The Wolfe Experiment, R W Adams

The Wolfe Experiment, R W Adams

The Wolfe Experiment

Ethan and his younger sister, Tilly, are orphaned after a traffic accident that kills their parents. They end up in the system, bouncing from foster home to secure home to foster home, trailed by a series of horrific incidents that have no logical connection to the two children. Their parents, both doctors, had been medicating them from an early age, and now, Ethan gradually realises that without whatever it was their parents had been giving them, Tilly is liable to bring the house down – literally – every time she falls asleep.

The Wolfe Experiment explores the world from various points in Ethan’s life and largely from Ethan’s viewpoint; hopping from his childhood with his parents through several foster homes to finally going on the run from the social system, the military, and the police with a sister in desperate need of expert care. The writing of the book is technically strong, which I always appreciate, but I found the story a little difficult for me to get into. Some of that may have been the hopping back and forth along Ethan’s timeline, which in places had me reflexively checking the date in the chapter header rather than staying immersed in the plot, and some of it was that Ethan felt like something of an empty vessel, by which I mean he was the main protagonist, but what the reader gets is a lot of dialogue, descriptions of events, and not a lot that actually fleshed Ethan out as a person for me. However, I have to give credit where credit is due on the plot twist; it’s well foreshadowed and handled.

Everyone Dies at the End, Riley Amos Westbrook

Everyone Dies at the End, Riley Amos Westbrook

Everyone Dies at the End

Everyone Dies at the End, by Riley and Sara Westbrook, opens in the mouldering and trash-littered home of a pair of desperate junkies, fighting over the tiny amount of drugs they can afford. Earl, infuriated by Jadee’s attack, adulterates her dose with mould scraped from the walls of their home. Jadee, hospitalised and in a coma, eventually regains consciousness, but Earl is horrified to see that she’s altered, feral – and dangerous. Shortly after Jadee’s awakening, Earl finds her skull split by a huge mushroom rooted in her brain, the people around her alternately dead or ruthlessly predatory. Desperate to escape and driven by his addiction, Earl runs from the corpse of his girlfriend into a world that will never be the same again.

Everyone Dies at the End is a classic zombie horror story with a twist, the world of the two drug addicts with whom it begins contrasted against the mundane existence of three ordinary families who are caught up in the events that Earl and Jadee set in motion. The characters are plausible, exploring the theme of normal life thrown into a conflict situation by the unexpected, and the vector by which the disease is spread is original and plays neatly on a very familiar element turning into nightmare. Riley and Sara Westbrook have written a novel that is bound to entertain fans of zombie fiction.

Returning, J T McDaniel

Returning, J T McDaniel

Returning

Returning is the story of the reality behind the Atlantis legends, the tale of the explorers and colonists who left Barzak aboard three great starships to travel and colonise, using a wormhole drive that takes the ships beyond time. Aboard the Warrior, the passage between systems is instantaneous. To the rest of the galaxy, hundreds of years pass. Captain Kimewe Romiwero has left everything irrevocably behind to lead her crew; when they finally turn for home, some fifteen ship-years later, over 86,000 years have passed, and Earth is a very different place – and in desperate need of something to aspire to.

Author J. T. McDaniel has crafted an engrossing story, combining alt-history and sci-fi dystopia with a realism that seems chillingly plausible. I found the idea of an FTL drive that travels point to point, taking the ship effectively outside time, to be a particularly nice twist to the story, and the segments of the book set on Earth were all too possible in the current political environment. There was a slight tendency to ‘tell’ information throughout the book, but overall it wasn’t too overdone, and the various plotlines were well-paced. All in all I found this a thoroughly enjoyable read, definitely recommended for any alt-history or sci-fi enthusiasts.

Qorth, Ash Gray

Qorth, Ash Gray

Qorth: he wrote her name in the stars

Qorth is set on a future Earth, where the seas have covered nearly all of the planet’s surface, and of the whole human population, only two isolated settlements remain. It’s a compelling backdrop to a dystopia, but in some ways, the world-building was contradictory. Early in the book, the narrator presents a picture of a community that shares everything, where the elders tell old stories of murder and racism. However, as the story develops, the setting describes the community, and especially those living outside the main settlement, as terrorised and raided by violent gangs, which I found difficult to reconcile.

