Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review::Fluency (Confluence Book 1) by Jennifer Foehner Wells

FluencyFluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fluency (Confluence Book 1) by Jennifer Foehner Wells

I'm selective in my reading and I try to read as much as I can, but apparently I'm not near as selective as some people. I love to read the one star reviews when I read a book because that way I can't say I wasn't warned. Thankfully I rarely get put off by the negative reviews or I'd likely get no experience reading some of the stuff that I do like. This book grabbed me from the start and it might be that many of the negatives people were talking about were just things I felt I'd expect.

Fluency has a lot of old tropes that run through it in a sort of old lace interwoven fashion. What I mean by that is that it starts out with the mystery of what may have happened at area 51 and brings our astronauts to a seeming derelict space craft far out in space. All these years it has waited for us to put together the technology necessary to get to it. Next it has a sort of horror element that could almost rival the Alien movie franchise. Throw into all of this some astronauts with seeming anomalous behavior and you have that usual recipe for disaster.

There is also that style decision that doesn't bother me very much, but does need mentioning for those who it does bother. This is where the supposed professional astronauts start acting like hormone driven adolescents. It really doesn't predominate; but it lurks in there and peeks it's head out now and then. There is an explanation for it and it is fairly plausible within the context of the story so in this instance even my usual gnashing and grinding of teeth is interrupted with a feeling of acceptance.

I don't want to suggest that there is zero tolerance in science fiction for romance, but I think that the SF author is expected to handle it in a less intrusive way. I like good character development and so I have some tolerance for the romance in that even the consummate professional do manage to work some of that into their lives. So although I felt there might have been some cringe worthy moments, they were not oppressive. What probably bothered me more would be that some of them end up being moments that are dream or hallucinatory sequences and then the reader ends up wondering, when the next one happens, if it will ever be real.

This had a lot of interesting premises and some interesting ways of developing those and sometimes giving them a bit of a twist. There was also an interesting development of the reason for the alien ship to be where it is and the reason that it seems abandoned and even the bit of conspiracy theory that demonstrates why some of the actions of the characters seem to be a bit anomalous. Overall I give Jennifer Foehner Wells some high marks for her development of her plot, though I can see where some people might be distracted by the astronauts behavior enough to miss some of the points behind the 'why' to that behavior.

I recommend this to lovers of SFF and even SF as long as you don't need your science distilled down it's finest particle. I would even recommend it as a young adult offering with the caveat that it does seem to exceed my bad language filter by at least about 55 occurrences.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Review::Gilded (The Gilded Series Book 1) by Christina Farley

Gilded (Gilded, #1)Gilded by Christina L. Farley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gilded (The Gilded Series Book 1) by Christina Farley

Gilded is probably going to be one of those books that people either love or hate with little in between. I picked the novel up from an ad running in Goodreads and I usually read the bad reviews first. There were some brutal thoughts there and, sometimes, that can color a readers point of view. Thankfully the story begins quite well and was able to draw me in. I really enjoyed it.

The story uses some standard tropes for young adult novels and it does seem geared for the lower to middle end of the scale, but it doesn't necessarily exclude adult readers. The grammar and spelling are well handled so there is little in mechanical road bumps going into the story. It is written in first person which seems again par for many young adults and it's a great POV to use when starting writing. There are a number of pitfalls that naturally occur in first person writing that seem to have been avoided; so it's a job well done. It is also presented in present tense, which can be a challenge to both the writer and the reader. Christina Farley handles it all quite well, but even so it's not always that easy to convince the reader to read on; even when it's well done.

The writing and pace flow quite well and make this a very quick read for a novel of its length. I found myself sailing through it in the early part of a quiet weekend. It was easy to finish in one sitting. With all these great things going for it, I have to wonder why there are people who were disappointed in the novel as a whole. I think that one thing that stood out was that many expected something different from this novel. I can't put my finger on why, because I knew right off since it was young adult and involved mythology; so I knew it was going to be a strong fantasy story. I felt that I got as much as I expected. If you consider learning a few things about Korea, then I obtained a bit more than that.

Because there are a lot of young adult novels out these days there does seem to be a standard pattern of tropes that weave into most narratives and that is probably another potential negative point. With this in mind it makes it hard on the writer who writes young adult, because they have to create some strong characters that are different in order to give the reader more than just the same old same. Christina Farley does a good job of creating a diverse group of people to drive her story. There are some decisions about main characters that stand out; often not quite in the best way possible and I think it was a style choice rather than poor writing. What I mean by that is that this is a heavy fantasy with the need for the reader to suspend their disbelief a lot about the plot and the underlying world of the story. With that in mind the reader needs strong realistic characters to pull them through all of the wonder; and in some way the decision to portray Jae Hwa a specific way may not have helped some readers.

What I mean by this is that many times I felt Jae was being portrayed as someone who acted a few ages below her actual age. This lack of maturity may have been meant to offset the fact that she seems to be a master at Tae Kwan Do and a crack archer. She most times seems fairly bright but the lack of maturity and being up against some heavy duty academic types in her new school often seems to off-balance her character too much. This created the opportunity to overlook the fact that part of the story seems to be about her character flaw of being somewhat immature and having to work on reaching a more mature attitude and as a reader I almost lost that entirely.

This growth is there; unfortunately it occurs at the same time as the reader is distracted by the somewhat obvious collection of 'key' elements that Jae must assemble and then by some bits of wit and mostly luck she finds how to use them. Many of these are pretty obvious to the reader, but extra time and words are spent making sure the reader sees them several times to have them indelibly placed within their thoughts. It may have proven as profitable to spend as much time on the clues to Jae gathering maturity.

That much said; I think I did figure it out and I was thoroughly entertained, which is why I give Gilded high marks. It takes a little bit of thought and some great patience to get to the end and realize that Jae has actually made some strides forward.

