Friday, January 22, 2016

REVIEW: Randoms by David Liss (Randoms #1)

by David Liss
Simon & Schuster

Middle Grade/Sci-Fi
4/5 stars



Fair warning, dear reader; this is the beginning of a series. Believe me, you want to know that up front. Because if you were to finish this book before realizing there's going to be a sequel, you might scream and cry and wrap yourself up in your Mal Reynolds coat and curl into the fetal position while your heart breaks into a million tiny pieces, like that time when Spock sacrificed himself to save the Enterprise.
Star Trek: Wrath of Khan
Unless, of course, you're more familiar with the time Kirk did that. Then think about that one.
Star Trek: Into Darkness
And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, don't worry. Randoms will help you cultivate that inner sci-fi geek that's waiting to be born.

If you're not familiar with my reviews, you probably haven't heard of Amanda's Adventures in Science Fiction. In short, I love sci-fi shows and movies, but I have two big peeves with the way sci-fi is written that make it hard for me to find books I can actually enjoy. The Crystal Bridge by Charlie Pulsipher (5/5 stars!) started me off on this quest for good sci-fi last year and I've had some success in the genre to date.

I tell you this so you know when I say that Randoms is stark-raving brilliant and utterly fantastic, you'll realize this is coming from an incredibly picky sci-fi reader. So here goes.

Randoms is stark-raving brilliant and utterly fantastic.

12-year-old Zeke Reynolds has just discovered that Earth is not alone in the universe -and he's going to an off-planet school for a year with three other delegates to see if Earth qualifies to join the Confederation of United Planets.

So what makes this book so fantastic? A big reason is how David Liss plays this straight to the sci-fi geeks. The Confederation likes to drop hints to planets they hope to someday ally with and they've been feeding Earth details about the rest of the galaxy for decades through television shows. And Zeke -the proud son of an uber sci-fi geek- is realizing just how much his 'useless' sci-fi trivia is going to come in handy.

Sci-Fi Peeve #1: Techno-gibber-jabber-jargon of all the advanced toys and gadgets authors will insist on describing in depth with their PhD-sized sci-fi brains. I sucked at science in high school. This all goes over my head.

Liss bypasses this peeve by relating or comparing most of the technology to television shows. I think every sci-fi show from Star Trek to Stargate to Babylon 5 was dropped in here. Even with the shows I wasn't familiar with, Liss was able to relate the specific uses of the tech within the show to give me a better upfront understanding of what it was. Sort of a hands-on learning experience with geek culture. But Liss doesn't just duplicate or steal ideas from already existing shows. He breaks them down, takes a seed of the idea, and extrapolates on that for his universe to really play up the idea that the Confederation has been only been dropping hints to Earth. He also creates plenty of original technology so it doesn't feel like he's just ripping off the existing sci-fi culture. Honestly, it's a super clever idea.

Sci-Fi Peeve #2: Not enough dialogue and too much dull/jargon prose.

This was an easy solve. It's told in first person from Zeke's perspective and he's an entertaining, sarcastic, and colorful character. Even the pages of prose burst so much with his character, it's just as fun for me as reading dialogue.

I'm raving on about the brilliant sci-fi side, but the story would be nothing without the clever story line, the fantastic characters, and twists. Zeke deals with moral issues, self-confidence, and being ostracized by the other Earth delegates. What makes the story work so well, I think, is seeing what a huge sci-fi fan Zeke is and watching him geek out over every little thing. (Page 401. I am so. freaking. jealous.)
I realize I'm geeking out quite a bit too, but I want to stress that you don't have to be a complete sci-fi geek to enjoy this. I promise. If you're just a little bit of a sci-fi geek, that's fine. Only seen the new Star Trek movies? Only watched Star Wars or a few episodes of Firefly? If you have even a passing interest in sci-fi, you'll love this. The story stands on it's own and all references are explained naturally so you don't feel like you're missing the punchline.

Randoms is hilarious, clever, pulse-pounding, well-written, absolutely fantastic, and at almost 500 pages somehow still too short. I'm going to have a hard time being patient for the next one.
The only reasons this didn't get all 5 stars are for the continuous mentions of evolution (a genre staple) and because I'm not a huge fan of the 12-year-old romance. Other than that, this book was practically perfect in every way.


  1. Honestly this seems like my kind of book and I think I'll be giving it a chance soon! Great review!

  2. Love this review! And I need a good sci fi read. Thanks for your enthusiasm. I'm sold. :)

    1. Thanks, David! I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. ^_^

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