A respite from the fantasy-like quality of reading imposed by my two challenges.  So on to science fiction in the realm of epidemiology for a little more reality hashed into the fiction.

Author :  Juris Jurjevics

First Publication Date :  August 18, 2005  (Hardcover)

Publisher :  Viking Adult

ISBN-10: 0670034371

ISBN-13: 978-0670034376

No. of Pages :  416

The Story :

Something has killed four prominent scientists at the Trudeau station, a marvel of a habitat built  for the harsh environs of the Arctic.   Top scientists around the world who had come to the station to study this inhospitable frontier, are at a loss to explain the gruesome deaths of their colleagues.   The unknown “bug”  leaves its victims with their pupils missing and their bodies horribly contorted from excruciating spasms.

As an answer to the station’s plea for help, top epidemiologist Dr. Jessica Hanley braves the perils of the Arctic in winter to discover the nature and cure for the new disease.  No mean feat this, but on top of it, Dr. Hanley discovers a plan to sabotage her mission.  She must protect her work to find the “bug” and its cure as quickly as possible.

The Review :

The Trudeau Vector is a  biothriller with loads of  fascinating trivia.  It’s the trivia that thrills primarily over the formulaic plot.   It seems the author didn’t think much of the story line and simply followed what worked in the past with others.  He also does that “evil Russian” subplot to add  to the thrill  of the chase.   Corny but then again your concentration isn’t riveted on this angle.  It’s all on what malignant vector this author had cooked up.

What I think Jurjevics wanted to do was pack the book chock-full of info about the Arctic and epidemiology.   It really isn’t tedious if you were interested in the premise of diseases and environments in the first place. 

Take these little factoids:

“…Remember, viruses can’t really die.  They are not alive; they can’t reproduce unless they have living cells to hijack and turn into virus factories.  But toss the pieces of a virus in a test tube with living cells and it recombines, self-assembles, resurrects.”  — p. 191

“Inuit can’t do milk. We don’t have the extra enzymes to process it…”  —- p. 282

“…So what else is unusual about Inuit physiology, besides no body hair?”…” An extra artery near the heart.  Supposed to keep us warm.  We’re mostly right-handed, rarely left.  And we have small hands…”  — p.283

Some of you may want to know about the characters.  Well, character building is mediocre at best but not bad; however, Jurjevics does not make it clear what his characters are thinking.  For instance, the reader will be surprised why Dr. Hanley would  suddenly feel  like going to bed with one of the Trudeau scientists without a hint nor clue as to why she would.  Perhaps, depth is not much of an issue where thrillers are concerned, as action pacing is of prime importance.  In this, Jurjevics succeeds as the action unfolds in very good strides so that you do get engrossed in the novel.

For a debut novel, The Trudeau Vector is quite good and comes across as very well researched.  On the premise that it is so, then I have learned new things.  And I do love my fiction interspersed with hard facts.

However, I must say that the conclusion, about 5 pages toward the end,  left me a bit unsatisfied as its resolution was somewhat anti-climactic.  I guess I preferred a great bang of an ending to this one.  But then, the conclusion was plausible.  So not much complaint from me.

My Mark :  Very Good







Merrick” wasn’t too heavy on the gothic atmosphere so it was not difficult to decide to pick up another gothic-themed novel for the R.I.P. IV Challenge. “The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters”, was initially quite far down my TBR list before this challenge; but, being one mentioned in the pool of books the challenge host, Stainless Steel Droppings, had lined for himself, I decided to plunge into this heavy, page-laden book for my next read.

Author : Gordon Dahlquist

Date of Publication : 2006  (Hardcover edition)

Publisher : Bantam Books

ISBN-10: 0385340354

ISBN-13: 978-0385340359

No. of pages :  768

The Story :

In Victorian England, a rich plantation heiress receives an abrupt “dear john” letter from her beau.  In her pride, the stricken Miss Temple decides to follow her fiance to find out the reason for his rejection.  She tails him on a long train ride and arrives at Lord Vandaariff’s huge labyrinthine Harschmort Manor where a  masked ball is in full swing presumably for the engagement of Vandaariff’s daughter to the German Prince of Macklenberg.  She is mistaken as a woman sent to undergo a mysterious “Process” but is soon discovered to be a gate-crasher, deemed to have seen too much.  Suddenly Miss Temple finds her little adventure taking a dangerous turn when she is forced to save her own life.

At that same time, a half blind assassin, Cardinal Chang, is at the ball with a mission to terminate a Colonel Trapping.  He creeps about for his quarry only to find him already murdered.  But who, why, and how are questions that leave him baffled.  A few days later, he is approached by a wealthy sophisticate  who asks him to find a woman, Isobel Hastings (Miss Temple who gave an assumed name) who is believed to be the killer of the Colonel.

