Thursday, December 27, 2012
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
So this is a strange reading year for me. I read 130 books over the year, but I read almost no brand new releases. That is why there are only four new books on the list. I kept a pattern of reading two books at one time most of the year. I was reading one original fictional novel and one tie-in novel (mostly Star Wars/Trek but several other franchises as well).
I devoted a lot of my reading this year to F.Paul Wilson's Secret History of the World. This is a saga that starts in his classic horror novel The Keep and spans four different series (Repairman Jack /Adversary Cycle/ Secret Histories with Young Jack/ Cold City Jack novels), two dozen or so novels and ends in one novel Nightworld. I am finishing the secret history as I write this with 150 pages left in Nightworld.
Wilson was my plotting teacher at Borderlands(writer's boot camp). The Secret history is like a four train narrative track that ends with them all crashing together in Nightworld. It is an amazing feat of narrative story telling. I could have filled my list with F.Paul Wilson titles but choose my favorite Repairman Jack novel. I am intending to write at length about the series in the future.1. Harbingers (Repairman Jack #10) by F.Paul Wilson:
In a series that spans fifteen books with a major character whose name is in the title suspense can be hard to manufacture book after book. You know Jack is going to be around for fifteen books and he is the hero. F.Paul Wilson plays with the expectations and puts our heroand his journey through an unexpected wringer that would surprise the hell out of Joesph Campbell. This is a dark and brutal twist on the clasic mythology of the hero's journey that I read in just over 26 hours. When I put it down I was floored. Just blown away and could not believe what just happened. Best read of the series, and the year.2. A Matter of Blood (Forgotten Gods #1) by Sarah Pinborough
This trilogy was released in England under the title Dog Faced Gods, but will be published here in America in April under the title Forgotten Gods. I wouldn't wait for the American grammar version. This is a brutal mystery with a weird crime backbone. The world that Pinborough has created here is filled with very dark shades of grey with almost zero characters worth rooting for. Oh you’ll be interested in them; you’ll want to keep turning pages.
On top of all those elements this novel also has a powerful plot line about a serial killer, including one of the creepiest killers I have read about since Brite’s Exquisite Corpse, but at the same time were talking about a novel with a subtle social conscience. I'm dying to read the next two books when I can get my hands on them.3. All Monster Action by Cody Goodfellow
Jeremy Robert Johnson's Swallowdown Press has a focus on horrific dark bizarro, and Goodfellow's new short story collection might be the most gonzo of releases that the press has done. That doesn't make it any less of gem and fits perfectly into Goodfellow's expanding catalog of fucked up weird-ness. There is no author in genre fiction that is more deserving of the title Mad Scientist. That is what he is, a straight up batshit crazy mad scientist of prose.4. One Second After by William R. Forstche
I am I am not in the habit of reading books with a forward by Newt Gingrich. I still think Newt is a far right wing windbag, but we now have something to agree on – This is a must read book. One Second After is a warning novel, the author wasn’t shy about telling us up front that he wanted to make this book a entry in a pantheon that includes classics like On the Beach and Alas Babylon. I personally would add John Brunner’s classic “The Sheep Look Up” Or Norman Spinrad’s “Greenhouse Summer.” He is warning about the effect that an EMP would have on our world. Most important is the characters are rich, the setting detailed and the drama intense. It is a story so well told you don't feel preached at you just feel uncomfortable.5. Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
The series and it’s story is a cross between Fringe and Repairman Jack, but don’t take that comparison the wrong way – it has an original feel to it. Maberry weaves several influences together so well it is hard not to do comparisons. It’s part Tech-thriller, part zombie, part military sci-fi/horror, part witty crime novel, and part character study. Great read for horror, action and weird crime fans. I’m ready for the second book, here is hoping Maberry keeps this series going strong for a long time.6. Everything is Broken by John Shirley
Shirley’s original title was “Welcome to Freedom,” While probably a more proper title it might have been a bit too much on the nose. It would be easy to say this novel is a 280 page argument against libertarianism, but it is much deeper than that. It is also about social controls that hold the socio-paths among us from running wild.
I’d put it up there with some of the great non-supernatural horror novels like David Morrell’s Testament or Jack Ketchum’s Girl Next Door. At the same time it’s an important novel that explores issues we as a society need to discuss.7. Ghost Brigades/ The Last Colony (Old Man's War #2 and 3) by John Scalzi:
The best and fastest Science Fiction read of the 21st century in my opinion is Old Man’s War In Ghost Brigades I can say that Scalzi has crafted a second flawless masterpiece of military sci-fi that expneat ideas just hinted at in the first book. Far future special forces that are badass and not written with a right kneejerk that makes some military sci-fi hard to swallow. The last Colony wraps up the story with a honest look at the effects of intersteller Colonization.8. Leather Maiden by Joe R. Lansdale:
This novel Leather Maiden is a murder mystery and the humor comes mostly in the third person narration of Iraq war vet and small town Reporter named Cason. The fantastic dialogue between characters is a highlight, Lansdale shares the skill for dialogue that is only matched by Tarantino, Elmore Leonard, and Gregory Macdonald. If you have a dark or grumpy sense of humor you can’t really go wrong with this, or any other Lansdale novel.9. Monsters of LA By Lisa Morton.
of LA is a concept collection. Lisa Morton is a creature of LA and her work is as firmly placed in LA as Early Stephen King was placed in Maine. This is an excellent and diverse collection of horror, dark humor and weird fiction. It is also an informative love letter to the city Morton calls home. Each story comes with a short explanation that has insight into the ways that the city inspired each story. What we need now is a collection of Morton's already vast amount of published short stories.10. Star Wars: Darth Maul Shadow Hunter by Michael Reeves:
I read a ton of Tie-in novels this year, and this one took me by surprise. This might for real be the best Star Wars novel I have ever read. None of the major characters, no problem. This novel is perfectly paced action adventure with strong characters that set up characters for novels Reeves wrote down the line.
Star Noirs really... Reaves did such a great job they brought him back to do a trilogy of Coruscant nights noir novels set against the dark times after the fall of the empire.
Honorable Mentions: The Fury and The Terror by John Farris, Keepers by Gary Braunbeck, Raylan by Elmore Leonard, Redshirts by John Scalzi, 3001 by Arthur Clarke, Hellhole by KJ Anderson and Brian Herbert and Full Dark,No Stars by Stephen King.
Monday, December 17, 2012
The Stephen King Library Desk Calendar 2013
This stylish, hard-cover, 8 ½ x 11 – inch spiral bound desk calendar/planner is a great gift idea for the holidays if you have a Stephen King fan in your life. Since King is the world's best selling author, I assume that everyone knows a fan. The cover art on this is a very cool collage, and – it's a hologram!
I love King as an ambassador of the horror genre. I mean that he is the archetypal horror writer, and people think of King when the horror genre is discussed. His early novels still present some of the best material that the genre has seen. While the more recent novels have been hit or miss with me, I remain a huge fan of the author who has produced some of the greatest works of horror fiction, and has balanced fame with remaining a good person.
This calendar celebrates Stephen King's career. While functional, it provides fun moments throughout the year for fans. Each two-page spread contains around five or seven calendared memorable events, with plenty of room for writing down important dates, appointments or birthdays. This calendar includes well-known genre authors' birthdays - Harlan Ellison and HP Lovecraft, for example. Probably more interesting for serious Stephen King nerds, also listed are the birthdays of SK characters and events from his classic novels. Imagine your opening to Monday, May 27th, and noting that it is not only Memorial Day, but also Harlan Ellison's birthday, AND the anniversary of prom night in Chamberlain, Maine, from the pages of Carrie. Might want to pencil in a screening of Carrie that night with friends. As you work through the calendar over the year you'll find out the date that It ended, when Captain Trips was released, and the day that The Mist was released over Maine.
Along the bottom of the pages are excerpts from King books, articles about books, and pages of trivia devoted to a few different titles. The trivia is fun, and I liked the articles; however, most were by Jay Franco. I don't know who he is. Not that that matters; he knows his King, but it seems that including more voices from the King community like Bev Vincent, Robin Firth, or similar authors would improve the value of these. It would also be nice to have author bios, which are unfortunately not included. This would allow the readers to know what expertise on or relationship to King's work each has.
