Review: The Butterfly Garden (By Dot Hutchison)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 288 pages

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

An isolated garden. Beautiful trees and flowers. And a collection of butterflies – kidnapped women intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes and whose beauty is captured and preserved. Overseeing all of this is The Gardener. When the FBI rescues the girls, they find themselves struggling to find answers. The girls are too damaged to speak or share what they’ve been through. Only one girl stands apart – Maya. Maya begins to take FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison through her story, and the story of many others interwoven with hers. More disturbing than they could have ever imagined, the story that Maya tells them takes them into the horrors of the Garden and The Gardener’s mind. Yet, something is missing, something is being held back. Maya is hiding something. Agent Hanoverian needs to get to the truth. Because uncovering Maya’s secret, or failing to do so, will affect the fate of every girl they rescued and the man responsible for their horror.

The Bottom Line:

A disturbing book with a good storyline, but that fails to pack a real punch.

My take:

One thing is for sure – The Butterfly Garden isn’t a book that everyone will be able to digest. The way the book plays out could be enough to make people extremely uncomfortable. The events and the psyche of its characters are quite disturbing and occasionally even make your skin crawl. One good thing though, is that it isn’t as bad as it could have been.

Hutchison skips over the most graphic details, choosing instead to focus on the events leading up to it, and after it, and how it made the characters involved, feel. And that’s done quite well, saving readers from the worst of it, but still showcasing enough of the fallout to evoke some empathy, sympathy, and disturbance.

The story and the premise itself are just about okay. I mean, it’s interesting enough to create a story where a man has an entire garden of women whose beauty is preserved in death. But the story has a lot of plotholes. Like, how did no one notice something wrong for so many years? Or why didn’t the captured girls fight back when they had the clear advantage of numbers? There are many other such plot-points which, I felt, should have been explored more to make the story more believable. If the end result would have been what the story said it was anyway, that would’ve been fine. But the question of What if would have been solved.

Hutchison tries to offer that solution through conversation. For instance, she does showcase how terrified the girls were of making any attempt at overthrowing their kidnapper that would be ‘almost’ successful. The result of the ‘almost’ aspect was certain death. Which is why no one ever tries anything. But showing this would have made it more rounded as a story, instead of just mentioning it in passing as Hutchison has done.

The style of the book is definitely unique. It switches between the third person – when the detectives are interviewing Maya, and the first person – when Maya relates her own story. The contrasting approaches actually made a pretty good combination, leaving you turning page after page.

Characterization was good, although a bit over the top in some cases. The detectives are very likable and I’m keen to follow their story arcs over the next few books in the series (apparently, they’re related, but can all be read standalone).

The two biggest problems with The Butterfly Garden were that (a) it didn’t actually become as creepy and psychologically troubling as it could have been (which is something people look for in the genre of psychological thriller or horror), and (b) a large part of the plot is anticlimactic.

I started this book expecting it to be one of those that burns disturbing images into your head and keeps you revisiting them for a while, especially in your nightmares. That happened to me with John Case’s Murder Artist. I couldn’t sleep for days after reading that one because it was incredibly disturbing, not from a horror perspective, but from the extent of “how far can people go”. A lot of people may have felt the same with The Butterfly Garden. But the book gave me half a sleepless night before I began to forget about it. What remained are those detectives, and I’d like to follow the series for them and the fact that Hutchison may not be the best in the psychological thriller genre, but her books do follow an interesting theme.

Should you read The Butterfly Garden? Definitely not if you get queasy easily. But, give it a shot if:

  • you like crime thrillers
  • you enjoy psychological suspense and thrillers
  • you are not easily creeped out by the atrocities and disturbing weirdness that this world is (probably) actually capable of
  • you want to read an interesting (but not excellent) thriller

Drop a comment below to share your thoughts on The Butterfly Garden or recommend a good psychological thriller. And thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

P.S.: I’m going to take a few months off of reviewing books. I may occasionally review a short story here and there, but I’ll be back early next year in full swing to tell you which books to add to your TBR pile and which to ignore! In the meanwhile, if you’re interested, you can follow my photography adventures (and misadventures) on my Instagram handle: @rishikajhamb

Laters, Alligators!

