Monday, July 15, 2019

Review: Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Published: DAW Books (2016)
Series: Book 1 of the Heroine Complex Trilogy

The Book:

“Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder. Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco's most beloved superheroine. She's great at her job--blending into the background, handling her boss's epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.Unfortunately, she's not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.

But everything changes when Evie's forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it's up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles--all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda's increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right... or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.”

I read this one because the author was nominated for the JWC Best New Author award.  It’s not exactly like the sort of books I usually gravitate toward, but I enjoy branching out sometimes!

My Thoughts:

Heroine Complex is a quirky, cartoonish superheroine story, which makes it a good read when you’re up for something light and fun.  The story follows two Asian American women, Evie Tanaka and Annie Chang (a.k.a. Aveda Jupiter), who live in a San Francisco where opening demonic portals have granted some people supernatural powers.  The story is fast-paced and easy to read, and Evie’s narration is pleasant and often funny. The style feels a little like a comic book, in the sense that everything is over-the-top. Descriptions tend to be kind of kitschy, and each character is an extreme version of their particular type. This makes the world feel very colorful and energetic, though it also adds some silliness into high stakes situations. 

While I enjoyed reading the story, I sometimes had difficulty believing in the relationships between the characters.  For instance, Aveda Jupiter and Evie are childhood friends, but I initially didn’t pick up on a friendship between them at all. Another key relationship in the story, Evie’s romance subplot, seems to happen really quickly.  A lot of the emotional development for both relationships take place in passionate, confessional conversations. Occasionally, I would have liked to see a little more change through actions rather than dialogue. Despite this, I still enjoyed seeing this story through Evie’s eyes, and I’m happy with how the conclusion ties up the various character arcs, as well as the main plot with the threat to San Francisco.  The story continues in Heroine Worship and Heroine’s Journey, the second and third books of the trilogy. 

My Rating: 3/5

Heroine Complex is a light, fun Asian American superheroine story, set in a San Francisco threatened by demons traveling through unpredictable portals.  The conversational and quirkily humorous narration by Evie Tanaka makes the story smoothly readable, and through her description the world feels vibrant and comic-book-like.  On the other hand, I felt like the character development relied a bit too much on emotional conversations as turning points, and I sometimes didn’t really buy the relationships.  In any case, it was an entertaining book, and I would recommend it to others looking for stories in this vein. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Review: Endymion by Dan Simmons

Endymion by Dan Simmons
Published: Bantam Spectra, 1996
Series: Book 3 of the Hyperion Cantos
Awards Nominated: Locus SF Award

The Book:

“Humanity once ruled an interstellar empire, held together by farcaster portals that allowed people to step directly over vast distances. When it was discovered that AIs were hijacking human brains while in transit, the portal system was destroyed, leaving each planet to its own devices. Nearly 300 years later, the Catholic Church offered something new to bridge the vast distances -- immortality through symbiosis with cruciform-shaped alien parasites. Billions of people were eager to accept the new sacraments of the Church. Raul Endymion was not one of them.

Raul was a young former soldier who found himself entrusted with the protection of a special child, Aenea, who traveled from the future to once again change human society forever.  Together with an android and a personal spaceship, they fled from the relentless agents of the Church. Their path was down the river Tethys, which once flowed across many different worlds, and did so again with Aenea’s influence.” ~Allie

This is the third book of the Hyperion series, and I listened to it via audio while commuting to and from work.      

My Thoughts:

Endymion seems to be a straightforward adventure story, which makes it a little different from the previous books in the series.  It primarily follows Aenea, Raul, and A. Bettik floating down a river through wildly different worlds, encountering exciting and dangerous obstacles. The other half of the story involves the pursuing warrior-priest, Federico de Soya, a man of true faith who is troubled by his increasing awareness of the ruthlessness of his organization. I think the structure of the story was especially appealing to me, since the broad strokes are so similar to pretend games I played as a child.  I loved seeing the environments and lifeforms of each world, as well as seeing how the isolated human populations had adapted to live. I feel like I got to see so much more of this universe than I had from the previous novels.

