Tag Archives: scifi

Reviews: Smartbrain (Penchant Series Book 1) by G. F. Smith

51a-zv-JbCL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_As is often the case, I received this book for the purposes of review. Despite that immense kindness, I give my candid thoughts below.

The summary on this one is tough because it evolves quite a bit as it goes on. It starts out mildly creepy techno thriller and ends somewhere completely different with all manner of action bits. I won’t give you much more detail than that to avoid spoilers.

So to the positive, our author is a reasonably good writer. His prose is measured, well constructed and easily consumed. His characters are real and vividly described and you do begin to feel for them. Mr. Smith’s creativity is also obvious as he puts his characters through a dizzying gauntlet of situations and one is left with a sort of whiplash once all is revealed.

The negatives, however, left me gasping in annoyance at the end. This book is exceptionally long and not because of the complexity of what’s going on. His description of events and situations is almost Dickensian in scope but with none of the quaintness of the old classics. One eventually has to skim in self-defense and at the end of a couple pages finds that nothing much has really been missed. Further, the book changes gears dramatically at 37% through (based on my Kindle’s reckoning) and it takes a long time to figure out what’s real and what’s not. This is, I suspect, part of the author’s intent, to keep us a bit confused as readers, but it’s a major distraction in a book that has a lot of difficulty holding the attention of its reader.

Further, some of the book’s most obvious points are in need of a close examination. The cover alone made me fear for the quality of the book and it took considerable reading time to assuage those fears. Unfortunately, the author’s choice of proper nouns is overly simplistic and almost young adult so they add a major distraction. The name of the device, for example: Smartbrain seems like something from a 60s B-movie. Add to that names like Vectren, Athena and ‘Brain Computer Interface’ and the tone of the whole book seems to be in a bit of conflict about whether it’s trying to be mid-20th century or more modern.

In summary, I think the author has a solid foundation for this story but it just tries to go too many places at once and takes far too long to get there. I packaged away my incredulity during the first third of book only to have it all spill out repeatedly in the last two-thirds and have to be packed away again. As much story as actually resides between these pages it could be half the length and cause me much less impulse to sigh, “What? You mean there’s MORE!?!??!” and consider hurling my Kindle across the room and taking a belt of whiskey. To quote Emperor Joseph II, there are simply too many notes… or something along those lines.

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Review of Hearing Thoughts by Anthony Diffley

As is often the case I received this book free for the purposes of review but I’m absolutely candid about it below because potential buyers deserve to know what it is they’re about to pay money for.

The nutshell on this novel is pretty well summed up by the back cover. Normally I would consider it a spoiler to reveal so much about the plot but since it IS on the back… Essentially, a high-power attorney is kidnapped by aliens and now can hear other people’s thoughts. Thus the title. Not exactly massively original really.

In most cases I try to frame a book by its positives and its negatives. In this case though I can’t really find anything even remotely positive to say about it. The story is trite and has been already been explored by dozens of other authors. The writing is deplorable and the dialog reminds me of a conversation you might hear in a Dick and Jane novel. I guffawed aloud when grown men started talking about their “tummies” and many of the scenes defy any knowledge of how the adult world works. It reminds me strongly of the videos you see in which a small child describes what they think their parents do all day at work.

In summary, while I always hate to take it to new authors with such vigor I can’t be party to anyone actually considering paying money for this. I’d encourage Mr. Diffley to keep at it and try a different idea with a new copy editor because the one you have has failed you terribly.

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Book reviews: One Person’s Craziness R. T. Ojas

As is often the case I received this book free for the purposes of review. Despite that kindness I’m absolutely honest about it below.

The nutshell overview on this one is that it’s a twlight zone type narrative that touches on alien abduction and alternative human origins. Saying much more would constitute a spoiler but you get the basic genre, I hope.

To the positive side, the narrative is pretty cliche in many ways but manages to find its feet in the end. For 85 pages it was a profound drag but in the last 6 it begins to resemble something worth reading. The text is also reasonably clean with only a few blatantly misused words.

To the negative, the writing is at times painful to endure. The author has fallen into the very common trap of including much irrelevant detail while also omitting many details that might be of interest. The text is rambling, repetitive, self-contradictory and profoundly cliche all the way down to the green-blooded aliens. A few textual samples follow:

“We could make anything out of anything. Literally.”

“As they approached the entrance to the vessel, she saw an opening through which she could slip through.”

