Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Review: The Listener by Robert R. McCammon

The Listener by Robert R. McCammon

Hardcover, 332 pages

Published February 2018 by Cemetery Dance Publications

Anyone that follows my reviews knows that Robert R. McCammon is one of my favorite living writers. His ability to tell a story effectively in the novel format is pretty much unmatched. I am not sure it is possible for him to write a bad book. Gone South, Mine and of course Swan Song are some of my favorite books of all time. When I heard about this book coming out from Cemetery Dance I was beyond thrilled. While I am not as big of a fan of his Matthew Corbett historical mysteries recent novels like The Five and I Travel by Night have hit my sweet spot. Those were both returns to earlier styles of McCammon novels of the 80's and 90's. The Five was an action driven suspense novel about a Rock and roll band that mixed the music world with something like the Hitcher. It was a hell of a read Stephen King even called it McCammon's best.

I Travel by Night was a neat little monster/horror/western that I enjoyed. I would personally consider the Listener a novel or horror, released by a horror publisher in Cemetery Dance, I am not sure exactly why it was labeled on the cover as a "Novel of Suspense." I mean it is a novel of Suspense sure, but it is a novel filled with genuine moments of horror, and even supernatural elements. So I am confused by this tag line. While we are talking about the cover it is as boring of a design as I can remember which is too bad because it is an expensive book.

I went into this novel entirely cold on the plot, knowing nothing at all and reading it based on McCammon's strength of work in the past. This is an excellent way to approach this story as it has a few twists that benefit from having no preconceptions.

Is it a favorite of mine? Compared to McCammon's past work I would say - not even close. Don't get me wrong his worst novel is probably 100 times better than most. It is interesting because some of this review is going to sound negative but that has to do with the super high bar RRM has set for himself. For each element I didn't like there were elements I loved. Over all I had a great reading experience and consider it a four out of five star book despite major issues.

My favorite thing about the Listener is how many "rules" McCammon breaks in telling this story and it doesn't suffer for it. in a 3rd person narrative like this most editors never want you to change the point of view in chapters, even with clear breaks. Some want you to pick one POV for a whole book and never change it. There are times in this book when the POV shifts mid paragraph and even one sentence to the next. I personally consider that a huge No-no, but RRM somehow pulls it off.

The novel spends the first 84 pages establishing the character who turns out to be a villain, a interesting choice because it makes him sympathetic before he does awful stuff. John Partlow who goes by several names in the book is a con man. The opening con where he sells bibles to illiterate widows does a good job of setting up the depression era setting in the south. We then follow along as he meets Ginger a conwoman with a plan. After the first chapters we get a change in setting. The character of Curtis Mayhew is a red cap at the train station a young black-man who has always had a special talent. He hears voices They are people across the miles he hears like a telepathic phone call he talks to the other rare people with his talent.

One of those people is a young child We eventually learn that she is the child of a rich businessman. of course these stories weave together when we discover that Crutis is listening in on the young child's kidnapping. This sets up a cat and mouse game that creates plenty of scary moments. Those most frightening moments however come from the race issues inherit to the era it takes place in. Imagine you are a young black man in 1934 claiming to have knowledge of a kidnapping in the south? Yeah it gets ugly.

Over all I liked the novel but one thing really bugged me. McCammon often gets compared to Stephen King, it doesn't help when novels like Swan Song appear to be very, very much like The Stand. I would argue that Swan Song is a better book, but still that criticism had dogged McCammon for years. In this novel RRM not only uses an overused Stephen King trop he uses the most cringe worthy one I can think of. King has this problem with using characters who are what Spike Lee called the "magical negro." The Shining, The Stand, Green Mile and even last year in Sleeping Beauties. This didn't ruin my enjoyment of the novel it just made me uncomfortable.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Book Review: The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway

The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway
Hardcover, 288 pages Published July 7th 2015 by Tor Books

On the surface this book should be something I am into. It is a dark urban fantasy with punk and horror elements. Written by an author from a city I used live in. I am told we have mutual friends. Everything seemed to be lining up. As a story to cuts back and forth from two settings one in the late 70's New York Punk scene the other more modern day Hollywood. I found the the 70's setting a tad more interesting.

The biggest problem I had this novel is that I could not connect to the characters. I had trouble telling them apart,and the story just didn't connect with me. By the time the two storylines began to connect I was over it. I found myself distracted constantly. My mind was wondering.

Brockway is a good writer I can tell but this story didn't connect with me. I know this is a short review and this author deserves more attention from his readers. This is a "it's not you it's me" review. I just couldn't get into this book I had to skip pages to get to ending. I think the concept is good and I think many will enjoy this blend of punk and fantasy.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Book Review: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Leguin

The Dispossessed by Ursla K. Leguin

Paperback, 387 pages

Published October 20th 1994 by Harper Voyager (first published May 1974)

Hugo Award for Best Novel (1975)

Nebula Award for Best Novel (1974)

Prometheus Hall of Fame Award (1993)

Locus Award for Best Novel (1975)

Jupiter Award for Best Novel (1975)

John W. Campbell Memorial Award Nominee for Best Science Fiction Novel (1975)

Ditmar Award Nominee for Best International Long Fiction (1975)

Of all the artists we have lost in the last year no one hit me as hard as Ursula Leguin, now I know she lived into her 80's and yes that is a pretty good run but her voice and work remained strong. Right after her death I decided to re-read this classic that I first read nineteen years ago. It took me a few weeks to get to it, but I chose to read it on a trip home to Indiana because I knew I would read the majority of it in one sitting that way. This book is rightfully promoted as one of the best and first real attempts in a science fiction novel to depict an anarchist society. In that sense it is a little overblown as the majority of the takes place Urras which is a culture much like ours.

In the 2017 edition she wrote :"So, when I realized that nobody had yet written an anarchist utopia, I finally began to see what my book might be. And I found that its principal character, whom I’d first glimpsed in the original misbegotten story, was alive and well—my guide to Anarres."

We certainly get scenes on Anarres but if this is Leguin looking at anarchism it is important to think of it as Anarchism 101 and her later novel Always Coming Home as a master class. You have to give Leguin credit for exploring these issues forty years ago, but much like gender issues in Left Hand of Darkness the age of the book shows a little bit. Don't get me wrong it is a masterpiece and a absolutely essential classic of radical Science Fiction.

