Tag: Urban Dystopian Fiction

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

City of Iron and Dust by J.P. Oakes

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

City of Iron and Dust by [J.P. Oakes]

There is something about approaching a debut novel by an author that is very awe-inspiring to me. It may sound incredibly hokey, but I feel like it is akin to unwrapping a writer for the very first time, and seeing what their wonder and peculiarities are, and, by the time I make it partially through the book, see how this fledgling will fare.

To follow further into this horrible metaphor, when I approached Mr. Oakes’ “nest” of City of Iron and Dust, he shot out of the nest, circled me a few times and then promptly took a few dive-bombs at me in the first handful of pages.

Our intrepid journey begins with a prologue explaining how the world was all magic, happiness, and light amongst the fae folk until the goblins came streaming down from the North headed up by the terrible Mab. Using her horrible magic, Mab destroyed the fae forest cities, and, in their place, the goblins created great cities of iron, steel, and glass: subjugating the fae until they withered under the oppression.

For the years after, the goblins ruled, and the fae became the downtrodden grist for the mill. Five great Goblin Houses arose, and with each, a tower. The current-day portion of the story, however, kicks off with a mysterious penthouse/charnel house and an even more mysterious package of white powder.

From the prologue we begin to see how this story is going to unfold. Like all good adventures, this story kicks off in a bar. A working-class fae dive, to be exact. Three goblins enter the picture. These goblins should not be in this bar, let alone the entire neighborhood, but the ringleader, Jag, heir to House Red Cap, is trying to make a point to her half-goblin/half-sister, Sil, who also happens to be Jag’s bodyguard. Also accompanying is Bazzack, but he is hardly important.

Also in this bar are two other very important characters to this story, Knull and Edwyll, though neither knows the other is there (this becomes important later).

This all sets the scene, and when that scene blows up (and it blows up spectacularly), this wave of destruction fans out throughout the Iron City and fae society. Some of it is related, some of it pure coincidence. Either way, the story gets very spicy very quickly. Let’s just say that fae insurrection, a whole lot of magical drug, and even more Goblin House posturing and politicking makes for an incredibly interesting read.

What I love most about City of Iron and Dust is all of the big things it hits on that are so familiar in my years of consuming popular culture, literature and film. The entire setup — as well as most of the story — just reeks of a massive Shadowrun campaign (someone should seriously write one). I was also often reminded of Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards, certain aspects of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, a dash of Manchurian Candidate, and you just can’t avoid the giant Akira’s Tetsuo moment near the end.

What held me in the story was the structure of how it was written, and the visceral meat of the political and class intrigue. The reader really does get to see all facets of this highly oppressive society, and where there is a lot of unexplained “mixing” and counter-ideologies that seem to sprout from no logical place. There is compassion where the nature of that character would not dictate it, and there is cruelty that seems to sprout from all the wrong reasons.

One thing I really loved about this novel, which, oddly, has annoyed me with others, is Mr. Oakes’ style of heading up each section with the name of the character from whom the point of view is presented. In many scenes, this allowed me to consider the change in perspective when several of the characters might be experiencing the same scene, and maybe even be in the same room.

The other thing I rather enjoyed is the pacing. City of Iron and Dust is very fast-paced, but it does not feel rushed. Mr. Oakes takes the time to fully develop each interaction, and, as such, the reader is able to develop a very well-defined view of what might be going on in the many scenes of total chaos. The incredibly puzzle-piece fit of the dialogue also helps immensely with this.

Don’t even get me started on the conflict choreography and styling. It’s an utter masterpiece.

City of Iron and Dust has so many themes that would appeal to a hugely wide variety of potential readers. If you like high magic/fantasy, that box is checked. If you like political intrigue, that box is also checked. If you like crime, drug, or class war stories, all of those boxes are checked. Finally, if you like stories of perseverance and truly believing in what you fight for (good or bad), that box has a big ol’ check.

Kudos to Mr. Oakes for putting this one out there. I really hope this is a world that we get to revisit in the future. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Stay Younger Longer (Terrafide #3) by Ryan Hyatt

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

Stay Younger Longer (Terrafide Book 3) by [Ryan Hyatt]

Mr. Hyatt appears to love to wear his readers out, and Stay Younger Longer is absolute proof of it.

Dick White is a journalist in the midst of an ongoing personal crisis who, despite copious idiocy and self-medication, has been given the opportunity to break open the story of the century: the secrets behind the anti-aging drug Euphoria.

It turns out, though, that Dick isn’t the only one interested in the “so-called” cure that has been hinted at. I’d love to say that shenanigans ensue, but that is horribly misleading. Basically, Dick gets himself in and out of a ton of crazy situations and barely escapes with his life a lot.

In context with the rest of the Terrafide books, I was glad that I read this one last. Unconventionally, Mr. Hyatt released these books in semi-sideways order. Stay Younger Longer came first, followed by Rise of the Liberators which outlines a bit of what is going on in regards to the military aspect of things, and then The Psychic’s Memoirs which really puts everything in perspective as to how this all got started. I accidentally read the series in story chronological order and it was very enlightening to see the progression. There are a few instances of story weirdness, but the subject matter more than makes up for any anomalies.

As I have said in previous reviews, Mr. Hyatt is masterful at story and character building. You really want to like Dick White and his semi-dystopian Los Angeles, but you also really don’t want to like him. Dick is an anti-hero who kind of tries to do the right thing, but is more driven by his vices than his sense of righteousness. There are large swaths of this story that deal with Dick just getting into bad social situations that may seem extraneous, but I think they are there to show us just where his brain is really at.

