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Book Review: Into the Storm, by Taylor Anderson

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A World War II destroyer is trapped on an alternate Earth, in a war between evolved lemurs and dinosaurs.


Into the Storm

Roc, 2008, 400 pages



Pressed into service when World War II breaks out in the Pacific, the USS Walker---a Great-War vintage "four-stacker" destroyer---finds itself in full retreat from pursuit by Japanese battleships. Its captain, Lieutenant Commander Matthew Patrick Reddy, knows that he and his crew are in dire straits. In desperation, he heads Walker into a squall, hoping it will give them cover---and emerges somewhere else.

Familiar landmarks appear, but the water teems with monstrous, vicious fish. And there appear to be dinosaurs grazing on the plains of Bali. Gradually Matt and his crew must accept the fact that they are in an alternate world---and they are not alone. Humans have not evolved, but two other species have. And they are at war.

With its steam power and weaponry, the Walker's very existence could alter the balance of power. And for Matt and his crew, who have the means to turn a primitive war into a genocidal Armageddon, one thing becomes clear: They must decide whose side they're on. Because whoever they choose to side with is the winner.


A war story suitable for Weird Tales, and it would make a pretty good setting for a RPG.Collapse )

Verdict: All the fun is in the concept — Into the Storm is basically a space opera without the space. The saga of the USS Walker begins here in what looks like one of those series that goes on and on — nonetheless, the first book is all action with minimal worldbuilding, and enough fun for me to read the second.




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Book Review: Sex and Violence in Zero-G: The Complete "Near Space" Stories, by Allen Steele

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A collection of hard SF short stories spanning an entire century of near-future history.


Sex and Violence in Zero-G: The Complete Near Space Stories, Expanded Edition

Fantastic Books, 2012, 514 pages



All the stories of Allen Steele's award-winning "Near Space" series--now in an expanded and revised second edition!

Since its first publication in 1999, "Sex and Violence in Zero-G" has become one of the most long-sought and hard-to-find of Steele's books. At last, this massive collection is back in print--complete with a new introduction, five additional stories, and a revised timeline.

Includes the Hugo Award-winning novella "The Death of Captain Future" and the Hugo Award-winning novelette "The Emperor of Mars."


For astronauts, beamjacks, prospectors and colonists, soldiers and gangsters and rebels in space...Collapse )

Verdict: These stories are all love letters to an earlier generation of science fiction, but the Near Space series is thoroughly modern SF. I think Allen Steele is underrated, and since I have always loved space adventures and short stories that all fit into an epic arc, this collection gets my Highly Recommended tag.

Also by Allen Steele: My reviews of Coyote and Apollo's Outcasts.




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Book Review: Candide, by Voltaire

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A cynical satire of "the best of all possible worlds."


Candide

First published in 1759, approximately 35,000 words. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.



Brought up in the household of a powerful Baron, Candide is an open-minded young man, whose tutor, Pangloss, has instilled in him the belief that 'all is for the best'. But when his love for the Baron's rosy-cheeked daughter is discovered, Candide is cast out to make his own way in the world.

And so he and his various companions begin a breathless tour of Europe, South America and Asia, as an outrageous series of disasters befall them - earthquakes, syphilis, a brush with the Inquisition, murder - sorely testing the young hero's optimism.


Voltaire was sharper, but Swift was funnier.Collapse )

Verdict: As an important, ground-breaking work, Candide had its moment, but it's now a very dated polemic that's too absurd to be read as a serious philosophical argument. The story itself is entertaining in its comical cavalcade of grotesqueries, but this is one to read for its historical significance (and a few choice witty passages), as the humor wears thin quickly.




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Book Review: Tell No Lies, by Gregg Hurwitz

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A psychologist from a wealthy family who now counsels ex-cons has to stop a serial killer.


Tell No Lies

St. Martin's Press, 2013, 371 pages



One misstep puts a man - and everyone he loves - in the path of a relentless killer.

The scion of an old-money San Francisco family, Daniel Brasher left his well-paying, respectable money-manager position to marry his community organizer wife and work at a job he loves, leading group counseling sessions with recently paroled violent offenders.