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Review: The Couple Next Door (By Shari Lapena)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 301 pages

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Anne and Marco Conti have a happy marriage and a beautiful six-month-old baby girl, Cora. They’re invited to the home of the couple whose home is adjacent to theirs (and attached to theirs by a shared wall) for dinner. When the babysitter cancels, they decide to go anyway, choosing to carry their baby monitor with them and taking turns to check on baby Cora every half hour.

But the house is deathly silent when they finally return for the night, a mere 45 minutes after they’ve checked on Cora last. When Anne and Marco rush to her room, their worst fears are realized. Her crib is empty. Cora is gone. The police are called and Detective Rasbach is determined not to leave any stone unturned. When his suspicions land on Anne and Marco, the strain in the marriage that the couple had tried desperately to ignore threatens to overwhelm them. Soon, old secrets are forced into the open, secrets that will change the very perception they have of one another. As Anne and Marco’s relationship threatens to unravel, another question hangs over them – Who has taken Cora and where is she now? Can they overcome their own problems in time to find their daughter? Or is baby Cora dead already?

The Bottom Line:

A book with lots of twists and turns, many of which are unexpected, and a storyline that’s engaging enough, but with annoying-as-hell characters and an irritating point-of-view of writing.

My take:

A while ago, I’d read a book called The Neighbor by Joseph Souza. That was a really annoying book and I remember not liking it at all (my full review of The Neighbor is here). The Couple Next Door gives off more or less the same vibes as The Neighbor.

What the book has going for it is an intricately woven storyline that’s got a lot of unexpected (and some predictable) twists. The suspense and air of mystery are good. It also moves fast (enough).

But what renders a lot of that pointless is that you just don’t care about any of the characters or associate with them. Sure, you want to know what happened, but that’s more for the sake of the mystery than for your desire that the characters get closure.

Most of the characters spend a lot of time just whining. I’m sure that if life ever presents you with a situation as terrible as your child being abducted, you’d be upset. And rightfully so. But somehow their grief comes across more as whining instead of anything that can garner empathy and sympathy from the reader.

Also, the tenses in which the book is written is just incredibly annoying. I’ve never been a big fan of the first person POV, but have learned to like it over time, especially with so many authors now using it. But this has some present continuous thing going on, with the past tense just thrown in randomly, and that was incredibly annoying to read. Also, Lapena keeps moving between POVs of different characters in the same segment, which is not something that a lot of authors can achieve successfully, and Lapena sure doesn’t.

The only redeeming thing about this book is that it has a good storyline. But is that enough to recommend the book? I’d say read The Couple Next Door only if you like books like The Neighbor or The Wife Between Us (haven’t read the latter but I know the story). If you’re looking for an engaging thriller, skip The Couple Next Door and pick up something else. It checks off a lot of boxes on plot, but skips a lot more on presentation, characterization, and reader association. As a result, it’s fine as a mystery, but with no elements that make it an engaging, thrilling read that you’ll remember for days, weeks, or months to come.

Thanks for stopping by to read this review. Drop a comment below to share your thoughts and recommendations!

– Rishika

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Review: Artificial Condition (By Martha Wells)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 158 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Murderbot returns in the second book of his diary series – Artificial Condition.

Murderbot is a SecUnit, a human/robot construct leased out to research teams for security. Except, it’s hacked its governor module and has been a free agent for a while, accepting missions of its own volition (and allowing clients to believe that he’s still under the control of the company) as it figures out what it really wants. But now, it knows where it needs to go.

Murderbot has fragments of the memory of a dark past, one in which it went rogue and killed numerous people. That’s why, in its mind, it’s called Murderbot. Now, it wants to know the truth. What had really happened and where? And what role did Murderbot really play in the massacre? Its decision to find out the truth leaves it hitchhiking rides to a distant moon and soon, it finds itself on a research transport, forming an unlikely friendship. To get on the moon though, it needs an employment pass. Which is how it finds itself in the employ of a group of young people traveling to the moon and requiring security.

