Dystopian

Eden at the Edge of Midnight

Eden at the Edge of Midnight
The Vara of Yima, the original Garden of Eden, sealed from the rest of the world and populated with the fittest of men and women. A secret paradise that 150 years ago became ravaged by smog that choked out the skies.   All good stories have a hero. “The One” who arrives to save the realm from darkness and evil. But what if the wrong person takes their place by accident? Now the Vara exists in a permanent state of darkness and its people need a champion, a chosen one to save them from the smog that threatens to fill the realm and poison its inhabitants. That’s what they needed. They got Sammy Ellis instead. She isn’t important enough for her dad to stick around for, never mind saving a realm or junk like that. Her only responsibility was to help the chosen one open the gateway into the Vara, but not only has she entered the realm in their place, she’s also locked them out in the process. Stuck in a twilight land of giant mushrooms, pursued by dark forces and still in her pyjamas, being unimportant back in the real world is starting to seem way more attractive.  

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

June 19, 2014

If one were to take the Chronicles of Narnia (take your pick which one), Alice in Wonderland, and then add in a dash of Stephen King, and put the whole thing in a blender, you’d come close to having Eden At the Edge of Midnight, the first book in John Kerry’s Vara Chronicles. Giant mushrooms, pink stegosaurus-like mammals, a roiling purple sky, carnivorous rhinos, and even more bizarre things await Sammy Ellis, the luckless and unpopular English protagonist who only wants her often-drunk, harsh father to recognize her for the soccer (foothball) genius she is. Instead, a bracelet catapults Sammy into Vara, where people have no idea what grass is, make furniture out of fungus, and where magic exists.

This book is a real page-turner. Past the first few rather interesting chapters, once Sammy lands in Vara it’s almost like the book reads itself. It’s chock full of an interesting backstory, the shattering history of the various secret societies, cities, and the order of the magi are all keeping secrets and trying to stay alive.

Of the three main characters, perhaps Hami is my favorite. You’re obviously supposed to root for Mehrak, and he’s the harmless, hapless and well-meaning comedy in the book, but Hami is the lone wolf with possibly dark secrets. All three are written well, and the dialogue serves to separate out characters fairly well.

Eden’s also got action sequences (handled well), full on army battles (mostly these go on offstage, but that’s okay) some creepy, thrilling portions with some kind of mysterious monster we should probably see more of in the second book, and all of these are written with great skill.

What’s most admirable about the book is the author’s ability to fully envision a three hundred sixty view of a completely alien world. Vara not only has cool creatures (lava pterodactyls, nice) and interesting locations (Honton Keep is great), but under the author’s watch they come to vivid life.

At about the eighty five percent mark, you begin to wonder ‘Okay, great, so far the book is really good, but it’s not going to end off at a cliffhanger, is it? The author wouldn’t do that to me… well, some authors would do that to me. Crud.’ Rest assured, the book does finally resolve itself, though the epilogue (and unanswered questions from the remainder of the book) leave a door standing open to the future of the series.

There are a couple of places where the book falters, however. The first is the propensity of the author to repeat sentences similar to ‘He turned away and said nothing.’ or ‘He just looked at her and didn’t speak.’ These mostly started to get to me in the middle of the book, where loyalties and motives begin to get questioned.

Second, there are a number of places and terms in the world of Vara that aren’t explained. My two hangups were The Fifth Azaran and Ahriman, which appear to have a lot of meaning to the author, but for which we receive no backstory. Are there four other Azarans? The reader has no idea. No lore is provided, not even a casual mention of the function of these things, which actually become very, very important later in the book.

Third, this book is categorized under children’s fiction, and parents need to take note here: this is, at best, a high level young adult book. There is swearing, there is alcohol use, and while generally these are not part of the YA canon, sometimes they slip in there. Both, in this case, serve the purpose of characterizing an important person in the novel, but neither are handled with the sort of delicacy one would expect of YA (the function would be to teach a lesson about why these things aren’t acceptable, or why people do them when they shouldn’t). While the instances of swearing and drinking are minimal, they are not in the slightest bit subtle.

Overall, AIA lists four stars as material you would find in a bookstore as published by a mainstream publisher. I believe this book stands on the very edge of that rating and the three star rating: books we at AIA recommend readers to buy, but which wouldn’t make the editorial cut at a publishing house. I’m awarding four stars because the writing was done very well, and the flaws were fairly minor, but parents are warned that this is much more an adult than a YA book.