“For some reason, I always liked the rain. Something about the rain falling always seemed to give me joy. On our island, it rained maybe once or twice a week. In some periods of the year it rained almost every day…” [tired of typing. you get the idea. It’s’ quite a lengthy and irrelevant hunk about rain]

“As we got pulled into the vessel, we both suddenly stopped yelling as we observed the interior of the vessel.”

In summary, there’s a small nugget of goodness in this book but it’s hidden under an absurd amount of poor writing and tired plot points.

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Universe 4 – Edited by Terry Carr 1974

519QW9-HHhL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Like our last post this too is a collection of rather random sci-fi goodness but this one is from the 70s. I give a brief reflection on my thoughts after reading each story below.


Assault on a City – Jack Vance
At 48 pages this one is a full-blown novella. At its heart, it is a story of class struggles in a future that has taken fashion to an amusing extreme. It’s a solid story and an easy read in an hour.


A Sea of Faces – Robert Silverberg
At under 20 pages this brief foray into the genre is primarily psychological. In it a woman with a mental disorder is treated and we see the situation from inside the mind of the patient. The trip back to consciousness is illustrated as a journey on a mysterious floating island that has to be steered back to the mainland so the patient can rejoin the rest of society.


And Read the Flesh Between the Lines – R. A. Lafferty
In this brief story we have what I would categorize as an alternative history of sorts. Our protagonist, if he can be called such, has an Australopithecus as a servant and lectures his guests that a full third of history has been intentionally wiped from the collective recollection of society. This is a bizarre and rather surreal tale and one would not go amiss in noting that what it lacks in plot it makes up for in setting of the scene.


My Sweet Lady Jo – Howard Waldrop
Weighing in at under 20 pages this one reads like a twilight zone script. I will attempt not to spoil but know merely that it has a wry twist at the end. I cannot claim that it’s a terribly original twist but a twist none the less. In the story, man has bridged the gap between the stars but is still in the early, clumsy phase that requires him to sleep away the decades waiting. One such intrepid group has made the journey to Terra Nova and back again. How will they get on with the people of Earth who have passed decades while they slumbered?


Stungun Slim – Ron Goulart
This is a story of a stark but fairly realistic future. Interestingly, I find that of all the stories in this collection, this one stuck with me the least. The only lasting impressions I have is of public executions and insane personal debt with the most notable item being a $4,000 personal computer from the J.C. Penney catalog.


Desert Places – Pamela Sargent
Like a previous story, this one reads like a Twilight Zone episode. In it, we follow a family as they move from house to house attempting to stay ahead of some destructive force that’s gobbling up their world. At the end we find that the destructive force…. well, now I wouldn’t tell you that, now would I? That would be obvious spoilage. Suffice to say that it’s a keen allegory that has played out a million times on a million worlds including our own


If the Stars Are Gods – Gordon Eklund and Gregory Benford
Of all the stories in this collection, this is probably my favorite. In a nutshell, aliens visit the Earth and they want to talk to the entity in charge. Which, it turns out, they believe to be the sun. The story goes into a fair amount of detail about how the aliens came to believe in the sentient nature of stars and points out effectively how our physical environment shapes our long-term mental framework about how the universe works. At the risk of somewhat of a spoiler I will reveal that the aliens evolved on a planet with an extremely elliptical orbit and large axial tilt so their seasons were acutely variable in temperature. At certain points when proximity to the sun coincided with the proper angle of inclination to the sun entire populations had to pick up and move to the other side of the planet. One wonders how early life could possibly evolve in such conditions but it does make one ponder the ramifications of such an arrangement. At any rate, as has been amply illustrated by my prolonged babbling, this one made an impression.


When the Vertical World Becomes Horizontal – Alexei Panshin
In direct opposition to my feelings about the previous story, this one left me flat. Clearly some huge mental shift is taking place in humanity during the course of the story but it is intentionally kept vague and impenetrable to the point that I cannot muster any emotion from this story at all.


And there you have it. Well, there I have it. I don’t honestly expect anyone to read these but some future version of me that’s trying to remember what that weird book was that had the story of the aliens that looked like the Apple logo. So hello, Future me! How’s it going? Did we ever figure out what that weird growth was in the corner of the back yard or did it take over the universe?

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The week in book reviews for 5/21

Well, here are the books that I scoured my brain with this week. It is, if I do say so myself, a pretty varied collection of randomness.


