Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Paradise Factory by Jim Keen: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Paradise Factory by Jim Keen

I recently joined NetGalley, a website that makes it easier for publishers to get books in the hands of reviewers. Like everyone else, I hope to get the next book of my favourite author before it’s published, but that seldom happens. However, there are plenty of books available for immediate download by authors I’ve never heard of before and books I wouldn’t come to read otherwise. I’ve decided to give some of those a chance.

The first book I picked is The Paradise Factory, Cortex book 1 by Jim Keen. It’s being marketed as cyberpunk, which I found very misleading, as there are no cyberpunk elements. It’s more a post-apocalyptic sci-fi dystopia. The apocalypse in this case is brought about by the invention of Mechanical Intelligence, a machine that has made human workforce obsolete. Hundreds of millions are without work and those lucky enough to be employed can lose their job on a whim, with no social security to fall back on. That the humanity is still alive and kicking is more because of stubbornness than for any discernible survival skills.

The story follows Alice Yu, a Brooklyn cop in her twentiesI thinkwhose partner is abducted right in front of her. Even though loyalty to one’s partner and initiative are discouraged by her bosses, Alice goes after him. Traces lead to Brooklyn Bridge, a lawless no-go-zone ruled by criminal empire. She knows she’ll lose her job if she goes there, but she goes anyway.

Another story-line follows Red, a young boy who needs to deliver a message over the Brooklyn Bridge, an errand that would pay well if the other kids weren’t trying to kill him for it. The paths of Alice and Red meet on the bridge and they team up.

The plot is straightforward: find the partner and save him. Obstacles come in form of bridge security trying to kill Alice for their boss, a crime lord who has a nefarious enterprise to conceal. The constant fights became boring pretty soon, but Alice is fighting PTSD from her time as a Marine in Mars, which gives some depth to her character. Because of what she considers a personal failure in Mars, she decides that saving Red is more important than finding her partner, a decision that Red disputes, forcing her to face her past.

After all the fighting, the main conflict is solved amazingly easily. If it hadn’t been for the chapter that followed, which showed the truth of what was on the other side of the bridge and gave both the world and the main characters some new depth, this would’ve been a solid three star book. The ending changed that.

I had some issues with the book. One of them was with the way the scenes were set. Namely that they weren’t. Every scene, especially in the beginning, started right with the action or even a beat after it. For example, the book starts a moment after Alice’s partner has been taken, when she is fighting her injuries. No context was offered to where she was, why she was there, and why her partner mattered so much to her. As it was, I had trouble understanding Alice’s need to go after him other than the general ‘of course she does’. Were they friends or was there a debt to pay? Was he a lover, a mentor? In a world where such decision means a pretty certain death, it needs to be a good reason. Causes were given later in the book, but it came too late as I’d already formed my opinion.

Incidentally, I’m not a fan of a narrative where character motivations, like the cause of Alice’s PTSD, are rationed and revealed after they have already influenced character’s actions. It made the narrative style very claustrophobic with too little to work on. I had to put the book down fairly often just to clear my head. That fortunately changed towards the end of the book when all the players were familiar and the plot began to move forward.

I had issue with the world-building as well. If the world is that rigged against humanity, with no chances of survival, how come there are so many humans left? Especially since there’s a constant winter (and where did that come from). Why are there no riots? The only one seems to be planned by the bad guys for their benefit. The idea of MI didn’t work well either. How could a machine replace the entire workforce? All it seemed to be able to do is print human body parts. They are so expensive that countries bankrupted themselves to get one, so they can’t be in every factory for example. And if they are supremely intellect, how come one of them could be fooled by a human? All the other technology seemed to be in the service of humanity, like the intelligent jacket Alice was wearing, so why was the humanity in such a bad state. Also, most of the technology appeared to be micro-chip based, whereas MI seems to be based on a Babbagean difference enginea cool idea that would’ve changed the entire world-building if everything was based on that; a twenty-first century steampunk world powered by nuclear reactors.

All the issues aside, I liked the book enough to keep reading through the claustrophobic chapters. I liked Alice from the start and Red grew on me. Bad guys could have been more evil, but considering the ending, there’s maybe some use for them in subsequent books. I’m not entirely sure I’ll continue with the series, but I’m glad I read this one.

Monday, April 27, 2020

A Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

A Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones

It’s always a source of unease when a favourite author starts a new series. Darynda Jones is the author of the great and brilliantly funny Charley Davidson urban fantasy series of a grim reaper turned private investigator. It ended last year, and now Jones has returned with Sunshine Vicram, a series that has no fantasy elements, but has mystery and comedy aplenty.

