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Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt
I started playing Dungeon and Dragons in the sixth grade with the basic boxed set and quickly graduated to the Advanced Players Handbook and the related books. In eighth grade, I started gaming with a guy whose older brother had started playing in college and using the original books—Greyhawk, Blackmoor, etc. We were all very proud of that connection and considered ourselves to be second generation gamers. So it was with great excitement that I stumbled across this book on the history of Dungeon and Dragons by David M. Ewalt.
Ewalt’s greatest strength is that he provides a coherent history of the development of the game from its beginnings as a war game, to those early days in Gary Gygax’s basement, to the development of the first of many iterations of TSR, to the intense infighting within the company, and its eventual sale to Wizards of the Coast. He also traces the development of the game through multiple editions and the influence of major figures. He even goes into some of the spinoff events and talks about the scandals. Overall, he builds the case that the introduction of D&D was a transformational event in the history of playing games.
There is also a lot of Ewalt’s personal experiences with roleplaying games, which seems to be a necessary and expected part of any book of this nature. Gamers are storytellers and they love to share their stories as much as other people love hearing them. Those stories also permit Ewalt to give a little insight into the dynamics of game play and player interactions.
While I suspect that this book appeals much more to gamers than to the larger world, if you have some interest in the subject this isn’t a bad place to start. Of course, if you’re really curious about Dungeons and Dragons, the best way to learn about it is to join a game and start playing.
I almost didn’t get this book and that would have been a terrible misfortune for me. On the surface, Maelstrom struck me as a run-of-the-mill story of beings and creatures passing between parallel earths, but it proved to be much better than that.
The novel is broken into three parts. The first is told from the POV of Elizabeth Cali, an American doctor working in rural China. Security guards at her medical center have a violent conflict with a tribesman from the nearby desert. The tribesman has brought in a sick elderly man and for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent, the guards are fighting with the younger tribesman who performs feats of amazing strength and basically wins the battle. The doctor calms him down, gets security to back off, and starts to help the sick man who is dying of heart problems. She realizes that both tribesmen have deformities. Neither can speak, their skulls are elongated, and more. She gets x-rays and realizes that both are Neandertals. Excited that she thinks she has discovered a possible Neandertal tribe that has survived into the present day, she investigates further and learns that the situation is much more bizarre than that. The Neandertal have been passing from their world into ours for centuries and there is frightening evidence that more worlds are colliding with ours, opening up passes between them in a manner that will eventually destroy our planet.
The second portion of the story follows a NYC cop, named Mark, and a jogger in Central Park who are caught in the next collision of planets and transported to a world where Homo Sapiens does not appear to have risen and prehistoric lions, saber tooth tigers, and more roam what on our planet is NYC. This is both the best section of the novel and the one that requires the greatest suspension of disbelief—it seems highly improbable that for the first time a portal will open in a major city just as Dr. Cali was discovering that the portals exist. That small problem aside, I was extremely impressed by how the author, Peter Cawdron, handled this dislocation and the terrible problem of trying to help a woman trapped in the rubble of NYC buildings that collapsed when they were pulled onto this new planet. This is a painfully powerful section that had me on the edge of my seat.
The third section follows many of the people introduced earlier in the novel as they move through the portal (called a maelstrom) in China to try and figure out how to save our planet. This seemed hopeless to me when they started, but again, Cawdron has brilliantly thought through the situation that caused the maelstrom and I was totally satisfied with his conclusion. This is among the very best of parallel universe stories that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read and the three narrators in the audio book do a magnificent job of bringing the text to life. I’m very glad I bought the story and I’ll be looking up other books by Peter Cawdron.
The House of Teeth by Dan Jolley
If you’re looking for a powerful new urban fantasy, you’ll want to sink your teeth into this new book by Dan Jolley. There is magic in the Louisiana Bayou and Henry Lemarchand is about to find out that his family is right in the middle of it—waging a centuries-old struggle between good and evil. This book has it all—a great back story, a cool magic system (actually two cool magic systems), and a great plot as Henry and his cousin seek to find out how his father really died. In doing so, they may just have to save the world from an ancient evil.
I had a lot fun with this novel. It’s targeted at young adults and centered around two teenagers. They make a lot of mistakes—technically dumb mistakes but we’re talking about teenagers and so acting on emotion without a lot of thinking through the situation felt very right. My only real problem with the story was the supervillain moment in which the big bad guy revealed his nefarious plan. As one would expect at this moment, the villain thought he was impossible to stop, but, fortunately for the good guys, he wasn’t.
