Category Archives: Science Fiction

Farrugia, Nathan M.; Inversion (Helix V)(2016)

Farrugia‘s Sophia and Olesya serials have forced me to reevaluate some of my preconceptions, stereotypes or prejudices. Thrillers are meant to keep us at the edge of our seat until some sort of climax occurs. Farrugia’s episodes have brought us threats to humanity, political entities and various teams. His “super-heroes” are Olesya and Sophia, and their various team-members have had their spot in the lime-light. Like all thriller-heroes, Olesya, Sophia and their team-members survive when they, logically, should not. My Aspie demands that I check out what exists and what does not, i.e. stun-net-guns with adhesive qualities. I can lay that aside, because an excellent thriller needs to stretch our sense of logic but not completely break it. Or, at least, that is my judgement of an excellent thriller. Inversion proves, once more, what an excellent writer Farrugia is.

An excellent thriller also needs convince us that their plot could happen in real life. Authors who are not willing to sacrifice their writing to tighten up their plots, research their material and have writing in their blood, never reach that point. Farrugia does.

Inversion brings us to Wrocław, Poland and once again to Purity.

“But how do they frame Russia if everyone’s dead?” Aviary asked.

“Exactly,” Sophia said. “The world will be furious. And in their fury, they’ll support Purity.”

Consider Poland’s Jarosław Kaczyński’s methods:

…Law and Justice party has continued to depict the accident as an assassination of its leader, with blame shared by the usual villainous alliance of liberals and communists….

Poland’s present turmoil is the story of how anger at Poland’s liberals mutated into a war on liberal democracy itself. (The Guardian)

A thriller also needs to mess with our minds. In the Sophia and Olesya serials we do not know who the real powers are. I have made guesses in all of my previous reviews, and some of those guesses now seem wrong. Part of that has to do with the long lives of those who are behind the messes of Farrugia’s world. We have been told, through Major Sievers, Hal and Denton, that there are some seriously powerful people behind what is going on. But I have no idea how interlinked the various groups are.

This time around, the people behind Purity use a celebratory march in Wrocław as a lure for Aviary, and, through her, the Russian Directorate. Purity needs a big, bad bear to blame for what is about to happen. The people behind Purity control elements of The Fifth Column, the leadership of Purity and JW GROM (Poland’s antiterrorism unit).

Intron’s Hélio does not trust the documentation Doctor Meresz shared about the kill-switch. As we saw in Anomaly, that is a good thing. Hélio wants to stay with Sophia until he has run some tests on her theories. He and his body guards go with the team to Wrocław. Whether they are trustworthy is debatable. That depends on Intron’s agenda.

Inversion shows us how little control Sophia and Olesya actually have. Their choices depend on Aviary’s findings and those findings are the result of people who know what will trigger both team-leaders, and especially Sophia.

“… she won’t rest until she rights her wrongs.” He stared at the trashcan. “Even then, I don’t think she’ll stop.”

Besides wanting to know who the people behind these groups are, I really want to know how DC knew how to turn up where he did when he did. And what about that gunship? Who do the cloaked ones belong to? Oh, and when you go into a fight, don’t partner with a person your are falling in love with. Losing focus on the roofs around the market place is seriously dangerous to your health. Try to remember that the next time you go to Wrocław in Poland. And do those bobby pins mean anything? Please, I need to know.

Definitely recommended.

I received a complimentary copy of Inversion from Farrugia


Reviews:


My reviews of:

  1. Helix I (Olesya and Sophia)
  2. Exile (Helix II)
  3. Interceptor (Helix III)
  4. Anomaly (Helix IV)
  5. The Chimera Vector (Sophia)
  6. Seraphim Sequence (Sophia II)
  7. Phoenix Variant (Sophia III)

Inversion can be bought at Amazon.com

 

Brin, David; Kiln People (2002)

Racism is a huge part of the short lives of the dittos in Kiln People. Dittos are clones, made of nano-clay, who live only 24 hours. Nano-clay’s sensory system can be hyper-sensitive or practically non-existent. A ditto may be forced to do anything you ever imagined doing or have done to you. At least if you have enough money. Your consciousness is copied onto their clay-flesh. Any time up until 24 hours after birth, all memories can be copied back into you again. Dittos are programmed for obedience and varying degrees of independent thinking. Some owners, like Albert Morris, are fairly decent. Others are shitty as hell.

“… I figure if you make a creature, you’re responsible for it. That ditto wanted to matter. He fought like hell to continue. And now he’s part of me, like several hundred others that made it home for inloading, ever since the first time I used a kiln, at sixteen.”

