Book Review: The Walled City, Ryan Graudin (2014)

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

“We’re stronger than they think.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program. Also, trigger warning for rape.)

Mei Yee was just fifteen years old when her abusive, alcoholic father sold her to the Reapers for mere pocket change. In the dark of night, the Reapers came for her: they stole her from where she slept, tossed her into a van with a group of other trafficked girls, and crossed into the Hak Nam Walled City – a place of pain, disease, and death. Here she was purchased by the Brotherhood of the Red Dragon, the brutal gang that controls the 6.5 acres of the Walled City, and put to “work” in one of their many brothels. Unlike the twenty other girls who share her prison, Mei Yee is “lucky” – rather than servicing four or five men in one night, many of whom get off on hitting defenseless girls, Ambassador Osamu took a shining to the beautiful girl and purchased the right to rape her exclusively.

It’s been two years since Mei Yee last saw her sister, but Master Longwai’s words echo in her head: “There is no escape.” Certainly not for Sing, who was quickly caught after a botched attempt and injected with heroin as a lesson to the others.

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Book Review: Eating Sarah, Jaret Martens (2014)

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Not My Cuppa Grey Matter

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program. Also, there are some clearly marked spoilers towards the end of this review.)

Ever since she was a kid, all Sarah wanted to do was participate in the Hunt. Every month, guided by the light of the moon, the adults of their forest colony raid the nearby city in search of food: human captives to be harvested and consumed. But food has been harder and harder to come by, causing Robert – the leader of the colony – to unexpectedly lower the required age of participation from nineteen to seventeen. And, just like that, Sarah is thrust into the Hunt two years ahead of schedule.

Her excitement turns to horror, however, as the forest folk run into what quickly becomes a massacre. Sarah manages to escape with her life, but just barely. She returns to chaos in the colony; during the Hunt, someone murdered Robert, branding his flesh with a bite mark calling card. Robert is only the first of many murders, as more and more of the cannibals turn up dead. When an entire town embraces murder as a way of life, identifying one killer among many is a challenging task indeed.

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Mini-Review: “Last Woman On Earth,” C.V. Hunt (2013)

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Perfectly Grim & Melancholic

four out of five stars

(Trigger warning for suicide and allusions to rape.)

“Last Woman On Earth” opens in a most unusual way: that is, with a brief primer on hanging techniques. The narrator is, as far as she can tell, the last woman on earth, and it’s a burden she’s long since tired of shouldering. She aims to kill herself, but not after enjoying one last sunrise and sunset from high atop the Seattle Space Needle.

In this distant future, the apocalypse arrives on the back of science: after generations of “pump[ing] their bodies full of contraceptives,” women’s reproductive systems have evolved into a state of persistent infertility. The declining birth rate affords men yet another excuse to exploit women – women’s bodies being the means of production, the very stuff of life – and women once again become the hunted. Kidnapping, rape, and human trafficking are at best overlooked in the name of saving the latest endangered species – us. So it’s no surprise when, during her final suicide trek to the West Coast, the narrator turns away from the only human she spots on the road – a man. It’s perilous to be a dwindling natural resource, after all.

For such a short story, “Last Woman On Earth” packs quite a punch. My only complaint? The author’s use of “rape” to denote something that is not rape (environmental degradation) – an especially egregious affront considering the theme of the story.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: W.U.M.E.: A short story, Marc Poliquin (2014)

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Contains the Seeds of a Chilling Dystopian Novel

three out of five stars

Kate Murdoch is seven months pregnant – and under contract with her husband’s employer. In exchange for covering all the fees associated with Kate’s pregnancy and delivery, Kate granted SnazzyCorp the right to imprint her baby Ben starting in the third trimester.

Developed by Carson Hill, the Wired Uterine Manipulation and Encryption Procedure – W.U.M.E. for short – is a way for corporations to cultivate brand loyalty while people are still in the womb. Hill’s assistant, Virginia Williams, served as test subject #1; when her child was born, the newborn immediately refused her mother’s breast in favor of ChemLax baby formula. Years later, and the procedure has taken off; instead of competing for consumers, companies wage war over access to fetuses on the battlegrounds of their mothers’ bodies.

When Kate has a sudden change of heart and attempts to break the contract, SnazzyCorp kidnaps her from her bed in the dead of night in order to subject her and Ben to forced imprinting. Ostensibly saved in the nick of time by a mysterious rescuer known only as Nate, Kate soon finds herself in an even more horrifying situation: imprisoned as a Carrier in the Factory, a clandestine human trafficking facility run by SnazzyCorp competitor GloboDiTech Ltd.

