Category Archives: Science Fiction

Gorman, K.; Black Dawn (Eurynome Code 1)(2017)

Karin Makos has a secret she wants to keep under wraps. Her sister knows about it. After all, Nomiki was another child experimented on. In Black Dawn, Karin is our protagonist. We get to know her sister through Karin’s dreams. Black Dawn is told from a third-person perspective as seen from Karin’s point of view and everything we find out about her universe is what Karin experiences and thinks.

Karin, Marc and Soo-Jin  are scavengers, travelling in the Nemina, chasing First Gen Earth objects – like beer cans. They travel to abandoned sites/worlds to find goods and sell them on to collectors. Karin is the overqualified pilot, Marc owns the Nemina and Soo-Jin is their First-Gen specialist and marketer. They are both Karin’s side-kicks and play vital seconds to her in different episodes of this novel. Karin is the only three-dimensional character.

After a successful run someone enters their space ship and attacks all three while they sleep. Abruptly waking from a dream …

She sucked in a breath.

It was a man – or, at the very least, a very life-like, man-shaped shadow. Tall, with edges that blended into the room’s already significant darkness, he stood against the wall with no definition to him, only darkness. she couldn’t see any features, not eyes or the rumples where clothes might be, or – heck, were those arms?

Karin is forced to use her special ability or die. An ability that becomes more and more difficult to hide as the story progresses.

Light pricked through the blackness. The white droplets on her arm still shone, dimmer than before, but persistent.

She brought her hand up. Muscles shaking, she pushed energy into the light. It shivered at her touch like water under a full moon, waxing, growing. The thing’s hand moved into her eyes. A fingertip brushed through her skull like the touch of a feather. She cringed, pulled away. Then she pushed back.

Light exploded from her skin.

The black think shrieked.

Karin confronts her dilemma many times during Black Dawn. To use or not to use. She knows what to expect if people find out about her ability, yet it may be that her ability can save people from the effects of the Shadow people. Few individuals find themselves with both a talent that might save many along with a tendency to freeze in dangerous situations. Karin does. If she had been all alone in the situations in Black Dawn, the novel would have ended much sooner. However, our shero works hard to control her panic attacks and manages to pull through each time.  Black Dawn might be about learning to trust yourself and others. It’s also about needing to use gifts/talents if you want them to grow and about trying to not let past decisions rule current ones.

We find out about Karin’s background and genetic modification as the story develops. Even though it is a serial, the Black Dawn ends at a good spot rather than in the middle of a climax. The story is a science fiction space opera low on technology but high on action/drama/adventure. There is no graphic violence or  sexual content. I liked the prose and do not think I have come across plots with Shadows attackers in them. This was an entertaining story that is the first of a trilogy. Recommended.

Halstead, Jason; Voidhawk (2011)

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1397213139l/21607512.jpg

Longing for his own spaceship, Dexter Silvercloud drags his friend Kragor away from his life as a married man to fix a space derelict called Hawk’s Talon. The space ship is stuck in the asteroid field off their planet. Two nights a week are spent fixing up the vessel and Dexter will do anything to buy it. The rest of the week is spent getting enough money together to buy Hawk’s Talon.

One day while traversing the Playground to fetch his friend Dexter stumbled into an ambush. Contrary to stories told around hearths with mulled ale, most ship to ship encounters in the void do not involve catapult shot and ballista bolts flying. Even the rare bombards so often talked about in the story are seldom seen, let alone fired. Only the Federation and the Elven Armada ships are prone to fire at the slightest provocation. Repairs and even ammunition are too expensive for the private ship owner to run the risk.

Three small ships emerged from teh background of floating rocks to close with him. Dexter quickly identified an Ant, a Dart, and the third was little more than a skiff with a sail upon it. Dexter sped up his Gnat, risking the perils of the asteroid field and trying to lose the pursuing ships. Being a Federation scout ship, Dexter was correct in assuming that his was faster than the pirates. They were very familiar with the asteroid field; however, so he was unable to lose them.

The largest one, the Ant, slammed into a pony sized rock, sending one man flying into the void and another to the deck bleeding. Broken planks of wood drifted free, bobbing in the small vessel’s gravity plane. Seeing that gave Dexter an idea.