This novel is the story of Shevek a scientist who studies physics at a university on Anarres. He is trying to finalize a general theory which he believes can lead to faster than light travel, in time he realizes that he cannot get the full support he needs for his research on his home world of Anarres. Most in his anarchist culture are fine living on their desert world, get getting supply ships. With out the need for conquest science and resources are fewer and far between. The setting of the novel is one of the highlights. Set in the far future when humanity has mostly moved on from a nearly dead earth. Most humans live on two worlds in the near by star system of Tau Ceti. (The setting of Kim Stanley Robinson's amazing Aurora). Most humans lived on Urras and life is not that different from ours. There are countries at war and the one called A-Io is certainly a stand in for modern America.

Shevek is a Odoion, the followers of a woman named Odo had started an Anarchist syndicalist rebellion. To end the conflict Odo and her followers were given the twin world, and promise of peace to develop their own utopia. For two-hundred years they had lived by anarchist principles. Leguin has said she was inspired by anarchist writers such as Peter Kropotkin and Paul Goodman. This utopia has many features seen in collectives through-out the anarcho-punk movements the lack of hierarchy,sexual equality and they don't eat animals. This is one of many other elements that have made this novel popular with the radical left. It is not your average sci-fi book that has a character give a speech and say "We have no law but the single principle of mutual aid between individuals." (page 300)

This is not an action oriented story, it is a slow burn mood piece that paints a picture of contrast between two ways of life. Leguin could have made this super heavy handed, but doesn't. The action comes mostly in the final act when Shevek is shocked to learn that his research into faster than light travel is owned by the government on Urras that funded his research and he decides to take it back to his world. This leads him being a fugitive from the capitalist government and a minor hero to the new protest movement inspired by Odo's beliefs on Urras.

It is the ideas and the exploration of anarchism that make this novel special. I mean there is a good story here and UKL never loses sight of that. If there is a weakness of the novel is that despite the non-linear plot it takes till page 294 for the driving event of the narrative to happen. Shevek realizes the state wants to own his ideas. In one sense that is OK because it is the IDEA of Odo and her followers that are the value of this book.

Leguin has interesting way of making sure the collective nature sticks on the planet. Anarres is a harsh desert world, that requires cooperation, they cannot survive without it. It also keeps their young society from growing to fast. The Odoian beliefs are first laid on on page 94(of the Harper paperback I read)but through-out the story those anarchist ideals are laid out. The action is secondary, and even though it is subtle the narrative drive comes from the fish out of water tale. It is not done in a humorous or over the top way.

Anarres is thought of as a Utopia but Leguin is careful not to make it perfect, the very reason Shevek leaves is not a pretty one. On this anarchist world everyone must do the hard labor at some point. Despite his research being of such importance it is reality that he has to leave it behind and has to work hard labor in the field. Shevek is not opposed to the hard work, and eblieves in the system but also thinks his theories are to important to give up. Certainly it is fair that despite his status as scientist is requirement to work in hard labor is the same as anyone.

This is seen as a result of a society that doesn't have any form of ownership: “A child free from the guilt of ownership and the burden of economic competition will grow up with the will to do what needs doing and the capacity for joy in doing it. It is useless work that darkens the heart. The delight of the nursing mother, of the scholar, of the successful hunter, of the good cook, of the skillful maker, of anyone doing needed work and doing it well, - this durable joy is perhaps the deepest source of human affection and of sociability as a whole.”

Late in the book the characters discuss the lack of freedom that would develop naturally in this utopia. You are are free to do what you want, but if you choose to ignore the pull to mutual aid you could easily become an outcast. Anyone who has been a part of the radical activist community has seen the self sabotage and circular firing squad that can develop if one is not seen as pure enough. At no point is Leguin suggesting this is an argument against anarchism - just a reality. Leguin believed in these ideals and it is clear from this novel, but even more so in Always Coming Home.

This book is a classic of deep thought in a speculative format. A master of science fiction at the top of her game. To say it is a must read is a massive understatement. Everyone interested in Science Fiction or radical political thinking should read this novel.

Speech by Leguin from 1975:

Radio Drama based on the book:

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Book Review UBO by Steve Rasnic Tem

UBO by Steve Rasnic Tem

Paperback, 320 pages

Published February 2017 by Solaris

Literary Awards:

Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best Novel (2017)

This book is not for everyone but it sure as hell was for me. Steve Rasnic Tem is a veteran of the horror field. He is a past winner of the Bram Stoker, International Horror Guild, British Fantasy, and World Fantasy Awards. There is no doubting his skill. What he produced here is a brutal blackest black of science fiction horror novels that delivers a healthy dose of what the fuck. The first half felt like a bastard hybrid of Dark City and the the early seventies film Punishment Park. The whole book sets up a super dark mystery that once the reveals come will have you delightfully scratching your head.

UBO is an excellent example of a novel that is both science fiction and horror in equal measure. It takes a certain kind of reader but I for one found the haunting darkness of UBO to be beautiful in the level of pitch black tone it achieves. I went into the book blind about the story and was thankful that I did. So if you trust me I suggest you stop here, buy the book (or get it from your library) and come back to this review when you have read it.

OK minor spoiler warning...

UBO is a story seen through the eyes of Daniel a prisoner in Ubo. He and the other prisoners have vague memories of a life before Ubo, his family, but he doesn't know where or when Ubo is. Is it another time or world? he can't say but the prison guards are not human, they are giant cockroaches, and what view they have is of a destroyed landscape. The Roaches are not just holding them in this horrible place feeding them just enough flavorless protein paste to keep them alive, they are also using them for experiments.

These experiments involve mind swapping with some of the most notorious murders through out history. From Charles Whitman, Heinrich Himmler to Jack the Ripper. Daniel and the residents are subjected to live through the memories of the greatest killers some times more than once. The worst part is they are simply passengers. This makes these chapters hard to read in totally different way than the ones than the set-up taking place in Ubo, but the combination provides the story with a context that are bread crumbs leading to the reveal.

