This book has been on my “to be read” list for ages and I finally got my hands on it. There has been a lot of hype about it in my writer circles, so I was eager to see what all the fuss was about. Initially, I thought that this might be a steampunk story with a Cinderella twist because of the original cover – a woman’s foot in a high-heeled shoe that was transparent enough to show that the foot was mechanical inside.
Nope. Not steampunk. Not even close.
Cinder, is a gifted mechanic, which is good, and part cyborg, which is bad. As you can guess, she’s the Cinderella in our story and has a nasty stepmother as well as two sisters, one who’s kind and the other who is cruel. There is a ball, and a prince, and a lost foot, and even a special vehicle that get’s Cinder to the ball. But, there’s no fairy Godmother.
The other part of this story, strangely enough, is an Anastasia story. There is a lost heir to the Lunar throne, one who, if found, could remove the current wicked Lunar Queen and restore justice and ensure peace between Lunars and Earthens.
And then, there’s the world the story is built within. In this Cinderella story, we are taken to the future where there is a pandemic running wild with no cure. Yeah, I didn’t see that one coming either. Guess I should have read the back cover blurb… Oops. The story is set in New Bejing 126 years after World War IV.
All of these disparate elements come together in a cunningly woven story where Cinder is driven to desperate measures to escape her situation only to find she’s not only needed, but a vital part of solving a much larger issue.
This was a fun romp through an interesting and well-constructed futuristic world. Meyers has put a ton of effort to weave together fantastical ingredients into a realistic gritty world. Cinder takes the Cinderella role and pushes the boundaries further by first, being really good at something unexpected, and second, wanting something else than to go to the ball and be with the prince.
Part of the fun in this book is seeing how the Cinderella trope is turned on its head and which parts of the story remain faithful. Instead of cute cartoon mice, we have a spunky android helper who’s obsessed with fashion and Prince Kai. Instead of a pumpkin carriage, we have an old gasoline powered car that Cinder fixed herself as an escape vehicle to be able to leave the city, where hover cars couldn’t go. And instead of a huge search to find a missing shoe, Cinder loses her cyborg foot, revealing to the prince that she’s not quite human.
There are a few things that irritated me personally. Meyers doesn’t shy back from letting people who are important to main characters die. There are three instances where we as the reader are teased along that there might be a cure to save these people and it’s all a matter of beating the ticking clock. In most stories, one of these will survive in a dramatic scene where the cure comes at the last possible second. While I see why Meyers chose to not follow the traditional footsteps, as it makes for a much more devastating loss for Cinder, but as a reader I don’t like to be led along to then be robbed of a successful rescue.
This makes for a great young adult sci-fi. It’s got lots of action, some tasteful romantic leanings, quite a bit of angst and drama, and great world building. Yes, there are some mild descriptions of blood and injury, mostly relating to the plague like pandemic that’s riddled through the story, but they aren’t excessive or over the top.
For those who love adaptations, this one does a solid job taking the Cinderella story and elevating it to something with more stakes.
I enjoyed Cinder and give it a 4 of 5 stars for being thoroughly entertaining but doing a few things that misled the reader in an annoying way.
Space might be the final frontier, but the imagination knows no limits. When it comes to science fiction and speculative writing this is especially true. Come meet my friend Leigh Saunders who continually pushes the boundaries of her own imagination with both heart and enviable skill.
Leigh and I are partners in crime in the Utah author scene, often seen tucking ourselves into corners at conferences and planning our next move. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, with authors as friends there is never a dull moment.
On to the interview!
Hi Leigh, welcome to my blog! To kick off this interview I’d like to get to know you better. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve never been the stereotypical, introverted writer – though I have been known to “lurk” quietly in new situations while I figure out the lay of the land. Growing up in a military family was probably a big part of that. It allowed me to see a fair bit of the world — and also taught me to adapt to different cultures and customs every time we moved. Then I read the phrase “…the things are also people” in a SF story (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I think), and I never looked at the world quite the same way ever again. I’ve been fortunate to have worked as a full-time writer (of various things, not all fiction) for most of my adult life, and love to travel, learn new things, see new places, meet new people – and then weave some version of what I remember into my stories – yeah, I do that – but by the time I’ve dumped so many bits and pieces into the blender, then poured them out and stretched them like taffy, it’s only the essence of the real people or events that make it to the page. The rest is some kind of alchemy that I don’t even pretend to understand. I just accept it for the magic that it is.
What skill have you always wished you were amazing at, but haven’t had the time to learn?
