Tuesday, December 30, 2014

No Fortunate Son, by Brad Taylor

In the latest military thriller from the retired Delta Force Operator and New York Times bestselling author, a hostage situation places America’s most powerful political elite at the mercy of its worst enemies. 

When veteran operator Pike Logan and partner Jennifer Cahill receive a letter from Blaisdell Consulting—the umbrella cover company for their real employer, a top secret counterterrorist unit called the Taskforce—they expect orders for their next mission-impossible tasking. Instead, they learn that their latest actions have gotten them fired, despite having saved thousands of innocent lives.

Pike’s shock and fury is redirected when their commander, Colonel Kurt Hale, asks him and Jennifer for help with a personal matter: His niece Kylie, an exchange student in England, has gone missing. Neither Pike nor Jennifer understands how critical her disappearance will become.

Meanwhile, all Taskforce teams have been redirected to a developing situation. A terrorist organization has targeted military relatives of key members of the US government, including the vice president’s son. Their seizure of hostages was far-reaching and meticulously coordinated, and the full extent of the threat—and potential demands—has thrown the government into turmoil. They face a terrible choice: Cease counter-terrorist operations, or watch hostages die one by one. How much is a single life worth? Unless the Taskforce can decipher the web of lies devised by their enemies, the United States is about to find out.

No Fortunate Son by Brad Taylor is an exciting thriller that will both satisfy current fans of the Pike Logan series as well as win him new ones.

Nephilim “Pike” Logan is one of the great action hero names and he certainly doesn’t disappoint. Taylor adds some layers to his hero so it’s not constant run and shoot but requires some brains and some skill to unravel the terrorists plot. Here again, Taylor invents a nicely complicated terrorist plot involving the new IRA, a group of ruthless Bosnian jewel thieves and Somali terrorists on the one side, with a government stressed over high value hostages, red herrings, snooping journalists, and government assets on and off the books pulling in all different directions on the other.

The multi-layered plot is one of the things that sets this book apart from a lot of other military thrillers. Not only are some false paths laid out, but the actual clues lead in different directions because of the complexity of the terrorists plan leaving Pike Logan to rely on his instincts and a little bit of luck to lead him to the truth. It also creates enough doubt in his mind to realize one wrong guess could cause the death of the people he’s trying to rescue.

The action is also top-notch with great firefights, chase scenes and car chases. There is enough here to satisfy any action fan, with a little bit extra to satisfy those who like intricate plotting. This is an outstanding character and both a book and a series worth checking out.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie


The sequel to Ancillary Justice, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, British Science Fiction, Locus and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.

Breq is a soldier who used to be a warship. Once a weapon of conquest controlling thousands of minds, now she has only a single body and serves the emperor.

With a new ship and a troublesome crew, Breq is ordered to go to the only place in the galaxy she would agree to go: to Athoek Station to protect the family of a lieutenant she once knew - a lieutenant she murdered in cold blood.

Ancillary Sword  by Ann Leckie is the followup to the wildly successful Ancillary Justice.  If you have not yet read the first book in this series, beware that this review may contain spoilers for that book.

Justice won just about every award for science fiction there is, and rightly so.  It is a novel full of ideas about gender, consciousness, identity, power, and social mores. My only minor quibble with that book was that it could have been a little more exciting. If that is indeed a fault, it is one that has been richly remedied in Ancillary Sword.  Sword is exciting from beginning to end and full of the same sort of searching questions that made the first book so popular.

The events in Sword pick up immediately where Justice  left off. Breq is given command of a ship and sent to Athoek Station in system which was annexed to the Radch empire several hundred years ago and also happens to be home to the sister of the person Breq once cared about, perhaps more than any other.

I found Breq to be a hard character to warm to in the first book, but her continued development makes me like her more and more.  Her history as a former AI of a ship who is used to seeing through the eyes of hundreds or thousands of vantage points cleverly leads to a multiple first person perspective.  Her motivations and suspicions are closely held as is the chess game she is playing with Anaander Mianaai, the leader of the Radch empire who is literally fighting a civil war against herself.  Dancing around the edge of the action is the spectre of the  mysterious Presger.  An alien race far superior to the Radch whose motivations are almost entirely unknown, but whose power is not.

The characters in this book feel even more fully developed than in the first novel. The characters on Athoek station and the tea-producing planet below are complicated both individually and culturally. Leckie once again poses hard questions not only about gender roles and identity, but about justice. What is justice?  Is it ever black and white? How does the perception of what justice is change depending on your perspective? Whose responsibility is it to see justice done?

