Aug 31, 2018

 

Author Spotlight - Peter Clines

- About the Author -
Website: peterclines.com
Twitter: @PeterClines
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction

Peter Clines is a generations-back New Englander (we're talking tall hats and buckled shoes and half-the-population-dies-every-winter generations-back) who broke with tradition and moved to Southern California.

He grew up in the Stephen King fallout zone of Maine and--inspired by comic books, Star Wars, and Saturday morning cartoons--started writing at the age of eight with his first epic novel, Lizard Men From The Center of The Earth (unreleased).

He made his first writing sale at age seventeen to a local newspaper, and at the age of nineteen he completed his quadruple-PhD studies in English literature, archaeology, quantum physics, and interpretive dance. In 2008, while surfing Hawaii's Keauwaula Beach, he thought up a viable way to maintain cold fusion that would also solve world hunger, but forgot about it when he ran into actress Yvonne Strahvorski back on the beach and she offered to buy him a drink. He was the inspiration for both the epic poem Beowulf and the motion picture Raiders of the Lost Ark, and is single-handedly responsible for repelling the Martian Invasion of 1938 that occurred in Grovers Mills, New Jersey. Eleven sonnets he wrote to impress a girl in high school were all later found and attributed to Shakespeare.

He is the writer of countless film articles, several short stories, The Junkie Quatrain, the rarely-read The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe, Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots, —14—, the poorly-named website Writer on Writing, and an as-yet-undiscovered Dead Sea Scroll.

After more than thirty years of writing, fifteen years in the film industry, and six years of writing about writing for the film industry, plus getting several short stories and a novel or nine published (one of which hit the NYT Bestseller list), he feels he has some experience and useful advice to offer.

Your thoughts on this may vary...

He currently lives and writes somewhere in southern California.

- Interviews -
[fantasybookcritic] Could you please introduce yourself, tell us what inspired you to write in the first place, and describe your journey to becoming a published author.
I’m not sure there’s anything that “inspired” me to become a writer. My family will vouch for the fact that I’ve been telling stories my whole life. Sometimes I was acting them out with Star Wars figures and Micronauts. Sometimes I was drawing them in class as comic books when I was supposed to be learning... something, I’m sure. And eventually I found my Mom’s old Smith-Corona and started typing them... one letter at a time.

It’s fair to say the journey took years. I wrote half-assed comic-book scripts all through grade school, and short stories in junior high and high school. In college I made my first few attempts at novels, and then one serious attempt after moving to California. But then I got the screenplay bug and spent, oh, a decade or so working on that. I had some bare-bones success, but eventually decided to pick up one of my novels, The Suffering Map, again. And then I tried a few new short stories, a new novel called Mouth, and then I had this superhero-zombie idea.

So I’m a thirty-year overnight success.

[fantasybookcritic] For someone who hasn’t read any of your novels, how would you describe your writing style and what book would you recommend giving a try first?
Hmmmm. Goofy, maybe? Slipshod? I see those descriptions used a lot...
I don’t know. I like characters people can identify with. I like good dialogue. I’m a big believer that most people end up laughing at something every day, even if it’s wildly inappropriate. The same with flirting. I like crossing genre lines. I think creepy has a much longer-lasting affect than gore, action’s almost always better fast than over-detailed, and that most romances tend to be odd rather than storybook.

And that’s the kind of stuff I like to write.

I’d guess a good starter book for me would be The Fold. It’s about a government teleportation project gone wrong, and I found out a few weeks ago that it’s on the preliminary ballot for the Stoker awards. It’s set in the same universe as another book I wrote a few years ago called 14, and that was pretty popular with folks, too.

[unboundworlds] What can you tell me about The Fold?
The best description I’ve heard of it is that it’s a horror-suspense novel disguised as a sci-fi mystery. It’s about a guy named Mike who has a lot of special gifts that he’s been denying for a long time. He basically gets roped into working for DARPA by an old friend and investigating this project they’ve been working on that is basically what seems to be a working teleportation device. The scientists are very paranoid for some reason about letting anyone examine it or letting the invention go public, so Mike is being sent in to their little exclusive clique to find out what exactly is going on and why they’re so paranoid about anyone finding out about their working machine.

[unboundworlds] That’s interesting because there are actually a lot of rumors and conspiracy theories about DARPA creating these sorts of technologies. Are you familiar with any of those? Did you run across them when you were doing your research?
Yeah, I mean, DARPA, for years has been a writer’s goldmine. If you ever want to say that the government is pouring money into something crazy, you can use DARPA and it’s completely believable because they have funded some of the most bizarre things ever. Some amazing stuff has come out of DARPA, so it’s really not hard to believe. You can do a little bit of research and come up with some really great things that just sound great and work well in a story.

[unboundworlds] How did this idea come to you, initially come to you?
I’ve actually had versions of this idea rattling around in my head since ’90 or ’91. It started out as a short story I wrote in college for a writing class called “The Albuquerque Door” which dealt with a lot of similar themes, but on a much less experienced level. Then I was actually kicking around for a while with an idea called Mouth about six or seven—actually about eight years, now—and I put it aside to work on this idea I had about zombies fighting superheroes. That went over really well, so it [Mouth] got pushed aside for a while. About two years ago, I was talking to my editor about what I wanted to do next, and I thought abut dredging this book out. I realized that it tied in really well with another book I wrote called Team. There are a lot of similar ideas and themes in it, and while it wasn’t a sequel, or anything like that, it would make for a neat shared universe book and people who had read both would see some connections between them.

[fantasybookcritic] How did you come up with Mike? What were your inspirations for the creation of his character?
I’ve always loved the idea of super-intelligence. People whose minds just move up by several orders of magnitude. There are books like Flowers for Algernon or The R-Master, or things like Limitless or that Fringe episode where the guy would cause carnage just by balancing pens in certain places. And then adding photographic memory into the mix just made it even more fun.

Oddly enough, though, one of the big inspirations came from an article I read years and years ago. It interviewed a bunch of high-IQ folks all over the country, and one of the most telling things was that they all had this kind of sadness to them. Not morose or anything, but none of them really seemed all that happy. Granted, it may have just been the spin of the article, but it stuck with me—that having all these abilities could be just as much a curse as a gift.

[unboundworlds] What about your main character’s gift?
Mike is, depending on how you want to look at it, blessed or cursed. He has extremely high IQ and an actual photographic memory. This was a big thing, because when I was doing research for the book, I learned that there really isn’t a such thing as a photographic memory. It’s in comic books, it’s in movies, but it doesn’t actually exist. There are variations thereof—people who have a near photographic visual memory, there are people who have what they call extraordinary memory—but the thing that we think of as photographic memory doesn’t exist. I wanted it to, though, so I did a lot of though experiments. If someone actually had this ability, what would their life be like it? It affects how you deal with a character because, literally, this character cannot forget anything. They never have this moment of wondering what someone said or forgetting where he or she might have seen something before. It made for a very challenging book in that sense, because I couldn’t cheat in any way, but it also made for a very interesting character as I really started to think about what life would be like of someone who remembers every single moment of their life in perfect, crystal clarity.

