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review 2017-05-21 02:10
Decision at Doona by Anne McCaffrey
Decision at Doona - Anne McCaffrey

I’ve read many of Anne McCaffrey’s books, but for some reason I never got around to her Doona books. This first one primarily stars Ken Reeve. Earth is enormously overcrowded, so Ken is excited to learn that Doona, a planet uninhabited by intelligent sentient beings, has been discovered and that he and his family have been picked to be some of the first colonists.

The “uninhabited by intelligent sentient beings” part is important. Two hundred years earlier, a botched first contact situation led to an entire alien species, the Siwannese, committing suicide. This led to the Non-Cohabitation Principle, which stated that humans could only colonize a planet if there was no evidence that intelligent beings already lived there. Doona seems perfect - until the human colonists come across a settlement of cat-like aliens known as Hrrubans.

Nobody wants to go back to overcrowded Earth, but the Non-Cohabitation Principle is serious business. Still, it isn’t as easy as just packing up and leaving. They need the bigwigs back on Earth to believe what they’ve seen and reported, they need a ship, and they need orders on how to conduct themselves until a ship can come pick them up. Meanwhile, the Hrrubans don’t seem to care about any of that and are just as determined to interact with the humans as the humans are to keep their interactions with the Hrrubans friendly but brief.

I tend to gravitate towards first contact science fiction. And one with stubbornly friendly cat-like aliens? Gimme! Unfortunately, I didn’t like it nearly as much as I expected I would.

The first third of the book was probably the best. I enjoyed the humans’ initial interactions with the Hrrubans, particularly the Hrrubans’ polite determination to work together with the humans. I also liked that this seemed to be a subversion of the usual “colonists with more advanced technology save the poor low-tech natives” story, without going the “mystical natives” route. The Hrrubans were polite and friendly, yes, but even the humans noticed that the Hrrubans seemed more concerned with them learning the Hrruban way of speaking and doing things than the other way around. And although the Hrrubans asked the humans for help building a bridge, in the end it didn’t seem like the humans were particularly necessary at all. The Hrrubans had all the necessary materials, technology, and knowledge, so the bridge-building was really more of a cross-species togetherness activity than anything.

Early on, I suspected that there was more going on with the Hrrubans than they were letting on. How had whole Hrruban villages gone unnoticed during the initial evaluations of Doona as a possible colony planet candidate? Why were the Hrrubans handling first contact with humans so calmly and so well? I had a guess as to what was going on, and I really wanted to find out if I was right or if McCaffrey had something even better up her sleeve. I enjoyed the big reveal, when it came, although I was a little less thrilled with it when I realized that the book included an enormous spoiler at the beginning that I just hadn’t been observant enough to catch. It also bugged me that the big reveal essentially negated some of the things I’d previously enjoyed about the book.

The characters were pretty flat - most of them were little more than names to me. Also, many aspects of the story were dated. There was a reference to a hugely important event in 2010 that, obviously, never happened (and was linguistically suspect). And the colonists anxiously read communications from Earth using microfilm readers.

The thing that really turned me off this book, though, was Todd, Ken’s 6-year-old son. Since Earth was so overcrowded, everyone was taught from an early age to be quiet, move carefully, and not take up too much space. Todd violated societal norms by being loud, energetic, and occasionally aggressive. He was so difficult to deal with during the journey to Doona that he’d had to be locked up and supervised in 4-hour shifts. One of his first actions upon arriving on Doona was to run up to one of the Hrrubans and yank his tail as hard as he could.

While I could sympathize with Todd’s frustration with the requirement to keep his behavior restrained and with the way he was treated (more on that in a bit), the tail-yanking was absolutely not okay and he should have been old enough to know better. The humans were horrified, but surprisingly the Hrrubans treated Todd indulgently. Later on, one of them even said that his behavior indicated he’d one day be a leader.

As much as I disliked Todd, I also didn’t like the way his parents spoke of him. Until a certain point in the book, Todd’s mom (Pat, Ken’s wife) never said anything truly positive about him and Ken’s feelings about him were mixed but leaned heavily towards negative. At one point, Ken almost beat Todd but refrained because he’d have had an audience. When the Hrrubans offered to essentially act as Todd’s daycare, Pat couldn’t have agreed more quickly and Ken’s protests were token at best. (I initially understood the Hrrubans’ offer as a kind of temporary adoption, which made Pat and Ken’s relief and celebratory sex especially difficult to take.)

