Review: The Man of Legends (By Kenneth C. Johnson)

A shoutout to NetGalley for a free ARC of this book.

(“NETGALLEY!”)

Reading and reviewing it has been long pending from my end; made longer by the fact that I tried super-duper hard, but just couldn’t go through with reading the entire thing. It’s now one of the entries on my scarcely populated Did-Not-Finish list.

But… reviewed it must be, even if most of what I say is based on the 30% I did end up reading. So, here goes!

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Source: Goodreads

Genre: Something between fantasy, science fiction, thriller, and mystery

Length: 428 pages

Blurb:

Will is a thirty-something old man with brown eyes and brown hair, who never ages and is visible in multiple photographs next to almost every famous person across the world and across all time. He’s being chased by some Vatican emissary (don’t know why) and generally goes around being kind and gentle, while also being a super famous (but unidentifiable) author and painter. Jillian, of some tabloid-fame, discovers the fact that he’s been around forever, and then something happens over the span of 48 hours right after New Year’s Eve that brings everyone in the story (mainly the people that Will has somehow been in touch with) together for a traumatic experience they never forget. Oh, and something evil lurks in the shadows (apparently).

Overall Rating: 1.5 out of 10

Plot: Promise of a plot gets 8 out of 10; Plot that actually unraveled gets 2 out of 10

Characterization: 6 out of 10

Primary Element: Too ‘all over the place’ to identify a primary element other than ‘drones on’

Writing Style: 1 out of 10

Part of a Series?

No.

Highlighted Takeaway:

Will – a bit over the top maybe, but likable to some extent.

What I Liked:

Nothing to write home (or on this blog) about.

What I Didn’t Like:

An immense amount of buildup from Page 1, but absolutely no movement, at least until 30% in (or even 40% in, as seen from the quick page-flipping I did).

Who Should Read:

  • I don’t know… maybe people who can cook, work, clean, raise a child, answer calls, walk the dog, and undertake some personal grooming at the same time, because that’s how good at multi-tasking you need to be to follow the sheer number of storylines and characters.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who doesn’t want to spend the first ten minutes of every reading session going, “Who’s this person again and have they come before?”

Read It For:

  • Ummm… checking to see if you’re still as sharp as you’ve always been?

Loved The Man of Legends or hated it? Let me know in the comments below!

– Rishika

Review: Artificial Condition (By Martha Wells)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 158 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Murderbot returns in the second book of his diary series – Artificial Condition.

Murderbot is a SecUnit, a human/robot construct leased out to research teams for security. Except, it’s hacked its governor module and has been a free agent for a while, accepting missions of its own volition (and allowing clients to believe that he’s still under the control of the company) as it figures out what it really wants. But now, it knows where it needs to go.

Murderbot has fragments of the memory of a dark past, one in which it went rogue and killed numerous people. That’s why, in its mind, it’s called Murderbot. Now, it wants to know the truth. What had really happened and where? And what role did Murderbot really play in the massacre? Its decision to find out the truth leaves it hitchhiking rides to a distant moon and soon, it finds itself on a research transport, forming an unlikely friendship. To get on the moon though, it needs an employment pass. Which is how it finds itself in the employ of a group of young people traveling to the moon and requiring security.

Now, Murderbot has two missions – find out the truth and keep its clients safe. And neither of them is turning out to be as simple as it’d thought. Will it find the truth it desperately wants to discover? Or will Murderbot’s past catch up with him and endanger the clients it has now vowed to protect?

The Bottom Line:

Just as good as its prequel, Artificial Condition is slightly slower-paced, no less interesting, and a lot funnier.

My take:

Artificial Condition picks up just a little after the first one ends, and it is (again) written from the perspective of Murderbot. Since it’s a novella and one that’s not too long, I’m going to try to keep this review short too.

Artificial Condition is at par with its prequel. It’s got a healthy dose of action and violence. A large part of the book, however, focuses on the development of Murderbot’s character as it gets used to its new circumstances and situation.

The surprising part of the book is the humor. I do not remember All Systems Red being funny as often as Artificial Condition. Murderbot’s wry sense of humor is much more pronounced in the second installment, especially so during its conversations with the Research Transport vessel on which it hitches a ride. For that to make sense, it is necessary to mention here that the vessel has its own intelligence, which is what connects with Muderbot. Also, certain events lead to Murderbot christening the vessel ART (A***ole Research Transport), and although dodgy at first, their relationship is one of the best parts of the story.

