Thursday, January 22, 2015

REVIEW: Proof of Our Resolve

Title: Proof of Our Resolve
Genre: military fiction
Price: $5.99 (ebook) / $10.86 (paperback
Publisher: Tactical 16
ISBN 978-0985558291
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Some time back, I stumbled on the blog of Chris Hernandez while searching for something else.  From his author’s bio: Chris Hernandez is a 20 year police officer, former Marine and currently serving National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo.  In short, Chris is a guy who has a lot to say about police and military matters.  So, having seen he wrote two novels, I took a chance and bought one. 

Proof of Our Resolve is informed by Chris’s experience in Afghanistan.  It’s a fictionalized account of a Texas Army National Guard platoon sent there to handle mostly convoy escorts, and their activities in a fictionalized couple of Taliban-infested Afghan valleys.  Chris makes it a point to note that he was not any sort of Special Forces “operator,” but nor was he a FOBbit (somebody who hangs out at a Forward Operating Base and never goes outside the wire).  No, Chris was a grunt, and this is the story of grunts doing regular grunt work.

Proof of Our Resolve is a short novel – 185 pages – but packed with action.  The author has an eye for characters and an ear for dialog, which show throughout the book.  Chris also spent some time with French forces in Afghanistan, and he found them tough and competent, which reflects their characterization in this book.  There’s soldier language and soldier violence to spare, but damn this is a good book.


Monday, January 19, 2015

REVIEW: Ascension, a Tangled Axon Novel

Title: Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel
Genre: SF
Price: $6.99 (ebook) / $12.30 (paperback
Publisher: Masque Books
ISBN 978-1607014010
Point of Sale: Amazon Publishers site
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

I am a guest reviewer on the blog Heroines of Fantasy.  It’s a gig I paid the same as I do here, which is to say nothing.  In this case, the gig cost me something, because a review I read on Heroines of Fantasy prompted me to buy Ascension.  I’m glad I did.

The novel is the story of Alana Quick, “sky surgeon” which means she fixes spaceships.  Unfortunately, the Otherspacers have arrived, bringing radically new tech that doesn’t need fixing, or at least fixing by independents like Alana.  So money’s tight, which is a real problem given that Alana has an auto-immune disease which requires expensive medication to manage. 

Then a cargo ship arrives at the repair yard, except the crew is looking for Alana’s sister, a “spirit guide” and much wealthier.  On a wink and a nod from the ship’s doctor, Alana stows aboard, and action that lands her in the brig and a meeting with the ship’s hot blonde female captain, for whom Alana has an immediate case of the hots.  And now were up to Chapter Three.

Lots of interesting stuff happens in the rest of the book, as Alana, her sister and the crew of the Tangled Axon try to sort things out both among themselves and in the universe.  Alana’s sister, Nova, is wanted by the equivalent of Bill Gates, except this version doesn’t play very nice. 

But not only is there an interesting story, there are interesting characters.  As mentioned, Alana is both gay and has a disability.  She’s not alone in her problems – most of the characters aren’t “normal” for lack of a better word.  Nor are their interpersonal relationships vanilla – no this is a Rocky Road and pistachio bunch.  Yet the fact that they aren’t all Studly McSquarejaws isn’t beaten into the reader – it’s just there, like air and gravity.

Ascension is not a typical novel – it’s a really good one. 


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

REVIEW: Time Heist

Title:   Time Heist (Firstborn Saga) Volume 1
Genre: SF
Price: $3.99 (ebook) $10.73 (paperback)
Publisher: One Lazy Robot
ISBN:  978-0692336991
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

Anthony Vicino, the author of Time Heist, contacted me directly via email with what proved to be a compelling pitch to review his first novel.  I agreed, and was pleased with my decision.

Time Heist starts out as a futuristic hard-boiled mystery.  Our first-person narrator, Tom Mandel, is an ex-cop with less than a day to live.  He knows this because everybody is implanted with a Life Tracker.  This device counts down your allocated 70 years of life, and when it hits zero, it kills you.  Although Mandel has been abusing drugs for the past nine years since his wife was killed, nanotech means he’s fairly healthy.

 Also, Mandel is an “Intuit” – somebody who can intuitively navigate the all-pervasive cyberspace.  As I mentioned, the story starts out as a hard-boiled noir, with tired and world-weary detective doing one last job for the good guys.  Perhaps fortunately, Mandel’s last assignment, to find Malcom Wolfe, escaped prisoner and killer of Mandel’s wife, proves to be much more high-stakes, involving no less than the fate of all humanity.

Alas, I found the story curiously slow to get started.  Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of action from Chapter 2 thru to the end.  But for the longest time we don’t find out what’s at stake.  Malcom Wolfe, for example, killed nine million people!  He did this by hacking their Life Trackers, taking them instantly to ten minutes left.  Yet we don’t find this out until a good halfway into the book.  The world in general is so radically different as to leave me in doubt as to whether or not it was Earth, but again, that detail isn't provided until quite late in the book. 

The other thing I found problematic was the action.  I felt like I was in a first-person-shooter video game.  Mandel and other named characters shot their way through guards and police like they were shooting zombies.  The named characters did get hurt and complained of pain, but thanks to nanotech they were literally up and running in no time.  The entire novel takes place in just over 24 hours.

Having said all of that, I found Time Heist an interesting and enjoyable read.  Vicino’s writing is gripping, and his characters are sympathetic.  Although I would have handled some things differently, Time Heist was a good read.


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.


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.