Book Review: The Immortalist, A Thrilling Read

In between fishing yesterday, updating my blog’s look, and writing a short story as part of a job interview process, I finished reading The Immortalist: A Sci-Fi Thriller by Scott Britz. It was definitely a thrilling read.

I didn’t catch any fish, but I really enjoyed the surroundings!

 

This is my where-have-all-the-fishies-gone face

 

What Is The Immortalist About?

From GoodReads:

World-renowned virologist Dr. Cricket Rensselaer-Wright abruptly abandoned her research in Africa after watching her colleague die tragically from the Ebola virus. When she returns to the States to reunite with her teenage daughter Emmy, her plans are sidetracked. No sooner does she set foot on the campus of Acadia Springs—the research institute where she grew up and Emmy now lives—than her onetime mentor Charles Gifford announces his discovery of the Methuselah Vector, a gene therapy agent that can confer immortality on a patient after a single injection.

Gifford’s air of triumph is marred when a young woman on campus dies suddenly from a horrific viral infection, eerily similar to the Ebola that drove Cricket out of Africa. Despite Cricket’s pleas to slow down the rollout of the Vector and run more tests, Gifford refuses. And when the unthinkable happens—when Emmy falls ill with the same mysterious disease—Cricket is forced to take matters into her own hands. But is it already too late?

Gifford will stop at nothing to release the Vector into the world. Mobs are clamoring for it. Cricket has only a few hours to find a cure for Emmy, and to convince the public that Gifford’s quest for eternal life may cost the very lives he hopes to save.

Would You Like The Immortalist?

  • Yes, if you like lots of detail in your books. Because it’s a medical sci-fi written by a professor at Harvard Medical School, his depiction of the science behind how gene manipulation could conceivably cause immortality with one injection, and, if done even the slightest bit wrong, rampant superviruses that could just as easily kill everyone on the planet is very realistic and chilling. The book’s level of detail reminds me of The Hero and The Crown by Robin McKinley, which I just reviewed here. It also kind of reminds of the DaVinci Code.
  • Yes, if you like smart, conflicted women. Cricket is brilliant but thoughtful, introverted but able to see and care about the bigger picture. She’s conflicted about her relationships with her daughter and her ex-husband, about her career, etc. In some respects, she kind of reminds me of Addie in Love & Luck, even though the two books are totally different.

Nutrition Facts

Swear words: 207

Sex scenes: 1

Functional relationships (featuring love+ effort, or some kind of formal promise): 4

Dysfunctional relationships/characters (feature love – effort = discord, or just plain animosity or greed): 3

 

Should You Buy It?

Yes! The Kindle version is $4.99 on Amazon right now!

 

 

Book Review: Anubis Gates

If you like complicated time-travel fantasy books, then I have a book recommendation for you: The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. Its premise is that time travel is possible if one knows where certain “gaps” in the flow of time are. It was a difficult read for me, but those that enjoy adult sci-fi of the time travel variety might enjoy this.

What Is Anubis Gates About?

From GoodReads:

Brendan Doyle, a specialist in the work of the early-nineteenth century poet William Ashbless, reluctantly accepts an invitation from a millionaire to act as a guide to time-travelling tourists. But while attending a lecture given by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1810, he becomes marooned in Regency London, where dark and dangerous forces know about the gates in time. Caught up in the intrigue between rival bands of beggars, pursued by Egyptian sorcerers, befriended by Coleridge, Doyle somehow survives, and learns more about the mysterious Ashbless than he could ever have imagined possible.

Why Would a Reader Like or Dislike This Book?

While I think this premise had great potential, I didn’t think this book fulfilled it in the way I would like to have seen. Once Doyle gets stuck back in 1800’s England, the plot becomes really convoluted. He goes from one life-threatening situation to another, and then even from one body to another, with little or no time spent by the author on emotional development or plot building.

Most really good books, even adult sci-fi ones, are those that have main characters that grow, that start out as something, go through a bunch of challenges, and end up as wiser, more mature versions of themselves. Doyle starts out as a likable character, and does indeed go through a bunch of challenges, but ends up living out Ashbless’s life, which the reader doesn’t care about, by virtue of the fact that the story’s supposed to be about Doyle.

So, if you like hard sci-fi, time travel books, books containing werewolves, you might like this book. If you don’t, don’t read it.