[unboundworlds] What are the bad parts of having a photographic memory?
Look at it this way: We all know that when we’re kids growing up we stub toes, we hurt ourselves, we see pets die, all sorts of things, and with a photographic memory every single one of these things is right now: You’re remembering it again. The moment when your first dog died is right now. Any time you happen to think of your dog then it is happening right now, again. And your grandmother, your grandfather, your school hamster, the first girl or boy who broke your heart—every bit of it is now, and you can never get away from any of this your whole life. When the book begins, Mike has decided the best thing he can do is essentially hide. He makes it a huge point that he doesn’t read, he doesn’t watch TV—he’s a school teacher who doesn’t have to pick up any of the books because he knows all the lessons and all the plans. He just tried to have as minimal input as possible.

[fantasybookcritic] The Fold very much reads like an old-school mystery and Mike is a gumshoe of a cerebral kind (literally). Even though the story is SF in its plot, I loved how the mystery played out. Was this an intentional move on your part?
Oh, yeah. Sci-fi and mystery have a long, happy history together. How many episodes of Star Trek (all the versions) are about “why is this happening?” I mean, that’s what science is—people using their minds to find answers.

Past that, I think a good mystery always draws people in to a story. How many of us watch shows like Elementary or Castle and end up comparing notes during the commercials? So I knew a big part of The Fold would be figuring out the mystery, but also Mike figuring out just what is the actual mystery going on here.

[forcesofgeek] How much research do you do and at any time does it limit your imagination in your attempt to be accurate to the science?
I try to do some research ahead of my first draft and then a bit more when it’s done. I have a lot of very smart friends and family members in different fields, and they don’t mind when I call or email with odd questions about scurvy or biotech or military terminology or radiation poisoning.

I don’t do much past that precisely because I don’t want it to limit my imagination while I’m writing—especially in early drafts. I want to be as accurate as possible, but at the same time I’m trying to write an entertaining story, not a textbook. There are some things here in there in my books that I know are wrong, but the story is better because of them.

At the same time, I love it when I can get something 100% right and make it work in the story, because that’s the kind of thing where the ten or fifteen people who know that fact and notice it will be thrilled.

I had someone tell me recently they were driving in San Diego and decided to follow the driving directions in one chapter of The Fold, and they were thrilled how much of it matched up.

[comiccrusaders] What first sparked your love of Science Fiction? What were your biggest influences?
Star Wars, pretty much unquestionably. Before that there was the Six Million Dollar Man, reruns of Star Trek and Land of the Lost, and maybe a few superhero cartoons (all of which I loved), but Star Wars took sci-fi to a whole new level. And then I discovered the original Marvel comics and those first Han Solo books… Everything about it appealed to me. It was pretty much my gateway drug. Some of the first stuff I ever “seriously”wrote was really awful Star Wars fan fic. I had a godawful Boba Fett story when I was eleven or twelve that actually lifted some elements from a Doctor Who episode (my other childhood love)

And now that’s out there. Everyone knows eleven-year old me was a hack. It started early.

[comiccrusaders] How did you break out in Hollywood and how did that work transition into becoming a career author?
Well, in all fairness, I never really broke out as a writer in Hollywood. I had a good career as a prop guy, and while I was doing that I got invites to pitch at Deep Space Nine and Voyager. I tried writing spec scripts for a few shows I worked on, but nothing ever came of them—although one of the producers, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, got in touch with me on Twitter a while back because he found one of my scripts in his office and liked it. I had a few feature scripts optioned for tiny amounts. By some standards, all of that’s a phenomenal amount of screenwriting success. In reality, though…

But working in Hollywood exposed me to the nuts and bolts of a lot of storytelling, and a lot of storytelling styles. It was always interesting to see what did and didn’t work, and figuring out why. When I stopped working as a crewperson, I did a few stints as a script reader for contests, so I was reading four or five scripts a day for months at a time. And it was the same thing—when you get all this input, you start to see patterns, trends, and recurring mistakes.
So when I finally decided to sit down and start working on books again, I felt a lot better-prepared to dodge some of the obvious mistakes.

[fantasybookcritic] In the SFF genre, some authors like to put an emphasis on characters or worldbuilding; others on storytelling. Where do you fit in this picture and what do you feel are your strengths as a writer? What about weaknesses or areas that you'd like to get stronger in?
I think worldbuilding is cool, and a lot of fun, but at the end of the day you really need some kind of story in that world which ties to characters. The world of Star Trek is amazing and very well-detailed, but Paramount doesn’t spend any time or money putting out “Federation Orientation” films. Even with books, you see technical manuals for Trek, Star Wars, or Doctor Who, but they only sell to a small sub-set of die-hard fans. The things that sell are the stories about characters we’ve all grown to love.

I think a writer needs to have relatable, likable characters. These characters need to take part in a plot that, to some degree, changes their lives and gives them a bit of an arc. Nothing gigantic, but if a story ends with all the character right back where they started, in my mind that means nothing important happened.

I’d be worried by any writer who thinks they don’t need any improvement. I go back over older material and see little tweaks and changes I would’ve made. I read other writer’s material and see clever ways they describe something or little sleight-of-hand tricks they pull with their plot or their writing. So I’m always on the lookout for things that will help make me a better writer.

[fantasybookcritic] On your blog there are several posts about writing & publishing in general. Could you give aspiring writers the top three points of your choosing which you believe are of utmost importance to any newbie [or for that matter any writer]?
Limiting it to a top three is tough. A lot of aspiring writers, I think, are looking for magic bullets. They want to know the one thing they need to work on right now so they can sell their material, and the truth is—like I was just saying—you need to work on everything. Basics like spelling and grammar are a must, but I also need to be good with characters and dialogue. I have to understand story and plot, narrative and structure. And I need to have an empathic sense of how the reader’s going to receive the words I’m putting down. These aren’t things you learn in an afternoon—they take years of work and experience. I still look up words in the dictionary all the time because I want to be sure I’m using something the right way and that it means what I think it means.

Here’s my one big tip. Writing is like prospecting for diamonds. A lot of people see gems in a jewelry store (metaphorically speaking) and when they go prospecting they toss aside every diamond they find because in nature it’s a rough, crusty thing. And then there are the folks who grab every one of those black, misshapen little lumps, glue them to rings, and demand six grand for each one. Neither of these approaches work. A diamond inherently needs work before it’s ready to sell. You never find the end product. It’s going to need a practiced eye to tell which ones are worth the time and effort, and then they need lots of cutting and polishing.

