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Review: “The Negative’s Tale” by R. Leib

Title: The Negative’s Tale
Author: R. Leib
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Amazon, 2014

Is it better to be overly ambitious and succeed imperfectly, or to nail a solid performance that lacks in spectacular challenges? Mr. Leib apparently believes in the former. The Negative’s Tale is an incredibly ambitious tapestry of a novel, and I’d be lying if I said it fully hit the mark on all counts, but it was pretty fun to watch it try. I should mention that I was given a copy of this book to read and review by the administrator of a Goodreads group I’m a member of, though I’m not sure what his connection to the book is. If he’s the author, he’s working under a pseudonym, and the publisher seems to be Amazon’s Kindle-based self-publishing service. So I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter, I’m just mildly confused.

The central narrative here concerns the attempted murder of Bertie Lindermann, a nearly-immortal engineer on one of the various space stations hanging in orbit around the earth. Apparently someone drugged him, removed his helmet, and pushed him out an airlock. The only person Bertie’s sister-in-law Vice Admiral Eagon Wu trusts to investigate the crime is her estranged husband Allon Wu, a retired Second Navigator. Woven through this murder mystery are multiple threads of flashbacks, mostly telling Allon’s story up to the point we first meet him but also serving to explore a few other secondary characters as well. Can Allon Wu solve the mystery and reunite with his estranged wife? Only time will tell!

As I said before, this was an incredibly ambitious production. The world these characters inhabit is an incredibly interesting one, a world where people with telepathic abilities are trained and employed as navigators on the craft wending their ways between the stars. Wu’s talent as a Dowser is not particular useful in and of itself, but the fact that he’s a rare Negative has no end of uses, allowing him to co-opt the telepathic abilities of others in close proximity. This particular concept is one I’ve not seen before, at least not in wider usage. The idea of people keeping brain-dead clones to allow them almost unlimited longevity is slightly more common, but still a fascinating one. Where the novel misses a step is in the flashbacks. The non-linear nature of the story could be great if done with slightly more adroitness, but as it is Mr. Leib has to occasionally go through a number of contortions to justify sparking particular flashbacks, with varying degrees of success. For example, one of the early flashbacks was prompted by the sight of a particular pin sticking out of the sand. All well and good, but we don’t find out what’s significant about that pin until the very end of the flashback, by which time we have almost forgotten it as an inconsequential detail. Flashbacks featuring other characters occasionally work–such as a character giving testimony of prior events, for example–but at other times are jarring as we leave Wu’s POV for an uncharacteristic side trip. The flashbacks also have the unfortunate effect of leaving us to infer certain information that we won’t learn from the flashbacks until significantly later in the story than when it is relevant. At the same time, the author occasionally lapses into “info-dumping,” which I don’t always mind but some would consider a cardinal sin of sci-fi writing. The mystery itself was decently executed, though I figured out most of what was going on a bit before I think I was supposed to. All told, not bad, just not quite as good as it perhaps could have been.

CONTENT: Some violence. Little profanity, none that I recall at any rate. No real sexual content, aside from an alien mating ritual that is ridiculously non-erotic. One character belongs to a murderous cult, but there’s nothing eldritch there. Just a murderous psycho.

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Review: “The Saeshell Book Of Time, Part I–The Death Of Innocents” by Rusty Biesele (LEFT UNFINISHED)

Title: The Saeshell Book Of Time, Part I–The Death Of Innocents
Author: Rusty Biesele
Series: The Children Of Sophistra #1
Rating: LEFT UNFINISHED
Publisher/Copyright: CreateSpace, 2013

