Billy and The Cloneasaurus by Stephen Kozeniewski

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Sharp, witty and cynical: Billy and The Cloneasaurus is satirical science fiction done right. The book is as much fun to read as the title is to say out loud. 9/10 stars.

Is this the Great American novel? Possibly. In the future all wild animals have become extinct and all humans have been replaced by clones. Just one clone, in fact. Billions of him. The world is populated by Williams – the perfect corporate citizen – he works hard, is compliant and even complacent, is an excellent consumer of goods and services as dictated by the corporations, and is entirely predictable. The world is managed by a giant corporation that produces everything Williams need, thus absorbing their hard-earned money back into the never-ending system. The media, news, consumer goods and food are all produced and managed by Williams for The Company.

Our hero is William 790-6 (57th iteration). On every clones birthday he must report to the factory where he is terminated and recycled back into the food supply for the next generation of clones. Due to equipment malfunction, William 790 finds not only his termination to be delayed until after the weekend, but his replacement clone has already arrived. Never before have their been two clones at the same time. Through circumstances his replacement gets mistaken for him and becomes slushed, and 790 becomes the first clone to live beyond his first birthday. The experience leaves William 790 disillusioned and then enlightened as he realizes that he is something special. He is unique. But rather than being an uplifting experience he discovers things about society that don’t add up. Not only are resources and clones recycled, but so are the media and the news. The Company is manufacturing more than consumer goods – it is manufacturing lies and oppression.

This is a brilliantly original book that, despite being funny also deals with complex themes such as existentialism and questions just what it means to be an individual in an increasingly manufactured and controlled society. Like The Company, Kozeniewski has manufactured characters that are clever, sympathetic and tragic and has populated them into a dark dystopian world. William (who chooses the name Billy to mark his individuality) escapes The Company and, literally, becomes Free Will. His journey is an exploration of just what free will and free thought mean in a world where everything is mass produced including marketing and consumerism. It is a satirical look at modern consumerism and media-driven society, and also a cynical look at the future of mankind and our dependence upon said consumer goods and services and our reliance upon formulaic news and media.

Kozniewski writes a book that is gripping from the first page, filled with mystery and thriller elements. It is a well-paced adventure that sweeps you away in it’s current, depositing you on the banks of it’s conclusion where the only criticism of the book can be found. The conclusion to Billy and The Cloneasaurus feels a bit rushed, with new ideas being introduced but not expanded upon enough. Despite this, the cyclical nature of the book is repeated in the ending, closing the narrative loop he created in a dramatic and satisfying nature. This book is an exceptional 9/10.

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Squid’s Grief by D.K. Mok

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A fast-paced thriller filled with humor, intrigue and palpable smoke-screens.

Set in the near future, Squids Grief is a crime thriller with some cyberpunk elements. Squid is a thief with morals who has ‘one last job’ before she goes clean, but everything goes wrong when she finds Grief, a man with no memories, inside the boot of a car she steals. Meanwhile, the gangs are in upheaval as they are restructured and gang-war begins to break out and Police officer Casey is trying to tackle the rising gang violence in the city of Baltus; but the harder she fights, the more intricate the web of corruption ensnaring the city and it’s officials becomes.

D.K. Mok’s third novel, Squid’s Grief is thoughtfully written; fast-paced with excellent action and consistent humor throughout, it also manages to deal with strong themes without being preachy. Both villains and heroes are seeking new beginnings; the gangs, the police department, Casey, Squid, Grief and even the city itself – everyone is seeking a figurative rebirth and a fresh start. The secondary theme of redemption is also strong in this book. Both heroes and villains alike are three dimensional characters full of regret and desire; they are well written, likable characters who all walk in that moral grey zone. There is no clear-cut good or bad. Everyone is a hero, or a villain, to someone depending on their situation or point of view.

The thriller aspect of the story was well done. I fell for many of the distractions and got distracted by the smokescreens and I was wholly surprised by the twists as they appeared. In all, this was a very enjoyable read that I recommend to anyone that enjoys the show Gotham or authors like John le Carre or Lee Child. 8/10.

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Galaxy9 by Darryl Brent

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A fast-paced read that meanders as aimlessly as his characters motivations.

Galaxy9 is Darryl Brent’s first published novel. The book is about three engineering students who come across a spaceship and then explore space. That’s it. His command of the English language is good, and he can write a well-paced story with well described settings and locations, but he lacks the skill at creating depth in character or plot.

