Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review::Nobody Gets the Girl by James Maxey

Nobody Gets the Girl (Whoosh! Bam! Pow!, #1)Nobody Gets the Girl by James Maxey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nobody Gets the Girl by James Maxey

So here we have an admitted superhero novel and I wasn't sure what to expect. It has a prologue and I'm not usually a fan of those. Add to that the content of the prologue dripped of definite cartoon-y tropes. Then we move to Richard Rogers your everyman; married with a geeky job and a penchant for enjoying entertaining at comedy clubs.

I have to give the writer some extra marks for having the poor man have to make the decision about cheating on his wife when his own fantasy encounter with a supposed comedy club fan makes her entrance. At that point though the reader is still wondering where this is going. After reluctantly staying faithful he returns home for the night and sneaks into bed so as not to wake the wife. The next morning he wakes up to find out that he's nothing more than a ghost in a world that has been turned on its head.

From this point forward the novel develops a clear plot with good writing and a fine pace. It takes a while of wondering what is happening before the good Dr. Know. shows up to straighten things out. The Dr.'s answers are not all that welcome when he tells Richard that he's been erased from history because of the Dr.'s experiments with time travel. Conveniently the Dr. has decide not to time travel anymore because of the consequences and he therefore can't get Richard's life back. That leaves Richard with a decision of whether to live out the rest of existence as a wandering ghost or join the Dr. in his fight to bring peace to the world.

The doctor's two lovely daughters sweeten the deal; at least until Richard uncovers the fact that the whole family is dysfunctional.

I found the plot quite easy to follow and the writing was well done making the story easy to follow though some major parts of the plot were predictable. The overall story idea and several of the threads seemed original in the manor in which things were put together and there was at least one point where I almost felt, as a reader, that we were moving into one of those Robert Heinlein utopia scenarios. But James Maxey deviously turns some of that on its ear, as the thread of the dysfunctional family starts leaving the reader worried about the the direction that the Dr. is trying to take his utopian world.

There are no easy outs and no simple solutions and this is not a good verses evil superhero novel. These are complex characters that drive a story that is full of complex threads that all come neatly to an interesting conclusion. And even though Nobody gets the girl, no character in this story makes it through totally unscathed.

Great Sci-Fi for the Sci-Fi fans; contains some interesting notions about time and reality.

J.L. Dobias

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Review::The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I picked this up because there was a discussion about Margaret Atwood and this book was mentioned and I realized that, though I'd watched the movie, I hadn't read this at all. So since Amazon is offering the Kindle Unlimited and I was lucky enough to find this in the mix I decided I had to do it. I wasn't disappointed. But then usually I find that the novel contains a richness that can't be transformed into the screen production.

First of all, The Handmaid's Tale takes place in some dystopic future; and though it almost seems that the time of the book may already have passed without all these things happening, the guts of the story are such that one can't really shake it off and say that it won't still happen. In fact sometimes I fear that attitudes and events are conspiring to constantly try taking us in this direction.

Offred, meaning of Fred, is a handmaiden to a Commander and is described as a sacred vessel of sorts though in fact she can be considered no more or less than a sex slave. Something has wiped out the United States abilities to procreate. It seems a combination of self regulation and viruses and perhaps even drugs meant to counteract viruses. A radical religious group takes matters into their own hands and use passages from the bible to push everything back a number of decades to where women have no rights. This amounts to a form of chauvinism where women can own nothing and have no true rights and this is all done because man is superior and needs to protect women and based on their own logic of things; they mean to protect women from themselves: Feminism.

This is the story of Offred as told by Offred and apparently it was dictated onto magnetic tapes and later transcribed but we'll get to that after we get through the rest of the story. The story is in first person and it is neatly separated into First Person Present Tense for the immediate now and First Person Past Tense for the flash backs that she has. The flash backs are important because they help connect the reader to an approximation of when the now is and it also connect the reader to Offred by putting her into contemporary times. An important reason for this is that the initial connection to Offred is mostly only that which we see in the flashbacks; because she seems to be so distanced in her narration. The distancing might be deliberate because of the dehumanizing nature of what's happened to her, but there are some arguments that all of Margaret Atwood's characters in her novels are this distanced from the reader. I'll talk about that later also.

