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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while some of it was shown, I expected more in that regard—and yet, at the same time, there were moments when the world superseded the narrative, making the latter muddled.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
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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review 2017-08-28 22:22
The Tourist
The Tourist - Robert Dickinson

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

What to do, what to do... I liked parts of this novel, but in others I thought the story was sorot of... losing itself?

Time travel to the power of ten here. A lot of actions, reactions and motives stem from the need for the characters to keep thinking in terms of ‘agency’... which, in turn, leads to many questions. For instance: young!you meets old!guy, who tells you ‘we’ll meet later’, and then later!you meets younger!guy, who of course doesn’t remember you because for him it’s the first time, but at this point you know that whatever happens, you’re not going to kill him, because his older self has already met you in the past. Sounds complicated? Not so much, but... yeah, one has to keep track of such occurrences in ‘The Tourist’, for sure.

The plot mainly follows two characters: Spens, a tourism rep in the early 21st century, who knows he’s about to be sent home for breach of contract, even though he doesn’t know yet what the breach will be (but he’s not too worried about that: after all, records inherited from future centuries show he’ll still have a life after that). And ‘you’, a woman in the future, who has spent years in prison due to her many suspicious activities. Both their stories intersect in the person of Riemann Aldis, as ‘you’ has to help him on a mysterious assignment, while Spens in the past finds himself tracking one of his clients, who wasn’t on the bus when the latter came back to the resort.

Among these plots is the ‘War Ourobouros’ thread: a Russian novel about strange people from the future whose aim is actually to conquer and enslave 21st century civilisation. Red herring? Smokescreen? After all, Spens and his fellow travellers looks different enough (taller, for starters) than humans like you and I; their presence is known in 21st century cities; and they -are- weird, with their resorts full of tourists and the knowledge they’re suspected of having about the future, in the shadow of their mysterious Geneva ‘government’. And if only people knew, indeed: that a Near Extinction Event is looming close, and that the futurekind isn’t allowed to mention it.

I really enjoyed the subtle aspects of future society, with all their tiny dystopian hints and secretive 25th century reports—they make it more understandable why all these tourists want to catch a whiff of our own society, not to mention ‘extemps’ choosing to actually stay there. The time-related developments, too, definitely kept me interested, as I tried to catch what tiny event would cause that other event from a previous chapter, or how an encounter we know will happen will actually play out. In terms of causality, of events triggering other events in a non-linear way, I found it worked fairly well.

Ultimately, though, I was disappointed in the overall plot, in that I completely understood how the characters came to end up where they did... but I feel the story was missing a final ‘why’ that would’ve tied everything together. I get what happened to the tourist, to Spens, to Riemann, yet at the same time there’s no sense of a bigger plot. The ‘you’ part was also weird for me; second person present tense narration is really tricky, and let’s be honest, I sometimes had a hard time going through these chapters, precisely because of that narrative device. Finally, character development in general was too light to my liking; on the other hand, this is a book whose strong point is the time travel aspect, so I still managed to enjoy it enough.

Conclusion: I’m giving it 2.5-leaning-towards-3 stars because, let’s be honest, time travel is not easy to write about, and here I thought it was coherent enough, keeping paradox into account and playing well with how different people’s timelines may intersect. I wished it had had more of that ‘agency’ it advocates, though, instead of feeling in the end like it wasn’t really going anywhere.

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review 2017-07-27 20:40
The Serial Killer's Daughter
The Serial Killer's Daughter: A totally gripping thriller full of shocking twists - Lesley Welsh

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

 

Reading about Don’s twisted point of view and convictions about himself, others and the world about him, was fairly interesting. This kind of characters always feels like a train wreck to me: you know it’s going to be horrible, yet you keep on reading nonetheless, to see if the monster is truly so abject or if there’s anything else. I definitely won’t empathise with the guy (no kidding), but... yes, I find that interesting.

 

My major problem with this story, though, was the style itself, of a definite ‘tell-doesn’t-show’ kind, which kept throwing me out of the narrative at almost every page. In turn, I couldn’t empathise with the characters (whether ‘victims’, ‘criminal’ or ‘investigators’); this would have gone much better if their actions, their feelings, and whatever went through their heads, had been shown dynamically. However, I constantly felt that I was being given a recap, a textbook, telling me about them (I guess the flashbacks, or rather, where they were placed, contributed to that).

 

This diminished the tension created by the horrors described in Don’s notebooks and the investigation Suzanne embarked on, and didn’t contribute in making me warm up to ambiguous characters either, like ‘he’ (the man who follows Rose and Suzanne), for instance. So in general, I didn’t really care about them. I suppose I also expected something a little different, regarding the notebooks and the way Suzanne discovered the truth about her father—possibly something more psychological, and less along the lines the story followed in its second half.

 

Conclusion: 1.5 stars. Good basic idea, but I didn’t care much about the execution.

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