“W.U.M.E.” is a chilling science fiction dystopia in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale. It contains the seeds of a potentially great novel; unfortunately, at just twenty-one pages, it’s a little short on character development and world building for my taste. I would love to see the ideas presented here fleshed out in greater detail.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Mini-Review: Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials, Annie Bellet (2014)

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

Of Bone and Steel and Whiskers

four out of five stars

The programs in her control panel remembered her training, even if she fought to forget.

Ryska is scavenging in an industrial area in the outskirts of Tynda when she unwittingly stumbles into the middle of a botched kidnapping for ransom. The target – a young boy named Toma, son of the famed “Railway Demon” – reminds her of the boys she couldn’t save back at the Lab: Misha. Luka. Gregr. Her brothers and friends. Though it goes against her survival instinct, Ryska vows to help Toma escape his captors (and if his father rewards her with a fat bag of cash, all the better). Luckily, she has something that her sighted pursuers do not: high-tech sensory whiskers that allow her to see in the dark, and specialized combat training from her childhood in the Lab.

A short thriller/science fiction/dystopian story, “Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials” feels like a little novelette in a larger series, meant to provide some backstory for or additional insight into a much-loved character. As I read, I yearned to learn more about Ryska and her time in the Lab, or to find out what she did with her reward money; sadly, “Of Bone and Steel” is all there is. Still, it’s a fun little read, overall well-written and fast-paced.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: After The Darkness: Episode One, SunHi Mistwalker (2012)

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Feels Incomplete

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program.)

I’m not quite sure how to review After The Darkness: Episode One. The first piece in a serial, Episode One feels very much like the opening two chapters of a larger book. Which it is, in a way. Unlike other serials I’ve read, though (and I admit that my experience here is limited; heck, I sometimes avoid reading duologies and trilogies until all the novels in the series are released!), Episode One doesn’t stand on its own; the story here feels incomplete, and the world-building, in need of further exploration.

Episode One opens with the kidnapping of 14-year-old Nadia and her younger sister Mila, seemingly for sale to slavers by mercenaries (or are they law enforcement officers?) Percy and Thomas. Nadia ends up at a Calcane City girls’ “hostel,” where she’s forced to compete with hundreds of other enslaved girls for tokens – and the entertainment of the elite, including her own kidnappers. We do not know what becomes of Mila, who wasn’t part of the contract, but simply found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s hinted that Nadia and Mila used to be part of the ruling class themselves – the term “level five” is bandied about – until their parents were betrayed by their compatriots. We’re not given any indication of her parents’ whereabouts, nor of how the girls have managed to care for themselves in the harsh, frozen landscape of Calcane City.

The premise is somewhat interesting, though I’m not sure it’s enough to compel me to pick up Episode Two. That’s the problem with serials – the format makes it way too easy to quit, especially if the author fails to hook you early on. I know so little about the story that I don’t feel particularly invested in it.

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Book Review: Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (1993)

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

200 Billion Stars

five out of five stars

Lauren Olamina isn’t like the other kids in her neighborhood, a walled-off city block in Robledo, just twenty miles outside of Los Angeles. Born to a drug-addicted mother, Lauren is afflicted with hyperempathy – the ability to share in the pain and pleasure of others, whether she wants to or not. This makes her an especially easy target for bullies – brother Keith used to make her bleed for fun when they were younger – so Lauren’s weakness is a carefully guarded secret, one shared only with her family. In this crumbling world, a near-future dystopia that’s all to easy to imagine, humans already devour their own: literally as well as figuratively. Lauren won’t make herself an easy meal.

As if her hyperempathy isn’t alienating enough, Lauren has another secret, one that she only shares with her diary. The daughter of a Baptist preacher, Lauren no longer believes in her father’s god. Instead, she’s cultivating her own system of belief – Earthseed:

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

Is Change.

Lauren gathers these verses into a book that she comes to think of as “The Books of the Living.” Her new religion? Earthseed. Its destination? The stars.