“… The copier sifts your organic brain to engrave the Standing Wave onto a fresh template made of special clay, ripening in the kiln. Soon a new ditto departs into the world to perform errands while you have breakfast. No need even to tell it what to do.

It already knows.

It’s you.”

The color the ditto equals its value and abilities. Orange dittos are  cheapest and used for manual labor that does not require much thinking or sensing. Platinum dittos are the most expensive, and only people like Kaolin can afford them. On this case, Albert can afford an ebony one. Ebony dittos have processing abilities that are far ahead of Albert’s. Greys are the ones Albert sends out to represent him. He uses green dittos to do the dirty work a detective sometimes needs to do. Sensory input is lower for greens but processing is probably about the same as for its archie/rig/owner.

Dittos are at the bottom of the social ladder. Instant destruction follows if they harm a “real” human. A flesh and blood human can do anything to a ditto they meet. At most they will be fined. Dittos are made to fight each other to the death, to be sex-slaves, to dig in the mines or to be substitute private detectives. Their clothes are paper. Albert Morris is a private detective with two missions in life. One is to reveal the identity of Beta. Beta and Albert have a long history of killing each other (their dittos), and Albert really wants to know who is behind his arch-nemesis. Albert’s other mission is to be as good a private detective as possible.

In this future world, where we get to lay any ethical pretensions on the shelf, being a private detective seems unnecessary. But there is always a need for diggers into people’s lives. In this future, wealth buys you out of trouble as easily as it does now.

“Ugh. What put me in this mood? Could it be Ritu’s news? A reminder that real death still lurks for us all?

Well, shrug it off! Life’s still the same as it was in the old days.

Sometimes you’re the grasshopper.

Sometimes you are the ant.”

Albert gets hired by stinking rich Aeneas Kaolin, co-inventor of dittos and owner of Universal Kilns, to look into the disappearance of Kaolin’s long-time friend, Yosil Maharal. Maharal turns up dead in what seems to be a car accident. Albert wonders if it might be something more.

One thing I really liked about Brin’s writing style was how he told the stories of Albert’s dittos in Albert’s voice. There were four Alberts at the same time. None of them knew what was going on with any of the others because they had not been able to get in touch with each other. The green one had turned into a Frankie. I liked its independent streak. Its ability to disobey.

Brin’s world-building happened through the eyes and ears of the various Alberts. What they learned, we learned. I would not have wanted to live in such a society. I find ours challenging enough. It was an interesting society, though, and one I think most people would embrace. No room for Aspies though. Genetic tinkering had become common enough that our worst ailments were eradicated. That, I wouldn’t mind if we had. Much of Kiln People‘s society did not make sense. Population control is one. Why so many people? At least the fanatics were pretty the same as always.

Towards the end, I felt preached at. I don’t mind crazy men’s ranting, but this felt more like Brin was trying to get a message across. A lost cause in me.

“Albert? Is that you in there?”Illusion or not, I couldn’t refuse her anything. Though lacking a body – or any other means to make sound – I somehow gathered strength to mouth four words.

“… just … a … fax … ma’am …”

Plenty of action, no romance, social commentary, humor, some preaching. Recommended.


Reviews:


Translations:

  • Audible: Read by Andy Caploe; Brilliance Audio, 2016
  • Bulgarian: Килн хора; Translated by Венцислав Божилов; Бард, 2002; Goodreads
  • English (British): Kil’n People; London, Orbit, 2002; Review
  • French: Le Peuple d’argile; Translated by Thierry Arson; Presses de la Cité, 2004; Review
  • German: Copy; Translated by Andreas Brandhorst; Heyne, 2005
  • Hebrew:  אנשי הכבשן; Translated by Ṿered Ṭokhṭerman; מודן הוצאה לאור, 2004; Review
  • Hungarian: Dettó; Translated by Haklik Norbert; Budapest, Metropolis Media, 2009; Reviews
  • Japanese: キルン・ピープル; Translated by 酒井昭伸 (Sakai Akinobu);  ハヤカワ文庫 (Hayakawa bunko) SF1628, 2007; Cover art: 加藤直之 (Katou Naoyuki); Review
  • Russian: Глина; Translated by С. Самуйлов; АСТ: Люкс, 2005 г; Cover art: SharksDen и Д. Бернса; Reviews
  • Spanish: Gente de Barro; Translated by Rafael Marín Trechera; Nova, 2003; Review

Farrugia, Nathan; Anomaly (Helix IV) (2016)

Sophia portrayed by Haylee Collins / Photographer: Andrew Maccoll / Cover design: Pat Naoum
Sophia portrayed by Haylee Collins / Photographer: Andrew Maccoll / Cover design: Pat Naoum

Sometimes getting to know the author is as fun as getting to know the characters. Farrugia is probably as adrenaline addicted as Sophia but, thankfully, seems a ways off Denton’s brand of crazy. He is also funny as hell and a great writer.

