Archive for June, 2012
Tonight, Lauren Oliver’s two YA dystopian romances are on the table. These, of course, are the critically-acclaimed DELIRIUM and its immediate sequel, PANDEMONIUM. Both feature Lena Haloway, a teenage girl from a troubled background who lives with her aunt and uncle in Portland, Maine, as her mother is unavailable. (At first, Lena believes her mother is dead, but later finds out that isn’t so.) And both feature a world that’s nearly entirely unrecognizable due to one thing: love has been outlawed, and anyone who dares to love despite societal prohibitions ends up shunned at best, incarcerated or killed at worst. This is because love is now called a disease, and goes by the name of amor deliria nervosa; it is not considered to be a benign ailment, which is why society continues to incarcerate and kill people who dare to love.
Worse yet, the world, or at least the United States, has become extremely regimented. Your mate is picked for you (obviously, if you try to pick your own mate instead, you’ve shown that you’ve contracted the “disease” and must be removed from society). Your choice of career is picked for you. Your behavior is monitored, your associations (friends, family members, etc.) are not always freely chosen, either (though friendship still exists, true, deep, lasting friendships are quite rare), and everyone in polite society wishes for one thing: the Cure, otherwise known as unnecessary brain surgery that’s equivalent to a lobotomy. A whole religion has grown up around this, and no one questions it because the older religions have all been swept away. (This is a bit of a plot problem, but I’ll get into it later.)
So, for nearly seventy years, the U.S. has existed in a twilight state. Anyone who loves is declared a criminal; the lucky ones manage to get away into “the Wilds,” areas around big cities that have been cleared of permanent habitation, while the unlucky ones get placed into mental institutions or are killed outright in the attempt to escape their terrible fate of an unnecessary lobotomy.
All of this is necessary in order to understand Lena’s problems in DELIRIUM, as she starts out knowing that her mother was not able to be Cured despite several procedures. At first, Lena doesn’t question authority or orthodoxy, which made me want to scream and throw things; ultimately, she falls in love with a guy named Alex, who tells her many things she needs, but doesn’t want, to hear. (Such as the fact that there are a number of resistance fighters out in the woods — excuse me, the Wilds — and that there are many people who disagree with the government’s official stance that everyone needs a lobotomy to protect them from themselves. At this point, I muttered, “Thank God,” and kept turning the pages.)
One of the highlights of DELIRIUM is Lena’s true and strong friendship with a young woman named Hana. These two met because they’re both runners; because their social standings are wildly different (Hana’s family is wealthy, which in this society means her TV actually gets seven channels), once they’re both Cured, they probably won’t have anything to do with one another. Yet as they’re still in high school at the beginning of this book — and as neither of them has been Cured — they still care deeply about one another and want each other to be happy.
Hana, you see, is one of those people who rebel, but only within limits. She will have a comfortable life if she submits to it, which she knows. But she still doesn’t like the idea of that comfortable life; she just doesn’t have the inner fortitude to escape considering the massive problems escaping from their dystopian society will engender.
Yet Hana has lit a fire under Lena, and that fire can only be quenched by two things: freedom, and Alex. And for the most part, I bought it, as Ms. Oliver’s storytelling ability is quite good.
But one thing really bothered me: because this is a young adult dystopia, much emphasis is placed on Lena getting to know Alex body to body, even though they do not, technically speaking, have sex. (In this society, touching one another and kissing deeply seems more illicit than merely having sex, which is something all of these societally approved couples must get around to now and again even considering they’ve all been effectively lobotomized for their own protection.) Lena, of course, goes into raptures at Alex’s physical attributes (the broadness of his manly chest, how his muscles catch the light of the sun, even musings about Alex’s shoulder blades, for pity’s sake), and of course Alex is also stricken dumb by Lena’s physical beauty even though she’s 5′ 2″ and from her own musings isn’t considered to be a raving beauty by any standard.
All of that lavish bodily description was excessive. It detracted and distracted from the main plotline, which of course is this: how do these two young lovers successfully escape their dreadful society? Or is that even possible?
Yet the road into the Wilds is perilous; will they make it out alive? (Hint, hint: at least one of them does, otherwise the second novel under review, PANDEMONIUM, wouldn’t have been written.) Even if they do, will their relationship grow, change, or . . . die?
