Karen Wyle


Third book in the science fiction series Twin-Bred.

Publication year: 2016
Format: ebook
Page count: 307

I recommend reading the first two books “Twin-Bred” and “Reach” before reading this one. This review contains spoilers for both previous books. The first book is free on Amazon.

The story is divided between two planets: Tofarn, which is the home planet for the alien Tofa, and New Landing, which was introduced in “Reach”. The Tofa are similar to humans but they have some significant biological differences which lead Dr. Mara Cadell to create the LEVI project where select host mothers carried twins, one twin a human and the other a Tofa, in an effort for the species to understand each other better. However, in the end almost all of the Twin-Bred people left Tofarn in a space ship Star Seed and later found another planet, New Landing. “Leaders” starts some years afterwards.

The Twins on New Landing are keeping in touch with their old friends in Tofarn with long-distance communication devices. However, when messages stop coming, people on both worlds are worried that the deep space relays have stopped working. They need to decide if they want to try to fix it. On Tofarn, this means building another space ship. Tofarn is also facing another possible societal upheaval and some people are trying to stop it from happening.

This is not really an adventure book and it has only a minimal amount of violence. Instead it focuses on characters, families, and change in societies.

Only one Tofa Twin-Bred stayed on Tofarn. He and his offspring Lan-sol are regarded as strange among the other Tofa and some even hate them. Jak-rad-tan and his friends are trying to work with the existing government and to keep the society stable. However, Jak-rad-tan has found a way to make an innovation in the Tofa society and many Tofa are against that. Also, some other Tofa and humans think that Lan-sol is their destined leader and are trying to put the youngster in that position, no matter if he wants it or not. And one of the Twin-Breds’ enemies, who is now in prison, is plotting.

On New Landing, Mara has tried to withdraw from public life but when the communication relays fail, she’s dragged back into the limelight. Many younger people look up to her and almost worship her which makes her very uncomfortable. Meanwhile, the research into Gliders’ society and history continues. The Gliders are an alien species on New Landing.

This was a wonderful return to familiar (to-me) characters and world. “Reach” left some unfinished business at the end and “Leaders” address them well.

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Playback Effect is near future, thoughtful SF about how technology affects humans and whole societies.

The setting is the near future where people have invented the technology to record what other people experience and then play it back and experience it themselves. Feelings can be recorded and one of the main characters is a professional dreamer who records her dreams for others to buy and experience. However, specifics and details aren’t yet recorded.

One of the most interesting ways that this technology has impacted the society is in the criminal justice system. When a crime happens, technicians try their best to record the victim’s experiences and when the criminal has been sentenced, their victims’ recordings are played back to the criminal so that he or she can truly experience the hurt they’ve done.

Wynne Cantrell is a professional dreamer; she records the feelings she has during her dreams and can then sell the products to other people. She’s also married to Hal Wakeman but their marriage is has become more and more unhappy because of Hal’s self-centered interest in only himself and his work. The book starts when Wynne is sitting in the Cardinem Square waiting for Hal who is once again late, a bomb blows up near her. The EMTs and also a recording team arrive. Wynne survives but is terribly wounded and even loses a hand. The police have only one serious suspect: Hal.

Hal is tried and convicted and he has to experience the memories of the bombing victims. The first memory he experiences is Wynne’s… and then his sentence is stopped. Hal’s father used his influence to get Hal off the hook and the investigation is opened up again. However, the case’s lead investigator is convinced that Hal is the perpetrator and continues to hound him. Meanwhile, Hal realizes that he almost lost Wynne and how much he really loves her.

Also, on the crime scene, a young man dies while wearing a recording helmet. Just who, if anyone, should be able to experience that recording?

Wynne’s and Hal’s marriage has been falling apart for a while before the explosion. After that, it changes dramatically because Hal realizes that he has been taking Wynne for granted and stops doing that. The whole court case is also very humbling experience for him, during which he isn’t allowed to even see his wife. Hal’s career has been the most important thing in his life and that’s pretty much over. So, Hal changes quite a lot and then struggles to come to grips with the change.