Described as “Science Fiction Comedy Adventure for Young Adults” this book undershoots drastically, missing all the standard benchmarks of young adults fiction. The characters are two dimensional and often make illogical and sometimes nonsensical decisions. There is very little emotional input by the characters and there isn’t particularly much at stake for them either. This makes it hard for the reader to emotionally invest in the characters or the book.

The story jumps between chapters like a frog on steroids – each chapter does little to add to character or atmosphere, and reads more like the transcript for a children’s saturday morning show with chapters being heavily disconnected to each other and lacking an overarching plot. Brent is heavily inspired by Star Wars, and this comes through very clearly in this book and, unfortunately, he doesn’t do a great job disguising this fact. The opening chapter reads like a scene from Star Wars complete with Han Solo Isaac flying the Millenium Falcon Midnight Shrike, and the rest of the book descends into a smuggling/mercenary/freight-delivery serialization, not unlike Star Wars: Rebels.

What Darryl Brent lacks in skill he makes up for through sheer ambition, creating a large-scale universe with many exciting characters and exotic settings. With so much material and so many ideas, Brent would have been better off writing a larger book and spending a bit more quiet time with the characters. He is currently writing a sequel called Galaxy9 Breakout. 3/10.

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The Observers by C. R. Downing

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A buddy-cop comedy of errors in the tradition of Douglas Adams or J. D. Crayne. This is what happens when a science teacher writes fiction. Not to be confused with Damon Knight’s ‘The Observers’.

The Observers explores complex scientific themes; should science and technology advance simply for the sake of progress? Who should be in control? Who does ownership of information really belong to? These themes are explored through our two main characters, Mxpan and Zerpall. Mollusc-like telepathic beings, Glieseians have made themselves technological overseers that monitor species technological development and intervene as necessary. The Observers is a comedic buddy-cop novel about two investigators, one being the by-the-book professional, and the other being a fun-loving take-it-as-it-comes kind of guy.

Despite interesting and well-written characters the book falls flat, however, with its setting and plot. There are three major plot lines in this book. Each is contextually irrelevant to the other and the book feels like three short stories were stuck together and as it progresses it begins to feel disconnected. The story is forgettable and the major plots lack satisfying conclusions, leaving you feeling underwhelmed.

Downing is a teacher of science, and his knowledge and love for technology and biology clearly show, but he has missed some major opportunities. As with the forgettable plot, so are the settings equally uninteresting. Different alien worlds and civilizations are treated almost indifferently – despite well developed characters downing has forgotten to characterize the worlds or environments, and with the vague story this lends to the feeling of staleness throughout the book.

However, this is a comedy book and the humour is well written: timing is everything in comedy, and Downing delivers witty punch-lines and well-paced gags that carry the reader through an often drawn-out experience. The banter between Mxpan and Zerpall is delightful and Zerpall’s child-like innocence is often laugh-out-loud material. If Downing had given even a fraction of the attention he gave his characters to the settings and plot, this book could have been a monumental entry to the genre, placing him with the likes of Heinlein or Asprin. 5/10.

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Star Wars: Memes, Funny Memes & NSFW.

51tzal5-v7l-_sx311_bo1204203200_This is less of a review and more of a warning: Do Not Purchase This Book. Do not even download the free version. S.S Publishing has collected Star Wars memes from around the internet of varying resolutions and poorly edited them together into a bland, unoriginal and not even slightly entertaining book. On the Amazon page for this book he claims, “In this book, it contains best collection of memes that will make laugh out loud so loud that your friends will think you have gone crazy.” This is a very debatable statement.

There is an introduction page (though it reads more like a disclaimer) before the lazy google image search and cut-and-paste begins.

Our goal is for you to be completely satisfied with your purchase and reading experience (laughing out loud anyone?), if for any reason this is not the case we would appreciate it if you would give us a chance to address your concerns BEFORE leaving feedback. Simply log in to our Facebook group, and address your concerns and we will do our best to address your issue.

It is designed as click-Bait on the Kindle Store, and that is all there is to it – except for that one meme of Chewbacca on a hair advertisement. That one made me smile. In fact, there are some good memes that are genuinely funny spread very thinly throughout this book. Unfortunately, terrible editing and a very forgiving selection criteria makes finding the good memes an uninteresting chore. To summarize, this book is incredibly lazy, and I would recommend just browsing for Star Wars parody images on google or deviant art.