Alien Hunter: Underworld: A Flynn Carroll Thriller (Alien Hunter Series) by Whitley Strieber (*)

The nutshell summary of this book is simply that it’s gritty alien noir. Aliens come to earth. One man must stop them. That man stops them. Sorry if that’s a spoiler but that’s essentially what it boils down to.

To the positive side, the author has a unique take on the genre and the setting. No aliens are like Strieber’s and he isn’t afraid to go with something new and different. These aren’t your captain Kirk aliens. These are the terrifying and quiet Grays of your nightmares along with their many comrades from the stars.

To the negative, the whole thing is so incredibly implausible that it borders on idiocy. The aliens work in their quiet way but the hero somehow manages to go through so much and yet come out on the other side unscratched. I stopped counting the number of crippling injuries he had and almost threw the book in the trash when he underwent open brain surgery and then walked out of the hospital a few hours later. Related to this, the author wants to keep you engaged with gripping action but often when he tries to do so he seems to lose his grip on the narrative thread and the reader is simply pushed forward in the story and left wondering what happened. Many times a crescendo is reached and problems are somehow immediately resolved in a way that just isn’t explained. It’s as if a curtain of misdirection is laid over the story and we simply move on to the next bit. I’ve never quite read anything so poorly written.

In summary, this is a pretty strong avoid. It tries to be something great but just ends up being a disconnected mess. I read this through to the end but feel I could have spent my hours much more productively doing just about anything else.


I Don’t Believe God Wrote The Bible: The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To Another Reality. (Life) (Volume 1) by Gerald Freeman (**)

The nutshell on this book is that it’s the autobiographical retelling of the author’s adolescent adventures in Europe after overcoming his drug addiction and stepping out into the wider world. The story is a pretty typical hippie adventure of youthful excess and exuberant living. It does have a fairly strong moral thread that basically boils down to living the life you want to lead rather than feeling you have to adhere to someone else’s expectations.

To the positive, I love the book’s central message. The idea of grasping at life’s opportunities and not adhering to some societal standard is a strong one. The author gives us a fine example of how to pull yourself up by the proverbial bootstraps and suck the marrow from existence. We’d all do better to try to live more of our lives true to the example the author gives.

To the negative, as a narrative the story has a strong ‘you had to be there’ component. Freeman did a lot of amusing things but they all start to run together after a while. There’s not a lot of real surprises and things turn out in a pretty predictable way. It’s just not quite interesting or diverse enough to be a novel of wide appeal. Those who know the man will be vastly impressed but most casual readers will get bored after the 57th or 58th drunken escapade. Also, the book suffers from some textual errors which are fairly distracting. The whole thing needs a good sound drubbing by an editor.

In summary, this is an interesting slice of one man’s interesting life but it’s just not interesting enough to appeal to the average reader. It lacks narrative arc and progression and manages to travel across a fair amount of the European continent without actually going anywhere.


I Take You: A Novel (*****)

The nutshell view of the story is, as the blurb states, the story of a woman who really shouldn’t be getting married. She’s got every issue that traditionally disqualifies a woman from being ‘marriageable material’ from substance abuse to a Federal criminal record. Despite that, she still manages to be an incredibly adorable person.

To the positive side, this book is just a delightful romp. It fails to take itself seriously for even a full page and the vibrantly drawn characters are just made for a movie. The story is constantly and delightfully shifting and touches on some deep human questions specifically in the area of human sexuality and relationships. I’m a guy, not exactly the target audience, and I inhaled this in one long sitting while getting my knees tattooed. It’s a wonderful distraction even to the most obnoxious pains of life.

To the negative, this book will be incredibly polarizing to many. It’s got drugs and sex and alcohol and more sex and infidelity and incredibly graphic descriptions of sex. There’s a lot going on here and it’s not always terribly light-hearted and fluffy. But then again, what normal life IS all light-hearted and fluffy? Our protagonist is deeply “flawed” by societal standards, but is she really?

In summary, this was, for me, a grand highlight to the genre. I could have done without some of the gratuitous sex scenes, but the richness of the depiction was one that made you wish that maybe YOU were marrying into this land of ribald dysfunction and merriment.


Amsterdam: A Novel by Ian McEwan (***)

The nutshell view on this book is that it is essentially the story of a friendship torn asunder. The narrative is fairly complex and the writing exceptionally literary but it does take a really long time to get to its ‘hook.’ Even when it does so, the hook isn’t terribly strong and takes a fair amount of willpower to carry forward with.

