Book review: Recall by M. Van

So, my first self-published sci-fi read, and seems that my luck for choosing books that will take my attention is not running out, yet. This one is harder to review without spoilers, but I’ll try my best.

The book starts in what seems to be PoV of a robot or cyborg, which was new experience for me. It sets up the story well, describing the situation on Earth nearing its last stand. Humanity tried to find new homes with space travel but in the process hastened Sun’s lifecycle and sent it towards the rad dwarf phase faster than it would be naturally. As result, the life is now limited to a few cities in domes that block the deadly radiation from much stronger sun and one underground city, Subterra.

It also shows that cyborg-like ARs are remotely directed (not directly controlled, only being given instructions over radio) law enforcement units, which includes the PoV character. Things starts to get weird as it seems said cyborg is getting memories and gaining some degree of free will, leading to this line:

Could it be that someone had compromised my programming? But then how would that let me internally debate the issue?

Then the story gets to reveal that there’s much more going on and that the ARs are more than just cyborgs (not saying the details to avoid spoilers). It is revealed that the Subterran rebels are trying to reveal what is behind their missing people, the ARs and in a chain of events, they lead to even worse revelations. Which is probably all I can say without spoilers.


Read date: 25.-30.4.2018
Published: 16.10.2017
Goodreads rating: 4,0 / Amazon link (so far rated only by me)
My rating: 90%
Length: 365 pages (kindle edition)


There are some things I feel like I should mention. First is that despite the quite nasty things that are found in labs by the end don’t go into too nasty details yet show well enough the depravities done by leaders that want to stay in high places at any cost.

Second is that I found this book by quite some chance – I rarely looked at Goodreads giveaways as (by that time) they were limited to paperback only outside of USA (for which kindle giveaways were still in beta). I found out this one and after a quick look, I eventually added it to my potential TBR list, where it waited for just 6 months, which is not that much considering the list’s size.

Third is that I wondered if the name is, in any way, inspired by the movie Total Recall (though I only saw the 2012 version). In conclusion, it is well possible, there is the theme of getting memories back slowly while being thrown into action (again, can’t say much more without spoilers).

In conclusion, the story has potential and I’ll be waiting for the sequel(s).

How do I rate books

Significant part of my blog presence is writing reviews of books I read and at the end of the post, rating them as well. As someone who looks at reviews and to some point ratings when choosing my next read (more about that process some next time), I decided to share a bit how I do that.

First, I understand that the process is subjective for every individual reader and different people will look for different things in books, which will affect the rating and that is discounting the fact that one might choose a books that’s outside of one’s preferences or even out of comfort zone – which will most likely impact the reading experience.

I also have to say that I am quite easily pleased reader. Make me interested in the story and the ending, avoid obvious plot holes and “WTF?!” moments and it’s quite likely I’ll give 4+ of 5 when using Amazon/Goodreads scale. Now, on to some details. Long post incoming.

Continue reading

Finding inspiration

This is a slight crossover post. While focused on another journey to a nice place (with loads of photos), one of the destination is a chateau I hoped might give me some inspiration for my writing. I hope for it, at least. Also, as a side effect (is it really still late April) it seems I got a bit more summer-ish skin tone.

Before I get to the hike itself, I feel like I should mention one thing: Due to how I was traveling, I departed one hour later than I usually do for hikes that are some distance away from my home. Unfortunately there’s no train heading in the general direction of Wien around 6:00 from here, so I had to be okay with 7:00 and thus starting the walk around 9:50 (I usually try for 8:30-9:00).

The area around Lednice and Valtice towns consists of parks, ponds, the chateaus and other buildings as well as cultivated landscape totalling almost 300 square kilometers. Most of it was done by the Liechtenstein dukes on the verge of 18th and 19th century and eventually made it to UNESCO heritage in 1996. It was the reason I believed to get a bit of inspiration there, though if it’ll happen is hard to guess.

Austrian oak forests

After a walk through the groves of Austrian oaks, I reached first of the cultural landmarks: hunting lodge named ‘Diana’s temple’ and shaped like Neoclassical arch. With main hall in the top-most level.

