Book Review: Chill (Jacob’s Ladder Book 2)

chill

Cover image for Elizabeth Bear’s novel “Chill”

Today, I finished the science fiction novel Chill by Hugo and Sturgeon award-winning author Elizabeth Bear. Unfortunately, when I checked it out of my local public library, I didn’t notice that it was the second installment in the three-part Jacob’s Ladder series.

The series tells the tale of a generation ship, a proposed means of crossing interstellar space by having a space vessel carry multiple generations of people across long distances at relatively slow speeds. It’s a trope that’s very familiar with science fiction fans.

Ms. Bear did something new, but it was hard for me to figure out exactly what, since I was coming into the story in the proverbial middle of the second reel.

Apparently the generation ship, Jacob’s Ladder starts out in the first novel “Dust” trapped in orbit around a doomed star, using its resources to replenish the ship’s damage. I don’t know how that works, and like I said, I’ve never read the first book.

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Book Review: “The Man in the High Castle

high castle

Cover image for the novel “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. Dick

My son Michael and I were talking about the television series The Man in the High Castle, which is based on the 1962 novel of the same name authored by the late Philip K. Dick. I’ve never seen the television show (and probably never will), but I did recall reading the novel sometime back in the 1970s.

Unfortunately, that’s all I remembered about it. Curious, I decided to check a copy of the book out of my local public library and re-read it.

The novel is set in the year it was published and postulates what the United States would have been like if the Axis powers had won World War Two thanks to the Nazis having developed the atomic bomb first.

The US is divided into three zones, with the Nazis in control of the East, the Japanese in control of the West, and a sort of DMZ existing across the Rocky Mountain States.

The “Man in the High Castle” refers to the author of a controversial novel called “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” written by the mysterious Hawthorne Abendsen. It postulates what the world would have been like if the Allies had won the war. The book is tolerated in the West, but the Nazis have made it illegal in the East and there are rumors that there’s an ongoing attempt to assassinate the book’s writer. Thus Abendsen is said to live in a fortress (“High Castle”) in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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Book Review of Echo Volume 3: The Dialectic of Agony

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Cover image of Kent Wayne’s “Echo Volume 3: The Dialectic of Agony”

I’ve been following Kent Wayne’s (pen name) Echo series for a few years now. Kent is an indie author with a vision for life on and in orbit around a colony world called “Echo” set a thousand years in the future. Being a veteran, he renders military action with a keenly realistic voice, sometimes going over the top. After reviewing Echo Volume 1: Approaching Shatter over two years ago, and Echo Volume 2: The Taste of Ashes last October, I was anxious to get into the third installment, Echo Volume 3: The Dialectic of Agony.

“Agony” takes a very dramatic twist away from the first two novels. In “Shatter,” we are introduced to “Crusader” Kischan Atriya, an elite soldier who is becoming dissatisfied with his role as “Crew” but is unable to articulate why. He gets in deep with members of a despotic religious order who have ordered his death, and after a brief encounter with his mentor, the mysterious Verus, we follow him in a slow descent into what could be the end of his life, engineered by his own supposed allies during a mission into a “Scape.”

Volume 2 picks up right where the first tale leaves off, and the reader is thrust into an adrenaline-fueled power dive with wall-to-wall combat scenarios, the first half of the novel being non-stop action. Atriya manages to survive, thanks to his specialized enhancements, his own wits, and his unimpeachable sense of honor, but at a terrible cost to his body and mind. Having barely survived by the end of the story, he has few options left, all of them leading to tragedy and death.

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Book Review of Echo Volume 2: The Taste of Ashes

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Cover for Echo Vol 2: A Taste of Ashes

It’s been over two years since I reviewed Kent Wayne’s (pen name) military science fiction novel Echo Vol I: Approaching Shatter. I’ve had volumes 2 and 3 on my Kindle Fire forever, but just hadn’t managed to get around to reading them (so many books, so little time). But then, I hit just the right break in my reading schedule and inserted Echo Volume 2: The Taste of Ashes.

Echo I set the stage for the action in Echo 2, which is an adrenaline-fueled, supercharged, watch-the-body-count-rise, military “gore-fest.” No kidding, for nearly the first half of the book, the protagonist Atriya is constantly battling hordes of enemy Dissidents without a single break.

In the book’s Afterword, Wayne admits he probably could have shifted the scene a little bit or avoided describing, second by second, everything Atriya was going through in microscopic detail. My personal opinion is that he should probably just repackage Vol I and II as a single novel, since it would even things out a bit.

I’m not being particularly critical when I say this. I enjoyed the action, although there were times when, even with the Crusader’s advanced augmentations, he seemed more superhuman than any of his contemporaries.

So what’s going on?

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Death Unmasked: A Book Review

death unmasked

Cover image of the novel “Death Unmasked” by Rick Sulik

Disclosure: Almost three months ago, author Rick Sulik asked me to review his 2015 novel Death Unmasked. We had an email discussion and I agreed with the understanding that I would provide an honest review, no holds barred. I subsequently received a kindle edition of the book and finished reading it yesterday.

You should probably know two things about Rick before we get started. He’s a retired police officer, having served on both the Houston and Pasadena (Texas) police forces. He believes in reincarnation. Both of these figure prominently in this novel.

Imagine that you’re a homicide detective in Houston and nearing retirement. You’re a loner, both on the force and in your personal life, and yet there is this longing in you for connection.

