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review 2017-06-20 19:49
A symbiosis of the genres of the noir detective novel and science-fiction with a hero with a dark-sense of humour and a heart
The Last Detective - Brian Cohn

Thanks to Rosie Amber for organising Rosie’s Book Review Team and for providing this great opportunity for reviewers and authors to meet. If you’re an author, check here how to submit your books to the team.

I don’t read many purely science-fiction books (I’m not a big fan of lengthy descriptions, and world-building can take a fair amount of space while I generally care more for characters) but I’ve read a few recently that I’ve enjoyed, enough to make me pay more attention to sci-fi offerings. Some novels combine sci-fi with other genres and that usually brings them onto more familiar territories. This novel is one of those cases. It is a fairly classical (in style) noir detective novel:  you have the disenchanted detective who has left the police disappointed with the way things are done now (in his case, though, there was an alien invasion on Earth that all but destroyed Humanity’s achievements and progress over centuries [no electricity, limited access to fuel, no telephones, no TV, no democracy]… Humans have become prisoners, rationing of food has come back, and aliens control access to the few resources left, and they send humans to ‘labor camps’ somewhere outside of Earth with some cooperation from the human ‘authorities’) and who is called back because he’s the only one who can solve a murder. Now that the police have become no more than puppets of the aliens (also called ‘slicks’, because of the peculiar aspect of their skin), there is nobody else who still remembers how things were done. This is a DIY police procedural novel (no computers, no DNA analysis or blood tests, only very basic gathering of evidence and use of deductive powers, almost back to Conan Doyle or Christie) with a main characters, Adrian Grace (a very apt name, as we discover), who has probably lost everything and who describes himself as being ‘addicted’ to detective work. There might be other reasons (read excuses) why he chooses to accept the case of the murder of a Slick (they have somewhat of a herd mentality and do not hurt each other but it seems unthinkable that a human would dare to try and kill one of them) but the main one is because he misses being a detective.

The story is told in the first person, present tense, from Grace’s point of view, and it follows the chronological order, with the main action taking place over only a few days. Although he has fallen quite low, he hasn’t reached the level of others, and he is smart, witty, and has a rather black sense of humour that is what keeps him going.  Although he does not dwell for too long on his circumstances, or those of humanity (the novel starts with a brief chapter that takes place right at the moment when the aliens arrive, that allows us a glimpse into Grace’s work before normal life came to an end, and we get to meet his partner, Yuri, who is missing by the time the main action of the novel starts), he is harder in appearance than in reality. He trusts his instincts; he suspects everybody but is also quick to believe in first impressions and happily accepts as a partner a young female detective, whom he trusts from very early on (because he needs somebody to trust). Grace reminded me of many of the hard-boiled detectives of old, but he is not violent by nature and avoids guns if he can help it, and in contrast to more modern models, he is witty but not foul-mouthed. He drip-feeds us details about his life (he was brought up a Catholic, he was married with kids, he talks about his mother’s death when he explains his lack of faith…) and he still looks after his father. His relation with his father is heart-warming, despite the terrible situation, and it only reinforces the fact that we are dealing with a human being and not a collection of clichés. Although I’m very partial to unreliable narrators, Grace is not one of them, at least not by design. This being a mystery, we are not always given always given all the information, but if we are misguided, it is because Grace is mistaken or wrong-footed (by others or himself).

The book is not heavy on descriptions and the world the book describes is like a ghost of our world, like those empty and abandoned towns we sometimes see on TV that have fallen prey to disasters (economic, natural, or man-made). We have human beings that have lost their purpose, groups of religious extremists (the Abandoned, who sustain God has abandoned Humanity), resistance groups, and the aliens can also function as stand-ins for many dictatorial regimes bent on the destruction of all opposition (Nazi Germany comes to mind, but many other, recent and distant, would also fit the bill). Some of the humans are complicit with the regime whilst others are not what they seem to be. The book allows for reflections on the nature of society, politics, religion (there is a priest that plays an important part), family, betrayal, guilt, and ultimately hope. Grace is not always right, but he has not lost his humanity, and he is a realistic character we would all like to befriend.

This is a tremendous book, where the science-fiction and the detective genre work in symbiosis and create a novel that is more than the sum of its parts. Recommended to fans of both genres, especially those who don’t mind experimentation within the genre, and in general to people who enjoy fiction that pushes them to think whilst keeping them turning the pages.

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review 2016-08-20 13:06
Avendui 5ive by P. K. Tyler
Avendui 5ive (Jakkattu Shorts Book 1) - P.K. Tyler,Philip A. Lee
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review 2016-05-13 05:56
Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet, #1) by Orson Scott Card
Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1) - Orson Scott Card

Spoilers!!

