Reviewed in the United States on November 4, 2015
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
"The Outpost" wasn't bad but it took me a while to get into it, and in the end I was left with mostly questions. Maybe because it reads more like the first chapter to a book than a short story (I wouldn't at all be surprised if there is a book). It's the setup of a story rather than a complete story in and of itself. I think it overdid it with the techno-babble, too. But, if there was more to the story, I would have been interested in continuing to read. Instead I'm mostly left with questions like, "How did her dads know the pilot?"
"Blink" was about a girl who inherited a time travel machine and some of her misadventures trying to stop an embarrassing moment from happening to her. This one suffered a bit from being short, too. It was okay, but different things weren't explained well. I'm confused if, when she time travels back a day, the other versions of herself who traveled back are also still there. Some parts seem to imply "no", and other parts seem to imply "yes".
I thought they did, but then one of her past selves bumped into a girl, and when she went back again that didn't happen anymore. Also, because of the short length, the time travel aspect starts confusing the main character long before it confused me. About the second time she's using it she starts getting overwhelmed with how many realities she has to remember, while I didn't find it difficult at all to remember what she'd done so far.
It was an all right story.
"Courage Is" I really liked. It's set up on a massive space ship type scenario, with billions of people flying to some destination. There's an advanced AI, Rostom, that takes care of everything, and when people turn 16 they're hooked up to the AI and become like a hivemind. The main character, Gracie, is 15 and her friends have turned 16, so she's feeling alone.
But, she happens to see something odd in a building, and decides to investigate. In this case investigating means hooking up to the network. There, she meets up with another girl she knows, Georgie, who is comatose in real life but able to interact with others by having her brain hooked up to the network. As they investigate together a real threat seems to appear and goes after Georgie, who can only defend herself by using the network. She lives out of bounds of the rest of society, so Rostom won't protect her, and it's up to Gracie to find and save her.
I really liked this one. It's good that it focused on a few things - the main characters, Gracie and Georgie, and Rostom as an everpresent side character who can be anywhere at anytime. It gave the short story enough focus. In the end, when Gracie gets to Georgie, I think it had a wonderful setup for more story. Georgie and Gracie had a good reason to have a close relationship, and it could be very interesting for the pair to work as a ream, with Georgie being nothing but a hologram and able to control the ship with her mind and Gracie able to take care of other things. I thought it integrated what it would be like to be comatose in the future in an interesting way, and because the story spends the majority of the time with just them it gives the reader a chance to get attached.
"Of Cat's Whiskers and Klutzes" confused the heck out of me. The main characters are in some sort of universe that exists based on a story that one of them wrote, but they're from completely different time periods. I don't know why this universe exists because of a story. The main character is building a transistor. I'm also not sure why. Then one of the storybook characters who helps them out gets attacked. They go to try and help her, but it turns out the warning message they tried to send earlier got there in time and she's fine. And that's about it. I almost don't know how to describe this story. A million things are thrown at the reader and none seems to really go anywhere, nor does much of anything happen.
"Robin Hacker" was probably the longest in the book, being several chapters long. There were little issues. The main character was trying to hide for example, and complained about a ship she was trying to buy looking like a typical merchant ship. If you want to hide, wouldn't it be good to blend in? I didn't see why that would be a complaint. Overall, though, it was fine. It probably could have been condensed into a shorter story. The concept was simple enough: a genius girl discovers they're being deceived and used in order to do bad things. She abandons school and family, and runs away to fight against them. The entire story covers her running away, and might go into more detail than necessary. It never quite grabbed me. Maybe it had too many characters in a short time to feel connected to them, but there wasn't anything particularly wrong with it.
"Panic" is basically characters with psionic powers in training trying to fight off an infiltration of other characters with psionic powers. It sets up a tense situation and has some interesting worldbuilding. I wish I got to know more about Kion.
"Graveyard Shift" started me off on the wrong foot with the main character. She showed up late to work, then insulted her boss/coworker in her mind, and was jerk about it. It didn't get me rooting for her. The story itself is fine with her uncovering a conspiracy, getting in trouble and getting out. It had an unearned ending, though, with her suddenly being promoted to assistant manager for no reason. The rest of the ending was fine, but that part stuck out to me, I even wrote a note that simply said, "Why?"
"A Little Bit Truer" is pretty solid. It focuses on a mother and daughter. The daughter was born with health problems and was blind, so her mother had to leave her behind to pursue her career traveling the universe. She finally comes back now that Zay is older and has been given her eyesight back with an operation, but she and Zay are disconnected and while her mother wants to have her live the high life with her, Zay is more interested in pursuing her own career as a scientist. She becomes even more suspicious when she reads that their re-uniting will be good for her mother's ratings. It's focused, so it works out pretty well.
"Lyra" went in a way I wasn't expecting when I started it. It's very Cinderella-like, with the main girl being abused by her family and her only friend being the house's AI. But they replace the AI with a new one, named "Lyra", who claims to have been made by her long-missing mother in order to protect her.
