Saturday, January 13, 2018

Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis by Andy Weir
Hardcover, 305 pages Published November 2017 by Crown Publishing Group (NY)

Goodreads Choice Award for Science Fiction (2017)

The Martian was one of the biggest hits in the field of Hard sci-fi I can think of. The Ridley Scott directed movie starring Matt Damon certainly helped but it is not every sci-fi writer that has lines out the door at signings.

I was really looking forward to this book since I heard the author Andy Weir promote it on five million podcasts. Into the Impossible, Weekly Space Hang Out and Star Talk to name a few. I also won a VIP ticket to see him speak here a UCSD, and met him briefly at the meet and greet. He did a really great job of selling the world of the book so much so that I worried I knew too much. Alot of the world building and the setting is the stuff that Andy Weir discussed in his many interviews.

Artemis is a heist novel that is set on the moon. The title of the book comes from the setting, a lunar city centered mostly around the tourist economy. Yes there is industry on the moon in this future but the majority of the people traveling there come to see the landing site of Apollo 11.

The main character is a Saudi born immigrant to the moon named "Jazz". She has lived on the moon since she was six years old and 1/6th gravity is all she really knows. Jazz has made a slow living for herself filling a vital role, she is a smuggler. She figured out a way to move product to the moon considered contraband. Officials look the other way because as much as no one wants to admit it they need Jazz. In a city with a population the same as a large high school, everyone knows everyone.

So it is a dangerous path when a rich industrial business man offers Jazz a million slugs (local money) to blow up a competitor's operation and take control of Oxygen production. She can resist and of course there are many twists and turns as Jazz tries to earn her money. What she didn't for see is a larger plot is about to unfold.

The city and the setting are vividly realized, it certainly is a strength. As it is Andy Weir so the science is key to the story, he seems to like this zone of smart sarcastic characters using their wits to get themselves out of trouble using knowledge and smarts. The setting of the Martian had a first person conversational narrative style that made perfect sense. For example the forth wall breaking sarcasm was understandable because it made sense that Mark left behind on Mars would likely write his story. He would talk to his readers.

Jazz wouldn't likely never sit down to tell a long first person narrative. She was involved in a major crime, maybe to set the record straight but I didn't buy it. I think a third person narrative with switching POV's could have made a more dynamic story. That being said I loved the setting, the story and the various twists that happened in the book. I liked quite a bit even if the method of prose was not my first choice. It is very much a crime novel that just happens to be set on the moon. Much like Outland was a western that just took place near Jupiter. The science and the details of the story work.

One problem Andy Weir has coming off the amazing success of the Martian is a very very high bar. One thing the book had going for it was that people liked and rooted for Mark to survive and get home. In Artemis Jazz is not quite as likable. Her personality doesn't come off that different from Weir's last protagonist. I am sure he was advised to keep the sarcasm as a part of his style.

Transferred from a astronaut desperate to survive to petty criminal it came off a little less likable. I really didn't mind personally. Jazz was entertaining enough of a character and I was rooting for her by the end. That said I could see why some would be turned off by some of the immature humor, and her habit of hurting her friends and long suffering father.

I liked Artemis but perhaps not as much as I wanted to. Hard Sci-fi readers and fans of the Martian should check it out. Check out a half an hour long audio review I did with fellow critic Marvin Vernon of the Novel Pursuit for more details below:

Here is the video of the event here in San Diego I attended:

Book Review: Perchance to Dream by Charles Beaumont (Penguin Classics)

Perchance to Dream by Charles Beaumont

Paperback, Penguin Classics, 304 pages

Published 2016 by Penguin Classics

A few months back I read a Penguin classics edition for Richard Matheson stories. The Penguin line is devoted to the finest voices in literature. So it is really cool that in the last couple years we have seen collection from Penguin for Lovecraft, Liggoti, Philip K. Dick and Richard Matheson. I was surprised and pleased to see Charles Beaumont get the same treatment as he died at a tragically young age and didn't get the chance to build the career that the other writers did.