I give this book a 1/5.

The Alchemaster’s Apprentice by Walter Moers

e5d03e0d818a7001a6c51edbd123d719Walter Moers is a german writer and artist. In 1999 the first of the Zamonia series was published in Germany, The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, and was translated into English in 2000 for the UK and 2005 for America. It was an international bestseller (though it has retained some obscurity in the US.)

The Alchemaster’s Apprentice is the fifth book in the Zamonia series and is, like the rest of the series, illustrated throughout by Moers himself ( a talented artist with roots in German comics.) Their cartoonish appearance belies the fact that his books are for a more mature audience and it are filled with puns and references that an adolescent reader may not understand, but could still enjoy.

Zamonia is a fantasy land that instantly reminds me of Discworld or Hogwarts. Demons and witches and monsters and magic and violence are an accepted part of day-to-day living. It is tongue-in-cheek, very much like Pratchett’s works, but the humour is usually a bit more subdued (with some hilarious exceptions.)

The town of Malaisea (because it is so over-whelmed with poxes and sicknesses,) is ruled by the evil Alchemaster, Ghoolion, who uses potions and chemicals to create plagues and demons to harass and control the townsfolk. The story revolves around  our Hero, Echo. He is a crat – which is an animal almost identical to a cat, except it has two livers, can speak every language and has a perfect memory. Ghoolion finds him on the street, starving and near death. The Alchemaster makes a deal with Echo – he will cook for the crat and treat him to a life of luxury in return for the right to slaughter him and extract his fat and essence for his alchemical practises.

Echo, with nothing to lose, accepts the deal. He’s going to die any, he figures, so it might as well be in comfort rather than in hungry agony on the street. And thus the story follows the adventures of the crat in the decrepit castle of the Alchemaster.

The story follows the two characters as they develop a relationship each other and become valued friends. But this is of course, an awkward relationship because it will still culminate in Echo’s death. Echo discovers magic, strange creatures, has mystical and spiritual adventures and learns Ghoolions’ darkest deepest secrets. The Alchemaster, it turns out, is an amazing chef. Every day he creates culinary delights for the crat – sating and saturating him, priming his body for the harvest. This is the heart of the book – ingredient collecting, cooking and feasting – it is fantasy food-porn that elevates the experience of eating so high that it is almost worshipped: it’s like reading a transcript for Gordon Ramsey if he were cheffing for the staff at Hogwarts.

The story is very entertaining, from start to end. It is a journey of discovery for both the characters and the readers, who get to discover the land of Malaisea as intimately as the characters get to know each other. There are many genuinely touching moments and there is also much suspense – in essence this is a story of racing against the clock.

Moers shows us his delight in creating fantastical elements with long lists of ingredients. Many many long lists. In fact, the only downside in this book is probably how repetitive it can be with the characters listing things. It becomes boring and an effort to read through on some occasions.

“Picture to yourself the sickest place in the whole of Zamonia! A little town with winding streets and crooked houses, and looming over it a creepy-looking castle perched on a black crag. A town inflicted with the rarest bacteria and the oddest diseases: cerebral whooping cough, hepatic migraine, gastric mumps, intestinal acne, digital tinnitus, renal measles, mini-influenza, to which only persons less than one metre tall are susceptible, witching-hour headaches that develop on the stroke of midnight and disappear at one a.m precisely on the first Thursday of every month, phantom toothaches experienced only by persons wearing a full set of dentures.”

The opening paragraph is long but also adequately prepares you for the rest of the book. It sets the scene and setting wonderfully, and new comers to the franchise can read it as a stand-alone book, or fans can read it and delight in an expansion of a world they already love. It is a wonderfully entertaining read and it deserves it’s bestseller status. I look forward to discovering more books by Moers.

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The Cat Who Walks Through Walls By Robert A. Heinlein.

16685Heinlein was one of the Trinity of Sci-Fi Masters that rose to prominence during the Golden Age of science fiction. The Science Fiction Writers of America named him the very first Grand Master in 1974, he had an asteroid named after him in 1990, and in 1994 a major Martian crater was named after him as well.

Heinlein is considered one of the greatest and most influential science fiction writers ever. So it is surprising that The Cat Who Walks Through Walls has received so much negativity. Was this because there were preconceived expectations from an author that strictly followed most genre conventions – his attempt to branch off into something different viewed as weak and disappointing?

