Book Review: Any Sign of Life by Rae Carson

Title: Any Sign of Life
Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication date: October 12, 2021
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Young adult – Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When a teenage girl thinks she may be the only person left alive in her town—maybe in the whole world—she must rely on hope, trust, and her own resilience.

Paige Miller is determined to take her basketball team to the state championship, maybe even beyond. But as March Madness heats up, Paige falls deathly ill. Days later, she wakes up attached to an IV and learns that the whole world has perished. Everyone she loves, and all of her dreams for the future—they’re gone.

But Paige is a warrior, so she pushes through her fear and her grief. And as she gets through each day—scrounging for food, for shelter, for safety—Paige encounters a few more young survivors. Together, they might stand a chance. But as they struggle to endure their new reality, they learn that the apocalypse did not happen by accident. And that there are worse things than being alone.

Any Sign of Life opens to a scenario that hits a little too close to home in 2021, when we still can’t say that the coronavirus pandemic is behind us. In this YA sci-fi novel, our current pandemic is a memory from the past for the characters. As the book begins, we meet main character Paige Miller as she awakens from a coma to confront a world wholly different from the one she thought she knew.

Paige wakes up to discover an IV in her arm and her family’s dead bodies in her house. As she ventures out away from the horror, she encounters nothing but more horror. Every home in her neighborhood contains dead people — she appears to be the only one left alive. After liberating a neighbor’s dog from their locked house, Paige and Emmaline set out to scrounge for supplies and figure out if anyone else has survived.

What seems from the beginning to be a story about a horrific virus that’s wiped out nearly all of humanity takes a turn as Paige starts to realize that this virus couldn’t have been naturally occuring. As far as she can tell, it killed people worldwide in only a week, and that just doesn’t make sense. When Paige meets Trey, another teen survivor, they start to put the pieces together, and realize that humankind didn’t just die out — it was exterminated.

Figuring out how this happened, and desperately fighting for a slim chance at survival, Paige and Trey’s journey leads them to a handful of other survivors and a small chance at making a difference in what seems to be a losing battle to hang onto a world that might still be fit for human life.

Any Sign of Life is both a story of the end of the world as we know it and a tale of a fight for survival. There are exciting action sequences as well as plenty of strategizing about how to survive — and whether there’s a reason to survive. The author gives the characters individuality and personality, as well as giving them each a backstory and inner depth.

Paige, as the POV character, is strong-willed and capable, but also carries the pain of her lost family with her always. Trey is also a great character, and all of the characters we meet are mourning someone they loved.

While the action sequence toward the end of the book is a little confusing, it’s still gripping to read, and I couldn’t help holding my breath while rooting for the good guys to succeed. The book ends on a positive note, but the future still looks grim — and I couldn’t help wondering whether a sequel will be coming along at some point. The ending works, but there’s plenty of room for more of the story to be told.

Any Sign of Life is an engaging read, once I got past the fact that what I thought would be a story about surviving a worldwide plague ended up being about a different sort of threat completely. Not giving too much away, the revelations about the cause of the virus and what the future might hold didn’t wow me, because I feel like I’ve read plenty of stories along these lines already,

Still, I liked the characters and the particular episodes involved in their survival, and have no problem recommending this book to anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic YA fiction.

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Book Review: Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton

Title: Feral Creatures
Author: Kira Jane Buxton
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: August 24, 2021
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Speculative fiction/ horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In this stunning follow-up to Hollow Kingdom, the animal kingdom’s “favorite apocalyptic hero”is back with a renewed sense of hope for humanity, ready to take on a world ravaged by a viral pandemic (Helen Macdonald).

Once upon an apocalypse, there lived an obscenely handsome American crow named S.T. . . .

When the world last checked-in with its favorite Cheeto addict, the planet had been overrun by flesh-hungry beasts, and nature had started re-claiming her territory from humankind. S.T., the intrepid crow, alongside his bloodhound-bestie Dennis, had set about saving pets that had become trapped in their homes after humanity went the way of the dodo. 

That is, dear reader, until S.T. stumbled upon something so rare—and so precious—that he vowed to do everything in his power to safeguard what could, quite literally, be humanity’s last hope for survival. But in a wild world plagued by prejudiced animals, feather-raising environments, new threats so terrifying they make zombies look like baby bunnies, and a horrendous dearth of cheesy snacks, what’s a crow to do?

Why, wing it on another big-hearted, death-defying adventure, that’s what! Joined by a fabulous new cast of animal characters, S.T. faces many new challenges plus his biggest one yet: parenthood. .