One night he finds an envelope - one intended for someone else that was placed in his office mailbox by accident. Inside is an unsigned piece of paper, a handwritten note that says, "Admit what you've done or you will bleed for it." The deadline in the note has already passed, and when Daniel looks into it, he finds that the person to whom the envelope was addressed was brutally murdered. But that's just the beginning.

It appears that the killer might have some connection to the offenders Daniel is counseling.

As he scrambles to uncover the truth, Daniel finds more warnings in his office mail, to people whom the police cannot track down, and to victims who cannot be saved. Daniel's efforts to find and help the victims, however, have alerted the killer to his involvement. Next Daniel gets a deadly threat of his own. Now, with the clock ticking, Daniel must somehow appease, outwit, or unmask a seemingly unstoppable killer.


Not a very psychological thriller.Collapse )

Verdict: There is only minimal satisfaction in playing "guess the killer," but despite it being both somewhat formulaic and at times implausible, Tell No Lies was a decent read if you're in the mood for a brisk little thriller that is not a police procedural.




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Book Review: Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey

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The solar system on the brink of war in a good old-fashioned space opera with a few other genres added for spice.


Leviathan Wakes

Orbit, 2011, 504 pages



Humanity has colonized the solar system - Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond - but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for - and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to The Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations - and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.


A little bit of alien horror, a little bit of detective noir, a lot of classic science fiction.Collapse )

Verdict: Leviathan Wakes is an epic space opera crafted in the old-school tradition, with bits of detective noir and Gigeresque SF horror blended in. It takes a while to get going, and the dual-authored, dual-POV writing makes it not quite a seamless story, but this first book in a series will appeal to any fans of classic SF.




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Book Review: Defenders, by Will McIntosh

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Defeating an alien invasion only makes things worse, in a bloody, high-concept epic with lots of damaged characters.


Defenders

Orbit, 2014, 512 pages



When Earth is invaded by telepathic aliens, humanity responds by creating the defenders. They are the perfect warriors--seventeen feet tall, knowing and loving nothing but war, their minds closed to the aliens. The question is, what do you do with millions of genetically-engineered warriors once the war is won?

A novel of power, alliances, violence, redemption, sacrifice, and yearning for connection, DEFENDERS presents a revolutionary story of invasion, occupation, and resistance.


Sure, they can have Australia, no one is living there anymore....Collapse )

Verdict: Defenders is, on the surface, a typical cinematic alien invasion novel with a lot of big ideas and major suspensions of disbelief required. But the aliens are interesting, the human characters are each individuals with personal concerns but large roles to play, and the constant action makes this a page-turner. Highly enjoyable and recommended for anyone who liked the movie versions of War of the Worlds or Independence Day.




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Book Review: Steel World, by B.V. Larson

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A young man goes to the stars to fight aliens. I may have read something like this before.


Steel World

Self-published, 2013, 338 pages



In the 20th century Earth sent probes, transmissions, and welcoming messages to the stars. Unfortunately, someone noticed. The Galactics arrived with their battle fleet in 2052. Rather than being exterminated under a barrage of hell-burners, Earth joined their vast Empire. Swearing allegiance to our distant alien overlords wasn't the only requirement for survival. We also had to have something of value to trade, something that neighboring planets would pay their hard-earned credits to buy. As most of the local worlds were too civilized to have a proper army, the only valuable service Earth could provide came in the form of soldiers...someone had to do their dirty work for them, their fighting and dying.

I, James McGill, was born in 2099 on the fringe of the galaxy. When Hegemony Financial denied my loan applications, I was kicked out of the university and I turned to the stars. My first campaign involved the invasion of a mineral-rich planet called Cancri-9, better known as Steel World. The attack didn't go well, and now Earth has entered a grim struggle for survival. Humanity's mercenary legions go to war in Steel World, best-selling author B. V. Larson's latest science fiction novel.


Respawning mercenaries vs. dino-aliens in another serviceable self-published novel.Collapse )

Verdict: Steel World is one of a flood of self-published military SF novels available on Amazon, but unlike most, it reads like something professionally written and edited, and it's entertaining. It's still a highly derivative "young man goes into space to blow up aliens and prove that Earthmen rule" story, with a few plot twists but not much depth, but if you like this genre, it's a perfectly good candidate, and I'd be willing to read more in the series.