Overall I think that this is a cool, unique product. Maybe I'll provide an update in 2014, after having used it for a year, but so far I think it is a great gift idea. Pick it up.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
RedShirts by John Scalzi
This satire had to happen, in fact in many ways it happened before. It would be easy to compare this novel to Galaxy Quest as it is a send-up of Star Trek, but in many ways it is a send up more of the standard science fiction television narrative that Trek developed and buried deep in the collect subconscious of its fans. Look the bottom line before I go any further this book is super funny. If you are fans of Trek, stargate, or Battlestar Galactica there is lots of subtle but perfect told jokes that are perfectly woven into the story. It is more meta than Galaxy Quest with Phil K. Dick mind bending aspect to the story.
John Scalzi is the perfect writer to tell this tale. His debut novel Old Man's War is my favorite military space opera of the 21st century and the entire trilogy it spawned is ridiculously good. The author has an amazing knack for bringing both humor and the the inventive awe and wonder that is needed in the best speculative fiction. Hell of a story teller who creates vivid and likable characters and that in this novel is the point.
Redshirts you see was inspired by the unfortunate members of the Enterprise crew who went on away missions in redshirts. You didn't know there names, they were extras whose only role was die. In a narrative sense the Trek writers set them up like bowling pins. If this something you knew about Trek and were amused by then you understand the jumping off point of this book.
Taking place on a Trek like ship called the Intrepid the main characters are members of the crew in the lower ranks who start to sense a pattern. The command crew never seem to be in danger but all their friends in the lower ranks can't seem to survive giant worms, diseases, space battles or killer robots.
Look if you trust me that this book is smart, funny and inventive then you already know more than you need to know. Go into this book as blind on the plot as possible. Great concept almost perfectly executed with a laugh-out-loud moment on almost every page. The novel ends with Three “codas” one in first person, one in second person and the last chapter is in Third person. I enjoyed this interesting experiment which adds some insight into the story. However I didn't enjoy it as much as the main narrative of the novel. Considering how much I enjoyed the novel it is a little thing.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Mayberry
**** 458 pages Hardcover Simon and Shuster
I don't generally read YA novels but I am aware that there have been a lot of darker novels geared toward teens, so I intend to check a few more after dipping my toe in this pond. I assume this is not the first YA zombie novel but it is the first one read by this reviewer. I think this is an important title for YA librarians to get their hands on. It is a coming of age novel, and works on that level, but of course its main narrative follows the traditional zombie tropes.
It is a very well written novel that doesn't condescend to its young target audience. I bet Mayberry was reading Stephen King as young adult like many of us horror fans. It has some violence and gore but the language is clean and the romance is very innocent. Sometimes Mayberry doesn’t give enough credit to the young readers by over explaining the conflicts involved. The story is centered on Benny Imura a zombie apocalypse survivor living in a small fenced off village. His whole young life has been since 'First Night' when society collapsed. His parents are dead and he has been raised by his brother a Zombie bounty hunter named Tom.
The interesting and originals aspects of the novel come mostly from big brother Tom, who is a hero to most but nothing special to Benny. In this village at age fifteen your rations get cut if you don't work, and Benny can't find a job. The conflict starts when Benny relents and starts training under his brother to hunt zombies. Tom gets paid a bounty to find loved ones who are zombies and respectfully end the misery. Once out beyond the fence in the Rot & Ruin Benny realizes things are not exactly the way he always believed.
Rot & Ruin is my second Mayberry novel and both were zombie novels. Patient Zero is a fantastic hard boiled techo-thriller zombie novel that I really enjoyed. I knew Mayberry was an excellent story teller so I expected this novel to be good. Knowing the levels of intense storytelling Mayberry pulled off in PZ I found this novel to be stripped down to very basics. Still there are plenty of original ideas, and plot twists. I think this novel is very good, but more recommended for its young targeted audience. I think more sophisticated horror readers will enjoy Patient Zero more.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
By The Sword by F.Paul Wilson
**** 464 pages Paperback Tor
Wow is it Book twelve of Repairman Jack already? Where has the time gone. This was the book in the series I was looking forward to because in conversation with Wilson at the Borderlands writers boot camp he referred to it as being his Yojimbo influenced novel. Being a fan of series but also of Akria Kurasawa's classic Samurai movie(which was also remade into the western fistful of dollars) I was excited to see how Wilson wove the concept into the world of Jack.
It was done with his typical plotting genius, Yojimbo is a movie where a hapless seeming Ronin walks into a village in conflict and works both sides while coming out on top. As Jack works some of the various cults to fight each other I was amused knowing this was Yojimbo influence. Knowing he was influenced by that film only adds to the plot weaving Wilson does when you consider that in many ways By the Sword is a sequel to the events in Black Wind, while also using events from several novels including The first Adversary novel The Keep and of course the previous 11 novels in the Jack series.
I am not sure why but I held off reading Black Wind, Wilson's 1988 classic novel of the second world war in the pacific. Perfect timing really as that novel informs this one. Indeed the Mcguffin comes straight out of Black Wind when Jack is hired by the son of Frank Slater (BM's narrator and main character) to find the family kantna( Sword) which had been in his adopted Japanese father's hand when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The sword some how survived the blast and now it has been stolen from the family plantation in Hawaii, and the thief has made it back to NYC.
Since Harbingers I have come to the conclusion that it is no longer possible to just drop in on these repairman Jack novels. The events of Bloodline built in minor ways on the events of Harbingers but By the sword builds directly off of the last novel. Without knowing the depth of of the events in the last novel and Black wind to a lesser extent the full power of this novel might be lost.
By the Sword is a clear step up the ladder towards the end of this exciting series. This is an important and exciting entry in the series that is must read, but it helps to have read all the other books in the secret history of the world as well.
Bloodline by F.Paul Wilson
**** 384 pages Hardcover Tor
The 10th Repairman Jack Novel Harbingers was pretty hard to top. The Brutal twists and turns that all had horrible and deep effects on the life of the title character. I mean wow, I think Harbingers was no doubt the best entry in the series so far. I knew That the next book Bloodline would have the tough job of following up and moving the story forward.
The events of the novels are starting to run together and it's almost impossible to talk about the plot to this one without spoilers I'm going to try. As the novel begins Jack and his new young family are trying to over come the awful events of Harbingers. Jack is approached for a fix-it job, a rich woman is looking for dirt on the older man dating her 18 year old Ivy league bound daughter. Sounds easy enough right, but Jack should remember what the Lady with the dog keeps telling him..."there are no coincidences in your life anymore."
He should have listened because once he looks into the case he discovers that is of course relates to the secret history of the world and the conflict with the Otherness. As this novel unfolds it's various threads I had the same thought I often do when reading novels in this series-- It's too much much and this is never going to weave together. Alas there is good reason that Wilson teaches plotting at the Borderlands writers book camp, to quote the cheezy Bond theme "no body does it better..." He is a master as it weaved together i was shaking my head in disbelief...It actually works.
The ending is heartbreaking and wicked. Just when I thought this was the repairman jack novel that wasn't going to work, or that it would be cheezy Wilson pulls it out perfectly. Really at the heart of this novel it's about DNA, I have a feeling that Wilson was thinking about what it is inside us that makes us a good or bad person. Are we born that way? Can the things in our DNA that make us good or bad be enhanced or suppressed.
If there is a weakness to the novel is how quickly the events of the last novel seemed to be pushed past, (although he makes up for this in the next two books) It didn't distract from the novel over all. The repairman Jack series continues toward the end with intensity, well done.
Spoilers:(For the Korean revenge movie Oldboy as well) I am sure Wilson had not seen the Korean revenge epic Oldboy (graphic novel and film) when he wrote bloodline. I am aware that they are totally different, but the end of oldboy being in my brain did take some of the punch out of the twist ending of this novel. I mean it's a shocking reveal when we discover that Dawn is pregnant by a man who is her biological father, but it's not Wilson's fault that i have seen Oldboy. I liked that the plot to get Dawn pregnant was connected to the otherness while at the same time exploring the themes of DNA that Wilson seemed to want to explore.
