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Book Review: The Ghost Line

The Ghost Line Andrew Neil Gray & J.S. Herbison

Title:

The Ghost Line

Author:

Andrew Neil Gray, J.S. Herbison

Genre:

Sci-Fi

Book procurement:

Received a copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor.com.

Synopsis:

The luxury cruise ship the Martian Queen was decommissioned years ago, set to drift back and forth between Earth and Mars on the off-chance that reclaiming it ever became profitable for the owners. For Saga and her husband Michel the cruise ship represents a massive payday. Hacking and stealing the ship could earn them enough to settle down, have children, and pay for the treatments to save Saga’s mother’s life.

But the Martian Queen is much more than their employer has told them. In the twenty years since it was abandoned, something strange and dangerous has come to reside in the decadent vessel. Saga feels herself being drawn into a spider’s web, and must navigate the traps and lures of an awakening intelligence if she wants to go home again.

Book Review:

First Thoughts

The synopsis paints quite a fascinating picture doesn’t it. I remember describing it as a “what if” Titanic story intermingled with the sentient aura of the Overlook Hotel from Stephen King’s The Shining. It’s nothing like that at all. From the get go, you get a sense of character focus, where it’s more about the crew than it is about the ship itself. The ship becoming a means to an end, leading to character growth.

The Story

The story follows Saga and Michel, a husband and wife hacker team. With them is Gregor, the pilot of their ship the Sigurd. The crew is hired by the mysterious Wei to recapture a luxury cruise spaceship named the Martian Queen. Once a prosperous liner travelling between Mars and Earth, the ship has been decommissioned for twenty years and floats through space between the two planets. The ship is still in tact and seems the perfect score, perhaps too perfect. But the pay will set Saga and Michel for life, and allow Saga to pay for her mother’s medical fees.

However, once inside the ship they realize they may have bitten off more than they can chew. The ships A.I. appears to be defunct, but unexplained phenomena begin to occur. Lights coming on. The casino abuzz with figures who once roamed the ship. It becomes clear to the crew, especially Saga, that not all is as it seems.

Writing

The story is told from Saga’s perspective, written in third-person. It is much more a story about Saga than it is about the Martian Queen or the crew. The writing takes a very emotive approach, where we see all the things that Saga and Michel have to deal with, Gregor’s own dismantled life, and Wei’s suspicious behaviour once they are aboard the cruise ship. These, however, appear as side notes to Saga’s own thought processes and poignant introspection.

From within the ship, the writing flows into more of a mystery. There’s hardly any technical jargon or sci-fi heavy concepts, although they are definitely present. Instead the writing focuses on how Saga feels about the job, Wei, her mother, and the curious happenings that they attribute to the ship. Of course there are some ominous moments that creep through the story but nothing really scary.

Apart from Saga,who is very well written, the other characters fall to the wayside. We get a glimpse of their personalities yet not enough to truly set them apart. They are only noticeable because there are so few characters to focus on anyway.

The writing is not flowery or filled with prose, but the nostalgia is undeniable.

Final Thoughts

The ending was not predictable at all, although in hindsight I should have seen it coming. Especially considering that the focus was barely on the ship, but the crew inside the ship. In the end I enjoyed this novella. Not in the ghost story kind of way, but the emotional investment kind of way. Much like the Stephen King books I love so much.

Rating: An unexpected 4 out of 5


The Ghost Line was published on July 10, 2017.

 

Are you an author who wants your book reviewed? Contact me on my site: NthatoMorakabi.com

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The Fortress at the end of Time – Review

Title: The Fortress at the End of Time

Author: Joe M. McDermott

Genre: Sci-Fi

Book procurement: Received a copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor.com.

