Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Species Imperative by Julie E. Czerneda

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Species Imperative by Julie E. Czerneda
Expected publication: September 2nd 2014 by DAW Trade

A threat to entire worlds. Where on that scale does one woman fall?

Dr. Mackenzie "Mac" Connor’s goal in life is to be left in peace to study her salmon and their migration. She has no interest in the Interspecies Union, space travel, or the mysterious Chasm, an expanse of dead worlds filled with the ruins of alien civilizations. The only cloud on Mac’s horizon is having to meet with the Oversight Committee to defend any research intrusions into the protected zones on shore.

But what Mac wants no longer matters. There’s another, darker, migration underway, this time across space. What created the Chasm has awakened once more, to follow its imperative to feed on living worlds. How can it be stopped?

Aliens have asked Mac to find that answer. She knows it may mean sacrificing all she loves, including Earth itself. She’s determined to find another way.

But, first, she must survive.

The Chasm of the past was only a trial run, for this species intent on replacing all life with its own. And they’ve learned her name.

While not a *new* title per se, this 10th Anniversary Trade Omnibus Edition is exciting for a number of reasons. Fans who spoke out as fellow biogeeks on Facebook are not only being acknowledged in the new edition, but graciously treated to signed bookmarks and bookplates. Now that, my friends, is how you say thank you to your fans. :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sci-fi Review: Justice 4.1 by Jim Webster

When William at Safkhet Publishing first approached me about a review for Justice 4.1 I was curious, but just didn't see how I'd be able to fit it into my review schedule. Fortunately, he was primarily interested in driving some press in anticipation of Loncon 3, which meant Jim Webster and I had the better part of 5 months to get to know one another.

I'm glad I took the bait and let it taunt me from the review shelves for so long, because I quite enjoyed this. It worked well as both an interstellar sci-fi thriller and as a gritty crime thriller. The central conflict/mystery is actually quite strong, and the setting lends it multiple layers that are enjoyably revealed. As for those layers, I liked the universe that Webster introduces here, its geography, its politics, its history, and its philosophies. The technology is a bit simpler than one might expect, but it does lend the action an immediacy to which we can relate.

There are some big set pieces here and some glimpses of true space opera, but it's those simpler scenes that I found most entertaining. For instance, there's a scene early on where a booby-trapped satellite is carefully defused during a daring spacewalk, and it had as much drama to it as some of the larger battles that mark the book's climax. I found the characters just about perfect for the storyline, all-too-human, questionable in their motives, and sincere in their pursuit of a cause. I was surprised by how some of the friendships/relationships developed, but in a good way. As for the writing, it was crisp and clear, with the words flowing effortlessly off the page - a comfortable read, as well as an exciting one.

The book does end rather abruptly, with some questions left unexplored, but being that Justice 4.1 is The Tsarina Sector Book 1, we can only hope there's more to come.

Paperback, 154 pages
Published March 1st 2014 by Safkhet Fantasy

Monday, July 28, 2014

God Hunter by Tim Lees (Tour Excerpt)