A quick take on this book:

I feel like I should write a proper review, but I’m not sure I have a lot to say. I absolutely loved Hollow Kingdom, which introduced us to ST and his post-apocalyptic world of rotting humans, domestic animals waiting to be freed, and tigers wandering the streets of Seattle.

In this follow up, ST is once again our narrator, with chapters narrated by whales, spiders, and cats thrown into the mix. The story picks up with ST now in Alaska, having found the last remaining MoFo (human) — a small baby girl with no one to raise her but ST and his friends. ST is determined to protect Dee no matter what, hiding her away from the world and keeping her safe — but by isolating her, is he depriving her of the ability to discover her own true nature?

Through the raucous escapades of ST and allies, the action moves from Alaskan wilderness to the Bering Sea and back to Seattle, with deeply funny and illuminating encounters with orcas and owls and polar bears along the way. But all is not well in the wild kingdom. Trees are dying, and the MoFos seem to have evolved from shambling zombies into Changed Ones — animal/human hybrids who are freakin’ scary and weird AF.

ST’s narration is fabulous as always, a mix of vulgarity, impressive vocabulary, insightful introspection, and crazy digressions. The writing in Feral Creatures veers between emotional impact and laugh-inducing craziness from moment to moment.

In a once-beautiful winery that was now a den of doom, with fur fizzed up and an arched spine, stood a domestic shorthair cat. A fire starter. The Bruce Lee of felines. A tabby that had sired an entire generation of Seattleite cats — generation FU — and was probably singlehandedly responsible for the eradication of at least one entire songbird species. There was Genghis, with greasy punk rock fur and an arthritic gait purchased at heavy discount from the Ministry of Silly Walks. There wasn’t a bison brave enough to tell him that the earth’s twirling had caught up with him.

I enjoyed a lot about this book… and yet at times, I just couldn’t wait to be done. Maybe because this is a sequel, there’s less room for surprise and delight based on the premise, and the story’s action starts to feel drawn-out and repetitive at times. Even while loving the writing, I did have to continually pull myself back from the brink of boredom when chapters went on too long, and even found myself considering DNFing at times.

I’m glad I stuck with it, though. Even when I grew tired of parts of the story, something amazing (like the arrival of a heard of musk oxen) would pull me back in.

I was experiencing acute déjà poo — the feeling that I’d heard this crap before.

Definitely read Hollow Kingdom first — but if you loved that book, then you’ll want to read Feral Creatures too. My impatience with the book may have more to do with my own reading mood than with the book itself, so take a look and see what you think!

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Shelf Control #282: The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: The Book of Strange New Things
Author: Michel Faber
Published: 2014
Length: 528 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.

Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.

Marked by the same bravura storytelling and precise language that made The Crimson Petal and the White such an international success, The Book of Strange New Things is extraordinary, mesmerizing, and replete with emotional complexity and genuine pathos. 

How and when I got it:

I bought the paperback edition in 2015.

Why I want to read it:

I picked up this book after a friend strongly (and repeatedly!) recommended it. I’m always up for good science fiction, and stories about space travel, humanity exploring other planets, first contact with other beings, etc really appeal to me.

That said, this book does strike me as being more “literary” than I’d typically be drawn to, and it’s also over 500 pages, which is a negative for me these days. Maybe because I always feel so behind with my reading, it really takes a lot to make me want to start a book that’s this long.

But, as I said, my friend was pretty insistent at the time that I absolutely needed to read this book. I also have a copy of of The Crimson Petal and the White by the same author, which I’ve also heard raves about.

What do you think? Would you read this book? Have you read anything by this author?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

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  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
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Shelf Control #275: Resistance is Futile by Jenny T. Colgan

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Resistance is Futile
Author: Jenny T. Colgan
Published: 2015
Length: 336 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Connie thinks she’s never met anyone quite like Luke Beith before.

She has no idea how right she is.

As a high-ranking mathematician in a male-dominated field – with bright red hair – Connie’s used to being considered a little unusual.

But she’s nowhere near as peculiar as Luke, who is recruited to work alongside her on a top-secret code breaking project.

Just what is this bizarre sequence they’re studying? It isn’t a solution to the global energy crisis. It isn’t a new wavelength to sell microwave ovens. The numbers are trying to tell them something . . . and it seems only Luke knows what.

The truth is out there. Will Connie dare to find it?

In this whirlwind adventure, Sunday Times bestselling author Jenny Colgan boldly goes where no author has gone before . . .

