The Imaginary Realms of
Gilbert M. Stack


Science Fiction

Science Fiction


Tower 57 by Drew Platt and JT Cacibauda

This is a fast-paced, fully dramatized, story about a radio show hosted near Roswell, New Mexico, that explores sightings of UFOs and other unexplained phenomena. On the night of the story, those phenomena do some counter-exploration, shutting down the radio program and warning the host and his crew that “they” are listening. Shortly thereafter, a man pretending to be a cop shows up and tries to muscle his way into the station. He ends up getting killed…or does he?

The writers have a lot of fun with conspiracy theories, secret black ops government initiatives, UFOs, old myths, time travel, interdimensional portals, and a heck of a lot more. Frankly, it’s a lot to keep track of so don’t think you can listen to this audiocast while doing something else. You’ll want to pay full attention to the story.

The dramatization is superb. It was easy to follow the different members of the cast and they clearly committed to their roles. Emotion is very important to this story and they were up to the task of conveying it. The fear and frustration felt by the characters is palpable, which really helps build the tension as we move to a somewhat confusing ending. But then, who really expects anything involving whatever the government has been doing at Roswell for the last three-quarters of a century to be fully wrapped up nice and tidily with a shiny bow?

Reverse Transmission by Ben O'Brien and Param Anand Singh

Regretfully, this story didn’t work for me. The basic idea held promise—the car of the future is really a psychotic mass murderer. It threw in some more conventional thoughts on how advances toward AI are negatively impacting the work force, but there was an awful lot of jumping around in the plot and the ending just didn’t end. And that means there were a lot of promising elements that didn’t gel together into an enjoyable story. It’s only saving grace is some enjoyable voice acting.

Andora Pett

Andorra Pett and the Oort Cloud Café by Richard Dee

This is a fun little mystery set out in the rings of Saturn. Andi Pett and her friend Cy have left Earth for the outer reaches of the solar system because a love affair went bad for Andi. Even though they have absolutely no experience in running a restaurant, they decide to open a café and go into competition with the man who unofficially runs the station. Almost immediately, they discover that the former owner of their new establishment didn’t simply pick up and leave as everyone believes. His very dead body is found frozen in the freezer. Andi and Cy are convinced by their new friends not to report the crime on the theory that they will be blamed even though they just arrived on the station that day and the dead man has been missing a long time. Then things get really crazy!

There are moments in this story, such as the one that I just described, when as a reader you have to do more than suspend a little disbelief. For example, everyone thinks the dead man left the station, but apparently no one thought to check the shuttle records to see if that was true. And no one searched his place (and the freezer he was lying in) even though, as it turns out, the dead man had kept a black book with explicit details of his many liaisons that everyone thinks he was blackmailing people with. For some reason, the many days or weeks the restaurant was empty before Andi arrived were not good times to search it—although everyone wants to once the café opens. Yet, strangely, these weaknesses in the plot do not in any way detract from the overall enjoyment of the story. This is a people-centric tale in which you follow Andi trying to figure out who the murderer is by learning about all the people he interacted with. There are a lot of great characters in this book and the clues are honest and decipherable. If you like a cozy mystery, you’ll be glad you read Andorra Pett and the Oort Cloud Café.

Andorra Pett on Mars by Richard Dee

Andorra Pett is still her own worst enemy. She’s just so dang nice that not only does she have a very hard time thinking badly of anyone, she has an even harder time saying no to someone who asks for her help—even when that person is her ex-boyfriend who cheated on her with her best friend. Now that friend (Maisie) has committed suicide on Mars and Trevor (the ex) doesn’t believe she would kill herself. He wants Andorra to return to Mars with him and figure out what really happened to Maisie. Of course, we know from the beginning that Trevor is not being straight with Andorra. The question is what is really going on?

Like in the first book, there is a solid mystery at the core of this story and Dee plays fair with the clues as Andorra works her way closer and closer to the truth. Yet it’s zany Andorra and her sidekick, Cy, that makes the story work. She doesn’t have the large crazy supporting cast of the first novel, but she brings the same Andorra charm to uncovering who killed her former best friend. There are touching moments mixed in around the exciting ones. If you enjoyed the first book, you’ll certainly like this one too.

Colony Mars

Colony One Mars by Gerald M. Kilby

There is something about stories that focus on colonizing the solar system that always excite me. Mars has been an interest of mine since I first picked up Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars and I’ve enjoyed a wide range of other Mars-based stories over the years from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, to Ian Douglas’ Semper Mars, to more recently, S.J. Morden’s One Way. Gerald Kilby’s Colony One Mars has a lot in common with the best of these tales. There’s a mystery at the heart of the story, serious threats to the survival of the astronauts, and some decent characterization to ground the story around people we quickly come to like.

The mystery is what happened to the previous colony—that is, the Colony One of the title. A private corporation (COM) had set up the colony and then in one of Mars horrendous sandstorms, all contact was lost and everyone was presumed dead. Except, maybe they aren’t all dead and the colony infrastructure is not in nearly as bad a shape as the astronaut expected.

The astronauts, by the way, are not part of COM—except for one unidentified traitor whom we learn early on is actually on COM’s payroll as a double agent. So, the astronaut’s don’t know that the colony was actually set up to run illegal experiments on humans. This is unfortunate, because the results of those experiments still exist in the colony and cause much of the drama in the book. One of the astronauts is quickly infected with something and the results are…bad.

Overall, this is a tense story about survival that I enjoyed very much. I do have a couple of quibbles. The main character, Jann, is constantly referred to as undertrained for the mission with some astronauts outright saying she doesn’t belong. I thought this was both unrealistic and unnecessary. Why on earth send an untrained person to Mars? There would have been plenty of backup people ready to fill in if a slot unexpectedly opened due to illness or accident.

Also, Jann especially, doesn’t think about communications very much and it’s unrealistic. She’s attacked by the infected crewmember and just runs away never thinking to warn people about what she’s just experienced. And when she does finally reach the others, they choose to believe that she is the one having the break down, not the person who was made ill during the search of Colony One. I just didn’t think that made sense, but once we get past that part of the story, things pick up nicely again.

Colony Two Mars by Gerald M. Kilby

Jann is not alone on Mars after all. In the secret mining colony mentioned in the first book, it turns out that a great many of the original colonists have survived and they aren’t particularly friendly. Jann gets pulled into the politics of their strange society and finds herself in another fight for survival as competing factions go to war with each other. She also has to face an ethical dilemma about whether or not she can permit the research COM was doing on human beings—the research which resulted in all of the deaths of the first book—be brought back to earth. (She herself hasn’t returned to earth out of fear of bringing the disease with her.)

Again, the novel is fairly fast moving and has a lot of tension and conflict. And all the while that Jann is fighting to survive in this novel, she and her friends are under the threat of earth sending new ships to Mars to get something that they refuse to believe doesn’t really exist—a miracle cure for aging. It’s a good set up for the next book.

Colony Three Mars by Gerald M. Kilby

This completes the opening trilogy of the Colony Mars series as corporations converge on Colony One to force the secret of immortality out of Jann. Jann doesn’t believe she has the secret of immortality. She has the secret to a plague, but more on that later.

With years to prepare, the Colony was not ready for the arrival of the various corporations with their military hardware and insistence that the clones aren’t really human so they can do anything they want to them. This is a big problem that really didn’t have to be. For example, the colony can manufacture explosives, so why didn’t they mine the heck out of the area surrounding the colony? They could also have made primitive artillery which would have threatened the landing ships. In short, with a few basic precautions, nothing that happens in this book would have had to happen. There would still have been drama, it would just have been drama with an intelligent group of heroes. Instead, they resort to a biological weapon—the plague made by the corporation that started the Mars colonies in its efforts to find the secret of immortality. Let’s be clear, the woman who has worried nonstop about the ethics of the plague uses it as a biological weapon instead of manufacturing a few explosives that would also have won the day.

And of course the colonists lose control of the plague and it gets back to earth starting a sort of a lightweight zombie apocalypse. I also didn’t feel that the ultimate solution to the trilogy was particularly convincing, although it does set the stage for future books. In summary, it seems to me that these books lost steam as the trilogy advanced.

Colony Four Mars by Gerald M. Kilby

Ten years has passed since the last novel and life on Mars has become much more complicated as a great many people have become colonists. It’s obvious that what might be called the bureaucracy of civilization has not kept paced with the growth in population and both government and corporate agencies are struggling to influence the planet while pretending they aren’t.

The heart of this story is a murder mystery which only Jann wants to believe involves a murder. I thought this was the weakest element of the story. Once again, Jann is the only person who seems to be able to imagine that there are evil, conniving, power-hungry people out there and the stakes are obviously high. On the one hand is the continued independence of Mars and on the second hand is a corporation that is about to lose all of its special privileges and doesn’t want to. So naturally, no one on the council is willing to consider that letting one of the power-players conduct a completely independent investigation into an employee’s death that occurred when their rover unaccountably broke down might be at best a conflict of interest. Then they start suggesting without producing any evidence that the corporation is responsible for the mishap because of poor maintenance, but somehow it’s that corporation’s demand for evidence and suggestion that the accusation is meritless and possibly a coverup that is called out for being insulting, provocative, and without merit. It just didn’t make any sense.

The best part of the book is the new main character, Mia, who, with the help of the droid, Gizmo, has to find out the truth. It’s a good little mystery, I just wish that better reasons could have been invented to explain why everyone else on the planet is an idiot.

Colony Five Mars by Gerald M. Kilby

The fifth Colony Mars book sees Mia again trying to find out who committed a murder in the midst of supply shortages that have occurred during a yearlong sandstorm. Civilization on Mars is breaking down because of these supply shortages, and in the midst of Mia’s investigations she discovers that the currently most influential corporation on Mars has been syphoning off critical supplies from earth to make the crisis greater. She discovers this with Gizmo who presumably records everything, but her superiors simply tell her that she can’t make such accusations without evidence. I don’t know about you, but I think the eye witness account of a high ranking security person and what I assume has to be tons of photographic evidence taken by the droid should certainly be enough evidence to drop some police on the site of the stolen goods but no, all the people running Mars continue to refuse to use their brains in case that would get in the way of a tense story.

And that’s what’s bothered me the most about this book. Once again, Kilby had a good story to tell, but he didn’t seem to be able to handle what I would call “believable” responses from people in power. To preserve his murder investigations, he made everyone else an idiot. But I think the real story to be told was the power moves that would come from exposure. He does get to those power moves eventually, but they should have happened earlier and changed the nature of the story.

Colony Mars by Gerald M. Kilby

This five-book set starts out with some strength, but dwindles as it progresses. It’s the story of an attempt to colonize Mars so that an unethical billionaire can try and find the secret to immortality by experimenting on people. Naturally, everything goes wrong, setting up the events of the first three stories. The last two stories are murder mysteries set ten years after book three. All of the stories are entertaining, but they also all suffer from a serious flaw. Each plot depends on people being really stupid at some point in the tale so that they don’t take actions that would have either ended the story quickly or turned it in another direction. That’s unfortunate, because I think that if Kilby had had faith in his characters and let their realistic actions take the stories where the plots needed to go, this would have been a truly great series.

The Tenth Planet

The Tenth Planet by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Smith and Rusch are two accomplished science fiction writers who have joined forces in a new trilogy about a mysterious tenth planet in our solar system and the periodic destruction it brings to the earth. The book opens with an excellent scene revolving around an archaeological dig and a mysterious soot level that occurred some 2000 years ago. The reader soon discovers that similar soot levels have been occurring every 2006 years for many thousands (perhaps much longer) years. And for the reader it is not a hard leap to thinking about planetary orbits (the book is called The Tenth Planet after all).

The tension grows substantially as we also follow people trying to figure out what happened to a satellite they had sent to Uranus that has stopped working. Key government figures begin to become involved as connections are made between the soot layers and something approaching the earth from outer space. Each scene continues a countdown to the “arrival” which also adds a lot of suspense to the story. It’s very clear that slow moving government bureaucracies are going to have a hard time moving quickly enough to accomplish anything. (Just to turn the Hubble telescope the authorities want an application and are warning that it will take years to get our heroes their turn at the giant space lens.)

As the countdown to continues, we start to see the aliens up close and learn a little bit about their backstory. Without giving anything away, it is very clear that nothing can stop the collision of the two species and for one (or both) it’s likely to be an extinction level event. Sadly, it really can’t be any other way.

This book is apparently based on a video game, but don’t let that dissuade you from reading the book. I don’t know if the game is any good, but Smith and Rusch work magic on this plot just as they have when they have taken on characters from other franchises such as Star Trek. They just can’t write a two-dimensional character or story. They enrich every plot they touch and turn this idea into a full-fledged adventure.

Tenth Planet 2 Oblivion by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Smith and Rusch are back with the second volume of their trilogy about a mysterious tenth planet on a bizarre 2006 year orbit of the earth’s sun. This planet spends most of that 2006 years in the far reaches of utterly cold and dark space, but it didn’t always do this. For unexplained reasons, this planet was knocked out of its own solar system until it got tenuously caught in the grip of our sun. Now, the race that inhabits it is totally dependent on harvesting biomaterial and energy from the earth if it’s going to survive its next 2006 year orbit. Unfortunately, they do this by devastating huge portions of the earth’s landmass and quite naturally, modern humans object to being killed to help these aliens survive.

The second book of the trilogy deals with a good chunk of the roughly three-quarters of a year between the tenth planet’s first and second pass near the earth. (After this, it’s off into deep space until it comes back 2006 years later.) Earth is trying to strike back at the aliens so that they can’t come back for another harvest while the aliens are trying to figure out how to wipe out humans for good so that they can’t continue to threaten them. As if that’s not a big enough problem, many of our fellow humans are not convinced that aliens are behind the utter destruction (all that is left is a black substance that looks a little like soot) of areas like California and the Amazon jungle) and believe that it is the evil government that is the true villain. So while our government tries to figure out how to save everyone, they are trying to figure out how to destroy it.

This is another excellent novel. It’s got great characters struggling on under tremendous stress. It’s got a great villain—great because we sympathize with the plight the aliens are confronted with. And it’s very fast moving and enjoyable. Can’t wait to reread the third volume.