Daniel is a excellent point of view character and despite the limited amount of time they appear in the story the other characters are very well written. In the second half of the novel the story took a turn I was not expecting. I think personally I enjoyed the first half a tad more than the second half that seemed to go more hard sci-fi than surreal. There is no doubting that the novel was a masterpiece. I don't say that word lightly.

The first half of the book has a mystery as powerful as the setting, and that is saying something. When you mix the "I want to shoot myself" grim tone of Macarthy's The Road, with the political concepts and sheer "what the fuck is real?" of Philip K Dick you earned the word masterpiece. Read this now.

Book Review: Star Wars: Cobalt Squadron by Elizabeth Wein

Cobalt Squadron (Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

by Elizabeth Wein ), Phil Noto (Illustrator)

Hardcover, 251 pages

Published December 15th 2017 by Disney Lucasfilm Press

Look this is not exactly the mark of great literature, but I enjoy a good Star Wars novel and authors like Claudia Gray and Chuck Windig have recently added alot to the universe with stories of new canon that have depth. Cobalt Squadron is the story of the bomber squad we saw in the events of The Last Jedi. The events of this book lead directly into the events of the movie and follow mission that leads right into the events of the force Awakens and ties the last moments of that story to the first moments when we meet Paige and Rose Tico.

Rose becomes a major character in TLJ and this story does a great job of adding depth and strength to the two characters and the relationship they have as sisters. I have watched TLJ since reading this book and I have to say it did add depth in my head to the story between Rose and her sister.

I think Rose is a great character along with Admiral Holdo who always features in this book were the best new characters. The story is about a world that is being blockaded by the first order. In a desperate mission a small scout ship gets past the blockade and finds the rebels. The people are starving forget food, the empire is not allowing the people to get water. Rose suggests a plan she has been working on a device that fools sensors and thinks they could use the bombers to drop food and water like they do bombs. As you can imagine these don't go as planned.

Not going to spend a ton of time on it but I had fun with this short and and simple book. The author is a Star Wars nerd who had experience writing about similar pilots in World War II. She was a excellent choice in that sense. I like how it tied to the movies and only had two major problems. The story missed chances to add depth to the nature of the blockade and Rose had a line when she responded to an apology by saying "It's all good." That ism from out world took me out of the book. I know it is a little thing but but it bothered me.

Book Review: Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick

Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick

paperback, 200 pages

Published June 10th 2003 by Vintage

I have long resisted the idea of doing a podcast because there are a zaillion of them. I didn't want to do it unless there was an idea for one that was needed. Not just a show where we rambled. There had to be something missing, a topic that needed to be done. So when my writing partner Anthony mentioned that there is no podcast devoted to the works of Philip K. Dick. Dickheads was born.

Here is the idea we are going to read all of Philip K. Dick's novel length works in order of publication, once a month, so you can read along if you like. We will post a episode breaking down the novel, talk about science fiction and writing craft. Various other dick related stuff. So first up is the Solar Lottery. I will still post the reviews here on the blog, but wait until the pod is up, and will include a link to the episode. If you have not read the book, but want to learn about the pod can serve as PKD cliff notes.

So my review is written but I will add it back to this post with the episode of Dickheads when it is released. In the mean time listen to this preview or read along with us!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Book Review: The God Problem by Howard Bloom

The God Problem by Howard Bloom

Hardcover, 708 pages

Published 2012 by Prometheus Books

This book is a 600 page trap. Keep in mind there is 100 pages of notes, but that is still a lot of pages for a book that suggests that it will answer the greatest mystery of all time. It says it on the cover "How a godless cosmos creates." On the surface the idea is one of our great minds talks about physics and traces the history of the greatest thinkers getting us closer and closer to explaining how the universe happened. A rational explanation beyond a "sky wizard" created us.

Howard Bloom's books and various accomplishments are great and far ranging but it seems no matter how smart you are a unwise topic to tackle. Our entire species has spent recorded history failing to answer the question at the heart of this book. So I was curious what this noted genius had to say. How does rationally explain the universe.

The structure of the book is interesting. He sets the table by introducing the big bang and the vast power of what science understands about our universe. He suggests the idea we imagine we are sitting at a table watching the universe begin. Then he explores the life and times of the scientists and great thinkers from the ancient world to Einstein who tackled these issues. Each great thinker gets a detailed history and infact that history ended up being my favorite part. I liked learning about Einstein, Kepler and Galileo.

The heart of the God Problem is expressed through the infinite Monkey theorem. That theory suggests that if you left six monkeys at six typewriters long enough they would eventually in a unending universe at some point type the text of Hamlet. To the hardcore atheist the universe is just that a huge cosmic accident. The paradox comes when science shows incredible precision from black holes to the DNA in the most tiny of cells.

My favorite quote from the book expresses this point:

"The Cosmos hides her creativity by preying on the way we oh-so-quickly become blase. She covers up her bombshells and her breakthroughs by tricking us into seeing the extraordinary as mundane." The Einstein chapter was the most interesting part of the book for me. Bloom writes at length about Einstein's ugly ducklings, the aspects of our universe that confused and eluded him. Most of these have been explained and I could see why many readers found this to usless fluff.

The point Bloom was trying to make was that all history of knowledge, through-out time has been working on these questions and still we don't know. I understand that he could have answered these questions faster if he tried. It wasn't until 537 pages in that he finally addressed why the infinte monkey theorem doesn't work for him. "If this were a cosmos of six monkeys at six typewriters, those "things," those particles, would have come in a zallion different shapes and sizes. Not to mention a million colors and textures. And a zillion smells and tastes. But they did not. No way. Particles popped forth in only fifty-seven species."

So after all this the point of Bloom's book is that the answer is not to be found. The journey is and the quest has provides a myrid of answers along the way. Certainly answer enough. For me as a believer in science and the spiritual I enjoyed the journey. I think the order of the universe is not an argument for a sky wizard in a traditional religious sense. It is an argument for a truth beyond our ability to disern, a higher power that could just as easily be natural but one science has yet to explain.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Book Review: Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

Hardcover, 551 pages

Published September 4th 2015 by Disney Lucasfilm Press

This is my third Claudia Gray Star Wars novel and my fourth of her books over all. It is clear that she does the opera in space opera better than anyone else working in the canon SW tie-in fiction. I have been quite serious that I think Disney would be smart to give her a swing at doing a script for the movies. She clears gets the universe.

