Friday, December 26, 2014

Review::Cat Scratch Fever by Tara K. Harper

Cat Scratch Fever (Cat Scratch, #1)Cat Scratch Fever by Tara K. Harper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cat Scratch Fever by Tara K. Harper

I was intrigued by this one, but someone else mentioned that it was one of Ms. Harper's darker novels. Close to the same time that she published this there were many more authors digging into what might be the darker side of things . Susan R Matthews was soon beginning her series of books with An Exchange of Hostages and Valerie J. Freireich had her Becoming Human and Testament. There are many more. I'm not averse to dark so I waited for the book to arrive since it has not yet been converted to Kindle friendly. I wasn't disappointed, in fact, though this takes a reader from their comfort zone this is by far the best showcase of her talent as a writer, though my reading of her works is slightly limited.

This starts out as the simple story of Tsia, a biologist of a sorts, who wishes to join the Guide Guild. To do this she must be subjected to the 'Virus' which will help her mentally bond with other life forms on the planet Risthmus. Everyone is connected to a gate that is like a wi-fi connection inside their head to a network for communication and information. [It is much more because the adept can use it to lay what they call ghost-lines that will help hide their activities.] Tsia's gate is inactive because of a quirk with the virus. Also the virus has caused Tsia some bit of problem because her's has linked her to a forbidden life form the Cats on Risthmus who used to be used by the guild but are now under an edict that forbids contact and her virus has matched her with them making her Guide Guild abilities useless. But Guides also dance the fires and Tsia can still do that and that is going to be a problem for her quickly.

A group working for the Artist Guild are out looking for someone just like her to pluck up and kidnap to press into slavery for the Artist Guild.[There is a rather complicated plot about using the firedance skill in an artists artwork.] This is where the book goes dark and the reader starts getting a really close look at a complicated social structure on this planet. The Artist Guild make art that embeds the experiences of other's sensory experience into the art which sells very well and they have come to deal ruthlessly with the models until few volunteer to help them; so they have stooped to slavery where they use and abuse the subjects until they die. And because of Tsia's isolation from the gate these people who kidnap her are able to turn her into a non-person [Everyone assumes she's dead] so even if she escapes she can't legally use the gate. The artist who buys her is relentlessly sadistic and there will be scenes that will push many readers to the limit of their comfort zone. Some of these include children. Thankfully Tara Harper did not find it necessary to go into graphic detail. The point was to demonstrate how easily people can fall into slavery while the master uses others around them as bargaining chips and in this instance since they didn't want to mar Tsia physically that's how they meant to control her; by first threatening the slave responsible for indoctrinating her and then the children of other slaves, assuming that her own freedom would be less important to her than her compassion for the lives of the children. What I found the most insidious was the explanation given by Vashanna, the other slave, as to why Tsia should do as the Artist wants. Vashanna is convincing in that it is clear that that is what she believes and she's fully bought into the whole picture.[It has to be understood that the slaves can be tortured by a device(r-con) that leaves no marks and in the case of Vashanna her use has reached a point they didn't care about her looks so they also physically torture her.] Vashanna and Tsia seem to represent disparate sides to the slave equation.

The dark part of the story does dominate a large portion of the front of the novel, but the payoff comes when things turn around and Tsia and several others must struggle to survive the harsh desert that stand between them and freedom. This story has some epic world building and there is a second story happening that Tsia is a reluctant part of that involves prophesy that she doesn't believe in. Since this is part of a series it's likely that there may be more about this. But primarily we see the evolution of Tsia from someone blissfully unaware of the limitations she places upon her own life to make her a virtual slave; to someone aware and perhaps overly paranoid about where she might be compromising herself and her freedom and developing the resolve to never do so again. Tsia is a complex character who undergoes change but constantly remains complex.

This is a fantastic read in the SFF arena and though it has strong Fantasy elements it also has some interesting Cyberpunk notions that are more rooted in the use of the computer connection to be used in the real world.

