The Otissito Review

Category: Science Fiction

Total 47 Posts

Book Review: “The Unhappening of Genesis Lee” by Shallee McArthur

The Unhappening of Genesis LeeThere are a lot of themes in young adult fiction, and a lot of them end up being rather repetitive when lined up next to each other. For some readers this is just fine, they don’t mind reading stories that follow similar tropes over and over. Other readers, like myself, enjoy it when something reaches out and surprises the reader in unexpected ways.

In The Unhappening of Genesis Lee the reader isn’t subject to some dreary dystopian wasteland, they aren’t exposed to a love triangle, and they aren’t bogged down by a massive amount of world-building that forces the story onto a complicated and massive scale. This book keeps things intimate and at a smaller scale so the reader can dive right in, understand their surroundings, and get on with enjoying the story.

Along with keeping things at a more manageable, smaller scale, the author adds a very intriguing plot device, asking the question, “What happens if someone can steal a portion of your memories, or even all of them, in the blink of an eye?” What happens then? What sort of life is a character forced to live if losing their memories is something they have to constantly fear?

Genesis Lee, usually referred to by the nickname, Gena, is a teenager in Havendale, a city founded for people like her that store their memories in objects such as bracelets or necklaces made up of Links. She is a Mementi, and if she loses possession of her Links then she’ll lose the memories stored inside of them. She cannot store her memories in her brain like the other, unaltered members of the city, known as the Populace. When Gena’s best friend Cora has two years of her memories stolen by a thief the police have yet to catch, Gena begins trying to track the thief down herself. Along the way she crosses paths with a charming young man named Kalan. Gena doesn’t remember Kalan, but he remembers her, and that’s when things begin to get very interesting for Gena as she realizes someone is not stealing her memories, but rather erasing only the portions that specifically deal with Kalan.

Soon enough, Gena and Kalan are scrambling to find answers about who is stealing Links, who is wiping Gena’s memories, and who is behind the rising tensions on the streets of Havendale. As they begin to uncover the mystery, they discover the answers hit much closer to home than they originally imagined.

What impressed me most about The Unhappening of Genesis Lee was the skill Shallee McArthur showed in weaving all of the different plot elements together to keep the story moving. There is the relationship tension between Gena and her best friend Cora, the budding romance between Gena and Kalan, the mystery of the Link thief, and what seems like a dozen other important details that really flesh Gena out as a character. The story is told from Gena’s point of view using a first person narrative, so there are a lot of fun observations, internal dialogue, and thought processes that McArthur uses to tell the story. Gena is quirky, a bit naive sometimes, and very determined. A recipe that seems more destined for disaster than heroics at first glance.

I did find the character of Cora to be a bit lightweight, and that took a little bit of adjusting expectations on my part. Cora is important to the plot because as Gena’s friend, losing two years of her memory creates a direct negative impact on Gena. However, Gena was so involved in so many other things that Cora did not receive as much screen time as I was expecting (or perhaps hoped for) following the opening scene. However, Kalan did a great job of filling in the void I felt with Cora’s character. Kalan was dynamic, fun, and maybe my favorite character in the book.

The pacing of The Unhappening of Genesis Lee is really solid most of the time. There were a few scenes that I would have enjoyed a little more time inside of, but overall it was refreshing not having to be bogged down waiting for the next big piece of action to begin. On the whole, today’s Young Adult fiction tends to suffer from a growing case of wordiness, and with this book, things happened, and they happened fast. Not every story can be told at the pace of The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, but I’d rather read something with the pace this book has, than some of the lumbering Young Adult offerings of the past few years.

The Unhappening of Genesis Lee is the debut effort for Shallee McArthur and I think it serves her well as an example of the work she can do in the genre. Maybe it needs a tiny bit of polish in a few places, but the world of Young Adult fiction needs some new ideas, and this book serves up new and fresh ideas with wild abandon. I’d love to see what Shallee McArthur has on tap for her next endeavor.

The Unhappening of Genesis Lee is 352 pages long, and was published November 18th, 2014 by Sky Pony Press. Further commentary on the book can be found at Goodreads.

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Book Review: “Heir to the Jedi: Star Wars” by Kevin Hearne

Heir to the JediIt’s been very interesting to see how the new Star Wars canon is beginning to come together after Disney removed the entire Expanded Universe from being and official part of the lore not that long ago. The first two books put forth some interesting backstory for Grand Moff Tarkin and the two lead characters of the new Star Wars: Rebels cartoon, but they did not deal at all with any of the big three characters of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, or Princess Leia. With Heir to the Jedi, Kevin Hearne introduces us to a Luke Skywalker from just after the destruction of the first Death Star, when he is a hero of the Rebellion, but is still trying to figure out what the Force actually does and how he fits into the big picture of the Rebellion in the future.

