Another Reason Why You Ought to Visit the Underworld: A Review of Disconnect by Imran Siddiq

cover-for-disconnectWhen I say “Underworld” I’m not actually talking about life after death, but the depressing underground world of Imran Siddiq’s novel Disconnect.  It’s a place where families grow up in darkness and dependent on the refuse of those who live in Overworld.  Right away I want to let you know that this book is not written in “American” English; some readers like that, some don’t.  I’ve never minded as long as I could understand the structure, and I was able to follow Siddiq’s writing just fine.  Now, on to the good stuff:

Disconnect clocks in at a light 279 pages and is told from the point of view of Zachary, the only son of single-father Marcus.  Zachary and his dad live on a space base orbiting Jupiter and they reside in the ghetto underground district known as Underworld.  Overworld and Underworld rarely interact, but Zachary happens to find a working Intercom while scavenging.  Thus his adventures begin.

Through the intercom, Zachary talks to a girl named Rosa.  She’s the only child of Ambassador Kade.  Zachary and Rosa talk several times, and even meet in person.  In their time together, however, the teens discover a sinister plot by the ruling council to clean out Underworld—of everyone and everything.

I liked this book for several reasons, one being that the main character is a boy.  I like female main characters a LOT, but it was refreshing to read something from a male perspective and especially from one that was so genuine.  Zachary grew up simply, and so he thought about things simply.  For example, when he overheard some sketchy communications between soldiers, I (the reader) understood what was going on, but Zachary didn’t—and of course he wouldn’t!  He grew up in Underworld where there was no politics!  I’m glad Siddiq maintained the integrity of Zachary’s voice no matter what happened.

What I found lacking in Siddiq’s writing was overall fluidity.  His story was very interesting and had many exciting parts, but it really, really, really needed work with a fine-toothed comb to smooth out phrasing and compositional issues.  Verb agreement, sentence structure, and so on needed some serious work.  I don’t say that to be rude, just straightforward—if you enjoy a good story and can power through somewhat novice writing, then Disconnect is for you.  I give it 3.5 stars.

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Derelict by Lisa Cohen

Derelict is a light sci-fi novel about four teens who are stuck on a backwater asteroid station. At first, all any of them can think about is escaping the station and their horrible parents, but things take a turn for the worst when they actually realize their dreams. Join Ro, Jem, Barre, and Micah as they first revive an ancient derelict spaceship and then struggle to survive the consequences.

Each of the teens are especially good at what they do, though it’s not immediately obvious how some of their talents will help the crew survive. In fact, watching some of the more esoteric skills prove useful was one of the big draws of this story for me. The other major draw was seeing the way that these teens overcame their upbringing.

Saying anything more would probably involve major spoilers, so I’ll let you read this human interest story for yourself. Note that while this story is YA, it does involve some swearing, a hint of lesbian love (unfulfilled and off-screen), a small scene of violence including self-violence (in order to escape), and drugs (a fictional drug similar to marijuana which forms the fulcrum of one or two major plot developments).

Lastly, this is considered a first draft. While it is well-written for what it is, it still involves a fair number of misspellings and other rough spots.

I Spy: Spot the Space Marine

Spots the Space Marine is a cute story about an ex-military mom who gets reactivated. She served her country in the reserves, but when the battle against crab-like aliens goes sour, she is shipped to war. The post should have been easy as it lies far from the front line. What could possibly go wrong?

(courtesy of the author)

Spots the Space Marine

Unlike Aphorisms of Kerishdar (which was also written by the capable M.C.A. Hogarth) this is “simply” a delightful romp in a sci-fi novel featuring a female protagonist. I like the way this story plays stereotypes against archetypes. Spots is a tough mother who refuses to let her marines settle for anything less than their best. She does so, however, by reaching out to the battle-hardened troops. I love the contrast between her method and what you’d expect from military leaders.

M.C.A. Hogarth has an updated and edited version of this story available on Amazon, Nook, and Smashwords, but has very graciously given me the ok to direct you to the free version, which is no longer linked to her site. Here’s the link. Enjoy!