Alone in her family’s old farmhouse, Cameron lives on the Outer Zone of the US settlement, near what used to be Yuma. Cameron is a powerfully isolated protagonist in many ways, physically and emotionally; highly independent and willing to look outside her community’s customs for knowledge. Her encounter with an alien species on the beach near her home is possible because of this isolation; her isolation also makes both of them a target. It is this status as an outsider, the balance between independence and exposure, that drives a lot of the plot. The first person voice was also strongly-written in this story; flippant and sarcastic, Cameron provides a unique and memorable narrative voice.

I had a bit of trouble with this book, and trying to figure out exactly what it was in objective terms turned out to be tough enough that it delayed putting this review up by an embarrassing amount of time. I’m fond of sci-fi, I generally get on well enough with dystopia, and I have what could be uncharitably termed an addiction to anti-hero types, all of which boxes are checked by Qorth; but when I reached the end I was still on the fence. The romance that develops between Cameron and Qorth had its ups and its downs from my perspective; while it had some original points, (I have to give points for the originality of the setting), I found some of the interactions on the stilted side. While I’m a terrible romance reviewer, there are romance books that I can’t put down, where the characters fascinate me and the tension between them drives me to read more, and that quality wasn’t there in this book for me.

Despite my challenges with some aspects, I found this book merited a solid three stars; it’s well-paced, features a strong anti-hero type as the protagonist (I am a sucker for my anti-heroes) and a lot of the ideas were both original and compelling.

Reviewed for Romance Rehab.

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Second Son, Ellison Blackburn

Second Son, Ellison Blackburn

Second Son

Second Son is the second in the Watchers series, picking up simultaneously to the ending of If There Be Giants. This installment follows Grey’s point of view more closely as he learns the truth of his infamous heritage – and how to reconcile his existence and that of his family with their beliefs. However, Grey is faced with more and harder choices than he might have believed possible, and both he and his soul mate, Mallory Jacks, will be tested.

Author Ellison Blackburn’s trademark ability to weave thought-provoking concepts into stories that are gripping, well-developed reads is back on display in this series, as she explores love, fidelity, and faith through the lens of Grey and Mallory’s lives. The handling of the Christian mythology displays the depth of research that went into the story and provides a strong framework that underlies the choices the protagonists must make in this book. This second novel in the series focusses strongly on the interpersonal relationships of the characters, leaving the first book’s tale of the landmark discovery at Gwellen and its scientific exploitation more as a side note to Grey’s personal journey and the questions it raises. This book will definitely enthrall readers who enjoy exploring the boundaries between science, philosophy, and religious belief.

Adam’s Stepsons, M Thomas Apple

Adam’s Stepsons, M Thomas Apple

Adam’s Stepsons

Dr. Heimann wrote a theoretical paper on the topic of cloning. He didn’t expect a desperate military to snap it – and him – up, and throw billions at him to make it happen. Severely conflicted, not least by the experiment’s choice of genetic donor, Dr. Heimann finds himself torn at every turn; most of all between what he knows is right and his orders. By the time he’s finally forced to face the fact that neither his reactions nor the clones’ behaviour can be defined as within the parameters of the experiment, it may be too late.

Adam’s Stepsons explores the hot topic of human cloning; their development, their status, and the more ephemeral topic of whether the ability to think is the basis of individuality. I found that the characters and the plot were well-developed, with a fast-paced storyline. The aspect I found a little weaker was the world building. As a reader, you’re aware there is a war and the clones are being developed to fight in it, but basically world awareness is limited to the lab, the military base beside it, and scattered memories from a couple of the characters. If the story were being told uniquely from a clone’s perspective, that would have been a brilliant tactic; as a lot of the story is from Dr. Heimann’s point of view, it came across as rather odd. Kudos, however, for a great final plot twist.