How and when I got it:

I picked up a used paperback copy a couple of years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I first came across Resistance is Futile via a recommendation from a book blogger (and I’m totally blanking on who it was — so if it was you, please let me know!). Jenny T. Colgan is the not-so-secret pseudonym for author Jenny Colgan, who’s an absolute favorite of mine. She writes wonderfully sweet and lovely romantic stories, always in wonderful settings, and usually with lots of amazing food. With the “T” in the middle, she writes lots of Doctor Who novelizations, plus a few other more science-fiction-y contemporary stories. And this is one of those!

It does sound odd and quirky and like so much fun! And what’s not to love about a novel starring a mathematician?

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Book Review: The World Gives Way by Marissa Levien

Title: The World Gives Way
Author: Marissa Levien
Publisher: Redhook
Publication date: June 15, 2021
Length: 380 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

In a near-future world on the brink of collapse, a young woman born into servitude must seize her own freedom in this glittering debut with a brilliant twist; perfect for fans of Station Eleven, Karen Thompson Walker, and Naomi Alderman.

In fifty years, Myrra will be free.

Until then, she’s a contract worker. Ever since she was five, her life and labor have belonged to the highest bidder on her contract–butchers, laundries, and now the powerful, secretive Carlyles.

But when one night finds the Carlyles dead, Myrra is suddenly free a lot sooner than she anticipated–and at a cost she never could have imagined. Burdened with the Carlyles’ orphaned daughter and the terrible secret they died to escape, she runs. With time running out, Myrra must come face to face with the truth about her world–and embrace what’s left before it’s too late.

A sweeping novel with a darkly glimmering heart, The World Gives Way is an unforgettable portrait of a world in freefall, and the fierce drive to live even at the end of it all.

Based on the synopsis, I expected a dystopian world of class wars and enforced servitude. And yes, that is what’s going on here, but also…

[SPOILER ALERT FOR BIG REVEAL AT END OF FIRST CHAPTER]

[BUT IS IT REALLY A SPOILER IF YOU FIND OUT IN THE FIRST CHAPTER???]

Here’s the spoiler…

The world is a spaceship.

Yup. This is a science fiction novel, and I had no idea before I picked it up!!

Now that that’s out of the way…

Myrra Dal is indentured to the Carlyle family, thanks to a contract signed by her great-grandmother. It’s a work contract that’s binding for not just the original contract signer, but for generations to follow. Myrra is the last in the chain. There are fifty years left on her contract, and then she’ll be free. Of course, this isn’t really a comfort to Myrra: A woman in her 20s, she doesn’t relish the idea of being old by the time she’s released from the contract, but she has no options. Contracts are completely binding and are enforced by the government’s security bureau, which tracks down those who try to escape. Rumor has it that there are executions, but no one really knows for sure.

And back to that spaceship thing: The world of the The World Gives Way is a huge space ship (which the book refers to as “the world the ship” and people just think of as the world). It’s been traveling for centuries, and is expected to reach their planetary destination within fifty years. It’s implied that the Earth was on its way to becoming uninhabitable when the ship was built and launched, and finding a home on board sounds like it was something available to the privileged and wealthy, plus all the workers needed to support a comfortable lifestyle during the lengthy journey.

When I say that the ship is huge, I really mean it. It’s described as being about the size of Switzerland! Which (I looked up for comparison) is equivalent to about Vermont and New Hampshire combined, or closer to home for me, about the size of the Bay Area. (I absolutely couldn’t grasp the size until I had something more familiar to compare it to.)

The world of the ship includes large cities, resort getaways, mountains, deserts, and seas. It really is a world unto itself. For those who can afford it, there are luxuries and extravagances. For everyone else, there’s work and a daily drudge.

As the novel opens, Myrra’s employer, Imogene Carlyle, summons Myrra to the roof of their penthouse. Imogene intends to jump, and wants Myrra to promise to care for her baby, Charlotte. She tells Myrra a huge secret, known only to the top tier of politicians (such as her husband) and government scientists — there’s a breach in the outer hull of the ship, and despite months of study and efforts, there’s no way to repair it. The ship is doomed, expected to breach completely within the next few months. Imogene and Marcus have decided to end their lives now, leaving Charlotte in Myrra’s care. And then she jumps.

Myrra can’t quite believe what’s happened or what she’s just heard, but after searching Marcus’s office, she’s convinced. Taking money from the Carlyle’s safe, she escapes with Charlotte, heading out on the run in search of temporary freedom, alone with the knowledge of the inescapable end of the world.

From here, we also meet Tobias, a rookie cop with a burdened family history who’s assigned the Myrra Dal runaway case as his big opportunity to prove himself. Since no one knows why the Carlyles committed suicide, or if it might even be murder, Myrra is not only an escaped contract worker but also a suspect in their deaths and the kidnapping of their daughter. Tobias and his older partner are hot on Myrra’s trail, following leads that take them to Palmer, an underwater domed city, and onward from there.