I’ve always been curious about so many things – In college, I studied accounting, architecture, modern dance, and technical theatre (all the backstage/behind-the-scenes stuff), but I never made it into the horse training program at Findlay College, which would have been a lot of work, but also great fun. I’m a competent rider, but some of my characters are truly one with their horses in a way I’ll never be.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever researched for a writing project?
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to bid on a project with the National Center for Human Genome Research (now the National Human Genome Research Institute). Our small project was cancelled due to funding limitations before it got off the ground, but my interaction with the project team led me to further research in the Human Genome Project. Since I came to it with a science fiction author’s world view, my primary focus was “what if…?” Fact and fiction tumbled around in my head for some time as a result, and Brianna Rei, the genetically-engineered heroine of my 2011 novel “Memoirs of a Synth: Gold Record” was the result. I’ve written a handful of short stories featuring Brianna Rei since then, and this year am launching a new series of short, interstellar heists and capers, called “The Misha Kif Chronicles” where Brianna, always on the run from the bounty hunters, has returned to her career as a master thief under the alias, Misha Kif.
“Memoirs of a Synth: Gold Record” is available through all the major ebook retailers
“The Misha Kif Chronicles, Vol 1: Partners in Crime” is available exclusively as part of the Storybundle “Space Traveler” bundle through July 4, 2019 (www.storybundle.com/space), and will hit the major ebook retailers later this summer.
In all the books you’ve read/written/edited, what character has captured your imagination the most?
If I have to pick just one, it would be the Comte de Saint-Germain, the delicious vampire immortalized (pun intended!) by the amazing Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. I’ve always loved well-researched historical novels, and Yarbro wound her meticulous research skills around a character based in part around the very secretive, real-life Count de St. Germain, creating an intelligent, charming, heroic vampire who I have always loved. Yarbro has written nearly thirty stand-alone novels about Saint- Germain the series over the past many years (I believe the first one came out in 1978), together with two spin-off series, and while the style is somewhat old-fashioned and reminiscent of historical and Regency novels, I am a true fan of Saint-Germain. Other vampires may come and go (or sparkle… why?) but I have always thought of Saint-Germain as the vampire whose acquaintance I have been most happy to have made.
I ask this question to everyone – what’s the most interesting item you have in your writing space and what’s the story behind it?
So many interesting things… so many stories!
I have this oddly-shaped, fist-sized blob of blown glass. Sometimes it’s on a bookshelf, right now it’s sitting on the corner of my desk. For the most part, it’s clear, but veins of red, the color of blood, wind through it and if you turn it this way or that in the light, it almost seems alive. I picked it up from a glassblower in Oregon, because it almost perfectly symbolizes a magical talisman I created in my very first (as-yet-unfinished) novel. One of these days, I’ll get back to that book; in the meantime, the heart of the talisman beats on…
What’s next? What are you working on?
I’m usually working on multiple projects simultaneously, almost always in distinctly different genres. Right now, I’m deep into the first few volumes of “The Misha Kif Chronicles,” which I like to call “the t.v. series ‘Leverage’ in space.” On the other side of the desk are the books and outlines for a fantasy series-in-progress, which is loosely based on the Mongol invasion of Eastern Europe… but with magic. I’m in early stages with that one. And, of course, tucked in around the edges of my schedule are short stories – I’m a fan of the form, and love to explore new worlds and new ideas in short fiction whenever I can.
About Today’s Guest:
Leigh Saunders grew up as a “military brat.” And while she’s long-since settled in her Rocky Mountain home with her husband and a large fluffy cat, her life-long wanderlust regularly inspires her to write about the people and places that spark her imagination. When not writing speculative fiction for a living (her day job is writing computer software manuals), Leigh enjoys writing “practical magic” and “social science fiction” – stories that focus on people (or “things” that are also people) in distant places, and how everyday magic, futuristic events, or advances in technology impact their lives. A 1993 Writers of the Future finalist, her recent short fiction can be found in multiple Fiction River anthologies, BundleRabbit short story collections, and more. She has won awards from the League of Utah Writers for both long and short fiction, and her short story, “Tendrils,” was listed on the 2018 Tangent Recommended Reading List. To learn more about Leigh and sign up for her occasional newsletter, visit her online at www.leighsaunders.com
More about Leigh’s book – Memoirs of a Synth: Gold Record
Tour guide, emissary, diplomat, thief — and a long-lived, genetically engineered Synth — Brianna Rei travels the Hundred Worlds, hiding in plain sight. She knows her survival depends on staying one step ahead of the bounty hunters who have nearly exterminated her kind.
