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review 2018-02-02 10:42
Nyxia - Scott Reintgen

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

A fast-paced and fun read, although in the end I wasn’t particularly impressed. Perhaps because, while I enjoy the ‘tournament’ trope to an extent, I’m happier when it doesn’t extend over the whole story? I liked reading about the competition at first, but towards the end of the book it left me somewhat cold, as the cool tasks from the beginning became repetitive. I think it’s also because in made little sense once the book reaches it turn after the 65% mark or so, and you realise that pitting them against each other like that from the beginning had a huge potential for backfiring (and, no surprise, it does).

I was also on the fence regarding the nyxia mineral, which seems to be able to do everything, make coffee, just add water. I’m totally OK with a substance you can manipulate through willpower, and that may even be sentient to an extent, but I need some more explanation as to how this suddenly makes a space trip possible in 1 year instead of 27, for instance, or allows to create instant multi-language translators.

As far as the characters go, they worked for me as a disparate group with strengths and weaknesses, and there are a few I liked well enough, like Kaya, probably the one smart enough to understand what’s really going on; yet individually, not many stood out, and I could only get a solid grasp on a couple of them rather than on the whole crew. As for the romance, it sprang up from nowhere, had no chemistry, and is to be filed under that category of insta-romance that is only here so that we can tick the box on the bingo sheet. (Seriously, why must YA books have romance everywhere? Half the time, it just doesn’t work.)

Moreover, I’m not sure the attempt at bringing diversity worked too well, probably because we still end up with several Americans in the lot instead of having a really worldwide cast, and their cultural differences as a means of enriching their relationships and background weren’t really exploited. We see a little of it through Bilal and Azima, but the others? Not so much. They could all have been from the same city, in the end, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. There was much more potential than was actually exploited here, and that’s too bad.

Conclusion: A story whose beginning was better, but that didn’t live up to the expectations it had set for me.

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review 2018-01-26 19:44
Paper Ghosts
Paper Ghosts: A Novel of Suspense - Julia Heaberlin

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

I had liked ‘Black-Eyed Susans’ by the same author well enough, and I thought I’d like this one as well, but unfortunately, it wasn’t the case. As evidenced by the time I needed to finish it, that wasn’t because I had too much work and no time to read, but because it kept falling from my hands and I’d reach something else to reach instead.

It started well enough, and I thought that the story would be a game of cat and mouse between the main character and the suspected killer. However, while I kept waiting for said character to reveal her hand—for instance, to show that she had made this or that mistake on purpose, in order to better turn the tables—such moments never happened. I think this is where it went wrong for me, and I believe the first-person narration wasn’t an asset in this case: with a third person POV, I could’ve been fooled into thinking the ‘heroine’ knew what she was doing, since I wouldn’t have been completely ‘in her head; but with first person, it’s more difficult to fool the reader...

So, well, I wasn’t fooled. In spite of all her alluding to her ‘trainer’ and to how she had taught herself to face various difficult situations, she wasn't really one step ahead. Perhaps in the very beginning, but this fell down the train as soon as Carl started coming up with new ‘conditions’ along the way, and she was totally taken aback, and... just relented, or protested weakly. That didn’t fit my idea of someone who had planned carefully, or whose plans were unravelling but who still had the savvy to bounce back.

Also, I wasn’t convinced at all by the twist at the end. Something you can’t see coming because there was never any hint of it throughout the story, is not what I call an actual twist, but cheating the reader. (Now, when I read something and I’m all ‘a-ha! So that’s why she did this in chapter2, and said that in chapter 6, and that character did that in chapter 14’, well, that’s a proper twist.)

Conclusion: 1.5 stars. Too bad.

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review 2017-10-02 20:09
A Man of Shadows
A Man of Shadows (Nyquist Mystery) - Jeff Noon

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

Possibly more ‘SFF' than truly ‘noir’, for the gritty/detective side was second to the mysterious/dusk/visions side; but I like both genres, so that was fine with me. It took me a while to get into the story, though, and I’m not really sure whether it’s because it didn’t fully grip me, or because I was also busy at the time with other books.

The story follows John Nyquist, jaded detective with quite a few dark shades in his past, after both his parents died; hired to find the runaway daughter of powerful businessman Patrick Bale, he stumbles upon more than what he’s signed for, including the daughter’s true heritage, a drug cartel, and the mysterious killer nicknamed ‘Quicksilver’, who offs their victims in the blink of an eye. As any good noir detective, Nyquist can’t leave enough alone, and feels compelled to help the daughter, who he feels has run away for a reason that’s more than just teenage angst.

The setting is definitely interesting, and would even lend itself to more developments, I’d say, considering the two sides (Nocturna vs. Dayside), the mysterious Dusk in-between, the microcosms in each part (like the bulb monkeys in Dayside, always running from one light bulb to the other in a desperate effort to keep the light going), the time-screwing aspect (how can anyone goo on different timelines that keep changing depending on where they go and what they do?), etc.

I felt that there was a lot going on here, especially with part of the plot revolving around characters and events with a foot in all those parts (as in, things like ‘works in Dayside, lives in Nocturna, has ties with Dusk’); but while some of it was shown, I expected more in that regard—and yet, at the same time, there were moments when the world superseded the narrative, making the latter muddled. I’m not sure if the intent was to show Nyquist’s descent into his own time-related problems, or to echo the ‘time drug’ concept, but it made the plot difficult to follow even though it’s not -that- complex.

In the end I couldn’t decide if this was a novel about these different cities or about the characters—I felt that one way or the other, there wasn’t enough to really keep my interest.

