Wayward Pines

Wayward Pines by Blake Crouch

I picked up the first book of the Wayward Pines trilogy by Blake Crouch, Pines, because it was $1.99 on Amazon and I was looking for something new to read. I’d remembered hearing about the series on TV and how it was inspired by Twin Peaks, which I liked (no, I’m not that old, I watched it on Netflix). Beware, if you read further, there will be SPOILERS for the whole trilogy.

At first, it was kinda Twin Peaks-ish. A weird town with weird people that are clearly hiding something. I was edging toward disappointment, thinking this was going to be another “he thinks he’s alive but he’s really dead” sort of story when Crouch dropped a whammy of a twist on me. Main character Ethan Burke, a Secret Service agent out of Seattle, wasn’t dead. No, he and everyone else had simply (“simply”) been put in suspended animation by a nut job named David Pilcher and had woken up almost 2000 years ahead of present time.

Pilcher, a scientist has discovered that the human genome was “corrupted” (news flash: duh. Everyone’s got some sort of weird mutation. Whether or not that actually impacts your life is another story. Generally the answer is no) and that within 30 generations, humans as we know them would be extinct. Again, duh. It’s called evolution. That’s why we’re no longer neanderthals. I’m not knocking Crouch’s writing, just the character’s feeling like he had to “save” humanity by kidnapping (yes, kidnapping) about 1400 people and putting them in suspended animation.

Ethan works out that something is terribly wrong with the town of Wayward Pines, ID, where he wakes up after thinking he was in a car accident. After some fights, some time in their “hospital” and help from another townie who knows at least something of what’s going on, Ethan escapes. What he found when he gets out of the town, horrifies him. They’re surrounded by what Pilcher and his hired goons call abbies, for abnormal. Every one of which would gladly eat him for breakfast.

Holy crap. It was so good, I had to go out and buy the second novel, Wayward, immediately. I blew through that one too. In this one, Ethan has been made the sheriff and reunited with the wife and child he thought died 2000 years ago. It’s an uneasy moment, both in the town and in the Burke home. Teresa and Ben, the wife and child, have lived in Wayward Pines for 5 years without Ethan. They have to get used to being a family again when you’re never alone.

Not only that, but when new Sheriff Ethan Burke is called in to investigate a number of people dubbed “Wanderers” (people who remove their tracking chips), he knows there’s the very real possibility that he’ll end up being ordered to kill one of his old friends from Before, another Secret Service agent named Kate who was kidnapped before him. The investigation takes some wild turns and it lead Ethan to a fateful choice: Kill his old friend and partner or tell everyone in the town what’s really going on. SPOILER: he tells everyone in town what’s really going on.

That leads into book three, The Last Town. This book uses a different style of narrative than the previous books, alternating between people to focus on (i.e. – one chapter focuses on Ethan, one on Teresa, etc) and on past versus present. Pilcher, unhappy with what Ethan did, opens up the protective electrified fence that surrounds Wayward Pines and allows 500 abbies in. They slaughter most of the townspeople, but Ethan and about one hundred others escape. Not unscathed, but at least alive

Ethan makes it up to the mountain where Pilcher lives with the people he hired 2000 years ago, people who really believe in his cause. Let’s face it, Pilcher is a cult leader, one who’s about to get his comeuppance. Ethan gets the grunts on his side and effectively takes over Wayward Pines. The grunts, most of whom have weapons training, clear out the abbies in the town and get the fence up and running. From there, they have to decide if they’re going to 1) leave the town and try to make it in the world of the abbies (a suicide mission at best), 2) stay in the town and starve to death within 4 years or 3) go back into suspended animation and hope to wake up in the future.

