Review – Zeroes – Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

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Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #54. And as the new paradigm continues, so does the inexorable march of the universe into heat death. But with Zeroes, we can enjoy it along the way.

Scott Westerfeld is an overrepresented author on this site, and there are some good reasons for this. For one, he’s very hit-and-miss in the way that some of his books are like bullets and miss you, while some of his books are like baseball bats with barbed wire around them which can not only hit you but seriously do damage to your feels, current mental state and internal organs. But I think that sometimes he doesn’t deserve half the credit he gets. This time around, the authors working with him are at least as responsible for the awesomeness that is Zeroes as the man himself actually is. Some quick googling has convinced me to add some of these newcomers’ works to my to-read list (currently objectively longer than the lifespans of several suns); and to hunt down a copy of Zeroes which has Westerfeld’s name printed way bigger than the names of the other authors (as my copy rightfully has them all the same size and the other copy is so mockable). Oh it is good to be writing these reviews again.

Zeroes is about teen superheroes who used to be like the Teen Titans but now are more like Young Justice. Now all working pseudo-independently and dealing with their actually kind of sucky powers, they need to band together to save a girl’s dad when some scumbag decides the rent for his drug dealing loan is finally up. Or something. I didn’t really care that much as the real interest in Zeroes is watching the characters collide with each other and rediscover anew their powers with a backdrop of fast-paced, addictive action. So basically this book is really good character development with awesome set pieces and the casually good style Westerfeld delivers on all his best days (which I’m sure is the result of the other authors as well).

And what character development! The characters are all well-defined, interesting and if not immediately likeable then at least sympathetic. As they all have their own completely (sometimes radically) different and bizarre problems, their angst is all structured accordingly and brings a new splash of bright neon colour to the traditionally cut-and-dried grey slab of angst a YA novel normally indulges in. For example, it’s fine to have a person with limited social skills in your novel feel like they’re invisible, but when they literally can’t be remembered after a few minutes and are actually socially adept they have a much more interesting and therefore well-written problem.

So Zeroes is a very well-made sometimes wacky reconstruction of the teenage superhero trope, which is refreshing in all sorts of ways. The twists are all surprising enough that I genuinely had fun and felt shock when they took effect, and the whole novel felt close enough to a cinematic movie blockbuster that I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it got picked up for one someday. Sometimes my work rocks.

Zeroes was published in 2015 by Simon Pulse. It can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

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Review – Zeroes – Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

Review – Afterworlds – Scott Westerfeld

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Hello Internet. And I present to you, Review #45 (the only thing predictable about unpredictability is that it refuses to be predicted)! Wow, I’m nearing a half-century. This is alarming. Oh, am I far enough away from Leviathan to write a review on another Westefeld novel? Hm… Yeah, looks like it. Yippee!

Lemme ‘splain you a thing. When somebody jumps around with their style in the middle of a piece of literary text, constantly changing their perspective, genre and tone, the effect is frickin’ weird. It’s a bi’ like they jus’ dinnae care no more about formal structure, coherent writing and proper English. S’like they can’t care ‘tall ‘bout seemin’ any whit like a structured, sane person who is attempting to write a decent story. The fact that this past paragraph was so easy to write unnerves and confuses me, as it’s clearly going to be impossible to read. Note to future self: Don’t let accents fork out instances of your personality. Ya migh’ end up driftin’ off inta some faraway land wif no way back…

OK, hypocritically humorous paragraph over. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming: Afterworlds, hey? What about it? I think it’s stupid. Well, let’s break down why I think it’s stupid: It’s not one book. Afterworlds bases its entire premise on the fact that it is more than one book. It’s a reading experience, which means it is supposed be read like it was written by two different authors who happen to share the same general writing style writing two different books in two different genres and smashing the result together with a dutiful word-processor command and some poor, simple code. And it suffers for it.

