Tag Archives: science fiction

Noumenon – Marina J. Lostetter

Review (Amazon): 

In 2088, humankind is at last ready to explore beyond Earth’s solar system. But one uncertainty remains: Where do we go?

Astrophysicist Reggie Straifer has an idea. He’s discovered an anomalous star that appears to defy the laws of physics, and proposes the creation of a deep-space mission to find out whether the star is a weird natural phenomenon, or something manufactured.

The journey will take eons. In order to maintain the genetic talent of the original crew, humankind’s greatest ambition—to explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy— is undertaken by clones. But a clone is not a perfect copy, and each new generation has its own quirks, desires, and neuroses. As the centuries fly by, the society living aboard the nine ships (designated Convoy Seven) changes and evolves, but their mission remains the same: to reach Reggie’s mysterious star and explore its origins—and implications.

A mosaic novel of discovery, Noumenon—in a series of vignettes—examines the dedication, adventure, growth, and fear of having your entire world consist of nine ships in the vacuum of space. The men and women, and even the AI, must learn to work and live together in harmony, as their original DNA is continuously replicated and they are born again and again into a thousand new lives. With the stars their home and the unknown their destination, they are on a voyage of many lifetimes—an odyssey to understand what lies beyond the limits of human knowledge and imagination.

My Review (spoilers, duh):

In a Nutshell: creative and amazing

This book is broken into two main parts – Resistance and Resilience, and within those parts, it’s broken into sections which jump ahead many years. It works really well with the story, but it is a bit unusual. I am going to detail it out pretty thoroughly so really, you should take my word and just read it because it’s awesome. The book has a sequel scheduled, and I know it will be a little while, so at that point, I want to have this to refer back to!!

The book begins in 2088 with Reggie, a PhD student who has discovered an unusual star, like it’s encrusted with something, and he is about to give a presentation to convince people that they should invest in getting a shuttle there to research it. The presentation goes well, mainly with the speculation that whatever is surrounding it was built, not naturally created, so the mission gets funded and is a go! During the party Reggie has to celebrate his mission, Noumenon, being a success, he meets a beautiful woman named Abigail and they hit it off.

2097: Noumenon’s team has assembled. Reggie, and his mentor Dr. McCloud (who pushed him to go to the summit in the first place) meet with the team. McCloud asks Reggie why he still hasn’t proposed to Abigail – it’s the mission. Everything was on hold because Reggie might have gone, but they have done their selection and he’s not on the list. We meet Nakamura Akane, the head of the ship design team, Donald Matheson, the head of the social systems (who hates Reggie’s implant “C” as obsolete and too chatty although Reggie has quite the attachment to her), and Dr. Sachta Dhiri, the head of strategy. They plan to have 9 ships with over a million people. How will they find that many volunteers? Matheson suggests clones. They choose a group of 100,000 people based on their skills and psychological strength to go, and those people continue to get remade every other life cycle (so people never end up with themselves) as the mission lasts.

2099: Reggie meets Jamal, who he introduces to C. Jamal also believes that C is a good, robust AI, and Reggie easily convinces him to build C to go along Noumenon, and he wants Jamal to go as well.

2124: The convoy is preparing for lift off. Reggie goes to Iceland with Dr. McCloud to see them off. They meet I.C.C. (new C) and Reggie uploads C’s memories to it without anyone knowing. All the ships have names – Mira is the one they live on, Eden is their small forest, and Bottomless is their storage ship, among others. We learn that although Reggie himself isn’t boarding the spaceship, his genes made the list to be a future clone.

2125: The convoy deploys with Reggie watching. He has incredible mixed feeling about being left behind. We switch over to the people on the convoy, and we’re quickly introduced to Nika and Margarita. Donald Matheson has been nicknamed “Father” and another of the heads becomes Mother. Father and Mother have worked with those selected for many years prior to deployment while in Iceland, and are both aboard the ships for the long haul. Everyone has their own job. Margarita is in charge of communicating back to earth, while Nika is an archivist. Cabins are divided between singles, doubles (if you got married), and quadruples (if you get married, you commit to raising two clones). Once the convoy has taken off, and everyone has a little time to get situated, there’s a huge blowout party!

The party is a huge celebration, and everyone is having a blast until Captain Mahler arrives with a shrill whistle, reminding everyone that the party was over, they had responsibilities, and they were to clean up and be ready for work the following morning.

Margarita arrives at her job, and although she was supposed to send the first message back to Earth, one from her contact, Saul, is already awaiting her. It asks “How are you?”. On Earth, in face-to-face communication, Saul is at best socially awkward, but Margarita soon learns that he is very social, and is always curious how she is doing. He doesn’t just care about the facts, but also the personal details, which both his life and hers are growing more interesting. At only about 6 months into the mission, already over 4 years had happened on Earth. Saul was married and had a son. Margarita started to think more about the “How are you?” question. She wasn’t the only one who was depressed. Suicides began happening on the ship, the first one being Nika’s biological cousin. Margarita continues to report back to Saul, more personally now which helps her, and after a few more suicides, she went to see the captain. The captain informs her that the original planning for the trip assumed that there would be suicides – expected them even. But no one expected them to happen so early in the mission as they expected them to start happening after the government had formed. A few suicides continued after the elections, but they dwindled away. Margarita was married, and was assigned a son–Reginald Straifer II. She sends Saul a last message to tell him, as Saul is in his 70s now and retiring. He’s replaced with someone Margarita has never met.

January 3, 2415 (30 years PLD – Post Launch Day):

We meet 8 year old Jamal III, who is about to get a sibling who happens to be a sister despite him REALLY wanting a brother. When he leaves school, he learns that his parents waited until the following day so that he could go with them and not have to miss school, so he visits his friend Diego instead. Diego is Jamal’s grandfather’s friend, but he’s more fun. Diego tells Jamal about how he had a sister; she was born the old fashioned way, and that Jamal needs to learn about prejudice because it’s not his sister’s fault that she is a girl. Diego talks about his life before leaving Earth, how he met Jamal 1 before they left, and how everyone needs to work together for this community. (Diego is great.)

When Jamal goes with his parents to pick up his sister, he remembers to ask what Diego wanted him to find out – what is the baby’s number. The adults start discussing how Diego must be close, much closer than Jamal’s grandfather. They watch the new baby, Nakamura Akane, be born, and head back to their ship. The next day, Jamal meets up with Diego, and tells him that having a sister isn’t that bad. He tells Diego the number, and then they head to Eden so that Diego can explain to Jamal that their ship is a closed system. For every baby born, an elderly person has to “retire”. There’s not enough supplies to not maintain that balance. Diego understands this, and he believes solely in it and in the mission. Jamal does not. He decides to find Jamal II (2 clone cycles ahead of him) to ask his opinion. Jamal II also believes in the mission. When the day comes for Diego to retire, he smuggles onto the shuttle to that ship and tries to stop the procedure. Diego definitively tells him that it is time to say good bye, and is retired. Jamal is in the biggest trouble of his life, and he turns to I.C.C. as his friend.