This trilogy is captivating from beginning to end. I blasted through about nine hundred total pages in two and a half days. That’s a record even for me. The writing is superb and the suspense will leave you at the edge of your seat. Crouch knows how to leverage the cliffhanger, but also knows when to wrap something up. Amazing writing. I highly recommend the series, which is now on sale for Kindle at $1.99 per book. Go out and get it now!. Rating: A++

The Expanse

Leviathan_WakesMan, I’d love to get back to blogging about books more often, but with an 18 month old, it’s hard to find the time and the energy. That being said, I just ploughed through the 7 (currently) novels of the Expanse Series by James S.A. Corey. I honestly think I got through all 7 books in about 2 weeks, 3 at the outside

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that sci-fi books aren’t my usual choices for reading. They’re totally my jam when it comes to movies and TV though (Live long and prosper, y’all). So when SyFy canceled the Expanse (and seriously! Why does SyFy keep canceling good shows?!), I decided that I’d start the books in case someone didn’t pick it up (Yay for streaming services becoming more popular!).

The first couple of books, Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War, pretty much follow the plot of the show. If you watched it, you pretty much know what’s going on. These books follow James Holden and the meager crew of the Rocinante, a salvaged Martian war vessel, as they try to figure out who destroyed their water hauler and why.

These books are all interconnected, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you skip them, even if you’ve watched the show. There’s probably some information there that will come back up in a later book. You also go a little further into the characters. Holden is a little less self-righteous in the books and more a guy who is just trying to make sure his crew survives.

The gist of this series is that some ancient civilization threw a biomechanical (best way I can describe this thing) piece of matter toward our solar system billions and billions of years ago. We’re talking all life on earth was single celled at the time.

They were likely aiming at earth, being the only planet in this system in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone”. They didn’t account for Jupiter, apparently, and this biomechanical matter (called the protomolecule in the books) got snatched by the gas giant’s gravity and locked into orbit (The matter was hitching a ride on a piece of rock that eventually became the moon Phoebe).

Naturally, humans found it and your prototypical “evil scientist” type decided to test it out on humans to try and make the ultimate soldier. Natch. It’s always the “ultimate soldier” or some such thing. It’s only James Holden and his sort of bumbling incompetent luck that keeps these wackos from actually completing their work. Though the Roci and her crew aren’t entirely successful. The entire population of Eros is lost to the this protomolecule.

The brief overview of the series is: the protomolecule is found out, they stop it temporarily, the protomolecule creates a interdimensional travel ring just passed Uranus, humans start dispersing into the galaxy, Belters (the classification of humans that grew up entirely in the low gravity of ships and/or the asteroid belts stations) initiate a war on Earth and Mars, a group of rogue Martians disappears through the ring and then come back to conquer the solar system. Again, natch because they always try to conquer the solar system.

I’m eagerly awaiting the 8th book in the series, Tiamat’s Wrath, which is due out at the end of this year. Supposedly there’s another book coming out next year too. I can’t wait. If you liked the show and if you like sci-fi books, you should definitely check out James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series. And watch the show! Rating: A+

Don’t Panic

Courtesy of goodreads.comWell, it’s been a while. Switching jobs will do that to you. Now I’m back and I thought how better to celebrate Towel Day than to review The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by the Douglas Adams?

Hitchhiker’s Guide starts out with the relatively unassuming Arthur Dent (whom I now mentally picture as Martin Freeman. The movie sucked compared to the book but Freeman was a great Arthur Dent) going about his morning one day before suddenly realizing that his house is about to be torn town. So he lays in front of the bulldozers and refused to move…until his friend Ford Prefect (you mean this isn’t an unassuming earth name?) came to drag him to the pub. At something like 10am.

Ford, as you may have guessed, is not from Guildford as previously claimed. No, he’s from a small planet near Betelgeuse and of all the people on earth he could save from the coming Vogon construction fleet, he chooses Arthur. I think that says a lot about what Ford really thinks of him. I mean, Ford really could have just left him to die with the rest of humanity, but he didn’t.

Ford takes Arthur to the pub and tries to get him to drink several pints of beer in order to prepare himself for what happens next. Arthur is too miserable about his house to really pay attention. He does, however, notice when the giant space cubes come floating through the atmosphere. Ford manages to get him a towel while Arthur is gibbering and the pair are picked up by the cooks on board just before destruction, simply because it will annoy the Vogons. And really, who doesn’t want to annoy Vogons?