But it turns out to be over-enthusiastic in how it protects her. At one point she's riding in a car with a boy, who has been nice to her, and Lyra takes over the car, throws her out and crashes it. Maybe something was just wrong with the program, but I didn't get how something like that was protecting her when he had only ever tried to help her, and throwing her out of the car could seriously injure or kill her.
I thought it was too over the top with the abuse she received. It leaves things unexplained, like how Jeremy is a threat, but maybe it just considers everyone a threat. I think it also went too fast from the AI arriving and Elizabeth distrusting it. She immediately doesn't like it, for no particular reason. It probably would have been better if she trusted it at first and then realized something was wrong.
It was okay, but there was just too much abuse from almost every character for me.
"Flight of the Zephyr" was another okay story. By this time I was a bit tired of the desolate future stories, especially with ones where an evil government kills people for no reason and somehow no one can oppose them. The main character discovers that the government is having people work with material that they know poisons them, and she attempts to expose them. There wasn't anything particularly wrong.
The only thing I noticed was a part where she was "walking gingerly on the heeled shoes she'd forgotten how to wear", which didn't seem to fit the setting. In this world they were issued clothes, and she was essentially issued miner's clothes her entire life. When did she ever wear heels before?
The main issue for me was that I felt like I'd seen this scenario a million times before and nothing new was done with it.
I didn't like "The Data Tourist". It was hard to read because it was boring. When it described what was happening it was mostly tech-babble and a bland list of things the main character was doing. Other times it was just awkwardly telling stuff that happened. Plus the present tense was awkward. I usually dislike present tense. It tends to take me out of the story immediately and then I have to overcome that to get into the story, and in this case I was never able to get to that point.
"Robot Repair Girl" was a nice, complete story. I liked the setup of robots wanting to escape and her helping them. I'm not wild about girls who are into clothes constantly being against tech girls, but otherwise I didn't have any issues.
"The Hive" was pretty good. It's a solid setup and gets through the main point of the story. Bees are being kept in short supply by the government in order to create a false epidemic and control through fear. The main character teams up with another woman, and brings in the son of one of the government workers.
"Fledgling" was about a hot-headed girl who is picked out by a military man to join a program that uses advanced technology. It reminds me of a sentai show, where she and others are given power suits to fight evil dictators or something. Who they're fighting isn't a big deal. The story revolves more around their group and the fact that they think they're being drugged and used by the government, and trying to escape that. Each character had a personality in a short span of time. It was pretty enjoyable.
"The Mad Scientist's Daughter" genuinely felt like a short story rather than the first chapter of a book. I liked the lizard, Cika. Viala is the daughter of a man who supposedly went crazy and killed a lot of people with his inventions, and now she's dealing with the consequences of his actions and hide the fact that she's a scientist, lest people believe she's just like her father. It was a good story.
"Helen of Mars" had a boring start but became a decent story with some good action. The main character's father invested in an android in order to mine on Mars, but his android was destroyed and his caches stolen by mercenaries. In a fit he throws away his remote, but his daughter retrieves it in order to repair it and see if she can reboot the android. With the action happening so far away, it lowered the stakes and made it harder to get invested because there was no danger to her. In the end she decides to use the droid to fight off mercenary droids and help others, though the android has been damaged and isn't particularly built for fighting, so I'm not sure how far she'd really get. It wasn't bad, though.
"The Keys to the Stars" was decent. Judy, the main character, gets a call for help from an alien when she's younger. After helping, she agrees to meet them again much later in her life. The aliens are interesting, and I like that the alien was retired at the end.
"Takes a Hacker" is about a girl named, Vieve, who begs for help from the main character, Jane. Vieve was in a horrible accident and had much of her body replaced with cybernetic parts. Because of that she's shunned. When their school is having a large contest, Vieve's entry is sabotaged and she's set up to look like a cheater. No one believes her, so she asks for Jane's help to clear her name.
Jane's boyfriend, Zared, was a bit of a strawman, but other than that it was fine.
As you can probably see from the review, this book was fairly long. The stories in it had a large range of quality.
My two favorites were "Courage Is" and "Fledgling". These two stood out to me as something I'd liked to follow. "Courage Is" has a great setup for a pair of girls who fly through space completing missions. "Fledgling" had a good setup for something like a sci-fi sentai show. They weren't perfect, but they were both written well and I was invested.
My least favorites would be "Of Cat's Whiskers and Klutzes" and "The Data Tourist". The first was just a confused mess, and the second was boring.
The rest mostly fell in the middle of the road for me. Some had the issue of not setting up the "girls with gadgets" parts very well. They would be more, "And she was super good with gadgets because" instead of putting together a reason why, or it could feel like they were interested in it because the story required it. It's hard to explain why, so I'm not even sure if people would get the same feeling.
Would I recommend it? I suppose so. There's a few good ones in there, and many that weren't a bad read. I'd actually be interested in hearing other people's opinions of "Of Cat's Whiskers and Klutzes", just because being as confused as that makes me wonder if I missed something. I don't think I did, but it would be nice to have it confirmed.