Book Review: The Fire Opal Mechanism by Fran Wilde (three stars)

Book Review: The Fire Opal Mechanism (Gem Universe #2) by Fran Wilde (three stars)

Having to step into this new role made her teeth ache.

A steampunk fantasy dystopia where only a single compendium of knowledge is allowed; divergent voices outlawed. Limited time travel must be understood before it cam be exploited. Main characters in conflict.

But while he’d been a student, [redacted] had read several adventure novels in the library. He knew now that he only needed one good chance, and everything could turn right around.

More action in the cover art than the entire story. Well told but unengaging. The ending was completely foreshadowed and a bit flat. Wilde can and has done better.

If she’d learned nothing from antiquity, it was this: the hardest changes to see are those happening all around you, until it’s too late.

Naïve economic and political perception but typical for modern fantasy. “Perhaps there was a future without an economy that did not rely upon scarcity.”

That [redacted] could travel back in time, but only to learn how to change the present, was a sharp, cold fact.

Book Review: The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey by Shawn Speakman (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey by Shawn Speakman (Three Stars)

“You might have saved my friend. But I do not trust you.” “When you begin to trust, the friendship the world has spun for us will be put in motion.”

A good-hearted if naïve coming of age science fiction set is a far future dystopic “Erth.” Stereotypical characters act in the expected ways. Predictable but well-developed plot arc–teens against the big bad guys trying to save the world.

Antiquity lowered the knife. “Why you not ending me?” the golem implored. “I not real.”
“You are real enough,” Antiquity said, decision made. “Besides, you are about the only family I have left.”

Antiquity will appeal to some readers as a plucky female lead. Other will be irritated by her Mary Sue ability to shed each adversity almost as soon as it manifests.

“Do you see what’s down there, Chekker? Are your sensors shot? Look!” “I do. I see trouble.”
“Trouble finds me all by itself, you old bot!”

Indestructible robot sidekick, enemies turned allies, and enigmatic ancient advisor. Who needs light sabers when you have dragons? Nice cover art.

Be the change of the moment,” the old woman said. “My love for you would be remiss if I did not prepare you for the world such as it is, not the world we wish it would be. And that world is coming for us even as we speak.”

Book Review: Make Room! Make Room! By Harry Harrison (Three Stars)


Book Review: Make Room! Make Room! By Harry Harrison

(Three Stars)

“By the end of the century, should our population continue to increase at the same rate, this country will need more than 100 per cent of the world’s resources to maintain our current living standards.”

Cutting-edge social commentary then. On the bandwagon bleating about over population and over consumption, followed by a huge die off. So incorrect as to be ironic. By 1973 they rewrote the plot for the movie Soylent Green because the over-population red shirt had worn thin.

“You know well enough that birth control has nothing to do with killing babies. In fact it saves them.” No unwanted children, they promised us.

Not a bad story. It only drags when Continue reading

Book Review: Sister Solweig & Mr. Denial by Kameron Hurley (Four Stars)


Book Review: Sister Solweig & Mr. Denial by Kameron Hurley

Four Stars

“… When the sun hiccuped over the horizon …”

Excellent short story, if a bit gory. Hurley handles words like a master. She draws beautiful (or ugly) pictures with sparse prose. The point of view (“Mr. Denial”) makes it work. Assume this is a tease for a longer work or works.

“What we want rarely intersects with where we are.”

Book Review: The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu

(Four Stars)

“No guns in Container Town.”

See? It can be done. Kick off a series with an enjoyable, self-contained story–not a chopped-off cliffhanger. A near future dystopia with aliens, set in the universe of Chu’s Lives of Tao books. Why wasn’t this Hugo Award finalist?

“It was one thing to witness a slum, it was another to see a beautiful city reduced to one before your eyes.”

Even if you haven’t read previous stories in this setting, Chu focuses you on his protagonist and gently fills in the background as the story develops. The data dumps are appropriately placed and paced.

“Stop acting like life is some precious gift from a higher power. Everything dies, Ella. Everything is expendable.”

Totally immerses the reader in the setting. Captures the sights, smells and tastes of a post-modern slum in Continue reading

Book Review: “Bourbon, Sugar, Grace” by Jessica Reisman (Four Stars)


Book Review: “Bourbon, Sugar, Grace: A Original” by Jessica Reisman

Four Stars

“Life exists in more forms than we can predict or comprehend.”

A pleasant science fiction short story, which challenges the reader to keep up and entertains at the same time. Set in a dystopian mining colony after the mines have played out and the corporate overlords are reneging on closure promises.

“The thing that needed doing.”

Much better storytelling than the current crop of Hugo Award finalists. Potential lead in to a larger story.

“She knew it was the wrong thing to do, at the wrong time. But …”

A good take on how language evolves in “moms.” Nice cover art by Jon Foster.

“Please … let me not be graceless in this.”

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Four Stars

“You wanted a woman’s culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists.”

A 1985 dystopia set in a severe and hypocritical (aren’t they all?) theocracy, Atwood’s tale is a cautionary tale about how American culture could degenerate under the combines pressures of extended Cold War and the environmental assault of then-current industrial practice.

“No empire imposed by force or otherwise has been without this feature: control of the indigenous by members of their own group.”

The story’s confused chronology is due to the semi-stream-of-consciousness remanences of one of the titular handmaids, partly explained in the accompanying Historical Note. Atwood tells just enough to propel Continue reading

Book Review: The Emperor’s Railroad by Guy Haley (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Emperor’s Railroad (Dreaming Cities, #1) by Guy Haley

Three Stars

“The future is ashes, the past is treasure. When you get where I am the past’ll look brighter to you as well.”

A finely-told novella about a dystopic future with zombies. Normally, I would have quit before discovering how well written it is. Well crafted.

“God has redeemed us to the level we deserve.”

The zombies cost Haley a star. They are an unnecessary, unimaginative shortcut. He’s good enough, he could have accomplished the same effect without resorting to such a tired trope.

“Everyman ever born thinks he knows how to save the world, but most of them sit on their hands.”

Book Review: A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes (Four Stars)

Book Review: A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes

Four Stars out of Five

Image a world where people knew when they would die. Imagine a world where people were required to carry a clock showing how many years, days, hours and seconds remained in their lives. Imagine being seventeen years old and having only one more year to live. And knowing it.

Unfortunately our protagonist is a lazy, stubborn, impulsive teen—yeah, like a lot of us at that age. (Maybe any age.) And she’s a Christian, at least nominally so. No hint of her knowing what that means, let alone living differently, at first. (Kind of like a lot of us again.) Not a very sympathetic character, but she makes up for it by doing stupid things and suffering the consequences—even though she still doesn’t learn. No, she doesn’t get a break. Yes, it gets irritating. Probably a pretty normal life.

And she lives over a century into our future when things have changed—a lot.

Not bad writing. Brandes manages to bring this story to a satisfactory close, while dangling lots of hooks for the next. Better than many far more famous authors.

Considering this was Brandes’ freshman effort, I gave her extra credit.

Not quite as good as Firebird, but another hit for Enclave Publishing.