[unboundworlds] Peter Clines is the contributor for this week’s Take Five, a regular series where we ask authors and editors to share five facts about their latest books. Clines is the author The Fold
1) The Fold began many years ago as a short story I wrote for a college writing class. “The Albuquerque Door” was about a teleportation gateway and involved some similar themes, but the main character was the project head and not an outside observer. The TA in charge of the class told me I was a hack and that if I wasn’t writing to change the world, I was wasting everyone’s time.

I kept writing anyway.

2) The character of Mike was first inspired by an old issue of Esquire I found in the neighborhood laundromat one afternoon. I remember Charlize Theron was on the cover, but there was a huge article about high IQ people and how they fit into society. All of them had awful stories about their lives and relationships, and the only ones who didn’t sound a bit sad in their interviews came across as very forced, as if they were trying to convince someone how great their life was.

Also, Mike’s last name used to be Marco, which is what he went by most of the time. The nickname Mike appeared as his character began to evolve more.

3) I wrote about half of the first draft of The Fold back in late 2007-early 2008. It had different versions of almost every character. I was about 30,000 words into it (depending on how you wanted to count the last five or six pages of scattered notes to myself), when a small publisher I’d been talking with expressed interest in another idea I’d been playing with at the time. So I set this project aside and devoted all of my energy to a book about superheroes fighting zombies.

Probably a wise choice, in the long run…

4) There was, at one point, a large subplot involving Olaf’s long-distance running and corporate espionage. I talked with a long distance runner about terminology, recurring injuries, speed, equipment, and lots of other things. It eventually tied into the ending and there was a lot of stuff in it that I liked. However, as the ending tweaked a little more and a little more in later drafts, my editor (wisely) pointed out that Olaf’s two running chapters were becoming less essential and more one of those “darlings” you so often hear about.

And we all know what you’re supposed to do to those darlings…

5) The Fold has some loose ties to another book I wrote called 14. It’s not really a sequel, or even a side-quel, but more of a shared-universe situation. Think of Arrow and The Flash. Same universe, same references, some crossover of ideas and characters, but they’re two very different animals as far as tone and approach, and each tells very different stories. So if you’ve read 14 already, you may spot a few little details here and there, maybe recognize a name or two. If you haven’t, there shouldn’t be any points where you’re left feeling too up in the air. Well, not when you’re not supposed to, anyway…

And if you have read both… there’s a little Easter egg that stretches between the two books. A fact that can be inferred. To the best of my knowledge, no one’s spotted it yet.

(sources: unboundworlds.com 2015 & 2016,
fantasybookcritic.blogspot.com 2012 & 2016,
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Book Review - The Fold (by Peter Clines)

 Title: The Fold
Series: -
Author: Peter Clines
Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery & Thriller, Horror
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group 
Release Date: June 2nd, 2015
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 384



"STEP INTO THE FOLD.
IT’S PERFECTLY SAFE.

The folks in Mike Erikson's small New England town would say he's just your average, everyday guy. And that's exactly how Mike likes it. Sure, the life he's chosen isn’t much of a challenge to someone with his unique gifts, but he’s content with his quiet and peaceful existence. 

That is, until an old friend presents him with an irresistible mystery, one that Mike is uniquely qualified to solve: far out in the California desert, a team of DARPA scientists has invented a device they affectionately call the Albuquerque Door. Using a cryptic computer equation and magnetic fields to “fold” dimensions, it shrinks distances so that a traveler can travel hundreds of feet with a single step.

The invention promises to make mankind’s dreams of teleportation a reality. And, the scientists insist, traveling through the Door is completely safe.
Yet evidence is mounting that this miraculous machine isn’t quite what it seems—and that its creators are harboring a dangerous secret. 

As his investigations draw him deeper into the puzzle, Mike begins to fear there’s only one answer that makes sense. And if he’s right, it may only be a matter of time before the project destroys…everything. 

A cunningly inventive mystery featuring a hero worthy of Sherlock Holmes and a terrifying final twist you’ll never see coming, The Fold is that rarest of things: a genuinely page-turning science-fiction thriller. Step inside its pages and learn why author Peter Clines has already won legions of loyal fans."

(click to read an excerpt on peterclines.com)
 
- Review -
What Made Me Read It
They had me at teleportation-esque portal that ends up being something more. It made me think of Stargate SG1, one of my favorite franchises.

The Plot
Leland “Mike” Erikson has an eidetic memory (perfect recall of everything he sees and experiences) and one of the highest IQ on record. But instead of developing his skills and becoming another tortured dissatisfied genius, Mike chooses to live the quiet and unassuming life of a small town high school English teacher. Until one day, at the end of the school year, he gets a visit from his old school friend Reggie.

Reggie Magnus is a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) official. Reggie believes Mike is wasting his unique talents and for several years has been trying, unsuccessfully, to convince Mike to work for DARPA. But now Reggie's found something he’s positive will interest Mike into accepting a consulting summer job.

In the middle of the Californian desert, a small group of DARPA-funded researchers, led by physicists Arthur Cross and Olaf Johansson, have created a device called the "Albuquerque Door", capable of "Instantaneous Matter Transport" - instantaneous travel between two distant locations by folding space. After several successful test trials the scientists declare the door safe but they still refuse to provide any details on the workings of the device and keep stalling for extended research and funding.

Reggie feels something is wrong with the project though he can't explain what exactly. He persuades Mike to visit the secret research site and use his skills to observe and report on the Albuquerque Door, making sure everything is in order so Reggie can push the extra funding through. Despite Reggie’s obvious maneuvering, Mike is intrigued enough to accept what at first seems like a simple assignment. But the Albuquerque Door isn't quite what the researchers claim to be and there is something off about the scientists themselves.

The Good
"The Fold" is a techno thriller with a touch of mystery and a sci-fi twist. The plot is clever with a fast-paced narrative that never falters or lags, witty dialogues, plenty of pop culture references and intense action sequences. It's an immersive and entertaining novel difficult to put down once you start reading.

The first half of the book introduces the characters and sets up the story, laying the groundwork for the mystery. It has a slower pace but the author keeps the tension high and the unfolding of the mystery intriguing. In the second half the plot starts to really unravel at an accelerated pace with frequent twists, reveals and non-stop action and suspense.

The characters are well developed with their own personalities and distinct characteristics. The protagonist is likeable, charming, snarky and down-to earth, desperate to be just a normal person. His eidetic memory is described in an original way, depicted as a swarm of ants collecting and cataloging every bit of information from Mike's life experiences - black ants are used for memory storage, red ants for analysis. This enables him to process information and draw conclusions easier and faster than those around him. He's like a modern age Mycroft Holmes with a great mind but reluctant to use it to its full capacity.

