Cover Image: Nucleation


Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I started reading this book and found that it was not for me.  It didn't seem fair for me to review a book that I didn't finish.
Was this review helpful?
While Nucleation took SF in a different direction with Unger's fascinating take on exploration/expansion at the microscopic level, I just struggled to stay focused and excited throughout the story - there weren't any major flaws or glaring issues; I just don't think the book was for me.
Was this review helpful?
Kimberly Unger had a creative idea for a premise here, but unfortunately wasn't able to thread it into a truly compelling narrative. To give credit where it is due, I was intrigued by the idea of exploration, engineering, combat, and other endeavors taking place in deep space on the scale of nanomachines. I thought Unger's descriptions of the protagonist's perceptual experience of engaging with and controlling said machines by dissociating from her physical body across billions of miles of space via a quantum entanglement feed were wild. Alas, the lack of character development (especially on the emotional front), the very limited scope of the settings and environments (along with having only one point of view), and the general dragging of the narrative right until the very end of the story left me uninvested in the characters and what happened to them. It was almost as if the entire novel were one drawn-out prologue for the real story, and unfortunately, I don't care enough to pick it up with book two.

Three stars; neat premise, readable enough to finish.
Was this review helpful?
Nucleation is set in a future where, instead of humans traveling through space, they send tiny machines called "Eenies" through micro wormholes to new destinations. The Eenies then build robotic devices for human pilots to use and gates for human travel.

Helen is a pilot. She is able, with her navigator, to use these machines while still safely on Earth. Until something goes very wrong. She encounters a new life form. Swarms of tiny machines called The Scale are undoing the Eenie's work. As Helen tries to figure out just what the Scale are, she finds herself caught in a conspiracy that she must figure out before she ends up dead.

I'm an avid reader of science fiction and it's rare to come across a book with a completely unique method of space travel. If you want something new and like space opera, read this book! It's amazing. I can't wait for more!
Was this review helpful?
Wikipedia defines nucleation as "the first step in the formation of either a new thermodynamic phase or a new structure via self-assembly or self-organization. Nucleation is typically defined to be the process that determines how long an observer has to wait before the new phase or self-organized structure appears."

I try to give debut novels a bit more leeway than others, but this novel is aptly named, because I felt like I was waiting the whole time I was ready for something to appear. It never did.

Helen Vectorovitch, is an Operator. The novel opens as she and her Navigator partner, Ted, are investigating the status of an outpost where nanobots have been building a gate. They are injured by an unknown source, and Helen spends the rest of the novel investigating what happened.

Helen has little development throughout the story. It feels as though, when the author was composing scenes, she'd suddenly recall that Helen was supposed to be a bad-ass, and she'd throw some mild vulgarity in there. While Helen thinks she has purpose, some of her actions feel hapless. She confronts the person who she believes has been sabotaging the project, congratulating herself that she's tough, but there seemed to be no benefit gained by this, other than to alert the baddie that Helen and her team were on to them. 

The biggest issue for me in the book was that it's written in third-person, but we spend the entire novel in Helen's head and seeing things from her POV. This has the effect of distancing Helen even more from the reader. I really struggled to care about any of the characters. The technical jargon wasn't offputting, but the story could have used a "McCoy" to whom Helen could explain some of the tech.

It's not a bad novel, just fairly formulaic and the characters are stock. I don't know what the step that follows nucleation is called, but I do know that I am unlikely to pick up any sequels to find out. 

I received a free copy from Tachyon Publications in exchange for an honest review.

2.5/5 stars
Was this review helpful?
First contact stories have been a part of science fiction for decades.  Humans are fascinated by the concept of there being other races out there, other beings for us to communicate with.  Underlying that fascination is the simple question:  are we alone?

Kimberly Unger's debut novel, NUCLEATION, doesn't start out as a first contact novel.  Helen Vectorovich is one member of a two person team which is on a very high profile project:  the construction of a wormhole gate that would connect earth to, well, "out there" - interstellar space.  She is connected via quantum entanglement to a waldo, a robot hundreds of light years away.  She and her partner Ted are amongst the best in the business, and thus they have been assigned to this very high profile mission.  All is going well, and the team is going through the standard system checklists checklists when something goes very wrong - that can't be
much of a surprise, of course - and Ted is killed.

The mission is put on hold, of course.  This kind of thing *never* happens; if anyone is in danger, it is the pilot, not the navigator.  And so, an investigation ensues.  There are all sorts of possibilities, of course.  Industrial espionage is the number one suspect, of course.  Any number of companies and hot shot young teams would like to take over the project and make a name for themselves.  But what if it's not that?  What if what killed Ted was a new life form that humans haven't encountered  previously?  Another team is sent out to investigate, and more problems occur.  As the person with the most experience, Helen is part of the team leading the investigation, but as one of the top suspects in the accident, her job is difficult, with many roadblocks thrown up in front of her.

