the low down on new books

Science Fiction


Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Dan Simmons.  481 p.  Published 1990 by Spectra.  Listened to audiobook, narrated by  Marc Vietor , Allyson Johnson , Kevin Pariseau , Jay Snyder , Victor Bevine.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Science Fiction

Short Bio (from publisher): On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it.

In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope – and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

Eyewitness Account: I tend to the enjoy the Fantasy end of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy spectrum, so my review of this book is a bit colored by the fact that I don’t find as much enjoyment out of the advanced technology-cool gadgets side of Sci-Fi.  I liked this book, but not enough to rave about it (perhaps I’d like it better if I finished the sequel, Fall of Hyperion, as these are really one long book published into two novels). 

Thumbs up:  the frame story format in which each person tells their own story (very Canterbury Tales-like), the gradual unravelling of mystery surrounding the Shrike and the motivation behind each character’s trek toward doom, the beautiful writing style, and the haunting nature of each individual story.  The strength of this book is that it’s composed as six short stories that fit together like a puzzle. The stories in and of themselves are each beautiful in a bleak, melancholic way.  This is no happy tale; each story is one of tragedy and sorrow.  However, they all explore (in the great Sci-Fi tradition) the ideas of what it means to be human – to love, to suffer, and to have hope.

Thumbs down: the book opens with a BARRAGE OF TECHNO GOBBLEDY-GOOK that left me wondering when the narrator would get around to speaking in English (this feeling drops off fairly quickly though, but not the best first impression), the first pilgrim’s story was agonizingly slow to get into (I finally looked up a synopsis on Wikipedia and read just the summary of the first pilgrim’s story before deciding it was worth ploughing through), and all the stories have a rather lengthier-than-they-need-to-be feel to them.  Not sure if the characterization really depended on the amount of detail that Simmons goes into.

If you like imaginings of our universe in the 30th century and all the cool techno-gadgets we’ll be using as well as the great lengths we will have exerted ourselves to destroy our limited resources, then you’ll love this book.  If you like Sci-Fi that explores the deeper underpinnings of our humanity through melancholic tales, then you’ll appreciate this book.  If you can’t stand Star Trek, then try Connie Willis instead.

Warning:  this book includes offensive language and some adult content (both violence and mild sex scenes).

Notable Quotes:

For those who do not write and who never have been stirred by the creative urge, talk of muses seems a figure of speech, a quaint concept, but for those of us who live by the Word, our muses are as real and necessary as the soft clay of language which they help to sculpt.”

“I now understand the need for faith–pure, blind, fly-in-the-face-of-reason faith–as a small life preserver in the world and endless sea of a universe ruled by unfeeling laws and totally indifferent to the small, reasoning beings that inhabit it.”

Other Books Read by This Author: none.

What are other people saying? Keeping the Door, Sandstorm Reviews, Inverarity is not a Scottish Village


★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★★☆☆ Characterization

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★☆☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


Napier’s Bones

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Derryl Murphy. 320 p. Published March 2011 by ChiZine Publishers.  Advanced review copy provided in electronic format courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Science Fiction / Suspense

Short Bio: (from ChiZine Publishers) Dom is a numerate, someone able to see and control numbers and use them as a form of magic. While seeking a mathematical item of immense power that has only been whispered about, it all goes south for Dom, and he finds himself on the run across three countries on two continents, with two unlikely companions in tow and a numerate of unfathomable strength hot on his tail. Along the way are giant creatures of stone and earth, statues come alive, numerical wonders cast over hundreds of years, and the very real possibility that he won’t make it out of this alive. And both of his companions have secrets so deep that even they aren’t aware of them, and one of those secrets could make for a seismic shift in how Dom and all other numerates see and interact with the world.

Eyewitness Account: This is the second ChiZine galley I’ve read (I read both this last weekend) and, like Eutopia, it has a very unique and intriguing plot.  Murphy posits a Matrix-like world in which a few select people can not only see the “numbers” that make up our world, but they can also manipulate them to defy normal physical laws (a la Obi Wan and The Force).  Dom, the main character, is thrown in with the ghost-like shadow of a former numerate and a newbie who is just discovering her mathematical gift.  As they are hotly pursued by the most powerful numerate in history, Dom gets a whole new education in the nature of  numbers and how numerates can use and abuse them.

Although the books are nothing alike, I found myself comparing Napier’s Bones to Eutopia – perhaps because they both bore the distinctive ChiZine mark of somewhat bizarre plots.  However, where Eutopia was strong on characterization but slightly weak on plot and setting, Napier’s Bones  is much the opposite.  The “numerate” world was very believable and engaging – something I could see Hollywood picking up and exploiting for its awesome special effects and endless possibility of plot lines.  The fast-paced storyline kept me turning pages from the beginning, and the author deftly walked the thin line of describing the “rules” of the numerate world without info dumping.  The only major weakness, in my opinion, was the character development – they all fell a little flat and never managed to take on any real personality (I couldn’t picture which actor would play them in a movie adaptation – which is how I know they could have been fleshed out a bit better). 