"The Fold" is meant to be a side story that takes place in the same universe as "14", one of the author's other novels. Some readers say "14" will help explain references and plot points in "The Fold". For me it worked well as standalone, I had no trouble following the story along and wasn't left wondering about characters or plot elements. From my experience you don't need to read "14" to understand and fully enjoy "The Fold", but if you choose to, apparently you should read "14" first.

The Not So Good
"The Fold" starts out as a sci-fi thriller mystery but in the final 3rd act it turns into a full-on apocalyptic horror craziness with radioactive bugs, man-eating monsters and gruesome deaths. When I picked up the book I hadn't realize it was also listed as a horror novel, if I had I would have definitely skipped it because I don't do horror. Note to self: ALWAYS check the Goodreads page first before committing to a book!

Still... I was so engrossed in this book that I was able to endure the horrific gore fest just so I would know how the story ended. Kudos to the author for writing such an engaging novel that had me giving it the highest rating even with elements from a genre I avoid at all costs.

Final Rating
Recommended for those who enjoy a sci-fi thriller mystery that evolves into doomsday horror, with alternate realities/multiverses and obsessed scientists who meddle with things that should not be meddled with.


About the Author (interviews)
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Aug 27, 2018

 

Book Review - The Cybernetic Tea Shop (by Meredith Katz)

Title: The Cybernetic Tea Shop
Series: -
Author: Meredith Katz
Genre: Science Fiction, LGBT
Publisher: Less Than Three Press, LLC
Release Date: March 14th, 2016
Format: Ebook
Pages: 65



"Clara Gutierrez is a highly-skilled technician specializing in the popular 'Raise' AI companions. Her childhood in a migrant worker family has left her uncomfortable with lingering in any one place, so she sticks around just long enough to replenish her funds before she moves on, her only constant companion Joanie, a fierce, energetic Raise hummingbird.

Sal is a fully autonomous robot, the creation of which was declared illegal ages earlier due to ethical concerns. She is older than the law, however, at best out of place in society and at worst hated. Her old master is long dead, but she continues to run the tea shop her master had owned, lost in memories of the past, slowly breaking down, and aiming to fulfill her master's dream for the shop.

When Clara stops by Sal's shop for lunch, she doesn't expect to find a real robot there, let alone one who might need her help. But as they begin to spend time together and learn more about each other, they both start to wrestle with the concept of moving on…"
 
(click to read an excerpt on Barnes&Noble)
 
- Review -
What Made Me Read It
They had me at ancient robot running a tea shop!

The Plot
"The Cybernetic Tea Shop" is set in a future where sentient humanoid robots, once mass produced, are now illegal to create. To avoid the ethical dilemma of a construct capable of learning and growth to become a full person, the world has switched to Raises (Robotic Artificially Intelligent Synthetic Entities) instead - non-sentient animal-shaped robotic companions, intelligent but incapable of evolving. Hundred of years later a few of the original humanoid robots are still operational, with questionable legal status and subject to violent animosity and prejudice from the human population.

Clara Gutierrez is a highly skilled  robotic technician, specialized in repairing and programming Raises. She's also a nomad at heart, never staying in a single place for more than a year. Together with her hummingbird-shaped Raise companion Joanie, whom Clara reprogrammed to express a wider range of emotions and personality, she travels to different cities where getting a job is easy due to her skills.

Sal is one of the few remaining sentient humanoid robots. Deeply devoted to her long-deceased original owner Korinne, Sal made a promise to run her master's tea shop for at least 300 years. But having outlived the company that created her kind, Sal is slowly breaking down, her memory is failing and spare parts are very expensive and increasingly harder to find. To make matters worse, she's frequently harassed and the little tea shop vandalized by bigot humans.

When Clara moves to Seattle, she visits the Cybernetic Tea Shop during her lunch break on the advice of her new boss. She's shocked to find it's run by a 278 year old sentient robot but Clara quickly becomes fascinated by Sal, seeing her as more than just a technological curiosity. They soon develop a friendship and Clara wants to help fix Sal, but the sentient robot is still grieving the loss of her owner and has her own reasons to reject the help offer.

The Good
"The Cybernetic Tea shop" is a short 65 pages novella. It's a gentle, thoughtful and compelling story about an asexual robotic repair tech and an outdated sentient humanoid robot finding each other and developing a deep emotional connection between one another. Despite the novella's short length, the author provides enough information and world building complexity to give us a strong context to the characters' backgrounds and the world they live in. But this novella is mainly a character driven story, focused on their emotions and the development of their relationship.

Clara and Sal are well developed 3-dimentional characters. We clearly get a sense of Clara's uncontrollable wanderlust and Sal's loneliness, grief and determination to fulfill her late master's dream. Both characters are asexual - Clara doesn't feel sexual attraction for other people, Sal isn't programmed for that. Both are outsiders - Clara by choice and habit of a lifetime, Sal by design. And both have difficult choices to make - always being on the move prevents Clara from forming meaningful relationships, Sal's longevity and eminent breakdown puts her promise to keep the tea shop going at risk. These two characters develop a close relationship throughout the story by gradually getting to know and trust each other. But it's a relationship based on companionship and without a sexual component.

Joanie's sassy personality provides some comic relief and an insight to Clara's personality while Detective Hyen offers context to Sal's history and current struggles.

"The Cybernetic Tea Shop" touches themes of self-discovery and self-determination, love and trust, but also grief and trauma, prejudice and harassment.

Final Rating
Recommended for those who enjoy a cozy and uplifting story of companionship, about overcoming grief, moving on and finding a new purpose in life.


• • • •
- About the Author -
Website: www.softcryptid.com
Twitter: @MeredithAKatz
Genre: Gay and Lesbian, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Meredith Katz lives in Vancouver, Canada with her lovely wife and their sensitive poet cat. She is the author of several novels and novellas, including the Rainbow  Awards “Best Debut Lesbian Book” award winner 2016, Beauty and Cruelty. She loves tea, monsters, and sweet things that go bump in the night.
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Aug 25, 2018

 

Author Spotlight - Martha Wells

- About the Author -
Website: www.marthawells.com
Twitter: @marthawells1
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Books of the Raksura series (beginning with The Cloud Roads), the Ile-Rien series (including The Death of the Necromancer) as well as YA fantasy novels, short stories, media tie-ins (for Star Wars and Stargate: Atlantis), and non-fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel is The Harbors of the Sun in 2017, the final novel in The Books of the Raksura series. She has a new series of SF novellas, The Murderbot Diaries, published by Tor.com in 2017 and 2018. She was also the lead writer for the story team of Magic: the Gathering's Dominaria expansion in 2018. She has won a Nebula Award, a Hugo Award, an ALA/YALSA Alex Award, a Locus Award, and her work has appeared on the Philip K. Dick Award ballot, the USA Today Bestseller List, and the New York Times Bestseller List. Her books have been published in eleven languages.