Yes. You read correctly. Space vessels with wood plating and sails. In space. Sail ships in space. Sorry. I just cannot comprehend why Halstead would choose to place sail ships in space. It makes no sense. Even if they have their own gravity wells. Even though I do not hold space operas to the same rules as most other forms of science fiction. There are  minimum requirements that I have, and Halstead keeps on breaking them throughout the story.

One of the reasons I think I kept on reading was because of a fascination with an author who completely disregards physical laws. Plus Halstead’s writing is halfway decent. If only he had chosen a stricter editor and science fiction beta-readers. Sadly, Voidhawk‘s characters suffer from the same lack.

I cannot say that I recommend Voidhawk. If only … I probably would have.

Bell, Odette C. The Betrothed & Shattered Destiny. 2015

“Life, in all its imperfect variation, was nothing compared to the scale of nothingness that made up most of the known universe.”

Shattered Destiny (loc 19537)

Hogarth, Mica; Earthrise (Mortal Instruments I); Studio MCAH; 2013

 

“Great,” Reese said, losing what little energy she had. She imagined it bleeding into the ground beneath her tailbone and shoulders. “You were supposed to be in a jail cell we could get you out of for money, not underground in a place pirates hide people they want to make disappear.”

The Eldritch canted his head, hair hissing against one shoulder. “I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll send you a bill,” Reese said, trying to get a hand under herself so she could sit up.

(Earthrise, p. 29)

Farrugia, Nathan M; Exclave (Helix VI); 2017

When we last left Sophia, unfriendlies came to visit.

She deposited her empty glass beside Aviary’s phone on the coffee table. The phone flashed.

Infrared cameras.

Stingball grenades hit the floor. Everyone dropped their drinks and scattered. The grenades detonated, deafeningly loud, blasting the nearby windows into pieces.

Everything around Sophia turned white.

Enclave begins with Hal’s point of view of the attack. He is not, at all, happy with Sophia and her people and is set on destroying them. Except things aren’t really going his way lately. His one goal in life is to capture Sophia alive and kill the rest of the members of her crew.

There are some seriously messed up people in Farrugia’s world and many of them hide behind the cover Purity.  Purity is anti-genetic tinkering (except the kind they approve of) and as with many ideologies most of the grunts in Purity want to believe its  propaganda while the higher-ups are in it for other reasons. Once propaganda gets a hold it is difficult to fight and keep from spreading. Lithuania’s border guards have started testing people for genetic tinkering making it too dangerous for people with specific genetic tags.

Sophia needs a new safe-house and Olesya brings Sophia and her crew with her back to the enclave in Kaliningrad in Russia. When she gets there she finds out that Illarion is leaving her in charge of the enclave. To top it all, Olesya discovers there is a mole in their midst. It might be fair to say that things aren’t really going very well for any of our players, except for Purity. Or are they?

Nathan M. Farrugia writes the serial Helix. So far, it consists of six episodes (see links to reviews below), each the size of a novellas, each ending with cliff-hangers.  Three of these episodes together consist of around 7000 words. Farrugia had to crowd-fund Enclave and will probably have to do the same for the remaining three episodes. Due to his background and interests, Farrugia makes his specialist soldiers believable and that goes for the technology as well. Enclave is a fast-paced cyberpunk thriller with lots of fighting and stunts. Crazy stunts that require the regenerative genes of the gang.

The author gave me a copy of Exclave. Update 13.03.3018. I later bought my own copy. I have changed the review a bit.


Reviews:


My reviews of:

  1. Helix Episode 1
  2. Helix Episode 2 (Exile)
  3. Helix Episode 3 (Interceptor)
  4. Helix Episode 4 (Anomaly)
  5. Helix Episode 5 (Inversion)

Mawson, L.C.: Hunt (Freya Snow 1) (2015)

Cover by LC Mawson

There was nothing for Amber to fear in this fight; the ghost was already dead.

Amber is essential to the story of Freya Snow, a girl who was born right before her mother died. Lily bound Amber to Freya as a protector and teacher.

Freya awoke the familiar sound of her sister screaming.

Although not sisters in a biological sense, Freya and Alice have been sisters in the foster system in England. Alice is the only of the two diagnosed as autistic. Alice’s autism is so obvious that mental health professionals are unable to deny it. Freya is another matter. She falls into my category, and, therefore, it was obvious to me that her suspicion that she is also autistic is true. They are the only people who take each other’s hang-ups seriously and know that meltdowns are not tantrums.