Synopsis:

In The Fortress at the End of Time, humanity has expanded across the galaxy by use of ansible and clone technology, but an enemy stands in their way—an enemy alien in concept as much as physiology. Ronaldo Aldo is a clone stationed in the back-end of nowhere—a watch station with a glorious military past, but no future. He’s desperate to prove himself worthy of ascension—of having his consciousness broadcast to a newer clone, far away from his current post at the Citadel.

Review:

First Thoughts

Sci-fi and I are good friends. Not the best, but good. Like that friend you talk to occasionally and have a great time with but won’t talk to for months until you meet again. Yeah. That’s sci-fi to me alright.

The Fortress at the End of Time was very vague in its synopsis. I guess they were trying to keep the whole story a mystery, so I couldn’t get a sense of what I should expect. From the get go I was thrust into this technologically advanced world where humans get cloned, and it is the clone that get’s shipped off to where the original is needed. And they have with them, all the originals memories. And this is the story of one clone of many – Ronaldo Aldo.

Ronaldo Aldo is my name. There are as many of me as there are colonies.

~Ronaldo Aldo

The Story

Ronaldo Aldo is a clone sent off to a remote watch station, the Citadel, with a glorious military past. It was there that humanity made an impressive stand against an unknown, apparently alien, enemy. Now they stand watch for a possible, inevitable counter attack although none think it will come. Yet someone must watch just in case. In truth the Citadel is nothing more than a decaying way-station where clones spend the rest of their lives in routine boredom. There is every level of bureaucracy as one can expect and the corruption that comes with it.

The novel plays out from Ronaldo Aldo’s first person perspective. It is a written confession of a grievous crime he’s committed, but to get to it, he explains how it all began. From his last night as his original self – a graduate at the War College – to his clone self assigned to the Citadel, and the life there. It is a story of self-discovery and budding existential crises. A story of a clone who realises the monotony of his existence and hopes to one day change it.

Knowing the self is vital to clones, psychologically, and more so at a posting like the Citadel. If we perceive no origin, and there is no place but the Citadel, and all else is just a story, then I would prefer not to uncover the truth.

~Ronaldo Aldo

There is also a religious context to the story. A way, I think, J.M McDermott addresses the idea that no matter how much we progress as a species technologically and scientifically, there are things that even those cannot answer. Later in the book, Ronaldo gets to visit one of the colonies off Citadel. One of his few joys. There he goes to a monastery with a unique number of characters who question the military life and its absolutes. One of which asks whether people reborn through the ansible as clones, have their souls transported too.

Writing

The writing is truly captivating. I did not get a sense of the author (in the writing itself) at all but the view of the main protagonist. As though I were truly reading his confession here on my own Earth substation. It is authentic and real. No unnecessary flowery talk but a near-narcissistic, emotional wreck expunging of life. He just does his duty regardless of the obvious, unspoken occurrences by those who realise that they are stuck forever on the Citadel, and nothing will ever change that.

I was pushed to this great act by the station, the military protocols, and the lies I was told about transcendence. I sinned against the devil and beat his game. By grace of God, my sin against the devil is the triumph of my life.

~Ronaldo Aldo

Final Thoughts

 

I was rooting for Ronaldo, while at the same time wanting to punch him in the face. The decisions he made sometimes were infuriating. Then again, imagine knowing you’re a clone, sent off to some random corner of the galaxy where a corrupted bureaucracy rules and everyone knows and exploits it. A place where suicides are common. Where you have no hope of ever leaving the dreary, indifferent world you’ve been throw in to.

What would you do?

I do not deny my guilt, and will never deny it.

~Ronaldo Aldo

Rating: An entangled 3 out of 5


The Fortress at the End of Time was published on January 17 2017.

Did you know:

An ansible is a category of fictional device or technology capable of instantaneous or faster-than-light communication. It can send and receive messages to and from a corresponding device over any distance or obstacle whatsoever with no delay. The term ansible is broadly shared across works of several science fiction authors, settings and continuities.

In The Fortress at the End of Time, the McDermott uses the ansible as an instantaneous cloning tool.