Todd turned out to be instrumental to the book’s ending, and...ugh. McCaffrey wanted readers to believe that 6-year-old Todd was incapable/unwilling to conform to behavioral norms on Earth, and yet

willing and able to become fluent in both the formal and informal varieties of a new language, learn an alien species’ formal etiquette, and behave according to those rules for hours on end.

(spoiler show)

Um, no. Even an adult would probably have had periods of boredom and mental exhaustion.

McCaffrey was one of my favorite authors when I was a teen, but this definitely isn’t making it onto my list of favorite books by her. Still, I won’t rule out reading the next book in the series, which was published a couple decades later and might potentially work better for me.

 

Rating Note:

 

I debated between 1.5 and 2 stars for this. In the end, I decided that the stuff with Todd, plus the many difficult-to-believe aspects of the world-building, pushed this more towards 1.5 stars than 2.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-05-16 21:15
A great revenge story, with a fabulous paranormal presence and the start of series that promises many more adventures and frights
Revengers - David Valdes Greenwood

Thanks to Rosie Amber (from Rosie’s Book Review Team) and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

Revengers is the first in the YA Revengers Series, and it is the first work by the author, David Valdes Greenwood, better known for his non-fiction books and his plays, I have read. This is a revenge story with a supernatural twist. If that is not unusual (we all know revenge stories orchestrated by evil or sometimes simply very angry spirits), both the details and the characters are.

Those who love mythology, in particular, Greek (and Roman) mythology, will probably appreciate the thematic link to the Furies, ancient vengeful deities whose roles and interpretation changed over time. Because, the book tells the story of three adolescents who’ve experienced terrible losses at different ages (Marc, a Harvard dropout, only a year ago, whilst Justin and Ama were much younger) and who, for different reasons, have had to grieve alone. They’ve been experiencing terrifying nightmares since the events, that they witnessed, and suddenly, these nightmares become more real than before. A strange and scary female figure tells them to go to Salem and leaves them a journal. They feel compelled to obey Rebecca, the fury/spirit behind their nightmares whose story we learn later (and who had good reasons to seek revenge).

The story is told in the third person, mostly alternating the points of view of the three main characters (although also briefly from the victims and other characters with small parts in the story, including the Rebecca herself), who, although don’t know each other at the beginning, end up becoming an ersatz family. They are as diverse as they could be (ethnically: African-American and Dominican blood, Chinese, old Massachusetts stock, sexually: Marc is gay and Ama and Justin haven’t had much time to think about such things so far; they also have different interests, studies and their economic and family circumstances are miles apart) but have to form a team to be able to fulfil the rules and get rid of their nightmares forever. Although killing somebody is not an easy task, they don’t realise how complicated things can get until later, when secrets and half-told truths come to light. The rules they are given, that seem to be clear-cut and not leave any room for ambiguity, aren’t so clear when one scratches beyond the surface, and there is no such a thing as getting off scotch-free.

The Salem of the story (I cannot comment on how much it resembles the real location, although for me it is more of a paranormal backdrop to the story than a real place, and it reminded me a bit of Demon Road where an alternative order and lifestyle existed side by side with normal life, without anybody other than those involved being aware of it) is full of secrets, tragedy, lessons not learned and people trying to maintain the status quo while pretending everything is fine. Although it might appear like business to Halloween Tourists, to those in the know, witches are the least of their problems.

The three main characters have distinctive personalities and are realistically portrayed (Ama is quite suspicious, Justin can be quick to act, Marc is a bit of a softy) and they are all flawed, and not all that likeable at the beginning of the story but make a good team and learn to appreciate and accept their differences and skills. For me, one of the most appealing aspects of the book (apart from the suspense and the mystery) is the strong bond that develops between the three adolescents who at that point didn’t have a close connection or intimate friends who knew their secrets, shared their concerns and cared for them. I particularly liked Ama, who although is tough and determined, is also the character who often hesitates and questions the morality of their actions and who will go to any extent to try and keep everybody safe. And that is why in the end… (Don’t worry, no spoilers).

The book is compellingly written, with enough imagery and description to feel the changes in weather and scenery (that are all in tune with their experiences and the action providing visual and sensory emphasis to the events), without becoming cumbersome. The interactions between the adolescents and with other characters ring true and help build their characters more convincingly. There is plenty of action, it has many scary moments and the suspense builds up from the start (as we have a time-frame and the clock is ticking continuously, with the tension increasing towards the end of the story).  The inclusion of the point of view of some of the victims makes the story more morally ambiguous and complex. This is not just a revenge story with a few paranormal scary touches. It will make readers (and who hasn’t thought about getting revenge on somebody at some point) think twice about justice and revenge. Although the ending (no, no spoilers) opens up the series to the next book, do not worry about unfinished businesses or annoying cliff-hangers. This is not a story divided into several books where you never get any resolution. So you won’t feel disappointed because of a lack of ending (you might have preferred a different ending, but that’s a completely different matter).

