The Six by Mark Alpert

the six

3 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

Adam has less than 6 months to live. Muscular dystrophy has already confined him to a wheelchair and is now whittling away at his ability to breathe. While not happy about it, Adam is resigned to his fate until his father and the government offer him a possible way out: an experimental procedure that will replicate his neural pathways in a machine body. The process will destroy his physical body, so they have only one shot to make it work. If it works, Adam will live and the experiment can be repeated on the other terminal candidates chosen and they will all live on. Salvation does not come cheap, however. The United States government has only financed the project because the world is facing a threat from an artificial intelligence that has infiltrated Russian military computers. Adam and the others are only to be saved if they can become the hybrid human/ computer soldiers that are humanity’s only hope.

As a once philosophy student I loved the philosophy of mind questions that this book raises: Is replicating the mind all there is to making a duplicate of a person or is the body important? Is the resulting duplicate of a person that person, or another person, just with identical memories? Would someone be willing to risk their remaining time on earth, even if it was short, on the chance that we could transfer consciousnesses to machines? If you are a parent with a child reading this book, or a book club, all of these make great discussion points.

This book was mostly action-based, with little character development and sentiment. It is one of those books that really read like an action movie. There are explosions and fights and giant robot death-bots, but very little attention paid to emotion and inner dialogue. In particular, the teens chosen for transfer really get no attention paid to the potential emotional and psychological confusion of suddenly having robot bodies. Coming into the novel, I had hoped this would be the main emphasis of the book: an exploration of the difference between flesh and software based thinking and the experience of humans trying to live inside machines. Instead, these points are dealt with insufficiently and combat scenes begins almost immediately.

The main conflict of the book is the kids hunting down and fighting Sigma, before the rogue AI makes good on its threat to launch missiles at the world’s major cities. The secondary conflict is the six hybrids having to come together as a team. While the main conflict is mostly resolved (with room for a sequel of course), the second is never given its due consideration. There are personality conflicts and some unanswered questions about people’s pasts and attitudes, but then the issue is just dropped because everyone has to go suit up for the finale. The six never get to know each other and form bonds, which brings me to the main flaw in the book:

None of the characters have strong relationships with each other, even Adam with his parents, which I found disappointing. For me, characters only come alive when they are interacting with each other, not just reacting to circumstances. There are no deep emotional bonds formed, so it comes off as a little hollow when the characters are grieving for someone, but the story before does not support that depth of emotion. There is very little dialogue for a book this length, it is mostly descriptions of action sequences. The other teens don’t have deep personalities, just a couple adjectives pinned on and some exaggerated personality quirks. No one reads like a teen just saved from premature death or an adult seeing everything they knew about human consciousness change beneath the relentless march of technology. Everyone is flat, more like a prop than a person.

This would be a great book for teens who like action, sports, and the military. It is fast paced and does present an interesting premise, the characters just weren’t real enough for me. I wanted a book on the complications and ethics of transferring human consciousness into machines that would be very thought provoking and insightful into what makes humans human. Instead I got a fairly standard action novel with a neat science fiction premise.


A Curse of Ash and Iron by Christine Norris

curse of ash and iron

3 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

Another Cinderella rewrite. I hope those who love this fairy tale are reading a lot because between Cinder and Mechanica and Ash & Bramble, there are some good ones floating around.

This is a steampunk/ fantasy rewrite mashup. Ellie’s evil stepmother has enchanted her father into forgetting her and the whole world into ignoring her. She has been turned into a servant in her own house. When she runs into her childhood friend Benjamin, he actually recognizes her, and Ellie sees a potential ally in her ongoing fight to be free.

In this version of the tale, Ellie’s stepsister is not evil and I like it when writers do that to this fairy tale. I get the stepmother being jealous of the Cinderella character because of the father, but the stepsisters automatically being mean never really clicked with me. They have not known their stepfather for very long at all, so they have no reason to hate Cinderella for being his favourite for a while, since their mother favours them.

Instead of the fairy godmother stepping in to solve all the problems at the last minute, Cinderella and her friends are much more proactive. They have to go out and find a way to break the enchantment themselves. In the back is also a side story of Ben being an awesome steampunk inventor, so it is not just the Cinderella tale.There are also two prince characters, which adds some interesting tension to a part of the story that is usually straightforward.

This was a really quick read with not a ton of substance behind it. Other than the points mentioned, there was not a lot done with it that has not been done before. The setting is America in the late 19th century, there is annoying cat to match the Disney interpretation, and the author finds a clever way to mimic the godmother. It is a good rewrite, but not a spectacular reimagining.