Phantoms by Dean Koontz
I think this is the first Dean Koontz novel I ever read. I was in college and was extremely impressed that unlike so many horror novels, the monster at the end of the book lived up to all the extremely creepy build up. It encouraged me to go out and read several more of his books including such greats as Strangers and Watchers. I think Phantoms is every bit as good as those two.
It opens with a sheriff’s deputy dying mysteriously in the small ski resort of Snowfield, California. Then it switches to a young doctor coming home to Snowfield with her younger sister only to discover that the only people she can find in this town of 500 are mysteriously (and sometimes gruesomely) dead. The phones are out and the electricity is undependable. And the more they try and find out what’s going on (terrorist attack? Strange disease? Poison gas?) the more and more nervous you become for them. The only break in the tension comes when we switch points-of-view to the local county sheriff who is having his own tense confrontation with a suspect whom he believes murdered his family—and that’s not really a break, just a different kind of tension.
When the police finally arrive in Snowfield, the creature stalking the town ups its game and men start dying—or worse yet, disappearing without a trace just like some two-thirds of the residents of Snowfield. The survivors don’t feel they can just leave in case a strange new disease is responsible for the disaster, but we, the reader, are quite certain that it’s a monster, not some nameless bug doing the killing.
As state and national authorities get involved, and the world wakes up to the tragedy, the monster becomes ever more menacing in the buildup to what I think is one of Koontz’s best endings.
To Reign in Hell by Stephen Brust
This is a story of crisis and betrayal, miscommunication and lies, and a brewing civil war. The characters are vivid and the action is filled with tension and quite enjoyable. Written in a different context it would have been a four-star novel. Unfortunately, To Reign in Hell is an effort to retell the story of the war between God (called Yahweh in this novel) and Satan but it accomplishes this by flipping the expectations of who is good and who is evil. Yahweh is described as a dimwitted, small minded, easily manipulated, quick to violence fool who surrounds himself with equally stupid angels who are disturbingly quick to agree to attack their fellow angels who they apparently still consider to be their friends. On the other side, Satan and those who will become known as demons and devils, are portrayed as honorable, brilliant people who suffer from naiveite. Whereas Yahweh acts with cruelty throughout the novel eventually becoming genocidal, the demons never do so. It is a bizarre twisting of the story that makes listening to it highly disturbing, even though the basic action is still enjoyable.
In addition, there is a major flaw that greatly weakens the credibility of the story. I’ll leave out names so that I don’t spoil the action, but the angel who is the arch manipulator of Yahweh kills another angel and is caught in the act. This murder occurs well before the breach between Yahweh and Satan has become certain and it is the act that inspires most of the rest of the misunderstandings in the story. Again and again, Satan tries to kill the offending angel and is stopped by forces of Yahweh who do not know they are defending a murderer. But never once does Satan or his allies think of yelling—"He killed (fill in the name of the angel).” Those three words would have ended the immediate threat of violence and permitted the discussion that would have healed the accidental rift between Yahweh and Satan. I realize that the rift is necessary to the story, but couldn’t a believable problem have been created?
Perhaps the real problem is that Brust wants Satan and the “fallen angels” to be the heroes of his tale and Yahweh and the heavenly host to be a bunch of homicidal (in Yahweh’s case, genocidal) maniacs. It would have been a much more interesting story if Satan had actually been the bad guy trying to gain dominance in heaven. There are numerous novels that manage to make the bad guy an interesting protagonist. It’s unfortunate that Brust decided to go in the opposite direction.
I would like to end on a positive note. Narrator Jiraiyah Addams has a wonderful vocal range which permits him to create a large number of individual characters in this audio book. That greatly enhanced the rendition of this tale.
I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
Optional Retirement Plan by Chris Porteau
What do you do when you’re a hitman whose boss thinks you’re slipping into Alzheimer’s and wants to “permanently retire” you before you can spill any more of the company’s secrets? That’s the problem facing Stacks Fischer in Chris Porteau’s excellent sf thriller, Optional Retirement Plan. To make matters even worse for Fischer, he’s not even sure he has Alzheimer’s and so he’s trying to figure out if he’s actually sick or being set up while trying to avoid assassins trying to collect the bounty on his head.
Stacks Fischer is a fascinating protagonist. He should not be likable, but he truly is. He should not be sympathetic, but you can’t help but feel for him as he struggles to find out what’s wrong with him. He has a code of honor and a sense of—well not justice, but something remarkably close to it that makes him easy to cheer for. It helps that narrator R.C. Bray has the perfect voice for Fischer, bringing his pain to life as he struggles to keep living for just a few more days.
I’ve noticed that Porteau has other books set in this universe. I’m going to have to give them a try.