This edition comes with a wonderful and personal forward by Ray Bradbury written for an earlier collection, and short but heartfelt Afterword by William Shatner who played the lead role in Beaumont's most intense film script - the Intruder.

Richard Matheson had a huge impact in TV, movies and prose. Beaumont was starting to have the same kind of success when he died looking like a 95 year old man at the age of 38. Little was know about what caused his death, and it believed that had early on-set Alzheimer.

Check Sunni and Jason Brock's Documentary on Beaumont if you want more of the story:

None the less with a couple of films including Roger Corman's masterpiece the Intruder that CB adapted from his own novel, and some of the most classic Twilight zone episodes, his work is remembered but fading. That is sad and that is why young writers would do themselves a favor and read this book.

If you read these in a 2018 context some might seem totally out of date and readers have to keep there mind on when they were written, most in the late 50's. Take for example Blood Brother, a simple but funny story about a Vampire who goes to get counseling. It might see silly that he decides to wear a cape, but this was written in 1956.

Many of my favorite stories turned out to be Twilight Zone episodes but outside of the Howling Man I had not seen them in a enough time that I didn't remember the stories.

My favorites in this book included Night Ride, The Howling Man, Place of Meeting, and the Beautiful People. Night Ride was a silky smooth tale of supernatural tied to the world of nightclub jazz. The Howling Man is probably the best episode of the twilight zone that CB wrote the concept that peace time comes because the devil is locked away in a European castle. I really enjoyed reading this tale, even though I have seen the Twilight Zone episode many times. The Beautiful People was a TZ episode with a different title, and honestly I didn't remember it. This sci-fi story written in the fifties becomes a odd surreal out of date period piece. I loved it. My favorite story however was Place of Meeting. I kinda liked the concept even though it was a little goofy.

That is the thing. I don't normally do this but I skimmed through a few goodreads reviews and read a few of the bad ones. I admit that Matheson stories felt a little more timeless. It is not just the concepts but CB pretty much always builds ALL his stories to be a twist. Can you blame him when the TZ was a huge chunk of his income? William F. Nolan is a author who came from the same circle of friends often uses the trick concept or the twist ending often. Matheson and Bradbury stories might feel more timeless because they wrote with a wider variety of style. Beaumont however was a fantastic writer and those who write Bizarro, Sci-fi or horror shorts should read this book to discover the work of a master.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Book Review: Defy the Stars (Constellation #1) by Claudia Gray

Defy the Stars (Constellation #1) by Claudia Gray

Hardcover, 503 pages

Published April 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

I knew nothing about this book going in. I didn't look at the cover, read the dust jacket or anything of the sort. I read this book purely on the strength of the two Star Wars novels I read by author Claudia Gray. I knew it was space opera and that was it. Gray's two Princess Leia books deeply enriched the character and provided several exciting action adventure moments. Her abilities storyteller that sold on reading this.

I am not the target audience, and I don't mean this in a reductive way but after reading this it seems like the audience is young teenage women. I think that is awesome. Because young ladies deserve space opera as much as the young boys. That said it is fun space based adventure with excellent characters and some cool world building so yeah- I liked it.

I wouldn't say I LOVED it but I had fun reading it and this book really didn't need to provide more than fun.

Defy the Stars is a a romantic space opera that centers on a character named Naomi she is a colonist from a former earth territory named Genesis. The people of this world have rejected earth and technology to live simply. The only tech they have left is their war machine, despite being out gunned they are struggling to fight back.

Naomi opens the novel a pilot on a recon mission. In a few weeks she will be part of a suicide mission to save her world, they plan to destroy the wormhole gate that connects their world to earth and the other six colonies in a loop. On this mission in a desperate attempt to survive she finds a ship that has been left floating in space for 30 years.

Once aboard she finds Abel. He looks like a young man, but he is the most advanced AI ever created. Made to look like the scientist who created him a famous scientist named Mansfield. He is programmed to always obey his commander. He has been alone basically locked in a room for 30 years. Naomi takes command of the ship and thus Abel.

