Tag Archives: sci-fi

The Isolator: The Stinger (Isolator #4)

Title: The Isolator: The Stinger

Author: Reki Kawahara

Series: Isolator #4

Still reeling from the aftermath of his previous battle, Minoru is determined to improve so that the people around him won’t be hurt. But the newest Ruby Eye proves a huge challenge—someone who attacks Jet and Ruby Eyes alike, and has a more dangerous ability than anyone they’ve met so far.

I liked this, but it feels like a big step back from the previous books.

The biggest issue is that it feels like more of the same. The new facet to Minoru’s abilities is immediately overshadowed by the Stinger’s attack, and the story never really gets back to it except to prevent him from trying this with someone else. Although we get a lot more insight into Liquidizer and Trancer, there still isn’t much about the Syndicate’s real goals. And it’s never clear if the Stinger is even human, much less what his actual abilities are.

I’m also really frustrated with turning the Professor into the latest girl in love with Minoru. For starters, she’s ten. And even if she wasn’t ten, she’s still presented as someone who has no handle on emotions, just super-smarts for logic. So the whole bit where she’s playing “little sister” comes off as creepy, like she’s aping the trope in an attempt to figure it out and make Minoru more attached to her. I also completely fail to see what she sees in Minoru other than a mystery she can’t solve, as his direct interactions with her are (as Suu accurately identified) basically ignoring the person in favor of the ability.

The fight scenes are still a lot of fun. I’m always up for more of Divider’s random sword skills, or Trancer’s clever use of water phase changes. And the fact that THIS enemy is targeting both sides leads to some initial misunderstandings followed by unlikely teamwork. I really liked seeing that Minoru’s big stand against Liquidizer in the last book actually shook her up enough to seriously consider his words.

And I love the science, especially this little gem in the author’s note afterwards:

To sum it up, weak forces are carried by elementary particles called weak bosons, strong forces are controlled by gluons, electromagnetic forces are what make giant robots move and stuff, and gravity is what makes them fall when they’re defeated in battle.

Overall, I really hope the next book has more progress on some of the bigger mysteries. I’m still enjoying the series but I miss the way the earlier volumes did so much more to expand the overall world. I rate this book Recommended.

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The Isolator: The Trancer (Isolator #3)

Title: The Isolator: The Trancer

Author: Reki Kawahara

Series: Isolator #3

Minoru never thought his protective shell abilities could be so useful. But its incredible impenetrability combined with his newly-discovered ability to cover more than just himself would make it the perfect weapon . . . if he could actually recreate the part where he can protect another person. The Ruby Eyes won’t wait for him to figure it out, though. This time, their enemies are a few steps ahead.

I have to admit I really enjoyed Yumiko’s abrasive personality coming back to bite her, as Minoru can’t figure out how to include her within his shell again. Instead, as his interactions with Suu shows, he’s more comfortable (and “comfortable” is really stretching it) with someone who’s equally afraid of him. And he can work with Suu because she doesn’t make it personal, and goes out of her way to minimize the friction between the two of them.

I also love what happens with Minoru’s developing powers. He’s figured out more about it than someone with a literal power of super-intelligence. The revelation at the climax was especially good. And now that he knows, now that he has more flexibility with how he can use his power, there are so many places the story can go.

We don’t get as much on the Ruby Eyes this time around, but we do get an interesting new set of powers, and some very intelligent ways to use them. I particularly liked how Liquidizer got around Minoru’s invincibility. He’s starting to trip up more and more on the fact that he’s basically a regular kid thrown into a high-stakes arena he has no idea how to navigate. Just because nothing can get THROUGH his shield doesn’t mean he’s actually safe if he doesn’t use his head.

Overall, this one kicks up another gear. Although I’m still not fond of the more typical “we’re totally not in love” hijinks, I liked that this volume pushes forward so much more for the characters and the overarching plot. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Isolator: The Igniter (Isolator #2)

Title: The Isolator: The Igniter

Author: Reki Kawahara

Series: Isolator #2

Minoru has reluctantly joined an organization composed of other Jet Eye users like himself to hunt down the Ruby Eyes before they can kill. He’s nervous about all the memories this will create for him and for others, and he’s not sure he’s cut out for fighting. But when the next Ruby Eye is located, it’s someone the organization has seen before. Someone who has killed Jet Eyes.

