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review 2018-08-12 23:31
To Terminator, With Love by Wes Kennedy
To Terminator, With Love - Wes Kennedy

Dexter Wu isn't a terribly social guy. He's a grad student whose life currently revolves around his big project, a robot named HAL that's supposed to be able to read stories to children. He has one close friend, Sandhya, who's about to move back to India. He's trying not to let that fact utterly wreck him, but it's hard. He's tired, stressed out about finals and HAL, and...suddenly in a confusing and terrifying amount of danger.

According to a powerful device owned by a shadowy group known as the Agency, HAL is going to destroy the world. Dexter's work on it must be stopped at all costs. The Agency's people don't normally try to kill their targets, but for some reason protocol is being broken this time around, and Dexter's running for his life. Luckily he has one agent on his side, Andre Jackson.

I bought this because it was listed as sci-fi with an asexual main character and its description sounded decent. The title and relatively vague description made me think that HAL would be prominent and that there would be time travel. This turned out not to be the case. There were a few brief Terminator references, but the nature of the Agency's secret device meant that it had more in common with Minority Report.

Sci-fi and fantasy pop culture references were all over the place. The one I enjoyed the most had to do with Dexter's efforts to figure out his role in this action story he'd suddenly been plopped into:

"Because he wasn't Neville Longbottom. He wasn't even Jar Jar Binks; he was Leeroy fucking Jenkins." (76%)

It's the kind of line that's fun if you know who Dexter's referring to but that would be completely incomprehensible to every one else. As it was, I had to google the Leeroy Jenkins reference - I'd heard the name before but that was it. The text is peppered with this sort of thing. I mostly liked it, but I could see it being annoying and exhausting for anyone who doesn't have the right pop culture background.

I was a bit iffy about the asexual rep. While it was nice that there was zero drama and nastiness over Dexter being ace, it felt really weird that he and Andre didn't talk about it at all beyond a brief mention. The two of them started making out, Dexter paused things to tell Andre that he was asexual and that he enjoyed kissing but wasn't interested in having sex, Andre calmly accepted this, and they never talked about it again. Granted, I'm not sure if they could be considered a couple since the story only takes place over a couple weeks, but it ended with Dexter hoping they could keep in touch and continue their relationship. I don't know.

In the end, I wanted to like this more than I actually did. Andre and Dexter were adorably geeky together, and the humor was decent. Unfortunately, the story was so-so, Andre and Dexter's relationship didn't really work for me, and I was disappointed that HAL was ultimately unimportant, little more than another one of the story's many SFF references.

 

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

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review 2017-01-31 01:24
The Galloway Road by Catherine Adams
The Galloway Road - Catherine Adams

Renna is a young mage on her way to her first job. Her traveling companions include a pair of musicians specifically requested by Renna’s new employer, plus Brett, the mercenary hired to protect them all. Brett is closed mouthed about himself and his past, and Renna has secrets of her own. However, none of that may matter if they can't manage to survive the Galloway Road’s deadly horrors.

This story takes place over the course of 11 days and mostly features the group traveling from one inn to another. The beginning was boring, dull, and a little confusing, although the Galloway Road’s creepy atmosphere eventually grew on me, as did Renna and Brett (sort of). A word of warning: some of the descriptions are gruesome. The Galloway Road is called that because it's lined with gallows and gibbets. Sometimes the people Renna, Brett, and the musicians pass are dead, and sometimes they're not. Honestly, if I had been Renna or the musicians, Galloway Road alone would have had me questioning the wisdom of agreeing to work for Lord Galloway.

Okay, on to the characters. The musicians made so little of an impact on me that I had to check the story just to make sure I had the number of characters right - I had thought there were three musicians, not two. Brett was an intriguing character, apparently competent and yet prone to self-destructive behavior (he’d been banned from at least one or two inns because of his drinking). Renna...was just there. I never felt like I really knew her beyond the most surface level. I did gasp at the big revelation about her, but that was in large part because I hadn’t noticed any sign of it in her behavior or thoughts up to that point. This bugged me a bit, because the event had happened so recently. I suppose it could be explained away as emotional numbness on her part, but still.

