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Early Riser by Jasper Fforde – 5/5 Stars

 

 

Note: spellings of characters and/or objects may be incorrect because audiobook was read.

Early Riser is a story that can trap your heart, especially if you listened to the audiobook as I did. It’s about new winter consul Charlie Worthing and his growing awareness of the political and survival realities of the winter, particularly Sector 12, in an alternative future Wales that read like a dystopian science fiction novel.

It’s not easy to pinpoint a single element that makes it so special. I loved the dialogue, accents, and narration that brought the personalities to life. Others’ judgemental view of Charlie Worthing was extremely humorous as he’s seen as a schoolboy in a grown-up job. What comes to my mind are his memories of him biting off someone’s ear who criticised his uneven face. The plot was fascinating, about dreams that drive people crazy in Sector 12 at a time when the ‘campaign for real sleep’ are seen, officially, as people whose dreaming has caused them to lose their mind in a world where the product Morphonox is used to suppress dreams to aid winter hibernation and stop ‘nightwalkers’.

There is a lot to take in, and the first several chapters may have your mind reeling with all the new terms and characters before you step into the story properly, which starts with the death of Logan who Charlie is blamed for because he was a novice and didn’t know what he was doing. The plot speaks for much of the science fiction terms. Campaign for real sleep is a political faction, dreamers are outcasts ‘hooked’ on the thought of dreaming to experience a better reality than the harsh winter, and nightwalkers have presumably lost their identities and roam about hoping to indulge in cannibalism. Hibertech is a suspicious corporation that redeploys these nightwalkers into employment, driving golf carts it seems.

When Charlie starts having his own dreams he knows he’s in trouble. Early Riser is one of my favourite science fiction stories of all time. It has streaks of originality in a fascinating and humorous plot where you can’t help but love the characters and the world. Extremely recommended!

Author Website

Early Riser on Goodreads

 

 

Sleepwalkers by Felix Fife – 4/5 Stars

 

Sleepwalkers by Felix Fife - Front Cover

Sleepwalkers by Felix Fife is a strongly relatable book, using masks to describe the way people in our world interact, motivated by deals, the latest technologies, and algorithms, while missing out on all the real right beside them, ignoring proper meals just to get ahead in the game without realising the world may be crumbling around them. Masks themselves were aptly used as an idea in Sleepwalkers: masking behaviour online to deny culpability in real life by engaging in virtual reality. People don’t need to act like their true selves because they can be anyone they want, giving them a façade, distorting perceptions of what’s real.

Praise

I became attached to the characters in Sleepwalkers and the rhythm of life in what-isn’t-exactly-an-everyday-bar in a quasi-futuristic setting where visitors come in with masks all the time, only talking about masks, and Kyro the bartender and chef isn’t interested, fighting a one-man cause against the world. Slowly, the worldbuilding, environment, and bigger picture unravels without being overwhelming – an error many debut science fiction novelists make.

I was interested where the author was taking Sleepwalkers. It went in revolutions, from the centre, building greater description and complexity with each new chapter, as if the author was unearthing the story. There was something subtle at play. I knew I wanted something drastic to happen to Kyro’s life, for the sake of reader enjoyment, and I wanted to know, when it did happen, whether this was going to be subtle or terrible.

Criticism

I was confused about the terraces at first but, eventually, I was able to picture them; more description may have helped. Life’s rhythm is nice in the bar, however, sometimes it was repetitive, with Kyro fending off peer pressure about the masks, cooking a meal with Ayla’s help, experiencing the wolf maskers. I’d have preferred more POV action or a bumpier or faster pace in more scenes.

The dialogue was stiff, monotone. It worked for Kyro who was just doing his job and didn’t care any more about what others thought, but maybe didn’t work as well for his dialogue with everyone else. In long scenes, I was almost praying for a scene break.

Overall

Sleepwalkers had an intriguing premise, and was more than just an action-oriented page turner. From the blurb and the beginning more than just a sci-fi is promised. Did it deliver? Situations escalated. There were setbacks, and character growth. Worldbuilding expanded during the story’s course. The beginning captures reader interest, and it improves from there. What Sleepwalkers did deliver was a low-profile environment, a world in miniature, a bar that was a window into the world and its circumstances and struggles. And it delivered a rigid character, Kyro, who had to learn loosen up. It didn’t build momentum, and there wasn’t great synergy between the characters’ dialogue or sub characters. There was an innocent love interest going on between Kyro and his new chef Ayla, and this was interesting because it involved maskless Kyro and tested courage that we’d have expected him to already possess.

