• Reading,  Review

    Book Review: Gemina (Illuminae Files 2)

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    Like the first book in the series, I went for the audio version again, and for the same reason. The epistolary format of the book (most of the storytelling is done in terms of letters, reports, chat session transcriptions, and so on) doesn’t lend itself well to reading for me. Had I looked past the format of the printed book, beautiful as it is, I never would have gotten through this book by reading it. But as a full-cast audio production, it works, and, as it turns out, it works pretty well for me.

    This is a good spot to apologize in advance if this review turns out to be full of comparisons to the first book, but there are a lot of easy comparisons to draw. In a lot of ways, it’s the same book.

    Gemina has a very similar plot to Illuminae. Teen romance with SF trappings, more details on the corporate war, chased by commandoes in a malfunctioning space station instead of by space ships wanting to blow your malfunctioning ship up, and replace the zombies with mind-sucking, hallucinogenic parasites.

    I have the same problems with tech in Gemina as I had with it Illuminae. With only a few exceptions, this is all stuff that might be easily available to military today, or even off the shelf. There’s not a lot here to make me believe it takes place in the 26th century other than the technological wizardry of wormhole travel and computers big enough and powerful enough that we can actually manage true AI.

    I have a lot of the same problems with the character presentation. These aren’t teenagers from 550 years or so in the future, but people who would be believable in any high school drama today, albeit each with a certain skill or trait ratcheted up to 11.

    Again, the censoring of swear words seems ridiculous to me, a strange double standard of current Western society. Plenty of death and destruction to be found here, some of it detailed and gruesome, but I might be offended if someone drops an f-bomb (see what I did there?) and we can’t risk that. We’re supposed to understand that these documents and records are being presented as evidence in a court room, but since when is evidence censored?

    And again, it’s the voice acting that carries things. A straight narration wouldn’t have worked very well for this story, and probably would have left me flat. But the full-cast audio succeeds tremendously, and after I was through being irritated at the redacted swear words, it let me sink into the story a lot more than I would have otherwise.

    Hanna is not Kady. Nick is not Ezra. That’s both okay and a good thing. I think they’re both built better as characters than the couple in the first book, and the circumstances bringing them together have to work harder to do so.

    I liked that AIDAN was back, if in a limited way. He’s a little reformed now, and doing what he’s told, so long as Kady gives the orders, but still a reflection of the scary AI who killed thousands in the first book. A good use of him near the end to follow the story track with slight twists in two different universes. Tough for even him, noting that it was a bit confusing.

    The only real issue I had with the story itself was the use of Pascal’s Wager by the incredibly intelligent, psychopathic AI to convince a human to trust him? Asking, “what if you’re wrong” with religious overtones? Pascal’s Wager is a tiny piece of philosophy so riddled with holes it can’t be taken seriously, but somehow it is here, and somehow it’s the thing that wins the argument to let AIDAN do what needs to be done.

    Overall rating: 3.5 stars. I enjoyed the story, but couldn’t shake the feeling through the whole thing that the story being told was one I’d already enjoyed. I’m hesitant about the third book. I’m worried we’ll get the same book again next time, just with a different teen couple.

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  • Reading,  Review

    Book Review: Storm Dancer

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    I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did. Steampunk isn’t my thing, whether or not it’s got a flavor I don’t usually get in my fantasy. Steampunk with a Fantasy bent doesn’t help much because it’s still Steampunk.

    But I’m trying to push boundaries in the fiction I read, to break out of molds, to see through different lenses than I’m used to seeing through. And I got a copy of this for Christmas in 2015 that’s been sitting on the shelf staring at me for quite a while now.

    While reading, I found the book has other strikes against it.

    It’s kind of info-dumpy for the first few chapters as the author tries to introduce us to the world. A slow start, it takes quite a while to get to the point where the story is actually moving.

    I don’t speak much Japanese, but there are some misuses that appear to be just for flavor that even I pick up. Honorific suffixes that are used for titles instead, and the regular tossing in of Japanese words into otherwise English sentences just for flavour. You can get a lot from context, but there’s a glossary built into the book, just in case.

    If I were more familiar with Japanese culture and history, there would probably be more to bother me, and I think that probably expands to other aspects of Asia borrowed and twisted a bit to fit into the world. There’s a lot of Asia out there, and it’s all part of the Empire, but we don’t see a lot of it directly, at least in this first book.

    Stormdancer has a dystopian flavor and I’m not a fan of dystopian fiction (have I said that before?). Chi (the stand in for fossil fuels) is ruining the world in a lot of ways. In fact, more or less all of the evils in the world are laid at the feet of Chi and the Emperor.

    Speaking of fossil fuels, the book comes across as a bit on the preachy side talking about environmentalism. Be subtle. Influence my thinking. Don’t smack me over the head.

    Okay, enough negativity.

    The story does have things going for it, and it’s those things that push me up from a 2-star rating. The heroine is a competent young woman who is able, and willing, to think and act for herself. She’s not thrilled with the society she lives in or her place in it and does try to act to change both. That she needs other characters to show her more of herself and the world than she’s been seeing to take some of those actions sometimes makes her a more rounded character.

    And then there’s Buruu, the thunder tiger, the arashitora, a slightly modified and suped-up griffin created for the series. I like the character, the concept, and the relationship that builds between him and Yukiko.

    Overall rating: 3 stars. A lot of problems balanced out by the two primary characters. For me, things work out that I enjoyed the story overall. It was fun, but those problems still exist, so I’m not too likely to read the rest of the series.

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