Spinning Starlight by R.C. Lewis

spinning starlight

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

This is a rewrite of The Wild Swans done as science fiction, and I found it absolutely delightful. It has enough of the original in it to be clever and enough world building to stand alone as a non-rewrite. Liddi has a ton of older brothers, but her parents chose her to inherit the family company. It actually isn’t going too badly (though the constant media attention is annoying) until one of the higher ups in the company decides to trap her brothers in the interplanetary warp tunnels and bugs Liddi’s throat with a bomb that will kill her brothers if she talks. (The author cleverly takes care of the “why doesn’t she does write things down??” question. Their society has evolved past the need for written language). Liddi escapes through a warp tunnel but lands on a planet she never knew existed, populated by humans and alien species. Liddi goes from an interplanetary celebrity to a mute unknown, relying on the kindness of strangers for everything.

Liddi is initially a very shy, uncertain character. She has been overshadowed all of her life by her brilliant brothers, and the expectations that are placed on her as the head of a huge company weigh heavily. She really starts to grow when her brothers need her and she no longer has to act like a celebrity.

The main storyline is interrupted at the end of each chapter with a little story from Liddi’s childhood, showing how she came to be the person she is when we meet her. It was an aspect of the book I loved. Suddenly the character does not spring fully formed out of the earth, but is moulded by the people around her and her upbringing.

The best part of the book for me was the characters trying to solve the problem of communicating with someone who is nonverbal and does not know any written language. Since modern culture is so dependant on written language for everything it is a neat mental exercise to think of how you would deal with a person who has neither of our primary modes of communication.

Liddi also runs into trouble with the local culture and religion when it turns out the warp tunnels are not what she suspected. It would be nice to be able to trust someone with the truth of her position, but all of her history has taught her she cannot trust anyone but her family.

This was a very inventive and enjoyable retelling. Please take a read when you have the chance.

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls by Katie Cross

miss mabel

2 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

The premise of this one if very Harry Potter-ish. Bianca attends a boarding school that teaches young witches magic. She would love to learn at her own pace, but with a curse hanging over her family, she must learn as much as she can from the scariest teacher there as quickly as she can.

I found this book moved way too quickly to be satisfying. There is enough plot in this book to make a satisfying trilogy, but it is rushed through. We never hear a clear narrative voice, just a string of actions and happenings. Bianca makes friends according to the story, but we do not get to see very much of them overall. Nobody seems to have a personality because they are all so busy doing things. We also do not get a good look at the world. The plot is confined fairly severely to the school and little mention is made of the outside world.

Bianca is rushed through a series of trials to gain her full powers at a speed that leaves the reader breathless and then political shenanigans are revealed without the reader ever fully understanding the political system and intricacies of the world. Then ending left you wanting to know what happens, but the book was so lacking in emotional connection that you do not want to waste your precious reading hours finding out more.

This book lacked the world building and empathy with characters that I look for in my reading. It felt rushed and unfinished. Not my type of book.

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

walk on earth

4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book.

They have just found gold in California and prospectors and pioneers from all across America are packing up their lives and heading west in search of riches. Leah is content to stay at home with her parents, despite their poverty, but when they are murdered she looks to the gold in California to provide her with a future. Since she has the unique ability to sense gold, it is an opportunity not to be missed. Now all she has to do is make it to California alive. At least she has her best friend Jefferson and her pony with her.

This reads a lot like a historical fiction novel. The fantasy premise: Leah being able to sense gold, does not influence the book as much as I thought it would. Leah has to keep it a secret, so not many of the other characters know about it and she does not use it very often. Most of the book is Leah and Jefferson struggling across the country and fighting against the perils that the early pioneers faced, like finding clean water and keeping oxen healthy. I suspect her powers will be more featured in the rest of the series.

Leah and Jefferson are both strong characters and have a great friendship that does not immediately devolve into romance. They respect and care for each other and discuss something other than feelings. They both grow a lot during the course of the narrative. Jefferson, on the run from an abusive father, finds himself turning from a scared boy into a responsible man who can be depended on. Leah must disguise herself as a boy, so she has to work through her identity issues as she must spend all of her time hiding important information about who she really is. Both Jefferson and Leah must learn how to take crap about who they are (part First Nations and a woman respectively) without falling apart.

The story really emphasizes both the good and bad in humanity as Leah faces thieves and murderers, but also kind hearted and giving folks. It is depressing at times, quite a few people die, but it is probably more accurate because of that. Early travel across America was not safe and sanitary and this work is true to that.

This is a great read for everyone who really enjoyed Patricia C Wrede’s Frontier Magic series. You have the same fantasy/ pioneer america mix and strong characters who are growing into themselves. Also good for those readers who grew up on Laura Ingles Wilder and want the same sort of adventure, just a little more grown up and with a little more magic.