Classic, Science Fiction

Review: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of Mars book cover
Image from Do Góry; modified so I feel okay with posting it here

Title: A Princess of Mars (The Martian Tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs #1)

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Genre: Science Fiction/Classic

Suddenly transported to Mars, John Carter found himself captive of the savage green men of Thark. With him was Dejah Thoris, lovely princess of Helium. And between them and rescue lay a thousand miles of deadly enemies and unknown dangers.

This book has been on the bookshelves in the office for a long time (it came in a box of adult sci-fi and high fantasy books Dad got off eBay), but I avoided it because of the naked people on the cover. Then we got the movie John Carter on Netflix, and when I learned a really good movie was based off this book, I decided to give it a try.

I was surprised at how much I liked John Carter. He was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, then a gold prospector, but always a gentleman. (Having learned a lot about the Civil War recently from a pit stop in Gettysburg on my way to Washington, D.C., most men were gentlemanly back then.) He could fight (and he was good at it), but he was also kind, protective, and respectful.

Unfortunately, the other characters pulled pretty flat. Dejah Thoris was beautiful. Sola, the green woman assigned as John Carter’s servant, was peaceful for a green person. The rest of the green people were wild and violent. And…that’s about it.

The rescuing Dejah Thoris plot that is mentioned on the back cover? Dejah Thoris doesn’t even show up until halfway through the book. The first half is John Carter adapting to life as a sort-of prisoner of the green men and fighting his way up from prisoner to chief of sorts. Then Dejah Thoris gets captured, and since the green men and Dejah’s people are enemies, they decide to kill her. So about two thirds of the way through the book, John and Dejah escape.

The John Carter movie had a lot of similarities to the plot of A Princess of Mars. The movie producers didn’t follow the same timeline as the book and glossed over some parts, which made for a better movie. But the parts they skipped made for a better book. I loved John Carter’s time with the green men, and I highly enjoyed learning about their society. Of course, once they escaped, I enjoyed that, too.

The biggest thing that bothered me about this book was that clothes apparently don’t exist on Mars. Everything was done in the nude. Nothing is actually described, and it’s not awkward for the characters, but I just felt a little weird knowing that whatever is going on, everyone is naked. (On the bright side, the cover makes sense.)

Like a lot of classic books, the writing is a little dense. Despite being an action book, it’s still full of long paragraphs and heavy on description. For the most part, I didn’t mind (although I did find myself glossing over paragraphs here and there), but if you’re used to snappy action, this would certainly be a change of pace.

Did I enjoy this book? Yes. Will I be reading the other 10 books in the series? Probably not. Besides the fact that we don’t own the rest of the series, I think A Princess of Mars had a perfectly acceptable ending and see no reason to continue past the conclusion.

The Martian Tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs:

  1. A Princess of Mars
  2. The Gods of Mars
  3. The Warlord of Mars
  4. Thuvia, Maid of Mars
  5. The Chessmen of Mars
  6. The Master Mind of Mars
  7. A Fighting Man of Mars
  8. Swords of Mars
  9. Synthetic Men of Mars
  10. Llana of Gathol
  11. John Carter of Mars

Report Card

For more on my “report card” grading system, please see my About page.

A PRINCESS OF MARS scored 3.6 (A)

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Science Fiction

Review: Sky1: Foundation by William Amerman

Sky1: Foundation book cover
Image from William Amerman; used by permission

Title: Sky1: Foundation (Sky #1)

Author: William Amerman

Genre: Science Fiction

Seven hundred years ago, a city walled itself off from the rest of the world. Decades after first containment, the city expanded upwards, becoming a world unto itself. The population of this city-world has now boomed to over eighty million people, but the history of why the world was built and what lies outside has been lost to the citizens. This world is Nick’s world.

Nick Burke has been allotted 389 square feet of living space by the government. Disease spreads quickly when people are packed together so tightly. Quarantines are regularly imposed in an effort to contain the spread of infection. Lately, though, rumors are spreading that quarantines on some Grounds are not being lifted.

When a quarantine is imposed on Nick’s Ground, he and his family are trapped. The only way out is to break laws that carry a penalty of death. Fearing for his life and the safety of his family, Nick joins forces with a local group to move to another Ground. But can he trust his new friends?

Not exactly sure why I decided to read this book. Maybe because it was an adult sci-fi, and I haven’t thought about reading one of those in a while. Or maybe because it just sounded different. Either way, I did decide in favor of it.