I never leave a book unfinished once I’ve started it. Never. Not intentionally, anyway.* But midway through this book, I had a revelation: Life is too short to waste on books that you have zero interest in. When you find yourself actively avoiding picking up the book you’re currently reading, that’s a bad sign. I’ve suffered through several really poor books on the basis of having won them in a giveaway, and feeling obligated to finish them so as to fulfill the terms of the agreement, but in this case I just can’t do it. Had The Doomsday Diaries or The Tarizon Trilogy come up in my queue following this decision, would I still have finished them? Hard to say. They certainly weren’t good, but they were at least readable. In the case of this particular book, I forged my way through the first third, found myself still completely unengaged, and threw my hands up in submission. The desire to know how the story ends is not at all a factor, since even beyond my disinterest I know I don’t care enough to track down the other three books, and so this serial will end (for me) with a cliffhanger anyway. I received a free copy of the book from the author through the Goodreads FirstReads program, and I’m always grateful for free books. I’m just sorry in this case that he got such a poor return on his investment.

The book opens with a brief chapter in which the book itself tells you how to read it, insults you, and threatens to kill you if you damage it.** See, most of the characters are telepathic, and there are different bullets and typefaces used to indicate whether the text is being transmitted on a private channel, an open channel, is a recorded transmission, or is just plain narrative exposition. This could be cool, I wanted it to be cool, but it turned out to just be distracting. There’s a frame story with a young boy (who is apparently the younger version of the main character) and his mother, who has used her fairy powers to drug her husband so that she can read The Book Of Time to their son. Apparently this is an atrocity, but will somehow fix future events in place in the form she wants them to take, except that “Atreyu” (who I take to be either God or an analog of Him) has already taken steps to prevent this happening. Not creepy at all. Apparently The Book Of Time is a paradox and contains all the stories that will ever happen, because the story that follows is supposedly the future. We cut to the older version of Stephan, the young boy, at age thirteen. He and his lover, the nineteen-year-old Tova2, are just hanging around invisible to observe the beginning of the education of two other boys. Ty is nine, sees “ghosts” who tell him secrets, and has some mysterious connection to Stephan. Tyco is eleven, can fire energy beams from his palms, and was somehow engineered by a group of lizards? I didn’t get far enough for them to explain that. These two are being tutored by Elof2, a Tibetan-American teacher. Oh, and apparently both Elof2 and Tova2 are clones of people that Stephan accidentally killed because he doesn’t have control of his powers. It’s a little jarring to hear someone refer to “the time I killed you” in casual conversation with another character, let me tell you. The world that is constructed here has potential to be interesting, as do the characters, but the writing prevents them from reaching more than a modicum of their potential. Beyond the writing, the off-putting factors go on and on; some I could overlook, others would be harder to do so. There’s a creepy pseudo-sexual (possibly actually sexual as well, between the lines) relationship between the thirteen-year-old protagonist and his nineteen-year-old lover. The numbers by everyone’s names could be tweaked slightly to be less jarring, like in the film The Island–Lincoln Six Echo is much less jarring than Tova2, wouldn’t you agree? The characters themselves, far from being as interesting as they’re supposed to be, just fall flat. Stephan is a whiny little teenager, and we have to be constantly reminded that he’s to be their messianic figure so we don’t hate him. Ty is almost as whiny, and the mystery surrounding his nature is also annoying. You can do mystery well, but that involves actually parceling out information as you go instead of taunting your audience with the fact that they don’t know what’s going on over and over again. The illustrations are supposed to be a selling point, but instead they’re just creepy. Initially I attributed this to the black-and-white copy I have, but after seeing the colorized versions on the website I have to conclude that that just makes it worse–everyone has “Sith eyes!” If you’re a Star Wars fan, you know what I mean by that. I hate to break my record, but I just have zero interest in finishing this book.

CONTENT: Mild language, so far as I read. Some disturbing violence. Disturbing pseudo-sexual content. The metaphysics of this universe lend themselves much more to alien life forms and powers granted by their manipulation than they do to occult explanations, but characters who aren’t aware of what’s going on would probably suspect otherwise.

*There have been a couple books that had to be returned to the library mid-stream, but I always intended to check them back out. It just hasn’t always happened….

**Apparently writing your name inside the cover doesn’t count, because my brain remains un-toasted.

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