** This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review **
It’s funny how one doesn’t realize how much they miss a solid slab of cyberpunk until they have one under their nose. Mr. Price absolutely owns the genre with Reality Testing. It’s got everything a good cyberpunk novel should have: dystopian future, techno-bio-enhancements, specialized slang, and massive classist conspiracy.
The story opens up with our protagonist, Mara Kinzig, waking up to having apparently murdered someone she does not know. Mara had signed up to basically have her dreams harvested (oh yeah, and that’s just the tip of the techno-weird iceberg for this amazing world), but now is apparently in this situation.
Mara then does the only thing she knows to do and heads out for the tiny apartment she previously shared with her girlfriend. Here’s where it starts to get weird. Mara, apparently, isn’t Mara. It’s her brain and personality, but it’s been all decanted into a different body.
Then the real trouble starts. Mara is hunted by the law, and a lot of bad things happen forcing her to seek out the Vanguard: a sort of utopian semi-terroristic cell of outcasts trying to change the current plight of the world.
That’s all I’m going to share because this story is very very hard to describe without diving deep into the spoilers.
Mr. Price definitely excels at creating a very gritty and highly polarized world where the divide between the haves and the have-nots is utterly massive. This dystopia is an absolute chef’s kiss of “wow, everybody got fucked really badly.”
The twists and turns of Reality Testing are what really make it a winner, though. We meet characters who, despite all odds, still find faith in humanity in a world where people are rapidly removing bits of what makes them human. We have a transformed Berlin where the “old ways” of building/living/working/polluting are looked down upon with such disdain that it basically becomes criminal to exist. The darkness set up in the first part of the story is so palpable that every small step towards the revealing of answers seems like a herculean task.
This book is really really fun, but, at the same time, Mr. Price tricks the reader into thinking about what is going on in our own world through acid-etched carbon nantotube silica lenses. Don’t sleep on this book
Here’s the setting. A young daemon gets inhabited and taken over by his father and proceeds to go on a Duke Nukem-style bloodbath to help raise power for and spread the corruption of his father. His sole driving force was to just ambush and kill and kill and kill.
Then the oddest of things happens. The young daemon, who we learn is named Albtraum, is captured, taken in, and, in the first of many twists, given the opportunity to fight against his father and maybe make the world a better place.
Ms. Vice opens this one with an absolutely master-crafted bloodbath and then deftly slides into a very involved story of political intrigue and a broad exploration of political relationships, interpersonal relationships, trust, and growth.
The fantasy presented in Birthright is top-notch. Having Albtraum constantly at odds with his father, and the uncertainty of how he can and does act in situations added a nice tension to this read while progressing the story nicely. In the shadows of spreading corruption, the reader never really knows when Albtraum will be infected by his father’s nefarious spirit and begin resorting back to his ways of violence.
I really enjoyed the variety of terrains that our characters are taken through. This world was very well adapted, and does help lend to a fair amount of character development. Through the worldbuilding, the reader can see the roots of many of the characters, and a lot of it is reflected back in personality.
Birthright is chock full of twists: some seen from a mile away, and some that just smack you in the face as they are happening. The final book in the series comes out in December 2021, and I really can’t wait to see how the story progresses considering the way things were left at the end of Birthright (no spoilers).
I’d really suggest picking this novel up. It’s independently published, and it’s always good to support those creators who take it upon themselves to push their works out in the world.
James Stark can seriously not catch a break. Good ol’ Sandman Slim is freshly back from Hell thanks to making a deal with Wormwood, but — because it’s Wormwood — there’s a catch. Stark has to do some errands for the horrible organization and he only gets brought back at half-strength to do them. Typical Wormwood.
There is some serious shit brewing that Stark has to try to either diffuse or destroy, and he’s got a super limited timeline to do so. Naturally everything goes haywire and Stark — who is trying to lie low since he’s been dead for a year — has to go back to enlist some help from some old friends.
The Sandman Slim novels are just good damn fun to read, and they are always very inventive. Mr. Kadrey has a proven record of building some seriously screwed up situations to get Stark in, and some very creative solutions as to how Stark gets out of them. Stark’s LA is exactly the type of gritty hell-hole it needs to be, and the wide range of creatures, magicks, weirdos, groupies and goons makes for the perfect melange of fantasy noir.
Yes, a ten (actually twelve) book series is very daunting to approach, but I highly suggest devouring these as soon as you can. This has been one of my favorite series for a decade and I recommend it to everyone.