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Book Review: Masque of the Red Death, Bethany Griffin (2012)

Monday, April 14th, 2014

“In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think.”

five out of five stars

Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s short story of the same name, Bethany Griffin imagines a world decimated by the plague in Masque of the Red Death. Seventeen-year-old Araby Worth knows too well the horrors of the Weeping Sickness; she lost her twin brother Finn to the disease several years ago, and still blames herself for his death. Their father, the scientist Dr. Worth, designed a mask that filters out the disease; but Araby accidentally claimed the prototype, which was meant for the frail Finn. The masks acclimate to their owners, so that sharing or trading is impossible. Before his father could make a second mask, Finn contracted the plague and died. Dr. Worth saved humanity, but was unable to keep his own family safe.

Araby now spends her days sleeping and her nights getting high in the Debauchery District. She considered suicide, once, but was rescued by her neighbor April. Now best friends, the two belong to the privileged class. High up in the penthouses of the Akkadian Towers, the two are sheltered from much of the poverty and violence below. And while they’re lucky enough to afford masks – a whole collection of them, actually – no one in this world remains untouched by the Weeping Sickness.

While she has resigned herself to life, Araby has taken a vow to eschew those things her brother will never experience: a first kiss. Learning to swordfight. Traveling the world. As romance and political intrigue seep through the walls she’s built around herself, Araby finds her resolve tested: first by Will, the dark and mysterious tester at the Debauchery Club, and then by April’s brother Elliott, who has rebellion on the brain.

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Book Review: Ultraviolet, Joseph Robert Lewis (2014)

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

A Superhero Straight out of the Occupy Movement

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaway program. Also, minor spoilers below.)

Sixteen-year-old Carmen Reyes Zhao should have been on top of the world. Not a year out of college and just two months after being canned from her lucrative engineering job at 3D printer megacorp Cygnus, Carmen invented something big. Like change-the-world big. Instead of stumbling all over themselves to rehire Carmen, her former bosses are chasing her down. Carmen not only unwittingly violated the Corporate Espionage Act by continuing her research after she was fired from Cygnus – but her invention is so revolutionary that it poses a serious threat to Cygnus’s monopoly on, well, everything.

In Ultraviolet, Lewis imagines a dystopia that’s so chilling precisely because it feels so real and believable – so terribly possible. The advent of 3D printers led to 30% unemployment in just a few years. Since most people can manufacture their own goods at the push of a printer button, the bulk of blue collar jobs are in garbage and recycling for the feedstock industries – dirty and dangerous work. High school ends early so that kids can go to work at fifteen. Only a “lucky” few teenagers attend college, and those who do don’t waste time on “frivolous” subjects like humanities and the social sciences. The turnaround time on an engineer? Six months.

Unsurprisingly, the American government has been bought and paid for by a handful of uber-rich corporations, which craft laws and shape morality to protect their own selfish interests (money, power, market shares). Businesses like Cygnus have a vested interest in keeping people poor, uneducated, and dependent on their products. When Carmen figures out how to turn light (a free resource, as opposed to Cygnus’s expensive feedstock) into physical objects, Cygnus claims ownership of her hologram projection suit so that it can bury the tech – and Carmen, in a federal prison. Luckily, she’s got an entire armory at her fingertips. Literally. (My favorite is the over-the-top sword and armor based on designs from a video game, Gyroware’s Demon Age 3. Lewis has an uncanny sense of pop culture trends, which makes Ultraviolet all the more fun.)

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Book Review: Kellie’s Diary: Decay of Innocence, Thomas Jenner & Angeline Perkins (2013)

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Kellie’s Diary Parts 1-3 + Extras

three out of five stars

(Caution: Minor spoilers ahead! Also, trigger warning for rape.)

After a brief stay with her grandfather in Oregon, nine-year-old Kellie has just been reunited with her family in Austin, Texas when all hell breaks loose. The dead begin rising, only to feast on the living – and poor Kellie finds herself all alone. Well, almost. As she traverses the West Coast in search of her parents and two younger sisters, her diary “Barbie” proves a constant and dependable companion. In between Barbie’s covers, Kellie documents the horrors she witnesses.

Currently the Kellie’s Diary series spans four books, with parts 1 through 3 collected in Kellie’s Diary: Decay of Innocence. There are also a few “extras,” including a preview of a related upcoming series, Survival Chronicles:

Kellie’s Diary, Part 1 – The dead begin rising right in the middle of Kellie’s third-grade class. When a seemingly deranged man bursts through the classroom window and mauls the substitute teacher, Kellie flees into the bathroom. Once the chaos subsides, she makes the long and terrifying trek back to her home – only to find it empty. (January 18 through January 25, 1993)

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Book Review: Kellie’s Diary #1, Thomas Jenner & Angeline Perkins (2013)

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Interesting premise, slow start…

three out of five stars

After a brief (and unexplained) stay with her grandfather, Kellie has just returned to her third grade class. Not a day back, and already some of her classmates are falling ill – never to return. At first, everyone assumes it’s “just the flu” – but by week’s end, her entire town has been devoured by zombies.