Tenth Planet 3 Final Assault by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The final book of The Tenth Planet trilogy breaks cleanly into two sections. The first, occurring roughly a month before the orbit of the Tenth Planet brings the aliens back in reach of the earth, is focused primarily on getting the human race ready for one last titanic clash with the aliens. Its culmination is a speech by the president of the U.S. that is viewed as critical to get people to stop rioting in terror and start working constructively to save the planet. It’s a good speech, I just wonder why the president waited six months to give it.

The second half focuses on the assault of the aliens and all of those preparations that humanity has been making for the last book and a half. There’s a lot of tension, made more so by getting into the head of the alien leader who is frankly a very sympathetic figure. He’s trapped too. If he can’t harvest energy from the earth (which he does through a nanotech that destroys all biological material in a massive region (the first pass took out most of the Amazon jungle) and converts it into energy) his whole race will die. This is a nice touch to the story, because this isn’t good versus bad, it’s two “goods” clashing here with neither side having any choice but too fight.

I won’t give away the ending other than to say that both sides show they are flexible and creative in their tactics. I will also point out that the aliens don’t seem nearly worried enough about humans sending missiles after them after the Tenth Planet passes the earth. With 2006 years before the next pass, I would put my money on humanity finishing off the aliens while they are all in cold sleep waiting for their planet to come near the sun again. But had they realized it, it probably wouldn’t have greatly altered their tactics. Their window of opportunity to fight the humans was simply too short.

All in all, it’s a very fun trilogy.

Time Traveling Taxman

T-Rexes and Tax Law by Rachel Ford

The hero of this novel, Alfred, could easily have served as its primary villain. He’s not evil, just obsessively interested in enforcing every rule in the work place and the United States. In many ways, this is a perfect disposition for a Senior Analyst at the IRS, but when you add to the equation that Alfred is completely oblivious to how his need for orderliness negatively impacts those around him, he should have been the least sympathetic of heroes. It’s a testament to Rachel Ford’s skill as an author that I had the opposite reaction. I almost immediately connected with Alfred and I vigorously rooted for him as he struggled with both complex social interactions and the even more difficult problem that drives the plot of the story. And what a problem it is…

Alfred and his reluctant investigative partner, Nancy, are investigating a suspected billionaire tax cheat when they stumble upon dinosaurs in one of his abandoned corporate facilities and Alfred accidentally gets the two of them transported 67 million years into the past where they discover the missing billionaire and a few dozen of his employees trapped in the Cretaceous Period. This is where the book really gets interesting. There are several intertwined mysteries here all stemming from the question: how did the billionaire get trapped in the past? I was very pleased that I worked out most of the answers on my own and was even more pleased with the parts Ford had to fill in for me.

In any book involving time travel, the author has to deal with the problems of paradox and the circular possibilities that time travel brings to the table. I felt completely satisfied with Ford’s handling of these problems which she adroitly used to add quite a bit of tension to the novel.

The best part of the story was Alfred’s growth as a person. Being isolated under stressful circumstances with Nancy forces him to truly listen to another person for the first time in his life and he is shocked by her perception of him. This led to a moving and wholly believable evolution in his character. He doesn’t stop being a rules obsessed know-it-all, but he does learn a little about self-sacrifice and friendship which makes him increasingly endearing as the novel unfolds.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to listening to the sequel.

I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.

UFOs and Unpaid Taxes by Rachel Ford

If you enjoyed the first book in this series, you’re going to love this one. The new and improved, but still endearingly flawed, Alfred Favero, has set his sights on another tax cheat—a UFO-themed shop and museum called Landing Site Earth. They peddle trinkets to gullible Americans who believe that aliens regularly visit the planet and Alfred is certain they are underreporting their income to Uncle Sam. Unfortunately for Alfred, that is not the only thing they are underreporting as our favorite taxman discovers when he catches the owner of the shop with a genuine alien. Discovering this fact causes Alfred to run headlong into a black operation within the US government and forces him to take stock of himself and decide if he wants to be the kind of man who turns his back on an alien in trouble or the kind who puts it all on the line to rescue an intelligent being from the clutches of his government.

While all of this is happening, Alfred remains clueless regarding most human interactions and as a result he has accidentally pushed Nancy into the arms of Josh, the ex-marine from the first novel who desperately wants to be Nancy’s boyfriend. Josh is self-confident, physically fit, and comfortable with women—all things that Alfred is not. His situation is not helped by Alfred’s need to go on the run with Lee, the remarkably likeable alien. This is both the most enjoyable part of the novel and the one with most obvious weaknesses. Alfred spends a lot of money while he seeks to keep Lee out of government hands, but there is no mention of how he pays for everything. In today’s society, most of us do not have a lot of cash on hand and I would have appreciated it if the author could have make some passing explanation as to why Alfred has endless supplies of cash. After all, using his debit or credit card would have brought the government down on him in a moment. Still, it’s a small complaint—especially when compared to the delight of watching Lee discover America and hilariously give Alfred advise on how to win the heart of Nancy.

Narrator John Carter Aimone stepped up his game in this novel. The long pauses between sentences are much diminished and the tendency to be overly dramatic toned down a bit. He also has created a truly wonderful voice for the alien, Lee, catching all of the creatures wonder and pleasure at everything around him.

In summation, this is an utterly delightful book which leaves me eagerly looking forward to the next novel in the series.

I received this book for free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.

Marvelous Con and Tax Cons

Alfred Favero is back with his most unique problem yet—his girlfriend, Nancy, has been murdered and he has to stop it from happening. Yes, that’s right! It’s already happened but that isn’t going to stop Alfred from saving the day. There are, however, a few problems such as him having only the vaguest of ideas why Nancy was killed in the first place. This might be Ford’s best mystery yet and it retains all the mad fun of the first two books. Alfred continues to bring to the table his extraordinary intelligence coupled with his basic inability to understand people. It makes for a unique and often lovable hero as he steps way outside his comfort zone to save the life of the woman he loves.

You don’t have to have read the previous books in this series to enjoy this novel, but I think you will enjoy it more if you have. I strongly recommend starting with T-Rexes and Tax Law. But be forewarned! I predict that you won’t want to stop with just one book.

In Alpha Order by Author

SpaceMan by Tom Abrahams

After listening to this audiobook I went back to the book blurb to see if perhaps I had misunderstood what I was purchasing. After all, I thought that I was getting a book much like The Martian only this time the astronaut who is in trouble is in earth’s orbit. Sure enough, that’s what seven out of eight lines of the blurb is about. Why then was it only about twenty percent of the story? Out of the one hundred twenty-seven words that form the blurb, there are six pesky little words that tell you what the real story is about: “And the family he left behind”. Honestly, I find this a little misleading because this should have been titled “The SpaceMan’s Family.” It isn’t that the story of what’s happening to the astronaut’s family on earth when the lights go out doesn’t make for a potentially good story, but it isn’t what I thought I was buying.

And it is only “potentially” good. Perhaps I am naïve, but I hope that when a solar storm knocks out all the computers on the planet (which the vast majority of people don’t know has happened—they just know the lights are out) I hope it takes more than six or eight hours for the world to start down the road toward a Mad Max-style apocalypse. But honestly, the lights go out late enough at night that many people are already asleep, but a weird cult has already mobilized shortly after dawn the next day, and within another hour instant street gangs are forming and people are trying to steal from each other, and a couple of hours later cops are getting in on the stealing. I mean, it could happen that way, but honestly, the whole story happens in less than 24 hours and I just found the break down of society a bit rushed.

To complete my frustration, the novel ended on a cliffhanger. Now I recognize that in a series there are often unresolved events, but really, there is no pretense at even coming to a resolution point on two of the three storylines.

That being said, I did like the cast of characters, and that’s important. I just think that the blurb would have been much more honest if it had focused on the astronaut’s family struggling to survive and reunite during an apocalyptic crisis while the astronaut tried to find a way back to earth.

The Hunter and the Sorcerer by Chris Adams

Bru the Hunter’s whole life is falling apart. Gla the worthless fire-feeder has just tricked the tribe into thinking he killed Tysk, the mighty tiger, and now Bru’s love Oona is to be married to Gla. To make matters worse, when Bru objects, the tribe turns on him. Outcast, Bru doesn’t think things could possibly get worse, but he is about to discover just how wrong a hunter can be.

Kidnapped by an alien creature from an extraordinarily advanced society, Bru will be tortured into becoming something radically different than he began—an extraordinarily intelligent well-educated man. And that is where this story truly begins for to return to his people and the woman he loves, Bru is going to have to go head to head with the galaxy’s most advanced civilization. They haven’t got a chance!

I found a lot more in this novel than the simple adventure story I thought I was reading. So brace yourself! While there’s plenty of adventure, you’ll also find heaping helpings of culture clash, hypocrisy and prejudice, and ultimately you’ll be forced to think about what it means to be human.

Valley of Despair by Chris L. Adams

It takes one short chapter of this novella to convince you you’re in for a thrill ride. German WWI pilot Erik von Mendelsohn has crashed in the jungle and is trying to survive a group of apes that have taken the wrong kind of interest in him. Desperate to escape, he reaches the edge of the jungle near a high cliff face and the apes who are in hot pursuit…refuse to follow him past the tree line. It’s a simple idea very subtly conveyed in the story, but it set all the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. These totally aggressive and fearsome animals won’t follow our hero as he attempts to climb the cliff face to get away from them. It’s difficult not to ask yourself—what are the apes afraid of? What the heck is Erik getting himself into? And the tension just keep ratcheting higher from this point forward.

Erik is a well thought out character—he’s smart, a bit impulsive, and a little too curious for his own good. The supporting cast is equally interesting. I don’t want to give away the plot, but the people Erik finds and gets into trouble with are equally brave and capable—and the problem they have to confront is better thought out than a lot of “lost world” adventure-style stories I’ve encountered. In short if you want a fast-paced well-developed adventure story with great characters, you should give Valley of Despair a try.

The Cosmos of Despair by Chris L. Adams

In this fast-paced sequel to Adams’ brilliant Valley of Despair, Erik and the hundreds of people he’s rescued from the alien invaders of the last book discover that while they’ve been trapped in the valley the aliens took over the rest of the planet. Worse than that, because of some weird time issues that were central to the last story, hundreds of years have passed separating our hero completely from the world of his birth. Erik and company are immediately enslaved by the aliens (technically they are re-enslaved, but the aliens don’t know this at first). A few select humans who pass a test conducted by some sort of high tech scanning device are given tasks to do for the aliens (Erik is trained to be a navigator) but the rest are destined to become food or fuel for the spaceships. It’s a horrible situation with no realistic chance of escape, but Erik has faced long odds before and immediately begins searching for the path to freedom for himself and those who are depending on him.

I don’t want to give away any of the many surprises this book contains, but I do think it is worth stressing that there were a lot of plot twists I didn’t anticipate. There are also some excellent moral dilemmas such as deciding if it is better to live as a slave or die trying to set others free. If you enjoyed the first story you will definitely want to read this sequel.

Invasion at Bald Eagle by Kris Ashton

This promising tale of alien invasion in a sparsely populated Colorado town in the 1960s has a lot going for it despite taking a swerve toward the parody, Sex Zombies, in the first third of the story. Bald Eagle is a tiny little place with one hotel, a two-man sheriff’s department, a weekly newspaper, a nuclear plant and a hippie commune. Life is pretty tame in Bald Eagle despite the fact that the hippies enjoy protesting nuclear power and the manager of the facility freaks out every time they arrive with their signs. Bert, the sheriff, is pretty laid back and sensible about his job, at least until he discovers that his daughter, Sharna, who is supposed to be in Denver has actually joined the commune and its free love lifestyle.

While the sheriff tries to figure out how to stick all the hippies in jail without forever alienating Sharna, strange things begin happening at the commune. A silver egg plummets from the sky into the lettuce patch and “stings” the hippie who picks it up. The next day he begins to act stranger than usual as does the woman he sleeps with a short while later. This is where the Sex Zombies parallel comes in as the “strangeness” spreads like a venereal disease in the free love community (and later in the larger area of Bald Eagle).

I don’t want to give too much away, but things really start to heat up when Derek, the leader of the commune, gets undeniable evidence that his fellow hippies aren’t just sick, but have something sinisterly wrong with them. He runs for it, eventually encountering the sheriff who locks him up and is uninterested in stories revolving around strange eggs from the sky and the changes they have wrought on a hippie commune. Yet within a couple of days, the sheriff can’t pretend that the problems growing in his town (a large number of disappearing persons and more of the silver eggs) are all originating from hippies taking bad drugs and he is forced to deputize Derek, plus the head of the local nuclear plant and a journalist in an attempt to save his community. The federal government also gets involved but they seem more intent on quarantining the town and wiping all the infected out than in helping people.

This is where this novel goes from being merely entertaining to gripping. These unlikely defenders of humanity have to come up with a plan to save Bald Eagle—both its handful of uninfected residents and those who have already been contaminated by the eggs. Their plan is a little hokey but frankly, with the pressure they are under, it’s totally believable they would try it. One of the strengths of the story is how Ashton deals with this effort and the extraordinary pressure on these men as they try to save everyone—especially the handful of very young kids who seem to be immune to the contagion. People you come to like die painfully and frankly I quickly reached the point where I couldn’t figure out how anyone was going to survive the crisis.

If you enjoy a good mystery turned horror-thriller, you’ll like Invasion of Bald Eagle. I know I did.

Mysterious Island by Greig Beck

Beck puts a lot of ideas together in this novel. First, he’s obviously building off Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea sequel, The Mysterious Island. Verne even appears briefly in the story. Second, he’s playing with Viking myth—especially the dragon. Third, he is seeking (as he does in many of his books) to create another ‘lost world” scenario—this time in the artic north.

About half of the novel is built around the quest to discover the mysterious island of Lemuria. There are hints on an ancient Viking urn which has been damaged and three separate groups are trying to locate the fragments so that they can find the island. The prize is not a lost world in these peoples’ minds but a mysterious artifact called Odin’s Heart which is said to be a football sized ruby worth roughly a hundred million dollars. Two of the seekers are basically law-abiding and ethical in their efforts. The third is killing people to obtain the clues and has no problem wiping out the competition.