Naomi realizes with this ship and this AI she can prevent the suicide attack her world was planning by winning the war on her own. Thus begins a adventure with Naomi and Able that takes them to all six worlds and of course Abel learns what it means to be human.

There is a moment when Naomi goes through the last of the 6 wormholes and she taps the console in a silly way. She says it is just something spacers do when they have gone through all six gates. That is great world building and I loved it. I know the romance is apart of the the promo materials but I didn't read any of those so the first 100 pages I didn't see it coming. The characters are great and the romance as syrupy sweet as it is totally works.

The science fiction is good each of the worlds is built and fully realized and the characters even the briefly seen ones are complex and forward the plot. The skills Gray brought Star Wars translate well to this original story. Defy The Stars are great for young readers.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Book Review: Engines of Ruin by Lucas Mangum

Engines of Ruin by Lucas Mangum

Paperback 282 pages

Published November 1st 2017 by Doom Kitten Press

Lucas Mangum is a writer who has been on my radar for a long time. I only know him from social media, his opinions on fiction, horror, food are all ones I tend to agree with. I was excited to first sample his work with this collection featuring eight tales and an introduction from extreme horror author Shane McKenzie.

The length of the stories range from very short to several novella length pieces. It comes with detailed story notes at the end. I do this in my collections and I love when authors do it. I think those of us introduced to short horror fiction by Stephen King learned so much from reading these. The notes provide insight into the creative process. It is clear Mangum is a thoughtful writer very dedicated to the art of storytelling.

That is important when you read a collection. A few of the stories were an experiment like "A Killing Back Home" which was a very effective murder mystery, played more straight forward than LM normally writes. The story hinged on characters and it is clear from the first story that Mangum is very interested in the details that make characters.

"Hell and Back" the first story is very effective with character beats and the whole story centers around a Preacher turned bartender who goes a little to far to help a friend. "Occupy Babylon" was cool story that explored the occupy movement that was hot when the story was written. The story lost me a little men it went to classic horror monster. None the less the story was strong enough to justify the use of said monster. That made sense because said monster is not really the point."Our Lady of the Sea" was the best example of setting in the story. It was one of my favorites in the book.

Lucas is a author who writes with confidence, one of my favorite things about this collection is how sure of his abilities he is. Even when experimenting, you feel like you are in the hands of a gifted storyteller. This is uncommon for a self-published author. I don't say that as a insult but a strength. I know this from following Mangum on facebook/twitter he has only one weakness. His impatience to get his stories out there. He has the ability to go with a traditional publisher but seems unwilling to wait for that process. This collection is filled with wild and entertaining stories but is wrapped in a super vanilla cover that says nothing about the style or tone of the book. We all know not to judge a book by the cover, but it is also hard when you are competing with every form of entertainment in the world to separate yourself if you don't take that seriously.

I am however completely and totally sold on Lucas Mangumn the storyteller. I will be reading his longer work. There is plenty of grizzly and weird moments but it is the sure hand of master story-teller growing into his strength. This is the kinda book that if you get it now you can say you read that author before the world caught on.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Book Review: Leia Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

Leia, Princess of Alderaan (Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

by Claudia Gray

Hardcover, 409 pages

Published September 2017 by Disney Lucasfilm Press

Part of the Disney plan for Star Wars that I enjoy as a nerd is that they are publishing canon books up to the events of each new film. Before Force Awakens there were several "Journey to the..." books I enjoyed that I felt added depth to the story and even answered questions. The absolute best of those Journey to the Force Awakens novels was a General Leia novel called Bloodline written by Claudia Gray. I am quickly coming to the opinion that Gray is the best author writing expanded universe novels at the moment. Her short story was the best in "From a Certain Point of View" and bloodline was a stunner.

For fans of Leia as a character Bloodline is a must read. It details more of the how how and why the first order happened, and the resistance to it. All of this happens against the back drop of the galaxy finding the true bloodline of Leia. Claudia Gray nailed that story in way that you understand why Lucasfilm came back to her to tell this prequel story that is about a young teenage Leia.