Meanwhile, the world begins to show signs of doom. There are more and more frequent “earthquakes”, causing damage, then city-ending destruction, and other strange phenomena as well. Buildings collapse and people are killed, and finally, the government has no choice but to share the horrible news.

But what good does knowing do when there’s no escape? The world the ship is alone is space, years away from any known destination or safe harbor. As the end nears, all Myrra can do is continue her journey, trying to find some sort of solution for Charlotte, and almost inadvertently looking for a semblance of peace for herself.

The World Gives Way has a sense of inevitability about it. As interspersed chapters tell us, the end is indeed coming. These small interludes, in between the chapters focusing on Myrra and Tobias, show us how different parts of the world experience the end and what happens to the people there. It’s awful, because we know all along that there’s only one way the story can end — the world does in fact give way.

That said, Myrra and Tobias’s parallel and then joined journeys are fascinating and moving to read. Their experiences combine elements of an adventure story — daring escapes, near misses, constant danger, clever ruses — with introspective moments about their lives, their pasts, and their hopes, now shown to be out of reach.

As with other books about the end of the world, it can be a very melancholy read, as we know that no matter how much we might wish otherwise, all the characters we meet are doomed. Still, their journey is powerful and and I was very caught up in seeing how their experiences would change them. Would they find peace? Would they make new discoveries? Would they find a way out for Charlotte? I won’t tell here, but I found the ending sad, satisfying, and oddly right, in its own way.

I will say that my brain could never quite grasp the enormity of the world the ship. How can there be a space ship the size of Switzerland? There are only brief descriptions of the overall shape and design of the container of the world — the ship’s hulls, its cylindrical shape, its rotational access — but my mind just never quite got how there could be an entire world, with geographical features like seas and mountains, inside a ship. (That said, I was fine with reading Discworld, in which the entire world travels through space on the back of a giant turtle… but hey, that’s fantasy!)

Despite not being able to come to terms with the size and features of the ship itself, I did enjoy the attempt to picture it all, and couldn’t help but admire the author’s inventiveness in creating such a strange, weird world. Besides the physical aspects of the world, I thought it was also very clever to create such a stratified society, with the ultra-privileged wealthy few dominating the lives of so many contract workers and free working class people. It’s literally an entire world created to support the privilege of those able to afford a new life on a new planet, and the social structure really is fascinating.

The World Gives Way is a little inconsistent in tone, with its ups and downs of action and emotion, but I did like it very much. It wasn’t what I expected, but it ends up really delivering an engrossing and thought-provoking reading experience.

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Book Review: Rabbits by Terry Miles

Title: Rabbits
Author: Terry Miles
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: June 8, 2021
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Conspiracies abound in this surreal and yet all-too-real technothriller in which a deadly underground alternate reality game might just be altering reality itself, set in the same world as the popular Rabbits podcast.

It’s an average work day. You’ve been wrapped up in a task, and you check the clock when you come up for air–4:44 pm. You go to check your email, and 44 unread messages have built up. With a shock, you realize it is April 4th–4/4. And when you get in your car to drive home, your odometer reads 44,444. Coincidence? Or have you just seen the edge of a rabbit hole?

Rabbits is a mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses our global reality as its canvas. Since the game first started in 1959, ten iterations have appeared and nine winners have been declared. Their identities are unknown. So is their reward, which is whispered to be NSA or CIA recruitment, vast wealth, immortality, or perhaps even the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe itself. But the deeper you get, the more deadly the game becomes. Players have died in the past–and the body count is rising.

And now the eleventh round is about to begin. Enter K–a Rabbits obsessive who has been trying to find a way into the game for years. That path opens when K is approached by billionaire Alan Scarpio, the alleged winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio says that something has gone wrong with the game and that K needs to fix it before Eleven starts or the whole world will pay the price.

Five days later, Scarpio is declared missing. Two weeks after that, K blows the deadline and Eleven begins. And suddenly, the fate of the entire universe is at stake.

I’m not sure I’m actually up to the task of righting a Rabbits review, but I’ll give it a shot!

Rabbits is both the name of this novel and the name of the game within the novel. Rabbits — the game — is secretive and mysterious. No one knows for sure if it actually exists, who created it, how you play, who has played, or how you win. Yet there are countless online discussion groups devoted to Rabbits, as well as countless die-hard gamers who live and breathe for the opportunity to find out more and maybe even get to play.