13/5 - Now this is how you do the first book in a series! I just finished #2 in the Maze Runner series feeling pretty pissed off because nothing was properly explained and it featured another massive cliff hanger ending. Thank God that didn’t happen in Ender’s Game!!! This book/author had a completely different problem… :o

After reading this book I’ve come to the conclusion that Card is obsessed with naked little boys and their butts. And if that’s not the case why are there so many scenes with naked boys? Why are the aliens called ‘buggers’? Why does every fight Ender’s in end up with someone getting kicked/punched/grabbed/etc. in the groin area? I really enjoyed the general plot, but I don’t understand why all of the above was necessary. One of those plot points would have been fine (although, it would still be too many naked little boys for me), but you put them all in the same book and it comes across as some kind of purposeful theme (and this from the queen of missing themes).

I loved that this didn’t really end in a cliff hanger, especially after what I went through with Dashner. If Card had died before writing the next book it wouldn’t really have mattered because you’re not sitting there on tenterhooks wondering what’s going to happen next. Sure, there’s a lead in to the next book, but you’re not left wondering if someone’s going to die or not or some other similarly frustrating ending.

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review 2015-09-18 10:59
Dark Run by Michael Brooks
Dark Run - Mike Brooks

16/9 - I just can't get this review started. I've had a number of pages marked for discussion for days now, but every time I find the time to get started writing I suddenly decide I need to do something else (on or off the internet) and I never end up getting to the review. I figured I'd give writing by hand in my journal a go and just pen to paper and see where I end up. So far I've got: a lot more mistakes (no delete button) and my hand writing is barely legible (even to me), but that's not what I need. I need conclusions about Dark Run. I guess an important thing to note is that I very nearly gave up on page 97, but a fight and an interesting development in one of the character's backgrounds saved the book at the last minute. For a sci-fi set in space surprisingly little happened. The previous 96 pages had all been exposition and 'get to know you' dialogue, I was quite bored and with a pile of books 17 books tall (that's just physical and just counting the library books) I felt quite justified in saying that I refused to waste my time any further on this book. One line saved Dark Run from the DNF pile "Hey! Mongrel!". When I read that I thought "Ooh! What's found Apirana and what are they going to do about their discovery?" and then when Jenna revealed some mysterious skills I became even more interested and no longer felt like DNFing. So, my message to anyone who finds the first 100 pages boring, it does get better if you can make it past page 97. To be continued...

Oh, those pages I had marked for discussion? The first page was 16 - "...to wobble like an shivering epileptic...". First, that metaphor? That's just a silly metaphor, as my mum put it when she heard it. Of course, that's a matter of opinion. What's not a matter of opinion is the erroneous use of 'an' instead of 'a'. The second was page 117 - "...laden with enough sulkiness to float a battleship." I don't get that metaphor at all. How does sulkiness float anything? The way that phrase is used it sounds like a bad thing, but isn't floating what you want your battleship to be doing? It's better than sinking to the bottom of the ocean. Very ill-considered metaphor. To be continued...

Later on page 220 - I'm not a fan of the way Brooks tells us that a character won't do something and then gives us all the reasons why doing this particular thing would be a bad idea. This paragraph for example - "There'd been no question of fighting, of course: one hit from a shockstick could drop a man, and two would do even for Apirana. If he'd pulled a gun then he'd have likely had to shoot all three guards dead, and he'd had enough of shooting security personnel for doing their job. Besides, any stray shots into the crowd could have sparked a riot which would have sealed their death warrant, quite apart from any injuries or fatalities they might inflict. Most importantly, though, he had to speak to Nana Bastard, and he had a greater chance of doing that as an obliging prisoner than he did either dead or having killed three of her guards." By the end of that paragraph I felt like saying "Enough already, you had me convinced that fighting was a bad idea when you mentioned the shocksticks, you didn't have to keep going on and on with excuse after excuse as to why it wasn't possible." If I didn't know better I'd think that paragraph had come from a guilty mind who feels ashamed that they didn't put up a fight, and feels they have to explain themselves to people who see them as a coward.

This isn't the first, or last, time Brooks uses this almost apologetic writing technique. Throughout the story, no matter whose point of view we're reading from, characters defend their choices over and over, even more minor choices that really don't need to be defended. All this defending is unnecessary, there's no court judging the characters on their bravery, or lack thereof. To be continued...

Later on page 251 - '"You alright there?" Rourke asked over her shoulder. Jenna nodded, but the rain-slicked strands of red-blonde hair sticking to her face suggested otherwise.' Why doe her hair being stuck to her face indicate she's not alright? If she was alright would the rain not have stuck her hair to her face? Would being alright make her hair impervious to the rain? This sentence makes no sense.

17/9 - So many more marked pages, so many it's a bit disappointing actually.

Page 255 - '...memorised several different possibles routes...'

Page 281 - 'The forewoman approached, a stern-faced lady with a blunt fringe and hair darker than the night sky... Darker than the night sky? Really? That's a bit much for a character who has no name and is never seen again.

Page 316 - 'She gave Jenna a smile which might have been made of spun sugar judging by how fragile it appeared.' That is another silly metaphor. I think Brooks is just trying too hard. The way he describes is way too flowery for the type of book he's writing, plus he's not consistent. The descriptions are mostly normal and then out of the blue he'll toss in a phrase that would sit better in a contemporary literature novel than a sci-fi.

