousness-Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn style).  Personally I love it and think it helps bring the characters to life but I know for some that was a sticking point.

Anyway- I don’t want to spoil anything, I just came to say that while The Book of Koli is outstanding, somehow The Trials of Koli is even better.  I can’t wait to get my hands on book three!

The Trials of Koli released on September 15, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.  Thank you to Orbit Books and NetGalley for the review copy!

Book Review: Afterland by Lauren Beukes

afterland-by-lauren-beukes

Rating:  ★★★1/2

Afterland is about the Manpocalypse. How could I not pick up a book about the Manpocalypse? (And yes, they really call it that in the book.)  Anyway, we follow a mother, Cole, and her son, Miles, across the country as they attempt to flee back to their homeland.  They are being chased by Cole’s crazy sister Billy, who wants to sell Miles’s boy-specific-body-fluids on the black market, and the goverment, sort of.  I say sort of because the goverment, disappointingly, doesn’t come much in to play in the present timeline.

Now before I start this review, I want to say that I mostly enjoyed this book.  The writing was hard-hitting and edgy.  The characters were flawed and sympathetic.  The story moves along at a good clip most of the time.  However Beukes’s books always seem to leave me unsatisfied. I feel like they are blurbed and advertised in a way that promises something the books never deliver on.

 In this case, it was the world building.  I wanted to know what the world looked like with most of the men gone. I wanted to know what happened to all those male-dominated fields. Did commercial air travel come to a dead halt?  What about construction?  Was there some sort of emergency training program to get women involved in those fields?  What happened to some of the immune men? Am I to believe they are all under government protection? They didn’t go off on their own and start a cult where they were worshipped by women?  Or worse, abducted and held prisoner? I don’t know. I just wanted to see more. I wanted a tour of what the world looked like post-Manpocalypse and we’re given a frustratingly narrow view.

There is a point, about midway, where Cole and Miles encounter a religious cult.  The plot seems to slow quite a bit here and begins a lot of preaching about God and His plans which grew tiresome for me very quickly.

Otherwise I enjoyed this for the most part. I think if you go into it knowing you won’t be getting to see all those things I was hoping for, you could enjoy it.  The writing was the best part for me and in places reminiscent of The Mere Wife, but unfortunately falls just short of the mark of being a great book.

Afterland can be found on GoodReads and Amazon if you’d like to check it out.

Book Review: Eden by Tim Lebbon

Eden by Tim Lebbon

Rating:  ★★★

Eden is a science fiction eco-thriller in which a group of extreme sports enthusiasts and supposed environmentalists race through one of the last places on Earth that has been reserved for nature. Eden is known as a Virgin Zone, a place where all the humans have been relocated, and whose borders are agressively protected by paramilitary groups (Zeds? Zions? I don’t really care).  These places have been given back to nature in an effort to preserve them from human pollution/poaching/ deforestation/etc..

I had been looking forward to this since I first heard about it.  It sounded like it might be one of those SciFi-Horror crossover books I’m so fond of (a la Crichton) and best of all it was set in a jungle- which is one of my favorite settings for a book (especially one that contains elements of horror).

Which is why I am so very displeased to tell you that this is probably one of the most mediocre, vanilla, unexciting books I have ever fucking read.

I didn’t even know it was possible to write a Science-Fiction-Eco-Thriller-Horror-Genre-Bender that was this fucking boring.

First of all- the character motivations don’t make any sense.  Supposedly all these characters care deeply for the environment.  They believe in the purpose of the Virgin Zones.  They think what humans have done to the planet is horrible.

So what the hell are they doing violating the laws of these zones? Contaminating these pure zones with their presence?  For bragging rights?  I don’t buy it.  And judging by the number of times the author made his characters repeat some justification of their actions, I don’t think he really bought it either.

But that’s not really my problem with this book.  I can get down with a good popcorn thriller where the idiot victim is running up the stairs instead of outside.  It’s basically my favorite kind of book (and movie for that matter).

What is not forgivable, is that the big bad guys are a lynx, a coyote, and a wolf.

First of all.  I thought Eden was supposed to be what was left of the Amazon Rainforest.  None of those animals are native to that area (I have yet to even mention the grizzly that shows up- I’m not spoiling this. I’m doing you a favor.).  I am willing to accept that perhaps I am mistaken about where Eden is set.  I still think that these are ridiculously boring choices for what is supposed to be a horror book.

