‘It’s healthy to have an enemy. It brings people together.’ @TerryTyler4 reviews #dystopia Cromby’s Axiom by Gary J Kirchner.

Today’s team review is from Terry. She blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Terry has been reading Cromby’s Axiom by Gary J Kirchner.

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There are so many good dystopian books around now, and I love reading the many, wildly different versions of what might await us in decades to come. I enjoyed this, the debut novel by Gary J Kirchner.

In the future, the people are crowded together in cities and connected by the Hive mind; all thoughts are connected, all information just a micro-second away.  Tommy is a world famous athlete who finds himself lost in the ‘Fallowlands’ of Switzerland – and, worse than this, he has somehow become unconnected, as he discovers when he searches for the information he needs about where to go and what to do.  Eventually he meets up with members of the Ketchen: rebels who live outside the cities and the Hive mind.
The differences between life inside the Hive and the old world of the Ketchen give one a lot to think about, especially if one is of a certain age and grew up without the technology that exists now. The sinister truth about Tommy’s world unfolds gradually, and is no less shocking for being almost expected. Several times, one of the people who controls Tommy offers some depressing reflections of our real world:

‘…from the days of metal electronics and hand-held interfaces to skin graft technology and visual implants and finally to seamless thought communication, the same pattern was followed: technology is developed, a vanguard establishes its use, meek voices raise issues of privacy and ethics, which simply get swamped in the global rush to embrace this newest step…’
And about why the Ketchen are allowed to exist:

‘It’s healthy to have an enemy. It brings people together… the idea that ‘out there’ are outlaws, bad guys who want to do your side in. If the Ketchen didn’t exist, we’d probably invent them’.

Tommy is a likable character and, despite my feeling that some of the explanations could have been edited down to be more reader-friendly, the story held my interest throughout. The exciting events of the last ten per cent of the book, and the ultimate end, are particularly good. I’d definitely like to read more books set in this world.

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Before we were all connected, before we were The Hive, there was individualism, privacy, ‘personal space’ . . . so quaint, so unnecessary . . . so dangerous . . .

TOMMY PIERRE ANTIKAGAMAC, a star quarterback, is the most followed player in the world’s most popular sport: American football. While off-season training in the unpopulated European Fallowlands, he abruptly finds himself detached from the Hive. Agonizingly alone in his head for the first time in his life, he panics, becomes hopelessly lost, and then is captured by a fringe group of anti-Hive saboteurs. The Freemen, as they call themselves, have concocted an audacious plan to “cataclysmically disrupt the brain of the Hive,” and Tommy may just be the key they need to make it successful.

But Tommy’s arrival among the Freemen is not as serendipitous as it may appear. Neither he nor his captors suspect that it is not the terrorists, but Tommy, who is the threat to the Hive. And the Hive has ways of protecting itself….

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‘Wilson creates a miasma that steeps through her pages’ @deBieJennifer reviews #SpeculativeFiction This is Our Undoing by @raine_clouds #TuesdaybookBlog

Today’s team review is from Jenni. She blogs here https://jenniferdebie.com/

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Jenni has been reading This Is Our Undoing by Lorraine Wilson

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Lorraine Wilson’s This is Our Undoing, opens with a standoff between a conservationist looking for what has killed a protected species, and local villagers who want to harvest the carcass.

This standoff between Lina, our protagonist, and the native Bulgarians whose land and animals she studies, in many ways epitomizes the many conflicts in Wilson’s debut novel. A lone scientist with the backing of an international organization but little real power of her own, and a group of people who distrust outsiders with good reason and fight for their independence in the only ways they know.

Across the novel the sweeping geopolitics of Wilson’s world are funneled into just a few individuals caught in the maelstrom that is the volatile near-future her characters inhabit. This is a world in which many western nations have become some version of a police state, global warming has irrevocably reshaped the landscape and the climate, and violent tribalism has become the order of the day.