Lost Stars is very similar to her recent original novel Defy The Stars in that it is 200% Romeo and Juliet this one set against the back drop of the conflict between the rebels and the empire during the events that span the events of the Skywalker saga. This time seen through characters slightly off screen from the ones we have seen before.

511 pages is long for a Star Wars novel, one that seems to be YA focused although unlike even some adult marketed SW novels there is actual love scenes and talk of sex. (let me be clear I give zero fucks about that - just pointing it out). There is a massive amount of story here and I enjoyed how Gray wove in her own parallels and reversals to the existing structure of battles we know. I mean our leads are there at the battle of Yavin, they are at Hoth and Endor and it all comes to a head in events that feed into the Force Awakens.

This is a neat magic trick even if it seems at times that Claudia has to sit on the narrative suitcase to fit all the story into a long book. This could have been two or three books easily.

Thane and Ciena are from the same backwater outer rim world. They enter the imperial academy together and constantly compete for top of the class. This competition comes to a head when they admit they have feelings for each other. After graduation she is assigned to lord Vader's Star Destroyer and he is set serve on the Death Star. Thane only survives by being sent on the mission to explore the remains of the rebel base Leia sent them to on Datoine. Both are effected by seeing Aldderan and death star blown up. Ciena digs in with the empire because she feels trapped by honor code of her people to follow her oath. Thane is disgusted and joins the rebellion recruited by a fan favorite character. Once they are opposing sides despite the large universe, they end up near each other in battle. Gray finds smart ways to weave them in close to the Skywalker saga so events are familiar but their story is strong enough for them to carry their own narrative. It is a neat storytelling magic trick but the bottom line is the story works. As corny as the romance is and believe me it is, it all works in a Star Wars context. The story worked for me through out.

I have seen a few online comments that laughably mis-understand this book. Ciena's rationalization of the Death star seems to a few misguided readers to be a defense of the Atomic bombs used at Hiroshma and Nagasaki. For Ciena to be a fully formed character who sides with the empire she has to make this rationalization, to suggest this is Claudia Gray's point of view or the point of the novel is pure comedy.

In the end this is top notch space opera and a must read for Star Wars fans interested in reading the new Canon.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Book Review: The Wave by Walter Mosley

The Wave by Walter Mosley

Hardcover, First Edition, 209 pages

Published January 2006 by Warner Books (first published December 27th 2005)

Walter Mosley is an author who is known for his crime and mystery fiction. I had read a couple of his crime books back in the day and had no idea that he wrote science fiction until I heard about it on a podcast. I think it was Christopher Golden who mentioned his genre work on Three Guys with Beards. I am not sure I got the book he suggested as an example but I saw the The Wave on the shelf at the library so I jumped on it.

The Wave is a strange sci-fi novel, and I went into it totally cold not even reading the dust jacket before starting. I think the mystery is the best part of the novel, and for the first 80 pages I was super into it. The more I learned the less interesting the story was for me. The main character is Errol who is one year into a divorce, while he has a new love he is still fragile. The novel opens when he is getting a mysterious series of phone calls. "It's cold, Naked." He thinks he knows the voice and the mystery deepens when he hears more and more word. The voice that sounds like his father calls him by the nickname only he used. The reason that is strange is his father has been dead for nine years.

The voice wants help and asks him to come to the cemetery, the same one he had buried his father in nine years earlier. When he gets there he finds a young man, naked, and alone. Without basic skills the thing about this man he calls XT is he is a dead ringer for his father but younger. That mystery was masterfully set-up, with a raised eyebrow I was very interested in what was happening in the book. Once the details were laid out in the story I was not as interested in the concepts that drove the story.

Mosley tells a tale that doesn't have much science in it, the themes are more allegorical, which is odd for a book that is told with a minimalist prose style. The biggest weakness to mean are the characters like Errol whose is our voice is paper thin. the most interesting character is his resurrected father GT who falls out of the story for way to long. At this point we have to suffer through a government conspiracy story line that was far less interesting.

None the less I still enjoyed the book over all and want to read more Mosley. The characters and the general voice were interesting and carried me through. It is a short book that is overloaded with ideas. Without spoilers the concept mixes hippie like Gaia worship with supernatural elements that might have benefited from a wider scope.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Book Review: Shaker by Scott Frank

Shaker by Scott Frank

Hardcover, 335 pages

Published January 2016 by Knopf

I have a interesting set of feelings when it comes to Scott Frank. I am a big of him as writer, even more so than I am of his actual work. Let me explain that a bit. I mean I love movies he has written Logan, Out of sight, Get Shorty and Minority Report for example. I really liked his new Netflix series Godless, and think it is the best modern western I have seen recently. But more than his films I have always enjoyed and learned from reading/ listening interviews with him on the craft of writing.

I remember a interview with him about Minority report in the now defunct Creative Screenwriting that taught me lessons about structure I still use today when telling any story.

Shaker is a crime novel. no weird elements or anything super natural but it is told with a really well laid out non-linear structure. The magic in this case is Frank's skills at telling this story for maximum impact.

I went into the book knowing nothing deciding to read this based on the strength of Frank's career. This was a wise move that I suggest doing, but if you need more convincing I will carry on. The story has many characters and the POV switches when need-be but the main focus is Roy Cooper. When we meet him he is a mystery hit man, we know he is badass but we don't know how or why. We follow him on a hit that he has to travel cross country to LA to do. He is not excited about leaving the east coast and can't wait to be done with LA.

The hit goes fine, but on his way out he happens upon a group of young wanna be gangstas mugging a middle aged jogger. What Roy doesn't know is that the victim is a candidate for mayor, so when he steps in and gets shot it makes front page news. The various factions from the ganagstas he beat up to the mobsters who sent him and the cops investigating him all swirl around the story.

The most interesting elements of the story are all Roy Cooper, who and what he is. Sure there are surprising and funny events along the way. The back story of Roy Cooper is brutal, and heartbreaking, it is the heart of what makes this crime novel special and step above.