Page 327 - '...trapped in a non-too-large shuttle.... That's just awkward. Why not write 'not' rather than 'non'?

Page 352 - '"On target!" she muttered, unconsciously giving it the same emphasis as Chiquita Martinez, ever-beaming hostess of the popular Serenitan game show of the same title.' Why on Earth do we need (or care!) to know about Chiquita Martinez and her game show? We never meet Chiquita, she's not mentioned again, what's the point of bringing her up to begin with? Why can't Jenna simply mutter "On target" without the random association to a fake game show hostess?

Why is the epilogue an epilogue? It's set seconds after the end of the last chapter, why not simply make it the last chapter? The definition of an epilogue is a comment or conclusion to what has happened. I really don't think that's what this epilogue is doing. Because it's not set any appreciable distance in the future I don't see how it can properly comment on the story or serve as a conclusion to what has happened. I would want to see an epilogue to this story set a few months later, after the crew has reached their destination, the Rassvet System. I would want to read about the things the crew were doing with their newfound wealth and whether they were all staying together and going to continue flying.

According to the accolades on the back of the book Luke Scull says 'Dark Run is a thrill-ride of non-stop action, wise-crackery and adventure' and Stephen Deas says this is A fast and wry SF adventure full of the deviousness and wit of Firefly'. I'm sorry, but in my opinion none of that is true. It could be some of those things with some work on the dialogue and phrasing, and more careful editing, but as it is now it's thrill-free, wisecrack-free, and despite all Brooks' attempts only resembles Firefly in the most basic of ways. Brooks is no Joss Whedon.

Dark Run isn't a bad book, but it is only average (precisely 2.5 stars rounded up to 3 for GR) thanks to everything I've already mentioned, plus the lovely little message Brooks left us in the acknowledgements. He says "If you didn't buy it, (the book) but you enjoyed it, maybe consider buying the next one? Cat food and pre-frozen rodents don't grow on trees, you know, and I have mouths to feed." That pissed me off, just a tad. I feel like he's intimating that if I didn't buy it I must have acquired it illegally. Maybe that's not what he was trying to say, but that's how it comes across. Should I put that down as another editing error? Well, after not being able to get this review started I seem to have written a mini-novel of my own. So, I think that's enough from me.

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review 2014-12-26 13:49
Review of 'Station Eleven'. Dystopia or Utopia. An ode to the human spirit
Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel

 

Station Eleven is one of the best novels I’ve read in 2014. And I’ve read quite a few. I guess if I had to define it, I could call it a post-apocalyptic novel, although the action moves forward and back between events that happened mostly shortly before the flu epidemic that killed 99% of the World’s population (sometimes some years before) and years after. All the characters are somewhat connected to the opening scene, although in some cases we don’t know exactly how until much later in the story.

Superficially the novel seems to be a crazy quilt, with jumps in time and place, following the wandering memories of the main characters, and in some cases, like in Kirsten’s, the actress with a travelling troupe, their physical wanderings. But towards the end you do realise that the fragments make a beautiful pattern, like a multifaceted jewel, that shines brighter because of its many aspects.

What would happen if suddenly most of the population of the world died? What would happen to the structures of society and to the things we take for granted? There are a large number of works that look at possible scenarios of the end of the world. Movies, novels, TV series… Many of them focus on the actual event and sometimes the desperate, or not so desperate, attempts at saving humanity from its destiny. Fewer look at the aftermath of such an event, but in many cases the scenario is a horror story and a survival of the fittest tale, with not always much attention paid to the feelings and thoughts of the people who find themselves in such situation. In this novel, the opposite is true. We do have tales of survival; we have stories of strange cults and different attitudes and strategies to cope with the destruction of modern civilisation; we have horror, and we have wonder. And memories. Things people want to forget, things they try desperately to remember, others they try to recreate...One can’t help but think, if everything around you disappeared, if all the things you thought made life what it is weren’t there anymore, what would you really miss? What would you really remember? And how would you carry on?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy, another great book, covers a somewhat similar ground, but it is much more soul-wrenching and the lack of identity and isolation of the characters makes it more difficult to identify with them. Emily St. John Mandel questions not only individual characters but also the societies they might create, giving it a more human and humane dimension.

This is a beautiful novel, written in an evocative and deceptively simple language, that transports us to a world at the same time familiar but also different to the one we know, and strangely easy to imagine. What would humanity do if they were given the chance to start again from zero (or very close)? One hopes they would never give up, and they would do it better this time. Perhaps.

Station Eleven will touch you, will make you think, and will make you grateful you’re alive. Read it if at all you can.

It brought to mind a book from my childhood that was required reading and very well loved, El mecanoscript del segón orígen de Manuel de Pedrolo that although is a much simpler book (focuses only on two young survivors), it also explores a similar world.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/594399.Mecanoscrit_del_segon_origen

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