Review: All Our Wrong Todays – Elan Mastai

2017: 99
4 of 5 stars
Published 2017

Most books about time travel follow the same rules. If you change something in the past, the future is rewritten. Sometimes for the better but usually for the worse. Tom Barren lives in 2016 where technology is king, there is no war, cars fly and life is good overall. Tom gets caught up in a time travel accident and the new 2016 is good for him personally though everyone thinks he’s John Barren, even if the tech is more like the world we know. So should he go back and change it back to where it should be and risk losing everything or if he tries, how much worse can it be?

The author does a good job of building the worlds in the timelines. You also start wondering, is there a timeline crossover or is one reality a delusion of another one? Are there more timelines?   As things change will past mistakes be corrected or will they be worse?

I had a little trouble with the ending, seemed to be rather more sophisticated than it had to be but it was still very good.


Science Fiction and Fantasy week

While perusing Goodreads, I noticed they have a blog post calling this week the Science Fiction and Fantasy week where they’re focusing on books of those genres, also called “Speculative Fiction”. Oh, why not! I like Scifi and Fantasy though, probably, I’d lean more towards Fantasy. It’s not my genre of choice but I do like it now and then. These types of stories might be traced back to the great Jules Verne. There were probably speculative fiction books before him but he made it popular.

Science Fiction tends to be more focused on science and technology, what’s possible now and what may be possible in the future where Fantasy focuses on even more imaginative characters and plots. Dystopian fiction generally tells tales of the world after a major catastrophe,a pandemic, a political takeover, an Apocalypse, “the end of the world as we know it” and describes the survivors’ stories. Margaret Atwood generally considers her books to be speculative fiction, saying “Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen.”

Very often, writers of all of these genres tend to tell their stories over a series of books…3, 5, 10, 20 books all about the same world or same set of characters. That’s becoming popular in other genres now, as well, particularly in series about crime fighters or generational epics. One author in particular that comes to mind is Sir Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series. There are over 40, the last one published after he passed away in 2015.

Canadian authors aren’t the first ones you’d think of when you consider Science Fiction/Fantasy but there are a few. Guy Gavriel Kay, William Gibson, Emily St. John Mandell (her dystopian novel, Station Eleven, did very well, with nominations and wins for a number of awards), Cory Doctorow, Madeline Ashby (born in L.A. but living in Toronto),  and Robert J. Sawyer.

The big name in Canadian Literature, of course, is Margaret Atwood who has written several speculative (dystopian) fiction novels, best known for The Handmaid’s Tale. But she’s also got a trilogy called MaddAddam (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam) which is very much worth reading. The disaster in that set is a pandemic virus. There’s a list of Canadian authors here on Wikipedia and there’s SF for lots of information on Canadian writers in these and similar genres (horror, paranormal, etc.)

Although it’s not my primary “go to” genre, I do like it. It’s a hugely popular genre but there are far too many authors to list them all here.  I’ll mention a few I’ve enjoyed over the years in addition to Atwood.

I think my first exposure to Sci. Fi. was Robert A. Heinlen. I read a few of his early novels though I don’t really remember much of the stories now. I also picked up a couple of classics by Issac Asimov back in the day, mainly the Robot ones.

I think I would have to point to Anne McCaffrey for my all time favourite fantasy author because I’ve read quite a few of her books, both her science fiction ones and her fantasy ones, especially the Pern planet series that have dragons. Dragons! They are all “good” dragons, too. I haven’t read many of the recent ones co-written with her son in the few years before she died. (Here’s a great list of the reading order of the Pern series, an excellent and quite handy website that puts book series in order)

Neil Stephenson is another author that I’ve liked. His huge, chunky books tend to be more of a variety of types but he has written some science fiction which I’ve liked including, recently, Seveneves. In other fantasy novels, I’ve enjoyed a few by Neil Gaiman and some of Stephen King’s novels probably fall under the “fantasy” moniker though his books tend more to the horror than not. I never got on well with Tolkein, I will admit. I have read the Game of Thrones books by George R. R. Martin and while I liked the stories, I do find him a bit long winded for my taste. I do have good intentions of reading Guy Gavriel Kay. The descriptions of his books sound very good.

My husband really enjoys Terry Pratchett’s books. I’ve read the Hogfather but that’s as far as I got. I’ve read a couple by Naomi Novik and quite liked those as well. She does a series of what is a mash up of historical fiction and fantasy, the “Temeraire” books. They have dragons, too!