When they finally reach the island (which is hidden under a glacier creating a sort of greenhouse effect that permits Beck to have a lost world where dinosaurs still roam in the otherwise frozen north) things heat up considerably. Beck is very good at making monstrous threats out of the prehistoric world and the danger the explorers face is palpable. As usual, the greatest threat is not actually the monsters but the other human seekers. There is plenty of tension and one really big surprise. There is also something of a cliffhanger ending—more so than in other books by Beck that I have read.

To the Center of the Earth by Greig Beck

Once again, Greig Beck reinterprets a classic tale, this time, Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, to create an exciting and thoroughly modern tale. This time, he focuses on two teams of cavers who separately sneak into a closed off cave system in Russia to attempt to win a prize by going lower than any cavers have gone before. One of the teams, however, has a much more ambitious plan than the other. They have uncovered evidence—some of it going back 500 years—that this cave system is actually an entrance to a hollow earth and as a result both teams get a heck of a lot more than they bargained for.

In classic Beck style, he spices things up by thinking quite carefully about how the ecology of a hollow earth would diverge from that of the rest of the planet. So we do not encounter dinosaurs but something far more unexpected and frightening. Also, unlike Verne, Beck has never been afraid to kill off his cast so once again the novel quickly moves into territory in which the question is who, if anyone, will survive the horrors he has created for his readers.

Yet the novel is not completely about the danger. Some of the elements are simply fascinating—even delightful—to think about, such as the tubes of fluctuating gravity that permit the cavers to actually descend so deep into the planet. As in his other novels, Beck has a gift for surprising the reader which makes each adventure a wonderfully unique experience.

War Eagles by Debbie Bishop and Carl Macek

Back in the late 1930s, the director of King Kong started planning War Eagles as his next block buster film. Then World War II intervened and the project languished for decades. It helps to know this background to fully appreciate this novel. It’s a big cinematic adventure waiting to find the screen. The heroes are larger than life, but more importantly, the images are bigger and more vivid than the mighty King Kong who reinvented the silver screen. And what are those images you may ask? Nazis developing super-science weapons for a sneak attack on America, Viking warriors riding gargantuan eagles in a time-forgotten land of dinosaurs, and of course, those same Vikings fighting Nazis over the skyline of New York City.

This book is a heck of a lot of fun. It starts a little bit slow but once the Vikings enter the story it chugs along at a heroic pace. There is a ton of action and colorful confrontations. Narrator William L. Hahn pulls out all the stops adding theatrical sound effects to his wide repertoire of voices which adds a completely appropriate cinematic feel to the entire story. If you’re looking for some genuinely heroic fantasy, you should try War Eagles.

I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.

Longshot by Avery Blake and Johnny Truant

I like first contact stories and alien invasions and this one starts out quite promisingly. It’s centered on a group of survivors in a Vegas casino who frankly don’t know what to do with themselves now that the aliens have come and the world is falling apart. Unfortunately, the story never really picks up speed and never really gains that spark of excitement and discovery that makes this subgenre of story so exciting. It should have. There’s a very interesting alien trap, a rendezvous with Area 51, and an ending that certainly veers off into seldom trod territory for invasion stories. Yet it didn’t quite work despite these promising features.

The biggest problem the size of the cast. It’s way too big and each of them gets a lot of screen time from their own POV. This might have worked in a longer book where lots of things were happening along the way, but because of the multiple perspectives, the introductory phase of the story lingers much too long and when something finally happens, they spend much too much time worrying about the thing, trying to convince themselves to take a chance and do something to take control of their fate.

When they finally decide to do that, their plan doesn’t really makes sense. They walk into a trap that kills some of them in a very bizarre way and they just keep walking into it. Then we get to examine the affect on each of them and it just further slows down a book that is already crawling.

The Area 51 portion of the story finally picks up a little speed, but the heroes make strange decisions that leads to an ending that feels like total loss even though it is my impression that it wasn’t supposed to feel that way.

I’m left more perplexed then enthralled.

Shatnerquake by Jeff Burk

I have read many thousands of novels over the course of my life, but never encountered anything quite like Shatnerquake. The setting is a convention (Shatnercon) dedicated to the career of William Shatner. The hero is William Shatner, himself, who is also the guest of honor at the convention. The villains—or at least most of them—are also William Shatner—sort of. The other villains are fans of Bruce Campbell (of Army of Darkness fame). These fans are so fanatical they have all cut off their hands to be more like their idol, and they have decided that William Shatner has to go so that their hero can get more of the acclaim that he deserves.

Actually, crazy as this is, it would have made a good plot, but Burk has something even more zany in mind. In his version of the earth, the Network Wars went violent and produced a fiction bomb which can erase an actor’s entire career. The Campbells try to set one off but things go wrong and every fictional character William Shatner ever played comes to life with the desire to kill the original man.

Frankly, the very absurdity of the story just increases the fun. How many roles for William Shatner can you remember? Everyone will say Star Trek and T.J. Hooker, but did you recall he was in Rescue 911? The truth is, he’s been in hundreds of roles and Burk brings many of them to life in this novel. It’s an amazing amount of fun as you look for ever more bizarre Kirks to come around the corner. In fact, my only complaint about the story is that we didn’t get to see even more of these characters differentiated from the mass of Shatners (but to be fair, Burk gives us a lot of them). A large chunk of my enjoyment came from figuring out which Shatner character Shatner was facing.

The ending is also interesting—and a little bit hard to decipher. I told the person who recommended the book my interpretation and he wasn’t certain he agreed with me. Perhaps I’ll have to read the sequel to find out which of us is right.

Eminent Domain by Victoriano Cardenas

I really wanted to like this audiobook. I’m a fan of fully dramatized storytelling and this is pretty good from that perspective. Unfortunately, stories need to have a plot that really holds together and this one was very hard to follow. Too often I was backing up the book to see if I had missed something—only to discover that I hadn’t. And then of course, there is the ending that doesn’t actually conclude anything. Overall, I just feel frustrated, despite the cast giving a very fine performance.

Saturn’s Monsters by Thomas K. Carpenter

I love the premise of this story. A scientist has figured out a way to grow interstellar spaceships in the atmosphere of Saturn, but, as you might suspect, there are a few problems to be dealt with along the way. First, the scientists who run the project in Saturn’s atmosphere will all die because of the damage done to their bodies by the radiation in Saturn. Second, the ships keep taking a nose dive before they finish growing. But the biggest problem is that the head scientist, who goes to Saturn to figure out how to save the problem, has gone insane with grief over the loss of her partner and their child. There’s lot of pain in this story as people struggle to make their deaths mean something to the human race. I thought the ending was predictable, but still enjoyable.

Maelstrom by Peter Cawdron

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.

Dead Moon by Peter Clines

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.

The Fold by Peter Clines

This book whet my appetite in the very first chapter and then introduced a wonderful science fiction mystery that promised to be a full and glorious meal. Unfortunately, instead of the banquet I was anticipating, the main course proved to be a lot of hollow sugary pastries.

First the good: This novel starts out as cerebral science fiction at its very best. There is a mystery out there and we know from chapter one that people are being hurt by it. As the chapters unfold it becomes apparent that the world may be in jeopardy—not from cataclysm but through a subtle juxtaposition that would cause ever increasing amounts of chaos and distress to societies across the planet.

That’s awesome and the hero is extremely well suited to uncover the root of the problem. Mike has a fully eidetic memory and Clines has conceptualized what that means better than any author I have ever read. Mike’s ability to sort through vast amounts of information quickly and decisively was amazing. The psychic damage that never being able to forget anything does to him was also a brilliantly insightful addition to the tale. I always enjoyed the scenes where his mind spins into gear and starts making connections, although frankly I wondered why it was so difficult for him to come to a conclusion that I reached in chapter one.

Now the bad: Mike makes brilliant deductions throughout this book but we’re at least halfway through it before he begins to consider what every reader knows is happening from chapter one. Heck, one of the team of scientists is even a Star Trek fanatic but the solution (born right out of that series) never occurs to her. So that’s bad, but perhaps we have to accept it so that there is proper dramatic build up, the next problem was just flat out disappointing.

The last quarter of the book moves from being a fantastic mystery to a shoot-them-up standoff at the OK Corral. This was such a copout from the much subtler and frankly far scarier problem I had initially envisioned based on the idea of millions of juxtapositions ripping apart social ties throughout the planet. In many ways, that ending would have been far creepier because it would be very easy to imagine the government refusing to accept the evidence of disaster in favor of a highly lucrative economy-changing invention.

In summary, The Fold is a wonderful idea with a highly disappointing ending.

Paradox Bound by Peter Clines

This is an unusual novel about the power of an idea, or what Clines characters call a dream, in this tale about time travel and the quest to preserve the United States of America. It took me a little while to figure it out, but just about everyone in this book is actually a good guy. They oppose each other and the scary ones are scary in part because they are so ruthless, but they are all striving to do what they think is best for the country. It’s a fascinating book—not Clines best—but still well worth reading. And of course, as I seem to find in all of Clines’ novels, there is a hint that Cthulhu is in the future of the United States.

#1 in Customer Service by Larry Correia

#1 in Customer Service includes all the Tom Stranger stories recorded to date. I’m going to skip over the short book (Adventures of Tom Stranger) which opens the volume as I’ve reviewed it elsewhere and note only that once Correia got up to speed in that novel he never loses his pace again. This book is often funny and always absurd, with book 2 opening with Tom Stranger trying to come to grips with some strangers not having given his first book top ratings which is unacceptable to a man devoted to always giving top quality service. (He mistakenly believes that low ratings came from dolphins he inadvertently insulted in the first book.)

From there the madcap adventure spirals across several dimensions as Tom and his crew struggle to save a manatee (and thus advert interdimensional war), find a spy in their own midst, avert the apocalypse on our planet, and finally become #1 in Customer Service for the fourth year running. It’s an irreverent romp that stomps on all political persuasions and it’s a great read for anyone capable of not taking politics and the world too seriously.

Lost Planet Homicide by Larry Correia

Correia offers a new series starter in this fascinating mystery set in a star colony that got settled on an extremely hostile planet tens of thousands of lightyears from where it was supposed to be. It’s as corrupt a society as you will find in literature and our hero, a homicide detective, walks a line between trying to actually do his job while keeping his corruption to a minimum. Yet, the more he learns about his latest murder case, the more it begins to look like some of the fundamental facts about his colony and its leaders should be questioned. It’s an exciting book that ends on a note that promises an even more exciting series.

Lost Planet Homicide 2 Ghosts of Zenith by Larry Correia

In the last book, Cade learned two facts dangerous enough to get him killed. The first is that his colony did not end up tens of thousands of lightyears from the paradise it started out toward by accident. The second is that earth people with extensive body modifications continue to live on the colony manipulating events toward an unknown end. Those people do not hesitate to murder and commit other crimes to advance their end. In this novella, Cade runs up against the conspiracy from earth again.

His problems begin with a terrorist act that makes no sense. It’s an exciting police problem, the solution of which raises many more questions than it answers. Cade can’t believe that the terrorism was actually terrorism, but someone does not want him to find what really motivated the attack. This story does not advance the mystery of why this colony was planted in a place the colonists never agreed to go, but it does show once again how far the bad guys are willing to go to keep anyone from learning their plans.

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

A secret U.S. military program is sending satellites into space in hopes of finding microscopic alien life that they can turn into a biological weapon. Unfortunately, they find something—and then the satellite crashes, triggering a crisis.

This novel opens with a lot of suspense but bogs down in the middle as the team of scientists do their thing. Most of the novel is about the investigation into what the alien life is and how to stop it. Unfortunately, a lot of that investigation is rather dry, but the end of the book picks up again for a very tense ending.

Congo by Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton can certainly write a thriller. This time he’s focused on the Congo—one of the great “untamed” wildernesses left on the planet as we follow a corporate team’s attempt to find a legendary city and its blue diamond mines. The only things standing against them is the jungle itself, a civil war, cannibal natives, and a team from another corporation trying to beat them to the site. And, of course, whatever killed off their last team just as they were achieving success. It’s a thrilling journey made much more so by the inclusion of a naïve academic and his sign-language-capable gorilla, Amy. (Frankly, including the gorilla only barely (if you really flex your suspension of disbelief) made sense, but it’s so critical to the end of the story that you just have to forgive Crichton for this.)

Crichton uses an interesting narrative technique to add further tension to the story—that is, the whole novel is presented as an after the fact “report”. (I put that word in quotes because the novel reads like an exciting novel, not like a boring report.) This permits Crichton to inform the reader that the whole expedition is a disaster and to make little observations along the way that show where bad decisions and misconceptions led to the disaster. It’s a remarkable use of third person omniscient narration that keeps subtly increasing the threat.

All in all, this is another great story from Michael Crichton.

Sphere by Michael Crichton

Warning: There are significant spoilers in this review.

This could have been a truly great science fiction novel. The protagonist, Norman, is a psychologist who thinks he’s been brought to a crash site by the FAA to help survivors only to learn that he is actually being involved in possible first contact situation. Early in Norman’s career, he accepted a top secret government grant to explore first contact scenarios. He hadn’t taken the idea seriously when he wrote the report, but now he is suddenly face-to-face with the probability that alien’s exist and have come to earth.

To complicate things, the alien spacecraft they have discovered is 1000 feet under the surface of the Pacific Ocean in the middle of nowhere. As a result, the contact team—four civilians with military support—will be operating under even more tension than a first contact would normally impose. Crichton builds the tension excellently through each section of the novel until the team finally gets to the space craft they’ve come to explore. In addition to the external issues, there are growing personal conflicts within team and trust issues with the military who are clearly not fully sharing their knowledge with the civilians. Finally, a storm moves in on the surface that forces the navy to retreat from the area totally isolating those beneath the surface.