Now, Murderbot has two missions – find out the truth and keep its clients safe. And neither of them is turning out to be as simple as it’d thought. Will it find the truth it desperately wants to discover? Or will Murderbot’s past catch up with him and endanger the clients it has now vowed to protect?

The Bottom Line:

Just as good as its prequel, Artificial Condition is slightly slower-paced, no less interesting, and a lot funnier.

My take:

Artificial Condition picks up just a little after the first one ends, and it is (again) written from the perspective of Murderbot. Since it’s a novella and one that’s not too long, I’m going to try to keep this review short too.

Artificial Condition is at par with its prequel. It’s got a healthy dose of action and violence. A large part of the book, however, focuses on the development of Murderbot’s character as it gets used to its new circumstances and situation.

The surprising part of the book is the humor. I do not remember All Systems Red being funny as often as Artificial Condition. Murderbot’s wry sense of humor is much more pronounced in the second installment, especially so during its conversations with the Research Transport vessel on which it hitches a ride. For that to make sense, it is necessary to mention here that the vessel has its own intelligence, which is what connects with Muderbot. Also, certain events lead to Murderbot christening the vessel ART (A***ole Research Transport), and although dodgy at first, their relationship is one of the best parts of the story.

I have to point out though that Artifical Condition doesn’t hit the ground running. It’s relatively slow in the beginning, with almost half the book focussing on ART and Murderbot getting to know one another. That can be a sore point for those expecting a lot of action (especially given the fast pace of All Systems Red). But I thoroughly enjoyed their conversations and thought they were pretty pivotal to both entities figuring themselves out a little more.

All in all, Artifical Condition does not disappoint those who started the Murderbot Series with All Systems Red; in fact, it really builds on Murderbot’s story and personality. Highly recommended to:

  • those who read All Systems Red
  • those who want to try out a slightly different form of sci-fi

Artificial Condition can’t really be read as a standalone because a lot of it won’t make sense unless you’ve read its prequel. So All Systems Red is the best place to start this series (you can read my review for that one here), which is not one that you want to miss if you are even remotely interested in (or want to try out) sci-fi and space movies/books.

I’m soon going to be reading the next book in the series. Keep watching this space for the review of Rogue Protocol!

– Rishika

 

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Review: The Sleeping Beauty Killer (By Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 302 pages

My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Casey Carter was on the verge of her happily-ever-after when she got engaged to Hunter Raleigh III, a renowned businessman, beloved philanthropist, and potential political candidate whose family was nothing less than political royalty. But then Hunter was found murdered, two gunshots ending his life, and Casey left with blood and gunpowder residue on her hands. In spite of her claims that she’d been drugged and unconscious during the murder, Casey is convicted for manslaughter.

Fifteen years later, Casey returns to society, but feels like a pariah. Although everywhere she goes, people look at her like she’s guilty, she is determined to prove that she hadn’t murdered the man she loved. She approaches Laurie Moran, host of Under Suspicion, a show that opens cold cases, in the hope that Laurie could help her tell her side of the story, and find Hunter’s real killer. As Laurie and her team begin investigating the events that took place on the night of the murder and the people who had made up Casey’s past, Laurie finds herself close to believing that Casey is truly innocent. In her search for the truth, Laurie finds herself facing a new, egotistical co-host, a skeptical boss, protective family members, and a host of questions whose answers are not even remotely as simple as they should be. But the largest question that continues to plague her at every step is whether Casey is really innocent or did the woman that society named The Sleeping Beauty Killer actually murder Hunter?

The Bottom Line:

An extremely basic mystery that does not do justice to its apparent genre of thriller or suspense.

My take:

Let Me Call You Sweetheart was the first Mary Higgins Clark book I’d read, and I’d absolutely fallen in love with the author. I read most of her books over the years. While not all of them have been great, I think it’s safe to say that The Sleeping Beauty Killer was downright disappointing.

Essentially, the book is a simple mystery. The version I read had a quote on the cover from the Guardian saying, “Scared the hell out of me.” The claim is consistent with the reaction that people have when reading Clark’s work; her books are eerie, suspenseful, and unpredictable. So I obviously went in expecting that. But there was absolutely nothing of that sort in the book.