YA (Young Adult) books in these genres are a bit hit and miss for me. I joined the crowd and read the Hunger Games and the Divergent trilogies and liked them quite a bit and  once I finally decided to read the Harry Potter novels, I discovered that I really enjoyed them a lot.

Then there’s Steampunk. I’m not sure where that fits in but I like to think it leans closer to the Fantasy realm. I like some of that as well.

I must also put in a plug for a book by a good friend of mine,  Gatekeeper by John Beresford, a UK author. I really enjoyed this book which has elements of both science fiction and fantasy,  and I believe it’s still available on Kindle.

Are you a fan of Science Fiction, Fantasy or Dystopian novels? Have you got any recommendations?


Review: Company Town by Madeline Ashby

2017: 21
4 of 5 stars
Published May 2016

New Arcadia is a city on a massive oil rig out in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Newfoundland. It is the future with advanced technologies and corporations that own and run a lot more than the governments do. The Lynch family’s corporation has just bought New Arcadia where everyone works in the industry or supports it. Prostitution is legal and unionized but the women generally bring bodyguards with them on their “dates”. That’s where Go Jung-Hwa comes in. She’s a bodyguard.

Most people have their bodies augmented and implanted and genetically engineered, but Hwa is 100% organic and because of that, she has no internal coding that can be hacked. She’s also battling an illness which manifests itself in seizures, and physically, with a stain over much of one side of her body and face. It has kept her as an outsider all her life. Even her mother rejects her most of the time. Her beloved older brother died in an explostion on the oldest part of the rig three years previously. She has trained and made herself strong and can kick major ass when she needs to. She is a survivor. She is tough. She has her own moral code and given her upbringing with an abusive mother, she could have gone down a much darker route to self destruction but is a decent person under that hard shell defensive exterior. She seems to want to do the right thing, protect people, right the wrongs, and she doesn’t let her disability keep her down in spite of most of society finding her looks repulsive if they don’t actually edit what they see in the first place.

Enter the Lynches. They need a bodyguard for the youngest of the family, teenage Joel, who is the heir apparent, though has older half-siblings. He is his elderly father’s choice but needs to be protected from recent death threats and trained in self defence. Hwa is offered the job. She must report to Daniel, the security head.

But then, the prostitutes start dying. Someone seems to be after them, or are they after Hwa? Are the deaths related to the threats against Joel? Hwa suspects maybe they are. Who can she trust? Is Daniel all that he seems? there is mystery in his past as well.

I really liked this book. I think Ms. Ashby did a great job building this world and the characters. Even many of the minor characters are diverse and distinctive. Hwa’s self confidence and defiant attitude masks a broken girl who has managed to survive the odds. She’s not a nice “sweet” person but she’s admirable in her loyalty and vulnerability when she lets it show. She doesn’t trust easily and keeps to herself a lot and I did like her. There is a subtle romantic vibe between she and Daniel but it’s not what the story is about. Joel is a good kid growing into a massive amount of responsibility.

The plot moved along quickly though I have to say the ending got a bit confusing in its circumstances, just a bit. I think the end had a bit of timey wimey other worldy about it which came out of nowhere. Now and then, Hwa’s Newfoundland accent comes to the surface and it comes across as a bit awkward, especially since she’s half Korean and speaks that language as well to her mother. You wouldn’t expect her to have a broad Newfoundland accent that she mostly doesn’t use. The message of the book, or one of them, seems to be a warning against all this technology, changing our physical bodies to the point where we are little more than a long living shell, nearly an artificial intelligence.

It is one of the books up for the competition in the 2017 Canada Reads. It should provide some interesting debate. I am also going to use it in my Bingo Challenge as a Canadian-written mystery.

Review: Doctor Who: The Legends of River Song

2017: 17
3.5 of 5 stars
Published June 2016
Authors: Jenny T. Colgan, Jaqueline Rayner, Steve Lyons, Guy Adams, Andrew Lyons

Dr. River Song is the erstwhile wife of timelord Doctor Who. If you have followed the tv series in the past 10 years, you’ll be familar with her. She’s brash, sassy and ever stylish. She is also in Stormcage prison for killing The Doctor. But that’s another story. River Song has kept a diary of all her adventures with The Doctor and solo as well and this book gives us 5 of them, a romp through space and time, adventures on her own terms.