There are dangerous secrets of every kind in all the characters Wilson meticulously crafts for her narrative, secrets of the old family variety in Lina’s past, to the shady allegiances of her research partner, Thiago, the militant inclinations of the villagers they live in close proximity to, and the truth behind a statesman’s murder in London and his family’s flight to sanctuary in Lina’s mountainous home, all tease the reader in a steady drip of information as the narrative unfolds.

Much of This is Our Undoing’s power comes from the atmosphere Wilson creates; a miasma that steeps through her pages until something as innocuous as a string doll hanging beside a door, or a child laughing in a sunlit meadow, becomes a source of unease for characters and readers alike.

Wilson’s novel is, at its core, a story about people and their choices. People good, bad, and otherwise caught up in events far greater than themselves. Choices given, choices made, and choices taken away. Choices from the past that come back to haunt the present, choices in the present that can ripple out to create the future. Through each step of the novel, her characters make, re-evaluate, and cope with their own choices and the choices of others, leading inexorably to a climax that is at once cataclysmic, and incredibly intimate.

To explain more would be to spoil a truly fantastic novel from a fresh new voice.

Brilliant in concept and haunting in execution, This is Our Undoing is a fantastic first outing from an author whose work I, for one, cannot wait to see more of.


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Could you condemn one child to save another?

In a near-future Europe fracturing under climate change and far-right politics, biologist Lina Stephenson works in the remote Rila Mountains, safely away from London State.

When an old enemy dies, Lina’s dangerous past resurfaces, putting her family’s lives at risk. Trapped with her vulnerable sister alongside the dead man’s family, Lina is facing pressure from all sides: her enemy’s eldest son is determined to destroy her in his search for vengeance, whilst his youngest carries a sinister secret…

…But the forest is hiding its own threats and as a catastrophic storm closes in, Lina realises that to save her family she too must become a monster.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT #Dystopia KNIGHT IN PAPER ARMOR by @NicholasConley1

Today’s team review is from Olga, she blogs here, https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#RBRT Review Team

Olga has been reading Knight In Paper Armor by Nicholas Conley

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Set in the not too-distant future, a dystopian future where the United States seems to have become more parcelled out and separate than ever —different populations are segregated into newly created states [immigrants have to live in certain areas, the Jewish population in another state, the well-to-do elsewhere…]—, where huge corporations have taken over everything, and prejudice is rampant. From that perspective, the book fits into the science-fiction genre, and there are also other elements (like Billy’s powers, the way the Thorne Corporation is trying to harness those powers…) that easily fit into that category, although, otherwise, the world depicted in it is worryingly similar to the one we live in. Although there aren’t lengthy descriptions of all aspects of the world, there are some scenes that vividly portray some parts of the town (Heaven’s Hole), and I would say the novel is best at creating a feeling or an impression of what life must be like there, rather than making us see it in detail. Somehow it is as if we had acquired some of Billy’s powers and could “sense” what the characters are going through.

I don’t want to discuss the plot in too much detail, as there is much to discover and enjoy, but the book is also, at some level, a rite of passage for the two young protagonists, who might come from very different backgrounds and traditions but have much in common (they’ve lost beloved family members to unfair treatment, discrimination, and manipulation; their grandmothers have played an important role in their lives; they are outsiders; they are strongly committed to others…), and who help each other become better versions of themselves. Although there is a romantic aspect to their relationship (it is reminiscent of “insta love” that so many readers dislike) and even a sex scene (very mild and not at all descriptive), the story of Billy and Natalia’s relationship goes beyond that. I don’t think I would class this novel as a Young Adult story, despite the ages of the protagonists (at least during most of the action), but that would depend on every reader. There is plenty of violence, death of adults and children, instances of physical abuse and serious injuries of both youths and adults, so I’d recommend caution depending on the age of the reader and their sensitivity to those types of subjects.

