Sunday, May 11, 2014

Medusa (e-book) by Tony Talbot

Medusa is self-published YA science fiction.

This review includes some spoilers.

I'm not happy with my read-alikes/watch-alikes list, but I decided it was never going to get much better, so I might as well post my review.

Review:

I won this in a BookLikes giveaway held by the author. Tony Talbot is one of the reviewers BookLikes automatically assigned to me to follow when I first joined the site. His reviews were interesting, so I continued to follow him. I didn't know much about Medusa other than that its description made it sound like it might be a good fit for me, but I knew that Talbot wasn't shy about giving books lower star ratings, and I respected that.

I had some serious mental readjusting to do at the beginning of this book. I hadn't bothered to reread the description before starting and assumed it was science fiction with spaceships in space. As pretty as the cover is, I think it contributed to my confusion. Medusa is actually science fiction with a boat in the ocean. Lissa, the book's 16-year-old main character, has spent her whole life on the ocean, to the point that she can't remember which plants are “trees” and which are “grass.” I was reminded a bit of Waterworld (but, slight spoiler, that's not what's going on here).

Lissa Two's family used to be safe and comfortable, until her father died. Then they had to move to a poorer level in their sea-stead. Lissa's mother turned to prostitution to pay the bills, but even that didn't bring enough money in, so Lissa became a thief. After Lissa's mother died of water-plague, Lissa was saddled with her debts and Lissa Three, her mentally ill younger sister. It was lucky for Lissa that Connie found her.

Connie is an AI-run ship with amazing capabilities. She can use stealth mode to turn invisible (although she still leaves a wake), and she can create things like food and clothing seemingly out of nothing. She can also create a thing called The Suit that protects its wearer, can give them night vision and super-strength, and allows Connie to overlay directions on their field of vision. Connie is pretty awesome. Her primary limitation is that she is solar-powered and only has limited functionality after dark.

While Lissa is out looking for things to steal and sell one day, she comes across a huge sea-stead where everyone appears to have vanished or been killed. When she goes after a helicopter containing the possible culprits, they toss a person into the ocean to try to distract her and lose her. That person turns out to be Hattan, a mysterious young man who knows both more and less than he should.

The science fiction elements are where this book shines. I liked The Suit, and the mystery surrounding Connie interested me. There were also occasional cultural details that fascinated me, such as the way the creepy monks on Kobold Four eked out an existence and the way the poor tried to make a living on Delfino. I was a little confused about the naming system (if Lissa Two ever has a kid, will she become Lissa One so her kid can be Lissa Two?), but, for the most part, I enjoyed the details about how the world worked and would have liked to learn more.

Unfortunately, where this book fell flat for me was in an area I really care about: the characters and their relationships.

Lissa didn't strike me as being very bright – I figured out that all those piles of ash used to be people well before she did. Her explanations for why she didn't use Connie's abilities to generate money out of thin air didn't work for me (stealing is apparently just fine, but using Connie to generate money is “taking advantage”). What really got me, though, was her reaction to Hattan.

She had just rescued him from the ocean. He was unconscious and had several broken bones and a concussion. And so her fingers lingered on the silky texture of his hair, and she was so overwhelmed by a need to know the color of his eyes that she peeled back his lids so she could look. Then, when she was checking his arm for an Ident tattoo, there was this, inspired by the feeling of “hidden strength” in his biceps:
“Pleasant warmth ran through her, and for no reason she could think of, she imagined her lips on that skin, tasting the smoothness.” (30)
By the way, he's still injured and unconscious. I was absolutely repulsed by this line and hoped that, the next time Lissa lusted over him, he'd at least be conscious.

I figured that all this was leading up to future romance between Lissa and Hattan, because it's practically a rule that all YA novels starring girls must have romance. Imagine my surprise when Lissa made it home to Delfino and it was revealed that she's in a relationship with Drex Two, the son of the man who basically enslaved her by holding her mother's debts over her head. At first, I assumed she was dating Drex Two in the hope of one day using him to free herself of debt and give her sister a better life, but I later decided she actually did like him. I don't think Lissa lusted after Hattan or noticed his hotness even once after Drex Two entered the picture, which makes those early moments even odder. Why have Lissa do something as gross as lust over an unconscious guy with multiple broken bones if there was no ultimate point to any of it?