Why would someone shape hunting lodge like that?

After a bit more walking, the next landmark was a structure in Victorian Gothic style that reminded me of how the castle used to film Harry Potter movies had its windows sculpted. That one was, for change, in pine groves.

As it was mid-week and still before the main “chateau season”, so to say – most of cultural landmarks in Czech republic have ‘pre-season’ and ‘post-season’ where they are open to public only on weekends (April and October) while during the main season (May to September) they are open 6 or 7 days in the week. That meant that most of the time, I was spared the decision whether to dish out some cash for look from inside and instead just took photos from outside and walked on. Not that I would mind it, if I was to see everything from inside, I’d probably need another day.

Shortly after, I reached quite a charming crossing of paths.

Pine and sand crossroads

From there on, I walked to a a semicircle gallery that most likely imitated Antic architecture with the statues of muses and eventually a neoclassical farm that is currently used for horse breeding, yet at that point my main attention was more to the nature.

Seems that this particular pond is dry for quit a while…

The trail led me around a pond that seemed to be well unused for some time, based on the rampant growth of grass. Eventually, I walked to the set of three ponds, first taking a small detour on the shores of the east-most one and after returning, crossing them between the central and east one.

At that point, the sounds of various birds was my main companion. After I left the ponds behind me, I eventually reached the Lednice town and headed for the town square and eventually the chateau gardens (the gardens are open to public). As mentioned above, most of the castle was closed, apart from the greenhouse which I decided to not visit – it was awfully hot on its own already, for late April. So, I walked around the gardens taking pictures.

It was this exact place I hoped to give me some inspiration. I visited in once already, in June 2008. I remember it well, it was school trip and we took the same train back as several of the Polish fans as it was just after the Polish team lost the final match. Good thing we had seat reservations paid in advance, otherwise we’d be hard pressed to find free seats. So, I returned there after (almost) 10 years.

Memories of that aside, at that point I was glad that I could get there mid-week, I am sure that with weather like this, the place would be awfully crowded during weekends.

The park itself has “no cycling” signs pretty much everywhere, for obvious reasons. People wanting to see the landmarks could be threatened by fast-moving cyclists. On the other hand, the area around is quite flat lowlands, which is perfect for cyclists. So, I saw quite a lot of them pushing their bicycles around (which is allowed), leaning them on the benches when they were taking photos.

Several photos later (I’ve shown only a few above) I left even the chateau’s park behind and walked to my next destination. Now it was walking mostly through fields with trees growing either solo or in small groups, many of them looking like they took a lightning strike during their life, being leafless, the tip broken away and the bark gone.

Then came probably the most interesting cultural landmark. Obviously, artificially worn out things were there long before 2010s jeans. Someone in early 1800s had the idea of having a hunting lodge (yes, another one) built to look like ruins of a gothic style castle.

Romanticism fascination with old (especially Gothic) things and the sad story of them falling apart was brought maybe too far in that case.

And that was pretty much the last interesting point of my journey. From there, I had roughly 8km to go through riparian forests, which can be interesting to see. Unfortunately, the trail took pretty the most direct route on asphalt road used by foresters, with the last 2,5km being through the city. I was disappointed by that, partially because I know that riparian forests can be nice relaxing place and because asphalt feels awfully hot in days like this one.

On the other hand, it possibly saved a bit of my time. I reached the rail station in Břeclav at 15:08, with the train in my direction departing 15:11. Pretty much perfect timing.


Map with GPS log included. Unfortunately, the dense foliage and water caused some multipath issues (without too much technical details: satellite signals reflected by water and ‘bent’ by the vegetation screw up the calculation of my position), which makes it look like I went through the pond. That was not the case (I can’t swim and it’s not that shallow), it’s just limitations of technology.

And that’s it for this one.

4/2018 Writing update

Another month passes since I wrote this type of article. At that time, I was in progress with fifth draft, which since then was completed, went thorough a quick look on the most-heavily edited parts for quick typo fix and then a full personal proof-read with more fixes and some more edits.