The book can be read as a metaphor for how the world might end up looking like if we don’t change our ways (and I thought about George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm often as I read this novel), or as a straight Sci-Fi novel where two young people, one with special powers and one without, confront the government/a powerful tyrannous corporation to free society from their clutches (think the Hunger Games, although many other examples exist). It’s easy to draw comparisons and parallels with the present (and with other historical eras) as one reads; and the examples of bullying, abuse, extortion, threats, corruption… might differ in detail from events we know, but not in the essence. There is also emphasis on tradition, memory (the role of the two grandmothers is very important in that respect), identity (Billy’s Jewish identity, Natalia’s Guatemalan one, although she and her family have to pass for Mexicans at some point), disability, diversity, poverty, power, the role of media…

I have talked about the two main characters, who are both heroes (each one in their own way) and well-matched, and their families feature as well and play an important part in grounding them and making us see who they are (although Billy’s family features mostly through his memories of them). We also have a baddie we can hate at will (he is despicable, but I didn’t find him too impressive compared to others, and I prefer baddies with a certain level of humanity rather than a purely evil one), another baddie who is just a bigot and nasty (not much characterization there), and some others whose actions are morally wrong but whose reasons we come to understand. The circumstances of Billy and Natalia are so hard, and they have such great hearts that it is impossible not to root for them (I’m a big fan of Natalia, perhaps because she saves the day without having any special powers and she is easier to identify with than Billy, who is such a singular character), and their relatives and friends are also very relatable, but as I said, things are very black and white, and the book does not offer much room for shades of grey.

The story is told in the third person, although each chapter follows the point of view of one of the characters, and this is not limited to the two protagonists, but also to Thorne, and to one of the scientists working on the project. There are also moments when we follow some of the characters into a “somewhere else”, a vision that might be a memory of the past, or sometimes a projection of something else (a possible future?, a different realm or dimension?, the collective unconscious), and these chapters are quite descriptive and have an almost hallucinatory intensity. The Shape plays a big part on some of those chapters, and it makes for a much more interesting evil character than Thorne (and it brought to my mind Lovecraft and Cthulhu). Readers must be prepared to follow the characters into these places, although the experience can be painful at times. I was touched and close to tears quite a few times while I read this book, sometimes due to sadness but others the experience was a happy one.

The book is divided up into 10 parts, each one with a Hebrew name, and as I’m not that familiar with the Jewish tradition I had to check and found out these refer to the ten nodes of the Kabbalah Tree of Life. This made me realise that the structure of the book is carefully designed and it has a significance that is not evident at first sight. That does not mean it is necessary to be conversant with this concept to read and enjoy the book, but I am sure there is more to it than meets the eye (and the Tree of Life pays and important role in the story, although I won’t say anything else to avoid spoilers). The writing is lyrical and beautiful in parts, and quite horrific and explicit when it comes to detailing violence and abuse. This is not a fast page-turner, and although there is plenty of action, there are also moments where characters talk, think, or are even suspended in non-reality, so this is not for those who are only interested in stories where the plot is king and its advancement the only justification for each and every word written. I often recommend readers to try a sample of a book before purchasing, and this is even more important for books such as this one, which are not easy to pin down or classify.

From my references to Orwell you will know that this is a book with a clear message (or several) and not “just” light entertainment, but I don’t want you to think it is all doom and gloom. Quite the opposite, in fact. The ending is positive, hopeful and life-affirming. Those who like endings where everything is resolved will love this one, and those who are looking for an inspiring novel and are happy to boldly go where no reader has gone before will be handsomely rewarded.

I had to include the quote that opens the book, because it is at the heart of it all, and because it is so relevant:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies. To be in the window and watch people being sent to concentration camps or being attacked in the street and do nothing, that’s being dead.” Elie Wiesel.