She was quiet, bright, and didn’t cause trouble for those looking after her. That was enough for everyone to overlook her trouble making friends, her obsessive nature, and her feeling faint in crowded spaces as “quirks”. It was only because of Alice that Freya recognized a lot of her behaviour as stemming from autistic traits.

Freya  also happens to be the Hero of Hunt. In typical Hero style, Freya is an orphan, at the cusp of discovering her magic and acts as a magnet for powerful people. Apparently, she has little say over her life.

“I don’t know, getting fostered kind of loses its “special day” status once you get past the tenth time.”

Alice and Freya are about to be parted from each other. Alice has been found by her aunt and Freya will be going to the Big city. Well, larger than the town she is currently living in. She does not expect much of the new family or of the new school. Her expectations will be met but they will also prove invalid. Past experiences do not have to predict the future. She will get a friend. One who is not put off by her behaviour and that friendship sets all sorts of things into motion.

Hunt was well-written. Not great, but fun. I liked it enough to get the next book in line, and White‘s writing was much better. Again, it was freaking amazing to read about a supernatural Aspie girl. Talk about breaking stereotypes. Thank you L.C. Mawson.


Reviews:


Hunt is available at Instafreebie

Davis, Milton & Ojetade, Balogun (ed); Steamfunk! (2013)

Illustrated by Marcellus Shane Jackson

Steamfunk! is my first encounter with the genre. Like all anthologies I have ever read, some of the stories appealed to me while others did not. No wonder, given the span of genres. Steamfunk is a US-centric collection of stories that love their steam. I keep on wondering to what extent steam could be an energy source. There are some ideas here that I have not seen before.

According to Balogun Ojetade the Steamfunk! anthology came about because:

The Steamfunk anthology came about from a conversation that I and several authors had online about the lack of Steampunk stories told from a Black / African perspective. We all agreed we would create an anthology in which we would tell such stories. Author Maurice Broaddus suggested we call it Steamfunk and author / publisher Milton Davis agreed to publish it.

They chose the correct person to illustrate the cover. Marcellus Shane Jackson has done an excellent job capturing the essence of each  story. There are cosmetic problems with my kindle version, mostly to do with ↵. It’s a distraction from the stories themselves.

The Delivery by Milton Davis

In the late 1800’s women needed chaperones to go anywhere. Anthony Wainright paid for one of the puppet-men (steam-powered robot) from GWC Factories to escort his fiancée, Miss Appelgate, from Freedonia to New York City. Upon arrival they cannot find Mr. Wainright. Instead, Miss Appelgate is kidnapped by Beuregard Clinton. Clinton shot the puppet-man and managed to hit one of the steam veins. Mr. Stiles, from the airship, fixes him. After that the puppet-man and Mr. Stiles set off to find and save Miss Appelgate from her kidnappers.

Tough Night in Tommyville by Melvin Carter

Problem-solvers Rudy and Boatwright get off the hopper at Thomasville. They have been hired by head gang-boss of the underbelly of Thomasville, Stanford “Rip” Tatum, to solve the problem of Rip’s ex and her river-wolf. Grace Baptiste-Neely and Lloyd “Daddy” Green supposedly hijacked and killed people Rip would prefer lived. Plenty of surprises, like a marching band on coke, line up to whack them in the face.

Men in Black by P. Djeli Clark

The title does not have anything to do with cockroaches invading earth. Whitewood and Blackwood are neighbouring towns. Mainly whites live in one of them and only Blacks live in the other. 40 years after slavery ended tensions still run high and it takes little to get lynching blood cooking. Laurence, from Blackwood, heard his dad say that this next lynching of a coloured man was unjust. So Laurence convinces Big Walter to see what it is all about. Whitewood certainly gets the surprise of its life during the sham trial.

Mudholes and Mississippi Mules by Malon Edwards

Genetic tinkering brought about Aeshna with her compound eyes and insect mouth parts. All she and Petal want is to be left alone. But that cannot be when Aeshna is able to judge a person’s soul and mete out appropriate punishment. Petal is another changed human fitted with a steam clock for a heart and a compost boiler for guts. One day Bald Man Head comes on an errand from the Hanged Man. I liked these two women and the story was fun to read. Especially towards the end.