 

The Sundered

The Sundered
In a world where the water kills, he must decide who lives or dies – humanity, or humanity’s broken slaves. Don’t touch the water, or it will pull you under. Conserve food, because there’s no arable land. Use Sundered slaves gently, or they die too quickly to be worthwhile. With extinction on the horizon and a world lost to deadly flood, Harry searches for a cure: the Hope of Humanity, the mysterious artifact that gave humans control over the Sundered centuries ago. According to legend, the Hope can fix the planet. But the Hope holds more secrets than Harry knows. Powerful Sundered Ones willingly bow to him just to get near it. Ambitious enemies pursue him, sure that the Hope is a weapon. Friends turn their backs, afraid Harry will choose wrong. And Harry has a choice to make. The time for sharing the Earth is done. Either the Sundered survive and humanity ends, or humanity lives for a while, but the Sundered are wiped out. He never wanted this choice. He still has to make it. In his broken, flooded world, Hope comes with a price.

Reviewed 

I won this book in a give away and when the author contacted me asking for my address, I said that since the postage to Australia would be quite a lot of money, I’d be fine with an ebook version, but she said she wanted to send me a paperback. A week or so later, it arrived. I read the blurb, then put the book down, thinking it sounded interesting. I didn’t think I’d get around to reading it for ages, but being a paperback, it sat on the coffee table shouting, read me, read me, so after dinner I picked it up to have a quick perusal of the first few pages and I and didn’t put it down again until I absolutely had to go to bed. You guessed it—I loved it. It grabbed me from page one and held me until the wonderful end.

The Sundered is fabulously different to anything else I’ve ever read—the mark of a strong new voice—and a totally unique story that had me completely enthralled.

The story takes place on a world flooded with black water that is deadly to humans. People share this world with the Sundered, magical creatures humans have enslaved. The Sundered are dying out, but since there is no arable land and they are the only ones who can go into the water, they are the ones that produce food. Once the Sundered are all gone, the humans will eventually die out.

Harry Iskinder is a salvager who paddles around in a small skiff looking for the Hope of humanity, a possibly mythical object that he hopes will save humans from extinction. No one knows what exactly it is or what it does, but Harry discovers that finding it will give him a choice; either the Sundered survive and humanity ends, or humanity lives for a while but the Sundered are wiped out.

The story is written in a snappy way that immediately drew this reader in. Harry is trying to live up to his family heritage of the ones who search for the Hope. He’s tense and terrified of failing to adequately lead his travellers, the gang that travels with him, and when he manages to claim a first tier Sundered, he is as surprised as anyone. Did the Sundered allow himself to be caught? And if so, why? Or does Harry simply have more power than he thought? Either way, Aakesh, his first tier Sundered is an extraordinary being and the conversations between him and Harry are brilliant.

I loved Gorish, the cute little Sundered. His simple ways were endearing and his love and loyalty for Harry, more than anything else, made me empathise with the Sundered. Aakesh was drawn so well, I could almost feel this incredibly powerful, noble and mysterious character. Other than these two, the only other character we really got to know (or needed to know) was Harry, who quickly became out of his depth. Sometimes I wished he would calm down a bit, and it would have been nice to have seen some kind of maturing in his character over the period of the story, some of Aakesh’s calm intelligence could have rubbed off on him. Also, I didn’t quite get why Bek was blowing up cities or how his weapon worked, so maybe that could have been clearer.

I really enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the perception of the Sundered and the concepts behind it, and the interrelational politics between Harry, his friends, his Sundered and his mentor were very well done. All in all an excellent book that I highly recommend to anyone who likes science fiction or fantasy.

In The Wreckage (A Tale of Two Brothers)

In The Wreckage (A Tale of Two Brothers)
Published: July 31, 2014
In a future ravaged by climate change, two brothers stow away on a tall ship headed for the melting arctic, searching for revenge, redemption, runaway parents – and priceless buried treasure. Abandoned by their parents, Conall and Faro Hawkins survive by their wits, stranded on Shetland as the world burns and the fuel runs dry – until one day The Arkady, last of the sailing ships, calls at the Scottish island. Hiding as stow aways in the ship’s hold, the brothers overhear first mate Jonah Argent plotting to steal the captain’s treasure map. Argent dreams of looting the mythical riches hidden by the ancients on the Svalbard archipelago. As The Arkady sails for the melting arctic, can fifteen-year-old Conall find his parents, win the love of the captain’s daughter and rescue his own brother from reckless dreams of useless gold? Can he save the crew from slavers and the ship from jagged rocks – or salvage hope for a new world from the wreckage of the old?