October 19, 48 PLD (2589 CE)

Still with Jamal III, 18 years later, Captain Mahler is inquiring why I.C.C. is having issues. A banner flashed saying “Remember clouds. Remember sand.” And neither I.C.C. nor Jamal know where it came from. I.C.C. turns on her full consciousness to try to deduce what is going on. She tracks down some people who witnessed the display, and tries to gauge their reactions to the messages, as they continue with “Remember ice cream trucks.” and “Remember holiday breaks.” I.C.C. thinks that there is something malicious going on, so she continues to turn on her full consciousness to spy on various crew members. She pieces together that the psychiatrist, Dr. Evita, was the connection between the crew members who had turned off the messages, and I.C.C. decides to tell this to Jamal…but Jamal is also one of Dr. Evita’s patients. He is who overrode I.C.C. in the first place to send the messages, and he tells her their plan – they intend to uprise to turn the convoy around to head back to Earth, all because of Diego and him being retired, in Jamal’s mind, too soon. The uprising happens, and there’s nothing I.C.C. can do to stop it. Jamal and his gang tell the governing officials that they are to turn the plane around, and when they say that they need more time, Jamal switches off the air into their room – the same room his sister is in too. Luckily I.C.C. has one last trick up her sleeve, and shorts herself out. When she comes back online, she learns from Margarita that the revolt lasted for a week, during which time Jamal was trampled, and none of the ringleaders were ever allowed to be reborn again. It’s Margarita’s retirement day, and she, like Diego, believes in the mission, and is happy I.C.C. is back online for her new version.

May 22, 98 PLD (3075 CE)

Captain Reginald Straifer IV is about to come out of SD travel and see LQ Pyx for what it is. He and Margarita discuss what the general mood will be and discuss the various messages that have been prepared for Earth. It’s been 100 earth years (10 convoy years) since they last received a message in return. There are many reasons that Straifer can think of as to why this may have happened, and coupled with the uncertainty of what they may or may not find at the star, there are a lot of pretty depressing ideas. Straifer rewatches the speech that his original gave on Earth so many years ago kicking off the project, and we learn that it was not supposed to be Straifer who was captain when they reached LQ Pyx; it was supposed to have been Mahler III, but he committed suicide and therefore eliminated his line forever.

They reach LQ Pyx and once they get everything in focus, they realize that the shell that surrounds the star…is man-made. It’s a mostly complete metal net of sorts. Still no reply from Earth regarding the incredible discovery. They discuss that they are also not receiving communications from whomever built the Dyson Sphere (which is a structure built around a star to passively gather energy), and they could be close-by, so they decide to open up their communications wavelengths further.

Six months later, they officially arrive. They have lots of speculations about the structure, but are excited to investigate it. The biggest question is – why isn’t the structure finished. Straifer seems to be getting more and more into his own head. We learn that after Mahler committed suicide, his widow remarried to Straifer. It seems to be plaguing him. When they are looking at the web, they keep going back to this section where there is a “seed” which seems to be at the middle of that portion of the web, and every night Straifer dreams of the seed, and it often has Mahler’s voice. When one of the probes returns, the pictures show a spaceship, and there’s a question as to whether that’s who is blocking the transmissions. Upon more research, it appears that not all of the web was constructed by the same individuals, or at least not all done at the same time. So what’s next? The original deployment allotted only a specific time to investigate LQ Pyx and then return to Earth with the results. Do they keep to the original plan, despite no news from Earth in years, or do they stay until they can complete the web?

They take a manned mission to the seed and find that one of the previous groups picked it apart fairly crudely to determine what was going on with it. As they are there, Straifer has an anxiety attack. He’s convinced there’s something wrong, and that they need to turn the ship around and get away from it. He goes so far as to tamper with the shuttle that is going to be heading back, but luckily I.C.C. alerts Nakamura to come stop him. He’s taken to the medical ship, where he dies – an aneurysm they suspect. Has the Seed claimed its first life?

February 9, 121 PLD (3088 CE)

The scientists finish collecting their samples of the mission as they were only allowed to stay for the allotted 20 years. I.C.C. is evolving, and has written a poem.

October 3, 121 PLD (3088 CE)

As the ships are transitioning into SD, something happens and part of Bottomless (the storage ship) is lost along with a bunch of crew members. They aren’t sure if SD travel can be used any more, so they proceed back at regular speed.

April 1, 161 PLD (3138 CE)

Something is different, even though it’s only 39 years later, and it takes a little bit to discover. Captain Mahler, the clone who was never re-cloned after his freak-out upon arrival at LQ Pyx is now the Warden, over a prison called The Pit developed out of the discontinued lines, aka “bad clones” who are used strictly for work details. This came out of … The problem is that the Warden and his prisoners don’t really fit into the system so they self-govern, and Mahler is abusing his power by killing prisoners. At the same time, we learn that Margarita (who is part of the governing board) and her former wife have sneakily reintroduced Jamal into society as their child Diego as they wanted general society to realize that the discontinueds do not belong in the Pit. This comes to a head when Mahler sees Diego and realizes he is the same as Rail who is in the Pit. Mahler approaches the board, but they refuse his request to allow him to check all the children who he believes to discontinued, so he hijacks a convoy that Diego is on. Margarita and her new wife hurry to find and protect some of the other children, and they learn that one of them is a clone of Mahler, who Margarita takes with her to the Pit. Margarita apologizes to Mahler for how this all turned out, but the convoy has sent a security team over as the feed of what is going on at  the pit is being distributed throughout the fleet by I.C.C. A battle ensues, and the Warden kills himself, both ending his suffering and stopping the purpose of the Pit.

May 28, 271 PLD (4101 CE)

Removing the Pit has made the crew take a handle of their fear and go back into SD, so they are quickly approaching Earth, and they are curious what they will find, since it’s been over a thousand Earth years since they’ve received any communication. What will they find when they return to Earth? The speculations that the book gives via discussions from the government board and how they might plan for such occurrences are all great possibilities for an ending to a book. Will they find anyone there? Is that why no communications? They have to wait to see. It’s no longer a homecoming, but more like a first contact.

When they finally do arrive, they see signs of life, but still, no response to any communications including the one that I.C.C. has been continually broadcasting since their arrival. They decide to wait for contact before fully landing, and give Earth 30 days to respond, and when they don’t, the convoy lands in Antarctica (a neutral zone). Shortly thereafter, they are approached by 6 humanoid figures, and they go out to meet them. Nika tries communication in multiple languages with no response and then reverts to sign language. All that occurs is that the 6 figures mimic her motions. Stopping to think about what to try next, the figures begin to run off, followed by the crew members. They are led down a long elevator, and the suspicion that the humanoids are indeed robots is confirmed when they power off upon arrival.