This odd group of animals I belong to, seems hell-bent on destroying itself in one way or another. Often, I wonder who profits from the unrest going on. Seeing behind propaganda, to the Dentons, Hals and Sievers of this world, takes time and effort. What Farrugia manages to get across in Anomaly is how little the pawns, even at the level of Illarion, know. Just because two parties kill each-other, doesn’t mean they oppose each other. Unlike many of the real-world conspiracies I hear/read, Farrugia’s conspiracy thriller shows us a believable chess-game where the consequences to the players are small, but to their pawns, well.

Purity is clearly one of the pawns being played. We got an inkling of that in Interceptor. Anomaly‘s use of Hal, Denton and DC pushes me to think in one direction. Farrugia is probably just messing with my mind. Cults are terrifying creatures. Especially political cults. Nazism was one. We see another one tear its way through Europe, triggered by the 70-year-long battle between USA and Russia that is, at this part of the “game”, destroying the Middle-East. Purity has reached the point of the mob. “Burn the witches” is a chant at one of their rallies. Farrugia paints the mindlessness, hysterical anger, fear and violence present in such a mob perfectly.

We get to know Marina better. I find myself curious about her. “Will this hurt?” she asked. And it did. It takes a special kind of training to acquire the mind-set of the researchers in the various Columns, training most people would pass.

Eastern Europe is clearly in trouble and the only ones who might save it are Sophia and Olesya’s people. But only if the two groups cooperate. Both feel the need to talk but are afraid to trust the other. They know that no matter what they choose, the likelihood of their groups getting out intact is nil. However, both are the kind of leader who wants to get as much of her team out alive and as well as possible.

What on earth are Intron’s goals? They aren’t what Hélio  says. Why are Fifth Column’s implants turning up in such strange people? Who are training these new, indestructible operatives? What is DC up to? How are Purity identifying the mutants? Can paranoia be taken too far?

As usual, I had fun. Lots of action, lots of conspiracy and one hell of a mystery. Definitely recommended.

I was given an advance copy of Anomaly to review.


Reviews:


My reviews of:

  1. Helix
  2. Exile
  3. Interceptor

Anomaly is available at Amazon

Farrugia, Nathan; Interceptor (Helix III) (2016)

Helix 3 - Interceptor cover

Sievers turned his lapel out so Denton could see him reaching for a small, slender tin. He crouched and opened the tin on the floorboards, then stepped back. Inside, a large stainless steel and glass syringe. The liquid inside the syringe burned with the colors of molten lava.

“You already know what this is,” Sievers said. “And you’ll need it, if you intend to live long enough to find what you’re really looking for.”

Denton took a step toward him. “You’re using my people to get what you want.”

For the first time, Sievers smiled. White teeth flashed between his black beard. “And you are doing precisely the same.”

Colonel Wolfram Sievers and Lieutenant Denton have lived a long time. Both are willing to go to extreme lengths to achieve what they want. For Denton that seems to be world domination through Project Gate. Sievers appears to be playing another game. That game could be called chaos. Peace would probably be boring business for his superiors. Obvious suspects for such superiors might be arms manufacturers who may or may not work with biological/genetic research firms like Intero. As far as I can tell, the various countries (certainly many politicians) in the Helix world (and real) are simply pawns in the hands of these entities.

As I have said in previous reviews, one of the major appeals of Farrugia‘s stories is that they could happen. Reactions of the general populace would probably (and do) fit his description of the election of the Purity party’s leadership into Poland’s government. Fear of people with genetic mutations is increasing among the population, thereby legitimizing the Purists going after our “heroes” with the aim of targeting/turning off their mutations.

In Exile, Sophia met an operative from the Fifth Column who self-destructed when Sophia attempted to de-program her. This time around, she meets a completely different type of agent. Who or what these new operatives belong to becomes a pressing question. So does the question of DC’s loyalties. Will Jay, Nasira, Damien and Aviary be able to infiltrate Intero’s data system and what about finding Val. How is that going for Olesya and her team? And who the hell are the Benefactors?