Things really start jumping when the team discovers that the space craft appears to have been built in the future by the United States, but also contains an apparently alien artifact—the sphere of the title of the novel. One of the civilians, mathematician Harry, succeeds in entering the sphere, but can’t remember what he found there. Then strange things start happening. Sea life—at first benign—starts to appear outside the underwater habitat—squid, shrimp, jellyfish. And then the first of the crew dies horribly.

While everyone is reeling from this loss, the crew is contacted by video monitor with a code that appears to come from an alien intelligence. When they break the code, they find a childlike curious entity that gets angry when they want to stop talking to converse among themselves. Shortly thereafter, a giant squid attacks the habitat and more members of the crew die. Tension among the survivors keeps ramping higher. The habitat is fragile and is becoming unusable after multiple squid attacks.

When only three of the civilians remain alive, Norman figures out that all of the unusual events (alien contact, squids, etc.) occurred after Harry entered the sphere. He hypothesizes that the sphere gave Harry the ability to manifest material objects—basically anything he can think of. Norman further theorizes that Harry’s subconscious has caused the attacks by the squid and the contact with the alien. Harry is a danger to them. So he shares this theory with Beth (last remaining civilian scientist besides Norman and Harry) and they attack Harry, drug him and decide to keep him unconscious until they are rescued.

This appears to be the end of the book except that there is roughly 20% of the pages left. Manifestations continue to happen and Beth (who has been acting increasingly paranoid throughout the novel) tries to convince Norman that he also entered the sphere and that he needs to let her drug him so that he is not a danger to anyone. When he refuses, she grows enraged and tries to kill him, leading Norman to find evidence that Beth also entered the sphere. In self defense, Norman enters the sphere himself and now all three individuals have the power to manifest anything they can imagine.

This is where a superb novel breaks down. Beth has placed explosives all around the habitat to protect herself. She is actually suicidal (without consciously recognizing it) and Norman is worried that she subconsciously wants to die and further wants to kill everyone with her. Norman accidentally triggers a twenty-minute timer on the explosives but never seems to realize that he has the power not just to turn the timer off with his mind but to get rid of the explosives all together, just as Beth has the power to blow up the habitat without any explosives at all. There is also a major effort to get everyone into a minisub because of the explosives and the damaged habitat, but again, the habitat can be fixed with a stray thought.

At the end of the novel, the three survivors decide that knowledge of the sphere is too dangerous and that they will all decide to forget the sphere ever existed and lose their powers to manifest. They also decide on a new story about an underwater disaster at a plane crash site that killed all the dead crewmembers. They enact this and everyone in the world now believes the new story—proof that the whole explosives confrontation was ridiculous.

It’s really unfortunate that Crichton didn’t think through his manifestation power. This is a good book, but this ending weakness seriously mars the overall quality of the novel. The last sentence, however, goes a long way to redeeming the entire storyline.

Will Save the Galaxy for Food by Yahtzee Croshaw

My son bought me this book for Father’s Day which automatically makes it special in my eyes. It’s filled with a sort of slapstick humor as our hero, who is being paid a lot of money to pretend to be a notorious star pilot, gets himself into one ridiculous jam after another. The plot is fast moving and there’s quite a bit of action. And while the humor wasn’t quite my cup of tea, I think it will make a lot of readers smile.

Will Destroy the Galaxy for Cash by Yahtzee Croshaw

This book was part of my son’s Father’s Day present to me which makes it special—more special than the actual story, perhaps. It’s the same slapstick humor of the first book but not quite as sharp. Enjoyable, if you liked the first book.

Master Lecture Series: History of the 3rd Robot War by Recent Cutbacks

This fully dramatized audiobook sells itself as a Great Courses parody, but it’s really more of a college classroom parody in which alien races of the far future try to reconstruct a legendary past (our time) in which they clearly think that things like the Lord of the Rings books and the Star Wars movies are actually documenting real events. It’s humorous, but not great—although perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I had caught more of the references to pop culture that are liberally strewn throughout the book.

We Are Saul by Richard Dee

Saul is a pretty good guy who is paralyzed from the neck down after being hit by a vehicle. With absolutely no hope of every regaining the use of his arms and legs, Saul is tempted into an experiment which might make him feel useful again but has to agree to participate without knowing any pertinent details about what he will be doing. I expected the novel to veer into the realm of LitRPGS at this point with Saul being wired into some sort of gaming world, but Richard Dee had a much more interesting direction planned for his hero.

The experiment (or “the project” as it is called) is run by a Dr. Tendral who will immediately strike the reader as having shady ethics. It’s not just that he is keeping almost all of the elements of his project secret. He has inserted a nurse into Saul’s original hospital to influence him to agree to join Tendral’s project. And he is clearly cutting Saul off from all real contact with the outside world at least for the first stages of the experiment.

Tendral also has a sort of childish pique, getting angry when Saul acts like a human being with reasonable questions rather than serving as an automaton who simply unquestionably does everything Tendral wants. But what does Tendral want? It’s as difficult for the reader as it is for Saul to tell at times. About the only certainty is that Saul will undoubtedly choose wrong again and again (just as I think the reader would in Saul’s place).

I’m trying really hard to write this review without giving away the central surprise of the story (i.e. the key to the project). That being said, Tendral and his lack of ethics becomes an increasingly disturbing force in the story and Saul (as a quadriplegic) is really in a vulnerable position when they confront each other.

This is one of Dee’s best stories. The problems Saul has are easy to relate to, as are the hard choices he is forced to make—especially the last two. All of this results in one of Dee’s best novels with an ending that really took me by surprise.

The Neil Gaiman at the End of the Universe by Arvind Ethan David

This is a cute, very short story, that most people will probably read because Neil Gaiman’s name is in the title. However, it is worth reading for its own sake. It’s difficult in a story this short to say anything that does not give away the plot, so I will limit myself to noting that there is a nice mystery and I was fully satisfied with the ending.

The Hitman and the Thief by Richard Dee

It’s war in the futuristic underworld as Dan’s boss, Fliss, tries to move against her rival, Kalindra, by having Dan assassinate her to prep her organization for takeover. Unfortunately for Dan, his hit is interrupted by a thief named Lydia being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because of Dan’s failure, Fliss is no longer certain of his loyalty and forces him and Lydia to make a second try at Kalindra—or else.

The action moves along very quickly as Dan tries to maneuver himself into a position to knock off his boss’ rival, but the reader quickly figures out that there is more going on than Dan realizes. Dee has more than a couple surprises in store that keep the suspense high and the action popping. Dan’s a very likeable character, but odds are he’s a little bit slower than the reader at picking up what’s really going on. You’ll be hoping he can navigate the minefield to get to his happily ever after.

Life and Other Dreams by Richard Dee

Richard Dee gives you two stories in one in this intriguing novel that mixes an excellent sf tale with a contemporary psychological drama. Rick dreams when he goes to sleep—that sounds pretty ordinary until you realize he’s dreaming another man’s life in extraordinary detail. That man happens to live six hundred years in the future on another planet and beginning to end of the novel, you’ll never be certain if that future is real or not—because the evidence clearly points both ways.

What is clear is that Rick’s jealous wife can’t handle her husband’s dreams and invents a wild fantasy that they are proof that he is being unfaithful to her. She’s a complex and highly manipulative woman who happily takes their marriage off the deep end and as she does, so does Rick’s life on that strange planet six hundred years in the future.

But are the two sets of events connected? And if they are, can Rick save both the women he loves on both planets. I think this one will continue to trouble you after you finish reading it.

I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.

Survive by Richard Dee

Part of the genius of Richard Dee is that you’re never really certain what tale he is setting out to tell you. On the surface this is an amazing story of the physical survival of a cameraman and his wife who have the misfortune to sign on to work for a megalomaniac news personality whose arrogance and paranoia endangers his entire crew. And let’s be clear, that story is outstanding and well worth the price of the novel. But it’s not the only story, and therein lies Dee’s brilliance. Because simultaneous to telling us of the disastrous expedition, Dee is also telling the tale of how the survivors attempted to tell people what happened to them—and they find that there are a great many people who will stop at nothing to keep the truth from getting out. Whether he’s depicting a classic struggle for survival on an unexplored planet or the intrigues of supposedly civilized society on earth, Richard Dee has written another intense adventure that will grip you with both hands and not let go until you finish.

The Heisenberg Corollary by C. H. Duryea

Interested in a light-hearted romp through the multiverse? Wants lots of action and plenty of movie and roleplaying game references? Want the feel of a hard sf backdrop without actually having to get bogged down in the math and incomprehensible theories? Well that’s what I found in The Heisenberg Corollary, an amazingly fun sf adventure which finds a simple solution to permitting the cast of heroes to discover just about anything you can imagine in the multiverse.

The plot revolves around Zeke Travers and his fellow scientists who accidentally trigger an interdimensional chase when they test out Zeke’s life’s work—a device that permits travel to other universes. The problem—something follows the device back to earth and begins ripping through the multiverse in its efforts to catch Zeke and its device. Most of the rest of the novel is built around Zeke and his friends’ attempts to first escape and then stop the aliens who are pursuing them. The plot gets rather fanciful as it proceeds, but the fun never lets up and the pace never slackens.

Narrator Will Hahn pulled out all the stops with this one. In addition to rip-roaring, highly distinctive voices for the entire cast, he threw in enough sound effects to make this nearly a fully dramatized experience. Not enough narrators are able to bring that higher level of stagecraft to a novel, and not many authors have created an experience that lends itself so well to such dramatic audio creations.

Preparing for the Future by Jeremy Eaton

This is a fun, if totally implausible, sf novel. An admittedly gifted but unmotivated rich high school student is approached by an alien AI and told that in twenty-seven years an alien horde that believes their god wants them to destroy all other intelligent life in the universe is going to reach earth. He has that long to prepare the planet to stop them. The AI can offer some advice but in practical terms is bound by a Star-Trek-like prime directive not to interfere in such ways as gifting humanity with advanced technology.

Nick, the aforementioned high school boy, manages to recruit three other brilliant high school kids to help him. One is a scientific genius who is the only hope for the plan to save the planet to work. One is going to handle their military needs, another their PR needs, and Nick is going to plot a path to the presidency. It all sounds absurd, but it’s awfully fun getting there.

If this novel took itself seriously, it would have fallen flat on its face. Instead it approaches the impossible task it has laid out for itself with a carefree and humorous attitude that makes it an awful lot of fun. I’m happily awaiting the sequel.

The Other Log of Phileas Fogg by Philip Jose Farmer

This is a novel of tremendous scope and imagination, building upon the foundation of Jules Verne’s famous Around the World in Eighty Days and expanding upon it to include Captain Nemo, Sherlock Holmes nemesis, James Moriarty, the famous ghost ship, Mary Celeste, and so very much more.

Farmer begins by informing the reader that two alien races have been vying for supremacy on earth for millennia, jockeying for power by adopting/recruiting humans to their side and using them as weapons against each other. Phileas Fogg is one such adoptee and his famous journey was not actually motivated by a bet, but by his desire to stop Captain Nemo from overthrowing the British Empire through the use of advanced alien technology.

As one would expect from Farmer, the plot is expansive and the plotting intricate. It’s a pleasure to watch him bring characters from other works into the novel, just as it is a delight to see him hint that he, himself, is actually Phileas Fogg, still kicking around roughly a century after the events in the book take place. Unfortunately, Farmer chose to mimic the prose of Verne in his novel and it greatly slows down the reading. I understand why he did it, but it made a novel that should have been a simple delight into a more difficult academic exercise.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Let me be clear. I loved this book, but I don’t know if I understood everything I was supposed to. On the surface, this is an alternate history style sf novel which is an English professor’s wet dream and the stuff of nightmares for the poor student forced to take the class as a basic requirement of graduation. Put simply, this is an earth in which everyone on the planet is apparently obsessed with literature. People name their children after great (and minor authors). Everyone seems to belong to societies that obsess about individual books or authors and the academic controversies which surround them. They even get into brawls over whose work or theory is better.

It's also a more traditional alternate history narrative, although I couldn’t figure out the point of departure from our world. England and Russia are still fighting the Crimean War well over a century later. A mammoth corporation (called Goliath) has taken over the country and rules from just barely behind the scenes. There are 27 special ops bureaus—the purpose of which is often not public knowledge. They deal with such things as literary violations (like the theft of a rare manuscript) and vampires, werewolves, terrorism, and just about everything else you can imagine. Oh, and there is time travel and potentially catastrophic time events.

The plot of the novel involves a wonderfully evil villain (Acheron Hades) with a range of not-well-understood, seemingly supernatural powers. He knows when someone speaks his name. He seems essentially immune to bullets. He can’t be tracked by conventional technology. He has the ability to mentally dominate weak-minded (read ordinary) people. And he’s really, really, wicked.

Our heroine, Thursday Next, is the only person who has seen him and is still around. She’s a lowly Literary Tec, Special Ops level 27, but she gets pulled into an attempt to catch Hades with tragic consequences. Naturally, she doesn’t give up. And when Hades discovers that Thursday’s uncle has invented a portal that lets people go into books or take the characters out of them, all of literature is endangered as the world’s most wicked man suddenly finds himself able to commit crimes on fiction’s most loved characters.

This is a truly fascinating book. It was not a fast read, even tough it’s really not all that long. There is just so very much happening all the time within it’s pages that you can’t force yourself to read quickly because you know that in doing so you will miss the subtle connections that bring these pages to life.

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

This is no Neuromancer. The plot creeps along like cold molasses spilling across a table. The story is wrapped around some “intriguing” video clips that are appearing on the web and the interest in the heroine’s (Cayce) employer in finding their source and capitalizing on them. Along the way is a lot of industrial espionage “action” that never really pulled me in. I think that aside from the very slow pace, the major problem was the video clips. They’re the McGuffin that drives the plot, but you have to completely take them on faith. Even when Cayce finds the source and “watches” them being made (an almost religious experience for her) I felt totally unmoved by them and was wishing the plot would advance faster.

There were some interesting issues being dealt with like did Cayce’s father really die on 9/11, but ultimately, that storyline didn’t get enough traction to hold my interest. Unfortunately, this is a novel that just didn’t work for me.

