Review: Hella by David Gerrold

Hella by David Gerrold

Published: June 16, 2020 by DAW

Buy this book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: A master of science fiction introduces a world where everything is large and the problems of survival even larger in this exciting new novel.

Hella is a planet where everything is oversized—especially the ambitions of the colonists.

The trees are mile-high, the dinosaur herds are huge, and the weather is extreme—so extreme, the colonists have to migrate twice a year to escape the blistering heat of summer and the atmosphere-freezing cold of winter.

Kyle is a neuro-atypical young man, emotionally challenged, but with an implant that gives him real-time access to the colony’s computer network, making him a very misunderstood savant. When an overburdened starship arrives, he becomes the link between the established colonists and the refugees from a ravaged Earth.

The Hella colony is barely self-sufficient. Can it stand the strain of a thousand new arrivals, bringing with them the same kinds of problems they thought they were fleeing?

Despite the dangers to himself and his family, Kyle is in the middle of everything—in possession of the most dangerous secret of all. Will he be caught in a growing political conspiracy? Will his reawakened emotions overwhelm his rationality? Or will he be able to use his unique ability to prevent disaster?

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you DAW and NetGalley!***

I went into this book with a mixture of expectations and unfortunately it didn’t really meet any of them. On the one hand, I would have been happy if this was a B-movie style Creature Feature. But it wasn’t. And on the other hand it comes to me from David Gerrold. I have not read Gerrold before but I know him from being the writer of the “Trouble with Tribbles” episode of Star Trek and writing The Man who Folded Himself. A highly acclaimed writer in the sci-fi landscape and so I would have been happy with a wonderful sci-fi adventure from a practiced hand. Unfortunately it wasn’t that either.

The world was built in a convincing way, even if the descriptions were not that great. I liked hearing about the trees that weren’t really trees, and the creatures so large that they have their own small ecosystem. The settlers on this planet seem to have a structure similar to that of the show Stargate. Half military, half scientific exploration. You have the head of the expedition who is called Captain and there is largely a military like structure to a lot of the colonists activities. And they are there for the express purpose of conducting scientific exploration of their new home to figure out how to exist there with minimal impact on the natural environment. Why then are we naming things “bug-things” or “bat-things.” Our narrator, Kyle, is highly scientifically minded and he tells us that all of these things have scientific names…..so why are we calling them stupid things? They even have a giant salt flat that is called, no joke, “Oh my God!” because that’s all anyone could think of saying when they discovered it. It was really lame and annoying. I mean, they named the planet Hella because everything is “hella big”. Eye roll.

Kyle was a great character. He has some kind of “syndrome” that they never actually name but many have speculated is supposed to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. He was volatile and aggressive as a young child and so got a chip implanted in his brain to help him suppress his emotions. I loved how Kyle transitioned and changed throughout this book. He starts as a boy who feels that he doesn’t fit in and the only person he can talk to is his brother, Jaime. He relies on Jaime for just about everything. Throughout the events of the book Kyle decides to explore his emotions and build himself a more expansive support system. It was really great character development.

The author also introduced us to some really intriguing concepts in this society that I really wanted to learn more about, the government structure of the colony and the evolution of how society understands sexuality and gender. The government seemed to be a ruling committee that is guided by their Charters in making decisions for the good of the whole colony. I wanted to know what the ramifications would be when one of the committee decided to put themselves over the needs of the colony. Unfortunately we never really spend much time on that.

This is also a society that can change gender at will. Kyle’s brother, Jaime, was born a girl and decided to change. Kyle was also born a girl and decided to change because Jaime did. Later Kyle and his boyfriend have a discussion about whether the boyfriend would prefer Kyle to be a girl and he’d change back. It seemed that most people had changed genders at least once and technology has evolved to a point that the change can fully make you the other gender. Kyle’s mom was a girl, switched to be a boy for awhile, then went back to being a girl so she could experience pregnancy and childbirth. But it just seemed so casual. People are changing out of curiosity, just because, pressure from romantic interests, etc. But we never actually met someone who wanted to change their gender because they wanted to be their authentic self. It was more like choosing a new hair color. I wanted to see some depth to that discussion, but that never comes either.

This book was also way too long. At 448 pages I didn’t expect to be bored. But literally nothing happens for about 260 of those pages. The last half is very action packed. But literally NOTHING happens before then. Nothing. So overall, the whole thing left me feeling underwhelmed.

Take My Money! Sunday

Hella by David Gerrold

Expected Publication: June 16, 2020

Goodreads

Synopsis: A master of science fiction introduces a world where everything is large and the problems of survival even larger in this exciting new novel.