I like the variety in both the type of villain and his powers. The enemy is once more a serial killer, egged on by his Ruby Eye, but the circumstances that drove him to that place are different, and his power isn’t as straightforward as everyone initially assumes.

Minoru’s timidity also doesn’t win him much with his new teammates. He’s a mystery the Professor wants to solve, a cook the girls adore . . . but in terms of battle capability, his novice mistakes almost end his career before it starts.

(Also, a small peeve: CPR IS NOT KISSING. If someone’s life is in danger, you aren’t stealing a kiss on them, you’re using your lungs to help theirs. Save “first kiss” talk for if/when the two of you choose to do it.)

It is interesting how Minoru’s powers develop in this book. It was pretty clear in the first one what, at a basic level, they are: he can totally isolate himself. But in this book, we start to see how it all works—or doesn’t work, as the case may be. And the fact that his experiment at the end works hints at the possibility for far more if he ever figures out how to use it. It also brings up a fascinating question. If Minoru is no longer isolated, if he allows himself to deeply connect to others, will his powers expand, or quit working? If the need that created his isolation no longer exists, will the Jet Eye change how it manifests? I don’t think those questions will have answers for a long time, but it’s an interesting thing to consider.

I also like the little we see of some of the other Jet Eyes. Hopefully future books will expand on them farther. And it looks like the Ruby Eyes have noticed the Jets have banded together, and have formed an organization of their own.

I’m less fond of some of the stereotypical aspects that start popping up, from the little girl genius professor to the fact that most of the girls seem to be in love with Minoru when he’s not really doing anything (or they can’t remember what he did do). But the rest of the story is engaging enough, and I hope future books will allow the guys at least as much focus as the girls so it can round out the team properly.

Overall, if you liked the first book this is an easy recommendation. Pretty much everything gets expanded, Minoru is more actively engaging the plot, and it’s setting up a much bigger conflict to come. I rate this book Recommended.

The Isolator: The Biter (The Isolator #1)

Title: The Isolator: The Biter

Author: Reki Kawahara

Series: The Isolator #1

Minoru lost his entire family the night someone invaded his home. Now he wants nothing more than to get through life without impacting others at all. No more memories, good or bad, for him or anyone else of him. But his strong desire to have a minimal existence has one major problem: when the alien orbs descended three months ago, one of them chose him. Now he has the power to completely isolate himself, but others received more malevolent abilities . . .

This was a lot deeper than I was expecting. It’s an excellent picture of both Minoru, who reacted to extreme tragedy by turning in on himself, and also Takaesu, whose twisted childhood set him down the path of becoming a serial killer.

I liked that Minoru really struggles with connecting to other people in the wake of losing everyone who was important to him all at once. Even though this book hints that some of the people he’s met would consider him a friend, he’s not ready for friendship. He’s defining his relationship with them by how quickly he can get rid of them, and how he can try to smooth over anything they might find memorable about him so he can fade into the background once again. Other characters don’t get him at all, but he’s got that quiet desperation that drives him, and he stands up for his own convictions.

This takes an interesting twist when he finds himself somewhat responsible for putting others in danger. He doesn’t wish on anyone else the same kind of tragedy he experienced, so he steps up despite wanting to keep a low profile. It’s also fun how he ends up using his perfect isolation to fight. He’s not a skilled fighter, and his abilities are entirely defensive, but he can do quite a lot more than I expected with them. (And the book never did answer if he will eventually run out of air if he keeps the shield up too long.)

It was also interesting how deeply the powers tied in with who the characters are. Minoru getting isolation powers is easy to see, but I loved that the villain’s biting powers made just as much sense. In both cases, the orbs latched on to an obsession in their host and amplified it past all reason. Given that, I’m looking forward to seeing more backstory on his new teammates, to see why their powers developed the way they did.

Overall this was a very nice surprise. The sci-fi/supernatural elements are flashy and fun, but also grounded in well-realized characters. I am looking forward to see where the rest of this series goes. Recommended.

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries #2)

Title: Artificial Condition

Author: Martha Wells

Series: The Murderbot Diaries #2

Murderbot is looking for answers to the biggest mystery in its life: what exactly happened during the time it went insane and murdered the people it should have been protecting? Was it a personal choice, or an action beyond its control? To find out, it returns to the scene of the crime. . .

This book is also short, but feels more solid than the first book. Part of that is that between ART and the three new characters that Murderbot decides to guard, the cast is restricted enough not to blend together like they did in the previous book.

