fiction, review

Memoria

I wouldn’t call it a very detailed work of science fiction, though there is more than a hint of imagined scientific discoveries of the future (the time machine, robots, etc) and time travel (back and forth between the year 2015 and 2097). Freshly published toward the end of 2015, Memoria by Priscila Stevanni is a young adult novel coming up with a romantic, scientific story with young characters poised to save the future world. It is just such a shame, in my opinion, that such a pretty good idea (at least for the market standard) doesn’t develop in thorough, elaborate narrative.

The story begins with an introduction to the main character, Maira, along with her odd experience of travelling across time and space. Then the plot brings us to her “normal” life where she is only an ordinary school girl with typically two best friends, Nadin and the boy next door, Rega. Rega is not just a best friend, though, if she is to be honest to herself, for he’s the kind of boy-friend who is always by her side and willing to do anything for her and thus means everything to her. It is so unfortunate that she keeps her feelings to herself and doesn’t have the courage to tell him about it. She might regret it later at her birthday night when a white van seems to deliberately hit their car and, strangely and suddenly, Rega vanishes without trace. More strangely, it is not only his physicality and presence that are gone, people’s memories of him are also erased from their minds. No one but Maira remembers him, and when she keeps trying to remind them of him, they think she’s going crazy. This spiel seems to be going around and around until one day, it is Maira’s turn to go vanished, jumping far away to the future where Rega has apparently been for all this time. There, in the destroyed land of the future Earth, Maira gradually starts to know her true self, and sees the evidence of severe damage done by humans in the past.

You couldn’t expect anything special from the characterizations in Memoria. The book merely presents typical high school kids you’d see in your everyday life: restless, indecisive, secretly in love or openly changing lovers. Even the main character, Maira, doesn’t catch my special attention, despite her development along the storyline in which she changes from a spoiled, dependent teenage girl into an independent, tough survivor. Rega, her supposed best friend, can even only project the serious, champion-in-everything boy first formulated years ago when teen lit started to invade our bookstores. Thankfully, however, this ordinariness goes only so far, until they are thrown to the future and meet Toya, the most charming character of all. He might not have as much portion as Rega or Maira, but he proves to be the star attraction to me. Fortunately, Toya is not the only good thing about Memoria, for it has a quite promising premise. The thing about this book is it’s not elaborate enough. The narrative lacks explanation of why things happen (though it provides a little at the end of the story), and the detailed descriptions of everything “scientific”. The time machine, the supposedly sophisticated computers and the robots are not well described, reducing the “scientific atmosphere” you need in a work of science fiction. What’s more, the tight plot doesn’t seem to make room for a specific conflict to exist. In fiction writing, to my thinking, a clear conflict is the key. You cannot drone on and on about a situation and then suddenly, at the end of it, just saying, “We did this because you are what you are.” Fighting and running from the evil side are barely a conflict, if that’s what you think. You need to elaborate, to describe more. No wonder this book is so short.

Well, despite my disappointment on its narrative and scientific aspect, Memoria is generally a pretty good novel. I enjoyed it. The plot is nicely flowing and skilfully paced, although too short to explain anything. The writing style is nice as well, for a young-readers-targeted book like this. It’s heavily sprinkled with English here and there, but I don’t really mind because it’s still under the right dose for an Indonesian book. The way Stevanni tells the tale is also quite excellent for a new young writer trying to compete in our today’s cramped book industry. Her storytelling is mature, reliable and very well-organized, something that I rarely see even in writers more senior than her. Her only problem is that her language is too much like that of translated books, which I assume is resulted from her reading materials (perhaps imported or translated romance or YA sci-fi novels). She often adapts a word literally from English without trying to find out what’s the word in Indonesian. The spelling is also a mess, though thankfully it doesn’t affect the grammar.

Overall, I can say that Priscila Stevanni’s Memoria is a not-bad YA sci-fi book. You cannot expect more from it, but it really is an enjoyable read.

Rating: 3/5

Note: review copy courtesy of the author.

fiction, review

Supernova: Ksatria, Puteri, dan Bintang Jatuh

the very first edition's cover
the very first edition’s cover

Science and fiction are two different fields of study, as we generally know, unless you want to take science fiction into account. But, what if it’s not science fiction at all? What if science and fiction are blended together to form a romantic story inside a story? Supernova: Ksatria, Puteri, dan Bintang Jatuh by Dee is the answer. Previously known as a singer/songwriter, Dee released this debut novel of hers in 2001 under her own independent publishing company. It has and continues to gain critical acclaim as well as popular response among readers. It’s heavily strewn with theories of psychology and physics and philosophy, and is guaranteed to force the reader to view this world from a different angle.