It shouldn't be much of a surprise that the answer to the problem is a combination of espionage and alien life forms.  But who is leading the sabotage, and how are they working with what appears to be a new life form that is essentially destroying Helen's team's corporate equipment?

NUCLEATION is a well written, fun, fast paced, and interesting debut novel.  It's a whodunnit, a "whydunnit", and a "what's gonna happen next?" kind of story.  This is an idea novel, the kind of novel that many of us used to read as kids when we were starting to get our feet wet in science fiction.  This is really not a character driven novel, other than the fact that the characters are there to move the plot along.  And that's okay, as plot and idea are among the core tenets of science fiction.  If you're looking for deep dives into the backgrounds of the characters in NUCLEATION, you won't find them, as those deep dives aren't necessary.  Unger tells us  just enough of what we need to know to move the story along.  There isn't massive world building and character development, but 
it's not necessary for the story; I find this a benefit, not a detriment.  The story works because of it.

There is definitely room for a sequel.  The story has really just begun, and I'm interested in finding out what comes next, whether it's in the NUCLEATION universe or something else from Kimberly Unger.  I believe she's a writer to watch.
Was this review helpful?
This is billed as a first contact book, which it is, but more accurately it’s a slowly paced sci-fi thriller. It’s not focused so much on the aliens as it is on uncovering possible corporate espionage and untangling the events surrounding a deadly accident.

In the future, companies like Far Reaches use quantum entanglement to allow OPs (operators) to control waldos – purpose designed machines – mostly for the purposes of mining. Each OP is paired with a NAV (navigators) who keeps the OP on task and manages the flow of information. Helen is one of the best OPs, and she’s delighted to be the first to connect with the Golf Ball, a tiny construction ship whose job is to build a jump gate that would allow actual human exploration. But from the start something is wrong. The Golf Ball is only partially built, and the eenies – as the nanobots are known – seem to not be following the mission parameters. But all that is eclipsed by the death of her NAV, Ted. Reeling in grief, Helen finds herself pulled off the mission and “promoted” to a desk job. Helen’s sole purpose now is to figure out what happened – and to prevent it from happening again.

“I signed up to ride waldos, not play private detective.”

Helen is not a people person. I think at points this did effect the way the story hit. For instance, her reactions to Ted’s death didn’t feel quite right to me, and she struggles to deal effectively with the rest of her team. So while there are very human drivers, like Helen wanting to find out what happened to Ted and clear her name, this is essentially a plot-driven novel, rather than character-driven. She bemoans her lack of people skills at various times – it was something that Ted handled skillfully – but she doesn’t really make any progress in that area in this book. So while I sympathized with her, I never quite connected to her or the other characters and that did mute some of the tension for me.

There are two threads to the story: what’s happening on the Golf Ball and what’s happening back at the company. It’s very narrow in setting because of that. Helen spends the majority of her time on the Far Reaches campus, and even remotely she only visits three sites. Even with all those restrictions, I found the tech, especially the eenies, quite fascinating. My favorite parts were when Helen was piloting the various waldos. Those were also the most action-packed sequences.

The book ends with several plot threads left unresolved, so I’m wondering if this was meant to the be the first in a series. Overall, I’d give this 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. It definitely has a lot of promise, and I’ll be watching for further books from the author.

I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Was this review helpful?
I picked up Nucleation expecting a standard space opera. What I got was a thriller that kept me occupied for days.

Read the rest of the review at Lightspeed Magazine.
Was this review helpful?
Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher, Tachyon Publications, for kindly providing a review copy of this book.

"Nucleation" by Kimberly Unger is an exciting high tech scifi thriller that is nicely reminiscent of a Michael Crichton novel. "Nucleation" was both easy to read and hard to put down. Some of the hard core scifi themes that help make the book exciting include space development via quantum entangled instant communication, nanobots, and alien contact.

I look forward to reading more scifi by Kimberly and recommend this book to people who like hard core scifi.
Was this review helpful?
Virtual reality (VR) combines with an outer space mission in this sci-fi thriller. Helen Vectorovich is the VR operator of spider-like machine positioned billions of miles away from the Earth. Her purpose is to use the machine and a form of nanotechnology called eenies to create an interstellar gateway to a distant star and further space exploration. A mission fails and this leads to murder and the uncovering of corruption.