Friday, November 23, 2012
Patient Zero by Jonathan Mayberry
**** ½ 421 pages Trade paperback St.Martin Press
As a serious horror fiction reader Mayberry is a name I have been seeing a lot. Weather it was interesting titles on the shelf, or listing in award nominations I have seen his name a lot. He has been blurbed by heavy-weights I trust like David Morrell, Joe R. Lansdale and Peter Straub. That is high praise, and with that in mind I picked this one up at the library and didn’t understand what had taken me so long.
OK,OK this guy delivers on the hype. Patient Zero is a high quality zombie novel, like all the best zombie novels/films it has far more interesting elements than the zombies. I was attracted to the comparisons to Repairman Jack novels of course, I mean anyone following my reviews knows I am enjoying the hell out of those.
This novel fits into the same weird crime subgenre, and it is clearly the launch of a series of novels featuring a character named Joe Ledger and his team of anti-terrorists that work under the name “Department of Military Science.” Think of it as DARPA or Fringe division with a little more teeth.
The series and it’s story is a cross between Fringe and Repairman Jack, but don’t take that comparison the wrong way – it has an original feel to it. That is tough to do when you tackle zombies the most currently over used troupe in genre fiction. The fresh feeling to this novel really is a pleasant surprise.
This is the story of ex-military current Baltimore cop Joe Ledger, who has a knack for tracking down Muslim terrorists. He speaks several Middle Eastern languages and has a history in the service. The novel starts off in wake of a raid in Baltimore where he shot a suspect. Things get weird when a government agency recruits him – his first job to kill the same guy, uh kill him again. You see this time the dude is a snarling zombie. Ledger is asked to lead a new team that will hunt down the source of this new disease that re-animates the dead, which is believed to have a terrorist connection.
The horror elements are done really well, but one thing I really enjoyed was the crime novel feel. Mayberry captures the snappy witty dialogue that is essential to the crime novel (ala Lansdale, Leonard or Gregory Macdonald). Once the shit hits the fan in the novel some of the dialogue tappers off, this could be argued to be natural reaction to the events.
Mayberry weaves several influences together so well it is hard not to do comparisons. It’s part Tech-thriller, part zombie, part military sci-fi/horror, part witty crime novel, and part character study. Great read for horror, action and weird crime fans. I’m ready for the second book, here is hoping Mayberry keeps this series going strong for a long time.
3001: The Final Odyssey
**** 272 pages Del Rey
I’m glad I finally got around to reading this one. It is an effective end to the story that began with 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is more of a direct sequel to that novel/film than 2061 which seemed more connected to the second book/film. They all work together of course but Clarke seemed to not consider them to be direct sequels. He wrote about it in a forward and seemed to think that the fact that 2001 happened without Pan Am moonliners and a Soviet Union that made 2061 and 3001 different stories.
Whatever, I was stoked to get an end to a story that started in the late 60’s with 2001. We got tidbits and answers here and there about what the monoliths. The mystery of 2001 and the unexplained awe is my favorite part of the film. The book offers more explanation, but three books in to this series I was ready for more answers. At the start of this book we still have no idea who sent the monoliths, this book sorta answers this, but the only clear answer comes in why it is there. It is stated outright in this novel, and that has not happened before.
3001 being a thousand years in our future and has a grander scope, but that helps because it is seen through the eyes of Frank Poole who is from our century. Yep, the same Frank Poole that HAL left floating in space. He is revived after spending a thousand years preserved in the vacuum of space. He learns of a populated solar system, featuring a new star, several colonies, orbit tall building the size of countries, and a human race interconnected digitally by implanted Braincap computers. My favorite element were the towers the size of countries that reached into orbit. Cool and scary concept at the same time.
While the ending was not as grand as the story that led up to it (and basically the same as popcorn sci-fi movie ID4) it was the message that I dug. It is worth reading and noting that Clarke that had written novels with syrupy happy cheery endings that celebrates the human race and how awesome it is. That is not exactly the point here. The monolith is watching us and over the many, many years, whatever the beings are that put it there, well they are not pleased about who we have become.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Harbingers by F.Paul Wilson
***** 336 Pages Tor
Wow, just wow. RMJ #10 is no doubt my favorite in the series. Harbingers is a dark and Brutal twist in the Repairman Jack saga. I saw this book coming, but I felt like I was frozen on a train track as a speeding locomotive was coming to crush me while reading this book. As much as I think this is the best in the series I can see that many will not dig this entry in the series. I also think this book will lack power if you are not already read the previous books.
Most of the repairman Jack books can somewhat stand-alone (although they are better if read in order). I would describe this book as heartbreaking, enraging and suspenseful. The entire series is balanced on the events of this book and it’s startling twists. Everything is put into question.
After the tragic events of the last novel Jack has been laying low. A job drops in his lap when a fellow customer at his favorite bar hires him to find a missing teenage woman. When Jack tracks her down he discovers she is being used for a ritual connected to the otherness (The great evil force behind the great conflict of the story). Sounds good but can Jack save her he runs into a crew who are a part of the same conflict. The Yeneçari are an underground of fighters serving to protect the Occulus a human who speaks for the Ally. When Jack first encounters them he thinks they are kidnapping the teen, but quickly realizes they are the good guys.
Warriors in the same struggle the Yenecari want to recruit Jack and why shouldn’t Jack consider it. Sure he has always worked alone, but wouldn’t allies help. How can one man fight against an enemy as strong and vast as the Otherness. This conflict and the idea of Jack being a team player becomes the central theme of the novel. What would the Ally do to make sure it has Jack’s full attention.
The best novel in the series, no doubt in my mind. Wilson pays his readers back big time for their devotion to the series.
Harbingers is a rough twist to the saga, after the end of Infernal and the death of Jack’s father and brother I thought to myself – Jack is losing everyone he loves and soon his closest loves are so going to be in danger. That meant Gia and Vicky. Since the first book he has managed for the most part to isolate his ladies from danger. Wilson was warning us as much as he was warning Jack. So in Crisscross (two books back) when Wilson devoted one of the last chapters to Gia almost being hit by a truck when she stepped off a curb I thought to myself – that is going to be important.
Wilson just clobbers the devoted readers by not only hitting Gia, but also Vicky with a truck. The death of the unborn baby that Jack was already falling in love with is heartbreaking, the power of this scene reminded me of dog death chapter in I Am Legend. The scenes in the hospital while Jack watches helplessly as Gia and Vicky fight for their lives is gut-wrenching.
If that was not powerful enough the next twist is perhaps my favorite plot twist I have read in a novel maybe ever. Jack discovers that the it was not his enemy, the otherness that is behind the attack on his loved ones but The ally and the Yinecari. The Ally needs Jacks full attention and is killing his loved ones to make sure that he can be a “Spear with no branches.” This is the darkest twist on the Joseph Cambell “hero with a thousand faces” type of heroes journey I have ever read in any medium. Jack decides he won’t be that hero if Gia and Vicky die.
It sets up a powerfully dramatic conflict where Jacks is not only willing to kill his allies but himself. It’s a powerful twist on the hero’s journey, wow. Just wow.
The Last Colony by John Scalzi
**** ½ 324 pages Tor
The best and fastest Science Fiction read of the 21st century in my opinion is Old Man’s War. It literally kicked my ass. I read it almost entirely on two flights and a shuttle between Portland Oregon and Bloomington Indiana. Near perfect modern military Science Fiction that not only compares to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Handleman’s Forever War, it out did them. Something I thought was impossible.
I was a bit worried when I read Ghost brigades the high concept sequel, it more than delivered on the promise auggested in the first book. A special forces unit made out of genetically enhanced clones grown from the DNA of the dead. Oh yeah Ghost Brigades was great, it also widened the scope of the future human colonialism and it’s problems. So it was with great excitement that I dove into the final chapter in the trilogy. The Last Colony is a good ending to the series although I could see how some readers would be disappointed, but not me.