One thing that might interest you, oh gentle reader, is that the publication of this story is a story in its own right: the author overcame a trademark infringement claim made by Games Workshop. For those who are unfamiliar with Games Workshop, they produce some of the biggest known names in table top miniatures, including the Warhammer series. Since it’s in the best interest of indie writers that companies become more careful with their copyright claims, I hope that all of you consider getting this book. You won’t be sorry!

Spots does not contain any swearwords but it does have a lot of asterisks showing where swearwords are meant. Personally, I found the constant censoring one of the biggest annoyances of the story, but your mileage may vary. As you can imagine, this story does involve violence, though it never becomes graphic. With a little effort at ignoring the self-censoring, this story is appropriate for all ages.

X-Men vs. Magneto: A Review for THE MIND READERS by Lori Brighton

Cover image courtesy of Amazon.com

Cameron is in her last year of high school and desperate to move on, though not for the typical reasons. While she has her own share of teen angst, what she can’t wait to escape is the deluge of petty thoughts spilling from everyone’s heads. She’s been able to read minds since she was five and as far as she’s concerned, it’s the bane of her existence.

When a new student approaches Cameron and invites her to join him at a Xavier-esque mansion for other talented mind readers, she accepts. The prospect of learning to control her ability is too tempting to pass up. However, she soon finds that the leader of this group of mind readers is more of a Magneto than Xavier. Cameron must ultimately decide where her morals and her loyalties lie.

I am a sucker for super hero stories, so this whole concept intrigues me. Brighton does a good job identifying the decisions that separate a hero from a villain and the ethical questions that arise from those decisions. I also appreciate the dynamics of the super powers. They are all grounded in mind reading but take a unique twist for each individual.

For the most part the writing is clean. There are a few typos but they would be quick fixes. The errors I found most disruptive were the character inconsistencies. Cameron tells us she’s one way, but behaves contrary to it. For the way she thinks and behaves, I don’t understand why she would be friends with a snobby rich girl. Also, her motives as she explains them don’t make sense to me. Cameron’s relationship with her grandma also lacks conviction.

Cameron’s attraction to the new kid at school bases primarily on his physique, which is annoying, but I am happy to say there is a satisfactory answer for it. The end of the novel is the most interesting part. The characters are more vibrant and Cameron finally acts decisively. I am mildly interested in reading the sequel.

Overall, THE MIND READERS is a good read, despite its flaws. I give it three stars.

Virtual Reality Cookies are Sweet but Need Meat: A review for Gamers, by Thomas K. Carpenter

Once upon a time I saw an incredibly delicious cookie. I had no self-control, so that little morsel was taken care of within 90 minutes time. Now you probably understand that I’m talking about a book, not a baked treat, and that book is Gamers by Thomas K. Carpenter.

gamerscover

Image courtesy of Amazon.com

This is a true young adult dystopian coming in at 324 pages and a near carbon-copy of Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series. This book is fun to read, the concept is creative, and the idea that someone could “hack” life for real is pretty darn cool, in my opinion. Having said that, this book is pretty typical of mainstream YA sci-fi except Carpenter leaves out a bucketload of stuff that’d catapult his book from being a great self-published novel to a bestseller. Now on to the good stuff:

Gabby is a high school student living in a nerd’s dream: every activity in life is gamified and everything can earn you lifepoints (e.g. getting good grades, solving problems, brushing teeth, etc). Gabby’s deal is she’s quite good at LifeGame. She even hacks it to help her friend Zaela, who isn’t so great.

The plot thrust is that Gabby makes contact with an insurgent group called the Frags. They’re losers in the LifeGame but know the truth about the gamified reality. I loved this part of the book most but it was the smallest section! I hardly got to know the Frags at all or what they’d discovered about LifeGame’s sinister control factor. It was just a taste before Carpenter threw me into Gabby’s “Final Raid.” Some extra exposition at this point would be greatly appreciated, not to mention helpful for the novel’s character development.

Gabby’s “Final Raid” was a sort of fantasy adventure to earn her last lifepoints before graduation. This section took up well over fifty percent of the text. It was quite entertaining to read but did little to satisfy any curiosity I had about LifeGame, the government, the Frags, or how Gabby was going to deal with life after high school. Basically, if Carpenter were to make Gamers about 100 pages longer, there would be better character development and interaction overall, especially between Gabby and her friend Zaela. The concept of LifeGame is a sweet treat but it’s the people that make everything compelling.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.