Kellie is sitting in class one morning when a scary man barges through the window and promptly bites the substitute teacher. Terrified and not a little confused, she hides in the girl’s bathroom until the mayhem subsides. With no other destination in mind, she decides to try and find her way home. Along the way, she dutifully records her journey in her diary (“Barbie”).

(For what it’s worth, Kellie reminds me of a (very!) young Julie Grigio. To wit: “They’re [the zombies] scary, but they look sad too.”)

When I first picked this up, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect: Graphic novel? A narrative book presented in diary format? Or a combination of the two, a sort of faux diary complete with scribbles and drawings and assorted ephemera? As it turns out, the answer is closest to B, and it lends itself well to the Kindle format. The authors use a handwriting font to give the book a handmade feel, and the “diary” is written on lined notebook paper, complete with faint water stains. In contrast to titles that contain visual art, Kellie’s Diary #1 is easy enough to read on the Kindle. There aren’t any real pages, but Kindle tells me that there are 69 locations, if that helps. There are nine chapters, and the diary covers exactly one week in Kellie’s life: January 18 through January 25, 1993. (Crossing my fingers for copious ’90s references down the road!) In any case, the story is rather short; I finished it inside of an hour.

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Book Review: Not a Drop to Drink, Mindy McGinnis (2013)

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

A stunning debut!

five out of five stars

Caution: minor spoilers ahead. Also, trigger warning for discussions of rape.

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

More than just two lines dreamed up by a long-dead poet, this mantra rules sixteen-year-old Lynn’s life. Born into a world in which fresh, potable water is a scarcity, Lynn and Mother (less commonly known as “Lauren”) guard their pond as though their lives depend on it – because they do. Daily tasks revolve around gathering water, purifying water, storing water, and guarding water from threats both real and imagined. Anyone, human or non, who ventures too close to the pond is shot on sight. If they’re lucky, they get a warning shot first. When not performing daily chores, Lynn and Mother while away their time on the roof, a strategic vantage point from which to spot and discourage intruders.

For more than a decade and a half, Lynn’s life is confined to this small universe: the pond, the roof, and the basement. Mother is her only companion, and aside from the one time their neighbor Stebbs nearly lost a foot in a bear trap and sought Lauren’s help, Lynns hasn’t spoken to another soul. That is, until the fateful fall day when Mother is killed by a pack of especially bold coyotes. Though she attempts to carry on the way Mother taught her, Lynn finds herself sucked into local affairs by Stebbs. Stebbs has something Mother could never afford – a conscience – and he enlists Lynn’s assistance in helping the “Streamers,” a group of expats from the city of Entargo who set up camp upstream from Lynn and Stebbs.

A dearth of fresh water is only one of their problems, as the group will soon discover; more dangerous than the threat of cholera are the men to the south, who make due by looting abandoned houses, stealing from fellow survivors, and kidnapping, enslaving, and raping/prostituting women. They run a trading post in the nearby city of South Bloomfield, where a gallon of gas will get you a half hour with one of their sex slaves, and women can barter their bodies for milk with which to feed their starving children (stolen from the exploited body of a dairy cow, whose own child remains conspicuously absent). When the group attempted to raid Lynn’s house, she and Mother shot several of them dead. Now that Mother is gone, it’s up to Lynn to solve the Southie problem for good.

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Book Review: Suicide Girls, Vol. 1, Brea Grant et al. (2011)

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Worth every penny!*

three out of five stars

So I was clicking through Steve Niles’s Amazon page, trying to decide whether I should give his 30 Days of Night series a try, when I happened upon this gem. The summary sucked me in from the first (“Caught in a near-future defined by its rigid conformity and persecution of women, the SuicideGirls are the last hope for freedom. Can they take down the techno-religious cult, Way*of*Life, or will they die trying?”), and with used copies going for as little as one cent, I just couldn’t resist.