Do I think this is a must read? Not really, but I enjoyed it alot and I think crime readers will enjoy it. Scott Frank is a great writer and I hope this is not the last novel we get from him. I will read or watch anything he does.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Book Review: Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben

Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben

Hardcover, 224 pages

Published November 7th 2017 by Blue Rider Press

It will be really easy for me to talk myself out of this book. I enjoyed it enough when I was reading it. Read it very quickly over two days of commuting to work, but the more I think about it something has be giving me pause. Look I respect author Bill McKibbean who is one of the most important global climate change activists on the planet. He has for decades written with passion and knowledge about environmental issues in non-fiction. He is very good at that.

In his first novel McKibben reacted to the election of Donald Trump by resisting in the form of fiction. I love the idea, enough that when I saw it on the shelf at the library I wanted to get it. I had heard the author promoting the book on the Geek's guide to the Galaxy podcast and of course was very interested. Environmental resistance has a long history with books like Free The Animals and Edward Abbey's Monkeywrench Gang being the most famous. In genre circles we have classic like Skipp and Spector's The Bridge and John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up.

Radio Free Vermont is a story told mostly through the words of Vern Barclay, a long time local radio talk show host in Vermont. He does everything from news to high school Hockey scores. He is not the only character several other Vermonters play a role, a computer whiz named Perry, a former Olympic athlete and my personal favorite Barlclay's mother in her 90's. Fed up with the way things are Barclay uses a pirate signal to release podcasts promoting the idea of a Vermont separate from the United States. Once the signal goes out it inspires acts of resistance around the state.

Barclay and Perry carefully lay their ideas while remaining hidden. They call for a town-hall meetings around the state to vote on the idea of staying apart of the country. While this doesn't make members of the government happy, the FBI and local sheriffs try to find them. I found it odd that a huge story-line in the novel is these activists being painted as terrorists and wanted fugitives. They really are just suggesting meetings, and a vote.

One of the blurbs from Naomi Klein says it is James Bond meets Prairie Home Companion. Which is the opposite of selling the book to me. It also has me wondering if Klein has ever seen a Bond movie? Because there is nothing remotely James Bond here, and the story has got to be the most vanilla revolution ever. I don't remember the James Bond movie where he organized town hall meetings. The stakes are low, the tension as light while nothing seems that dangerous. It is promoted as a fable and it reads like a hippie's daydream for change. It is hard for me to take it too seriously. Bill McKidden is an important voice but I personally think I would prefer to read his non-fiction.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Book Review: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Hardcover, 304 pages

Published July 2015 by Saga Press (first published April 2014)

British Science Fiction Association Award Nominee for Best Novel (2014)

The Kitschies Nominee for Red Tentacle (Novel)(2014)

James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List (2014)

I love a good story, no matter how they are told, and most novels feel like novels. One of the most impressive things about the work of Nnedi Okorafor is that her stories, short or full length novels have more of a folklore feel than a trope laden genre novel. As corny as this might sound they feel like they are being told on a porch or around a campfire. This is true of her Benti books despite being space opera, I mean that is a literary magic trick.

In the last week the world of this author and the wider one of Afro-futurism has exploded with the release of Black Panther. I have seen dozens of posts of people looking for novels in this marketplace. Nnedi Okorafor is no doubt the most exciting active voice in this world. I have read her novel Who Fears Death which is in development at HBO with George RR Martin as a executive producer. My favorite work of hers is the Binti Trilogy. (NOTE:I have not quite gotten to book three yet- soon)

This novel is somewhat of a alien invasion story but more of a first contact tale set in Lagos, Nigeria. The setting is one NO understands as it is a city she often visited. My first interest in this book came when I heard the author on the excellent now defunct podcast Midnight in Karachi. The idea of setting the traditional contact and arrival sci-fi story in this setting with non-American characters sounded awesome. The change in setting often can help a story in a well explored sub-genre shine. It is clear that happened in this case.

The story starts as our point of view characters witness the arrival of the extra-terrestrial beings who are living below the water off the coast of Nigeria. This alien takes a human form and as the waters rise flooding the city the characters have to learn to communicate with the alien and take it's message to their president. These visitors came with a offer that is hard to refuse.

This is not a shoot-em up alien invasion story so if that is what you are looking for you might want to pass. This is an inventive science fiction novel but accessible. There are so many elements of this novel that defy expectations. One by one the characters strengthen the book from Adaora, the marine biologist who has a complicated and richly told conflict with her husband. The novel finds moments to confront patriarchy. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa presents a type of African character most American readers have not been exposed too. He is famous in Africa, home grown star. Agu, the soldier opens the book to the internal conflicts of Nigeria.

The story is spread between multiple points of view and the narrative is expertly woven, building to perfect effect. I read this book quickly and could have read a longer version. I rarely feel that way. As an author NO is also so creative that you feel like you are stepping into a world of it. The city is the ultimate character. You can feel the deep feelings she has for the place. I highly recommend this for all sci-fi fans, and anyone interested in African fiction.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Book Review: Another Way to Fall by Brian Evenson and Paul Tremblay

Another Way to Fall by Brian Evenson and Paul Tremblay

Paperback, 215 pages

Published January 1st 2018 by Concord Free Press

The idea behind this press/ book is super cool. The book is free, you just have to take the time to request a copy. Each one is numbered, my copy is 236, the idea is instead of paying for the book you make a equal donation to a charity and then pass the book on. As a huge believer in the book-a-shpere I love everything about it. So in this review you'll get a short take of the novels and a little piece about the non-profit that I donated to.

So this book has two short novels including Evenson’s Baby Leg and Tremblay’s The Harlequin and the Train. I am a fan of both but Evenson is one of of my top ten authors so I was a little more motivated to get into his piece. Both short novels are super weird and surreal horror. There is no doubt you are getting more than you paid for because both authors are super talented and two of the best writers working in genre fiction today.