First person writing can be easy, but it can also be insidiously difficult. Add present tense and the whole thing can become interesting. Next throw in a lot and I really mean a lot of flashbacks and you can have something of a challenge. As a reader I felt this challenge as the story went along. There were a number of times I missed the cue and had to look back to find that I had in fact just slipped into a flashback without realizing it. One part of that was inattentiveness of the reader; but the other part was some of the style choices that come with flashbacks. To understand that we have to go back to the beginning which is first person and past tense that seems to introduce the story and could almost be considered the first frame of a multi framed story although it might just be a backflash. This is followed by a chapter that starts out as First Person Present Tense of what is happening in the now and contains flash backs that are primarily First Person Past Tense, but there are some of these flashbacks that allow for the style of changing tense to create more immediacy and if you miss the transition to flashback with the first few past tense verbs you easily find yourself wondering when you are when it slips into present tense.

The good news is that this doesn't last for long because the reader can separate out the time zones easily. There is early childhood with her mother; her life with Luke and her own child; her life being indoctrinated into the system; and finally the present where all the atrocities are occurring. The most important part of all this is that the early life is a contemporary life that a reader can relate to and then wonder how everything went to hell so fast.

By demonstrating the indoctrination Offred explains but does not excuse her action in the present. Being inside her head we see the conflicts she constantly puts herself through and I believe that adds to the general feeling of hopelessness that the reader is suppose to get also from all the distancing. Offred has gone through extreme dehumanizing that is only offset by a message left by the last Offred that offers a possible way to get past it all with the caveat that it comes from someone who may have taken the easy way out.

The place where it's revealed that this story is being transcribed from tapes is a place that caused me the most trouble. The story has ended and it's left the reader with much to think about then there is this thing in the back that seems to try to explain a bit about the fictional history that I really didn't feel enhanced the story for me. The only point it seemed to have is to continue making fun of the backwards steps that man is taking to remain supreme over women. And perhaps making the reader wonder how wide spread the problem was though it is given the appearance of being limited to the United States. Still for me as a reader everything up to that point stands well as the story with a hopeful ending that is left up to the reader.

I think one problem when approaching this book is to consider it as a Dystopic novel when in fact it is an extension of something that has existed and still exists on our planet. It's more of a social commentary about the dehumanizing of half the worlds population.

This is a great novel for anyone who likes something that challenges and moves them to think. It's good Soft Science Fiction or Social Science Fiction and great for the Speculative Fiction Fans. Knowing human nature I don't think that this novel can ever be fully outdated.

J.L. Dobias

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review::Replica by Christian Johnson

ReplicaReplica by Christian Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Replica by Christian Johnson

I wanted to say I loved this book. I like it I like it a lot and it has an interesting moral dilemma built into it. I'm willing to give it high marks, but I'm going to be brutal about what I don't like. The problem for me is that it has too much of a feel like the movie The Sixth Day. And honestly there is nothing wrong with that when making a movie or a script for a movie. But this is all just personal preference in wanting a bit more focus on the moral dilemma and the main character.

Like any good movie this book hits the ground running; so anyone that likes their action upfront and straight on through until morning, this is the one. There is hardly room to breath and very little room for any time dwelling on the moral implication although somehow it does get squeezed in and that much I would have to chalk up to good writing.

On that note though I have to give my usual caveat when it comes to grammar and spelling and style. This book boast of three editors and that gives us three other people to blame. There are problems; some of them are pretty obvious and others are just subtle and then the last are just style preferences, which probably don't count for more than a hill of beans. In some places it makes for awkward sentences that made me stop and go back.

In the story Veronica wakes up inside what could only be the vat containing her clone. This is only supposed to happen if she's been killed and then brought back and the way she arrives is not quite by the book, so the whole thing is suspicious from the start. Fortunately for Veronica, she's a bad-ass agent for the CDA and for some reason the normal procedure that would leave her unable to act properly for a while has been subverted. But the SecuraLife Corporation has a reputation to uphold and since she wasn't marked for activation that means shes a Replica and the real her is still alive and she has to be terminated.