Are you an author who wants your book reviewed? Contact me on my site: NthatoMorakabi.com

vN – Recommendation

Amy Peterson is a von Neumann machine, a self-replicating humanoid robot.

For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother’s past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, little Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.

Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she’s learning impossible things about her clade’s history – like the fact that the failsafe that stops all robots from harming humans has failed… Which means that everyone wants a piece of her, some to use her as a weapon, others to destroy her.


Now that is both a cover and a synopsis that will get me to pick up a book even if I don’t know the author. As I don’t in this case but it’s definitely on my To-Read list.

The Warren by Brian Evenson – Review

Title: The Warren

Author: Brian Evenson

Genre: Science Fiction

Book procurement: Received a copy from Tor.com for Gamecca Magazine Vol 8 Issue 88.

Synopsis:

X doesn’t have a name. He thought he had one—or many—but that might be the result of the failing memories of the personalities imprinted within him. Or maybe he really is called X.

He’s also not as human as he believes himself to be.

But when he discovers the existence of another—above ground, outside the protection of the Warren—X must learn what it means to be human, or face the destruction of their two species.

Review:

First Thoughts

X, if that is his name, is a but a single person. Within him lies the imprinted personalities of others before him, salvaged minds seeking to keep knowledge within the last remaining human. However, X begins to question his humanity when he discovers another on the surface of what he calls, the Warren. Things begin to spin out of control as the two wrestle with an existential question: what makes one human.

I won’t say this was an easy read. Sometimes confusing. Sometimes annoying. Most importantly, it really did what it’s supposed to do: make us question the concept of what makes us human.

Writing

The Warren is a fascinating science fiction thriller, a dive into the mind of a man with multiple-personas within him. Only they aren’t just personas, bu the minds of people who came before X. Imprinting what remained of their minds into the remaining living being. The really creepy part was when X described the opening of eyes within his mind, as the individuals grew coherent of the fact that they too are fragmented minds living within another conscious mind. *shivers

Unable to comprehend the individuals within, X begins to seek out questions regarding his existence in the Warren. The personalities don’t share much and his only other source of knowledge is Monitor, a computer of some sort. It carries some of the information from before, but not enough to make a lot of sense to the questions that X asks. Questions that plague his existence. The most pertinent question, especially when X finds another human on the surface of the Warren, is: what makes someone human.

In light of this, you can imagine the conversations that occur. Also, the surface above the Warren is poisonous to all who stand in its air, and no one who has left has come back. Only there’s no way to know why it’s so bad, and why this person on the surface even exists. The only way to survive is to look for resources and continue your existence yet even resources have become scarce.

Not only that but imagine being the only living person with just a computer as your companion, trying to figure out who or what you are, and who the other person could possibly be. Would you risk the possibility of death to find out? Or continue in the routine of solitude and scouring where you can for resources.

Final Thoughts

Brian Evenson captures the isolation and alienation really well. One can almost imagine the paranoia and anxiety of solitude and confusion. Of having multiple minds just sitting in the darkness of your mind. More importantly, of trying to understand the world around you when there’s nothing to truly help. Except for the one thing you know you shouldn’t… exploring the surface.

Rating: A borderline 3 out of 5


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Monday Book Recommendation: The Ghost Line

The luxury cruise ship the Martian Queen was decommissioned years ago, set to drift back and forth between Earth and Mars on the off-chance that reclaiming it ever became profitable for the owners. For Saga and her husband Michel the cruise ship represents a massive payday. Hacking and stealing the ship could earn them enough to settle down, have children, and pay for the treatments to save Saga’s mother’s life.

But the Martian Queen is much more than their employer has told them. In the twenty years since it was abandoned, something strange and dangerous has come to reside in the decadent vessel. Saga feels herself being drawn into a spider’s web, and must navigate the traps and lures of an awakening intelligence if she wants to go home again.


