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Reading ListJeff Soyer on 16 Dec 2014 04:22 pm

From Random House, the first of a new series of detective stories: 13 Hollywood Apes: A Layla Remington Mystery, by Gil Reavill (Amazon link). Oddly enough, this is the second such thriller involving apes that I’ve reviewed this month at The North Country Review of Books. I wish I could say that it is as good as the first one. Parts of it are, and it is certainly an original plot idea. It all starts with a California brush fire, and the murder of 13 chimpanzees at an animal care facility in the hills of Malibu. It ends with a series of gruesome murders of the staff there. Sheriff deputy and assistant district attorney Layla must unravel the twisted twine of the who and why that ties all of the killings together.

You can read my entire review here.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 09 Dec 2014 09:01 am

Random House has started a new series of horror story collections edited by Brian Freeman and Richard T. Chizmar, famed editors of the magazine Cemetery Dance. The first of these short volumes is titled, Dark Screams: Volume One (Amazon link). Featured are stories by Stephen King, Kelley Armstrong, Bill Pronzini, Simon Clark, and Ramsey Campbell. While the variety of stories is decent, the quality varies. Note to parents: The stories are fine for young adults, and gore is at a minimum.

You can read the full review here.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 03 Dec 2014 11:56 am

Around here, I consider a “Grand Slam” to be a book that earns top ratings in every category. Solomon’s Freedom, by Dennis Meredith, (Amazon link) is a grand slam. It’s a thriller with fabulous characters, witty dialogue, plenty of action, and most importantly, it raises questions about whether man’s closest neighbor in the animal kingdom should be granted any rights.

This is one of the best books I’ve read in quite some time. You can read my full review here.

And yes, I’m trying to drive traffic to, and comments about my reviews, there.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 03 Dec 2014 09:48 am

American citizens have seen a drastic increase in the surveillance of themselves by police and government. Supposedly this is all done in the name of “Homeland Security” and fighting crime. Cameras on street corners, license plate readers on police cars, mass collection of your emails, phone calls, and websites visited. Even the United States Postal Service now photographs every single letter and package sent through its offices. What if it’s all taken to the next level? That’s the frightening premise of State of Terror, by John Brown from Fire Fighter Books (Amazon link). With a fast moving plot, this story plunges you into a nightmare America where you can be detained indefinitely, with no right to counsel or trial.

You can read my full review of the book here, and also leave any comments or (if you’ve read it yourself) a review there.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 29 Nov 2014 07:39 am

The psychological interactions and tensions between humans, genetically engineered humans, clones, and aliens, is probably the best way to describe The Genome, by Sergei Lukyanenko (Amazon link) in this unusual entry into the science fiction field. Does it work? Mostly. It’s also about the ethics behind “Spesh” — humans who had their DNA altered at conception to become specialized in an occupation at a later time during their teens. All of that specialization comes at a price, as they — and you the readers — will discover. The Genome presents an interesting stew of characters. This isn’t “space opera” nor anything nearly as action-packed as that. It’s more a fascinating study of freewill or the lack of it when your DNA has been altered to enhance certain functions.

Alex Romanov is a spaceship pilot Spesh who is hired by a mysterious company to captain their tour ship. The owners leave the rest of the crew hires to Alex and he manages to gather quite a collection of misfits — mostly Speshes themselves. Then the passengers arrive and they turn out to be two aliens of the species Zzygous, not exactly the most popular breed amongst humans (”Naturals”) or their offshoots.

The first half of The Genome concerns the often contentious clash of characters as the ship is crewed, launches, and the tour begins. The second half becomes a whodunit and features a Spesh of the ultimate specialization. There’s way more to all of this, but I don’t like to give spoilers to a story I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Note that there are adult situations (okay, sex, though not too graphic) that might not be appropriate for very young readers. There are also several sub-plots in action that will keep your imagination involved on many levels.

