Tag Archives: dystopian fiction

Review: Frayed, by Kerry Nietz

Frayed, by Kerry NietzFrayed, by Kerry Nietz (Freeheads, 2016)

Fans of the DarkTrench saga will be pleased to return to that same, dystopian future Earth. New to these books and not sure what to think? The book that started it all, A Star Curiously Singing, is free on most ebook platforms.

Frayed is the start of the DarkTrench Shadow Series, with new characters. Chronologically it overlaps the last part of A Star Curiously Singing. (Now I want to go back and read that one for a refresher to what happened off-screen in this book.)

The protagonist, ThreadBare, is a debugger (human, implanted with a computer chip that lets him wirelessly interact with all the machines so he can fix them). Debuggers are essentially slaves. In this society built on a form of Islamic law, their one bonus is they’re guaranteed entry to paradise because their chips block them from sinning – and from any other behaviour their masters forbid.

Debuggers are gifted at asking questions, solving problems. But the questions ThreadBare starts asking could land him in serious pain.

Frayed is written in the first person, present tense, and that works for these books. It’s like ThreadBare is talking to you, the reader, streaming to you a real-time account of what’s happening. At least once he’ll even speak to you directly, calling you a freehead (because you have no implant).

As well as the DarkTrench books, Kerry Nietz has also written Amish Vampires in Space and Amish Zombies in Space. I haven’t read the zombie one, but the vampire one is a serious novel, not a joke like the titles imply. For more about the author and his books, visit nietz.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]


Review: Inner Sanctum, by Darlene Oakley

Inner Sanctum, by Darlene OakleyInner Sanctum, by Darlene Oakley (Lanico Media House, 2014)

In the mid 2100’s, with a global war raging, underground cities were established as refuges. The plan was to assess the inhabitants’ health at the 50-year mark and then seal them in until those on the surface considered it safe to bring them back.

Around 400 years after its founding, Aurora Cassle and her childhood friend, Den Maron, hold responsible positions in the underground city of Egerton. Aurora’s discovery that the population is declining in numbers and in health coincides with the finding of the forgotten door to the surface.

The mayor insists all citizens must remain in Egerton. Aurora and Den lead those who defy him through the doorway. Aurora’s and Den’s marriages have both ended by this point, and their childhood attraction revives during their early days on the surface.

I found the plot an interesting concept, very well thought-out and researched, especially in terms of how a colony could survive and what medical effects could manifest over generations. The first half of the novel takes place underground, the second on what the people begin to call New World Earth. It’s interesting to watch them rediscover, rebuild and work together.

In terms of story delivery, I couldn’t really engage with the characters. Everything felt a bit distant, except for a few disturbingly sensual encounters between Aurora and Den in the second half. That said, Inner Sanctum is a clean read, and there’s a Judeo-Christian faith element in the latter part as Aurora discovers records of the Old World Earth religions and finds parallels between the Egertonians’ journey and the Israelites of the Old Testament.

I love the cover.

Inner Sanctum is Canadian author Darlene Oakley’s first novel, although she has a long track record behind the scenes as an editor. For more about the author, visit Dar’s Corrections.

[Review copy provided by the publisher.]

Review: Mask, by Kerry Nietz

cover art: Mask, by Kerry NietzMask, by Kerry Nietz (Marcher Lord Press, 2013)

In an unspecified year in Earth’s future, after natural disasters and the breakup of the United States, the country of PacNorth includes at least part of Washington State. Overpopulation is a global problem, and in PacNorth it’s controlled by popular vote. Rack up enough negative votes against you, and you’re tagged “incon” (inconvenient) and you disappear.

Radial Crane may be the one who “collects” you, but you won’t know it’s him behind the mask.

He’s good at what he does, and we see that in the opening pages. He obeys orders and asks no questions. Until it becomes personal. Until he does the unforgivable and rescues an incon he’s supposed to collect. And until he begins to find out what’s really happening behind the scenes.

The novel is written in the present tense, with a stream of consciousness feel as Radial tells us what he sees as he moves through this disturbing future world. I enjoyed the immediacy of it, and the puzzle of trying to figure out what was going on. Some of the technology sounds fantastic, and some is better left un-invented.

From the cues Radial gives as he moves through what used to be Seattle, I think readers who know the present-day city will be able to recognize key landmarks. If I ever get to visit, I’ll want to go through the book again first.

The three novels in Kerry Nietz’s DarkTrench Saga have each been finalists for EPIC awards, with book 3, Freeheads, winning an EPIC 2013 eBook Award in the Science Fiction category.

Mask looks destined to follow that pattern. The ending hints at a possible sequel, but the final pages offer a sample chapter of his next novel, which looks like a step away from the dystopian Earth theme: Amish Vampires in Space. I kid you not. The author’s note says “because someone had to do it.” And because Kerry Neitz is that someone and I like his writing style, I expect I’ll give it a shot.