I have to point out though that Artifical Condition doesn’t hit the ground running. It’s relatively slow in the beginning, with almost half the book focussing on ART and Murderbot getting to know one another. That can be a sore point for those expecting a lot of action (especially given the fast pace of All Systems Red). But I thoroughly enjoyed their conversations and thought they were pretty pivotal to both entities figuring themselves out a little more.

All in all, Artifical Condition does not disappoint those who started the Murderbot Series with All Systems Red; in fact, it really builds on Murderbot’s story and personality. Highly recommended to:

  • those who read All Systems Red
  • those who want to try out a slightly different form of sci-fi

Artificial Condition can’t really be read as a standalone because a lot of it won’t make sense unless you’ve read its prequel. So All Systems Red is the best place to start this series (you can read my review for that one here), which is not one that you want to miss if you are even remotely interested in (or want to try out) sci-fi and space movies/books.

I’m soon going to be reading the next book in the series. Keep watching this space for the review of Rogue Protocol!

– Rishika

 

Review: All Systems Red (By Martha Wells)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 144 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

SecUnits are androids that accompany exploratory teams traveling to different planets in a distant future. Half human, half machine, their job is to keep the humans in their charge safe. Their rules are governed and issued by the company that approves and supplies all interspace missions. But safety isn’t a big concern when profits are at stake. Which is why the SecUnit accompanying Dr. Mensah and her team doesn’t bother too much when they face numerous technical glitches. Until they lose contact with another exploratory team that was on the other side of the desolate planet.

In the search for answers, Dr. Mensah and her team discover something unexpected. Their SecUnit has hacked into its own governor module. It isn’t, and never has been, answerable to anyone. And it calls itself ‘Murderbot’. Murderbot has a history, one that gives the humans enough reason to question his role in the dangers surrounding them. But they have more reason to trust it. And no choice but to do so when they realize that their lives depend on uncovering the truth about what happened to their neighboring mission team. But is trusting an advanced AI who is openly apprehensive of humans and generally indifferent the right choice? What is it that Murderbot really wants? And who will have to pay the price when the android is forced to choose between the freedom it’s come to like, and a lifetime of servitude that awaits it if its actions were to go public?

The Bottom Line:

A fast-paced, action-packed read that takes the unique perspective of the android, Murderbot, itself, and hits the reader with a host of emotions, expected and unexpected.

My take:

All Systems Red begins without much foreplay. It just leaps right into the story, and into the head of its main character – Murderbot. As such, it takes some time to get used to the slang and style, making the first couple of pages really interesting, but also requiring slow reading. But once you get the hang of it, there’s no pausing.

At 144 pages, it’s a short book, and every page is filled with information. And somehow, Wells manages to depict detailed characterization and character development in this short length. The characters can get a bit confusing (I honestly took some time to figure out who was male and female!), but that doesn’t really affect the reading experience. The characters themselves are so defined that that is the only thing you really care about.

Although interesting, the story is not unheard of or not previously-never-done. But what really stands out is the POV. The entire story is told from the perspective of Murderbot itself. The android has no misconceptions about what it likes or dislikes, and its own strengths and weaknesses, but it continues trying to figure out what all that stuff really means for it as an entity. This is a character that is trying to understand itself, and yet the effort of this activity takes a toll on it. In all of this, it still continues to care about the people in its protection, showcasing that it is inherently good.

For the most part, Murderbot is like a child. It sees the good and the bad, focuses on the good, and tries to do what it perceives to be right. But, it also has a strong survival instinct, driven by its past. These two halves of itself often put Murderbot in a conundrum. All Systems Red follows the development of Murderbot as it traverses the confusing waters of what it means to be itself, while fighting off an external threat that is way out of its comfort zone and job description.

The story follows the basic arc of an abandoned planet, a team of researchers caught in a threat they don’t understand, an unidentified enemy whose motivation is just as unknown, and a desperate attempt for survival. Yet, its fresh take makes the book very interesting. Plus, it keeps moving without reprieve, has something happening almost all the time, and keeps you turning the pages wondering, “What happens next?”

