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on April 3, 2015

Every once in a while, I feel like I have to break the rules set down for me by the Starving Reviews, LLC corporate office. So far, I have restrained myself because, well, I'm starving, darn it! I need this literary sustenance to flow and I dare not cut off my biggest supplier. Today, though, I may wind up breaking that creed, as today's long-delayed culinary snack can't be dissected without some SPOILERS!

This Changes Everything is, on the surface, a science fiction novel talking about an alternate future where aliens approach Earth and offer entrance into a galactic collective. This sort of treat, at first glance, looks scrumptious, offering a many-layered look at the interactions between our delightfully bizarre little planet and a vast series of societies and species. In some ways, Changes delivers on some aspects of that promise.

The writing itself is solid, at least once you get used to the various styles employed. The book is comprised of many nuggets of scenes, each written in a different style and from different view points. It can be a bit jarring at first but is easy to get a grip on once you realize what's going on.

The plot ... has problems. The majority of the rest of this review will touch on that, but let me get one thing out of the way. If you ever wanted a true definition of a Mary Sue, read Changes. You see, the Mary Sue concept isn't one of abilities or perfection (though those help), it is the plot black hole they represent. The protagonist in this book is the most important person in the world (literally), receives almost universal praise from most quarters, gets pretty much everything she could desire, lives happily ever after, and nothing really bad, dramatic, or dangerous really happens. There is the hint of tension at several points but, as described below, there are certain story and structure elements that destroy all the drama before it even has a chance to start.

The problems start to come in when the concepts of the 'reality' of how time and history work in this universe. The core concepts of the book (that all time exists simultaneously and that time lines can be altered and culled by anyone with the appropriate psychic training) do provide some interesting promise, but the way they are actualized in the story create a rolling cascade of issues that really break the book down as a fictional slice of cake.

It boils down to a few major, seemingly paradoxical, concepts. First, the concept of all time being simultaneous doesn't really hold out in how the events of the book work. The aliens, and later Earthlings, can alter time by changing events (which don't often require them actually doing the actions, which is strangely dissatisfying) ... but how does that work when all time is simultaneous, which suggests there cannot be true causality? Likewise, the book repeatedly talks about the existence of free will, but how can free will truly exist in a world where others can reset and alter their personal time lines, altering entire sequences of events, thereby altering those free will decisions? Finally, there are strange arbitrary limits on how often people can alter their time lines, with no mention on how this is enforced or even known to be. Maybe it's something touched on later in what is supposed to turn into a ten book series, but arbitrary, unexplained limits on what is essentially a 'magic' system in a fictional world is always a bit of a distaste for me.

The main story issue that this concept of time and time altering brings about is the total destruction of dramatic tension. Very early in Changes, we already know, from the characters that can see the future as well as future documents included, that everything turns out A-OK. The girl gets the boy, Earth turns out fantastic, and the main character gets a healthy, happy ending. We know this by (if I remember correctly) chapter 5 of a 30+ chapter book. Yes, you can argue that the meal can be no less tasty when you sneak in dessert early, but that's usually not the case. Knowing everything turns out great turns every attempt at adding some drama or tension to any point of the novel fall flat.

That is a key component of what really leeches the taste out of Changes. I could excuse the very strange time alteration parts (it is a fictional universe, after all) and roll with it, but the lack of dramatic tension, the lack of any real conflict and consequences (something that the writer tries to interject with the idea of 'Psi-P', the emotional backlash of choosing to go with time-lines that benefit others but are not the best for you personally, something that never gets written to have the real impact it could), just makes Changes a sludge of a book. It is simply tiring to read, with no real emotional high or pay-off. It's just not entertaining and that is the biggest sin a work of fiction can have.

You may be wondering where the spoilers were? Well, I saved that for last because I have to take a moment to chew the fat about something that may very well be opinion. This next bit isn't a critique of the book, which is why it comes at the end, but a critique of some ideas in the book (a very different thing). Changes has some very insulting and, to me personally, dangerous ideas about what is good about humanity. Humans are depicted in some cases as being so unable to cope with the idea of actual alien contact that they die or go crazy from the news. Like significant swaths of the population, at least before the aliens change history again. Not to mention there is an Appendix, as well as mentions in the main text, where it is shown that many human achievements in many areas, from the Underground Railroad to splitting the atom to most major religious figures (Jesus, the Dahli Lama, and others) were directly influenced by this alien collective, either through dreams or direct intervention. It frankly made my gut curdle to see so much of humanity's accomplishments turned into the results of alien meddling. Changes pains humans with a very savage and ignorant brush, laying our salvation and much of our past good points in the hands of our alien saviors. Now, about those aliens ...

The aliens in this world alter time repeatedly to change human history to make the Earth a better fit for their galactic collective. They banish people unable to conform with their way of doing things to a 'prison' alternate time line until they reform or die. They alter the biochemistry of the ENTIRE human race in one chapter to make them more receptive and peaceful without the consent of, well, anyone. They are fully telepathic and casually mind-read the main character (and the rest of humanity) for most of the book. In a different book, these aliens would be the worst kind of manipulative overlords. In this book, though, they are perfect, wonderful utopians. I find especially that their methods really don't jive with that 'free will' concept. How can you have free will when aliens are altering your biochemistry, psychically manipulating you, and implanting thoughts, dreams, and knowledge into you?

Wow, that went on for a while. Okay, so, how does this come together? This Changes Everything is a science fiction yarn that just has no drama or fun in it. Regardless of how you may feel about its philosophical or moral points, Changes breaks the cardinal rule of any fictional work, and that is to entertain. If you're looking for good, interesting sci-fi, look elsewhere. If you, however, are looking for a very unusual tract on philosophy and morals, you might want to give this a read, just don't expect to be entertained by it.