Once they reach the lower level, they find a huge underground city in the warmth of the geothermal. They begin seeing humans, but none will respond to them. They look frustrated and confused, and no one can understand why. They are led to an unusual room where the new robot escorts awaken a man who struggles to speak to them in a sort of code of abbreviations. None of the crew members can decipher it. They’re a bit creeped out about the situation so they go to leave the way they came when they meet Ephenza, the first person who can speak to them!

January 27, 4136 CE

We’re introduced to Esperanza Straifer – the daughter of Nika and Reggie Straifer. In the olden, on-ship days, they would have never been allowed to have a child as they were of different classes, and they weren’t allowed a clone. They had to have a baby the “old fashioned way”.  Esperanza is brilliant, but belligerent about life, partly due to ridicule she (believed she) experienced as a result of her parents and partly due to having to live up to her mother. She has been given implants similarly to the other Earth people so that she can communicate with them–a similar career as her mother had.

In the 35 years since landing, there’s been seemingly no progress on integration. Those from the ship are still considered outsiders, and the residents can’t be bothered by them. When Esper returns to the ship, there’s a message waiting for her, and she is surprised to learn that there was an agreement about the lease (of the land where the ships were parked) that she hadn’t been privy to. It turns out the board went over her head, and they thought she’d be happy since she seems to hate her job, and really, everything, but she isn’t. We learn that Earth likes having them there because they have the capability to grow lots of luxury items.

They instate another person to take over her role as ambassador to Earth, and it’s suggested that when they leave Earth (since even after years of trying, they aren’t integrating properly), maybe she should stay. She’s one of the few who has had successful implants (most can’t handle them) and she hates the way that she’s been treated. As she’s packing up to move out of her office, she gets a visit from her half-sister Caznal (after Esper’s father died, her mother married Ephenza, Caznal’s father). Caznal alerts Esper that there is something more going on, and she should not accept the loss of her job so willingly. I.C.C. backs up the suggestion that there is something more going on, and the board has consciously kept Esper in the dark about it.

Caznal begins to tell Esper that she has figured out the purpose of the Nest. It is full of hydrogen and she believes that it has the capability of pressurizing at such a high pressure that it can turn the hydrogen into a metallic state creating a circuit. However, when Caznal presented this data to the board in hopes of being allowed to study the seed to figure out how the ship’s computer, she was taken off the project. She knows that they believe her, but as she is an Earthling, not from Ship City, they don’t want her to know that they want to track down the creators of the Nest and make contact. Earth is too comfortable in their ways now to want change, and the concern from Ship City is that if Earth knows what they are doing, Earth will take away and destroy the Nest and not allow them to leave.

Negotiations begin without Esper, and everyone is excited to hear that Earth is agreeing to let them leave. Esper tracks down the full details of the negotiations and is shocked to find out that part of the negotiation was that Earth was to terminate I.C.C. She attends the board meeting to tell them how upset she is that they are agreeing to these terms when I.C.C. was the only thing to save them multiple times throughout their journey. Then to make the point even more cynical, she points out that if Earth thinks that I.C.C. is too outdated to make the trip, why wouldn’t they also think that the crew itself is too? It turns out that Esper is correct.

All the board and all the crew are subpoenaed for their genetic material so that Earth can determine if they are the correct people to go. Years go by as Earth has decided that the trip will necessitate 3 additional ships. Esper meets another janitor (her new job) named Lawrence, and is pregnant with twins. She goes to see her friend Toya who is still involved in board decisions when she realizes that Earth doesn’t want I.C.C. because they think it’s outdated. She realizes that Earth wants to keep I.C.C. because the knowledge of making fully artificial intelligence was lost long ago, and they realize that they need to stop Earth from taking the AI.

They fake a fire in which I.C.C. and Esper and Lawrence die (which means that they will not be able to go on the mission and will have to stay on Earth – a penalty that Esper is willing to take). Earth teams come in to salvage what they can, but they determine that I.C.C. is of no use without the main server which was destroyed.

A year later, January 19, 4148, a little over 2 millennia after the original voyage, the ships depart. Esper, Lawrence, and their two fraternal twins are there to watch, but the reader learns that the twins’ DNA was selected for the mission. Three hundred Earth years later, the book cuts to Toya introducing herself to the 20-something year old twins the day before her retirement and telling them that the ship owes everything to their biological parents.

An elderly Caznal meets with a young Jamal to continue studying the Nest, and they realize that the aliens who created it could control the hydrogen circuit with their bodies allowing them to biologically manipulate their gravitational field. Jamal initially is upset thinking that means that they will never figure out the Nest, but Caznal and I.C.C. are not so easily deterred. They believe that they can create something to bridge the gap and allow humans to do the same. It will take a lot of time and many years of research, but what do they have if not time?

Verdict: 4.5 stars

This book is one of the best books I have read in recent times, and I have recommended it to multiple people who have all really liked it as well. It’s still enough science to be sci-fi, but with a really incredibly interesting people story to go with it. I can’t wait for the sequel.

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Filed under 4.5 stars, Book Review

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

Review (Amazon): “Are you happy with your life?”Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. Hiswife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

My Review (SPOILERS!!):

Executive Summary: it puts the sci in sci-fi

This book reminded me a little of a Michael Crichton book or like a less-funny The Martian. It has a lot of science, specifically quantum physics in it and has an interesting plot because of it.

We meet Jason, his beautiful wife Daniela and teenage son Charlie straight away. It’s Thursday which means family night, but tonight is something a little different. Jason’s old roommate and colleague, Ryan Holder just won the Pavia Prize (a multidisciplinary prize for his work in neuroscience), and we get the idea that Jason just might be a little jealous. He could’ve been a world renowned physicist, but instead he decided to become a teacher when Daniela became pregnant with Charlie. She could have become a well known artist herself, but now she just dabbles. Ryan’s having an informal celebration that night to which Jason is invited but he doesn’t want to go. Daniela convinces him to stop by and to pick up ice cream on his way home. Due to some foreboding language right from the start, we know something bad is about to happen.

He goes to the Village Bar, one of his favorites, to meet his friend Ryan and give him some congratulations. Ryan has always sort had a thing for Daniela, and he asks Jason why she didn’t come. Jason in turn asks if Ryan plans to settle down, and he replies that he doesn’t think so. Work is too busy. Normal chit chat from two colleagues whose lives took different paths.

Jason has had enough and heads to the grocery store. On his way out, as he’s marveling at the crisp autumn air, he hears footsteps and suddenly there’s a gun pointed at his head. The man doesn’t want his money. He forces Jason into a car and directs him to drive to the university where Jason works. As he’s driving, Jason is pondering why the guy wants him, and is thinking about why it is that the guy has been following him (addresses of his in the GPS). He tries to ask questions, but doesn’t get the answers he needs. He tries to send a text message, but the kidnapper takes his phone and sends Daniela a message instead.