A Bad Day for Sunshine is different enough from Charley Davidson books to feel fresh and similar enough to feel like coming home. Biggest change on the outset is the use of third person narrative, with alternating points of view between Sunshine and her teenage daughter Aurora. It worked fairly well, but at times it was impossible to tell who the ‘she’ referred to was. There were also a few annoying dream sequences that started in the middle of ‘normal’ scenes, only to pull the rug under the reader later on.

The book follows Sunshine Vicaram, the new serif of a small town in New Mexico. It's her home town, but she’s been away for years and has only been tricked to returning by her parents who somehow managed to get her elected as the new serif. While she knows the people and places, she needs to reacquaint herself with everything. Her first day at work starts with a bang, or a crash, and goes downhill from there when a young girl goes missing. It brings back memories of her own abduction when she was seventeen, the reason she has left the town in the first place.

The other story-line follows Auri at school. She has her own troubles in the form of bullies and a new crush, and she is eager to help her mother to find the missing girl, which puts her in peril. Sun is a good cop and a quirky mom, Auri is a brilliant but troubled daughter. Together they are a great team and I loved them both.

The main case of the missing girl seems odd on the surface, but turns out to be straightforward enough that I guessed the bad guy surprisingly early on. But that’s not all the book is about. There are all sorts of shenanigans going on around Sun, with weird and quirky characters brightening the day, and amazingly sexy men pouring in from every direction. And none of them is as sexy as Sun’s biggest crush since she was a girl, Levi, who may be the hero or the baddie of Sun’s life. With clues from Sun’s past surfacing towards the end and the mystery of how she was elected a serif when she didn't run still unsolved, the following books should prove to be as interesting as the first.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Deadly Games, Conspiracy, Tangled Truths by Lindsay Buroker: reviews

4/5 stars (each) on Goodreads

My Lindsay Buroker binge continues with three books. Deadly Games and Conspiracy are books three and four of The Emperor’s Edge series, and Tangled Truths is book three in Death Before Dragons series. So far, I’ve been happy with both.

While the two series are set in completely different worldsEmperor’s Edge takes place in a steampunkish world with magic and Death Before Dragons in our world with addition of otherworldly creaturesthey have some similarities. The main couple consists of an extroverted woman and a highly secretive, unemotional man/male; there’s a larger plot going on in the background that the main character tries to unravel, and both have action and mayhem aplenty. Romantic stories advance in glacier pace, although a bit faster in case of Val and Zav in Death Before Dragons who don’t have the baggage of past misdeeds between them like in the case of Amaranthe and Sicarius in The Emperor’s Edge.

Tangled Truths by Lindsay Buroker

In Tangled Truths, Val has to face both her pasti.e. ex-husband and teenage daughterand dragons bent on revenging the death of Dob. The latter seems to be easier for her, as she isn’t one to contemplate her emotions. And she has an assignment that for once doesn’t require her to kill anyone, which takes her a little out of her comfort zone. But Zav is there to help, if reluctantly, and the ending takes their relationship to a new level.

Deadly Games by Lindsay Buroker
In Deadly Games, Amaranthe’s group becomes involved in investigating the disappearances of athletes competing in important games. When two of her men are taken too, it takes the case to a different levelat the bottom of a lake. The additional point of view is that of Basillard, the former slave. He has learned that Sicarius has killed the ruling family of his people and wants to avenge them. But when they are both held captive, he changes his mind. And he has an important role at the end, when he gets to meet the emperor, who has an odd request. He wants Amaranthe’s group to kidnap him.

Conspiracy by Lindsay Buroker

In the next book, Conspiracy, the group sets out to fulfil the emperor’s request. It’s not easy, especially since he has to be taken from a moving train full of soldiers. The group is experiencing internal strife too. Akstyr, the magic practitioner, is planning to sell Sicarius to bounty hunters, upsetting the rest of the group when they learn of it, and Sicarius goes on a killing spree that upsets Amaranthe and complicates their mission. On top of that, Forge, the group working against the emperor, is moving to overthrow him and they have technology unlike anything that has been seen in the world where everything works on steam. And then the book ends in a cliff-hanger when the action is at its peak. Luckily the next book picks up with the same exact sceneI already checked.

All in all, both series remain satisfying and I’ll continue with my binge. In addition, I’ve acquired several other series by Buroker, so I won’t run out of reading any time soon.