Wednesday 17 June 2020

#bookreview: Daclaxvia: Book 1: Nascent | D. John Cliffson

Daclaxvia: Book 1: NascentDaclaxvia: Book 1: Nascent by D. John Cliffson

Daclaxvia: Nascent follows the three Manstead siblings and their dealings with angels and demons across the world (and out of it). First, there's Max, the genius, estranged, eldest child, an avowed atheist who is found wanting. Then there's Mark, the middle child who becomes one of the first Nascent-capable, Augmented Intelligence humans but is ambivalent in his faith. Finally, Meghan, the baby of the family, is the bleeding heart Christian who puts off university for missions work.

Part of the description is spot on--'Frank Peretti (This Present Darkness) meets C.S. Lewis (The Space Trilogy), "sci-fi-turns-spiritual" drama' fits this first novel well. On this count of premise and concept, it delivers. Like Peretti's work, angels and demons are physically present and active in the world--they inhabit other dimensions of the universe, but interact with humans via a fifth dimension that intersects with our world at various points. Cliffson then layers this with a Singularity-type concept of merging tech and DNA which turned out to be very intriguing, as well as disturbing. Cliffson presents it with all the related moral ambiguity, starting out with enhanced humans and ending with spiritual and ethical dilemmas of using (or misusing) such tech. (What, then, is a soul?)

Unfortunately, "heart-pounding" and "breathless" is the farthest away from this book that you can get. The entire novel is made up of infodumps interspersed with flashbacks, and a little bit of current action. This makes it super hard to get through and, honestly, a little difficult to understand. If you're not already a science geek (I'm not), you'll probably get very turned around halfway as to what on earth the dimensional and genetic stuff is actually supposed to do or mean. I can't actually decide whether this book was a little too hard-science for my taste (I've been known to skip technical descriptions in hard sci-fi books but still enjoy the story) or whether it really wasn't that technical, but just the way it was written made it confusing (it's not exactly handwaviumish enough to count as space opera-type soft sci-fi).

There's little in the way of organic character development. You're presented with a character doing something or facing an epiphany of sorts, and then there's a backstory infodump to tell you why the character is struggling with that (or not) and then it all moves along. The dialogue is often stilted and relies on a lot of repetition, which goes something like this:
A says, "such-and-such revelation."
Random confusion/flashback/infodump, including maybe a side-track from the conversation.
B replies, "Wait, so you mean such-and-such?"
A (or someone else in the scene) confirms it, often by repeating it.
It's very exhausting to read.

Being... Christian fiction, it does cover quite explicitly Christian faith issues plus conversion stories. This may be a plus or minus point depending on your own personal views. There's the usual appearance of Christian "relics", though not quite the holy grail.

Reading this would really be more for Cliffson's take on the Singularity, genetics, and multiple dimensions--plus the coming apocalypse--in an alternate world where faith really is by seeing. Though I guess if you really like very exposition-y books you may like this one.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author as part of a review programme. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday 10 June 2020

#bookreview: Strange Ways | Gray Williams

Strange WaysStrange Ways by Gray Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Strange Ways is a story of guilt and grief, and how you deal with them in an unjust world. It's about personal choices and political choices and taking the higher ground... or not... in a dark, gritty London full of illegal magic.

In some ways, Strange Ways can be read metaphorically. Amidst the Coleman family drama is the underlying question of justice for the oppressed; in this case, magic users. Karina Khurana appears in The End of the Line, but I don't remember much about her there. Here, she's much more central to the story--her political fight to legalise magic forms one of the core themes of this thriller.
'The slightest slip from me, just a frown or a clipped comment, and they analysed it. They picked it apart like it was evidence of something. I couldn't be tired or harassed or angry. Every time I let them get to me, I fed them just what they needed to point and say "there, that's her true nature, that's what they're all like."
... I tried so hard. I played by every rule. I talked, never argued. I debated but never shouted...'
In her fight for magic users' rights, Karina ends up having to act as a sort of "model minority" (model politician?), living under the scrutiny of the nation to prove that magic users are not inherently evil; magic can and is being used for good. As fiction, it's easy to skim over. Magic isn't real, after all. But there's always truth to fiction.

In our current living dystopia, the tension is real: when the laws (written or unwritten, constitutional or societal) are unjust and violence erupts (no matter who starts it or how it starts), where do you draw the line between continuing to claim the moral high ground (you must never give them grounds to accuse you) and retaliating to protect yourself (staying alive vs being a martyr)? Where's that turning point that says now it's okay for you to fight back, not just in words but in action? And once violence has started, who stops it? What's the best way to fight for a right? Do you keep playing by the rules? When do you throw the rules away and agitate for new ones?

In the midst of these charged times, these are especially important and pertinent questions. Violence isn't the answer, but sometimes violence can bring you to an answer. How this looks like in real life is what everyone needs to decide for themselves.

Williams explores this in how Amanda, Karina, Michaela and Steph react to the situations they find themselves in. There's no clear-cut right or wrong; like life, such decisions are messy and ambiguous--and often full of compromise. There's a divide between how the older generation react versus how the younger ones do. Yet the clearest chasm comes in Karina's accusation:
'You were willing to kill for what's important to you. Well, I'm willing to die for what's important to me.'
I'm probably overthinking this thriller, but that's what books are for. At any rate, I liked Strange Ways so much better than The End of the Line mostly because it's dealing solely with magic, and not the demonic aspect that was the core of the first book. Or so I tell myself.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Canelo via Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday 3 June 2020

#bookreview: Tales of Superhuman Powers: 55 Traditional Stories from Around the World

Tales of Superhuman Powers: 55 Traditional Stories from Around the WorldTales of Superhuman Powers: 55 Traditional Stories from Around the World by Csenge VirĂ¡g Zalka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you're interested in how folk and fairy tales differ--or are the same!--around the world this is a good place to start.

The 55 tales are arranged around various superhuman powers, including shape-shifting, control of the elements, superstrength and mind-reading. Besides the tales themselves, Csenge provides some background to the stories and where they come from, as well as variants on the stories or similar stories from around the world. Being a storyteller, Csenge also includes the age the stories are appropriate for, plus adds in snippets of her experience telling these stories.

At points, the notes imply that Csenge has rewritten some of the stories, including merging several variants into a single story, or editing it down into a shorter version. I'd guess that she has also translated some of these from the original languages into English. As such, quite a few of the collected stories centre around Europe, with a focus on Hungary, but there's also a wide enough selection of stories from parts of Asia... including one from Malaysia!

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