Luke makes his way through two missions during the course of the book. First, he is sent to Rodia to do some research about a new arms deal for the Rebellion. There isn’t a lot of money to go around, but Admiral Ackbar thinks that fostering a relationship with one Rodian clan in particular would be useful. To successfully complete the mission, Luke can’t take his usual X-wing because the Imperials would recognize it, so instead he uses a ship called Desert Jewel, which is owned by a woman named Nakari, a woman who also happens to be a rather accomplished sniper and is also bankrolled by a fair amount of family money if the need arises.

The mission to Rodia is relatively successful and upon returning Luke is asked to rescue a very talented slicer from Imperial captivity. This time he takes the Desert Jewel, but brings Nakari along with him as they’ve fostered a budding romantic relationship and seem to work well together on the whole. Ultimately, Luke and Nakari are able to help the slicer escape their Imperial captivity, but with some dire consequences along the way that will likely shape Luke significantly in future books.

Heir to the Jedi is doing a lot of work in establishing what kind of personality Luke Skywalker is supposed to have, and it does a pretty good job of setting him up as a man who wants to do the right thing, discover the secrets of the Force, and aid the Rebellion in whatever ways his skills work best. The problem for me comes when I realized that the Luke Skywalker in this book is very different from the Luke Skywalker we see in The Empire Strikes Back. This book is official canon, so I hope we get some more screen time with Luke in another book or two that will help flesh him out as a character while still letting fans of Star Wars love the character he is in the official movies. As it stands, after reading Heir to the Jedi, I don’t believe the Luke Skywalker from this book fits with the Luke Skywalker from The Empire Strikes Back.

I also had a tough time with feeling like Heir to the Jedi every really got started. Yes, there are action scenes, and yes, there are some interesting characters, but despite all of that, I felt like I was spinning my wheels a little bit as a reader. Maybe it had something to do with the first person viewpoint, a rarity in the Star Wars books, or maybe it was just the story that had been chosen for the author to tell. I’m not really sure. I’ve read other work by Kevin Hearne and never felt like I was spinning my wheels, so I found it a little strange to have it happen this time. Regardless, I hope that Kevin Hearne continues to get opportunities to work with Luke Skywalker as a character because I think he’s got a lot of good things in place at this point and I would hate to see it ruined by someone else.

So far the new Star Wars canon books have been solid in what they have done, but none of the three have really blown me away. I hope that they can get to that point sooner or later because some of the non-canon Expanded Universe has some really great moments that are not being matched by the new canon to this point.

Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi is 322 pages long, and was published March 3, 2015 by LucasBooks. Further commentary on the book can be found at Goodreads.

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Book Review: "Soulminder" by Timothy Zahn

SoulminderI’ve read a lot of Timothy Zahn’s work over the years and most of the time I have a pretty good idea about what he’s going to bring to the table. I received a request to review Soulminder directly from the publisher and given that Zahn is one of my all-time favorite authors, of course I jumped at the chance. It’s always great to see what kind of new idea he’s putting onto the page for his readers.

This time around Zahn is delving into the world of what happens when a person dies and their soul leaves their body. Is that soul a tangible thing? Can it be captured and held for some amount of time? If it can be captured, could something then be done to repair the body it came from so it can be returned and let a person continue their life? If so, what kind of impact does that have on society when suddenly terminal illness, terrible accidents, and death are no longer necessarily the end of the line?

Adrian Sommer and Jessica Sands have managed to invent a machine that allows them to recognize and trap a soul when it attempts to leave a person’s body at the time of death. In doing so they open up a world of possibility regarding what the soul actually is and what sort of systems and policies should be wrapped around the use of their new Soulminder machine. Should it be available to everyone? Is it even morally acceptable to trap a soul and then force feed it back into a repaired body? Does the ability to do what the Soulminder machine does change how people view religion in some fashion?

Sommer is driven by the death of his son and never wanting another mother or father to have to sit and watch their child die in a car accident from injuries that are easily repaired as long as medical assistance can be reached. Jessica Sands is motivated by the idea that continued advancements of the Soulminder technology could perhaps bring about the ability for humans to be immortal. From the very beginning these differing motivations begin to drive a wedge between the two parties and they spend a lot of time involved in things that check and balance each other.

Over the course of the book the reader gets to see the Soulminder technology from its inception, to widespread national use, to abuse by criminals, all the way to government corruption using it as a way to enforce slavery on their citizens. The impact and consequences of capturing souls and placing them back into repaired bodies are widespread and impressive across the board.

This book has much more of a political thriller or espionage feel to it than most science fiction books do, but it delves enough into the technology and science behind the Soulminder machine to keep it firmly within its genre. I admit that the book was nothing like what I was expecting, but at the same time it was exactly what it needed to be in the end. A book that kept me on my toes and seemed very grounded in how cause and effect of such a machine would actually play out.