Book description

Billy Jakobek has always been different. Born with strange and powerful psychic abilities, he has grown up in the laboratories of Thorne Century, a ruthless megacorporation that economically, socially, and politically dominates American society. Every day, Billy absorbs the emotional energies, dreams, and traumas of everyone he meets—from his grandmother’s memories of the Holocaust, to the terror his sheer existence inflicts upon his captors—and he yearns to break free, so he can use his powers to help others.

Natalia Gonzalez, a rebellious artist and daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, lives in Heaven’s Hole, an industrial town built inside a meteor crater, where the poverty-stricken population struggles to survive the nightmarish working conditions of the local Thorne Century factory. Natalia takes care of her ailing mother, her grandmother, and her two younger brothers, and while she dreams of escape, she knows she cannot leave her family behind.

When Billy is transferred to Heaven’s Hole, his chance encounter with Natalia sends shockwaves rippling across the blighted landscape. The two outsiders are pitted against the all-powerful monopoly, while Billy experiences visions of an otherworldly figure known as the Shape, which prophesizes an apocalyptic future that could decimate the world they know.

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Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT Action packed #Dystopia KILL CODE by Clive Fleury

Today’s team review is from Terry, she blogs here https://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/

#RBRT Review Team

Terry has been reading Kill Code by Clive Fleury

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3.5*, rounded up to 4* on Amazon

At some time in the relatively near future, climate change has affected the world in such a way that those who can afford good food and fresh water live in protected zones, with the majority of the population struggling to survive.  Hogan Duran is a former cop scratching a living, until he is given the opportunity of a lifetime with the NSC – the all-powerful National Security Council.

I loved the first 40% of this book.  The world-building was terrific, and I was engrossed.  When Hogan gets his life-changing opportunity, he and many other candidates are put through a ‘last man standing’ series of tests, which was also a real page-turner; this part was great, original and gripping.  Later, there is a jaw drop of a twist when he discovers that his experiences are not as they seem….

The second half of the book is mostly taken up with action scenes and daring escapes, as some of supposed ‘goodies’ come up against the Krails, a rebel biker gang.  Here, I found that my interest wandered; I rarely find that action in books works anything like as well as it does on screen; there is too much explanation of ‘this happened then that happened’, and much of it seemed like the stuff of superheroes rather than a man who has been undernourished for years.  I was also unconvinced by the escape in the last third of the book, when the all-seeing people in charge suddenly seemed not so all-seeing after all, enabling Duran and his friends to do all they did.

I thought the characterisation of Duran was extremely well done in the first half of the book; I could really see him.  However, I often find in action books written by men that the women are just men with a female name, or a one-dimensional kick-ass heroine fantasy type who is naked as often as the story will permit – Ruby was never more than a word on a page for me.  Also, the plot delves in and out of virtual reality, which was sometimes confusing.

I liked the ending, and may possibly check out the next in the series because I like the premise, but I’d have preferred it if the book had concentrated more on the characters and less on the outlandish action plot of the second half.

Book description

It’s the year 2031. Our future. Their present. A world decimated by climate catastrophe, where the sun’s heat is deadly and the ocean rises higher every day. A world ruled by the rich, powerful, and corrupt. A world where a good man can’t survive for long.
Hogan Duran was a good man once. He was a cop, forced to resign in disgrace when he couldn’t save his partner from a bullet. Now Hogan lives on the fraying edges of society, serving cruel masters and scavenging trash dumps just to survive.
But after four years of living in poverty, Hogan finally gets a chance to get back on his feet. He’s invited to join the National Security Council, the powerful paramilitary organization responsible for protecting the rich and powerful from the more unsavory elements of society. All he needs to do is pass their deadly entrance exam, and he’ll be rewarded with wealth and opportunity beyond his wildest dreams.
But this ex-cop’s path to redemption won’t be easy. The NSC are hiding something, and as Hogan descends deeper and deeper into their world, he starts to uncover the terrible truth of how the powerful in this new world maintain their power…and just how far they will go to protect their secrets.
In a world gone wrong, can one man actually make a difference, or will he die trying?

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