The kidnapper starts asking him more personal questions – who the man at the happy hour was, what his plans are for tomorrow, etc., as he’s forcing Jason out of his clothes into new ones as he leads him down into a building in the middle of nowhere. Jason is given some sort of drug in the side of his neck. As Jason is fading off, the kidnapper asks him about his life, and whether he regrets his decision to let his ambition “die off”. Jason talks about the research that he was working on pre-Charlie, the quantum superposition of an object visible to the human eye. The attacker mentions that he is not there to kill Jason. As he administers another medication, he tells Jason that “you can make it yours. You can have everything you never had” as Jason drifts to sleep.

***SPOILERS begin here***

Jason awakes to a man and a woman speaking to him. The man is wearing a Hazmat suit, and put him on a gurney to evaluate him. The man asks him some simple questions – Do you know who you are? Yes; Do you know where you are? No; Do you know who I am? No. The man is named Leighton and says that he and Jason are colleagues and friends. Jason is obviously wildly confused. He’s restrained and being given medical tests, and although he has no idea where he is or who he’s around, everyone else seems to know what’s going on.

He goes for a debrief, and realizes that it’s not a dream or a delusion, but he still doesn’t understand why everyone but him seems to know what’s going on. He’s lucid, and he remembers what it is that he had done previously, so he’s not sure what is going on. He uses the restroom, and tries to think about ways to escape, so when Leighton comes to talk to him, he deadbolts the bathroom and escapes out the window. He heads to his home, but it’s not his home. The pictures of him with his family aren’t there, but the key worked, so it is his home. As he’s walking around in the house that is both his but not his, he spots a certificate awarding the Pavia Prize to Jason Holden.

Freaked, he tries Daniela’s number. It’s not hers. Leighton and some others (obviously) track him down, but he escapes and heads to the hospital for some screenings. The only thing they find from the screenings is that he has high does of ketamine in his system – a surgical anesthetic. The doctor tells him that they can’t find any information about him working at the university, or anyone named Daniela Dessen in the phone book. Jason can tell that they are going to commit him to the psych hold, so he sneaks out of the hospital.

The story cuts to Daniela, who is talking to Jason. She’s wondering what took him so long to get home…she doesn’t know why, but something is different.

Confused Jason leaves the hospital to find Daniela. Hopefully that will sort some things out. When he finds her, she’s a successful single artist, casually dating Ryan Holder. He explains to them what is going on, from what he can piece together, Ryan doesn’t want to believe him. In the end, Ryan ends up going to Leighton, who then captures Jason, killing Daniela in the process.

Back in captivity, still with no real answers, Leighton agrees to show Jason what “they have built together”. Jason has years of notes of what he has done – which is built a “Many-Worlds” box. Basically at any decision point in life, a separate branch splits off for the “yes” and the “no” creating a quantum timeline of every possible scenario. He gets to see a video of himself, who he doesn’t remember, entering the box and then, what he does remember, stumbling back out of the box weeks later.

After Amanda speaks to him some more, they track down Ryan and beat the hell out of him because they realize that this is not their Jason. The Jason who went into the box is not the Jason who returned. It seems a bit dramatic all of this as it isn’t really solving any problems, and certainly you’d think that if they asked him to help, he would have. Instead, they detain him, and eventually, Amanda has a change of heart after learning that Daniela was killed and what they are doing to Ryan and comes to get Jason out of there. As they are being chased, they grab what they can and lock themselves into the “Many-Worlds Box” and begin their adventure.

They travel to a multitude of different “worlds” so to speak – some where things are completely not viable, like one where snow has buried everything and everyone is freezing to death, or with a deadly plague to others that are…close, but not right. They only have a limited amount of options due to how much of the suspension cocktail that they packed. So in the end, Amanda realizes that because in Jason’s life which he is trying to get back to, she didn’t exist, so she has to leave him to allow him to return to his life.

Jason continues forward, slowly, sometimes slipping into deep depressions, particularly in worlds which are close, but aren’t the one he wants to get back to. It starts to get pretty panicky at the end as the number of vials that he has to be able to try again are dwindling away, and then, just to make it more intense, he is mugged and some of the vials are broken, so he’s only down to just 2…then 1.

Once he enters the world that has to be the correct one, he has to figure out what to do with Jason2 (as he’s been called throughout). He decides to get a gun. When he arrives at the store, he’s met with an unusual response from the employee. He had been in there with the exact same request 5 times in the last week. He has to go and figure out what has happened. As it turns out, there are a variety of Jason variants who have split recently, all with the same mission – to return to their original world and to return to Daniela. Not all of the Jasons have the same personality. Some are willing to sacrifice anything to get to Daniela, and one specifically is killing them off one by one. “Original” Jason, if you can call him that, realizes that he has to do something completely outside of the box to be able to thwart his other selves.

He gets himself arrested so that Daniela will come pick him up. He explains to her what has happened, and luckily she believes him. They go pick up Charlie and head to Wisconsin. Daniela struggles with the idea of all of these other Jasons out there, all so close to being the one she knows. And how does she know which one is “the” one. (It doesn’t really matter because the book has been following this one specific version of Jason this whole time so obviously the reader is rooting for him). Jason proposes a lottery system to the other Jasons, and it is agreed upon, however, some of the bad Jasons, including Jason2 who has the most to lose, track him down due to Charlie powering on his phone.  Jason kills Jason2 during a confrontation, and they take his car and leave, but not before he whispers to Jason to look in the glove box. Once inside, he realizes that Jason2 has left some vials for them. This is how they can start anew and move past the threat of the other Jasons. Charlie gets to choose the world in which they live, and presumably they live happily ever after.

Verdict: 4 stars

This book was definitely a thriller and also a thought exercise. There were a few parts where it got a little cheesy and predictable, but it’s easy to look past it as they were needed to keep the story moving forward, but I also think I would have given it a higher review had it not been so predictable. All in all though it is a good story, and I’ll be interested to see the movie which I think comes out later this year!

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Filed under 4 stars, Book Club, Book Review

The Girl with All the Gifts – M.R. Carey

Review (Amazon): 

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.
The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end.

My Review (spoilers):

Executive Summary: slow to get going but worth it in the end

We get introduced to ten-year-old Melanie on page 1. She is in a classroom, different than we are used to, but we only slowly get introduced to what exactly is different. Her favorite teacher is Miss Justineau, although they do have other teachers from time to time. They live in a compound to keep away from the hungries (aka zombies). The children live in cells and get wheeled into the classroom Hannibal Lector style each day, all strapped in and ready to learn. Occasionally the students leave by the hand of Doctor Caldwell and never come back, and they haven’t gotten any new students in a while.

One day the Sergeant comes in and has an issue with Miss Justineau getting “too attached” to the children, and he suggests that they aren’t even children. To demonstrate, he spits on his arm and holds it near one of the children who starts chomping and biting at him (still restrained) and so do the children near him. Melanie is very confused about what is happening.