I, Cunningham by Benoit Goudreault-Emond

Gordon Cunningham died in a climbing accident in the twenty-second century, so he’s quite surprised to wake up five hundred years later in a robot body in a struggling colony in a distant solar system—only struggling is far too kind a word to describe the problems Gordon finds. The station AI and the station government are engaged in a sort of cold war with each other. At least two factions of the station population hate each other’s guts. There are intense frictions between basic humans and a genetically modified group. Oh, and the colony on the planet doesn’t get along with the station either. And that’s before you get into the rebels, religious cults, and illegal settlements that make Gordon’s new life even more difficult—because each faction wants to manipulate him into helping to bring about their personal vision of the perfect future for the colony. And if that isn’t bad enough, if Gordon can’t figure out what’s really going on, human life may die out in this future colony.

This is an impressive first novel with a couple of nicely interwoven mysteries fueling the action, but don’t stop when you finish the story. There’s a very nice afterword in which Goudreault-Emond discusses the influences that led him to write the book. It’s enjoyable all around.

Aliens and Ice Cream by Michael James

On the surface, this is a rather straightforward novel about alien drones that blanket the earth killing anyone who steps outside of a structure like a house or an automobile. The death toll quickly mounts upwards of one billion as humanity hunkers down and tries to figure out what they will do when the food and water runs out in their homes. At the same time, this is a story about people and how they will respond to being shut up with each other after terrible tragedy. Their fears and their insecurities bring out the absolute worst in some while others find the courage to face their circumstances and help others. It’s this latter story, handled with subtle sophistication by the author, Michael James, that makes this novel so powerful.

James sets the stage by introducing a fairly large cast of people planning a neighborhood barbecue. As with any street in America, there are a lot of tensions underlying the relationships on this street. An alcoholic mother is abusing her teenaged daughter. An adulterous affair is on the verge of rocking two marriages. And the usual macho bs dominates the interactions of the male parents. None of these problems seem important when the sky opens up spawning thousands of drones that immediately begin firing lasers at anyone caught out in the open, but when the survivors find themselves trapped in small groups wondering how they will survive, these tensions will threaten their ultimate survival.

Focusing mostly on four locations—three houses and a tree fort with three kids inside—the novel examines how different personality types deal with what could well be the end of the world. The ones who have the most difficulty coping with their sudden helplessness are the most assertive and controlling of the neighbors. Strangely, it is the teenagers in the tree fort who are best able to think about the global problem of the drones and begin to figure out ways to work around them. They show intelligence and courage that their parents are sadly (but believably) lacking. And one of the best (i.e. most outrageous) lines in the whole book comes after the teenagers have made it possible for people to start linking up together again when one of the parents says, “Let the adults handle this.” The irony of it still makes me chuckle.

Aliens and Ice Cream is a brilliant mix of all-too-relatable horror and a well-thought-out science fiction setting. As with most good horror fiction, its success is built on believable characters dealing with appalling circumstances. Some rise up to the challenge while others give into their darker natures. It makes for very good reading and leaves me hoping there will be a sequel.

Orion’s Dawn by Robert C. James

Orion’s Dawn is an engaging story right from the opening chapter. A commanding officer makes a decision which gets his best friend killed and he can’t come to grips with the guilt this inspires in him. When he gets a chance to find out what really happened to his friend, he jumps on it and damns the consequences. Across the galaxy a group of miners make a discovery that can change humanity’s understanding of the universe setting two more plot lines in motion. The mystery is interesting, but the greatest strength of the story is its characters. They’re credible and empathetic—especially the military commander who gets orders to…well, that would be a little too much of a spoiler. It was the best shock in the story.

On the negative side, Orion’s Dawn is not a complete novella. It’s the first third of a novel and it ends abruptly without any sort of resolution. This was greatly frustrating to me. I was thoroughly enjoying the book and would have happily kept reading, but I don’t like this new trend to tease the reader with a few chapters and then make them go get another book. Maybe I’m old school, but I think trilogies should be three complete (but linked) stories.

That being said, if you’re prepared to invest in the whole series up front, I think you’ll enjoy Orion’s Dawn.

Time Travelin’ Gunslingers by Philip James

There is a lot more in this short novel than I was expecting. I picked up the book because I liked the idea of a western lawman suddenly finding himself facing down dinosaurs—and I got that—but I also found a fairly sophisticated plot involving an obsessed wizard, reincarnation, and the intense power of love.

At its heart, this is a novel about a rivalry between two men—US Marshal Dare Shine and outlaw Race Brody. They both wanted the same woman once upon a time and while Dare ended up winning her heart, Brody never lost his torch for her. By unfortunate coincidence, this woman is also the object of obsession of a millennium old wizard who is suffering under a curse which prevents him from directly interacting with people. He’s watched the woman live her life dozens of times and is determined to find a way to have her. So, he’s developed a fairly complex plan involving portals that move people through space and time and tries to manipulate Dare and Race into unwittingly giving him what he wants.

It’s a very good plot made even more interesting by Dare and Race’s reactions to showing up in such disparate places as modern day Las Vegas, a battlefield in World War I, and the Jurassic Era. There’s plenty of action to keep things hopping, but the center of the tale keeps coming back to Dare and Race’s interest in the same woman—who suddenly exists in multiple incarnations.

I received this book free from Voracious Readers Only in exchange for an honest review.

The Messengers by Lindsey Joelle

I really enjoyed the voice acting in this audiobook, but the plot never quite engaged me. It’s a science fiction tale told in two time periods. In one (which turns to be the future) a messenger who can’t stop blabbing about herself is transporting a box. In the other (which happened earlier) a very low-ranking soldier is trying to determine if a woman is a threat as a plague rips society apart. The whole novella is composed of two conversations—one in each timeline—and a surprising connection between the two. Frankly, I didn’t get caught up in the story, although I enjoyed the “surprise” connection at the end. I kept listening to the book because it was short and the voice acting which really was top notch.

Destroyer of Planets by L. A. Johnson

I still don’t think I really know what this novel was all about, but I had an awful lot of fun not figuring it out. Put briefly, the intergalactic overlord—an alien creature that looks somewhat like a neon octopus—is quietly destroying planets throughout the galaxy. She seems (and I could be wrong here) to be destroying these planets because they have bred at least one highly intelligent person who might somehow make life more difficult for the overlord. As far as I can tell, the overlord is an incredibly lazy person who seems driven by the need to not have to do anything. Her main big bad guy opponent (a giant praying mantis) is also incredibly lazy and wants bad things to happen to his enemy without him having to actually do anything to make those bad things happen.

The laziness of the two chief bad guys appears to explain most of what happens in the novel. They act through intermediaries who hate them. The heroine (the Destroyer of Planets of the title) is trying to get free of the overlord and she has assembled a ragtag group of potential rebels to help her do this. Throw in a rock band playing illegal music and a bureaucratic genius, and you have a cast who seems to at least half-succeed by the end of the novel even though I never understood anything they were trying to accomplish or why this would help them.

So it’s a strange book with a difficult to follow plot, and yet, it’s also a lot of fun. I might just pick up the sequel to see if it helps shed light on what I’ve already read.

Intrepid by Nate Johnson

Intrepid reminded me a lot of some of the early Heinlein novels that were marketed to “boys”. It has a hero who has to learn fast to keep his charges alive and has to deal with the frustrations of chaperoning undisciplined civilians on a dangerous uncolonized world. There’s nothing too deep here—just fun adventure with a tad bit of “growing up” fueling the storyline.

The Harem at the End of the Galaxy by Kyle Kenze

I expected this book to be ridiculous when I ordered it and portions clearly were, but hidden beneath the mountains of sex was a decent (not sure that “decent” is the appropriate word to use for any part of this novel) science fiction plot with the fate of humanity at stake. That being said, any potential reader should be aware that plot or no plot, this book is primarily an excuse to write a large number of very graphic sex scenes.

So the plot: Clayton, our hero, is pulled from the present day through time to a colony of humans living on the far side of the galaxy to repopulate the species through the use of his uncorrupted DNA as preserved in his manly fluids. (Translation, he’s yanked into the future to have sex with a lot of beautiful women.) But he doesn’t stay in the future very long as he is yanked back and forth through time. At first it looked like this book was going to be built around him being yanked out of compromising situations (unsatisfied) only to be dropped into awkward settings in his own time. But fortunately, author, Kyle Kenze, had a better plot in mind.

I don’t want to give away that plot, but I will go so far as to point out that it has to do with finding a way to influence the past through time travel when the time traveler has so many limitations that it makes the task look impossible. The time travel conundrum is decently thought out. (Not sure that it’s perfect, but it’s more than good enough for the subgenre.) I certainly didn’t see the solution Kenze’s heroes come up with, but found it satisfying enough that I’d say the novel was far better than I expected when I requested it.

I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.

When by Victoria Laurie

I don’t quite know what to think about this book. On the one hand, it is an undeniably enjoyable tale about a teenaged girl with the undesirable ability to see the date of when any person she meets will die. She can even see the death date in a photograph. As you might imagine, this is not a blessing. It causes her to be socially isolated in school and it has helped to send her mother into alcoholism when her father is killed on precisely the day Maddie predicted.

The characters are all well drawn and believable. To get drinking money, Maddie’s mother sells sessions with Maddie for people who want to know when they or people they care about are going to die. Unsurprisingly, some of these sessions go poorly as people respond negatively to the news. Maddie is suspected of murdering a young boy when he dies (kidnapped, tortured and murdered) as she predicted. (She only predicts the when, not the how.) And this is when the story takes a turn for the worse.

Despite having an obviously high IQ, Maddie behaves stupidly for most of the story. When the FBI questions her in the disappearance of the boy she tells them she sees death dates but makes no effort to prove to them what she can do. Proving her talent to customers must be a regular part of her life. Think it through. They bring the photograph of an already deceased person that Maddie couldn’t know and she tells them the day they died. Anyone with half a brain would know that the FBI (and just about anyone else) was not going to believe she had this “talent”. With the internet at their disposal they could have quickly come up with fifty or a hundred pictures that would have at least stopped them from automatically dismissing her claim. They could then (as they finally do half way through the story) have created a more controllable test using old family photographs and in doing so eliminated Maddie as a suspect. But she doesn’t make any effort to prove things to them until a third of the way through the novel. Similarly, she constantly holds back important information from her uncle (who is also her lawyer) and the FBI and the whole conclusion of the story depends on her doing something that I frankly don’t believe anyone is dumb enough to do.

Not all of her foolish moves are unbelievable. She is a teenager after all. And she and her best (and only) friend are almost obsessed with the idea of changing a person’s death date, which explains how he catches the FBI’s attention and gets accused of murder. The bullying in school that follows is well written and disturbing and it is in the resolution of that problem that the novel finally hits its stride and gets on firmer footing.

Once Maddie undertakes to prove to the FBI she has her ability to see death dates, the novel improves considerably. The action moves more quickly and her talent proves useful to the investigation. But again, something happens that it is difficult to justify—even though it is very exciting when it happens. Maddie discovers the ability to influence death dates. This is difficult to justify. She hasn’t been seeing the date people die of natural causes. She’s been seeing the date they die no matter what the cause—cancer, murder, automobile accident. So how does she suddenly gain the ability to change the course of fate? Again, it’s exciting, but it left me looking for an explanation from the author that was not forthcoming.

Overall, I’m glad I read the book. I enjoyed it. But I think that with just a little restructuring of the plot it could have been a far superior novel.

Escape from Virtual Island by John Lutz

I flirted with buying this book for about a year before Audible put it in its “included” list and I finally scooped it up. It was pretty much everything I was hoping for. A wealthy client of Virtual Island has disappeared from the simulation and the staff has to go into his fantasy to find him. Then things get very much worse, very fast. There’s a brand new accidental AI in the computer and it’s got some issues. Perhaps that wouldn’t have been so bad if the staff didn’t have even bigger issues of their own.

Derek, owner of the island, has parent and relationship issues deriving from his mother’s total lack of interest in him. His new head of tech and failed love interest is a little too like his mom—she can’t get her head out of her work. His head of security is brutally impulsive and offensive all the time. And his mother’s assistant is a basket full of additional problems. The story can be pretty well summarized as a giant chase through multiple virtual reality settings with the AI getting increasingly angry and frustrated with the staff who are mostly fleeing from it.

So, not much in terms of plot, but a lot in terms of fun. The whole book is one joke after another with a very talented group of voice actors making the jokes. I figured out the end during the second episode, but that didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the story.

The Prynne Viper by Bianca Marais

This is a short but powerful story about a dystopian future where society has been convinced that everything a person is worth can be calculated and predicated by studying their genes. When people dare to become pregnant without approval, the unborn child (called a viper) is put on trial by people that science predicts will be impacted (positively and negatively) by the child during his or her life. The trials are clearly for show trial spectators who get to watch but not hear the evidence. All participants have their memories wiped of the testimony. Even having the trial seems weird since in theory there is no free will and the outcome is known (one might even say rigged) in advance.

Now I enjoyed the story and I found the ending highly moving, but I still think the author missed the boat here. Very little information is given on how the child will impact most of the 13 jurors and we never had a scene in which the jurors try to convince each other to vote their way (after all, not all impacts are negative, but some could potentially be terribly so). That being said, it’s a nice quick read with a surprisingly strong ending.

Area 51 by Bob Mayer

This novel is an alien-contact conspiracy theorist’s dream. Area 51 is the famous / infamous theorized location of a secret government repository of alien artifacts and possibly dead bodies. It’s the center of a conspiracy theory in which the U.S. government is orchestrating a massive cover up designed to hide the existence of these alien artifacts and intelligent extraterrestrial life from both foreign governments and its own people. In Area 51, Bob Mayer spins a tale in which he connects the dots behind Area 51 and a great many of the mysteries that populate the alien contact shows that dominate late night cable television.

At the heart of the novel’s mystery is a secretive government compound where alien spacecraft—whose technology is not yet understood—are being test piloted. The president is concerned that the personnel in charge of the project are concealing information from him, so through his science advisor he arranges to have a special forces solider inserted into Area 51 security as a presidential spy. Almost immediately everything starts going wrong.