K, the main character of the book, holds regular workshops on Rabbits in a Seattle arcade, where he reveals rare recordings and shares the lore of the game. It’s all based on rumors and hearsay and dark web conspiracies, but K is more successful than most. Gifted since birth with the ability to see and recognize patterns and connections, he’s highly skilled when it comes to recognizing the anomalies and seeming coincidences that are so crucial to Rabbits.

K also presents as being somewhat imbalanced, losing time, having strange freakouts, and becoming so obsessed with clues and the game that he forgets to eat or sleep. As the book opens, K receives a strange warning from a tech billionaire rumored to be a winner of an earlier iteration of the game. He states that there’s something wrong with the game, that it’s up to K to fix it, and that if he doesn’t, the world may be doomed. No pressure though!

We follow K and his maybe-girlfriend Chloe through a baffling series of symbols, puzzles, and patterns as they work to solve the riddle of Rabbits and, hopefully, to keep the multiverse from imploding. Reading Rabbits, I couldn’t help thinking that it’s sort of a Da Vinci Code kind of mystery wrapped up in gamer-speak, with a techno-thriller pace and edge to it all.

Rabbits is incredibly confusing, and to be honest, I don’t think I could actually tell you what Rabbits — the game — actually is or how someone wins. The book is convoluted as heck, although I can’t say it doesn’t have enjoyable moments. The mindfuckery is leavened by funny dialogue and pop culture references — in between all the parts that left me scratching my head and utterly bewildered. More often than not, I found myself incredibly impatient with all the twists and turns, and I just couldn’t suspend disbelief enough to buy into the idea that these hidden clues could actually make sense to a real person.

I think maybe I’m just not the right audience for Rabbits. The book is long, and while there are some fun passages and escapades, overall it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I will say, though, that it’s made me hypersensitive right now to patterns and coincidences… like why do I always happen to be glancing at a clock when it’s 9:20?

Maybe it’s the game. Maybe I’m playing and I don’t even know it!

Final note: Rabbits is also the name of a podcast created by the novel’s author, Terry Miles. I haven’t listened to it, and understand from the book’s marketing that it’s not necessary to have listened to the podcast to read the book — but it’s also about the game Rabbits. The podcast can be found at: https://www.rabbitspodcast.com/

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Book Review: The Ninth Metal by Benjamin Percy

Title: The Ninth Metal (The Comet Cycle, #1)
Author: Benjamin Percy
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: June 1, 2021
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

IT BEGAN WITH A COMET…

At first, people gazed in wonder at the radiant tear in the sky. A year later, the celestial marvel became a planetary crisis when Earth spun through the comet’s debris field and the sky rained fire.

The town of Northfall, Minnesota will never be the same. Meteors cratered hardwood forests and annihilated homes, and among the wreckage a new metal was discovered. This “omnimetal” has properties that make it world-changing as an energy source…and a weapon.

John Frontier—the troubled scion of an iron-ore dynasty in Northfall—returns for his sister’s wedding to find his family embroiled in a cutthroat war to control mineral rights and mining operations. His father rightly suspects foreign leaders and competing corporations of sabotage, but the greatest threat to his legacy might be the U.S. government. Physicist Victoria Lennon was recruited by the Department of Defense to research omnimetal, but she finds herself trapped in a laboratory of nightmares. And across town, a rookie cop is investigating a murder that puts her own life in the cross-hairs. She will have to compromise her moral code to bring justice to this now lawless community.

In this gut-punch of a novel, the first in his Comet Cycle, Ben Percy lays bare how a modern-day gold rush has turned the middle of nowhere into the center of everything, and how one family—the Frontiers—hopes to control it all.

In The Ninth Metal, the first book in the new trilogy The Comet Cycle by Benjamin Percy, what starts as a beautiful phenomenon turns into a planet-changing event. As the Cain Comet passes by Earth, people everywhere gaze at this once-in-a-lifetime sight. But a year later, the Earth’s orbit takes it through the debris field trailing the comet, and suddenly, life on Earth is permanently changed.

The book only hints at the global implications and the variety of natural disasters that occur in the wake of this event. Instead, The Ninth Metal restricts its focus to the town of Northfall, Minnesota — a dying mining town whose riches have been dwindling, until the debris strike bombards the area with meteors containing a previously unknown element. Known as omnimetal, this ninth metal has properties that science can barely begin to understand.

But one thing is clear. Omnimetal has huge energy-storage and generating abilities, and suddenly, Northfall is once again a boomtown. As the book opens, it’s been five years since the arrival of omnimetal. The population of Northfall has exploded, and a power grab is underway between two massively wealthy energy companies, each of which wants to control the resources completely.

Frontier is the locally based company, run by the powerful Frontier family, but they’re threatened by the encroachment of Black Dog Energy, a Texas oil firm that’s willing to use any means necessary to control the world’s supply of omnimetal.