Now, I’m not really what you’d call a fan of the Suicide Girls franchise – get rid of the rainbow-colored hair and body mods, and SG adheres to the same stifling beauty standards as any mainstream, male gaze-catering brand of pornography – but outside of my vegan-feminist critiques of PETA’s partnership with SG, I don’t really pay the Suicide Girls much mind. Point is, I wasn’t expecting too much from this particular graphic novel. Three stars is several more than I expected to give Suicide Girls, Vol. 1.

The story is interesting, if not especially well fleshed out. In the near future, a fundamentalist Christian group called Way*of*Life (minor gripe – the asterisks in the group’s name proved distracting at best) has bribed its way into the United States government, criminalizing all that it deems “sinful” and imprisoning lawbreakers in its own private prisons/reform camps (“Rehabilitation in the Lord’s name!”). In addition to gays, atheists, and the like, Way*of*Life targets women – specifically, uppity women who don’t know their God-given place.

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Book Review: The New Hunger: The Prequel to Warm Bodies, Isaac Marion (2013)

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Come Fly With Me*

five out of five stars

“Thirty-four miles north of the police station, a young girl who recently killed a young boy is watching beige houses flicker through the headlights of her family’s SUV. Her father’s eyes are tight on the road, her mother’s on everything around the road, pistol at the ready should anything incongruous emerge from this idyllic suburban scene. They are traveling later than they usually do, later than is safe, and the girl is glad. She hates sleeping. Not just because of the nightmares, but because everything is urgent. Because life is short. Because she feels a thousand fractures running through her, and she knows they run through the world. She is racing to find the glue.

“Thirty-four miles south of this girl, a man who recently learned he is a monster is following two other monsters up a steep hill in an empty city, because he can smell life in the distance and his purpose now is to take it. A brutish thing inside him is giggling and slavering and clutching its many hands in anticipation, overjoyed to finally be obeyed, but the man himself feels none of this. Only a coldness deep in his chest, in the organ that once pumped blood and feeling and now pumps nothing. A dull ache like a severed stump numbed in ice – what was there is gone, but it hurts. It still hurts.

“And three hundred feet north of these monsters are a girl and boy who are looking for new parents. Or perhaps becoming them. Both are strong, both are super smart and super cool, and both are tiny and alone in a vast, merciless, endlessly hungry world.

“All six are moving toward each other, some by accident, some by intent, and though their goals differ considerably, on this particular summer night, under this particular set of cold stars, all of them are sharing the same thought:

Find people.

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Book Review: Feed (The Newsflesh Trilogy #1), Mira Grant (2010)

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014


five out of five stars

“The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we had created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.”

Two-thirds of the news team which will eventually come to be known as “After the End Times,” adopted siblings Georgia and Shaun Mason are used to chasing danger. (Although, as an Irwin, Shaun is much more accustomed to poking dangerous things with sticks than his Newsie sister.) Together with Fictional-slash-tech whiz Georgette “Buffy” Meissonier, as well as a supporting cast of countless beta bloggers, the After the End Times crew is devoted to pursuing the truth at any and all costs. When their team is selected out of hundreds (thousands?) of other bloggers to accompany moderate Republican Senator Peter Ryman as he embarks on his presidential campaign, some of them will be asked to pay the ultimate price, as the friends are unwittingly thrust into a shadowy conspiracy to steal the presidency, terrorize the populace, and engender fear to facilitate the hijacking of the Constitution.

Feed is unlike many zombie stories I’ve read of late – most notably because the zombie menace seemingly takes a backseat to political intrigue, assassination attempts, and other human-created threats. And yet I don’t quite agree with other reviewers who claim that this isn’t a zombie story.

Kellis-Amberlee – so named for Dr. Alexander Kellis, the scientist whose cure for the common cold was prematurely unleashed on the world by well-meaning “ecoterrorists,” and Amanda Amberlee, the first child to see her cancer cured via infection with the Marburg EX19 virus (when combined, the viruses unexpectedly caused the dead to rise) – colors every aspect of this world. While the survivors are mostly able to insulate themselves from the zombie threat, it comes at a great price: large public gatherings are a thing of the past; dating mostly happens online (and it’s a wonder that reproduction happens at all); privacy is sacrificed for safety at almost every turn; and people no longer have the ability to move about freely. Huge swaths of the United State are restricted, open only to those with a certain level of safety training. Kellis-Amberlee primarily causes conversion in the dead – but everyone is infected with varying levels of the virus, and spontaneous reamplification among the living and otherwise healthy is rare, but possible. The virus has effectively isolated humanity from itself. Everyone is suspect; no one can be trusted.