Her first novel, The Element of Fire, was published by Tor in hardcover in July 1993 and was a finalist for the 1993 Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Award and a runner-up for the 1994 Crawford Award. The French edition, Le feu primordial, was a 2003 Imaginales Award nominee.

Her third novel The Death of the Necromancer (Avon Eos) was a 1998 Nebula Award Finalist and the French edition was a 2002 Imaginales Award nominee.
Her novella All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries (Tor.com) was a 2017 Philip K. Dick Award nominee and a Hugo Award Finalist, and won an ALA/YALSA Alex Award, a 2017 Nebula Award, and a Locus Award. The Books of the Raksura was a Hugo Finalist for Best Series.

The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, published by HarperCollins Eos -- The Wizard Hunters (May 2003), The Ships of Air (July 2004), and The Gate of Gods, (November 2005) -- is set in the same world as The Element of Fire and The Death of the Necromancer. She has also published three media tie-in novels: Stargate Atlantis: Reliquary, released in March 2006, and Stargate Atlantis: Entanglement in March 2007, and a Star Wars: Razor's Edge in September 2013. Her first young adult fantasy, Emilie and the Hollow World, was published in April 2013 by Strange Chemistry Books, and the sequel, Emilie and the Sky World in March 2014.

She has had short stories published in Realms of Fantasy, Black Gate, Lone Star Stories, Stargate Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, and in the anthologies Elemental, Tales of the Emerald Serpent, The Other Half of the Sky, Tales of the Emerald Serpent II: A Knight in the Silk Purse, Mech: Age of Steel, and The Gods of Lovecraft. She has essays in the non-fiction anthologies Farscape Forever, Mapping the World of Harry Potter, Chicks Unravel Time, and The Kobold Guide to Magic.

- Interviews -
[paulsemel] In the press materials, there’s line about how safety isn’t a primary concern when contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder. Did you set out to write a story with a political bent, and just felt sci-fi was the best way to get this across, or did you start out to write a sci-fi story and, as you wrote it, it became political?
I set out to write a story, the way I always do. I think all fiction writing is political. The heart of this story [All Systems Red] is about who gets to be a person and who doesn’t, and it takes place in a society where profits are more important than people.

Also, I’m a woman and I’m over 50, and for a lot of people it’s still a political issue that I’m even allowed to be a writer at all.

[thequilltolive] I have been reading your Murderbot Diaries and describing them as novellas. Do you think of them as novellas? Or just short books? How do you define them as works of writing in your mind?
The first one was actually intended to be a short story, and then I realized it really needed to be longer. I still wanted to keep it short, so novella length seemed perfect. I’d also written novella-length work before, in my two Stories of the Raksura collections. It just seemed the right length to tell the story.

[thequilltolive] The Murderbot series has some of the best writing for a shorter novel I have seen. What is your technique when it comes to dividing page space in a book this small, and how does it differ from a book like The Cloud Roads?
Thank you! I don’t think I used any particular technique. I’ve written a lot, including a lot of work at shorter lengths, and after all that experience I just have a feel for how to pace a story or book for the length I want. In a longer novel like The Cloud Roads, there’s more room for subplots and more detailed exploration of the world. In a novella, you have to concentrate on the story and let the reader pick up on the details of the world as the plot develops.

[amazingstoriesmag] What were your major influences when writing the series?
Even though most of my work up to this point has been fantasy, I’ve always really loved reading SF too, particularly far-future space opera. One recent influence was Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice trilogy, which I think has been a big influence on stories and books about AI in the last few years.

Another influence was the SF I read while I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.  Like Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover and Don’t Bite the Sun, and John Varley’s early stories.  Also, though their books didn’t usually deal with AI or robots, the SF of Phyllis Gotlieb, like A Judgement of Dragons, about far future aliens coping with human technology, and F.M. Busby’s SF series with Zelde M’tanna and Rissa Kerguelen, which are about a massive rebellion against an oppressive corporate-controlled oligarchy that has taken over Earth and its colony planets and enslaved most of the population.

[thequilltolive] What was your inspiration for the Murderbot Diaries? What made you want to write a story about relatable AI’s with a talent for killing people?
I’ve seen a lot of stories about AIs who want their freedom and immediately use it to kill humans, which seems like a very human-centric view of the situation, motivated by guilt at how the humans are using the AI. So I wanted to write an AI who was mostly indifferent to humans, who just wanted to be left alone, who had no particular desire to hurt anyone that wasn’t trying to hurt it.

[theillustratedpage] Something I love about these novellas is the truly compelling voice of Murderbot. Do you find it more challenging to write in first person than third?
I didn’t really find it challenging, though I don’t usually write in first person.  But it was really the only way to tell this story.  I wanted the reader to be completely inside Murderbot’s head, to see it how it saw itself before you found out how the humans saw it.

[theverge] MurderBot's personality is quite a lot of fun to read. How did you develop its voice, and why do you think that it's so adverse to forming relationships, especially now that it's a free being?
Thank you! The character being sarcastic and unimpressed with humans and generally just fed up evolved along with the storyline and the world building. I also wanted the reader to experience the contrast between how Murderbot was perceived by the human characters, as a frightening, faceless machine, and how it was on the inside, as a funny and very engaging personality.

I think it’s adverse to forming relationships with humans, because it can’t trust them, and it has to be wary about forming relationships with bots, who are under human control, or who might not understand why it has to be careful. It’s a very lonely position to be in.

[amazingstoriesmag] Which was the most difficult aspect of the Murderbot character to write and why?
Action scenes always take a lot of work, but in Murderbot’s case I need to remember its physical abilities, its ability to use drones, as well as the fact that it can think about multiple things and take multiple actions simultaneously.  It takes a lot of thought and re-writing to make sure I’m taking everything into account.

[theverge] Why go with a part organic / part mechanical robot? Are there any notable influences in its backstory?
I wanted the line between robot and human to be so thin that it was obvious that it was arbitrary, and that it had been established for the convenience of the people who wanted to use them to make money.

There are a lot of influences, but I think one of the early ones was Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover. She’s mostly known for her fantasy, but she did some great SF as well.

The Silver Metal Lover was one of the first books I remember where it was actually about a human-robot relationship, where that was focus of the story. It’s a romance between a young woman and a robot and it never gets into the usual “kill all humans and take over the world” territory.