Ancient Egypt, Easter Island, legends of lost Atlantis, secret Nazi investigations, Antarctica, Thule…all point to the conclusion that aliens once visited our planet and unless humans are very careful the secret machinations of the investigators at Area 51 might just bring them back again.

GEO by Kevin Miller

Earth’s new space elevator has hit a snag on its very first trip to orbit. The elevator is stuck 22,000 miles up and no one can figure out how to get it down—and that’s just the beginning of the planet’s problems. With the CEO of the company trapped in the elevator, his number two man is forced to bring in Clarence Ackerman to help them trouble shoot the problem and get the elevator moving again. One problem, Ackerman designed the space elevator and the CEO stole it from him. Motivation might be a problem here.

GEO is a tightly plotted short story about betrayal, pain and vengeance. It’s fast paced and totally enthralling. It works really well as a short story, but I have to admit that there are a lot of avenues for expansion that I’d like to see Kevin Miller incorporate into a full-length novel.

I received this story free from Voracious Readers Only in exchange for an honest review.

Lying Beneath by Kevin Moran

Lying Beneath is based on the premise that a secret society had been living beneath a presumably American city for around a century. The hidden city beneath the city controls its population by telling them that there is major war going on in the world above them and that they are enjoying a relatively prosperous life in their hidden home because they are conducting vital research for their war effort developing new weapons and equipment. When Ayla, a struggling waitress, stumbled upon the hidden civilization, the basic lie that has sustained this society for a hundred years is in danger of being exposed for the fraud it is.

So there are three stories wrapping around each other in this novel. First, there is Ayla who is trying to figure out how to get free and escape back to her own world. Second, there is a totalitarian government with apparently very limited means of enforcing its will, struggling to control Ayla and access to her. And finally you have two groups—some scientists and some revolutionaries—trying to find out what’s really going on in the world above them.

Over all I enjoyed the story, but there are some major weaknesses which troubled me right through to the end. First, I never understood why the government didn’t just take possession of Ayla as soon as she appeared. There were some efforts to explain this through established rules and procedures, but they just weren’t convincing. This is why I described the totalitarian government as having “very limited means of enforcing its will.” Controlling access to someone they describe as an enemy spy would seem to be the bare minimum necessary to maintain their fraud—and they do know it’s a fraud because they later go to the surface to capture Ayla’s boyfriend.

Of much greater concern to me was the questions that didn’t get asked by either side. Ayla is constantly interrogated about “the war.” Why did she never say, “Which war? Where was it being fought? Who was the enemy?” I could never tell for certain what war started the whole mess that is the premise of the story. It might even have been the U.S. Civil War. If I was Ayla, I’d have started listing every war we’d fought right back to the Revolutionary War and pointing out that none of these lasted very long and we kept winning them and we were now the major military power in the world and that no one could truly threaten us. And if I had been one of the scientists questioning her, I would have asked a lot of questions not only about the wars, but about the equipment they had produced over a hundred years to help wage it. There are dozens of questions that could have been asked, all of which would suggest that the scientists weren’t getting accurate information from their government.

So this is the sort of book that’s an enjoyable read, but you can’t think about it too much. And I found that to be a particular shame, because this novel could have supported some very big ideas.

I received this book free from Voracious Readers Only in exchange for an honest review.

One Way by S.J. Morden

There is an interesting concept at the core of this book. The future exploration of the solar system will be built with very little supervision from NASA. And the companies getting the contracts for the building will, unsurprisingly, be far more interested in cutting costs than they are in ethical behavior or human rights. So when XO figures out that it can’t have robots assemble the research station it is contracted to build on Mars, it decides to use human convict labor instead. And since the corporation owns/controls a privatized prison system in California, it has a ready pool of convicts to draw upon and a big hammer to make them do what it wants. (Solitary confinement forever is the big punishment threat for failure to meet expectations in the very brief training program.)

Enter Frank. He’s serving something like 120 years for shooting his son’s drug dealer. The dealer was the son of a sheriff and he believed the only way to save his son was to get rid of the man. Not very well thought out, obviously, but it makes him a sympathetic convict. He ran a construction company before his crime and has critical skills that XO will need on Mars as do 7 other convicts who make up Frank’s team.

The most obvious flaw in XO’s plan is that there is no way to make certain the convicts do the job once they get to Mars. Enter Brack. He’s the thug that XO intends to keep their convicts in line. There’s just one problem. Once on Mars, what’s to keep the convicts from killing him? The answer was obvious and frankly the convicts were seriously stupid not to consider it. I knew the answer when Brack made his pitch to Frank. Brack tells him that he is making a deal with him because he’s the only trustworthy convict in the group. If he watches Brack’s back, Brack will bring him back to earth and get him his freedom. It was blatantly, embarrassingly, obvious from moment one that Brack was making this deal with every convict, but apparently none of them ever consider this possibility.

Then they get to Mars and people start dying. By the second death it was also obvious that the people who were dying were the ones whose usefulness had ended. Again, I immediately suspected Brack but he’s the one person no one considers, even when it becomes obvious that the convicts are being murdered. The reason is obvious. The convicts are a liability. There is no way that NASA would have approved using convicts for this mission so they need to be killed, preserved, and shipped back to earth where they could “die” in prison. It takes an incredibly long time for Frank (or anyone) to consider this possibility and their stupidity hurts the story which is sold as a big mystery.

So let’s be clear. There is no mystery, but it’s still an exciting story. Watching the convicts overcome their problems and establish the base was enjoyable—not The Martian level enjoyable, but enjoyable none the less. Perhaps the big difference between the two books is that Frank doesn’t have much of a personality. He’s amazingly low key and the rest of the cast is two dimensional at best. Still, I’m glad I read it.

Novel Problems by George Morrison

Jake writes really bad science fiction in which he includes some non-classified information about a missile defense system his company builds. His friends convince him to rewrite and get rid of the company info, but through a complicated series of events his original manuscript ends up in an agent’s hands who sends it to a contact in the military to vet. That contact, who is also working on the actual missile defense system, gets in a car accident and the sf manuscript and the real documents concerning the defense system get mixed together convincing the most inept group of military intelligence operatives (think Monty Python doing a skit about inept government investigators) that there is a spy ring trying to steal their system. To make matters even worse, the sf novel has aliens in it and the investigators think that aliens are also involved in the espionage plot.

What follows is a convoluted series of mistakes and other bungles that would make the aforementioned Monty Python actors proud. The investigators convince themselves that a serious plot is afoot that actually involves outer space aliens and they are determined to uncover it no matter how many idiots get in their way. The most competent people in the whole story are the dog and the third grader—oh, and the actual aliens who are trying very hard not to get caught up in this investigation.

The Sea in the Sky by Jackson Musker

Exploration is the heart of a lot of the best science fiction—boldly going where no one has ever been and discovering plausible problems that our own astronauts might reasonably be expected to encounter one day. The Sea in the Sky is that sort of story. Two astronauts spend three years in a spaceship to explore the oceans on one of the moons of Saturn and encounter not only the physical demands of their mission, but the intense psychological pressure of being a billion miles from other human beings and having all of NASA depending on them to find something—i.e. life—that might not even exist there at all. So this is a story about intense psychological pressure, but it’s also, even more importantly, a story of friendship and the positive and negative force it can exert on an already stressed out human mind.

The science-adventure part of this novel is top notch. Exploring another world’s sea is an excellent vehicle for a mission of discovery. The two characters are both engaging and interesting, although their back-and-forth banter was way too cute at times, it was also necessary for establishing the friendship at the heart of this story. And the more they come to depend upon each other, the more the reader will fear that something is going to happen to one of them.

By far the best part of this novel is the overwhelming psychological pressure. It’s there throughout the whole book, but it becomes much more visible after the two astronauts have to deal with a crushing disaster. Isolation leads to insanity, but the mission continues and the readers, like NASA back on earth, are left to try and figure out what is really happening.

I was going to give this book four stars, but changed my mind when I realized I was still thinking about it long after I finished it. Elements have really stuck with me and I find myself still puzzling over where that line between reality and insanity truly sits.

Nomad by Jamie Nash

Nomad is a creepy horror story set on a spaceship far from earth. The heroine wakes in some sort of cryogenic chamber feeling like she’s suffocating while a man tries to break her out of the tube. She escapes into chaos with no idea where she is or who she is. The chamber where hundreds of these tubes are stored is blowing up and only the heroine and three people manage to get to relative safety—two of those three are dying from wounds they suffered getting out.

What follows is a rather involved mystery. Where are they? How did they get there? Who are they? And why is someone trying to kill them? This is a good mystery with a great science fiction solution, but it’s also an adventure tale. The physical threats are very real and no one can really be trusted. But be forewarned, the violence and suffering in this novel is extremely graphic and it was hard to listen to.

So if you like stories with a lot of tension and an excellent creep factor, you should give Nomad a try.

I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.

No Kindness Too Soon by Sylvain Neuvel

This is a bizarre and thought-provoking tale about first contact with an alien species and how we might communicate with them. It’s also a story about whether the natural disasters coming like the plagues of Egypt are caused by the aliens. The first half, dealing with theories about what aliens would look like and what would be needed for them and us to understand each other, was quite fascinating, almost a science lesson on ETs. The second half of the story is much more bizarre as the scientists focus in on communications fifteen years earlier between a suicidal Australian and the alien species. They begin to postulate that the disasters are a response from the aliens who are learning about the planet from one miserably unhappy person. It’s a fascinating idea with an ending that will give you a smile.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

A young girl falls into a hole and discovers a giant mechanical hand that is obviously of extra terrestrial origins despite everyone’s efforts to pretend it could have been made by an unknown North American civilization thousands of years earlier. This opening leads to a hunt by the United States to find the rest of the statue and reassemble it and in so doing threaten the peace and even survival of all humans on the planet.

The book pulled me right in and kept me engrossed from beginning to end. I often didn’t agree with decisions that were made, but then characters in the stories often disagreed with them too. What’s important is that even the dumbest decisions had a necessary level of credibility as humanity discovers whether this ET device will lead them into a self-destructive apocalypse or toward a functional global civilization.

The most interesting character by far is the mysterious coordinator of events who manipulates governments, corporations, and individuals into building the giant mechanism. The most unbelievable part of the story was that people would record for the official record their innermost thoughts and doubts about just about everything. I guess it was a necessary plot device since Neuvel decided to tell the story through those recordings rather than in a typical narrative format.

Space: 1969 by Bill Oakley

This is a strange story featuring a maniacal JFK just starting his third term in office, and many other historical figures, with Richard Nixon serving as both a character and narrator. The fully dramatized cast plays their parts for jokes and the plot is so absurd that it is funny. It’s also very hard to figure out what is going on for most of the time. The main character is a nurse on the space station who sneaks out for a smoke with Jerry Lewis and therefore knows that the story of how he dies on the station could not be correct.

This mystery is followed by a lot of senseless action including JFK convincing himself that he’s God and destined to start an American Empire in the solar system, a space shuttle hijacking, Richard Nixon running for Mayor of the Moon, and ultimately, an assassination attempt on the moon.

I think the voice actors had a lot of fun recording this story. It would have been nicer if they had a stronger, more coherent script to read.

The Veterinarian’s Field Guide to Rabid Unicorns by Elise Loyacano Perl

Here’s a fun novel inspired by a combination of Jurassic Park and ancient mythology. It’s a little bit long in getting started, probably so we understand that our hero is not the assertive type. He’s the “everyone takes advantage of me type”. He’s in a terrible job situation and gets offered a new job with a fantastic salary that involves his skills as a veterinarian, but the new employer won’t tell him what his “patients” will be or where the job is.

So, pushed to the limit, he ends up accepting the job and finds out that he is working at a “Jurassic Park” style zoo for unicorns—carnivorous unicorns whose craving for meat is out of control because the mad scientist who created them can’t accept that they are really meat eaters. He doesn’t think the kids he wants to frolic with the unicorns will like them so much if they are meat eaters. (And yes, I think we, the reader, can agree that the kids probably wouldn’t enjoy frolicking with animals who spear them on their horns and then eat them.) Our hero has to get them to accept not being meat eaters, which doesn’t look like a realistic possibility to either the hero or the reader. But it’s fun watching him try to keep a disaster from happening and watching him learn that some things are worth asserting himself for.

This book had two surprises I just didn’t see coming which is always a good thing. It’s a fun romp from beginning to end. If you’d rather read about man-eating unicorns instead of dinosaurs and laugh while you do it, I think you’ll find this a good read.

Star Child by Leonard Petracci

There are enough books and movies featuring superpowered teenagers in a dystopian world where the government wants to control their powers and exterminate anyone who doesn’t tow the government’s line to form a little subgenre of its own. Star Child is the first of this style of books that I have read.

Star Child (or SC as his friends call him) was illegally born in space and hidden by his mother. Super powers come from locations you are born in so he has a unique power that is reminiscent of a miniature black hole. The first portion of the book involves SC being very stupid and getting himself into trouble. Things pick up when he gets stuffed into a reform school and we fall into the “Harry Potter” model of students taking classes to perfect their abilities. But there’s a problem here—the school is run by a woman who is warping the students minds and turning them into her loyal slaves for a hidden nefarious purpose. As SC and his friends begin to figure out the evil plan and try to counter it, my interest grew.

Unfortunately, the adults in this novel tend to be very dumb. For example, a parent with a power that allows him to detect and track other powers, is trying to get his daughter to come home against the headmaster’s wishes. His daughter has suffered a 180 degree turn around in her personality. She is inventing accusations of molestation against her father. The schoolmaster is using her powers on the girl in front of him the parent he doesn’t seem to understand what is happening. That is just dumb.

Even though Star Child was a fairly weak book, there is the potential for it to become a better series, but to make that happen, at least some of the adults are going to have to be given brains so that the only halfway smart persons in the book aren’t the teenaged heroes.

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.