Yes it's dark and if you are squeamish about bad things happening to children then you might want to tread carefully.

One last note, this bit about the artist guild using slavery to squeeze the best work out of the subject matter made me have a thought about writing and the author and how some of the most interesting novels are those where the artist[author] forces the characters into the worst situations that they could possible imagine and then somehow manage to continue to roll that into ever more conflict until they milk the character for everything they are worth with seemingly no compassion for those poor characters.

It's just a thought; but read Cat Scratch Fever and try to keep that image out of your head through the first portion of the novel.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Review::The Measure of the Universe by Ellen Larson

The Measure of the UniverseThe Measure of the Universe by Ellen Larson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Measure of the Universe by Ellen Larson

This novel is a well written and well rounded piece that stands alone as a great addition to any Science Fiction lovers collection. But, if you are interested there is a bit of story behind the story that can be obtained by following the web links to the author's apology.

The novel itself is short but filled with a lot of thoughtful information. The nub of the story boils down to some basic things. In the world of R.H. Herman and Dr. Aisha Thanau aliens have landed and they have far superior technology, which they do not plan on sharing. They have come to study us while attempting to not interfere or change our present culture and level of existence. Whatever reasons they might have, Mr. Herman must convince Dr. Thanau to assist the alien Titek in his pursuit of the studying ancient human language in order that Mr. Herman's government might use this time and her insights to discover anything about the hidden knowledge of the aliens. In several small ways Aisha can't refuse and they move forward swiftly. The author compares this work brilliantly with the Prometheus myth and as the story plays out the comparison becomes more evident.

Personally, right out of the box, I began comparing this to a certain science fiction franchise and their prime directive. This time the directive is aimed again at mankind, but there seems less of a likelihood the aliens are setting up camp to wait for us to meet some magical bar that will take us over the top to the next level. No; to them we are the primitives, although we are advanced enough for them to reveal themselves. As it turns out that is just barely advanced enough. The aliens also exhibit a bit of Xenophobia mixed with an unhealthy dose of Xeno-superiority. Overall it was interesting for me to think about Prometheus and the Prime Directive together.

Titek, who might be compared to Prometheus in this story, is here because he's an archaeologist who in particular is looking to study the development of language. In this story these aliens have advanced far beyond us in that their normal method of communication looks like magic to us. Along with that advancement they have, at some point in their history, destroyed all evidence as to how language developed. That destruction has led some among them to believe they were born with their present language skills. Titek believes otherwise and is now on Earth to study our development of language in order to draw comparison between that and what might be his own people's true development. In this way the aliens do seem truly alien since it seems they did not develop language as a means of passing on history or at least they have abandoned history at some level.

Ellen Larson adds a wrinkle to the story as the reader discovers that Aisha is blind; a condition that Titek finds appalling, although he is not at liberty to offer her any help from the superior technology he has available to him. The remainder of the story might be considered the setup for making this a Promethean type story.

There are some very clever and laugh worthy moments in the examination of the use of language. Titek seems quite versed in English; but there are many idioms and some few metaphors tossed around by him, some of which are slight massacred, that began to confuse me about whether he was confused about the application of idioms or if he was showing his mastery by being deliberately obtuse.

The entire premise of the story with each different aspect of the alien culture neatly stack up creates an excellent reason for the alien's to be compelled to come all the way out here to visit us. I'm not at all certain whether it's helpful or necessary to make the Prometheus connection before or while reading this, but in reading the author's apology the reader should get a good sense of how thing are logically worked out.

Overall the great prose and intelligent story create something that all SF and SFF fans should greatly enjoy.

J.L. Dobias

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Review::Brightness Falls From the Air by James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon)

Brightness Falls from the AirBrightness Falls from the Air by James Tiptree Jr.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brightness Falls From the Air by James Tiptree Jr.(Alice Bradley Sheldon)

I can honestly say I've read few of James Tiptree and that is mostly because she was mostly writing short stories and though I've read a few short stories now and then I prefer novels. She has two of those to her name and this one was in e-book format and after recently reading one of her short stories I felt compelled to read a novel.