Sleepwalkers had a careful writing style, which was relatable and gave grounds for building the story and characters. But … read the last chapter and you’ll see immediately that author Felix Fife can do even better!

Sleepwalkers on Amazon US

 

How do you learn to proofread and copy edit?

I’ve read today that one proofreader learnt copy editing while working for a publisher, comparing the copy editor’s notes with the author’s, giving them insight into the sort of things to look out for and how to do the job. I found this fascinating.

There probably isn’t a single way you can go about it. Some readers are particularly apt at spotting errors – or new angles of thought – in the books they read. Some, like myself, got started by helping author friends prepare for publishing. There are those who want the freedom that comes with running your own business, or for other reasons find working from home suitable.

Professional courses, colleague advice, and membership of professional organisations can help alongside experience. My view is that if you’re a writer getting your own writing edited or proofread it can help you see the value of the processes in action rather than just taking it for granted.

Star Wars Vol.3 The Last Command by Timothy Zahn – 5/5 Stars

Star Wars Vol.3 The Last Command by Timothy Zahn - Front Cover

This is the series following the original three Star Wars movies, memorable as the series in it with turned-to-the-dark-side jedi master Joruus C’baoth, a jedi master described in the series as ‘insane’. C’baoth has his own plans for Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa Solo, and Mara Jade. The latter is still being spoken to by the deceased Emperor’s voice.

Meanwhile, some characters are still dealing with the aftermath of the Empire’s fall: spies, and the allegiance of the smugglers who could be vital in turning the war to New Republic (NR) or Grand Admiral Thrawn victory.

Praise

One of the most interesting parts of The Last Command (TLC) was the journey to discovering the spy in the New Republic who’s leaking information to the imperials, which prompts the reader to ask themselves who it is, or was, and how exactly it or they is/are relaying important information from the palace. The culmination to this arc is based in the midst of a siege on Coruscant that really brought home the stakes of battle with the NR in action. If it lost, it stood to lose what it had worked towards since defeating the Empire, power; and the civilians of Coruscant are threatened with the attack.

The theme of betrayal among the smugglers present in the last book was expanded on, acting as a side story with Talon Karrde, taking the reins of Han Solo (now that he’s a family man). Niles Ferrier from the previous book has returned, and the characters were well drawn out.

The final battle was brought together well, with schemes and counter-schemes. Some events can take you by surprise.

Criticism

C’baoth: as a villain we see a lot of during the book series, by the end of it I was hoping for more depth to his character. He has a confidence and skill in his abilities that isn’t explained well in the series when compared to the Emperor or Luke Skywalker. He’s a weak character next to the Grand Admiral who, despite not having the force, can dupe C’baoth into most things by playing on his pride and vanity. The Grand Admiral does use force-blocking Ysalamiri creatures, however, the likelihood that they wouldn’t bump into each other when the Grand Admiral just couldn’t use them, when walking on the starships, was farfetched.

Overall

TLC is a great end to a great book series that stays true to our expectations of the original trilogy, and you can’t ask for much more than that. It’s exactly what many people feel the films didn’t do.

Author’s page on goodreads
Link to review of previous book

Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin – 5/5 Stars

Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin - 5/5 Stars

Ged is a young boy, son of a blacksmith, taught by a witch who nurtures his talent. One day he saves his village from invaders using a mist power beyond his abilities. The famous Ogion prophesies Ged to be the future greatest wizard of Earthsea, but when Ged starts his training under him he doesn’t heed his teacher’s warnings, eager as he is to learn ‘real wizardry’, to show off to friends and rivals, and so he decides, when Ogion puts the choice to him to learn at the School on Roke Island instead.

What follows is a classic fantasy, not unlike Harry Potter with wizards in a ‘school’ environment. The adult trials that follow test Ged’s wizardry, force him to face up to his greatest fear: his Shadow.

Praise, criticism, and conclusion

There is rich description in Wizard of Earthsea (WOE), in beasts and magic, and a well-developed character arc progressing Ged from young boy – and through his flaws – to a student. The story reaches on to Ged’s final confrontation with his Shadow, and this is where the description became too much. It did keep the authentic tone, but lost some of the interest in the location’s descriptions, and his friend’s Vetch’s importance. That being said, I would definitely recommend anyone to introduce themselves to this book for its lessons we learn from Ged on patience, and for the quality of WOE’s writing.