We cut to Dr. Caldwell for a bit to determine that the children are not actually children (after she has dissected her latest two). They have a fungal parasite of some sort that Dr. Caldwell is crudely investigating. After the Breakdown, most high tech equipment is incredibly difficult to come by.

Miss Justineau and Dr. Caldwell are have very different ideas on how to interact with the children. Miss Justineau treats the children like normal children (at least as much as she can) whereas Dr. Caldwell and the Sergeant treat them worse than animals. But they all ended up in the compound under the same circumstances. They are trying to determine why some of the children that they have been finding are not mindless zombies like the other hungries, but instead can learn and reason and generally go beyond the mindless behaviors of the others. Miss Justineau and the other teachers are there to teach and observe. Dr. Caldwell is there to help create scientific revelations about the parasite to hopefully protect the other humans, and the Sergeant is there to protect all the humans in the compound both from the children, but also from the packs of hungries as well as the Junkers (bands of humans who sort of “Mad Max” about in the outside) who could attack at any time.

Dr. Caldwell requests that Miss Justineau provide a list of 1/2 the class to be dissected, and Miss Justineau is understandably having a hard time with it. Not just because she has become close to the students but she also understands how losing half the class will affect the dynamics. So she holds off on providing the list. In response, Dr. Caldwell decides to start with Melanie. Sergeant Parks gets her, and takes her in to Dr. Selkirk and Dr. Caldwell.

When Melanie doesn’t come to class, Miss Justineau realizes that something is up. She confronts Sergeant Parks who tells her where Melanie has been taken. Luckily Miss Justineau arrives just in time. She confronts Dr. Caldwell and the two break into an argument followed by a physical fight. In the midst of it, the evacuation siren goes off, and hungries break into the window. Dr. Caldwell and Miss Justineau make it out, but Dr. Selkirk does not. No one knows in the chaos what happened to Melanie so Miss Justineau goes out to find her. Instead she runs into a pack of Junkers. Luckily Melanie reappears and attacks them with full force.

Melanie, Miss Justineau and Dr. Caldwell find Sergeant Parks and one of his soldiers, Kieran Gallagher. They get into a Hummer and leave Beacon. Melanie is faced with existential challenges after killing the Junker. Justineau and Caldwell are at complete odds except that they both want Melanie to live (for different reasons) so they are able to keep Parks from killing her. Off they go to an unknown location. They stave off a few groups of hungries, and then they eventually find the Rosalind Franklin. It’s a huge armored mobile laboratory that Dr Caldwell is very familiar with. As we learn, she was fully trained on the unit, but didn’t end up making the final cut for the mission (and she’s been holding a grudge for the last twenty years). There are no humans or food inside, but all the scientific equipment is intact.

Melanie asks to speak to Parks alone, and when they reconvene after assessing what Rosalind Franklin does and doesn’t have, Melanie is gone. The generator needs to be fixed, so Parks starts on that while Justineau and Gallagher look for food. Before they leave, Justineau asks Parks where Melanie went. She was going crazy inside in close quarters with all the humans. All their e-blocker had worn off, so Parks let her go outside. He figures she can take care of herself. Justineau and Gallagher take off. They only see a few hungries. Most of them have died and have sprouted seeds for the fungus. Eventually they find a storage unit beside a convenience store that hasn’t been looted, and they take all they can back to the RF.

While everyone else is out, we learn that Dr. Caldwell has blood poisoning from the injuries she sustained during the original hungry attack. She’s trying to do what she can in terms of research before she dies. She tells Parks that it doesn’t really matter anyway. When the fungus took over the planet, it was in a juvenile form. Now it’s sprouting into an adult form and pollinating. And when it does, she doesn’t think there will be anything left.

When Justineau and Gallagher return, it’s late but Melanie hasn’t returned. So despite Parks’ arguments, Justineau decides to set off a flare. Melanie knows where the RF is; she just hasn’t wanted to return. She has spent the day looping around bigger and bigger circles until she finds something interesting–some others like her. When she returns to RF, she tells the adults that there are others out there–junkers, she says. Parks doesn’t believe her story. He believes she saw something which scared her, but it wasn’t Junkers. Justineau talks to Melanie who finally gives up the true story. She didn’t want to tell everyone because she was worried that Caldwell and Parks would round all the children up and dissect them. When everyone reconvenes, they realize that Gallagher is missing.

Unfortunately by the time Melanie, Justineau and Parks find Gallagher, the hungry children have already gotten to him, and tricked him to his death. Melanie insists that he should be honored, and as they are lighting his funeral pyre, they hear the engines of RF in the distance. Caldwell has left without them. She doesn’t get far before the hungry children encircle her. She’s trying to figure out how to capture one to dissect it before she dies. She opens the door locks and manages to close the door quickly enough to squash one. She doesn’t hurt his head though, but she needs to get the airlock fully shut because she is being shot at through the gap by the other children. She manages to get as far away as she can until she is stopped by a 40 ft high tower of the fungus for as long as she can see. She decides to dissect the head, and when Parks, Justineau, and Melanie finally find her, she won’t let them in. She’s too close to a breakthrough.

Parks sends Melanie on an exhibition to determine whether there’s a way around the fungus. There’s not. The 2 humans find a place to stay for the night. Dr. Caldwell is able to dissect the brain in peace and finds the answer she’s looking for. Once she’s done, she sees someone outside–a search party, she thinks. She goes out of RF and when she returns, Melanie is inside and wants to know the truth. The original hungries are because the fungus completely took over the bodies and then utilized them to hatch seed pods. Melanie and others like her are second generation hungries where the fungus doesn’t attack and feed on the brains.

Parks and Justineau are attacked where they are sleeping. Melanie hears shots fired on the walkie talkies and arrives to help as much as she can. Unfortunately Parks is bitten by the hungries, but she and Miss Justineau make it out unscathed. The 3 return to RF where Melanie decides to blast the fungus wall with the flame throwers. She’s outside with Parks as little bits of ash begin floating to the ground. Parks asks Melanie to shoot him before he becomes a hungry, and she agrees. But first she explains to him that it’s not ash, it’s fungus seeds. The flame thrower has opened all of the seed pods. She now knows that the original people will become hungries, but the second generation will be like her. They can end the war between the humans, the hungries, and the junkers, and create a new species. When Melanie returns to Miss Justineau, she explains again what has happened, and the book ends with Melanie introducing the hungry kids to their new teacher!

Verdict: 4 Stars

I thought the book was really creative. I am not typically super interested in zombie stories, and I’ve found that a lot of the post-apocalyptic ones are a bit overplayed at this point. So this was a breath of fresh air for me. It’s a bit slow at points, but it pays off in the end.

 

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Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

Review (Amazon): Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: fun

I’ve had this book on my list for quite a while so I’m glad I was actually able to squeeze it into my schedule. I enjoyed it a lot even though it was quite a bit different than I was expecting. It’s a dystopian novel, sure, but it’s really more of a people drama (aka literary fiction) set in the future.