[theverge] I really appreciated that MurderBot refers to itself as It, rather than he or she. Are there challenges in writing a truly genderless character, like a robot?
I think the challenge comes from how deep in our culture the idea of gender is, and how hard it can be to think outside that box. Even though I was committed to the idea of a character who was not human and did not have a human expression of gender, I still made mistakes and was lucky to have an editor and early readers who helped catch them.

[theillustratedpage] Do you take a different approach to world building with science fiction as opposed to fantasy?
I don’t think there’s much difference between them as far as world building goes. You have to build societies and cultures that will form the characters you want to drive your story.  You have to show the parts of the world that are relevant to the plot and characters, including how people live, where they get their food, shelter, etc, and how they interact with other people.  It’s the same process, you’re just working with different elements.

[thequilltolive] What is different (easier/harder) about writing for an expanded universe like Magic (or Star Wars, as I know you have some books in that ring as well)?
It takes a lot of research. Even if it’s something that you’re a big fan of (like in my case Star Wars and Stargate Atlantis), as a reader or viewer who isn’t thinking of writing in the universe, there’s a lot of detail you can miss. When you’re going to actually work with an established universe, you have to take in a lot of detail, understand how everything works, as well as the personalities of your characters. It’s a lot of fun, but it can be a lot of work, too.

[thequilltolive] What are some of your favorite sci fi and fantasy novels?
I have a ton of favorites. Right now I really enjoyed The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera, the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin, the Court of Fives series by Kate Elliott, Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee, Jade City by Fonda Lee.

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Book Review - Rogue Protocol, The Murderbot Diaries #3 (by Martha Wells)

Title: Rogue Protocol
Series: The Murderbot Diaries (book #3)
Author: Martha Wells
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor.com / Tom Doherty Associates
Release Date: August 7th, 2018
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 160


"SciFi’s favorite antisocial A.I. is again on a mission. The case against the too-big-to-fail GrayCris Corporation is floundering, and more importantly, authorities are beginning to ask more questions about where Dr. Mensah’s SecUnit is.

And Murderbot would rather those questions went away. For good."

(click to read an excerpt on marthawells.com)

- Review -
What Made Me Read It
It's the next book in the Murderbot series and the deliciously sarcastic & space netflix addicted SecUnit is on a personal mission to collect evidence against the corporation that tried to kill its clients in book one.

The Plot
"Rogue Protocol" is the third novella in "The Murderbot Diaries" series, set right after the events of "Artificial Condition". Murderbot learns that GrayCris Corporation, the same group that tried to kill Dr. Mensah's science team (SecUnit's clients in book one "All Systems Red"), had abandoned a terraforming project before it was done and for no apparent reason. Believing GrayCris may have been secretly using the abandoned project as a cover for illegal recovery operations of alien remnants, Murderbot sets out for the planet Milu hoping to find evidence that will help Dr. Mensah in her case against GrayCris.

Once Murderbot reaches Milu it finds a group of humans, their humanoid robot Miki and two bodyguards, sent there by an independent company to investigate GrayCris' failed operation. The SecUnit stows away inside one of their shuttles, intent on sneaking inside the facility, grabbing the needed evidence and leaving before anyone notices its presence. Having been outed in the newsfeed as a missing ungoverned SecUnit, Murderbot once again poses as an enhanced human, Security Consultant Rin, and convinces Miki (whom it nicknames the "pet bot") to keep its existence a secret as an additional security help.

But Murderbot's plans take a wrong turn when the abandoned facility proves not to be deserted after all. GrayCris will stop at nothing to erase any evidence of their illegal operations and the team of humans soon fall under attack by a group of Combat Units. Murderbot finds itself once again unwillingly caring for a pack of clueless and inept humans in need of its protection, even though they're not the SecUnit's responsibility.

The Good
"Rogue Protocol" is the third installment in the story of the anti-social, snarky and perpetually exasperated by humans, Murderbot. Each novella furthers the development and deepens our understanding of the character, and in book three, the SecUnit continues to grow and adapt to life beyond its original programming as a security bot, learning to deal with being on its own and interacting with humans and other AIs. Murderbot is dismayed to discover there are now things and people it cares about and sees itself becoming more human than it wants to be, having to deal with a wide variety of emotions it can't control.

The author continues to explore all the different ways that humans and bots interact with one another. Each novella has Murderbot interfacing with a different specialized AI and in this book Martha Wells introduces Miki, a fully mechanized humaniform robot technologically inferior to the SecUnit. Miki is the exact opposite of Murderbot. It's naive and childlike, optimistic, loyal to a fault, emotionally attached to humans whom it considers friends and open to making new ones. Being a coddled bot companion loved by its owner and respected by the other team members, Miki brings out unexpected and overwhelming feelings of anger and jealousy in Murderbot, used to being considered as mere property and feared as a dangerous killing machine.

Similar to the previous novellas, the plot is simple and the human characters underdeveloped but, again, their only function is to provide context to Murderbot's own journey and reactions to the different situations and beings it encounters, and for that these elements work well enough. The story is told in the first person through the eyes of the SecUnit and, after all, Murderbot doesn't think much of humans and tries to avoid them at all costs.

Final Rating
"Rogue Protocol" is an engaging story with plenty of fast-paced action, dry humor and a highly relatable protagonist. Recommended for those who enjoy a sci-fi espionage thriller set in outer space with a sarcastic cyborg.


About the Author (interviews)
Previous in the series: All Systems Red, The Murderbot Diaries #1 (book review)
Previous in the series: Artificial Condition, The Murderbot Diaries #2 (book review)
Next in the series: Exit Strategy, The Murderbot Diaries #4 (book review)

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Aug 23, 2018

 

Book Review - Artificial Condition, The Murderbot Diaries #2 (by Martha Wells)

Title: Artificial Condition
Series: The Murderbot Diaries (book #2)
Author: Martha Wells
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor.com / Tom Doherty Associates
Release Date: May 8th, 2018
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 158


"It has a dark past – one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more.

Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue.

What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…"

(click to read an excerpt on marthawells.com)

- Review -
What Made Me Read It
It's the sequel to "All Systems Red" and Murderbot is trying to find out if it really was responsible for the murder of its former clients.

The Plot
"Artificial Condition" picks up shortly after the events of "All Systems Red". On a previous contract, Murderbot had been responsible for the mass murder of its clients. Or so the Company claimed. Since its memories were partially purged, and in light of the events depicted in the previous book, the SecUnit isn't certain the story released to the public is the true version. Murderbot also feels the need to know whether it hacked itself before the incident and caused the massacre, or if it hacked itself after to prevent the same disaster from happening again. To find the answers as to why and how the malfunction took place, Murderbot is on its way to the RaviHyral mining facility to try to figure out what really happened.