Andrew Gray‘s fiction has appeared in numerous speculative fiction magazines, including Nature Futures, Apex Magazine, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, The Sockdolager and On Spec.

He was awarded On Spec’s Lydia Langstaff Memorial Prize, has been nominated for a National Magazine Award for Fiction and has been shortlisted several times for the CBC/Saturday Night Literary Award. He was the runner-up prize winner in the 2015 Quantum Shorts flash fiction competition.

His first collection of stories, Small Accidents, was published by Raincoast Books and was shortlisted for the Ethel Wilson Award at the BC Book Prizes and an IPPY award in the US.

With co-author J.S. Herbison, he has written The Ghost Line, which is forthcoming from Tor.com’s novella imprint in mid-2017.

He lives with his family and several cranky chickens on Canada’s West Coast

Friday Fiction: Memoir of a Failed Father

Today’s Friday Fiction is courtesy of microcosmsfic.com. 300 word short story using the following elements.

Character: Sheriff Setting: Blockade Genre: Memoir


“Ya’ll gonna go back, aint yer?” Sheriff Mac asked. I clutched Delilah and Josiah near me. No wind blew that night. The stars had winked out of existence and the moon was but an ethereal shadow. The clouds though. The clouds swam scarlet. Humming. Right into our bones.

“Do yer know what it is Sheriff?” I asked, our eyes gazing up.

“Nah-ah. Them federal boys set up blockade up by Westpoint.” He raised a trembling hand towards the dark hill. Its apex sat directly below the rolling mass.

“Is why I’m telling yer tah go back, Jonathan. Let it clear. T‘morrow er’thing will be back to normal.”

But it wasn’t.

Not two hours after we’d left the Sheriff did it begin to rain. Not softly either. It poured. Bashing against the roof and windows like the house was being peppered with large pebbles. Josey. My poor Josey. When he turned eight we had converted the attic into his own room and he’d been there 3 years then. It hit him first. The rain.

I still remember his screams. Horrid, high pitched wails that crawled along the walls. We rushed up, Delilah and I, not even realising the dark patches along the ceiling. I was there first. I remember that. Delilah stumbled in after then her screams joined Josey’s.  The ceiling had serrated where water poured in, drenching my boy. Where there was once hair now dripped skin and melted clumps of hair. Half his pink, smoking face sagged.  He’d raised fingers but the skin had burnt off. I could see the bone.

Delilah pushed past me to wrap Josey in a blanket and then they were running. Josey never made it far. Delilah… she carried him until she too dribbled away.

I cowered in the basement. A poltroon. A failure.

Friday Fiction: Interstellar Blind Date

Today’s Friday Fiction is courtesy of microcosmsfic.com. 300 word short story using the following elements.

Character: Bride Activity: Coming from Space Genre: Romance


Substation forty-two-seven. A glossy enamel coated hexagon floating against the dark expanse of space in the Northern corner of the Milky Way galaxy. In constant rotation around it were two satellites from DISTV, hovering higher than normal allowing the influx of passenger ships to stream in, while each satellite streamed the convoys to homes across the galaxy. The season finale of Interstellar Blind Date accrued its highest viewership since the romance between the Mantodeanite dancer and her partner during So You Think You Can Congambaltz. Reality TV had never been showcased on extra-terrestrial transmissions and they were eating it up faster than female Mantodeanites ate their male partners.

The running broadcast would finally reveal the contestants to one another, in a face-to-face date-cum-wedding between the star-crossed lovers in every sense – and only the audience knew of their fate. To each other, Ara had fallen madly in love with Diptera, the reverse tenfold, during silhouetted “online” dates where the two never saw each other’s faces; viewers on the other hand were privy to their identities and watched with bated breath as neither contestant guessed the other. Oh it made for stellar television alright, and the final episode would be the most watched, downloaded, torrented and eventually sought after episode in all of history.