A Will of Iron by Ray Dean

A Will of Iron is based on the well-known The Ballad of John Henry.

A man is nothing but a man,
But before I let your steam drill beat me down,
I’d die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord,
I’d die with a hammer in my hand

People fighting to keep their jobs from being replaced by new technology is an old and familiar one.

The Path of Ironclad Bison by Penelope Flynn

Zahara and Porter are left in the desert to die. Finances had fallen a long way from their steady income with Cross Continental Airship Line. Was all that was left for the two friends a slow and painful death in the desert?

The Refugee by Kochava Green

In the world of Kochava Green, humans must be extremely careful around bodies of water or they risk the fate of those infected with Lepidoptera larvae. St. Lauritz All-Mother cloister is extremely lucky when a woman from San Lazare wishes to become a novice there. The All-Mother cloisters accept women from all walks of life, no-holds-barred.  Sister Amelia brings unique strengths that aid in the survival of the women. She, in turn, finds a new purpose to life. Refugee is one of my favourite stories.

The Switch by Valjeanne Jeffers

Revolutions seldom bring change, only new overlords. Z100 had been a key player in the revolution that made women property. Because she had been a spy, she was exempt from those rules. But only as long as she did not marry. She was careful in her choice of men by never having humans for lovers. Life-like robots were her get-out-of-jail card. What she forgot is that all security protocols have weaknesses.

Benjamin’s Freedom Magic by Ronald T. Jones

Slavery is a common tool in human history. One of the many problems with slavery is the de-humanizing of people. In rare cases that might actually work to a slave’s advantage because their owners generally do not see slaves or servants. Infiltrating a particular group of slaves is the only way our investigator, Sam, has to find out what Cicero Jensen and Secretary Patterson try to hide inside Jensen’s barn. During his investigations, Sam learns a bit about himself, his attitudes and how far people will go to keep a secret.

Once a Spider by Rebecca McFarland Kyle

This was another favourite. Nansi is a shape-changing human/spider. Imagine the size of that spider! Her dual identity is a result of her Trickster father. At night Nansi, the spider, fights crime in the city. She is not the only shape-changer. There are wolves and tigers as well. One night, to protect a new-born baby, Nansi kills a tiger. That choice changes her life and the life of the city.

On Western Winds by Carole McDonnell

Through the journal of the Headmistress of a women’s college we learn what happens when the ocean brings a dock, or part of it, to the beach by the college. A decision is made to bring the dock inside city walls. A short time later, body parts turn up on the same beach. Then a sub-mariner hears a pulse coming from the depths of the ocean.

The Lion Hunters by Josh Reynolds

I really liked this one as well. It is time for the initiation of the Masai boy Saitoti into the ranks of lion-hunters. Eleven lion-hunters travel to Mombasa to meet with Ethiopian Bahati Mazarin. She tells them that there are two lions she wants killed. That is, if they are lions. Rumours would have it otherwise. Bahati Mazarin comes with them on the hunt. Saitoti cannot help but wonder why she is going with them and why she specifically asked for their group. He hopes it has nothing to do with his own background.

The Sharp Knife of a Short Life by Hannibal Tabu

Clara Perry is on the strangest journey of her life. Unbeknownst to her, Clara’s cryogenic chamber was not sitting in Las Vegas waiting to be opened years into the future. Instead, persons unknown had sent her to the planet Pless to introduce them to technology. It turns out Pless has human-like people on it, people who breathe air Clara can breathe, eat food Clara can eat and behave in a manner Clara can relate to. She soon establishes herself as a woman to be reckoned with. Widow Perry breaks gender roles and class roles, enabling Clara’s integration with people from the various walks of life on Pless. I really liked this story as well. There is something about realistically portrayed strong women that I like. Not that steamfunk is realistic, but I hope you understand what I mean.

The Tunnel at the End of the Light by Geoffrey Thorne

Every ‘jack knew that secrets were death on the rim. But secrets had been kept from the younger generations of Breaktown. When a rip tears Kally Freeman from Other Country to somewhere else, Bannecker Jack does not hesitate to jump after her. “Where did we come from?” “How did we get here?” were questions the child Bannecker often asked his mother. He is about to find out.