I have never read any of his works, and decided based on numerous curious synopses and disenfranchised reviews, that perhaps it would be an intriguing introduction to Heinlein’s work. Perhaps I could enter this novel with no preconceived notions of what to expect from his writing style.

At first the book was strange, and awkward, and seemed plotless drivel filled with bad dialogue and unbelievable scenarios, and flat underdeveloped characters. I struggled to understand exactly what the plot was – the characters seemed to just go from one situation to the next.

The Cat also makes assumptions that I have read previous entries in the series, and as such the character development takes place before this entry, and many confusing references start to make sense to me as the book progresses.

It wasn’t until towards the end of the book that it’s genius hit me. The nonsensical story, the bad dialogue, the coincidences and near-misses are all explained (or at least make sense) towards the end of the book. This wasn’t poorly written; it was a deliberate exercise.

I shall write a list of my evidence below:

  • The Cat is in reference to Schrödinger’s cat – a paradoxical thought experiment that deals with multiple states of being.
  • The Scourge of The Spaceways! is a sci-fi serial of major importance to the characters.
  • This book is metafiction – Heinlein winks at us – the readers – multiple times, addressing us directly and breaking the fourth wall.
  • The World as Myth. ’nuff said.

When you read this book, think back on it retrospectively – and you will see their significance. This book is both a parody of science fiction serials and of metafiction in general. It’s also, I feel, fan-service to his own fan-base, and as such is satirical of his own books.

The World as Myth is a theory that strings many of Heinlein’s books together and includes characters and locations from other works; if a book or story or script has been written, then it creates a universe where these things are real and tangible; likewise, our universe is both real and hypothetical as an author somewhere writes fiction that creates and defines our reality.

This premise is what drives the style of the book – I believe Heinlein wrote this book as a parody of itself. The unbelievable dialogue or sequences or plot points… he’s stating the fact to the readers, that none of this is real because it is only fiction, but paradoxically that’s what makes it real. It’s confusing, but retrospectively the book treads along this paradox and it isn’t obvious to the reader that this is happening until the latter half of the book.

However, I was let down by a consistent theme in the book: sex. There is so much of it. It’s everywhere. Monogamy, polygamy, group-sex, incest, homosexuality – the pages are practically stuck together from it. Again, one could argue that it can be explained away by The World As Myth theory, but if you research the author, it perhaps takes on a more personal attribute.

Heinlein and his wife tried unsuccessfully to have children. They were just not able to create life. It is not unreasonable that, in this, sex would have become a subconscious preoccupation. Women have all the sexual power in this book, they take who and what they want, when and where they want it – the future is dictated by free-love for all. It’s almost as though Heinlein was creating a fantasy world where all sexual responsibility would be taken off him, and all the shame of being unable to gift his wife with a child would disappear.

It would also help explain his preoccupation with pseudo-pedophilia. At no time is there any pedophilic activity – but there is a tendency to try to titillate the reader in numerous scenes involving a thirteen year-old girl, including some nudity and attempted sex (again, by the girl, not the main character.) But if someone had never had a child, had never understood the child-parent dynamic first hand, and had built up the idea of a child onto a pedestal, it would be logical that this deification could spill over into a physical desire and not be constrained to just an emotional and psychological desire.

But psycho-analysis aside – without prior knowledge of the author or of the series, and no knowledge of The World As Myth or any of the characters – it was an uncomfortable book to read. And yet, it still held me. I was morbidly fascinated. Like a car crash on the highway, I couldn’t look away, I was too curious about what I might see if I stayed.

The book, for all it flaws, isn’t terrible. It has some really decent ideas, it deals with paradoxes in an interesting way, and the characters being to grow on you – though you do wish they would shut-up sometimes.

There were times when I felt the author was, perhaps, being lazy or perhaps uncaring in his writing, and other times where I would dismiss those ideas because of the excitement of the scenes I was caught up in. It was often fast-paced and hard to put down, and despite the confusion, I generally cared about where the story might or might not be headed.

Overall, it was actually a decent book. It took a lot of discussion and deep thinking to figure out – but that’s what I get for choosing a controversial book at the near-end of a series to introduce myself to. I’m convinced that if I had read his previous entries in the series, that I would have had an even richer experience from this book. I will definitely keep an eye out for more from Heinlein.

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