The Best of Jerry Pournelle edited by John F. Carr

Way back in 1981, I read a collection of stories called Black Holes which contained a novella by Jerry Pournelle titled “He Fell into a Dark Hole.” Something happened to my copy of the book over the years but I never forgot that story. When e-books started to come out, I started looking for it again and finally came across this The Best of Jerry Pournelle audio book which features the story. It’s not the only good thing in this book, but I’m going to limit myself to talking about three of them.

The Mercenary: Pournelle has a future history in which humanity’s star-spanning empires rise, fall, and rise again. This story takes place during one of the declines and involves a planet that has been given its “freedom” going through painful growing pains. The mercenary of the title has been hired to keep things from blowing up and then handicapped to make the job impossible. It’s a great story with a great ending.

The Secret of Black Ship Island: Set in Pournelle, Niven, and Barnes’, Legacy of Heriot universe, this novella focuses on the second generation of colonists while they are still kids finding out that the world is still very dangerous. I have some problems with this story. It starts with a death in which people who should know better refuse to admit that the death might be caused by a sea creature rather than a reef—even though there is a witness. This sets us up for more deaths the next year and it just rang a little hollow. Other than that, the action is good and there’s a lot of suspense.

And finally, He Fell into a Dark Hole really lived up to my recollections. Knowledge of black holes has been lost in this future as knowledge is suppressed on the excuse that it will keep national governments from creating new weapons of war. As a result, ships are occasionally lost as the gravity of the unknown black hole pulls them out of transit and holds them prisoner.

The protagonist of the story is a naval captain whose life and son were lost on this transit line. When his father-in-law, an important senator, is lost on the same line, a theory is rediscovered that postulates the black hole and a rescue mission of sorts is put together. The mission is successful in reaching the black hole and the survivors have to figure out how to escape again. To complicate matters, the captain’s wife and son are still alive, but his wife has remarried thinking that she and her new husband would be trapped forever in the proximity of the black hole. It’s a great little story, but it would have been even better if Pournelle had slowed down once his hero reaches his family and developed that situation in more detail.

In addition to other stories and one of his science columns, there are truly wonderful passages in which authors who knew and worked with Pournelle talk about the man. If you’ve enjoyed any of his many novels, you will probably enjoy this collection.

Virtual Mirrors by Crystal Raven

This novella features a dystopian future in which all forms of what we might think of as sexual attraction have been outlawed. What makes it creepy is that the government has succeeded in converting the vast majority (99%?) of the population into preferring their virtual reality fantasies to anything that might be described as genuine physical intimacy. The novel is rather delicate in describing sexual scenes, putting its energy into world building a place in which the heroine may never be able to find the sexual satisfaction she craves. It’s a fun little story.

NPC by Jeremy Robinson

This is a book that plays with your sense of reality. A serial murderer is preying on the homeless trying to prove his theory that the world is actually a computer simulation and most of the population are not real (i.e. player characters) but NPCs (non-player characters) whose actions are directed by a computer. He has gone so far as to categorize the NPCs into 5 levels depending upon their sophistication. The serial murderer is trying to upset the system and free the real people from the simulation.

In alternating chapters, we get into the mind of a pastor who is trying to find out what’s happened to these missing homeless people. He’s a recent widower and is having a crisis of faith that the serial killer’s theory intersects nicely with. As he and the killer maneuver against each other, the mystery of the killer’s theory becomes increasingly intricate. There are a ton of surprises in this novel, but what makes it the best is the author’s success in making you alternate between believing in and doubting the killer’s theory. It’s totally gripping and utterly fascinating. You’ll be wondering whether or not the world really is a simulation right up to the very last page.

Tribe by Jeremy Robinson

I was really blown away by Jeremy Robinson’s book, NPC, so it was with eager anticipation that I started Tribe. Unfortunately, this novel never caught my attention the way the first book did. I started it in audiobook six different times before I finally decided to finish it. The plot is one that appears every once in a while. The best known of the recent books is probably the Percy Jackson series. Gods exist and they occasionally have children and this is about what happens to them. I will risk a spoiler by saying it isn’t very nice. The big bad guy gives new definition to the word “insane” and so do most of his children and his followers.

About the best thing I can say about the book is there is a ton of action—so much so that the words “too much” might legitimately be used. Fight scenes roll on chapter after chapter. The action is well depicted and interesting, but it didn’t totally make up for a storyline of youngsters discovering their godhood through enduring terrible stresses.

Overall, I’m glad I read the novel, but it’s certainly no NPC.

Stardance by Spider Robinson

I’ve always wanted to read this Hugo and Nebula award winning novella. It does something unusual in science fiction and that is it focuses on dance to a degree that I have never come across before and then it finds a way to make that art form critical to the storyline. It’s easy to see why this caught attention when it was first written. It’s emotionally powerful as we watch a woman pursue her dream without regard to her health or safe and it’s easy to image it won’t come to a good end.

However, I think I would have liked the book better if it had stopped with the original novella rather than extending the story into a novel. It wasn’t that the story became bad after the novella, but I felt it diluted the power of that first tale. It also gave us a little too much time with a narrator whose greatest gift seems to have been his ability to fight with authority figures.

Welcome to Our Village, Please Invade Carefully by Eddie Robson

The small village of Cresdon Green has disappeared and nobody has noticed. That’s because the alien Geonin have invaded, erected a forcefield around the village, and caused the rest of the United Kingdom to forget them. With such amazing technology, you would expect the aliens to quickly get on to conquering the rest of the planet, but the quiet life of an English village so perplexes them they never quite get about to the task of expanding their area of control.

This fully dramatized audiobook feels like what would happen if you crossed Fawlty Towers with an alien invasion. Each episode is frankly ridiculous but there in lies the humor of the series as the aliens confront such peculiarly English institutions as A-level exams and cricket, and some more general problems like making a Facebook page. If you enjoy laughing, you’ll probably like this book.

Death Game Quality Assurance by Andrew Rowe

This book was pretty slow for the first two-thirds, but stick with it because the ending makes it all worthwhile. The plot focuses on a group of test players whose job it is to find bugs in the game design and day after day they meet in a chat room to discuss the bugs they are finding and for one of them to comment on how management insists that none of the bugs are actually bugs. Once in a while we see the back and forths between bug-finder and management and it’s funny even while it’s perplexing.

Then the story takes a Ready Player One twist which shows why that book idea would never work in real life, but no, we are not yet to the climax of the story. I don’t want to give anything away except to say that every bug that had made the first part of the story drag now becomes critical to survival in a highly enjoyable ending.

Diving into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

This is a science fiction adventure that reads like a ghost story. The heroine, usually referred to as “Boss”, makes her living “diving” on old spaceship wrecks, exploring the detritus of 5000 years of humanity out among the stars. She’s an odd bird. When she was a young child, her mother and her entered a place called “The Room of Lost Souls” on an abandoned space station and her mother never came out again. Her father abandoned her to her grandparents who were less than happy to be responsible for a grandchild who’s trauma had produced emotional issues. So Boss is very much a secretive loner making her living in a very dangerous line of work, bringing people around her only because it is necessary for safety in these dives.

The novel focuses on the consequences of finding a 5000 year old ship where it had no business being. It’s a ship with an abandoned military stealth technology that Boss’ nation is secretly trying to rediscover so it can pick up a stalled war with its major enemy. And that is the crux of the story. What is the stealth technology? How does it do what it does? And why does it horribly kill just about everyone who comes into contact with it—except Boss? Add in one of the galaxy’s worst fathers and a superrich businesswoman with her own set of daddy issues and you have a really exciting tale, yet none of that explains why this is a great story. I think that the novel succeeds not because of its fantastic plot and mystery, but because Rusch brilliantly creates the tone of an old fashioned ghost story to reveal layer by layer what is going on as she tries to pierce the mystery of The Room of Lost Souls that sits at the heart of the entire mystery. Where do people who enter the room go? And is there any way for Boss to find her mother again?

Alexander X by Edward Savio

Lots of authors enjoy writing about immortals, but I had never come across Edward Savio’s take on the long-lived before. He posits that there is a peculiar genetic condition that causes some people to age at roughly 1/100th of the rate that everyone else does and since much of maturity involves developments in the brain and changes in hormone production in the body, his fifteen-hundred-year-old fifteen-year-old is in fact a typical teenager in many regards. The more I think back on it, the less convinced I am that this idea is workable, but none of that bothered me while I was actually reading the novel. Savio’s artistry with words and the fascinating quirks of history that populate his pages were more than enough to make me suspend my disbelief to enjoy the story—a not so original tale of two immortals contesting with each other over the fate of the world. One wants to keep it as it is, and the other would like to see it permanently set back a century or two so that the immortals can continue their masquerade as normal humans. The result is book that belongs firmly in the young adult category—thoroughly enjoyable but definitely focused on the fifteen year old.

There is one major weakness in the story. The plot revolves around Alexander’s importance because he is his father’s son, but we later learn that Alexander has a brother who turns out to not be important at all to the storyline even though he has exactly Alexander’s qualification. Still, it’s an interesting tale and I’m glad I read it.

From Beyond by Jaspar T. Scott

From Beyond is an exciting first contact novel and the opening book in a new series. It’s got some great characters and a fascinating setup. Several nations have discovered that there is a very large artificial body in the solar system, and they decide to divert a planned flight to Mars to intercept the spacecraft. At the same time, a thief on earth is trying to track down pieces of what the thinks is an extraterrestrial ship. Most of the book is dedicated to the astronaut who is the head of the intercept mission and an assassin who has been stuck on the mission with them to make certain that things go the way her puppet masters want them to. I found the plot to be both interesting and gripping, but there were several things that really irritated me also.

First, I thought the head of the mission should have resigned his commission a couple of times during the early part of the book and told his superiors (including the president of the USA) to do something anatomically difficult with themselves. Making him sign a document that says he’s committed treason if the mission fails was just ridiculous. And frankly, much of the prep made it seem as if the powers that be did not want the mission to succeed. I understand why he stayed on, but really, he shouldn’t have.

My biggest complaint, however, is the nature of the alien creatures. It has been way overused and frankly it lessened the thrill quite a bit for me. It also led to a big chunk of a science fiction book about spaceships having action more suited to a network of caves in a horror story. I thought Scott could have done a lot better here.

The best character is the assassin. I enjoyed watching her struggle with her personal issues and with her unexpected loyalty to the crew versus her mission. Her loyalty to her puppet master didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but then, it didn’t “not make sense” either. It just wasn’t adequately explained.

Megalodon by Scott Skipper

People have been trying to outdo Jaws since Peter Benchley first published the novel and ever since Steve Alten’s Meg, the megalodon is a favored tool to accomplish this feat. Skipper takes a slightly different course than most. He postulates that megalodons never died out and are just in such small numbers that no one has noticed them. So his protagonists, after catching sight of a video of a shark attack on a whale, figure out what the creature really is and decide to prove they still exist.

And that’s basically the whole book. Having decided to look for the megalodon, they quickly find one and then a larger one. If you think about that too long, that’s pretty hard to accept, but Skipper makes up for it with an interesting cast of characters—treasure hunters looking for a new kind of prize. Rather than play for terror, Skipper puts a lot of his energy into the ethics of the search and what can be done with a clearly endangered species even if it isn’t yet on any government’s list.

Against Time by Dean Wesley Smith

The opening sequence of this novel is superb. Callie, a paleontologist, and two of her graduate students, come out of a cave system they have been working in to discover dead people everywhere. It’s very creepy and certainly catches the reader’s attention.

At the same time, two guys are flying around in their spaceship and come across the earth. From them, we discover that there are thousands of earths each looking pretty much the same and having the same development due to a mysterious group called “the seeders”. Doc and Fisher are just figuring out that billions of people on this world have been killed when a whole bunch of spaceships appear and beginning “rescuing” the remaining two million people on the planet before a second deadly wave of radiation arrives to kill off the rest of the survivors. I put rescue in quotes because they then return everyone after the radiation passes and two million people spread out over a whole globe aren’t going to survive very long.

But still, interesting set up. The middle part, Fisher’s attempt to reconnect with Callie (whom he meets briefly during the “rescue”) is lower key adventure, but toward the end things pick up again when Fisher puts some facts that were troubling me together and in doing so sets up the series to follow.

A nice little adventure, but far from Smith’s best work.

Crow Country by Emily V. Sullivan

Crow Country is an excellent addition to the growing post-apocalyptic western subgenre. It focuses on the west some thirty years after what the reader guesses was a nuclear war that destroyed civilization. It doesn’t appear that nuclear radiation is a major problem in this particular part of the United States, but it looks like the accompanying EMPs brought the country to its knees and then kept driving the citizenry even lower.

What’s left are a smattering of cult-like communities each dependent for survival on a big personality. The “kindest” of these communities would appear to be Genesis where it’s leader, Law, is determined to save civilization by attracting and keeping only those who can help produce a healthy new generation of human beings. Others are built around a strongman dictator who is either clearly insane or more interested in his personal comfort than the people under his protection.

The problem confronting all of these communities is that nothing they are building is sustainable. While Sullivan doesn’t go into a great deal of detail on this problem, it seems obvious that they are scavenging much of their needs off the old world and are not large enough to produce everything they need for the new one. If that was the only problem, they might have overcome it. But, unfortunately for everyone, there are also the crows to contend with.

The crows are the most fascinating part of the novel, and Sullivan purposely keeps them ambiguous for the first half of the book even as they threaten the community of Genesis. It’s hard not to think of the Hitchcock film, The Birds, every time they appear. They have become vicious flocks (the technical term is “murder” and isn’t that just the perfect name for a group of predatory birds) of human-eating monsters—and they really appear to prefer warm living flesh for their meals. What’s not clear at first is whether or not they are mutating as a result of the nuclear war. I’ll leave it to the readers to make that determination for themselves.

The novel focuses around a very dangerous addition to this completely desolate existence—the introduction of hope. This perilous emotion comes in the form of a train—a modern day myth that promises the return of at least part of the old world to these desperate communities. The story circulating the west is that one of the communities further east has rebuilt one of these relics from the past and is traveling their way—and everyone wants to get and control the train. For Law and Genesis, the train promises an elusive chance of security as it would give Law the power to take his whole community out of their current circumstances in search of something better—wherever that might be. I should point out here that no one interested in the train seems concerned with what the owners of the train (if it exists) might want to do with it. They immediately begin thinking of this mythical mechanism as their own.