This is where we find out that the name of the book is actually the name of a book within. The Hitchhiker’s Guide is the best selling book in the universe, allowing people to hitchhike across the galaxy on less than 30 Altarian dollars a day. And it has the words Don’t Panic in big comforting letters across the front. It’s kinda funny reading this in the age of smartphones, because the description of the guide sounds like it’s a smartphone or small tablet. 🙂

We’re also introduced to a little creature called the Babel Fish. Those of you familiar with the the website…this is where the name comes from. It’s a little yellow fish like creature that goes in your ear (an image which always gives me the willies thanks to Star Trek II) and translates for you. It lives off the brainwaves put out by other people and excretes (ew) a translation matrix into your brain. Organic universal translator.

Meanwhile, all the way across space (which is mind-bogglingly huge), the galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox is planning the most amazing thing. Not the unveiling of the infinite improbability drive, but the theft of said device – a ship called the Heart of Gold. He and companion Trillian make off with the device after he shows off a bit for the billions of viewers at home.

How are these two events related? Well, in normal reality…they don’t. But thanks to the infinite improbability drive of the Heart of Gold, Zaphod and Trillian pick up two recently spaced hitchhiker’s. Too bad they couldn’t have saved them from the Vogon poetry. In an even more improbable twist, Trillian, Arthur and Zaphod all know each other.

This starts a series of truly wild adventures in which we learn the earth was actually a giant computer, dolphins are the second most intelligent animals on earth (beat out only by mice) and that the answer to the ultimate question is 42. Now, I loved this book and the follow up books. I have a soft spot for dry British humor and Douglas Adams is a great mix of witty and weird. But I will admit that these books aren’t for everyone.

However, if you (for some reason), haven’t ever read Hitchhiker’s Guide, give it a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. And whatever you do, do not watch the movie before or immediately after reading the book. Martin Freeman was excellent but the rest of the cast sucked balls. Rating: A+

Divergent

Courtesy of goodreads.comSo a couple of weeks ago I flipped on HBO and there was this movie on. I had been sort of intrigued by it when it originally came out in theaters, but not enough to spend 12 bucks (or more) on. So I stopped channel flipping and watched. And was really, really intrigued. Enough so that I went right to Amazon and bought the book it was based on, Divergent by Veronica Roth.

Dystopian fiction isn’t really something I read all that often. The blurb or first couple chapters has to really grab me. Well this one grabbed me. I found the idea of  the factions based on personality traits as opposed to societal roles rather interesting. Granted each faction had pretty set jobs they could do, but that wasn’t really the main purpose of those factions. The serums were a pretty cool piece of tech as well.

There are four factions: Erudite (who prize intelligence), Candor (who prize honesty), Dauntless (who prize courage) and Abnegation (who prize selflessness). The idea is that when you come of age, you undergo a simulation that will test which faction you belong to. There is then a sorting ceremony (Sorry folks, no singing hat here) in which you make your final choice. Most people tend to stay with the faction they’re born into but some choose to transfer, like our protagonist Tris Prior.

Tris was born into Abnegation but is a rare, fairly self aware sixteen year old. She know that the life of Abnegation is not for her because she is far too selfish for it. The trouble is, her test comes back with three results: Abnegation, Dauntless and Erudite. Usually the test comes back with one result. Her test taker warns her to be careful, that there are those who would kill her for being different.

Even so, Tris transfers to Dauntless, where danger is rife simply because they’re Dauntless. They jump on and off trains, they jump of roofs, they zip line from the tallest building in the city. All in all, they’re a bit of a crazy faction since they are, in effect, the city’s peace keeping force.

Each faction has their own initiation rites. Dauntless initiation takes place over a number of weeks and includes fighting, knife throwing and fear simulations. If you can’t make the cut, then you become one of the dreaded factionless. Being factionless in this world is sort of a cross between being homeless and being a minimum wage worker. All of the crap jobs the factioned people don’t have time for or want to do go to the factionless. In exchange they get food and clothing, and usually not enough of either.

Tris battles her way through Dauntless training, dodging people who want to kill her for any number of reasons (some of them exceedingly stupid like being better at fear sims than they are). Tris makes it through the initiation with flying colors but her trials aren’t over yet.

