Wednesday, December 10, 2014

REVIEW: The Immortality Game

Title: The Immortality Game 
Author: Ted Cross
Genre: SF
Price: $3.99 (ebook) / $12.59 (paperback)
ISBN:  978-0990987710
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I was attracted to this book by two things.  First, Ted Cross, the author, has spent serious time in Moscow, where the story is set, and currently resides in lovely Baku, Azerbaijan.  Second, just look at that cover!  It’s from Stephan Martiniere, one of the premier SF illustrators.

Fortunately, The Immortality Game lives up to its cover.  Set primarily in Moscow in the summer of 2138, the book is the story of Zoya and Marcus.  Zoya is a Russian teenager, who by accident comes in possession of some military cyber-ware.  Marcus is a twenty-something American and former addict of “The Mesh,” an all-consuming virtual reality place. 

Marcus is also being led around by his “dad” – or rather an AI construct that has his dad’s memories and personalities.  Marcus’s dad thinks that Zoya’s cyber-ware, or rather the folks that made it, can be used to download him into a real body.  Alas, said Russian cyber-tech is valuable, and the Russian mob wants it.  Also, the world of 2138 is a radically different place, with what’s left of America being ruled by the Mormon Church. 

This basic setup leads to an action-packed series of events, as the two young people struggle to survive.  Also struggling are the Russian scientists who invented the tech, and pretty much all of the good guys are way out of their depth.  While all of this action is going on, the author doesn’t skimp on character-building.  Everybody, from our leads to the Russian hit men and their bosses, has at least some character arc and development. 

I have to say I also liked the ending.  The author has a chance to go with the conventional “happy ever after” ending but he doesn’t, subverting it while not being a complete downer.  Zoya, Marcus and his “dad” all have more substantial development, which leads them to some interesting places.  I also liked Mr. Cross’s eye for detail.  For example, his Moscow is full of poplar seeds floating like snowflakes in the summer breeze.   


If you can’t tell, I really enjoyed reading The Immortality Game.

9/10

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

REVIEW: Rise of The Spider Goddess

Title: Rise of the Spider Goddess
Author: Jim C. Hines
Genre: Fantasy, humor
Price: $3.99 (ebook) $9.89 (paperback)
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN: 978-1502451903
Point of Sale: Amazon  
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib


Friend-of-the-blog and generally good egg Jim Hines is a writing machine, having released 10 quite enjoyable novels over the past eight years.  But he wasn’t born such a writing machine – like most “overnight successes” he spent a long time toiling in the trenches.  Jim’s also a giving fellow, and in the spirit of the season he’s decided to give us a special work.

Jim’s latest novel, out today, is called The Prosekiller Chronicles: Rise of the Spider Goddess.  Although it’s new to readers, it’s old hat to Jim.  Spider Goddess is Jim’s very first novel-length piece of prose, written back when Jim had hair in 1995.

I called Spider Goddess a novel-length piece of prose because it’s truly bad.  Our hero, Nakor the Purple, likes to hang around watching over-described sunsets while getting into truly unbelievable combat with unknown (and not very competent) foes.  The book also stars an angst-y vampire, an owl (or maybe a falcon, depending on the chapter) and the most cardboard world ever bound between cardboard covers.

There are two things that save Spider Goddess.  First, it’s an object reminder that even good writers started somewhere. More importantly, Jim has a sense of humor, so he’s liberally sprinkled snarky and humorous comments in the book, making fun of his younger self’s (lack of) writing skills.  Think Mystery Science Theater 3000 meets Lord of the Rings.

So, if you’re looking for a humorous diversion, go sneak a copy of Volume 1 (and done) of The Prosekiller Chronicles: Rise of the Spider Goddess.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

REVIEW: No Earthly Shore

Title: No Earthly Shore
Author: Jilly Paddock
Genre: SF
Price: $1.99 (ebook)
Publisher: Cathaven Press
ISBN B006XCVC1A
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I frankly don’t remember how I found out about Jilly Paddock’s novella No Earthly Shore, but I did, and I’m glad of it.  Set in a far-future universe, this gentle story is that of Dr. Zuzana Aaron-Jones, Zuzu to her friends, and Boadicea Nantucket, Boodie to her friends. 

Boodie is a young teenager on the human-colonized world Yemitzov Five, and she claims that the squilts – masses of gray tissue that float in the local oceans – saved her from drowning.  More importantly, she claims the squilts are sentient, which could force the human colonists to pack up and leave.  Dr. Zuzu and a team arrive from Earth, and quickly start to investigate.  While they are investigating, romance blooms. 