Ancillary Sword and the Imperial Radch series has the feel of a seminal work of science fiction.  This is a story you can lose yourself in and the questions it makes you ask yourself are almost endless.  You can enjoy this book on any number of levels. Expect to see this book on the usual list of award nominees this year. Wherever Leckie is going next with this series, I’m going along for the ride.  One of the best books of the year.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Willful Child by Steven Erikson

From the New York Times Bestselling author Steven Erikson comes a new science fiction novel of devil-may-care, near calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through the infinite vastness of interstellar space.

These are the voyages of the starship A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to seek out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life-forms, to boldly blow the...

And so we join the not-terribly-bright but exceedingly cock-sure Captain Hadrian Sawback and his motley crew on board the Starship Willful Child for a series of devil-may-care, near-calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through ‘the infinite vastness of interstellar space.’

The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence has taken his lifelong passion for Star Trek and transformed it into a smart, inventive, and hugely entertaining spoof on the whole mankind-exploring-space-for-the-good-of-all-species-but-trashing-stuff-with-a-lot-of-high-tech-gadgets-along-the-way, overblown adventure. The result is an SF novel that deftly parodies the genre while also paying fond homage to it.

I’m a great admirer of Steven Erikson, especially his Malazan books. I also like science fiction, Star Trek and humor. So why when they all got put together in Willful Child did it all fail so miserably for me?

Willful Child is a tongue-in-cheek send up of the Star Trek universe, particularly the original characters.  The starship Willful Child is captained by a newly commissioned officer, Hadrian Sawback who is handsome, cocky and headstrong. His crew is a mixture of beautiful women and barely competent men.

Sawback divides his time between trying to bed his crew and charging headlong into danger, blowing things up and sorting out the consequences later.  His rash decisions tend to work out improbably for the best, although they usually leave him with his shirt in tatters.

The problem I had with this book is that it was too over the top and everything was too obvious. The plot moving the book forward was very thin and mainly served as an excuse to move from one episodic adventure to another.  (Get it?  episodes?).  Places where I think I was supposed to be laughing I found myself sighing instead.

It’s not that the writing is bad; it’s not.  Erikson is too good a writer for that to be a problem.  The problem is that the characters, while perhaps somewhat intentionally so, are way too shallow.  I didn’t care about any of them. Where Galaxy Quest mocked the same conventions, it did it with more care and with more sympathetic characters. This book was a miss for me.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

A criminal mastermind creates violent tableaus in abandoned Detroit warehouses in Lauren Beukes's new genre-bending novel of suspense.

Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit's standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?

If you're Detective Versado's geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you're desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you're Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you'll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe--and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world.

If Lauren Beukes's internationally bestselling The Shining Girls was a time-jumping thrill ride through the past, her Broken Monsters is a genre-redefining thriller about broken cities, broken dreams, and broken people trying to put themselves back together again.

Lauren Beukes is an author I’ve heard a lot of hype about for a while now and Broken Monsters confirms that the hype is right.  Broken Monsters works on a lot of levels and in a lot of different ways.

Broken Monsters is a mystery with some fantastical elements and a varied cast of characters.  Detroit, where the book is set, is as much a character as any of the people.  The point of view shifts between a number of characters and none of them are giving short shrift.  Each of these people is broken in some ways, much like the city they inhabit.

Detective Gabriella Versado is given the job of solving a gruesome murder of a young boy who has been dismembered and fused with a deer.  She has to balance her job as a detective with the job of being a single mother to a teenage daughter who has her own personal drama going on.  Beukes skillfully weaves together this main storyline with stories of high school angst, bullying, disillusioned journalists, homelessness and a budding serial killer.

Beukes manages to tie all these storylines together and makes all of her characters come to life.  None of them feel like stereotypes and all of them are complicated. The characters don’t seek or inspire pity but they do make you admire the way they handle adversity.  It’s hard to do justice to the skill on display here as Beukes moves these various stories forward and brings them together in solving the main mystery.

There are so many things going on in this book. Questions about identity, who you are, who you appear to be, how others see you, how you see yourself. It’s about a city and what happens when it decays and when you try to change it. It’s about transformation. None of the characters are offered or take shortcuts. They have to work towards their goals whether they are noble or twisted.  

Broken Monsters is not necessarily a page-turner, but neither is it ever boring.  It is a book to be savored as it develops and unfolds.  Lauren Beukes is an author to keep an eye on and she is becoming must-read.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.