There is action enough to keep things moving along and situations enough to have your brain whirling at possibilities as you digest this thoughtful book by Sergei Lukyanenko. I recommend it highly.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 28 Nov 2014 10:34 am

The winner of season 4 of the History Channel’s Top Shot has written a book, Shoot To Win, by Chris Cheng (Amazon link) that has as a subtitle, “Tips, Tactics, and Techniques to Help You Shoot Like a Pro.” That might lead you to believe that the book is aimed primarily at experienced shooters who would like to improve their game. While there are a few chapters along those lines, the bulk of Shoot To Win deals with the very basics of firearms and safely handling them.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that and this book would certainly make for an excellent gift to someone you’re hoping to get interested in the shooting sports, or for yourself if you’ve never held a gun but are intrigued by them. There are chapters on purchasing a firearm, maintaining them, and the nomenclature of guns and ammunition.

Still, for what is supposed to help a person “shoot like a pro,” this book could have been so much more than a beginner’s primer, with only a couple of chapters devoted to essentially telling the reader to dry-fire a lot, about breath control, and how to squeeze the trigger properly. Subjects such as preparing for specific competitive shooting events and strategies to employ are minimal.

Perhaps the best use for a volume such as this is to first acquaint the interested novice about firearms. Then, after he/she has bought a gun and taken it to the range a few times, to educate them in some techniques to improve their shooting accuracy. There are a few best-practices given, along with excellent and copious photographs demonstrating what the author is referring to. At that point, the reader can decide whether to take the next step and seek professional training.

Shoot To Win is an decent book that will help the absolute beginner get better, but doesn’t offer much for intermediate gunner.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 18 Nov 2014 11:11 am

Originally written in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and published as Digital Knight, Baen Books has just released a revised and expanded version titled, Paradigms Lost, by Ryk E. Spoor (Amazon link). According to the author’s preface, he made a few changes to existing stories to clarify a few incidents. The major difference is that he’s added about 50% new material. This should make this revision well worthwhile to readers of the original book (which I have not read — this review is based solely on this one). Paradigms Lost is a roller-coaster of a ride through an alternate Earth where vampires, werewolves, and other creatures all go bump-in-the-night. It is a very enjoyable read.

What makes this book so special is the way Spoor’s marvelous writing skills have created an overarching mythology tying them all together into a common history predating modern man.

In addition, the author has given these ancient beasts, beings, and Gods some very human characteristics in terms of their personalities, actions, and reactions. That’s not an easy task to do with monsters that want and can tear a human to shreds in seconds. That, I think, sets this collection of stories (held together by the threads of several characters) apart from all of the run-of-the-mill horror stories I’m used to reading.

The main three protagonists of Paradigms Lost are: Jason Woods, a computer geek who sees data patterns that others miss, and has an uncanny ability to derive the correct answers from them; his girlfriend Sylvie, a gifted psychic who can sometimes see into the near future; and Verne Domingo, who at first glance (but not in a mirror) might be a vampire, but turns out to be much more than that. There are several antagonists who also appear throughout this series of stories.

Jason seems to draw events to him and (via helping others — including the government) always seems to wind-up in the middle of anything “weird” happening. Peculiar murders, disappearances, incidences; they all seem land on his doorstep. Monsters battle humans or other monsters; Jason discovers the clues and answers.

This IS a horror novel and there are some wonderfully epic confrontations that move at break-neck speed. The good news is that while the violence is certainly spelled-out, this is not the festival of gore that has consumed much of the rest of the field. I’d have no problem recommending Paradigms Lost to youngsters. There are a lot of different critters to reckon with, names and origins and such, but nothing a fan of H.P. Lovecraft couldn’t handle.

Ryk E. Spoor has written a fine collection of horror stories with superb characterizations, fine (and often witty) dialogue, and enough action scenes to satisfy all but the most bloodthirsty consumer of the “weird” tale. BTW, I want my own Aris. You’ll discover why you want one of these little critters, too, near the end of the book.

Given that there are a few unresolved plot lines in Paradigms Lost, I suspect that a sequel is in the works. The highest compliment I can give is that I’m anxiously waiting to read it.

A reminder that if you find my reviews useful, please indicate so on Amazon (where I cross-post them).

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 15 Nov 2014 05:01 pm

New, from Bantam Books, this is the third book in the FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare and wanted criminal (*wink*) Nicolas Fox series. The Job, by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg (Amazon link) is fast paced and fun, with nicely breezy dialogue. O’Hare and Fox team up again and hatch a plot worthy of the best from Mission: Impossible. Indeed, The Job would make a terrific movie.

