The Alien Diaries, Glenn Devlin

The Alien Diaries, Glenn Devlin

The Alien Diaries

The Alien Diaries combines the American Civil War, aliens on the run, and a modern book store owner in an original, unlikely, enjoyable read.

Kate Arendell is an orphan, working in a run-down New York tavern in the last quarter of the 18th century. The tavern owner uses her and her brothers as unpaid labour, and beats them for entertainment. She and her siblings are rescued from their employers by mysterious passers-by—but as they journey into countryside brutalized by war, their rescuers show an ability to heal wounds unknown in their time.

When I first picked it up, I looked at the diary format and was afraid I’d let myself in for the fictional fantasies of an 18th century miss. However, by the third ‘diary entry’ I was hooked and happy as the plot twists started coming in. The Alien Diaries manages the mix of diary entries and the rest of the story smoothly, and despite an eclectic range of settings and eras, the storyline and the characters are clearly written and easy to follow. Happily, author Glenn Devlin didn’t feel any need to be predictable, and I found myself enjoying the unexpected in this book. The technical side of the writing was also pleasantly well done, and I didn’t find myself being hauled out of the story by a wandering gerund. As a whole, I would certainly recommend the read; it combines several genres and does it well.

Witches’ Gambit, Charles Freedom Long

Witches’ Gambit, Charles Freedom Long

Witches’ Gambit: Book One of the Seven Worlds

 Witches’ Gambit showcases Charles Freedom Long’s trademark ability to meld life after death, alien life, and extra-sensory perception into a gripping science-fiction story.

The United States is living though a Christian fundamentalist crisis, and Aidan Ray, a successful attorney, has to keep the fact that she’s also a practicing medium under careful wraps. However, when an alien shows up in her living room one evening to tell her that Earth is about to be destroyed  unless humanity can overcome its innate tendencies towards violence and religious absolutism, that secrecy has to be imperilled to save her world.

I’m a sucker for original ideas, and the underlying concepts for Charles Freedom Long’s Seven Worlds series certainly qualify. These books combine communication with the dead, a form of astral projection as a means to travel between worlds, and a variety of alien species. While some of the alien societies in this book, and the foods of the homeworlds, have extremely close parallels with Earth, the species themselves make for very interesting reads, as do the human characters. In Witches’ Gambit, we have what is essentially a trifecta of High Priestess, Rogue, and Warrior Monk teamed up to save the world, which creates a fascinating mix of worldviews and tensions between the characters. The three protagonists are well-developed and very easy to get absorbed in, and their goal is nothing less than the preservation of Earth. Definitely a recommended read.

The Arks of Andromeda, W H Mitchell

The Arks of Andromeda, W H Mitchell

The Arks of Andromeda (The Imperium Chronicles Book 1)

The Arks of Andromeda is an interesting view on the cultural interface between humanoid, AI, and religion.

As pirates make increasingly bold forays into civilised space, the aristocracy becomes increasingly concerned with the perception of weakness that those forays build of them. The Emperor, already distracted with his fractious offspring, is trying to discreetly manage a series of public relations disasters caused by his youngest son. However, while the press captures unfortunate cameos of high-placed misbehaviour, AI, ubiquitous in society, is making its own plans – plans that may make the most totalitarian regime look laid-back.

W. H. Mitchell’s science-fiction adventure is an intricate web of politics, alien artifacts, and a post-Earth interstellar civilisation. In places, I found that the sheer number of points of view from which the story was told made my relationship with the characters less engaging than it might otherwise have been, but overall, the story was an interesting read. I enjoyed the thought behind the world-building, the consistency and detail of which supported the storyline and helped to bring continuity to the main plot. I did find that the concept of introducing religion to AI, which are primarily logic-based systems, to be an interesting solution; one I would expect to trigger a wave of absolutist jihad, as doctrine is over-analysed in a search of internal logic. I will be interested to see the development of the author’s theory in future books.

The Night Watch, Chris Gerrib

The Night Watch, Chris Gerrib

The Night Watch (The Pirates Trilogy)

The Night Watch is a story of a colonised Mars, under attack by a religious conservative movement from Earth’s USA. With various Earth nations holding independent oversight over various areas of Mars, and law enforcement in Mars space left to a volunteer group in mis-matched, antique ships, Mars looks like a soft target to the entrepreneurs behind the Manifest Destiny movement. The big question is whether or not the disparate interests of Mars can learn to pull together in time to stay free…

Chris Gerrib’s story backdrops benefit from a complete lack of any glamour, giving the settings an air of run-down reality that is one of the strongest elements in the book, and sets it apart from the majority of slick, futuristic sci-fi story settings. Other than that, I found this book a bit hard to really get into. While the principal characters were mostly plausible, the point of view moved frequently from character to character. It didn’t prevent the story as a whole from holding together, but there were a few points where I ended up trying to remember why someone was important and if they’d showed up before. Potentially, narrowing the focus a little might support the overall narrative; it felt a bit scattered at times as I read.

Urban Heroes, T J Lockwood

Urban Heroes, T J Lockwood

Urban Heroes (The Twelve Cities Book 2)

Urban Heroes follows a pair on the run from the authorities in the middle of an android revolt in this  twisty sci-fi thriller. Calista Ridley has a ship she can’t use, a partner she can’t name, and for a full house, a runaway who can’t look after herself. She’s playing in underground Russian Roulette halls far from the upper cities she used to inhabit to keep them housed and fed, and never staying in one place too long in case the bounty hunters catch up with her. Unfortunately, ‘too long’ is a variable concept, and Calista finds herself on the run again, with her past in hot pursuit.

While this book did offer an interesting slant on the theme of androids, AI, and how close to human it’s necessary to be to qualify for human rights, I didn’t find that the structure of the story stood up to the promise of the subject matter. The majority of the book is Calista on the run, with a partner who is essentially a cipher, and numerous factions after both of them. It’s only in the final fifth of the book that there’s a sudden series of revelations as to who Axton is, who Calista is, and why they’re both so desperate to stay off the radar. It’s also written in first person present tense, which while it’s a perfectly valid stylistic choice, makes my hair stand on end. Overall, while there were strong elements in this book, for me they never gelled together into a cohesive story.

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