I thought the end of the book was actually pretty brilliant. Although many people have found it to be anti-characteristic, I found it to be quite the opposite. What I felt when reading the end was pretty simple – there could have been no better, natural conclusion. I think that Wells was very clear about the personalities of her characters, no matter however much conflict they are in, with each other and themselves. They are basically human. And the end made me feel like she definitely seems to have a strong understanding of what that means.

All in all, All Systems Red is a fast, interesting read that introduces a character who I definitely want to follow. There are three more books in the series – two have been released and the fourth (and apparently final) chapter releases this October. I’m definitely putting this series on my list, and will explore more of Wells’ work too.

All Systems Red is highly recommended to those who enjoy:

  • sci-fi of all types
  • action thrillers
  • movies like Alien and Life

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

– Rishika

Review: Micro (By Michael Crichton and Richard Preston)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 540 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Eric Hansen works at Nanigen Micro-technologies, a company whose operations and products are shrouded in secrecy. But Nanigen is huge and stands at the cutting edge of science and technology. Eric, his girlfriend and company CFO, Alyson, and Nanigen CEO, Vincent Drake, travel across the country looking for new recruits who would want to take advantage of the technology and equipment at Nanigen, tools that could help them shape the future. Eric’s brother, Peter, and his six colleagues accept an offer to visit Nanigen before deciding whether they want to be employed by the company.

But the day before the visit, Peter gets a message from Eric telling him not to come. Before he can decipher the short and abrupt message, he gets a call from Alyson. His brother, Eric, died in a boating accident. Shocked and confused, Peter travels to Hawai, where Nanigen is located, a day before his colleagues. He is barely able to digest the information he receives over the next twenty-four hours. And decides to confront the people he believes are responsible for Eric’s death. But things don’t go as planned. Peter and his friends are exposed to the bizarre technology that Nanigen has perfected, and tossed into the rainforest. Now, it is up to these seven young individuals to find a way back home before nature defeats their survival instinct. In the wild, you don’t get points for trying. It’s either win or lose for Peter and his friends. And the only thing at stake, is their lives.

The Bottom Line:

An interesting but too fantastic premise, which lays the groundwork for a fast-paced thriller that falls short of being truly Crichton-esque.

My take:

Micro received a lot of flak for being very un-Crichton-like. One of the main problems that readers have been vocal about is that the language isn’t Crichton’s style, and the disparity too obvious and, consequently, unpleasant.

But, given that it was supposed to be his last (unfinished) work, I didn’t go in expecting too much, which is probably why that disparity (which really is obvious) didn’t bother me too much. I did draw parallels to Crichton’s other work, although that was more on the things that I really like about his work, and not as much on style.

Coming to the review of Micro

The story itself is good, even if it’s a bit on the fantastic side. I mean, re-engineering dinosaurs through fossilized mosquitoes and frog DNA is actually more believable than the scientific premise of Micro. The lack of scientific explanation may be the reason, but the entire premise is sort of a given, and you’re just supposed to believe it. There is no moral discussion on it, there is no skepticism, and there’s very little time (in the story arc) to even understand the tech (for characters or readers). That makes the entire sci-fi angle, which could have been pretty great, fall a bit flat.

The rest of the story is interesting though. You get a detailed look into how dangerous nature can be, and the character arcs move along pretty well. There is an expected bit of violence, but the extent of its graphic nature can catch you a bit off-guard. The story moves along smoothly, and is fast-paced. The plot twists aren’t really surprising, but do add interesting dimensions to the story.

What I really missed in Micro, though, was the detail to human nature.

Crichton’s work has a very unique perspective on human nature, and the many good and bad things it makes people do. It’s not explicitly described, but can be gleaned from his choice of dialog and character development. And it’s always instrumental in the way the story progresses. That is something that I’ve always loved about his work and really missed in Micro.

The lack of that touch is also probably what makes Micro move along like an interesting sci-fi, mystery read, but doesn’t leave an incredible impression like many of his other books. The style of the book is also more mystery-like than sci-fi, something that will strike (and has struck) a lot of Crichton fans as odd and unpleasant.

All in all, Micro is an interesting read for many reasons (general story, pace, thrill), and so makes for an enjoyable experience (minus some aspects). But it isn’t really Crichton-esque. So, I’d recommend the book to those who enjoy all types of sci-fi; but if you’re a hard-core Crichton fan, only pick this book up if you can do so with no expectations.

