Book Review: THE GOD GAME – morality and A.I.

๐™”๐™ค๐™ช ๐™–๐™ง๐™š ๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™ซ๐™ž๐™ฉ๐™š๐™™!
๐˜พ๐™ค๐™ข๐™š ๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™จ๐™ž๐™™๐™š ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™™ ๐™ฅ๐™ก๐™–๐™ฎ ๐™ฌ๐™ž๐™ฉ๐™ ๐™‚.๐™Š.๐˜ฟ.
๐˜ฝ๐™ง๐™ž๐™ฃ๐™œ ๐™ฎ๐™ค๐™ช๐™ง ๐™›๐™ง๐™ž๐™š๐™ฃ๐™™๐™จ!
๐™„๐™ฉโ€™๐™จ ๐™›๐™ช๐™ฃ!
๐˜ฝ๐™ช๐™ฉ ๐™ง๐™š๐™ข๐™š๐™ข๐™—๐™š๐™ง ๐™ฉ๐™๐™š ๐™ง๐™ช๐™ก๐™š๐™จ. ๐™’๐™ž๐™ฃ ๐™–๐™ฃ๐™™ ๐˜ผ๐™‡๐™‡ ๐™”๐™Š๐™๐™ ๐˜ฟ๐™๐™€๐˜ผ๐™ˆ๐™Ž ๐˜พ๐™Š๐™ˆ๐™€ ๐™๐™๐™๐™€.โ„ข
๐™‡๐™ค๐™จ๐™š, ๐™ฎ๐™ค๐™ช ๐™™๐™ž๐™š!

Happy Publication Day to The God Game!

Charlie, founder of the Vindicators, a group of misfit teens at an Austin, Texas high school, receives an invitation to play the God Game. Spiraling downward since his mother died a year ago, he has nothing to lose by accepting, and his friends, the Vindicators, Peter, Vahni, Kenny, and Alex join as well.

Playing through their cell phones, the game overlays the real world with fantastic imagery, adding details like hanging vines in the school halls. When they play against imaginary beasts only to gain Goldz in the game which they can exchange for advantages, the God Game seems harmless.

But soon, it intrudes on the real world. They are asked to make illicit deliveries, perform errands, and complete tasks, after which they receive more Goldz and rewards like an ATM that dispenses cash freely. When they go against the game, however, they receive Blaxx, and the punishment might be more than theyโ€™ve bargained forโ€”how much further will Charlie fall before he can get himself and his friends out of the gameโ€ฆ if they game will even let them leave.

With short chapters and lots of action, The God Game by Danny Tobey is a quick and exciting read. Though the characters, who, if not always likeable, are interesting, are playing an AI game, the technology is subordinated to questions of morality. Before the Vindicators began playing the game, they each had secrets they considered shameful. The game further isolated them by requiring them to engage in behavior that ordinarily would be against their ethics. The pleasure of the book is both in the fascination of the gameโ€™s context and watching the characters handle the increasingly demanding and dangerous game while losing trust in each other.

At times, I thought Tobey shifted between points of view too quickly, without enough transition, and I was left with questionsโ€”such as how could so many people be playing an underground game. The book, though, was very entertaining, and I thought Tobey nailed the ending. The God Game is not just for readers who like books such as Ready Player One and Slay but also those who want to explore the impact of technology on morality or who just like a fast-paced, fun story.

Thank you to St. Martinโ€™s Press for providing me with an advance reading copy!

Book Review: ETERNAL SHADOW, a good story with problematic execution

Williams, Trevor - Eternal Shadow (2)Samantha Monroe, a scientist at SETI, identifies a signal that can only be first contact. She immediately contacts her boss, the unflappable Jennifer Epstein, and colleagues at other facilities, who confirm her readings. But, as they are hopefully watching, what they assume is an alien entity consumes Pluto, and it doesnโ€™t stop at the former planet. Earth is in the crosshairs, and the scientists estimate they have only ten years before the alien ship reachesโ€”and destroysโ€”the planet.