I selected this book because the idea of pilot operating space machinery from the safety of Earth interested me. The book started with a bang. A routine mission goes mysteriously wrong and results in catastrophic failure. Unfortunately, the action dwindles and by the middle of the book, much of the story’s dynamic beginning was replaced with technical jargon and slow reactions scenes. Things pick up in Act Three, and there are a few twists I didn’t see coming. I also really enjoyed Helen’s dynamic personality. She’s a powerful force in a competitive environment, although her struggles became repetitive. However, the other characters are not given as much thought of development, which makes it difficult to cheer for them, or feel empathy when hardships arise.

I would also have loved to see more of this creative storyworld. The story doesn’t expand on this alternative future where we’re exploring space and trying to open portals to new worlds. The plot predominately takes place in the same few settings, which becomes monotonous. Also, there is a “first contact” tease which doesn’t live up to the hype. I think if the story had been condensed and the action scenes hyped with greater detail to character development, it would have held my attention better. I still recommend it to readers interested in heavy tech science fiction, but it didn’t work for me.
Was this review helpful?
When I learned after finishing this book that Kimberly Unger is a video game designer, much more about this book began to make sense. Nucleation is a science-fiction novel that wants to wow you with its video game–like aesthetic—this is a novel that craves the label of cinematic for its descriptions of how its protagonist virtually manipulates robots in another star system in high-stakes, high-pressure situations. Nevertheless, even if such moments capture your attention (I’m not sure, for me, that they did), they do very little to hide this story’s paucity of plot or character development. I got this for free from NetGalley and Tachyon Publications, but that isn’t going to stop me from being brutally honest here.

Nucleation is a snooze-fest.

We open in space. Helen is virtually manipulating a robot in another star system from the comfort of her job back here on Earth. She and her partner run into a problem, and Unger unfolds what should be a nail-biting scene of intense action … except she holds it for too long before pulling us out and giving us enough exposition to understand what’s going on. This opening chapter drags on past its expiry date, establishing what becomes a theme throughout the book. Indeed, we’re a quarter of the way through the book before we’ve even moved past the inciting force, and well over halfway through before the main conflict really picks up steam. The urgency Unger wants us to feel when Helen is in her coffin, doing her virtual OP stuff, is nowhere within the scenes outside the coffin.

With that being said, this next critique might seem contradictory: this book is way too focused on its main plot. Seriously, though, the cast of characters here is slim, the sets are like something from a budget cable TV show, and the scenes are so restricted in scope I started to chafe. I think we get like … two parts of the book that take place outside of Helen’s work—a wake at a bar, and then later on in a hospital. Otherwise, all the scenes (not counting the parts in space, obvs) take place on the Far Reaches campus. Helen barely interacts with anyone outside of her team—and yes, Unger handwaves this because Helen is “sequestered” along with the rest of her team, fine. But even her interactions with other members of her team don’t work for me. Pretty much the only downtime we get are meals that actually serve as a chance for some exposition.

Meanwhile, Helen herself seems to have a single mood (“damn you all, I’m just trying to do my job while you’ve got one arm tied behind my back!”) without much range. She’s got depth but it’s like … not used. She gets stuck in that emotional feedback loop (probably because we don’t get to see her breathe, as discussed above), so focused on this single plot that takes too long to develop anyway. I wasn’t interested. I didn’t care about her beyond a base level of empathy.

This is all so unfortunate, because the science fictional premise of this story has legs! Tiny robot swarms in another system, building jump gates and possibly making first contact with alien robot swarms? Yes, sign me up for this adventure! Wait, you’re going to make me read repetitive chapter and repetitive chapter without really advancing the plot or telling me more until the very end of the book, in the hope that hey, I’ll stick around for book 2?

Eject. Eject. Eject.
Was this review helpful?
Well written story.  Excellent dialogue that moves the plot along quite nicely.  Great plot.  Well developed world without an info dump and the world building did not get in the way of the story.  Operator Helen is one tough cookie and I want to read more about her and her world.
Was this review helpful?
Well visualized

Helen is OPS, who while sleeping in a gel bed, is thrown across immeasurable distances to guide the nanites (here called "eenies") that are building space outposts that will eventually house star gates. This work thrills her, until the day when a powerful feedback loop roars back the communication channels and kills Ted, Helen's Navigation partner, the one who keeps the mission on the right road while Helen goes forth. Helen is devastated but climbs back into her gel bed to try to discover the source of the feedback so that no one else will be hurt. Instead she discovers an industrial espionage plot and what turn out to be aliens.

