Tag Archives: aliens

Gratuitous Epilogue (Touchstone #4)

Title: Gratuitous Epilogue

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #4

Marriage, kids… Cassandra thought she’d have more time before all that happened. But life had other ideas, and now that The Worlds Have Been Saved, it’s time to live life to the fullest. Muina continues to grow and develop, the Setari are finally able to get a break, and everyone has their own ways to make this planet home.

It’s really hard to describe this one, except as a novel-sized love letter to fans of the trilogy. Those who liked a healthy dose of action mixed in with the adventures of everyday life might find this disappointing. It mostly covers a few weddings, some parties, kids, lots of babies, and some intriguing events that could (hopefully) lead to future books.

I liked seeing where it all went. Sen, Rye, and Ys can be a bit too good sometimes, though. I find it hard to believe she’s not dealing with bratty or challenging behavior more, especially from Sen, but on the other hand, the diary format means much of Cassandra’s life is summarized.

And the end, of course, leaves open a number of interesting “What happens next?!” possibilities. So I can hope another Gratuitous Epilogue might come along. If you’ve read the series and really like the slice of life bits, I rate this Recommended. If you haven’t read the series, by all means do that first, and if the slice of life isn’t to your taste than this will probably hold less appeal.

Caszandra (Touchstone #3)

Title: Caszandra

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #3

Cassandra Devlin has forged a funny sort of life for herself on another world. Now her newest relationship is rearranging her world all over again—this time in good ways. Mostly. It’s not fun to watch the Setari rushing off to deal with monstrous incursions from other spaces, or trying to figure out her own very odd abilities before they manage to kill her. And as the biggest mysteries grow ever closer to becoming solvable, the enemies they face grow even deadlier.

One thing I really like about these books is how very lived-in this world feels. Cassandra has plenty of adventure and otherworldly excitement, including her deepening talent set, which no one has ever seen before. But the diary highlights the fact that most of her days involve living. Sometimes recovering in medical, sometimes shopping, sometimes exploring more of Muina. Dealing with little life issues like having entertainment companies make television shows based on your life. It really brings home how she and the Setari are people first, dealing with crisis after crisis as they come up, because they’re the only ones who stand between three planets and total ruin.

There are several interesting twists here, too. The plot slowly unfolds, and unlike many stories, it’s not going to fully explain everything—because as Cassandra points out, the people doing the plotting neglected to have evil villain motivation speeches, or leave handbooks explaining their plots, and besides that most of what evidence they have is very old. But what is there is enough, and it’s not only plausible but lends some very disturbing implications to just what Cassandra herself might be able to do, or how others might try to take advantage of her.

The climax comes well before the actual end, and I liked seeing the “after.” Again, it helped to show how much these are people, and that their lives do go on. (And for the curious, there is another book called Gratuitous Epilogue, which is mainly more life stuff, some of which has been hinted at here.)

It’s hard to say too much about this one without spoiling something good, so I’ll just say this is a very solid set of books and has quickly become a favorite. I rate this book Recommended.

Stray (Touchstone #1)

Title: Stray

Author: Andrea K. Höst

Series: Touchstone #1

Cassandra Devlin isn’t doing anything spectacular when she simply walks into another world. But wishing won’t get her back home. Now she’s got to survive in an alien world. Surviving in the wild is a lot harder than she’s thought, but nothing can prepare her for what she discovers.

I don’t want to spoil too much in the summary, as I didn’t read a whole lot about this going in (other than knowing multiple people who were crazy about the book), and I found a lot of the plot surprising in good ways. So I’d like to leave the opportunity open for others to be surprised too.

I really liked how detailed and character-oriented this is. It isn’t a survival/adventure story like Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain, where the main character is at least moderately prepared to face raw Nature. Cassandra has a backpack, a few school supplies, clothes that are in no way suited to wandering around forests, and no hope of return/rescue. And as she eventually realizes, no hope of counting on what she does know to be true, either, as she encounters creatures and things that cause her to accept she’s no longer on Earth.

I’m not terribly fond of the diary format, but I do like how raw and honest Cassandra is through it. Due to the format her reactions to events always feel a bit delayed, since we’re reading about them after the event is over.

The various “spaces” was also hugely interesting to me. I’ve always liked alternate dimensions (and various powers), and other worlds, near-space, real-space, and various abilities to manipulate things was a lot of fun. The technology levels also make an intriguing contrast to most of the lost-in-another-world stories I’ve read, and there are some interesting conflicts as Cassandra works through its implications for her personally.

MINOR SPOILERS:

Also: psychic space ninjas. Which is funny in all sorts of ways.  I liked the military feel, and the organization, and how Cassandra both fits into their daily routines and completely interrupts them. And I’m impressed that the book doesn’t cheat and try to ignore most of the squad members, even though it will probably take me a dozen readings before I can truly recognize them all. The major ones have enough personality to recognize right away. I really like Maze, or how Zan’s friendship comes out in all these understated ways.