From the various links, you would be correct in presuming I had fun with Interceptor. There is so much going on, I cannot help but dig. At the same time, I do have to stop digging and write a review. Once again, definitely recommended.


Farrugia provided me with a reviewer’s copy of Interceptor.


Interceptor is available at Amazon


My reviews of:

  1. Helix Episode I
  2. Exile (Helix II)
  3. The Chimera Vector (Sophia)
  4. Seraphim Sequence (Sophia II)
  5. Phoenix Variant (Sophia III)

Zanbaka, Elias: Environmentally Friendly (2016)

Cover by The Cover Collection
Cover by The Cover Collection

“Yeah, well, have a talk with ’em. They somehow only managed to get the money and the okay to do this right after he escaped a week ago. They got an opportunity and they ran with it! Either way, he’s boxed in now and that’s what matters,”

Convenient that Major Bushell ran away when he did. If it wasn’t for the fact that Zanbaka made up this story, I would have suspected the “specialists” of letting Bushell out of his maximum security cage.

As the story opens, we find ourselves on Hollywood Boulevard, with Sergeant Schaeffer, chasing Bushell. Schaeffer seems like a pretty level-headed police officer who has to handle Bushell, trigger-happy police officers and the specialists, all without getting killed. Particularly one officer, Lieutenant Hazzard, seems to have either/both a martyr wish or/and a killing wish. He is too angry for the kind of job he has. Lieutenant means that he should be supervising Schaeffer, but this story shows the opposite.

Bushell is messed up. His PTSD is severe and has driven him on his own crusade against Mother Nature. He seems to think that he can kill it, but nature does not go down easily. Major Bushell has experience with how thorough nature can be when it does its worst.

This is Elias Zanbaka’s first published (self-published) story. There are some awkward sentences, but Environmentally Friendly is an action-packed, fun, read-in-one-go 19 page story. I recommend it.


The author gave me a copy of Environmentally Friendly to, hopefully, review


Reviews:


Environmentally Friendly is available at Amazon

Farrugia, Nathan; Exile (Helix II) (2016)

Helix - Episode 2
Photo by Andrew Maccoll, Cover design by Pat Naoum

Nathan. You cretin.  If telepathic strangling had been possible, I might have given it a try all the way from Norway. Cliff-hangers like this should be forbidden.

History repeats itself over and over and over again. Using The Fifth Column as his title for the Sophia series, and inserting Sixth Column as rebels to the usurper group, shows us how we continue to live in repetition. The tool used by any power, be it national or institutional, to get the public to go along with it is two-fold: propaganda (mild brainwashing) and force. In the Fifth Column trilogy, Denton and McLoughlin used both to get a strong hold on US military, US government and US public. Propaganda uses less blood and is often (usually) difficult to see through.

I am 51 years old and have been through all sorts of propaganda periods. Usually, I like to think of myself as a feminist. In Exile, Nathan showed me how far I have left to go.

Damien, Jay and Nasira have gone to Las Vegas to get hold of Aviary (from The Fifth Column). Since Jay has lost his genetic advantages, and is still healing from the killing shots from Helix I, he is get-away driver. Nasira and Damien want to rescue Aviary and have to get through a group of Marines guarding her room. Nasira begins the fight and Damien joins in.

“That would be my cue, Damien thought.

He launched for the marine behind him, grasped the barrel of her gun and twisted it up, tangling her trigger finger. The scope broke her nose, blood spattering the door of the room.”

I was completely surprised when the marine was a woman. So much for my feminism. But that is the power of propaganda. Farrugia just dump women and men into situations without regard for gender and lets them do their thing. And that is incredibly cool and hopeful.

There are three main groups in Exile. The first is the above. Their self-imposed job is to find Aviary and get her to help them again. The above shows one of the complications that arise.

Our second group is Olesya and Ark(adiy) and their masters. Val was taken by Intron Genetics Incorporated operators towards the end of Helix I. She was the third operative taken that week. They are not the only three who have been kidnapped. The loss of Ark’s sister hit both of them hard, and they desperately want her back. But Illarion does not agree with their assessment of Intron’s involvement. So he sends them to Poland due to an apparent shift of Fifth Column operatives to Eastern Europe and the loss of several hunters in the area. Something major seems to be going down.

