What I’ve Been Reading

How is it October already? Just last week (in August), I was thinking to myself: “You need to do another reading post.” I made a note in my planner and… turned the page. As always, I’ve been reading lots of awesome books, though. And, as always, I want to share the most awesome ones with you.

Descender, Vol. 1: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire

The art caught my eye on this one. It’s an interesting style—less “comic” and more “fine art,” with swift lines and watercolour shades. It reminded me of another of my favourite comics, East of West, and it’s just as good. The story starts simply: ten years ago, giant harvester robots swept through the galaxy leaving destroyed cities, dead bodies, and terror in their wake. Since then, even the simplest robots have become enemy number one and hunting them down has given rise to an entire guild of scrappers who hunt rogue bots with the enthusiasm of bounty collectors. Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”

What I’ve Been Reading

I have participated in the Goodreads reading challenge for six years now. It’s the only challenge I’ve ever actually completed – probably because it’s based on the number of books rather than specific titles. This year I lowered my goal from 200 to 100, thinking I wouldn’t have as much time to read. I’m at 97 books right now and June has only just begun, so I think I’ll be adjusting the total back to 200.

Apparently I found time to read. I also found some great books!

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, #1) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

I hardly need to recommend this book. It has won all the awards, and has over 400 five star reviews on Amazon. I’m going to recommend it anyway, because it’s just that good, and because of the sweet nature of the romance, it will appeal to a wide audience.

I love coming of age stories and I adore the trope “friends to lovers.” Both are handled beautifully in this slow burn love story about two boys whose friendship is all about discovering the secrets of the universe – and themselves. Ari’s struggle to accept himself will break your heart. The way he cares for and protects Dante will put it back together again. The final chapter is just beautiful. Continue reading “What I’ve Been Reading”

This is the Future, Baby (“What Happened in Vegas…” Blog Hop)

Vegas-Hop-Graphic

To celebrate marriage equality, twelve authors have written twelve short stories answering the question “What Happened in Vegas…” In my story, “This is the Future, Baby“, I explore what happened to Vegas.

This is the Future, Baby

by Kelly Jensen

The holo outside of Destination Weddings darkened and the projection stuttered as the program restarted, a bud of light growing in the center of the virtual marquee. The light expanded and diverged like an old fashioned firework. Each streamer arced out from the display. Kale ducked as a point of light sailed past his ear. He could have sworn he felt a flash of heat. Turning, he checked to make sure Toby hadn’t been in the path of any errant streamers. His lover stood well clear by chance alone. Head tilted back, lips parted, he was watching the lights dance over and around him with the wonder of a small child.

“Look, Kale! It’s a map!” Toby spun around, arms flying out from his sides, mouth open in a wide grin.

Around him, shimmered a map of the world connected by a ghostly network of lines. Instead of a mall on the 56th level of the dirt scraper, Minneapolis Deep, Kale stood somewhere in the middle of Europe, the bright light of Paris blinking just to his left. Toby was lost somewhere in the south west, the lights of scattered cities glittering around him. He reached out to tap the closest point and the holo projection flickered.

“You have selected Las Vegas, Nevada. For more information on this exciting destination, please step inside the store.”

Kale frowned. “This map is seriously out of date. Vegas is nothing a strip of broken hotels in a desert valley.” And had been since the great drought of 2020. Kale tapped the point next to him. “What about Paris?” Europe still had surface water, and most of their cities towered above the ground instead of below.

Thanks to Charley Descoteaux for hosting my story. You can read the rest of my story here. 🙂 Or download a copy for yourself!

Review: Undertow by Michael Buckley

Undertow (Undertow #1)

Undertow by Michael Buckley tells an ugly story. Three years ago, the Alpha arrived on the beach of Coney Island, New York. They’re made up of mixed races of sea dwelling creatures – many of whom appear to be plucked for our very own myths and legends. Calling themselves the Sons and Daughters of Sirena, Triton, Nix, and so on, the Alpha set up camp on the beach and begin to intermingle with humanity. The results are as predictable as they are disheartening. Humanity rejects the castaways – forcing them to remain on the beach where a tent city soon overtakes the coastline. It is another slum on the edge of a city already rife with racial tension.

