The Quantum Ghost, by Jonathan Ballagh: A Review

In the same near-future world as Jonathan Ballagh’s The Quantum Door, a young girlQuantum Ghost called Remi sees a glowing dome in a pond near her house…a glowing dome that is almost immediately snatched by a hand that rises from the water.  Shortly afterwards, strange dreams begin; Remi finds herself writing strings of meaningless numbers…and then parcels begin to arrive, parcels containing items that she is compelled to put together.

What Remi builds takes her into the same world of technological wonder and menace that Brady and Felix entered in The Quantum Door.  But The Quantum Ghost, while building on events in the previous book, can successfully be read as a separate, stand-alone book.  Characters overlap, but they are introduced again, and any previous history relevant to this book is given in a natural way.

The target audience for The Quantum Ghost is middle-grade students.  Ballagh’s prose and pacing is perfect for this age group; the science is presented in a comprehensible manner without over-simplifying it or talking down to the reader. The action is rapid, but with enough character development to create empathy and identification with Remi.

As in The Quantum Door, Ballagh manages to take what could be clichéd scenes and turn them into truly frightening images. There are some quite dark scenes (age-appropriate) in the story, so a young person with a vivid visual imagination might find the book a bit difficult in places, but Remi is a heroine who faces dangers with courage and initiative. In both this frightening alternative universe and in her ‘real’ life, she acknowledges her fears and confronts them.

The artwork by Ben J. Adams, both on the cover and the interior illustrations, is brilliant, perfectly complementing the story.  Highly recommended for ages twelve to sixteen, or for less confident, slightly older, readers.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Escaping Infinity, by Richard Paolinelli: A Review

Losing their way on desert roads, and nearly out of gas, Peter and his work partner escaping infinityCharlie are relieved to see a hotel – a magnificent, modern hotel – standing alone on a highway.  They check in, only to find, like in the Eagles’ Hotel California, they can’t check out.

Peter and a rebellious receptionist, Liz, attempt to escape the Hotel Infinity; Peter’s explorations and their escape attempts make up the first part of the book. This part is a pretty good science-fiction story; there are a few issues with pacing, but overall, I would have given it maybe four stars.  The problem is, it’s only the first section of the book.  The second section is, basically, an outline: written in primarily passive voice, the reader is told what occurs over the next several hundred years after the climax of the first part.

Spoilers after this point!

Author Robert Paolinelli should have, in my opinion, taken the time to create this story, not hand the reader a summary. As a two or even three book series, Escaping Infinity could have expanded into an thoughtful exploration of redemption, responsibility, and the realistic problems in the attempted creation of a second-chance utopia.  Even when the chosen people have escaped hell-fire; even when their leader has god-like properties and apparent eternal life, for the society to evolve as problem-free as it is described here stretched my belief beyond its breaking point. Stories depend on conflict, tiny conflicts, large conflicts, to propel them forward, and the second part is a narrative almost free of any struggle.  I found it immensely disappointing.

As a result, Escaping Infinity is only getting a 2 1/2 star review from me.  Good potential, unrealized.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Shattering Glass, by Connor Coyne: A Review

Universities run on thought.  It’s why they exist: to share thought, to foster new thought, toShattering Glass turn thought into something, tangible or intangible, new to the world.  But what if they ran on thought in a different way, if thought could be turned into power, not of the kind wielded by politicians and heads of corporations, but the sort that turns on lights, runs motors, boots up your laptop?  And what would happen to those whose thoughts were channelled into that power?

In a rust-belt town in Michigan, a businessman creates a new university on the grounds of an abandoned psychiatric hospital. First-year students Samo, Monty, Ezzie, and Dunya share a residence floor, below ground in the Calliope Cradle. None is quite sure how he or she ended up here, but the angst of first-year adjustment is more than enough to occupy them.  But even in the confusion of buying overpriced and unaffordable textbooks, joining clubs, figuring out where to eat, and discovering mid-terms can be in almost any week of the semester, they come to realize something wicked this way comes…or rather, is already here.

Complex, intricate, perhaps a little self-indulgent (like its protagonists at first), Shattering Glass is neither straightforward nor stereotypical. It contains elements of steampunk, Greek tragedy, absurdist theatre, and film noir, all wrapped up in a superficially Harry Potteresque setting transported to a failing industrial city.  But it also delves into some difficult questions….what does happen to a personality subsumed into a university’s -or a universe’s -power system? How do we stay ourselves? Can we? At what price?

This won’t be a book for everyone. Its non-linear narrative, metafiction techniques, and elaborate detail does not make it an easy read.  But if you read Vonnegut, give Shattering Glass a chance. I’m giving it 4.5 stars here on my blog, which will translate to five on Amazon and Goodreads.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A Gleam of Light: Book 1 of the Survival Trilogy, by T.J. & M.L Wolf

Drawing on ‘documented’ UFO sightings, Hopi cosmology, and some non-mainstreama gleam of light interpretations of various petroglyphs, religious practices, and experiences from around the world, A Gleam of Light pits a young Hopi woman and a reporter against the U.S. Army in a race for the secrets buried deep within a cavern on Hopi land.