You might wonder how this serves to bridge the story to Last Jedi but it does. Introducing us to how Leia the rebel was born and forged despite her privledge. It introduces us to the young Amilyn Holdo who was played by Laura Dern in the film. Some of this books best moments add a depth to Holdo's sacrifice and her last scene with Leia. A scene that Carrie Fisher suggested herself.

It also introduces us to one of the most important settings of Last Jedi and explains it's existence. So yes it is tied to the new film in ways that are sometimes small sometimes big. I enjoyed alot of the scenes that should the resistance in-fighting that tied to Rogue one and saw Bail Organa butting heads with radical Saw Gurrea.

To me the best moment in the book is when Grand Moff Tarkin surprises the Organa family on Alderaan and is invited for dinner. He suspects them of being in the rebellion. The dinner is fantastic scene that shows Leia and her whole family working together to deceive Tarkin and protect rebels. It also adds an extra level of evil to his actions in New Hope. This scene stole the whole book for me.

Well I am convinced enough I decided to read Gray's original YA space opera novel Defy the Stars. I am reading that now so I will of course write a review. I need to read her SW novel Lost Stars but if Gray writes a Star Wars novel you can bet I'll be reading it.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

My Top Ten Books of 2017! (Tons of bonus audio content!)

Best of the year 2017:

#10 Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan

This balances lots of feelings for the reader. At times the the prose is vivid and crisp and times the narrative is so intensely weird it is hard to believe it is less than 150 pages. I mean this book is loaded with ideas. It is of course a Lovecraft influenced cosmic horror story but not in stereotypical adding tenticles kinda of way. At times it had the delightfully weird transcendental feeling of David Lynch. The story moves through space and time in a totally unpredictable way.

#9 The Voices of Martyrs by Maurice Broaddus

The most powerful collection I have read since Brian Evenson's Collapse of Horses. Both are important reads however Voice of Martyrs goes beyond just being good, it is a book of deep meaning. I have read and enjoyed the work Maurice Broaddus before. I knew he was good but he is a Hoosier, and the fact that he lives a hour drive from my home town gives me a connection to his writing. This book is some next level stuff and I love reading along as a person from Indiana hits that next level.

#8 Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

First let me say that BHE is compulsive and additive read. Pinbrough always had skills for plotting, emotional depth and of course creating terror on the page. The big leap here is just magnetic the pull forward of the narrative. You will tear through this. This book is excellently plotted and when I closed the book the ending got me for sure. I was impressed and seething with jealousy That Pinborough pulled off such a great ending. I mean I am a total geek for story plotting and structure and goddamn it this was so tight it was hard not to be jealous. If you like domestic thrillers like Gone Girl and Girl on the Train you should check this out.

#7 Sip by Brian Allen Carr

Sip is one of the weirdest horror novels I have ever read. The structure of the narrative is a little more straight forward there are no one sentence chapters, but the idea is plenty weird enough. It takes place in a post apaoclyse western setting, the world was not ended by nuclear war or climate change. In this future our world fell apart when junkies developed an addiction for consuming the souls of others through their shadows. Drinking the shadows gives you rest and the dreams of the person or animals you steal from but leaves the creature dry. One neat aspect is how the concept and setting subverts the nothing setting or the dark or darkness being home to horror. In this world the sunlight and light in general is source of terror.

#6 The City, Awake by duncan b. barlow

The City, Awake is a genius surrealist noir that perfectly balances character, narrative drive and experimental prose. Delightfully weird, The City, Awake is an experience. It has the effect of feeling like we are are being lead by expert. Very different types of books but it reminded me of the reading experience that I had reading Brian Evenson's The Warren. Check the interview I did with the author...