Epstein marshals a hand-picked team to save the world, but changing political priorities and a fringe cult, the Seven Trumpets, encumber her progress. Only South African Muzikayise Khulu, CEO of Khulu Global, has the resources necessary to research and implement a solution, but his motives are less than altruistic. And as Epstein and Monroe work more closely together, their personal feelings intrude on their professional relationship.

Eternal Shadow is Trevor Williamsโ€™s debut novel, and the story is interesting, plus I appreciate that the main characters are women and people of color. However, the execution of the narrative has several problems that prevented me from fully enjoying the book. The pacing and proportion of scientific exposition to narrative felt off to me, and the dialogue was awkward, partly because it didnโ€™t ring true and partly because it lacked contractions. Additionally, a number of stylistic and grammatical errors were in the copy of the book I read, which, granted, was an advanced readers edition and may have been corrected before publication. Finally, I wish my two favorite characters (whose names I donโ€™t want to mention due to spoilers) didnโ€™t have nearly as much time in the book as I would have liked, but the ending hints at a sequel.

The author has great stories to tell, and with experience, I hope his style becomes more polished!

Thanks to NetGalley and Trevor Writes for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: DECEPTION, a continuation of the Dark Matter Trilogy

Happy publication day to Deception by Teri Terry, Book Two in the riveting Dark Matter Trilogy!

Shay, believing herself a carrier of the deadly Aberdeen Flu, flees her boyfriend, Kai, in the night to turn herself in. She’s imprisoned with a group of other survivors under the management of physicist Dr. Alex Cross, Kai’s hated stepfather.

Although angry Shay abandoned him, Kai can think of nothing but finding her. However, with no leads, he decides to find Freja Eriksen in Londonโ€”a mysterious woman who has been posting videos disputing that survivors are contagious. Callie, Kai’s “cured” sister who can only be seen by survivors, follows him.

Meanwhile, as the epidemic spreads across the UK, jumping quarantine lines, a cure seems ever more elusive.

Deception expands the cast of characters from the first novel in the Dark Matter Trilogy, Contagion, and explains more about the mechanisms of the Aberdeen Flu as well as the surprising powers of the survivors.

With Freja, Shay and Kai enter a love triangle made complicated by distance and distrust as well as the survivors’ new capabilities. Dr. Cross’s motivations remain suspiciousโ€”and while Shay is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, Kai is certain he is a malevolent force. At the same time, Callie must confront uncomfortable truths about her situation.

Written for a young adult audience, this trilogy offers an entertaining series that engages questions of identity, difference, and power. Deception is a satisfying continuation, and I look forward to the final volume, Evolution.

Thank you to NetGalley and Charlesbridge Teen for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: COLD STORAGE, only a retired FBI agent and two night security guards can stop a ruthless contagion

Cold Storage
David Koepp

1987. Counter-bioterrorism operatives Roberto Diaz and Trini Romano were rushed to the remote Australian bush where there’d been reports of strange behavior. When they arrived with infectious disease specialist Dr. Hero Martins, all of the residents of the small settlement were dead. They realized the agent was a highly adaptive fungus with one imperative: reproduce. And that meant killing all humans and animals alike. Roberto and Trini successfully destroyed the fungus, but they brought home a sample thought to be safe in deep sub-basement of a military facility.

2019. Roberto and Trini have both retired, and leadership at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency has long since forgotten about the destructive fungus, so much so that the facility that housed it was sold to a storage company catering to middle class consumers. When the deadly contagion finally escapes, only Diaz knows how to stop itโ€”and his only allies are two twenty-something night security guards.

Cold Storage is the debut novel by David Koepp, successful screenwriter of Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, War of the Worlds, and Mission: Impossible, among others. His expertise is clear in the quick pacing and snappy dialogue of this pandemic horror. Personally, I love this genre, and Cold Storage elevates the basic formula with its interesting, narrow field of characters and its skillful plot execution. Like other books in the category, it has high stakes, conspiracies and secrets, and lots of gore.