I found this novella near perfect.  There’s conflict, both between the Earth team members and internally (Zuzu doesn’t want the humans to have to pack up and leave) but no great violence.  The characters are well-rounded, and although the colony bears a striking resemblance to an English seacoast village, the setting worked.  I found myself at the end of the work wishing for more.

9/10

Friday, November 07, 2014

What A PODpeep Reads: We Who Are About To ...

I was recommended to read Joanna Russ's novel We Who Are About To.... I did, and found it very interesting. It is in many ways the opposite of my friend Jeff Duntemann's Drumlin Universe.

Russ's book is quite slim, barely over novella length. In it, a group of eight people (3 men, 5 women, counting a teen-aged girl) are stranded on an unknown planet with extremely limited tools and supplies. Our unnamed female narrator points out, quite accurately, that long-term survival is highly unlikely. Unfortunately, everybody else disagrees, and is busily making plans to colonize said planet early. Considering that they don't even know what season they are in or the length of same, this decision is the height of foolishness.

Our narrator, upon being informed that she needs to get pregnant and which of the males should do the impregnation, decides to head for the hills - literally - she packs up a small amount of supplies and leaves. This proves unacceptable to the others, and a hunting party is dispatched to forcibly bring her back. Due to luck and our narrator's hidden gun, everybody dies except her. More accurately, except for the one guy who has a heart attack, our narrator kills everybody. This is 2/3 of the way into the book, and the last third is spent with the narrator rambling as she starves.

In fairness to Jeff, his Drumlin-ites have a larger population (a thousand, IIRC) and their starship doesn't blow up, among other advantages. Many SF novels, especially of the "Golden Age," treat landing on an alien planet to colonize much the same as arriving in Wyoming circa 1870. What's not seen or portrayed is that there was a huge industrial and technological complex Back East supporting the Wyoming-ite of 1870. This complex made the settlement possible, (not easy but possible) and the lack of said complex in earlier times meant settlement did not happen.

We Who... also has interesting reflections on interpersonal behavior. The survivors are all passengers, and leadership is decided on by the physically biggest man taking over. Our narrator, after dispatching the hunting party sent to get her, then rather cold-bloodedly kills the two other women, neither of whom is a direct threat. Russ, writing in the mid-70s, has bought into the anti-hero theme popular at that time. All in all, a small but interesting book.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

REVIEW: A Crack in Everything

Title: A Crack in Everything
Author: Ruth Frances Long
Genre: fantasy
Price: $8.97 (ebook) / $8.55 (paperback)
Publisher: The O’Brien Press
ISBN:  978-1-84717-635-6
Point of Sale: publisher’s website Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I recently attended Shamrokon, the 2014 European SF convention, held in Dublin Ireland.  While I was there, Ruth Frances Long held a launch party for her novel A Crack in Everything.  Unfortunately for her, most people attending were just interested in the cupcakes, but she did sell me a copy of her book.  I’ve finished that book and greatly enjoyed it.

Isabel “Izzy” Gregory is a typical Irish teenager, living in Dundrum, a southern suburb of Dublin.  She does have a minor problem with electronics – it’s not infrequent that she touches an electronic device and it explodes – but other than that she’s solidly normal.  Or so she thinks.  While out and about in downtown Dublin, Izzy comes across an angel, a fae, and discovers that there’s a whole other city – Dubh Linn –interweaved into the city that humans see.  Izzy also discovers that some of the stories she was told as a child are real, and other concepts, such as angels being good, are not entirely accurate.

The story then becomes one of Izzy trying to figure out how to survive and use powers she didn’t know she had, while the fae Jinx, a werewolf-like being, has to figure out how to deal with Izzy and the various backroom deals and double-crosses of his world.  I have to admit I had a problem keeping all the various non-humans straight, which I think was in part intentional.

Dublin, the real city, plays a key supporting role in the story, and at several points I found myself digging out my tourist map of the city to see where the events were happening.  Having seen the city and then reading the book greatly improved my overall experience, but I think it would be enjoyable even if you never get to Dublin.

I highly recommend A Crack in Everything.  O’Brien is an Irish publisher, so my best recommendation for US purchasers is to buy direct from the publisher.  It appears to be the only way to get the ebook, while Amazon can get you the paperback.

8/10