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A great prequel for the games
I admit to loving game and media tie-in fiction the way I love McNuggets. They're bad for me but I often have a craving for them anyway. Heaven's Devils is, sadly, one of the few Starcraft novels still available despite there being dozens of them in the past. It's a prequel to the video games so there's no Protoss or Zerg. Instead, it's an exploration of the Confederacy and the characters who would eventually star on the "human" side of the video games. I found the world brought out by William Deitz and all levels of society explored.
The Confederacy is a corrupt and vile organization but it's not unrealistically bad so you understand why people just endure in it. I had a lot of fun with the book and recommend people pick up the audiobook version if they can since the acting really lends itself to the story. What is the story? Well, Jim Raynor and Tychus Finnley among other characters find themselves in the Marines. They think they're going to be heroes fighting against evil terrorists, only to discover they're cannon fodder. It's a fairly easy to comprehend story and relevant to many people's wartime experiences.
I definitely recommend this, even for non-fans of the video game. Mind you, you will appreciate it a lot more if you do know the original game. Voice-acting wise, the voice of Tychus from the games narrates the book and I think he does an excellent job.
An excellent new entry in the Harry Stubbs series
The Harry Stubbs Adventures are one of the best series to come out of the independent Cthulhu horror scene along with Andrew Doran and my own work (just kidding--or am I?). They're the adventures of a WW1 veteran pugilist who continually comes into contact with the edges of the Cthulhu Mythos.
Note: I say the edges because Harry Stubbs isn't a guy who guns down Dagon or Deep Ones but usually ends up only encountering the barest whiffs of the eldritch and mostly deals with cultists--this keeps things mysterious as well as explains why he's kept most of his sanity intact.
This book opens with Harry having gotten a job in a mental institution after his previous employment dried away. He's undercover for his new employers in an occult agency but Harry is such a dedicated worker that he essentially, becomes an orderly rather than uses the position to keep an eye on things. Master of Chaos acquaints us with turn of the century treatment of the insane as well as the burgeoning understanding of what PTSD (called "Shell Shock" back then) is.
Being a Lovecraftian mystery, some of the patients are actually not insane and some of the staff are so insane they appear to be respectable members of society while engaging in ghastly tortures. I.e. the mental health practices of the day. Hambling, as always, does an excellent job with his research on both real-life occultism, period medicine, and interweaving Cthulhuoid concepts.
As this is the fourth or so book in the series, long-time readers should note things have gotten a bit formulaic--that's not a bad thing, though. I happen to like cheeseburgers and when I order one, I expect a cheeseburger. In this case, Harry remains likable and his relationship with Sally is progressing nicely despite how scandalous it would be for him to end up with a former prostitute. Also, how dangerous it might be for her to end up with a man who is prone to meeting squid-worshiping nutters. Then again, after WW1 there wasn't nearly as many pickings as Churchill, himself, said to Americans visiting the country.
This book contains references to ancient Egypt, a certain Black Pharaoh, and a man who thinks he's the King of England--all to my considerable entertainment. I hope the next book will be either about the Mi-Go or Cthulhu but, either way, this is another great entry. The narration is perfect as well, every bit as good as previous entries in the series.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Blues at the crossroad
I'm not much of a music lover and, according to my wife, I have terrible taste in music. However, I've always believed in the power of music and stories which use it as a supplement to magic are a great one. This is different from David Niall Wilson's urban fantasy series, though, like the Dechance Chronicles. Instead, this is Magical Realism. It is a place which the supernatural intrudes in on the "real" world in a way which is both beautiful and tragic.
The story is a variation on the myth of Robert Johnson, legendary blues man who supposedly made a deal with the Devil at the crossroads in order to play better than anyone else. It may or may not have happened depending on your beliefs (his son said his father's gift was from God) but it makes a hell of a story. David Wilson takes the premise and alludes to it many times while leaving our protagonist in the dark for much of it.
Brandt is a great character and feels utterly authentic. As a writer, I have sympathy for people who are passionate about their subject and the art form but haven't quite found the fame or fortune that might come with a better break. Truth be told, Brandt may not even be that good at what he does. He's perpetually drunk, lazy, and his devotion to his craft is spotty. He loves the music and feels impassioned by it but he has replaced the best of their band after his death while having a complete lack of respect for the other member (who he lusts after). They're going nowhere and he blames it on circumstance and bad luck than the reality.
Brandt isn't a bad guy, though. He's a man who deeply loves his craft even if it's questionable just how good he is at it. He's certainly capable of recognizing what is the best music, THE song if you will, and wanting it for its own sake rather than any desire for fame or fortune. He's a wholly believable in his relationships both failed and successful plus his friendships because I've known plenty of people who live in the moment like he and his friends.
Deep Blue is a novel more about experiencing music and it's power rather than explaining it, though. The prose is like a rhythm on page, getting us deep in the mind of its characters and explaining in epic flourishes what it means to be affected by the music. It's not going to be for everyone but is probably my favorite of David Niall Wilson's books.
The narrator does an amazing job too.