Meanwhile, a group of cult-like worshippers smoke and snort ground-up omnimetal, living in a sort of trance with eyes glowing blue, celebrating the omnimetal’s powers and becoming wraithlike addicts with a religious devotion. And in a facility so secret that it’s not on any map, a Department of Defense research facility carries out inhumane experiments in the name of science and national security, trapping two unwilling participants in a never-ending, escalating series of tests and trials.

The Ninth Metal is small in scope, in that it’s centered completely on the area in and around Northfall. Yet we also get hints that the entire world has been changed in incomprehensible ways, as characters hear or repeat stories about weird things happening around the globe.

At times, the corporate warfare between Frontier and Black Dog reads like something out of Dallas, with competing conglomerates trying to gobble up the resources (and the power and the money) all for themselves, relying on threats, extortion, violence, and outright murder to get what they want.

But also, The Ninth Metal is top-notch speculative fiction, taking small town USA and injecting it with powerful forces beyond human comprehension, turning daily life on its head and bringing unknowable powers into what was once a quiet, dull, ordinary little place.

The characters are varied and interesting, from the members of the Frontier family to the local rookie cop to the young boy who just wants his freedom. The plot is compact and fast-paced, and between heists and kidnappings and bombings and the weird uses of omnimetal, there’s never a dull moment.

And hey — the evil science labs and secret experiments totally gave me a Stranger Things vibe!

I love that the trilogy of The Comet Cycle will be published on such a tight schedule, with the next two books already scheduled for publication in 2022.

From what I understand, the 2nd book (and presumably the 3rd as well?) tells a different story about the comet’s affect on Earth, focusing on different characters, a different setting, and a new set of potentially deadly circumstances. I am so there for it! I absolutely want to continue these books, and will be waiting eagerly for #2, The Unfamiliar Garden.

Synopsis for The Unfamiliar Garden:

From award-winning author Benjamin Percy comes the second novel in his grippingly original sci-fi series, The Comet Cycle, in which a passing comet has caused irreversible change to the growth of fungi, spawning a dangerous, invasive species in the Pacific Northwest that threatens to control the lives of humans and animals alike.

It began with a comet. They called it Cain, a wandering star that passed by Earth, illuminating the night with a swampy green light and twinning the sky by day with two suns. A year later, Earth spun through the debris field the comet left behind. Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of meteors plummeted into the atmosphere, destroying swaths of electrical grids, leaving shores of beaches filled with deceased sea life, and setting acres of land ablaze. It was then, they say, that the sky fell. It was then that Jack lost Mia.

Five years after the disappearance of his daughter, Jack has fallen. Once an accomplished professor of botany, he’s now a shell of a man who has all but withdrawn from life. Nora, his ex-wife, has thrown herself into her investigative work. Separately, they have each bandaged over the hole Mia left behind.

Just as Jack is uncovering a new form of deadly parasitic fungus in his lab, Nora is assigned to investigate the cases of ritualistic murders dotting Seattle. The rituals consist of etchings—crosshatches are carved into bodies and eyes are scooped out of their sockets. The attackers appear to be possessed.

It only takes a moment—for a sickness to infect, for a person to be killed, for a child to be lost. When Nora enlists Jack to identify the cause of this string of vicious deaths, Jack is quick to help. Together, they fight to keep their moments—the unexpected laughter, the extraordinary discoveries, the chance that Mia could come back home—but they find that what they’re up against defies all logic, and what they have to do to save the world will change every life forever.

Sounds amazing, right?

Benjamin Percy is the author of one of the most unique (and very icky) horror/alternate history books I’ve read, The Dead Lands. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a try! This is an author who knows how to tell a story, create fascinating characters, and scare the heck out of his readers.

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Book Review: The Apocalypse Seven by Gene Doucette

Title: The Apocalypse Seven
Author: Gene Doucette
Publisher: John Joseph Adams
Publication date: May 25, 2021
Length: 363 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley (plus a Goodreads giveaway!)
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whatever.

The whateverpocalypse. That’s what Touré, a twenty-something Cambridge coder, calls it after waking up one morning to find himself seemingly the only person left in the city. Once he finds Robbie and Carol, two equally disoriented Harvard freshmen, he realizes he isn’t alone, but the name sticks: Whateverpocalypse. But it doesn’t explain where everyone went. It doesn’t explain how the city became overgrown with vegetation in the space of a night. Or how wild animals with no fear of humans came to roam the streets.