It was borderline insulting. As if the author put no thought or effort into the book at all. Like these were the first animals he thought of so he went with it and never bothered to edit them into something more exciting (hell I would have accepted the bear- but it gets no action).

Jurassic World More Teeth

Why yes, Dr. Wu.  Yes I did.

What about a crocodile?  A huge nest of giant poisonous spiders?  An anaconda?  A leopard?!  A terrible alien predator thing with too many teeth?

Forgive my rambling.  The characters weren’t too terrible for what they are.  I can’t say I cared too much for any of them but it’s not the kind of book you read for it’s deep character building.

There wasn’t much suspense built in. The author reveals his hand too early, doesn’t take the time to build up the suspense properly.  There are subplots that don’t make much sense…. ugh.  The reason for the animal attacks is never given any explanation or thought (and frankly, that subplot was a lot scarier than what actually happened).

I know this is a very rant-tastic review so I’d like to close this by saying Eden isn’t really as bad as all that… but it’s also not worth reading. I’d check out Devolution by Max Brooks if you’re looking for something in this vein.  Or a re-read of Jurassic Park.  Or pretty much anything else. #SorryNotSorry

Book Review: The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey

The Book of Koli by MR Carey

Rating:  ★★★★★

The Book of Koli is a book I have been very excited for since I first heard about it earlier this year.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, given this is my first time reading Carey, but I am thrilled to report he did not disappoint.

The world presented here is one of the more unique worlds I think I’ve encountered. It’s set in a future earth in which trees and plants have become deadly to humans.  On sunny days the trees are active (physically active!), so the village must wait for the rainy, grey days to venture out and do their hunting.  Most of the world’s human population has died out, so people live in villages few and far between.

These villages are run by people with the “magical” ability to wake up tech.  No one knows how the tech chooses who it will work for or why.  These leaders are known as Ramparts.  Koli, our MC, dreams of becoming Koli Rampart, wielding his own tech and joining the ranks of leaders and lawmakers.  The overall result is a strange mix of antiquated societal structure combined with some far future dystopian technology.

The voice of Koli is very strong.  It almost reminded me of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.  The grammar is often incorrect, the sentences run on in stream of consciousness style.  While it might bother some readers, I found it somewhat endearing, and easy to connect with Koli as a character.  I also enjoyed the other characters, Ursala-From-Elsewhere and Monono Aware (A-wa-ray).   Ursala especially, with her intelligence and compassion, but also the prickly and unapproachable exterior.

The plot moves along at a breakneck pace.  I found the book almost impossible to put down and read it in just a couple of days.  That’s the fastest I’ve read a book all year.  The plot twists and turns and propels Koli from one peril to the next.  From about the midway point on- Koli’s situation never feels safe.  He cannot take a break to rest, his future is uncertain, and he is surrounded by danger, either from nearby people, animals, or plants.

I also loved the very natural way in which this story is told.  It feels like you might be sitting down with an old friend to hear where they’ve been and what they’ve been up to the past ten years.  Details are woven in about the past through Monono, explaining pieces of what happened to the world and what it was like before it ended.

I do wish we had been able to learn a little more about the natural environment.  I’m curious about the killer trees and the way some animals have evolved over time.  The plot appears to be leading away from village life to an adventure on the road, so I’m hopeful we’ll see more of this in book two.  (And thank goodness we only have to wait until September for it!).

I highly recommend The Book of Koli.  It is brilliantly written, with fully realized characters and detailed world-building.  It releases on April 14, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads, or preordered on Amazon.  Thank you to Orbit Books, who supplied an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Can’t Wait Wednesday: Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Title: Phoenix Extravagant  Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Author:  Yoon Ha Lee

Publisher: Rebellion / Solaris

Genre: Fantasy

Length: 416 Pages

Release Date: June 9, 2020

Blurb: For generations the empire has spread across the world, nigh-unstoppable in their advance. Its power depends on its automata, magically animated and programmed with sigils and patterns painted in mystical pigments.

A symbol-painter – themselves a colonial subject – is frustrated in their work when their supply of Phoenix Extravagant dries up, and sets out to find the source. What they’ll discover is darker than anything they could have imagined…

Why I’m Excited for it:  Despite the difficult learning curve in Ninefox Gambit, I absolutely fell in love with the unique and complex world building and the flawed and yet weirdly lovable characters.  Though I am also eager to return to The Machineries of the Empire, I’m also excited to see what Lee does with a new world and new characters.