Chapter 1: Field Ops

            I was laying cable on the south side of the altar, working by instinct now, rather than planning. There is a point the brain goes quiet and the hands take over. That’s the point I like. I felt the wires grow warm under my fingertips. They pulsed and trembled; once or twice they caught a gleam of color from the windows high above, and then a spark would seem to flash along their length. I’d move them, one way or the other, depending which felt right.
The tools of my profession can be beautiful, seen from a certain angle, in a certain frame of mind.
So when Shailer called, “Watch this!” I didn’t look up straight away. I swung the second braid of wire off to the left, put a loop into the third, then took the fourth and held it for a moment, seeking my next move. I sucked my lower lip. I could have made a guess, and probably have even got it right. But the rhythm had been lost now, and the sense of things was gone.
I turned round slowly, pretty sure I wasn’t going to like what happened next.
Shailer was standing in the aisle. He wore baggy shorts and a long, sloppy T-shirt, which may have been the fashion back at home, but left him with the look of a collapsing tent. He’d put a chalice upside down on his head. It pushed his hair into his face. He grinned at me, waved, and started goose-stepping back and forth for all that he was worth. He raised his right arm. He sieg-heiled gleefully and bellowed in a dreadful German accent:
            “Lebensraum! Lebensraum!
I told him, “Cut it out.”
Lebensraum, mein Führer!”
“Cut it out!”
            But it was my fault, I suppose, regardless of how inadvertently. Last night I’d tried preparing him. I’d had him watch the newsreels, the old stuff, to get him in the mood, get him acclimatized - given the place we were, the history; a quick reminder of the power of thought en masse. What my old mentor Fredericks, in his pompous way, would no doubt call an Invocation of the Deity, for what that’s worth. Still, I’d been hoping it might resonate, set a few thoughts spinning where there’d probably been precious few before.
Shailer hadn’t seen it that way. No, to Shailer, it had all meant something very different: a bunch of funny-looking guys in funny-looking uniforms doing funny-looking marches, much too long ago, and much too far from home to be of any interest now.
Especially to him.
            He put his fingers up under his nose, the other arm still raised in a salute. It was more John Cleese than Hitler, to be honest, and perhaps not even that; more somebody impersonating Cleese, reality a dozen times removed.
            I stood up, crossed to him in six quick steps, and slapped him hard across the face.
            That got his interest, anyway.
            The chalice toppled from his head and clanged onto the floor. The echoes shivered; it was as if the whole church suddenly breathed in, scenting something was amiss within it. The hairs upon my neck began to prickle. I recognized that moment, knew it instantly. I glanced around.
The going can get sensitive at this stage. Things get raw.
Shailer stared at me, shock and disbelief caught in the slack O of his mouth, the water welling in his eyes. Then his shoulders tensed, his fists came up, his eyes went thin and hard. I waited for the rush of anger to die down. I told him, “Be professional.”
His eyes stayed hard.
I said, “You fool around on one of these, then we could both die. You, I don’t much care about. Me, I do.”
His mouth squeezed tight. A muscle flickered in his jaw. I turned my back and walked slowly to the altar, giving him lots of time to jump me if he’d wanted to.
He wanted to, all right.
He didn’t try it.
“Fetch the flask,” I said. I said it in a neutral tone. Business-like. I kept my head down, bending to the work. Footsteps on the stone floor. I heard him coming, closer, closer. He set the flask beside me. It’s a thick metal container, like a strongbox with a socket in the top.
“OK,” I said. “That’s our receptor. Once we’re done, we double seal it, just for luck, and walk away. I’m hoping that it won’t take long.”
He didn’t answer. I was talking to myself. I linked the last few cables, showed him a third time how to do it, carefully explained it all, reciting from the manual. My heart-rate was up. Breathing too. The talking helped to calm me, normalize me once again. I like to stay cool when I’m working; no stray emotions, nothing to latch onto. It’s like a meditative process. I tried to focus on the task, to let that side of my brain come to the fore. Signs were, we’d got a pre-incarnate here. Tricky. Or worse. And Shailer was the last person I wanted with me. All right - to be fair, perhaps it wasn’t his fault he was such an idiot. But if it wasn’t his, I’d really no idea who else to blame.


About the Author

Tim Lees is a British author living in Chicago. His short fiction has appeared in Postscripts, Black Static and Interzone, among many other publications. He is author of the collection, The Life to Come, nominated for a British Fantasy Award, and the novel Frankenstein’s Prescription, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “a philosophically insightful and literary tale of terror.” When not writing, he has held a variety of jobs, including teacher, conference organiser, film extra, and worker in a psychiatric hospital. His blog is


About the Book

God Hunter by Tim Lees
On-Sale: 8/5/2014 | ISBN: 9780062358813

Registry field op Chris Copeland arrives in Hungary on a routine mission: find a sacred spot, lay down a wire grid, and capture a full flask of a god’s energy. But when his arrogant new partner, Shailer, sabotages the wires, things go very, very wrong: the god manifests as a mirror image of Chris himself. Chris quickly destroys the god, and, for the good of the company and his own career, buries the evidence.