It’s got an interesting enough story with the kind of characters you’d expect from Clark. There are some twists and turns that, although not unpredictable, are interesting enough to keep you turning the pages. That is actually the only reason the book is good enough for a 1.5-star rating. Other than a mildly interesting presentation of a mildly interesting story, the book doesn’t have much to offer, especially for fans of Clark’s older works.

A few things that were really disappointing was the absolute lack of a thrill factor. I don’t need people jumping out from dark corners at me, but I do expect some element of thrill or even suspense, which I didn’t see in The Sleeping Beauty Killer. What was even worse was that the book was so unbelievably predictable – I’m not talking about the who, but also the why and how. There’s little point in reading a book when you already know the end (that too so early on in the book), other than to just find out if you were right.

My biggest problem with the book, though, was the characterization. This is the first book I’ve read in the Under Suspicion series, but the first few pages are enough to get the idea that Laurie Moran is an accomplished woman who’s seen hard times and come through them gracefully. Which is why I couldn’t understand why she chose to randomly titter like a sixteen-year-old. I’m not saying older women are expected to be serious or boring all the time, but there were these parts that were downright cringy, mainly because they seemed so out of character for the personality that Laurie is shown to be. The times where she was a normal adult but still having fun didn’t come across like that, which is what made the contradiction even worse.

And that inconsistency was in almost every character. Even Casey herself. It almost seemed like the author(s) couldn’t determine whether to make Casey strong, weak, mean, kind, gentle, or harsh; so instead of including a little bit of all these traits in a symbiotic manner, they just gave her random extremes of them whenever they pleased.

All in all, the book seemed very… amateur (the bookish dialog didn’t help). There is no dearth of crime fiction and crime thriller in the world today. Jeffery Deaver, David Baldacci, Simon Beckett, Tim Weaver, and Mark Edwards are just some of the names that come to mind when I think of detailed, layered, thrilling, suspenseful, and eerie reads in the genre (check out the reviews to some of their books I’ve absolutely loved, linked to their names above). Authors, seasoned and new, are getting better with each book that they pen. But with each book, Mary Higgins Clark seems to be continuing her descend from the pedestal on which her work had, justifiably, placed her. I still remember books like On The Street Where You Live (which I’d found brilliant) and A Cry In The Night (check out the review for that one here) which was quite good. Then, more recently, I read As Time Goes By, and that was a good book but was still incredibly predictable and just not as enjoyable as her previous works (more detailed review available here). But I have to admit that The Sleeping Beauty Killer finds a place at the bottom in my pile of Clark’s books. I’m definitely not reading more of the Under Suspicion series unless I decide to just read something light, fast, and not overly complicated.

So, should you read The Sleeping Beauty Killer? Yes, if:

  • you’ve read the Laurie Moran Under Suspicion books before and enjoy the character and series
  • you enjoy Clark’s more recent works
  • you enjoy uncomplicated, linear mysteries

But definitely not, if:

  • you want mystery that comes with thrill and suspense
  • you love unpredictability
  • you loved Clark’s older works (that makes this book disappointing on numerous levels)

Don’t go yet! Share your thoughts on how Clark’s work has progressed over the years according to you, drop a recommendation, or simply say Hi! in the comment section below!

Thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

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Review: The Fallen (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 420 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Amos Decker doesn’t want to take a vacation. But when his boss forces him to take a break before he risks burning out, he takes up his partner on her offer to travel to the quiet town of Baronville. The only thing on the agenda is to spend a relaxing time with Alex Jamison’s sister and brother-in-law, and to celebrate her niece’s upcoming birthday. But when a spark in the neighboring house catches Decker’s eye on the first night there, he rushes to help. And stumbles onto two bodies. When he discovers that they weren’t the first murders in the town, Decker is compelled to investigate. Soon, he finds that the small town of Baronville is hiding a large secret. As Jamison and Decker take on the case of six bizarre murders, their relaxing vacation turns into a fight for their lives. Someone does not want them finding out the truth, and they’re willing to kill anyone who gets too close. And this time, the Memory Man’s skills may not be enough to overcome the unseen forces that are threatening him, his partner, and everyone close to them, before it’s too late.

