Dark Energy by Robison Wells

dark energy

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

A UFO has just crash-landed in the US, and now Alice has to move to the boring midwest because her dad works for NASA and needs to be by the crash site. Instead of safely watching the unfolding drama from a safe distance, she is now next door to a spaceship containing who-knows-what, while dealing with all the drama that comes with being dragged halfway across the country and starting at a new school. She gets a front row seat as humanity greets visitors from space for the first time.

This book has a fantastic narrative voice. Alice is funny and personable and she really comes across as a 3-dimensional person. Her voice is one of the best things about this novel. It was so skillfully done it was a pleasure to read.

Dark Energy is unique in that most science fiction and dystopias take place after first-contact situations and only refer back after the fact. Here we get to see events as they unfold in real time, both through Alice’s own perceptions and through the media she observes. The combination of fear and excitement was very true to life (in what I imagine true to life would be should anything like this ever really happen). Alice is not immediately super heroine who has to save the world, just an ordinary girl watching something extraordinary unfold.

The mystery that extends through the novel of who the aliens are and why they came to Earth was a good plot line for this type of book. The aliens do not immediately try to take over Earth, but take their sweet time coming out of their crashed spaceship and start negotiating with Earth’s leaders. It was a much more realistic and sensible than aliens wanting to kill us for no reason. Watching how politicians and other world leaders might react to this sort of situation was thought-provoking and I spent some time trying to figure out what my ideal first contact response policy would be.

The plot actually also rings fairly true to the current migrant crisis. People are scared and wary of the foreigners and reluctant to try and integrate or talk to the newcomers. The aliens are stuck with their situation since they cannot get home (their spaceship is totalled) and they are relying on the goodwill of Americans for their continued survival.

This was a great, funny read that was well thought out and engrossing! Go ahead and pick it up.

 

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Strike by Delilah S. Dawson

strike

3 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

This is the second in the series. In the first book “Hit” we are introduced to a world in which, hidden in credit card statements, people have agreed to be murdered or become assassins if they are ever not able to immediately pay off their debt when asked. Patsy’s mother has wracked up a huge credit card bill to pay for her cancer meds and when Valor bank comes to collect, they make Patsy choose between her mother’s life or indentured servitude for a limited time as an assassin. Patsy takes the deal and sets off on a mission to kill or indenture 10 other people.

The first book was stark and interesting, with Patsy becoming darker and darker as her kill count mounts. She also falls in love with one of the children of her first victim, Wyatt, adopts a dog, and slowly realizes all of the kills she has been assigned have some sort of relationship to her. While not the best written novel, it was stupidly hard to put down.

The second novel starts right where the first one left off. Patsy has just finished her hit list and goes into hiding with Wyatt. They are prepared to fight Valor and its grip on the nation and the government, joining a Citizens for Freedom chapter in their hometown. It is soon clear, however, that CFF is run by a maniac who is almost as bad as Valor. Leaving is going to be a lot harder than joining.

The second book was not as enthralling as the second one. Patsy is already a jaded character by now and does not have the same moral struggle as more and more people die. We are now used to the neat world setup and premise and Patsy and her relationships. The book introduces more characters which is great, but this was definitely not as strong as the first. It did not have the sense of urgency that the first one did and that drew you in and dragged you along.

I am glad to meet a YA dystopian where the “good” guys are just as crazy as the “bad” guys. It makes the hero have to fight on two fronts and makes for a more realistic story. I cannot see a real life conflict where one side is all good and the other side is all bad so it is nice to see some moral relativism in books.

This is a good, but not brilliant follow-up to “Hit”. If you have read the first, you are going to want to read the second to find out what happens, but I did not find it quite as compelling.

Arena by Holly Jennings

arena

3 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book.

Virtual combat is the hottest sport on earth. Teams of 5 compete to the death in a virtual arena, waking up back in this reality as either victors or losers. Kali is the first woman to ever lead a team and the upcoming tournament will make or break her career, but then one of her teammates ODs and Kali’s chance at the title falls drastically.