The main reason I got this story was because it was one of Less Than Three Press’s recent releases in their “asexual” category. Renna was asexual, possibly homoromantic depending on the specifics of her feelings for her best friend. There was a hint of something that might have been ace-related angst - at one point, Renna wondered if she was “stone-hearted, cruel-hearted” (37). It was a bit ambiguous, though, and might have also been inspired by the thing that happened shortly before she was hired by Lord Galloway. I honestly don’t know.

I appreciated what this story tried to do, but overall my reaction was just “meh.” I didn’t care enough about the characters for the ending to have the kind of emotional impact that it should have had. Also, I hate to say this, but I laughed a bit during some of the events in the tomb. I know that stuff was probably supposed to be horrifying/scary, but I kept imagining B-movie special effects.

Rating Note:

I might have opted to give this 3 stars if I had rated and reviewed it right after finishing it. However, my thoughts have had time to settle, and I think 2 stars is more appropriate. There just wasn't enough there in terms of content, characters, or world-building.

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

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review 2014-12-30 15:37
Wings of Destruction by Victoria Zagar
Wings of Destruction - Victoria Zagar

I bought this, after considerable internal debate, because it was tagged “asexual romance.” The reasons why it took me a while to finally hit the “buy” button included reviews that said it wasn't very good, its price-to-word count ratio (it cost about twice what I would normally be willing to pay for something this long), and angels (I don't read much angel fiction).

Anyway, this novella takes place an indeterminate amount of time in the future. An economic collapse plunged the world into chaos, and now everyone is either affiliated with a gang or living in fear of the gangs. If you're with one of the gangs, you're either a sex slave or you have a mate and are marginally protected. Martin, an asexual man, is scared and depressed. He's just been left by his latest mate – every one of them ends up wanting more from him than he's willing to give. Seeing no other acceptable options, he decides to kill himself by jumping off Spire Rock. He is saved by the angel Anael, who has been sent to evaluate humans and determine whether it would be best to destroy everything with Black Rain, thereby wiping the slate clean for God's next new world. The angel decides that Martin will be his guide as he makes his final decision.

I'll start with the good. I was interested enough in the story to see where the author was going to go with all of this, so the 59 pages weren't as much of a slog as I'd feared they would be. Also, it was nice that both the asexual character (Martin) and the transgender character (that one's a spoiler) got happy endings.

Now for the bad. According to the copyright page, this had two editors. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they checked for typos and did little else. This needed a lot more work than that. There were phrases and word choices that needed tweaking, and world details and character interactions would have benefited from someone going over it all and asking “Does this make sense? Is any of it contradictory?”

Some examples:

“A tormented expression and the rings around his sad, blue eyes had made him look older than he actually was.” (9)

I'm pretty sure the author actually meant “circles under his eyes” rather than “rings around his eyes.”

“Matching red uniforms finished their costumes, a red that signified the color of the Scrapers, the gang that ruled these parts.” (13)

This is redundant, as we're told twice that their uniforms are red. Also, red doesn't signify a color, it is a color.

As far as the world went, I have no clue how it was able to function. George R.R. Martin's Westeros is less brutal than this place – neither adults nor children were safe from being turned into sex slaves by the gangs, and it didn't seem like anyone did anything but hide (if you weren't in a gang), fight, or rape. How was everyone staying fed? Readers were told that the gas had run out long ago, so I wouldn't think there'd be much canned food left, but at the same time no one seemed to be producing any new food. Where were the gardens, the livestock, and the people to take care of it all? Oh, and where did the gangs get all those bullets? They used them like they were playing a video game with unlimited ammo.