Book Review: Steal Across the Sky, A Philosophical Read

Nancy Kress is really good at writing hard-core science fiction, and for that alone I applaud her. To do that in such a male-dominated field is brilliant; to do it repeatedly is amazing. I thought her book  After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall  was brilliant. Steal Across the Sky, also by her, was less than she’s capable of, though. Where this book excels in world-building and uniqueness, it falls short in the area of characters with whom one can really relate and who have deep emotional progression.

What Steal Across the Sky is About

The book is about two people who volunteer visit seven planets and “witness” for a mysterious group of aliens that all-of-a-sudden arrived, built a base on the moon, and put an ad on the internet. These aliens claimed to have wronged humanity ten thousand years before, and need some volunteers to visit a bunch of planets seeded with human stock. Italian-English grad student Lucca and waitress Cam are among the twenty-one volunteers chosen, and they visit two planets. Cam encounters a monolithic, brutal and appallingly bloodthirsty culture where a game determines everybody’s destiny. On Lucca’s planet, evidence mounts that the people can perceive and converse with the recently dead, something Lucca rejects. Once all the witnesses return to Earth, a compelling picture emerges: on half of the planets visited, the inhabitants can indeed see and chat with the recently dead. The Atoners explain that those inhabitants carry a gene that allows them to do so. On the other planets, and Earth, the Atoners deleted the gene. (They don’t explain why.) On gene-less Earth, chaos ensues as Kress explores the consequences of that premise.

And, as you might imagine from that description, what ensues–actually what happens throughout almost all of the book–is essentially a philosophical discussion about what that means for humanity.

Why I Didn’t Connect With the Book

While the premise is fascinating (as I tend to find with many science fiction books), and the execution of that premise in line with the expectations of its genre, the emotional quotient is just not there. It would have been neat, I think, to see that chaos play out and then resolve in Lucca’s and Cam’s relationship, for instance. I think that would’ve made for a more intense, relatable book.

Also, because it’s adult sci-fi, the pacing was slower than that of YA. I can’t dock it for that because that wasn’t a fault of the book per se, just a matter of my taste.

Who Will Like Steal Across the Sky

If you’re a serious fan of science fiction, I would dare say that this book should be on your required reading list. If you liked books like A Case of Conscience, which explores the nexxus of science and religion from an other-worldly angle as well, you’ll like Steal Across the Sky. I, for one, am going to continue pursuing my goal of reading all of her books, even though this one wasn’t my favorite.

 

Book Review: Machinations by Hayley Stone: Amazing Read

I don’t understand why everyone’s not raving about Machinations by Hayley Stone. It’s a book set during a robot apocalypse, populated by people fighting for their lives and a main character who was killed by the robots and then brought back as a clone and expected to lead those people while trying to carve out a new life among old and new enemies,  and, most importantly, with her original’s boyfriend (who she thinks of as her own). It sounds like it might be difficult to follow for any number of reasons, not the least of which might be the fact that such extreme circumstances might not appeal to mainstream audiences. But anyone who enjoys good writing should read this book, and join with me in their praise of it.

 

Book Review: Machinations

 

Indeed, I suspect that those who do read it will marvel, as I did, at the ease with which Stone makes such extreme circumstances plausible and strange characters relatable. But make no mistake, a lot of effort had to’ve gone into fleshing out the premise without making it ponderous, and infusing it with real emotion as opposed to stoicism or melodrama. I think the book’s genius is the fact that it focuses on the people and the emotions they experience as they’re pinned down in a defunct military base; it makes for great suspense and intrigue.

 

That wouldn’t be enough, though, to make it such a great book. It’s good because it is a trifecta of good writing, unique premise, and emotional exploration, a combination that stands out in high relief against so many other books that possess one or two of those traits but rarely all three. I would that, if the premise of a book—any book— is not solid enough, or fleshed out well enough, or plausible enough, all the good writing and emotional exploration in the world cannot make the book an enjoyable read (think Anubis Gates by Tim Powers).  By the same token, if the premise is solid and there’s strong emotion but the writing is clumsy, weak, or thick (like that of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel), then you’ve got a book that collapses under its own weight. If you’ve got writing that flows and a solid premise but characters who express emotions that don’t fit the situations they encounter, or who express them too dramatically or not dramatically enough (as in Nancy Kress’ Steal Across the Sky), the book, again, falls short. It takes real talent for a writer to balance a plot that bears out the premise with evocative, expressive writing and accurate, relatable emotion. That’s why Machinations is such a treasure.