You can learn more about the author at nietz.com and read interviews with him at The Barn Door Book Loft and at Trish Perry’s blog.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Freeheads, by Kerry Nietz

Freeheads by Kerry NietzFreeheads, by Kerry Nietz (Marcher Lord Press, 2011)

Freeheads is the final book in the Dark Trench Saga. (Links to my previous reviews: A Star Curiously Singing and The Superlative Stream)

The novel opens with Sandfly and HardCandy en route back to Earth, where Sandfly knows he must somehow share what he’s learned about the true God with the people they left behind. But there are—surprise!—complications. Will he make it home, or will he get diverted again from his path? How can he speak, and who will listen?

I enjoy the characters, especially Sandfly, HardCandy and DarkTrench, and it’s good to reconnect with some people from their past. This story is all in Sandfly’s point of view except for an opening recap where Trench has a turn at narration. (I know Trench is “only” a ship, but there’s enough AI and personality in him to make him likeable.)

Freeheads is a fun read and a good end to the series, perhaps my favourite book of the three. As the situation got more and more complicated, I kept wondering how the author would write his way out of it, but of course he did, in a way that surprised and satisfied me.

The Dark Trench Saga books have been well-received with nominations and awards, and Freeheads won an EPIC 2013 eBook Award in the Science Fiction category. Kerry Nietz has a new novel out now, Mask, which I’ll be reviewing shortly. You can learn more about the author at nietz.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Superlative Stream, by Kerry Nietz

Cover art for The Superlative Stream, by Kerry Nietz. The Superlative Stream, by Kerry Nietz (Marcher Lord Press, 2010)

If you haven’t read book 1 in the DarkTrench Saga yet please click to this review first: A Star Curiously Singing. If that sounds like your sort of novel, you’ll want to read it before diving into The Superlative Stream (book 2). And my review of book 2 will be a bit of a spoiler for book 1.

Still here? Okay, here we go.

In a dystopian future Earth, Sandfly and HardCandy are—were—debuggers. Tech support, equipped with brain implants to allow them to access a wireless data stream that makes our internet look primitive. Debuggers have no rights. They’re the property of the masters, and are kept in line by the same implants that let them touch the stream.

Earth has fallen under the control of a corrupted form of Islam. How will the true God make Himself known again? In A Star Curiously Singing, God’s message comes from a distant star and changes Sandfly’s life.

Sandfly is used to the ordinary data stream. What is this superlative stream that freed him from his master’s control and led him away on a mission on the spaceship DarkTrench? When he and HardCandy arrive at the source, there’s no singing star. Instead they meet an advanced race of people who may be too good to be true.

Now Sandfly wonders if he heard right in the first place. All he hears is occasional random sayings that make no sense to him. And he’s seeing things no one else sees.

The DarkTrench novels are written in the present tense from Sandfly’s point of view, except for excerpts of HardCandy’s past. Sandfly has a distinctive voice that I enjoy. He’s funny, direct and honest about his shortcomings. He occasionally speaks to the reader, adding to the conversational feel of his narrative.

I’ve enjoyed the first two novels in the series, and am looking forward to book 3, Freeheads. All three books in the DarkTrench series have been finalists in the EPIC eBook Awards Competition in the Science Fiction category. You can visit the author’s website to learn more about Kerry Nietz and his books.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: A Star Curiously Singing, by Kerry Nietz

cover art: A Star Curiously SingingA Star Curiously Singing, by Kerry Nietz (Marcher Lord Press, 2009)

In a dystopian future of Earth with advanced technology and a repressive global regime, to be a tech geek is to be a slave. Anyone (usually male) chosen for this role at age 10 is implanted with a chip that allows him to wirelessly connect to machines, computers and serv-bots—to “stream” to them—and to perform necessary repairs.

These people are called debuggers, and Sandfly is a good one. He does what his master orders, and rarely gets “tweaked” for disobedient or dangerous thoughts, although his wry observances of life under the masters—the Abduls (Servants)—skate pretty close to the edge at times.

Sandfly’s world is ruled by a form of Islam that’s all rules and no faith. Absolute power seems to have corrupted absolutely, and Sandfly wonders if there are any good masters left.

A top-secret assignment lands him on a space station (he’s afraid of heights) where he’s introduced to the prototype space ship, Dark Trench. Dark Trench is a technological marvel, but its crew can’t be cleared to go home until Sandfly finds out what caused their only bot to destroy itself part-way through the mission.

There’s a lot more to the story than that, but you need to read it yourself. Part of the fun is being dropped into this unusual world and figuring out what’s going on as you read Sandfly’s narration. He’ll call you “freehead” and occasionally explain details, but most of the time you’re just along for the ride, learning on the fly (if you’ll pardon the pun).