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review 2017-09-22 23:06
Darkover Landfall
Darkover Landfall - Marion Zimmer Bradley

Erf. I've started re-reading this series, because I remember how much I loved it when I was a teenager... but damn, I didn't remember this one was so bad. (Or is it because I sometimes used to like shite as a teenager, and that was part of it?)

The story in itself is not uninteresting, all the more since it's THE origins book in the Darkover series, but the relationships... especially the way women are viewed and treated... Wow. That was one special level of bad.

I can sort of accept a patriarchal society, women being treated as wombs, etc. in the more 'medieval-like' novels of the series, because 1) it fits a certain conception of 'dark ages obscurantism', as cliché as that may be, and 2) as far as I remember, in those books, it was often presented as something that isn't so good: while it does remain infuriating, it's part of the conflict underlying those narratives.

Here, though, in a group of engineers, colonists, space crew, scientists, where men and women have similar levels of skills, with gender equality laws on Earth? Nope. Doesn't sit with me. Especially not as soon as pregnancies enter the picture, and give yet another reason for males (and some women!) to be patronising, chalk every reaction to 'she's pregnant', veer towards gaslighting at times (because obviously, the guys in the story know better than Judy Lovat who's the father of her child), and go spouting crap about how not wanting children is some sort of mental illness. Camilla's arc was particularly painful, because, yes, she is being reduced to a walking womb, what's with the doctor even threatening to sedate her during her pregnancy (actually, it does happen once), like some kind of stupid, ignorant being who needs to be locked for her own good. Empowering much, right?

So basically, you get accidentally pregnant (not through any fault of hers—ghost wind was to blame, same for her partner), while you thought your contraceptive was doing its job, you don't want to have a child, but you're denied an abortion. OK. Not cool. In the context of colonists stranded on a hostile planet, that poses an interesting conundrum (= it's obvious that either they need to spawn as much as possible, or they'll die in one or two generations). However, was it really necessary to lay it in such rude and demeaning ways? The Battlestar Galactica reboot has a similar subplot, but the episode about it was at least treated with much more gravitas and moral ambiguity.

It is also important to note that, no, Camilla didn't sign up for this, so treating her as a spoiled kid throwing a tantrum was inappropriate. Putting it back into context: she's an engineer and programmer, she signed up to be part of the ship's crew during the trip, not to be a colonist meant to help populate a new planet. And even in the event of staying on that colony, it would've been in a society where she would've had a few years to make the decision.

(spoiler show)

I have no idea if anyone considers this book as a 'feminist' work, but if you do, please stop. This is not feminist, it's patriarchy at its worst: insidious.

[To be fair, I didn't remember this book as being the best in the series either, nor my favourite at all, so I'm still going to try rereading 2-3 others.]

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review 2017-09-04 19:22
Yesterday - Felicia Yap

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

I’m not sure I can really call this ‘science fiction’—‘alternate history/contemporary world’, rather?— and for once I find ‘speculative fiction’ is actually more appropriate. ‘Yesterday’ is set in a 2015 world where people, due to a gene getting inhibited when they become adults, lose their short term memories. ‘Monos’ can only retain the previous days, while ‘Duos’ can retain two days... but nothing more. In order to function, people therefore have to keep writing in their diaries, and make a conscious effort to learn the important ‘facts’ that happened to them.

I found this premise quite interesting, especially when it came to setting a mystery in that world: how would an investigator go about their job, link clues together, if they can only rely on written facts and not on actual memories? Because they’re bound to forget to write some details that would then become important, only at the time they looked so trivial they didn’t think them so. This is DI Richardson’s conundrum, as the main investigator in Sophia Ayling’s suicide-or-murder case, since he knows he has to solve this very quickly, otherwise he may miss some important clues. Just like potential suspects will literally forget what a crafty interrogation session could have made them say. All of this, of course, while keeping in mind an important question: are diaries reliable?

The story revolves around four characters’ narratives and diaries: Claire Evans, a Mono ex-waitress who married a successful Duo writer, but struggles daily with her feelings of inadequacy compared to her husband’s ability to remember more; Mark Evans, whose career as a writer isn’t so satisfying anymore, just like his marriage, and who’s tempted to veer towards politics... and mistresses; Sophia Ayling, a woman with the rare ability to remember everything... including tiny little slights that built up into hatred and a deep desire for revenge; and Hans Richardson, the inspector determined to crack the case in one day, but who also harbours secrets of his own.

In itself, it was a fast-paced enough read (everything happens over 24 hours, after all), and one that kept my attention; the plot twists were easy enough for me to guess, yet at the same time I still wanted to see how the characters themselves, with their limited day to day memories, would go about making sense of everything that happened to them.

In the end, though, the memory limit proved to ask more questions than it provided answers, making the world building kind of... shaky? The society depicted here seems to have been built on the short term memory problem as if it had been here from the start. But while I can see how modern technology (paper diaries, then iDiaries—hello, parallel world Apple that I thought interesting in spite of being a little too obvious) would allow people to function, it makes one wonder how science and said technology developed in the first place: at some point, how was writing invented, if people couldn’t remember what they did two days ago, and couldn’t put it in written words? For me, it would’ve been more credible if the genetic shift had happened later in history—well, maybe it did, but the story doesn’t tell.

The ending, too, left me sceptical. I see what the author did there, but it felt too convoluted and resting on chance events (or perhaps, should I say, on a stroke of genius on one character’s part, but what led to it seemed too much like a convenient plot device?). Also, I would’ve expected the inspector character to make less blunders—either that, or other characters bearing on him for making them, because in the end there were no real consequences.

Conclusion: 2.5 stars. It is an entertaining first novel, I just wished the memory loss premise had been exploited better.

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