Amazing space opera
Speaking as an author of space opera fiction, I'm always on the lookout for new or classic fiction in the genre to read. Mind you, I'm one of those lumps who originally had his exposure limited to Star Trek and Star Wars. I've always thought of it as a visual medium so while I love Babylon Five, Battlestar Galactica, Mass Effect, and Halo--I never quite got into the literary side of things. Well, you know, until I decided to write it myself.
David Weber, Lois McMaster Bujold, Larry Niven, and a few other wonderful authors have broadened my horizons. Still, one name which kept popping up was Jack Campbell and the Lost Fleet series. So, I was interested in checking this out when a friend decided to give me his old audiobook collection. What's my reaction? I like it with some caveats.
DAUNTLESS is the first novel in the Lost Fleet series which has the premise of Captain John "Black Jack" Geary being a officer who has been stuck in stasis for a century. Much to his dismay, he finds out his heroic last stand has been elevated to Davey Crocket at the Alamo/King Arthur levels of proportion. So much so that he is treated as the Second Coming when he is finally rescued, as well as the man who is to deliver them from the same enemy he "died" fighting so many years ago.
It's not a bad premise, though I think Jack Campbell overdoes it. Tactics have degraded in the future to the point everyone just flies at the enemy and gets killed, he's constantly reminded of how awesome he is (while thinking he's not), and everyone who is skeptical of him is either evil or dramatically overreacting. One character assumes he's going to either get them all killed in a heroic attack or try to take over the Alliance.
Despite this, I very much enjoyed the setting and liked the focus on the laws and customs of war. Black Jack is a person who comes from a more civilized time and is appalled by the treatment of prisoners in the present. I think few books bother to treat the "enemy" characters as anything but targets so this was a nice change of pace.
The starship battles are well-designed with a focus on fleet action as well as real-world tactics (applied to space) like formation, training, and the importance of discipline. Jack Campbell worked in the Navy and its influence on his work is obvious. It's nice to see someone who bucks the usual trend of military mavericks. Jack just wants a disciplined well-oiled machine and he's got a bunch of Leeroy Jenkins in starships. The narrator does an amazing job with Jack's voice, though, no matter how many times he has to repeat he's not a hero.
In conclusion, this is an entertaining fun book even if it's not something that I absolutely felt I had to read. I'm going to pick up the entire series, though, because I don't mind a comforting tale of a badass captain who is always right (even though he keeps reassuring the reader he's a falliable mortal).
Best cyberpunk I've read since Snow Crash
Snow Crash was an affectionate parody of cyberpunk's excesses with a black samurai pizza boy who worked for the Italian mob and a 15-year-old Fedex girl with a sedative-equipped chastity belt. Ghosts of Tomororw, by contrast, embraces every one of the excesses of Neil Stephenson's book but manages to present them in a horrifying as well as tragic light. Many of the murderous cyborg killers in this book act like hyperactive overstimulated video-game addicted fourteen-year-olds. Which makes sense because they are hyperactive overstimulated video-game addicted fourteen-year-olds. They've just had their brains destroyed to make scans so the easily-indoctrinated child-soldiers can be unleashed on the rest of the world.
The premise is humanity has become addicted to the use of scans as a substitute for still-undeveloped artificial intelligence. Scans are a process where a human brain is destroyed but their personality and intelligence is copied onto an electronic format. They're much faster than regular humans in piloting, managing business assets, and even serving as assassins but the demand for them is overwhelming. This has resulted in the mob and other organized crime syndicates start trafficking children to be killed in their preteen years by the thousands, providing society with the scans they don't question the origin of.
Thankfully, not everyone is a monstrous psychopath and a few individuals are trying to curb the rampant child-murder. Griffin is a NATU (North American Trade Union) agent working with plucky reporter Nadia and a 17-year-old new combat-chassis-equipped scan named Abdul. Griffin failed in his first attempt to shut down a child slavery ring and has resolved to never do so again, no matter how much collateral damage gets in his way. Abdul is a man who "died" thanks to a spider-mine and has taken what form of survival he could but is going rapidly insane from the sensory deprivation his new life entails. Naida? Naida regurgitates the party line even though it's complete nonsense. These are the "good guys" on the case.
The bad guys are Riina, a mid-level mafia boss who has murdered and scanned thousands of children with the belief he's doing the impoverished children of Third World Nations a favor. 88 is an autistic girl murdered as a pre-teen and turned into a digital goddess on the quest for a "mother" she barely remembers. There's Miles Lorkner, a billionaire who believes scans are the future of humanity and thus it's perfectly justified to murder however many people necessary to resolve the world's problems with them. Finally, there's Archaeidae who is the aforementioned fourteen-year-old cowboy spider samurai assassin--and a character so insane that he steals the show every time he's on page.
It's difficult to say what character is my favorite as they're all so vividly realized. I really liked Griffin and Nadia's relationship despite them being the two most normal characters in the book. Abdul's existential angst is entirely justified since he's in a sensory-deprivation tank with the only purpose left to him being murder. 88 is also blissfully tragic and I sympathized with her even as her bodycount approaches five figures. I even liked reading about Lorkner's psychotic breakdown as it's clear the man envisioned himself as an ubermensch but is incredibly unprepared for life as a scan.