The Bottom Line:

Another thrilling ride in the Amos Decker series, The Fallen is packed with an odd but complimentary mix of violence, emotion, and a whole lot of character development.

My take:

The most notable thing about The Fallen is that it has the largest character arc development in the entire series. While this is true for all the characters of this particular franchise, it is especially so for Amos Decker.

The memory man is not the same person we met in the Memory Man. While the next two books in the series show us more about him, and his inability and desire to be more social, The Fallen is where that journey culminates. And, more importantly, where we see what Decker could be like should he actually develop the social niceties that are missing from his personality. It sort of makes you think about what will happen if what you’ve wanted from Decker’s personality would actually come true – and whether you’d be happy about it at all.

Story-wise, The Fallen is one of Baldacci’s most layered works. I’ve read a lot of Baldacci’s books and have come to expect some things from them, which leaves little room for being caught off-guard. But The Fallen still manages to surprise.

It’s a multi-faceted story that is complicated enough to keep you guessing, but not so complicated that it becomes tough to follow. It also moves really fast, jumping from one angle to another to keep you turning the pages. It’s an action-packed read that hits the ground running.

The Fallen is also surprisingly emotional at times. And although you’d expect this to conflict heavily with the fact that it has much more violence and gore than you’d have assumed, the contrasting approaches come together really well.

The book meets (and also exceeds) expectations of readers following the Amos Decker series. It is slightly better than its predecessor, and sets the tone really well for the next installment (I’m assuming and hoping that this isn’t the last one). I would rate the books in the entire series, thus far, as follows:

  1. The Memory Man (you can check out my review here)
  2. The Fallen
  3. The Last Mile (you can check out my review here)
  4. The Fix (you can check out my review here)

So, should you read The Fallen? Yes, if:

  • you like crime fiction
  • you want to continue on Decker’s journey or even try him out as a new series hero (this book can be read as a standalone but I would strongly recommend starting from the Memory Man)
  • you like David Baldacci’s work
  • you like multi-plot stories

Drop a comment below to share your thoughts on Baldacci’s work, The Fallen, or even just to say Hi!

– Rishika

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Review: The Fountainhead (By Ayn Rand)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 694 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Howard Roark is a visionary architect in a city where individuality is unappreciated. He is brilliant in a time when the world is not ready for it. But he doesn’t care for anything other than his work. Roark refuses to compromise, refuses to bend under the will of society. And society has no choice but to destroy him because he’s too different.

The Fountainhead tells the story of Roark, and of his trials and tribulations. It tells the story of Peter Keating, a man who considered Roark his greatest enemy and attempted to defeat him at every turn. It tells the story of Dominique Francon, a woman who loved Roark passionately but did everything she could to destroy him just so that the world wouldn’t. And it tells the story of Gail Wynand, the epitome of the society against which Roark was pitted. The Fountainhead is Ayn Rand’s epic about a traditional world and the man who challenged the very conventions of which it was comprised.

The Bottom Line:

The Fountainhead is a sometimes cumbersome, always emotional, rollercoaster ride that people need to get on today more than ever before.

My take:

If you try to read existing reviews of Ayn Rand’s epic, you’d generally find them polarising – people either love or hate it. I felt a bit of both these emotions. It took me around 40 days to read the book, which is a really long time (for me); the main reason is that there were days when I just didn’t want to pick it up and read. But there were also days when I couldn’t put it down.

So, I’m going to break down this review into a few different parts, addressing different elements of the entire reading experience that I had with The Fountainhead. Hopefully, that will help you determine whether you want to read this famous classic or not, and what to expect should you choose to read it.

First, the story. The basic story of The Fountainhead is not really complicated or philosophical. It’s a slightly different take on ‘good guy versus bad guy’. At its very essence, it is the story of the struggles of a good man against the unyielding principles of a bad one. The only difference is that the bad guy is not one, but many – it’s society.

What bothered me the most about the story (not the philosophy) is that it is very limited in scope. While there are a lot of things happening, the events seem too fantastical. What I mean is that for such events to even happen, the world would have to have a maximum of maybe a hundred people. More than that, and the very basis of society on which the story moves forward would change, rendering the story pretty impossible.