Author Website

Night’s Master by Tanith Lee – 5/5 Stars

Nights Master by Tanith Lee - Front Cover

Night’s Master (NM) by author Tanith Lee is a dark fantasy adventure. It’s the first Tanith Lee book I’ve read, after it was recommended as a good starting point for Tanith Lee fiction. In the big picture, it’s similar to Arabian Nights, with a series of interconnected tales, but revolving around Azhrarn, Lord of Night, Prince of Demons. Azhrarn rules the Underearth and can’t surface during the daylight, for fear he’d be destroyed: it’s one of the Prince’s main weaknesses, but not the only one as the reader will discover.

Azhrarn spends his time in the Underearth creating beautiful palaces to show his magnificence, and playthings in the form of mortals to appreciate beauty and, perhaps, to give our Prince a taste of mortality. There is magic in the depths of the Underearth: the dwarfish ‘Drin’ hard at work in industry to create valuables and carry out misdeeds on behalf of the Prince. It’s clear the Prince is not someone to be crossed, and his favours are not to be taken lightly.

The surface, what we know as Earth, is a playground for devious Azhrarn. If there is one constant in the affairs of mortals, it’s that things don’t always go to plan. Vengeance begets vengeance. Hate begets hate. Greed conquers all. And, prophecy will come sooner than the mortal thinks.

Praise

NM far exceeded any expectations I may have had from Arabian Nights: fitter for the fantasy reader, digestible without being simplistic, and showing a fascinating evolution in the circumstances of the characters and how this affects magical objects and the world in general. Strongly recommended for the fantasy reader!

Author’s page on goodreads

 

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro – 4/5 Stars

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro - Front Cover

Klara and the Sun (KATS) is a book about artificial friend Klara’s experience of the world in a futuristic society where … well, much of it is a mystery for the reader to fathom. Instead of the focus being on natural disaster, space exploration, pandemic, war, alien invasion, or anything else we may fear the future holds, KATS is much more personal – about the intimate connections and their importance in a society that has a different emphasis to ours.

A big part of KATS was Atlas Brookings, but I’m not going to tell you what that is. What I will say is that KATS reminded me of the curiosity apparent in The Hare With Amber Eyes, the initial innocence of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, and the oddness of The Antpod Faction by Alex James (self-plug).

KATS exceeded the non-existent expectations I had, with a richly detailed world, but the last quarter of the book did feel rushed. I’d hoped for more mystery surrounding main character Josie and her situation (not Rick’s) and I felt disappointed there wasn’t more. That being said, it was a great thing the author didn’t spell everything out, and overall KATS was an enriching read.

Author Website

Geomancer by Ian Irvine – 4/5 Stars

Geomancer by Ian Irvine - Front Cover

When I first read Geomancer, new to science fiction and fantasy, I got the impression it was a complex and structured fantasy novel with worldbuilding taken seriously. That impression has remained on second reading. The first way to describe it was that it was ‘creepy’, in good ways and bad ways.

On the good side of creepiness, the world of Santhenar was one populated by humans under siege by mutated feline creatures, the Lyrinx, who once came out of a void and attacked but have now evolved – or de-evolved in some cases – into formidable clans that wage war against human settlements, having the upper hand. I found the way the idea was developed was sinister, and interesting: the reader, as with the protagonists, doesn’t know exactly which secret arts are used by the enemy or how they live. There were other fascinating concepts, such as main protagonist Tiaan’s job as an artisan using crystals and finding their power source so that they can be used as energy for the war’s machine-like clankers.

On the bad side of creepiness, Tiaan was a target of jealousy for her dedication to her work, though this meant she couldn’t find a partner, which was an increasing concern in the war-time conditions they lived in where reproduction had taken on great importance. She’s often pushed or threatened into joining a ‘breeding factory’ where she would spend her life ‘doing her duty’, indentured, not being allowed outside, so that they right qualities could be put together for future generations. There were few examples of these qualities or how they were nurtured alongside what we know of the existing energy-harnessing families.

The story almost ventured into a love affair between a human and a Lyrinx at one point, which I felt was a step too far, even if it was known Tiaan was desperate to find love.

Overall, there was a lot of explaining in Geomancer, but if you persevere and can tolerate the bad creepiness and the unintentional humour of everything going wrong in every adventure for the characters, there are super interesting morally grey characters and a fantasy world that wouldn’t be far from steampunk.

Author Website