Ara sashayed onto the stage with a veil over her face however everyone had turned to see the slowly widening compound eyes and gaping segmented mouth-parts on the spindly Diptera. The crowd sat in abject silence. Ara dragged her bulbous body forward, wedding dress and all, eight thin appendages clacking asynchronously while her chelicerae scissor in excitement. Diptera edged forward slowly, too terrified to notice the translucent threads around the stage.

“Diptera.” She whispered, “They should have given you a less revealing name.”

*Mantodea are praying mantis and the females eat their husbands.

Diptera is the “scientific name” for a fly and if you haven’t guessed it, Ara is a spider. Short for Arachnid.

A Time Traveler’s Diary: The Thought Process

pexels-photo-28347

A young girl bumps into a boy at school. A familiar face she recognizes from her pre-school days. A face she’s seen in class but barely remembers anywhere else. Their little collision sets off a chain of events that bring them closer together.

 

But the boy has a secret. One that he must keep hidden, even as his interaction with the girl threatens to reveal it, and with it, her own demise.


These last few weeks/months have been quite interesting. More than anything, they seem to be centered around this idea of Time Travel or at least something to do with the concept of time. I’m thinking of the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children books I just finished. I’m thinking of the mind boggling film Predestination. I’m thinking of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. I’m thinking of the prevalent Facebook/9Gag questions “Would you rather have the ability to go back in time and fix one mistake, or relive your entire life with all your current memories?” etc etc.

I find the concept of Time Travel fascinating for obvious reasons. The fact that we are bound to moving forward, unable to shift either to the left or to the right, let alone skip back a few paces, means every moment we experience now is what will be. The question is: will we regret the choices we make today tomorrow?

clock__by_yellowcandyfloss-d4smtzz

 

 

Don’t time travel into the past, roaming through the nuances as if they can change. Don’t bookmark pages you’ve already read. ~ James Altucher

 

 

I’ve got this novel in my head, and I’m working out the nuances of time travel. What exactly it looks like, why it needs to happen, who are the people affected by it and how are they affected by it. Will it be a magnificent, thunder-calling spectacle or will it be subtle shimmers one can step through? The past. The present. The future. All are important. All are relevant.

All define the Time Traveler’s Diary.

Writing Prompt: Dog-gone

One always remembers something in particular about a memorable day and for me it was the sun. For a July afternoon mid-winter, the sun was rather bright and the warmth welcome. Of course it was not merely the sun that made the day memorable, this was South Africa after all. It was, rather, the incident that occurred at the corner of Rae Frankel and Hennie Alberts somewhere in Albertsdal or Alberview… it could be Alberton. That detail is  fuzzy. The smell of MacDonalds however is still clear and to this day, the smell reminds me of this incident. This… accident.

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High Priest of High Tech

HighPriestOfHighTech

The High Priest Of High Tech by Steven Renn (http://malignanttoast.deviantart.com/art/Relay-171616637)

I stood outside the dark brick structure of an old church building; it was hauntingly dilapidated with half of its front ripped by a massive explosion. Dried up flowers and old flower pots lined the bottom half of the remaining wall, memories of a tragedy long past. I considered stepping into the austere structure through the hole in the wall but there was a peculiar atmosphere around the building that required a bit more decency and respect from me, and so I moved towards the large wooden double doors, still standing, surprisingly.

The golden handle wouldn’t budge at first and with my second hand working as leverage, the handle clicked down and I swung into the dusty building, stumbling over fallen debris and kicking a dusty chalice across the concrete floors. The metallic ring of the cup echoed loudly within the hall, stopping with a loud thud against a broken pew. The silence that ensued felt thick, as though I could reach up and grab ropes of it from the air around me; too thick for comfort. Nonetheless I continued on, skipping over broken pews and rubble, moving towards the center aisle where I could see the marble altar of a forgotten age.