#5 End of the World Running Club by Adrian J.Walker

This is my favorite sub-genre of horror in fiction and is my favorite I have read since Brian Evenson's Immobility. The best British end of the world novel since One by Conrad Williams. In a tradition of novel that includes the Stand and Swan Song. The book is almost 500 pages but it is quick read as the story cooks. Once the main characters take off on their run, the journey not only explores survival, themes of family but the limits of endurance. If you like end of the world fiction you MUST read this novel

#4 The Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers

This is one hell of a novel. The publisher seems to be marketing it as a thriller and that is true the book is also very much A science fiction horror novel. The story is very clearly influenced by and modernizing classics like Stephen King's Firestarter and the John Farris Classic The Fury. If you read those novels you understand we are talking about psychic conspiracy road trip thrillers. The strength of this novel is less about the plot and more the characters.

#3 Secrets Of the Weird by Chad Stroup

This novel has a middle era Clive Barker feel of dark fantasy without the elaborate over writing that books like Imajica or Everville fell into. Certainly the world of this novel has it's share of erotic fantasy and that is why you'll hear Barker comparisons. But Sweetville was a setting written by a hardcore kid, and not a theater nerd so secrets of the weird is filled with Neo-nazis, punks, metal dudes, non binary prostitutes and more. These characters are not marginalized like extras on the punk episode of Quincy or freak show on stage at 90's Jerry Springer taping. They are all written with depth even the characters who only briefly appear in the pages. Even the villains of the piece are given depth.

Secrets of the Weird is a fantastic read. This novel paints an erotic and dangerous picture of a city that you would only want to visit in the safety of a novel.

#2 In the Valley of the Sun: A Novel by Andy Davidson

This southern Gothic that I feel is like the movie Near Dark if it was written by Cormac McCarthy. The official statements by the publisher makes that Macarthy comparison as well as Joe Hill and Anne Rice. Hill sure, but Anne Rice not so much for me. Hell I see more in common with True Detective writer Nic Pizzalto's books. The writing is gorgeous, at times the west Texas drips off the page and you almost feel the humid air. You can picture the rust on the trucks, the stress of the sheriff's belt and many things that make this world vivid. Lets not avoid the subject it is a monster novel. Damn good one.

#1 Little Heaven by Nick Cutter

An effective and disturbing horror novel that made the best of a lean prose style. The supernatural elements have surreal quality that brings to mind early Clive Barker. Monsters like the Long Walker were disturbing in how unnatural they were yet described so well you see them in your mind and were nothing short of creepy.

The tone reminded me of McCammon's Gone South. This comes from the characters that are both scary and hilarious at times. The prose itself was excellent. Cutter creates vivid landscapes and the horrors pop off the page causing several cringe worthy moments of supernatural horror.

Check out this audio review I recorded with author Anthony Trevino after we both read Little Heaven:

Honorable Mentions: The Force by Don Winslow, Feral by BK Evenson, Sea of Rust by C.Robert Cargill, Benti-Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Best Pure Sci-fi novel: Sea of Rust by C.Robert Cargill

Best short story I read: Fail-safe by Philip Fracassi

Best pre-2017 reads: Jigsaw Youth by Tiffany Scandal, Lovecraft Alive by John Shirley, The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle, Long Form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr, Grunt Life (Task Force Ombra #1) by Weston Ochse

Here is a one hour discussion I with Critic Marvin Vernon on each of our Top ten reads of 2017:

Complete reading list in order All 2017 releases have a *:

Long Form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle

The Valley by John Renehan

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough.*

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Masque by F.Paul Wilson and Matthew J. Costello

Little Heaven by Nick Cutter*

Among Madmen by Jim Starlin & Daina Graziunas

Ratings Game by Ryan C. Thomas

13 minutes by Sarah Pinborough *

Nod by Adrian Barnes

Grunt Life (Task Force Ombra #1) by Weston Ochse

The City, Awake by duncan b. barlow *

Aftermath: Empire's End (Star Wars: Aftermath #3) by Chuck Wendig *

Chills by Mary Sangiovanni *

(Eco-horror kick:

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson *

The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner

Lost Girl by Adam Nevill

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi)

