Tag: Science Fiction

A World of Secrets (The Firewall Trilogy #2) by James Maxwell

A World of Secrets (The Firewall Trilogy Book 2) by [James Maxwell]

Oh Mr. Maxwell, I really really tried to get into this one. A Girl From Nowhere had such great potential, and the battle scenes were masterfully choreographed, but what we got in A World of Secrets is the story-bridge equivalent of Back to the Future Part II.

Yes, we did get to see a bit more of the relationship between Taimin and Selena grow, and a pretty big character roadblock was “fixed” in a cheeky way that, in my opinion, was an insult to the character.

I will say, I did enjoy the last quarter of the book, but the first three-quarters felt, to me, like a bit of a drudge. There was some slight character development, and the story slightly pushed along, but much as in Back to the Future Part II, this was just a platform to bridge book one to book three without really adding much to the bigger story other than a pivotal twist at the end.

Yes, the pivot was practically genre-jumping, and a real game-changer in what is going on, but we had to get through a lot of what basically gets flashed into irrelevancy in the final pages of the book.

I do understand that there was a bigger journey that was important to what was built up in book one, but the transition to the “big reveal” came across, again, in my opinion, as mildly insulting.

Sadly, I just don’t have the motivation right now to continue on to book three.

The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry

Murder and the multiverse. Yeah, that just about boils it down. This seems like a pretty simple premise, but the elegant word- and world-smithing of Mr. Barry are what make The 22 Murders of Madison May such an enjoyable read.

The novel opens with New York real estate agent Madison May getting brutally murdered by a client she is showing a house to, and the details, ludicrously, don’t make any sense.

Enter reporter Felicity Staples. Felicity is gathering the details on the senseless murder and seeing more and more that nothing is making sense, and the killing seems pretty random. Then she spots the killer on the subway and watches as he vanishes.

This is where things get really weird. Felicity seems to have slid into a different New York City. There’s been no murder of Madison May and details in Felicity’s life are just a little bit off. Then, this universe’s Madison May, an actress, is murdered.

From here, Felicity takes it upon herself to find the killer, and she runs into a few individuals who understand what is going on and are hunting the killer as well. Now, Felicity is jumping from universe to universe uncovering more and more clues and trying to reach a point at which she can stop the killer and Madison May can live.

This wasn’t my favorite of Mr. Barry’s work. Perhaps by design, I found it a tad disjointed compared to some of his other efforts. The worldbuilding is very well done, but I just didn’t find the world all that compelling. There are certain details that seem to have been watered down in editing, and that kinda bugged me. Don’t get me wrong, The 22 Murders of Madison May is a suspenseful read, I just wanted more out of it.

The Kaiju Preservation Society (by John Scalzi)

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

I’m just going to put it out there right off the bat that I’m a total sucker for anything remotely related to kaiju. For those of you not in the know, the easiest way to approach the phenomenon/sub-culture is, simply, Godzilla. If you can imagine giant, city-crushing, monsters on a tear, that’s kaiju.

I digress, though. The kaiju are just a portion of what Mr. Scalzi sets out to tackle in The Kaiju Preservation Society. Written, appropriately enough, in the middle of our little COVID-19 pandemic, the novel is a lovely pastiche of social commentary, science, adventure, and corporate fuckery.

This isn’t heavy reading, but it is hella entertaining reading. Our intrepid protagonist, Jamie Gray, has fallen from corporate idea guy to food delivery driver thanks to COVID and a bit of horrible circumstance. Luckily for Jamie, he runs into an old acquaintance who has a spot open on his team with “an animal rights organization.” Jaime takes the chance, and the adventure begins.

Much as the title describes, the Kaiju Preservation Society is charged with maintaining the “health” of a kaiju population in what can best be described as an “adjacent” Earth that can be accessed due to what can best be described as dimensional thinning due to nuclear activity.

The Kaiju of this realm can best be described as living, breathing — and sometimes flying — nuclear reactors (as all good kaiju are somewhere rooted in). The kaiju it turns out, are more of an ecosystem than just individual organisms, and the KPS tends to all of their needs.

There is other spoilery stuff that I would rather not reveal because this is just one hell of a fun read that deserves to be unfolded by whomever has it in their grubby little hands.

Mr. Scalzi has a proven track-record of getting all of the proper bits together for compelling storytelling and worldbuilding, and The Kaiju Preservation Society demonstrates this handily. The banter is very natural, the story progresses as one would expect a sci-fi flick script to do, and the pop culture references are just downright witty.