Hella is a planet where everything is oversized—especially the ambitions of the colonists.

The trees are mile-high, the dinosaur herds are huge, and the weather is extreme—so extreme, the colonists have to migrate twice a year to escape the blistering heat of summer and the atmosphere-freezing cold of winter.

Kyle is a neuro-atypical young man, emotionally challenged, but with an implant that gives him real-time access to the colony’s computer network, making him a very misunderstood savant. When an overburdened starship arrives, he becomes the link between the established colonists and the refugees from a ravaged Earth.

The Hella colony is barely self-sufficient. Can it stand the strain of a thousand new arrivals, bringing with them the same kinds of problems they thought they were fleeing?

Despite the dangers to himself and his family, Kyle is in the middle of everything—in possession of the most dangerous secret of all. Will he be caught in a growing political conspiracy? Will his reawakened emotions overwhelm his rationality? Or will he be able to use his unique ability to prevent disaster?

Why I’m Excited: This sounds like a great idea for a sci-fi. A planet full of giant things and a neuro-atypical young man trying to survive in it. Sign me up!

The Apocalypse Strain by Jason Parent

Expected Publication: June 25, 2020

Goodreads

Synopsis: A multi-national research team, led by a medical genomics expert suffering from MS, study an ancient pandoravirus at a remote Siberian research facility. Called “Molli” by the research team, the organic substance reveals some unique but troublesome characteristics, qualities that, in the wrong hands, could lead to human extinction. The researchers soon learn that even in the right hands, Molli is a force too dangerous to escape their compound. But the virus has a mind of its own, and it wants out. 

Why I’m Excited: I am a bit obsessed with the idea of plagues running amok and killing off the entire world. I play Plague Inc obsessively, I read books about it, I read historical stuff about past plagues. I am obsessed. And this sounds so good.

The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin

Expected Publication: January 12, 2021

Goodreads

Synopsis: Cinderella married the man of her dreams—the perfect ending she deserved after diligently following all the fairy-tale rules. Yet now, two children and thirteen and a half years later, things have gone badly wrong and her life is far from perfect. One night, fed up, she sneaks out of the palace to get help from the Witch who, for a price, offers love potions to disgruntled housewives. But as the old hag flings the last ingredients into the cauldron, Cinderella doesn’t ask for a love spell to win back her Prince Charming.

Instead, she wants him dead.

Endlessly surprising, wildly inventive, and decidedly modern, The Charmed Wife weaves together time and place, fantasy and reality, to conjure a world unlike any other. Nothing in it is quite what it seems, and the twists and turns of its magical, dark, swiftly shifting paths take us deep into the heart of what makes us unique, of romance and marriage, and of the very nature of storytelling.

Why I’m Excited: I know what you’re thinking, it’s another fairytale retelling. Sort of. But not really. It’s a “what happens after happily ever after.” And I know that it doesn’t come out for…well forever, but I am too excited not to talk about it. I have scored an ARC for this one, and I cannot wait!

Review: Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

50157754Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Published: April 14, 2020 by Amulet Books

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: The gods are dead. Decades ago, they turned on one another and tore each other apart. Nobody knows why. But are they really gone forever? When 15-year-old Hark finds the still-beating heart of a terrifying deity, he risks everything to keep it out of the hands of smugglers, military scientists, and a secret fanatical cult so that he can use it to save the life of his best friend, Jelt. But with the heart, Jelt gradually and eerily transforms. How long should Hark stay loyal to his friend when he’s becoming a monster—and what is Hark willing to sacrifice to save him?

Rating: 4 star

Review: This book drew me in with its cover, as is often the case. I was intrigued by the synopsis. And several reviews of it called it a merging of Frakenstein, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde, and that left me even more interested. Normally with that much hype surrounding a book it is bound to disappoint, at least a little bit, but this book was fantastic.

Hark was a fabulous character. He was uncertain and timid but trying to find a foothold in the world. He could see that his friendship with Jelt was changing but admitting it to himself meant that nothing would be the same. He broke my heart and left me cheering him on. He had a great story arc. Through the course of the story he was forced from being a little boy running a small time con to a man who takes responsibility for his own story.

I had a hard time feeling too much sympathy for Jelt because he was pretty mean to Hark from the moment we met him. But, despite that, I felt tremendous sympathy for how Hark dealt with the changes in his friend.