Add freakish weather to the mix, swings of temperature that spawn tornadoes one minute and snowstorms the next, and it seems things can’t get much weirder. Yet even as a handful of new survivors appear—Paul, a preacher as quick with a gun as a Bible verse; Win, a young professional with a horse; Bethany, a thirteen-year-old juvenile delinquent; and Ananda, an MIT astrophysics adjunct—life in Cambridge, Massachusetts gets stranger and stranger.

The self-styled Apocalypse Seven are tired of questions with no answers. Tired of being hunted by things seen and unseen. Now, armed with curiosity, desperation, a shotgun, and a bow, they become the hunters. And that’s when things truly get weird.

I found myself mumbling or exclaiming “WTF???” practically once a chapter, start to finish, in this incredibly entertaining and mind-blowing novel of the apocalypse.

Or, as Touré puts it, the whateverpocalypse.

Seven seemingly random strangers wake up to find that they’re alone in a world suddenly overrun by plant life and wild animals — in what was formerly an urban college town. At Harvard and at MIT, several individuals wake up in confusion. Robbie wakes up in his dorm room bed, frantic that he overslept on the first day of freshman classes, only to discover that his technology doesn’t work, he has no idea what time it is, the clothes in the dresser drawers aren’t his, and there’s absolutely no one else around.

Before long he meets fellow student Carol, a blind young woman unsuccessfully trying to locate her dog, and the two then meet free-spirited Toure. Meanwhile, MIT astrophysicist Ananda wakes up at her office desk, confused by why she’s wearing her “Monday clothes” on a Tuesday, teen-ager Bethany wakes up in her suburban family home to see the shrine her family has erected in her memory, pastor Paul leaves his isolated New Hampshire mountaintop chapel when he realizes he’s all alone, and tough-girl Win mounts a horse to head toward a city and try to find other people.

They quickly realize that they’re the only people in the greater Boston area, and most likely in the world, but they have no idea why. How could all these trees and plants have grown so rapidly? Why are there deer and boar and wolves roaming and/or rampaging through the city streets?

Survival is the first issue to address, and initially, Robbie, Toure, and Carol are in rough shape, with no practical skills between them. As they connect with the others and explore local resources, they form plans, raid local malls to stock up on tools and clothing, figure out which parts of campus are safe (and where they’re most likely to run into packs of slavering wolves), and generally start to squeak their way toward something like building a way of staying alive.

The question remains, though: Why did they survive, and no one else did? What made them different? What actually happened to the human population of earth?

Don’t look at me — I’m not giving a thing away! Hints and odd facts and anomalies come to light along the way, but it’s only in the last 20% or so that the characters start to arrive at some real answers. I gotta be honest — even having finished the book, I’m not sure I completely get it, but I think it’s more a question of my brain not being able to fully follow the WTF-ness of it all than it not making sense. There is definitely an answer — but it’s kind of bent my brain into a pretzel, and it’ll take me some time to untangle it all.

There’s so much to love about The Apocalypse Seven. I’m often put off by books that focus on a group coming together, because many times the characters are introduced too quickly or in too large a chunk for them to really differentiate themselves as individuals. Not so in this book — each of the seven are special and memorable, with distinct personalities and backstories and abilities, and I really appreciated how well described they all are.

I also really enjoyed the setting. Who would have thought that a college town like Cambridge would offer so many resources for hiding, finding survival gear, and making a safe(ish) long-term shelter? The use of the campuses and their resources is really ingenious, and I was charmed by the characters’ inventiveness.

It’s also worth noting that this book — despite being about the near-total extinction of the human race — can be really, really funny. The characters are clever and the banter is crisp, and certain elements are just ridiculous enough to make me laugh out loud (or feel quietly charmed).

I really, really want other people to read this book! First of all, it’s so enjoyable and mind-warpy, frightening in its own way — but really, how seriously dire can the end of the world feel when characters use words like “whateverpocalypse”? Beyond the terrific reading experience, I want people I know to read The Apocalypse Seven so someone can explain the ending to me and tell me if we understand it the same way!!

Really and truly, though, The Apocalypse Seven is a terrific read, and I had a great time zipping my way through it.

Big shout-out and thank you to the publisher and Goodreads — I won a copy in a Goodreads giveaway!

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Shelf Control #269: Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Sea of Rust
Author: C. Robert Cargill
Published: 2017
Length: 365 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A touching story of one robot’s search for the answers in a world where every human is dead.

It is thirty years since the humans lost their war with the artificial intelligences that were once their slaves. Not one human remains. But as the dust settled from our extinction there was no easy peace between the robots that survived. Instead, the two massively powerful artificially intelligent supercomputers that led them to victory now vie for control of the bots that remain, assimilating them into enormous networks called One World Intelligences (OWIs), absorbing their memories and turning them into mere extensions of the whole. Now the remaining freebots wander wastelands that were once warzones, picking the carcasses of the lost for the precious dwindling supply of parts they need to survive.