Nick was okay. He was trying hard to protect his family and overcome a traumatic past that kept coming back to haunt him. He had the kind of frustrated urgency of someone who knows something needs changed but isn’t sure how to change it.

(Random side note: While reading this, I had two books going at once – this one and another one with a main character named Nick. The other Nick was a sarcastic goofball…pretty much the complete opposite of this Nick. I don’t think switching between two different Nicks was good for my enjoyment of either story.)

Besides Nick, the only character I really liked was his friend Storme. Storme was more of a follower, and came across a little bit nerdy, but he was caring and a good friend.

The other characters I wasn’t really a fan of. Nick’s cheating wife (and his son, who didn’t get much page time) and various sex-obsessed men seemed to be the only major players.

The plot was a little wild. At first, it seemed like Nick was just trying to get passes to immigrate up a level or two (from the impression I got, their world is built like a skyscraper, and the higher class you are the higher your Ground or floor). Then they broke into a government building to steal something (explosives?). Then the government was after him, and he was trying to save his family and the information about Mulduin.

Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of action and adrenaline and fights and stuff. I just wasn’t always exactly sure what Nick was trying to do.

I had a couple minor problems with Sky1: Foundation. One was a little too much sex for my taste. The other was Muldoin. I’m pretty sure it was either a place or an event. I’m not sure what happened or why it’s important for Nick to tell its story. And it was a huge plot element. I think if Muldoin was explained, even gradually, things would have made more sense to me.

If I were to choose again, I don’t think I would read Sky1: Foundation, but it was an interesting story, and very different from what I usually read. So all in all, not a bad read.

I received a free review copy of Sky1: Foundation from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Sky series:

  1. Sky1: Foundation
  2. Sky2: Detrius Machine

Report Card

For more on my book “report card” grading system, please see my About page.

2.63 (C) final grade

Adult, Fiction, Science Fiction, Suspense/Thriller

Review: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Jurassic Park book cover
Image from Michael Crichton

Title: Jurassic Park

Author: Michael Crichton

Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Creatures once extinct now roam Jurassic Park, soon-to-be opened as a theme park. Until something goes wrong…and science proves a dangerous toy….

I lost interest in dinosaurs in second grade, I’m not a big fan of adult books, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the Jurassic Park movie. So until it was a book club book, I had no intention of ever reading this book.

So, I want to mention characters, but I’m not sure which ones to mention. There’s Grant and Ellie the archeologists, Ian Malcom the mathematician (and my favorite character for reasons I’m not sure of), John Hammond who created the island, Hammond’s grandkids Tim and Lex, and various employees. All of them played an important part at some point or another, and I liked (or in some cases, hated) them all in varying levels. But none of them stood out as “I really liked him” or “she’s the main character.”

I was surprised that I enjoyed the plot. The movie missed a lot of details, which was sometimes a good thing but most of the time managed to keep me interested. And the rampaging dinos managed to keep my attention. Sometimes it wasn’t as thriller-y as I think it was supposed to be, probably because I didn’t care about the characters as much as I should have, but I still occasionally found myself hoping certain characters would survive (and sometimes that others would get eaten). There was a lot of gore at times, sure, but I’m not sure a book about carnivorous dinosaurs could have got away without it. Overall, I was happily interested.

My biggest problem with the book was that it got bogged down in scientific details every once in a while. I don’t care which isotopes they extracted to piece together the dinosaurs’ DNA. All I need to know is that it can be done. And as not a huge fan of chemistry or biology, I found most of the sciency stuff boring.

I didn’t exactly enjoy Jurassic Park, but I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t hate it. Do I plan on reading any more of Crichton’s books? No. But I don’t regret this read.

Adult, Fiction, Science Fiction

Review: The Return of the Time Police by Kim Howard Johnson

The Return of the Time Police book cover
Image from Kim Howard Johnson; used by permission

Title: The Return of the Time Police (The Time Authority #2)

Author: Kim Howard Johnson

Genre: Science Fiction

WARNING: This book is second in a series, so this review will probably contain spoilers of the previous book. If you haven’t read The Last of the Time Police, I recommend not reading this review.