It also sounds like another fantastic blend of science fiction and fantasy with magic powered robot (dragons?).  Either way- I absolutely can’t wait for this!

Which new releases are you looking forward to?

Book Review: The Companions by Katie M. Flynn

The Companions by Katie M. Flynn

Rating:  ★★★1/2

In a future heavily shaped by numerous deadly flu pandemics (wow did I choose the wrong time to read it!), a company called Metis has begun uploading the consciousnesses of the dead, and then downloading them into robots called ‘Companions’.  These companions are most typically used as caregivers to the elderly or the young, but they can also be leased from Metis by the family of the dead.

It’s a theme that’s been covered before.  In this iteration, we follow the story of several characters whose paths all intersect in interesting ways.  Primarily this is the story of Lilac, who suffered a traumatic death and went on to become a caregiver.  Lilac has never really obeyed her security protocols.  Something makes her different.  She was one of the earliest companions, and it’s not long before she’s breaking free and trying to find people she once knew as a human.

In the blurb, The Companions is compared to Station Eleven.  And it isn’t completely wrong, though I think ultimately, Station Eleven was much better done.  This is a largely character driven novel, with a very thin semblance of a plot holding it together.  I don’t mean this in a bad way- I actually did enjoy the meandering pace and drifting nature of the plot.

The writing was okay.  Not particularly memorable but that means it isn’t particularly bad either.  I ultimately deducted a star for the ending, which felt rushed and strung together in a bunch of random scenes to tie it all up and put a bow on it.  I really didn’t understand what the author was getting at with what Nat was doing, or even the relationship between Nat and Gabe in the end, and really had no clue what Rachel’s real purpose was with her chapter.

I read an advanced copy, downloaded electronically several months before release, so I’d have to check to see if it was re-written at all to make it more cohesive.  If it was- this could easily have been a 4 star read.

Thank you to the publisher for the electronic review copy.  The Companions released on March 3, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.

Book Review: Surrender by Ray Loriga

Surrender by Ray Loriga

Rating:  ★★★

Surrender is a dystopian novel reminiscent of many a book that came before: 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  I don’t know when I’m going to learn my lesson.  I really didn’t like any of those books.  They are depressing and dark, and ultimately rather hopeless.

I’d like to tell you this is different…

I’d like to tell you that.

And I can’t.

We have our two unnamed (how original) protagonists.  The wife and the husband.  Their sons, whom they are very proud of, are away at war.  They adopted a boy they go on to name Julio, who appeared out of nowhere one day and lives in their basement since the protagonists don’t want the zoning agent to find out.  Eventually, the war creeps too close to home, and the zoning agent forces them to evacuate.

*cue doomsday music*

Anyway.  This new city seems pretty great at first.  It’s made of this cool new substance extracted from urine.  You get to shower next to your neighbor in the morning because the walls are transparent.  Intimate time with your significant other is spent that way too.  Left or right, up or down, you can see everyone doing everything all the time because somehow the tyrannical government found a way to shut off the night.  Surrender takes privacy loss to a whole new level.

This book is on the shorter side, but it didn’t take me any less time to read it.  It was very slow and I had to push myself to read more pages knowing I just wanted to be done with it.  It picked up for a little while at the end, then there was mass confuddledom and then it ended.

The moral of this story is: Life’s a bitch and then you die.

Shrugs.

I sort of wish I hadn’t wasted time on it.  It wasn’t badly written, but the tone of the book doesn’t seem to fit the occasional swear word that’s thrown in for seemingly no reason.  (Coming from someone who has no filter on her own mouth, that’s a problem.)  You’ll want to shake the MC at some point. Then you’ll want to shake his wife.  And others.

There are some interesting notes here considering perspectives- things aren’t always what they seem, and yes, we wear blinders, and yes, government is full of propaganda meant to bend those perceptions.  I liked those parts.  The characters felt real enough, I just wished we hadn’t been so distanced from them given their lack of names and the wife’s weird personality shift in part three.

Anyway- I’d recommend this to people who liked those three books I named at the beginning.  For my part I can say I actually did enjoy this more than those, just not enough to love this book.

Surrender released on February 25, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher who provided an ARC for review.