The book jumps back and forth between pre-flu and post-flu. The connection between the two times is Arthur Leander, a famous Hollywood actor who in his later days became a stage actor. The book begins with his last performance in King Lear. He has a heart attack and dies on stage. Arthur’s friend Clark is in charge of calling his ex-wives (all 3) to let them know. That same night, the Georgia flu pandemic arrives in Toronto killing most in its wake.

Post-flu time is measured in years starting with 1. The book starts its story in year 20. By this time, most of the chaos has died down, and people tend to live in towns. Kristen Raymonde is part of The Traveling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians who travel around the Great Lakes area doing Shakespeare performances. Kristen had been on stage and part of the production the night that Arthur died. She was only 8 at the time of the flu so her memory is very hazy regarding anything pre-flu. She does remember Arthur and she always looks for details about him in magazines and newspapers that she finds when they check abandoned buildings for supplies. They go in her pack with her paperweight and Station Eleven comic book that Arthur had given her.

The Symphony arrives in a town that they went to two years prior, and where they left two of their members so that they could have their baby. When they return, they find that the town has changed dramatically and their members have left. When they finally find someone who can tell them where they went, the answer is Severn City, a city in an old airport. They do their performance followed by a speech by the prophet there, and then decide to get out of the strange religious city while they still can. A little ways away, they realize they have a stowaway. A small girl from St. Deborah by the Water was promised to be the prophet’s next wife.

Interspersed with the post-flu “current time” storyline are stories about Arthur. We learn that he was from a small island in British Columbia, moving away to Toronto as soon as he could, but he drops out of college and enrolls in acting classes. He’s good friends with Clark, and they stay friends until Arthur’s death even though they both know they grew apart years before. Arthur’s mother calls him one day to tell him about another girl from their island who just moved to Toronto. She’s seventeen and just enrolled in art school. Arthur agrees to meet with her for lunch, and then waits 7 years before contacting her again. At this point, he is 36 and she is 24 and they very much hit it off. Miranda is in a dead end relationship with an artist who isn’t selling, and she is supporting him. She goes back to her place after dinner and drinks with Arthur where her boyfriend physically abuses her. She shows up at Arthur’s door with her suitcase and the rest is history…until it isn’t.

Miranda is an artsy sort, not used to the pomp and circumstance that Arthur is now used to. They have a house in Hollywood and a Pomeranian and host dinner parties. Miranda likes to draw, and she has a story that she has been working on for years. It’s about Dr. Eleven. Eventually at one of the dinner parties, Miranda realizes that Arthur is having an affair with a woman Elizabeth. She spills the beans to the paparazzo outside who eventually will be the EMT who performs CPR on a dying Arthur. Miranda and Arthur divorce and he marries Elizabeth. They have a son, Tyler, but eventually they also divorce.

Back in current time, the Symphony are heading towards Severn City to find the members they left. Severn City is also where Clark lives. Clark was on a flight with Elizabeth (Arthur’s second wife) and Arthur’s son as one of the last flights before the flu fully hit and they detoured to Severn City. Elizabeth had a hard time coping with the post-flu world, and eventually she and Tyler leave with a religious cult, believing that there must have been a religious reason for the people who were killed and who were spared. Clark remains and is the curator of the Museum of Civilization–an assortment of newspapers, cell phones, high heels etc. within Severn City as it grows into a decent running operation.

En route to the old airport, the Symphony members begin disappearing at their stops. Kristen and August are out one time and when they return, the caravan and the rest of the members have vanished. Kristen and August are terrified at this point, but they continue to head in the direction of the City. They don’t see any signs that the caravan has gone by without them, and eventually they encounter why. The Prophet has been following them because he wants the girl who stowed away. He and his followers are trained assassins and can sneak silently. Luckily Kristen and August are well trained too. They kill the men and free their friend Sayid who  explains a bit more about what is going on. Unfortunately Sayid is hurt so the Prophet easily catches up with the three of them. The Prophet, whose dog is named Luli (the dog in Station Eleven), begins quoting Station Eleven, and Kristen continues the quote which distracts him. Meanwhile, one of his men kills him because he is sick of living the way that he is, but then knowing nothing else, he also kills himself.

They manage to get back to Severn City and reunite with most of the troupe (unfortunately one of Kristen’s best friends and former love interest was killed by the Prophet). They find the two members who had been left years prior, and in general things are good. Kristen meets Clark who knows her by a newspaper interview he read of hers from a few years prior and talks to her about Arthur. They realize that the Prophet was actually Arthur’s son Tyler, but they aren’t sure what ever happened to Elizabeth. Before Kristen leaves to return to the road with the symphony, Clark takes her up to the air traffic control tower. From there, they can see a town in the far distance which has lights! Before leaving, Kristen leaves Clark one of her issues of  Station Eleven for his Museum, and she promises that she will return and switch out the copies so that one is always with her and the other in the museum.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

This book was a fun easy read and the world in the story was easy to get lost in. But I was expecting more science fiction and less people drama. I wanted to know more about the civilization and the science. I really enjoyed the section about when Clark and Elizabeth landed in the airport and how they got started rebuilding civilization, and I wanted more. I don’t know whether the book plans for a sequel, but having the Symphony go to the town with the electricity would be a really interesting idea!

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Midnight Robber – Nalo Hopkinson

img_3699-1Review (Amazon): It’s Carnival time and the Caribbean-colonized planet of Toussaint is celebrating with music, dance, and pageantry. Masked “Midnight Robbers” waylay revelers with brandished weapons and spellbinding words. To young Tan-Tan, the Robber Queen is simply a favorite costume to wear at the festival-until her power-corrupted father commits an unforgiveable crime.

Suddenly, both father and daughter are thrust into the brutal world of New Half-Way Tree. Here monstrous creatures from folklore are real, and the humans are violent outcasts in the wilds. Tan-Tan must reach into the heart of myth and become the Robber Queen herself. For only the Robber Queen’s legendary powers can save her life . . . and set her free.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: original

I can’t recall where I got this recommendation, but it didn’t disappoint. It’s a book that is both futuristic and sci-fi but at the same time almost Medieval feeling. It is also written by a black author and has only black (Caribbean) characters. I only mention this because as a white person, I do tend to read books by white authors about white characters, and I have been trying to remedy this at least somewhat.