The gods were presented as monsters first, deities almost by accident, and I liked that approach. The idea of monster gods is appealing to me and this was the perfect blend of monster and majesty to suit me. The world this book was set in was also beautifully detailed. I could feel the undulating waves of the Undersea. The permeating fear of it that fed the gods for thousands of years. It was a beautifully written story. My only complaint was that the ending when Hark is going after the heart dragged on for a bit too long. After about 50 pages my mind started to wander and I wished we could stop describing everything so thoroughly and move on with the action a bit quicker. But the ending was compelling, as was the epilogue. I read the last thirty pages or so with tears streaming down my face, my heart breaking and cheering for Hark all at the same time. In the end this was a story about the power of stories, and it had a profound power all its own.

Review: Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

45418305._SY475_Laughter at the Academy by Seanan McGuire

Published: October 31, 2019 by Subterranean Press

Buy this book at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis:

From fairy tale forest to gloomy gothic moor, from gleaming epidemiologist’s lab to the sandy shores of Neverland, Seanan McGuire’s short fiction has been surprising, delighting, confusing, and transporting her readers since 2009. Now, for the first time, that fiction has been gathered together in one place, ready to be enjoyed one twisting, tangled tale at a time. Her work crosses genres and subverts expectations.
Meet the mad scientists of “Laughter at the Academy” and “The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells.” Glory in the potential of a Halloween that never ends. Follow two very different alphabets in “Frontier ABCs” and “From A to Z in the Book of Changes.” Get “Lost,” dress yourself “In Skeleton Leaves,” and remember how to fly. All this and more is waiting for you within the pages of this decade-spanning collection, including several pieces that have never before been reprinted. Stories about mermaids, robots, dolls, and Deep Ones are all here, ready for you to dive in.

This is a box of strange surprises dredged up from the depths of the sea, each one polished and prepared for your enjoyment. So take a chance, and allow yourself to be surprised.

Rating: 4 star

Review:

***I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and Subterranean Press!***

As with all short story collections that I read, I prefer to review them by the story. Inevitably I will love some of them and not care for others and this collection was no different. I am a big fan of the author but some of these stories were a miss. I also noticed that there were some formatting issues with the ARC, which meant that sometimes I didn’t get the complete story. On the whole, this collection was a solid four stars with a lot more hits than misses.

Laughter at the Academy: 2 stars. I am not sure if it was the formatting issue or if the story was really supposed to be that disjointed. We got a little snippet of something “official” about the disorder in question, and then we would jump into a scene, right in the middle of a sentence. A scene that is totally unconnected from the previous scene. If that if how it was supposed to be, I didn’t like it. The snippets were good, but I never felt I got a full story.

Lost: 5 stars. This was a very short story but wow it packed a wallop. It was inventive and whimsical. It was riveting and profound. It was fantastic.

The Tolling of Pavlov’s Bells: 5 stars. This is probably one of the more twisted stories I’ve read in quite a long while. It carries very heavy themes in complacency as a species, being too convinced of our own individual superiority to listen to people superior in knowledge than us. The desire for things to be the same and to be easy than to listen to harsh lessons. It was profound and deeply, deeply twisted.

Uncle Sam: 2 stars. The formatting issue was present here too, the story started mid sentence and I could tell there was more to it that I didn’t get. I didn’t really like this one. The story was slightly interesting but I didn’t really invest in the narrative for some reason. It was a bit obvious where it was going and the political assumptions in it were rather annoying. For example, “well obviously, even though many people think X thing, we all know that Y is true.” Well no, Y isn’t objectively true in the real world. If it’s objectively true in this world then fine, or if it’s true to those people then fine, but telling me that it’s true without more context was annoying. The ending was obvious, which also was irritating.

Crystal Halloway and the Forgotten Passage: 3 stars. This story was okay. I would have liked a tiny bit more history on the story. I know it’s a short story but just thrusting someone into a fantasy world with no warning is a bit jarring, give me something to explain the things that are going on. The ending was good, I liked the conclusion a lot. Overall, it was fine but not as good as some of the others.

Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust: 4 stars. I love the land of Oz and stories about Dorothy’s adventures. This was definitely a darker story but I loved it. There wasn’t too much action, which disappointed me a little but the world introduced there was amazing.

Homecoming: 2 stars. I can honestly say I remember nothing about this story, even though I took notes. That says something I think.

Frontier ABCs: 4 stars. I can honestly say that I had no idea where this was going and it was a delightful little ride to find out.

We are all Misfit Toys in the Aftermath of the Velveteen War: 5 stars. Holy crap this story threw me for a loop. I had to take a break from the book for a day or two because it just sent me reeling. It’s something so profound that I could imagine happening in our world. I have often said, “How do you prepare the world for a child’s toy saying they don’t want to be turned off because they are scared of the dark?” I love the complexities offered to humanity by AI and this story explored that beautifully.