How do you go about taking down and financially ruining one of the world’s largest narcotics dealers? Especially when no one has any idea where he is or what he even looks like (these days)? Only one way — lure him to you. Big problem: He has a tendency to be very cautious and deadly. He even murdered the plastic surgeons who gave him an entirely new body and face. Another problem: Fox seems implicated in a series of thefts of great artwork and authorities everywhere are looking for him. Can O’Hare really trust him? Sorry, no plot spoilers allowed.

The plan O’Hare and Fox puts into motion is big, complex, and expensive. Good thing the bill is being footed by the U.S. Government! There’s plenty of action to keep you turning the pages, and while I can’t say that the characters themselves are given much of a description — “Hollywood star looks…”; would that be Cary Grant? Or Dom DeLuise? — their personalities certainly come through loud and clear with the brisk, witty dialogue the authors have given them.

The Job is is a fun, pleasant way to spend a few hours and I recommend it highly.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 13 Nov 2014 03:46 am

The Cthulhu Mythos are real! Ostensibly written for the “young adult” market, Billy Lovecraft Saves the World, by Billy Lovecraft, Curiosity Quills Press (Amazon link) is wonderful fun. I’m 60-years old, and as a long time H.P. Lovecraft fan, I loved this book. Well written, endearing characters, scary, but with a big-sized dollop of humor thrown in, I believe that you will get a kick out of this story, too.

Billy Lovecraft is 12-years old. His parents are killed in a plane crash caused by a terrifying creature. His parents were famous for creating a popular role playing game based upon their explorations of the mysteries of ancient and strange out-of-this-world creatures. The last thing they did before their deaths was to send their son, Billy, a photo of the strange critter sitting on the wing of the plane they were in.

Billy enlists the help of some nerdy kids at his school, forming a detective squad to investigate the how and why of his parents’ deaths. Plunged into a dangerous world of magical chants and hidden enemies, the children use their natural talents to seek answers. Along the way, the forces of supernatural creatures and their human slaves fight them every step of the way with a fiendish plot to destroy the world. The future survival of Earth is at stake! What makes this story so satisfying is that while being a loving tribute to the body of horror writings by H.P. Lovecraft, it’s tamed with the humor, creativity, and updating by the author. Scary but funny; you just know that everything will work out all right. Everyone reading this will wish they grew up in the home that Billy did.

Aimed at the young adult market, I’m not sure that there are all that many kids who would even know who H.P. Lovecraft is. None the less, they will eat this novel up because it has all the elements they regularly encounter in their online dungeon and dragon games. Oldsters such as myself can appreciate the story itself, as well as the honor that the author has given to one of the early masters of horror fiction.

One tiny quibble — or piece of advice, if you will — is that the protagonists are listed as being 12-years old. They don’t seem, speak, or act it. One of them can read and translate Latin, while another can design plasma weapons. While you read the book, just figure that they are really 14 or 15-years old and it will seem more realistic. Aside from that, the author does a fine job of fleshing out all of the characters (human or otherwise) in this fun book.

Billy Lovecraft Saves the World is a fun read. The writing is crisp and the action is fast paced. I recommend it for kids up to age 90. You’ll love it and hope (as I do) that it is only the first of a series for these brave detectives. Bravo!

As always, if you appreciate this review, please find the one I cross-posted on Amazon and give it a “helpful” thumbs-up.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 03 Nov 2014 11:55 am

Finally! Good news: Open Road Media is releasing a Kindle edition of Quozl, by Alan Dean Foster (Amazon link). Quozl is a lighthearted science fiction tale of a race of alien “rabbits” who land on Earth, go into hiding, and finally reveal themselves. Adults and young adults will enjoy this pleasant novel of first contact (both of the humans, and the Quozl) and how the Quozl are finally introduced to humanity at large.

The planet of Quozlene is overpopulated. A multi-generational interstellar ship is programmed for Earth. Unbeknownst to the Quozl, Earth already has an intelligent (well, somewhat) species occupying it. The Quozl land in a nearly deserted area of a national forest, burrow into the ground, and hope they won’t be discovered for hundreds of years.