Here the excitement begins and a great story unfolds, but for me the problems start here also. We really don't have time to get to know Veronica and the story touches several brief times on the subject of her having a soul or not and since she starts life by accidentally being responsible for a technicians demise and then blowing up the facility and ending a few more lives we really don't get to know her as a person but as an assassin we have her pegged quite well. If this is the real Veronica I'm not sure I'd be able to sympathize with her very much and for long. We do get some insight when she starts realizing she is going to be treated as an un-person; because she's a replica. That only lasts long enough for us to understand that she's ready to fight tooth and nails to stay alive and independent.

For those people who like the action suspense thrillers this really hits the note and keeps going all the way through. We reach a point where things do settle for a bit; but Veronica's constant desire to remain free, clouds any ability to listen to reason. That turns out to be a somewhat good thing because when she does listen it seems she might be somewhat gullible.

I figured out where some of this was heading, but I held out hope that the author might twist it a bit at the last moment: that didn't happen. I could explain but it would be a spoiler for anyone else who may or may not be able to put two and two together. We do not get any real satisfaction for the question of soul and what should become of a replicant, but that doesn't matter because a bulk of the plot does get resolved.[But not everything, so...]

Did Christian Johnson mention this was book one. I don't quite recall. I hope he did because I want to know what happens next.

This is a good novel for those who like Sci-Fi Suspense Thrillers with a touch of Cyberpunk built into it.

J.L. Dobias

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Review:: Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

Sputnik SweetheartSputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

High marks for leaving this reader baffled.

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

Of the many books I have come to learn to love to hate this one takes me to the highest level of that dichotomy.

This book has a lot going for it and just as much going against it and many times the things that make it so frustrating are the very same things that make it so good.

The writer chose a style that may have deliberately been designed to do much of this or may have just naturally settled into it. Now see how frustrating this is getting.

It's a first person story that seems to favor telling. Both of those limit the author quite a bit unless they are quite clever. And there is no doubt in my mind that Haruki Murakami is quite clever when it comes to style but there is enough ambiquity in this psychological thriller to create a weariness about which parts are planned and which parts just worked out that way because of style choices.

That alone could say much about the author though it also might say much about the confusion of the reader at this point.

The story has three central characters; the narrator who is in love with one of the other central characters and then that character who in turn is in love with the third character. It's a love triangle that has the added twist that the second love is a lesbian love and possibly unrequited love. The first love is also unrequited. But the confusing part about these loves is that all the characters sound the same and are only differentiated by what the narrator tells us about each character including himself. Because the reader has been pushed back to a distance by the narrative style there is really no connection to the characters. But this is a story about disaffected characters who all seem to isolate themselves from others and have issues with expressing their desires which is why they sound the same.

In either a twisted way or a clever way the writing style reinforces the disaffection by creating that mood with the reader. The reader doesn't necessarilty empathize but rather is drawn into the mood of the characters by the selected mode of writing. As the reader is drawn deeper into the story and the suspenseful events of the story the distance becomes greater because we have the characters questioning the reality of thier own lives until one of them vanishes as if up in smoke.

In the end the reader is left with a conundrum because the reader must decide what is reality based on the outcome which reads, at best, as a puzzle that we see from the outside with very little involvement with the characters either at the end or in the whole of the story.

At some point the reader could easily draw some wrong conclusions but never quite be sure if they are wrong because of the writing style or wrong because that's how the writing style was used to steer us; in which case then perhaps the conclusions are correct.

Just the fact that the three characters read the same in many ways could make one wonder if these three are not all the same person and their interrelationship and disaffection through unrequited love is the strand that is trying to hold three parts of the same person together after some sort of fracture. Because throughout; the three are never together at any time, and when two are together there are few others around of consequence to validate the existence of each being separate from the other. And that the narrator eventually feels drawn somehow to the third person upon meeting her despite his obsession with the other woman, would seem to support this theory.

I would recommend this to anyone who loves a great seemingly unsolvable puzzle. And a story where the parts are revealed to the reader as they are revealed to the characters with the same hope of resolution to both.

I give this book high marks for its cleverness; despite the possibility it might not all have been planned.

J.L. Dobias

View all my reviews