Crow Country is the story of that train—or rather the journey across incredibly dangerous territory to find and presumably capture that fabled artifact. It’s told from the perspective not of Law, but of the forty-year-old, Judge, who has a troubled relationship with the founder of Genesis, and whose story is what makes this novel so very wonderful to read. It’s Judge’s job to expel from Genesis anyone who is not able to produce a healthy child. It should not be lost on the reader that Judge himself appears to be childless—a fact that is not directly talked about much but underlies many of his most important relationships in the novel.

Oh, and lest I forget to say it, Judge is also the most dangerous man in Genesis. He’s the person who gets sent out to kill the crows whenever a nest appears near their territory. He’s also the man who has to deal with just about every other nasty problem that arises on their journey. He is far from being a superman, but so far, at least, he has always gotten he job done regardless of the personal cost to him.

This is a beautiful written book filled with flowing passages of extremely vivid prose. Sullivan’s ability to bring this world and Judge’s relationships to life is the greatest strength of the novel. It’s matched only by narrator Will Hahn’s extraordinary reading of the story. Between her words and his voice, the reader is pulled fully into this bleak future where the chance to grasp hold of myth becomes more important than life.

I’m very hopeful that there will be a sequel.

Broken Time by Maggy Thomas

The best science fiction makes you think. It doesn't force you to do so, it tantalizes and teases your brain into working overtime, making connections within the plot of the book and thinking about the nature of things outside of it. I've read quite a lot of science fiction over the years but nothing quite like Broken Time by Maggy Thomas (pen name of Emily Davenport). On the surface it is the story about a bright young woman in the ultimate welfare state universe. There just aren't a lot of jobs out there except for the very best and brightest of people, and smart as Siggy is, she's just not quite in that category. So she takes a job on a planet far from home as a janitor in an asylum for the criminally insane. There she becomes the pawn of the asylum's director as he uses Siggy to try and draw out some of his notorious inmates, ultimately with disastrous results.

If that was all that Broken Time was about, it would have been a thoroughly enjoyable novel. But it's also about an alien race called the Speedies because they appear to experience time at a different rate than humans do. It's also about a bizarre cosmic anomaly in the area of Siggy's homeworld which has somehow taken a Speedy invasion fleet out of sync with the rest of the universe so that it is still traveling on the warpath more than a century after hostilities were terminated, still struggling to pop back into normal space and obliterate her planet. It's also about a brave young man who disappears in a "time pocket" when Siggy is a child and only she can remember him. And it's about the struggle to communicate with people and cultures that are different from yours. And, well, I could go on for several more paragraphs trying to explain what this book is about. Suffice it to say, that it's still intriguing me several weeks after I finished it, and if I didn't have so much else on my plate right now I'd be reading it again.

Bad Things by Jasper Tripp

If you buy this novel be prepared to fasten your seatbelt 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.

Days of Future Past I: Past Tense by John Van Stry

This is a fun, fast-paced novel, with a couple of good personalities driving it. Paul Young is a lieutenant in the Air Force about to be drummed out of flight school for reasons he personal reasons that have nothing to do with his skill at flying. Major Riggs is the man who’s helping Paul’s enemies get rid of him. Then a “goddess” intervenes kidnapping both people. She tells Major Riggs he’s been chosen to save the Navajo because he’s half Navajo; she has no use for Young but he’s in the jet with Riggs and so he gets pulled into the future too. They are quickly found by the Navajo where Riggs tells them that Young is a slave he is giving to the tribe. Young and Riggs didn’t get along well before this betrayal and their relationship quickly plummets even further.

Riggs makes the perfect jerk in this story. At every single opportunity he outdoes his last dastardly deed. Young’s a pretty good hero who fairly quickly finds out that one of the gods thinks the others made a big mistake counting on Riggs and he wants to use Young as a backup to save the world. The difference between the two men could not be more clear and this makes them great antagonists for each other.

After Young escapes the Navajo, we start to get a much better understanding of this postapocalyptic future. It includes magic, dragons, fantasy races and a sort of Mad Max style human society. The government of the one non-tribal organized community we really get a good look at is very cleverly constructed and helps to drive home that the America we know is long gone. The fight scenes are well done and I liked the supporting cast. I think Young’s two girlfriends are especially well developed, even if I think they got interested in him a little too easily. Overall, characterization is a major strength of the story.

If Van Stry happens to be reading this review, I have a request. Could we have a map please? I found the terrain very difficult to visualize. Young leaves Navajo territory going east but somehow ends up on the west coast by the end of the story after traveling quite a bit and going around a new inland sea. I’m quite sure Van Stry has a clear understanding of the geography but I had a lot of trouble following it. A map would totally resolve this problem.

The Zombie Driven Life by David Wood

This quick little novella in the zombie apocalypse subgenre could easily get lost in the crowd, but it’s worth a read. Kenan was a high school student who never fit in, who has become a survival expert during the apocalypse. He escapes to the countryside and accidentally stumbles upon both the cause of the apocalypse and a hope for salvation. Wood doesn’t offer many new ideas in this book, but the climatic scene is full of tension and quite moving.

Atremis by Andy Weir

I’ve been wanting to read this novel for quite a while now. I really enjoyed Weir’s first book, The Martian, so my expectations were super high for this one. Unfortunately, they were largely disappointed. I found the novel slow to get started and often quite frustrating due to the characterization of the main character, Jazz.

Jazz is constantly described as being very intelligent and yet she makes one stupid mistake after another. She’s a successful smuggler but never struck me as being particularly street smart. Mostly she serves as a fount of attitude and admittedly great one liners. My inability to buy into this character greatly damaged the credibility of the novel for me.

The underlying plot that drives the action in this novel was quite good and I enjoyed figuring out what was happening. I also thought that the setting in the moon’s only city was very interesting. I especially liked the police officer character. Unfortunately, all of these things weren’t enough to make this a great story.

The Egg and Other Stories by Andy Weir

This is a collection of very short “surprise” fiction—by which I mean that each story ends with a surprise for the reader—something to make you think—something you didn’t see coming. It is not at all what I expected from the author of The Martian which is a hard science adventure story, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Within a couple of stories, I was reading to figure out what the trick would be, and they were always fun. So here’s a different side of author, Andy Weir, and I’m betting you will like it.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

I was very pleased to learn that Andy Weir had written a new novel that sounded very similar to The Martian. A lone astronaut is out in space trying to save not just himself, but the entire human race. It sounded like a formula with a lot of promise, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

First, the good. There are a lot of really interesting challenges that have to be solved much as was the case in The Martian. There’s also a totally unexpected first contact situation and I liked the alien character tremendously. I also think that, even though it annoyed me at times, the back and forth between the “current” problem in space and the chapter-by-chapter revelation of how our hero (Grace) got there worked pretty well, although I really wasn’t happy with this chronological restoration of his memories.

Now for the bad. There were lots of parts of this novel that I just had a great deal of difficulty buying into and they start right at the beginning. I have trouble believing that there is any situation in which a scientist who has left his field to teach middle school becomes the principal investigator in an effort to stop an extinction level event. I realize that Weir made Grace a teacher to set up the very last scene in the book, but to my mind it undercut the whole story. Similarly, I just don’t believe that any potential cataclysm would be so great that the United States would turn the keys to their nuclear arsenal over to an unelected civilian without any safeguards. It just isn’t going to happen. I also have some difficulty with the idea that there would only be one Hail Mary and that Grace could ever have been chosen to be on that ship especially when he was totally opposed to going on a suicide mission to save the planet.

Add to all of that that the novel was very slow moving for the first two-thirds or so and you can see that it just didn’t quite work for me. It’s better than Artemis but just nowhere near The Martian.

The Martian by Andy Weir

I stumbled across this book the first time roughly a year before the movie came out and it blew me away. The movie was fun and ended at a better place than the book, but didn’t really match my reading experience. So it was with great curiosity that I approached the book again, this time in audio format, to see if it continued to live up to my recollections. I’m happy to say that it did.

Weir provides an easily credible account of what happens to man who gets accidentally left behind on Mars and has to face the challenge of figuring out how to survive by himself for years waiting for a rescue mission to reach him. What will he eat when his food supplies run out? What will he drink? How will he get back in touch with NASA so that they even know he is alive and needs rescuing? The problems are fundamental. The solutions are amazing. But best yet were the unanticipated problems that develop, making his ultimate survival even less likely.

If this was all the book was, it would have been great, but Weir adds so much more by giving Mark Watney, his lone astronaut, an awesome personality that makes it impossible not to love him. So awesome plot intertwined with a fantastic hero. And Weir isn’t done yet.

Because in the second reading, the parts of the story I just couldn’t wait to get back to were the people on earth at NASA and elsewhere fighting to move heaven and earth to give Mark Watney a chance to walk what Robert A. Heinlein famously referred to as The Green Hills of Earth. It’s moving. And their problems are every bit as great as Mark’s even if their personal lives don’t depend on getting it right.

And I haven’t even mentioned the astronauts who left Mark behind and have to come to grips with the fact that their friend isn’t dead as they believed.

This is a great novel, extremely well thought out, and still very powerful on the second reading.

Randomize by Andy Weir

Here’s an interesting short story that depends on how computers and quantum computers randomize numbers. It’s set in a casino trying to shore up its security in the new world of better and better computers and we watch as they are set up to suffer a big loss. And then the real story begins while the owner of the casino confronts the thief and the thief tries and think her way out of her situation. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say I was unhappy with the owner’s final decision.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: War of the Worlds by Manly Wade Wellman

All of the enjoyment in this novel is based on the idea of bringing Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger together in the same volume to deal with a crisis—in this case, H. G. Wells’ famous War of the Worlds. We get a little added joy when we see other characters from the two series (John Watson, Edward Malone, and Sir John Roxton) make appearances, although Malone’s is only as an author. It’s quite possible that a couple of the other characters were people I should have (but didn’t) recognize as well.

The novel opens with Holmes coming into possession of an unusual crystal which shows images of somewhere else. He brings it to Challenger and the two study it together, ultimately deducing that it shows Mars. They discover the life on Mars and are still watching when the invasion of earth is launched. The two then split into their own stories—both men taking it on themselves to observe the invaders to gain precious knowledge for the defense of the planet, before eventually teaming up again toward the end of the book.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel, although I didn’t feel like Sherlock Holmes quoting Keats seemed to be in character. (Perhaps I’m misremembering, it’s been a while since I’ve read original Holmes stories.) I also didn’t think that Holmes and Mrs. Hudson being longtime lovers was a plausible addition. I always thought of Doyle’s Holmes as pretty much asexual, but I guess reasonable people could come to a different conclusion.

If you like the idea of mixing Holmes, Challenger, and Martians, you should definitely give this book a try.

Inside Job by Connie Willis

Connie Willis has a gift for the unusual situation. In this great novella she plays with the idea of a spiritualist who is channeling the ultimate debunker, H. L. Mencken. The result is a fastmoving, very fun, romp through the world of spiritualists and their critics. A quick and totally enjoyable read.

A Lot Like Christmas by Connie Willis

I used to read Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine a lot and one of the joys of each December issue was that there was usually a Christmas story by Connie Willis. One in particular stood out to me over the years and when digital books started to become more common I spent a lot of time searching for it, finally finding it in this wonderful collection of really creative Christmas tales. That one story was ‘Just Like the Ones We Used to Know’ in which just about all of North America gets blanketed in a very heavy snow one Christmas while ‘White Christmas’ in its thousands of variations plays constantly on the radio. Now this could have been a “struggle for survival” sort of story, but that really wouldn’t be very Christmasy. What Willis does is give us a half dozen different looks into how the snow affects people preparing for the holiday and I just love it. It’s worth reading every year—but then, so are the other stories in this collection.

The Mote in Andrea’s Eye by David Niall Wilson

Andrea has been obsessed with hurricanes since her father was killed in one while trying to help a neighbor. Where most people would express their obsession by frantically tracking storms on the news, and a few would go on to become full-fledged meteorologists, Andrea takes it a step further. She’d determined to figure out how to end hurricanes—to de-fang them, so to speak, and she’s got the brains that just might be able to find a way to do it.

The novel tracks her through decades, struggling to discover ways to steal the energy out of hurricanes and turn them into normal storms. In the course of her work, an unexplained event adds dramatically to the personal cost. Her husband, flying in a hurricane, and the entire storm, abruptly disappear in the Devil’s Triangle. It’s bizarrely unexplained, but only serves to make Andrea push harder. Decades later she’s still at it when her husband—and the storm—abruptly reappear threatening the U.S. coast without warning.

This novel is powerfully built to tap your emotions and is truly exciting as Andrea and her team struggle to save lives. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. The way that Andrea’s husband—decades out of time—was handled is sweet and unexpected. But it needs to be said that the big question—why that storm disappeared and reappeared and why her husband returns in the state he and his plane are in is never explained—although there is a hint when radio signals from a decades-lost ship are momentarily heard from the heart of the Devil’s Triangle.

I received this book from in exchange for an honest review.

Rip Off (an SF anthology)

This is a collection of short stories written by members of the Science Fiction Writers of America and inspired by the first line of a classic book. It’s a great idea, but in practice didn’t work that well for me.

I should start by pointing out that I am a big fan of the short story format and often read collections. It’s rare that every story in a volume will appeal to me but usually I encounter that gem or two that makes the collection worthwhile and then another handful that were fun as far as they go. This collection pulled up a little weak for me by my usual standard. In fact, I only found three that really stood out in the collection.

The Big Whale by Alan Steele was by far the best in the book. It reimagines Moby Dick as a hardboiled detective story and incorporates the cast of the original novel in a highly entertaining story. I’ve read many others of Steele’s stories over the years and this ranks with the best of them. Mike Resnick and John Scalzi also both included creative and enjoyable stories.

Perhaps the best feature of this collection is the set of introductions by the authors to each of their stories in which they explain why they chose the book they used to launch their tales. I always enjoy insights into author’s inspiration and this volume gives you a lot of them.