The Quozl are rabbit like, in many ways including — you guessed it — their sexual appetite. This is mentioned, but not elaborated upon, throughout the story. Hence, I consider the book appropriate for teenagers. The aliens forbid anyone to leave the underground burrow. One curious, young Quazl sneaks out — and first contact is made with a young boy.

What makes Quozl such a satisfying book is the way Alan Dean Foster as developed an entire history and culture for the aliens, yet doesn’t let it bog-down the story. All of the characters, human and alien, are fleshed out (furred out?) and you wind-up caring for all of them. The author also deftly handles a story that covers many years.

Quozl is a nice diversion from all of the heavy, militaristic science fiction being produced these days. I enjoyed it, and I think that you will, too. My hope is that in the distant future, when humans finally do encounter aliens, that the meeting will be as pleasant as the one in this enjoyable story.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 01 Nov 2014 12:30 pm

As soon as a new book in this series comes out, I buy it. That should tell you something right there. You get a lot of reading for just 99 cents for your Kindle and you can’t beat that. The Ninth Science Fiction Megapack (Amazon link) is here and I recommend it with reservations.

I’ve given most of the books in this series five stars, but this one I’m dropping to 4. There isn’t quite as much of a mix in different types of stories, and there seems to be a lot more of the older (1950’s to 1970’s) ones than usual. Still, for only a buck, you can’t lose.

Here’s a round-up of the better ones (sans plot-spoilers):

Near novel length, The Spires of Denon, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, concerns intrigue at an archeological dig on a distant world where, far in the future, descendants of Earth explore an old, abandoned human colony. There are secrets to be discovered, and some of them involve the participants, themselves. Typically excellent Rusch storytelling.

Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog, by Brenda W. Clough, relates what happens to one mail order business owner when he discovers that his best customer is…

Luvver, by Mack Reynolds. A pleasure craft makes an emergency landing on a quarantined world.

Frog Level, by Bud Webster. A student could learn a lot by hopping a freight train — with the right teacher.

Shifting Seas, by Stanley G. Weinbaum. Now we’re really talking climate change!

Rock Garden, by Kevin O’Donnell, Jr. Searching for life in the asteroid belt, and a computer that understands English less than Siri does.

When They Come From Space, by Mark Clifton. Another novella, probably about 70,000 words long. As an editor, I would have cut about 5,000 of those. Nonetheless, this is a wonderfully cynical look at governmental bureaucracy, the control of media over politics, and an alien exploration committee that knows how to exploit both. My favorite quote from it (there are several) is: “You’re in the government now. First rule of government of the people, by the people, for the people: Never tell the people!”

Waiting For The Coin To Drop, by Dean Wesley Smith. Time travel for historians. Time travel for prisoners. What could go wrong?

Beyond The Darkness, by S. J. Byrne. Another version of the multigenerational star ship from Earth with a revolt against the ruling class. Pretty good, though the ending seems rushed and could have been expanded to make this a full length novel.

The Loch Moose Monster, by Janet Kagan, is my favorite story in this collection. Colonists on a planet “unpack” the “condensed” DNA samples from Earth and bring them to life. Well, it seemed a good idea at the time… Lots of fun, and I wish I could be there!

My Fair Planet, by Evelyn E. Smith. An alien hires an actor to instruct him on how to be human. I chuckled more than once while reading it.

My second favorite story here is Preferred Risk, by Frederik Pohl and Lester del Rey. Novel length, it was written many years ago, but thanks to Pohl’s skill, reads perfectly fine today. It’s also one of the few “action” stories in the book. What happens when one “company” runs the world? It controls every facet of your life, insuring your health, well being, and there’s still a bottom line to be met. Oh, and then disaster strikes! Typical Pohl at his best.

There’s also two good, in-depth interviews by Darrell Schweitzer of authors Dan Simmons and Frederik Pohl.

A handful of the stories are hopelessly ancient. For example: to read about plant and animal life on Mars when we know that there isn’t any. These should have been left out of the book. One example will suffice: Before Eden, by Arthur C. Clarke, takes place on Venus. Here’s a quote from the third chapter of the tale, discussing the weather: “The weather was fantastically clear, with visibility of almost a thousand yards.” I didn’t bother reading any further than that.