I won’t sum up the end of the book (what would the point of that be!) but I will say that it was a very good read and I have moved on to books two and three of this trilogy. Don’t be turned off by the fact that it’s listed as a YA novel on Amazon. Its easily read by all ages because I think there is something in there we can all relate to in some way. Rating: A

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Okay, so I’m a mega-Trekkie. I was born a Trekkie to Trekkie parents. I’ve seen every episode of every series (Enterprise excepting because we Shall Not Speak Of It) and every movie. So naturally the hubby (not a Trekkie, but willing to indulge my geekiness) and I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness on opening weekend. I loved it. I adored it. And not just because I absolutely adore Benedict Cumberbatch. Well, that certainly doesn’t hurt. 😉

At any rate, I was poking around a local bookshop a couple weekends ago and found the novelization of the movie. Normally I don’t go for the novelizations of movies because they never quite seem to catch the awesomeness of the movie. This is not to be confused with good books that are turned into meh or worse movies (Bourne books, I’m looking at you).

At any rate, the novelization of Into Darkness was written by Alan Dean Foster, who as written tons of Star Trek books and other novelizations. From the off I was sucked into the story even though I’d just seen the movie a couple weeks ago. It was amazingly good. I could really picture the scenes in the movie as he wrote them. I don’t want to put in too much detail because the movie is still relatively new and there might be the odd Trekkie or movie goer who hasn’t seen it.  But if you like Star Trek, I would really recommend giving this book a read. Rating: A+

Sherlock Revisited

So I’ve been on this total Sherlock Holmes and Great Britain kick lately. I’m a total Anglophile, though not so bad that I stayed up for the royal wedding a few months ago. 🙂 At any rate, I got started on this by watching BBC’s new Sherlock series. If you haven’t watched it, Netflix it. Now. I’ll wait.

Done? Fantastic! And so is that show. So sad I don’t get BBC America, but I digress. I’m here to pick up an anthology called The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This was a collection of short stories featuring the worlds greatest detective as written by fantasy authors. There are well known authors such as Steven King and Neil Gaiman, as well as a bunch of folks I hadn’t heard of.

Arthur Conan Doyle was a spiritualist and as such, he worked some of his beliefs into his Holmes stories, such as The Hound of the Baskervilles, which featured the mystery of a demonic hound. Holmes himself wasn’t a spiritualist and indeed proved the hound to be nothing more than a violently trained dog covered in a phosphoric substance. Inevitably in the Holmes stories, there is always a reasonable and logical explanation.

This anthology was based on the premise: What if there wasn’t a logical explanation? What if some of the things Holmes investigated turned out to be truly inexplicable? Or what if the world Holmes lived in featured the supernatural in every day life. This was a chance to go to town with Holmes.

The book started out promisingly enough with a short by Stephen King. Normally I’m not a Stephen King fan. An ex-boyfriend of mine gave me a collection of King’s short stories, telling me that they were creepy and horrifying. I used them to get to sleep at night. It wasn’t that I didn’t get what King was going for. I did. I just found his writing a bit too trite and predictable for me. I’m the type of person who figured out that Bruce Willis was ghost half way through The Sixth Sense, so the short Trucks didn’t do it for me.

At any rate, Stephen King wrote a refreshingly subtle and original Holmes short. It wasn’t too different than something that Doyle would write I feel (and yes, I have read the original Holmes. All of them. I love them) but with just a little bit of a spiritual twist.  I was a feeling better about having spent 15 bucks on the book.

The next story (or perhaps the third, can’t remember the order at the moment) featured a mirror universe. Being a Trek fan, I know that alternate or mirror universes are often used in sci-fi/fantasy stories. I like them because you can see the what if but you can get the original that you love back.  Haven’t you ever wondered with an evil Holmes or a good Moriarty would be like? Well, read the book! 😀

I was a little disappointed however by some of the later stories. Some of them didn’t really seem to have anything to do with science fiction or fantasy at all. That’s not to say that they weren’t entertaining or well written, but I was expecting a bit more fantasy in a book I found in the fantasy section of the book store.

All in all it was worth the read. The writing was very well done (B/B+). However, I have to give it an overall rating of C+ simply because there could have been much more fantasy involved in some of these stories. And man, they should have let Jim Butcher have a crack at one of those stories!