Next, we move on to PANDEMONIUM, where Lena is now in the Wilds. Alex is not with her, so Lena has to endure the Wilds on her own. She meets up with a resistance group led by a tough young woman, Raven, and several tough young men, including Tack, who seems to be Raven’s boyfriend though this is never really explored.
After a number of travails (mostly having to do with the lack of electricity, food, and medical supplies), Lena ends up relocated to a different city and becomes involved with the influential DFA group — DFA standing for “Deliria Free America” — as Raven and Tack have come along to pretend that they’re Lena’s relations. (There’s no way Raven and Tack would be old enough to be Lena’s parents, so they’re posing instead as her Aunt and Uncle.)
Of course, there’s yet another handsome young man in Lena’s future, with this young man being the son of the head of the DFA, Julian Fineman. Julian has had seizures his entire life, and believes that if he’s allowed to have the Cure (he’s had many operations, as he’s also been stricken with some form of brain cancer), he may truly end up medically cured. Or he’ll end up dead, which to him is an acceptable risk — and because he’s a politician’s son, Julian’s been groomed to tell everyone in this overly polite society that he’s willing to die for the Cure, which of course is a strong societal message.
Then, as the plot progresses, Lena and Julian end up getting kidnapped by a hostile bunch of thugs called the Scavengers. These aren’t like the freedom fighters, who just want to live in peace and love whomever they want; instead, the Scavengers are anarchists, who glorify violence in the name of upsetting the current “natural order of things” in the U.S. Lena ends up confessing to Julian that she’s not really Cured as he thinks she is; instead, she’s part of the resistance, what Julian thinks of as “Invalids” (this concept, of course, has been done before by movies such as Gattaca), with the normal run of zombie-like sheep — er, Cured human beings — being the Valid citizens. And eventually, she manages to get the two of them free of their nasty captors, oddly enough without a single seizure from Julian to gum up the works.
But of course that’s not the end; along the way, Julian falls in love with Lena, while Lena slowly grows to like touching Julian the same way she touched Alex in the past. (Once again, there is no sex going on; the closest these two get to intimacy is when they kiss, or one of them sees the other half-naked.) Lena convinces herself that she must be in love with Julian — after all, he’s a good guy, has stood by her throughout all their trials and tribulations, so what’s not to like about that? — because she does, after all, like touching him. That she doesn’t seem to realize that touching someone and truly loving someone are not the same seems oddly naïve.
Anyway, just as Lena and Julian think they’ve gotten away scot-free into the Wilds, they end up getting recaptured. But Lena doesn’t end up incarcerated; instead, a member of the resistance gets Lena away. This member of the resistance acts oddly, too, in a way reminiscent of Lena’s long-lost mother (hint, hint), but Lena has no time for it as she must get Julian free as he’s about to be put to death. The fact that he’s a politician’s son doesn’t save him under the circumstances, nor does the fact that he and Lena nearly died several times in their escape from the brutal thugs because this is an extremely inflexible, unforgiving society. Because Lena knows that, her focus shifts toward getting Julian away; anything else will just have to wait.
So, the cliffhanger here is, does Lena save Julian, or not? And if she does, will she realize that she doesn’t really love Julian (instead, she just likes him and likes how it feels when he touches her)? And note, while one of these two questions is resolved by the end of PANDEMONIUM, there’s still a great deal left outstanding — which probably is why the third book of this trilogy, REQUIEM, is due out in 2013.
While there are many things to like about both of Oliver’s books, there are some major problems here.
- First, the “new,” zombie-like society that the DFA-types have created has only been in existence for about seventy years, which isn’t long enough to have expunged every trace of any other religion besides the state-sponsored one.
- Second, there’s way too much time spent on how gorgeous these people are; even when Lena characterizes herself in a deprecating fashion, somehow it comes off a bit overdone.
- Third, while I believed Alex was truly in love with Lena, I was never sure if Lena loved Alex or loved the idea of being in love with him; this went double for Lena’s odd relationship with Julian.
- Fourth, I do not buy that a young man like Julian, who’s had seizures all his life, can be beaten and nearly killed yet not have one, single seizure while doing his level best to escape. (Or afterward.)