A Star Curiously Singing is a fast read, with twists, turns, humour, faith and danger. It’s a good story, and Sandfly really makes the novel for me. He’s an engaging character with a distinctive voice. I look forward to reading the other two books in the Dark Trench series: The Surperlative Stream and Freeheads.

A Star Curiously Singing won a Reader’s Favourite Gold Medal Award, and was a finalist on a few other awards lists. You can learn more about Kerry Nietz at his website, and read a sample of A Star Curiously Singing on the Marcher Lord Press site. And you can read an interview with Kerry Nietz, and a bit about his newest book, Freeheads, at A Christian Writer’s World. The draw is now over, and I won! Kerry very kindly substituted A Star Curiously Singing for Freeheads, rather than drop me into the series at the end.

Review: The Personifid Project, by R.E. Bartlett

The Personifid Project, by R.E. Bartlett (Realms, 2005)

Some time in the future, Earth is a baked planet under a yellow sky, oceans rapidly receding. Most people live in domed cities with advanced technology. Not only are robots and androids readily available, many humans have transferred their souls from mortal bodies into “personifids” in the quest of eternal life in more attractive forms.

Aphra is a 23-year-old human whose friends are androids. She always gets her own way, and doesn’t know how to relate to other humans on a personal level. She’s never seen a live dog, either, only the artificial ones.

R.E. Bartlett does a great job of conveying Aphra’s spoiled, self-centred attitude while building reader sympathy. After all, the poor fem’s security is abruptly shattered when the most powerful man in the city sends his cohorts to hunt her down after she hears—and witnesses—his secrets.

The language often feels passive or a touch restrained, but that’s how Aphra views the world. As the novel progresses, she meets other humans and learns to really live. She also learns about the Triune Soul, as humans now call the Trinity.

The Personifid Project is disturbingly similar to our own time’s fascination with personal entertainment devices and virtual friendships. It’s a scary look at where these things could lead us if we’re not wise.

The technology isn’t fully explained—and that would only slow the story. They have flying cars, something called luminires that are like teleporters, and voice-activated computers that can manufacture food and change their owners’ appearance.

This last one confused me, and a bit of explanation would have helped. The best I can figure is, the computer can project over great distances, whether an appearance mask or a personal force-field. I’m not sure that’s the reason, but I enjoyed the story regardless.

The Personifid Project is one of those novels that kept coming back to me when I wasn’t reading, and I finished it more quickly than I expected. Now I’m eager to read the sequel, The Personifid Invasion, published by Marcher Lord Press. Must work through that looming to-read pile first!

R.E. Bartlett is a New Zealand author. The Personifid series are her first published novels. You can read an interview with R.E. Bartlett here.

[Review copy from my personal library]

Review: Unlocked, a novel by Cynthia d’Entremont

Unlocked, by Cynthia d’Entremont (Word Alive Press, 2010)

“What if you lived in a world where killing was a rite of passage?”

Jaron, Devora and Benjamin have survived in Leviathon’s crowded Garbage Heaps for ten years, longing for the day they could leave. But the world outside the cinderblock wall is more dangerous than they know.

Abandoned in the Heaps as five-years, by the time they leave at 15 their innocence and hope are gone. Jaron still clings to memory fragments and his one possession: a key he must keep hidden.

Unlocked follows Jaron and Devora in their separate experiences outside the wall. Leviathon’s secrets run deeper and darker than its citizens know, and what the two teens discover puts them in mortal danger.

This is action-fantasy, as opposed to a slower-paced and longer epic fantasy. It’s a fast read, dark but not overwhelming. I appreciated the author’s light touch with heavy issues; readers know what happens, but the graphic parts occur “off-screen.”

It’s a novel that will appeal to adults as well as to the age 15+ readers at which it’s aimed. There’s Christian allegory for those who want to find it, but the faith element is subtle enough to make the book suitable for Christians and those of other or no faith.

The characters are believable: wounded by their environment but courageous enough to fight for what’s right. The setting, while not our own, has a city and countryside we can relate to. And the societal issues, while overtly different, include some that are very familiar: homelessness, violence and injustice.

Since I finished the novel I’ve been puzzling over the how and why of Devora’s encounter with her enemy. I think I have the “how” settled, and I have some ideas about the “why” but I’m still curious. To say more would be to spoil a key plot point, but it’s something I hope will be explained in the sequel.

Unlocked is the 2009 Word Alive free publishing contest winner in the fiction category and is now available online or through your local bookseller. You can learn more about the novel and about Canadian author Cynthia d’Entremont at her website.

Note: Cynthia is a personal friend. While that predisposed me to see the good things in the novel, it doesn’t account for how strongly the story and characters drew me in or how long I thought about them afterward. I’m now in danger of putting our friendship at risk by repeatedly asking how the sequel is coming along.

[Book source: I bought my own copy of Unlocked at the novel’s launch party.]