An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim

36622743America is in the grip of a deadly flu. When Frank gets sick, his girlfriend Polly will do whatever it takes to save him. She agrees to a radical plan—time travel has been invented in the future to thwart the virus. If she signs up for a one-way-trip into the future to work as a bonded labourer, the company will pay for the life-saving treatment Frank needs. Polly promises to meet Frank again in Galveston, Texas, where she will arrive in twelve years.

But when Polly is re-routed an extra five years into the future, Frank is nowhere to be found. Alone in a changed and divided America, with no status and no money, Polly must navigate a new life and find a way to locate Frank, to discover if he is alive, and if their love has endured.

Review:

An epidemic dystopia with time travel?  I’m there!  Like much good sci-fi Lim uses the fantastical premise to examine the world we live in and let me tell you, it hits ya right in the chest.

The story is harrowing – Polly goes into the future as an indentured servant to pay for the medicine that will save her boyfriend’s life.  They agree to meet when she pops out 12 years later… but she ends up jumping 17 years instead. Oops.  Is Frank waiting for her?  And what has become of the world?

I don’t want to give away plot, but I will say that this book speaks viscerally about the refugee experience.  Instead of escaping an awful place, as many people are trying to do today, Polly escapes an awful time.  Due to the one-way nature of time travel the can’t be “deported” to where she came from, and this lowest of statuses means she’s treated as horribly as you would expect.

an-ocean-of-minutes.jpgEach injustice can be traced to something happening in the world right now, breaking my heart on the regular.  I would put the book down for a while but I always came back to see how Polly gets through, and what’s waiting on the other side.

There are moments of hope but it’s not a feel good read, so know that things get worse – a lot worse – before they get better. That plot drives the book.  Lim writes some beautiful passages, making language the second biggest slice of the “doorway” chart, and the setting has stuck in my mind.  We rarely follow a character for long, though, and while they feel real in a moment I can’t say they develop, quite.  They’re more likely to turn in an unexpected direction instead.

In sum, An Ocean of Minutes is a heckuva story that examines current issues through the lens of speculative fiction. I’m curious to see if it grows in my memory in the months ahead.

Thanks to Touchstone and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Undertow by Michael Buckley (Undertow #1)

Synopsis:

22749788Sixteen-year-old Lyric Walker’s life is forever changed when she witnesses the arrival of 30,000 Alpha, a five-nation race of ocean-dwelling warriors, on her beach in Coney Island. The world’s initial wonder and awe over the Alpha quickly turns ugly and paranoid and violent, and Lyric’s small town transforms into a military zone with humans on one side and Alpha on the other. When Lyric is recruited to help the crown prince, a boy named Fathom, assimilate, she begins to fall for him. But their love is a dangerous one, and there are forces on both sides working to keep them apart. Only, what if the Alpha are not actually the enemy? What if they are in fact humanity’s only hope of survival? Because the real enemy is coming. And it’s more terrifying than anything the world has ever seen.

Review:

Have you ever started a book and gotten that sinking feeling that it’s not going to turn out well? For me that moment came on page two, when the main character is talking about her migraines.

Somewhere along the line we started categorizing their shapes and sizes like hurricanes. F1 is the ever-present storm in my gray matter. An F5 is a motherf’r, on-the-floor, curled-up-in-a-ball, puking, sobbing, wanting-to-throw-rocks-at God state of emergency.

As a migraineur myself I can tell you it’s an accurate description but the Fujita scale is for tornadoes, not hurricanes. I know it feels like a nitpick, but I think the whole novel would have been more successful if the author and editor nitpicked more.

Parts of this story recall history in a compelling way – the arrival of the Alpha, humanoid-esque ocean creatures, on Coney Island’s shores reminded me of the (sadly) many refugee crises in the world. The angry mobs that gather when said Alpha are allowed to attend school mirrors the New Orleans School Crisis of 1960, with catfish being flung at students instead of tomatoes. A threatening next door neighbor calls to mind “grudge informants” in less-than-upstanding governments. All are deep and engaging themes to tackle in a YA novel and I’m glad they’re here.

But the execution leaves much to be desired. Whenever the protagonist Lyric goes to school her father, a police officer, has to escort her past the crowd. But when she gets inside all the other kids are already there. I guess they used sooper sekret back door.

Instead of parents refusing to send their children to the same school as the Alpha (what happened in 1960) the kids go anyway because… they like to cause mayhem? A police state appeals to them? I’m not sure.

Then there’s the Alpha’s “claustrophobia”. They abhor having something over their head and would rather have a clear view of the sky. Only one of the Alpha in the school seems to be bothered by ceilings and papered up windows, but whatever. When a battle looms and shelters are dug into the sand no one complains about the enclosed, covered space. And while I remember the tent city being described as only walls the cover artist had a different idea. Nitpicking would have saved me from head scratching.

The plot drives forward but doesn’t feel assured in its direction beyond “things must get worse”. Conditions deteriorate and people die with ever more smashing and crashing. Three chapters from the end we’re introduced to an entirely new culture, leaving no chance to appreciate or grok what is happening.

In sum Undertow is like a cut-rate roller coaster – fast and fun at times, but it leaves you motion sick once you step off.