172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad

Mia, Antoine and Midori are the envy of the world. They are the three lucky teenagers who have been randomly chosen to go on a trip to the moon  to commemorate the first landing.  As everyone tunes in to watch the takeoff, we find Oleg Himmelfarb in front of the TV at his nursing home, trying to remember something as the footage of the moon plays. No one is supposed to go back to the moon, he thinks. What is it they find on the moon again?

First off, 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad is not the best written book. Perhaps something is lost in translation from the Norwegian original. Nevertheless, this science fiction still has its merits and good entertainment value. Here's our joint review (contains spoiler):

Steven: It took way too long to get into the real story. The first 150, maybe even 200 pages, were just setting up who these characters were, but this background info, except maybe in the case of Mia, was not mentioned ever again in the rest of the book.  This book seriously violates the principle of Chekhov's Gun and it makes for a frustrating reading experience. None of the background info helps us care more about the characters because their backstories are irrelevant to the rest of the plot.
Like the bit about Antoine's girlfriend. The chapter from her point of view in which she feels that something bad has happened to him is quite pointless, since readers already knew about it.

Virginia: That is definitely my biggest complaint about this book too. Fortunately, for those who stick with the book, it does get better and progressively more intense. Once they were on the moon and mysterious and horrible things started to happen, we have a story. You kinda knew that there's no hope for these guys, and I'm glad they stick with that throughout, rather than taking the easy way out.  I like the ending. Feels right to me and it fits.

Steven: The book could have ended a couple of pages earlier, though.  Things are spelled out to us that may have been better left to the imagination.  I already know that a threat exists: it was explained to us more than once already.

Virginia:  Maybe it's priming for a sequel...  Well, like we said, despite its flaws and plot holes, the book is still worth recommending. One thing I know we both really like is that this book is one of the rare cases where even though we have a female protagonist, it's not about a girl, and so there's no girly-ness to it at all. 

Steven: The book also really reminded me of a Japanese horror Manga.  I haven't read many, but the ones I have read felt much like this: hopeless and bleak.  Come to think of it, it seems most Nordic entertainment that we get over here is like that.  Maybe this isn't unusual.  You tell me, Virginia.  You read Nordic authors.

Virginia: Yah, probably pretty grim, even for crime fiction. The main guys are generally more flawed, and  at least for the ones I've read, you don't really feel the triumph of solving a crime and a job well done at the end. Can't get enough of them though. 

Despite its flaws, we'll still recommend this sci-fi/horror to readers who enjoy Alien, Event Horizon, Solaris, or the more depressing Philip K. Dick works.
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BZRK by Michael Grant

If the emotions you feel in response to what you see, hear, feel and taste are caused by connections in your brain -- what would happen if someone was able to get inside and change those connections?  Say, connect the areas in the brain responsible for discomfort to chocolate? Or associate memories of your mother with the area responsible for fear? Or connect pleasure with the images of violence?

In the world in which Sadie and Noah live, two groups are secretly fighting for the control of minds on the micro scale, in the brains of world leaders. On one side is a group led by the Armstrong twins, brilliant but power-hungry brothers that were born joined at the head, with three eyes and three legs. They claim their goal is the re-wire the brains of as many humans as possible to bring about world peace (which involves killing off any opposing forces). Their group operates under the disguise of the Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation (AFGC), which has stores all over the world. On the other side is BZRK, a secret organization that tries to ensure fredom of thought by stopping the Armstrong twins.

Technology has allowed for the creation of biots and nanobots -- living microscopic beings made from spider, cobra, jellyfish and human DNA. These biots/nanobots are not robots, but are a detached part of the person whose DNA is included in the biot. The person not only controls his/her biots but also sees, hears, and feels whatever happens to them. (And yes, you can create multiple biots for one person.) These biots are small enough to climb into ears and ears, then burrow to the brain where they can re-wire whatever they want. Unfortunately any damage to the biots are also felt by the "owner" as equivalent pain (e.g. if your biot's leg is ripped off, you feel like your leg is being ripped off). If all the biots are destroyed, the person usually goes insane.

