Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Review: Panacea by F.Paul Wilson

Panacea by F.Paul Wilson

Hardcover, 383 pages

Published July 5th 2016 by Tor Books

In the Thrash Metal world there is a phrase the Big Four, that describes the biggest most popular bands. F.Paul Wilson is one of my personal big three when it comes to favorite living authors. I have a huge collection of his books. I flew across the country to the Borderlands writers bootcamp - mostly because I heard he was teaching plotting. The man is a plotting and structure Yoda in my opinion. No one writes thrillers with better pacing. He has written many types of novels but he is most known for his genre hopping Repairman Jack series with ties to his Adversary Cycle horror novel series. I would read the phone book if F.Paul Wilson did a draft.

So when it was announced that F.Paul Wilson was putting out his first non-Repairman Jack novel in years I marked the calendar and counted down the days. It took me a few weeks to get to it but I have read Wilson's latest novel Panacea and yes it is great.

Panacea shifts Points of View but our main character is medical examiner Laura Hanning who is called to the scene of a John Doe burned to a crisp. It seems like just another body at first but Laura discovers a web of conspiracy connected to a liquid - the mythical cure-all Panacea. Laura has a sick child herself, but she doesn't believe in the Panacea. After a string of miracle cures at a local hospital she is hired by a dying billionaire. She still doesn't believe but the money is too great. Follow the cures, the money the clues. With a Ex-navy SEAL (maybe?) named Rick Hayden as her bodyguard they set out across the globe to discover the origin of the Panacea.

This is a great global trek thriller that follows Rick and Laura across the global as the CIA, ancient cults and more try to beat or stop them. This is a fun tale! Trade mark Wilson plotting and reversals are on display, and yes it connects with several easter eggs to the Secret History that expands through his whole universe. Rick and Laura are great characters and they make the book for me. You can certainly see how Wilson will expand into another book, and he is working on one now.

The very coolest aspect of the plot of this novel is the ticking time bomb. Wilson toys with this well known trope but creating a situation where we the reader are watching the ticking clock storyline but our hero is totally clueless that the clock is ticking. Wilson does it again!

It is not a repairman Jack novel at all, but I think Jack fans will find this novel like putting on a comfy sweatshirt. It has all the feel of and consistency we enjoyed. If there is a weakness it is that so much of how the plot comes together SEEMS convenient. This might throw off new readers, but long time fans of Wilson's Secret history knows that there are forces at work directing EVERYTHING.

Wilson's medical background adds small but important moments of Clarity, but they never slow down the story. Globe trotting thrillers need a frantic pace and Wilson swift and no nonsense prose moves the story quick. Very pleased and ready for book two!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Book Review: God's War by Kameron Hurley

God's War by Kameron Hurley

Paperback, 288 pages Published January 2011 by Night Shade Books

Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (2011)

Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominee (2014)

British Science Fiction Association Award Nominee for Best Novel (2013)

Gaylactic Spectrum Award Nominee for Best Novel (2012)

The Kitschies for Golden Tentacle (Debut) (2011)

James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List (2011)

It was really hard for me to give this novel a completely fair review. I first learned of Hurley from a interview she did on Geek's Guide to the Galaxy. The interview was focused on her recent book of essays on the important topic of Feminism in Science Fiction. I really enjoyed the interview and really was sold on Hurley as a important I NEEDED to check out. However she did make one statement I couldn't shake. It is not right but I couldn't shake it the whole time I read this novel.

She said that Ursula K. Leguin's writing was not radical enough. Wow, really the 80 something anarchist author who wrote Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed and Always Coming Home is not radical enough? Alright I had to read one of her books. I started with God's War. I am sure Hurley didn't sit down to outdo Leguin when she wrote this novel and as much as I know it ain't right that was the prism I was reading this novel through. OK first off I love the setting, which the lazy reader would look at as a sci-fi re-telling of the middle east. We have a far future human colony that is wrecked by the ravages of the wars that took place long ago. This world clearly colonized by Muslims follows a strange mix Matriarchy (as most men left to fight a war) and the Koran. The main character Nyx is a bounty hunter who claims heads across the wasteland. I had this image that reminded me of the old Shaw Brothers movie Heads for Sale.

The novel starts with a excellent opening line. "Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert." The body and organ sale aspects of the story were very compelling. the main character Nyx didn't look like the lady on the cover of the book in my mind. A survivor. She is a part of a society of assassins called Bel Dames.

There is a interesting balance going on between the setting of the novel and the marketing of the book. I know don't Judge a book by it's cover. To look at the book cover and skim the novel God's war sets up for standard male fantasy sci-fi. The "hottie" buff action star that kicks ass and excites the boys in a tank top and fresh lipstick. However a deeper look and understanding Hurley paints a world where woman dominate, not in a sitting on a throne type of way. The women in the novel do not have typical roles. This not a Matriarchy in the sense of power structure, just in the way society exists. In my mind Nyx was not a video game lady with fresh lipstick, she was a burly, dirty, hair legged woman who kicked serious ass. I liked her and believed her that way.