Rite of Passage: Blood & Iron by Balogun Ojetade

Warden Clemons tells prisoner John William Henry that he is about to experience the breeze of the Virginia wind and the smell of its dirt again. Only thing is, John Henry will do that by being part of a chain-gang laying tracks for The C and O Railway. Oh joy. John Henry uses this as a chance to run away. He is shot but manages to make his way into an opening in the side of a hill.


Reviews:

Pritchard, Laura; Monarchy (I) (2017)

Pritchard asked me to review her story about a potential future.

At some point in the future the huge division between rich and poor became the excuse revolutionists needed. As with all revolutions, all that had changed was who was in power. From the descriptions in the book we are in a fairly small Monarchy. Citizens are divided between seven sectors. The central one is the capitol city. The other six sectors produce what the population needs to survive, including members of the military. The military is made up of the oldest children of people in six of the sectors. Constance is one such youth. These youth are sent to the capitol the year they turn 16.

Once there, the group of teens first go through an induction week that is supposed to break them. After that, they are given whatever job society (Lex) thinks they qualify for. Once Constance has been inducted into the Brigadiers, she must follow orders (just as we would expect of any soldier). There is romance and all of the other relationships we often find in young adult stories.

Monarchy is not a finished product. It did have potential. With more editing and a couple of beta-reads it would have been fun. Basic stuff like getting “pallet”, “palette” and “palate” right.

Not recommended.


Reviews:

Yates, A.M.: Stealer (2016)

Cover by Clarissa Yeo

As the bus-doors squealed shut, she fantasized about stealing the rainbow-striped balloon and drifting away to wherever the wind blew. Maybe to wherever her father was.

Victim mentality is difficult to let go of. A person gets so wrapped up in what has been that they forget the future does not have to look the same. There are choices. However, reaching for that choice, when one’s self-image seems shot to pieces and one’s position as underdog appears set in stone, is nigh to impossible.

Dee is 17 years old and considered an odd-ball. She is taller than most, has unusual hair and a scarred back. Her position on the social status totem pole is low. Laura, her only, and now ex-, friend, left her for a higher spot. Predatory kids consider her easy bait.

“Don’t feed the wolves. Never feed the wolves.”

To top it all, Dee thinks she is probably insane. She hears and sees things that the other kids apparently do not. Take Danny’s broken pencil:

Every tooth mark incised the instrument with Danny’s belief in magic – belief in gods who used magic.

And, the pencil…… It glowed and floated.

Her way out of victim mentality and hiding from the wolves slowly begins when the Vasquez brothers go after Danny. In spite of being left with dog shit in her hair,  facing her fears slowly becomes possible.

Dee has a strange treasure collection. A broken pencil, broken key-chain, broken glasses, broken lighter, broken needle and broken guitar pick probably do not seem like much to most of us. But Dee senses that these objects represent something more, and the only person with whom Dee dares talk about what she sees and hears is her grand-father. He is also the person who reveals who her father is, a man called River who appeared and disappeared right before his eyes. As it turns out, Dee’s heritage becomes essential to her survival. One day, a guy steals her collection and disappears into thin air. Dee desperately wants her things back but has no idea how to go about it.

Then, she sees a speaking glow bug that calls itself Nid. A deal is made. If Dee frees Nid, Nid promises that Dee will travel safely to the place where the box has gone and that Dee will make it back to her family, safe and sound.

Yates has done a great job on her new world. Crescent is both similar and dissimilar to our own world. Society is highly stratified into different Breeds. At top are the “Leaders” and near the bottom are “Stealers“. Guess which one Dee belongs to. The right to define is a right we fight wars over. Stealers are a perfect example of what happens when the powers that be use their power to re-name. Stealers used to be called “Scouts“.

A scout is a person who seeks information about the unknown, one who goes in front, one who acts as a buffer for those behind while a stealer is a person who takes what does not belong to them. Instead of being part of a team, Stealers are now enslaved by those who can afford to own them. Propaganda has it that the only thing Stealers do well is run from trouble and steal your things. Propaganda also has it that as long as people fulfil the duties Leaders claim each breed must, all needs will be taken care of. As Stealer shows, propaganda in Crescent is as true as propaganda anywhere.