I liked ART, even if it didn’t come off as very sarcastic to me. Murderbot, who has a variety of systems and can interact with machines as easily as people, is used to being superior in many ways to those it contacts, machine or person. But ART surpasses Murderbot so far on various computing parameters that Murderbot has several freakouts solely based on what ART is capable of doing.

The rest of the plot felt a lot like a rehash of the first. I was disappointed that the resolution to the mystery was more or less what I had guessed after the first book, and this time without even identifying the entity behind it all.

Overall this is a decent followup to the first book, but this still isn’t a series that’s really hooked me. I rate this book Recommended.

Kind of Like Life

Title: Kind of Like Life

Author: Christina McMullen

Renee is excited about her move cross-country. She’s always wanted to live in New England, and now she not only has the perfect house and people who might become friends, but also guy she instantly falls for. But when fantasies become reality, and anything she can imagine can become real, a danger she never imagined surfaces . . .

This starts more like a typical fiction story, where the introverted, socially awkward Renee is discovering that life really did get better after a cross-country move. It’s not like life is perfect, but with friends to give her more of a place than she had back in New Mexico, and a hot guy who likes her, she’s finding the downsides easy to brush aside.

But this part of the story is playing out a lot like a really bad self-insert fanfic (although with admittedly very good writing). I kept hitting details that felt like terrible worldbuilding, and it was harder and harder to convince myself the fantasy portion would be worthwhile when the details initially presented looked like the plot would go a certain way.

And just when I’m eye-rolling hard enough to almost put the book down unfinished (super magical kiss with soul mate!!! Bleagh), the first big twist shows up and changes the rules completely. Because the fantasy is bigger and stranger than some wish-fulfillment fantasy/romance. This one will kill Renee if she can’t get to the truth.

Even then, her odds of surviving don’t look good.

The book immediately gets funnier, snarkier, and starts this glorious trip through all sorts of genres, worlds, and powers. Renee and Blake have all kinds of villains to fight. Zombies. Interstellar enforcers. Elves. And way more.

I love how the use of imagination allows for both an anything goes mentality, coupled with some hard limits. If she believes this is how things work, they will. But if she’s subconsciously believing otherwise (or if someone explains why something won’t work) the impossible goes back to being impossible. So there’s a weird balance that Blake and Renee need to work with—not enough information and one of them is going to inadvertently cause trouble, but too much and their biggest advantage won’t work.

And it leads to so much fantastic imagery. I’m particularly fond of the phoenixes, but I also found so much to laugh about throughout the book. They shift genres and expectations at the drop of a hat, and the story can pivot from flying spaceships with laser weapons to being pirates on a tropical island looking for treasure.

Overall I’m glad I stuck around long enough for the hook that changed the book from “interesting, but not really my thing” to “this is awesome.” I rate this book Highly Recommended.

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1)

Title: All Systems Red

Author: Martha Wells

Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1

A team of researchers are conducting tests on a newly discovered planet’s surface, accompanied by one company-provided SecUnit that privately calls itself Murderbot. Although Murderbot behaves like the equipment it’s supposed to be, it actually overrode some of its own programming so it can function more autonomously. And that becomes critical when unexpected dangers arise . . .

I liked this well enough, but it’s far too short. Murderbot is the only character with significant development—the team is fleshed out enough to see why Murderbot appreciates their low-stress interactions, but ultimately it means most of the team was interchangeable for me, except for the enhanced human (because he was the only one Murderbot felt cautious about, and not unreasonably, given his suspicions towards it in return).

It was funny to find that someone who calls itself “Murderbot” is a huge introvert who doesn’t actually like people at all. Murderbot would rather watch entertainment than deal with actual humanity.

Most of the fight scenes felt poorly described, as well. Murderbot narrates several gunfights with little more than “and here’s where each bullet hit” kind of description, which made it hard to feel much of a flow to the fighting or much of a sense of danger. I was very annoyed where one fight described all the damage to the opposing forces first, and only then cataloged Murderbot’s injuries. My initial impression had been that Murderbot somehow hadn’t been hit, since segregating things that way feels like it drains all the tension out of a fight.

Overall this was interesting enough that I will probably read the next book, but between the short length and the lack of anything that really grabbed me, it’s not on my buy list. (Besides, the ebook price is insane. The book is only 140 pages long.) I rate this book Recommended.