Where am I now?

Well, at this point it seems to be harder to guess. When I finished the third draft I was like “just a few quick edits and I’ll call it beta version.” Did not happen. Same with fourth draft. At least I believe I am actually learning something as I go. Maybe I finally made some progress as I am considering actually offering some of my trustworthy fellow World of Warcraft friends a chance to read it as alpha testers. Hopefully after that, I might need one more pass before I call it beta and start looking for potential beta readers (still no clue where. One step at a time).

In the meantime, I’ll probably try to get some work one on #0,5 where my main problem is naming (when that was not my main problem?). As it is significantly shorter (40k words for #0,5 compared to 226k for #1) I believe the internal drafting phase could be faster and hopefully I might be able to have it in decent state in summer. Yeah, I told myself this before. Twice at least.

Anyway, the time when I’ll need to think how I’d like the cover of #0,5 look like is getting dangerously close and I still have only faint idea, compared to quite decent ideas for #1 and even #2.

My hope is that during the summer, I might be able to reveal a bit more about my writing, though I am reluctant to guess what it’ll be. I’ll at least try to write monthly update blogs on my writing progress, if nothing else.

And that’s it from me for now.

Mid-April vibrancy

If there’s something I like on mid- to late- April, it’s that the nature is almost fully awakened after the winter and the trees with their fresh leaves have unmatched vibrancy in their light green colors. It’s something that wants me to spend time outside a lot. Of course, there are years that screw it up sometimes, like last year. Most of the time, fortunately, the time between 20th and 30th April is perfect hike time here.

When I went for a hike in this time last year, I did not make even a single photo. It was cold, remains of the surprising mid-April snowfall and gloomy with mist that would fit November more. Something around 1°C. Yesterday, it was more like early June: 26°C, sunny.

April weather perfection. Photo from 2016

My hike was not supposed to be hard, it was to enjoy the usual April weather, something I did to the fullest. It had some overlap with a hike I did three years ago (minus one day) and I was glad to see some of those places again.

The first rock of the day

The trail led around several smaller rock formations, which is again something I like, more so if they are covered by a few trees that seem to defy logic with where they managed to grow. These places have small disadvantage in limiting photos by the lack of space, but they are nice places all the same.

Eventually, we made it to the second rock formation and the first slight lookout. Knowing there will be better places for observing the landscape later, I was more focused on enjoying the April vibrancy.

It turned out I was probably half a week too late, the birches had their leaves already fully grown instead of just sprouting, at which point they have quite a charming shade of green (as seen on the very first photo to the very left). Maybe the very warm last days affected it, maybe not.

Overgrown abandoned quarry, 4/2015

Then the trail led us around abandoned quarry. Mixture of birches, larches and pines (maybe some other trees as well) grows there almost undisturbed now and create quite interesting scenery.

Same place as above, 4/2018

Just as with birches, larches too have quite charming shade of green when their needles are freshly grown, made even more charming with the growing tiny cones in some kind of purple-ish color I can’t even name. They are also pain to take close-up photo of as the light branches will start swaying on the faintest breath of wind. I gave up when I failed to focus it well for the fifth time.

Then we went to another rock formation. This one had all I liked – could be climbed, had trees growing weirdly in the tight gaps and was decent lookout point.

Spring forests below

From there on, it was mostly walk through the forests for quite a while, until reaching a village with really nervous dog that followed me very loudly for maybe 200 meters until the owner came to scold it and escort it back home. Then, it was through fields a bit, these having their own spring charm as well.

Last ascension after, to a lookout tower built in 2016 (gets me to the point I might as well make a post about the massive growth of these in last years).

And then finally descent to our destination. Apart from the last year, it was as close to perfection as it goes in these days. Maybe too warm for this part of year, I guess I better get used for it again.


And that’s it from this one.

Reader’s thoughts: endings

A question I pondered a few times is: what is a good ending? Eventually, I realized that there are several factors, and that is even for the outcome. “…and they lived happily ever after” might sound like a good ending, but it will help none if it’s reached in a way that makes it feel out of place.