For fans of this genre, it’s a fun, fast-paced ride. I’d also recommend it to people who may want to explore this categoryโ€”it’s a great introduction.

Book Review: DARK AGE, War, Politics, and a High Body Count in Red Rising Book 5

Dark Age
Red Rising Book 5

Pierce Brown

The Rising is in shatters, leaving untold dead as the colors clash. Darrow remains above Mercury to defend the planet against the Golds while his closest allies are hundreds of thousands of miles away. Sevro has returned to his family, abandoning the Republic, while Virginia attempts to convince the senate to send troops to help Darrow and the few soldiers he has with him. Yet even her sophisticated spy network cannot identify the network of enemies arrayed against her and her husband. Pax and Electra, daughter of Sevro and Victra, have been kidnapped, and Ephraim, a mercenary-for-hire, represents their only chance for escape.

Meanwhile, Lysander au Lune, grandson of Octavia, the Sovereign disposed by the Rising, has returned to society after ten years in exile determined to bring peace by uniting the warring Gold factions, and to do that, he must defeat Darrow. With the Republic unstable, Sefi the Quiet, Queen of the Obsidians, sees an opportunity to expand her powers on Mars, even though it might mean breaking ties with her previous allies.

Lyria, a red from Mars, and Volga, an Obsidian, accomplices to the kidnapping of Pax and Electra, find themselves entangled with Victra, Electra’s mother. Yet, their importance to the Republic is unknown even to them, and they must decide whether to act in self-preservation or risk sacrificing themselves for the greater good. All alliances are in play, and no one can be trusted as the fate of the Republic and Society turn on the machinations of the worldโ€™s power-brokers in front of and behind the scenes.

Dark Age, aptly named, finds the heroes weโ€™ve gotten to know over the past four books in dire straits. Like the other books in the Red Rising series, Dark Age depicts violence graphically, but it seemed more intense in this book to me, perhaps because of my state of mind, perhaps because it truly was relentless with a high body count, or maybe because the page count reached almost 800. There were two truly abhorrent scenes of violence against animals which make sense narratively but which I had to skip.

Like Iron Gold, Dark Age has multiple narrators, and I enjoyed some of the viewpoints more than others, as usually happens with more than one point of view character. The first section of the book, told alternatively from Darrow and Lysanderโ€™s perspectives, traces the battle for Mercury. This was the least interesting part of the book to me, unfortunate since it made the beginning a slog. I find that Darrow and Lysander have very similar voices, and their basic conflict has been ongoing for so long, I find it rather dull by this time. Furthermore, I do not like the trajectory of Lysanderโ€™s character.

The other narrators, Ephraim, Lyria, and Virginia have more interesting, fresher stories to tell in my opinion, though they do cross pass unexpectedly with characters Iโ€™d forgotten about from previous books, plus Lyria and Volga are set up to have critical roles in the next book(s) in the series. Victra, in this installment, becomes much more sympathetic, though remains quite a badass. I enjoy the strong female characters. Since they are written by a man, I do find myself prodding the edges of their characterizations for flaws, but if they are there, they are lost to me in the wave of the narrative, so I’m content to enjoy these strong female characters. Some other women on Mars in the Red Hand or affected by it are more one-dimensional, and there are some very creepy older women/younger men, mother/son sexual dynamics at play in certain relationships.

Given the length of the book, I thought the editors would encourage Brown to cut unnecessary scenes and subplots, but I thought there were some which I wonโ€™t mention due to spoilers. Additionally, Darrow and Lysanderโ€™s internal monologues are very repetitive. As a result, Iโ€™m glad they arenโ€™t the primary focus of Dark Age. Younger characters such as Pax and Electra take more of a role, which is good because the body count in this book is very high.

The general fate of key characters is resolved by the end of the book, but not their next moves, and several questions remain for the sequel which I will no doubt read. I will leave you with one spoiler, though. Sophocles, the fox, survives!