The book has a lot of point-of-view characters. In addition to Hal and Wynne, there’s Arthur Kellic, the lead detective who has no other suspects than Hal, various other characters, such as a young hacker and the real bomber who considers himself a scientist.

I really liked most of the characters and the new technology is intriguing. As we’ve seen, new tech can bring about quite a lot of change. The possibility of recording people’s emotions can be a huge change and it’s explored through various characters.

The pace isn’t particularily fast at first but starts to build up.

I recieved a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

A stand-alone science fiction book.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook

Gordon and Johnny are conjoined twins. They have only one body: Gordon controls his head, left hand and left arm, and Johnny controls his head and the right side. Of course, they have had to learn to live together and never expected things to be otherwise. Fortunately, they have a loving and supporting family. Their mother Ellen and their stepfather Frank have done everything they can for the boys. They’ve even shielded the boys from curious people, mostly tourists. The local people are used to them and treat them just like anyone else.

Gordon loves to play the violin and study history while Johnny is more impatient and competitive. But they’ve had to learn to compromise. They’re even dating the girl next door, Dodi, and she dreams of a future with both of them. Gordon is looking forward to that future, sharing everything with his brother but Johnny is a little frustrated because of their limitations. Yet, they are planning what they will study in collage because they have limited time and different interests.

Then one day, they hear about a new treatment method, TTC or Transplant to Clone, for people whose bodies has suffered severe damage. In the treatment, a clone body is grown for the damaged person and then his or her brain is surgically removed and planted into the clone. Almost instantly, Johnny knows that he wants to do just that, so that he would be able to live a normal life. But when Johnny suggests it, Gordon is horrified. He’s happy with their lives and doesn’t want to change it.

For Johnny to get a transplant, he has to go to court and battle his brother. The battle might tear apart the brothers, their family and friends. No matter what the outcome will be, how can they live with it?

Ms. Wyle has again written a very thoughtful and fascinating science fiction book. It explores personal choices which can affect others in a profound way and also what is normal and what’s not. Gordon, Johnny, and the other people feel very realistic to me. They each have their own goals and desires. Even though Johnny loves his brother, he yearns to be free to live his own life in a way that Gordon doesn’t. Dodi has never thought of the possibility that they could be separated. Her parents try to keep her away from the brothers when Dodi and the boys become teenagers.

With the court case, the brothers suddenly become interesting to the media which is a new experience for the family and offers another layer to the story.

The story is set in future but the family isn’t wealthy and so they don’t have significantly different technology than what we have today, except for the TTC, of course.

Reach continues the tale of the humans and the alien Tofa who live on the planet Tofarn. I would recommend reading Twin-Bred first because Reach only gives the bare bones of the characters and their situation. Spoilers for the end of Twin-Bred, obviously.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Page count: 343 in pdf

The Twin-Bred are the result of the LEVI project which Dr. Mara Cadell created so that the humans and the alien Tofa could better understand each other. Her idea was to produce human/Tofa twins in host mothers. The resulting twins were raised in the project grounds, away from the other societies. The Tofa don’t have facial features, so it very difficult for humans to understand them. They also have four arms and are taller than humans. They don’t have biological (or social) sexes and reproduce with spores. Yup, wonderfully alien.

At the end of Twin-Bred, almost all of the twins involved in the Project chose to leave the increasingly hostile planet on a space ship. A handful of humans left with them; they had all been teachers in the project. Only one Tofa/human twin set, Jak-rad and Randy, chose to stay on Tofarn because they wanted to explore their own cultures.

The starship Star Seed was launched to seek a new home among the stars. However, all of the passengers knew that the journey would be long and most of the crew where put in suspended animation in a rotating basis. They also have virtual reality chambers for a variety of uses. However, then their main astronomer makes a discovery: a stable wormhole which could leave to alien planets.