The Los Angeles of Stay Younger Longer is a dystopian future that I really can see us achieving easily. There are a few fantastical elements, but the majority of it is just downright believable. The fact that this book was released in 2015, and some of the elements that are “true” today, six years later, is oddly prescient.

Bottom line, read this book. Hell, read the entire series. I really hope there is another book coming to help fill in some of the questions I have, but I’m happy with where I’m currently at.

Rise of the Liberators (Terrafide #1) by Ryan Hyatt

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

Rise of the Liberators (Terrafide Book 1) by [Ryan Hyatt]

Ray Salvatore is an out of work Marine who is about to lose his house in the midst of the Greatest Depression. Ray is completely screwed and very desperate about his lack of control over his situation.

Out of the blue, Ray is called up with an opportunity to take care of his family for life, and, head up a new military secret weapons project. All he has to do is wage a little war.

The secret project that Ray gets involved in is the Liberators: huge armored mecha that are unlike any military hardware on Earth. Ray’s job is to get up to speed on the ins and outs of the system(s), and then lead a group of moderately misfit Marines in learning how to effectively use the Liberator.

Questions abound, but Ray is focused on the task at hand and trying to whip his soldiers (often unconventionally) into shape to take on Iran.

While I really enjoyed this book and the character and scene building, there is a story split about halfway through the book introducing a new character, a new situation, and an entirely new set of technologies and problems. While this story arc does circle back to the primary one, I think it would have better been developed as a complimentary story (Terrafide #1.5, perhaps), and not in the primary novel.

That being said, Mr. Hyatt is exceedingly good at building up semi-dystopian urban environments. There are a lot of unique characters to juggle in Rise of the Liberators, and Mr. Hyatt does so deftly. Having already read Terrafide #2, I knew a little of what to expect from where Rise of the Liberators was going, but it was a damn enjoyable ride.

I mean, who doesn’t love giant robots?

The Psychic’s Memoirs (Terrafide #2) by Ryan Hyatt

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

I’ll tell you one thing, The Psychic’s Memoirs jumps right into it as a detective drama. Above all, I think that’s what it is at it’s genre-jumping core.

Ted Kaza and Lydia Jackson are LAPD detectives who are investing the disappearance of a girl who just happened to very accurately predict the earthquake that hit Los Angeles six months ago and basically destroyed the city. The “powers that be” want a word with Miss Alice Walker, and she’s nowhere to be found.

The next genres come tumbling into play quickly thereafter: superhumans, multi-verse theory, global espionage, political uprising and last, but not least, alien invasion and mecha (major bonus for that).

I’m not going to share too much about this story because if you aren’t hooked by chapter seven, then you probably won’t finish it. I was a tad worried as each new outrageous situation unfolded, but it really works for and with Mr. Hyatt’s style.

This is a dystopian future book that seems somewhat less dystopian and a tad more scary at the same time. I find it quite realistic that there could be violent clashes in the street with ragtag gangs up against police and military forces while the average Angeleno is just going about their normal day-to-day.

Mr. Hyatt’s writing style is very well thought out, in my opinion. Scenes are very well set and the attention to situational details really enhances the personality quirks of the primary characters. Above all, you really get to understand what bothers each of them. That’s not something I think I’ve seen in many other books, but it’s incredibly humanizing.

Another thing I really appreciated was the way that interpersonal relationships were portrayed. Not every potential conflict had to be that way, and there were a couple of very interesting surprises on that front that threw me for a slight loop. Again, very humanizing.

I will say, The Psychic’s Memoirs does go “meta” at a certain point. At first I thought it was a nice little easter egg, but it turns out to be pretty core to the story. I haven’t decided if the device is hilarous, genius, or lazy. I’m not sure I’ll ever decide.

Regardless, The Psychic’s Memoirs is a solid read. It’s fast-paced, and really pushes the reader along with a lot of action and intrigue. This is obviously just the first part (or second, actually) of a broader story involving Kaza, Jackson, Walker, and others, so I hope I get to read more of it soon.

Orange City (Orange City, #1) by Lee Matthew Goldberg

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

It’s been a wee bit since I delved in the world of urban dystopian fare, but Orange City delivers it in spades. Imagine Man in the High Tower (with a Stalin slant) mixed with Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and Max Barry’s Syrup. That’s pretty much what Mr. Goldberg deftly delivers in Orange City.

The basic premise of the book is that there is a huge secret city ruled by “The Man,” a seemingly monstrous oligarch who leads over the corporations and keeps the citizens working and cowering in fear of being cast out into the Empty Zones of the Outside World.

Everyone in the city has a role to play, and that is where our protagonist, Graham Weatherend comes into play. Graham was snatched to the city a decade ago to be put in the position of advertising executive. When his company gets the account for Pow! Sodas, everything starts to change for him: mostly chemically.

Mr. Goldberg finds a very unique voice and builds a terribly frightening world in Orange City, and I just could not get enough of it. The absurdity of this society under the fist of a potential madman combined with a seemingly endless supply of color themed entertainment venues with all of the decadent vices you can imagine really paints a fantastic picture of a “work, play, die” ethos.

This is a city where people go from the top floors of industry to being limblessly cast out onto the streets of the Zones in a matter of hours. A city where there is not even the precept of individual privacy.

I enjoyed Orange City because of the insanity of it. Page after page unveiled new facets of what I can only describe as mild terror. Much like Graham, I can’t wait for the next flavor.