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Book Review: Metro 2033, by Dmitry Glukhovsky

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Gamma World meets Wool: mutants, nazis, commies, and Satanists in a Russian post-apocalyptic novel that was made to be gamed.


Metro 2033

Gollancz, 2005, 458 pages



The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct and the half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boundaries, they say, lie endless burned-out deserts and the remains of splintered forests. Survivors still remember the past greatness of humankind, but the last remains of civilisation have already become a distant memory.

Man has handed over stewardship of the Earth to new life-forms. Mutated by radiation, they are better adapted to the new world. A few score thousand survivors live on, not knowing whether they are the only ones left on Earth, living in the Moscow Metro - the biggest air-raid shelter ever built. Stations have become mini-statelets, their people uniting around ideas, religions, water-filters, or the need to repulse enemy incursion.

VDNKh is the northernmost inhabited station on its line, one of the Metro's best stations and secure. But a new and terrible threat has appeared. Artyom, a young man living in VDNKh, is given the task of penetrating to the heart of the Metro to alert everyone to the danger and to get help. He holds the future of his station in his hands, the whole Metro - and maybe the whole of humanity.


I remember a soldier sleeping next to me, riding on the metro...Collapse )

Verdict: There seems to be a lot of good SF and fantasy coming out of Russia nowadays. Metro 2033 isn't terribly original and it gets a bit long, but it's a dark, violent, underground ride that should entertain any fan of post-apocalyptic fiction.




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Book Review: Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

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A Great American Novel about ugly, petty Americans.


Freedom

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010, 576 pages



Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul—the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter’s dreams. Together with Walter—environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man—she was doing her small part to build a better world.

But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz—outré rocker and Walter’s college best friend and rival—still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become “a very different kind of neighbor,” an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street’s attentive eyes?

In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom’s characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.


A lengthy but tightly-connected drama revealing all the cracks in the American dream, and Jonathan Franzen's fixation on poop.Collapse )

Verdict: A complex narrative by a gifted writer who clearly doesn't care who he does or doesn't appeal to. I enjoyed Freedom despite or because of the way it made me squirm on several levels. It also a quintessentially American novel, and at times it's not clear whether it's meant to praise or bury the American dream. Recommended as an important and worthy read, though not necessarily to everyone's taste.




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Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

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A witty critique of Aestheticism that's been reinterpreted as a horror story.


The Picture of Dorian Gray

Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, 1890, 252 pages. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.



Oscar Wilde brings his enormous gifts for astute social observation and sparkling prose to The Picture of Dorian Gray, the dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. This dandy, who remains forever unchanged---petulant, hedonistic, vain, and amoral---while a painting of him ages and grows increasingly hideous with the years, has been horrifying and enchanting readers for more than 100 years. Taking the reader in and out of London drawing rooms, to the heights of aestheticism, and to the depths of decadence, The Picture of Dorian Gray is not simply a melodrama about moral corruption. Laced with bon mots and vivid depictions of upper-class refinement, it is also a fascinating look at the milieu of Wilde's fin-de-siècle world and a manifesto of the creed "Art for Art's Sake." The ever-quotable Wilde, who once delighted London with his scintillating plays, scandalized readers with this, his only novel. Upon publication, Dorian was condemned as dangerous, poisonous, stupid, vulgar, and immoral, and Wilde as a "driveling pedant." The novel, in fact, was used against Wilde at his much-publicized trials for "gross indecency," which led to his imprisonment and exile on the European continent. Even so, The Picture of Dorian Gray firmly established Wilde as one of the great voices of the Aesthetic movement and endures as a classic that is as timeless as its hero.


Oscar Wilde is on my list of Top 10 Dead Authors I wish were still alive and writing today.Collapse )

Verdict: Oscar Wilde can be relied upon for quotable lines on every page, and as a story of a man falling headfirst into Faustian temptation, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a very readable literary classic. It is not perfect (it's awfully convenient how often Dorian escapes judgment by someone else's timely death, and the prose is a bit turgidly Victorian), but it's full of great one-liners and witty observations about Wilde's milieu.





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