Book Review: The Bear by Andrew Krivak

The Bear by Andrew Krivak

Rating:  ★★★

The Bear is a literary science fiction/fantasy tale about the last two people on earth.  It’s short, and can be read in just a day if you have the time.  The two main characters are known only as Father and Girl.  When the story begins the girl is very young, and we watch as her father teaches her to survive the world.

The depictions of nature and scenery are beautifully done.  It’s hard to imagine a world in which everything is covered by forests and fields, the remnants of residential areas grown over and covered by soil, a place where animals have no fear of man kind.  There is a sense of wonder to it all.

The Bear feels like a fable rather than a book.  Something handed down over generations and told by a campfire.  The author never dives into the past- what happened to mankind, how these two people came to be the last on earth.  It’s strictly about the story of these last two survivors.

The pacing is slow despite the high level of tension and conflict found at the heart of the book, and the reader grows to care about the characters slowly throughout.  This is why the book ultimately ended up being only a three star read for me.  The story felt very heavy and lonely, and I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind to read a story like this one.  Everything else about the book- the setting, the writing, the feelings it evoked, are easily a four star read, but when I put the book down I was left feeling a little sad.  It’s unlikely that I’d ever pick this up to read again.

I’d recommend this to readers who like man versus nature stories or nature lovers in general.  The Bear released on February 11, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for sending an ARC for review.

Favorite SciFi Sub-genres

Part of what I love about science fiction is that it covers so many different topics.  Sometimes when I mention to others that I love science fiction, I feel like I occasionally get a funny look or two.  And then I wonder how many awesome books the person sitting across from me has either read without really realizing it was science fiction, or missed out on because they turned their nose up at something with the label.

So I thought I’d share some of my favorite sub-genres with you today, along with a few suggestions to check out if you’re looking to try some of them.

Apocalyptic / Post-Apocalyptic

I love stories about the end of the world.  Granted- my favorites are those that usually explore the darker side of human nature, books like Wanderers and King’s The Stand, but I also like hopeful stories that explore the survival of humanity as earth is becoming uninhabitable (e.g. The Calculating Stars).

What intrigues me about them is the way the human need (instinct?) to survive effects each character.  Will they do whatever it takes?  Will they commit unspeakable acts in the interest of protecting themselves and their families? Or will they come together and unite for a common cause?

First Contact / Alien Invasion

I love all fiction with aliens for a few different reasons.  The easy answer is the almost limitless opportunity it gives an author to exercise the limits of their imagination.  What kinds of tech do they have?  What kind of rituals do they practice?  What sort of hierarchy does their society follow?

But the more complex answer is that alien civilization can act as a sort of mirror, reflecting back all the ugly and beautiful truths about our own civilization.  It gives the reader a chance to question why things are the way they are, how they came to be that way, and how we could set ourselves on a path to change (hopefully for the better).

Dystopian / Utopian

This is an easy one and probably the most accessible to those who aren’t necessarily fans of SciFi and Fantasy.  I like dystopian because I think it’s interesting to consider how the in-book society evolved into what it became.  Qualityland, for example, is very obviously derived from Amazon’s dominion over the retail space.  On the other hand, utopian books examine what it might mean to try and please everyone, or put them all on an even playing field.

Science Fiction Thrillers

And of course- probably my most favorite genre of all- the science fiction thriller.  Not because they have any higher purpose, but because they are damn entertaining.

There are a couple other genres of SciFi I’m hoping to explore this year.  Topics that interest me or genres in which I’ve only read one or two books, but have enjoyed, despite not having had the time yet to dive deeper.

Biopunk

Biopunk is described as “derived from cyberpunk [that] focuses on the implications of biotechnology rather than information technology” (Wikipedia).  I read, and once very much enjoyed, Borne, but I’d love to see what else exists in the genre and how it is deployed.  The big one I have slated for this is Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, but I’ve talked about that particular book quite a bit recently and wanted to spotlight something different.

Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk is described as a “combination of low-life and high tech” (Wikipedia, Sterling Bruce, Burning Chrome by William Gibson preface).  Infomocracy probably fails on the first count.  I don’t think either of the two main characters are necessarily “low life”, but the book has a very urban, gritty, feel that I think qualifies it.  Last year I listened to SerialBox’s Ninth Step Station that I’d say qualifies as cyberpunk also.  Another book most people are probably familiar with is Ready Player One.  I loved them all and I definitely want to read more.

What are your favorite science fiction sub-genres?