The book is full of action, intrigue, murder, crazy situations, double-crosses, triple crosses, and allegiances shifting constantly. Every character is motivated and three-dimensional but all of them tend toward the extreme because it's an extreme world. However, the saddest part of the book is that it's depiction of thousands of children used up for scans every year is not so different from the same kinds of kids today being used up for other kinds of trafficking. We're not so far removed from the cyber-hell in the book and the only difference is we have less block-destroying battles between cyborgs. Which is a shame.
The narrator does an excellent job but I note I think a male narrator would have done a better job given so many of the parts were men and Rosa's voice sounds distractedly similar to Marina Sirtis (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mass Effect). The characters aren't British for the most part as well. Even so, I approve of this book greatly.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Top notch urban fantasy
There's a huge number of private detectives in urban fantasy, starting with Harry Dresden, but very few who manage to capture the true feeling of noir detectives. Leo Malone is the exception to this and I absolutely love his character. He positively drips with personality and this manages to stand head and shoulders above your typical example of the genre. Steven Jay Cohen manages to capture a snarky, world-wearing, and sarcastic guy who feels like he's actually lived on the mean streets as well as taken a few knocks along the way. The conspiracy is well-written and the way our protagonist unravels it is well-done from beginning to end. The greed of the protagonist is also nicely handled as you can tell he's just the right level of corrupt in a genre full of unbelievable idealists. I'm going to buy every installment of this series. The action scenes in the book are also exciting and well written.
Amazing new fantasy
Azerick is my new favorite character of 2018. Azerick loses everything in his life and is forced to learn to live on the street as well as master magic in order to survive. The characters in this book are extremely strong and entertaining both. They are simultaneously realistic as well as working for a fantasy setting. The villains are also well-done with their motivations being realistic and avoiding mustache-twirling villainy while also being hateable. His backstory and the execution of his father reminded me a bit of Assassins Creed 2 with Ezio Auditore. The rest of the book reminded me a bit of The Name of the Wind but I like a great deal more than Kvothe. The story is engaging from beginning to end and I'm very glad to have listened to it in audiobook form since I enjoyed William Turbett's narration a great deal. He brings life to the protagonist's journey and handles the secondary voices just as well.
FLOTSAM PRISON BLUES is an incredible second installment of the Technomancer series. Salem has run out of money, which he desperately needs to pay bribes with in order to keep his community of Viking descendants from being taken down by the world's demonic overlords.
This book gets a lot more into Salem's backstory and the history of the world, which works well in raising the stakes despite the humor. We also get a number of interesting new female characters. If you like the Dresden Files or Shadowrun then you'll probably love Flotsam Prison Blues.
Jeffrey Kafer does an excellent job as the narrator.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Funny awesome book
Craig Shaw Gardner remains one of the funniest authors currently around. The sequel to Temporary Monsters, this continues the adventures of Lenny and his oddball collection of allies. These books are full of puns, jokes, funny voices, and quirky situations. Thomas Machin is a delightful narrator with a variety of cartoony and serious voices. Everyone should try these if they want to enjoy a simple but relaxing read.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
An amazing book
VILLAINS PRIDE is the sequel to the fantasy novel parody VILLAINS RULE, which was a surprise sleeper hit of indie publishing this year. The premise of the books is Jackson Blackwell, the self-styled Shadow Master, is a consulting supervillain who provides practical advice to horrible people across the Multiverse.
He's not an antivillain, he's a genuinely honest-to-gods awful human being, but he's also entertaining to read about as he does his best to ruin the lives of those around him. I admit, I'm a bit biased here because Michael Gibson is a fan of my own work and included a nod to the novel Cthulhu Armageddon in this volume. With that warning, here's what I think about the book: pretty darn good.
Oh, don't get me wrong, Jackson Blackwell is an obnoxious jerkass who is never stops insulting everyone around him ranging from his wife as well as friends to the reader themselves. There were several times I wanted to be able to speak to Jackson and mention that he isn't so cool as to not switch to other supervillain books (like, say, the Supervillainy Saga or D-List Supervillain).
There's also the "human centipede" he creates that is truly revolting as well as an overreaction. Face it, if Jackson Blackwell existed in real life, he'd be one of the guys you'd ban from your social media and be better off for it. Certainly, you have to agree with his love interest that he's all manner of a sexist jerk.
Despite, or perhaps because of these facts, Jackson Blackwell's adventures in Comic Book WorldTM are quite a bit fun. It's because the narrative is aware he's a monster and there's no attempt to soften him up or dillute him with "pet the dog" moments. No he's awful, awful to heroes, awful to other villains, and it's hilarious. The fact the author repeatedly makes fun of Jackson and himself in the process helps the story.
Indeed, a large part of the book's appeal is the fact Michael Gibson makes attacks on the concept of sequels, how they usually suck, and what cliches he's falling into himself. I didn't quite enjoy this as much as Villains Rule but the fourth wall breaking was great inbetween. Just don't expect to side with Jackson in this as you'd be missing the point. He's about as lovable as S.M. Stirling's the Drake wrapped up in an MRA shell.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful