Serena’s Review: “Fractal Noise”

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Book: “Fractal Noise” by Christopher Paolini

Publishing Info: Tor, May 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: July 25th, 2234: The crew of the Adamura discovers the Anomaly.

On the seemingly uninhabited planet Talos VII:a circular pit, 50 kilometers wide.

Its curve not of nature, but design.

Now, a small team must land and journey on foot across the surface to learn who built the hole and why. But they all carry the burdens of lives carved out on disparate colonies in the cruel cold of space. For some the mission is the dream of the lifetime, for others a risk not worth taking, and for one it is a desperate attempt to find meaning in an uncaring universe. Each step they take toward the mysterious abyss is more punishing than the last.

And the ghosts of their past follow.

Review: I was aware that Christopher Paolini had written a science fiction novel in the last few years. I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere on my monstrous Goodreads TBR list. But as is the case so often, once a bit of time has passed, it’s very hard for me to make room in my reading schedule to scour back through these past picks. Instead, I saw this new sci-fi novel coming out by him this spring and decided, ah, yes, here is where I will make up for missing the first one! So let’s see what’s in store!

A small crew, while out on a typical, exploratory mission, comes across something that confounds all explanation: a monstrously huge hole, dug on the surface of an uninhabited planet, and so perfectly circular that it cannot be natural. But with no signs of intelligent life, who or what created this hole and what is its purpose? Alex, a man running from his past, lands on the surface and sets out with a small team to cross the barren wasteland to reach the hole. But as they travel, the constant, resonating “boom” produced by the hole begins to test their sanity and their will.

Before I get into the review itself, I want to address what has happened on the Goodreads page for this book. It came out that the cover art chosen for this book was created using AI technology. In response, many reviewers took to Goodreads to protest this decision, and the loss of livelihood that it represented for illustrators, by review bombing this book with one star ratings. I think there is a very complicated, interesting, and unavoidable conversation to be had about how AI will impact many industries going forward, including this one. By no means do I feel that I have the answers to this. However, one thing I am firmly against is the cognitive dissonance displayed by review bombers tanking the ratings of a book, A WORK OF ART BY AN AUTHOR, to protest the decision of the publisher to forego supporting cover artists by using AI technology. There are places to have this conversation and protest this decision, but to destroy the rating for a book (again, created by an artist, the author) in the name of supporting artists…there’s just something supremely disjointed and misplaced about this. Obviously, Paolini is a big-name author, but I don’t think that should even have a place in the conversation. He’s still an artist who created a work of art and is now being trashed by readers for a decision a publisher made…all in the name of supporting artists. It’s unfortunate in every way and a shame to see. But on to the actual review…

I really enjoyed this book! As I said, I’ve haven’t read anything by Paolini since the “Inheritance Cycle” so many years ago. And while I enjoyed those, I also felt the writing itself lacked a bit of polish. But I can definitely see the improvements that time has played on Paolini’s style. Here, the writing felt confident and tidy, neatly weaving in and out between the events of Alex’s past and the building terror and dread that is his current situation. I also liked the exploration of grief, regret, and the mental barriers that we can create for ourselves. Alex’s journey is one largely of self-destruction and a search for meaning when he has begun to doubt that such a thing will ever exist for him again.

I also really liked the science fiction elements of this story. In many ways, this was a very restrained story, taking place largely on a barren planet with very few alien aspects. Instead, it very much reads as a survival story, with more and more things going wrong for the team and their struggles to continue on in the face of growing dangers. On top of this, the description of the corrosive effects on the mind that are the constant powerful winds the team must walk into and the ever-present, mind-numbing “booms” that are emitted from the hole are excellent. The increasing sense of doom is pervasive and very effective. I also will say that I’ve found that science fiction is a great release for my love of survival stories. With stories set in our own world, all too often I find myself bogged down on the details of survival stories and whether or not I find them believable. But science fiction? Who am I to say what is and isn’t possible? Honestly, it’s kind of a relief, since I really do enjoy survival stories and no one is more annoyed by my obsessive ways with these types of tales than me!

Overall, I thought the pacing was pretty good, but I do think it floundered a bit at the end. For all of the psychological build up, Alex’s experiences and reflections in the end all felt a bit too predictable and trite. I really like the general concept of the end, especially the reflections on the vast unknown that the hole represents, but it did feel a bit clumsy. And then it kind of just ended, which was also a bit jarring. But, still, I really enjoyed this one. I can’t speak to how similar or not this is to his first book, but I think this one will be enjoyable to most science fiction fans, especially those who enjoy survival stories and a slower, carefully paced story.

Rating 8: The brutal and harsh alien terrain perfectly parallels the mental and emotional journey of a protagonist who struggles with grief and finding meaning in a life full of wonder and tragedy.

Reader’s Advisory: Obnoxiously, “Fractal Noise” is mostly on Goodreads lists about AI art which, while an interesting conversation on its own…is not a useful list for readers actually looking for recommendations for similar reads. It is on 52 Book Club 2023: #32 Published By Macmillan.

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: “Animorphs Graphix #2”

Animorphs Graphix #2: “The Visitor” by K.A. Applegate & Michael Grant, Adapted by Chris Grine

Publishing Info: Graphix, October 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Rachel is still reeling from the news that Earth is secretly under attack by parasitic aliens, the Yeerks. Now she and her friends are the planet’s only defense — kids who, purely by chance, stumbled onto a downed spacecraft and were given the power to morph into any animals they touch.

The team’s best lead is their assistant principal, Mr. Chapman, who is the human host to a high-ranking Yeerk official. It’s not much, but Rachel’s always been a daredevil, and she volunteers to infiltrate Chapman’s home.

Rachel is tough. She’s fearless. But what she finds inside may be more than even she can handle.

I’m baaaaaaack! Yes, yes, it’s been forever. So long in fact that not only is the second Animorphs graphic novel out, but the third was released last fall as well! What’s my excuse?

Anyways, I was very excited to jump back into the world of the Animorphs and check out what these graphic novels have in mind for the long run. I remember really liking the first one, but having some concerns about the longevity of the series. I was also curious to see how this particular story was handled. “The Invasion” has tons of material to work with, not only in the chock-full plot but also with a lot of important character work introducing all of the teens. But “The Visitor” is a much slower, simpler story. In fact, I’d say it’s probably the weakest story in the introductory first five books. I mean, I still love it, because I love Rachel and Applegate is at the helm in these early books and that’s clear in the general quality of a more “filler” story as compared to the same sorts of stories that we see later in the series that don’t land as well. All of that to say, I was curious to see what the graphic novel had in store for us.

Best Change: I really liked the way the Chapmans were portrayed in this version of the story. There’s a really cool couple of pages that are drawn when Rachel first enters the house. We see Mrs. Chapman in the kitchen, staring straight ahead and chopping up vegetables. We then shift to the living room and see Mr. Chapman sitting on the couch staring at a television set that’s turned off. Creepy enough on its own. But then when Rachel comes back in the second go around, we see the exact same thing: Mrs. Chapman in the kitchen, chopping; Mr. Chapman in the living room, staring. It really hits home how absolutely off and cold this house is and what a horrible hell Melissa is living through. Beyond that, I liked how the way Chapman’s face is drawn changes from scene to scene as his power dynamic shifts. When he’s driving Rachel home, he’s shadowy and threatening. But when he’s talking with Visser Three, he’s depicted as small and cowering. And then, lastly, we see the human side of him when the real Chapman gets control briefly to plead his case to Visser Three. It was all very effective, and I think it does a good job of setting up just how witnessing this horrible home situation would influence and motivate Rachel.

Worst Change: I’m not sure I really have a worst change for this book. Other than a few things here and there which I’ll get to later, this is a pretty faithful adaptation of the original book. I’ll go on (and on and onnnn) about my feelings about the art throughout the book, but I think that’s probably not going to be a specific-to-this-book thing so not really a “change” at all. Speaking of art…

Pretty, Pretty Pictures: I have to say, I’m not coming around on the art style of these books. It’s not a complete loss, but I think there’s a stark difference in quality between the two styles. On one hand, I think the graphics are excellent when done in the more realistic style used for the animals. I also think the larger spreads across two pages and the horror aspects are well done. The descriptions of morphing in the books were always horrific, but when you see it depicted on the page…man, it really captures how truly disgusting this stuff looks. I mean, look at this!

But, I have to say, I’m really not loving the cartoon images of the kids themselves. I wanted to give it more of chance than just the first book, where I didn’t love the fact that Tobias and Rachel looked so similar or the strange choice with the red noses. But this book just confirmed some of my worst fears. If you look at these characters, they all just look exactly the same in the most generic of senses. You wouldn’t even be able to tell who is a boy or who is a girl based on images of just their faces in some of the panels (a picture of Cassie really highlights this at one point where I honestly had to do a double take to remind myself that there wasn’t a random Black boy in this story). This fact is really highlighted early in the story when we first meet Melissa. Here’s the first panel we see her in:

Without the speech bubble, which of these characters is which?? Ultimately, Melissa is given the silly freckles purely to identify and differentiate her later in the book. And that just seems to me to be a failure of the art itself. I mean, I’m still glad these graphic novels are being made so I have a hard time being this critical, but it honestly feels as if the artist either can’t be bothered to draw interesting and unique characters or simply isn’t capable of it while using this cartoonish style. Given the quality of the realistic stuff, I know he’s talented. So it feels like it must be a choice. But it’s the kind of choice that feels as if it’s talking down to its readers: hey, these are just kids and kids are the target audience, why bother making them look like anything other than bobble head cartoons? I don’t know. I’m not a fan.

Our Fearless Leader:  Jake is one of the few characters that I think is drawn with a distinct face. His chin is a bit more pointed than the rest, and that difference stood out more and more as I became increasingly frustrated by the other characters. As for the story, there was a nice section in the middle devoted to a conversation between Rachel and Jake about their experiences (nightmares) after morphing frantic-minded prey animals. I like that this much page time was devoted to what can be seen as a pretty small character moment. There’s also an interesting line where Rachel gets a bit defensive saying that Jake is talking down to her because she’s his younger cousin. I can’t remember whether or not we knew that she was the younger of the two from the books? If so, I had forgotten and found it to be an interesting little tidbit here that she’s only a few weeks younger than Jake.

Xena, Warrior Princess: This book is pretty faithful to the original, so there isn’t a lot of new stuff to discuss with regards to Rachel’s experiences in the story. I will say, I really liked seeing Rachel’s mom and sister portrayed on the page. These were nice little moments to get to see one version of what these characters could look like. We get a lot of descriptions of what the main characters looked like in the original text, but we really have basically nothing to go on for any/all side characters. It was also nice to see these moments between Rachel and her mom and Rachel and Jordon to highlight the difference between her own warm, caring family and the cold, prison-like existence that Melissa is suffering through. I really like these sorts of subtle contrasts that the graphic novel can deploy. The book doesn’t come right out and say it, but it’s there all the same.

One thing I didn’t really like was the way the scene was drawn when Rachel is running away from the thugs to morph an elephant in the alley. Granted, again, it’s now been a few years from when I read this book for the original re-read series, but I guess I had it in my mind that Rachel was more annoyed from the very start and never frightened. Whereas here she’s drawn as being legitimately afraid at first, which I think is totally out of character. Rachel wants to take the fight to Visser Three himself, no way is she going to be wincing away from two jerks on the street.

A Hawk’s Life:  Not a lot from Tobias. I did like all of the bird action in the very first scene and the way that was all drawn out. Rachel’s outrage about the guys shooting at a bald eagle “a national symbol!!!” is excellent. There were also some lovely images later on of Tobias flying, especially one when he flies away with shrew!Rachel to help give her time to get control of her morph. The way the sky and the silhouettes were drawn was striking.

Peace, Love, and Animals:  Given how horrifying the images of the morphing is, I was glad we got to see a panel of Cassie with her raptor wings and Marco’s comment that they all look like freak show contestants while Cassie gets to look like an angel. It was a really nice juxtaposition and a moment that really worked well with the graphic elements. Other than that, Cassie has a pretty subdued go of it. We get some good animal facts from her about the prey mindset and the abilities of cats (there’s a good joke from Marco when Cassie comments that a cat’s eyesight is 8 times better than a humans), but that’s about it.

The Comic Relief: Marco is pretty much the same here as he is in the book. We get more groundwork laid about his home life and why he’s reluctant to fight. His dialogue is by far the funniest and best, per the book’s standard as well. There was one throwaway bit that I thought was odd, however. At one point, a character, I think it was Cassie, compliments Marco on his haircut. From the books, we know this does happen and is commented on but it doesn’t happen until Marco’s second go around as a narrator, all the way through to book number 10. But then the really strange thing is that Marco was depicted with short hair in the first graphic novel, too. Which, honestly, given my comments already about the cartoon style proving challenging to differentiate between male or female characters, I can see the choice to not have him with long hair from the very start. But looking back at the art from the first book, it’s clear that the styling for his hair is slightly different, but if anything, it’s drawn as longer and more shaggy here in the second book, not cut shorter at all. It’s very strange. I don’t think this small of a change really warranted any dialogue at all, but then to write it in as a notable haircut rather than a style change, which is the most that can be said, is strangely incongruent.

E.T./Ax Phone Home:  No Ax yet, but boy am I excited to get to him!

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Beyond what I said above about the disgustingly graphic images of morphing, there was a full page spread devoted to Rachel’s nightmare about being a shrew. Again, this is where the artist’s talents are really on display. I’ve only included half of the spread, but the other side is also covered in maggots swarming in and over an animal skull. I mean, the depiction of the nightmare is going to cause nightmares itself.

Couples Watch!: Sadly, I feel like we got even less from Tobias and Rachel here than we do in the books. We do get the line from Tobias that he doesn’t want anything to happen to her, so there are hints here and there, but for whatever reason, this relationship in particular just felt off. This probably is just due to the nature of the graphic novel format. Since the story relies only on dialogue and images, it’s pretty hard to depict true feelings between a girl and a hawk!boy when you can’t draw them interacting. On the other hand, to highlight this point, we do get this sweet panel coming fairly early in the book for Cassie and Jake:

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Again, since the horror aspects of the art are what work so well, the depictions of Visser Three and the terror he inspires are truly great. Even his Andalite form, which shouldn’t be terrifying in and of itself, is depicted in such a way as to be clearly intimidating. And then the panels showing him morphing the Vanarx and sucking out the Yeerk from a Controller are incredibly creepy and effective. I mean, Visser Three is essentially a cannibal at this point, and that is made pretty clear. And of course, the final battle with Visser Three morphing yet another big bad and chasing after the Animorphs is very well done. More on that below.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book:  Man, the Melissa stuff isn’t any easier when drawn out on the page rather than just described in a book. Plus, now I’m reading these books as a parent myself and boy, rough stuff. Especially the part where she follows Chapman out when he’s carrying cat!Rachel away in the crate. “Oh, I didn’t see you there.” “But daddy…I was crying.” Oooof! Not to sound like a broken record or anything, but again, AGAIN, I think the cartoon style let some of these heart-breaking moments down a bit. The reason this scene hits hard, and the same with the one where Melissa is crying in her bed, is because the writing and dialogue are so strong. The way the characters are drawn, there’s just so little that can be done to express these deep emotions, so it all falls to the writing. I’m having a hard time picturing some of the truly devastating moments that are coming up landing the way they should as shown on the faces of characters with red bubble noses.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I’d say the terrible plan is still the obvious one: where Rachel decides to morph a shrew to lure a tomcat out of a tree. Like Cassie points out, while cats often play with their food, sometimes they just go straight for the kill, too, and there’s really no way of predicting it one way or another. But also, specific to this version of the story, I’ll say that the use of the machinery in the construction site didn’t quite translate here. I can’t remember exactly how it was described in the books, but I felt like there I had a better sense of just how these machines were disrupting Visser Three’s plans. Here, we only see a few small shots of a solitary bulldozer, and it kind of fails to land as to why this would pose any sort of threat or disruption to what the Yeerks are doing.

Favorite Page/Panel: 

I really liked all of the pages that made up the final conflict between the Animorphs and Visser Three in his alien morph. But this one stood out for the sheer joy of the absurdity of it all. I mean, take that picture out of context. Just look at it. The crazy rock monster. The speech bubbles of the cat growling and alien roaring. The cat’s crazy Superman jump featured prominently in the top right corner. It’s all so whacky and fun, and I think it’s a perfect visual representation of the sheer joy that these books are to read, especially to younger audiences. In no other series of books are you going to get anything remotely like what Animophs has to offer.

Final Thoughts: Overall, I’m still continuing to enjoy reading these graphic novels. I won’t repeat myself about the art, but like I said, too, for all my complaining about that, I’d rather have the graphic novels as they are now than nothing at all. I do hope they continue to make them, but I think there’s room to combine some things going forward. These first six or so books are important enough to have their own adaptations independently, but I think this book specifically also highlights how some future stories could be combined or skipped. Mostly, I just want some adaptation, ANY ADAPTATION, to get to the David trilogy.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

Kate’s Review: “Aliens: Vasquez”

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Book: “Aliens: Vasquez” by V. Castro

Publishing Info: Titan Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: A groundbreaking Latinx Aliens novel by a rising star Latina author, featuring the fan-favorite character PFC Jenette Vasquez from the hit movie Aliens and the family she is forced to leave behind.

For the very first time, the canonical background of the breakout Aliens hero Jenette Vasquez, as well as the story of the children she was forced to leave behind as written by the rising Latina horror star V. Castro (Queen of the Cicadas).

Even before the doomed mission to Hadley’s Hope on LV-426, Jenette Vasquez had to fight to survive. Born to an immigrant family with a long military tradition, she looked up to the stars, but life pulled her back down to Earth—first into a street gang, then prison. The Colonial Marines proved to be Vasquez’s way out—a way that forced her to give up her twin children. Raised by Jenette’s sister, those children, Leticia and Ramon, had to discover their own ways to survive. Leticia by following her mother’s path into the military, Ramon into the corporate hierarchy of Weyland-Yutani. Their paths would converge on an unnamed planet which some see as a potential utopia, while others would use it for highly secretive research. Regardless of whatever humans might have planned for it, however, Xenomorphs will turn it into a living hell.

Review: Depending on the day and my mood, it’s a toss up between whether “Alien” or “Aliens” is my favorite film in the franchise (admittedly, I don’t really acknowledge any of the other films in the “Alien” universe because I don’t like any of them). They are such different movies in tone and theme and genre. But the one I revisit the most often is “Aliens”, as I do love the rag tag Colonial Marines who find themselves in a REALLY bad situation with a corrupt company, an traumatized expert, and a LOT of hungry and bloodthirsty Xenomorphs. One of the stand out marines is Vasquez, a tough as nails no nonsense brawler soldier who is one of the only women on the team. I love Vasquez as a character. One of the problems with Vasquez is that she is a Latina woman who is portrayed by a non-Latina in brownface. So when I saw that V. Castro, one of my favorite horror authors writing right now, was going to give Vasquez an origin story and explore her legacy in a new Sci-Fi horror novel, I was THRILLED. If there is any author who can reclaim the character of Jenette Vasquez, Castro is the one who can do it, as her horror stories have a Latine lens and perspective, AND she knows how to craft a gross and balls to the wall horror story. So I dove into “Aliens: Vasquez” with high hopes.

Haaa, look at Hicks in the background just amused as heck. (source)

“Aliens: Vasquez” is not only a deeper look into Jenette’s backstory, but it is also an exploration of her legacy after her death on LV-426 at the Hadley’s Hope Colony vis a vis the lives of her twin children Leticia and Ramón. I loved that Castro decided to go this route, as while the backstory for Jenette is great (more on that in a bit), there is only so much to work with there. So to think of it as the whole Vasquez legacy works very well. For Jenette, we see her upbringing in a close knit family that has a share of tragedy involving disease, poverty, and societal racism. Eventually she is charged with a crime she didn’t commit thanks to a corrupt cop, and has to choose between prison and military service. To make matters more upsetting, she eventually finds herself pregnant while enlisted, and is told that she can either abort, or have the babies and give them up never to be seen again, and both scenarios end with her forced sterilization. Given what he know about American history (and very RECENT history too) with government forced sterilization of non-white disenfranchised people, this is all very chilling. I loved seeing Vasquez go from somewhat ambitious teenager to hardened Marine, and seeing the various injustices that got her there.

But then there are the twins, Leticia and Ramón Vasquez, and that is the real heart of the story. We get to see these twins as they are raised by their loving aunt with no memory of their mother, and how this loss sets them on two very different paths. For Leticia, she wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps and joins up with the Marines, hoping to prove herself a worthy warrior not only for her mother, but for their family’s tradition of women fighters. For Ramón, it means gathering enough power that he will never feel powerless again. We mostly follow Leticia, and I felt like I got to know her better, but what we do get to know about Ramón is well conceived and feels very realistic. I thought that the twins paths were very on point for the overall tale, and also for the “Alien” themes, as while Leticia becomes a commando like other badass women in the franchise, Ramón ends up working at Weyland-Yutani, the corporation whose greed and thirst for power is what gets everyone into the Xenomorph mess in the first place. Let’s just say that it’s up to its old tricks, and Ramón feels a lot like Paul Reiser. I liked seeing them have to come together when things with the Xenomorphs go wrong. Because, of course, it goes wrong.

And let’s talk Xenomorphs. You need to have a solid focus on the Xenomorphs and all the action and body horror nastiness that comes with them, and I think, for the most part, Castro achieves this. There are the required ‘Weyland-Yutani just can’t leave it alone!’ themes, just as there are the really gross parasitic moments of chest bursters, but there are new ideas like what if someone tried to cross breed Xenomorphs with other creatures to create other kinds of horrible bioweapons? It’s disgusting and unsettling as hell, and it felt very in character and in universe. My only qualm was that I almost felt like, when it all comes together with the research, the Xenomorphs, and the twins colliding, it almost wasn’t enough action and climax. That isn’t to say that things earlier should have been scrapped or cut. I would argue that this book should have been longer to explore this confrontation between Xenomorphs, a marine, and an enabler as it all comes to a head. Especially when that marine and enabler are twins.

Overall, this is a very worthy addition to the “Alien” universe and I thought that it was a great reclamation of a character that is well loved in a movie fandom. Fans of “Aliens”, you should read this.

Rating 8: A fun exploration of a fan favorite character that moves her beyond Hollywood dated stereotypes, “Aliens: Vasquez” feels right at home in the “Alien” franchise.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Aliens: Vasquez” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists yet, but it would fit in on “Alien Books & Tie-Ins”, and “Latinx Horror/Fantasy”.

Serena’s Review: “Arch-Conspirator”

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Book: “Arch-Conspirator” by Veronica Roth

Publishing Info: Tor Books, February 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Outside the last city on Earth, the planet is a wasteland. Without the Archive, where the genes of the dead are stored, humanity will end.

Passing into the Archive should be cause for celebration, but Antigone’s parents were murdered, leaving her father’s throne vacant. As her militant uncle Kreon rises to claim it, all Antigone feels is rage. When he welcomes her and her siblings into his mansion, Antigone sees it for what it really is: a gilded cage, where she is a captive as well as a guest.

But her uncle will soon learn that no cage is unbreakable. And neither is he.

Review: Roth has become a must-read author for me recently. The last few books I’ve read from her have all surprised me with their ability to push the boundaries of their genres and leave me thinking about their stories and themes days later. So I was excited when I saw that she was releasing a dystopia/science fiction version of “Antigone,” knowing that whatever I was in for, it was something I wouldn’t want to miss.

The earth is a radiated hellscape, and humanity has been reduced to one, struggling city where just the effort of avoiding extinction takes up the priorities of almost every aspect of society. Antigone’s parents hoped for more, for themselves, for their children, and for their world. But instead they were met with a violent coup, and now Antigone and her siblings have grown up in the household of Kreon, their power-hungry uncle. As she has grown, so, too, has Antigone’s anger. And when her uncle pushes his power past what can be born, Antigone finds herself facing a world that badly needs to be shaken.

Like many others, I read “Antigone” back in high school and really haven’t thought much more about it since. I do remember lots of tragedy and death all around just so one man could learn the lesson of not being a stubborn ass. Or something like that, at least. So I was curious to see how close to the original Roth stuck with this adaptation and how she would reconstruct a classical Greek story into a science fiction dystopia.

And I think the answers are that while she sticks fairly close to the original story, her abilities to write dystopian fiction should never be doubted, because she found very clever ways of adapting this ancient tale within futuristic and creative trappings all while exploring modern themes of power, science, and religion. Most especially, she finds a very unique way of adapting the central premise of the original story (Antigone attempting to perform banned funeral rites for her dead brother and being punished for this) into something that would raise the stakes of the entire situation. Here, these funeral rites hold much more power and import than as simple ritual acts. I don’t want to get into too many details about the world-building, but suffice it to say, it was a very clever interpretation, I thought.

Roth utilizes a multi-POV tactic with telling this story. While we do get more chapters from Antigone’s perspective than anyone else’s, we also see through her brother’s eyes, her sisters, Kreon’s son (with whom Antigone has an arranged marriage), Kreon’s wife, and even Kreon himself. I really enjoyed what all of these perspectives brought to the story. But as much of the tale is focused on the role that women play in this world and the kinds of power that they wield even while their options are so limited, I found Kreon’s wife and Antigone’s sister to have some of the more powerful sections (other than Antigone herself). Given how short this novella is, I was impressed by how well Roth fleshed out these themes in ways that will strike true to readers.

I also liked the way that the science fiction elements were used. There were a few things that left me questioning if I thought too hard about the mechanics of it all, but for the most part, I was so thoroughly invested in the story itself that I didn’t get too bogged down in these details. I also liked that while Roth remained true to the story as a whole, her story ends with both the necessary tragedy but also a sense of hope. I think this hope is necessary to any good dystopian story, and Roth neatly balances it while not loosing the sense of the original story. Fans of dystopian stories as well as retellings of tales that aren’t fairytales will likely enjoy this book.

Rating 8: Full of tragedy and hope, Roth uses the lens of a classic tale to shine a light on the power of women and the individual.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Arch-Conspirator” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Antigones and Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2023

Kate’s Review: “Wayward”

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Book: “Wayward” by Chuck Wendig

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Five years ago, ordinary Americans fell under the grip of a strange new malady that caused them to sleepwalk across the country to a destination only they knew. They were followed on their quest by the shepherds: friends and family who gave up everything to protect them.

Their secret destination: Ouray, a small town in Colorado that would become one of the last outposts of civilization. Because the sleepwalking epidemic was only the first in a chain of events that led to the end of the world–and the birth of a new one. The survivors, sleepwalkers and shepherds alike, have a dream of rebuilding human society. Among them are Benji, the scientist struggling through grief to lead the town; Marcy, the former police officer who wants only to look after the people she loves; and Shana, the teenage girl who became the first shepherd–and an unlikely hero whose courage will be needed again.

Because the people of Ouray are not the only survivors, and the world they are building is fragile. The forces of cruelty and brutality are amassing under the leadership of self-proclaimed president Ed Creel. And in the very heart of Ouray, the most powerful survivor of all is plotting its own vision for the new world: Black Swan, the A.I. who imagined the apocalypse.

Against these threats, Benji, Marcy, Shana, and the rest have only one hope: one another. Because the only way to survive the end of the world is together.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

So, when I was reading “Wanderers” back in 2019 I felt a mild anxiety that I was constantly trying to write off. ‘A deadly pandemic? Eh, that’s not something you need to be worrying about, Kate. No way.’

Joke’s on me, I guess. (source)

Little did I realize that a year later it would be a reality that was consuming so many of us. Luckily it wasn’t a White Mask level of death, though that doesn’t mean it’s been a cake walk by ANY means. But, now it’s 2022, and while we are still in the midst of this life changing pandemic with death and sickness, I feel more secure than I did two years ago, or even one year ago (thank you, under 5 vaccines and lots and lots of therapy!). So much so that I could actually pick up “Wayward”, Chuck Wendig’s sequel to the pandemic end of world thriller/sci-fi/dystopia “Wanderers”. You probably remember how I couldn’t bring myself to read books about sickness and the world ending for awhile. I guess the fact I read “Wayward” shows how far I’ve come. Though now the worry is that it’s predicting a whole other society altering reality, with it’s huge themes of Christo-fascism and white supremacist violence…. Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s dive in.

“Wayward” picks up shortly after “Wanderers” ends, and five years after the White Mask pandemic has wiped out a huge majority of the world population. The surviving ‘Sleepwalkers’ and ‘Shepherds’ are living in the isolated Colorado town of Ouray, where the seemingly benevolent (but actually dangerous) Black Swan AI is continuously running and trying to create a new world. There are familiar faces like Benji, the former scientist who is now a well respected town leader, and Shana, the first ‘shepherd’ who is now pregnant with the first child to be born in the community (who was in stasis for five years like the sleepwalkers were). At the end of “Wanderers” there were hints that this perfect rebuilding community was actually on a precipice, and we get to see that play out as Wendig tinkers with ideas of dangerous AI, and groupthink that can lead to cultlike behavior, unrest, and power grabs. I liked how Wendig did some full exploration of this, because the community that was being envisioned at the end of “Wanderers” felt a little too pat. I also liked revisiting Benji, Shana, et al, because I had forgotten how much I liked them and I liked seeing how they had all changed from the first book up through this book. The changes are believable both as to how they would change due to their circumstances, but also as to how they as characters would have changed with their base personalities in mind. Shana in “Wanderers” is pretty different from Shana in “Wayward”, but she is still Shana, and so forth, and it is clear that Wendig knows his cast inside and out. It is their inherent complexity and goodness that keeps this book from treading too bleak.

Though that isn’t to say that it isn’t bleak at times. Oh soothsayer Chuck Wendig, I must say that I’m a bit on edge that you have put another horrible thing out into the universe, given what happened last time! And that is the theme of Christ-fascist authoritarian groups trying to wipe out those they deem inferior against the backdrop of the end of society. Though I don’t think we spent too much time with white supremacist and totalitarian would be president Ed Creel in “Wanderers”, he has his own perspective chapters in “Wayward”, and good God we are once again getting into too real territory. Creel is a clear Donald Trump analog, but obvious or not it doesn’t make him any less terrifying as he continues to amass a white supremacist and violent following to do his bidding even as he bides his time in an underground bunker for the uberwealthy. “Wanderers” came out during the Trump Presidency when we were seeing these groups like the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers and literal Neo-Nazis sing his praises, and now “Wayward” puts new focus on this in a post January 6 world. It’s all a bit on the nose at times, but that doesn’t make it any less resonant. Sure, the AI run amok themes were also scary, but that was more on the Sci-Fi side of things so it didn’t catch my anxiety as much as this all did. Maybe give it a few years.

But what I love about Wendig’s voice is that even through all this violence, trauma, sadness, and raw devastation, there is always hope. Hope through humor. Hope through love between family and friends. Hope that some places can get through a terrible thing like White Mask through their effort and community strength (I loved the idea of different parts of the world faring better based on factors ranging from environment to cultural aspects). Hope that no matter how bad things get, they can be addressed and salvaged. It’s hard to remember that hope is there, at times. But Wendig reminds us throughout the narrative, and I really liked that.

“Wayward” is a solid follow up to an end of world story that looks at what could come next. Wendig taps into a lot of modern anxieties and fears, but he also knows how to keep the reader hopeful. We need that sometimes.

Rating 8: A melancholy and suspenseful but ultimately hopeful follow up to an apocalypse book that now feels a bit too real, “Wayward” brings us back to Ouray and examines what happens after the world as we know it ends.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wayward” is included on the Goodreads list “Hugo 2023 Eligible Novels”.

Book Club Review: “Old Man’s War”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Book Bingo” where we drew reading challenges commonly found on book bingo cards from a hat and chose a book based on that.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi

Publishing Info: Tor Books, December 2005

Where Did We Get This Book: Audiobook from the library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Bingo Prompt: A book set on a ship

Book Description: John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce– and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine–and what he will become is far stranger.

Kate’s Thoughts

I will be the first to admit that when I saw that this book was the choice for our Book Club, I groaned. Not only was it Science Fiction, one of my less liked genres, it was also MILITARY fiction, ANOTHER of my less liked genres. But having had good experiences with John Scalzi in the past, I downloaded the audiobook, set it on 1.5x speed, and decided to listen to it while going on a long trip up north, so that I could be a captive audience of sorts. And you know what? I did not dislike this book in the way that I thought I would!

Don’t misunderstand me; I still had a hard time with the science fiction, and I still didn’t like the military themes (and even though the colonialism in this book wasn’t super cut and dry in the morality of it within this universe and circumstance, I still was a little put off by it). But there were a few things I did really like. For one, it reminded me of “Starship Troopers” in a lot of ways, a sci-fi film I do really enjoy. For another, there are themes of a non-human being having to learn to be human/connect with the human that they themselves have kind of inhabited, which is SUCH a favorite trope of mine (Hello “Starman” and Illyria from “Angel”! I love you both so much!). And finally, and the moment that made me go from ‘eh, this is okay’ to ‘HOLY SHIT THIS IS SUDDENLY AMAZING?!’, we have Master Sgt Ruiz. The trash talking, belittling, no nonsense and SO GODDAMN FUNNY sergeant that our main character John Perry has to answer to. Everything about this character had me howling with laughter as I drove up through the North Woods. Everything.

So, I was anticipating a miss and ended up really liking “Old Man’s War”! I don’t think I’m going to continue the series, but this first book was enjoyable.

Serena’s Thoughts

Science fiction is solidly within my genre preferences. And, let’s admit it, a lot of science fiction has cross-over with military fiction, so fans of the former generally are ok to some extent with the latter. I’ve also read some good military fantasy fiction and enjoyed that as well. Probably for similar reasons as Kate, I would likely struggle with military fiction written in our modern, very real world (the weird fetishization of it seen in things like the NFL comes to mind). But I do think that fantasy/science fiction allows readers to explore aspects of military fiction in interesting ways. In these imaginary realms, the author is freed of some of the pat positions and previously established understandings of the military and warfare that a reader brings with them. Instead, the author can freely explore the much more complicated history, morality, and purpose of a military force and the types of conflict they can find themselves in. It’s too easy in our modern understanding to look at such things and come up with simple, comfortable, black and white, right and wrong decisions. Books like this force readers to challenge their own positions and tackle complicated questions that don’t leave us comfortably assured of what the right answer is. Through this exercise, I’ve found that books like this accomplish one of the most unique and powerful abilities that reading brings by exposing readers to ideas, peoples, circumstances that they wouldn’t possibly experience in their ordinary life.

So, too, I found the colonization topic to be interesting as well. Again, there are no easy answers here and readers are not allowed to fall back on easy “good” or “evil” understandings of what is happening. Scalzi walks the story through some landmine-filled topics. And through his character, a very human, very sympathetic man, the reader must also grapple with the world that Scalzi is presenting and what, if anything, may be applicable to how we understand human nature, our history and our future.

I also particularly liked a discussion on religion and culture that comes later in the book. Like many other good science fiction stories, it is an excellent look at how people attempt to graft their own understanding of morality, religion, and culture onto a foreign body. In these examples, the foreign bodies are literal aliens, so there are also very creative and interesting new religions and cultures at their heart. But the idea remains the same, regardless. This one I thought was particularly interesting, and, if anything, I wish the story had focused a bit more on this aspect of things. And (here’s where I really agree with Kate about military fiction) less on detailed descriptions of space battles and laser guns.

I’m also totally with Kate about the amazinginess that was Master Sgt Ruiz. I literally laughed out lout several times during his page time. Overall, this was much more my sort of thing than Kate’s, but I don’t think anyone who regularly reads this blog is surprised by that! I think the pacing was a bit strange, and the story would jump from one scene to another without much transition, but I enjoyed the themes and the characters of this book well enough. Science fiction readers will likely enjoy it!

Kate’s Rating 7: I enjoyed this more than I thought I would! A little “Starship Troopers”, a little ‘learning to be human’, and a hilarious drill sergeant made for a combination that worked for me.

Serena’s Rating 8: So full of action and set at a galloping pace, you almost forget to think about some of the challenging themes the book is digging into, but when you do, they are interesting, indeed.

Book Club Questions

  1. Does the future world and universe in this book seem believable and possible?
  2. What do you think is the motivation of the Colonial Union and Defense Force?
  3. What did you think of the humor in this book? Did it add to the reading experience? Take away from it?
  4. How did the themes of battle fatigue and feelings of inhumanity strike you?
  5. What alien races did you like best and what alien races were your least favorite?
  6. What were your thoughts on Jane Sagan and her character arc?
  7. Would you volunteer in the Colonial Union?

Reader’s Advisory

“Old Man’s War” is included on the Goodreads lists “Fantastic Future Warfare Novels”, and “Excellent Space Opera”.

Next Book Club Pick: “In a Midnight Wood” by Ellen Hart

Serena’s Review: “Eversion”

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Book: “Eversion” by Alastair Reynolds

Publishing Info: Orbit, August 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: From the master of the space opera, Alastair Reynolds, comes a dark, mind-bending SF adventure spread across time and space, Doctor Silas Coade has been tasked with keeping his crew safe as they adventure across the galaxy in search of a mysterious artifact, but as things keep going wrong, Silas soon realizes that something more sinister is at work, and this may not even be the first time it’s happened.

In the 1800s, a sailing ship crashes off the coast of Norway. In the 1900s, a Zepellin explores an icy canyon in Antarctica. In the far future, a spaceship sets out for an alien artifact. Each excursion goes horribly wrong. And on every journey, Dr. Silas Coade is the physician, but only Silas seems to realize that these events keep repeating themselves. And it’s up to him to figure out why and how. And how to stop it all from happening again.

Review: I received an ARC of this book in the mail this month, and it really couldn’t have been more timely! While I love science fiction, of the genres I read, I probably know the fewest authors in this genres who are currently writing. It’s also a sweeping genre full of a lot of different types of stories, some of which appeal to me more than others. But I had heard good things about Reynolds in the past, and this story also seemed like an interesting combination of genres, including historical fiction and mystery/thrillers alongside the obvious science fiction. And man, what a pleasant surprise it was!

Doctor Silas Coates set out on what, for him, should have been a fairly straight forward job: to serve as the on-board doctor on an exploratory mission. The ship and crew have been hired to discover and research a mysterious foreign object located in the deepest, darker corners of the known world. But as the mission progresses, Silas begins to suspect that not only does he know very little about the nature of this mission, but that something greater is at work. Increasingly, what could at first be hand-waved as deja vu begins to feel like something more. As if…perhaps…he’s done this all before.

If my description of this book sounds vague (as does the official one), that’s because this is one of those great, but frustrating to review, books where much of the appeal and tension of the book is built around the mysteries at the heart of the story. That being the case, there’s not a whole lot that I can talk about that wouldn’t spoil some of the best aspects of the entire reading experience. I can say that while a primary mystery is at the heart of the story, there were definitely more than one to be found. In fact, the minute you think you’ve begun to piece together exactly what’s going on, the book would skip away, revealing yet another secret beneath the last. This made the reading experience incredibly fun and addictive; I definitely stayed up way to late finishing the book as it was almost physically impossible to put it down past a certain point.

There was also a great blend of historical fiction and science fiction. At various points in the book you could get lost on the page and feel as if you were fully immersed in a period piece following an old time sailing ship. At another, the ins and outs of space exploration and advanced technology take center stage. And the solid writing transitions smoothly from one scene and setting to another, never missing a step.

Silas was also an excellent main character. We feel his bewilderment and increasing fear as the story builds. But it’s his steadfast commitment to his job and his dedication to the friendships he has begun to build on this mission that really hold the story together. As he remains the only consistent aspect of the story, as a character, a lot is riding on his shoulders, and I thought he carried it well. I, for one, had a hard time not skipping ahead to the end of the book just to make sure everything worked out for him in the end. Something I can neither confirm nor deny!

The book was also a lot spookier than I had expected going in. Not only was the building tension of the entire situation incredibly stressful, but there were some significant fear factors involved in the story. The unknown, of course. But also claustrophobia, body horror, and the general fear of the strange and bizarre. That said, it’s definitely not a horror novel, and I found the scary aspects to be balanced well by the more sentimental moments.

Overall, I really liked this book! It was a fun, fast read that held more than one surprise at the heart of the story. You’ll be left guessing and frantically turning pages all through the night!