END SPOILERS.

Overall this was a very good read. I am fond of stories about humans transported to another world, and this one really nailed a lot of the practical issues. At the same time, it’s a fascinating new world, and I’m interested to see where it goes next. I rate this book Recommended.

Bounders (Bounders #1)

Title: Bounders

Author: Monica Tesler

Series: Bounders #1

Jasper has spent his whole life keeping the secret of his birth. He’s a Bounder, a specially-bred human crafted to make quantum leaps across galaxies. Even if most of the time he feels like a spaced-out klutz, he’s got that program to look forward to. A place where he’ll finally be with other kids like himself. But when he enters the program, he finds there’s more going on than just another type of school. And once he knows, he has to figure out what he’s going to do about it.

I liked this. It’s got a huge cast of characters for a rather short book, but everyone is distinct enough that telling them apart isn’t much of a problem. Jasper narrates, but the reader can easily pick up on a few things he’s too young (or too distracted) to see for himself, like the reason everyone in his pod gravitates towards him as a leader.

The technology is a lot of fun, too. The quantum ships, the tube transports, and the Civilization-type game that everyone finds so addicting are all nicely detailed. And I liked how the technology brought questions as well as answers, as in the case of genetic engineering. Humanity decided to excise “bad” genes, only to find some of those undesirable parts actually had benefits as well.

Overall this is a fast, fun read. The kids are a likeable bunch, and the plot never slows. I rate this book Recommended.

Ambassador (Ambassador #1)

Title: Ambassador

Author: William Alexander

Series: Ambassador #1

Gabe isn’t planning much for his summer. Until Frankie, his best friend, is sent to California until school starts. Until the Envoy, an alien life form, asks Gabe to be Earth’s ambassador to the rest of the universe. Until his family life crumbles unexpectedly. Oh, and one of the aliens is trying to assassinate him. Can Gabe save his own life, his family, and the rest of planet Earth?

This was a pretty good sci-fi, although the way it ended left me somewhat disappointed. The Envoy is an interesting lifeform with some fun abilities, and I liked that it stayed to partner with Gabe rather than just granting him the role of ambassador and running off. This makes several later encounters with aliens clearer, as the Envoy can provide some of the detail Gabe has no way of knowing. They make a good team, and it would be interesting to see their further adventures.

I also liked the science, and how the ambassadors actually meet together (quantum entanglement, multiple dimensions, and basically videoconferencing rather than hauling everyone everywhere to some base that would struggle to keep the correct environment for multitudes of alien species). I liked the assassination subplot, and how that worked out. The Outlast was intriguing, and if there are future books I hope they go deeper into who these creatures are and why they changed their minds about conquering the universe.

I didn’t entirely buy the reason why all ambassadors had to be children (or childlike). This elevates one aspect of children while ignoring others—less maturity means less wisdom, less restraint, and in some cases LESS flexibility about others (because they haven’t lived long enough to see most of their assumptions challenged yet by life). I was willing to overlook that, though, since this is a kid’s book, and therefore the main character was going to be a kid, so it was for plot reasons as much as anything. And the Envoy (and presumably the other Envoys) was making an effort to select for actual character, as opposed to just picking a random kid off the street and elevating him to stand in for the planet.

I was also ambivalent about the whole juxtaposition of Gabe’s family being illegal aliens in America (sans Gabe and his twin siblings, who were born there). I do like how the book avoids outright judgement calls, despite the repeated references to the Underground Railroad. Gabe’s parents weren’t running away from horrible oppression and the meanie American government was throwing them out—it actually seems they had a relatively good life in Mexico, and his parents just wanted to avoid the hassle and possibly the expense of going through the paperwork to immigrate properly. Gabe, as a child, wants his family to stay together (though really they ought to be staying together in Mexico at this point… they’d be waiting a few months for Mom to join them, but she’d make it back). And the way the book ends leaves it unclear how and where his family is actually going to end up (rescued and then living inside their neighbor’s house would be my guess).

I get that this isn’t going to be an argument for or against illegal immigration. I appreciate that the story tries hard to stick to being a story. I was just bothered by the comparisons with Gabe’s family to the slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad. The story never says they were prevented from immigrating, just that they didn’t bother going through the official channels. I get that the system can suck. I get that his family is basically nice. But what they’re doing is undercutting legal immigrants and native workers, and taking advantage of things the country provides without playing the same role citizens do to support them. They get the benefits, but not the duties. For example, Gabe and his siblings go to school, but if his parents don’t have documentation, then they probably aren’t paying any taxes to support those schools. So I don’t feel much sympathy for the family getting found out, despite the story taking pains to try to cultivate that sympathy.