The concept of using the cosmology of a people whose beliefs can be interpreted to mesh with UFO and alien sightings isn’t new – I’m old enough to remember – and to have read –  Chariots of the Gods, by Erik Von Daniken (although that was marketed as non-fiction.)  It’s a decent premise for a book, and in many ways A Gleam of Light reminded me of Dan Brown’s books, building a story around a race to interpret symbolic messages left by a previous generation.  Throw in some action and settings reminiscent of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, and you’ve got the general idea.

But while it’s a decent premise, the Wolfs don’t quite pull it off.  The book suffers from a number of structural issues: uneven pacing; exposition disguised as conversation (usually almost monologue) to give background or explanation; coincidences that stretch credulity, solutions to dilemmas that just come a little too easily.  I think there is a good adventure story here, and one more rewrite under the guidance of a good developmental editor could have brought it out.  As it stands, 2 ½ stars.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Regolith, by H. William Glenbrook: A Review

I am of two minds about this book (a debut science fiction novel by author H. Williamregolith Glenbrook), because I liked half of it but not the other half. Two interconnecting stories make up Regolith: one is a fairly standard ‘spaceship crew fighting aliens’ story; one is a tale of corporate research, in-fighting, and one-upmanship that provides the climax and ultimately the back-story to the other half.

The half I liked is the ‘battle against the aliens’ story. It’s a pretty standard shoot-em-up for the most part; while set in space, it could have been set in any troubled area of the world, with a few changes in technology.  Written in spare, staccato prose, it still manages to convey emotion as well as action.

The corporate half, while ultimately necessary for the denouement, I didn’t like. Subject to too many clichés and wooden characters, as well as awkward dialogue, it might have been better addressed as a prologue to the main story, dealt with in a few pages of exposition until necessarily being reintroduced near the end of the main narrative.

While overall the story could be read as a metaphor for every misguided intervention in world politics made by various governments and countries over the centuries, three stars is the best I can do, and perhaps generously, for this debut novel.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Lands of Dust, by John Triptych: A Release-Day Review

Lands of Dust is the first book in a new series by prolific indie author John Triptych.  In a dying world of sand and dust, where humans cling to life by farming algae and fungi in the barren wastes, a child is found unconscious in the sands.  He has no memory of life beyond the torture he endured at the hands of the Magi, and all the mind-probing skills of the village Striga, the wisewoman with psi powers, cannot find out more.

Prophecies exist that foretell this child, and in the course of this first story in the series, the village is challenged to give up the child; the price will be their lives if they disobey.  Can Miri, the Striga, herself an orphan of the sands, the village ‘teller’ (the keeper of the village’s history), and a young brother and sister keep the boy safe, and fulfill the destiny outlined in the prophecy?

Triptych is a good story-teller.  As a fast-paced adventure s in the ‘magical child’ sub-genre of fantasy/sci-fi, this is a good story.  I wanted to know what happened to Rion, the child; I wanted to see how the prophecy played out.  For sheer enjoyment of a story, I’m giving it 4 stars.

But while Lands of Dust is a good story, it’s not particularly well-written.  The world building is good, lots of background; the pacing is good, but the flow of many sentences is middling and there are frequently places where less verbosity would have benefited the writing.   Action sequences often end weakly.  There are questionable uses of commas.  Does this matter?  Not if the adventure is your primary reason for reading.  But to me, it does.  I continue to hold self-published books to the same standards as traditionally published books.  So, for the competency of writing, I’m giving it 3 stars.  Overall, I’m rating it at 3.5, which will translate on Goodreads and Amazon as 4.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Shaman Machine the Mentor, by Trenlin Hubbert: A Review

On one level a meditation on sentience and consciousness, on another a story of shaman-machineexploration and adventure on a water-world, Shaman Machine the Mentor contains some beautifully-written and insightful passages:  “A commotion of scraping chairs opened a slim gap of welcome.”; or, “I grew up in a house filled with chaos,” he replied. “I was crowded out by indifference.  There was no room for a child in there.”

Both these passages occur in the first third of the book, where the writing is noticeably stronger than the rest of the narrative.  After a promising beginning, introducing us to the robot Chance, the wandering free spirit Ziggy, and the contained city in which Ziggy tries to find some semblance of freedom, the story extends outward to encompass another group of characters, and then another, and a different world.  In this widening of the scope and themes, the story loses its centre. The core characters in the next two-thirds of the book, the troubled architect Alex and the bot Chance, are trying understand each other and their worlds. Alex uses shamanic drugs and alcohol to try to still his critical, sarcastic mind but refuses to accept a different reality when it’s presented to him.  Chance uses its programming and its capability to learn from conversation to expand and encompass the new experiences presented to it. The machine appears to be master to the man.