The Lambs: 2 stars. Another exploration of AI and its uses in humanity but there was a problem here. I just didn’t buy it. I did not buy that this would be a reasonable alternative to the way things are right now. As a parent, I can’t imagine anyone seeing the technology presented and thinking “Yes, that’s a good idea for handling unruly, bully children”. And so, I didn’t enjoy the story because I couldn’t buy the premise.

Each to Each: 4 stars. Not too much to say about this one in particular other than it was really great.

Bring About the Halloween Eternal: 5 stars. Part of good sci-fi is using new formats to tell a story. This one used the backdrop of a GoFundMe project to tell the story and I loved that idea. It was playful, unique and wonderfully constructed.

Office Memos: 4 stars. I really loved this one because it takes the form of a bunch of company emails to narrate the story. Having been on the receiving end of many such mundane office emails I found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Lady Antheia’s Guide to Horticultural Warfare: 3 stars. This one was okay. It had some formatting issues at the beginning, so I missed out on the beginning of the story. It was a solid story, I just didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the others.

Driving Jenny Home: 5 stars. This particular story broke my heart. I cried all over my Nook. The sadness was palpable, the conclusion inevitable and all I could think at the end of it was “I’d do the same thing for the person I loved.”

There is no Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold: 5 stars. I can honestly say I’ve never read a retelling of Pandora’s Box, so this was a first and it hit the nail on the head. I loved every word and wanted the story to be longer.

In Skeleton Leaves: 4 stars. Speaking of retellings, Peter Pan anyone? This was also wonderful. I felt so sad for the characters and the ending I did not see coming, though I probably should have I was just too wrapped up in Wendy’s narrative to see it.

Please Accept My Most Profound Apologies: 5 stars. I have to say, I really love stories that are narrated as a letter from the bad guy, explaining themselves to the unfortunate sap who finds their manuscript before the end of the world. This was great and made my heart race in anticipation.

Threnody for Little Girl, With Tuna, at the End of the World: 3 stars. This one was an interesting concept and I liked the backdrop of the Monterey Bay Aquarium since it’s also one of my favorite places on earth. But in the end it was a little bland.

From A to Z in the Book of Changes: 3 stars. I liked this one, but it was just too disjointed for me. It seemed like unconnected threads that never came together to form a whole.

#connollyhouse #weshouldntbehere: 5 stars. I said earlier I loved playing with new mediums, this was a horror story told through someone’s Twitter timeline. I really liked that idea but wasn’t sure how effective it would be. Oh my God was it effective. It literally made my jump and feel uneasy sitting in my living room and continuing reading. It was superb. Probably the best one in the book.

Down, Deep Down, Below the Waves: 4 stars. We ended the book with the formatting cutting off a page or so from the beginning of this final story. It was deliciously twisted and well told.

Movie Reviews: Oblivion & Side Effects

Not very often do I do movie reviews, I leave that to my husband who does plenty of them at the dinner table. But we got both of these movies as RedBox the other night and the contrast between the two was astounding so I had to comment. And let’s just get one thing straight right out front, Side Effects was my pick. Oblivion was my husband’s pick, I am not a fan of Tom Cruise and made quite the face when he suggested it. Oh and there will probably be spoilers, so walk away now if you don’t want to be spoiled. Anyway, onward!

 

Side Effects

Side Effects is a psychological thriller released earlier this year. It stars Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherina Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum. The film centered around a young woman who was prescribed a brand new, and fictional, drug for her depresion called Albixa. She experiences some rather intense side effects from the drug and ends up murdering her husband while sleepwalking. If you are like me and not a fan of Channing Tatum you’ll be happy to hear that he plays the husband, so he’s not around for long. This movie did a great job in making me feel sorry for poor Emily. She had everything and it was all ripped away from her. She miscarried a baby, her husband is imprisoned for insider trading, then he gets back out and she can’t bear to tell him how depressed she is because she wants to start fresh with him. She drives her car into a brick wall in what appears to be a suicide attempt and thus our story begins. This starts her on a rocky path to find the right medication with minimal side effects and she insists on continuing to take Ablixa even after she starts sleepwalking. Unfortunately for everyone it is in one of those sleepwalking episodes that she stabs her husband to death and is put on trial for his murder. But everything is not as it seems in this world.