Sure the Last Colony is not as gonzo as the first novel which was poignant as it was funny. It was not as strange or twisted (plot wise) as the second but Last Colony came full circle and commented seriously the nature of colonialism and an out of touch government. Scalzi managed to do this without preaching or finger pointing and that to me was a strength of the novel.
I am pretty sure I commented on this when I reviewed the first book, but it bears repeating. Scalzi manages to break one of the most often preached rules in Sci-fi writing. “Beware the info Dump.” Scalzi embraces the info-dump and in turn breaks a fundamental rule in all writing. “Show don’t tell.” Well Scalzi tells not shows a lot, He dumps info in huge clumps and the novels still rock and work super well. What bastard. Just kidding, can’t help a fellow writer for being jealous. Seriously though I think the ideas are so rich, and the humor subtle but effective enough to help this author work through all the rule breaking. Authors can learn a lot from this guy who just seems to be a natural story teller.
Most Sci-fi writers would have told this story over twice the page count in a bloated epic. Entire battles, months of story pass in a first person account that give a feeling of a story told by a war vet sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair.
The plot…Well I think you’re better off going in blind, but let me say this. The Last Colony is probably the weakest of the three novels in the trilogy, but it is still a great and strong read. It has a perfect ending, and considering how short all three are, why not read them back to back.
Infernal by F.Paul Wilson
*** ½ 432 pages Tor
I went into the 9th Repairman Jack book as blind as possible, I didn’t read the descriptions on the back and just jumped in. I gave Infernal less stars than I have other books in the series and that low ranking might be misleading. It is a very high bar that has been set. I flew through this book as fast as I did the other books in the RMJ series, I just didn’t think this novel was as good as the others. I still liked the story, still enjoyed myself. In fact I read 100 pages in a sitting more than once.
Lots of important things happen in this novel that advance the unfolding plot. Wilson always weaves one or two Jack “fix-it” jobs together. That wasn’t possible in this story do to the events that happen in the first couple chapters. It was shocking and probably angered more than one reader. I know Wilson has said that he wanted use RMJ to write novels that move genres. This one to me is the biggest stretch, getting Jack into the plot of the novel is kinda like fitting a square beg into a round hole.
Infernal you see is in part a quest for buried treasure novel. Repairman Jack is a lifetime jersey/New Yorker and so much of the story revolves around the region. Fitting Jack into this novel he had to join his brother on search for buried treasure in the Bermuda triangle. I wasn’t sure it would work.
It does work, it works well infact. I enjoyed it, but it is probably my least favorite in the series. These novels are filled with strong characters many of whom I like, as great of a characters as Abe or Jack’s father were his brother is the opposite. I think Wilson did a great job of making us readers like Jack’s Sister and father so I am sure he had intended for us to dislike Jack’s brother and boy did I. I mean his brother is a serious jerk. Stephen King has always been the best at creating bullies and Jerks. Tom (Jack’s brother) is a very vile creature indeed. There is a lot to like in this book
Infernal is second of three novels in row where Jack goes through serious game changing events and all of these events take place during the early stages of Gia’s pregnancy. His best friend and arms dealer Abe is working on creating a new identity for Jack so he can come out of the cold and Marry Gia. Good timing as Jack is trying to get over the events of Crisscross.
As the book starts I was looking forward to another adventure shared between Jack and his father who arrives for a visit early in the novel. Well Wilson doesn’t give the reader any time to enjoy this when Jack’s father is killed by what looks like a terrorist attack. This death is a shocker, and happens without narrative warning. It sets the wheels in motion where Jack has to ask his borther to identify the body. Back in Gateways we got a hint that Tom had something bad going on in Philly where he is a judge. Once he comes to claim the body and put the funeral we learn quickly what an ass his brother. So as much as I found the buried treasure aspect to be stretch and not very interesting the character aspects of the book are totally worthwhile. Once Vicky accidently touches the infernal and marks herself for death the novel begins to cook.
Gia, Vicky and Jack become a real family in the last 100 pages of the book. Both Gia and Jack are willing to sacrifice themselves to save their loved ones. This sets up the dilemma for Jack’s brother who realizes that he is alone in the world. In a uncharacteristically noble act Tom (who doesn’t expect it to work) offers to give himself up to save Jack.
The last 100 pages cook, and really makes up for the rough start of this entry in the series. Jack has been warned, no more coincidences. Considering that everyone he loves seems to be dying the next couple books are going to get ugly.
The Lost Dogs by Jim Gorant
***** 279 pages Gotham
As a militant vegan, and a total NFL dork I was over do for reading this book. Lost dogs is not the story of Michael Vick and dog fighting, but the story of the dogs who survived his dog fighting operation. For animal lovers this book will enrage, and enrich.
It gives the background on the case, which I feel I should have so I am more justified when I clap for every bone jarring sack Vick behind the piss O-line in Philly. Some things I didn’t know. Vick wasn’t very good at breeding and fighting dogs, this ended up being a bad thing for the dogs. That is why he and his friends murdered several dogs. Some were beaten to death and one was even electrocuted.
Vick likes to tell the media that he was only found guilty of transporting across state lines. Don’t believe it. Lost Dogs tells the story of the caring and dedicated rescue groups and foster families who worked with the dogs to bring them back to health, and made them apart of their families.
The stories are tear jerkers and heart-warming. They sounded familiar to me, since my wife and I do Rabbit rescue and have fostered many animals over the years. If you like the dogs, or don’t understand the role that foster families provide for rescued animals then you need to check this out.
Crisscross by F.Paul Wilson
**** 512 Pages Tor
This is the 8th Jack and I am writing these reviews as I read them. In many ways this is the novel I have been waiting to read since the start. It is in many ways a crucial turning point in the saga, but what is amazing is just how many of the novels present yet another turning point for the main character. You know Jack is going to survive to fight another day, so Wilson very smartly finds ways to ratchet up the tension for Jack.
I have said it before but Wilson has proven with this series (and Adversary cycle which comes together and ends in the same novel Nightworld) that he is the master of plotting. Crisscross is a tight example of this because it weaves two Jack “Fix-it” cases and then perfectly weaves them into the wider story of the secret history of the world.
Well, Jack should have known better as he and the reader have been warned that there are no coincidences for Jack anymore. He is hired by a woman to find her son who has joined a cult called Dormentalism which is basically a fictionalized Scientology. At the same time Jack is working the case of a woman being blackmailed by the same man Jack had to steal pictures from back in The Haunted Air (RMJ#6).
Jack is aware that the woman being blackmailed is hiding a secret from him, but takes the case. As Jack works this case, he looks for the man who joined the Dormentalist cult. The only problem is that Jack discovers this cult is more than just a money scheme and connects to the growing evil he has been pulled into a war against. Crisscross is an important step for Jack and this series. Wilson has said several times that he is admittedly is using Repairman Jack to write novels that his publisher might not be otherwise interested in. I imagine he was thinking he is a chance to write about and somewhat spoof the church of Scientology.
This novel is really well put together and much better than the last one.
Part of what makes Crisscross even more impressive is how the bogus religion created by a hippie free-love origins is twisted into being a vehicle for the otherness. Thus this story fits the bigger saga. This Jack novel I wanted to read because this is the novel where Jack straight up fails. Don’t get me wrong has faced tragedy before, the loss of his sister (in Hosts RMJ #5) certainly was a time where jack managed not to fix everything. It adds a tension to the series that Jack is not perfect, that from time to time you know he might fail. In the end Jack does a great job of finding and making justice, but it’s important that he doesn’t fix everything.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Gateways by F.Paul Wilson
**** Paper back 448 pages Tor
This is the seventh Repairman Jack novel, and it follows The Haunted Air which to me was the strongest entry in the series since the second book Legacies. They are all entertaining novels, and this one manages to keep the high level of horror and suspense while still building the greater story that spans two separate series and almost two dozen novels.
In this novel Jack is taken out of his comfort zone of New York City and the region. The city, Long Island and New jersey are almost like characters in the novels, so when I first read on the back of the book the novel takes place in Florida I was surprised. You see jack finds out that his father was in a car accident in Flordia and he is drafted to go down south to take care of his father. Something odd is happening with his brother the judge in Philly and he insists he can’t go and Jack has to.