There’s a good novel in Shaman Machine the Mentor. The book would have benefited from a developmental editor who could have guided the author towards a tighter and more focused narrative. As it stands now, there are too many events that don’t seem to really add to the story and an almost scatter-gun approach to events which the reader then needs to tie together. Some of the technology as proposed was fascinating but not fully fleshed out: the use of sound-clips from a new world to create interwoven agglomerations of spheres as the building blocks for a new city on that world, for example, should have been more important than it was, given the world’s reaction to that city. I wanted to know why the sentient beings of this world reacted as they did to a city based on their own ambient sounds, and how (if) that technology was used as they moved forward.  And while the ending is ultimately beautiful and appropriate, it is reached as an epilogue.

But regardless of its flaws, both the structural ones I have discussed and its need for a copy-editor to weed out inappropriate commas and semi-colons, and the very occasional mis-used word, I find myself contemplating the themes of, and questions raised in, Shaman Machine the Mentor well after I finished the book.  They are not superficial questions, but ones that ask us to think about the meaning of ‘humanity’.  Overall, 3 stars.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

As Wings Unfurl, by Arthur M. Doweyko: A Review

The idea of the guardian angel who is supposed to watch and not interfere, and who loses its divine status if it becomes as-wings-unfurlemotionally entangled with the person or persons it watches is not new. (For a thoughtful and beautiful take on this, watch the Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire. Watch the original, please, and not the Nicholas Cage remake City of Angels…they are very different films.) But, of course, no-one owns this concept, and in As Wings Unfurl, author Arthur M. Doweyko brings his own twist to the tale. Here, the ‘angel’ is an alien being, and humans are not what we think we are. Nor are we the oldest sentient hominid on Earth.

The protagonist, Applegate Bogdanski, is a Vietnam war vet with scars both physical and emotional. Through his work in a used book store, he becomes caught up in a scandal involving the Catholic Church…but the scandal, which on the surface appears to be a classic sexual misdemeanour, is so much more than that. The plot moves quickly, events piling on events. The writing is competent and consistent, the action scenes well-crafted, and the story structure keeps the reader interested.

But beyond all that, there are multiple parallels to the stories of the Old Testament (and likely stories from the other religious texts of the People of the Book – those of Jewish and Muslim holy books, but my knowledge of those is limited.) Even our protagonist’s name: Bogdan means, more or less, ‘beloved of God’; ‘Applegate’ could suggest the story of the Garden of Eden. Without giving any of the story away, there are parallels to the story of Lucifer; parallels to the story of creation; Apple’s physical injury mirrors that of Jacob after his wrestling match with an angel. Is any of this intended? That’s a question for the author, but for this reader it appeared so.

All of this – both the quality of the plot and the perceived allegory – intrigued me enough to keep me reading when I should have been doing other things; I finished the book in just a couple of days. Four stars for a book that can be read on more than one level.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


I AM SLEEPLESS: Sim 299, by Johan Twiss: A Review

i am sleeplessAidan is a prime. Primes have special powers, but each of those powers comes with a price, a defect that limits the prime in some significant way. Except for Aidan: his multiple prime gifts have not come with any defects, except that he doesn’t sleep.

Aidan, in his sleepless hours, meets secretly with General Estrago, who provides him with forbidden books for reflection and discussion, but additionally, Aidan spends his time working through the levels of the simulations designed to prepare each coterie of primes for battle against the Splicers, the creatures that sent this race from their home planet in search of safety. Aidan has reached Sim 299, the top level and a level higher than any other prime.

In attempting to conquer the challenges of Sim 299, Aidan must seek the assistance of both his friends and his enemies among the prime coteries, endangering them not only in the simulation but in real life. As the battles become all too real, Aidan uncovers a web of secrecy, betrayal and rebellion at the highest levels.

I AM SLEEPLESS: Sim 299 is science fiction for the young adult/new adult reader. It is fast-paced, and the world-building unfolds competently through both the narrative and through ‘quotes’ from a character’s book at the beginning of each chapter. The concept of cohorts of young people being trained for battle is familiar from books such as Ender’s Game, but that very familiarity helps the reader in accepting and believing in the story, which is at its heart a quest story.

A couple of things niggled at me. I would have preferred the information about each type of prime, their gifts and defects, to have been presented at the beginning of the book, not at the end: I found that trying to sort out what each prime was capable of distracted me a bit from the flow of the narrative. As well, Aidan’s world contains beasts which are apparently hybrids between (for the most part) familiar animals: the cobramoth for one. These animals are charmingly illustrated in the book (by the author’s wife), but I wanted an explanation for them. Are they genetic modifications? I would also hope for some stronger female characters in the sequel; in this first volume they seemed to me a bit more like adjuncts than full participants in the story.

I AM SLEEPLESS: Sim 299 is the first book in a series. It ends with the story not complete: Aidan and his friends have overcome one challenge, but many more lie ahead. The characters and the conflicts presented were compelling; I look forward to the next installment. My overall rating is 3 1/2 stars for this debut novel.

The author provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.  The opinions expressed here are mine alone.