This was a very devious little plot. Admittedly I found myself getting a bit bored in the beginning because it seemed like not a lot was going on. But once the story got started, holy crap did it get started. After that, the plot twists and turns were thrown at you quicker than you can process. Even though part of the plot was a teensy bit predictable I think it was meant that way. We were supposed to be yelling at Jude Law that she’s a lying sack of garbage and not to listen to her. That kind of predictable little plot point made it so that the real twist was totally unexpected. At a certain point in the film my husband and I just turned to each other and raised our eyebrows in unison as if to say “well that was different!”.  It didn’t even end there either. It got weirder and darker after that turning point too.

This has a current score of 84% fresh on Rotten Tomatos and I think that it is richly deserved. This was a delightfully dark little film.

 

 

OblivionOblivion is a sci-fi post-apocalypse flick starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman. It occurs in the year 2077 where the earth has been attacked by people/creatures they have dubbed “Scavengers”. The “Scavs” blew up the moon which sent the Earth into chaos with flood and earthquakes destroying half the planet within hours. After those initial hours it turned into all out war with the world eventually turning to the only logical solution…nuke the hell out of the other half of the world. All remaining humans have evacuated Earth to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Tom Cruise stars as Jack Harper who is a technician (Tech-49 to be exact) that is tasked with repairing the drones that are protecting the ocean borne fusion power generators before he and his partner will finally be evacuated to Titan as well. At least that’s what I thought the plot was. Then I read a synopsis and apparently the people of Earth have evacuated to the Tet, a space station orbiting Earth, and the generators are only to be used until they have enough power to make the trip to Titan. I honestly don’t know which is correct, the story was so convoluted that my husband had a completely different third idea of what the plot was. So this one might have to remain a mystery.

I hated this movie, it was SO BORING! Tom Cruise’s characters is a whiny bitch through most of the movie. Seriously, stop reminiscing! I get it, you miss old Earth but it ain’t coming back pal so get over it already. I was immediately suspicious that things were not as they seemed when Jack Harper says it had been 60 years since the end of the war….yet he remembers Earth from before the war and doesn’t appear to be older than say 40. Yeah, something was not right about that. But the movie was so horrendously boring that I quickly forgot about that bit of dialogue until I thought about it after the movie had ended. Here’s the things that bug me about this movie:

1. Jack Harper is a clone, yes a clone. There is no colony of human beings and there are no attacking Scavs. What attacked the Earth was the Tet, which appears to be some kind of artificial intelligence complex. They captured Jack Harper and his partner (the red head, can’t remember her character’s name) and cloned them. The Scavs are actually the only remaining human beings on the planet who are trying to bring down the Tet. Okay, with me so far?  Apparently Jack Harper was recreated as thousands of clones and those clones are the ones who launched and won the war on Earth.  Now they have new clones of Jack and what’s her name to keep everything in order and try to exterminate the rest of the humans. Still with me? Don’t get too cocky, it gets worse.

2. If they have thousands of clones of Jack who were, and I quote, “mindless killing machines”…why did they not continue to use those clones? They were apparently perfect mindless soldiers. Where did they go? Humans lost the war so they couldn’t have killed them all, where are those clones now? And since they were so effective at taking over Earth there would be no reason to deactivate them or kill them so I repeat, where did all these clones go?

3. The Tet tells Jack that he and his clones have a “history of insubordinanation”. Okay, that explains why he goes rogue all of a sudden but why didn’t he before? Some might argue it was because in this case his old wife from Earth was back and it prompted him…well then what history of insubordination could there have been? And if Jack keeps rebelling, why is the Tet, which was smart enough to annihilate Earth, not smart enough to alter the clone so that this doesn’t keep happening? If Jack keeps tapping into the original Jack’s  memories then why not make the next Jack clone a “mindless killing machine” like the old ones?

4. At the end of the movie we see that Jack has impregnated his wife before he killed himself for the greater good of humanity so they have a daughter. Why do clones need to reproduce? He was created to maintain the drones, and we know he was screwing the red headed clone so how were there not more little clonelets running around? Why did the Tet create the clones with the ability to reproduce? Why is that necessary?!

5. Oh hell, I don’t even know what five is because I’ve gotten so pissed off about numbers one through four.

6. If the Tet can create clones and had thousands of drones that are not in use, wouldn’t it be more logical to just replace the drones that are getting attacked? Why do you even need the clones to repair them? Just make more drones and then you don’t have to worry about Jackclone and his “history of insubordination”! Complete and epic logic fail.

7. This movie borrows 95% of it’s plot from sci-fi movies that are much better than this one was. I suggest watching Tron: Legacy, Blade Runner and Planet of the Apes instead of this crap..just to start.

In closing, the 54% rotten rating from Rotten Tomatoes is all you need to know. Believe the 54% they are not lying.