Three years on, a program is devised to integrate the Alpha children into local schools. It is hoped this will foster a relationship between the younger generation that will filter back through both sides of the not so cold war. This is where Lyric Walker comes in. From the beginning, we know she is different. She professes to be a wild thing, but the arrival of the Alpha has tamed her teenaged rebellion. Still she is far from a model student, and holds the respect of the kids she used to run with. For this reason, she is chosen to partner one of the Alpha kids. She and Fathom – the prince of the Alpha – are supposed to meet for an hour each day and get to know one another. The notion to show one of the cool kids taking the first steps toward equanimity is hopelessly naïve – so much so, even Lyric thinks it’s a bad idea. But the arbiter of this farce is a government agent, and he knows all the Walker family secrets.

For weeks, Lyric and her friends brave the picket line to attend school. Violence erupts almost daily – human against Alpha and human against anyone who might show the slightest sympathy for the people from the sea. The Alpha, with their rigidly stratified society and warped ideas of honour, are just as antagonistic. The violence escalates toward outright horror. Students are bullied for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Any willing contact with the Alpha is an unforgiveable sin. A new gang gives rise to an abusive order until school is finally closed due to a gunman gaining access and running rampant through the halls.

In the midst of this ugly representation of our society, attraction blooms between Lyric and Fathom – which is the hinge upon which the rest of the book balances for the space of a couple of chapters. Then the door slams shut – in the wrong direction. What was ugly becomes foul.

I found the last third of Undertow increasingly difficult to read. Not because it isn’t well written – it is. Michael Buckley’s prose draws you quickly into the story and carries you effortlessly forward. From the beginning, the pacing matches the rhythm of our teenaged protagonist, Lyric Walker, as she flips from obsessing about her wardrobe to worrying concepts larger than herself – her family and their fate, her neighbourhood and the unclear picture she has of a future that includes both humanity and the Alpha. But when I wanted more outrage on her behalf regarding the way her friends and counterparts treat the Alpha, what I got instead was factual reportage of the horror unfolding before her young eyes. Some scenes are very visceral, but without Lyric’s emotional subtext, they didn’t carry quite the punch they might have. There is one incident in particular that shows a severe lack of compassion on her part – the thought is there, but not enough time is given for those seeds to take root.

The other fault of the last third manifests at around the same time as the pacing suddenly switches into overdrive with hours and days passing in a matter of sentences – if they’re referenced at all. It’s clear the book is racing toward a climax, and it is exciting. Unfortunately, I still needed time to recover from the event that is clearly the beginning of the end. I understand that war doesn’t allow that time, and this is – if nothing else – a novel of war. But this turning point is vastly important, and it ends up feeling almost meaningless.

Along with the jerky pace and lack of emotional depth, the last third of the book delivers a number of plot conveniences, many of which could have been powerful tools in the reader’s kit if delivered sooner. Had we known the reason the Alpha arrived, we might have had more sympathy for them. Maybe. With the super late delivery of the big outstanding “why”, however, I couldn’t help wondering if the author only figured out a compelling enough reason at the same time he delivered it.

Ultimately, I did not dislike the book. In fact, I enjoyed the first three quarters, despite the uncomfortable itch in my head, the one that refused to believe humanity could be so petty and cruel, and that we’re raising our children to be intolerant. That we can be as thoughtless as a herd of pack animals goaded onto action single, outraged voice. Regardless of my horror, I gave Mr. Buckley his due for having the wherewithal to cast us in such an ugly light. But when I looked for the flipside – the brightness I believe is within all of us – I found it tarnished and dull. I wanted the relationship between Lyric and Fathom, that hinge, to open the door again. To allow the light in. But the lack of emotional punch meant I didn’t truly believe in the relationship. To reuse my odd metaphor, the hinge wasn’t strong enough.

Despite this, I would recommend Undertow to readers of Young Adult fiction. It might not end up necessary conversation starter about bullying and intolerance, but it does deliver a unique story, lots of action, and a young heroine who has some admirable qualities. Lyric is unflinchingly loyal to her family and friends, and has a true moral compass. It will be interesting to see what direction this takes her in in the follow up novel, Raging Sea, due out February 2016.

Reviewed for SFCrowsnest.

Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Golden Son (Red Rising Trilogy, #2)

Dystopia isn’t a new trend in YA. It’s been exploited successfully over the past decade, spawning series and movies that are, for the most part, forgettable. I have avoided most of it because I often don’t find YA fiction challenging enough, despite the fact the books usually explore my favourite themes. There are always exceptions, however, and last year I stumbled across one of them.

Red Rising appealed to me for several reasons, the first of which was availability. My local lending library doesn’t add audio titles to the Science Fiction and Fantasy shelves very often, so new books are always notable. The cover copy nearly put me off, though:

“Ender, Katniss, and now Darrow.”

I loved Ender’s Game. The Hunger Games? Not so much. But, the book was new, free to read, and it was on audio. I queued it up…and lost hours and then days as I invented tasks in order to keep listening. I listen to audio books when I’m running errands and doing chores. By the end of Red Rising, my house sparkled and my heart was captured by a new hero.

Briefly, Red Rising – and the entire trilogy – is the story of a young ‘Red’ named Darrow, who rises from slavery to challenge the ‘Golds’ who rule the solar system in a rigidly hierarchal manner. Society is sorted into colours and ruled top down by the Golds. The larger tragedy, however, is that the Reds are not just slaves. They’re kept in ignorance, completely unaware that the goal they strive for, the terraforming of Mars, was achieved hundreds of years ago.

Red Rising begins the story of Darrow’s ascension. He is abducted by an extremist group known as the Sons of Ares, and made a part of their rebellion. Disguised as a Gold, he makes a bid for entry into the Institute, a brutal training ground that separates the wheat from the chaff. If he survives, he will become one of the ‘peerless scarred’, the Golds that hold sway over all the other Golds.

The experience of the Institute is probably what Red Rising has in common with most YA fiction. It’s The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game all rolled into one chaotic ball. But smarter, more visceral and less camp. The absolutes are fickle and while the world feels morally bankrupt, the scope is large enough for there to be realistic pockets of serenity as well as resistance. The choices Darrow has to make are gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.

What makes both Red Rising and the sequel, Golden Son, so interesting, however, is that Darrow doesn’t always take the obvious solution, and he doesn’t always succeed. He doesn’t always learn from his mistakes, either, which is painful to read, but in a way grounding and exciting. The discovery that not all Golds are made equal only deepens the plot and emotional pull, putting Darrow and the reader at near constant emotional odds. At the end of the book, he has a final choice to make and even though you know which it has to be, his decision feels part let down, part vindication. Weird, right? Therein lays the hook for book two.

Golden Son opens approximately two years after the end of Red Rising – which is at once exciting and a relief. Darrow is in his final hours at the Academy, apparently winning his final battle. Four years of hard work are about to be paid in full. Then we have the twist. Relieved I did not have to read three another hundred pages of kids vs. the establishment, I devoured Golden Son, losing time and sleep as author Pierce Brown once again drew me into his world and did not let go until well after I closed the book.

This time ‘round, the prose is a little more elegant. Still simple, but really, I’m not sure the story would be as powerful if presented any other way. The brutality rockets up several notches, as does the scheming and ultimate cost. Darrow is firmly enmeshed in Gold society now and they’re really little more than a pack of beautiful wolves. That so many are aware of how sick their society really is adds a poignantly sad note. Golden Son is a portrait of a world that is eating itself from the inside out.

In the first book, Darrow learns the Golds are human and that they can bleed. But he still does not truly know and understand them and those lessons will come too late. In this second book, he is pushed toward godhood by the very people he means to crush, and then he discovers that not even gods are infallible.

Many will find Darrow’s naiveté annoying. I yelled at the book several times. In between sighing and chewing on my lips, I counselled the young man, knowing that I didn’t fully appreciate the Golds either. But I appreciated that Darrow is who he is and that for him to suddenly be more would shorten the journey and make it too easy. Then we would lose what makes these books so special – the absolute humanity, as can only be portrayed by such a brutal setting. For all his cleverness and determination, and the enhancements that come with being made Gold, Darrow is still just a man. Just one man.

It’s going to be difficult to wait for the final book in this trilogy. But I have no doubt it will be worth it, regardless of just how Mr. Brown chooses to finish this spectacular tale.

Written for SFCrowsnest.