Head On (John Scalzi)

Head On (John Scalzi)Head On (Lock In, #2) by John Scalzi
Published by Tor Books on April 17th 2018
Genres: Sci Fi
Pages: 335
Format: audio
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

John Scalzi returns with Head On, the standalone follow-up to the New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed Lock In. Chilling near-future SF with the thrills of a gritty cop procedural, Head On brings Scalzi's trademark snappy dialogue and technological speculation to the future world of sports.

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.

Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI Agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth―and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★
Readability: ★★★★

I have a habit of searching for audiobooks based on narrators, and then narrowing those down to titles that sound interesting. Since Wil Wheaton’s narration of Ready Player One remains one of my favourite audiobook performances ever, I tend to keep a pretty close eye on what else he’s narrating, which led me to Lock In way back in 2014.  The premise of Lock in – and it’s sequel, Head On – is really interesting: in the near future, a medical syndrom called Haden’s leaves some people ‘locked in’; unable to move, or speak.  Hadens interact through the world through threeps (robots), and the series follows Chris, a famous Haden who’s also a rookie FBI agent, attempting to solve murder cases.  In Head On,the mystery revolves around Hilketa – a game in which Hadens control robots and earn points by ripping off another players head and shooting it through a hoop.  Partway through a game, one of the star players dies, with no obvious cause.

I really loved the concept of Lock In, but I found it a bit predictable and slow.  I’m pleased to say I thought Head on was much less predictable, though the pacing was still a little off – it took a while to really get going I thought, maybe thanks to the background we needed to understand Hilketa.  I thought the characters were slightly better than in Lock In too – Chris is, as before, a likeable, normal character: the kind of character you’d probably happily have a drink and play pool with, pretty down to earth despite the family’s money.  Vann is significantly less irritating in this second book, although I’m still not emotionally invested in her one way or the other.  I found her and Chris’ relationship kind of so-so; they have some mild occasional teasing, but otherwise don’t seem to have much of a bond.  Chris’ housemates are all interesting and I’d definitely have liked to see more interactions there, though I can see why there weren’t more – the pacing was a little slow at times as it was, so I don’t think they could have added much more without making that more noticeable.

The series is great in terms of gender, diversity, and challenging your unconscious assumptions without being at all in your face or preachy.  In fact, although I called Chris ‘he’ all the way through my review of Lock In, Scalzi deliberately didn’t specify Chris’ gender and both books have two audiobook versions: one narrated by Wil Wheaton and one by Amber Benson.  I actually didn’t realise at all, and assumed based on Wil’s narration that Chris was a he, which gave me lots of pause for thought when I eventually realised!  Despite my issues with the books, I’ll definitely be pre-ordering if the series continues, because the premise is so interesting, and Scalzi’s clearly put a lot of thought into how the world would be changed as a result of 1% of the population having Hadens.

Buy it? I think this is worth buying as an audiobook, because Wheaton’s narration really does add to the experience.
In a nutshell: It’s very clever, the premise is interesting, but the characters and pacing let it down a little.

Skitter (Ezekiel Boone)

Skitter (Ezekiel Boone)Skitter (The Hatching #2) by Ezekiel Boone
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Horror, Post-apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Format: Hardback
Source: Library
Goodreads

Tens of millions of people around the world are dead. Half of China is a nuclear wasteland. Mysterious flesh-eating spiders are marching through Los Angeles, Oslo, Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, and countless other cities. According to scientist Melanie Guyer, however, the spider situation seems to be looking up. Yet in Japan, a giant, truck-sized, glowing egg sack gives a shocking preview of what is to come, even as survivors in Los Angeles panic and break the quarantine zone. Out in the desert, survivalists Gordo and Shotgun are trying to invent a spider super weapon, but it’s not clear if it’s too late, because President Stephanie Pilgrim has been forced to enact the plan of last resort: The Spanish Protocol. America, you are on your own.

SPOILER ALERT: As this is book 2 in The Hatching series, there will be spoilers for The Hatching throughout this review.

