Review of “Aestus: Book 1: The City”

I came across this book a few months ago after meeting the author on Twitter. The ideas that brought her to write the book intrigued me, so I picked up an ebook copy of it and its followup novel, which I immediately jumped into after finishing book one. I had recently finished reading Frank Herbert’s epic novel Dune when I saw the review of another reader of Aestus who had compared the world of this book to Dune. I had to investigate.

The book series title “Aestus” does not appear in the text of the story, but upon googling the term I realized how it related to the tale. The Latin word means heat, or fire, a reference to the setting of the story in a post apocalyptic subterranean society which is hiding from the heat of the daytime temperatures of Earth’s out-of-control, post-war climate. The story begins with the main character Jossey, who is an engineer of solar technology. She and her team are descending into the dark tunnels leading to their underground city at the end of a night of working on the surface. The underground city protects them from the heat of day and the frightening creatures that are the nemesis of the city dwellers.

The first chapters introduce the reader to a dark underground world of tunnels and the Onlar – frightening creatures who pursue the main character Jossey and her team of engineers. At first I thought this book would just be a sci-fi horror tale of monsters and fear of the dark, but as the story progressed, I found the author was building a much larger mystery with complex characters and a much deeper plot.

The incremental revealing of new characters, their motives, emotions, and back history is very well done. Understanding of who they are and their intentions is given slowly and steadily to the reader over the course of the book. I especially found the emotional interactions between several of the characters to be very intriguing, realistic, and well written. The ever growing and changing characters present a mystery to solve as Jossey decides who to trust while discovering that some things in her underground city are not always as they first appear.

This first book has a number of well presented plot mysteries for the reader which are paid off throughout the course of the book. I loved how unknown aspects of the city and the overall story are revealed with many surprising revelations. Some I saw coming, but many surprised me. The plot twists don’t feel contrived either. They’re subtly hinted at for the reader. Many “ah-ha” moments are experienced making the growing plot even more interesting as the tale expands.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the adventure and fascinating characters in this story. While there are a few editing related issues that I think could have tightened up and possibly strengthened the tale, the storytelling was still the overriding strength of the book. Replacing some of the “LY” adverb use with more hinted-at sensory and emotion-based imagery might have given an even deeper feeling of “being there” in some spots. (I guess I can’t break from reading as a picky editor! Others might not find these stood out as much as they did to me). Possibly a few more editing passes could make the writing a little stronger, but in the end I overlooked these minor issues since the story and characters drew me further and further into an intriguing tale.

This first book ends with a new understanding of the plight of the characters and their perception of their world, but not all problems are resolved. Many payoffs for mysterious characters, motives, and plot lines are wrapped up at the end of the book, but since this is a multi-book story, the ending presents a major unresolved issue, obviously intended to make the reader press on into book two.

At first I was unsure if this uncompleted plot issue felt unsatisfactory to me, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I liked where it left me as a reader. The first book has a number of huge payoffs, establishing a new playing field for book two. The unresolved plot issues at the end of book one were exciting enough to make me want to immediately jump into the second book right away – which is not something that has always happened for me in other series novels.

I believe this is the author’s first published book, so yes, I think there is room for growth in writing as her personal style and “voice” develops over time, but this story was much more intriguing to me than were other loudly lauded “new amazing authors,” whose books I have read in the past year. S.Z. Attwell’s storytelling brought to life wonderful characters I cared about and made me willing to follow along to see their next exciting adventure.

I highly recommend Aestus: Book 1: The City.

Review of “The Martian Chronicles”

I rated The Martian Chronicles at three out of five stars, but maybe 3.5 would have been closer to my impression if we could do half stars. I wanted to read The Martian Chronicles due to fond memories of the 1980’s TV Miniseries. It was interesting to see how the miniseries slightly modified and blended the short stories which make up the book. Some were reproduced very close to the original stories and some were not, but are still recognizable. The mini-series also did not cover all the stories in the book so, it was fun to have a few tales that I had not heard placed in between ones that were more familiar.

Bradbury and this book are considered “classics” in sci-fi, albeit a bit dated due to limited scientific knowledge at the time. Readers who want “hard sci-fi” tied to a current understanding of Mars, beware, these tales are based on many speculations (like the “canals”, breathable atmosphere, and the assumption of plant and animal life assumed to have existed at the time.) If you are okay with a little suspension of belief regarding these elements, you might enjoy this more.

The Martian Chronicles is a series of short stories tied together loosely as an overall narrative about the exploration and attempted settlement of Mars by humanity. It also presents a native sentient Martian culture on Mars. The stories all feel a little like Twilight Zone style tales. They’re short, strange, with a twist of irony, and maybe a touch of morality-play in them. While I am a fan of the Twilight Zone’s masterful style, these stories seemed a bit more cartoonish to me in some ways. The writing seemed to vary a lot to me. Some stories felt spur of the moment with shallow character development, while others had an interesting writing style and held my interest. It is possible that some of my impressions were colored by seeing the TV Mini-series too.

