Thursday, October 27, 2016

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Ada Palmer throws readers right into the deep end with Too Like the Lightning, the first book in the Terra Ignota series. This is a complex, immersive, fleshed-out and idea-filled work of science fiction. Set in the 25th century, it is a world unrecognizable in its political, economic and social makeup.

Travel anywhere in the world is measured in minutes. This has led to a breakdown in traditional governments and let people all across the world associate based on common interests rather than geography. Religion is outlawed but may be discussed privately with sensayers, who tend to a person’s spiritual well-being. Gender distinctions are mostly taboo. A handful of corporation-like clans mixed with philosophers and remnants of nation states guide world affairs.

Mycroft Canner is a convict. His sentence is to be useful. To other people and to all of society. That he is a criminal is never hidden, but the nature of his crimes are not revealed to the reader until deep into the novel. Committing crimes is infinitely more difficult, but not impossible. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer who lands in the middle of Mycroft’s life and a secret he is concealing: Bridger. Bridger is a boy who can make wishes reality. That ability could threaten the entire interconnected world.

Too Like the Lightning  is an ambitious and challenging book. There are almost too many ideas expressed to discuss or even fully absorb. It is a mystery as well as a political treatise. It is a distant future with a reverence for the 18th century, particularly Voltaire. The narrator breaks the fourth wall and at times speaks directly to the reader. Palmer does a magnificent job of placing you in this fully realized world and letting you pick up the rules as you go. The pace at which significant pieces of information are revealed are timed for maximum effect. She keeps you unsure of who to trust and how far to trust them. You are likewise puzzled about the many plots and subplots at work, but always given enough information to keep frustration from setting in.

I suspect this book reveals more every time you read it. The characters are people you would want to spend time with and be alternately charmed by and terrified of.

If anyone was still afraid that science fiction was out of ideas after Ann Leckie’s wonderful Ancillary series, Ada Palmer will put any remaining fears to rest. This is an exciting and important work.

One word of caution. The book ends abruptly as it is the first of two parts. The second part is slated to come out before the end of the year so it is not a long wait. Not only should you read this book, you should make all your friends read it because you are going to want to talk about it. A lot.  Highly recommended!

I listened to the audio version of this book narrated by Jefferson Mays who did an outstanding job with it. The narration places you directly in the world and the melodic voices of the characters keeps you glued to the story. This is a story, particularly in audio form, that both demands and rewards close attention.
I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description:  Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer--a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labelling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world's population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life.

And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destabilize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life...

Murder in the Generative Kitchen by Meg Pontecorvo

Murder in the Generative Kitchen by Meg Pontecorvo is an interesting story that works on multiple levels.

The Vacation Jury Duty system sends jurors to an exotic location with the catch that they have to daily watch court proceedings through a virtual reality device in preparation for rendering a verdict. Failure to do so, or to break any of the rules, could leave you on the hook for paying for the vacation yourself.

The trial involves a death, ostensibly by an automated kitchen that shouldn’t be able to harm a person without outside interference. This has led to a wife being charged for the murder of her husband. The case seems like a slam dunk, but doubt begins to creep in.

By having a murder trial as the central mystery in the story, Pontecorvo is able to layer in the science fiction elements crucial to the setting of the novel. Initially the trial seems to be an excuse to explore this future society but gradual the trial itself develops a sense of intrigue.

The story is told through the eyes of one of the jurors, Julio, who like the reader, is at first less interested in the trial, but gradually becomes drawn in. He is simultaneously trying to maximize his vacation and catch the eye of an attractive woman he suspects of being a fellow juror. The trial becomes very interesting, if not conclusive. Combined with the structure of the jury system itself and the dynamic nature of the jury deliberations (also conducted through virtual reality) there is a lot of intrigue in the story.

Pontecorvo manages to pack a lot into this short quick read. Interesting plotlines as well as an interesting central character. I didn’t mind that not everything was wrapped up neatly. Nevertheless, the very end seemed a little abrupt and had characters behaving in a way I found a little jarring.

This is a quick entertaining read packed with a lot of ideas, solid writing and interesting characters. I’ll be certain to keep an eye out for future stories by Meg Pontecorvo. Highly recommended.

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

Description: With the Vacation Jury Duty system, jurors can lounge on a comfortable beach while watching the trial via virtual reality. Julio is loving the beach, as well as the views of a curvy fellow juror with a rainbow-lacquered skin modification who seems to be the exact opposite of his recent ex-girlfriend back in Chicago. Because of jury sequestration rules, they can’t talk to each other at all, or else they’ll have to pay full price for this Acapulco vacation. Still, Julio is desperate to catch her attention. But while he struts and tries to catch her eye, he also becomes fascinated by the trial at hand.

At first it seemed a foregone conclusion that the woman on trial used a high-tech generative kitchen to feed her husband a poisonous meal, but the more evidence mounts, the more Julio starts to suspect the kitchen may have made the decision on its own.

Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey

Clyde Barr is the latest action hero to arrive in Erik Storey’s debut novel, Nothing Short of Dying. Cut out of the same cloth as characters like Jack Reacher, Dewey Andreas and Pike Logan, the character Barr most reminds me of is The Executioner: Mack Bolan. Bolan was a one-man wrecking crew. A decorated Vietnam war vet who returns home to bury most of his family. When he discovers the mob is to blame, he becomes vengeance personified as he goes about dismantling them.

Clyde Barr shares a lot of those traits. Ex-military, soldier of fortune and recent graduate of a Mexican prison. All he wants is to disappear into the mountains and live off the land. A desperate phone call from his youngest sister, whom he shared a childhood that was beyond brutal, pulls him back towards civilization and “nothing short of dying” will prevent him from keeping his promise to come for her.

Storey does a good job of developing a character with a lot of rough edges and a believable amount of competency paired with a slightly excessive ability to absorb punishment. The action scenes are crisp, exciting and fast-paced. Barr is willing, if sometimes reluctant, to use people around him to assist in rescuing his sister. Most notable among these are Allie, the bartender he tries to help and ends up putting in harm’s way and Zeke, his former cellmate who is as amoral and ruthless as they come.

Storey doesn’t sugarcoat the consequences and none of Barr’s plans comes off without a hitch. The book lacks some of the polish of stories from other thriller writers, particularly when it comes to dialogue, but it is a very strong debut. Storey convincingly paints the rugged Colorado landscape along with plenty of action and a strong, flawed protagonist who looks like he has more adventures in front of him. I suspect subsequent entries in this series will get even better and I’m looking forward to them. Recommended read.

I listened to the audio version of this book narrated by Jeremy Bobb. Bobb does a good job with the narration capturing the excitement of the action along with the rough edges of the characters, particularly Barr and Zeke. The narration nicely complements the story.

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

Description: Sixteen years. That’s how long Clyde Barr has been away from Colorado’s thick forests, alpine deserts, and craggy peaks, running from a past filled with haunting memories. But now he’s back, having roamed across three continents as a hunter, adventurer, soldier of fortune, and most recently, unjustly imprisoned convict. And once again, his past is reaching out to claim him.

By the light of a flickering campfire, Clyde receives a frantic phone call from his sister Jen. No sooner has she pleaded with him to come rescue her than the line goes dead. Clyde doesn’t know how much time he has, or where Jen is located, or even who has her. All he knows is that nothing short of dying will stop him from saving her.

Joining Clyde in his against-all-odds quest is a young woman named Allie whose motivations for running this gauntlet are fascinatingly complex. As the duo races against the clock, it is Allie who gets Clyde to see what he has become and what he can still be.

Vivid with the hues and scents of Colorado’s backcountry, and thought-provoking in its exploration of how past, present, and future collide to test resolve, Nothing Short of Dying is, above all, a propulsive, action-driven race against the clock.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Age of Myth by Michael Sullivan

Age of Myth is the first book in a new fantasy series by Michael Sullivan. Set in the same world as his Riyria Chronicles, the events here take place much earlier.

Events start with a human father and son (Raithe) crossing a river into territory forbidden them by a treaty with the elves. The elves (called Fhrey) are considered gods and given their extraordinarily long life-spans, think of the humans (whom they call Rhunes) as little more than animals. When one of the elves dies, Raithe earns the unwanted nickname “God-Killer”. The nickname comes with a target on his back. Meanwhile, Persephone, wife of the chieftain of a dahl, or settlement, finds herself childless and widowed in the span of a few days. This leads to a power change in the dahl and Persephone at a loss to find her role in the new reality. The Fhrey have their own complicated politics going on, as they are separated into tribes who are united even though differences simmer not very far below the surface.

The book starts a little slowly as readers are introduced to the characters as well as both human and elven society. Once the introductions are accomplished, the action starts to move forward. Raithe’s killing of a god comes as a shock to both societies. Both human and elf discover that many of their core beliefs may no longer hold true.  Michael Sullivan writes very good characters. They are easy to relate to and identify with. He does an exceptional job of world building. This world is richly detailed and vividly described. It hints at much more to be revealed. When the action comes, it is intense and thrilling. Conspiracies slowly simmer here, among both the Fhrey and the Rhunes. Some of the secrets unveil themselves while others remain to be discovered.

This is a world that is comfortable to return to for readers of Sullivan’s previous work. It is also a perfect jumping off point for new readers, as no prior knowledge of the world is necessary to enjoy this book. This book serves more as prelude to the war that is coming. Age of Myth is the first volume in a six volume series, so be aware what you are signing up for. Also know that all six books are already written, so there is no need to worry about when the next volume will be ready.

The audio version of this book is narrated by the wonderful Tim Gerard Reynolds. His narration completely immerses you in the world, breathing life into the characters and the setting. He is also signed up to narrate the entire series. He complements the story without overpowering it and is an ideal choice to narrate these books. Highly recommended.

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

Description: Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between men and those they thought were gods changes forever. Now, only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer. Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom. And Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people.

The Age of Myth is over; the time of rebellion has begun.