In order to reach the mining facility, Murderbot hitches rides on automated transports, exchanging its collection of entertainment media with the mindless bots controlling the ships for safe passage. Then on the last leg of its journey, it hitches a ride with an empty university research vessel that turns out to be far more clever and sentient than expected. Murderbot promptly nicknames it ART, short for Asshole Research Transport because of its complicated blunt personality. Out of boredom, ART decides to take Murderbot on as a pet project, offering help and resources to solve the mystery of RaviHyral, plus a lot of unasked-for advice.

But finding out the truth isn't as easy as it first seemed. The site of the incident has been shut down, the exact location and all information on the massacre wiped from record, a work permit is required to be permitted on the moon and Murderbot, because of recent publicity, isn't exactly unrecognizable. ART advises Murderbot to pose as an augmented human and take a freelance job as a security consultant to a group of young naive researchers on their way to RaviHyral mining facility, trying to retrieve some stolen data back from a local criminal entrepreneur. The job turns out to be more than Murderbot bargained for and now the SecUnit is stuck with another group of dumb humans in need of protection.

The Good
"Artificial Condition" is the second installment of "The Murderbot Diaries", and like the first book in the series, this one is also a novella at little over 150 pages written in the first person through the eyes of the protagonist. Because of the limitations in length it lacks complex world building and secondary character development. Still, the author manages to pack enough details to expand the universe to include a new planet, more info on the governing corporations, particularly the company that constructed Murderbot, and introduce new types of bots.

The main focus is once again on Murderbot (it is its diaries after all) and its journey of self-discovery. The character is very well developed and complex, a sympathetic protagonist with recognizable and relatable human traits. Murderbot remains the same socially awkward, lazy and snarky cyborg, who would rather spend its days binge watching serials on space netflix but finds itself forced instead to interact with other beings, both human and robotic, at every turn. This time the SecUnit strikes an unwanted friendship with a highly advanced ship navigator AI, whom Murderbot nicknames ART, while bonding reluctantly over shows they watch together on the journey to the RaviHyral mining facility. While being two different kinds of constructs with distinct personalities, they still blend and complement each other well. ART is cynical, sarcastic, overbearing and a know-it-all that gets on Murderbots' nerves. But its experience dealing with humans proves essential in helping Murderbot pose as an enhanced human and more or less successfully deal with the SecUnit's new clients and complete its mission.

The remaining secondary characters are only marginally developed but their sole purpose is to provide context for Murderbot's journey, a job done well enough.

Final Rating
"Artificial Condition" is fast-paced, exciting and funny, with enough twists to keep us engaged throughout the whole plot. It has mystery, adventure and danger but it also poses interesting questions about the nature of sentience, responsibility and free will. This book provides answers to some of the questions from book 1 but there is still plenty of mystery left for books 3 and 4. Recommended for those who enjoy a thrilling adventure in space featuring sarcastic sentient robots.


About the Author (interviews)
Previous in the series: All Systems Red, The Murderbot Diaries #1 (book review)
Next in the series: Rogue Protocol, The Murderbot Diaries #3 (book review)
Next in the series: Exit Strategy, The Murderbot Diaries #4 (book review)

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Aug 21, 2018

 

Book Review - All Systems Red, The Murderbot Diaries #1 (by Martha Wells)

Title: All Systems Red
Series: The Murderbot Diaries (book #1)
Author: Martha Wells
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor.com / Tom Doherty Associates
Release Date: May 2nd, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 160  


"In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth."

(click to read an excerpt on marthawells.com)

- Review -
What Made Me Read It
They had me at self-aware bodyguard android who couldn't care less about its job and just wants to be left alone to binge-watch space netflix.

The Plot
In a corporate-dominated future, the Company approves and supplies all planetary missions, renting security androids as part of the contract. Murderbot is a self-aware half-organic half-machine cyber-construct, programmed as a SecUnit to provide protection and security to the Company's clients. After a mission gone terribly wrong, Murderbot (self-named after involuntarily killing its own clients due to an unexpected software malfunction) hacks its governor module to be able to circumvent and ignore the commands given by its owners and/or contractors and prevent a similar disaster in future contracts.

With its newly acquired autonomy, Murderbot just wants to be left alone, avoid human interaction at all costs and access 35,000 hours of entertainment media, surreptitiously binge watching its favorite serial "The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon" while doing its job in a half-assed manner to avoid being discovered and disassembled.

Murderbot's current contract has it watching over a team of scientists surveying a new planet. It looked like an easy boring assignment until unexplained computer glitches start occurring, a neighboring survey team goes dark and someone on the planet is determined to kill them. Murderbot has to join forces with the scientists to keep the team alive, feeling surprisingly compelled to protect them regardless of its new free will.

The Good
"All Systems Red" is the first in a series of 4 novellas titled "The Murderbot Diaries", though it can be read as a standalone. Being a novella means the plot is short,  there isn't much room for complex world building and secondary character development, just enough to get a grip on the general context. But Martha Wells manages to make it intriguing and action-packed but to the point, with plenty of sarcastic humor. The plot moves seamlessly and the adventure and mystery is tightly woven with enough suspense to keep things moving at a fast pace.

Written in the first person through the sardonic eyes of the protagonist, the action is described in a deadpan manner, simulating the cyborg's logging of events as it observes and interacts with its environment. But Murderbot also provides unexpected musings on Humanity and the society that constructed it so even though it's a short read, this book explores deep themes of responsibility, guilt, identity, freedom and free will, sentience and the effects of technology on society.

There isn't much development of the secondary characters but since these novellas are supposed to be Murderbot's diaries, the main character gets all the focus. The protagonist is well developed, complex and very relatable - an introvert and socially awkward, slightly pessimistic and depressed apathetic cyborg, who finds dealing with humans uncomfortable and slightly annoying, preferring fictional characters to real humans. Murderbot is sassy, cynical and cranky, perpetually exasperated at humanity's instinct for making stupid and suicidal decisions. (think K-2SO, if you've seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)

Final Rating
Socially awkward people, introverts, and old fashioned curmudgeons will easily relate to and connect with the character Murderbot. Recommended for those who enjoy sci-fy mystery thrillers with sarcastic robots and plenty of clever humor.



About the Author (interviews)
Next in the series: Artificial Condition, The Murderbot Diaries #2 (book review)
Next in the series: Rogue Protocol, The Murderbot Diaries #3 (book review)
Next in the series: Exit Strategy, The Murderbot Diaries #4 (book review)

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Aug 19, 2018

 

Book Review - Unearthed, Unearthed #1 (by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner)

Title: Unearthed
Series: Unearthed (book 1)
Author: Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: January 9th, 2018
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 336



"When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying's advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study... as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don't loot everything first. Mia and Jules' different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance.