Though the novel starts with a paragraph that sounds quite descriptive it is misleading in that it seems quite innocuous and this reader felt he had to dig down further to find a reason to continue. But the entire first paragraph actually sets up a bit of the conflict and one of the main plot points in a rather sneaky way.

Farther down though we are introduced to the three custodians of Damiem and its inhabitants the Dameii who appear to be fairy like creatures with thin frail wings. The planet is protected like some large preserve and the three humans, along with a ship in space, protect the Dameii who were once abused by human drug runners.

The three humans, Cory Estreel, her mate Kipruget Korso and their friend Doctor Balthasar Baramji ap Bye— Baram or Bram, the Senior Xenopathologist, all have a bit of a past that will unfold to the reader as the story moves forward; but to begin with we find the present situation. Cory and Kip are mated and the Doctor has long since lost his mate. Somewhere along the line after his time of mourning we find he may have made a pass at Cory who, being faithful to Kip and understanding other difficulties that could arise from any relationship, resisted his attempts. In all, it seems that it may have cemented the relationship between all three.

As the story opens they have visitors arriving on planet, who are there to observe the effects of a nova upon the space around Damiem--the recently nova star is mysteriously labeled as the Murdered Star. Along with the expected visitors they have a few more because of some mix-up or malfunction of the cold storage of passengers. All the passengers aboard the ship were brought out of storage by 'accident'. The alien race that run the Federation line, the Moom, have a tight schedule and don't or won't allow the time to sort the mess out so they unload all the passengers plus the one human crew who was in charge of them. The four extra people are going to have to await the next flight that comes to take them to their planned destination.

This poses a problem because everyone who visits Damiem must be fully checked out before arrival because of the circumstances behind the reason the Dameii are being protected. The quickest explanation being that the Dameii excrete a substance that can be used as a drug in humans to cause euphoria and the substance seems to be stronger when extracted from the Dameii while they are under stress and possibly being tortured.[Which is what the drug lords had been doing before the Federation located the planet and put a stop to it all.] The bottom line here and now is that there are four undocumented people on the world because of an error that at best seems suspicious and though they could be what they appear, they also could be something much worse.

There are a lot of interesting notions concerning the culture and physiology of the Dameii and the waves of force coming from the nova that certainly meet the test of time and internally are all handled quite well. But what I like particularly are the characters in the story. They all are equitably developed and the main characters are quite complex. If I had any qualms it was that the complexity of many of the situations along with the characters and coupled with the time disruptive effect of the nova often caused me to lose track of where all the characters were at and I often had to backtrack.[That could just be me having problems.]

The story itself has a level of tragic nature to it that possibly might be true to the nature of Alice Sheldon's writing. The reader can see several potential consequences adding up and piling one upon the other. Though it is possible for some of these to be avoided it is not going to be possible for all of them to be averted. There will be consequences and so far in my reading of her work there usually are unavoidable consequences.

There's an element of gritty darkness to the story that might make some people uncomfortable but all those elements are necessary to move the story along.

My only regret is that within her career she seems to have only written two novels and whole slew of short stories. I know I'd love to read any novel she wrote.

This novel stands as a great work for all SF and SFF fans alike and should hold up for quite a while as a classic.

J.L. Dobias

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review::Vivid by Andrea Murray

Vivid (Vivid, #1)Vivid by Andrea Murray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Vivid by Andrea Murray : Book Review

The novel Vivid by Andrea Murray is definitely YA though I would add Mature to that- that's just me.

There are some familiar elements- that's not a bad thing - in fact it made my hair stand on end to see Vivian and her friend Abby in high school facing the usual angst that life dishes out plus being the target of Trista and the bully elite. When Vivian displays some rather remarkable powers that's when the chills start and I got shades of Stephen Kings Carrie.

Fortunately we have Easton Garrett and Cooper McNeal to ground them. These fellows are almost unbelievable. That might be why it takes the girls so much time to figure out that they are real.