Then, little by little, you begin to recall experiences from a past life, your previous name, your wife, how you died, and how she was raped and murdered.

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Meg: A Story of Deep Terror – Book Review

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Cover art for the 1997 novel, “Meg: A Story of Deep Terror” by Steve Alten

A few days ago, I came across something about a movie due in theaters in a few weeks called The Meg starring Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, and Rainn Wilson. It’s based on a 1997 novel written by Steve Alten called Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror. Yes, it’s about a shark, but an extinct species called Megalodon, something about the size of a school bus, but a lot meaner.

I doubt I’ll go see the movie, but curious, I found the first novel (in a series of five) at my local public library.

Not to sound cliché, but it is a real page turner. One of those “I can’t put it down” novels. Our hero is paleontologist Jonas Taylor, a former deep-sea diver and marine biologist who, after a brief encounter with a Meg fifteen years before, and having caused an accident that caused the death of two Naval personnel, has never been able to get into the water again. His ambitious, career-minded wife has written him off as a failure and is having an affair with his millionaire best friend.

In spite of the more “soap opera” aspects of the book, which fortunately are held to a minimum, the story is full of “pulse-pounding action,” and, as far as I can tell not being a shark, ship, or submarine expert, seems to be full of pretty accurate and well-researched material.

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The Last Hunt: A Short Story Review

to be men

Cover image of the soon to be published book “To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity.”

I’m in the process of reading for review the Superversive Press anthology To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity. I plan on writing both an Amazon review and a much more detailed one on this blog when I finish.

But I can’t wait. I’m going to create a wee preview highlighting one of the short stories enshrined therein.

But first things first. Why an anthology about “celebrating masculinity” when so much of what has been traditionally defined as masculine (for good or for ill) has been deemed toxic, not the least of which by third wave feminists and progressives?

Here’s an answer I found in the descriptive “blurb” for the book on Amazon:

Tired of stories about men as bumbling idiots? Of fathers as incompetents? Of masculinity as “toxic”? Tired of misandry? Ready for some real masculine role models? Stories about heroes and men who do the right thing? Stories about real men? The kind that provide for their families, love their wives and children, and make sacrifices. And save the world. A collection of seventeen stories and two essays, To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity pays homage to men and masculinity. Fun. Action-packed. Thought-provoking. Whatever your tastes, you will find enjoyment in these pages.

In other words, as I wrote about here almost a year ago, Not All #menaretrash.

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Galactic North: A Brief Book Review

galactic north

Cover art for Alastair Reynolds’ book ‘Galactic North.”

A friend of mine loaned me his copy of this book because we share similar tastes in reading and I must say I found it well-written and compelling. Galactic North is a collection of eight short stories all set in the same “universe” and spanning centuries.

They involve different variations of the human race, and how they cooperate and compete with each other across the ages and light years. It’s space opera at its finest including plausible “space pirates.”

Author Alastair Reynolds has a Ph.D in Astronomy and was previously employed as an astrophysicist for the European Space Agency, so he definitely possesses the qualifications for writing “hard science fiction.”

Interestingly enough, in addition to realistically portrayed interstellar travel, suspended animation, and human cybernetic hive minds, he focuses quite a bit on the medical adaptations to human beings, from the hyper-cerebral Conjoiners, to the terrifying Denizens.

The only thing that put me off a bit were the instances of what I call “medical atrocities,” that is, how some of the people in the stories end up horribly altered and mutilated, but that’s more a problem with my squeamishness than Reynolds’ writing.

As I understand it, Reynolds has written a number of other short stories and novels in the “Revelation Space” series, comparable to Larry Niven’s “Known Space” series. I have no problem giving “Galactic North” a solid five stars on Amazon, which I will be doing in just a bit.

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories: A Book Review

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Since I’ve been toying with writing a few steampunk stories of my own, I decided I should get a better feel for the genre. To that end, I searched my local library system for what would be considered a definitive collection of such tales. At the top of the list was Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant.

I didn’t know what to expect, so I dived in. Well, that’s not true. I did look up several definitions of “steampunk” online, but then while reading, I started wondering if I hadn’t gotten my wires crossed.

While the stories did seem to either take place in the late 19th century or otherwise use steam and gear related technology, most of the missives didn’t seem to capture “steampunkness.”

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Raising Lazarus: A Book Review

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Raising Lazarus by Aidan Reid

I just finished reading Aidan Reid’s novel Raising Lazarus and I must say I am impressed. I’ve read other works of his including “Sigil”, “Pathfinders”, and his short story “Spectrum”, and I think “Raising Lazarus” is his best authoring effort to date.

There will probably be a few “spoilers” in my review, so if you don’t want important plot points revealed ahead of reading “Lazarus,” stop reading this review now.

The novel follows college student Molly Walker, who, as part of writing her University thesis, interviews an incarcerated male prostitute named Lazarus. After he is released, she continues to be fascinated by him and throughout the first half of the novel, they casually pursue each other, with Lazarus slowly letting Molly into his world.

The novel moves back and forth between the present and seven years ago when Lazarus was a refuge in Syria being harbored by a Catholic Priest, giving the reader the opportunity to compare “past” Lazarus with who he presents himself as today.

Eventually, Lazarus reveals that he believes he is the Biblical Lazarus, the man who was resurrected by Christ after being dead and entombed for over three days.

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