In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race's secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race..."
(click to read an excerpt on Barnes&Noble)

- Review -
What Made Me Read It
They had me at Indiana Jones / Tomb Raider / National Treasure mashup in space.

The Plot
"Unearthed" is set in a future where our planet is slowly dying from irreversible environmental changes, water is scarce and energy resources are almost depleted. Attempts at space exploration and colonization on Centauri have failed and times are desperate. Then Earth intercepts a deep space message from a long-extinct alien race calling themselves the Undying, telling tales of their own self-destruction but also promising tests and rewards inside their temples for those courageous enough to dare. It seems the solution the planet desperately needs, the Undying's advanced technology has the potential to reverse all of Earth's environmental damage and Gaia, the alien's former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be plundered.  

But after decoding the initial transmission, Dr. Elliot Addison discovers  a second message encoded deeply inside  the main broadcast - a mathematical equation in the shape of a Fibonacci spiral together with a single word: catastrophe. Dr. Addison sacrifices his freedom to warn Earth that the greatest danger from the Undying gifts doesn’t come from the traps protecting the temples but from the technology itself. Only Earth is out of options and the International Alliance won't stop at nothing to take advantage of their last hope.

Amelia “Mia” Radcliffe is a 16 year old low-level scavenger who sells scraps of city detritus from abandoned Chicago in order to survive. After convincing a backer to smuggle her onto Gaia, her goal is to loot enough Undying technology from the main temple to buy back her enslaved sister's freedom and help them both out of poverty.

17 year old Jules is the son of the infamous Dr. Elliot Addison, on a personal mission to vindicate his father and prove Gaia is a danger to Earth. To that end he joins an illicit group bound for the alien planet in order to find a hidden temple that will reveal the Undying's true intentions.

A chance encounter and a series of life-threatening events with criminal scavengers bring the two teenagers together in a brief and fragile alliance. Jules persuades Mia to help him find the hidden temple with the false promise of better technology, while keeping his true objective secret. To gain access to the technology and information hidden inside the temple, the two must decode the aliens' puzzles, survive their traps and pass their tests. Jules can read the Undying language while Amelia's mathematical skill proves itself useful. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more they realize that the ancient aliens are not what they seem and the temples are instead bait, possibly meant to lure humanity to its doom.

The Good
Unearthed is a fun, fast-paced teen sci-fi adventure, with some thoughtful reflections on privilege and a cliffhanger that will leave you wanting for the next book. The book feels a little slow through the first half while establishing the world and the characters, but once it picks up the pace the action is engaging with plenty of plot twists, double crosses, puzzles and danger at every turn. The world building is solid and the dialogue clever and witty. The temple puzzles are interesting and intricate, the plot mysteries will keep you guessing until the end and the chases inside the temple and across the planet will have you on the edge of your seat.

The story is told in alternating chapters from either Mia's or Jules' point of view. This gives us access to their thought processes and feelings throughout the plot, helping us understand and empathize with their struggles and motivations. Some information gets repeated but because it's given from each of the characters' POV it shows how both Mia and Jules interpret and react to the same situation differently, thus going deeper inside the protagonists psyche.

The characters are well developed and 3-dimentional, with their own strengths, weaknesses and a unique voice. Jules and Mia are both believable and relatable, with a good chemistry between them. They're also polar opposites who complement each other well. As a street-smart scavenger Mia is clever, feisty, quick on her feet and with great survival instincts. As the privileged son of a renowned and highly respected scholar Jules is introspective, sensitive, nerdy and insecure. Despite these differences, they manage to find common ground and work together to solve the mysteries and stay alive.

The Not So Good
The full on instantaneous attraction-at-first-sight teenage romance. I enjoyed Mia and Jules as individual characters and they do work well together as a team, two people forced to join forces and cooperate in order to survive. But the romance and all the mushy-gushy feelings? That I could definitely do without! But this is a pet peeve of mine, it might work for you.

Final Rating
Recommended for those who enjoy a sci-fi thriller adventure, with problem-solving puzzles inside temples and mazes, while on a race against time. 


• • • •
  - About the Authors -
Website: www.amiekaufman.com
Twitter: @AmieKaufman
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Children's

Amie Kaufman is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of young adult fiction. Her multi-award winning work is slated for publication in over 30 countries, and has been described as “a game-changer” (Shelf Awareness), “stylistically mesmerising” (Publishers Weekly) and “out-of-this-world awesome” (Kirkus). Her series include The Illuminae Files, The Starbound Trilogy, Unearthed and Elementals: Ice Wolves. Her work is in development for film and TV, and has taken home multiple Aurealis Awards, an ABIA, a Gold Inky, made multiple best-of lists and been shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.

Amie had the good fortune to be raised just one block from her local library, and took full advantage of that fact growing up. She and her sister spent their childhood summers re-creating their favourite books by camping in the back yard, mapping their neighbourhood, climbing trees, stepping through magical doors and sailing the local seas. Raised in Australia and Ireland, she has kissed the Blarney stone six times, thoroughly cementing her gift of the gab.

As she grew older (but not up), she continued her education, and graduated with honors degrees in history, literature and law, and a master’s degree in conflict resolution. She is currently undertaking a PhD in Creative Writing. After working as a mediator for seven years, these days she’s a full time writer, working from her home in Melbourne when she’s not on the road in the US, Europe and Asia. A few of her top travel moments include camping in the Sahara overnight, climbing a mountain in Vietnam, standing on the Great Wall of China and cycling the Loire Valley, but she has a huge list left to cover.

Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and their rescue dog, Jack. She’s a huge fan of chocolate and naps, has an enormous music collection, and an entire room of her house is devoted to her library. She still sails, and though she climbs fewer trees, she remains partial to investigating the occasional magical door.
(source: amiekaufman.com)


Website: www.meaganspooner.com
Twitter: @MeaganSpooner
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy

New York Times bestselling author Meagan Spooner grew up reading and writing every spare moment of the day, while dreaming about life as an archaeologist, a marine biologist, an astronaut. She graduated from Hamilton College in New York with a degree in playwriting, and has spent several years since then living in Australia. She's traveled with her family all over the world to places like Egypt, South Africa, the Arctic, Greece, Antarctica, and the Galapagos, and there's a bit of every trip in every story she writes.

She currently lives and writes in Asheville, North Carolina, but the siren call of travel is hard to resist, and there's no telling how long she'll stay there. She's the author of the award-winning Starbound trilogy (These Broken Stars, This Shattered World, Their Fractured Light) and the Skylark Trilogy (Skylark, Shadowlark, Lark Ascending) as well as the upcoming Beauty and the Beast retelling Hunted.

In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads.
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