Category: book review


In his second sci-fi novel, Andy Weir, the author of “The Martian,” tried to do a 180 turn and write something different. His novel “Artemis” was only partly successful.

“Artemis” takes place on the sole human settlement on the moon, where everyone has a specific task, laws are mostly guidelines, the population is just a few thousand people, and everybody knows and (mostly) adores our protagonist, Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara.

Jazz is a 26-year-old full-time porter, part-time smuggler, whose family left Saudi Arabia when she was a kid, and who ends up getting in the world of trouble as the novel begins. It’s unclear what Weir was going for with this character: she has the mentality of a 16-year-old and the inner monologue of a teenage boy. (John Scalzi’s “Zoe’s Tale” came much closer to adopting the persona of a female protagonist, and he said that it took him ages to hone in on that writing style.) It doesn’t help that Jazz is Mary Sue incarnate: she can become an expert in electronics in just one day, or understand a groundbreaking PhD dissertation in chemistry after spending a few hours online.

To be fair, the science part of this science fiction novel was beautiful: Weir goes to great lengths to explain why Kenya would end up as a spacefaring superpower with its equatorial location; how to survive a fire in an oxygen-rich moon city; how and why an aluminum processing plant would prosper on the moon. The economy he describes is interesting as well: a single credit can buy you a gram of cargo shipped from the Earth.

Overall, the book is great sci-fi but with a supremely flat main character. When it inevitably becomes a movie, the screenwriters will probably do yet another 180 and give Jazz a personality transplant. Until then, however, I don’t recommend picking up “Artemis” until and unless you finish everything else on your “to read” list.

I give this book two out of five stars.

Full disclosure: I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Buy “Artemis” on Amazon here, if you so choose.

I really, really wanted to enjoy the new Welcome to Night Vale novel. As a faithful podcast listener who went to the live shows and enjoyed the first novel two years ago, I’d expected something as fulfilling and creative, but I was a bit disappointed in what I found.

The new novel focuses very little on the characters we all know and love from the podcast. Instead, Cecil, his family, and the protagonists of the first novel make a brief appearance, and Carlos shows up for a little while, but most of the action is concentrated on brand new characters. One is Nilanjara Sikdar, one of the scientists who arrived to Night Vale with Carlos. The other one is Darryl Ramirez, a faithful follower of the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God.

This novel is yet another attempt to approach the ancient debate between science and religion. The two main characters, unfortunately, are two-dimensional stereotypes with a fair amount of personality slapped on top. As they team up to investigate the strange phenomenon (or possibly a creature) that devours parts of Night Vale, the anti-religion scientist learns to accept unscientific things and hunches, while the super-naive religious guy reconsiders his beliefs and offers some moral pointers to Carlos and his merry team of scientists.

This novel has some great writing, and oh-so-many quotable passages, as well as little jokes that make Welcome to Night Vale so great. (“D-Day is short for Dog Day, which happened during World War II, when we defeated the Germans by not letting them come over to pet our dogs anymore.”) It has some insightful thoughts about the nature of humanity and the overall silliness of humans. But overall, it’s not an entertaining novel that was written to entertain the reader. It’s a story about science and religion, with some characters thrown in to keep it going and bring a preachy ending that’s relatively easy to see coming.

Without giving away any of the plot, let me put it this way: if you enjoyed the postmodern romance movie “500 Days of Summer,” which was cleverly written and shot but had a very non-traditional ending, you’ll enjoy this book. If, on the other hand, you want your leisure reading to have a concise story where everything ends well and everyone lives happily ever after, you might want to skip this book – or get it from the library.

Come to think of it, a good analogy would be the Narnia books by C.S.Lewis: it’s a fun and interesting story on the surface, but then you realize the author is preaching to you, and it becomes far less enjoyable. In this case, the preaching is balanced out and neither side is fully right, but that doesn’t make it better in my eyes.

I give this book three out of five stars.

Buy “It Devours” on Amazon, if you’re so inclined

I love time travel novels: they’re challenging to write and fun to read. There are inventive plot twists, creative time machines, and tons of historical trivia. Paradox Bound, the new novel by Peter Clines, is all that and much more. According to Clines, he’d spent more years writing Paradox Bound than he did any other book – and that certainly shows!