I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
Wearing the Cape 8 Repercussions
The pacing and tone of Repercussions is very different than Harmon’s previous novels. Everything occurs at high speed with little time for the heroes to react and even less time for them to think. To add to the feeling of ever-growing frenzy, the point of view changes multiple times in most chapters and reflects a significantly larger number of character perspectives than we have been introduced to before. The civilized world is under attack and it is by no means clear if the Sentinels can save the day this time. Harmon has long flirted with post-apocalyptic settings—both in the visions of the Tea Time Anarchist and in the alternate realities of Team Ups and Crossovers. Within a very few chapters it becomes evident that this might just be the book that sees those dark ages introduced full time into the series. Starting in the United States and spreading outwards, the death count is higher than at any time since the first book in the series, and that number includes the heroes as well as the civilians. If you’ve grown to love the large cast of Wearing the Cape—brace yourself—everything is on the table this time and no one gets away unhurt.
So this book is everything in a superhero novel you could desire—tons of actions, great super powers, and a gritty plot worthy of our heroic cast. That being said, I do have a small complaint that I’ve had a little difficulty articulating. I have read every book in this series at least twice and am listening to the audiobooks now. I feel like I know the action and the characters very well. Yet there were many times when Harmon made references that made me wonder if there was a short story out there that I had missed (and maybe there is) and the novel was just jammed packed with facts about supers in the rest of the planet—as if after finishing the guide books to his super hero roleplaying game, Harmon just couldn’t resist feeding us information a little bit artificially.
That being said, Astra experiences a lot of changes in this novel and I found the character development well thought out and credible. I’m anxious to see what Harmon has in store for her and her friends in the books to come.
Dead Moon by Peter Cline
I’ve started a lot of reviews with the words, “I like zombie novels.” That’s true, but what’s even more true is that I like books with very creative takes on the zombie theme and Peter Cline’s Dead Moon is about as creative as it comes.
In the future, the moon has become a massive cemetery with something like 16 million bodies interned there. A space elevator makes transportation to the moon really cheap and the notion that bodies buried on the moon don’t decompose appeals to a lot of rich people. So several cemeteries have sprouted on the moon and a new profession—caretaker—has developed to take care of the deceased.
On top of that, the moon is a tourist attraction with classes of rich students going to the moon instead of Disney World on elaborate field trips. Not to mention business ventures, etc. So there are lots of potential victims for the coming zombie horde.
Matters begin in a pretty straightforward fashion. A meteor strike results in the undead beginning to rise and—very realistically I thought—no one believes it’s happening. Official reaction is extremely slow and further complicated by the fact that one of the first presumed victims of the zombies is the spoiled son of the company CEO.
Then things get really interesting. These zombies are not just mindless brain-seeking corpses. They have a disturbingly high level of cunning. They might even be smart.
I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises in the novel, so I’ll just say that the reader (with slightly more information than the characters) understands that there is more going on than the dead rising. Just what that is, however, is not immediately clear—even though Cline gives plenty of clues that I kicked myself for missing earlier in the book. This is a brilliantly plotted novel that also appears to be very well researched. I’m not an expert on the moon or conditions there, but the description of what a person goes through when exposed to the cold vacuum of space was riveting and totally believable. Even if the rest of the book had been terrible (and let’s be clear, it’s awesomely good) that one scene and it’s follow up chapter would have been worth reading the entire novel for.
Every time you think we’re approaching the natural end of the book, Cline shakes things up and ramps the tension even higher. I’m proud to say I figured out a big chunk of how our heroes were going to deal with the final monstrous problem, but I’m not sure how much credit that should give me because I didn’t figure out that that particular problem was going to need to be solved until Cline hit me over the head with it.
I’d like to wrap up by noting that novels can be made or broken based on the skills of their narrators. Fortunately, Ray Porter has the kind of voice and cadence that could make the wandering dead stop and listen to him. He does a phenomenal job and it just makes a great book all the better.
If you’re looking for zombies in a new and interesting environment, you should listen to Dead Moon.
Dads vs. Zombies by Benjamin Wallace
I really like the zombie apocalypse subgenre. I read the spectrum of them from the very serious to the spoofs and from the science-based virus-style infection to the supernatural cause. So it is with some authority that I state that this was one of the best zombie apocalypse novels I have ever read. It has a solid plot that would fit in nicely with any book in the genre (three men trying to reunite with their families as the world falls apart around them) but it’s the extraordinary level of humor that lifts this book to the top of the ladder.
