Books 2017: Three-Star Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror

Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick. Synopsis from Goodreads: Jason Tavener woke up one morning to find himself completely unknown. The night before he had been the top-rated television star with millions of devoted watchers. The next day he was just an unidentified walking object, whose face nobody recognised, of whom no one had heard, and without the I.D. papers required in that near future.
When he finally found a man who would agree to counterfeiting such cards for him, that man turned out to be a police informer. And then Taverner found out not only what it was like to be a nobody but also to be hunted by the whole apparatus of society.
It was obvious that in some way Taverner had become the pea in in some sort of cosmic shell game - but how? And why?
Philip K. Dick takes the reader on a walking tour of solipsism's scariest margin in his latest novel about the age we are already half into.

It's entirely possible that my mood was responsible for not really loving this. I found it more accessible than a lot of Philip K. Dick but I wanted more - I don't know, emotion? I felt like the main character was strangely detached from the fact that he suddenly seemed not to exist. I put it down for a few weeks halfway through and then picked it up again, and the ending and the ultimate explanation were quite affecting, so, like I said, probably my mood. Fascinating ideas, as always with Dick.

The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray. Synopsis from Goodreads: In his ambitious and fiercely inventive new novel, The Lost Time Accidents, John Wray takes us from turn-of-the-century Viennese salons buzzing with rumors about Einstein's radical new theory to the death camps of World War Two, from the golden age of postwar pulp science fiction to a startling discovery in a Manhattan apartment packed to the ceiling with artifacts of modern life.
Haunted by a failed love affair and the darkest of family secrets, Waldemar 'Waldy' Tolliver wakes one morning to discover that he has been exiled from the flow of time. The world continues to turn, and Waldy is desperate to find his way back-a journey that forces him to reckon not only with the betrayal at the heart of his doomed romance but also the legacy of his great-grandfather's fatal pursuit of the hidden nature of time itself.
Part madcap adventure, part harrowing family drama, part scientific mystery--and never less than wildly entertaining--The Lost Time Accidents is a bold and epic saga set against the greatest upheavals of the twentieth century.

I don't know, man. I kept putting this on hold at the library, missing the pickup date and having to put it on hold again, and then I finally got it. I thought it was a time-travel story, and as a time-travel story it really doesn't work. As whatever it's actually trying to be? Well, I'm not entirely sure it works as that either. For the first quarter or so I was so consistently amused and engaged by the writing style and the frequent brilliant and hilarious turns of phrase that I didn't really care - I loved how Einstein is only ever referred to as "the patent clerk". Then things started to drag a little and by the end I was pretty much finishing it out of duty. There's some good stuff in here, but I didn't really feel like it hung together enough to be a great novel. Maybe I just didn't get it.

Join by Steve Toutonghi. Synopsis from Goodreads: What if you could live multiple lives simultaneously, have constant, perfect companionship, and never die? That’s the promise of Join, a revolutionary technology that allows small groups of minds to unite, forming a single consciousness that experiences the world through multiple bodies. But as two best friends discover, the light of that miracle may be blinding the world to its horrors.
Chance and Leap are jolted out of their professional routines by a terrifying stranger—a remorseless killer who freely manipulates the networks that regulate life in the post-Join world. Their quest for answers—and survival—brings them from the networks and spire communities they’ve known to the scarred heart of an environmentally ravaged North American continent and an underground community of the “ferals” left behind by the rush of technology.
In the storytelling tradition of classic speculative fiction from writers like David Mitchell and Michael Chabon, Join offers a pulse-pounding story that poses the largest possible questions: How long can human life be sustained on our planet in the face of environmental catastrophe? What does it mean to be human, and what happens when humanity takes the next step in its evolution? If the individual mind becomes obsolete, what have we lost and gained, and what is still worth fighting for?

I started reading this at the beginning of a crazy few weeks - husband traveling, working a lot of hours at a placement - so I don't know that I can evaluate it objectively, as if that's ever possible anyway. My mood and lack of focus and exhaustion may have had a lot to do with it. That said, I felt like the synopsis sounded fascinating and the actual book lacked snap and verve. One story that felt like it should branch out into many turned out to be most of the book, and there were technical terms that were never explained and long scientific eye-glazing explanations of some things, and by the end I was just desperate to finish and never see this book again. There was an interesting story in here, about what joining would mean for humanity and the world, but I felt like it needed to be carved out of a mass of extraneous stuff.

The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next #1) by Jasper Fforde. Synopsis from Goodreads: Suspenseful and outlandish, absorbing and fun - a novel unlike any other and an introduction to the imagination of a most distinctive writer and his singular fictional universe.
Great Britain circa 1985: time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. Baconians are trying to convince the world that Francis Bacon really wrote Shakespeare, there are riots between the Surrealists and Impressionists, and thousands of men are named John Milton, an homage to the real Milton and a very confusing situation for the police. Amidst all this, Acheron Hades, Third Most Wanted Man In the World, steals the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit and kills a minor character, who then disappears from every volume of the novel ever printed! But that's just a prelude . . .
Hades' real target is the beloved Jane Eyre, and it's not long before he plucks her from the pages of Bronte's novel. Enter Thursday Next. She's the Special Operative's renowned literary detective, and she drives a Porsche. With the help of her uncle Mycroft's Prose Portal, Thursday enters the novel to rescue Jane Eyre from this heinous act of literary homicide. It's tricky business, all these interlopers running about Thornfield, and deceptions run rampant as their paths cross with Jane, Rochester, and Miss Fairfax. Can Thursday save Jane Eyre and Bronte's masterpiece? And what of the Crimean War? Will it ever end? And what about those annoying black holes that pop up now and again, sucking things into time-space voids . . .
Suspenseful and outlandish, absorbing and fun, The Eyre Affair is a caper unlike any other and an introduction to the imagination of a most distinctive writer and his singular fictional universe.

I read this a few years ago and it was great fun. I read some of the second one, then stopped, then many books and years went by, and I always had this fond memory and the intention to begin the series again and read it all the way through. Then I reread this, and I think I remember why I didn't continue with the series. It is great fun - her name is Thursday Next! You can go into books! Book characters can come out into the world! Thursday aunt is kind of a ho who gets stuck in a poem and fools around with William Wordsworth! But it's also a tiny bit thin, even though there are serious threads - the Crimean war that just kept going on for a hundred years, Thursday's dead, dishonoured brother, actual people dying. The comic stuff rides sort of uneasily alongside. And Thursday's boyfriend/ex-boyfriend/someone else's fiancé? Yeesh. So here I am. Read it again, enjoyed it again, but not continuing with the series right away, still kind of recommend it. Anyone care to help me down off this fence? 

A Time of Torment (Charlie Parker #14) by John Connolly. Synopsis from Goodreads: Jerome Burnel was once a hero. He intervened to prevent multiple killings and in doing so damned himself. His life was torn apart. He was imprisoned, brutalized.
But in his final days, with the hunters circling, he tells his story to private detective Charlie Parker. He speaks of the girl who was marked for death but was saved, of the ones who tormented him, and an entity that hides in a ruined stockade.
Parker is not like other men. He died, and was reborn. He is ready to wage war.
Now he will descend upon a strange, isolated community called the Cut, and face down a force of men who rule by terror, intimidation, and murder.
All in the name of the being they serve.
All in the name of the Dead King.

Didn't enjoy this one as much as the previous, mostly I think because it was less about Parker and Angel and Louis than the denizens of The Cut, which was reminiscent of the town of Prosperous from whichever book that was, so that seemed a little derivative.

Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge. Synopsis from Goodreads: Winner of the Bram Stoker Award and named one of the 100 Best Novels of 2006 by Publishers WeeklyDark Harvest by Norman Patridge is a powerhouse thrill-ride with all the resonance of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery."
Halloween, 1963. They call him the October Boy, or Ol' Hacksaw Face, or Sawtooth Jack. Whatever the name, everybody in this small Midwestern town knows who he is. How he rises from the cornfields every Halloween, a butcher knife in his hand, and makes his way toward town, where gangs of teenage boys eagerly await their chance to confront the legendary nightmare. Both the hunter and the hunted, the October Boy is the prize in an annual rite of life and death.
Pete McCormick knows that killing the October Boy is his one chance to escape a dead-end future in this one-horse town. He's willing to risk everything, including his life, to be a winner for once. But before the night is over, Pete will look into the saw-toothed face of horror--and discover the terrifying true secret of the October Boy.

Publishers Weekly called this "Contemporary American writing at its finest", and that sums it up pretty well. It uses the trope of the American Dream, and characters in a struggling small town desperate to find a way to make good, and subverts it all magnificently. It has the drive of pulp fiction with a beating red heart at the centre. I read this because I had come across Partridge's bleakly brilliant Lesser Demons once again in an anthology, and went looking for some other stuff.  Based on this, I will keep reading. 

The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey. Synopsis from Goodreads: Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.
The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.
To where the monsters lived.

Three and a half stars. I was happy enough to revisit this universe, but I'm a bit bewildered as to why this book was necessary. It's almost a carbon copy of The Girl With All the Gifts: a strong maternal woman; an unusual child who is fiercely devoted to the woman: a by-the-book unemotional military man; various other characters of varying strength and morality. And of course it lacked the delicious element of surprise and discovery of the original story. The lovely coda was pretty much worth the price of admission, though. 

Armada by Ernest Cline. Synopsis from Goodreads: Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.
But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.
And then he sees the flying saucer.
Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders. 
No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.
It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?
At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.

I was quite surprised to find out that this was published after Ready Player One, and even less impressed. It seems strange that this is kind of a rip-off of The Last Starfighter and other works of that ilk, and yet references them constantly with a total lack of shame. It was good fun, but given the choice, go with Ready Player One and skip this. 

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin. Synopsis by Goodreads: What would you do if your four-year-old son claimed he had lived another life and that he wants to go back to it? That he wants his other mother?
Single mom Janie is trying to figure out what is going on with her beloved son Noah. Noah has never been ordinary. He loves to make up stories, and he is constantly surprising her with random trivia someone his age has no right knowing. She always chalked it up to the fact that Noah was precocious―mature beyond his years. But Noah’s eccentricities are starting to become worrisome. One afternoon, Noah’s preschool teacher calls Janie: Noah has been talking about shooting guns and being held under water until he can’t breathe. Suddenly, Janie can’t pretend anymore. The school orders him to get a psychiatric evaluation. And life as she knows it stops for herself and her darling boy.
For Jerome Anderson, life as he knows it has already stopped. Diagnosed with aphasia, his first thought as he approaches the end of his life is, I’m not finished yet. Once an academic star, a graduate of Yale and Harvard, a professor of psychology, he threw everything away to pursue an obsession: the stories of children who remembered past lives. Anderson became the laughing stock of his peers, but he never stopped believing that there was something beyond what anyone could see or comprehend. He spent his life searching for a case that would finally prove it. And with Noah, he thinks he may have found it.
Soon, Noah, Janie, and Anderson will find themselves knocking on the door of a mother whose son has been missing for eight years. When that door opens, all of their questions will be answered.
Gorgeously written and fearlessly provocative, Sharon Guskin’s debut explores the lengths we will go for our children. It examines what we regret in the end of our lives and hope for in the beginning, and everything in between.

Interesting, not terrible, but very much a first novel. Some clunky writing, forced metaphors, and things devolving into kind of a movie-of-the-week treatment of the idea of reincarnation. 

False Hearts by Laura Lam. Synopsis from GoodreadsOrphan Black meets Inception: Two formerly conjoined sisters are ensnared in a murderous plot involving psychoactive drugs, shared dreaming, organized crime, and a sinister cult. 
One night Tila stumbles home, terrified and covered in blood.
She’s arrested for murder, the first by a civilian in decades. The San Francisco police suspect involvement with Verve, a powerful drug, and offer her twin sister Taema a chilling deal. Taema must assume Tila’s identity and gather information – then if she brings down the drug syndicate, the police may let her sister live. But Taema’s investigation raises ghosts from the twins’ past.
The sisters were raised by a cult, which banned modern medicine. But as conjoined twins, they needed surgery to divide their shared heart – and escaped. Taema now finds Tila discovered links between the cult and the city’s underground. Once unable to keep secrets, the sisters will discover the true cost of lies.

