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Thursday, July 19, 2012

More Sci-Fi/Fantasy Summer Reading

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Jonathan Kurihara

I Robot, To Protect By Mickey Zucker Reichert

Compassionate, witty and believable. I Robot, To Protect doesn't deliver outlandish thoughts or spectacular and extraordinary images. Instead it gives people a very believable and realistic future. Most importantly the characters that are in it are every bit as believable as people you might know or relate to. Susan Calvin is a young psychologist fresh out of med school and dropped in the halls of an extremely tight run hospital. She's average in looks, but smart, and savvy, using her prowess of keen observation and abilities to think outside the box to excel. The roguish Remington Hawthorne brings an equal measure of charm and arrogance to the table as both co-worker and love interest. The only android we meet, N8 (Let's just call him Nate, really) is believably the most plain and human of characters, showing equal measures of humor and a deep sense of logic.

Image source: Penguin Publishing

Carefully paced and thought out, the story moves forward with plenty of foreshadowing. Susan is almost immediately encountered by members of the Society for Humanity, or SFH. While I wouldn't say that sparks fly immediately, there's certainly a bit of tension. As we're introduced to the hospital staff above and around her, as well as the way things work at the hospital, things move at a steady pace with pleasantly inserted pieces of humor in the form of carefully crafted dialogue and rapport between our lead characters. This gives them a nice feel and at the same time constantly keeps the story moving along. As things build up, there are very nice pacing breaks between plots: points that are highs and lows as Susan deals with her various patients, and gets invited to work on a very special project within the hospital. Tensions rise to a powerful climax.

As with all well written science fiction, there are some very strong messages within the confines of the story that relate to real world issues. I don't want to give too much away about the plot overall, or the ending, but I can certainly say this: if you can appreciate a story with good characters, hospital drama, romance, a touch of mystery, and a bit of wonder, I definitely recommend this book.

The Clone Redemption By Steven L. Kent

The Clone Redemption is a pair of stories that twist and turn around each other from two different perspectives: they clash as much in style as they do in purpose. In one story arc you have a third person perspective on the mission of a small fleet sent into the far deep reaches of space to combat an alien threat that has crushed outposts of humanity, and likely plans to continue from planet to planet till there isn't one left. In the other story arc, you're given a second person perspective of a cloned man at the forefront of a rebellion; someone who is completely ruthless, and effective.

Image source: Penguin Publishing

The story itself takes place in a very distant future rather than the near future. In an almost military briefing, we are presented with a history of past events leading up to current events. Shortly after this is given we are treated to a view of a group of cloned men who are repeatedly described as looking monstrous, but having hearts only for duty and to serve, being sent on what is very quickly recognized as a suicide mission. Their story begins at an end: destroying the planet they were sent to survey.

Soon after the first chapter begins, the main character takes over beginning to tell us things from his perspective. His tone and the style of writing give the character a very solidly cynical personality. If I had to imagine him speaking aloud, I would imagine a calm and probably gravely tone, the type of guy that would be used to narrate a western, or perhaps a film noir detective. He paints a picture of a group of technologically inferior rebels fighting a war against a federation that hates them, and constantly trying to evacuate planets to avoid the wrath of aliens that will stop at nothing to simply purge humanity from existence.

The Clone Redemption
keeps a good pace with a heavy emphasis on hard hitting visceral action. This isn't a book for someone with a weak stomach. You'll find a mixture of gore, creative swearing that replaces the f-bomb with "speck," and a cold and jaded military outlook. This is a rather testosterone laden tale, not to say that some female readers may not enjoy it, but most guys certainly will.

Supervolcano: Eruption By Harry Turtledove

Supervolcano Eruption starts with a bang, not from the actual eruption of a super volcano, but with expletives, since the main character in this book is a cop who is darker and edgier than your average hero just because of such language. The shift and focus of this book changes from the cop, to his wife, his different kids, and his daughter's ex-boyfriend at very carefully timed intervals, creating a constant series of cliffhangers that make putting the book down very difficult. Well played, Mr. Turtledove.

Image source: Penguin Publishing

The main events of the story are actually just slice of life. Mostly modern life as might be viewed by a typical cynic. Everything that is going wrong in the world already is, from the protagonist’s point of view. Sure, somewhere in the middle of the story there is an actual super volcano eruption, but despite being the titular event of the story, it's not nearly as important as how the characters actually react to the event, and how they go about their daily lives. A lot of the book’s characters are very believably human. They each have their own motives and distinct personalities that makes you want to root for each of them, even if the only thing some find is tragedy, while others find a bittersweet kind of happiness that can only exist after the world you know and love is definitely coming to an end.

This is a deep and engaging read. I wouldn't suggest it to the easily offended, but I'm pretty far from that line myself. It's a tale of a human struggle through adversity that might be set in a modern light. The implications that this book brings to mind, as well as the heart and soul given to the characters, makes it very difficult not to enjoy or appreciate. This is the kind of book that will make you think long and hard over life itself, and if anything, you'll come away with an appreciation for how good things are.

The Doomsday Vault By Steven Harper

The Doomsday Vault brings you into a world that could have been. It's an alternate reality set in the 1800s or so, where technology is more advanced than our own in some ways and yet far more primitive in others. Automations created by "clockworkers" stand in for much of the technology that we possess now, and in some cases are far more advanced than anything we could ever imagine. Our heroine Alice Michaels is a woman of noble heritage who's caught up between the pressures of high society and the desires to be free and do as she will. Our male lead, Gavin Ennock, is given near equal focus as a common airman who knows just what he wants in life: to live free and do as he will, content with nothing more than what he knows, traveling the skies.

Image source: Penguin Publishing

The main events in this story are of course, a mixture of fantasy and adventure that guides our two heroes together and apart from each other, while keeping a focus on both. Alice is given slightly more importance, but not by a lot. Some technical details are explained yet some are left to the imagination in this incredibly creative science fantasy piece. The “steampunk” world that is presented is rich and vibrant with life in its characters, as well as in the settings and the small workings within it. Being the start of a series the ending is left open and you'll likely find yourself wanting more, especially if you read the teaser from the next book at the end.

I not only enjoyed this book myself, but my grandmother enjoyed it too. I had to share it with her after reading it, and she found it just as engaging as I did and was unable to put it down till she'd turned the last page. It's rare to find a fantasy piece that you can't put down, not just because of being led on with cliffhangers, but because you're seriously engaged and invested in the story. To say that I'm looking forward to the next installment in the series is a gross understatement. This book left the bookworm inside of me hungry and wanting more.

Jonathan "Oni" Kurihara is a gamer born in Fresno who has lived in Sanger for most of his life. He's an only child and diligently watches over his grandmother, and her extremely skittish cat.

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