Six years later, Shailer is a rising star among the energy industry’s corporate elite, while Chris has taken a break from operations. But when a mysterious serial killer begins stalking Budapest-a psychopath who bears an eerie resemblance to Chris-the operative is forced back into the field.

With the help of Anna Ganz, a brusque, chain-smoking Hungarian detective, Chris tracks the monster across the globe. Only the real danger isn’t a killer on the outside . . . it’s Chris’s treacherous colleagues at the Registry who refuse to acknowledge the terrifying forces they’ve unleashed in the name of profit-forces whose origins lead back to the dawn of man . . . and beyond.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sci-Fi Review: Jani and the Greater Game by Eric Brown

Although a bit silly at times, with some lazy plot points that border on embarrassing, Jani and the Greater Game was a fun read that left me wanting to read more in the series. Eric Brown has built an intriguing alternate history here, one that merges steampunk with (minor spoiler here) alien technology, and peopled it with some interesting characters.

Actually, to be honest, the villains are a rather one-dimensional racist caricatures, but the heroes are refreshingly diverse - a smart young woman of mixed Indian and English ancestry and brave young man of a lower Indian caste. To Brown's credit, he does allow for a couple of decent, upstanding Brits to counter all the greedy, nationalistic, arrogant conquerors, but the Russians and the Germans get no such saving graces.

There's not a great deal of story to this initial volume, but that's okay because what Brown has really set out to do is recapture the spirit of the turn-of-the-century adventure novel. In fact, the entire text is peppered with references to the likes of Verne and Kipling, including the suggestion that Verne's stories were based on actual events. This is an adventure/quest story that's primarily concerned with getting Jani from point A to point B, with a series of conflicts and escapes along the way, propelled by an underlying mystery that's rather obvious, but which does end in a nice twist. It's a fast-paced tale, filled with adventure, graphic violence, a little social/political commentary, and humor. It's not particularly deep or complex, but it's a fun journey to share.

As for the technology, the alien elements are actually the blandest, but only because they are variations on a theme we've seen them done before - although the invisibility cap and mind-reading skull-mesh are kind of cool. Instead, it's the human steampunk elements that are the most incredible, capped off by Mr Clockwork's Mech-Man and Amazing Mechanical Elephant. They're not just window dressing either, they're key elements of the story, and set-pieces upon which the overall climax relies.

Like I said, it's a bit lazy in parts, with the resolution relying on some conveniently foolish choices and timely coincidences, but at least some of that can be attributed to the youth of the protagonists. If you think of Jani and the Greater Game in terms of its young heroine, and let her set the context, then it's easy to forgive (if not completely ignore) the story's flaws. Fans of the pulp adventure and steampunk genres will certainly find something here to enjoy, and I suspect there are bigger, better things to come in the inevitable sequel.

Expected publication: July 29th 2014 by Solaris

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

I've been focusing on striking a better balance between upcoming titles and my personal TBR shelves, so only 1 new addition this week.

Find Virgil (A Novel of Revenge) by Frank Freudberg
Published November 14th 2013 by Inside Job Media

Get inside the mind of a serial killer as you never have before. Is Martin Muntor a villain or a victim?

Can you imagine rooting for a madman to succeed in a terroristic plot to kill hundreds of people? Second-hand smoke gave Muntor lung cancer, and he's mad. Very mad ... and he's going to do something about it. It's 1995, and the tobacco industry thinks it's invincible.

But is it?

Muntor devises an ingenious strategy to put cigarette companies out of business, and he doesn't care how many people he has to take with him in order to do it.