The novel opens with our three dads (John, Chris and Erik) at the bowling alley where they have been forced to join a league by the much-hated president of their Home Owners Association. The three men don’t appear to like each other very much and it’s fairly clear that at least one of them (John) probably isn’t liked by much of anyone. The laughs start early in the chapter and continue to the end of the book. The banter between these three men is superb as Wallace draws out each man’s very distinctive character. Forced to walk home because they’ve been drinking, the zombie apocalypse comes to unlife around them and they don’t notice. By morning, the world has gone to hell and our three dads are trying to figure out how to find their families and reconnect with them.
Then the mistakes begin. In many of these novels the heroes are super smart and physically capable. They kill zombies better than Rambo. That does not describe our dads. John, especially, has an almost superhuman ability to do something stupid. And these blunders both add to the tension and create extraordinarily funny situations. Laugh out loud funny. Grab your sides funny. Rip yourself a new hernia funny. Get your eighteen-year-old son to start listening to the book with you funny. It’s that good.
It also took me in directions I didn’t expect several times. Part of this is because John continually does such comically stupid things. But many are also just good plot twists. I was sorry when the book came to an end because I just wasn’t done listening to it yet. Fortunately, I see on Audible that Dads vs. the World is coming so the humor will continue.
I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
Test of Fire by William L. Hahn
In Test of Fire, William L. Hahn proves that great writers do not need to have their heroes save the planet to construct a gripping tale. What it takes is fascinating, well-developed characters willing to risk everything they have for a cause they believe in. That’s the situation that Querlack finds himself in. He’s a retired adventurer who has invested his loot from his wilder days in a foef—a bit of mostly swampy land that doesn’t appear to have much of a future. A poor investment by any contemporary standard, made more so by Querlack’s determination to better the land for the sake of his peasants, not to milk it for every coin he can extract from it.
His neighbor, Sir Cran-Kalrith Pritaelseran is a hard elf with a rigid sense of honor that basically comes down to the following—everyone exists to better him. He finds his new neighbor offensive and decides to continue a centuries old conflict and attempt to expand his own borders—a strategy he has used successfully on other neighbors. It’s a serious threat, but not the only one Querlack faces as he learns more and more about his new home.
This is a great book—made all the better by its primary focus on a relatively small territory. Hahn has always been capable of “painting” the master strokes of epic conflict—demons threatening his Lands of Hope. Now he proves he can be just as effective in small scale adventures and in doing so makes us cherish his characters all the more.
The Singularity Trap by Dennis E. Taylor
This is a remarkable novel with a strange twist on first contact. The aliens arrived well before humanity existed, prepared a “gift” (the Singularity Trap of the title), and left again. The story picks up with the human mining crew who are going to discover the aliens’ parting present.
This is where the story moves into high gear and gets incredibly interesting. The alien gift begins to transform one of the mining crew members and threatens his ability to control his own mind and body. This naturally scares the authorities of his nation and heightens the tensions in a futuristic cold war. There are issues of strategic defense, human rights, and mob mentality to deal with. At the same time there is an extraordinary mystery to be uncovered—what are the aliens, what do they want, and why are messing with our hero’s body?
As we move toward the finale of the novel, our hero must carefully outthink just about every side in the book as he struggles to find a path through the complex future maze that leads to the survival of humanity. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, thought provoking, science fiction novel that took me in directions I never expected to go.
Wolf Hunt by Jeff Strand
George and Lou, the atypical heroes of Wolf Hunt, have just become two of my all-time favorite characters in fiction. They had me laughing right from the beginning of the novel and their banter was enough to take the gruesome edge off even the most horrendous crimes that Ivan the Werewolf commits throughout the book. They’re a little bit dumb, seriously stubborn, and surprisingly heroic and human as they try to make up for the admittedly stupid mistake that sets a seriously sadistic werewolf loose on the world. It seemed like a simple job—transport a caged man a few hundred miles—but we quickly figure out that nothing involving George and Lou ever goes smoothly. Things happen to them, and around them, and, unfortunately, to anyone in the vicinity.
There is a lot to love about this novel—but for the serious fan of werewolf books and movies two particular items stand out head and shoulders above the rest. First, Ivan, is a phenomenal werewolf villain. He is so clever in his psychological sadism that the author’s family might want to have him checked out by a mental health professional. Ivan gets in everyone’s head as he taunts them on his way to dismembering and killing them. It’s sick, but that’s what makes a great villain so fun to hate, isn’t it?
The other absolutely amazing thing about this book is the creative—but pretty untraditional—ways in which George and Lou continue to go after Ivan. It turns out that silver bullets just aren’t that plentiful in the state of Florida and that forces them to get clever—not A-Team clever by any means, but creative none the less. I was astounded by the mirid ways they managed to hurt this basically unkillable-by-conventional-means creature. All the while soaking up tremendous amounts of damage themselves.
