Review: Time Salvager

Posted on July 30th, 2015 @ 19:54
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Time SalvagerTime Salvager by Wesley Chu

My rating:

Blurb:

In a future when Earth is a toxic, abandoned world and humanity has spread into the outer solar system to survive, the tightly controlled use of time travel holds the key maintaining a fragile existence among the other planets and their moons. James Griffin-Mars is a chronman–a convicted criminal recruited for his unique psychological makeup to undertake the most dangerous job there is: missions into Earth’s past to recover resources and treasure without altering the timeline. Most chronmen never reach old age, and James is reaching his breaking point.

On a final mission that is to secure his retirement, James meets an intriguing woman from a previous century, scientist Elise Kim, who is fated to die during the destruction of an oceanic rig. Against his training and his common sense, James brings her back to the future with him, saving her life, but turning them both into fugitives. Remaining free means losing themselves in the wild and poisonous wastes of Earth, and discovering what hope may yet remain for humanity’s home world.

Review:

[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

There were quite a few good concepts in there. The psychological and physical side-effects of time travel, that basically placed a lot of people in ChronoCom not exactly on the right side of sanity. The use ChronoCom was put to, with the “salvages” quickly starting to look more like pillaging than anything else. The different phases humanity went through, from the exuberant utopian mindset of Nutris to the Technological Isolationists to the Big Brother-ish Publicae Age.
The novel also had room for character development: James and his growing sense of guilt, Elise’s adaptation to her new world, Smitt’s and Levin’s choices… And bonus points for Grace Priestly, the snarky old lady, badass in her own ways, who made me smile from the start.

Unfortunately, although interesting at first — it definitely grabbed me during the first 10-15% or so — the story quickly lost its momentum, and ended up feeling more like a series of events, sometimes even fillers, than like an actual plot. A lot of what looked like good ideas veered a little too much towards clichés (the villainish Corporations, the “nice savages”…), and I was baffled, too, that ChronoCom in general didn’t manage to track James more quickly: granted, he had tools and a stealthy ship, but I would’ve expected their means were more efficient than his, considering the help they had.

The characters in general didn’t exactly develop much past a certain point, or made strange choices. (Levin, I’m looking at you — OK, maybe not so strange, but terribly counter-productive, unless there’s a plan in the making for book 2 here?) The dialogues were sometimes repetitive and annoying, and the writing style tended to tell a lot more than it showed. This made a lot of scenes and character interactions rather dry, action scenes included.

One thing that I didn’t like and that deserves being mentioned: including small cliffhangers at the end of a chapter—and then starting the next chapter *after* the cliffhanger was resolved. Those events managed to look like small fillers *and* cop-outs at the same time, because the reader doesn’t get to see how exactly the characters managed to solve the crisis. That was… definitely annoying.

Conclusion: a fairly interesting initial idea, but in the end, I found the execution unfortunately lacking. 1.5 to 2 stars.

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Review: Collected Fiction by Hannu Rajaniemi

Posted on July 29th, 2015 @ 20:36
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Hannu Rajaniemi: Collected FictionHannu Rajaniemi: Collected Fiction by Hannu Rajaniemi

My rating:

Blurb:

Inside the firewall the city is alive. Buildings breathe, cars attack, angels patrol, and hyper-intelligent pets rebel.

With unbridled invention and breakneck adventure, Hannu Rajaniemi is on the cutting-edge of science fiction. His post-apocalyptic, post-cyberpunk, and post-human tales are full of exhilarating energy and unpredictable optimism.

How will human nature react when the only limit to desire is creativity? When the distinction between humans and gods is as small as nanomachines—or as large as the universe? Whether the next big step in technology is 3D printing, genetic alteration, or unlimited space travel, Rajaniemi writes about what happens after.

Review:

[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A few months ago, I read Hannu Rajaniemi’s first two installments of “The Quantum Thief”: not so easy to follow novels, but unique in their own right, because of their fascinating blend of science and, dare I say, poetry.

These short stories are a little easier to follow, while retaining this quality, as well as first sentences that almost always manage to pique my interest, combining as they do totally different elements. Typical example: “Before the concert, we steal the master’s head.” We often hear or read that first sentences and first pages are important to grab a reader’s attention, and I think this author manages to do that very well here.

Most of those stories kept me enthralled, although not always for the same reasons. Some of them were clearly set in a distant enough future that men had become digital gods, or launched starships meant to drop servers into spaces just like one would plant seends, aiming to create a network spanning entire galaxies. Other stories felt closer to contemporary times, while toying with Finnish myths and legends (Tuoni…). Not to mention the inclusion of Edinburgh: I very often derive pleasure just from reading about a city I know well and/or live in.