FINAL VERDICT: ** (Heavy on philosophy and moral tracts, without a single tasty bit of fun!)
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on September 6, 2014
DO NOT read this if you want a normal, linear story that makes complete sense and introduces ideas in a logical sequence.
DO read this if you want to try something very new and think about the universe in a completely different way.

I'm actually not even sure how to review this in a traditional way because the book was so very bizarre in its format. Let's go with this...

What I liked:
The aliens and the whole concept of the multiverses working together to make life better.
The characters (a lot of them) and how they felt real.
The whole idea of alternate time lines--something I've loved since Isaac Asimov's "The End of Eternity".
The enormous attention to detail in the whole world-building thing.

What irked me:
The fact that shortly after meeting the aliens, we are thrust into the future (or is it a flashback--that's how hard this is to follow) and a ton of acronyms and entities are suddenly taken for granted. There is an "appendix" with a glossary of terms. That might have worked for me except that in the ebook format at least, that meant jumping to the end and then there was no way to navigate back (no table of contents to take me back to the chapter I'd left). Perhaps in paperback form where I could dog ear the pages...?
As other reviewers have mentioned, the whole matter of tense and the writing style that makes it hard to know *when* I am. Which, yeah... Is a little moot when we're talking about alternative timelines and the fact that time is not linear. Yeah, I get it. But the readers still are used to linear, so we need to have it explained to us in that way.

I really think this would work better as a TV series where the visual clues might make it easier to tell "when" the reader is reading. It vaguely reminded me of Cloud Atlas, but harder to follow.
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on February 3, 2015
The beginning of this book, caught my attention, but lost it shortly afterwards. When I really like a book, I will read rather than do anything else in my spare time (or find extra time to read), but this book wasn't holding my attention very well. I felt myself "avoiding" reading my kindle, or looking for other books to read, while reading this book. This book is that first in series, but I felt with was too drawn out and slow, which didn't keep me interested. It also jumped around A LOT. I got a little confused going back and forth between the different tenses, different time frames, and different points of view. Overall, I was a little disappointed by this book, and it didn't keep me interested, or interest me in continuing the series.
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on August 3, 2016
I couldn't connect with the main character, the story moved too slow for me and the way it was written made it impossible for me to get into the story.
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on August 16, 2015
Too much going on to follow. I couldn't finish it...
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on February 24, 2015
Some books are like a train. I hop on and let it take me for a ride, I just go where it goes. Spanners asked me to get in the engine compartment and help the conductor. I felt that I had to sign on to the concepts and by believing, be part of the story. I liked what the author was trying to do by writing in the present tense. It never stopped bringing me up short. However every time I had to reorient myself I found myself thinking about time and how it's just a construct. I also appreciated the humor in the depiction of how throughout history our society's thought leaders and innovators were participants in the Many Worlds Collective. Of course they were! The series is ambitious and thought provoking. Not an easy read. I'd even say it takes a little work but well worth it for the experience.
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on August 24, 2015
This Changes Everything by Sally Ember is a fantastic science fiction read. Her characters are well rounded and strong. The main character, Clara, is chosen by a vast community of intelligent species (Aliens), to be their chief liaison to the human race. The aliens in this book are friendly and have come to help the people of Earth, rather than trying to take over it.

This book is not a light read. The reader must pay close attention to what is taking place to keep up with the story. The reader has to think with an open mind and will find that everything flows, reverses, and fast forwards in an easy and understandable story.

The aliens, from many different planets, bring some cool technology and perks with them. Through Clara, they attempt to introduce these to the humans on Earth. Clara has help from various family members and a few friends. Together, they slowly introduce these new things.

There is much more to This Changes Everything but, I don’t want my review to be a spoiler. Read it yourself. Trust me, this book is not boring and is easy to follow if you don’t try to make it too hard.

I highly recommend this book to all science fiction and utopias/dystopias readers.
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on September 16, 2014
After seeing all the other reviews why did I give this one five stars? Because it was not light entertainment and did cause me to think. Much like a role-playing video game, the entire book shifted perspective, past, present, future, within a page or paragraph. Interesting concept. And, at times I had to put it down and think about what I just read. Intriguing and with a bit of a twist. How would I react in the given premises? Very good question indeed.
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on May 10, 2014
Confusing and dense. That’s the big thing about this book. A reader doesn’t know if this should be metafictional, metaphysical, or what? The author seems to be aiming for something along the lines of Fringe or some similar concept using alternate worlds, but goes into from the wrong way (at least to me, and I’m someone who can tell you who lived on Earth-2, Earth-X, Earth-616 and easily followed the dimension jumping in Heinlein’s books).

This is one of many books that I’ve read recently that attempts to be “multimedia” and fails horribly. Many chapters are prefaced or consist of media-style transcripts of conferences and the like that had they been formatted a little differently from the main narrative (assuming that can be found here), they would’ve added a bit more to the story. As it is, it’s more of a mess than anything else.

This is perhaps the first book that I have ever found to be offensive. I have no problem with most things; hell, you can write about fisting nuns and putting kittens into woodchippers while wearing Nazi regalia, and if it’s interesting, I’ll have no problem with it. And I can understand wanting to key the story into major real-life events, but to conclude that Chernobyl, the Challenger disaster and the Columbia’s destruction were due to “memory lapses” is OFFENSIVE to the talented people who died in those tragedies. That simple passage put me completely off this piece of crap book, and anything this writer WILL EVER write in the future. She is a non-entity from now on.

I attempted to read another 25% or so into the book, just on G.P., but nothing really improved. The book isn’t really worth wasting my time on.
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on April 10, 2014
No, just no. Maybe it gets better after first 2 chapters but I would not be able to tell you that. Just give Dr. Clara Branon some antipsychotics and put her back in bed.
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