As if these three characters were not wonderful enough, Strand adds an innocent victim—accidentally kidnapped along the way by George and Lou—and their handler who set them up with the job. Again, wonderful characters who had me laughing my posterior off throughout the book.
Now, lest I give you the wrong impression, Wolf Hunt is not a comedy. It’s a serious action/horror adventure, but the humor sure does add tremendously to the fun even while the action and the evil deeds of Ivan continue to ramp up the feelings of suspense until the very last page of the novel. Ivan is a serious monster on both a human and lycanthropic levels and you will want him to die just as badly as George does.
I suspect that this would be a great book in paper or electronic format, but it was my good fortune to encounter the audio version, so let me just add a few words of praise for the performance of Scott Thomas. All of the key figures in this book have totally unique voices that make them easy to identify. More importantly, Thomas really draws out the humor in the banter. I am really impressed that he did this without once breaking down into peals of laughter himself, as I did consistently while listening to it.
In summation, let me say that Wolf Hunt is a gem of an adventure novel, but it should come with a warning not to listen to it while operating a motor vehicle.
I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
It’s been obvious for several books now that while the alien invaders might well be able to crush the human colonists on New Hope, they have no chance of winning the actual war once reinforcements from earth with proper military weapons (tanks, fighter jets, artillery, high caliber bullets, etc.) start to arrive. In the opening pages of the latest Fierce Girls novels, Mike Adams shows that the aliens fully understand this problem and gives both a plausible explanation for their continuing to fight and a dastardly strategy for trying to snatch some measure of victory out of the catastrophe they have created. I appreciate that, but I’m not surprised by it. If there is one thing I have come to expect from this series it is that the author has carefully thought out all the issues that I can think of. He is literally planning at last six or eight books ahead of the current novel as he proved again in Sudden Silence when he brought two long-running and apparently disparate storylines together in an exciting and action packed encounter.
Most of this book continues to follow Rick Cassidy and Jack’s Company as they struggle to make their way out of the deep wilderness and back to civilization. They encounter new problems at every turn—not the least is the continued need to rescue humans captured by the alien forces. As was true in the last book, the rescued humans have a lot of difficulty coming to grips with their dependence on a company composed of high school girls. That difficulty continues to cause serious problems that strain the leadership talents of Cassidy.
One of the things I like best about this series is Adams’ ability to foreshadow coming action through the slow arrival of the various spacecraft and the planning sessions by the two militaries. It keeps us thinking ahead to the next phase of the war even as our heroes battle to survive the current ones. With another wave of alien reinforcements arriving, it certainly appears that matters are about to get a lot worse.
There are few genres in which characterization is more important than the horror genre. If you don’t care about the people to whom terrible things are happening, it’s hard to care deeply about the book. When I picked up Ferocious by Jeff Strand, I was a little bit worried about his ability to pull off the characters mentioned in the blurb—a recluse raising his niece off the grid in the middle of the wilderness. It seemed quite likely the author would slip into caricatures as he wrote about a zombie apocalypse in the backwoods. I could not have been more wrong. In the very first chapter he establishes Rusty Moss as both a hard man who hates people and someone that you absolutely have to love. In the next chapter he establishes Rusty’s niece, Mia, just as credibly. And this father-daughter style team will capture your heart as they struggle to survive one of the weirdest twists on the zombie apocalypse that I have ever read.
Strand is a master at building tension—not only with the ever-growing level of danger but with the very credible mistakes that Rusty and Mia make throughout the novel. They never do anything stupid, but many of their plans and reactions go badly awry. This makes them remarkably human as they deal with a horror they can’t quite believe is really happening to them.
One of the best distinguishing features of this novel is the vast array of zombie creatures that threaten Rusty and Mia. Strand has really thought out the strengths and weaknesses of the various undead forest animals so there is never a point in which the action gets routine. Even the smallest animals are dangerous and this gives the novel a decidedly different flavor from every other zombie story I have read.
Finally, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the vocal talents of narrator Scott Thomas. It’s not an easy thing for a man to craft a believable voice for a seventeen-year-old girl, but Thomas pulled it off and without his ability to do this, the audio book would not have worked nearly as well. He also catches the humor and affection in the back and forth banter of Rusty and Mia. His narration takes an excellent story and gives it that extra touch of magic to finish bringing it to life.
I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
King Kong is one of the most recognizable names and images in America. He’s inspired movies, novels, comic books and more. I first became aware of him through a cartoon when I was four years old—but rather than be scary that Kong was taking care of a young boy. Since then I seem to run into him everywhere and so it was with a great deal of interest that I decided to read this novelization of the original movie.
