Recursion by Blake Crouch

Memory makes reality.

That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent. 

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicide.

Have you ever had a dream that felt so real that when you woke up you could have sworn that it actually happened? That you lived a whole other life? And now that you’ve woken up, you come to the realization that this is your real life and that other life was only a fantasy?

What if you’re told that the life you dreamt of was a result of FMS – False Memory Syndrome? That despite how real it felt that it was all just an illusion? How would that make you feel? How do you think that would make any one feel?

Continuing in the thread of ‘What if…?’, what if you were told there was a special chair. A chair that allows you to revisit past events? And in revisiting the past, the potential to change the future? Would you sit in the chair? What would you change?

All of these questions – and many more – are posed in Blake Crouch’s most recent book Recursion.

In it, neuroscientist Helena Smith is searching for a way to preserve memories. To allow important moments to be recorded so that they might be experienced again. To save what little is left of her own mother’s mind before Alzheimer’s claims her completely. And while Helena succeeds in being able to record memories, it is when they are played back that trouble starts. Trouble that could potentially change the world as we know it.

I will be blunt dear reader, Recursion is not an easy read. At times it is science heavy and at other times it is emotion heavy. It is however a very good book and one that will leave you thinking long after you have turned the last page.

I absolutely recommend this one to my readers.

Artemis by Andy Weir

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

Trigger Warning: This book takes place on the moon, meaning characters are subject to the dangers of space. There are a few claustrophobic moments as well.

When I first read that Andy Weir was writing another space based novel after the popularity of The Martian, I was ecstatic. I read – nay, devoured – The Martian and greatly enjoyed it. Even when I wrote my original review I do not think I gushed enough over how entertained I was by the book.

Oh how I wish I could say the same of Artemis.

Artemis is completely different from The Martian. The main character, Jasmine (Jazz) Bashara isn’t a very likable character. She’s rude and brusque and doesn’t take things as seriously as she should. Something that causes more than one person to snap at her over the course of the book.

Like many small time criminals, she doesn’t consider herself a criminal. She believes she is doing something of a service for the people of Artemis. It is a point she even makes towards the end of the book. And when she takes an offer that ends up getting people killed and she finds herself in over her head, she is still reluctant to ask for help.

While the overall idea of the book was interesting, the actual book itself fell very short. Many of the characters were either insultingly stereotypical or downright annoying, there were far too many dumb jokes, and the entire plot line felt like a mess.

I know there are a number of readers who enjoyed Artemis as much as The Martian. Unfortunately, I am not one of those.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Some stories cannot be told in just one lifetime.

Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.”

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

Trigger Warning: Torture. There are a handful of scenes where Harry is tortured for information. While the author doesn’t go in to explicit detail, there is enough detail that could potentially bother some readers.

If you could start your life over from childhood with the knowledge you have now as an adult, would you do it? What would you change? What would you not change? Such is a question that has been asked over and over again. And such is also the basis of this week’s review – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.

Harry August is an ourobouran – a rare and unique person who lives, dies, and is reborn to live their life again and again. He is also a mnemonic – a rarity even among ourobourans – meaning that he remembers every minute of every life.

I am quite unsure how The First Fifteen Lives… escaped my book radar. As a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, I try to keep tab on books that I might enjoy reading. And since starting this blog I have tried even harder to keep abreast of up and coming books in genres I enjoy.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August hits almost every point. North does a great job in building a world that is both familiar and new. She peppers in real world history adding another layer of believability to the story. The twists and turns that eventually develop are designed to keep the reader’s attention and it succeeds. Her characters are imperfect, not one of them is wholly good or wholly bad. The things they do and the decisions they make, each one believes they are acting for the greater good. Even when such decisions could mean the end of the world as we know it.

One thing that might detract a few readers is that the story isn’t told in a completely linear manner. When we first meet August he is at the end of his eleventh life and we are then taken back to his first life. This jumping back and forth could be a bit disconcerting for some, especially once the plot really starts moving along.

Those who are fans of sci-fi and fantasy like Doctor Who or the movie Groundhog Day should give The First Fifteen Lives… a try. I enjoyed it a great deal and recommend it to my readers.

Solaris by Stanisław Lem (Translated by Bill Johnston)

When psychologist Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds himself confronting a painful memory embodied in the physical likeness of a past lover. Kelvin learns that he is not alone in this and that other crews examining the planet are plagued with their own repressed and newly real memories. Could it be, as Solaris scientists speculate, that the ocean may be a massive neural center creating these memories, for a reason no one can identify?