There was curious mix of excellent subtle world building, but other times where the writing got dense and lost me. I was kinda in the mood for a a light read so some of that is on me. Sometimes the author expected us to pick up on parts of the world I just didn't understand. Overall I enjoyed the novel, I probably will finish the trilogy at some point and I excited to read her other works. Maybe then I will find this stuff she thinks is more radical than Leguin. ha-ha.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Book Review: The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill

The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published October 2013 by Tor

Winner of the British Fantasy Award for best Horror novel

I read this book based on the recommendation from Rob who slings books at San Diego's best book store Mysterious Galaxy. He really loved this novel and that was enough for me to check it out. Consider also that it was nominated for a British fantasy award for best horror novel. so take everything I have to say with a understanding this novel may just not have been for me. There is quality here, but...

This novel is the story of a woman named Catherine who is hired to to assess the value of the many dolls, puppets and battles scenes made out of animals stuffed by an artist taxidermist that makes up the creepy setting of the Red House. Catherine has a job to to do thus giving her the important haunted house trope of "why the hell do they stay."

If dolls and puppets creep you out then the red house in this novel is your absolute nightmare. Me personally I didn't find that creepy. I respect Nevill, he is clearly a talented writer and there were lots of elements that really worked there were just two elements that didn't work for me.

Catherine was not really a sympathetic character and in this case the suspense kinda depends on but worst of I don't find her believable. She was whinny and devoid of any back bone. Just didn't dig her at all. The second element I could not jive with was that the the book started strong but got weaker as the pages went along. I got bored in the second half, was starting to lose track of the story and felt there was no satisfaction the pay-off that was so well set up.

The author is talented and there was plenty of strong moments. I was unhappy with the ending but there are plenty of elements enough to get me back to check more of his work. I know this is a short review, I wish I connected to this book more.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Book Review: Pressure by Brian Keene

Pressure by Brian Keene

Hardcover, First Edition, 276 pages

Published June 2016 by Thomas Dunne Books

Brian Keene is a giant in our field, perhaps the most well know writer of our generation of horror authors who grew up reading Stephen King, Robert McCammon and Joe R Lansdale. Keene wears the influences on his sleeves like a crowded arm of tats but the reality is he would not have become one of the youngest Grand Masters of Horror at the 2014 World Horror Convention if he didn't have a excellent ability to tell a story with his own spin. Keene is an excellent writer with a shelf of classics that if you have not read...well you need to fix that.

Keene as an artist is pretty wide open through his popular Horror Show podcast and blogs. The author made clear he was approached to write this book. Pressure is not his masterpiece but it is a fun read. If you are looking for something more you might want to read Ghoul or The Rising. I have not read The Conmplex his last book before Pressure but I will soon. This story follows a famous diver named Carrie Anderson who is hired to investigate the collapse of the sea shelf in the Indian Ocean. This alone seemed a interesting set up for a end of the world novel but it is just the Maguffin that gets Carrie down to the bottom where we find a a big surprise.

As for the claim that it was Alien meets Jaws made by the publisher seems fair for the first 100 pages or so that would have made a stronger novella that the resulting novel. It is hard to talk about the strengths or weaknesses of this book with spoiling the book a little. Consider yourself warned...

The second half of the book takes on a completely different style of story and loses the monster aspect as well as the interesting setting of the deep seas dives. I mean the existence of the monster still drives the story but the creature is MIA in the second half. Keene does some interesting stuff with the evil corporation stuff in the second half. For me this was less interesting that the monster in the first half. To Keene's credit in the hands of an author with less skill I would have lost all interest.

I respect Brian Keene as a person and as a writer and think his skill saves this book although I wish the story had stayed out at sea, or maybe the monster could have came ashore looking for it's egg. If I sound negative it is only because of the high bar Brian Keene has set for himself with a catalog of effective horror novels. This is a fun monster novel that just needed a little more focus on the monster.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Book Review: Malediction by Lisa Morton

Malediction by Lisa Morton

Paperback, 388 pages

Published October 2013 by Evil Jester Press

I am a huge fan of Lisa Morton's work. Her short stories were for years were consistently among the best in anthologies and often rubbing elbows with stories of authors who were considered the greats of the genre. Long before she because president of the Horror Writers Association she was starting to rack up Stoker award nominations and is known as a Halloween expert. So of course she has written several books I enjoyed.

LM's fiction is as tied to Los Angeles as Stephen King is to Maine. This was true of her excellent first novel The Castle of Los Angeles, but as Spinal Tap would say this one goes to 11. I am not sure how much of the history is real or fictionalized but Morton weaves the text of a book by one of the novels characters called the Secret History of Los Angeles into Malediction.

It is excellently weaved into the text and honestly the majority of it sounds plausible with a supernatural bent to the idea of a curse that hangs like a psychic cloud over the city. It has laid dormant until May and Gwen come close together.

Like the + and - sides of a battery the two young women have discovered that they have psychic powers. May uses hers for bad a stubborn child who was sheltered and she causes the death of those who she sees are in her way. Gwen is a healer.

This is a good read but considering the scope and potential for a epic mythology the story actually felt short to me at almost 400 pages. That is a good thing. I kinda wish the character of Sam who write the Secret history of Los Angeles during his homeless psychotic break has been more connected to the supernatural forces weaved into the history.

In the end end the secret history fades a bit into the back ground as we end up with show down that reminded me of the second half of the stand. I mean we know Gwen and May are pretty much on the planet at this point to confront each other. The showdown was a little weak for all the excellent build up. Point is the build was great.

If you have not read Morton I think I would suggest her haunted theater novel The Castle of Los Angeles or Netherworld #1 first. That being said fans of Los Angeles fiction who can't go wrong it is the elements of LA lore mixed into this story that make it so fun.