I really liked Stealer. Some of the foreshadowing is obvious and trendy. For instance, Dee and Hunter. If two people meet, and that meeting is hostile, it is almost written in stone that they become lovers. In addition, Yates  throws in the required competitor for the main character’s affections. Dee follows in the tradition of a mystery parent giving their child great powers. Then something happens and those powers become immense. For the most part, Yates avoids  overdoing it. Yates also writes Dee as a believably confused and surprised young woman in a confusing and surprising situation. Moving to new cultures is difficult. Language, traditions and presentation in Crescent are different to the ones of her own home-town somewhere in the US. Yates tells a story full of action and adventure with interesting characters, both main- and side-characters. I could identify with some of them. Crescent is a fun world with solutions I do not think I have seen before.


Reviews:

De Pierres, Marianne; Peacemaker 1 (2014)

The Peacemaker series begins with the novel Peacemaker. Peacemaker also has a first installment of the webcomic edition on De Pierres website. De Pierres has called her Peacemaker stories cowpunk, meaning they are Australian Westerns (yes there is such a thing) with possible aliens/paranormal creatures, technologically enhanced humans and animals and an environmentally challenged country. Australia has gone from having its current 500 national parks to only one, Birrumen Park. There was still an outback while Virgin’s father was alive. He started a park lobby because he saw the direction real estate developers were dragging the country in. Now, Birrumen lies, as the last of its sort, in the heart of a supercity and is surrounded by a road, The Park Esplanada. Noise, people and buildings drench the outside of the park.

Peacemaker is told by Virgin. She is our main character.  Most of her childhood has been spent with her father in Birrumen Park. He taught her to not trust anyone, least of all those closest to her, and to love the park as much as he did. Virgin is passionate about keeping the Park out of the hands of real estate developers. As long as the tourists keep coming, the Park still has a chance.

… the company scientists deemed it too environmentally fragile to handle the impact of permanent residents. Tourists did enough damage.

And we had to have tourists.

The Park saved Australia’s tourism industry and tourists save the Park. My daughter just did her BA dissertation on eco-tourism. Many places depend on tourists to stay alive, but tourists bring their own set of problems that aren’t compatible with keeping a place “untouched”. Owners of the park are forced to make concessions like the Wild West theme of Birrumen. The future we see in Peacemaker is a likely one. Humans don’t have the intelligence to control our population growth or our ecological foot-prints.

Benny, Virgin’s horse, and the Park both ground Virgin when the chaos of the city becomes too much. Both are filled with technology. Benny has been augmented with recording equipment, and endurance and cognitive enhancers. All of his augmentations send information back to Totes, the park tech, and then on to the company storage and processing centre. Birrumen has all sorts of measuring equipment to make sure the park is left as undisturbed as possible. An electromagnetic field above the park keeps unwanted people out and the view in. No human is supposed to be in the park after dark. One evening Virgin forgets her phone inside and has to go back in.

Even though I’d been ranger here for a few years, I was suddenly a little nervous. The sand and rock and palms that I knew so well during the day had taken on an eerie quality.

The company didn’t like us “on board” (their expression for being in the park) after dark – something to do with insurance. I always pushed that directive to the limit because I like to see the sunset. …

As I bent to fumble with the pump, I felt my phone underfoot. Then another sound attracted my attention – muffled voices from the other side of the semicircle of palms that skirted the Interchange area.

Voices? Impossible! I was the last person out of the south-east sector every day. Park scanners and satellite imaging confirmed it, as well as my own visual sweep.

I picked up my phone and crept towards the sound, my boots silent on the sand. There were two of them, arguing, but I couldn’t get a handle on the thread. …

A strangled cry got me running toward them, hauling my pistol free from my holster. …

But the pair had fallen down onto the sand.

I flicked my phone light on and shone it at them. Only one person was there. Blood trickled from a small, deep wound on his neck.