Plot: ★★
Characters: ★★★
Readability: ★★★

I was addicted to The Hatching, so I went into Skitter with high hopes – and sadly, the book didn’t live up to those at all.  Looking at the goodreads reviews, I’m definitely in the minority with my opinion, so you might love it, but I thought it was a classic case of middle book syndrome.  The Hatching was great – the problem started seemingly small, and rapidly expanded.  We saw what seemed like mostly unrelated characters discover the problem and try to cope with it, revealing their possible connections in the process.  It was fast-paced, it was creepy, and it went straight onto my list of instant-favourite-post-apocalyptic books.

And then came Skitter.  I don’t even really know where to start reviewing this, except that to say that somehow for a dramatic book, I feel like this was a case of running in place without getting anywhere.  I feel like the only purpose of the book was to take the big disaster of book 1, and make it a HUGE CATASTROPHE ready for book 3.  Aside from a few fun interactions between characters, I felt like basically everything in this book could have been accomplished just as easily with a time-jump between the first book and the last, cutting this one out altogether.  Instead, we had a book that felt mostly like filler, and given how much I loved the first one, it was very disappointing for this one to feel like, to be frank, a bit of a waste of time.  I’ll still be picking up book three, but I do feel like perhaps Mr Boone/the publishers felt this had to be a trilogy because that’s what sells, when really it would have been a fantastic duology.  On the plus side, it’s a quick read, I just didn’t feel like I got much out of it.

The Girl with All the Gifts (M. R. Carey)

The Girl with All the Gifts (M. R. Carey)The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey
Published by Little, Brown Book Group Limited on 19-06-2014
Genres: Dystopia, Fantasy, Fiction, Sci Fi
Pages: 461
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

NOT EVERY GIFT IS A BLESSING

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.


When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like h
er. She jokes that she won't bite. But they don't laugh.

Melanie is a very special girl.

Emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is the most powerful and affecting thriller you will read this year.

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★

The storyMelanie is a little girl who lives in a cell.  Every morning, men with guns and grim faces lock her into her wheelchair, push her down the corridor and into the classroom, where she and around twenty other wheelchair bound kids are taught lessons by a variety of teachers.  Melanie likes her classes, she loves her teacher Miss Justineau and she adores Greek mythology.  She doesn’t particularly love being strapped into her chair during classes (makes it hard to make friends), or the fact that most of the adults seem scared of her, even when she’s trying to be nice.

The jacket of the book gives very little away, so if you’d rather go into this blind as was intended, it’s probably best to stop reading here! If you don’t mind the slight spoiler/already seen it elsewhere or if you’ve already read The Girl with All The Gifts, you’re safe to read on!

The Girl with All The Gifts is not a book about a little girl with special abilites – I have to admit I was imagining an X-men style mutant or something similar.  It turns out, The Girl with All The Gifts is a book about zombies.

I’m seriously squeamish so zombie movies and TV are not my thing at all, but my few forays into zombie fiction have gone pretty well so far.  I adored Feed by Mira Grant, and I enjoyed Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel (though the second book not so much).

 

The characters

Melanie is an absolutely great character, and I think without her this book just wouldn’t have worked for me.  She’s unbelievably smart, but she’s also like a puppy: she’s so eager to please, and she has questions without answers that no kid her age should have to worry about.

The supporting characters mainly consist of Miss Justinea, Sergeant Parks and Doctor Caldwell which is perhaps where the story fell down a little for me.  With a relatively small cast, I expected to really connect with the characters, but although there were a few moments where I connected with the others, I didn’t really find myself drawn to any of them in the same way as I did with Melanie.  Strangely, the supporting character I found most real was Doctor Caldwell, who is less likable than both Miss Justineau and Sergeant Parks!

 

final thoughtsWith hints of the same scientific basis as Mira Grant’s Feed and moments so tense I didn’t want to leave the safety of my locked bedroom, I’m not quite sure why I didn’t click more with The Girl with All the Gifts.  It took me a while to get into, and there were few moments where I was truly hooked – I definitely enjoyed it, but The Girl with All The Gifts was probably a 3.5 star read for me.

 

Buy it? This is one I’d borrow or pick up on a deal.
In a nutshell: Enjoyable, and I’ll definitely be looking out for more by M.R. Carey, but it didn’t wow me.

 

Other Reviews of The Girl with All the Gifts: Wondrous Reads | The Book Plank | The Book Smugglers

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