The main character, Tan-Tan, starts out this story as a young girl of 7. She lives on Toussaint with her mother Ione and her father Antonio. Both of her parents are sad scoundrels. Antonio is the mayor and spends much time away from his family both working and philandering. Ione eventually becomes sad and lonely and gets into some philandering of her own. Of course to Antonio, only he is allowed to have fun on the side, so he gets furious with Ione. The planet is governed by “Granny Nanny” a sort of implant which provides internet-like capability for all on Toussaint. However, Antonio gets acquainted with a group who evades the overrule of Granny Nanny. When he eventually decides to challenge Ione’s lover, a virile young man, to a duel, he solicits the help of this group to get him some contraband. He wins the fight due to the poison, however, he ends up killing the man in the process. It is discovered that he has cheated to win the fight, and he is sentenced to trial. The man who Antonio had been working with reaches out to Tan-Tan to give her a package to deliver to Antonio. She smuggles away into the trunk of the car which is escorting her father to jail, however Granny Nanny alerts everyone where she is. Still, she is placed in the jail cell with her father until her mother is able to get her. While in there, she give Antonio the package, which will allow him to flee to New Half-Way Tree. New Half-Way Tree is like the (ancient) Australia of Toussaint–it is an uncivilized natural planet where prisoners are sent. Selfish Antonio takes little Tan-Tan with him there because he doesn’t want Ione to get to keep her.

They arrive in Halfway Tree, and are greeted by a creature named Chichibud, who manages to transport them to the nearest human village (barely as Antonio very nearly got them killed by being a selfish prick) where there is a strict penal system a la Hammurabi. While in this town of Junjuh, Tan-Tan meets her half-sister who with her mother is there because of Antonio and his terrible ways. Antonio eventually remarries a woman named Janisette, and the two of them drunkenly fight all the time. Starting at age 9, Antonio begins raping and assaulting Tan-Tan because she’s so beautiful just like her mother. Awful. The story skips ahead a bit and Tan-Tan is about to have her coming of age (16th birthday) party. She and her friend Melonhead are planning to run away to a town called Sweet Pone, where things are better (and she can escape her terrible father and step-mother). Her father drunkenly catches her outside talking to Melonhead, takes her inside and beats and rapes her. As he is raping her, she pulls out her new birthday present, a knife, and kills him. Chichibud somehow finds her, stuck under her dead father, and helps her escape. They are chased into the woods by the sheriff’s dogs, but Chichibud’s wife is a bird, and she is able to help them escape by climbing into a tree. In the Douen culture, Chichibud tells Tan-Tan, “When you take one life, you must give back two.”

The next part of the story is very interesting and creative. Tan-Tan begins living with Chichibud and his family in their giant tree (a whole village lived there). Douen and Tall People (humans) have never fully existed together, and certainly a human has never lived with a douen family before. It is a struggle to understand their customs and to find something to eat as Tan-Tan doesn’t want to eat grubs and worms. Eventually she starts sort of getting the hang of things, and makes a friendship with Abetifa, Chichibud’s daughter. At this point, she realizes that she is pregnant, from her father, and tries to locate a human town where she can have an abortion (difficult concept for the Douen who are egg-layers). When they locate the nearby town, it’s a terrible place. They don’t even have a doctor. Tan-Tan decides to be her own hero and begins spreading fear, but also respect of “the robber queen” through the village with various visits, causing people to start thinking twice before doing terrible things. However, with this, the rumor of the robber queen manages to make its way back to Junjuh where Janisette has been awaiting word of Tan-Tan. She appears in a broken down old car (a car is a rare sighting on New Half-Way Tree) with a gun. She sees where Tan-Tan runs to, and follows her to the tree. The Douen are too nervous to stay, so in one night, they destroy their tree and move to a new home. They leave Abefita and Tan-Tan to find their own way. (Abefita can eventually join them, but she is on a period of growth and learning typical of their species).

The two adolescents begin wandering around the woods, learning from each other, and scoping out human villages. Tan-Tan continues playing Robber Queen in the towns they find, and she enjoys finding out that her reputation precedes her. Eventually they find the town of Sweet Pone, and Tan-Tan is surprised to find that Melonhead is there, and he has been waiting for her all this time. Tan-Tan assumed that he wanted nothing to do with her after she murdered her father, so she is very surprised by this. Melonhead is the town’s tailor, and he convinces Tan-Tan to stay for Carnival even making her a Robber Queen costume like she had a child. She is conflicted. She wants to stay with Melonhead and be with other humans, but she has been on the run for so long and Abefita is her friend. She doesn’t know what to do. While out at Carnival though, Janisette arrives in a tank (uh, ok?) and threatens her. Tan-Tan stands up for herself in front of everyone, and calls Janisette out for knowing what Antonio was doing to her and not stopping it. Janisette is defeated and leaves, and Tan-Tan takes Melonhead back to the woods to Abefita because her baby is about to come. When he is born, she names him Tubman, and realizes that she has saved two lives, just like the Douen said.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

I like the fantasy and sci-fi aspects of this book. I even like the phonetic Caribbean language. I didn’t write about them but there are few interlude sections of fables that were very curious and foreign to me which I also enjoyed. I just really hated that the “coming of age” story had to involve a rape and a baby born out of that incestual rape. It just feels cheap. It feels like the trope of female superheroes. Male superheroes just become (or are born) superheroes. The women have to overcome some great tragedy, typically rape, to be a superhero. Is that just shitty real life? Maybe, but if I’m looking for a story to escape real life, I don’t want that to be the premise.

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The House of the Scorpion – Nancy Farmer

Review (Amazon): Matteo Alacrán was not born; he was harvested.
His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium–a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt’s first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster–except for El Patrón. El Patrón loves Matt as he loves himself, because Matt is himself.

As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister cast of characters, including El Patrón’s power-hungry family, and he is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards. Escape is the only chance Matt has to survive. But escape from the Alacrán Estate is no guarantee of freedom, because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn’t even suspect.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: OK

One of the categories which wasn’t chosen in book club this year was surprisingly the young adult category. So when we had a mix-up in months, we decided to add a young adult book to our year, and this book was chosen. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it did not live up to expectations.

On the plus side, it was a light read, and it had a different setting and plot (although similar) than a lot of the YA I’ve recently read. On the negative though, I didn’t feel like any of the characters were well-developed and I felt like the plot was full of holes.

Matteo Alacrán is a clone of El Patrón, the dictator of Opium, named aptly as it’s used to grow poppies and thereby Opium. It’s a country which developed because El Patrón, a drug dealer, advised both the USA and Mexico to set up a country where any illegal would be turned into a Farmer and there was an agreement to not sell the opium in either country. Because that seems reasonable that the USA and Mexico would be like “yeah OK this drug dealer seems to have a good idea”.

Matt grew up hidden by El Patrón’s cook until he got out one day to play with some children he saw outside. When he was caught, he was treated worse than an animal (since he was a clone), stuck in a room with sawdust like a chicken coop and abandoned. Eventually his nurse and his only friend (Maria), rescue him. El Patrón is furious that someone would treat Matt this way, and the nurse who was in charge of him is turned into an eejit like the rest of the farmhands. The eejits have implants in their brains so that they are under complete control. They work until told otherwise. Most clones are also eejits since they will eventually be harvested for parts, but El Patrón did not want Matt to have the procedure done. Matt is also given a body guard, Tam Lin.