I think the story/chapter “There Will Come Soft Rains” as the most poetic and interesting writing. Other tales like “Usher II”, “The Earth Men”, “The Third Expedition”, “The Silent Towns”, and “The Off Season” feel very Twilight Zone but kinda campy in ways. “The Martian”, “Night Meeting”, “The Long Years”, and “The Fire Balloons” were some of my favorite stories in the book.

Overall, I guess it has to be taken as a classic that has not necessarily aged well, at least for me. There is actually one chapter not in this version (and other more recent publications of the book) which was removed because of some of its stereotyping of black culture (“Way in the Middle of the Air”).

I read Herbert’s DUNE right before this book and the difference in style and storytelling between them made Martian Chronicles feel even more campy and simplistic in its writing and story telling. Maybe that colored my perceptions of the book unfairly but… it is what it is.

Review of Frank Herbert’s Classic Novel, Dune

No real spoilers, I promise. Just a tiny bit of background and my review of the book.

Glenn – “I promise it will be okay”

I’ll excuse you if you can’t believe I’m a fan of science fiction and yet I hadn’t read Frank Herbert’s novel Dune until now. I decided this was the time, since the upcoming 2021 movie version is about to release.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel, although it was a bit of a steep climb at first. The depth of world building, the unique characters, and the societal/cultures Herbert envisioned is amazing. I can see why it’s often called the “Lord of the Rings” of science fiction, due to its world-building complexity. Yet this science fiction book does not focus on the technology as much as some might expect. It almost blurs the line into fantasy.

In Herbert’s futuristic universe, mankind has already overcome the threat that other sci-fi novels often explore. The almost over-used trope of a war against rebellious artificial intelligence has already been fought, long centuries before the start of Dune’s story. Computers and “intelligent technology” have been banned. Humanity has instead worked to enhance their own skills and mental abilities in place of computers and “thinking machines.” These seemingly super-human skills feel like they step over the line into fantasy or even what we might consider magic.

The beginning of the book caught me off guard, but not because of the blurring of the line between the Sci-fi and Fantasy genres. It wasn’t simply the unfamiliar words and complexity that made the reading slow-going either. Just a few pages into the novel I was surprised to discover the narrative style Herbert was using. He had the point of view jumping from character to character. The thoughts of various characters in the same room were fully on display to the reader. How could such a well known novel violate this “rule” of writing so blatantly!

Dune is written in Third Person Omniscient, a style which isn’t common in most modern novels. Third Person Omniscient was more typical in the Victorian era. Herbert was switching (“head hopping”) between characters in what seemed to me a modified Third Person style. This left me a bit dumbfounded – seemingly in basic violation of novel writing advice that I had heard over and over from various teachers of the writing craft.

Eventually, I became used to his style. He actually wielded this method with skill. Although it was not how the book might be written today, I had accepted it as his style and it fascinated me how he made it work. There was enough to focus on with all the unfamiliar terminology anyway. The growing list of characters, the unique technology and culture of the story became my focus. Deeper into the novel I started to understand why he chose this narrative style. The story was as much or more about how the other characters reacted to the main protagonist, as it was about Paul Atreides himself.

My suggestion to first-time readers of Dune would be to push through the beginning of the story rather than stopping to over-analyze it too much. If you find it too difficult to do this, then make use of the included terminology appendix in the back, but the meanings of most unique words can generally be understood from the context. It will become more apparent as you read on. I’m thinking I might even go back and re-read some of the beginning again to get a better feel for the subtleties of the story now that I finished the book. Some critics have stated that this is a flaw in Herbert’s writing, but I think it drew me into the story environment more, not having any info-dump of background in the beginning.

Another thing Herbert did in the book was lead off each chapter with quotes that are from inside the story’s own universe. They’re all attributed to a character you do not meet until nearly the end of the novel. Each quotation is related to the next chapter you’re about to read. In some cases I found this to be too “telling.” It kinda felt like these were giving away what would happen in the following chapter. If you find them helpful to get your bearings in the first chapters then by all means read them as Herbert intended, but if you find them giving away too much in later chapters, skip the quotes from Princess Irulan. I think you can enjoy and understand it just as well skipping those pre-chapter quotes if you find them too telling or spoiler. I believe these quotes are meant to imply the overall story is being recounted by the writer of these quotes, but I am not sure they are necessary. Yet it was interesting to finally meet the character from whom the quotes originated. It made her late introduction in the book feel like you knew something about her already.

Despite some of my criticisms, I did enjoy the story and I am inspired to read the rest of the Dune saga. I’m hoping this upcoming movie version of Dune can do the story justice. I’ve seen clips of the previous attempts to adapt it to film and they are pretty terrible. From what I’ve seen in teasers of the 2021 version, it looks like it will be mostly faithful to the novel but we shall see.

Link to this review on Goodreads