- And fifth, it’s nearly impossible to imagine how any form of a society could function when everyone in polite society, effectively, has been lobotomized in order to “take the Cure for their own protection.”
So despite Oliver’s excellent storytelling abilities, the foundation on which these stories stands is a bit rocky. That’s why despite two decent YA romances set amidst a convincingly grim milieu (the back story is weaker than I’d prefer, but the ambience is superb), the better of these novels rated a B.
Bottom line: the ambience is excellent. The milieu is distasteful, appropriately dystopian. The romances work to a degree, at least considering very young, untried people are involved. But the back story did not convince.
Because of this, while I’ll still do my best to read REQUIEM when it comes out next year, it’s not likely to be at the top of my list. (Sorry.)
Grades: DELIRIUM — B, mostly because of the Lena-Hana relationship, along with the convincing Alex-Lena romance.
PANDEMONIUM — C-plus, mostly because Lena doesn’t seem to realize Julian’s just a guy — albeit a hot-looking one — and that being willing to touch someone does not necessarily mean that you love him. Not even in this society.
— reviewed by Barb
Shiny Book Review is proud to announce that author Rosemary Edghill has consented to do a wide-ranging interview, which will run next Thursday, June 28, 2012. Edghill, co-author of DEAD RECKONING along with Mercedes Lackey (previously reviewed here at SBR) and author of VENGEANCE OF MASKS (soon to be reviewed), will discuss her career, including the highlights of working with science fiction and fantasy Grandmasters Marion Zimmer Bradley and André Norton and her long-standing collaboration with renowned fantasist Lackey. She’ll also give some helpful tips for writers, discuss her writing process, and talk about what she finds to be the most distressing aspects of publishing.
So be sure to come back next Thursday, as Ms. Edghill has many interesting ideas to impart due to her lengthy and wide-ranging career. (You’ll be glad you did.)
Ash Krafton’s BLEEDING HEARTS (Book One of the Demimonde) is about Sophie Galen, a human advice columnist, and Marek Thurzo, a Demi-Vampire. Sophie meets Marek at the local museum, where they bond over the Egyptian exhibit; Sophie takes to Marek right away even though he’s dark, dangerous, and brooding. (Or perhaps because he is all those things; it depends on Sophie’s mood.)
But Sophie isn’t your average human being, as she has the gift of empathy. Perhaps this is why she guesses that Marek isn’t exactly what he seems, though it doesn’t stop her from getting to know him. Of course, it does take Marek a while to admit to Sophie what he is (a Demi-Vampire, or “D-V” for short; the D-V have souls, are long-lived, and have to drink blood for sustenance. But they also can eat regular food, at least some of the time.), and as you’d expect, Sophie is floored. But she quickly adjusts because she knows Marek is telling the truth; he is a D-V, but he wants to get to know her better.
By this point, Sophie likes Marek way too much to give him up just because he’s not human. But as Marek isn’t an empath — none of the D-V are — he has the same emotional worries as a fully human male, which helps to balance the romance nicely.
During the course of BLEEDING HEARTS, Marek punctures many myths about the other paranormal species (for example, it is not pleasant to have a vampire or even a D-V drink your blood, and the D-V absolutely, positively will not drink from anyone they care about as they view it to be unutterably wrong). He also does his best to encourage Sophie to believe in herself — not just her gift, which will be of enormous benefit to the D-V if she can learn how to use it effectively, but in her complete self. (Which is yet another reason to want to root for the guy.)
Sophie’s gift of empathy is essential to the plotline, because the D-V need someone with Sophie’s talents to help them. They are desperate to avoid “evolving” into full Vampire (no -s in Krafton’s vision; “vampire” works for both singular and plural), because the regular Vampire are nasty, brutal thugs without any vestige of a soul. (The D-V believe the Vampire to be eternally damned.) Someone like Sophie may be able to keep them from this terrible “evolution,” as she can both feel their pain and project her own caring back due to her gift as an empath. And so long as the D-V can still feel and/or still care, their souls remain intact.
Of course, Sophie’s gift is quite rare. It, and she, must be protected at all costs. But Sophie doesn’t truly understand this, which makes for some harrowing complications toward the end of BLEEDING HEARTS (to avoid spoilers, I’ll stop there with regards to a plot summary).