Rating 9: All the things: historical! thriller! science fiction! horror! And all at a clipping pace that will leave you breathless with anticipation.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Eversion” can be found on this Goodreads list: Science fiction & fantasy roundup, 2022

Joint Review: “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau”

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Book: “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Del Rey, July 2022

Where Did We Get This Book: We received eARCs from NetGalley and Edelweiss+.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night comes a dreamy reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mexico.

Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction. For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU is both a dazzling historical novel and a daring science fiction journey.

Kate’s Thoughts

It is basically guaranteed at this point that if Silvia Moreno-Garcia has a book coming out, no matter what the genre, I am going to read it. I have enjoyed practically all of her books and her chameleon-like ability to merge into practically any genre as though she is a master of it. And while I haven’t read “The Island of Doctor Moreau”, I know enough about it that the idea of her taking it on was incredibly tantalizing. Especially since she decided to set it in the Yucatán during a volatile time in Mexican political history. And lo and behold, even though I wasn’t super familiar with the source material, and even though I’m not generally a Sci-Fi fan, “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” worked wonders for me.

I think that it’s really the setting and the descriptions that gave it the extra kick for me. Moreno-Garcia has never been shy when it comes to addressing various social aspects of Mexican culture and history, and lord knows that Spanish colonialism and imperial oppression are themes that fit right into the original story of the Other and men who believe themselves to be able to play God. We have Dr. Moreau and his daughter Carlotta, who are living in isolation as Moreau creates ‘hybrids’, beings of combined animal and human genetics, which he does in pursuit of science. But funding has to come from somewhere, and therefore the wealthy Spanish descended benefactors intend to give Moreau money in exchange for laborers for their plantation. So we already have one central caste system with our main characters (as well as an outlier of Montgomery, an English doctor who is the overseer of the hybrids who is trying to escape his own dark past), one that reflects foreign influences, Spanish imperialism, and those perceived as less than. I liked seeing how Moreno-Garcia explored these themes, through the eyes of both Carlotta but also Montgomery as they have to face realities about their complicity, as well as things about their own identities. The historical aspects are on point, and Moreno-Garcia always has some great insights to explore through the genre conventions.

The streak continues for my love of Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Even if you are unfamiliar with the original tale, “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” will have a lot to offer. Do yourself a favor and dive into Moreno-Garcia’s works if you haven’t yet, and here is as good a place as any to start!

Serena’s Thoughts

I think there are a few things you can now expect from a book authored by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. First, she’ll have stellar characters and the story will be told from the perspective of several of them (even more unique to her, the “villain” of many of her stories will also have a perspective point). Second, the story may be a slow-burn as far as the overall tempo of the story, but if you have faith, things will very much get moving before long. And third, you can never expect what genre you will find yourself in with this author. She has an uncanny ability of weaving together a variety of seemingly completely different concepts and themes and somehow…magic happens! We’ve already seen a mixture of the classic Gothic horror story with a Mexican setting and themes of colonialism. And here, we have a reimaging of the “The Island of Doctor Moreau” set in the Yucatan peninsula during the 1800s. It’s horror, it’s science fiction, it’s historical fiction. All at once!

I only knew the most broad points of the original tale, so I can only confirm that this story was approachable as new-comer. I was able to get a pretty decent understanding of that story, but having not read it myself, I can’t say what details may or may not match up. What I can say is that Moreno-Garcia uses the platform offered up by this story (a grieving doctor and his “monstrous” creations) as a platform to explore themes of identity and otherness, and the combination works really well. Our main character, the titular daughter of the doctor, brings a unique perspective to the story, as a young woman coming into her own in a very isolated and strange environment.

As I said, one of the best things about this story is how it blends the science fiction and horror elements with the historical backdrop of this region during this time period. Like the original story itself, I didn’t have a ton of knowledge of the politics and parties involved during this time period, but the book does an excellent job introducing readers. The author also includes a great note at the end of the story that speaks to her research into this period of history. I definitely recommend this book to science fiction/horror readers, and to anyone who has enjoyed Moreno-Garcia’s books in the past!

Kate’s Rating 8: A science fiction tale that steeps in literary description and a lush historical setting, “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” is another enjoyable read from genre jumper Silvia Moreno-Garcia!

Serena’s Rating 8: Another unique entry by one of the most reliable (but genre unreliable) authors of the day. Should be a hit with a wide range of readers!

Reader’s Advisory

“The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” is included on the Goodreads lists “Latino Science Fiction”, and “Historical Fiction Set in Latin America”.

Kate’s Review: “The Insane God”

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Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “The Insane God” by Jay Hartlove

Publishing Info: Water Dragon Publishing, May 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the author’s publicist.

Where You Can Get This Book: Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: Nightmare on Elm Street meets The Stand. A meteorite fragment cures a teenaged trans girl’s schizophrenia but leaves her with visions of ancient warring gods annihilating each other in space. As the Earth hurtles toward the cloud that is the shattered bodies of those eternal enemies, their eons-old conflict is rekindled on Earth to divide and destroy humanity. Can she and her brother stop the spread of global disaster?

Review: Thank you to Beverly Bambury for sending me a print copy of this book!

I mean, honestly, you are just tantalizing me when you say that something is “Nightmare on Elm Street” meets “The Stand”. Given that “The Stand” is an all time favorite of mine and I just love a good slasher movie, when I saw that comparison mix for “The Insane God” by Jay Hartlove, I just HAD to see what that meant. I knew I was throwing a bit of caution to the wind, as it was pretty clear that this story, while having those comparisons, was going to be a bit heavier on the Science Fiction than I am used to. But I’m game to experiment when the mood strikes me, and strike me it did.

There are some interesting ideas here to be sure! I loved the idea of space rocks giving people powers and interfering with biological functions like mental illness, and I liked the idea of how people that are touched by these things can have new powers awakened within them. Hartlove has set the stage for some well done suspense and some pretty solid consequences, with cosmic horror elements as well as some trippy surreal horror, like the ability to manipulate and bring things from dreams into the real world (THAT was so “Nightmare on Elm Street”). We also have some good old fashioned suspense regarding people who are raging bigoted assholes, and people who are true believers in one side of a space set feud and who want to bring about destruction on Earth. This leads to a lot of content warnings (specifically some pretty upsetting scenes of transphobia, Islamaphobia, violence due to both these things, and difficult moments involving mental illness and the stigma that can come with it). But we also get a coming of age story in which a teenage girl finds herself a potential savior of mankind, all while grappling with her own identity as a trans woman, a recently cured schizophrenic (due to otherworldly influence), and as a sister. Hartlove melds them all together into a fast paced narrative that has a lot of ideas, and it mostly comes together pretty well!

