S. Yumi Yamamoto
Without a World: A Review
I've recently begun reviewing books again, and this time on Discovery, where I get the chance to find Indie-published books and help their ratings along. This is my first review from this site, and it's my first sci-fi book in a while. I will try to be as even-handed as I can.
That said, I cannot truly say I enjoyed this book. There are several reasons for this, but the first and foremost issue with this book is that the world is not set up well. Get ready to suspend your disbelief and ignore some glaring flaws in order to enjoy this book. Beyond that, there are some racist stereotypes, convenient characters and happenstances, leaps in story logic, and a lack of depth in almost all characters. I struggled through this book because I wanted so much more than what I was getting, and these issues kept pulling me out of a story and a world that I wanted so desperately to know.
The first protagonist, Miranda, is compelling and driven, and I was sucked into her plight at first. The world building is heavy handed in some parts and sparse in others, but generally, it's interesting. Then, it all falls apart once we get the second protagonist, Monrovia. This is where we get a better sense of what's happening in the broader scope of the story and what the real problem is. This is also where it becomes obvious that this was rushed. There is a thin line between science fiction and fantasy that was crossed, and not in a good way. The logic of the science end doesn't appear to make sense to me (while I am no expert in matters of space and black holes, my year of university-level astronomy sent up some major red flags). I never really know when I'm supposed to hand-wave the point as "space magic" (which I am totally down to do) and when I'm supposed to let myself fall into the safe cradle of science (which I am also totally down to do).
Pushing past this for the sake of the story, I cannot let the matter of Lau Chen go. As soon as we meet her she is a caricature. She comes off as the "wise, crazy lady" who tells you to drink your tea and do some chores for her. She is Mr. Miyagi, and she just happens to know Monrovia's family and history intimately. Mind you, Monrovia has never met his woman before now. She is conveniently placed to tell Monrovia all about her past in one fell swoop and then to impart a kind of "believe in your visions, believe in your powers" kind of wisdom. I know why she's here, and I know why the shortcut was taken. I don't agree with the choice, but I would have let that all slide if I could answer this one other problem: I don't know why she's Asian. She could have been anything else -- been the same character with a White-sounding name -- and I would have brushed it off as a shortcut. The fact that she is Asian was a deliberate choice, and that is why she falls into the pitfall of stereotype. She is surrounded by a kind of "mysticism" through Monrovia's point of view, which makes this all worse. I almost stopped reading here, and we have not even gotten through the third chapter yet.
The rest of the book is a wild ride where there is more dialogue than description, and a number of things you have to just accept. When Miranda and Monrovia meet, they are obviously twins and Miranda is having a hard time with it. Yet, without warning, Miranda tries to psychically talk to Monrovia, which she had never done before and I had no idea that was coming. It was not a pleasant surprise. I thought I had missed something and I reread the chapter. I didn't miss anything; I just had to accept that this was what was happening now, and that was that. Move on. Continue the story.
What I really enjoyed about this book, however, was the promise of what this book could have been. I was holding on to every moment that shone through, where I saw this world fully as a developed piece. There are some bright moments, truly, but you have to get there and not be encumbered by all the rest of it. I, unfortunately, was very frustrated. I put this book down several times, determined not to pick it up again, and I found myself opening it up anyway. I am desperate for this world to work. Despite it all, I like Miranda. I loved being in her POV and moving through the world with her. I wanted more than there was, and I wanted it more skillfully than it was written.
Star rating: 2/5
Do not recommend. Sadly.