Tuesday, 15 September 2015

#BookReview: The Fifth Dimension by Martin Vopenka


Martin Vopenka's novel, though given the label of science fiction, reads more like a magical realist escapade through philosophy, sprinkled with liberal doses of space-time theories. The result is a novel that reads more like Milan Kundera rather than something more traditionally placed in the realm of science fiction.

The Fifth Dimension starts out promisingly. A Czech man, Jakub, who built a successful career in construction after the fall of Communism suddenly finds himself broke after his business prospects vanish one by one.

Desperate, he answers a mysterious ad from an equally mysterious organization that promises him US$200,000 if he takes part in an experiment that involves spending a year in solitude out in the mountains of Argentina. He takes with him only one book, Black Holes & Time Warps by Kip Thorne, and so spends his time lost not only in loneliness and paranoia but also in multidimensional physics theories.

Unfortunately, the plot takes too long to build and there were many moments where I found myself flipping through the pages, wondering when something interesting would happen. Something interesting does happen, but by then I noticed I was already more than half way through the book.

Thankfully, the writing (or perhaps the translation offered by Hana Sklenkova) makes it an easy read, and Jakub's often ponderously long monologues about black holes and space and time are actually quite interesting, considering how these are advanced topics which are rarely accessible to a layman.

In the end, I found the reveal of what the fifth dimension of the title actually is to be quite disappointing. The author might have known he'd be questioned for it, and so he has Jakub say this, (probably on his behalf): "I worry that people won't appreciate the simple truthfulness of my basic idea. Precisely because it is that simple."

Simple it may be, but still disappointing. And, like the story, which hinges on a simple concept that doesn't deliver a satisfying payoff, The Fifth Dimension ultimately proves to be a let down.

This review was made possible by an ARC from NetGalley.

Friday, 11 September 2015

#BookReview: Windswept by Adam Rakunas


It's very rare for a book to grab my attention on the first page, then proceeds to drag me through a fast-paced, action packed SF romp. Adam Rakunas's Windswept sweeps you through a plot involving labor unions, edge-of-space boondocks, space elevators, and sugarcane byproducts, which of course, includes rum. Lots of rum.

Padma Mehta is a union recruiter grappling on the edge of sanity who only wants to fulfill her recruitment quota so she can retire and buy her own rum distillery. When an opportunity presents itself so that Padma can finally fill her quota, she takes it despite her better judgment.

But instead of the forty people she expected to quit their labor contracts, only five of them come tumbling down the space elevator and one of them happens to be dead. What happens next is a series of increasingly insurmountable problems for Padma to overcome.

Besides the breakneck speed of the prose, I found the witty banter and the often hilarious situations entertaining, making the book very much an enjoyable read. I also found the worldbuilding a lot of fun, with Rakunas borrowing a lot of elements from various Asian cultures and mixing them together to create a cool world. I especially liked that on a far-flung backwater planet that there were "kampongs" and that characters used "chops" to mean company seals or stamps. (Take that, English teacher from my childhood!)

About the only problem I had with it was because it was so fast-paced, I sometimes had trouble picturing what was actually happening during some of the action scenes. I had to take a pause, flip back a few pages and reread them again to fully ground myself in the situation.

Otherwise, the book is irreverent and zany and I heartily recommend picking it up.

This review was made possible by an ARC from NetGalley.

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Available from: Amazon | Smashwords | iTunes | Google Play | Nook