Memory Hacks and AIs: A Review of Onica Transcending Vol. 1

I haven’t gotten as much reading done this past week as I would’ve liked, so I’m sharing a review for the short story Onica Transcending by Lisa Kjaer, which I downloaded from the Kindle Store. Like Beacon 23, this is supposed to be a series of shorts, but only the first volume is up so far. I found this story when I searched for cyberpunk works. As I’ve said before, I’m a huge fan of the sub-genre. Unfortunately I wasn’t a huge fan of this story.

First and foremost the thing that kept me from really getting into this story was poor editing. There were several typos, grammatical mistakes, and strange phrasings. I understand that things like that slip through occasionally (even in traditionally published books), but I felt that having so many in a story that was so short conveyed to me that the author was either lazy or in a huge rush to publish this story. It was clear the author needed to hire a proofreader or at least have some friends perform that task.

Story-wise, there were elements of the plot that I liked, but I still think much of it could have been handled better. There’s a rather large reveal about our main character, and I wanted that to be foreshadowed more earlier on. The foreshadowing that was there felt forced. I think the author could have made this story a little longer and provided just a bit more depth to the events leading up to the story’s reveal.

This first installment also ends on a cliffhanger, which I am not a fan of, especially since further volumes have yet to be released, and this first story has been on the market for about a month. I think the best way to approach the serial format is to present a closed story in the first volume, or at least present a story that resolves all of the protagonist’s immediate problems so that the reader feels a sense of completion at finishing it. Perhaps, as a writer, this is just my bias in terms of approach rather than a universal opinion. Still, I do think that at the very least if you’re going to have a cliffhanger that you need the follow up volume to be available to take advantage of impulse buys from those who want to continue the story. With too much lag time readers will likely forget about your work.

I did like some of the ideas presented in this story. The setting is solidly cyberpunk, and it does incorporate some cool ideas that feature emerging technologies like augmented reality (as opposed to the more traditional virtual reality). At the end of the day I just wish the author had taken more time with this piece. I think work with a good writing group and some proofreaders would have made a big difference here and let some of these ideas come out more strongly.

A Lighthouse In Space: A Review of Beacon 23

In space opera, “space as the sea” is a familiar trope. Many of the large empires we’re familiar with from our favorite space faring adventures often resemble the maritime empires of old. But Hugh Howey, the bestselling self-published author most famous for his book Wool, has a pretty unique take on that trope. His most recent Kindle series, Beacon 23, is about a man stationed on a way point beacon that warns passing ships of nearby asteroids, much like a lighthouse on Earth.

The story is written in five episodes. Each one is its own short story, but they all build to a larger series, much like a TV show. The first episode has our protagonist, whose name we never learn but whose Army nickname was Digger, trying to deal with wreckers who have disrupted his beacon in order to salvage ships that will then crash into the nearby asteroid field.

The first installment, “Little Noises”, reads as a standalone, but as the series continues we learn much more about our narrator. We learn that he is a veteran of the ongoing struggle between Humans and an alien race called the Ryph, that in fact he was considered a hero of the war. But his actions weren’t exactly heroic, at least not in the way that the higher-ups would consider if they knew the truth about what he had done, and the conflict has left him ravaged by PTSD. For these reasons he has become a beacon operator, a job that comes in two year stints of isolation on a small space station. Still, he finds himself in a unique position to actually do something about the war.

I really enjoyed this series in everything from format, to setting, to the characters involved. It is told in first person, and Howey’s narrator has a very strong and unique voice, one that is both humorous and entertaining but also touching. Having the story told from this perspective also gave a great deal of insight into the mental trauma the character is suffering, some of which involves hallucinations.

In terms of format, as I reader I found it convenient to have the story broken up into defined segments. Of course in a traditional novel you can do this by chapters, but it’s not quite the same. Knowing that you will see a complete story arc across 20-40 pages and committing the time to read that is different than sitting down to read a chapter, which might end on a cliffhanger. To go back to the TV comparison, it’s like committing time to watch a single episode of a show. You know what the time involved is (at least roughly), and you can feel satisfied with consuming that single segment. Honestly, much of the reason I wanted to read this series was because I’m planning to write some of my own stories in a similar fashion, and Howey’s work here proved to me that the idea is a sound one.

The only part of the story that I wasn’t the biggest fan of was the epilogue at the end of the fifth episode. Howey even writes a note before it essentially explaining that it isn’t necessary. I will say that it was not quite so useless as the Harry Potter series epilogue where everything you saw was basically what you expected. The first ending of the episode is rather vague, and so the epilogue does explain the outcome of the characters’ actions in no uncertain terms. But personally I like the vagueness of the first ending, and I think Howey could have left it at that.

If you liked Howey’s other work or enjoy space opera, I definitely recommend checking out this series. It’s very well done and was fun reading. Once again I think Howey shows us what good self-published sci-fi can look like.