I also really enjoyed reading about these particular characters. Raul is a kind and resourceful guy, and a pretty good narrator. I don’t really understand the obsession science fiction and fantasy seem to have with magical children, but I thought Aenea felt pretty genuine as a person and not just a plot device. It’s strongly hinted that Raul and Aenea will be romantically involved at some point in the future, but for this book their relationship is entirely platonic (I’ll talk more about this issue in my review of the final book). I was not terribly interested in the inner workings of the fictional future Catholic Church, but Father de Soya was a surprisingly sympathetic antagonist. I appreciated that even though a corrupt church is the villain in this story, we also see people who are true believers and who take the moral doctrine of their faith seriously.  

My Rating: 5/5

The third book of the Hyperion Cantos picks up the story several centuries later, with an almost entirely new cast of characters. Endymion is an exciting chase story, with our heroes (Raul, Aenea and A.Bettik) fleeing across many interesting worlds while the Catholic Church continues its pursuit.  It was really fun to explore more of this universe, and to see what happened to the people after the destruction of the farcasters. The main plot is resolved within the novel, but it is also clearly the first half of a larger story. I was pretty eager to jump right into the finale, and it also does not disappoint.  I can see why this series is considered a classic of science fiction.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Review: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
Published: Orbit (2017)
Awards Nominated: Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Awards

The Book:

“The starship Dormire is headed to colonize an alien planet, and it is crewed by criminals.  In a future where cloning and mind-downloading are commonplace and carefully regulated by law, it is possible for a small crew of six to manage the day-to-day details of the ship’s journey, life after life.  It’s not a terribly attractive job, but it is one certain criminals are willing to accept in exchange for the promise of a clean slate at their destination. To help start their new lives, their past crimes are to remain a secret.  

Years after departure, these six clones wake up in the middle of a brutal murder scene, where they are also the victims.  They have no memory of what has happened on the journey, and no idea who would have killed them all and why. Any one of them could be the killer, and not even know it. The clones must figure out what has happened before they are killed again--this time for good.” ~Allie

My Thoughts:

The future society of Six Wakes is shaped by cloning and mind-uploading technology. I personally tend to like books that focus on these sorts of ideas, and in this case I enjoyed how it was carried through to consider legal and social ramifications.  Also, I like stories that play with concepts of self and memory, so I found the premise--a mystery where any of the victims might unknowingly be the killer--deeply compelling. I say all this to point out that I was predisposed to like this book (and I did like it!) but I also felt the prose was a little weak. Occasionally, I would be distracted from the story by repetition or awkward phrasing, and there was a kind of sameness to the dialogue of different characters.  The story and the world was a lot of fun, and for me, that was enough.

The story was split between present and past, the situation on the Dormire and the circumstances that brought each of the characters there.  In the present, the stakes are raised through the loss of the ship’s cloning capability. If the characters are killed again, they will not be able to take another try at solving the mystery.  This made the story pretty tense and paranoid, and in some cases information is withheld from the reader. The past stories are more of an exploration of the various ways things can go wrong in a world where minds are programmable and bodies are replaceable.  It was in these backstories that I got to know each of the characters and their motivations, and this was also where I saw the most of the future society they inhabited.

While the situation on the Dormire was certainly interesting, I was more drawn in by the backstories.  Part of this might just be because I like world-building, and there’s more of it to see on a world than in a spaceship.  I think another part that it is hard to simultaneously establish six compelling characters in an amnesia situation, where they are all also hiding everything about themselves beyond their basic personalities.  In any case, it made it difficult for me to build emotional connections with the characters. It was the backstories that fleshed them out, showing us who they were and what they were capable of. As I saw more of the past, it became easier to understand and connect to what was happening in the present.  Also, there were some interesting twists near the end, and I was pretty satisfied with how things concluded.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes includes a lot of ideas I am drawn to in science fiction literature--cloning, mind-uploading, and related issues of self when personalities can be described in code.  I enjoyed seeing ideas of how the introduction of these technologies might change human society. The story was really fun, but there was some weakness in the writing that was a little distracting.  Rather than the spaceship murder mystery, I was more interested in reading about each character’s background and the cloning-related problems they’d had in their lives. Overall, it was an entertaining book, and one that I am happy to have read.