The last members of the Time Authority, Stan and Jack only planned on a routine time hop to 16th century France. But when Leonardo DaVinci stowed away and tumbled out (along with the time machine’s manual) in 18th century England, a Chronological Anomaly is created that threatens to wipe out reality. They crash-land in a futuristic 1848 England that DaVinci created and join forces with Maggie Wells and inventor Sam Warner and his wife. The unlikely partners must find a way to rescue DaVinci and Benjamin Franklin in the previous century, but when they are captured while trying to recover the Time Carriage, they face execution at the Tower of London. Can the group escape in time to find DaVinci, prevent the destruction of our Timeline, and help Franklin invent the game of golf? And if they succeed, will they be wiped out of existence?

So, The Last of the Time Police was very interesting and different. It wasn’t my favorite book ever, but I was curious to find out what happened next, having left our main characters with half an ill-fated romance and a dissolving timeline. So when Kim Howard Johnson offered me The Return of the Time Police, I accepted.

There’s very little to say about the characters that I didn’t say last review.

Stan and Jack did manage to be a little more serious (the threat of impending non-existence helped), and I still enjoyed Maggie, who seemed to play a smaller role in this book than the last one. Ben Franklin played a bigger part in this book, and I didn’t really mind him even though at the beginning I was sure I wouldn’t like him.

As for minor characters, I enjoyed Sam, an inventor from Maggie’s 1800s. Two other people joined Stan and Jack’s little group, one from Maggie’s world and one from theirs, but I kept getting the two mixed up.

The idea of The Return of the Time Police wasn’t as appealing to me as the idea of the previous book. While the previous book was about how DaVinci would have revolutionized the world if he’d ended up in the 1700s, in this one, Stan and Jack were trying to find and recharge their time machine to fix the timeline. That’s not to say I didn’t like it, but I did find the first book’s concept more interesting.

The Return of the Time Police continued the bunch of twisty plots from various timelines. The near-future one from last book only got a couple scenes this time around. The focus this book was on the 1700s and 1800s, and involved running from the 1800s police, golf, executions, electricity, and, of course, time travel. I was only confused occasionally, and the plots kept me interested.

I have to mention the ending really quick, since it wasn’t quite what I expected. It was bittersweet and perfectly fitting, but not at all what I thought would happen.

Overall, this was a pretty good book. I wouldn’t call the Time Authority series my favorite, and I probably wouldn’t read it again, but I don’t regret the read.

I received a free review copy of The Return of the Time Police from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Time Authority series:

  1. The Last of the Time Police
  2. The Return of the Time Police
Adult, Fiction, Science Fiction

Review: The Last of the Time Police by Kim Howard Johnson

The Last of the Time Police book cover
Image from Kim Howard Johnson; used by permission

Title: The Last of the Time Police (The Time Authority #1)

Author: Kim Howard Johnson

Genre: Science Fiction

Stan and Jack are the last remaining members of the Time Authority, a government unit formed to correct disruptions to the established timeline. Although time travel has been officially outlawed, Stan and Jack must make a quick time hop to 16th Century France to clean up some careless littering. But Leonardo DaVinci stows away and tumbles out (along with the machine’s operating manual) in 18th Century England. This disruption creates a Chronological Anomaly that begins advancing toward the future and threatens to wipe out reality. Stan and Jack must crash-land their time machine in 1848, where they discover, due to DaVinci’s influence, a futuristic Victorian England. After colliding with Maggie Wells, she helps them hide their broken machine. Stan and Jack realize their only hope to fix their machine is to recover the operating manual, if it still even exists.

Three things appealed to me about The Last of the Time Police. One, the idea of time “police” who time travel to make sure something silly in 3,000 BC doesn’t make the Confederates win the Civil War or something. Two, the idea that this is actually a government bureau. Three, time travel. So I said, “I’ll take it!”

Stan and Jack were both argumentative, blundering almost complete idiots. The main thing that differed between the two was physical appearance, although how two guys who have almost the same personality could get into as many arguments as those two is beyond me. They weren’t flat, but they were pretty bland, and it sometimes felt like I was reading around them to get at the other good stuff in the story.

Maggie, on the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed. She was spunky and stubborn, and surprisingly good with her hands. She realized the boys (I somehow think of Stan and Jack as “the boys,” even though they’re middle-aged men) are almost complete idiots – and yet somehow put up with them. She never did anything of the sort, but I can easily imagine her punching a guy’s lights out if he made a pass at her.

I found the whole concept The Last of the Time Police was based on – what could Leonardo Da Vinci have accomplished if he’d somehow ended up in the 17th century? – almost the best part. Da Vinci had a surprising amount of page time, and he wasn’t the creative, semi-bipolar artist I expected him to be. He was conniving, passive-aggressive, and a skilled back-stabber, not to mention arrogant and a thief. His inventions created with 17th century technology made for a fun steampunk-esque 18th century London, but by the end of the book, I was about ready for him to get his just deserts.