Another thing the author didn't think through very well was time. Readers were told that God slept on the Sabbath, “one day in Heaven that spanned a thousand years in Earth time" (6). However, later on we saw characters in Heaven looking in on people on Earth, 25 years later in Earth time. We were told that the people in Heaven had had “enough time to build a life" (56). Now, math is not my strong suit, but even I know that those numbers don't work out. The characters in Heaven got only a tiny fraction of a day together while those 25 years sped by on Earth.

Now I suppose I should talk about the whole “asexual romance” aspect. Anael and Martin's love for each other was very sudden and bland. I think Martin fell for Anael primarily because Anael didn't have sex organs and was therefore the “safest” romantic partner possible. Anael fell for Martin because Martin saved him, and also maybe because he was “pure.”

This touches on something that made me a little uncomfortable. It felt like readers were supposed to see Martin's asexuality as making him better and purer than others. Sexual feelings were dirty and corrupting. I also didn't like the mention of Martin having been raped “twenty-or-so years ago,” because that came a little too close to indicating that he was asexual because he was raped.

Zagar's efforts to write Martin as an asexual person sometimes felt like being smacked in the face with the exact opposite. For example, here is Martin noticing Anael's appearance: “For a non-sexual being, he was the perfect sculpture of a man. Martin felt the stirring of a yearning that had nothing to do with sexual hunger.” (15) And here's one I cut short to avoid spoilers, although I'll mention that it made my skin crawl in context: “His tender hands moved the sponge over Anael’s body without the slightest hint of wanton desire . . .” (22) By repeatedly telling readers there was nothing sexual about his actions, Zagar managed to make it seem like Martin was thinking about sex all the time.

There are a lot of other things I could write about, like the utter lack of details about characters' lives (What were the names of Martin's mates? No wonder they all left him, if he never bothered to talk to them like they were people) and my discomfort with the magical changes everyone needed to go through in order to be happy, but this review is already long enough. All in all, while I'm glad I wasn't expecting much, I still feel a bit disappointed. The story did manage to hold my interest, but the writing and world-building needed lots of work. I can't see myself ever recommending this to anyone.

 

(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2012-12-03 00:00
Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire by Kate Aaron
Fenton: the Loneliest Vampire - Kate Aaron

When I saw that this story and the next work in the series, Fire & Ice, were tagged “asexual,” I decided to give them a shot. I wanted to see how an asexual character would be handled. Since I hate reading series out of order, I bought the first work, Blood & Ash, as well. If you've been keeping track of my recent reviews, you already know I was disappointed by Blood & Ash. Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire (hereafter, FTLV) wasn't an improvement.

A big part of the problem was that FTLV was not actually a story, but rather a series of events connected by lots of summarizing. It began with Fenton's birth, and it wasn't until halfway through that he became a vampire. The last half of FTLV spanned several centuries and ended not long before the start of Blood & Ash. I think FTLV would have been much stronger if Aaron had focused on one particular event, such as Fenton's time with Kali. All that summarizing really weakened the story, and the portion focusing on Fenton's time as a human felt unnecessarily long.

When I first started planning out this review, I thought I would at least be able to say I liked Fenton better than Ash, but that wasn't really the case. True, Fenton didn't annoy me the way Ash did, and I found him to be more interesting. However, it was the idea of him that interested me more than anything. I loved the idea of an asexual main character who still wanted love, but wasn't interested in or comfortable with expressing that love via sex. It was too bad that "asexual and lonely" seemed to be all Fenton was.

Part of me is looking forward to seeing the development of an asexual relationship between Fenton and Skye, which reviews tell me will be happening in at least part of Fire & Ice. Unfortunately, I have little faith that Aaron will be able to make the characters and their relationship as complex and interesting as they should be.

Additional Comments:

The bit at the end, about Azrael's torture at the hands of some witches, only emphasizes how surface-level the characters in this series are. In Blood & Ash, Azrael is captured by witches again while trying to save Ash. Was there any mention of his previous capture and torture? No. I didn't even know about it until I read FTLV. There should have been some mention, maybe even some residual emotional effects.

(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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