Regardless, the vague ending is more of a reason for me to hesitate on recommending this than the immigration. The last half page brings up a lot of questions, and it’s not clear what actually happens to Gabe or his family—did it work the way he was trying to set it up, or did something go wrong? So they can’t understand each other, which means what? (And for that matter, what did happen to the previous ambassador?) So, fun science, a generally good storyline, but a frustrating finish. I rate this book Neutral.

(Just noticed this book has a sequel, so maybe that helps, but I don’t know if I care to read it.)

The Twin Powers

Title: The Twin Powers

Author: Robert Lipsyte

(This is a sequel to The Twinning Project)

Half-alien twins Eddie and Tom live on parallel Earths, one in 1958 and one in 2012. But life hasn’t changed much after their brief adventures . . . until a new alien shows up at school, and the boys discover the Primary Race which monitors them and the planets plans to destroy the Earths. Now they must master their powers and find the answers before it’s too late.

I liked the first book despite some big problems in worldbuilding. This one takes more care over its prose, but the plot takes a nosedive and the already shaky setting pretty much gives up in favor of dialing everything up to 11.

So: boys back in their own times, on their own Earths, having done pretty much nothing since the close of the last book, then run into Hercules, who humiliates them and tells them to learn how to use their powers. This part isn’t so bad—it’s what I wanted to happen after the teases in the previous book. The actual powers are not very well explained, other than “whatever I want to happen, within some limits,” so it’s not clear how they actually work (psionics, mostly, but then there are a number of places where they manipulate light or otherwise make material changes, so who knows).

Then . . . we’ve apparently forgotten about poverty and hunger as issues in favor of climate change and nukes being the big scary forces out to destroy the earth. And the Tech-Off Day/Week has now gotten so big Eddie is repeatedly on television about it and even goes to Washington (when in real life I think a small subset of people might really appreciate it and most of the rest of the world would just laugh at him or shrug him off and continue their lives). And then we get the government goonies who have somehow figured out aliens are involved in all this and start making trouble for everyone.

And that was pretty much where the plot completely lost me. The federal agents are, of course, officially government sanctioned and have no problem with kidnapping and torturing 13-year-old kids, grilling them for information about aliens. I pretty much started laughing when said agency then decides to throw non-astronauts on a rocket launching to meet a mysterious spaceship that presumably belongs to aliens (there is so much wrong with this picture I can’t begin to start or I’ll go off for pages). Or when the alien planet is apparently so close that a shuttle can get there in a few hours. (Bonus: What force destroyed the alien planet? Climate change! *headdesk*)

And then how everyone fixed the problem by stopping a particular test in the desert . . . The time frame is all wrong, for one. Nuclear bombs had already been used in WWII, and this is 1958. If they truly wanted to stop nuclear power they’re a few decades late to the party. Although that still bases everything on the assumption that the second, supposedly separate Earth is actually a mirror of the primary Earth (which given the explanation of how it was created, still makes no sense).

Anyway. I was hoping for something I could laugh at even if it didn’t hold up well to a closer inspection, but the only laughter I could summon was in disbelief. I rate this book Not Recommended.

The Twinning Project

Title: The Twinning Project

Author: Robert Lipsyte

Tom and Eddie are twins separated by 50 years and different planets. Tom’s life in 2011 is one of getting kicked out of multiple middle schools for being difficult. He plays the violin well and loves neat little techie gadgets—especially if they explode. Eddie is his complete opposite: a sports player, friendly to a fault, focused on teamwork. But when an alien plot threatens them both, they’ll have to learn to live in each other’s worlds.

I liked this, but the plot could at times be a bit of a mess. Tom amused me. He’s got a way of saying things that sets people off, refuses to follow stupid orders, and has a well-earned reputation as a troublemaker. His stockpile of little gadgets in particular was excellent (although I was confused by the invisibility cloak—this IS 2011 and not some future time, and as far as I know that’s still future tech, which Tom appears to have ordered online and not built himself). Eddie I can respect, although his willingness to believe the best of people lets others take advantage of him.

I was confused at why they had to switch places, though. Tom’s got no purpose in the past. Eddie’s stunt with the no-tech day in the future felt way overblown. Putting him on TV? Seriously? And what, exactly, are they supposed to be rebels against? It feels like the real villain is set up to be global warming, poverty, and hunger (although I do not argue against the last two, I roll my eyes that global warming is ranked as a crisis. But thankfully it’s just mentioned in passing and not a major plot driver). Why the aliens are so keen on getting the person they’re after is brushed off as “He’s a rebel.” It would’ve been really nice to get at least a hint at what he actually did, other than disagreeing about the plan to destroy the Earths (because he never says the government is totalitarian enough to make disagreement a crime).

The more interesting things about the actual aliens creating planets and so forth doesn’t get fleshed out at all. Presumably this will be handled in sequels, although I don’t expect them to explain why both Earths are identical except for the fifty-year gap. The hint at greater powers to come is nice, too.

All and all this is a fun and very quick read, if you don’t mind some sloppiness around the edges. I rate this book Neutral.