Read Micro? Share your thoughts on the book and what you liked/disliked about it in the comments section below!

– Rishika

Review: Obscura (By Joe Hart)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 348 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Dr. Gillian Ryan could do nothing but watch helplessly as her husband withered away into someone she couldn’t even recognize. Affected by a new and fast-acting form of dementia, he lost his memory, then himself, and finally his life. Her infant daughter was the only ray of sunshine in her life at that dark time. But eight years later, her daughter begins to show the terrifying symptoms of the disease. Gillian has already dedicated her life to finding a cure, but her daughter’s sickness renews her determination. Until the university cuts her funding. Gillian is on the brink of losing hope when her college boyfriend comes back into her life. He wants her to travel with a NASA team to a space station where the crew members are showing symptoms similar to the psychosis that’s threatening her daughter’s life. Without any other option, Gillian accepts, hopeful that her research will help save her daughter too.

But things are not as she was made to believe. Gillian’s apprehension turns to paranoia as strange events begin to unfold around her. Something is terribly wrong with the crew, and things are only getting worse. Battling her own problem of addiction, one that she’d kept secret from almost everyone, she begins to lose sight of the line between reality and nightmare. But, as she realizes, the worst is yet to come. Desperate to find the solution that could save her daughter’s life, Gillian is forced to fight against an unknown danger, the unimaginable threats of space, and her own self. As precious days and weeks tick by, Gillian begins to wonder just what she’ll lose first to the horrors she faces – her daughter, her life, or her sanity.

The Bottom Line:

An edge-of-your-seat read that brilliantly blends science fiction and thriller to create the written equivalent of LIFE meets Alien meets Hollow Man.

My take:

The first thing to know about Obscura is that even though its cover says Obscura: A Thriller, it’s quite predominantly science fiction. The science fiction part of it is quite interesting although I won’t claim to fathom its actual possibility. It’s not Jurassic Park type science fiction; maybe a little simpler. But if you take it at face value, you can really get into the story.

The book has a lot of crazy plot twists. Some are expected, but most aren’t. It moves along at a very brisk pace and keeps you turning the pages relentlessly. But the best part about the book is its rawness. Every character is very real. They’re very human. They’re weak, strong, good, bad, kind, selfish, and everything in between. But more importantly, every emotion is blunt and honest, while not being dramatized. You can really experience the characters’ emotions, and this is done so subtly that the suddenness of those emotions makes them even stronger.

The book doesn’t shy away from reality and, in no way, romanticizes the notion of good vs. bad. It dabbles predominantly in gray areas (for events and people), and has parts that are graphic and disturbing primarily because of their straight-forwardness. Like in life, it offers no guarantees, and all these factors make the entire book very hard-hitting.

The only thing that works against it is that it moves back and forth a lot, which makes it a tag confusing. But other than that, the book has very little to affect the excellent reading experience it offers. While it is a bit difficult to break down the elements that make it a good read, Obscura, as a whole, is very thrilling, beautifully raw, and even emotional. It’s one of those books that stays with you long after it’s done.

I would highly recommend Obscura to:

  • fans of science fiction
  • fans of thriller and mystery (who don’t shy away from graphic details)
  • those who love/enjoy movies like Alien and LIFE

A big thank you to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an ARC of Obscura. It got Joe Hart on my radar and I’m looking forward to reading more of his stuff.

Obscura is available for purchase, so get your copy, have a read, and share your thoughts on why you loved/hated it in the comments below! And thanks for stopping by my blog – I hope you find your next read here.

– Rishika

Review: The Circle (By Dave Eggers)

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

Length: 500 pages

My rating: 0 out of 5 stars

At the outset, I’m going to tell you that I didn’t finish this book. In spite of trying my damned hardest, I got only 30% in (150 pages), before I gave up because reading it just made me so, so angry. So, my blurb is going to be based on the author’s itself.

Mae Holland finally gets a break from her dead-end job when she gets a new job at The Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company. The place has around 10,000 employees, and a sprawling campus that gets visits and performances from rock stars, Nobel Prize winners and other such celebrities on a daily basis. She loves her job, loves the campus, loves the company and forgets about the world outside of it for the most part. Some things hit her as strange but she loves everything too much to pay any attention. Then her role becomes highly public and something (apparently) happens, after which she (and I’m assuming some other persons) start questioning the company and its practices that have no respect for privacy and democracy.