All that changes when she teams up with fellow-thief, Jerrold McKell, and he discovers her true identity. Now Brianna must choose between trust and survival, and what it means to be truly human.
Excerpt from Memoirs of a Synth: Gold Record, Chapter 1 (first page)
I have never analyzed the thought processes that caused me to spend my three hundred seventeenth birthday on Earth, in the relative obscurity of a noisy, dimly lit, backstreet bar in Old Milan, and I don’t intend to do so now.
For whatever reason, that’s where I was – dancing on the table with a couple of newly-met, long-lost loves, in a skimpy black silk jumpsuit that showed off a lot of leg and left little else to the imagination – when I first saw Jerrold.
Actually it was the Antarean I saw first.
There weren’t many aliens in the bar, and her short, bluish fur stood out in the crowd. It was Sisal. I knew her by reputation as a top fence, though I’d personally never had occasion to utilize her services.
She was sitting with two men, both human: one a roguish-looking sort with a rough-trimmed beard and long dark hair pulled back in a ponytail at the nape of his neck; and the second, a big, brawny Thug, who, from my vantage point, I could tell hadn’t quite checked all his weapons at the door.
Sisal’s fur was on end, her claws tapping a staccato rhythm on the small table around which the three of them sat.
That she was here, obviously negotiating a deal, I considered nothing short of serendipitous – the deal she was negotiating would be worth a lot of money, and I was between lifestyles at the time.
I was curious. I was more than a little drunk.
I wanted in on the action.
I jumped down off the table, much to the dismay of the long-losts, who called after me, begging me not to desert them. I laughed and waved them away, scooping up a couple of bottles off the bar as I made my way over to the table.
I dropped the bottles on the table between the Thug and Sisal, narrowly missing her paw, and leaned across the table to speak to the rogue, whom I would later come to know as Jerrold McKell.
“I feel very left out,” I said petulantly. “You didn’t even save me a chair.”
“You’re drunk,” he said.
I laughed. “You always have had a gift for understatement, my dear,” I said, flipping my hair back over my shoulder as I stood. It was long and black and rough-cut, as was the style on Riga at that time, with its thousands of tiny ends tipped in silver. “Of course I’m drunk. That’s the point of coming to a bar. Or at least, half the point.”
Last weekend the amazing Tremonton library held their annual Summer Reading Kickoff party; an outdoor extravaganza with games, food, firetrucks, a chalk fight, and an amazing community turnout. Ben and I were almost author table buddies and I couldn’t pass up the chance to interview him while I was there.
Onto the interview!
What are two things most people know about you and two things most people don’t?
Two things most people know about me: – I am a jr. high English and social studies teacher – I have a collection of swords.
Two things most people don’t know about me: – I have six kids (hers, mine and ours family) with ages ranging from 21 to 2. – I grew up on a medieval living history farm.
If you had a warning label, what would it say?
Just because I don’t say anything, doesn’t mean I’m not silently correcting your grammar.
Tell us about your Archipelago Series and even better, what inspired you to write seafaring science fiction?
The Planet Archipelago is a fictional world of islands and seas; there are no continents. It is home to four sentient races; humans being one of these, are the most recent to arrive to the planet. The humans on Archipelago are the descendants of a failed colony. Their ancestors came in spaceships with advanced technology, however they were cut off from Earth and the rest of humanity and because the planet is full of dangerous, hungry creatures, they found it necessary to regress to a more sustainable, medieval technology level.
It’s been hundreds of years since the first humans arrived and humans have spread across thousands of islands. Earth for them has become a myth, a religious legend. On one of these islands, a young man named Rob Engleman is curious about the world he lives on. His mentor, Doctor Morris, tells him all he can about the planet, but the conservative small-island community they live in forbids him from encouraging youngsters like Rob to explore. It’s just too dangerous. When an abandoned boat comes to the island, Rob sees this as his one chance to get away and begin the exploration he’s always dreamed of. Together with his older brother, cousins and some new friends, he sets off on a danger-filled journey of discovery where he learns about the lost history of his own people as well as that of the planet itself.
But there are more dangers on the planet than just the wildlife. A faction of humans called the Falcon Empire is the warpath, looking to conquer all the islands of Archipelago in the name of humanity and Rob’s home is next on their list of conquests. Rob must decide whether to stay and defend his home or continue his explorations of this strange and fascinating world.
What’s the most important lesson your main character has learned so far?