Generally speaking, I would divide these stories into three (somewhat loose) categories:

- The exploring of technology, pushed back to its limits and beyond, and what it means to be a sentient being in such a world. I use the words “beings” here on purpose, since not all protagonists are human: “His Master’s Voice” features two extremely enhanced and intelligent pets, and is narrated by the dog itself. Brilliant.

The same applies to “The Server and the Dragon” (a lone server growing in space, questioning its own purpose), “Deux Ex Homine” (the story of one who briefly embraced a plague turning people into digital deities), “Elegy for a Young Elk”, or “Invisible Planets” (where the protagonist is, in fact, a ship).

“Skywalker of Earth” has its own charm, in between a contemporary alien invasion adventure and a pulp serial—considering the people who initiated the conflict in it, and when they did it (1930s pseudo-science). I also really liked the idea of going open source in order to pool all resources available and fight back.

Certainly closer to our own time period, “Topsight” deals with what’s left of people in the digital world after their death, while “The Jugaad Cathedral” explores the meaning of living in a digital world, most specifically a MMORPG, vs. embracing the “real” world, and blurs boundaries between both.

The one I didnt like so much was “Shibuya no Love”, because its portrayal of Japan and its inhabitants felt too close to caricature. It was probably on purpose, but it didn’t work for me.

- The mythical-tinged stories: “Fisher of Men” (includes Iku-Turso), “The Viper Blanket” (with its bizarre family following ancient rites), “The Oldest Game”…

- The others: “Paris, In Love”, “Ghost Dogs”, or “Satan’s Typist”. The first one was close to urban fantasy, in that the City in it really took on a life of its own. The other two are more the horror-infused type—the ghost dogs especially echoed Gaiman’s wolves in the wall for me.

Definitely a unique collection, one that I will recommend without fear of the science thrown in: maybe the concepts will be lost on some (I won’t pretend I understood absolutely everything either), but it doesn’t really matter. Context, feelings and ideas largely make up for it, allowing to mentally draw a bigger picture in every case.

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Review: The Floating City

Posted on July 27th, 2015 @ 19:40
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The Floating City (Shadow Master #2)The Floating City by Craig Cormick

My rating:

Blurb:

The Floating City is in turmoil. The magical seers who protect it are being killed by fearsome Djinn that rise out of the canals at night. Members of the city’s Council of Ten are being assassinated by masked fanatics. Refugee ships are arriving, bringing plague. Othmen spies are infiltrating everywhere. New power blocks are battling for control of the city.

And the three Montecchi daughters, Giuliette, Disdemona and Isabella, are struggling with love and loss – and trying to write their own destinies. And moving amongst them all is the mysterious and deadly Shadow Master, who seems to be directing everyone like players in a game. But some things in this game may be beyond even his control.

Review:

[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Last year, I read the first installment of this series, The Shadow Master. I liked it and found it really confusing at the same time. I’d say that things are a little similar here, but that knowing the works that the author plays with (Romeo & Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Othello…) helps in guessing a few things… and being misled when it comes to others, in a good way. I could both anticipate and still be surprised in the end.

This novel is more intricate than the first one, since it weaves the stories of the three Montecchi sisters along with those of the Shadow Master and Vincenzo, a young scribe with a strange power of making events happen differently by (re)writing them, a really powerful ability in its own right. These retellings from Shakespeare’s plays—and from the tales that inspired them—were fairly interesting: close enough, yet also subtly different, with a dash of humour as well. Mostly it worked for me, although there were a few instances in which the dialogues were, oddly enough, “too” Shakespearian, and clashed slightly with the way the characters spoke in general.

The city itself felt very present, much like in the first book. The atmosphere was more magical and poetic this time, through the depiction of a Venice-like city kept afloat by the powers of four couple of mages called the Seers, facing strange creatures in its waters, a plague, the looming threat of the Ottomans (Othmen), and a shady group of assassins taking down the Council members one by one. This is mostly where things felt confusing sometimes, because a lot was at stake, and the explanation at the end behind those events was too hasty, too convenient, perhaps. This is also where I would’ve liked the novel to be longer, to expand more on the Seers, on how their magic worked (pretty shady as well in its own way!), and on some of the “background characters”, so to speak.

However, paradoxically, the events surrounding the Shadow Master and Vincenzo, as confusing as they may seem, started shedding some light on events and characters from the first novel—especially when a certain couple was concerned. Though I may be mistaken, I have a gut feeling that the author is building something here, something far bigger than I had suspected at first: a sort of network of plots meant to collide at the very end, with the Shadow Master acting both as a hero/assassin and a storyteller, gifted with abilities that go deeper than suspected at first. I cannot deny, too, that the Shadow Master sometimes had a Fool’s flavour to him (as in a Shakespearian Fool), which I don’t doubt was totally on purpose. If only for that, combined to how I enjoyed the story, I shall make it a 3.5 stars, bumped to 4. I definitely hope my hunches are correct.