Mutants and Aliens: An ARC Review for EVE: The Awakening

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Today is the release of EVE: The Awakening, the self-published debut novel by Jenna Moreci. I met Moreci through Twitter once upon an internet time and as such was lucky enough to get an Advanced Reader Copy (or ARC, for all you cool kids) to review. Normally I’d jump into a summary of the plot here, but I’m actually going to let Moreci’s press kit do some of my writing for me…because I’m lazy.

Eve is an outcast. A chimera.

After years of abuse and rejection, 19-year-old Evelyn Kingston is ready for a fresh start in a new city, where no one knows her name. The esteemed Billington University in sunny Southern California seems like the perfect place to reinvent herself—to live the life of an ordinary human.

But things at Billington aren’t as they seem. In a school filled with prodigies, socialites, and the leaders of tomorrow, Eve finds that the complex social hierarchy makes passing as a human much harder than she had anticipated. Even worse, Billington is harboring a secret of its own: Interlopers have infiltrated the university, and their sinister plans are targeted at chimeras—like Eve.

Instantly, Eve’s new life takes a drastic turn. In a time filled with chaos, is the world focusing on the wrong enemy? And when the situation at Billington shifts from hostile to dangerous, will Eve remain in the shadows, or rise up and fight?

Sound fun? Great! On to the review!

Characters:

I think this is where Moreci’s writing really shines. Even the minor characters in this story are very distinct, many of them given quirks or features that make them memorable or relatable in some way, even when they have relatively little “screen time” so to speak. I found her ability to have her characters make strong impressions so quickly very impressive.

Of course, the main characters are the ones who carry the story, and I found that I really loved (or loved to hate) all of the recurring cast members. The stand outs for me were Percy, the foul mouthed and sarcastic best friend of Eve’s boyfriend, and Eve herself. I enjoyed the fact that Eve was able to be sarcastic and deliver quick barbs. In stories like these I find that authors often create “every man” sort of characters as their protagonists who are honorable, stoic, and smart, but who are often not necessarily quick-witted and are almost certainly never smart-asses. I found Eve distinct from the standard “genre hero” in this way, and I think the change is refreshing.

Plot:

EVE: The Awakening’s second strength is its plot. The story, I would say, falls most prominently into the sci-fi thriller category. While it is a New Adult story that takes place on a college campus, there is still a lot of action, fighting, and suspense. The result is a pretty incredible page-turner made only more impressive by the book’s length. Clocking in at a massive 200,000 words (more than twice the length of your average thriller, which is usually about 75K words), the story manages to hold interest throughout.

As I mentioned, the novel features college-aged protagonists and so fits into the sometimes contentious “New Adult” category. I think that by-and-large Moreci does a very good job of balancing Eve’s budding romance, her college experience, and all of the action surrounding the plight of the chimeras and their fight against the alien Interlopers.

This aspect of the story reminded me a little bit of Harry Potter, and the way that those books are able to shift seamlessly between the conflict with Voldemort and the rigors of school. We see less school in EVE: The Awakening, at least in terms of the specifics of the courses, but the shift between sci-fi battles and the minutiae of college social life flows well, and the conflicts in each remain fun.

Humor:

Speaking of fun, I think the humor of this story really keeps it going. As I mentioned earlier, Eve, Percy, and others can manage some amazing sarcastic comments and great put-downs, and much of the story’s humor is generated by this kind of banter. However, I felt it was worth noting that there are also some more meta humor points.

For example, there is a reference to not splitting up like people do in horror movies when the team is on one of their missions. Of course, they end up getting split up anyway. There is another great moment where Eve manages to get the primary villain to monologue while she tries to figure out a way to escape his clutches. This kind of genre and pop-culture awareness is great, providing a nod to the sort of stories that preceded EVE but doing it in a tongue-and-cheek way that acknowledges some their cheesier aspects.

World Building:

This area of the book was a little hit-or-miss for me. We’ll start with the awesome: the Interlopers. I thought Moreci’s alien creations were quite cool. They’re monstrous, they fly, and they have some pretty wacky technology that makes them even more intimidating. Moreci goes into detail about the Interloper anatomy, which was also cool. I’m not sure how realistic the anatomy of the creatures is, but its analysis was delivered with authority and the specifics of it remained consistent throughout the story. Unfortunately we didn’t get to learn too much about Interloper culture, but we get some hints at it, and given that this is a planned series, I’m eager to learn more about the aliens.

The chimeras were cool, of course. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be telekinetic? Moreci does a good job of putting together some flashy action sequences that showcase the telekinetic abilities. However, I would have liked to see more day-to-day usage of the abilities, especially after Eve and some of her other friends are outed as chimeras to the public. There were also some instances where chimera characters could have used their abilities to retrieve items during fights, but instead they try to lunge for them and pick them up. Often this does make the fight scenes more epic, but I still would’ve liked to see the telekinetic abilities integrated into what was going on a bit more.