BLEEDING HEARTS has much to recommend it. There’s a good woman who makes wisecracks in her spare time (Sophie), a brooding leading man who’s on the edge of eternal damnation (Marek), and a truly nasty villain (Still-heart the Vampire). There’s a believable romance between Sophie and the much-older Marek. There’s excellent atmosphere. And there’s a good backstory that fits the D-V into the more common mythos of vampire and werewolf without a hitch.
But perhaps the best reason to read BLEEDING HEARTS is because of how well Krafton depicts Sophie’s various struggles. Even though Sophie is past thirty, it’s obvious that there’s a lot about herself that Sophie simply doesn’t know. Sophie’s “coming of age” adds an enormous amount of emotional depth and feeling to what could’ve easily become a clichéd and/or stilted narrative, but thankfully didn’t.
Bottom line: BLEEDING HEARTS, despite its superficial similarities to both Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, has something to offer that isn’t done very often — humor mixed with emotional depth and heart. If you have a fondness for urban fantasy in general, vampires in particular, or anything in between, BLEEDING HEARTS will fill the bill.
— reviewed by Barb
Graeme Maxton’s THE END OF PROGRESS: How Modern Economics Has Failed Us is a trenchant and often extremely depressing look at world economics. Maxton starts with the unbridled “free” market of much of the Western industrialized world, and points out that philosopher and economist Adam Smith (author of THE WEALTH OF NATIONS) would not like much of what he sees. Too many monopolies, says Maxton; too much money and power in the hands of too few, and too little taxation in countries like the United States of the wealthy and upper middle class (who can afford to pay) means that the world economy, in effect, is upside down: the things that should be expensive aren’t (such as televisions, calculators, and computers), and the things that aren’t expensive should be (oil, which is a finite resource; food, especially red meat which isn’t cost-effective to grow and/or sustain without a substantial price increase; water, which once again is a finite resource).
Maxton lays out many, many facts and even more opinions about why he believes the world has reached an end to any sort of substantial, sustainable technological progress to lift most of humanity up out of poverty. Maxton believes instead that in many countries, such as the U.S., we are going backward (he is particularly censorious when it comes to the U.S.’s broken health care system, and how it leaves millions without good access — or perhaps any access at all — to health care), and that the way the world economy has gone in the past thirty years, we’re only going to accelerate this trend.
Now, the main reason this has anything to do with economics is due to how Maxton ties in his premise (that being, of course, “The End of Progress”) to the 2007 stock market/worldwide banking crisis. Maxton points out that after the 1929 stock market crash, the world actually hit bottom some time in 1932; the world, as a whole, took nearly 25 years to recover from the damage of that stock market crash. Yet the 2007 crash, with the worldwide banking crisis added to it, was actually worse than the 1929 crash — and Maxton believes that the 2007 crash, rather than being an end in itself as the worst-possible recent economic event, is actually a harbinger of even harder times to come.
Maxton’s prescription for economic improvement mostly depends on two things: raising taxes substantially on those who can afford to pay, and worldwide belt-tightening as there just aren’t the resources available to improve the economy overnight (or in his view, perhaps at all). He believes that attitudes need to change, especially among the wealthy; he points out that in Smith’s time, the wealthy believed they should pay more in taxes because they could afford to do so, yet now the wealthy pay as little as they can get away with because it appears they’ve bought most of the politicians/power brokers. This leaves everyone else with a far lesser share of the economic “pie” than we should have, and yet the wealthy do not believe they’re doing anything wrong as they believe free-market, unbridled capitalism is what Smith was talking about in 1776.
Yet the meaning of words change over time, so when Maxton points out that this isn’t what Smith believed at all — Smith believed that capitalism within moral limits was the right move, and that businesses should look at long-term gain rather than the short-term profits that may look enticing, but will ultimately hurt everyone including the business at hand — he is on to something. And he’s also right when he points out that many of the world’s resources are finite and must be conserved as much as possible, which is something Smith would also approve of; Smith would definitely not approve of how oil company executives behave (how they get tax write-offs and economic benefits when they’re the wealthiest companies the world has ever known, for example), nor about how many economists fail to talk about the morality and ethics of how wealth changes hands while instead talking only about money as if there are no morals and ethical consequences attached.