Feral by James Demonaco, BK Evenson *

Secrets Of the Weird by Chad Stroup *

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1) by John Scalzi *

Relics by Tim Lebbon *

In the Valley of the Sun: A Novel by Andy Davidson *

Dust of the Devil's Land by Bryan Killian *

Death Metal Epic I: the Inverted Katabasis by Dean Swinford

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee *

World Revolver By Gina Ranalli

The Sub by Jimmy Jazz

Jigsaw Youth by Tiffany Scandal

Lovecraft Alive John Shirley

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson

The Voices of Martyrs by Maurice Broaddus *

Binti Home by Nnedi Okorafor *

The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley *

Entropy in Bloom by Jeremy Robert Johnson*

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers *

Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar*

Mormama by Kit Reed *

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow*

Cold Cuts by Robert Payne Cabeen *

Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus*

The Boy on The Bridge by M.R. Carey *

His Master's Voice by Stanislaw Lem

Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

What Immortal Hand by Johnny Worthen*

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch *

The Changeling by Victor LaValle *

Behold The Void by Philip Fracassi * (best short story I read this year:Fail-safe)

Blade Runner 2 The Edge of Human by KW Jetter

The Snake Handler by J. David Osborne & Cody Goodfellow *

The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy *

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan *

Bone White by Ronald Malfi *

The Force by Don Winslow *

The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter *

Pinball Punks by Dave Anderson *

End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker *

Strange Weather by Joe Hill *

Sea of Rust by C.Robert Cargill *

Sleeping Beauties By Stephen & Owen King *

Under the Shanghai Tunnels and Other Weird Tales by Lee Widener *

Sip by Brian Allen Carr *

Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View *

The Best of Richard Matheson (Selected and edited by Victor LaValle) *

Exploring Dark Short Fiction #1: A Primer to Steve Rasnic Tem *

Leia Princess of Aldderan by Claudia Gray*

Engines of Ruin by Lucas Mangum*

81 books 44 2017 books

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Book Review: Exploring Dark Short Fiction #1: A Primer to Steve Rasnic Tem by Eric J. Guignard (Editor) & Steve Rasnic Tem

Exploring Dark Short Fiction #1: A Primer to Steve Rasnic Tem

by Eric J. Guignard (Goodreads Author) (Editor), Steve Rasnic Tem (Goodreads Author) (Contributor), Michael A. Arnzen (Goodreads Author) (Contributor), Michelle Prebich (Illustrator)

paperback, 224 pages

Published July 2017 by Dark Moon Books

Lets talk first about this format, which is fair I think because it is the first in a series. Edited by Eric J. Guignard I think he is on to something special here. If this is the system he is going to follow. This is a really, really cool book and the format is inspired. It has six short stories by the subject of the book, including one new to this edition. A long and complete bibliography, each story comes with academic commentary,beautiful art and an essay on the genre from Tem.

When I closed the book my first thought was all the authors I would love to see in this series. Lisa Morton, Cody Goodfellow, Stephen Graham Jones, to name a few. I have no idea who Guignard has in mind but I am ready to trust him as I love the format.

OK I am familiar with Steve Rasnic Tem but not a huge devotee. I read and reviewed a collection of stories he co-wrote with his late wife. I had read stories here and there and was a fan of a novel of Melanie Tem but have yet to read one of his. So I was a prime candidate for this book. The Six stories were a great example of various tones and subjects in horror. I finished the book very interested in his most recent novel and I will read more.

Several of the stories had moments of humor but most were dark in all the right ways. "Hungry" the first story was great at setting the tone and I like that we got introduced to the author's work with the same story as the editor. That was a neat touch. The story played with the freak show setting and made for a wonderful story environment. The second story "The Last Moments Before Bed" was to me the most powerful story in the book, this absolute heartbreaker of a story that explores loss.

All the commentaries written by author and PHD Michael Arnzen all added depth to the experience and in a few cases confirmed my feelings on stories. I have admit on the Christmas story new to this book I didn't catch some of the elements Arnzen brought up. It was great because I re-read the story with new eyes.

This is not just a great collection and introduction to a underrated writer, it is great showcase on the nuts and bolts of what makes short horror fiction work. This is a book that may some day be taught, I don't say that lightly.