BRITTLE started out her life playing nurse to a dying man, purchased in truth instead to look after the man’s widow upon his death. But then war came and Brittle was forced to choose between the woman she swore to care for and potential oblivion. Now she spends her days in the harshest of the wastelands, known as the Sea of Rust, cannibalizing the walking dead – robots only hours away from total shutdown – looking for parts to trade for those she needs to keep going.

How and when I got it:

I bought the e-book in 2018.

Why I want to read it:

I’m about 30% of the way through C. Robert Cargill’s new release, Day Zero, and I’m loving it — and that made me realize that I own other books of his that I haven’t read yet. Now that I’m looking at Sea of Rust again, it seems to me that this books is very much related to Day Zero, even though Day Zero is a stand-alone.

In Day Zero, we meet a tiger-shaped nannybot trying to save its young human from the murderous AIs out to destroy all humans. According to the synopsis for Sea of Rust, the robot uprising has already happened, and all humans are long gone. Well, I’m always up for a good apocalypse story, and robot uprisings have always checked boxes for me, all the way back to the first Terminator movie!

I remember seeing some really positive reviews of Sea of Rust from when it came out, which is probably why I grabbed a copy in the first place. This definitely sounds like a good choice for me, and I think I’ll want to read it once I finish Day Zero.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
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Have fun!

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Book Review: The Album of Dr. Moreau by Daryl Gregory

Title: The Album of Dr. Moreau
Author: Daryl Gregory
Publisher: Tordotcom
Publication date: May 18, 2021
Length: 176 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Daryl Gregory’s The Album of Dr. Moreau combines the science fiction premise of the famous novel by H. G. Wells with the panache of a classic murder mystery and the spectacle of a beloved boy band.

It’s 2001, and the WyldBoyZ are the world’s hottest boy band, and definitely the world’s only genetically engineered human-animal hybrid vocal group. When their producer, Dr. M, is found murdered in his hotel room, the “boyz” become the prime suspects. Was it Bobby the ocelot (“the cute one”), Matt the megabat (“the funny one”), Tim the Pangolin (“the shy one”), Devin the bonobo (“the romantic one”), or Tusk the elephant (“the smart one”)?

Las Vegas Detective Luce Delgado has only twenty-four hours to solve a case that goes all the way back to the secret science barge where the WyldBoyZ’ journey first began—a place they used to call home.

This book is so weird… and I loved it.

In The Album of Dr. Moreau, we meet the WyldBoyZ — the world’s most adored boy band, who sing in perfect harmony, have killer dance moves, and have the physical appearance of very interesting animal/human mixes. These five pop stars are genetically engineered animal-human hybrids, and they’ve taken the world by storm.

As the book opens, their ethically-challenged, manipulative manager Dr. M. has been found brutally murdered in his Las Vegas suite after the Boyz’s final tour performance and blow-out afterparty. Who wanted Dr. M. dead, and who had opportunity? As Detective Luce Delgado quickly establishes, all of the Boyz had motive, and any one of them could have had access.

Meanwhile, the case is complicated by the WyldBoyZ’s wild celebrity, as well as by their rabid fan base, referred to as zoomies (which true fans consider offensive — they prefer zoomandos, thank you very much). Zoomies dress in elaborate animal costumes, so as Luce and her colleagues review the video footage from the party, it’s pretty much impossible to tell who’s who beneath the unicorn, gopher, chipmunk, and other furry costumes.

As Luce investigates, we get to know each of the Boyz, and learn more and more about their backstory, where they came from, and what they’ve had to endure. I absolutely loved her interviews with the band members, seeing their personalities, their habits, and their quirks… and how not weird she tries to make it as she’s sitting and having a conversation with a human-pangolin hybrid, as one example.

This book is short, but so jam-packed with goodness that there’s no wasted space. I was entertained and hooked from page one, and adored every moment. The wacky idea of a human-animal-hybrid boy band is so out there, and it’s perfect.

I happen to have read The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells last year, and that made reading The Album of Dr. Moreau extra amusing as a point of comparison — but don’t worry if you haven’t read the Wells classic. It’s not necessary for enjoying this book, since they don’t really have anything to do with one another except as a passing reference… but if you’re curious, it’s worth checking out.

The Album of Dr. Moreau is so much crazy fun. My only complaint: I really, REALLY, want to see a video of the WyldBoyZ in action. Please, someone, make it happen!!

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