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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Review: Across the Universe

Of course, The Fool's Illusion isn't the only speculative fiction book that centres around the theme of deceit. Author Beth Revis's Across the Universe is set on a star ship that seems to run on lies and therefore illusions some of which are very literal. I recently finished reading this YA novel which was part of my summer reading. My review of it is below. Is it a book you would consider putting on your own reading list? Feel free to provide your answer in the box below.  






YA novel
Photo Credit: Razorbill/Penguin


Book's Title: Across the Universe
Author: Beth Revis
Series: Across the Universe Trilogy
Volume: Book 1 (of 3)
Year of Publication: 2011
Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

With young adult science fiction  rising in popularity, especially since The Hunger Games craze, Beth Revis’s Across the Universe carries on this trend. Part space opera, part murder mystery, it’s the first book of a trilogy. Even so, it holds up good as its own story and so doesn’t leave the reader hanging at the end. The book’s theme of deceit runs through not only the villainous characters but all the major characters no matter how virtuous and loving they’re made to be. And so this theme of lies is used realistically, making the characters and situations more life-like. However, as well written this YA novel is, its setting and its characterization of the main antagonist fall short of what they can be.



Synopsis

Teenager Amy Martin awakes from a cryogenic freese on the spaceship Godspeed fifty years earlier than she’s supposed to. She discovers that the reason for her early revival is that someone tried to kill her. With the help of her new friend, Elder who is of the generation presently running the ship, she tries to track down her would-be murderer before the killer can get other frozen passengers, especially her parents.

Novel’s Structure

Across the Universe holds up good in its structure. The chapters regularly alternate between the two main characters’, Amy and Elder’s, point of views making it easy for the reader to follow the story. At the same time, the organization of the sequence of events time the suspense, foreshadowing and irony good which is a big accomplishment since the author has to be careful not to reveal too much too soon through either character who also serve as narrators.

Characterization 

Both Amy and Elder’s characters are well developed. We can sympathise with both but especially Amy’s who the novel centres around. We feel her loneliness and anger as well as her love for her parents, especially her father. We feel the struggles and fears she goes through while she's forced to adapt to a new generation of passengers who, unlike her, have never seen either outer space or the surface of any planet and so have lived on the Godspeed’s windowless farm deck their whole lives. She wrestles with the homesickness for the Earth she leaves behind and with her loneliness of not being able to communicate with her cryogenically frozen parents. We sense Elder’s struggle with and rebellion against Eldest, the ship’s administrator who raised him since birth and who Elder is to succeed. We feel the anger and uncertainty of both Amy and Elder when they discover more and more that they and the other passengers have been living off of lies conspired by the administration.

In one aspect of the character interaction, the old fashioned love triangle is used between Amy, Elder and Elder’s friend, Harley. Even though such a literary device may typify the story a bit too much in certain respects, it's done convincingly here taking us into the emotions of the two male characters showing the reader their jealousy and anxiety for Amy. Yet we also see these two struggling to hang onto their friendship and so trying to rise above the jealousy. So the way this love triangle is handled portrays clearly the extreme emotions of adolescence.

The antagonist’s character, Eldest’s, could have been better developed. He comes across as caring and friendly to his common subjects, a deceitful method on his part to control the ship and its population. The only problem with this trait of his is that it's more told than shown let alone not revealed to us until around halfway through the book. So Eldest comes across too much as the typical fairy tale villain, all evil and cruel, both in his ambitions and actions, including his manner of speaking.

Setting 

The Godspeed’s interior is portrayed okay but takes a while to convey clearly in the reader’s head. This is especially so with the farming level of the ship where much of the novel takes place. Even though there is a landscape in this vast part of the ship, there is no simulated sky, only “the steel-grey metal of the walls that curve over this level of the ship ” as Amy explains it (page 141). However, the other major setting within the ship, the cryogenic freeze chamber, is described really good giving the likeness to that of a mausoleum and so works perfectly for a murder mystery/space opera cross-genre story such as Across the Universe.

While the science and technology are plausible enough overall, there are some flaws for the distant future this book is set in. Today’s technology seems to be more reflected at certain points in the novel. For example, there are doors on the ship that have to be opened manually. Another example is a fake outer space that a simulated window looks out on in which the stars are described as light bulbs. I wouldn't call that too futuristic of tech when so many of today's simulations are digital or VR. 




The relatively simple structure of Across the Universe, the story’s tension and the realism of Amy and Elder’s characters make Bevis’s YA novel worth reading. This isn’t only so for the teen audience that the book targets, but for an adult one too. That is, if adult readers can get past a too typical villain character and a few devices that would be outdated in a far-future setting. Not to mention euphemisms for typical teenage cuss words, probably used so school districts and libraries don’t get sued by certain parents. 


Until next time . . . 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Free Fiction Friday: 'The Assassin'

It may have been a sizzling hot Fried Day here in the Sacramento area, but it's also a Free Fiction Friday! And so I have a story for you (written by your's truly). I consider it an atom punk story even though it may be lightly so. Which is okay, because it causes a big portion of the story to reflect more where our own timeline is going which is one of the most important things of science fiction--to show where society may be in the future. If you aren't familiar with the atom punk subgenre of sci fi, then check out my earlier post here. If you get tired of hearing me talk, then a person who is really an expert on the subgenre is Philip Reeve who has a great article on it and so you might want to check that out.  

About the formatting of my story's text: I copied the story from a file that I had formatted for submission to a magazine. Even though I changed the font from Courier to New Times Roman so it would reflect the style of the blog more, other manuscript style formatting may be in there. Some of that formatting may be underlined text as opposed to italicised text. That's because standard formatting for emphasised words in manuscripts for submissions, especially for fiction, is underlining. Also there are some pound symbols ("hash" symbols as they're referred to for social media linking) between paragraphs to represent breaks or lapses in time. 

As some of you may have realised I write according to British spelling (e.g. "realise" as opposed to the American "realize"). You won't find that in this story. I changed the spelling to American because I'm more likely to submit the piece to American publications as much as I prefer British spelling. I truly believe British English is the more correct English. Part of that reason is the most obvious (or at least it should be obvious, except to those pea brains who loafed off back in their high school history classes and never grew up): English originated in England. Now as far as it being the more correct version, that's just my personal opinion. I'm not even British. In fact, I'm not even of British ancestry (I'm Mexican and Portuguese, but born here in the U.S. of course). But I love British culture. I'm not getting into other reasons why I prefer British English over American. If you want to know more why, then ask me in the comments box below and I'll be more than happy to explain. 

I hope you enjoy this story. Please let me know what you think, including what could be improved. You won't hurt my feelings; you would actually be helping me. Come on now! Not even the top best-selling authors are perfect! Not even the Noble Prize winning ones are, for that matter. 

Until next time . . . 





The Assassin
by  Steven Rose, Jr.



Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/OpenClipArt.org

            

“How many credits have I worked?” asked Albert McArthur as he hopelessly stared at Kariith’s digital body that was sealed inside the giant vacuum tube.

“Five hundred,” said the metallic voice of UConet. 

Shit, Albert thought.  He didn’t dare not say it out loud.  UCoNet sees everything, Albert always remembered as did everybody of both Earth and the known universe.