Satisfaction

One of the factors is surely satisfaction. I believe that many people stick with a story to see the bad guy defeated and the problems that arose solved. How the story is told is great part and I would say that the more you can hate the antagonist, the more satisfaction you get from finally seeing him meet the deserved end.

Realism

Satisfaction is good, but the bad guy’s defeat is just a part of it. How the story ends is about more than just that. What went on through the story should be reflected by the ending – it would be weird if a land decimated by wars would suddenly turn into “everything is all nice” with his death, forgetting the destruction. Rebuilding takes time and the outcome should probably reflect that if the damage done was massive.

Cost

This goes with what I mentioned above. It’s pretty much inevitable that characters will die on their way to defeating the antagonist, but even those need to have some sense. I believe that death of each characters should have some point to drive the story forward – to make or break someone. The cost of victory should be related to the power of enemy being fought. Too easy victory will make it look like the problem was inflated, but too high cost could be problem as well.

This also opens opportunities for selfless acts of heroes, going as far as the ultimate sacrifice. In a post I made in 11/2017, I mentioned Kyle Reese from Terminator movie as my favorite example. I might even get back to this topic at some point and make a post more about what I think in this regard.

Balance of power

During a struggle, let alone war, factions with different aims will appear and influence those around. When a faction meets its end, they leave an empty spot that someone will, sooner or later, try to fill. Struggles to take hold of this power vacuum can be base for sequels, but leaving obvious loose ends unresolved will only result in disappointment, more so if the end hints that there will be no sequel but leaves unanswered questions.


So, in conclusion, what matters for the ending (and affects my review and rating) is how much sense the ending makes. If the ending is sad but makes complete sense and the story was done really well, the rating will be high.

If the story leaves several loose ends, more so if they are left to be unresolved, even the happiest ending in the world will not save me from taking % off, no matter how much I might wish for the main characters to live happily forever.

Book review: The blood debt

I followed reading the final book in the trilogy the day after reading the second book. Compared to the second one, the PoV shifts are not that numerous or sudden, but that is great part due to the story converging in two places: around Wulfric and around Rodulf.

Rodulf keeps his scheming and takes it to the next level, resulting to multitude of atrocious acts. Adalhaid is finishing her studies with plan to leave the city as soon as she finishes what Aethelman could not, knowing that she’d not be safe remaining around if she succeeded (and would probably not live long if she failed). She has some obstacles in the way, partially due to the headmistress having some aversion to Northlanders.

In the meantime, Wulfric returns from his journey overseas only to end up tangled in a messy webs of politics and traitors. And as it tends to be, he just can’t kill those, no matter how reasonable his suspicions are, without a proof his enemies are not willing to give.

He is lured away from the city on a quest to find a blade worthy of a hero, realizing it’s a trap but having no choice. He gets some insight and understanding on the way and just as he returns, the story seems to be getting to the finale… which it would be, if not for the narrative, as I mentioned in my review of the second book. It is here when it shows as trouble. When you know that some characters will survive, it kills the surprise.

I also though some characters maybe deserved a bit better end (no spoiler to who) and that the ending, shifted several years later, is quite anticlimactic. One would expect that after dealing with an uprising led by traitor, a monarch aiming for peace would do all in his power to have all the schemers, and especially the head, searched and dealt with at any cost, yet it is not the case here.

The good part was in the head Intelligencier (that’s how the inquisitor-like sect is called) who shows compassion for the sake of his family, realizing that despite what many would think not all magic is bad.


Read date: 11.-12.4.2018
Published: 2.10.2017
Goodreads / Amazon rating: 4,25 / 4,2
My rating: 80%
Length: 376 pages (kindle edition).

My final verdict for the book, and the whole series, is that it was great read that sucked me in, but could be much better if not for the spoiler-ish narration.

Also, I guess this will lead to me writing blog posts about some topics I wanted to cover: my thoughts about PoV/narration and my thoughts about what is (or not) good or satisfactory ending.