Another thing that was really annoying was the abstractness of the narrative and dialog. There were times when things could have been said a lot more clearly and simply, but there was an abstract element factored in; it may have been intended to make the reader think, but it only served to make points a lot less effective. This book was definitely written to make a reader think, but I’d rather have focused on the philosophical side of it than exert even more energy just understanding basic dialog that is only meant to move the story forward.

Characterization. There is no denying that the characters in The Fountainhead are ones that will probably stick with you for years. But some characters are unbelievably annoying. I mean, sure, you need to make characters a certain way, but why add so much to them that they become downright infuriating? The fact of the matter is that no one is that extreme. Even when a person is built to be more of a ‘passion or nothing’ character, they are not that insane. At times it felt like Rand should have stopped just a step or two before she did to keep her characters human. What is worse though is that these characters, who are the epitome of belief, strength, and principles, randomly change without explanation. For a book that is based on the evolution of certain characters over long periods of time, this change should have been much better explained.

Another thing that was a bit much to take was the length of the book. While the first 150 pages and the last 150 pages have you hooked, the middle 400 just don’t. There were parts that were just unnecessary and, personally, I don’t think it would have lost much if it had been cut down by about 100 pages at least. Also, some parts of the book were just too much of an onslaught on the senses.

Yet, in spite of all those negative points, I can vehemently say that everyone should read this book. Because, here’s the thing: we live in a world where our identities are not determined by us, but by those around us. We rise not on our ability, but by comparing ourselves against others. We live in a time where social acceptance is the most coveted factor that drives almost all our actions (think social media likes and personas which may be so very different than reality). We create a reality for others to see, and we judge our successes, losses, achievements, and failures by comparing them against the reality that others create for us to see.

When, in reality, what we should do is determine our identities only by ourselves, by what we see looking back at us from a mirror. We should compete only with ourselves and rise above where we were the day before, every day. The only one whose acceptance we should need is that of ourself. And the only reality we should concern ourselves with is the one we live in, not the one that we create only to compete against those that others create.

In the rat race that the world has become, everyone gets caught up in living the ideal life. Except, what is that ideal life? We tend to obsess over the ideal we’re missing when we see others living it – generally through social media – even if that’s not really the ideal meant for you. The only ideal that matters is the one you reach when you feel internally happy. And you are the only one capable of making yourself happy.

Having aspirations, goals, and dreams is not wrong. But let them be your own aspirations, your own goals, and your own dreams. Let them be something you meet, achieve, and fulfill for the sense of completion, not because someone else did it and you want to do it better. At first glance, you may feel that this is nothing but selfishness.

But it is those very concepts of ego, selfishness, and selflessness that The Fountainhead redefines. And in doing so, it forces you to look at the world differently. It doesn’t just make you think, it changes your point of view – a perspective that you may have simply ingrained because you need to be a part of, and yet better than (or at least equal to), all those around you. And gaining that perspective is worth all the hours, days, and patience that the book takes to read.

We have gotten caught up in a race in which we’ve never had to run. And we’ve forgotten the race that matters. The Fountainhead changes that. In spite of the many limitations of its story, its philosophy is spot-on and very valid even in today’s day and age. It has universal applicability and the ability to change lives.

I’m an overthinker. Always have been. I’ve even known when I need to stop obsessing about certain things such as past events that I keep revisiting in my head or the massive hesitation before doing something new. Yet, I’ve never been able to let things go. But since I started reading The Fountainhead, I have found myself pausing at such times and asking myself one question.

“What would Howard Roark do?”

And things seem a lot simpler. So, just for that, I’d say that everyone needs to read this book. It may feel incredibly cumbersome at times. But if you can take away the perspective that’s at its core, it’ll be well worth the effort.

In closing, I’d just like to say that the negative points I’ve highlighted may compel some people to say, “It was – and is – brilliant, considering the time in which it was written.” There is no doubt about the brilliance of the vision that drove this book. But as far as thinking of it from a ‘period’ perspective is concerned – the fact is that anyone reading this book is reading it today. Which means that they need to like, love, dislike, or hate it, today. I’ve put this review together keeping in mind that fact and actually not putting too much weight on when it was written. I will always say that it was probably visionary for its time. But that is, and will remain, an opinion that does not influence the way I felt about the book, its characters, its story, and its philosophy.