Note: I found some typos here and there; however, the copy I got was an ARC, therefore not the final one, and I’ll assume those few defects will have been ironed out by now.

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Review: Pawn Shop

Posted on July 26th, 2015 @ 11:44
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Pawn ShopPawn Shop by Joey Esposito

My rating:

Blurb:

Pawn Shop is an original graphic novel about the intertwining lives of four strangers in the ecosystem of New York City, connected by the streets they walk on and the people they touch. Following a lonely widower, a struggling Long Island Railroad employee, a timid hospice nurse, and a drug-addled punk, Pawn Shop explores the big things that separate us and the little moments that inexplicably unite us.

Written by Joey Esposito (Footprints) and drawn by Sean Von Gorman (Toe Tag Riot), Pawn Shop is a slice-of-life tale that weaves together separate lives to celebrate the ever-changing nature of New York City and the people that make it the greatest city in the world.

Review:

[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Four people in New York, whose lives intersect, briefly connect, are more or less related to each other, through a common denominator: a simple pawn shop, in which old memories come to life, long-lost items surface again, from one hand to the other, for various reasons. Some honest, some not. Some out of need, some just by chance.

Harold, Arthur, Jen and Samantha all live different lives, coming from different backgrounds, but all marred with regrets. Regrets about not proposing sooner to a wife who died too soon after the wedding. About not daring confessing to the person who matters most. About letting someone else control your life because of just one bit of leverage. About trying to do what’s best for your family, to the point of neglecting your own life—yet you cannot let go, and if you do, guilt is only waiting at the corner.

I didn’t enjoy the art, I admit, but the stories were interesting, as well as the way they connected: through just enough little coincidences, but not enough to look as if they were too many or too unbelievable. For instance, it wasn’t illogical for Samantha to meet or at least see those people who always travelled the same subway line at the same time every day. For Arthur to see her, since he worked as a nurse to help her ailing brother. Or even for Jen to bump into Harold upon exiting the pawn shop.

I may have liked to see a little more about their lives, especially Jen’s, as her boyfriend implied that one word from him could destroy her life (in the end, we won’t know if he did or not). Or maybe there’ll be a second volume to tell us more about these characters? I don’t know. It both feels pretty complete as is it, with this “want” more a whim on my part than out of any fault of the book.

Fairly interesting, in any case, and very touching when it came to human feelings and how even little things can cause a lot of changes to happen. Changes that are life-altering, though not necessarily in a grand way: subtlety can have just as much weight, after all.

3.5 stars.

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Review: Tortured Life

Posted on July 25th, 2015 @ 10:02
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Tortured LifeTortured Life by Dan Watters

My rating:

Blurb:

Richard is having a bad year. He’s lost his job, lost his girlfriend, put on weight… and developed the ability to see the deaths of everyone around him. Plagued by horrific premonitions, he decides to end it all, but there are old and powerful forces at work that have their own plans for his power. Pitched into a world of eldritch horror that lurks just beneath the surface of London’s civilized veneer, the only chance Richard has of finding peace is to unravel the mysteries of his own past. He’s having a really, really bad year.

Review:

[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A harsh but fascinating story about Richard, a young man who’s able to see how people around him will die. It starts with animals, then expands to everybody he meets, ending up in him retreating from the world and the horrors he keeps seeing. Until the day he meets Alice, and crosses path with the Bloodyman, leaving a trail of dead people behind him.

This comic book weaves several themes, not only death and the ability to see it; scientific experiments are one of those, and while this may seem like an odd mix at first, the plot manages to gather them all up in a way that actually makes sense. It is terrifying and bittersweet; bringing slivers of hope, only to have them smothered by more despair and helplessness. Richard struggles to understand what’s happening to him, yet every time a bit is unveiled, something or someone else is taken from him, until only the dead remain. The dead, and truth.

I also liked that the beginning doesn’t dwell too long on what Richard’s life had been before: just enough to see what he lost, and how he then started losing himself, before everything starts going down the drain for good.

Although the artwork is sometimes stiff, it still definitely conveys all the gruesomness of death, murder, dismembered bodies and rotting guts. The Bloodyman is creepy as hell, humming tunes as he goes about killing again and again, clearly methodical in the madness he’s lost himself in long ago. The bittersweet ending may or may not be a good thing; personally, I quite liked it, as I wasn’t sure what other outcome could have sprung out of this story (at least, a totally happy ending didn’t seem fitting).

3.5 stars, rounded to 4.

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