I can tell something is up with his brother that will come back to haunt Jack in future books. Knowing how far ahead Wilson seems to plot it might not be for four books. Once in Florida discovers a mystery of why his father was deep in bayou at late at night, when his car was hit. As he learns about the strange Gateway community and the monsters who creep beyond in the everglades Jack also learns a secret or two about his Father.
The monsters and suspense aspects of the novel are all well done, but fans of the series will generally view this book as the point in the series where Jack deepens his relationship with his father. To me that is the thing I will remember about this novel. Hosts (RMJ #5) saw Jack's sister learning the real Jack and now Jack's father gets a glimpse at the real Jack. With Jack outed to his Dad I get the feeling that the series is changing, there is no way for Jack to hide from his family.
This is a bold decision for Wilson. I have a feeling that Jack's loved ones will become more involved as the books move closer to the end. Outside of his brother they are all likable enough.
The ladies with dogs start to take on a more serious role in this novel. The parts where Jack learns that his dad had a secret life in the war as a sniper was great, and forced Jack to see he is not the only one with a dark secret. The monsters in this book are great and fully realized. I was scared about the move to Florida but it worked.
Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver
*** ½ 517 pages Paperback Bantam
I have to admit my only prior Deaver experience was seeing the movie based on his novel the Bone Collector. I have always heard good things and it was on my list, but for one reason or another I just failed to get to it.
So when I saw this on the shelf at the library I was interested, mostly because Ian Fleming’s estate had asked Deaver to keep Bond alive in prose, just as they had in film with Casino Royale. This novel recasts Bond as a vet of Nato mission in Afghanistan.
Deaver has done a wonderful job updating the world with everything from tricked out Q-branch phones (IQphone) and agency turf wars. What makes this feel like a Fleming bond novel is the villain, more on that later.
The novel throws us into a Bond mission as he stops an attack on a train carrying dangerous chemicals. A young Serbian agent gets himself killed, but it is clear that Bond will be blamed. He is ordered back to England. When he returns he chases down evidence of a proposed terrorist attack leads to the founder of a South African based recycling company and its founder who has a fetish for looking at dead bodies.
I know nothing of Deaver’s political leanings, but making the villains liberal do-gooders like a recycler would have made my eyes roll in a Michael Crighton novel. Here he makes a perfect Bond villain, the almost tongue in cheek madmen world dominating maniac that Fleming did so well. To me this is the strongest aspect of the novel.
If there was any short coming for this novel is that I found it a little complicated, and sometimes found myself having to slow down and re-read pages. That is probably a ME problem and not the fault of the author.
I enjoyed it as a Bond novel and hope Deaver writes more. I might have to get around to his originals.
Grindlinked by Neal Asher
**** ½ 423 pages paperback Tor
I generally like old school science fiction, I love me some early John Shirley, Phil K. Dick, Ursala Leguin, Norman Spinrad or John Brunner. When choosing Sci-fi novels I generally dip into the past, but Neal Asher is quickly becoming one of my favorite 21st century Science Fiction authors. My two favorite 21st century Sci-fi authors are Neal Asher and John Scalzi the author of the Old Man’s War series. The best stand-alone 21st century novel would be Asher’s The Skinner. That book literally knocked me silly. It was gonzo over the top epic Sci-fi novel that was a strange cross of epic world creation but also a swashbuckling adventure not to mention the gritty feeling of a crime novel.
Gridlinked came first, but I read the Skinner first so it put the bar super high for Gridlinked. Is it as good? No, but let’s face it he had grown as an author before The Skinner. Gridlinked is a Sci-fi spy thriller set in the 24th century and featuring a Bond like spook named Ian Cormac. The title of the book comes from the condition he is suffering from. He has been linked to far-future version of the web which is a worlds wide web. The Human race is spread out of several worlds called the Ploity, connected by instantaneous transporters called Runicbles.
The story takes off as Cormac investigates a Terrorist attack that destroys the runicble on the planet Samarkind. This story flows and provides an excellent introduction to Asher’s Polity which he has featured in several stand-alone novels set in the same universe. This novel is big weird ideas meets action fest which made it perfect for me. I don’t think the characters were as well developed as in the other Asher book I read, but I still love it.
I’m three for three(Also read a cool novella called Africa zero) with Asher and think you should check him out. I want to read his novel The Departure next. Yeah I’m sold.
Raylan by Elmore Leonard
*** ½ Hardcover 320 pages
This is the second novel I have read featuring Raylan Givens, but the first written after the launch of the FX TV series Justified based on the character. Leonard seems to have adopted the setting and characters as they appear in the TV show for this novel. Characters such as Ava, Boyd Crowder and the like all appear. I could be wrong I think most of those are creations of the show. I liked Pronto the last one I read but I had more fun with this novel which is somewhat divided into three story lines making it feel like three episodes of Justified.
The stories all connect, through Raylan of course. The first storyline was about Raylan finding a drug dealer clinging to life in a iced bathtub barely alive and missing a kidney. Of the three this first one was my favorite. The other stories involve the Harlan county mine and a company that is trying to buy and exploit a popular untouched mountain in the area. Last is the story of a Butler college student who gets involved in gang of female bank robbers.
Loenard's trademark dialogue is as sharp and witty as ever. Raylan has his best line ever in the last chapter. The stories are compelling and fast moving but again I thought the first 100 pages were the best Raylan story yet and stronger than the rest.
Fletch Won by Gregory MacDonald
** ½ 194 pages Paperback
As a huge fan of the first Fletch movie I was excited to read this novel that is the Fletch prequel/ origin story. I had read the first Fletch novel, that is somewhat like the movie. MacDonald is the master of Sarcasm and hilarious dialogue. It is what his books do best. I think that is the best aspect I can suggest from this book.
Unfortunately there was a lot I didn't like about this book. For one thing I didn't find myself interested in the mystery at all. I found the story confusing, and at times I wondered if the book was missing pages. You'll almost never see me complain about this but it was under-written. As in sometimes the style was so minimalist I really wanting more. I hate over writing, so for me to complain about under writing you know it has to be serious.
I laughed a lot reading the dialogue , but by the time I got to end of the short book I was over and glad it was short. First fletch novel was far better.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Terminator Salvation: Rise from the Ashes by Timothy Zhan
*** 1/2 Titan books 320 pages
I have more to say about the Terminator franchise than I probably have to say directly about this book, but I am going to do in this review since this book inspired to think about it. It is not a stretch for me to say that the first and second Terminator movies are two of my favorite movies of all time.
After the excellent sequel, it seemed like the franchise ended perfectly. T2 was genius, I didn’t believe they could turn Arnie into a hero, but Cameron pulled it off while making the T-1000 even more frightening. The strongest element of T2 for me however was the development of Sarah Connor from wimp to warrior. This was done so effectively through actor Linda Hamilton training with mossed agents, training so hard it strained and help end her marriage with director James Cameron.
T2 also effectively ended the story, creating a viable ending that left the possibility of believing that John and Sarah Connor had in our past saved our future by destroying Skynet. It was possible to believe this story had happened and thanks to the effort of the human resistance we could go on to act like morons at Y2K and skynet never came to power.
Somewhere in between T2 and T3 noted sci-fi author SM Sterling wrote a genius Terminator Tie-In novel called Infiltrator. Actually would have made a great T3 even having a plausible excuse for casting an older Swarzenegger, as the novel featured the character who skynet used as a template for the Terminator. Not sure this novel is even still in print anymore. Too bad, I remember it being good.
It has been my policy to avoid all further entries in the franchise. It has nothing to do with the studios cutting out Cameron, but it was early reviews that scared me away. Sarah Connor is one of my favorite fictional characters, so I was excited at the first Ain’t It cool news post mentioning the TV in development – The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The studio blew it in a serious way. The show could have worked had the focused on the right elements. They needed a team of writers willing to keep Sarah Connor a half crazed revolutionary and an actor willingly to train and devout herself to the role like Hamilton. No offense to the actor they hired but she didn’t bring it. I also wondered if the producers ever watched T2 or gave a moment’s thought to making a TV show about the same character. For no other reason, and there were plenty the show was a total failure.