Overall, Maxton’s premise here is that of a worst-case scenario. But it’s a necessary point of view to take, considering much of what is heard from economists these days is only about the money rather than the ethical considerations behind the actions of those who have the money and/or power.
This is a “. . . if this goes on” polemic that should be acknowledged, widely read, and debated, especially considering Maxton’s main premise that our attitudes need to change when it comes to dealing with worldwide, finite resources. After attitudes change, maybe then politics and policies will finally also change to reflect a greater awareness that the world we live on is a precious resource — not to mention the only one we have — and needs to be husbanded carefully.
My recommendation is that everyone needs to read THE END OF PROGRESS, most especially writers and politicians, in order to understand the magnitude of the choices we’re making. Yes, it’s an often depressing book that sometimes conflates opinion with fact. But the case Maxton’s making is sound, especially when you consider it as a worst-case scenario that it’s obvious Maxton really hopes we as a species will avoid.
— reviewed by Barb
I opened the file for Monster Hunter Legion (I got the electronic Advance Reader Copy from Baen Books) to refresh some of my earlier opinions and thoughts on the book…
…and immediately found myself on Chapter Ten, deeply engrossed in the book, wondering just how this had happened. Somehow I had lost track of two hours and countless pages in my “refresher reading”.
Yeah, that’s a sign of a great book.
Fans of Larry Correia (Monster Hunter International, Dead Six ,Hard Magic) are probably rejoicing at the latest Monster Hunter book. Owen Pitt, slayer of gods and combat accountant, returns after a brief hiatus from the Monster Hunter series (his boss, Earl Harbinger, was the star in Monster Hunter Alpha) and is in Las Vegas meeting with other professional monster hunters from around the world at the first-ever expo of its kind. Naturally, things are supposed to be top secret, so the “convention” is being held in the yet-unopened Last Dragon Hotel. Owen and other members of MHI (Monster Hunter International) are enjoying the buffet when a competing group of montser hunters arrive. Sparks fly when Owne accidentally bumps a Newbie who was a late arrival and recognized him from his last illegal pit fight — Jason Lacoco, the brooding giant who assisted Earl Harbinger in Monster Hunter Alpha. They fights, they break stuff, they end up in jail… a good time for all to be had.
After he gets bailed out of jail by his boss, Owen is forced to attend the conferences and panels the following day, wishing the entire time that he could be at another convention in town. However, things get interesting as the professional monster hunter community begins to chat one another up and realize that something very big seems to be happening all over the world. Contacts are made, maps are drawn, and a pattern begins to emerge. However, before the pieces can be put fully together, they are called in by Special Task Force Unicorn (which I absolutely cracked up over when I made it into an acronym, STFU… the author likes his jokes, as do his readers) and offered a bounty: the first monster hunter organization which kills a mysterious creature in northern Nevada gets $10 million, as well as first dibs on standing protective contracts, which translates to a lot of money. Owen and the rest of MHI are roped in when Stricken, who leads STFU (heh), lets Harbinger in on the little fact that his girlfriend Heather is missing in the region as well. MHI mobilizes and arrive on the scene soon after a German company, who kill… a giant spider. Both teams are confused but the Germans aren’t about to turn down $10 million for an easier-than-expected kill.
Owen, meanwhile, tags along with Agent Franks as they drive out into the wild wastes of the Nevada desert. Owen and Franks arrive at a top secret government storage facility where Franks guides Owen down to a small, formerly sealed off hole in the ground which looks as though it could have been a tomb. Owen is shocked: this is the exact same door and tunnel he saw in a dreams of his the night before. After a brief encounter with a monster, Owen and Franks return to Vegas, with many unanswered questions in the back of our protagonist’s mind.
Meanwhile the other monster hunters have packed it up, so everyone heads back to Vegas, where much celebrating and drinking occurs. However, once they arrive back, some very strange things begin to go down within the confines of the Last Dragon Hotel. As in “end of the world” things.
I’ll admit, I’m a little biased towards this series, because the first book was simply brilliant. The author hasn’t lost his touch while writing about Owen and his adventures, keeping the humor, action and plot all tightly together as he takes the reader for one hell of a ride. It’s exciting, thrilling, and the mystery behind the monster which continuously comes to chew them up and spit ’em out keeps the entire novel engrossing. As always, Correia forces you to care more about the characters and story than anything else, something I find a lot of writers tend to forget.