Kong quite understandably overshadows the whole book even though he doesn’t make his first appearance until halfway through the novel. The tension builds well as Denham leads his cast out into the middle of the ocean in search of something new and exotic that he can film. He finds an isolated island he’s heard rumors of. There a great wall protects the natives from some unknown threat and adds to the sense of suspense as we, the readers, recognize that the westerners have no idea what they are getting into. They are so wonderfully confident—even after they see Kong—and so woefully unprepared for the horrors of nature unleashed on this island out of time.
Of course, the heart of the story quickly becomes Kong and Ann Darrow. This is always described as Kong falling in love with Darrow (and certainly that’s the position of Denham terming it “Beauty and the Beast”) but I didn’t feel like the evidence in the novel supported that position. My reading was that Kong was absolutely fascinated by Darrow’s hair and pale skin and the texture of her clothes—so unlike anything he had experienced before. She was akin to a new favorite pet or toy to him, and perhaps he would have quickly tired of her. We’ll never find out for certain because Jack rescues her, but I think this is a more likely conclusion than the rather absurd notion that Kong has fallen in love as if Darrow were a potential mate.
The brilliance of this novel is that there is a complete juxtaposition
of hero and villain by the end of the story. Denham who was so brave in leading
his men to rescue Darrow becomes a monster, torturing Kong to break his will
and turn him into a sort of circus spectacle. As he does so, Kong becomes the
underdog we want to escape and be free again. The fact that we know that’s not
going to happen only makes the story more tragic. I was surprised by how much I
enjoyed this tale.
Nowhere to Run picks up with the Wandering Monsters trying to earn a living by taking care of problems for a small village in the north of the kingdom. They frighten off some bandits only to have the villagers they are protecting turn on them and throw them out once the danger is over. (Humans in this series often fill the role of “bad guy” not because humans are evil, but because many just suck.)
Our heroes find a group of refugee goblins, hobgoblins, etc. and try to help them out. They’ve arrived just in time. The “bandits” that were driven off from the human village turn out to be cavalry scouts for the king acting incognito so as not to alarm neighboring lands. Real reinforcements are on their way and they plan to exterminate the refugees who have no place further to flee. So this novel ends up being about preparations for a fight while trying to resolve internal problems in the goblin camp and an ancient evil that is buried beneath it. As with all of Kay’s books, the action is solid and the story moves along at a very quick pace.
We also learn a little more about the characters and set the stage for the next volume. The dwarves have discovered that Dig Dig has uncovered a powerful artifact and they want it. The king has discovered that the daughter who escaped him is with the Wandering Monsters crew and he wants her back as a powerful token in his relationships with his neighbors. This series is only getting better with each new volume. I look forward to reading the next one.
This novel caught my interest from the very first pages and didn’t let it go until I’d read the final word. Colonel Carl Butler is getting ready to retire when his old friend and the second most powerful general in his branch of the military asks him to travel to the planet, Cappa, halfway across the galaxy to investigate the disappearance of an important politician’s son. It actually seems like a pretty straight forward assignment except that at, Cappa, no one will cooperate with him. The young man disappeared from the shuttle taking his injured body from the battlefield to the space station hospital. The hospital claims he never arrived. The shuttle pilots are now dead. And all the records that might trace what happened have disappeared—and all of that is BEFORE the mystery gets complicated.
This is both a great story and a great mystery. Carl Butler is a superb character—an old colonel with a heroic past he won’t discuss and very little in the way of diplomatic skills. He’s a bulldog who won’t stop once he has a mission and yet he also has a peculiar sense of honor and duty that becomes very important to the resolution of the case.
Mammay plays fair with the reader throughout this book. I don’t say that just because I figured out the core of the mystery halfway through the novel. There are plenty of clues, many of them coming in the middle of shocking surprises. The ending was powerful, made total sense, and yet, I didn’t see it coming. Anyone who likes a good mystery will enjoy this novel.
Finally, narrator R.C. Bray, really enhances an already superb novel with his spot-on depiction of Butler’s voice—a totally credible aging colonel who lacks patience for most of the BS happening around him.
Frank Herbert’s novels have often included ecological themes and in this one he seems to have taken his inspiration from Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward and the War on Crop Eating Pests—birds, rats and insects. In China, this effort to eradicate pests put special emphasis on the killing of swallows because they ate the crops. Swallows also, as it turns out, ate their body weight in insects every day and without them the insects could not be stopped from ravaging harvests exasperating the famine caused by other policies of the Great Leap Forward. Yet, China found it ideologically difficult to admit that Mao’s policies had had such devastating results and it is in this that I think Herbert found his idea for The Green Brain.