This is the first book in what promises to be an exciting new series. The writing is a bit rough in places (mostly the overuse of particular phrases) and a bit of weak character-building (the bad guy is a bit one dimensional) but these sins aren't enough to turn me off.

I look forward to the next installment.
Was this review helpful?
i really enjoyed reading this book, the characters were great and I really enjoyed the scifi story in the book. I look forward to more from the author.
Was this review helpful?
I have a strange relationship with sci-fi. Sometimes I really like it and sometimes it leaves me cold. This book straddles both for me, some of it work and some of it left me cold. The quality of the writing is very good at times it’s the sci-fi elements that didn’t quite tick all of the boxes for me. The book is much slower paced than I was expecting. The blurb makes it sounds like the book would have a lot of action. It doesn’t. It’s very slow at times. When it gets going I enjoyed it but there are a lot of lulls. I really enjoyed the sections of the book involving the characters controlling remote robots using quantum entanglement. Some aspects of these moments didn’t make a lot of sense but I found them entertaining nevertheless. The enjoyed the mystery aspects of the book, who the bad guys really are and who the main characters meets in space in chapter one. I actually enjoyed these more than the sci-fi elements. I’m a huge fan of mysteries and these aspects worked more for me. I enjoyed this for the most part.
Was this review helpful?
<i>Nucleation</i> is part cyberpunk, part space exploration and a whole lot of fun. 

The plot was well written with lots of suspense, action and mystery. I found the middle dragged a bit though as it felt like the plot wasn't really progressing and instead just revolving around itself as Helen wonders if it is aliens or corporate espionage. The conclusion was awesome and I was shocked by it. 

Helen was a interesting character. She was tough, strong, dependent, intelligent and determined to discover the truth. When her teammate dies I really sympathized with her and wanted her to discover the truth. I really liked her. The secondary characters were good, especially the main protagonist. She was a great villain with the perfect blend of egotism, intelligence, cold-hearted ways and lies. 

I'm not usually a fan of cyberpunk but I really enjoyed this novel. Some of the scientific information background got a little much but everything was needed. 

The world building was unique and fantastic. I was a little confused at the beginning but once that got cleared up I could quickly get immersed in the story. I liked the ideas of exploration being done through human controlled robots. 

Overall this was a good cyberpunk/space exploration SF novel. If a sequel is made I would definitely read it.
Was this review helpful?
Kimberly Unger’s debut novel opens with a brilliant premise: space exploration, overcomes the vast distances involved by squirting “eenie” nanobots through very tiny wormholes. The eenies then follow their programming to construct whatever’s needed to explore and exploit their material surroundings, such as an alien moon. Included are particles that allow an Earth-based human operator and her navigator to remotely manipulate robotic devices. This is such a nifty set-up, I was hooked from the start. Almost immediately, however, Things Go Wrong. As fast as the eenies can build machinery, other nanobots “the Scale,” are tearing it down, and these are alien, not human-created nanobots – but to what purpose? Who programmed them? Where did they come from? And can our heroine stop the process before the alien bots gain access to inhabited planets and launch a major remodel of Earth? 

The story quickly morphs into a murder mystery industrial espionage thriller space-gadget adventure with a most satisfying, intelligent, and determined female protagonist. Unger moves the reader from one vivid scene to the next, skillfully weaving in context and background. Even the most exotic, remotely accessed environments become accessible as we follow our characters from Earth to the far-flung stellar mining outposts. Corporate power structures and personal relationships emerge through action, so that even complex, subtle aspects are balanced with dynamic plot twists. Unger’s handling of breath-taking tension and reflection held my attention, page after page.

The verdict: A spectacular debut novel, at once thoughtful and exciting, packed with innovative ideas and plot twists. I’m looking forward to Unger’s next!
Was this review helpful?
This is a good sci-fi story that gets bogged down by too much technical description. The story starts off strong but the over abundance of technobabble makes it a bit of a slog to get through. However, I am glad I made it to the end because it is an overall satisfying story and I enjoyed it despite its flaws.
Was this review helpful?
NUCLEATION started off alright, with decent prose and a just-interesting-enough future for its setting.  Unfortunately, by the third or fourth chapter of describing every trivial detail, I couldn't sustain interest in the story itself  I think a lot of length could've been sacrificed to increase the interest level, even if it meant cutting the work down to novella length.
Was this review helpful?
A pretty good scifi story. It won't be for everyone due to the amount of technical jargon and the lack of empathy for the characters since there's little development and it's not a first-person narrative. However, the story shows the author's imagination. I stayed mostly engaged partly because there's some cool tech and some mystery along the way. I look forward to her next work.

Thanks to Tachyon for the ARC for review!!
Was this review helpful?