Brian Evenson writes with very odd structure and some of the most inventive prose I have ever read. Baby Leg is a fantastic work of paranoia that is very dreamlike. The plot is hard to describe but becomes more nightmarish as it goes. A man named Kraus wakes up in a cabin missing a hand and is unsure who he is. He is tortured the image of the woman with a baby leg, and if that was not disturbing enough we have just started. The short novel builds on the creepy dread of the man starving but unwilling to get food, all of this was gut wrenching in delivery. There is a great moment when Kraus goes to a shop to and gets identified.

This short novel has more moments of terror and surreal paranoia than many Philip K. Dick novels. Another great example of Evenson at his best. Weird and genius.

Tremblay's novel The Harlequin and the Train appears on the surface to be a more straight forward story of cause and effect. Starting with a train wreck and featuring the conductor I was under the impression we were heading toward a Crash style story. The movie not the amazing JG Ballard novel. This piece is about chance, choice and destiny with some gruesome more hardcore elements that come into play.

I felt a little lost at times. I was OK with this because Tremblay's writing is engaging and he is skilled. I certainly felt like some things were going over my head. As weird as Baby Leg was I was with it from start to finish. I admit I was ready to be done with the second novel probably 20 pages before it ended.

That said I think the publishing concept is great and looking at the board members I hope this series continues. So below the pictures of the book I have details on the non-profit I supported.

Beltane Holistic Animal Massage is a 501c3 non-profit here in San Diego. BHAM provides massage in the county animal shelter for abused and needy animals. This helps animals who might not be able to be adopted feel more comfortable in several cases BHAM helped animals find homes. The SD county shelter is a kill shelter so this is life-saving work. BHAM also helps foster dogs adopted by rescues in their studio. You can get details at:

www.facebook.com/beltaneholisticanimalmassage

www.beltaneholisticanimalmassage.wordpress.com

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Book Review: Mean Business on North Ganson Street by S. Craig Zahler

Mean Business on North Ganson Street by S. Craig Zahler

Hardcover, 293 pages

Published September 30th 2014 by Thomas Dunne Books

This violent Midwestern noir was written by S. Craig Zahler the writer director of cult films Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99. If you have seen those movies you will know that he is a writer known for brutal unflinching stories with great dialogue. Bone Tomahawk is probably his best known work, the horror-western hybrid film stars Kurt Russell and is one part western and one part Hills Have Eyes. This novel has more in common with his most recent release BICB99 starring Vince Vaughan.

Mean Business on North Granson Street is a cop drama and crime noir with a heartland setting of the fictional city of Victory Missouri. The hero of the story is an Arizona detective Jules Bettinger a African American officer who was involved in a incident that cost him his job. He explains the reality of a case to a man caught cheating on his wife and business, faced with the reality he turns around and kills himself. This business man was important enough to force him out of the department. The only department willing to hire him is one in Victory, and you get the idea that no one wants to work or live in this city.

Dead in the middle of winter the kind he has never experienced Bettinger ends up working in a city where the ratio of cops to population is far below average. The city is an out of control ghetto with filled massive crime and apathetic at best police. Bettinger arrives there in the wake of a nationally covered brutality case. His first case the death of a hooker,connected to several murdered women and there is evidence of Necrophila. This dark story line is most to carry most novels but it is just the tip of the iceberg. Bettinger can tell know one wanted to the solve this case before him.

Bettinger hates the city, the job, his wife and children don't seem happy about the move but five years and he will have his pension. As much as he doesn't like the cops in this city, and they don't like him. His new partner doesn't hide his habit of brutality or his racist ideas. The story really kicks into gear when two officers are killed execution style and Bettinger is pulled into the dark history of the department. Is it the work of a serial killer or a conspiracy that is much wider?

MBNGS is no joke, it is a excellent plotted, paced story with characters so sharp they are the source for most of the humor and tension. Some of the strengths include Bettinger's decsion to protect his family he moves them into a city more than an hour's drive away. This creates a tired under slept lead who becomes less reliable as the story reaches the end. The highlight of the book for me was the dialogue, often hilarious versions of standard trope cop talk, one of my favorite scenes was when a perp asked "isn't one of you supposed to be the good cop?" "He got fired in the seventies."

As funny as those moments were the violence is not comic-bookishly over the top like Zahler's films. This book has a brutal twist or two and violence is used to beautiful story-telling effect. I don't know why I was surprised at the level of the darkness that Bettinger was dragged into by the end of this story. The novel works as a crime thriller, but have moments that skirt horror. Less so than Bone Tomahawk but certainly I think fans of his films will not be bummed out to read this one.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Book Review: Aftermath by Levar Burton

Aftermath by Levar Burton

Hardcover, 288 pages

Published January 1st 1997 by Aspect

I read this book when it came out but was motivated for two reasons to re-read this dystopian sci-fi novel again. I'll get to those in a bit. First let's talk about the origins of the book. In the 90's many of the actors working in the Star Trek franchises from William Shatner, James Doohan to Jonathan Frankes were releasing co-written sci-fi novels. I am sure they came up with the concepts but they were clearly all mostly written by the hired co-authors. Aftermath however written by actor, director and producer Levar Burton who is most known for playing Geordi Laforge on The Next Generation was different.

Aftermath felt like a book that he clearly wrote himself. I mean it has some signs of being written by a first time novelist, but I actually respect the book even more for that reason. Lavar Burton is a gifted director and anyone who listens to his excellent new podcast 'Levar Burton reads' understands that he knows a thing or two about story. His monologues talking about the stories at the end are a clear highlight of the podcast.

That was the first reason I wanted to re-read this book. I have often told my writing partner on a series of TV scripts we are turning into a novel that Burton would be my dream director for the project's pilot.

The second reason was when I saw that the date of the future this book was set in was one year away. I was interested to see how different it was from our world. When I picked up a copy of the book Trump was elected and racial protests were erupting in Virginia. It is clear that the election of Donald Trump signaled the racists to come out in the clear so a race war doesn't seem so impossible. As far as a story goes Aftermath is a breezy tale set after major collapse has resulted in an American conflict based on race and economic classism.

In this novel the race war is set up by the election of a black president in 2012. That happened by the way, and while the full-on race war has not happened the hatred stirred up by Obama being elected happened is hard to deny. Slower, more subtle than in the events of this novel. In the end it was a racist president getting elected in response that really has stirred the pot. The rise of hate groups emboldened by Trump is a interesting comparison. Burton saw it as a reaction to the election and reality has been more of slow burn. I am sure Levar Burton feels like Ray Bradbury who famously said "I wasn't predicting the future I was trying to prevent it."