It’s tough to describe the plot without giving away the wonderful, delicious surprises, so I’ll just state the very basics. It’s a story about a Millennial guy named Eli who lives in a boring small town in Maine and who has a crush on the mysterious woman who passes through every few years, wearing antique outfits and driving a souped-up Ford Model A. It’s a story about America and its history, both the heroic past and the uncertain future. It’s a story about a community of time travelers (or “history travelers,” as they prefer to be called) who travel through history in their antique cars. (Similar to Chuck Palahniuk’s “Rant,” only with less NC-17 content.) It’s a story about the pursuit of a dream above all else.

It also features faceless government men, an ancient Egyptian god, the Founding Fathers, and subtle references to every other novel Clines has ever written. The many, many plot twists kept me glued to the book: some of them could be guessed, while others were both beautiful and brilliant in their complexity. It helps that Clines used to be a Hollywood writer and knows his way around pacing, dialogue and overall structure – the book flows like a dream. (Or like the 2030 Tesla X!)

The only other time travel novel I’ve read that achieved this level of beauty and twisted complexity is The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold, an underappreciated 1973 masterpiece that was ahead of its time. Clines left enough loose ends for there to be a sequel, which I’ll await most eagerly.

Paradox Bound also touches on some deeper themes. There is an interesting encounter with a folk hero from the 19th century whose story is told from a different angle. There’s the uncomfortable fact that female time travelers have a much easier time if they disguise themselves as men in their trips to the past. There’s an interesting subplot of cops forcing another cop to sign a document that would permanently change his life. (And not for the better.) The book doesn’t preach, but it gives more than enough food for thought to its careful readers.

One word of caution: there are a couple of mild adult moments in the novel, so you may not want to give it your 8-year-old – wait until they hit their teenage years. If, however, you’re buying this book for yourself and if you enjoy time travel yarns, inventive plots, and strong female characters with low tolerance for nonsense, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

I give this book five out of five stars.

Full disclosure: I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Buy Paradox Bound on Amazon

Have you ever wondered if our world made a wrong turn somewhere? Sure, we have computers and smartphones and shiny video games, but what happened to the yesteryear dreams of jetpacks and space travel and flying cars? Well, now we know whom to blame: Tom Barren, the world’s worst time-traveler and the protagonist of Elan Mastai’s debut novel “All Our Wrong Todays.”

As it turns out, the most important event in human history happened on July 11th, 1965, when an eccentric scientist named Lionel Goettreider launched a device that harvested a new type of energy. The Goettreider Engine revolutionized everything, solved the energy crisis and turned the world into a utopia. Goettreider himself dies during the experiment (taking 16 fellow scientists with him), but that just helped cement his status as the new messiah of the utopian world. (The unfortunate scientists are remembered as “the 16 witnesses.”)

The story begins when our hapless protagonist, the scion of a famous physics professor, gets picked as a backup in the first ever time travel expedition. The grateful people of the futuristic 2015 want to go back in time (and space, accounting for the planetary movement) to witness the famous 1965 experiment. The end result is Tom waking up in our timeline, in our 2015, which to him seems like a dystopian nightmare. The Goettreider Engine doesn’t exist; buildings aren’t organically grown from smart materials; we use gas-guzzling cars instead of the fancy flying ones; worst of all, you have to pay other adults to pay your hair! And, on top of all that, the world he grew up in has ceased to exist, along with all his friends and relatives. Meet Tom Barren, destroyer of worlds.

As a self-proclaimed sci-fi junkie, I have to say – this book is probably the best time travel book I’ve had the pleasure to encounter. (The runner-ups are “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” by Charles Yu and “Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey” by Chuck Palahniuk.) It deconstructs just about every time travel trope out there, flirts with a few that are either brand new or downright extinct, and provides dozens of quotable zingers and assorted deep thoughts.

The 380-page story is told from a first-person perspective, and we get to know Tom Barren well: an aimless 32-year-old who grew up in the shadow of his father, never had a lasting relationship and, despite being smarter than an average bear, has a remarkable talent for ruining things. (The fact that he has to share his mind with his alternate-universe self doesn’t help.) The ongoing, unceasing mental narrative reminded me a lot of the aforementioned “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe,” expect much more so.

“All Our Wrong Todays” offers something unique for fans of both hard sci-fi and human interest stories. On the one hand, the book goes into quite a lot of detail regarding the plot holes of most time travel stories. (A recurring plot point is having to track down the exact spatial coordinates – miss by 3″ and you’re done for.) On the other hand, a huge part of the plot is dealing with the impossibly large implications of wiping out an entire timeline. On top of that, there’s time travel ethics: if you change history and end up accidentally getting a new relative, would reversing the change count as murder? If you liked “Safety Not Guaranteed” (probably the best human-interest time travel movie out there), you’ll love this book because it’s just like that, but amplified tenfold.