Meanwhile,  Doctor Abelard Svenson of the Macklenburg Prince’s entourage loses his charge in Harschmort Manor.  His search leads him to conclude that  something sinister is brewing in the Vandaariff home.  His independent investigation suddenly imperils his life but his duty-bound nature forces him to continue to try to protect his Prince.

In pursuit of their own agenda, these three people stumble on a secret cabal whose sinister plans involve strange alchemical scientific processes and malign blue glass books which serve as a dire yet addicting repository of memories while relinquishing a person of the same.  Anyone who stares into its thin, crystal pages is stripped of their personal memories and turned into pleasure-addicted, compliant zombies, easily controlled and subverted to the group’s aims.

Miss Temple, Cardinal Chang, and Doctor Svenson propitiously meet and form an unlikely triumvirate bent on stopping this unholy cabal.

What follows is a merry chase with mystery, suspense, science fiction, and even a little romance.  Lest this be construed as simply a long, quaint narrative, Dahlquist has thrown in a good deal of  sex and a bit of gore in the mix which contrast quite nicely with its Victorian prudery and formality.

The Review :

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters” is a brilliantly creative debut from author, Gordon Dahlquist.  It is a unique albeit outlandish novel that will, as you read, play out old-fashioned comic book scenes in your head.  Indeed, the narrative would lend itself very well to comic strip illustrations of its events, complete with “Boom!”, “Pow!”, “Whack!” sounds written on it.   And like an old-fashioned comic book, the heroes often extricate themselves from sticky situations after long dialogues with the villains, instead of each realistically  going straight into action to resolve the conflict.  Although an annoyance to some, it does have its charms, especially when executed with Dahlquist’s wonderful prose.  Besides, such an outdated style is quite at home with the book’s outré antiquated atmosphere as well.

Although the book has this unreal yet special flavor, its characters are surprisingly well developed, each discovering himself/herself as the adventure unfolds.

Division of the book’s chapters deal with the narrative accordingly from one character’s perspective.  So for instance, one chapter deals with adventures of Miss Temple, the next, those of Cardinal Chang, etc.  Being long chapters, the reader may find himself going back through a previous few pages to refresh his memory of the others’ experiences.  Still, it wasn’t much of an annoyance as, on the whole, the book had cast its charms on me enough to discount little bothers like this.

What is most captivating about the book is not its unusual plot nor its dark  steampunk  theme but its author’s ornate prose that gives so much allure to the novel.  His style is romantic yet explicitly descriptive, laced with intelligent humor and irony:

“His hair was pale but streaked with grey, long and greasy, combed back behind his ears.  His coat was fine enough but unkempt— in fact the man’s whole appearance gave the impression of a once-cherished article — a sofa, for example — that had been left in the rain and partially ruined.” — p. 155

“Moral perspective is what we carry around with us — it exists nowhere else, I can promise you.   Do you see?  There is liberation and responsibility — for what is natural depends on where you are, Bascombe.  Moreover, vices are like genitals — most are ugly to behold, and yet we find our own dear to us.” — p. 164

To Read Or Not To Read :

To enjoy this book,  be prepared to suspend disbelief and just go with the flow.  After all, it is fantasy.

Mind you, this is a lengthy novel, of which its chief fault (according to some reviews), is its wordiness and long-windedness.  For me, however, this is exactly the novel’s charm as it rests on Dahlquist’s excellent descriptive prose, without which a  book like this can become rather tedious and boring when rendered with a flat, indelicate hand.   Slash the verbiage and this may end up an unremarkable read — not bad, but not great either.

You must have the time to indulge in this book;  otherwise,  you’ll be better off with something else.

As An Aside :

For all my praises for this novel and despite its glowing reception by critics, Bantam Books, its publisher,  has written this off as a massive failure. The book failed to pull in the sales and lost Bantam over U$850,000, after having advanced two million U. S. dollars to the author for a two-book deal.

Most of those, however, who have put in the time to read the book, review this novel with praises.  Perhaps, in time, more readers will get to know this atypical literary work and appreciate it for its originality.

The sequel, “The Dark Volume“, must have already been released this year.   This definitely goes into my list of “must-haves” for 2009. 🙂

In A Nutshell :

This is one of the best books I’ve enjoyed this year.  Its strangeness and inventiveness coupled with Dahlquist’s superb writing skills really had me riveted.  A definite keeper!

My Mark  :  Excellent

The little blurb promising a creative and unusual “alien” mystery thriller just leaped out at me from the back cover and compelled me to snatch this one up from a book sale.

Author :  Frank M. Robinson

Date of First Publication : April 1999 (Hardcover)

Publisher :  Forge


Date of Publication for This Edition :  April 2000 (Mass Paperback)

Publisher :  Tor Books

ISBN: 0-812-54164-2

No. of Pages :  347

The Story :

Suppose there were a society of aliens whose existence we know nothing about, living among us for over 35,000 years?  What if they look like us, talk like us, and have imbibed all cultural nuances to seem human?  What if they were your best friend, your nice next-door neighbour,  or your teacher at school?