Reviewed by Awesome Indies Assessor

February 20, 2015

A Tale of Adventure & Disaster in a Dystopian Future

When he was five, Conall Hawkins and his brother, Faro, who was five years older, were left by their parents in the little village of Lerwick on Shetland. Lerwick is a place that time has forgotten, and the world mostly passes by, until ten years later, when ‘The Arkady’ drops anchor and members of its crew come ashore. Conall and Faro meet Jonah Argent, Arkady’s bearlike first mate, and immediately hatch a plan to stowaway on the vessel to go in search of their missing parents.

In the Wreckage by Simon J. Townley is a tale of two brothers on a quest.

The plot is epic, even though it only covers a short period from the time Conall is fifteen. The author paints a vivid picture of the world after the disastrous effects of climate change has divided humanities survivors into small collections of people clinging precariously to islands of habitable terrain. Some, however, have taken to preying on others, and Conall and Jonah fall into the clutches of such a group as he and his brother get closer and closer to finding out what happened to their mother and father.

This is a hard book to categorize. It is part dystopian science fiction, part adventure, part coming of age, with a large dollop of both past history and future prediction thrown in for good measure. A wide variety of characters swirl around, and dip in and out of the brothers’ lives as they press further north in their search. While the main plot is their search for their parents, there are a number of subplots to keep a reader diverted and entertained, as well as the tension between the brothers which is resolved in a surprising twist at the end.

The author’s handling of dialogue of characters from different linguistic groups is masterful. You are shown the differences without having to interpret nonstandard spelling or grammar, making it easy to keep so many characters separate in your mind. The tension builds slowly in this book, but once it reaches a certain point, it shoots up like a rocket, and then gently deposits the reader at the impact point – the end – secure in the knowledge that he or she has been on a worthwhile journey.

I give In the Wreckage five stars. There are a few typos – maybe three or four – but, they do not in any detract from what is a fascinating read.

Intelligent Design: Revelations

Intelligent Design
Published: October 27, 2015
    Sixty-five million years ago, Master Architect Janus institutes a plan to insure the human species survival, and Junior Architect Hades attempts to convert a tidal-locked planet, Terra, into a viable planet should Janus fail. But when the Gemini planetoids inexplicably collide, all seems lost. In 2008, the FBI whisk doctoral student Andrea Perez away before her experiment begins, and Lieutenant Colonel David Farrell watches classified information disappear from the Department of Defence’s data-bases. Years later, FEMA director of Readiness & Disaster Roberta Josephine Riesman begins to connect the dots only to find that the catastrophe that awaits the planet is just the beginning.

This is a well written Sci-Fi book, set in the recent past and the future on both Earth and other planets in the solar system. Humans were not the first ones here, but were engineered by a group of beings known as Terrans. The Terrans have been successfully hiding their own planet from view of the earthlings using sophisticated technology, which has now begun to fail. The humans have noticed, and the FBI becomes involved in the search for answers.

Intelligent Design gives the reader both current and past scientific theories and events, and brings them together in an enticing soup of conspiracy, humour, high-tech gadgets, and existential questions.

As well as being an enjoyable and interesting traditional Sci-Fi read, this book has also been edited and proofed to a high standard. I wholeheartedly recommend this novel to dyed-in-the-wool Sci-Fi enthusiasts.

The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other Stories

The Evolution of Reptilian Handbags and Other Stories
An unhappy housewife flees with her lover as civilization collapses in a tsunami of trash. A bank teller aids invisible thieves. A welder learns she has the power to kill with a kiss. A hive of women transforms tourists with arcane sexual rites. A Korean War sniper stalks his doppelganger: a children’s television host. Amnesiac goddesses-turned-farmers struggle for survival in war-torn, post-apocalyptic Iowa. By turns emotionally resonant and irreverent, surreal and sexy, these ten stories swirl with unseen currents, blending the fantastic and the mundane to get to the deeper truths of our existence.

The Children of Darkness

The Children of Darkness (The Seekers)
A thousand years ago the Darkness came–a time of violence and social collapse when technology ran rampant. But the vicars of the Temple of Light brought peace, ushering in an era of blessed simplicity. For ten centuries they kept the madness at bay with “temple magic,” eliminating the rush of progress that nearly caused the destruction of everything. Orah and Nathaniel, have grew up in a tiny village, longing for more from life but unwilling to challenge the status quo. When Orah is summoned for a “teaching”—the brutal coming-of-age ritual that binds the young to the Light—Nathaniel follows in a foolhardy attempt to save her.

 

July 30, 2015

The Children of Darkness, the first volume of David Litwack’s The Seekers series, is a classic quest story. Three young heroes embark upon a journey to uncover a secret that can save the world. Along the way they meet a wise guide and encounter daunting obstacles that test their courage and resolve. And they return very changed.

This YA novel follows the pattern, but it’s anything but run of the mill. The quality of its intelligence, imagination, and prose raises The Children of Darkness to the level of literature.