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Book Review: The First Days: As the World Dies, Rhiannon Frater (2011)

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Don’t Mess With — BRAAAAAAAAINS!!!

three out of five stars

The Zombocalypse has arrived, and survival is as much a matter of dumb luck as it is skill and cunning – a fact quickly established in the first few pages of The First Days. Texas prosecutor Katie is on her way to work when the traffic procession in which she’s stuck is swarmed by a group of the undead. Katie barely manages to escape with her life, thanks to an older gent in a pickup who sacrifices his meat suit for hers. Katie races home, only to find her beloved wife Lydia eviscerating the mailman. She takes off in confused horror, and serendipitously crosses paths with Jenni, a long-suffering housewife whose abusive husband Lloyd has just made a meal of their children. In a very Thelma & Louise moment, the two women embark on a road trip, traversing the rural Texas countryside in search of Jenni’s surviving stepson, Jason, and a safe place to call home.

The First Days: As the World Dies is a solid enough zombie story that, for whatever reason, stopped just short of sucking me in. The story – a kind of cross between The Walking Dead, The Zombie Survival Guide, and every Romero movie ever made – primarily focuses on the tenuous task of rebuilding while swarms of zombies continue to beat down your door. The logistical planning – of which there’s more than a little – didn’t interest me so much, but I loved the many pop culture references. Frater’s obviously a huge fan of the genre. Originally self-published, the Tor reprint maintains some of that indie feel (and not in a bad way). Puzzling, though, are the many punctuation errors that managed to make it into the new version: missing periods, spaces both before and after periods, etc.

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Book Review: The Culling, Robert Johnson (2014)

Monday, January 6th, 2014

The Momentum of Folly

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

Young upstart Dr. Carl Sims is moving on up the food chain at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta – though not as quickly as he’d like. While visions of Level 4 Ebola research dance in his head, Carl is dispatched to Guangdong, China, in order to track down an emerging flu virus. What was to be a rather mundane and tedious assignment quickly morphs into a battle for the future of humanity, as Carl is thrust into a conspiracy orchestrated by his senior colleagues. Led by his own superior on the assignment, Dr. Jenna Williams, the scientists hope to release the 1918 “Eskimo” flu strain, thus “culling” two thirds of the earth’s population and saving the rest from impending environment collapse. It’s up to Carl to stop them – that is, if he doesn’t decide to join them.

Robert Johnson has an interesting idea in The Culling – but, for whatever reason (or combination of reasons), the finished product just didn’t do it for me. Johnson is an adept enough writer, and mostly keeps a quick pace, but it takes some time for the conspiracy angle to get off the ground. The book – or at least the ARC I received – isn’t divided into chapters, which makes the story feel as though it’s unfolding more slowly than it is. Johnson fills the book with facts and figures that are supposed to drive home the urgency of the situation, but which mostly made my eyes glaze over. (To be fair, I’m already convinced that humanity is headed swiftly off a cliff. A member of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement – emphasis on “voluntary” – I can do Johnson’s “just two children” credo two better: I have none. So I didn’t really need any convincing, is my point.)

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Book Review: Red Rising, Pierce Brown (2014)

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Love love love LOVED it!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program. Also, trigger warning for rape.)

The first time I spotted a copy of Red Rising up for grabs on Library Thing, I dismissed it as yet another YA romance set against a gritty-yet-generic dystopian backdrop. The second time, I rolled my eyes at the seemingly endless comparisons to The Hunger Games – nowadays every young adult dystopia featuring a spunky heroine is THE NEXT THE HUNGER GAMES, it seems – but threw my hat in the ring anyway. (What can I say, my interest was piqued!) And when it arrived on my doorstep, I became convinced that no book could possibly live up to the hype generated in the press materials that came sandwiched in between the pages of the ARC.

I owe Pierce Brown a huge apology. I bloodydamn loved it, just as he promised I would!

In the distant future (we’re talking 700 years+, though Brown is light on the specifics), humanity has been divided into color-coded castes, each purposefully created to fulfill a different role in society: Yellows study medicine and science; Greens develop technology; Blues navigate the stars; Silvers count and manipulate currency; Coppers maintain the bureaucracy; Whites pass legislation and mete out justice; and Gray soldiers uphold the hierarchy. At the top of the pyramid stands the ruling class, the Golds. In the early days of space exploration, the wealthy Golds colonized Luna and, when it became the hub of space travel, they waged a war for independence against the countries and corporations of Earth (in a futuristic version of the American Rebellion). Luna triumphed over Earth in what became known as the Conquering, thus consolidating the Golds’ military and economic power.