This is a good read for Young Adults on the lower to middle half of the scale and for all lovers of pure fantasy and a bit of romance.

J.L. Dobias

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Review::The Last Starship from Earth (a novel) by John Boyd

>The Last Starship from EarthThe Last Starship from Earth by John Boyd

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Last Starship from Earth (a novel) by John Boyd

Back in the late sixties early seventies I joined the science fiction book club and this was one of many offerings. I still have the 1968 edition they sent me and it's in fair condition. What wasn't so much intact was my recall of the story; so I had to reread it. I was seventeen in 1968 when this was published and I was going to Junior College while just barely becoming eighteen. This book creates for me the feeling of a literary epic. It's written in the time of cold wars and civil uprisings and government conspiracies. All a perfect back drop for a dystopic tale of a parallel universe. A universe where Christ didn't die as a martyr and the church took the world by storm rather than suffering persecution as happened in ours. A 'what if' story that begins in a far different version of 1968.

This book has a lot going for it in that it has a sort of twisted poetic bent that lends itself nicely to the prose of the author. What it lacks is consistent background on what might have wrought all the changes to bring us up to Haldane's world where space travel is already accomplished and we have the perfect society guarded by the "Weird Sisters" Psychology, Sociology and the Church. Sure: there are other disciplines such as Mathematics and Poetry [those are two that drive the story]. What this book also lacks is involvement with what could have been the most important character. Part of this might well be the times it was written and the rest would probably fall to being a part of the continued tropes that trapes through all of histories diverse tomes.

I'm giving this book high marks for entertaining me and making me think and even a bit for nostalgia. I have to be honest and note that I didn't go happily down the trail of reading John Boyd's later works and in part that may be for the strange twist in structure that caused the plot to become un-potted at a certain point and an orphaned epilogue at the end that almost adds insult to injury in light of the fact that the entire book requires the reader to think upon the 'what if' proposed and realize that there is no true logical progression to how John Boyd got from there to where he did; which leaves it to the reader to do some research or at least have some understanding of the impact of Christianity upon western development. Even so it's left to the reader to determine how things took such a left turn because of the difference in how Christianity took foot.

So if Christ was not martyred on the cross and his movement brought down the Roman Empire without the bulk of Christianity being persecuted, that might change some things. One can only guess that perhaps the strength of the church and lack of humble roots may have excluded the reformation and the Protestant movement. But somehow the church and its two sisters Psychology and Sociology have slipped into a near socialistic totalitarian society whose highest judge is a mechanical Pope created by the worlds leading Mathematician Fairweather I, which is perhaps why John Boyd chose to make this a story of adolescent forbidden love between the Mathematician and a Poet. Forbidden love: lust perhaps would be allowed but not love and certainly there are taboos on any thought of an offspring from such forbidden union. Our young man, Haldane, makes a wrong turn on the way to a Mathematics conference and ends up at a museum where he meets Helix [the essence of a spirit that might rival Helen of Troy]; and his inexplicable love at first sight only drives home the importance of this character he has fallen for.

After a comedy of errors where the reader is left wondering, after a ream of logic about where Haldane could accidentally run into Helix on purpose only to find that she's not there, 'is she avoiding him. As it turns out while he's searched where she might be she seems to be searching where he should be and the two are going in opposite directions until she stumbles across his father and sets up a chance to meet Haldane through him. There's a lot of time and detail spent on the logistics necessary to create the illusion that any time they spend together has some logic to it and this becomes the part for reads who like the average dystopic tale where the players move in the shadows trying to avoid detection of the secret police. Suffice it to say there will be a day of reckoning and when that comes there is a twist because Helix is pregnant and that makes things that much worse.

A trial ensues and this is where John Boyd drops the ball with Helix. She becomes a none entity as Haldane is taken to task for the wretched deed and he is worked at by the forces of Church, Psychology, and Sociology until they offer him the out, by placing all the blame and responsibility on Helix shoulders and denying his own love for her. He even refuses to recant when it becomes rather muddily clear that Helix may have been part of an entrapment that was set up to bring him down and expose his nature as a sufferer of the Fairweather Syndrome [named after Fairweather I's son Fairweather II (who was proven to be a most heinous criminal in society)]. With no cure: the only outcome for Haldane is to be deported to the planet Hell. This is all confirmed when the mechanical Pope asks Haldane if he loves Helix; Haldane can't deny it and is relegated to hell for the admission.

This is where our author, John Boyd, fell a bit more, because the next part takes some major twists and the first is with Helix. Without much real background of a character that is treated as backdrop; the story loses out. I could easily attribute this treatment as a part of the era this is written since the world prior to 1968 was still pretty primitive in some notions about women. And since this parallel world is in 1968 that seems to track okay in that the women may be treated as Helix is in this story. Still there is this whole notion that Helix has an effect on Haldane and she is compared to Helen of Troy and she deserves much more than she gets, but this is Haldane's story and this is how John Boyd chose tell it.

To go much further would contain all the spoilers that would make reading this redundant and I think that every lover of dystopia's should read and love this story. There are a few more twists before the epilogue and I would have been just as happy if I'd been left with the final twist in the final chapter. The epilogue can only be described as a corkscrew of twists that could boggle the mind on any thoughtful or thoughtless reader and was probably not necessary though it adds a certain flavor to the Haldane character that almost seems at odds with the one the reader has become intimate with.

I recommend this to all lovers of Science Fiction Fantasy with the caveat that not everyone will be happy with it and you will have to ask yourself if it's a deficiency in the author's writing or perhaps your own attempt to read too much into a story the author has left so much wiggle room for the reader to imagine.

Really good story that reflects some of the time it was written in, while still meeting the test of time.

J.L. Dobias

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