Hapless private investigator Tommy Rhoads has to find Muntor, and fast. But that's not going to be so easy. Muntor's smart and has nothing to lose, and the FBI doesn't want Rhoads's help. Rhoads has a lot at stake -- personally and professionally -- and is desperate to stop the killer.

Who's right, and who's wrong? Read Find Virgil now, and go along for the wild ride. You'll never forget it.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

With an eye towards my scheduled reviews for the next few weeks, I'm currently turning pages with:

• Justice 4.1 by Jim Webster  
Join intergalactic investigator Haldar Drom as he cleans up criminal scum.

• The Ghoul Archipelago by Stephen Kozeniewski 
Zombies, a freighter rescue, billionaire madmen, cargo cults, and post-apocalyptic gruesome horror.

• The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
I've always looked to Lackey for classic fantasy, and her collaborations with Mallory have been outstanding . . . plus it has pirates!

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fantasy Review: Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb

I can't remember the last time I felt so torn about a book, and so conflicted about a review. This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and I really wanted to enjoy it. In fact, compared to my usual reading pace, I spent a great deal of time in the world that Robin Hobb created - and while I did enjoy aspects of it, I have to be honest in that most of my time was spent waiting for aspects to enjoy. It's a testament to Hobb's writing (and to Fitz's legacy) that I was able to exhibit such patience. Looking back, the closest analogy I can think of is watching a chess game between tournament masters - fascinating, challenging, and admirable, but hardly riveting.

Fool's Assassin may be labeled book one of the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, but it's really an extended prologue of over 500 pages, followed by an opening chapter of about 80. That is to say there's a lot of talking, a lot of speculating, a lot of worrying, but not a lot of action. In fact, there are only a handful of scenes where anything of consequence takes place, and most of them are rushed together in those final 80 pages. It's hard to talk about them without getting into spoiler territory, but I will say the resolution of Molly's pregnancy is genuinely surprising, and those of you anxious for a reunion between the characters of the title will be waiting a very long time.

Hobb's writing is gorgeous, as always, and it's easy to fall into the cadence and rhythms of her story. Initially, it felt like no time at all had passed since the last trilogy, allowing me to become lost in the world of Fitz all over again. It was truly marvelous. However, around the halfway mark I really began to feel the lagging pace, with the story slow going, but somehow still compelling. I genuinely doubt it would have worked if I weren't already so familiar with Fitz, and invested in seeing where his second life might take him. The problem is, Fitz wasn't Fitz. Yes, his personality was there, and I know Hobb was trying to show us how far he had distanced himself from his past, but I have a hard time believing he could become so lazy, so gullible, so careless, and so insecure.

As for the other characters, that's a sore spot for me. Characters that we know and love, like Chade and Kettricken, are but pale imitations of their former selves. New characters, like FitzVigilant and Shun, are as shallow as they are annoying, while the most significant new addition (whose identity I refuse to spoil) is far too cold and awkward to ever embrace as a character, much less a narrator. Molly started out with some real potential, but soon became an extended plot device, and as fascinating as his (small) piece of the story is, we hardly get a chance to know the Fool.

The opening scenes were fantastic, and I really expected the story to take off from there, but we're subjected to endless chapters of dancing, talking, dressing, shopping, dreaming, complaining, and musing. It took forever to come back to that potential and, when we finally did, it was a race to the finish with a cliffhanger that reeks of desperation. I will absolutely give the next book a read, but Fitz had damned well better return to his old self, and there had better be a significant payoff for all the time we've invested in tolerating that character/narrator I have been so careful not to spoil.

Fool's Assassin is for hardcore fans only, and even then I suspect it will be something of a polarizing tale. Then again, maybe it's just me. The book does have a plethora of 5-star reads, so I'll be curious to see how the readers and reviewers I respect most react to the read.

Hardcover, 688 pages
Expected publication: August 12th 2014 by Del Rey