Mark and I kick off another year of reviews at SFFWorld with two Science Fiction novels. Mark looks at a classic while I look at a brand-spanking-new novel, both aimed at younger readers.
Strange Chemistry has been publishing some excellent novels since launching in September 2012. While I haven't read every book published under the imprint under the deft guidance of Amanda Rutter, the books I have read have worked extremely well for me. Such is the case with Amalie Howard's The Almost Girl (which the more the title rolls around in my head, the more it sounds like an episode of Doctor Who), the first of a duology.
In The Almost Girl, Howard never lets the plot or her characters settle into a rut. Something is always pulling the narrative forward with urgency, whether an action scene when Riven is battling the zombie-cyborg Vectors, or if she examining her feelings about Caden. The parallel worlds, zombie-soldiers, genetic manipulation gave a great science fictional feel to the world of Neopses. It isn’t clear just how similar our world is to Neopses, but it seems like either a future version of our world or perhaps a world like ours with a divergent point in its past. Regardless, the two worlds contrast each other effectively.
Howard’s characterization of Riven as a hardened soldier came across well, and even more so, the emotions she struggled with about her sister Shae. As the novel deals with two parallel worlds, Howard cleanly divides the novel between the two, with the first half taking place on Earth and the second half taking place mostly on Neopses. In some ways, the locales of Neopses where the action takes places had the feel of a mash-up between The Cursed Earth (of Judge Dredd fame) and Coruscant (of Star Wars) that may have lost some of its lustre. Neopses seems to be a world, as we learn through some of its inhabitants, that is trying to cling to any of its lost greatness.
Mark continues his re-read of the Heinlein classics reissued in the Virginia Edition with The Rolling Stones:
Reading Heinlein’s books in (mainly) chronological order for the first time, I am now picking up more of Heinlein’s evolution as a writer. At this point he has become more confident and has begun to develop and reinforce what many would consider ‘the Heinlein voice’. His dialogue has become lively and energetic. His characters have now started to settle into what would become a Heinlein archetype – bright and intelligent, which at times shows that ‘hectoring and lecturing’ that would be apparent in his later work.
The Rolling Stones is a story like Between Planets that takes place on a wider canvas – this time, it’s Luna, Mars, the Asteroid Belt, around Saturn – but whereas previous tales have focused around one key character, this time the plot is predominantly about a family.
For all my gripes, we have here characters that Heinlein will keep returning to in the future. He has used similar archetypes in the past, too – the family of Jim Marlow on Red Planet isn’t that different – but here, the templates are given full rein.