Long considered a classic, Solaris asks the question: Can we understand the universe around us without first understanding what lies within?

Solaris, though written in the 1960’s, continues to be a book that is recommended to sci-fi lovers. It is continuously being “re-discovered” by each successive generation. It has been made in to two different films and has been translated in to over 40 different languages. It is considered a masterpiece of writing.

And it left me sorely disappointed.

Despite the accolades, despite the numerous glowing reviews, despite the incredibly interesting premise – I was let down reading Solaris.

I found it boring and tedious. I cannot speak for any other of Lem’s books, but in this one he is quite fond of info dumps. Pages of information that have little to nothing to do with what is currently happening plot wise and do not move the story along one bit. I found myself skimming the pages during these times, trying to get back to the original plot.

Solaris is one of those books that falls in to a difficult category, at least for me as a reviewer. While I personally did not enjoy it, the book itself is still lauded as a classic by so many others. All I can do is give my own opinion and urge my dear readers to also make their own.

Provided for Review: Redhand by Tony Leslie Duxbury

This book was kindly provided for review by the author. Thank you!

It is the new age of barbarism, hundreds of years after the collapse of civilization.

Most of the vast knowledge that mankind had accumulated has been lost. The once great cities are either piles of blasted rubble or crumbling ruins. After society imploded, humanity turned on one another. Decades of war followed. The survivors banded together in tribes and clans.

All the bullets and bombs have run out. It’s back to edged weapons and blunt instruments. Technology has taken an enormous step backwards, and so has humanity. 

He belongs to a band of wanderers, mainly peaceful people who gather and hunt. One day they suffer a raid by a group of warriors and in the aftermath, he finds himself alone. All his family and friends killed, and he left for dead. The only survivor was his little sister, which the raiders kidnapped. He vows to rescue her. After a night of mourning, he sets off to get back his sister, not yet a man and without any idea how to go about it. The shock of the raid and the grief that followed it fundamentally changed him. He surprises himself time and again as he tracks down his sister’s kidnappers and gets her back.

Redhand is a book about change. After a catastrophic event referred to only as The Collapse, society as a whole changed. War pitted man against man until the bullets ran out. And even once they were gone, man continued to rally against his proverbial brother; only this time using weapons of metal and stone.

Duxbury does not shy away from showing how brutal and cruel things have become in his novel. His action scenes are vivid and often times gruesome, the protagonist dubbed Redhand unwilling to back down from a fight. The young man isn’t the only one prone to violence though, nearly every character we meet has fought and continued to fight for their survival.

Redhand is told through a series of five short stories; each story a chapter in the young man’s life. The stories are in sequential order so the reader can watch as the protagonist changes from a wide eyed youth to a hardened traveler. The issue comes with the lack of any real character development, even with Redhand himself. Were this a full length novel, it could have allowed for stronger emotional bonds to form between reader and book characters.

The ending of the final story also felt very abrupt. Almost as if Duxbury wasn’t sure how to bring things to an end and simply stopped writing. Such a sudden ending took me by surprise as I was expecting Redhand’s travels to continue at least a little more.

Overall, Redhand is a decent take on the post apocalyptic genre. I think with a bit more work fleshing out the stories and the work of a good editor – the copy I received still had a few editor’s notes left in it – it could become something much better. Readers looking for a fast read might give this one a look.

Doctor Who: Borrowed Time by Naomi Alderman

WHATEVER YOU BORROW MUST BE REPAID…

Andrew Brown never has enough time. No time to call his sister, or to prepare for that important presentation at the bank where he works. The train’s late, the lift jams. If only he had just a little more time. And time is the business of Mr Symington and Mr Blenkinsop. They’ll lend him some – at a very reasonable rate of interest.

Scenting something sinister, the Doctor, Amy and Rory go undercover at the bank. But they have to move fast to stop Symington and Blenkinsop before they cash in their investments. (via Goodreads)

Who among us couldn’t use more time? Time to get done all the things that need to get done but to also do the things one wants to do? According to Mr. Symington and Mr. Blenkinsop, they have the perfect solution and are quite happy to help. And it’s all available at a quite reasonable rate of interest.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a big Doctor Who fan. I’ve read several of the series novels before and even reviewed them here, though I tend to prefer the actual TV show over the books. The reason being that the novels are very hit and miss when it comes to capturing the essence of the show. When the books in question are good, they are very good; and when they are bad, they are usually awful.