Okay so maybe my blurb also includes some ranting on my part. Read on to know why.

My take:

I could do this paragraph-wise, but that’ll be too long. So I’m doing this point wise.

  1. This book has the laziest writing I have ever read. Eggers seems to write whatever he fancies, going into the most mundane and unlikely of conversation and narration, before getting bored himself and just ending it abruptly. Also, it just has bad prose that is lazy, and often redundant.
  2. I have never come across characters more annoying or lost. There is absolutely no depth to any of the characters. And half the time, there is no character to any of the characters. It’s like Eggers forgets who he’s writing about and just adds on aspects that make no sense to their already barely existent personalities.
  3. Mae is one confused character, whose entire life seems to go on with the dead-pan expression made famous by Kristen Stweart in Twilight. She is dull, uninteresting, and just too… non-existent as a character. Oh and she’s also oddly selfish and arrogant, and talks in few-syllabic responses to questions. And did I say annoying as hell? Let’s just tag Annie on at the end of this point – equally annoying, confused, and just rude in conversation while being spoken about in narration as an angel who walks among mortals.
  4. There were actually five entire pages on a discussion between Mae, a colleague she’d never met before, and their senior about how said colleague was hurt (to tears) that Mae hadn’t attended a Portugal-themed brunch to which she’d been invited through their social channel. Some apologizing later, the matter is successfully handled and the HR department is sent a written notice. Because the HR department of a company that large gives a damn about an unseen brunch invite – very busy people, these.
  5. The Circle apparently makes ground-breaking innovations and supports external individuals who do this every single day. Except the innovations are only discussed from one angle – the one that will make them seem like the best ideas in the world, when they’re actually mundane, done-to-death, concepts that are only made to seem awesome by the never-ending applause from the watching audience. It’s like Eggers couldn’t really think of good ideas, so he took dull ones and tossed in social acceptance to make people think they’re amazing.
  6. Apparently, social networking is an extremely important part of Mae’s job (and that of every ‘Circler’)… and everyone in this ‘biggest internet company of the world’ has the time to send hundred of messages to the newbie on the job congratulating her for getting good ratings on her customer interactions. There may have come about (if I’d read on) a reason for this apparent importance of one new person in a company that hires at least ten people daily; but from what was written, this seemed like just something they all did, because it’s a “community”. A community of the most brilliant minds in the world (as Eggers repeatedly reminds the reader), who are working on the next set of amazing tech for the world, and who have altogether too much time on their hands to act like college-kids who thrive on gossip. Man, how I wish this place was real and I got an awesome job like the ones all these people worked so, so hard to get. (Not.)
  7. 30% in meant I was 150 pages in. And there was still no sign of an actual story. Boring, mundane, forcibly-cool things kept happening, people kept acting annoying, and conversations driveled on without any structure or direction. I’m sure there was a story coming up, but if you haven’t bothered with it until 150 pages in, you’re not exactly scoring reader-enjoyment-points.

To be honest, I thought this would be a great book. It had been recommended to me earlier, it’s coming out as a movie starring Emma Watson who’s more or less always taken up sensible roles in her career, and the movie trailer looked good. But the book was a massive disappointment, offering no story, no characters with whom you could associate, no meaningful conversations, and a highly-dramatized, cheesy-film version of one guy’s idea of what a ‘cool tech giant’ would be like.

I absolutely hate leaving books midway, because often times even bad books get better. And I really did try to keep going on. But it was just painful, boring, and irritating to read. It had no redeeming quality whatsoever.

Book readers always hope that movie adaptations stick to the original stories. I really want to watch and like the upcoming movie because the trailer seemed to signal towards an interesting flick. So I really, really hope that the movie adaptation of The Circle is as far away from the book as it can be except for whatever the crux of this story is. After all, the last movie adaptation that starred Tom Hanks was Inferno. And they sure as heck deviated from the book for that one (check out my book review for Inferno here). Although the deviation didn’t work then (check out my movie review of Inferno here), it may be just what The Circle needs.

Recommended for:

  • nobody
  • seriously, literally, nobody

Tell us what you thought of the book and whether you’re interested in watching the movie. Or tell us anything else you’d like to share too! Just drop us a comment below.

– Rishika