Ruben and Dhimas, a homosexual couple first met when taking their undergraduate program in the United States, finally decide to work on the masterpiece they’ve planned on and promised to do ten years earlier. Their intention is to fuse science with literature, a bunch of grand theories with a wave of romanticism, in order to produce a work of fiction interwoven with nonfiction facts. So they choose to pluck the characters of Ksatria and Puteri from a comic book, and make up their own story featuring those two lovebirds. Ksatria, a successful young man with a dull, monotonous life, meets Puteri in what seems to be a predestined encounter. They fall in love each other almost in an instant, succumbing to their lust and love regardless of her having already been committed in a marriage. Things appear to run so well in their secret affair, until their desire to be freely together feels more urgent than ever and their hush-hush feelings overwhelm both with no restraint. Puteri has to decide whether she is going to leave her husband for the one she loves, or stay in the marriage she never feels passionate in. And in the middle of it all comes Diva, a catwalk model/highly paid prostitute whose attitude towards the world is so bitter and cynical that the reader may find her too much self-righteous for a woman of her profession. It is her, the Bintang Jatuh, who saves Ksatria from his tragic fall. But she cannot stay and return his love, for it’s been her nature to go and shoot away.

There are several characters in this first book of Supernova series, in and out of the “story”. But there’s only one that captured my sole, vehement attention, and that’s Diva, the Bintang Jatuh or the Falling Star. To me, she’s like standing head and shoulders above everyone else, not for her divinity-wanna-be portrayal, but for her significance in stirring the course of events of the “inside story”. She’s described as cynical and sarcastic, bitter towards anything and everything, like nothing is right to her in this pathetic world. As a matter of fact, her self-righteousness made me feel cynical in return towards her. To her, selling her body is like selling any other commodity in the market, like selling our labor, time, our soul. The way she thinks made me see her as an ungrateful person, for instance: condemning her beautiful, straight, long hair when so many women out there would die for it. She is indeed a do-gooder, trying to “change the world”, but what she does is too small to compare with the bigness and complexity of the universe. Really, I’m being so cynical towards her now. What’s worse, she is created, by the authors (Ruben and Dhimas), to become an Avatar, a Cyber Avatar, who has a divinity of a monk. Dee, as the writer of this whole narrative, perhaps only wants to show to the reader, through this Diva character, that in being a human, it’s all about your thoughts and good deeds, not the label you have on your forehead. I cannot say anything to this but that I have mixed feelings.

Supernova: Ksatria, Puteri, dan Bintang Jatuh is an interdisciplinary novel not all readers would get. The writer seems to want to prove something to them, and it’s probably for this very reason she makes up a narrative in which order and chaos become its main focus and goes to such great lengths elaborating and mixing so many scientific theories into one. Her intention is, I believe, to present a fictional romance that brilliantly emerges from those theories. However, the result is, the way I see it, only an “ordinary” rectangular love story which is so simple and easy to read that you don’t have to bother dwelling on those fruits of science experts’ thoughts. Fortunately, the narrative is shrewdly constructed, subplot being layered upon subplot, proving yet another thing that there are indeed no boundaries in time and space. The whole plot is also dense, without so much as little ramblings about anything. It’s very complex, however, and has no predictable direction as to where the story will actually lead. It is amazing, technically speaking, but I don’t have a consistent opinion when it comes to the language being used. I don’t know why but I felt it’s like a “translation language”, awkward and unnatural. And when it comes to male dialogues, I felt it was a woman talking instead of a man. What’s worse, I found some misplaced diction and less than correct use of marks, especially those in repeated words. In other words, linguistically (if I may say so), it’s quite a mess.

On the whole, Supernova: Ksatria, Puteri, dan Bintang Jatuh is actually a pretty great book, though not as fantastic as I might have thought before. The basic idea is stunning, but the execution, especially that of the “inside story” used to embody all those theories, is not what the reader could hope for. The question is, why bother elaborating such grand scientific theories if you only want to tell something simple?