Each of the stories is actually written by a different author. A couple of them also feature The Doctor, Matt Smith’s incarnation since that’s the majority of the time she was on the show. Some stories work better than others in both the story and in capturing the essence of River Song. It’s fun for fans of the show.

Review: Quantum Night by Robert J Sawyer

4 of 5 stars
Published March 2016

This book is about human consciousness and conscience, psychopathy and philosophical zombies. The premise is that all human beings are p-zeds (aka followers or “sheep”), psychopaths (no conscience) or those with a conscience. In the year 2020, Jim Marchuk is a psychology professor at the University of Winnipeg. He discovers, while testifying at a trial, that he’s lost 6 months of memories from 19 years ago when he was in university. In the quest to find out what happened, he reconnects with the woman he dated during those six months, a relationship that ended very badly. She’s a scientist as well, dealing with quantum physics and psychology.

During the course of the story, we find out what happened to Jim and he finds out some of the things he did during those lost months. There’s a lot of science and quantum terminology being flung about that frankly, went way over my head but I think I got the gist of it. The author takes the theory to the extreme but it’s an interesting point of view. If you can change someone from one type of person to another, would you? What would happen to them if you did?

Meanwhile, violence and hate crimes are rising. There are riots breaking out all over Canada and as they spread across the world, the unthinkable happens. Jim, Kayla and her coworker may have an unthinkable solution. Should they implement it? Would it even work? It really does come down to “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one”.

It’s a bit far fetched in some ways and as I said, the science is a bit difficult to follow sometimes. There was a slow build up, too slow really. It took a really long time for things to get moving and the major turning point didn’t happen until almost 70% into the book with the climax unfolding over the last few chapters. I wish it had moved along a little quicker but I did enjoy the unfolding at the end. The book is riddled with pop culture references to the point of irritation at times, where you wonder how much the author got paid for all that product placement! And yet that ubiquitous Canadian icon, Tim Horton’s, never made an appearance, I don’t think.

This book is going to be debated in this year’s Canada Reads on CBC at the end of March and it will be interesting to hear the debates around some of the moral dilemmas that this book brings up. Overall I enjoyed it.

Review: Nostalgia by M. G. Vassanji

2017: 9
Rating 4 of 5 stars
Published September 2016

In the future, perhaps by the end of this century, people who can afford it will be able to live practically forever. You can have new body and even new memories,  a whole new past for you. But the brain is not as easy to change. Even though new memories can be installed, sometimes old memories leak through. This is called Leaking Memory Syndrome, aka Nostagia. It can kill you so you go to a specialist doctor like Dr. Frank Sina who will plug the memory leak.

Presley Smith came to Dr. Sina for help. He was troubled by a few random thoughts. “The Lion comes out at midnight”. He assumed they were from his former life. In the end, he didn’t want Frank’s help and was determined to suppress the old memories himself. Frank becomes somewhat obsessed with helping Presley though he doesn’t really know why this patient has affected him more than others. He’s not even put off when it turns out the government is also interested in Presley’s whereabouts and ordering Frank to leave it alone. Why is Frank determined to help Presley? Who is Presley? Who is Frank?

This world is also divided, with a long border manned to keep a section of the world that was decimated by a nuclear accident isolated. The government (s?) would have you believe that anyone that lives behind the wall is a terrorist or has the potential to be one. It is not safe, the people are poor yet it’s also a tourist destination for the curious. A young female reporter, Holly, goes in to a village compound to bring the sights to the outside world and is abducted. She ends up understanding and supporting the dogma of the society.

In society, the people that live with the memories over and over are taking jobs and making the younger generations hungry and unemployed and there’s a vast movement afoot to urge the regenerated people to let themselves die out. There are religious factions that also protest the immortality. Frank becomes aquainted with a Buddhist woman who believes in reincarnation.

Holly, Frank and Presley are all tied together somehow but neither we nor Frank know how. Frank only knows he feels invested in Holly’s predicament and Presley’s mental health.

The story is intriguing though not full of action. It’s all kind of subliminal and low key. The theme of whether people should live forever and the ethics of it, the complications and the divide between those that can afford to do it and those that can’t are explored.

Nostalgia is one of the books on the shortlist for Canada Reads 2017. Whether it’s voted as the one book all Canadians should read or not remains to be seen. It’s an interesting concept and it might be a good book to teach in high school.