 

This book gets all 10 stars on my 10-star rating system.

 

And, in case you’re wondering why I haven’t posted a review in a while, know that I don’t post reviews here of every book I read. If I read a book but can’t justify giving it more than 3 stars on my 10-star scale, I won’t post a review of it here. I will in GoodReads, though, so if you’re thinking about reading a book and curious about whether or not I’ve read it and liked or disliked it, follow or friend me there.  I’ve also been busy taking care of my sick family, being sick myself, celebrating the holidays a little, writing a technology grant for a local elementary school, working, writing my own book, and excitedly waiting for my 47th birthday, which will happen this Sunday (yes, my birthday is New Years’ Day but no, I wasn’t born just after midnight).

Note: I received a free ebook copy of Machinations through NetGalley. All opinions contained herein are my own, not influenced by the price I pay or do not pay for a book.

These Broken Stars cover

Book Reviews: These Broken Stars, and This Shattered World

I must start this book review by mentioning another book review site, The Book Smugglers, because it is from that site and its really good, in-depth reviews that I learned about These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman. The book is sometimes called “Titanic in space” because the crash of a giant spaceship is what sets off its main conflict. The daughter of the richest man in the universe, and a poor, orphaned soldier are the only two survivors on a terra-formed, unpopulated planet, and they both hate each other. But they have to get along in order to survive. This is not the first time that such a conflict forms the centerpiece of a story, but it is the first time that it has been done with such original effect.

 

These Broken Stars cover

I, for one,  loved the uniqueness of the plot and the premise, two young people marooned on a planet struggling to overcome the mindsets that keeps them apart. They must search for other survivors and for a way to communicate an SOS signal, so in that sense, the plot is tied inextricably to their movement along their days-long hike.  The evolution of their dynamic feels very real, such that you really feel for both main characters, especially since the story is told from both of their points of view. Lilac, the daughter, learns how and why she should really rely on herself more; not only that, her eyes are opened to the dark deeds of her father, who has kept her under his gilded thumb her entire life. And Tarver–his discovery of the fact that there are things worth protecting, not just dying for, but living for and taking care of–it’s a beautiful thing.

Were it just for those things, I would have rated the book highly. But then, a twist developed that was wholly unexpected, that brought in more of a fantasy feel, that lent a whole new dimension to the tale. I was, in fact, a very bad person when I read this, because I had to read it all through in one day! I felt like this book was well-paced, walking a perfect line between conflict and emotional development. It can be such a struggle to develop both simultaneously. It was one of those books that pulls you inexorably forward to find out what happens. A joy to read.

 

Here’s the cover description:

It’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone. Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help. Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever? Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it. The first in a sweeping science fiction trilogy, These Broken Stars is a timeless love story about hope and survival in the face of unthinkable odds.

Stars: 10 out of 10

Update: Second Book in the Series: This Shattered World

The second book in the series, This Shattered World, did not disappoint either, although it was about completely different characters. Here’s its description:

Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met. Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet’s rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the rebels. Rebellion is in Flynn’s blood. His sister died in the original uprising against the powerful corporations that terraformed Avon. These corporations make their fortune by terraforming uninhabitable planets across the universe and recruiting colonists to make the planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion. Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war. As Flynn and Lee attempt to uncover the truth about Avon, they realize that there is a conspiracy on the planet that runs deeper than either of them could imagine, one that Lee’s former commander Tarver Merendsen only scratched scratched the surface of two years ago.

Everything about the second book is different–the characters, the setting, the conflict–but there is the same vividness of setting, starkness of conflict, and unforgettable characters. I wrote this in my Amazon review:

This was a 10 on my not-able-to-put-down scale! I loved everything about it. The plot had the impetus of a tidal wave. It was built around a conflict that was stark and very tense. Though this book’s setting is on a world very different from our own, I didn’t have a problem visualizing where things were taking place. The characters were marvelously believable and wonderfully drawn. There was exactly the right balance between internal monologue and external action; enough of the former to make the extreme changes the two main characters go through seem not only feasible but necessary, and enough of the latter to continually glue my eyes to the pages. Such a joy to read!

This Shattered World cover

Have you read the third book in the series, Their Fractured Light? If so, what did you think?