– Rishika

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Review: All Systems Red (By Martha Wells)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 144 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

SecUnits are androids that accompany exploratory teams traveling to different planets in a distant future. Half human, half machine, their job is to keep the humans in their charge safe. Their rules are governed and issued by the company that approves and supplies all interspace missions. But safety isn’t a big concern when profits are at stake. Which is why the SecUnit accompanying Dr. Mensah and her team doesn’t bother too much when they face numerous technical glitches. Until they lose contact with another exploratory team that was on the other side of the desolate planet.

In the search for answers, Dr. Mensah and her team discover something unexpected. Their SecUnit has hacked into its own governor module. It isn’t, and never has been, answerable to anyone. And it calls itself ‘Murderbot’. Murderbot has a history, one that gives the humans enough reason to question his role in the dangers surrounding them. But they have more reason to trust it. And no choice but to do so when they realize that their lives depend on uncovering the truth about what happened to their neighboring mission team. But is trusting an advanced AI who is openly apprehensive of humans and generally indifferent the right choice? What is it that Murderbot really wants? And who will have to pay the price when the android is forced to choose between the freedom it’s come to like, and a lifetime of servitude that awaits it if its actions were to go public?

The Bottom Line:

A fast-paced, action-packed read that takes the unique perspective of the android, Murderbot, itself, and hits the reader with a host of emotions, expected and unexpected.

My take:

All Systems Red begins without much foreplay. It just leaps right into the story, and into the head of its main character – Murderbot. As such, it takes some time to get used to the slang and style, making the first couple of pages really interesting, but also requiring slow reading. But once you get the hang of it, there’s no pausing.

At 144 pages, it’s a short book, and every page is filled with information. And somehow, Wells manages to depict detailed characterization and character development in this short length. The characters can get a bit confusing (I honestly took some time to figure out who was male and female!), but that doesn’t really affect the reading experience. The characters themselves are so defined that that is the only thing you really care about.

Although interesting, the story is not unheard of or not previously-never-done. But what really stands out is the POV. The entire story is told from the perspective of Murderbot itself. The android has no misconceptions about what it likes or dislikes, and its own strengths and weaknesses, but it continues trying to figure out what all that stuff really means for it as an entity. This is a character that is trying to understand itself, and yet the effort of this activity takes a toll on it. In all of this, it still continues to care about the people in its protection, showcasing that it is inherently good.

For the most part, Murderbot is like a child. It sees the good and the bad, focuses on the good, and tries to do what it perceives to be right. But, it also has a strong survival instinct, driven by its past. These two halves of itself often put Murderbot in a conundrum. All Systems Red follows the development of Murderbot as it traverses the confusing waters of what it means to be itself, while fighting off an external threat that is way out of its comfort zone and job description.

The story follows the basic arc of an abandoned planet, a team of researchers caught in a threat they don’t understand, an unidentified enemy whose motivation is just as unknown, and a desperate attempt for survival. Yet, its fresh take makes the book very interesting. Plus, it keeps moving without reprieve, has something happening almost all the time, and keeps you turning the pages wondering, “What happens next?”

I thought the end of the book was actually pretty brilliant. Although many people have found it to be anti-characteristic, I found it to be quite the opposite. What I felt when reading the end was pretty simple – there could have been no better, natural conclusion. I think that Wells was very clear about the personalities of her characters, no matter however much conflict they are in, with each other and themselves. They are basically human. And the end made me feel like she definitely seems to have a strong understanding of what that means.

All in all, All Systems Red is a fast, interesting read that introduces a character who I definitely want to follow. There are three more books in the series – two have been released and the fourth (and apparently final) chapter releases this October. I’m definitely putting this series on my list, and will explore more of Wells’ work too.

All Systems Red is highly recommended to those who enjoy:

  • sci-fi of all types
  • action thrillers
  • movies like Alien and Life

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

– Rishika

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