This isn’t your average  UFO invasion/ body-snatcher story.  The creatively original concept here is that the aliens in our midst are hominids but not homo sapiens; rather they are a different species, who almost lost the fight for survival some 35,000 years ago and have learned to assimilate with the dominant species, us, in order to survive, albeit in small clusters, waiting for the time when they, too, shall have dominion over the earth.

Participating in an autopsy of a sixty- plus- year-old male who died in accident,  Dr. Larry Shea makes this exciting but unfortunate discovery.  The victim possess muscles, bones, and inner organs which were as healthy and strong as a those of a thirty year old.  Measurements of the cranium, heart, etc. are also significantly different from humans, so that  he concludes that the man was not a man after all — not within the biological parameters of homo sapiens.  Dr. Shea prepares to share his discovery with his friends in the Suicide Club, an organization among a group of professionals whose  ties go back to their younger, reckless days.  But, he is murdered before he is able to do so.

Artie and Mitch, two friends from the club, decide to investigate his mysterious death.  Soon, they discover the bizarre and terrifying reason and become the next targets while other members are picked off, one by one, as well.  The killer must be part of the club and they must find him before they become victims, themselves.

The Review :

With the aliens assuming an anthropological nature,  Frank Robinson does  a refreshingly clever and original take on the tired and hackneyed aliens theme with “Waiting“.   This time the aliens are of our earth, just a different branch of the homo genus.

With this unique concept, Robinson blends in a whodunit theme and crafts this sci-fi mystery thriller with a deft hand.   He opens the book with a strange murder and proceeds to compel our reading through skillful manipulation of plot events so that,  as one with the main character, Artie, the reader isn’t quite sure whom to trust as well.

Frank Robinson writes like a typical man would — straightforward and decisive.  His characters seem pretty much like his writing, too — not given to much sentimentality and exuding a no-nonsense quality that would appeal to a lot of male readers.

There is a very strong environmental message in this book, being that man and his activities are the prime factors  for various ecological collapses.  Furthermore,  nature has its own way of addressing its own survival and so as prime factors of destruction, it may well serve us to take serious heed.

Robinson concludes the novel with a good twist to render this book, a very enjoyable read.

My Mark  :  Very Good



Author : Stephenie Meyer
Release Date : May 6, 2008
Publisher : Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition
ISBN-10: 0316068047
ISBN-13: 978-0316068048
Pages : 624

Stephenie Meyer and her Twilight series are the rage these days. I always hear requests for her books at the local bookstore which probably made a pre-X’mas killing with all four Twilight books selling like hotcakes these past few months. So, when The Host came out, I followed the gushing herd and grabbed myself a copy as well.

Okay, so I’ve immersed myself in this story and have finished, after all the hype, well, a bit unimpressed. Not because it’s a bore. Oh no, this is actually an enjoyable story, pleasant to read.  It’s just that I’m really not the target reader.

Some reviews call this Meyer’s first “adult” novel. It may be so, but that doesn’t mean that it’s mature. It’s still very much an adolescent romance-fantasy. Okay let’s stretch it to say that this is a book that people in their twenties would also like.

Interestingly enough, the story is told from the point of view of the alien named Wanderer : Earth is invaded by alien parasites, called Souls, who invade worlds by attaching themselves to whatever intelligent planetary inhabitants they find. Being thus one with the host, they assume his senses, feelings, and memories.

Wanderer, famed in her world for living in a variety of host species, is particularly chosen for the body of Melanie Stryder to access information about existing pockets of human resistance to the invasion. Little does Wanderer know that this host will present her greatest challenge. As she takes over Melanie’s body, she inherits a slew of memories and an overwhelming love for the two most important people in Melanie’s life: Jared and Jaime.

With Melanie’s indomitable spirit still very much alive, and with this compelling love they both share, Wanderer is forced to find them. In the process of doing so, Wanderer finally finds herself as well.

I can see now that Meyer’s success is in her ability to pull many an adolescent’s heartstrings. This book is really a romance wrapped in science fiction; so it hits the spot for young people’s (and those teeners at heart) romantic and escapist cravings quite well—two great formulas in one. No wonder she gets good ratings on this, too.

A thing that pleased me and I hope the author never veers from this: this book and I’ve heard, her Twilight series as well, are quite wholesome romances — I give this a PG-13. In this time where cuss words and sex are usual drivels in music and in teen lit, it’s quite refreshing to know that here’s something that didn’t need these to sell.

Since this book is for a young readership, expect the romance to be cheesy, the sci-fi background also a tad lame; but hey, if you’re in that enviable age bracket, listen to no “oldie” on this — you’ll like this book, mush and all.

My rating should be based from the viewpoint of the author’s intended market. So, if I were 17, I’d say:

My Mark : Cool! —- Two thumbs up!!