Khanh the Killjoy

Paradigm - Helen Stringer Actual rating: 1.5Recommended: for people with Botox injections, specifically on their forehead and around their naso-labial lines. I wish I could have sent the publisher a bill for such treatments before I started reading this book, because now I fear I have prematurely permanent creases on my face from hours of going "whaaaaaa?"In some writing classes, the professor might assign certain exercises to get the creative juices flowing. One such exercise would be to throw random subjects and phrases into a hat, have the students draw several topics from it, and build a story around it. That's the best way I can describe this book, because much of it made about as much sense and ultimately left me slack-jawed with wonderment because shit was so random. This is not going to be one of my better reviews, this is going to be a confusing, muddled mess of a write-up because I absolutely cannot sort out the mess that is this book so that I can formulate a decently coherent and organized criticism. I'm going to be rambling and ranting all over the damn place.I make notes when I read; I write down confusing terms, significant passages, important characters, etc. I had 5 solid pages of notes written down for this book by the time I hit the halfway point because there was so much terminology and new concepts thrown at me. As I grew frustrated with the lack of plot progression and comprehension, I stopped reading to reread my notes, then realized that I still can't understand a damn thing...because not even my notes made sense. Then I just gave up taking notes altogether, gritted my teeth, and finished off this book the way one would quickly swallow a tablespoon of Robitussin. It had to be done, but it sure as hell was unpleasant. This book has been the most frustrating one I can remember reading in terms of readability; as for enjoyment, just forget it. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who will find the premise of this book fascinating, the writing spectacular, the characters intriguing. I'm just not one of them.Usually dystopian books are written around a message, a theme. Something simple, like "it's wrong to play god," "zombies are people, too," "don't eat tapeworms, they'll take over your head." I think this book was trying to send a lot of messages about society in general, about technology, about the destruction of giving too much information and too much power to the wrong person or machine. It's an ambitious endeavor but it didn't work for me. The messages and themes, if any were intended, were absolutely lost in translation because of how poorly written and constructed this book was, overall.Spaghetti WesternTibetan monks in saffron robesMUTHA (Molecular Universal Tertiary Hyperspatial Analogicon)Muthaboard. MuthascreenAn evil, beautiful, ice-cold blonde ex-military mercenary and/or conglomerateD.E.T.H. Inc. (Devastation Engineering & Tactical Havoc)DivigendsHyperspatial plexHermes Manufacturing IndustriesA black poncho-wearing assassin girl of "sixteen summers" of the mystical, fierce Hakkadun, some branch of a New Zealand Maori tribeThe Last GenerationLike the sound of that? You might find it intriguing. You might be more wrong than you ever have been in your life. You know what this book needs? A freaking glossary. Don't get me wrong, I love world building, I love figuring things out for myself, I appreciate the fact that the author trusts in my intelligence enough to not spoon-feed me information, and instead glean out information on my own as the book progresses. This sort of gradual world building, vocabulary-building, lingo-creation works in some books, it did not here. I found myself absolutely confused because the terminology is shot out of nowhere, without clues as to what they were. The problem, of sorts, is the narrator. Sam is a smart guy, he's very knowledgeable about the secrecy of all these corporations and their secret projects, due to his scientist parents and their work as researchers within Hermes Industries. He may understand them. He may know what a probe, what the effects of C.L. Primos entails, who Chen and Shanti Ghara is, how the Four Collapses of society happened, but you know what? Like a know-it-all, self-absorbed teenager that he is, Sam is very stringent with his information, and by the time events and history are halfheartedly explained to us, I had already lost my patience with this book about 150 pages ago.The setting is the future United States. The skies are not blue anymore, but yellow. There are no stars visible in the sky. There are privileged people living in the big cities, but those are rare. It seems that the people living in the cities lead much of the same lifestyle that we do now, but the atmosphere and environment is not well-described enough for me to get an actual sense of what it is like. All I know from the book is that the cities are clean, bright, and must be self-sustaining. People not so privileged live on the outskirts of town, they are the poor, miserable Outsiders just trying to subsist. Even worse off are people living in the completely uncivilized Wilds. There are scavengers and Rovers driving around terrorizing, raping, pillaging (surprising that they drive, since gas is a rarity. Sam can barely find the gas to power his stupid little muscle car). For some reason, despite the lack of resources, and the Wild West atmosphere, there are still convenience stores lying's not a huge detail, but one of the niggling details that bothered me about the setting of this book.The main plotline in the book is that of Sam trying to discover who and what he is, and find out the great mystery of MUTHA. That's the short summary, for me to actually sum up all the events and places and things that actually happened to get to that final mission would be to get from A to Z, with stops at B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, etc. along the way. And not necessarily in that order. The events in this book do not flow, they do not make sense, the writing is lacking in quality, and the plot is all over the place. As an example of the stellar quality of the writing, let me present you with an actual analogy used in the book: his attitude is so stiff, it could have been a metal bar.The characters are haphazard and inconsistent. Sam frustrated me to no end, the book is narrated not in first person, but from his point of view, and I hated it. His common sense and decision-making process is flawed, his thought processes may make sense to him and to the author, who knows his character inside and out, but for me, I could not get into his head and foresee what the fuck he was going to do next at all. If you like a guessing game, be my guest, but I like a little bit of rationality from my characters, and Sam just didn't cut it for me.His behavior aside, the things that happen to him are too coincidental to be believable. More than once, he gets into impossible and improbably situations, and almost every time, it feels like deus ex machina is used. For those unfamiliar with the term, here is the Wikipedia definition:"a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved, with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object."Sam gets into convenient situations that move the plot along too easily to be believable. There's a degree of suspension of disbelief, and mine was exhausted very early on in the book. Take this example, Sam encounters a dying old man in a random alley in a city where he just entered the previous day, only to have the man hand him the device that's the key to what he's been searching for in his quest to find the truth about MUTHA. This happens very early on in the book, and is not a spoiler, by the way. The events in this book are simply implausible.For example: the Paradigm Device. In the hands of the monks. In TIBET. From San Francisco.Sam is also contrary in his actions vs. actual thoughts; in short, he's fairly stupid at times. He's supposed to be savvy, intelligent, knowledgeable. You might buy it, considering he's been on his own for a long time, and alone in the dangerous Wilds of the future dystopian United States, no less. His actions during the length of the book do not reinforce his alleged street-smarts at all. He trusts people again and again whom he inwardly feels he shouldn''s like, someone who says, oh, I know I shouldn't go back to my abusive boyfriend because I know he'll hurt me again, but I'll do it anyway. That's a rather reprehensible comparison, to be honest, I don't mean to make light of domestic abuse at all, but Sam's decision to trust certain people, despite fully knowing better, is so utterly ridiculous.The romance...I was wrong to think there wouldn't be romance. It's almost insta-love as Sam is super-impressed with the ninja-girl stalking out of the shadows to kick a bunch of grown men's asses (I'm not kidding here). He, again, implausibly runs into Alma again and again, and moons over her in the most idiotic way. The romance feels completely forced on us, and is completely unnecessary as far as the plot goes.I would say you can skip the first half of this book, and you would not miss much. I wish I did, the plot really did not pick up until the second half, and it would have saved me a lot of frustration and confusion from the random tossing-about of terminology that never got fully explained until much later on in the book. I also felt the cast of characters was unnecessarily large, and that's not usually a cause for complaint for me, but I felt the majority of the characters presented didn't contribute anything significant to the plot, and are therefore unworthy of the amount of memory space they took up in my brain during the arduous task of reading this book.Actually, I could say the same about the entire book. It's not worth the amount of information it's taking up in my head.An ARC of this book was provided to me by Netgalley.