I think the world building element that wrangled me most was the novel being set very far in the future. The story is said to take place in 2087, but there wasn’t a lot of advanced technology put on display, certainly not enough to make me think the story had to be set roughly 70 years from now. As someone who reads a lot of cyberpunk novels and studies emergent technologies, this bothered me, but your mileage on this issue may vary and maybe it won’t matter to you at all. I will say it isn’t super disruptive to the story, and I could enjoy the stronger aspects of the story (namely the characters, action, and plot) without thinking about it too much.

Conclusion:

If you’re looking for a fun, character-driven, action story, then this is for you. It’s a solid sci-fi thriller with familiar elements that readers can latch onto (and which the writer does some great send-ups of) but also has enough original elements to make it feel fresh.

EVE: The Awakening is out today, and you can purchase it on Amazon. For more information about the book and the author, check out the press kit info below.


Buy Links:


About the Author:

Jenna Moreci is a young adult/new adult author, vlogger extraordinaire, nerd-incognito, & alleged cyborg. She specializes in writing adorable, romantic goodness punctuated by moments of extreme violence and bloodshed. Her sanity is questionable. 

Some of Jenna’s other talents include prolific cursing, spilling/dropping things, accidentally making people cry, and drawing.
Author Links:



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Short Story: City of Ash

Hello, dear readers. I know that over the past couple of weeks I haven’t posted either frequently or with any kind of regularity or schedule. I don’t really have a great excuse, other than #summer, but I’m planning on having some more content up soon. We’ll get to that in a moment. In the meantime I wanted to share a great short story for your reading pleasure.

Almost two months ago I wrote a review for Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife, which is a fabulous novel if you haven’t read it already, and it turns out he released a short story prequel called “City of Ash“.

Whether you’ve read The Water Knife or not, I definitely recommend checking this story out. It will give you some insight into the setting, and it portrays just a bit of the not-so-unrealistic future Bacigalupi portrays for America in the face of global warming.

I’m going to be traveling this weekend, so I won’t have any new posts up until next week, but in my next post I will be reviewing the wonderful Jenna Moreci’s soon to be released novel EVE: The Awakening. If you want to go ahead and check out the first three chapters for free (or even order a pre-release copy on Amazo)n, you can head over to her site. Otherwise, you can wait for my review and see how you feel then.

A Blend of Myth and Post-Humanism: A Review of Hannu Rajaniemi’s Collected Fiction

Hannu Rajaniemi is a Finnish sci-fi writer who is best known for his Jean le Flambeur series, the first book of which is The Quantum Thief. The series is known for its take on a post-human society, where people are not confined to single bodies and are capable of living forever. I’ve only read the first book of this series, but I enjoyed it, and in a bid to get better at short story writing myself, I decided I would read his short story work.

Many of the stories in this collection present similar post-human worlds. Stories like “Deus Ex Homine” and “Elegy for a Young Elk” explore ideas of family in a post-human world, specifically focusing on the idea of parents struggling to understand their children who have become god-like figures. “His Master’s Voice” is also a fun heist story where a dog and a cat of augmented intelligence and ability team up to save their master from prison.

But not all of Rajaniemi’s tales in this collection are sci-fi. It is clear from his work that he is also a fan of mythology, and several of his stories prominently feature Finnish mythological figures. For instance, “Fisher of Men” is about a mermaid who was slighted by a man and so ensnares men in her net, tying them to her. Tuoni, a Finnish god of the underworld, appears in this story and several others. One of my favorite stories in the collection, “Tyche and the Ants”, combines mythology and technology. It shows a future where a young girl has hidden out on the moon to escape persecution on Earth, and she has created friends who are based on characters from (I believe) Japanese mythology.

The collection wraps up with two tales that explore story telling in new media. The first is “Snow White is Dead”, which was part of a Neurofiction project by Rajaniemi and Samuel Halliday. The idea is that, with the help of some special software, the story will respond to a reader’s thoughts and emotions, and the hardware will adapt the endings based on what the signal the reader is giving off. Of course the book doesn’t come with this hardware, so in the printed version Rajaniemi shares some of the popular sections that the device generate.

The final piece, “Unused Tomorrows and Other Stories”, were a smattering of Twitter stories that Rajaniemi put together. Some feature Imhotep Austin, a time-traveling mummy and hard boiled detective. Honestly I hope that this character one day gets his own full length novel. While I felt these tales were a bit disjointed, as might be expected given the format, it was interesting to see someone tackling story telling with a 140 character limit.