When T:Salvation was greenlit I was excited by the idea of a movie about the Machine war, the short scene in the first movie was always one of the coolest parts in the movie. Christian Bale as John Connor was also great casting. Then they hired McG to direct it. I can’t stand his movies. Then I read interviews with him, and the interviews were so bad I couldn’t bring myself to see it. I was convinced his ideas and mine about the Terminator just could not co-exist.
So why then did I bother with this tie-in novel? Well for starters I am a fan of Zhan’s Star Wars novels. I think he writes excellent military sci-fi and did such a great job Lucas toys I wondered how he would do with Cameron’s toys.
This novel is a prequel leading up to the events of this film. Basically it’s the story of how John Connor gets his first major victory that sets him up to be the leader of the human resistance to Skynet. That’s not really a spoiler as if you see the movies you know that happens at some point.
Zhan was a wise choice, although it seems Titan books has just hired Star Wars Vets to do the T novels. The characters are rich, the details pulled from various movies are put to excellent use in the action of the novel.
I can’t judge how well this book feeds into the movie, as I have not seen it. I can only look at this novel as a stand-alone Tie-in with the first two movies. Zhan does a great job of telling the story if there is a serious weakness is sometimes to so fast that the suffering of the machine war survivors gets glossed over in the second half. However that is addressed with skill in the first half.
If you’re a Terminator fan, and enjoy reading tie-in novels I would suggest giving this novel a spin. Zhan writes effective battles, has created a connecting story worth reading.
Blue World by Robert McCammon
***** 464 pages Pocket books
At this point in my life my favorite authors are John Shirley, F.Paul Wilson and Robert McCammon. McCammon wrote my second favorite novel of all time – Swan Song. He has written several other favorites in my collection including Mine and the weird crime classic Gone South. I had been saving two of his books for the “Right time” for years. That has included “Boy’s Life,” and his short story collection “Blue World.”
While I still have found the perfect time for the other yet, I read Blue World this last summer and I am so glad I did. McCammon is to me the genre author who has the most readable and smooth prose of any I have ever read. The pages just fly when you read his novels. I had read one or two of these short stories but I was reading most of these ten short stories for the first time. The title piece at the end is longer and I would argue that it is actually a novel. In the fifties it’s length would have been considered a novel. It is easily 60,000 words, has twenty three chapters and it feels like a novel. I Digress.
While McCammon doesn’t write traditional horror anymore, he is stillactive with historical mystery novels like “Speaks the Nightbird” which do contain macabre elements and the novel “the Five” which was genius Rock and Roll thriller. Blue World is filled with classic 80’s McCammon shorts and I loved every single page of it.
My favorite story was a Halloween classic called “He’ll come a knocking at the Door.” This perfectly wicked Halloween story would be perfect for a campfire. Other favorites included “Something Passed By,” and the opener “Yellowjacket Summer.” The classic story Nightcralwers that William Fredkin directed as an episode of the 80’s Twilight zone and the amazing “Night calls the Falcon” which celebrates old school super hero serials.
The title story is a very strong character piece that is more about people in the story than the thriller aspects. It is the story of a porn star named Debra Rocks, and the priest that falls in love with her after she comes into confessional. Father John can’t himself, but as he gets to know Debra he discovers that he not only one obsessed with the star. Someone is killing her co-stars, is she next?
There is no dud in this collection, McCammon was at the top of his horror skills in the 80’s. I am glad I finally read this one, it’s a classic, If you like short horror fiction do yourself a favor and read it.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Nameless Digest Volume 1
**** 1/2 Spring/summer 2012 Full color bi-annual digest.
One thing the horror fiction world is lacking is homes for short stories. It is tough finding somewhere to place short stories and even harder to find markets that will pay you anything for those stories. For years the best markets have been Cemetary Dance and Dark Discoveries. Both magazines do more than just short stories, and have for years been producing high quality work. In the last two years Dark discoveries really improved. A lot of that had to do with the partnership of DD founder James Beach with a new designer and co-editor Jason Brock (known for co-editing the Bleeding edge and Devil’s coattails with William F. Nolan). Dark Discoveries is still going strong but now Brock has branched off with Nameless. With the help of Managing editor and longtime weird tale expert S.T. Joshi it is hard to believe the quality is so strong on this the first issue.
The digest has a bold mission statement “Though the focus will always be on the macabre, weird, uncanny and esoteric, Nameless will also be a bastion for the under-appreciated idea, the unexplored possibility, the poorly understood concept. We are not a home for the pedestrian, the obvious, the common. It is a state of mind as much as anything, and as such is accepting of anyone that is curious, thoughtful and rational.”
This issue opens with a timely tribute to Ray Bradbury, whom we lost recently. Nameless is not as heavy on story as I expected featuring interesting articles on the films of Ken Russell (Tommy and Lair of the White Worm), several poems, and most interesting to me were the interviews with Australian dark surrealists Lee-Anne Raymond and Demetrios Vakras. They are fighting a legal battle over their art in their home country.
My favorite of the non-fiction articles was a piece on the influence of Poe’s “Fall of the house of Usher on Lovecraft’s “The outsider.” The best of the fiction pieces was a dark science fiction tale called “The Hungry Skull” by Gene O’Neil. I have read and reviewed two excellent books by Gene O’Neil so I was excited to see his name when I opened to the story. The only problem I see with Nameless can be found there. If I didn’t know who O’Neil was I would have finished reading the story and thought, “Wow that is great where do I find this guy.”
Nameless is really well done and I can only find one weakness and that is the lack of bios for the contributors. The Poe/Lovecraft piece is amazing and very insightful but honestly I have no Idea who James Goho is or why he is such an expert of the subject? That is a an easy fix, and really when the rest of the magazine is so well done who cares.
Fans of intelligent macabre art will enjoy this exciting new journal. Support this magazine, because lest face it there are not many paying markets and that alone makes this magazine worthwhile. The really cool part is that it is worth every penny for it’s quality.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Reprisal (Adversary Cycle#5) By F.Paul Wilson
**** 1/2 Tor 412 pages
It is interesting to read the fifth book in a series and think to yourself upon finishing it that it wasn’t like any other novel you can remember. Reprisal is a very unique horror novel, that is one of the most heart-breaking a devastating reads you’ll ever have trouble putting done. Wilson has created an effective novel that’s terror is built on the back of strong characterizations. It can’t be stated enough because it goes over the heads of many horror fans, but a horror story can’t be effective unless the characters are worthy of our concern. That is one of the main reasons Reprisal works.
The supernatural plays a part although a lot is left unexplained. The connection to the greater series is there but for the most part the story could stand alone. You are better off having read The Keep and certainly Reborn because Reprisal is a direct sequel.
There are two moments of absolute horror that are so brutal it makes your skin crawl in this novel. It is not monsters attacking anyone, or a slasher with a big knife. Reprisal explores the concept of what makes a person evil. It does it by putting it’s characters through an emotional grinder as much as anything physical. Although there is plenty of physical horror abound.
It is the story of a man named Will Ryerson, he has a secret past that haunts him. He can’t stand anywhere near a landline phone without it ringing. On the other line every time is a child, begging for his help, begging to be saved. At the same time his friend the nerdy math professor Lisl, has met a new man named Rafe. Thanks to his name, readers of this series know that this man is “The One” who is the earthly manifestation of the evil Otherness. Rafe has taken an interest in Lisl, he wants to corrupt her at every turn.
Reborn the last novel in the series had an Omen/Rosemary’s baby feel to it. The series is still building the end of the world,or at least a battle over the world, but this novel that a nice personal detour. It explores a very personal petty-ness to the otherness trapped in human form.
Reprisal is another notch up, after the power of Reborn this novel takes an unexpected path but is building the series toward the end. Wilson as always creates novel with intricate plot and twists and turns. Wow. Great read.