The synopsis sounded right up my alley ('Orphan Black meets Inception'? Come ON), and the execution didn't exactly fall flat, it just never caught fire for me. It felt like it took forever before Taema was actually doing any undercover work, and while I enjoyed the preamble, it made the pacing feel uneven. I would have liked a little more attention given to the underpinnings of the Hearth, also, and the head figure being named Mana-ma was really distracting - it kept making me sing the Mana Mana song in my head every time she was mentioned. I also kind of dislike when most of the action of a story has to take place simply because one character won't tell something they're completely capable of telling. Then when it's over, they go ahead and tell anyway. I would probably try something from this author again.

Alice (The Chronicles of Alice #1) by Christina Henry. Synopsis from GoodreadsIn a warren of crumbling buildings and desperate people called the Old City, there stands a hospital with cinderblock walls which echo the screams of the poor souls inside.
In the hospital, there is a woman. Her hair, once blond, hangs in tangles down her back. She doesn’t remember why she’s in such a terrible place. Just a tea party long ago, and long ears, and blood…
Then, one night, a fire at the hospital gives the woman a chance to escape, tumbling out of the hole that imprisoned her, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago.
Only something else has escaped with her. Something dark. Something powerful.
And to find the truth, she will have to track this beast to the very heart of the Old City, where the rabbit waits for his Alice.

I think this was really quite good and I was just not in the mood for it. When I think of it, all the elements were there. It's well-written and the characters are interesting and it's a suitably dark treatment of the source material. Oh look, I read it in November. Nuff said. 

Carniepunk (Anthology). Synopsis from Goodreads: The traveling carnival is a leftover of a bygone era, a curiosity lurking on the outskirts of town. It is a place of contradictions—the bright lights mask the peeling paint; a carnie in greasy overalls slinks away from the direction of the Barker’s seductive call. It is a place of illusion—is that woman’s beard real? How can she live locked in that watery box?
And while many are tricked by sleight of hand, there are hints of something truly magical going on. One must remain alert and learn quickly the unwritten rules of this dark show. To beat the carnival, one had better have either a whole lot of luck or a whole lot of guns—or maybe some magic of one’s own.
Featuring stories grotesque and comical, outrageous and action-packed, Carniepunk is the first anthology to channel the energy and attitude of urban fantasy into the bizarre world of creaking machinery, twisted myths, and vivid new magic.

RACHEL CAINE’s vampires aren’t child’s play, as a naïve teen discovers when her heart leads her far, far astray in “The Cold Girl.” With “Parlor Tricks,” JENNIFER ESTEP pits Gin Blanco, the Elemental Assassin, against the Wheel of Death and some dangerously creepy clowns. SEANAN McGUIRE narrates a poignant, ethereal tale of a mysterious carnival that returns to a dangerous town after twenty years in “Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea.” KEVIN HEARNE’s Iron Druid and his wisecracking Irish wolfhound discover in “The Demon Barker of Wheat Street” that the impossibly wholesome sounding Kansas Wheat Festival is actually not a healthy place to hang out. With an eerie, unpredictable twist, ROB THURMAN reveals the fate of a psychopath stalking two young carnies in“Painted Love.”

Three and a half stars. I absolutely adored the first two or three stories, and then there were some that left me cold, some that were okay, and it never really picked up again before it was over, although I liked the last story by Seanan Maguire. Many stories were set in fictional universes I didn't know, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but sometimes makes it harder to connect. Some set up interesting worlds but then the plot was completely predictable.


StephLove said…
Many of these sound interesting, particularly The Eyre Affair.
Nicole said…
Making notes for my list!

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