I also wanted to highlight two stories that really stood out to me, but that are less grandiose than some of the other tales in the collection. The first is “Shibuya, no Love”. In this setting there is a device called a lovegety which creates a kind of instantaneous romantic narrative with other users, letting people meet very quickly. As an avid daydreamer I found this story and the hypothetical technology very interesting and the story of generating a narrative with someone basically ahead of time definitely resonated with me.

The second story I wanted to touch on is “Paris, in Love”. There are a lot of famous stories about people who fall in love with cities, but in this story the city of Paris actually falls in love with a Finnish man who comes to visit. I thought this was a really interesting take on that trope and very well done.

Overall I really enjoyed this collection, and I think it’s a great set of short fiction. Rajaniemi has some really interesting ideas of what the future will look like, but I think his attachment to mythology makes the futuristic worlds he creates very grounded in themes and ideas that are still relatable. If you’ve read Rajaniemi’s novels, then I certainly think you’ll enjoy this, and if you’re just looking for a great collection of short stories, I would recommend this as well.

Short Story Sunday: Pimpf

Today I’m sharing something more comedic for your Sunday reading pleasure. “Pimpf“, by Charles Stross, is a short story featuring Bob Howard and other characters from Stross’ series The Laundry Files. The Laundry is a secret organization in England that protects the world from supernatural and demonic threats. In this particular story, Howard is monitoring mods to the MMORPG Neverwinter Nights that might lead to demons finding their way into our world through glitches in the programming math.

“Pimpf” is a very funny and fast paced short story that was attached to the end of the second The Laundry Files book The Jennifer Morgue. Bringing together video game culture, a secret agency, and Cthulhu demons is a great mash-up, and the tone of the narrator ties it together in a great way. This is the first time I’ve ever read anything by Stross, and though it’s set in an existing series, I didn’t feel lost at what was going on. And now that I’ve read this story, I’m certainly tempted to read more of his work…

Quantumly Connected: A Review of Entangled

I love a good space opera, so I was curious when I heard about Entangled. It is about a girl named Cade who is quantum entangled (connected at a molecular level) to a boy named Xan. The pair were separated at a young age by the scientists who created them, and Cade has grown up never knowing Xan or that she even had a past. Then one day she feels a mental connection to him that stretches across light years and calls her to him. But of course there is danger. Quantum entanglement is the key to allowing humans to travel across the stars without getting “space sick”, and there are alien races who aren’t too fond of that idea. This is the groundwork for the fun adventure that Capetta weaves together.

I liked the tonal quality of the story, at least initially, and after reading a sample of the book it’s what drew me in and got me on board with buying it. I’m a little tired of the first person POV stories that we tend to get in YA, and I liked that this was third person. Not only that, I liked that Capetta inflected the writing with some style that gave the book a distinct feel. I will say that as the story went on the heavy use of music analogies got a little tiresome for me, but it still fit with Cade as a character, and in some instances it actually served to describe the state of Cade’s entanglement and her ability to connect with other beings very well.

However, the worst stylistic choice in the story was the swearing. I’m personally of the opinion that you should use real fucking curse words or not include swearing in your story. I hated “frak” from Battlestar Galactica, and the go to curse of “snug” or “snugging” in this story is even worse. It conveys nothing, sounds silly, and basically took me out of the narrative flow every time I saw it.

I also thought the characters were pretty strong. I liked that Cade has several shipmates who are also human women. I feel like space opera is a genre largely dominated by male protagonists, or in cases where there are female protagonists they are sort of the “strong woman in a man’s world” type. Cade is a female lead with female friends, which was a nice change from that sort of thing.

As far as world building, I liked that there were many alien races that appeared in the story, and for me that made the setting feel expansive. However, all in all, we really don’t see too much of the world in this book. Almost the entire story takes place on a spaceship. This didn’t bother me for this story, but this is a three book series, so I’m hoping that in future novels we get to explore a little more of the planets in this setting.

One thing I also liked about the book was how it ended. But if you’re not interested in SPOILERS, you should stop reading here…

Still going?

Okay, so when I read the initial premise of the book I was really worried that Cade would end up with Xan. It felt a lot like the typical YA “destined to be together romance” that I’m really not a huge fan of. But I liked the book stylistically early on, and it wasn’t very long, so I figured I’d give at least the first book in this series a shot. And I was rewarded.

Cade does not end up with Xan. And in fact I don’t think she can in future books, since he ends up more or less dead (though I won’t go into how). I thought it was great that Capetta avoided this expected cliche finish and instead offered a more compelling end to the first volume wherein Cade chooses not to be with Xan at all, though this decision also costs her, and I’ll be curious to see how that plays out in future volumes.

All-in-all I thought that Entangled was an enjoyable read for anyone who likes a good old fashioned, romping, space opera adventure. If you’re looking for something that explores new scientific ideas or pushes genre envelopes, then this book isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for something fun, then I can certainly recommend this.