Lissa's relationship with Drex Two was fairly low key, because they had to make sure his father didn't find out. Drex Two didn't seem like much of a winner, since his constant refrain seemed to be “I'm sorry I can't help you more, I'm under my dad's thumb,” but I could have lived with him if it hadn't been for the giant discordant note that was Hattan and Lissa's initial attraction to him. You'd think Drex Two would have crossed her mind at least once while she was considering kissing unconscious Hattan.

That leaves Lissa Three. To be honest, Lissa Two and Lissa Three's relationship kind of disturbed me, once I learned the full truth about the two of them and why Three was the way she was. Two loved her, because she was family, but, to me, she seemed like an anchor around Two's neck. Because of Three's fear of going outside, Two couldn't pack up and live permanently on Connie. In addition to the crushing debt she owed Drex One, Lissa Two also had to worry that Drex One would find Three and hold her hostage so that she'd give Connie up to him (and why, then, trust a complete stranger like Hattan, who'd already showed signs of untrustworthiness, with information about Three's whereabouts?). Since I didn't care for Three the way Two did, Three's existence was primarily frustrating to me.

I still have some unanswered questions about certain aspects of the book. Considering who Hattan turned out to be, why drop him, injured, unconscious, and unable to swim, into the ocean? After the way things turned out at the end, how was Lissa Two planning on surviving and continuing to take care of her sister?

I really wanted to like this one more than I did. It's sad, because some aspects worked really well for me, but the aspects I didn't like overwhelmed those.

Additional Comments:

There were typos (missing commas or words), but they were fairly infrequent. There were also occasional word choices and phrasings that seemed odd to me but weren't always necessarily wrong. For example:

"The first bite was exquisite, sending juices flowing down her throat, her digestion filling her mouth with saliva." (35) - The "digestion" bit seemed odd to me. Not incorrect, just weird.

"'Lissa Two, my name is Lissa Two. You fell out of a...a helicopter and I saved you, do you remember, you broke your arm and a few ribs but, uh...' She stopped when she realised she was blubbering." (37-38) - I'm fairly certain the correct word here is "babbling," not "blubbering," since she wasn't crying.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes: 
  • Ship of Magic (book) by Robin Hobb - My search for more books with sentient ships that weren't spaceships brought me to this, the first book in Hobb's Liveship Traders Trilogy. From the sounds of things, this has sentient ships that partner with whole crews. Reviews praise the detailed and believable characters, but I also noted some saying that the story drags after a while. I've only ever read one of Hobb's books, Assassin's Apprentice, and remember it being very engrossing - and not very much like Talbot's book in terms of style, but the subject matter may still be appealing.
  • The Ship Who Sang (book) by Anne McCaffrey - Another "if you like sentient ships" book. In this case, these ships are "brain" and "brawn" partnerships. If I remember correctly, the ships are controlled by human beings who would have died or been severely physically limited if they hadn't been hooked up to their spaceship "bodies." They are partnered with "brawns," people who can act as their hands in situations they otherwise couldn't take care of. The Ship Who Sang is the first book in the series, but I remember The City Who Fought being one of my favorites in the series. 
  • I Am Legend (book) by Richard Matheson - I know I've read this, but I guess I never got around to reviewing it. Stylistically and subject-wise, this is even less related to Talbot's book that my other two read-alike suggestions, but I think it could work for someone who just wants more sci-fi/fantasy where all is not quite as it seems. And another one where the world in general has become a sucky place to live.
  • Waterworld (live action movie) - Even though the world in Medusa turned out to be not at all like the world in this movie, I can't resist adding it to this list. Those who'd like another future-set story in which most people spend their entire life without ever seeing dry land might want to give this a try. 
  • Farscape (live action movie) - Okay, so Connie is AI and Moya is a giant, living, sentient spaceship. Even so, Connie made me think of Moya.

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