So on the positive side, the book is exceptionally erudite and paints a fine and detailed picture of its protagonists. They are very real and vividly portrayed and one could imagine knowing them in real life. Their intercourse is fairly realistic and they carry on like old friends tend to.

To the negative, the book takes a long time to get find its way to something interesting. The first full third of this short novel sets the stage and I found my mind wandering terribly and I wondered what exactly why I was bothering. Once I found the hook the a-ha moment was brief and only mildly impactful.

In summary, I can’t really find any group of readers to whom I would recommend this book. It wallows in the shallows of mediocrity and is not one that will come to mind unbidden over the coming months. In fact, utterly forgettable I’m afraid.


Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders by Cole Cohen (***)

The nutshell view on this is that it’s the memoir of a woman who finds out one day that she has a hole in her brain the size of a lemon. From that point of introduction, the story spirals forwards and backwards in time describing her struggles before her diagnosis and her coping mechanisms afterwards. All in all it is an exceptionally detailed but rather disconnected tale.

To the positive side, the author is completely honest with us about her life. She’s candid and leaves no stone unturned from her sex life to just getting around town. The level of insight she grants us is extreme and she invites us into her life without apparent hesitation. Because of this, her treatise is a wonderful guide for anyone that finds themselves in a similar situation at least to the extent of the emotional and social aspects of such a diagnosis.

To the negative, the book as a narrative fails in many spots. The storyline is at times disjointed and fails to flow in anything approaching a consistent manner. The author seems to jump around in her story as much as she does geographically during this period. It is disconcerting and at times completely impossible to follow.

In summary, this is an intimate portrait painted with a confused brush. The author lets us into her life but once we get there the whole thing is a mass of carnival mirrors and foggy recollection. I understand the spirit of what the author is trying to say but her thesis is lost in a mass of proverbial spaghetti.

PS: I hope my review was helpful. If it was not, then please let me know what I left out that you’d want to know. I always aim to improve.


Snoopy, Master of Disguise (**)

The nutshell view on this book is that it’s a collection of about 100 classic strips from 1966 through 1987 in chronological order with one 4-panel comic per page. Most of the strips feature Snoopy prominently as doctor, Joe Cool, Masked Marvel, etc. The Red Baron is strangely omitted, however.

On the positive side, it’s hardly possible to say anything negative about Peanuts and Snoopy in particular. Snoopy is as adorable as always. However, as collections go this one just fails to be at all evocative. The omission of Snoopy’s most famous pseudonym aside, the collection just doesn’t have any cohesiveness; it’s as if comics were picked out somewhat at random. In a few instances a series of 3-4 consecutive days appears but for the most part each comic is a standalone. As a person who has ready the entire strip from beginning to end, I felt this a rather pale shadow of the true spirit of Schulz’s work. Further, printing one comic per page in a horizontal format seems like it’s just trying to waste paper and print as little content as possible.

In summary, a pretty large disappointment. I was really looking forward to this one but it turns out to be a very poor value.


The Worrier’s Guide to Life by Correll, Gemma (***)

The nutshell view on this book is that it is, simply, a collection of small graphical witticisms drawn from daily life. The topics covered range from women’s hairstyles to the contents of their purses and all the typical mundanity in between.

My fiancée and I both took a look at this book and ultimately I found it slightly more entertaining than she did. Even with my direct prompts of the form, “Don’t you think THAT is a little bit funny?” she just looked at me with almost a look of pity. On the grand scale of humor I found one “heh” in about every 5 pages or so (my favorite reference was the “twerker’s carbuncles”) my fiancée saw nothing of redeeming value. Our shared decision was that the author was “trying too hard” to be funny and thus failed more or less completely. (though I still have affection for those carbuncles).

So on the positive side, the author did provide a few amusing turns of phrase and her artwork is very simple and easy to digest. Unfortunately, it just never quite makes its way to humorous for either of us. Sad to say that this was well intentioned but just didn’t quite make it to the starting gate.


Girlgoyle by Army, Better Hero (*****)

Firstly, this is a YA novel and my criteria for judging those is fairly straightforward and three-pronged. First and foremost, I ask myself if there’s anything in the book that I would not want my own children to read or be exposed to. I have absolutely zero tolerance for sexual or drug references and this book has none of that. In fact the only thing I can find of even remote concern is some light non-graphic violence and exactly one profanity in the use of the phrase “p***ed off”. So this is a clean one for all but the youngest and most sensitive children who might have difficulty with the fight scenes.