It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel: there are plot twists you won’t see coming, turns of phrase that will stick in your mind long after you finish the book. It sets a high standard for all the other sci-fi writers, newbie or otherwise, and should be on every sci-fi fan’s bookshelf.

I give this book five out of five stars.

Full disclosure: I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review – but then loved it so much that I pre-ordered a hardcover copy.

Pre-order “All Our Wrong Todays” on Amazon. (Release date: February 7th, 2017)

“The Hatching” by Ezekiel Boone aims to capitalize on two successful trends of science fiction and fantasy: serialized novels and the “oral history” format of “World War Z.” The result is mixed and, to be fair, perfectly average.

The premise is simple, though not very scary, unless you happen to be an arachnophobe: all over the world, ancient spider eggs start hatching and producing spider-shaped weapons of mass destruction that devour everything in their path. A lot of the book follows a female scientist specializing in spiders, a female US President (whose name is not Hillary, just in case you were wondering), and an assorted cast of ex-boyfriends, grad students and an occasional cop, with a few secondary characters thrown in.

The narrative is interspersed with “Word War Z”-esque dispatches of waves of tiny spiders devouring entire villages and then cities. That’s where the book fails to meet expectations. There are only so many ways you can describe a giant black wave of cannibalistic hive-mind creatures without being redundant, and in a lot of cases, there is no background on our temporary protagonists – sometimes we don’t even know their name.

I’m mixed on this book: on the one hand, main characters are fleshed out quite well for a sci-fi/horror novel. They all have their own lives, and the subplot about two pairs of survivalists in a small desert town is fun to read. (I think that’s the first time any work of fiction had a gay survivalist couple living in a bunker – well played!) On the other hand, the names are corny (one family has Annie, Frannie and Manny) and most of the characters spend at least half their time thinking about sex and/or hooking up with their former partners.

The book has some interesting trivia about spiders, but at the same time spiders make for the least convincing horrifying creatures imaginable. (Unless, once again, you’re a raging arachnophobe.) Hitchcock’s 1963 movie “The Birds” did not age well for that precise reason – if your main plot device requires willful suspension of disbelief in order to work at all, it may be a good idea to go with zombies instead.

Overall, “The Hatching” is a perfectly decent novel – not perfect and not terrible, but somewhere in between. In terms of pacing, it might have worked better to release 1 long book instead of starting yet another series with 3 average-sized books, where the plot slowly moves through the paces. Then again, if you’re just looking for a fun book to devour during your flight or while commuting to work, this is a perfectly good choice.

Final score: three out of five stars

Order “The Hatching” now on Amazon

Full disclosure: I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Robert Kroese is a funny guy and one of those improbable entrepreneurs that keep the Internet interesting: he’s a blogger, a philosopher, a prolific Kindle author, and now he just might become my favorite mystery writer.

“The Big Sheep” is a hilarious twist on the established archetype of Holmes and Watson – or, in this case, Erasmus Keane and Blake Fowler. The former is an eccentric, brilliant, occasionally charismatic and frequently quotable private investigator with a shady past. (Or “phenomenological inquisitor,” as he prefers to be called.) The latter is his sidekick and bodyguard – an average guy with a knack for guns and hand-to-hand combat, on a never-ending quest to find his missing girlfriend.

This dynamic duo works in Los Angeles in 2039, 11 years after the Collapse of 2028. The origins of the Collapse aren’t explained, but it ended up dividing the country, creating demilitarized “DZ” zones (essentially, feudal kingdoms for aspiring warlords) and inspiring a hit TV show, DiZzy Girl.

The book begins with Keane and Bowler taking the case of a kidnapped hyper-intelligent sheep, followed by another case from the DiZzy Girl’s starlet, one Priya Mistry, who is convinced her life is in danger. How are the two cases connected? Read on and find out for yourself!

The book’s dialogue, that “make it or break it” element of every detective novel, is brilliantly written. The plot is original, the setting is mysterious and sufficiently noir-like, the narrative is funny, and action scenes are written well enough to grab your attention. The only downside I can think of is the lack of character descriptions. We never learn what our two heroes look like, aside from the fact that they’re adult human males, and that was a bit of an oversight, in my opinion. Fortunately, that’s the only flaw the book has. I highly recommend it for your reading pleasure and eagerly await more books in this great new series.

I give this book five out of five stars.