I know this is 85-90% a one-shot novel, but it would be interesting to see some expansion on some of the ideas, characters and technologies introduced. I’m not going to hold my breath, but a nerd can hope.

If you need me, I’ll be watching Rebirth of Mothra for the seventieth time.

Psycho Therapy by Ryan Hyatt

Psycho Therapy by [Ryan Hyatt]

Here’s the thing, a while back Mr. Hyatt approached me via this very website to ask if I wanted to read his novel The Psychic’s Memoirs. I did, and that was my initial introduction into the Terrifide world. Boy howdy it’s been a wild ride since then, and Psycho Therapy falls perfectly in step with my expectations.

What are those expectations, you ask? Don’t expect anything.

Psycho Therapy opens nicely enough. We are introduced to Tucson police officer James McCabe who has a new position in the department patrolling the streets. We learn pretty quickly that the scenario for this tale is the post-invasion timeline of the Terrafide universe. It appears that, post-invasion, Terrafide Labs has figured out how to “tame” and weaponize the kiaskis: an alien canine-like creature that, by description, reminds me a lot of Mike Mignola’s interpretation of Samael.

In an apparent twist of strange fate, the American justice system is now relying on these kiaskis as a part of a bizarre “gauntlet” for severe sentences, and part of Officer McCabe’s duty — along with his veteran partner — is to monitor the process of said gauntlet and provide sideline support.

Per usual, there is a twist, and that particular twist relates to McCabe’s traumatic relationship with the invasion. I’m not saying anything else because it’s a short story and you can bloody well read it for yourself.

I do love where Psycho Therapy sits in the larger Terrafide universe. Each glimpse Mr. Hyatt releases gives a fog-of-war-esque clearing into a larger world that just bristles and roils around a much much larger, and much more terrifying, underlying situation. Per usual, I have far more questions than answers upon finishing this story, and I see that as an incredibly good thing. Psycho Therapy is a teasing amuse-bouche ahead of such a larger scenario, and it deftly pulled my attention in and left me wanting more.

Rockstar Ending by N.A. Rossi

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

Ahhhh, Dystopian Fiction. Oh how I love thee.

When I was far younger and beginning my journey into the twisting disillusionment of how society could potentially crumble upon itself, the general themes of Dystopian Fiction were either rooted in the past (e.g. post-World War II era), or set just out of reach in the near future.

I feel, now, that advances in consumer digital connectivity have bridged that gap and make Dystopian Fiction that much closer to a current theme than we could previously visualize. I’m not even going to touch on how modern politics pushes hard against those previously fictional themes.

That’s where Ms. Rossi slides right into the picture with Rockstar Ending. The setup is completely plausible. Our story opens with Meg: a woman approaching 85 who has lost her husband, has grown kids who have moved away, and is now approaching the cutoff of NHS benefits due to her age.

In Meg’s world, the “Yuthentic” movement has taken over the political climate in the UK. Younger people, who have become politically active, and see the older generation as more of a leech on the system than a resource for inspiration, have set into place laws that, effectively, remove health and welfare benefits for all citizens over the age of 85, and increasing restrictions for those over the age of 70.

The icing on the cake is the new “benefit” the government — and the corporation — are pushing as the “One Last Gift,” a.k.a. sanctioned euthanasia.

Rockstar Ending tackles the development, marketing and sly execution (if you’ll pardon the pun) of a complex, and very technology-driven, propaganda machine targeting UK’s aged population: leveraging hopes and fears, and exploiting some very grey areas of ethics.

At the same time, we have the story of Lexi and Bob: two (among many) individuals who are trying to fight the system against all odds.

I’ll leave the synopsis at that because this is a novel that is well worth discovering on your own.

Ms. Rossi is a natural storyteller. While there are, seemingly, many threads winding about the London setting of the story, all slowly begin to weave together in an intricate interconnection that pivots viewpoint and reader perspective. It’s a device that I absolutely love from authors like William Gibson, and Ms. Rossi uses the mechanism deftly.

Another thing I greatly appreciate is the likability, but also fallibility of just about every character we come across. None of the heroes are particularly shiny, and the villains (if there really are any) aren’t really the puppy-kicking variety. Rockstar Ending is a grand example of the snowball effect of bureaucracy and how the bounds of greed and success are not necessarily defined by ethical borders.

I feel like this was a very relevant novel to read, and gave me pause many times to consider how such steps were taken, and how they could easily be actualized.

Ms. Rossi has already written two sequels to Rockstar Ending, and you are damn sure that I’m going to be reading them very soon.