Meanwhile, back in Tofarn Jak-rad has been imprisoned by the other Tofa who see him (the Tofa don’t have biological sexes but Wyle uses the male pronoun) as a danger to their society. After two weeks, Jak-rad is released on the condition that he will work for the Tofa. Jak-rad is pleased to do so and is sent to a university which monitors reports from Star Seed.

Before Star Seed left, Mara and a couple of others made a horrific discovery; that one of the scientist in the project was looking for a biological weapon against the Tofa. Mara decided to destroy that knowledge but it’s possible that the knowledge could fall into wrong hands and a couple of former host mothers have to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Twin-Bred was very much an idea science fiction and not an adventure story. It explored the themes of understanding and yet on the other hand, hatred and ignorance. Rearch is also not an adventure story but in addition to continuing the themes of Twin-Bred, it also has a lot of exploration of space and culture clashes. Both don’t have much violence but when they do, it’s sudden and leaves a lasting impression.

Reach has many point-of-view characters, but not as many as Twin-Bred had and they are also familiar from the previous book. On Star Seed, Mara is the main POV character with occasional glimpses of the others. On Tofarn, Jak-rad and the host mother Veda are the main POV characters. Most of the characters are quite sympathetic and it’s easy to empathies even with the alien Jak-rad. Mara is a great lead character: a reluctant leader whom the others look up to and then she has to make the difficult decision and live with them. Veda has a lot of secrets to hide while trying to raise a young daughter. Judy was another characters whom I enjoyed: her Tofa twin died in the previous book and she’s trying to cope without him. However, it turns out that something of her twin survived.

I especially enjoyed the second half of the book but saying more about it would be a spoiler.

Publication year: 2012
Page count: 126
Format: ebook

Wander Home is set in an afterlife. The story centers on Eleanor and her family: her daughter Cassandra, grand-mother Amanda, her parents Sarah and Jack. All her life, Eleanor has been restless, looking for something or someone she can’t find. She desperately wanted a child but even Cassandra wasn’t enough to satisfy Eleanor’s wander lust. Essentially, she abandoned Cassie to her parents and grandparents to raise. Also, Eleanor has never been able to find a man for herself. She was able to find a man for a while but eventually she would leave him. Unfortunately, Cassie’s life was spent waiting for her mother to return. She never did.

Then, Cassie, Sarah, Jack, and Amanda died in a car accident and Eleanor was even more miserable than before. A few month later, Eleanor died of a heart attack. Her family has been waiting in the afterlife to welcome her. But things aren’t easy, not for Eleanor and not for Cassie.

At the start of the book, Amanda meets Eleanor and shows her around in the afterlife. Eleanor has to accept what has happened to her but she’s anxious about meeting her parents and daughter.

The afterlife is very different from any religious descriptions, at least as far as I know. The people can age themselves how ever they want, even to an age they didn’t reach when they were alive. Cassie died when she was just six years old, but here she can age herself to teenager, to her thirties, and older. When people change their ages, their emotional and intellectual maturity changes, too. So, when Cassie is afraid that her mother is going to leave her again, she changes herself back to a frightened four year old. The people can also visit their own memories or other people’s memories. Since there are people from the whole of human history in this afterlife, there are a lot of places and times to visit. Jack and Sarah traveled all over the world and I loved to visit all of the places with them. The descriptions were vivid.

The people also experience new things and grow here; they aren’t stuck to anything they did or didn’t do while they were alive. For the most part, anyway.

Wyle writes this story without once referring to spirits or souls. Religion is touched on only near the end. The story is centered on Eleanor trying to come to terms with the consequences of her actions. The people around her are very supportive and forgiving; they are trying to help her heal. Cassie has already made friends with other people and has a life of her own, yet of course she’s also trying to understand her mother. There’s a twist in the story, too. Unfortunately, I saw that one coming.