I can’t really nail down the main plot of this book. There’s so many threads running through it. Stan and Jack in the 18th century are trying to fix their time machine so they can fix everything else. Leonardo Da Vinci in the 17th century is trying to take out the competition by sabotaging the reputation of his rival Benjamin Franklin. And various Army and Time Authority personnel in the near future are trying to fix things from their end. All of them were interesting in their own way, and delightfully tangled.

It’s not overt, but I think there may be a slight anti-bureaucracy message in the near-future storyline. The Army and the Time Authority are playing the blame game, pointing fingers, scheduling meetings, and doing paperwork. Nobody’s trying to fix the problem, and the only guy who really knows what’s going on is busy making sure someone else falls under the bus. Meanwhile, the entire timestream is being destroyed. It’s one of those “are you all idiots?” kind of things, but in a maybe-if-I-keep-reading-they’ll-figure-it-out way.

Overall, this wasn’t quite what I expected. Most of the characters were unlikeable and/or annoying, but I somehow wanted to keep reading anyway. And I’m curious to see where the rest of this series goes.

I received a free review copy of The Last of the Time Police from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Time Authority series:

  1. The Last of the Time Police
  2. The Return of the Time Police
Science Fiction

Review: Virals

Image from cemsbookhideout.blogspot.com

Title: Virals

Series: Virals #1

Author: Kathy Reichs

Genre: Science Fiction

Back Cover:

Tory Brennan is a science geek, and so are her friends, Ben, Hi, and Sheldon. The four of them have grown up exploring the backwoods marshlands of Loggerhead Island, home of the mysterious Loggerhead Research Institute. When a fifty-year-old murder leads Tory and her friends to discover a wolfdog pup being held captive at the institute, they hatch a plot to bust him out. But the scientists have already experimented on the dog – and Tory and her friends catch an experimental strain of parvovirus. Now, with their very DNA altered, they have skills that no normal humans have. But that might not be enough to save them when a cold-blooded murderer has caught their scent…

Review:

I picked this up because I saw the sequel in the store and thought it looked interesting, and I have a policy of not reading book two until I’ve read book one. So when I recognized the title on the library shelf, I grabbed it without really looking at it.

I was slightly worried when a quote on the front compared Virals to Maximum Ride. Even thought it was James Patterson doing the comparison, I absolutely LOVE Maximum Ride, and I thought it couldn’t be nearly as good.

But, happily, I was disappointed.

In case you’re confused, let me say this straight out: I loved Virals. There were some similarities to Maximum Ride, but nothing so drastic that I thought it was a total rip-off, and nothing so blatantly obvious that I could point to the passage and say, “Yeah, that’s just like Maximum Ride.” It had a distinctly Maximum Ride-like feel, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why.

Well, the premise was somewhat similar – regular humans with altered DNA and, because of that, superhuman abilities. That, and Tory’s unique, independent, and occasionally humorous voice was similar to Max’s.

I’m not a big science fan, so I didn’t find the sciencey part of the book as interesting as some people might. But I certainly enjoyed the murder mystery and the conspiracy plot (and the fact that you don’t find out until the climax who the baddest bad guy is – unless you’re more suspicious than me). The murder mystery part wasn’t even an average murder mystery – it was a fifty-year-old murder that was part of a huge money-making conspiracy!

I could go on and on about how astonishingly original the plot was, but I would start repeating myself after a while.  So…

It’s funny, though, except for Tory, I didn’t really get a feel for any of the characters. (This didn’t take away from the book, as I only noticed it in retrospect.) I felt like Tory was the ringleader and always came up with the ideas, and the rest of the characters protested her insane schemes and then helped her anyway.

I really enjoyed Tory’s voice – she was independent, smart, bold, and not afraid to break a few rules. (Or, actually, a lot of rules – and laws, too.) And I loved how she preferred to go investigate for herself rather than ask somebody’s advice. (Sure, that got her into trouble, but that just made the book more interesting.)

This is one of those where I wish I had the sequel on hand so I could pick it up immediately after finishing it. I can’t wait to read the sequel, Seizure!

The Virals series:

  1. Virals
  2. Seizure
  3. Code
  4. Exposure
  5. Terminal