The story line involving Danny Gordan is one of the most disturbing things I have ever read. To imagine torture being done to a boy, who cannot die. Who despite everything the doctors try feels and experiences everything. The fact that he survives decades being buried alive is really, truly awful. The scene where father Bill unearths him is hard to read. Amazingly well done.
I like that Wilson leaves much unexplained. How or why does Danny survive everything? We can guess that the otherness did something to him? But what? What did it do to the adopted father, whose body was left empty? Not explained, and I like that. The otherness is beyond our scope. Love it.
Reborn by F.Paul Wilson (Adversary Cycle#2)
**** 368 pages Tor
Coming twenty years after the events of The Keep (book one) Reborn is directly a sequel. The Tomb (Book #3) and the Touch (Book #4) don’t seem to be direct sequels. The Tomb of course starts another thread to the secret history of the world that becomes the Repairman Jack books. On the surface reborn might seem to be a Rosemary’s baby/Omen type horror novel. It’s similar in plot but it is the execution and it’s place in the larger scope of Wilson’s saga that separates this novel.
Reborn is a perfect read in between Repairman Jack books Five and Six. The events take place in the timeline of story around 1968, around 30 years before the events of the Jack books. Trust me that is when you want to read them.
Reborn is the story of Jim Stevens a Long island man who was adopted and always interested in the mystery of where he came from. That mystery is solved when he is in the will of a very rich and famous scientist. Is he the man’s son? They surely look alike, but when looks into it further he discovers he has no mother, and he is not his son, but his clone.
At the same time, a group of fanatical Christians begin to believe that Jim Stevens is the anti-christ. His wife Carol and old family friend Father Bill Ryan try to help him. Jim begins to suspect something is deeply wrong, perhaps even evil about himself. Jim’s life is put in danger by the fanatics who think he is evil and it is all amplified by Carol discovering she is pregnant.
If Jim is evil? What is his child?
The novel is a excellent and original spin on a story already done before in horror. It would be impossible not to compare it to the Omen or Rosemary’s Baby. That said Wilson has presented an original take on the concepts. Where Reborn separates it’s self is in the surprising and brutal final act. The book takes two serious surprise turns that set up the need for sequel. That happens in Adversary cycle #5 Reprisal.
This book is not the horror classic that The Keep is, but it is a strong entry in the timeline that expands over two series. The power of this story only grows as you read on into the Secret History of the World. Another great F.Paul Wilson must read.
Hosts (Repairman Jack #5) By F.Paul Wilson
**** 512 pages Tor
I have written at length by now about Wilson’s combining of two series together and from now on I am going to assume anyone reading these reviews has read the first four novels, or at least my reviews. At this point in the Repairman Jack series you are better off reading them and the Adversary cycle in as close an order as possible. Hosts is the fifth book in the RMJ series so it has several plot threads that are carried forward from other books but at this point it is still possible to drop in and read this one stand alone.
Reading and reviewing so many Wilson books in a short time it is near impossible to not to sound like a broken record saying things like “Master of plotting,” “ many plot threads coming together,” “Great characterization.”
This book starts with a random subway shooting, In a stroke of good luck for the innocent people on the train Jack is there. Yeah, super bad luck for the low key off the radar anarchist hero like Repairman Jack. He doesn’t want to get involved as it risks his cover but Jack ends up killing the shooter. This is all seen through the eyes of flawed, but interesting character Sandy Palmer who is a journalist for the coast to coast like tabloid called “The Light.” (The Light played a big role in the Adversary novel –The Touch) Sandy is on the train watches as Jack escapes the seen. Sandy is an interesting character and in his zeal to become a famous journalist he decides to track down the unknown “subway savior.” He assumes that the savior wants to be found and slowly starts to find Jack, happening upon more by accident than skill.
At the same time Jack is contacted by his estranged Sister Kate. At this point in the series Jack’s family is mostly a mystery. Kate is given Jack’s number by a mysterious Russian man. She is desperate for help as her girlfriend’s behavior gets weird, cult like after the experimental cure for her cancer saves and changes her. She is acting strange and doing even more strange things. Can Jack find out what is happening to her? Is it something more monstrous than he can imagine?
With Jack back in her life, Kate and her brother learn about each other and how they have changed. For Kate she comes out to Jack as a closeted lesbian. It might seem strange how Kate’s problems relate to the larger story but it is fun watching Wilson weave these elements together.
Unlike the last book in the series, the suspense in Hosts is the books strength. This is very much a horror novel that has a very tense ending. I would say it is a slightly better novel than All The Rage(#4). Hosts touches on some themes of experimental medicine which puts Wilson in a unique position to write this one. The family connection is an important a vital aspect of this novel. An important step for taking the Jack novels up a notch.
The characters invented for this novel from Kate to Sandy Palmer are interesting and put through a ringer. It’s clear that while we know Jack will survive novel to novel, and that makes a situation where the novels would get boring. It is hard to make tension if you know the main character is safe. Wilson’s solution, he creates lots of interesting and likable characters into the series that are far from safe. It is a huge step for the character to spend time with his sister, adds depth and history and makes the death of his sister to be heart breaking. Poor Sandy Palmer, he was kinda of jerk but I was hoping he would be a problem for Jack for a while to come. That said Wilson created a surprise by killing off this character.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Hellhole by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
*** 688 pages Tor
I first heard about this novel when one of the authors was on the Dragon Page cover to cover podcast. I thought it sounded very interesting. After years of working on Brian Herbert’s Father’s universe the duo had produced the first novel in a universe they had created by themselves.
Hellhole is a far future novel similar to Dune in only that respect. Earth is a distant memory but still in the memory of the human species. They live among seventy or so worlds. The inner planets are called the crown jewels and the 54 colonies in the outer rim are called the deep zone planets.
The crown jewels have monopoly on the stringline, a network that makes FTL starships travel between far flung planets possible. The story takes place ten years after a failed rebellion. I loved the dark concept of a rebel leader in a Napoleon like exile on a barely habitable world. The world is called Hellhole by the people in exile, the planet is recovering from an asteroid impact five centuries earlier. The story really moves into interesting territory when they discover evidence of an advanced civilization that once existed on that world. This creates most of the interesting elements of this novel.
Almost 700 pages this is a vast universe that sometimes feels like it might have too many characters. I liked the concepts, and the story. I enjoyed this novel as pulpy space opera. Does it have the power and depth of Dune…No way. Is it unfair to compare Hellhole to Dune. Yeah it is probably unfair but this is the first time this team is writing outside of Dune so I think most readers will. It’s hard not to do it.
So why only three stars? Well a lot of this book falls into one of the worst habits of Science Fiction authors who lack strong editors. Tons of info-dumps that break up the narrative, for some reason John Scalazi gets away with it, but huge parts of the narrative gets broken up by chapters that read like a far future history book. Tons of telling, not showing, the story loses organic flow often.
That being said I enjoyed the novel overall, perhaps the most annoying part was the cliff hanger that set up the next book. I felt like I read a lot of build up without a release. Imagine if Star Wars ended as Luke first entered the trench in the Death Star. Well, I intend to read book two so mission accomplished.
All the Rage (Repairman Jack #4)
**** 512 pages Tor
Book four in the Repairman Jack series. I am not going to explain the series as I have already done. I am going to assume that if you are interested in book four, then you already know the basics of the first three. Or that you should start there.
Jack is back, and this time he has been hired by another doctor worried that her boss at a big pharma company is having trouble with a well-known brutal Serbian crime lord. Jack has problems of his own, at an art opening his girlfriend Gia and daughter Vicky are almost killed by crazed members of the audience. “The preppy riot” becomes a mystery as the crazed people don’t remember the assault.
Of course these plots come together, That is what Wilson is a master at. Once Jack looks into the case he discovers that the doctor is involved in creating a drug that creates an uncontrolled raged. What is secret behind this rage and how does it relate to incident in Jack’s past?
The webs of story spread between two series and come into play here in the long island city of Monroe (see the touch, conspiracies) and even more impressive is the connection to Freak Show ( a multi-author anthology edited by Wilson). In this case Wilson even ties in characters created by other authors in Freak show into his Secret history of the world saga.