The main theme of this story is actually the dangers of heavy drug use in sports, which obviously is still an issue today, making this science fiction sports book surprisingly and immediately relevant. It deals with the high-pressure lifestyle athletes face and the ethical decisions that come with deciding how to react/cover up some sorts of behaviours. It was a strange topic to get from science fiction, but an interesting one. I would have loved to had an accompanying article on how many professional gamers also have addiction problems.

Other than the theme, it wasn’t a spectacular book. Professional combat done in virtual reality made for a neat backdrop for the book, but I didn’t really like any of the characters enough to get really into the storyline. All we see of the characters is them in reference to each other and their sport. It is a small cast and none of them are very interesting or 3-dimensional. We don’t get a full, robust sense of them as people, and besides the two main characters, no one really has a personality.

The combat also felt a little empty since I knew everyone was going to come back alive. The tension was very much something you would see at a sports match, not in actual combat, so I found it very weird. I am used to having my science fiction liberally splattered with gore.

Overall, this was more of a sports book than anything, and did not find its ideal reader in me. There was action, but not the type I like (with lasting consequences) and none of the characters hit home.

 

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

my lady jane

4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this work.

This is an absolutely hilarious, fantasy retelling of the story of Lady Jane Grey, the Queen of England for an entire 3 days before she lost her head. The fantasy twist is that a small portion of the English population can (or in some cases must) transform into animals. Henry VIII occasionally turns into a lion and eats courtiers who tick him off. For the most part, these humans are feared and persecuted, so the main division in society is not between Catholics and Protestants, but between those who wish to wipe out the magical and those who do not.

This book is mostly held up by the wonderful sense of humour it shows. It has a very distinct narrative voice with just the right amount of sarcasm and sass. There are plenty of anachronistic references to modern pop culture, but it is done with such good humour it is not something you can fault.

The romance is subtle and not overwhelming. It is sweet and grows from a mutual respect and I really enjoyed watching it take shape. The other relationships, whether friend or enemy, were well done and convincing. I liked seeing someone with very modern sensibilities get tied up in Elizabethan politics. Seeing Queen Elizabeth and Bloody Mary as teenagers in a fantasy novel was great fun.

The world building in this novel is incredible. You get a historical backdrop lit up with fantasy elements. It is still recognizable, but enough has changed that it is fun to explore anew. Resetting the politics at the time in terms of support for or hate of shapeshifting humans works very well.

I really, really enjoyed this book. It had me laughing and spellbound until the end. Definitely a great 2016 novel.

 

The End of FUN by Sean McGinty

the end of FUN

3 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

This is a slice of life, growing up and facing the world book that is confusingly being marketed as a science fiction novel.

Aaron is plugged into FUN, a combination internet browser, social media platform and gaming platform. It follows him everywhere, giving advice, recommending products and connecting him to the digital. When Aaron decides it is no longer the thing for him, he has to put in a formal request to turn off the service, so the novel itself is his application to discontinue FUN and his reasons for doing so.

The problem with this book is that framing it around FUN makes no contribution to the plot. The book is about a young man learning about life and growing up and finding love. The side-plot of the FUN system is a neat plot device, but completely unnecessary. It really feels like they added it in at the last minute to appeal to the science fiction readers, but it does not fit well. The book would have been just as good without it, and it disrupts the main story quite a bit.

Aaron is a fairly realistic protagonist, a young man with no great prospects for the future, who is trying to get his life back on track. He has tricked his family out of some money and inherited a cabin that may contain a hidden treasure. He has a crush on a girl who may have made out with his dad and his best friend is a bit of a troublemaker. I really liked reading about his adventures since he is someone I can see meeting on the street. His mistakes are very understandable and he comes across as such a weird, quirky guy.

This would have been a great book if they hadn’t confusingly added an unnecessary plot element. As it is, it is a somewhat confusing read.