Order “The Big Sheep” now on Amazon

Full disclosure: I received an advanced reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Making predictions is usually a losing game, but who knows, there’s always the chance of guessing just right. I haven’t been following the trilogy’s reddit or reading any other fan speculations, but here’s what I’ve deduced after re-reading the books and watching just about every Patrick Rothfuss interview on YouTube. (Also, fair warning – this contains spoilers to the first two books, so stop right here unless you want to ruin this amazing book series for yourself.)

  • The third book will come out sometime this decade, but not before November 2017.
  • Simmon will die. (In both books, Kvothe speaks of him very fondly – the sort of fondly one would use to describe somebody who is no longer with us.)
  • Kvothe and Fenton (the second-best sympathist at the University) will end up having a bona fide sympathy some point. (If only to settle once and for all which one is better.)
  • It’ll turn out that Ambrose has been quietly killing everyone who stands between his father and the throne. His family is, after all, known for their connection to pirates.
  • After Ambrose becomes a king, Kvothe will kill him. (There will be a lot of other stuff before that, of course.)
  • Whoever the unfortunate soon-to-be-king is, the assassination will happen in Imre, by the fountain. (See the “you’re him!” scene at the beginning of Book I.)
  • At some point, Kvothe will save a princess from a barrow king (see the boasting paragraph in Book I), possibly revealing that the shamble-men (sp?) are, in fact, real, just like every other allegedly mythical creature in the trilogy.
  • Kvothe will cross over into the fairy realm, where he’ll make enough of a splash that Bast’s father (a fairy king, I believe) will give him over as an apprentice.
  • Bast will briefly see Denna (see one of the interludes in Book I, possibly while eavesdropping during “the big goodbye” scene between her and Kvothe.
  • At one point, Chronicler said Kvothe met a god and killed an angel in order to get to him. I’m afraid the latter was Auri, if only by accident…
  • It’ll turn out that Kvothe’s world is just a barbaric imitation of the grand civilization that existed beforehand (as Skarpi said in Book I, the University was built on top of another, older university). Sort of a “Planet of the Apes”-type scene that shows just how backward the world is, by comparison.
  • Even with the barbarism, arcanists have the cold fusion technology. (See the minor comment Kvothe made about cold-forging iron in the Fishery – can’t recall which book it was in.)
  • Lorren (the Archivist) is one of the Amyr – pretty obvious, considering how quickly he got to Kvothe when he requested Chandrian and Amyr books from the Stacks, and how he asked Kvothe which Ruh troop he was from during his University admissions.
  • We’ll meet Abenthe again. (Kvothe said so in Book I, at the beginning of the Tarbean narrative.)
  • Late in Book III, we’ll meet
  • Kvothe will end up collecting the 7 old artifacts left over by the survivors of the ancient civilization and using them to open the Lackless door. (See the “Seven things stand before” rhyme by a traveling troupe’s boy in Book II.)
  • The magic Denna mentioned (whatever you write down will come true) is a subtle sort of magic, much like Bast’s explanation for the power of one’s self-identity. The Chandrian slaughter musicians and any potential witnesses because having their names written down (or even spoken out loud) will give readers or listeners a degree of power over them.
  • Kvothe’s adopted name – Kote – means “disaster” in Cealdish. (Briefly mentioned in Book I.)
  • Kvothe’s overall story is that of pride and arrogance – he starts a civil war and somehow opens the stone doors and lets the demons into the world, not to mention gets his friends killed, all because he thought he knew better. (See the shortest chapter of Book I – “Pride” – for a small example of his hubris backfiring.)
  • Elodin’s reaction to Kvothe’s question about names (end of Book II) suggests that it is, in fact, possible to fundamentally change one’s name. There may be a ritual for it and it’s not as easy as just adopting a new name. A story (in Book I, I believe) mentioned that a legendary character’s name was concealed in several hidden objects. The mysterious trunk in Kvothe’s room has his name locked away, and he’d need to be in the “Kvothe mode” to open it up. (“Open, damn you. Edro.” Book II,Ch.151)
  • Perhaps the most interesting part: in one of the YouTube interviews, Rothfuss reluctantly said that a gearwin (the popular gadget made in the Fishery) is a device that can “transform heat into angular momentum.” Essentially, the hotter it gets, the faster gears turn. That shines a whole new light on the myth of Tehlu binding the top demon (forgot his name) to an iron wheel and throwing him into a fire pit. Considering all the ancient devices with giant gears in the Underthing, that means gearwins are just a small vestige of the old technology. (Kvothe, as always, didn’t make the connection.) Furthermore, Kilvin has some secret place where he dumped the overflow energy from the fire at the Fishery. It might be connected to the world’s biggest gearwin – the one gearwin to rule them all!
  • The name of the wind is Steve. 😛

Questions? Comments? Counter-theories? Post them here!