Wilson has created a vast universe that weaves in and out of these novels making Reapirman Jack the most ambitious multi-book series I have ever read. Great entry in the series.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
2061: Odyssey Three by Arthur C. Clarke
*** Del Rey 271 pages
Major spoilers for all three books in the series, you were warned. So I have mixed feelings on this novel. I listened to the abridged audio book when it came out a million years ago. I decided to read this when I saw it and the final odyssey sitting on the shelf at the library. I thought it might give me a deeper experience to read this second sequel to his masterpiece 2001 as an adult. (By the way I think his masterpiece is Songs of a Distant Earth, I think most think 2001)
You may or may not be aware but Clarke and Kubrick created the film and the screenplay first for 2001. The novel ended up being released first due to special effects delays, but it’s hard to not think of that novel in relation to the film. The novel 2001 does not have as much of the awe and mystery of the film. That is not to say that the novel is not filled with mystery. That is just the nature of telling a story with words, you can leave as much to the imagination as you can in a film. Certainly we get more of a glimpse of the nature of the monoliths, the star child and the re-birth of Jupiter as a star. In the sequel 2010 Clarke threw more stunning revelations and creates one of the most powerful and original first contact stories in hard Science fiction.
We find out what happened to David Bowman, what the monoliths are sent out in the universe to do, and we see a glimpse of a species so powerful that they can explode a gas giant and turn it into a sun. They warn humanity…They can have every other world in the solar system but leave Europa alone. With the powerful ending 2010 continued to build Clarke’s amazing story. We were treated to a thinking person’s science fiction adventure and we got answers while still suggesting even deeper questions. Who are the aliens behind the monoliths? Why did they turn Jupiter into a star? Why is Europa off-limits?
I enjoyed reading 2061, consumed it quickly into two days (while still writing and reading another book) so I have to say it is a quick page turner. My problem with the book is I feel Clarke missed some huge chances for powerful high concept Sci-fi drama. The Adventure aspects of the story, the luxary space liner “universe” having to land and manipulate Halley’s comet to launch a desperate rescue mission was well done. That said something was missing.
The ship they are sent to rescue “the Galaxy,” has crashed in the new ocean on the former Jovian moon of Europa. (Is it still a moon since Jupiter got blown up and turned into a star?) This crashed ship is a big problem since the super powerful and complete mystery aliens warned Humans never to land on Europa.Sixty years have passed and no word has come from the aliens. Europa was covered in ice, which is now melting into an ocean. Humans have noticed that a large mountain and several islands have cropped up, but there is no evidence of any intelligent life.
The reality is humanity in this concept has every reason to be FEAR the beings that can blow up a gas giant and warned them to stay away. So the terror and suspense possibilities available to a story teller when a human vessel is high jacked and crashed into the forbidden moon is endless, and much to my dismay unrealized.Here come the huge spoilers…
Once the Galaxy crashes nothing really happens. No alien reaction. It doesn’t seem like sixty years after that warning that any one is even on Europa or cares. * It had seemed like a pretty stern warning. Clarke did a great job of building the fear mystery of the possible landing and when it happens…the novel falls flat.
It also feels that no great mysteries are answered at the end of this book. Not every novel has to end with a mind bending humanity changing revelation, but when you’re writing a sequel to two books that did end that way – it leaves part three feeling a little flat. I wanted to find out about the aliens behind the monoliths and it seems like I have to wait until 3001.
So yeah I enjoyed the novel, I would suggest you read it. That being said I felt like 2061 didn’t build on 2010 like that book did build on 2001.
*(So this is sorta explained in 3001. I read it since I wrote this review.)
The Face That Must Die by Ramsey Campbell
**** Centipede press 312 pages
I suppose I would have to file this under a classic I was long over due to read. It has been many years since I last read a Ramsey Campbell novel( I read Count of Eleven probably fifteen years ago). I have read lots of wonderful short stories over those years and not sure what took so long to get back to reading one of his novels.
If you don’t know Ramsey Campbell is novelist and film critic who is considered one of the greatest living British(or otherwise) horror novelists of all time. With good reason, many consider this novel to be his ultimate classic.
Poppy Brite the author of my all-time favorite serial killer horror novel (Exquisite Corpse) introduced a new edition of this novel. Peter Straub (Ghost Story) said it was one of his favorite horror novels. David Morrell (First Blood) and Whitley Strieber (Wolfen) blurbed it and if that was not enough the paperback I read had an introduction from Psycho author Robert Bloch.
Sold yet? That should be enough but if not I’ll tell you my opinion on this psycho-killer horror novel classic. If that is your type of novel, you must read it. The Face that Must die comes with a thirty plus pages forward that really is amazing. It comes across as brutally honest and opened hearted explanation of what events Campbell’s life led to him writing this novel from the ultra-paranoid point of view of the killer.
I feel like a jerk even suggesting the notion, but is it possible that Campbell is pulling our chain, adding additional story telling device in the form of a gut wrenching forward where he pours out his heart?
It is all told with such an open mirror cast on Campbell I felt that he was being brutally honest. In the end I would say this part was worth the read on it’s own. Once in the story we are introduced to Horridge a paranoid character who doesn’t even admit to himself that he is a killer. Driven by homophobia and homesexual panic he becomes entangled with a group of young Liverpool professionals who all live in the same building.
Of course they don’t know that he is involved in their lives, as he stalks their gay neighbor, and blames his own violence on others. Campbell is a master at the level of paranoid narrative and might even match some of Phil K. Dick’s deepest and most powerful delusions. A lot of the suspense is built off of watching helplessly as the delusions deepen, We see the trainwreck ahead but understand nothing can stop it. Standard moments of suspense pepper the story, but the strength of the novel is found in Horridge’s mind. In that sense it’s fitting that Bloch wrote the introduction as the novel resembles Psycho in it’s source of terror. It’s a trip into the killer’s mind. If that sounds interesting, and it should you should read this classic.
Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons
*** Warner books 884 pages
Maybe hearing that the book was a masterpiece for more than a decade set the bar too high for this novel. I also think the blurb comparing it to ‘The Stand’ on the cover also hurt my reaction to this novel. I mean besides the massive number of pages I can't see another thing about Carrion Comfort that makes it at all like the Stand.
This novel is amazing in many ways, but I don't think I am saying anything sacrilegious to say that it might be a page or two hundred too long. Simmons is a brilliant writer and this novel does brilliant things. He expands the vampire concept away from blood to the mind and thus explores several deep issues ranging from violence, cruelty to what makes a person evil. What gives them a hunger for violence?
The novel has epic scope starting on the bottom of mass grave outside a Nazi concentration camp and going as far as island in the early 80's that has become a vacation spot for the worlds most powerful. We follow Saul a holocaust survivor who has never lost his desire to find the Oberst, a Nazi so evil he seemed to enter the minds of his victims.
Once Saul looks into this man he uncovers a conspiracy of powerful psychics who play with victims by controlling their minds. The concept is powerful, vampires who stay young by feeding off the violence between others. They enter your mind and control people using them as pawns. The psychic vampire concept is well executed in several very suspenseful moments in this novel.
The novel is well written, but that is not a surprise coming from Dan Simmons who is one of the best most imaginative writers working in and out of genre. The major characters are well done, and the book is excellently plotted. I don’t think it is as strong a novel as Song of Kali, or Hyperion.
One of my biggest problems with the novel comes in the climax when the pawn concept goes beyond analogy and Simmons devotes almost 20 pages into a mind numbing chess battle. It is a pet peeve but I hate gambling parts in Bond movies, and in this novel the Chess showdown put me to sleep.
There are alot of impressive things in this novel. I gave it three stars and not five for a couple reasons. The entire violent show down in Philadelphia seemed like an unnecessary distraction from the main plot. The dialogue of the block gang members sounded like the jive-talkers in the movie Airplane, I have a hard believing in 1980 that gang members really said honky that much. I know a little thing but it annoyed me. The suggestion during the epilogue and the near apocalypse that is avoided sounded far more interesting to me than the last 400 pages we ended up with in this novel. That and the long chess show down really hurt my opinion of the book.