The writing is very clear even though with a setting like this, it would have been easy to lose the reader. I was never lost about which character’s memories I was reading or about whose point-of-view it was experienced from. The writing is just lovely.

The author kindly gave me a review copy.

A science fiction book about a clash between human and alien cultures, and an attempt to understand the aliens. The author kindly gave me a review copy.

Publication year: 2011
Format: ebook, .pdf
Page count: 343

Humans have spread to other planets, namely Tofarn, and encountered the Tofa, somewhat humanoid aliens who don’t have faces, as such, and have four arms. Humans and Tofa have had a lot of difficulties understanding each other, but fortunately, the Tofa have been peaceful, so far. Doctor Mara Cadell has thought up an ingenious solution to the communication problem. In the womb, Mara had a fraternal twin Levi but unfortunately he didn’t survive. However, Mara has been able to keep Levi alive as a presence in her mind. Mara’s suggestion is to breed sets of twins: one human and one Tofa who would hopefully understand each other, and by extension the other species, better. When the twins would be old enough, they could be sent out to act as diplomats between the species. And of course while the grew, the humans would hopefully find out a lot about the Tofa through the twins.

Mara was able to convince the planet’s ruling Council to agree to the Project. It would be a monumental task that will take a lot of funding and time. The Project needs a place where it can be kept a secret and it also needs both human and Tofa host mothers and other staff. They would also need a way to communicate to Tofa the need for embryos and the mothers. However, to everyone’s surprise, the last bit happens easily enough and the Project acquires Tofa embryos, host mothers, and a handful of nurses. Mara is suspicious about how easily Tofa seemed to now understand the request but can’t turn them down. Getting the human host mothers is a more arduous process and because it takes time, some of the initial host mothers have a change of heart. A few political leaders pressure their family members into being host mothers.

The book spans several years and is divided into three parts. It’s written in short scenes which feel a bit fragmented at the start. It’s definitely idea science fiction instead of adventure and I was fascinated with the concept. The fragments at the start tell us about the relations between humans and the Tofa through the eyes of people we won’t see again.

Mara is the main character. Her experience with Levi has shaped her whole life; at the start of the book she doesn’t have any friends and she doesn’t seek human contact both because she feels that her connection with Levi is enough and also because she’s afraid that someone will find out about Levi which would destroy her scientific career. However, she cares very much for the people she leads and for the future of Tofarn. She’ also curious about the Tofa and wants very much to understand them better.

The book has a large cast and we get to know only a few of them well. Laura and Veda are two of the host mothers. They knew each other when they were kids but have grown apart since then. Now, they have a chance to renew their friendship although both have reservations about the other. Laura is the daughter of a Councilman who is hoping that Laura’s involvement in the Project will give him a political edge. In addition to the host mothers, the Project seems to have a large staff of scientists and later, nurses and various teachers. However, they are glimpsed at only briefly when the plot requires them.

Not all of the humans are happy with the Project. One Councilman has a couple of spies in the Project and he hopes to use the Project for his own nefarious aims.

The Tofa are quite alien. Of course, at first we don’t know much about them. However, most of the time when things are revealed about them, they seem more alien rather than less. I really liked that. However, the Tofa twins in the Project don’t really seem alien at all which was a little disappointing. They are often calmer than their human brother or sister, and very protective of them which is quite a human trait. However, it’s remarked that the Tofa twins are quite different from the other Tofa, so they seem to be far more human-like than the other Tofa. The Tofa don’t have genders as such, but the humans working with them call individual Tofa either he or she, so the humans assign them arbitrary genders and no-one thinks that’s strange.

The Project is quite isolated from other humans, or Tofa. The people aren’t allowed to leave much and the family members outside the Project have very limited visiting possibilities. This is because of secrecy. I suspected that it could actually work against the future diplomats who wouldn’t have much experience about other humans or, indeed, large human societies or Tofa.

The characters drink hot chocolate and not coffee. Being a chocolate person myself, I rater appreciated that.

All in all, I found this a fascinating and enjoyable read.