Justin Cronin’s “The Passage” trilogy reminds me of DC’s comic book movies: the premise is great, but each new installment is grittier, darker and makes less sense than the one before it.

I’ll start with a warning: if you have any sort of trauma-related emotional triggers, the first 60 pages of “The city of mirrors” will pull them, seemingly just for the fun of it. In the very first chapters of the book, we encounter (in no particular order) a stillbirth, a series of rape-related flashbacks, a man telepathically cheating on his girlfriend, a sexually abused little girl, and a religious hermit who goes to wander in the desert and then either gets extremely lucky by finding a bona fide treasure or loots an emergency supply station while presumably leaving the next stranded traveler to die.

I honestly can’t tell why Cronin chose to assault his readers like this. It’s possible that he tried to shove as much potential shock value as possible to make the book more memorable (though not in a good way) – at one point in the book, there’s a fairly detailed description of live birth. (Not quite what one expects in what’s supposed to be a vampire book.) On the other hand, it’s possible he was just trying to pad the page count. “The city of mirrors” appears to be the shortest book in the trilogy, and that’s after all the shameless padding and all the hundreds of pages spent describing nothing in general.

In the middle of the book, there’s a 200-page novel in which Zero, the original viral, corners one of our plucky heroes and shares his origin story in a very unexpected, out-of-context way. Is it possible that Cronin always wanted to write a “coming of age” story and decided to force-feed it to his readers? Or was it just something gathering dust in his desk drawer that seemed good enough to turn a 400-page book into a heavy 600-pager?

Regardless, the notion of a 150-year-old vampire moaning about his lost college girlfriend is ridiculous, especially considering that his audience consists of a single person who grew up with only the most basic education and who wouldn’t be able to grasp even the most basic concepts – things like tenure or airplanes or upper-class socioeconomic class. The story would have been much more realistic and fun if Zero would have to stop every 5 minutes and explain what things meant, but nope, we’re all subjected to a ridiculously out-of-place stream of consciousness. (Can you imagine tracking down a rural bumpkin from the year 1900 and telling them about your computer problems? Yeah, it’s *that* ridiculous.)

I might have been able to overlook all of the above and give the book a weak 4-star rating, but there are far too many plot holes and, dare I say, poor writing for a book that’s been in the works for 4 years. Just a handful of examples off the top of my head… A 35-year-old horse can run as fast as a group of virals. A character goes for a long swim and produces a perfectly dry book of matches from their pocket. A deaf person devises their own sign language – so advanced that even “War and peace” can be translated into it. Automatic rifles last just fine for 120 years before suddenly starting to break down due to advanced age. Two people that discover potentially world-ending piece of news choose not to tell everyone but instead launch a sociopathic murderous cult that involves dozens of people over the course of 21 years, none of whom say a word to anybody. (Every spy agency’s dream!) A person that’s never been on a boat learns how to operate a cruise ship in less than a month. People of the future can’t tell the difference between 870 and 1,000 years. After restarting civilization, 870 years later the pinnacle of their technological achievement is dirigibles and flashbulb cameras. (Must have been all the inbreeding.) Virals discover brand new powers that can’t be explained by any virus and turn into shapeshifters. Half the characters in the book develop superpowers – either telepathic abilities that are ever so convenient, or the ability to run for 30 minutes while bleeding from an artery without any lasting damage.

If I sound just a little bit upset, it’s because I’ve spent 2 weeks of my life struggling to finish this book, waiting for a payoff at the end, but it never came. I downgrade the book to 2 stars for the most ridiculously stretched-out ending I have ever had the displeasure to read. It’s yet another novella about people we don’t know, doing things we don’t care about, who end up lecturing us about the things we already know and, in the end, do something so extremely stupid (but pretty and sentimental – yay!) that the entire struggle appears to have been for naught.

On the upside, the language of the book is occasionally moving and often beautiful. That is, of course, when it’s not talking about child rape, stillbirths, murderous cults, shapeshifting vampires, shapeshifting humans, shapeshifting vampires that become humans or shapeshifting humans that become vampires but then change their minds and switch back to being humans.

I give this book 2 out of 5 stars.