Operating multiple biots that are busy re-wiring someone's brain or fighting off other biots while still going about daily life is not an easy task. Those who are able to do this are usually super gamers or crazy.

Noah is recruited by BZRK after his brother, a previous BZRKer, goes insane. He joins the fight in hopes of escaping his depressed parents and revenging his brother. 

Sadie is familiar with the technology -- her father was the one who came up with it -- and is drawn into the conflict when her father and brother are killed by AFGC.

AFGC is about to infiltrate the brains of the US and Chinese presidents and the Prime Minsters of Britain, Japan and India. Attempts to stop them is suicidal -- but it looks like Sadie and Noah don't have much choice but to join the fight.

It took me a little while to get into this book (probably due to the fact I was reading it sporadically), but once I did, I found it it pretty intriguing and exciting. The beginning is a bit choppy, as Grant tells the story through the perspectives of several different characters (I also find his writing style fragmented at times), but as the story developed, I found the movement smoother and faster.
The whole thing with little nanobots crawling in people's brains had the right amount of creepiness and grossness and I'm sure will appeal to many guy readers. Scientific details are minimal kept simple, so it makes for an easy sci-fi read.

Michael Grant is the author of the Gone and Magnificent 12 series. He also co-authors the well-know kids' series, Animorphs. Visit his website to watch trailers of some of his books.

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Take Advantage of the Batman Craze...

...and get them reading.
CBC Books posted a list of Batman non-fiction books you can highlight at your library for fans of the dark knight.
» Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero by E. Paul Zehr
» Batman: The Complete History by Les Daniels
» Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight by Travis Langley
» The Essential Batman Encyclopedia by Robert Greenberger
The article gives a brief summary of each, so head on over.

Readers may also be interested in learning more about the Physics of Superheroes.
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The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda

What do you get when you combine the current two most popular themes in teen fiction? The Hunt, by Andrew Fukuda.

In Gene's world, everyone is a vampire, and humans, whom they call hepers, are protected just like endangered animals. They are only released once a year for the Hunt, an annual event that demonstrates and consolidates the power of "the Ruler" (Sounds familiar? Yah, I know.)  Only a selected few are picked by lottery to participate in this delicious feast, and Gene's name was chosen. It would have been his lucky day, except he is actually a human. Of course he is.  Can he survive among the bloodthirsty fiends?

For this book to work, readers will have to buy into the premise that Gene has successfully passed as a vampire for all this time until now. Since a good chunk of the book is spent on telling you all the things that you can and will do wrong that give you away as a human, the premise is a little hard to swallow.  There is also a crucial plot element that you wish you can't see from miles away. Having said that, it is nice to see the return to real vicious vampires. Like the ones in Abraham Lincoln:  Vampire Killer (better movie than people give it credit I think).  The Hunt, when it finally happens, is actually pretty intense. The dynamics between Gene and the hepers is probably the most interesting part, and hopefully we'll see more in the next book.  What? You weren't expecting a sequel?

The Hunt is also available on audiobook. Check out a sample clip, courtesy of Macmillan Audio.

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Tubes by Andrew Blum

The internet is magical.  For the vast majority of us, the internet begins with a hole in the wall and ends on our screens.  And if we use mobile or wifi, I doubt our image would even extend that far. But for all that magic, the internet is nevertheless a real place with physical parts.  Pretty unimpressive ones, actually, a bit like the router in your house: big black boxes with flashing lights and wires coming out all over the place.

Andrew Blum explores these places, visiting server farms that route traffic across the planet, meeting engineers who maintain the hub through which most of that traffic passes, and even paying homage to its creators in the very room where early strides were made, all the way back in the '60s.

This book isn't intended or designed for teens, but given how huge a part the internet plays in the lives of everyone, let alone kids, these days, it's pretty darn neat to see what is involved as something so seemingly simple as sending an e-mail.
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