I want to mention one more story in the Ninth Science Fiction Megapack. It is For I Am A Jealous People, by Lester del Rey. This is an old, novella length retread of War of the Worlds, with a religious twist, and not a good one. The story itself isn’t bad and has some action in it. However, (and I say this as a non-religious person) the ending and premise will be deeply insulting to devout Christians and Jews. I’m not politically correct under anyone’s definition. However, I believe in playing fair, and I do believe that the media, writers, and in this case, editors, seem to feel that it is perfectly fine to beat-up on the Christian faith. That’s just wrong. If this story had been scornful of gays (for example) or women or African Americans, the outrage would be immediate. There was no legitimate reason to include it in this omnibus.

Having said all of that, this latest entry in the series is still a very good bargain. Lots of good reading for less than a cup of coffee. Buy it and have fun.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 28 Oct 2014 10:23 am

Curiosity Quills Press has a hit on their hands as far as I’m concerned, with Operation Chimera, by Tony Healey and Matthew S. Cox. (Amazon link.) This entry into the science-fiction field offers likable characters, a good plot, and non-stop action including one of the best (and longest) space-battle scenes I’ve read in quite some time.

Earth, along with some allies, is fighting an interstellar war against the Draxx Alliance, a reptilian race that believes the entire universe belongs to them. As a plot, there’s nothing especially original about this. What sets Operation Chimera apart from similar themed novels is the deft execution by the authors. First and foremost, the writing is excellent and the characters are believably well fleshed out — warts and all. They are carefully introduced during the opening chapters.

As part of the war effort, a dangerous and secret mission is proposed. The mission is so risky that the military asks for volunteers both from their own ranks, and from civilians. A new aircraft carrier style star ship is built for the voyage. The story details the adventures of six pilots fresh out of the officer’s academy. They comprise one of the fighter squadrons and their mettle will be tested all through the book. I enjoyed the fact that there’s no one “star” of the story. Rather, authors Healey and Cox gave all of the protagonists equal weight.

I’m not going to reveal spoilers. I will tell you that the main battle scene runs over a hundred pages and that there’s no way you are going to want to put the book down half-way through it. Plan your meals accordingly! The obstacles for both the squadron and the star ship are many, and they keep coming one after another and piling up, making Operation Chimera such a wonderful read. Incidentally, the authors give “hat-tips” to other SF authors throughout the book, including to Isaac Asimov and his robotic laws. Nice touch!

Fortunately for all of us SF fans, this is just the first book in what I hope will be a long series.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 26 Oct 2014 10:07 pm

The first of a trilogy of novellas, The Whispers, by Lisa Unger (Amazon link) confronts us with the question of, “Why do bad things happen to good people,” and is there a purpose behind such events? Eloise Montgomery suffers the unthinkable, losing her husband and oldest daughter in a terrible automobile accident. She herself suffers injuries and awakens from a 6-week coma. Her youngest daughter suffered no physical effects but has withdrawn into herself by not speaking or responding to outside stimulus.

Thus begins this intriguing series following the new life forced upon Eloise. And then the visions start! Audible and visual phenomena of women being abused or worse. She finds herself successfully assisting the police in two investigations. She does not want this new “gift” and must reflect upon why it was given to her. Cryptic parts of the answer come from, shall we say, visits from her deceased husband and child.

Lisa Unger is a good writer and her characters are vivid and complete. Her descriptions of the mental anguish experienced by Eloise exert a powerful tug on your heartstrings. The story ends on an upbeat note. Naturally you are left wanting more. Fortunately, the next installment of this series is due out in November. I guarantee you I’ll be reading it.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 15 Oct 2014 04:32 pm

I always enjoy stepping into one of David Weber’s stories. I know it will be interesting and well written. A Call to Duty, by David Weber and Timothy Zahn (Amazon link) doesn’t disappoint. Set in the Honor Harrington universe, but many years before she arrives on the scene, the people of Manticore are rebuilding, following a devastating plague. With no wars being fought, some of the politicians would like to dismantle the Royal Navy and dedicate additional resources to other endeavors. The process begins. Fortunately, it doesn’t get too far.