Pre-order it on Amazon here, if you’re so inclined. (Release date: May 24, 2016)

Full disclosure: I’ve received the advanced reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Writing funny science fiction is not easy. The seminal classic, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, more or less set the standard for the funny sci-fi subgenre when it was created all those decades ago. Ever since then, it’s been held as the standard against which other funny sci-fi novels would be judged.

There are pleasant exceptions, such as John Scalzi’s novels. (Unfortunately, his more recent work has gotten too snarky, to the point where every character sounds exactly the same.) Another happy exception is a brand new novel by Gene Doucette – “The Spaceship Next Door.”

The premise itself is interesting enough: a spaceship lands in the town of Sorrow Falls, Massachusetts, and proceeds to do absolutely nothing for three years. There are no dramatic “first contact” scenes, no enigmatic aliens, no interplanetary romance – just your typical alien spaceship, hanging out in the middle of a field, minding its own business and keeping people from getting too close with its alien forcefield.

Eventually, the government sends a bright (though not very experienced) young man to investigate his pet hypothesis. He meets a quirky, precocious 16-year-old girl who knows everyone and everything in her town, and together they join forces to figure out what’s what and save the world while they’re at it. Along the way, they bump into enigmatic locals, bored soldiers (who spent the last three years waiting for an alien invasion that never came) and a wacky assortment of UFO groupies that created a trailer park community next to the flying saucer.

The book is intelligent, well written and has quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. The characters are beautifully developed and not just used as cardboard cutouts whose only purpose is to move the plot along. (I’m looking at you, Mr.Asimov.)

That said, “The Spaceship Next Door” falls a bit short of perfection in its action scenes. Some of them are explained in overly elaborate details: a certain scene involving a car and a ravine is stretched out over an entire page, even though the action is only 10 seconds long, if that. The pacing is somewhat uneven throughout the book. The first half of the book is slow – almost too slow. The second half is much more fast-paced, and the two don’t mix too well. (Think “Hot Fuzz” with Simon Pegg.) The end result is pretty, but I daresay it could have used a bit more editing around the edges.

Overall, “The Spaceship Next Door” is a decent sci-fi book that works equally well as a detective mystery (some of the plot twists were excellent), a comedy, a sci-fi novel and even a young adult book. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great experiment and a brilliant reversal of the all-too-typical “first contact” trope that’s all too common in science fiction.

Final score: four out of five stars

Full disclosure: I’ve received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Buy it on Amazon

Imagine a couple of three-year-olds playing with their action figures: chasing and shooting and yelling at each other. Good. Now imagine them using a time machine in their disjointed, barely coherent, poorly scripted story as they chase one another around the house. If you do that, you’ll have a fairly good idea of what “Alternate” by Ernie Luis is like.

“Alternate” was a serialized Kindle book, written in four installments, presumably without any idea where it was going to end up. (See also: Lost – the TV show that was supposed to last only six episodes but went on for six seasons and ended in a bizarre, mind-twisting example of grown men writing themselves into a corner.) Mind you, sometimes serialized Kindle novels work – Hugh Howey’s Wool is a good example of that.

The concept behind the book (grandly entitled “omnibus”) is pretty interesting: a society of assassins that go back in time to kill their victims, and who someday might be able to go back and rescue the people from their own past. Think of it as a combination of “Looper” and “Wanted.”

Perhaps, in the right hands, with proper editing and proofreading, the book could have been great. Instead, it ended up poorly written and filled with plot holes: a frail sixteen-year-old girl armed with a knife is somehow able to keep hundreds of people (presumably armed with guns) under her control; the book’s villain leaves a whistleblower alone inside his unlocked office, with a loaded gun and an unlocked computer terminal that contains all the dirty secrets, conveniently written down and explained in great detail. Supposedly efficient assassins turns out to be horribly traumatized alcoholics with emotional issues that would put a typical 14-year-old emo to shame. The list goes on and on…

Some self-published Kindle books turn out perfect: look no further than Andy Weir and “The Martian.” “The Alternate,” on the other hand, is a perfect example why sometimes going the traditional route may be a good idea.

I’m giving this book two stars instead of one because the author did a fairly good job describing the emotional pain of the protagonist – a man who lost his 8-year-old daughter and would do anything to get her back. Too bad those raw emotional moments are grossly outnumbered by all the graphic “torture porn” scenes of people mutilating their doomed enemies just for the fun of it, to indulge some basic, id-driven, caveman instinct that, once again, is not unlike what you’d see if you watch three-year-olds play with their toys.

Final score: two out of five stars

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.