Fortunately, Borrowed Time is a hit. Reading it was very much like watching an episode, albeit in my head instead of on my TV screen. Naomi Alderman does an excellent job of capturing Eleven’s frenetic – almost frantic – way of speech. The way he randomly rambles is caught on the printed page and it is incredibly easy to mentally picture Matt Smith saying the words.

Also worth mentioning is the way Amy and Rory (especially Rory) are kept relevant in the story. They are the Doctor’s companions, his friends; and like in the show they offer another view of what is happening. They help to gather information as well as offer assistance when they can. I especially liked how Rory was used and not simply brushed aside – something that sadly happens too often for him. He can be every bit as intelligent and insightful as Amy and that is used to good effect in this book.

Borrowed Time is a fairly quick read, again emulating the show’s hour long episode format. With only a few minor tweaks I could easily see this book being turned in to an actual episode.

Fans of Doctor Who – especially his Eleventh incarnation – will enjoy this one. I recommend picking it up and soundly rejecting any one who says they can help you with time.

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson – Provided for Review

This book was provided for review by the kind folks at Netgalley. Thank you!

In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned. 

Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her—even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

I always enjoy it when a book grabs my attention in the first few paragraphs before taking me on a wild ride. And that is exactly what happened when I read The Dreamers. From the first page to the last, I was enthralled by the story and continually wondering what would happen next.

One of the good things about this book is that there aren’t too many characters to try and keep track of. Yes, the book takes place in a small college town, but what is happening is presented from only a few points of view. The fact that the characters are all different ages and come from different walks of life only adds an extra layer of enjoyment.

The only real complaint I have is in regards to the virus itself. So very little attention is given to it, though it plays a major role in the story. Where did it come from? How did Kara, Patient Zero, originally contract it? Where did the virus eventually go? It’s alluded that it simply fizzled out, but because the whole town wasn’t affected, I find that tiny point a little hard to swallow.

Personally, I enjoyed reading The Dreamers; I practically devoured it. I wouldn’t recommend it for hypochondriacs, but for those looking for a good fairly quick read, I say give this one a try.

Provided for Review – Daisy’s Run (The Clockwork Chimera Book 1) by Scott Baron

This book was provided by Netgalley and the author for review. Thank you!

Life in deep space could be a drag sometimes, but Daisy supposed things could have been worse. They were still alive, after all, which was always a plus in her book. Now if only she could figure out who, or what, was endangering her return home, things would be just peachy.

With the powerful AI supercomputer guiding the craft beginning to show some disconcerting quirks of its own, and its unsettling cyborg assistant nosing into her affairs, Daisy’s unease was rapidly growing. Add to the mix a crew of mechanically-enhanced humans, any one of whom she suspected might not be what they seemed, and Daisy found herself with a sense of pending dread tickling the periphery of her mind. 

Something was very much not right––she could feel it in her bones. The tricky part now was going to be figuring out what the threat was, before it could manifest from a mere sinking feeling in her gut into a potentially deadly reality. (via Goodreads)

As someone who is a very big science fiction fan, when I was offered a chance to read Daisy’s Run, I jumped at the opportunity. It isn’t often that you come across a sci-fi book where the lead character is a female. And especially one who is as strong and snarky as Daisy.

Daisy’s Run is one of those books that hits the proverbial ground running. Right from the first page we are thrust in to a dangerous, and possibly deadly, situation. The space ship has been damaged by debris and if repairs are not done it could spell catastrophe.

At first everything seems to be running smoothly, but when one of the crew is inexplicably sucked out in to space, what was supposed to be a quiet trip back to Earth takes on a more dangerous tone. It doesn’t help that aside from Daisy, almost every other crew member is augmented in some way, and it seems that every one of them has a secret they’re hiding.

As the story continues and Daisy tries to figure out what is happening, it becomes harder and harder for her to know who to trust. She becomes incredibly paranoid and the reader is left to wonder if all these dangers she is seeing are all in her head.

As Daisy becomes more and more paranoid, the story itself begins to feel frenetic. The pace almost becomes as frantic as Daisy’s mind is, only slowing down towards the end when things begin to be explained.

Baron does a very good job of making us wonder just who is telling the truth. Small clues are dropped through words and actions that hint at bigger plots behind the scenes.