One of the best parts is how the author also connects each of the characters to novels past, instead of blowing them off as though they don’t matter. For example, in the first book of the series Albert Lee mentions his dreadful fear of spiders and how he was forced to pretty much torch a library to kill a bunch of oversized ones out to devour him whole. Fast forward to MHL and someone mentions that Albert, despite his past history with spiders, should know what type it is exactly and what makes it so special. Small things, but for a fan of the series, very important, because it keeps a cohesive approach to every story and novel in the Monster Hunter series.
This is a fun, fun book, filled with lots of clever rejoinders, massive explosions and B-movie horror monsters that will both terrify and entertain the reader. The author really knocked it out of the park with this one, and once again leaves the reader salivating for more. Definite must-buy for all the monster lovers and hunters out there.
—Reviewed by Jason
Gini Koch’s ALIEN IN THE FAMILY is the third book in her series about Katherine “Kitty” Katt, an “alien exterminator” who works with both the CIA and the Centaurion Division. Kitty is engaged to Jeff Martini, who looks like any old (extremely good-looking) human, but is actually an “A-C” — that is, he’s from Alpha Centauri originally but ended up settling on Earth, along with many others, due to a religious dispute. Jeff has two hearts and can move at hyperspeed; otherwise, he’s the same as any other male in existence — that is, he’s jealous, frequently for no reason whatsoever, and really likes to have sex. (A lot.)
Kitty, of course, is madly in love with Jeff and finds him intensely desirable. Which is why in this third book of the “Kitty Katt” series, Kitty’s about ready to settle down with Jeff in what’s literally the wedding of the universe. But getting married obviously isn’t going to be as easy as it sounds. The A-Cs are undercover (no, humanity still doesn’t really know anything about the A-Cs, aside from agents like Kitty) and mixed-marriages between humans and A-Cs are frowned upon. Worst of all, Kitty finds out that Jeff is actually exiled Centaurion royalty (something he doesn’t care about, but the other A-Cs, both off and on Earth, do), which cause major complications all around.
As this is humorous science fiction romance, there are many laugh-out-loud moments due to the scrapes Kitty gets into (some are of her own making; most aren’t) and the people of all stripes, nationalities, and species she runs across. Kitty, you see, is against being politically correct, so when she meets a member of a lizard-like race, she calls that person an “Iguanadon.” (That person eventually gets over it.) And, this being a comedic romance, manages to make that person not only her friend, but a second “BFF” (her first BFF, a gay former international fashion model named James Reader who figures into the plot in a not-so-insignificant way, of course doesn’t mind this in the least).
The pluses of ALIEN IN THE FAMILY are the romance, the humor, the believability of Kitty’s various scrapes, and the overall characterization. It’s a fun book to read (and re-read) because of its fast pace and interesting take on interspecies politics, religious disputes, and of course the wedding and fashion design industry.
But the one, big minus that I couldn’t keep myself from noticing was this — all of these people are way too good-looking for words. I can believe it of the A-Cs — they’re aliens, so if they look much better than the average human being, I understand that. I also can believe Kitty’s quite attractive, and of course her friend James the former male model would be expected to be way, way above average. But why is it that nearly everyone in this book needed to be not just attractive, but stunningly gorgeous, to the point that Raphael would’ve rhapsodized over them had they been among his models? (Much less Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.?)
I realize that in the science fiction/romance genre, it’s the norm for both the hero and heroine to be outrageously, mind-bogglingly attractive, though the better SF/romances, such as Lois McMaster Bujold’s SHARDS OF HONOR, get away from that somewhat (Cordelia falls in love with Aral because he’s intelligent, not because he’s stunningly gorgeous; it gradually occurs to her that she’d rather look at Aral any day of the week even though others might find him ordinary because he’s the best and finest person she’s ever met). But it’s really off-putting when not one of the leads, secondary leads, or even tertiary leads is a normal looking person (or less) with stunningly good qualities in other areas, and it does, unfortunately, weaken the overall impact of the story as it’s flat-out impossible that every single person Kitty runs across is just that attractive.
That being said, ALIEN IN THE FAMILY is a fun book to spend a few hours with and is a novel you’ll enjoy if you appreciate the humorous SF/romance genre whatsoever.
— reviewed by Barb