Rating: 3/5

fiction, review

Clean Sweep

While I’m still so far away from going on with Kate Daniels series, Ilona Andrews’ Clean Sweep has satisfied a little bit my thirst for their other works. It’s turned out quite unsatisfying, though, in some ways. Firstly published for commercial purpose at the end of 2013, it was originally a weekly free short story posted on Andrews’ official website, being worked on in the middle of their other projects and hectic familial life. I’m not really sure, however, if it’s the reason why Clean Sweep turns out flat to me, for I always believe in their talent for writing. It might have been just me who didn’t feel the click, but I seriously didn’t find it as exciting or even interesting as any Kate Daniels novels.

Dina Demille, a young girl running a Victorian bed-and-breakfast down in Avalon Subdivision, is no ordinary girl. She has a unique magic power and she is, too, the magic itself. On one light summer day, a dog has been murdered. It dies in the strangest fashion anyone can imagine. As an innkeeper, Dina knows that she’s supposed to keep neutral and stay out of it, but it’s been the third murder in the subdivision and she senses that what is to come will be even worse. With the help of Sean Evans, an ex-military newly arrived in their neighborhood, Dina sets to investigate what actually happens and who the perpetrator is. Their investigation into the stalker and its dahaka wreaking havoc in their peaceful territory leads them both to the dirty linen tightly kept by one of vampire families of the Holy Cosmic Anocracy, House of Krahr. The coming of the vampires to the Earth, with a definite goal to capture and arrest the dahaka, stirs things up. Dina has to protect and tend to Lord Soren, an injured vampire knight, and give sanctuary to his Marshal nephew, Arland. Things get more complicated as the neighborhood becomes painfully affected by the damage done by the dahaka, so Arland is forced to reveal what problem his family has. At the end of the day, Dina, Sean, and Arland have to work together to fight the enemy who is dangerous enough to kill them all.

The main character of Clean Sweep, the heroine here—Dina Demille—can be said to be a little bit like Kate Daniels. I might have been just imagining things, but throughout the reading I was quite sure that Dina is as tough and sarcastic as Kate. She’s also that kind of independent lone wolf who’s trying as best she can to refuse anybody else’s help, yet so determined to help others. Unless you want to take Dina’s physical appearance into account, then that will be a different case. Thankfully, Sean Evans is nothing like Curran Lennart. He is some kind of shapeshifter, yes, for his character is a werewolf, but he is not that rich, bossy alpha male who leads a vast pack of were-animals and carries a heavy need to be obeyed. Sean is more of a loner, a wanderer seeking always adventures. Odd as it may seem, but he is still looking for his true self, the true place where he should belong to. He’s confused, uncertain, quite troubled inside. As for Arland, I have to say that I didn’t quite catch his whole character. The Marshal of House Krahr is described as dashing, charming, and protective, but that is all. There is nothing, I’d rather say, special about him, not the way I see it anyway.

Interestingly, as much as their descriptions are quite out of my “expectation”, the characters making appearances in Clean Sweep are very literally unusual. There are not only humans or humans with magic, but also out-of-the-box werewolves and vampires. Both are described coming from other planets in the universe, arriving on Earth through a gate of some sort. Even the vampires here are not some blood-thirsty undead. They are cosmic soldiers with carnivorous nature, and yes, they are common human beings. It felt so strange to read such a mind-boggling description, but oddly enough, Andrews can explain it all the way through the narrative so clearly that the reader won’t find it difficult to understand. The same applies to the world-building. The Andrews seem to have committed to create something unusual, something that the reader may not find anywhere else, but their world is not hard to catch on to. It even looks magically simple to read. If there is one setting description I didn’t quite get, it was Baha-char. Perhaps I just couldn’t follow the road path of the market. Well, putting everything aside, I have to regretfully say that I am so disappointed by the run of the story. I don’t find it interesting to follow. It’s so dull and didn’t catch my attention at all. I even had to read it with full force in order to finish it. The opening scene is not captivating either, not inviting enough to drag me through the whole plot. If it was not for Andrews’ signature sarcasm scattered over the dialogues, I don’t think I could endure the storyline, however fast the pace is.

Overall, I have to say that I don’t really like Clean Sweep. The idea is okay, but the whole plot is just beyond my expectation, in a bad way. The narrative is still typically Ilona Andrews, and so is the main characterization, which is a big problem for me. I had hoped that Andrews would’ve come up with a different kind of person when it came to a different story, but my hope proved to be broken into pieces.

Rating: 3/5