Just when things begin to look like they are getting better Vivian discovers her families dark secrets and it supplies some answers to some rather frightening memories she's been having. Vivian is beside herself trying to keep her secrets and live a normal life. But, prom is on the way and we all know what that could lead to.

Because she's been using her powers- even though its sparingly- she's running the potential for putting a pin on the map for some very bad people.

By the time things get rough we have moved on into something similar to Stephen Kings FireStarter and the feeling that this could get really bad.

And though I mentally draw these similarities Vivian and the people surrounding her are nothing like the characters in those other books. Andrea Murray uses her knowledge to draw us into the lives of some convincing teens trying to deal with their normal lives while they get thrust into something that is far from normal.

By the end of the story you will definitely want to know what is going to happen in the next of the trilogy.

J.L. Dobias Author of Cripple-Mode: Hot Electric

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Review::The Genesis Code:Lambda by Robert E. Parkin

The Genesis Code: LambdaThe Genesis Code: Lambda by Robert E. Parkin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Genesis Code: Lambda by Robert E. Parkin

This is an interesting book and goes on my list of books to love to hate. I think that the plot, the characters, and the whole premise of the book are okay and for the most part done well. What I had a problem with is the first one third of the novel. I am giving this high marks for being entertaining and another of those reads that got me from front to back on one sitting, but I had to slog past the first part; which was a shame considering that that part could have been just as well written as the rest.

The story begins with Zack getting up to start a normal day and meeting up with a friend,David, where they begin a bit of world building and it all goes well for a while. Until some distractions in the writing show up.

One of the first things that distracted me was that on occasion there would be some rather interesting images created by somewhat creative usages or combinations of words, but then there were the jarring ones that had the word 'to' where I would normally see 'at' or 'with' where I would see 'by' and other similar substitutions of words. On several occasions there were modifiers in the speach attributes that seemed unnecessary, but that might just be me and a person needs to read this to get the sense of it. There are a few words like 'no' where it should be 'now' and other words that seem to be totally missing in sentences. But what really drew my attention was the frequent use of the word 'just'. There is even one paragraph with four sentences that have 'just' four times; once in each sentence. And in most cases the adjective or adverb wasn't necessary if a more striking word were found for the one modified. Once again most of these are things that a reader must encounter to determine how they might affect the reading. Overall I think this could use one more edit.

Once I got past that one third mark the overall writing improved and the story became much more interesting so I took less note of all the just's.

An interesting style choice in this novel is to withold information as the story moves forward and then feed tiny hints here and there. This works for the most part, but becomes massively annoying when it appears that most of the major characters have a backstory that is dripped out this same way. There are few if any who don't have some hidden past which eventually adds to the confusion of mysteries that run rampant through the whole novel.

There are at least two instances I had to look back, because I was confused about some image or memory brought in at an earlier moment. The reader really needs to pay close attention to details, especially when they seem to be memories or hints at some dark secret.

There is also the initial separation of reality from the virtual and certain indicators that sometimes intrude into both and the reader has to pay close attention to know when something is reserved for reality and something for the virtual and those things that seem to exist in both.

The novel as a whole is like a blend of William Gibson and some super hero comics. In some instances the players have access to a slight inventory of weaponry similar to game avatars and many of these seem to cross the boundaries of reality and the virtual.

At some point the reader is introduced to the group of 12 whose names are such that the story begins to take on a bit of an alegorical bent, which doesn't quite get developed beyond a short peek into it.

It might be safe to say that this novel is about the growth and development of the Lambda character. It brings a lot of thought provoking notions into the development of an AI and when it becomes aware or sentient and sapient and has an interesting way of demonstrating the process to the reader over time.

This is good SFF for those looking for a good fun read that offers a bit more in some insight and deeper thought along the way.

Don't look for all the answers to all the questions because there are 'just' a few things that seem to be meant to extend into the next book. And I hope Robert E. Parkin is working on that novel.

J.L. Dobias

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