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Book Review: The Cure, Sonia Levitin (2000)

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Living While Jewish in the Middle Ages

five out of five stars

* Caution: Minor spoilers ahead! *

It is The Year of Tranquility 2047, and humanity has eradicated violence, poverty, and bigotry – at the expense of diversity and emotion. If “diversity begets hostility” and “passion begets evil,” as the United Social Alliance Elders believe, then the only path to utopia is conformity: “Conformity begets Harmony begets Tranquility begets Peace begets Universal Good. (Shout Praises!)” The result is a rather sterile society devoid of family, love, intimacy, history, and art, a community in which all members think as one (and indeed, don’t seem to think about much at all).

To achieve this “Universal Good,” years of genetic engineering and selective breeding have made the human brain compliant; standardized, even. Babies are created in batches, each male paired with a female twin with whom he becomes mated for life. Though the siblings live, work, and parent together (if they so choose), sex is prohibited, a relic of the past. Instead, when females turn 16, their eggs are harvested (a mandate euphemistically referred to as “the process”), so that the next generation can be made in a lab. Touching is taboo, and to further emphasize the sense of oneness, citizens wear smooth, featureless masks at all times. Not even twins are allowed to gaze upon one another’s faces.

Disease and sickness have mostly been eradicated, but in lieu of immortality, citizens can choose to be “recycled” (i.e., euthanized) at any time. The maximum allowed lifespan is 120 years, after which time recycling is mandatory. If one is found to be “deviant” – a nonconforming thinker – most likely he or she will be recycled. A select few are offered the option of “The Cure.”

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: Christian Nation: A Novel, Frederic C. Rich (2013)

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

I really wanted to like this book…

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program. )

I really wanted to like this book. I really did. I mean, it’s right up my alley: Speculative fiction. The rise of an American theocracy. The erosion of civil liberties and rights. The misuse of technology by the government to spy on its citizens and force them into submission. Misogyny taken to its logical extremes. When I first read the description on the book jacket, it brought to mind some of my favorite dystopian classics: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is an obvious one, as is George Orwell’s 1984. While these books do share some similarities, what sets Christian Nation: A Novel apart is that it’s surprisingly boring.

Caution: Minor spoilers ahead!

What might have happened had John McCain and Sarah Palin won the 2008 election? In Frederic C. Rich’s vision of one possible America, a McCain/Palin victory is the first step on the path to an American theocracy. Not long after his inauguration, President McCain drops dead of a cerebral aneurism while giving a speech in Moscow. In a nightmare scenario, the ill-prepared Sarah Palin is swiftly sworn in. During her presidency – which lasts two terms, thanks to a series of especially brutal and conveniently-timed terrorist attacks on American soil – Palin begins to lay the groundwork for what will become the unraveling of American democracy. Among other things, Palin declares martial law, and with her leadership, Congress passes previously unthinkable pieces of legislation, including the Houses of Worship Act, the Constitution Restoration Act, and the Defense of Freedom Act – most of the provisions of which are upheld by a Supreme Court now dominated by conservatives.

Palin is succeeded by her mostly-invisible adviser, Steve Jordan, under whose leadership America undergoes a radical transformation. On July 4th, 2017, he introduces a series of fifty proposed rules organized around ten assertions. Based on an evangelical Christian reading of the Bible and collectively called The Blessing, these are to act as each citizen’s covenant with God, as well as the basis for more concrete state and federal laws. The Blessing is a sort of conservative Christian wishlist: among other things, it establishes “God’s law” as the law of the land; restricts judgeships to born again Christians; expels the UN from US soil and nullifies existing international treaties; solidifies marriage as between one man and one woman; outlaws abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, adultery, pornography, and “sexual perversion”; eradicates hate crimes legislation; establishes abstinence-only education as the only legal form of sexual education; and demands that wives must obey their husbands and children, their fathers. While Jordon doesn’t unilaterally enact The Blessing – it comes up for a vote in Congress, much like any other piece of legislation – it easily passes in a House and Senate dominated by conservative Christians (many of whom were swept into power with the help of politically active churches, thanks to Palin’s Houses of Worship Act).

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