The long dead mathematicians and poets that Murphy pulls into the present numerate world are kind of fun and I learned a few things I didn’t know.  If you want a great explanation for how John Napier’s “Bones” actually work, check out this website

This would be a great summer reading pick, especially for readers who like action, math, or science fiction.

Notable Quotes:

“You came to the city where I was sent, to the artefact that I was sent to watch, and at this moment I choose to believe that maybe Fate does exist, the hand of God rather than the serendipity of numbers.”

“The further she travelled the easier it was to focus on learning from the numbers and to use less of her attention on the actual travel.  Less focus on the travel and therefore her surroundings meant less focus on time, which paradoxically meant that less time actually changed for her.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Fantasy Book Critic, Missy’s Reads & Reviews, The Crow’s Caw


★★★★ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆

Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by David Nickle. 259 p. Published April 2011 by ChiZine Publishers.  Advanced review copy provided in electronic format courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Historical Science Fiction (What the heck? Yeah, I’ll explain below)

Short Bio: (from ChiZine Publishers) The year is 1911.

In Cold Spring Harbour, New York, the newly formed Eugenics Records Office is sending its agents to catalogue the infirm, the insane, and the criminal—with an eye to a cull, for the betterment of all.

Near Cracked Wheel, Montana, a terrible illness leaves Jason Thistledown an orphan, stranded in his dead mother’s cabin until the spring thaw shows him the true meaning of devastation—and the barest thread of hope.

At the edge of the utopian mill town of Eliada, Idaho, Doctor Andrew Waggoner faces a Klansman’s noose and glimpses wonder in the twisting face of the patient known only as Mister Juke.

And deep in a mountain lake overlooking that town, something stirs, and thinks, in its way:

Things are looking up.

Eutopia follows Jason and Andrew as together and alone, they delve into the secrets of Eliada—industrialist Garrison Harper’s attempt to incubate a perfect community on the edge of the dark woods and mountains of northern Idaho. What they find reveals the true, terrible cost of perfection—the cruelty of the surgeon’s knife—the folly of the cull—and a monstrous pact with beings that use perfection as a weapon, and faith as a trap.

Eyewitness Account: So, ChiZine is a new publisher for me and I’ve just read two of their galleys this weekend (look for a Napier’s Bones review soon).  They are admittedly a publisher of “weird, subtle, surreal, disturbing dark fiction and fantasy” and Eutopia certainly fits that bill.  I don’t know if it was the cover, the title, or the blurb, but I had expected this book to be a futuristic dystopian novel – and was instead plopped down in a historical novel with some bizarre sci-fi/fantasy twists. 

The plot jumps between two main protagonists – Jason Thistledown, the sole survivor of a plague in his small Montana town, and Andrew Waggoner, a black doctor invited to work in a logging town in Idaho.  Both are confronted with the plans of others to make a “perfect” society – through Eugenics (“culling” out the weak in society, which means killing or sterilizing them) and through the creation of a “Garden of Eden” in the isolation of Idaho.  The two men soon find that they are entangled in more than just the cruel working of man when encounter Mister Juke, who doesn’t seem to be quite human and proves that he can manipulate the minds and wills of the local hillbillies.

Perhaps it was the dichotomy between my preconceptions and the reality of the novel that made me confused for the first half of the book, but it took me a while to really get into the plot.  However, the wait was worth it – the second half of the book really picks up some plot momentum and has a fairly smashing conclusion.  The novel deals with a wide range of topics, from racism and the Eugenics movements to faith and the quest for perfection.  Nickle’s main characters – Jason Thistledown, Aunt Germaine, Andrew Waggoner, and Mister Juke – were the best part of the novel, as each one is very distinctly and uniquely drawn (no mixing up characters in this novel!).  Nickle gets two thumbs up for originality, as I’m fairly certain there isn’t another story like this – you might find yourself turning the pages of Eutopia just so you can see how he pulls all these diverse plot threads together.

I would like to caveat this book by saying its gets an N-17 rating from me; there are some graphic scenes that, while not necessarily containing violence, are slightly disturbing. This is certainly a book to try if you like the Twilight Zone or somewhat twisted/strange stories.

Notable Quotes:

“Did any of them ever mark the day, he wondered, when they fell from reason into madness?

And then he wondered: Did I?”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? I ❤ Reading, Feeding My Book Addiction, Curiosity Killed the Bookworm


★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