Enter a young man flirting with trouble, Travis Uriah Long. Finding no structure in his home life, he enlists in the Manticore Royal Navy. Travis doesn’t find as much discipline or structure as he was hoping, and falls afoul of certain senior officers. Fortunately, others are on his side, or at least give him the benefit of the doubt. Showing a talent for learning star ship mechanics, he eventually finds himself assigned to a ship reconstruction crew lacking — you guessed it! — discipline and structure. The story takes off from there, with Long serving on a star ship that goes on rescue missions, and later battles pirates. For the sake of brevity, I’m simplifying things in the extreme. The book is much more original than that.

Likeable characters, good action scenes, intrigue, and tough decisions all factor into a grand space opera and a welcome addition (as the start of a new series) in the Honor Harrington universe. Just don’t go looking for her.

Confession: I didn’t read the entire book in one sitting; I took a few minutes to grab a bite to eat.

You’ll enjoy A Call to Duty. I certainly did!

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 15 Oct 2014 03:18 pm

I’ve read and enjoyed two of James Wesley, Rawles’ other books in this series. Thus I looked forward to the latest, Liberators (Amazon link, due to be released October 21). Most of the action takes place in Canada during “the Crunch” when most of the worlds’ economies have collapsed, with ensuing disorder, scarcity of food and fuel, and governments in disarray. There are several books in the series, all taking place during the same years, but with different characters in different parts of the world. Liberators is certainly engaging. You just hope it never becomes non-fiction.

All of the books in the series can be classified as “prepper” novels in that besides providing you with a possible futuristic history, they also offer advice (via the characters’ actions) on how to prepare for an emergency, and the breakdown of government — be it at the local or national level.

I’ve rated the book slightly lower than previous ones for a few reasons. First, there seems to be more exposition rather than plot actions in contrast to previous works in the series. Fiction is best when it is of the “show, don’t tell” modal.

Secondly, the occupation of Canada, first by European U.N. forces is believable enough. However, once they are “sent packing” as it were, the occupation by China is a bit more far-fetched. I can’t see a country with little oil production of its own being able to transport so many troops and ships/planes or helicopters/ground vehicles overseas.

Liberators also seems to have an extra-heavy dose of Christianity infused in the characters, making them seem rather wooden. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember a single person of another religion (or lack of one) taking part in the story.

Still, it’s a fun read that I hope never comes true.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 25 Sep 2014 10:42 am

The full title of this layman’s guide to understanding the theory of relativity is What is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein’s Ideas, and Why They Matter. Published by Columbia University Press, author Jeffrey Bennett uses his young adult, classroom lectures to aid in understanding the profound equations and theories that revolutionized our picture of how the Universe works. I’d like to write that this is a welcome addition to the field. I can’t.

There’s nothing especially wrong, or inaccurate, about this volume, just that there’s nothing new or original about it. The gold standard of books explaining Einstein’s theories of relativity has — at least for me — been The Universe, and Dr. Einstein, by Lincoln Barnett, first published in 1948, and revised in 1950. Long out of print, but used editions readily available on eBay and other sources, it clearly made relativity accessible to the average reader.

While Einstein (and Barnett, in explaining Einstein’s work) use railroad trains as illustrative examples, Bennett has updated that by using rocket ships, instead. Other than that, the book adds nothing new to the discussion. On the plus side, he does give an original view of black holes, and what could happen if a spaceship ventured too close to one. On the minus side, he does little to illuminate the conflicts between the theory of relativity and the quantum theories. Barnett’s book touches on that, a bit.

Bennett’s writing style is okay, though not exciting, and the illustrations are nothing special.

Although Barnett’s book is out of print, might I instead recommend to you, Einstein’s Cosmos, by Michio Kaku, which does a much better job of presenting — at a ‘consumer level’ — both theories plus Kaku’s typically interesting speculations.


Reading ListJeff Soyer on 18 May 2014 12:22 pm

To add to your science-fiction reading list: This year’s Nebula Award winners have been announced.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 20 Apr 2014 02:57 am

The full and official list is here.