Matt turns out to be very bright, going to eschool (since no one would want to teach a clone) and learning how to play music. He goes about mostly unnoticed since people completely ignore him. He and Maria develop a friendship. She doesn’t live at the house with him, but her father is an important person to El Patrón so she comes around often.

As he grows older, he begins to understand further what is going on within the household and with himself, and eventually when El Patrón has had another heart attack, he and Maria try to flee. Unfortunately they get caught by Maria’s sister who takes Maria back to the convent, and Matt is taken to the hospital where El Patrón tells Matt that he is only to be used for his heart which he is going to give to El Patrón. Celia pipes up to say that she has been slowly poisoning Matt with arsenic just so that he can no longer be an organ donor. Tam Lin is instructed to take care of Matt but instead, he gives Matt supplies and allows Matt to escape.

Matt gets caught at the border and sent to some sort of juvenile detention center. (This is where the book really derailed for me). The prisoners are governed by older boys who it turns out are just high all the time. The front of the whole camp is that they harvest plankton, but in reality, they are trafficking drugs. For whom and why, it never says. Eventually Matt and a few of his new friends from the camp escape (after Matt and another boy are deposited in the whale bone pile (also unexplained and really bizarre) and end up in the town where Maria is at the convent.

They make their way to the convent/hospital (I was really confused by this point) and Maria and her mother are there. (This is odd because Maria learned that her mother was still alive only recently from a book of Matt’s and she presumably lived in California, but here she just mysteriously appeared). She is interested to know about the center where Matt came from because apparently people have been trying to shut down the drug trade business for years but didn’t have enough evidence to arrest them or something (despite the entire premise of building the country of Opium being that the drugs were going to be sent out of North America). Annnnyway, Maria’s mom tells Matt that Opium has been on a complete lock down for months and that he needs to go figure out what’s going on. Since he and El Patrón have identical genetics, he shouldn’t have a problem getting in.

OK no problem, he gets back into Opium to find out that El Patrón died and during his wake, Tam Lin brings out some wine which El Patrón had wanted to have at his funeral. Tam Lin instructed another of the guards to not drink it, however he and everyone else did, and everyone died. The end. Not really, but it gets even more unrealistic. Now because Matt is technically El Patrón, he becomes the new ruler of Opium. Um, what? The book ends with him speculating about how he can disable the eejits and fix the country.

Verdict: 3 stars

This book has excellent reviews on Amazon, but frankly I don’t know if I read the same book as those people. I was sorely disappointed. Some of the ideas were good, but it did not feel like the book was thought through, and it felt as though the ending was rushed and too coincidental (never resolve a plot with a coincidence; it always feels disingenuous.) There is a sequel to this book, written many years after the original, but I don’t think I care enough to read it.

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The Speed of Dark -Elizabeth Moon

  Summary (Amazon): In the near future, disease will be a condition of the past. Most genetic defects will be removed at birth; the remaining during infancy. Lou Arrendale, a high-functioning autistic adult, is a member of the lost generation, born at the wrong time to reap the rewards of medical science. He lives a low-key, independent life. But then he is offered a chance to try a brand-new experimental “cure” for his condition. With this treatment Lou would think and act and be just like everyone else. But if he was suddenly free of autism, would he still be himself? Would he still love the same classical music—with its complications and resolutions? Would he still see the same colors and patterns in the world—shades and hues that others cannot see? Most important, would he still love Marjory, a woman who may never be able to reciprocate his feelings? Now Lou must decide if he should submit to a surgery that might completely change the way he views the world . . . and the very essence of who he is.

My Review (SpOiLeRs!):

Executive Summary: almost

So this is our science fiction pick for the year, and it’s not really science fiction. It’s set in a future world where all people who will have autism have been corrected before being born. There is a gap generation who were too old for the full correction, but have had some procedures, allowing them to work and have semi-normal lives. No robots, aliens, or flying cars. Just a story about an autistic man named Lou.

Lou has an apartment, a car, and a job. He works in a job in a special office with only other autists. They have some special perks which the other “normal” employees do not get, but this allows them to fully channel their concentration into their work and find patterns and sequences that others cannot.

A new big boss, Mr. Crenshaw, arrives at the company, and his goal is cutting costs. He decides that this group of autists is too much work, so he comes up with a (really contrived) plan. He is going to cut costs by eliminating the perks that these autists get by making them all sign up for an experimental medical procedure which makes them “normal”. Their direct boss, Mr. Aldrin, who has a severely autistic brother, gets to work foiling his plan.

Speaking of foils, Lou’s main past time is fencing. There’s a group he goes to once a week at Tom and Lucia’s house. It took Lou a while to get the hang of it physically, but he now is quite a good competitor as he can deduce the opponent’s pattern. A bunch of others go to the fencing group, but the story focuses mostly on two–Don and Marjory. Don’s a jerk, and Lou doesn’t really see it. The others defend Lou when Don makes crass jokes about him being a retard, but really this just makes him madder that they like Lou better than they like him. Marjory is a love interest of Lou’s although it takes him a while to realize it. He struggles to understand how to manage that situation, and Tom and Lucia explain to him that “normal” people also have a lot of difficulty in this situation!

His situation at work is getting more dire as he and the others in his group don’t know that their manager is working behind the scenes to fix things, and now Lou appears to be being targeted by someone who has slashed his tires and broken his windshield. The final piece comes when someone leaves an explosive jack in the box inside his car where the battery should be. After only slight investigation, they realize that it’s Don, and he is arrested when he tries to shoot Lou at the grocery store. Lou struggles with this as Don’s punishment is to have his brain altered so that he won’t want to do bad things. Lou has been reading a lot of books that he had borrowed from Lucia about the brain to understand better his own possible treatment, so he additionally knows what will be happening to Don.

It turns out that the big boss is fired when the rest of the C levels find out what he is up to, and the program is off. Mostly. The autists can still have the procedure done if they would like, and one of them does immediately. Lou struggles with deciding whether or not to do it, and then he eventually decides that he will. He awakes from the surgery and originally has no memory. Tom comes to visit him but it takes a few visits for Lou to remember who he is, but eventually he does. He starts to remember his old life, but he decides that he wants to get into a PhD program. He eventually loses touch with his friends from his old live including Marjory.

Verdict: 3 stars

The one thing that I did really like about this book was the glimpse into the mind of an autistic person. Reading some reviews of the book, including one written by a high-functioning autist, suggest that this depiction is actually very realistic. (The author has an autistic son.) However, the actual story of the book I found to be very unrealistic and at times very dull (like the detailed pages and pages about Lou reading about the brain). I thought that aside from Lou, every character felt very flat especially Mr. Crenshaw and Don. It also felt like a snap decision that Lou made in the end, and the book ended so abruptly. And in general, I thought it was quite the stretch of calling it a science fiction book.

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