I recommend this novel to readers of YA stories who love suspense, paranormal subjects, mythology and strong and diverse protagonists. Especially those looking for a new series with a kick-ass female protagonist. The author has promised to keep me informed when he publishes the next books in the series, so I’ll keep you posted.

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review 2017-05-11 20:30
I'm really liking this author
Highland Song (The Highland Brides) (Volume 5) - Tanya Anne Crosby

I'd read one Crosby before, the first o this series actually, and I remembered it as one of those rare romances that have alpha males that I did not hate, very sweet, a bit sad, and with some awesome bits of humor.

 

This was hilarious. Short, fast, and by a third in I couldn't stop laughing. Because of Cat's self-assurance and free approach to sex mostly, like this bit of her thinking:

 

He had been such a grouse at first but now his mood had lightened considerably. No longer did he brood, and she concluded that he must have needed to appease his willy. It made sense to her. A man could simply not go his entire life without a little love—and he had, she was certain because he’d had that pinched look about him of a man whose bollocks were petrified from lack of use.

 

Or Piers insistence on complimenting the roof. Or... well, you get the drift.

 

I had fun, and I'm glad. I was looking for something to clean my palate from The Sun Also Rises cynicism (I'm starting to feel stuck), and this was perfect.

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review 2017-05-02 05:31
Magical underside of city and genre
Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman

I've rediscovered urban fantasy. This is the urban fantasy I was wanting to read when I kept stumbling into that ossified  sub-genre full of vampires and weres. I love me some Hollows or Daniels like I love my fries and ice-cream, but every once in a while I want a different flavor, and it's been hard to find. Behold: Gaiman. I wonder if the man seats at his writing desk and thinks "Well, today I want to pick this genre. Now, how do I go about putting it on it's head/inside out/mashed-up with this other?"

So, urban fantasy about alienation, and tubes, filled with magic and action. Scary stuff of the adult bored with life variety. The unseen people that fell through the cracks... there is horror that feels close to home hinted in the concept. You may disregard it as cynical allegoric analysis. It comes to full fruition and in the open during the ordeal to sock you in the face: "this is what you were thinking was going on, even if you didn't want to admit it". The fantastic aspect makes it exiting and hopeful, and bittersweet.

Maybe not as happy, or a fluffy as I was going for, but it certainly was a change of speeds. I could not believe how much it was packing by the half-way point! Certainly a much needed contrast after Moby-Dick.

 

I loved it. It was a damned good book, and I want a hard-copy of my own.

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review 2017-04-30 18:24
Run! It's too late after you embark
Moby-Dick - Andrew Delbanco, Tom Quirk,Herman Melville

It's not often lately that I find a read that threatens to leave me clueless as to what I'm reading. I'm not talking content here (I'll get to that later), but sheer language. Between the heavy intertextuallity, the word usage and sentences structure, I found myself having no idea what the last paragraph or three meant, and have to backtrack, more than I liked. I though I was over that shit. Conceit corrected.

 

Next, the characters feel like ghosts. Even the narrator sometimes loses substance, becoming something airlike and almost omniscient. They are Ahab's crew. If you want to get all metaphysical, traits of humanity that are driven by one over-consuming. It goes just as well as you could expect.


Last, the story. The thing itself could be spun in a third of the length without loosing anything from the plot. But, and here is where the ambitious bastard trips you, most of the meaning, theme and depth is stored in the fat. All those hazed-eyes inducing chapters? They actually have a point. Damned all those lit analysis classes, much of an overarching understanding of the novel hinges on the Jonah's sermon and the whiteness chapters.

So, is it worth it? Hell if I know. I powered through the thing, even liked it to some extent, and I'm still unconvinced. There is a certain brilliance in what it attempts. To me, the whole idea (and what it feels like to read it) can be encompassed in one passage in ch16: Ishmael goes to Peleg to ask to go whaling for a "desire to see the world" and Peleg tells him to look across the bow of the docked ship. There is nothing but water, says Ishamel, and Peleg answers that's the world he'll see a whaling. You can read a summary of the book as you can see the sea from the shore.The wisdom of going whaling is seriously challenged after all.

 

But it's not the same.

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