Burton tells the story through the lens of multiple characters connected by a psychic link. The main Point of view is a homeless black man Leon Crane who was academic. The story kicks off when the Maguffin in the form of computer disks are given to woman he sees kidnapped. He and few other people scattered around the country with connects to the woman are by the link to follow her to Chicago. The travels of the characters practically Leon on the train are fun and suspenseful.

This feels like The Stand without the epic scope. The setting and the world building is epic, the characters are all really realized. It is impressive much much story is crammed into the short page count. That is a bit of a double edged sword.In fact one of the biggest problems with the book is that it could have been two hundred pages longer. That is something I rarely say. The events of this book come together very fast and if anything too fast. A little more room to develop the characters would have added to an already interesting story and setting. Burton is a good writer and I wanted more.

If there is any other weakness is the story is light on the darkness. I certainly understand why Burton would do so, alot of his readers followed him from Star Trek and Reading Rainbow, but we also know him from Roots. A little more unflinching look at the world would have gone a long way. That is not to say there are not rough moments. The scene where Amy is attacked in St. Louis was effectively done horror.

Really glad to have this on my shelf. Most importantly I would like to say that I want another Levar Burton novel.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Book Review: Origins of Creativity by Edward O. Wilson

Origins of Creativity by Edward O. Wilson
Hardcover, 256 pages Published October 2017 by Liveright

I tend to not review the non-fiction books I read because I skip around, sometimes I don't finish them, or they are for research for my own books. I decided to give this one a review because I read cover to cover. It will be a short review however. The odd thing was I grabbed it off the new release shelf at the library with out really realizing that it was very connected to the novel I would end up reading next. (Well I finished The God Gene first)

So what interested me in this book. Edward O. Wilson is a famous award winning naturalist and I have read bits and pieces of his musings before. I thought a look at how we as a species developed the ability to think creatively might be useful as an author. It is funny looking briefly over the online reviews it is clear that many missed the point of this book.

There is a degree that Wilson is expressing himself in a stream of conciseness that feels unstructured. It is clear he has many thoughts about the how humanity made the leap from instinct to be able to create art. The point of the book is that the humanities like art, fiction, and film need to have a closer relationship with the sciences in what he considers a third enlightenment. Could he have just said that without giving a detailed history of how humans learned to imagine? Maybe but it is important to remember what an amazing gift that is.

It is one thing recount events that happened down the generations, but how amazing is it that stories that exist totally in one person's mind lives on in words, and images. We have a chance to explore the universe, and inner space in way thought impossible as science and science fiction work together. We need creative minds and trained minds to work together to unlock discovery. That was the point.

The history of how story, and human evolution have always been tied together is much of the point here. It is a short book, but lots of interesting insights and I agree with the basic point.

Also I learned was the world's most famous Pulitzers prize winning biologist considers Alien and Carpenter's the Thing to be the two best science fiction films ever. He is smart dude.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Book Review: The God Gene by F.Paul Wilson

The God Gene by F.Paul Wilson

Hardcover, 368 pages

Published January 2018 by Forge

The God Gene is the second book featuring Medical examiner Laura Fanning and mercenary Rick Hayden. Over the majority of F.Paul Wilson's long career he wrote stories in two different series the Adversary cycle and the Repairman Jack books. It eventually became clear that that They were apart of one huge universe that was threaded through 98% of of Wilson's books in a saga he calls the Secret History of the World.

Some novels are completely connected to the history some are connected by one small event or mention. It is easy to get lost in a discussion of how complex this fictional world gets, and how amazing the plotting involved it is. To me the secret history is more intertwined to Wilson's work as the Dark Tower is to King. I spent most 2012 reading the whole history in one year. So honestly I could write all day about it.

That said when the first book in this series came out I was excited for a novel by Wilson out of his saga (his last one that I can think of is the excellent vampire novel Midnight Mass). So I had mix feelings when a twist part way through the first book revealed that yes Panacea is about of the secret history. Look the way it connected was subtle and brilliant, and in this book the connection is even more intense. So yes I have to marvel at Wilson's genius. The thing is that reveal which comes in the third act is what makes the book awesome to me. I am not sure that this story will work at the same level if you are not a diehard FPW reader.

I am a die hard so this novel worked quite well for me.

Laura and Rick are great characters, and their connection to the story comes when Rick's brother Keith a famous zoolist goes missing. The biggest clue this unnatural smart primate he brought back from east Africa. Keith not only killed the primate but has taken huge lengths to erase any sign that the creature existed. Much like the first book we have a globe trotting thriller that involves exotic locales and big action scenes.

Wilson is a master of narrative slight of hand, and that is on display here with characters who have shifting and unreliable Point of views through the course of the book. The story might appear of the surface to be a simple thriller but the title suggest something deeper, and it is a huge part of the story.

What gives humans the ability to be creative and what is the thing that helped us make that leap from other primates. Oddly enough I just happened to pick a book by another Wilson at the library the same day. Unrelated Edward O. Wilson is a famous award winning biologist released a book called Origins of Creativity(my next review)that I picked up off the new releases shelf at the library. Having gone into the God Gene blind I was amused when I realized the novel and non-fiction book were on a similar topic.

The connection to the secret history is key for my enjoyment, but really the crafty thing FPW did here was write thriller about one of the biggest questions in human life. That thing that makes us creative, that gives us the ability to love and rise above instinct. I like to think of it as the reason we must be guided by compassion as it is a gift, but in this story that gene, that god gene is like a live wire. The question at had is can humanity handle the idea that those genes were created by something and not a mere accident.

F.Paul Wilson does it again.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Book Review: Escape From Baghdad by Saad Z. Hossain

Escape From Baghdad by Saad Z. Hossain

Paperback, 304 pages

Published 2015 by The Unnamed Press

This is a novel about a subject and setting overdue for exploration in genre novels. The Iraq war has rarely been a topic in sci-fi or horror. The best example I can think of is John Shirley's Constantine tie-in novel Warlord. I have been waiting for someone to tackle the GW Bush lead Iraq invasion in genre fiction for awhile. EFB is set in the chaos about a year after the march 2003 invasion of the country looking for the phantom menace of Weapons of Mass Destruction. This sets a stage for a violent, chaotic crazy story that plays against the war torn city pretty straight at first, but in the second act stuff gets weird fantasy wise.