Orah, Nathaniel, and Thomas live in a theocracy. The Temple of Light came into existence a after a series of wars almost destroyed humankind, and for a millennium it has kept the peace. The Temple controls every aspect of peoples’ lives. The vicars of the Temple prescribe how many children a family may have, how people cook their food, what musical instruments they play, and, of course, what they’re allowed to think. The rules are enforced by bands of deacons and by “teaching” the young in a process that amounts to torture.

A vicar comes to the village of Little Pond and selects Thomas for a teaching. When he returns, he avoids Nathaniel and Orah because the vicars have forced him to betray his childhood friends. Next Orah is taken for teaching. Nathaniel follows her and the vicar to Temple City and offers to take her place. While he awaits the vicars’ decision in a dungeon, the old man in the adjacent cell tells him of the Keepers, a secret group who through the centuries have passed down coded directions to the Keep, a hidden place where the wonders of the ancient world are preserved. Everything forbidden by the Temple is there.

The old man appoints Nathaniel a Seeker, charged with finding the Keep, and gives him the first part of the code along with clues to the location and identity of the next Keeper. After Nathaniel returns to Little Pond, he and his friends set out to find the Keep.

At first their quest appears altogether noble and right. The Temple of Light is oppressive, cruel, and anti-intellectual. As the wise man explains to them, the aim of teaching is to extinguish the fire in human beings — the spirit that drives individuals to dream and achieve and aspire to greatness. Teaching almost destroys Thomas. But a thousand years ago, humankind almost destroyed itself and the world with the magic in the Keep. For all its shortcomings, the Temple makes it possible for human beings to live in harmony among themselves and with nature. The quest might open Pandora’s Box.

Litwack avoids the usual tropes of YA fantasy. There’s no simpleminded battle between good and evil, no sexual jealousy and tension between friends, and no adolescent bickering. The friends argue about things that matter — how they can best survive, whether the quest is worth the cost.

In The Children of Darkness Litwack has created a fully realized and altogether believable world. The characters, including the functionaries of the Temple, are complex and sympathetic. The conclusion is unexpected yet feels altogether right. Everything is set for the next volume of the series, which I very much look forward to reading.

Highly recommended.

5 stars.

The Disenchanted Pet

The Disenchanted Pet
Aliens called ShaZha rule future Earth and struggle with capricious humanity. Zarah wants to prove humans can be civilized, but discovers a hidden people and must acknowledge her true status. Far into the future, the Earth is ruled by the ShaZha, a hyper-intelligent race of alien beings who are plagued by the violence and volatility of the human race. Supposedly intending to repair the broken societies and polluted planet, they have found the Human problem to be much more complex than they ever imagined. Zarah is a Prodigy, an obedient human, with a caring ShaZha master. Zarah wants to prove all her master’s hopes that humans can be civilized and responsible. When she is lost by her master and exposed to the other side of humanity, she must confront the possibility she might be not a valued citizen, but a pet.

 

Life First

Life First
When the government wants to steal her kidney, Kelsey Reed makes the only choice she can: run.   In a world run by survivors of a deadly virus that wiped out 80 percent of the population, life is valued above all else. The government of “Life First” requires the mentally ill to be sterilized, outlaws abortions and sentences to death those who refuse to donate an organ when told. Strong-willed Kelsey Reed does the only thing she can do when she’s told to give up her kidney: run. Kelsey enlists the help of her boyfriend Luke and a dodgy doctor to escape. The trio must disable the tracking chip in her arm for her to flee undetected. If they fail, Kelsey will be stripped of everything.

Reviewed by Richard Bunning

5 stars

This is a very well written fiction story that adds interesting fuel to the debate between those that support the `rights’ of the individual and those that put the rights of community ahead of those of the individuals. Should the individual be expected to suffer, even to risk life, for a common good? Should we all, ultimately, be conscript soldiers of society?

The principle character is fascinating, complex, and totally credible. Whether she is actually a hero, a coward, or a genuine conscientious objector, each of us has to decide for ourselves. For me Kelsey was a mix of all three, just as most of us would probably be, depending on the degree and type of cultural indoctrination we had experienced.

The only flaw of the plot was for me the over close relationships of all the principle characters in Kelsey vs The State. This tightness helped drive the intensity of the drama, but it all proved to strain my buy in to its plausibility. Wouldn’t the prosecution have ripped the defence case apart even more effectively than it did as a consequence of the degree of nepotism? I think so.

This is a really good read and an excellent affirmation of competence amongst independent writers. We should all be grateful that the fall of old-publishing through the rise of the net has allowed writers like Crayton to be heard.