China is leading the world (except for North America and Western Europe) in a program to destroy all insects so that they will not eat food needed by people. China is convinced (and tells people that in China they have already marvelously succeeded) that all the ecological niches filled by insects can be filled by mutated bees. Unfortunately, these policies have resulted in horrendous crop failure in China and they need a scapegoat they can provide to the Chinese people so that their leaders can stay in power. To find this scapegoat, they have come to Brazil where their agent is spreading rumors that men hired to exterminate the insects in the jungle are secretly repopulating the jungles with mutated insects in order to continue earning the huge bounties they make from their work.
There are two heroes in the story—one is Joao Martinho, the man chosen as the Chinese scapegoat. The other is the Green Brain of the title—a mutated insect collective that is trying to figure out how to convince the humans to turn away from their path of destruction that is destroying the world. It is part of Herbert’s genius that these insects can be both the source of horror in the story and a force that we can also hope succeed.
The heart of the story is very similar to Herbert’s book Angels’ Fall which he wrote early in his career but wasn’t published until after his death. It involves an unpowered trip down a mighty jungle river with the intelligently directed insects pursuing our heroes.
This isn’t Herbert’s best novel, but it’s a good story so long as you
remember that it was written before our modern satellite system was in place. China’s
schemes would be impossible with satellite imagery showing that they had turned
their nation into a desert.
I used to think I was a pretty strong Stevie Nicks fan back in my college years. I’m not much of a concert goer, but one of the three I’ve been to was Stevie Nicks. I had all her albums up to that time, knew tons of the lyrics by heart, and knew it was only a matter of time until she got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Then I came across this Audible Original and realized that for me Stevie Nicks was just a passing phase. Rob Sheffield has been breathing Stevie’s air for his entire life and he clearly thinks in her lyrics. The whole book could almost be described as stringing versus from her various songs together to make a narrative whole. And what a narrative it is. If you’ve any interest in Stevie or Fleetwood Mac this book is a must listen. Everyone knows that the band had romantic problems—hookups and breakups—during the making of Rumors, but I had no idea just how long lasting and how crazy the drug-fueled romantic madness really was.
Through it all, Stevie’s strong voice resonates as Sheffield successfully articulates why she is so important to rock and roll and why her music continues to resonate with so many fans. I’m very glad I stumbled across this book.
If you buy this novel be prepared to fasten your seat belt because you’re in for a wild ride. Aliens have come to the small town of Slagstone, Montana and it’s up to the small-town sheriff, his cheerleading coach girlfriend, and a family of crazy survivalists to save the whole world from alien conquest. There frankly isn’t a lot to this plot that you haven’t seen a dozen times before, but Tripp puts it together with lovable characters and a heck of a lot of action. It’s loads of fun from start to finish and I’m very glad I read it.
I wanted to give this novel five stars for the sheer pleasure of the experience but the truth is there are a couple of flaws in the book that make me hold it down to four. The first is that the way the aliens propagate never really makes sense to me. I don’t want to say more because it would spoil a surprise toward the end of the book, but it seemed to me that the rules for making more aliens that were setup early on are broken near the end and that doesn’t sit well with me.
My second problem was much more serious. There are a lot of encounters with the big bad guy across the room while our heroes are shooting up the aliens. They identify him. They watch him do bad things. They exchange meaningful glances. But nobody ever takes a shot at him and that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Since he’s needed for the end of the story, I wouldn’t have minded him ducking out of the way, or one of the other aliens taking the hit for him, but it’s hard to understand why nobody tired to send a bullet his way in multiple scenes.
I think these problems are serious, but they only slightly tarnish a
really fun story. So if you’re looking for a lot of hearty action in the alien
invasion subgenre, you’ll be glad you read Bad Things.
The latest novel in the Poor Man’s Fight series finally brings us past the Debtor’s War and into a whole new galaxy of troubles. Tanner Malone has become one of the most hated men in the galaxy thanks to the propaganda machine of the Northstar Corporation which has succeeded in twisting his heroic deeds against them into the actions of a blood thirsty war criminal in the eyes of much of the Union. Fresh out of the military, Tanner is trying to get his life started again by finally heading to college, but he discovers that many of his fellow classmates are more interested in protesting his presence than in learning anything approaching the truth about what actually happened. To make matters worse, many who lost a lot of money because of the war have decided that killing Tanner would give them no small manner of satisfaction.
With his life in danger and apparently going nowhere, Tanner gets an opportunity to join a xenoarchaelogical dig which would get him away from campus for a semester and earn him tons of college credits. He agrees and in so doing gets himself firmly entrenched in a mystery involving another greedy corporation, colonial insurgents, and an alien technology from a race that died off five hundred years before.