While the story itself is a bit slow to start, I encourage readers to hang in there and keep going. When the story picks up, it picks up fast and pulls you along with it. And personally, I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Her Cyborg (Bound by Her #1) by Nellie C. Lind

CAN’T FIND MR. RIGHT? WHY NOT CREATE HIM? MedAct is the company that can make all your dreams come true! Just give them a call and let them create the perfect man for you. But remember, you can never give him up. It will kill him, literally. 

Loneliness and failed relationships made Phoebe want a cyborg of her own. With him, she would never be heartbroken again, but getting a cyborg is not easy. So when she turned to the medical and scientific company MedAct, she never expected to become one of the few people who passed their tests to be able to apply for one. 

Now, months later, his creation is complete, and they are about to come face to face for the very first time. The day she has waited for has finally arrived, and it is about to change everything.  (via Goodreads)

Her Cyborg is one of those books where the premise was very interesting but the actual execution ended up being somewhat lacking.

First off, all the cyborgs mentioned in the book are male. There is no mention of female cyborgs either having been created or even considered for creation. This means that the only individuals who can create their “perfect” mate are heterosexual women or homosexual men, and while the former are mentioned numerous times, the latter are not mentioned as being candidates at all.

Second, the “bond” that is created between cyborg and human is mentioned to the point of being ridiculous. Practically every page there is some mention of this bond, of how it is part of the core programming of the cyborg and should the female they are bonded to sever it, how the cyborg will die or go insane. Every character, whether human or not, talks of this bond – of its importance – and it gets tiring pretty quickly.

Third, there is almost no character development to speak of. We are given so little background on Phoebe or any of her friends that I found it difficult to actually care about them. Even when certain events came to pass and lives were in danger, it was hard to be concerned.

Lastly, and I think most importantly, was a detail I noticed that might make some readers uncomfortable. It’s mentioned that when a cyborg first awakens the bond between him and his human is particularly strong. So much so that the two of them must be practically isolated for their first month together. The way Lind describes Shade’s thoughts and actions during this time, it borders on the obsessive and could be triggering for some readers. And while his possessiveness is dismissed as part of his programming and will lessen with time, it was still troublesome to read.

Sadly, as promising as the premise of Her Cyborg is, the book itself is as one reviewer put it “A hot mess.” There is a second and third book in the series that continues the story with characters introduced in the first book. If they are anything like this one, it is not worth the money or time. Something which makes me sad because I really wanted to like this one.

The Fall of the House of Cabal (Johannes Cabal #5) by Jonathan L. Howard

Johannes Cabal, a necromancer of some little infamy, has come into possession of a vital clue that may lead him to his ultimate goal: a cure for death. The path is vague, however, and certainly treacherous as it takes him into strange territories that, quite literally, no one has ever seen before. The task is too dangerous to venture upon alone, so he must seek assistance, comrades for the coming travails.

So assisted–ably and otherwise–by his vampiric brother, Horst, and by the kindly accompaniment of a criminologist and a devil, he will encounter ruins and diableries, mystery and murder, the depths of the lowest pit and a city of horrors. London, to be exact.

Yet even though Cabal has risked such peril believing he understands the dangers he faces, he is still underestimating them. He is walking into a trap of such arcane complexity that even the one who drew him there has no idea of its true terrors. As the snare closes slowly and subtly around them, it may be that there will be no survivors at all. (via Goodreads)

The Johannes Cabal series is one I have read and enjoyed from the first book to (sadly) the last. Like any series there were books I enjoyed more than others. And like most series I’ve read, I am sad to see this one end.

The one thing I have loved most in reading the Cabal series is watching how Johannes has grown as an individual. From the self-centered, self-serving necromancer in the first book, to the man who willingly gives his brother an incredibly valuable gift; Johannes has come a long way. And with Howard’s writing, his growth is believable.

In this fifth and final book, Cabal believes he has found the one thing he has searched for for numerous years – a way to bring the dead back to life. An esoteric tome of unknown origin promises treasures untold and though Johannes has his doubts, it is the thought of what he could do if the stories were true that drives him on.

And drive him on it does, to a rather fire-y conclusion.

I am sad that this is the final book in the Cabal series because I have greatly enjoyed it. Fortunately, Howard has left the ending open so it is possible that one day he will return to the Cabal brothers. I certainly hope he does.