There is also the fact that our protagonist Sarah is a trans woman, a representation that we are finally seeing more and more of in genre fiction and horror. It’s important to note that Jay Hartlove is not trans, and that as a cis woman I can’t really tell you if Sarah is a good representation of a trans character. That said, I did look into Hartlove’s background and various interviews, and he does have a trans child and a non-binary child, and it’s pretty clear that he has written this story with a hope of giving trans people characters they can seen themselves in. Sometimes it comes off a little clunky and hamfisted, at least to me, and again, I’m not really someone who can judge how well representative Sarah was and whether her experiences ring true or false. But it really does seem like Sarah’s characterization has all the best intentions, and as a character I thought that she was complex and interesting, and was very easy to root for. At the end of the day I liked her a lot. And I hope that we get more trans characters in genre fiction, and more trans authors in the mix to tell those stories.

I think that ultimately this was more heavily Science Fiction in a cosmic sense, which I knew going into it. I always like to give genres that I’m not super into a try, especially if it seems like there could be some crossover interest, and as I mentioned above, describing it as “Nightmare on Elm Street” meets “The Stand” would imply a lot of crossover! And I do get the comparisons, given the creative ways that Hartlove toys with dreaming and cosmic and existential end of world elements with warring factions within the chaos. Still and all, it did get into the Sci-Fi weeds a bit, which will probably work for a lot of people!

“The Insane God” is a bit of an out there Sci-Fi/horror story that I thought was pretty creative. Sure it has some stumbles here and there, but there is so much that feels unique, and it has its heart firmly in place.

Rating 7: Super creative and outside of the box, though maybe a little too heavy on the Sci-Fi for this reader.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Insane God” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of now, but I think it would fit in on “Cosmic & Lovecraftian Horror”.

Joint Review: “Dead Silence”

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Book: “Dead Silence” by S.A. Barnes

Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, February 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: We received eARCs from NetGalley and Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Titanic meets The Shining in S.A. Barnes’ Dead Silence, a SF horror novel in which a woman and her crew board a decades-lost luxury cruiser and find the wreckage of a nightmare that hasn’t yet ended.


Claire Kovalik is days away from being unemployed—made obsolete—when her beacon repair crew picks up a strange distress signal. With nothing to lose and no desire to return to Earth, Claire and her team decide to investigate.

What they find at the other end of the signal is a shock: the Aurora, a famous luxury space-liner that vanished on its maiden tour of the solar system more than twenty years ago. A salvage claim like this could set Claire and her crew up for life. But a quick trip through the Aurora reveals something isn’t right. Whispers in the dark. Flickers of movement. Words scrawled in blood. Claire must fight to hold onto her sanity and find out what really happened on the Aurora, before she and her crew meet the same ghastly fate.

Thank you to NetGalley and Edelweiss+ for providing us with eARCs of this novel!

Kate’s Thoughts

We’ve gone over this before, but I always like to preface my reviews of this genre with a note: I’m not super into Sci Fi as a genre, though there are certain exceptions that I am good with. Namely, “Star Trek”, the original “Star Wars”, and Space Horror as a subgenre. So when I saw “Dead Silence” by S.A. Barnes being chatted about on Twitter and Goodreads, I couldn’t help but have my interest piqued. Something described as “Titanic” meets “The Shining” is bound to be a unique combination, so I tossed my Sci Fi apprehension aside and took a chance! Especially since I was also getting some serious “Event Horizon” vibes from the description.

Where we’re going we won’t need eyes to see… (source)

And if you throw in “Alien” and “Aliens” into this mix, you pretty much have “Dead Silence”, which makes it a familiar but engaging space horror novel. Barnes does a good job of setting up our story, with our protagonist Claire at the end of her run as a Team Lead for a corporate space mission, who is worried about what she does next, as she has no money and no prospects due to a checkered past. So when she and her crew stumble upon a distress signal from the long lost space liner Aurora, which disappeared with numerous wealthy passengers on board, she sees an opportunity she can’t pass up. Things, of course, don’t go as well as she would hope, and carnage ensues. And in terms of space horror beats, “Dead Silence” hits them all pretty well with a combination of slow burn build up, well done exposition, and a genuinely disturbing scenario that will set the reader on edge. I was enthralled during the first half of the book, loving the haunted ship and how it was messing with Claire and her crew, as well as how Barnes slowly reveals Claire’s backstory and why she is already perhaps a little unreliable in her own mind in terms of what she thinks she is, or isn’t seeing.

But it’s definitely familiar. From a mysterious distress signal to a ship that perhaps is haunted and drives people to the brink to a corporation having a vested interest in what may or may not be on board, “Dead Silence” has a lot of elements that are straight call backs to other space horror stories. I think that had we not diverted from the original ‘crew goes aboard an abandoned vessel and finds terrible things’ plot, I probably would have enjoyed it more, but when we get to the very “Aliens”-esque ‘and now they’re forcing her to go back for their own motives’ plot in the second half, I was a little less enthused. That isn’t to say that it was poorly done, as it wasn’t. I still found it entertaining. But once a bit of the mystery was gone, or at least had changed a bit, the dread and suspense went down for me. And perhaps that’s because it started to lean more on other Sci Fi things that don’t resonate as much for me.

Regardless, I had a fun time reading “Dead Silence”. It totally makes me want to revisit the stories it was paying homage to.

Serena’s Thoughts

Hi! Surprised to see me reviewing anything with the slightest twinge of “horror”? But, like Kate with her reading of science fiction stories, I do make exceptions for horror stories that cross over into my preferred genres. I’ve read a few good horror fantasies last year, but this is the first horror sci-fi book I’ve read in quite some time. And man, emphasis on the “horror” part!

Like Kate references, there have been plenty of science fiction horror stories in the past, both on the screen and on the page. So with that in mind, going in I always feel like there are two rather predictable routes the book can take. And this book does employ one of those and some other commonly seen tropes. That said, the actual horror, dread, and jump scares of the book still came in hot and fast. The first half of the book had me on the edge of my seat. And, I won’t lie, several of of these scenes have stuck with me and popped into my mind at inopportune times when trying to get to sleep, even days later. It also helped that Claire herself was an unreliable narrator, so it was hard to know exactly what horror was coming from her and what was coming from the strange happenings on the Aurora.

But I’ll also agree with Kate that the book lags a bit towards the second half. It almost feels like the author got up to speed on the horror of the situation and then slams on the brakes, cutting all tension and suspense off at its knees. From there, it shifts gears, and while the story does build to a different sort of tension, we never regain the jittery creepiness of the first half. And that’s such a shame! As we learn, there was plenty of scary stuff to come and for some reason the author just jets us away from it all unexpectedly. It’s a bizarre choice, frankly.

That said, I definitely enjoyed this read and gobbled it up over only a few reading sessions. For me, a little horror goes a long way (can’t have too much nightmare fuel all at once), but this was definitely a good choice for one my rare ventures into the genre.

Kate’s Rating 7: Pretty serviceable space horror with some good scary moments, but also pretty familiar in terms of plot points.

Serena’s Rating 7: Very creepy when it stuck to its horror themes, but a bit baffling with some of the choices the author made later in the story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dead Silence” is included on the Goodreads lists “Space Horror”, and “2022 Horror and Sci Fi Releases”.

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