This is the most complicated of the books so far with plots and subplots
galore, but ultimately, like all the others it’s a wild ride with the kind of
action that makes this series stand out from so many others. By the end of the
novel, the galaxy of Poor Man’s Fight has gotten a lot wider. I can’t wait to
see where Kay plans to take the series next.
I think it’s important to start this review by recognizing how tremendously influential Lovecraft in general and At the Mountains of Madness is in particular has been. He basically created and popularized the whole Things Man Was Not Meant to Know subgenre of horror / fantasy / sf or whatever it really is. The Elder Gods threatening the very sanity of the planet comes from Lovecraft and not only do his motifs show up rather blatantly in works like Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October as well as more recent series like John Ringo’s Special Circumstances and Larry Correia’s Monster Hunters International, I suspect that you would never have gotten a TV show like the X-Files without Lovecraft.
So Lovecraft is hugely influential (the World Fantasy Award used to be a bust of Lovecraft) but that doesn’t mean that he’s an easy author to read. Most of the problem is that he was writing in the 1920s and 1930s and his fiction style comes off as slow moving and dated. At the Mountains of Madness takes the form of a narrative account of a disastrous expedition to Antarctica written long after the expedition’s survivors returned with the hope of dissuading the next expedition from beginning. It is filled with long and impressive descriptions of the geology of the continent and the remarkable discovery of a series of fossils the like of which have never been seen on the planet. Isolated from the rest of the world the scientists begin to discover that a wholly unanticipated species inhabited the earth tens of millions of years ago and the more they discover about this early life form the more horrific the story becomes.
And yet, while it is definitely creepy and Lovecraft has many subtle tricks to increase the reader’s understanding that things are going badly wrong, it is still a very slow moving story thanks to the narrative style. Today this book would have been written as a third person narrative following the expedition in “real time” and the action scenes that are quickly summarized in the original would have been fleshed out to play a much more significant role in the book, but that’s not how Lovecraft wrote and I think it makes the book harder to approach for today’s readers.
I listened to an audio version of the novella narrated extremely well by Edward Hermann who did a masterful job of bringing the text to life, but even so it remains a slow moving story. That being said, I still highly recommend it due to its influence over the decades since it was published.
Zelazny won the Hugo for this novel and it’s easy to see why. Conrad (of the many names) is a fascinating man and the immortal of the title moving through a vividly and poetically depicted post-apocalyptic earth which is supported economically almost totally be alien tourists fascinated by earth’s history and the near destruction of the planet in the Three Day War. There is depth of thought regarding this future society evident in almost every page and yet never once did I have that experience of wondering, “Why is Zelazny telling me this now? Why can’t we get on with the story?”
The plot revolves around a rich Vegan who wants to write a travel guide to earth’s most important sightseeing spots starting with Egypt and the Great Pyramids. Conrad is an official in the government agency in charge of protecting the historical monuments. He doesn’t want to play tour guide especially after it becomes that some of the humans who attach themselves to the tour want to see the Vegan die before he leaves earth. They worry that the alien’s real purpose is to lay the groundwork for the Vegans to buy up the rest of the planet.
This is where Zelazny truly shows his depth because much of the plot revolves around a political terrorist group who have embraced the ideology of Returnism—wanting all humans to return to earth and make it an independent planet again. Conrad actually started this movement and led the terrorist cell in an earlier life, but came to a point where he believed that it was not capable of achieving the Returnist aim and set about instead exploring other paths. As with many diasporas, most humans don’t live on the planet anymore and the sad truth the Returnists don’t want to face is that second and third generation humans who have never seen earth don’t want to return there at all. Their lives are elsewhere now, but the fanatics can’t give up the dream and have become certain that killing this Vegan is the key to earth’s eventual independence.
To achieve their end they have hired a fascinating assassin named Hasan who, thanks to a quirky response to a longevity procedure, is also effectively immortal (at least he’s lived for a very long time as a young man). Conrad and he know each other well but now they are reluctantly on opposite sides of the Vegan problem.
As if this tension wasn’t enough, the post-apocalyptic earth is a very dangerous place with mutations giving rise to legends out of myth and other monsters. Over all, it’s just a delightful tale filled with Zelazny’s brush-stroke characterizations that hang in the mind years after you read the piece.
This time through I listened to an audio edition
narrated by Victor Bevine. At first I thought his slow rate of speech was going to wreck
the novel. (I never think of Zelazny’s books as slow moving.) Fortunately, I quickly
came to love the nuance with which he shared Zelazny’s prose and brought his
characters to life. Whether in print or in audio, this book is worthy of its
Hugo and well worth your time.