Thursday, April 30, 2015

Digitus 233 - K.D. Emerson

I wanted to like this book. But the story just leaves me with too many unanswered questions -- and that's even before I discovered the ending was a cliffhanger.

The main characters of this dystopian YA novella are Zander and Zeph. Zander, the older of the brothers, has been hoping for years to attend a special leadership camp run by the Digitus Corporation. As the book opens, Zeph has stowed away in the hold of the airplane that's taking Zander to camp. So he knows when his brother and several other young people are dropped out of the plane, still strapped in their seats, while the plane continues to its destination somewhere in South America.

Zander and his fellow campers find themselves stranded on an island in the Arctic, and must figure out how to get back to civilization. Meanwhile, at Digitus headquarters, Zeph learns that his brother's travails are no accident. In the process, he uncovers a lot of information about Digitus -- including its brainwashing techniques and that its ultimate plan is to take over the world.

My biggest problem with this book is that it starts too far into the story. I understand the temptation to wow the reader with an exciting scene at the very start of the book, but you still have to go back and fill in enough backstory to make your reader care about your characters. The brothers' relationship is never established -- they have zero scenes together until very late in the book. Similarly, the boys' parents are mentioned, but only in passing -- we never get to meet them. I have no idea what sort of relationship the kids and parents have. And without that knowledge, it's hard to like, or root for, either of the boys.

Other important things things are left unexplained. For example, the book's title. "Digitus 233" seems to be some kind of post-hypnotic-suggestion-type mind-control command. But how do the kids know it? And what's the 233 for? I don't know any of that, either.

I wouldn't have minded the cliffhanger ending so much if I'd known in advance that the story arc wasn't going to be wrapped up at the end of the book. Folks, if you're writing a serial, please let your potential readers know that upfront.

Digitus 233 is well edited; I only saw a few typos, none of them glaring. The action scenes are well done. But Emerson needs to go back and fill in some of the blanks.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Beneath the Tor - Kat Yares

I felt a little subversive, starting this book on Easter Sunday.

You could say that Beneath the Tor is a mash-up of New Testament history and the backstory of the King Arthur legend, but that would be a little unfair. Yares has certainly re-imagined the life and death of Jesus, and along the way, she explains who Mary Magdalene might have been, and why Joseph of Arimathea might ever have traveled to Glastonbury, England.

The main character in this novel is Miriam, a priestess of the old religion as practiced on the Isle of Avalon. She has known Yahshua since they were children, and the two of them are in love. However, Joseph of Arimathea, who is both Miriam's father and Yahshua's uncle, is grooming Yahshua for the role of the Jewish Messiah. Joseph hopes that the Jews who rally around the Messiah will overthrow the Romans and end their occupation of Judea.

I won't go much farther into describing the plot. Suffice it to say that this novel would give Biblical literalists a coronary. Yares has described a very different -- and mostly plausible -- explanation for the goings-on in the early days of the church. I did have some trouble believing that Yahshua would become such a hard-liner as he got older.

So the plot is interesting and worthwhile. Unfortunately, the book could use an editor's careful hand. I found numerous errors in punctuation, particularly in dialogue, and a few terms were used incorrectly. For example, there's a construction technique that's called wattle and daub, but it's referred to as "waddle" in the book.

With a better edit, I'd be pleased to recommend this book.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Old Man's War - John Scalzi

I seem to be on a sci-fi kick right now....

I've read some other books by Scalzi, but I'd never before read Old Man's War, his debut novel. The novel is set on a future Earth in which the elderly are given a unique opportunity: they can sign up with a corporation that, when they turn 75, will give them new bodies and a new career in an interstellar army. They can serve as little as two years. Once their hitch is up, they can settle in any human colony on any planet that strikes their fancy -- or they can re-up. The catch is that they're signing up as infantry; statistically, only one in ten will survive the enlistment period. Oh, and they can never go home to Earth again.

On the other hand, they get downloaded into the bodies of souped-up twentysomething Army men, complete with green skin. As someone who is old enough to have owned a bunch of green plastic Army men, I thought the green skin was a nice touch.

The story is told by John Perry, a former advertising writer whose wife died before she was old enough to join the army. Perry bonds with several men and women before their transformations, and one of the bittersweet subplots has Perry tracking how that one-in-ten survival rate pans out amongst his pals.

I can see why some have compared Old Man's War to Heinlein's work. Scalzi's green army men and women tread some familiar sci-fi ground, including what it means to be human. But the author doesn't delve too deeply into philosophy -- rather, he skims the surface of the big questions while offering the reader an entertaining ride.

I've already picked up the next two books in this series, and I'm looking forward to reading them.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Khe - Alexes Razevich

In Khe, Alexes Razevich has given us a compelling main character in a fascinating alien environment.

As the novel opens, Khe is living with her sister doumanas on a collective farm. Males in their society live apart on their own collective farms, and the two genders meet only once a year, at Resonance, when the doumanas all become fertile at once. Not all doumanas live on farms, however; some live in cities, and others live in floating towns that facilitate trade between the city dwellers and the farms.

Khe is happy enough until her first Resonance, when her body doesn't react to the signals all the other doumanas are feeling. This makes her feel useless and incomplete, until she undergoes an experimental procedure to remove the block that's keeping her from participating in Resonance. The procedure works -- but it also unblocks an unusual ability that allows Khe to make the plants and animals on the farm produce better than they ever have before. Using the power ages her prematurely, though, which is bad enough. But her life is really in danger when her ability draws the attention of the Powers, who want her to be their vessel for a new race.

The author did a great job with describing Khe's alien culture. I especially loved the way the doumanas literally wear their emotions -- nodes on their necks change color to match the emotions they're feeling. Relationships would be so much simpler on Earth if humans did the same thing.

Razevich also does a fine job with revealing, little by little, what's going on behind the scenes on this planet. Suffice it to say that the doumanas and their occasional mates aren't the only race here.

The book was well-edited, and I thought the cover was stunning. If you like dystopian sci-fi, I'd highly recommend Khe.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Feels Like the First Time - Shawn Inmon

I'll be honest: I'm not a huge fan of memoirs. On the other hand, I think everyone of a certain age has somebody in their past who they would date again in a heartbeat. So on that basis, I decided to give Feels Like the First Time a whirl.

The book opens with Shawn, who's in a miserable marriage that he hasn't had the gumption to end, stopping at a drive-through window on his way home from work. There at the window is Dawn, the love of his life. They had lived next door to one another as teenagers, in the late 1970s and early '80s, in a little town in Washington state. First they were friends; then Dawn's mother hired Shawn to tutor her daughter; and then they fell in love. At this point, Dawn's parents -- well, mainly her mother -- decided the relationship needed to end. A couple of youthful missteps sealed the deal, and the two of them were forbidden to see one another again. But Shawn has never forgotten Dawn, and decades later, Fate steps in to bring them together again. It's not all sunshine and roses, however. The two of them have to figure out just what went wrong back then, before they can even think about creating a happy ending at last.

I'm not that much older than these two crazy kids, so I could really relate to Inmon's depiction of his high school and college years, although I felt like that part of the story went on a little too long. But the present-day portion of the book was wonderful. When Dawn says in wonderment, "You're my Shawn" -- yeah, that got me right in the feels.

I would recommend Feels Like the First Time to anybody who grew up in the '70s and '80s, and to anybody who likes a good love story.