Now, three books into the series, Rob has learned that true friendship and loyalty are just as important, as knowledge.
I ask this question to everyone – what’s the most interesting item you have in your writing space and what’s the story behind it?
I have a small house, therefore my writing space is a corner of the dining table. I suppose the most interesting thing is the space itself. When I decided to take my writing seriously and publish my work, my wife agreed to support me on condition that I not neglect our family. Being at the dining table rather than cloistered in a back room ensures that I can’t ignore her or our children. It also has a great view of our yard, which is a constant reminder of my duties as a homeowner.
What’s next? What are you working on?
My current WIP is the fourth installment in the Archipelago series. I’ve taken time here and there to write short stories, most of which are set on Planet Archipelago as well as develop other ideas unrelated to this series. I’m determined to finish this series (five books in all by the end of 2020. After that, I’ve outlined three other novels, but we’ll see which takes my priority when I come to that place.
Sneak Peek into the Archipelago Series –
“Keep back,” Tyler shouted. “You’re interfering with an arrest!”
“Why are you arresting them? What have they done?” Mark asked.
He had an arrow nocked on his bowstring but hadn’t raised it. Tom and Pete followed suit, trying to be as non-threatening as possible.
“They’re thieves! Now back away or we’ll arrest you also.”
“Sir, I can assure you they are no thieves. They’re part of my crew and we’ve done nothing illegal,” Mark said as he slowly stepped closer.
“You take another step and I’ll gut this boy here and now,” Tyler threatened. He moved the point of the sword to Edwin’s abdomen and pressed there.
Mark paused. He looked at Edwin wincing as the point of the sword broke the skin and a small bloodstain formed on his tunic. He looked at Anna who had exhausted herself trying to break free of the deputy’s grip and now stood with her arms wrenched behind her back.
“Sir, whatever you think they’ve stolen, we will compensate you for.”
“I doubt you could. These were … rare and valuable items,” Tyler said. “So I suggest you give us no trouble as we take these thieves to the jail and you can visit them there until after their trial.”
“What happens after their trial?” Pete asked.
“When they’re found guilty, they’ll be executed. We don’t believe in long prison sentences here.”
There was silence. Each side-eyed the other, waiting for one of them to make a move. It was into this standoff that a new figure emerged from behind the nearest house. Rob ran out into the road and struck the deputy that held Anna with his bronze axe.
About today’s guest –
B.A. Simmons grew up roaming the mountains of the western United States. He still finds time to explore and run the trails. He started writing when only 10 years old and hasn’t stopped since. His love of science fiction is only rivaled by his love of history, or his love of family.
He attended Utah State University where he graduated
with a degree in English Education in 2011. He teaches junior high school
English and social studies. He is a self-professed sesquipedalian ludditish
He currently resides in Ogden, Utah with his amazing wife and kids, two dogs, a cat and myriad of imaginary worlds.
Some books are meant to sweep readers away into another world where they can live another life. Then there are those books that exist on a different plane where the concepts are foreign and bizarre and it takes hundreds of pages to start understanding what is actually happening. Existence is one of those books.
If I were to compare it to other books I’ve read I’d call it Cloud Atlas meets Ender’s Game. It is similar to Cloud Atlas because it combines a handful of storylines that all have a few sparse threads in common. The characters come from vastly different walks of life and most of the interest lies in trying to figure out what’s actually going on. It takes hundreds of pages to find links between the different storylines. It resembles Ender’s Game, not in the edge of your seat thrill ride, but the way that the author introduces his philosophies and ideas about the vast unknown.
To be fair, I haven’t finished reading Existence, yet. It’s long and requires focus and persistence to keep going forward. I can see why many people recommend it, Brin possesses a deep understanding of his world and a keen intellect which is demonstrated in the distinct characters that each play a role in the story.
Do I like it? Yes and no. Yes, the world is fascinating and I really want to see what will happen. I like the questions it asks about the nature of existence and the possibility of life on other worlds, and how to communicate with said life. And no, it’s slow going and almost too intellectual to be a read in a way where the reader can feel truly immersed. The story is so fractured among the different characters that the reader only gets a taste of what’s happening before being shoved somewhere else. To fracture it even further, between each chapter are different seemingly random essays on different facets of existence, discussions between scientists, or meandering thoughts of an autistic person.
I’m looking forward to finishing, nothing would make me happier than for the story to unfold into a brilliant and hard-hitting climax that gives the reader what they came for!
Have you read Existence? Come share your thoughts in the comments!