Secondly, I ask myself if the book offers anything positive for the reader. In this case, it’s not effervescing with positive themes but it’s not entirely devoid of them. During the course of the book the female protagonist deals positively with and overcomes her own misgivings about her body and manages to overcome her initial misgivings about a group of girls that she had initially had difficulty with. There are strong themes of reconciliation and cooperation and shows the reader a good example of building trust. It also teaches the key idea of not judging people based on their appearances.

Thirdly, and most importantly to the reader, will it entertain them? I’d say the answer is a resounding positive. I pulled through the book in a few hours without difficulty and it has an early hook and brings you along quite steadily throughout the story. The 14-year-old female protagonist is relatable, kind and she finds herself in a varied and unique situation with engaging characters who are both friend and foe. I can easily imagine this as a prolonged series as the heroine develops into a woman.

The only negatives I can cite about the book I relate to overall story cohesion. At times the story makes reference to previous points in the story that just don’t exist. It feels as if the story was cut down from a longer version and in doing so lost some hunk of the story. I cannot prove that, of course, but in a few instances the text calls back to previous stories and plot points that just never happened. This is a fairly minimal concern, however, since context wins the day and one can make assumptions around the missing bits.

In summary, I was thoroughly entertained and the book is a positive one for the target audience. The plotline seems to be a mix of “Dead Like Me” and a standard youth exceptionalism tale like “Harry Potter”. I’m excited to see where the series goes from here.

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Movies: Squid Man (****)

I picked this movie solely on the idea that it was new and looked lonely on Amazon Instant Watch. Am I glad I did? Yes, on the whole but it’s not going to be for everyone.

This is a difficult one to wrap words around because it’s so many things at once. It starts out as the comedic movie you would expect. It’s not so much funny as it is sort of smirkingly amusing and in bits seems to remind one of Office Space.

About a third of the way in, the movie takes a decidedly romantic turn and all thoughts of comedy are left behind. It’s also about this time that the movie starts to have a point contrasting the man-child outlook of unmarried men with the more serious viewpoint of unmarried women. There’s a kernel of a lesson here but it’s brief and not much to look at, though colorfully enough portrayed.

The last third of the movie is primarily a super-hero action flick with scads of really bad make-up and intentionally cheesy special effects. It’s not an unpleasant sort of bad really just not a believable sort of good, if you catch my drift. I can tease an interesting lesson out of this section too as it looks at causality and the random events that rule our lives. I *THINK* this may be the main point of the movie but saying anything for sure is really a dodgy proposition in this case.

So in summary, I liked this movie and I’m on the bloody edge of recommending it but you have to be in a really open-minded mood to sit down and enjoy it. It’s just so many things and you have to be ready to accept all of them or it just won’t work. This is a movie to watch on your own when you just don’t know what to watch. Trying to watch this with anyone else will just result in annoyed glares from across the room.

PS: If you read the word ‘romance’ and are thinking, “oh, he said romance, that’ll be nice!” do not watch this movie for its romantic aspects. The last 60 seconds of the film are sufficient to leave anyone wishing for happy romance agape with disappointment. I will say nothing else in an effort to avoid spoilers.

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Book Reviews: The Martian – Andy Weir

Please click the photo and vote my review helpful! (If you find it so anyway)

As usual I received this book free of charge in exchange for a review, this time from NetGalley. Also as usual I will give my candid thoughts below.

The plot of this one is basically Castaway plus any movie you’ve ever seen set on Mars. Guy’s marooned on Mars and only has his wits to survive the situation.

On the positive side the level of detail here is amazingly intricate and the author tells you every single detail of every cliff-hanging situation and its eventual resolution. Also, the main character is one of those rare individuals who responds to stress with humor so the book manages to be quite funny in its way despite the rather grim situation being faced.

To the negative, the science in this book is OK but at times left me scratching my head in perplexity. It’s obvious the author has done his homework but there were more than a few holes. For the most part I managed to ignore them but anyone who is hyper-technical will likely be inflamed at the whole thing. Finally, after a while the meticulous detail tended to be rather draining. I started and finished this book in a single 5-hour sitting and by the end I was just exhausted and ready for it to end. I highly recommend that you do NOT attempt that.

In summary, this book has a great premise and pretty good execution for a book so intimately tied to science content. I also have absolute confidence that this will become a movie (if it hasn’t already) so look for it in the theatre eventually.

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