The third group is Sophia, Czarina and Ieva. Sophia rescued and deprogrammed both of them. At this point she was teaching them to deprogram others. That is Sophia’s main mission (much as it is Olesya’s), to catch and deprogram Fifth Column operatives. However, catching people who fight for their lives is not a simple matter. At least Sophia has access to the location of every live Fifth Column operative.

Finally, there is the matter of Denton and Loughlin’s goal of making impossible-to-catch operatives. These two are extremely driven people who will do absolutely anything to accomplish their goals and retain their positions. That includes operators like Priya, who Sophia stumbles across on one of her jobs to save people from the clutches of the Fifth Column.

Well written as usual. Fun and believable fighting. Plenty of intrigue. Farrugia does techno-thrillers well. Definitely recommended.


Exile: Helix II is available on Amazon US


My review of Helix: Episode I


An ARC of Exile (Helix II) was given to me by the author


Intron:

Introns are present in the initial RNA transcript, known as pre-mRNA. They need to be removed in order for the mRNA to be able to direct the production of proteins. Pre-mRNA, therefore, undergoes a process, known as splicing, to create mature mRNA. (6, 8)

It is vital for the introns to be removed precisely, as any left-over intron nucleotides, or deletion of exon nucleotides, may result in a faulty protein being produced. This is because the amino acids that make up proteins are joined together based on codons, which consist of three nucleotides. An imprecise intron removal thus may result in a frameshift, which means that the genetic code would be read incorrectly. (3)

This can be explained by using the following phrase as a metaphor for an exon: “BOB THE BIG TAN CAT”. If the intron before this exon was imprecisely removed, so that the “B” was no longer present, then the sequence would become unreadable: “OBT HEB IGT ANC AT…”

Farrugia, Nathan M.: Helix: Episode 1 (2016)

Hi, I’m Nathan and I make up stories. There’s a word for that. Delusional. And sexy.

Helix: Episode 1 is part of the world of The Fifth Column. What I like most, aside from how well the text flows, is its realism. No mental leaps are required of me to believe in the likelihood of the methods used to acquire soldier material, how these people are tested, what training they receive and their use. The military and population application of all of the genetic manipulation described, especially unquestioning loyalty, is frightening.

Some of the brainwashing techniques described in the Sophia serial is brainwashing we all go through. Propaganda is poured at us from every available medium from the time we are born. Our ethics and moral values are all part of this propaganda. Soldiers who are sent to kill, especially the ones who end up in some form of black ops, must endure even more. What military and intelligence leaders want are people who obey and find a way to achieve whatever their leaders command them to do as efficiently as possible. Unlike religious cults, though, the military cannot have unquestioning loyalty in such men and women. At least not in officers.

The Fifth Column is not an officially sanctioned group. They aren’t interested in their doings getting out to the public. So their brainwashing needs to be more thorough.

One of their tools for finding relevant children is the Human Genome Project. Based on certain genetic markers, children from around the world get tested by Project GATE. Olesya, our main character, is one such child. Except she does not seem to have the desired genetic marker. However, she does make it into the program.

“For a while, he was silent. It was the longest she’d seen him not talk. Above the, fireworks crackled, then trickled down the velvet sky. Olesya tried to imagine what this scholarship on the other side of the world would be like without her big brother.

The snow squeaked under Zakhar’s jacket. He rubbed his face with a gloved hand and she realized he’d been crying. The fireworks had faded now, golden glitter in the night.”

Project GATE aims to make the perfect killers. By combining extensive testing, combat and assassin training, brainwashing techniques and an engineered virus, Project GATE gets unquestioning, loyal and adjustable soldiers.

After one of their tests, Olesya, together with other team-members, is broken out of Project GATE by the Sixth Column and de-programmed. The Chimera Vector took us through that process and it was not fun for either the programee or the de-programmer.  Getting de-programmed is only the beginning of Olesya’s life with a mind of her own. Now the Sixth Column wants her to be their soldier. She, and the others from her old team, fight to free other Fifth Column members and to find their own people who seem to be disappearing. Theirs is a race against time and a superior power.

It turns out the Sixth Column is not only fighting against the Fifth Column but also against an organization whose members wear white armbands. All of these conspiracies give us much action, well-written action. With his background, Farrugia has the tools for being able to make the fighting realistic. Realism by itself, would not work well for some of the car-chases, so we get a bit of Bondism as well.  We reacquaint ourselves briefly with Sophia and it is interesting to see what that tells us about the Sixth Column.

Helix was fun, had great flow and interesting people who kept me entertained. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


My reviews of other Fifth Column stories


Helix, Episode 1 is available at Amazon