Wrapping these kind of themes and questions nicely inside of a compelling science fiction story isn’t the easiest thing to do, but Zahn manages to provide just enough plot to keep the reader engaged while still keeping the focus very much on the issue at hand. If someone is looking for rip-roaring science fiction action this probably isn’t the book for them, but I would still encourage everyone to give it a chance. Sometimes it does a person good to read a book in their favorite genre that spends more time making them think about what their own choices would be in certain circumstances than it does blowing up spaceships or exploring new worlds.

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Book Review: "The Trilisk Revolution" by Michael McCloskey

The Trilisk RevolutionI’ve had a really good time reading the first four books of the Parker Interstellar Travels series by Michael McCloskey. However, The Trilisk Revolution sort of fell apart at the seams for me. I understood what the author was trying to do with the book, especially with bringing all of the characters back home to Earth. It was inevitable that they had to return at some point and it might as well be because the Trilisks have managed to infiltrate the entire upper power structure of the ruling government.

The hardest thing for me to deal with in The Trilisk Revolution was how all of the characters are now officially duplicates of themselves using the Trilisk columns that Shiny has set up and I felt like that really took a lot of the gravity away from the situation. It felt a little like there was no cost for the group of them at this point because they were not really putting themselves at risk. There needs to be an appropriate amount of risk for me to believe that characters have something to lose.

I did enjoy how the crew of the Clacker, especially Telisa, had a plan to take down all of the Trilisk infiltrators in one fell swoop with a coordinated, well-timed attack across the entire planet in order to prevent any Trilisks from escaping. The book did still tell a decent enough story, but at just under 200 pages, it felt like the story was rushed and incomplete. None of the books in this series have been particularly long, but this one really would have benefited from another 75 pages or so of extra content.

Of more import than anything during the course of the book was how Shiny so suddenly turns his back on his human friends. Granted, I’m not sure he ever considered them his actual friends, and I was fairly certain that he was going to betray them at some point, but I wasn’t sure it would be so quickly after the end of the fourth book. I did hear from the author after writing my review of The Trilisk Hunt and discovered that The Trilisk Revolution is not actually the end of the series, but that it will be continuing with another book sometime in the next few months. That makes me happy because I don’t want my last experience with what has been a fun series to be a bit of a letdown.

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Book Review: "The Trilisk Hunt" by Michael McCloskey

The Trilisk HuntFollowing the events of The Trilisk Supersedure it becomes clear to Telisa and Magnus that if they want to properly track down the Trilisk that ran away from them that they are going to need a bigger team because just the two of them supplemented by Shiny just isn’t going to be enough firepower to make things happen. In The Trilisk Hunt, they use their cover corporation of Parker Interstellar Travels to recruit several new members to their team in hopes that the right complement of skills will let them take the Trilisk down once they have found it again.

The new crew members on board the Clacker (Magnus and Telisa’s ship) are Caden, a virtual combat champion; Imanol, a mercenary; Maxsym, a xenobiologist; and Siobhan, a mechanical engineer and adrenaline junkie. All of them are required to undergo a gamut of training at the hands of Magnus and Telisa, training specifically designed to help equip them in combatting the Trilisk if they do manage to confront it once more. One of the best part about the training is that none of them have any idea about Shiny until they reach a certain point, and once his involvement is revealed all of them accept it with varying degrees of comfort. Some of them have no problem with Shiny while some of them really aren’t so sure about him, much like Magnus continues to have his own doubts.

One thing that changes the dynamic of the mission is that Shiny has devised a way for the crew members to create enhanced versions of themselves they can use in combat without having to put their original bodies in harm’s way. They can be stronger, faster, anything they need, but then they have to sync their memories back up with their original selves so that they don’t become two separate consciousness. Once they manage to find the Trilisk they take these new bodies into combat and try to capture it, but that does not go well when they realize that the Trilisk tubes that Shiny uses to make their new bodies have a built-in failsafe so that a Trilisk can override the bodies at any time. That means the crew has to go after the Trilisk a second time, but without their enhancements.

The end result is the Trilisks still escaping and several members of the crew winding up dead from the mission. Telisa also discovers that the Trilisks are heading to Earth in order to use humanity as a tool to bring about the resurrection of the Trilisk race. The fallout from the mission leaves Telisa is a rather fragile place psychologically and some of the other crew members wondering if they really want to continue with what they were recruited to do.

The Trilisk Hunt was a fairly decent entry into this series, but I did feel a little bit like the ending tied itself off a little too fast. The development of the new characters was strong as they were added to the cast, but in the closing pages of the book I felt like something was missing and that things were left a little too open-ended. I have one more book to go to finish the series, so we’ll see how things shape up in the end.

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