Aurora’s End (The Aurora Cycle #3) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Ms. Kaufman and Mr. Kristoff are deities at creating perfect YA science fiction trilogies. The Illuminae Files was just an incredible experience of whirlwind storytelling piled on with some crazy space action, and The Aurora Cycle follows suit without even being the least bit derivative.

It’s almost sickening how deft these two are and cranking these literary Skittles out.

So, Aurora’s End. It’s hard to believe, with the amount of crap Squad 312 has gone through, that this is only the third book in the series. Worst of all, they’ve committed the mortal tabletop gaming sin of splitting the party.

Now, each group isn’t sure if the other is alive, and there is a whole lot of shenanigans going on to prevent this gigantic hive-mind galactic threat that has pretty much thwarted our protagonists (and even a couple of the anti-heroes and one supreme baddie) in the previous books.

Seeing that this is the wrap-up of a trilogy, I’m going to say exactly squat about what transpires in Aurora’s End. Instead, I strongly suggest you, gentle reader, grab up this fully formed — and now finished — trilogy to consume, like Power Pellets on a Pac-Man board, for yourself.

All of the characters are so well developed, and really take on so many more incredible traits and personalities as the trilogy progresses. There are so many “No effing way!” moments in all three books, especially Aurora’s End, that, as a reader, you just start to expect the most incredibly insane things to happen.

Great books, great authors. This series is an absolute no-brainer for spacey sci-fi folks.

The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

Here’s the setup. Our protagonist, Jes, is a “fugitive” on the lam from a sinister institute that was basically torturing him as a method of studying his gravitational powers. At the start of The Circus Infinite, Jes has escaped pursuit and gotten passage to Persephone-9, a pleasure moon covered in pleasure palaces, entertainment, and casinos.

Purely by chance, Jes manages to get involved with a circus troupe as well as getting mixed up with Niko Dax, Persephone-9’s resident crime lord.

Throughout the book, we learn more and more about Jes. He’s mixed-species (which is often shunned), he’s asexual, and his powers are very very atypical for anyone.

Jes finds friendship, and a bit of romance; all the while increasing his role in the circus, but also being tasked with doing more and more horrible things for Niko Dax.

There were aspects to the worldbuilding that I found very creative. The terminology as well as the detailed explanations of the alien species, the history of federation of worlds that unites all of these species, as well as great details on the encountered technology made for an enjoyable read. I do wish that I had discovered the included glossary before I finished the book, but that’s on me.

All-in-all, The Circus Infinite was a very enjoyable read. I do hope that Mr. Wong continues in this universe because I feel like there is so much more to explore in it.

Reality Testing (Sundown, #1) by Grant Price

** This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review **

Reality Testing (Sundown Book 1) by [Grant Price]

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

Hollywood Dead (Sandman Slim #10) by Richard Kadrey

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.

The Kill Society (Sandman Slim #9) by Richard Kadrey

One of my absolute favorite fictional characters is James “Sandman Slim” Stark. The just amazingly insane escapades that Mr. Kadrey has put ol’ Jimmy through over the years is just gargantuan.

I’m not sure how I messed up and missed the release of four books, but now I get the opportunity to motor through the rest of the series all in one fell swoop.

In the Kill Society, Stark finds himself deposited by his old buddy Death back into a far reaching part of the Tenebrae. Almost instantly he is set upon by what seems to be a nomadic caravan who has more questions that Stark has answers. When dragged before the mysterious Magistrate who leads the caravan, Stark comes upon a very familiar face: Father Traven.

The Magistrate is fascinated by Stark (who is going by a false name so this group doesn’t know he’s Sandman Slim) and keeps him on to help with a mysterious plan that he has.

Very quickly, Stark finds himself teamed up with the preferred elite of this group, which he hilariously calls the Dog Pack.

Working with the Dog Pack, Stark begins to find out more and more bits of information about what the Magistrate is trying to achieve. The rest I shall leave for you to find out.

Per usual, Mr. Kadrey excels at setting up a remarkable description of the landscapes and challenges of his version of Hell. Worldbuilding is definitely a forte of his. The Kill Society had a very large cast of characters that were executed perfectly with individual voices and quirks. This is nothing new in the Sandman Slim universe, but it is very refreshing in its consistency.

This is the type of fun reading that I really really appreciate as a book lover and constant story consumer. I don’t have to rack my brain reading them, but the scratch every itch I love about gritty urban fantasy. Watching the way that Sandman Slim has developed over all these years has been just fantastic, and, while Stark’s attitude is slowly shifting away from just being an evil bastard, there is still all of that aggression and scathing wit that makes him such a delightful character to read. I cannot wait to jump into book number ten!