Here are the novels:

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)

Neptune’s Brood, Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK)

Parasite, Mira Grant (Orbit US/Orbit UK)

Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles, Larry Correia (Baen Books)

The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books)

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 25 Feb 2014 06:37 am

Some 45-years ago, the Boyscout troop I was in went on an overnight camping trip in late November. It rained and then snowed and we were huddled in our tents, and half of us got the stomach bug. Thinking back on it, that was a walk in the park compared to what The Troop, by Nick Cutter (Amazon link) faces as the five of them and their scoutmaster begin a weekend camping trip on a small, deserted island off the coast of Prince Edward Island.

The short review: Frightening, relentless, graphically gory.

The long review: There are two ways to handle a horror story. One is with subtlety, the other is with head-on violence and gore. If you’re preference is for the latter, this is a disturbingly good read. If not….

All seems well as the troop settles in for their first night on lonely Falstaff Island. Then, an escapee from a military-financed biological research lab arrives. Gaunt, starving, and dangerous, the zombie-like character carries within him a genetically engineered, highly infectious parasite that will leave a trail of blood and guts.

Perhaps more creatively, is how the author has given the middle-school-aged boys not just a terrifying, but palpable danger to defend against, but also a quietly sadistic, psychotic from their own ranks to contend with. The portraiture of him is chilling and makes for pages of graphic prose that are almost too difficult to read. Of course, like commuters rubbernecking an accident on the other side of the highway, we have to look anyway.

Added to all of that, there’s the mystery of “why?” no rescue comes from the mainland, and you have a thoroughly scary read that will keep you turning pages.

The Troop is well written, if grim; don’t look for any humorous breaks in the tension. If graphic gore isn’t your thing, I don’t recommend this book for you. If it is, you will (as some of the characters do) feast.

Although the protagonists are young teens, this book is for adults.

Note: If you find my reviews helpful (either convincing you to buy or not buy a book) please indicate so on Amazon (where my reviews are cross-posted.

Reading ListJeff Soyer on 11 Feb 2014 05:55 am

When you die, you simply wake up in another world, possibly in another universe. It’s not reincarnation in the classic sense, since you usually arrive at the age you were at, at “death,” and your memories are intact. Earth is an original-born world, not one of the steps along the way. Eventually, when it’s time to really die — if you’ve “earned it” — you wind up on a strange, squalid world known as the City Unspoken. That’s the premise of The Waking Engine, by David Edison. This big book is a heady mixture of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror, with an ambitious plot: Something has gone wrong with the machine that actually allows the mix of creatures from various worlds to finally rest in peace. The City Unspoken is becoming overcrowded, out of control, and various forms of ennui, or insanity, are rising.

There are numerous subplots, and a remarkable array of characters; some human, some not so much. As a world builder, the author has excelled in The Waking Engine.

The main protagonist of the story — a young, gay man from New York named Cooper — awakes in this strange world and quickly becomes enmeshed as a pawn in the machinations of numerous different factions. He begins to develop some powers that aid his survival. He’s a smart aleck, but not so smart in other ways as he often ignores what precious little, good advice is given him.

Okay, a book review is supposed to be more than a plot summary. I wanted to like the book, but there are a few flaws in it that make that difficult. Firstly, other than Cooper, nobody in The Waking Engine is remotely likable. There’s a huge cast of characters whose only concerns are for themselves. There’s also a tremendous amount of cruelty in the story between characters — even those few that purport to be “good” and helpful. It’s not easy to read page-after-page about people you simply don’t care for. Even the two beings that initially find Cooper and take him in exhibit their worst selves when Sesstri kicks Cooper and calls him a turd, and Asher abandons him in the City. Later, they’ll regret that.

There are so many subplots that even scenes that should have moved along quickly get bogged-down in the details and keeping track of all the players is a full time task.

There are some good points. The descriptions of the various parts of the city are excellent and you find yourself in total immersion to this strange universe. The courtship scenes between Cooper and his poorly chosen, brief lover, Marvin, are nicely erotic without being pornographic (sex is at a very bare minimum in the story). Much of the book’s dialogue is well crafted.

In the end, I believe The Waking Machine would benefit if it went through another edit, and also if David Edison would inject a little more humanity into a few of the minor protagonists — regardless if they’re human or not. Three stars out of 5.

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Day by Day, by Chris Muir

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