The altar was cool to the touch, and dusty; my finger was coated in the tiny particles – and so was the large green button in the center of the table. I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out the frayed notebook within. The diary belonged to my father and within the browning pages lay an intricate map of clues, codes and symbols, all speaking of a forgotten technology that once guided humanity back towards peace when all was lost.

It was at a time when Government worked to improve the lives of humanity, offering human rights and compromising on morality for convenience, but the Church believed that Government had overstepped its boundary; thus from the conflict that rose, destruction followed. When many from the church were incarcerated… or worse, the church slowly died off save for a few saints scattered between cities. The state of humanity plummeted with it – morality became relative, accountability was placed on man and thus what was right or wrong could no longer be established, for there were no grounds for anything save what each individual perceived to be right. In an attempt to resolve the sudden rise in acts that were once considered evil and not condoned, a program was built, studying humanity in its past and at present – one thing became clear from the evidence gathered, without God, humanity was lost.

The High Priests emerged suddenly; humanity, seeking answers, found refuge in the mechanical humanoids draped in long flowing garb that was reminiscent of eastern monks. The priests’ heads were hidden below hats, elongated to hide the mechanical bindings in their skulls connected to a crown of antennae; cords linked to the antennae connected the priests to the world wide web and to other priests, gaining knowledge and understanding of the human world from each other and from the information highway. The High Priests were always online, always available and if one had to request an audience, they simply had to press the button in the center of the marble altar that now served as the priests’ throne.

It was this very button that my finger had brushed across on the old altar, a similar symbol etched into the button was also drawn within my father’s diary…the same symbol inscribed against my temple on the right side of my head. Of course I knew what it meant, that is why I’d journey across the planes in search of a church that was once home of a particular High Priest…now here I was, ready to meet the High Priest who was my father.

I pressed the button and waited. The air about me seemed to buzz with life as though electricity moved between the dust particles in the air. I felt the hairs on the nape of my neck and down my arms lift with the static in the air. The altar buzzed to life, a few beeps emanated from within the marble counter and I began to understand how the priests worked; the altar was a giant processing machine.

Of course the question that followed was, where was the priest and as realization dawned on me, it was too late. I also, of course, attempted to turn and run, head back out the door as I was not ready for such an endeavour but somehow cords had already wound their way up my legs, preventing me from escaping. From above the altar, the priests’ hat descended, its antennae rotating as though searching for signal while large bronze cylinders with dark glass centers joined together to make spectacles. Unable to move, my voice stuck in my throat and the horror of my awaiting fate all culminated into a heart palpitating fear as the hat fit into my skull. The insignia etched into my temple throbbed with intense heat and with that, my eyes were opened to the world.

No longer was I seeing things as merely a human, but rather a hybrid of human and machine and the truth that was revealed to me, tore my heart in two; the sensation was too overwhelming.

The truth revealed to me, was not that humans without God were lost but rather humans in and of themselves were lost, like sheep in the wilderness without a shepherd. The worst of the knowledge was in the fact that humans were aware of God and yet were willingly denying Him, unable to accept Him, unable to embrace His light for they were in darkness. God was revealing himself to them, to us, in creation, in the miracle of life and the fact that the intricacies of our own body’s did not fail to work as they should.

And yet we shunned Him in the same way we shunned morality and religion – as though they were the evils when in truth it was us, and how we twisted the very things given to guide us towards God in order to feed our own darkness. Oh how far has humanity fallen and how much further shall it fall. Has this truth been revealed to me through merely knowledge? No! For many of these priests who were in like me now, merely taught morality and law but…but this…this is mercy I could not have hoped for – this is an undeserved gift!

Now I see my destiny, as a priest in this high tech era, I must be the means towards reaching people with the truth of this one amazing fact:

If you confess with your mouth, Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

_________________________________________

This month’s writing challenge in response to:

April’s Pictonaut Challenge

 

Read, Sav, Read.

| B.A. in English. | Writer. | Lover of books. | 2017 Book Count: 61. | Currently Reading: Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon. |

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