The main problem with this is that for this kind of thing to work, both books have to be excellent reads, and they need to have enough similarities on a chapter-by-chapter plot breakdown that the audience never loses the feel that one story gives but lets it continue into the next story seamlessly. Meanwhile, the characters need to be different in each story so they aren’t confusing, and don’t let the reader mix-up characters between the stories. Afterworlds doesn’t do this. Afterworlds is like a scrapbook. It’s messy. Charmingly so, akin to a family album made by a six-year-old who uses pattern scissors to cut out the photos, but Afterworlds lacks finesse which should be expected from an author of this calibre.

Westerfeld has dropped the ball here. Afterworlds is one of those novels which sounds good in theory. The formula for a more pronounced version of two-lines-no-waiting, using different, interlocking stories which fit together to display an overarching dramatic meaning sounds fucking awesome, if it was put together by someone like George RR Martin or Alastair Reynolds. Seriously, this kind of pseudo-madliterary-science is something which could fundamentally change modern literature. But what we are left with is Afterworlds, a clear example of “Oooh, here is a cool idea. Let’s stitch another story into this one we already have to make this book have a neat marketing gimmick!” “Wow, sounds like a great idea! While you write this call an ambulance, you need to recover from an emergency frontal lobotomy!

Afterworlds was published in 2014 by Simon Pulse. It can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

Review – Afterworlds – Scott Westerfeld

Review – Leviathan – Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan

Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #38. Ahh yes, don’t you just love the sweet smell of Steampunk in the Morning? This review is borne from the true absence of inspiration that I seem to have run into, and so I have decided to have fun with something easy to get involved in.

Leviathan is the kind of novel us serious book critics read when they have run out of steam (bad pun intended). We hit the metaphorical brick wall of a mind-blank, and we decide to hang all intention of continuing reviewing in a reasonable fashion to go devour something fun and mindless then dissect its still-warm corpse. And while in the middle of Uglies and chewing through Afterworldspoorly-tied together narrative duality I take a look at this prolific author’s library of titles and pick one which I consider genuinely fun to read, which is a hot, steaming mess of steampunk, dieselpunk and biopunk with a setting in a war nobody really understands.

So Leviathan is just fun. That’s innately why I picked the series. Westerfeld occasionally has an addictively readable style, like in Zeroes (which might not have been because of him) and of course in Leviathan. And I went through the trilogy like the Flash does everything. Quickly. I hardly read anything else during the time I read Leviathan. And that, in and of itself, is something which should show how fun I found this book. The characters are witty and clever, the scenarios are interesting and awesome, the world genuinely looks like an MMO setting and I whooped with delight at the introduction of a cool new creepy-crawly or clanking behemoth (ah, the puns).

But I think Westerfeld might have the wrong idea about how this series was meant to be received. As a person in the target audience (that’s YA fiction), I wanted to have a romp through a comical version of the First World War with cool and awesome characters and kick-ass goliaths of fighting machines (don’t stop me now…). Westerfeld wants his books to be as much a dissection of the political causes of the First World War instead of a loving homage to pre-atomic-age giant robots/monsters. Which is perfectly fine and reverent if the topic of discussion is how war is hell and people die thanks to no reason in particular. But this book is actually about pre-atomic-age giant robots/monsters. So Westerfeld’s themes seem to clash with the intended purpose of the book.

So beside a cross-dressing, ass-kicking girl who joins the British army and her love affair with an escaped and wimpy heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there are complex political discussions with important moral factors that are interesting in their own right but completely and utterly out-of-place when faced with the huge jaws of a mutated sabre-toothed tiger. It’s this sort of thematic whiplash which confuses the hell out of me, because if I wanted complicated and completely fictional political discussions I would finish A Song of Ice and Fire. Or, become up to date with A Song of Ice and Fire, then leak spoilers on the internet for all the peasants who don’t have too much time on their hands and no other factors in their life which dictate the amount of free reading time they have. Hey, I’m allowed to be scum!

Leviathan was published in 2009 by Simon Pulse. It can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

Review – Leviathan – Scott Westerfeld