Probably the best thing about this novel is that it is not told from the point of view of a U.S. solider, the two lead characters Dagr and Kinza are locals whose lives were majorly disrupted by the invasion. There is one US solider character - Hoffman is an interesting one, but the majority of the story is seen through local eyes. This is something I liked as most of the media portrayal of Iraq that this country gets is from US solider's point of view.

Dagr and Kinza are doing what they can to survive, and in the process they discover a man in hiding that is wanted by both sides. They him as a means to get out of the city. There is more to this man, who has an ancient history and once they make there way across the city things get weird. Crazed Alchemists, immortals, magic time pieces are all involved but over all pretty subtle. I enjoyed this novel but it is played mostly straight. I actually would have liked it to be a little more crazy.

This is my first novel by an author from Bangladesh. It seems like it was well researched and felt like Hossain understood the city, but again what do I know. I also didn't laugh as much as I expected from the blurbs on the cover. The humor didn't work for me, but the characters and setting did. I didn't LOVE this book but I enjoyed and really respect what it accomplished. I certainly would read this author again.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Book Review: Infernal Parade by Clive Barker

Infernal Parade by Clive Barker
81 pages Hardcover

Published February 2017 by Subterranean Press

There is no doubt that Clive Barker is one of the most important voices in genre fiction of the late 20th century. His career had various stages and influence that reaches from the form of the short story, horror fiction, art and film. At the peak of his career his work transdended labels and were at times a kinda of dark fantasy that was so original there was nothing like it. So understand that I have a great love and affection for all things Clive Barker. I also really enjoy some of his later works like Coldheart Canyon, but it is no secret that fans lost alot of faith in him after the last two books Mister B.Gone and the Scarlet Gospels. Neither of those books felt like they had the magic of his early works and the Scarlet Gospels was largely believed to have been ghost written by his assistants. Is that true? I don't know but I was skeptical reading this book.

The internal parade is marketed as a novella but really it is a short story collection of pieces Clive Barker wrote in 2004 to go with a series of toys much like his tortured Souls ones. As such they are short character sketches. I felt the first one about Tom Requiem was the best one. the way it was written through the eyes of someone buried alive was disturbing. it was the finest moment of horror anywhere in these pages.

There are cool historical moments and it is certainly a great example of of gothic dark fantasy. Dr. Fetter's Family of Freaks is the one with the most legs to grow into a wider story. At no one does that narrative go beyond starching the surface. I kept waiting for them to tie together and despite the dust jacket saying so I didn't see any evidence. The artwork was good but I was hoping that it would be Barker's own. This was a OK library read but even as nice of a book as it is...I just don't think it is worth the special edition money.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Book Review: Usurper of the Sun by Housuke Nojiri, John Wunderley (Translator)

Usurper of the Sun by Housuke Nojiri, 野尻抱介

John Wunderley (Translator)

Paperback, 276 pages

Published September 2009 by Haikasoru (first published April 2000)

Nihon SF Taishō Award 日本SF大賞 Nominee (2002)

SF ga Yomitai for Best Japanese SF of the Year (2002)

Seiun Award 星雲賞 for Best Japanese Novel (2003)

I have read a few anthologies of short Japanese science fiction stories but this is my first full length novel. I can see why this book would not work for everyone. It is my first time reading Nojiri and I can't speak to the translation as I only read it in English. So lets keep that in mind up front. I can't speak for what was lost in translation and can only guess certain things.

Usurper of the Sun is a hard-sci-fi first contact novel that is international in scope but starts in Japan and follows Aki a Japanese woman through the discovery of alien life and a forty year journey to make contact. What we have is one of the best first contact novels I have ever read that is overflowing with ideas. As a space nerd myself I enjoyed that that the scope of space was not ignored the "Builders" are in a sense first discovered in ancient china when a star acts strangely in the sky. Of course it is hundreds of year later before we get answer to what happened.

The Story kicks off when Aki a young astronomy student in Japan uses the brief solar eclipse hitting Japan to train her telescope on Mercury while it is in conjunction with the sun. She sees a huge tower that appears to be constructed. Not only did someone build this tower but it appears it is being used to construct a more massive ring around the sun that will end up having the effect of blocking out enough light to disrupt the earth. This sets off a desperate mission to contact the builders and stop the earth from falling into a artificially created ice age.

This novel worked for me on several levels. As a space nerd I enjoyed how the book used real or very close to real facts about space, the solar system and astronomy. Nojiri played a bit with the ideas of space travel, skipped some huge chunks of travel but perhaps my favorite thing is how this novel told a first contact story over a long forty year process. The long span that the story is told over held the novel build to big reveals and make the pay-off work. This gives the first contact story a more realistic feeling, and it is hard to talk about this without spoilers for the third act but I thought he had a really interesting a creative take on aliens who existed in a way that was creative.

I know some will probably see the characters as flat, and that is perhaps the only weakness here. Outside of Aki the other characters in this book do not get much attention. That is a valid complaint, but for me the ideas and the story were good enough to carry the book. That being said Aki was strong enough of a character that I felt I knew here and was rooting for her that is all we can ask after all. Sure it could have been better but I still loved it enough to give the novel a full five star review. Those interested in creative idea expanding Sci-fi shoulod read it. Readers who want to check out sci-fi from other cultures NEED to read this.

Spoilers!!!!!!!

So some thing I was really happy with in this novel were the expansion of sci-fi concepts. The novel follows decades of attempts to communicate with "the Builders" Aliens. This fails again and again even though the go as far as destroying the huge object the builders are creating. The contact only happens eventually because a human created AI bridges the gap. The Aliens exist in six dimensions and a have a form of hive mind that exists on a much higher level. They barely register that we exist. The comparison who be if we tried to have a conversation with a fly. This was a neat concept that worked because the whole book built to that reveal. I loved it.

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.