Impossible! There were two! …

Weirdness arrives in the form of a crow. Virgin is attacked and wounded but manages to escape. On top of that, she was supposed to pick up her new partner, Marshall Nate Sixpence, but made it too late to make a good first impression. Then, her imaginary friend from her childhood reappears, a large wedge-tailed eagle called Aquila. Virgin is certain she is going insane because she is the only one who sees Aquila. Except she isn’t. Turns out Nate can also see imaginary friends. Hmmm. Maybe they aren’t as imaginary as Virgin thinks. Nathan calls them disincarnates. Her life is turned on its head. She goes from routine to chaos, from safety to one life-threatening situation after the other. Therein lies the mystery. Virgin’s investigative journalist friend, Caro, helps Virgin many times. Her boss, Bull Hunt, Superintendent of Park Ecology, remains on her side even when the police go after her. He used to be friends with her father and has continued to take care of her.

In some ways Virgin is a loner. She certainly thinks of herself as one, but tends to gather friends because of the way she treats people: Blunt but tries to protect the weak. Some of those friends are interesting cases. Totes, the park tech, is one such. Even though he bugs her apartment, Virgin keeps him on because she believes he is on her side. Chef Dabrowski feeds her and is as much of a surrogate parent as she will let him be. She is the kind of person who does not want to be a burden to the people she loves, yet does her best to help the very same people. Her personality appeals to my Asperger.

This is my favorite De Pierres series thus far. Her writing is compelling, the story asks interesting questions, is fun, full of action, full of interesting characters and has a great female lead. Plus it’s in Australian English. So, a definite yes from me.


Reviews:


Winner Aurealis Award– Best Science Fiction Novel, 2014

Farrugia, Nathan M.; Inversion (Helix V)(2016)

Farrugia‘s Sophia and Olesya serials have forced me to reevaluate some of my preconceptions, stereotypes or prejudices. Thrillers are meant to keep us at the edge of our seat until some sort of climax occurs. Farrugia’s episodes have brought us threats to humanity, political entities and various teams. His “super-heroes” are Olesya and Sophia, and their various team-members have had their spot in the lime-light. Like all thriller-heroes, Olesya, Sophia and their team-members survive when they, logically, should not. My Aspie demands that I check out what exists and what does not, i.e. stun-net-guns with adhesive qualities. I can lay that aside, because an excellent thriller needs to stretch our sense of logic but not completely break it. Or, at least, that is my judgement of an excellent thriller. Inversion proves, once more, what an excellent writer Farrugia is.

An excellent thriller also needs convince us that their plot could happen in real life. Authors who are not willing to sacrifice their writing to tighten up their plots, research their material and have writing in their blood, never reach that point. Farrugia does.

Inversion brings us to Wrocław, Poland and once again to Purity.

“But how do they frame Russia if everyone’s dead?” Aviary asked.

“Exactly,” Sophia said. “The world will be furious. And in their fury, they’ll support Purity.”

Consider Poland’s Jarosław Kaczyński’s methods:

…Law and Justice party has continued to depict the accident as an assassination of its leader, with blame shared by the usual villainous alliance of liberals and communists….

Poland’s present turmoil is the story of how anger at Poland’s liberals mutated into a war on liberal democracy itself. (The Guardian)

A thriller also needs to mess with our minds. In the Sophia and Olesya serials we do not know who the real powers are. I have made guesses in all of my previous reviews, and some of those guesses now seem wrong. Part of that has to do with the long lives of those who are behind the messes of Farrugia’s world. We have been told, through Major Sievers, Hal and Denton, that there are some seriously powerful people behind what is going on. But I have no idea how interlinked the various groups are.

This time around, the people behind Purity use a celebratory march in Wrocław as a lure for Aviary, and, through her, the Russian Directorate. Purity needs a big, bad bear to blame for what is about to happen. The people behind Purity control elements of The Fifth Column, the leadership of Purity and JW GROM (Poland’s antiterrorism unit).

Intron’s Hélio does not trust the documentation Doctor Meresz shared about the kill-switch. As we saw in Anomaly, that is a good thing. Hélio wants to stay with Sophia until he has run some tests on her theories. He and his body guards go with the team to Wrocław. Whether they are trustworthy is debatable. That depends on Intron’s agenda.

Inversion shows us how little control Sophia and Olesya actually have. Their choices depend on Aviary’s findings and those findings are the result of people who know what will trigger both team-leaders, and especially Sophia.

“… she won’t rest until she rights her wrongs.” He stared at the trashcan. “Even then, I don’t think she’ll stop.”

Besides wanting to know who the people behind these groups are, I really want to know how DC knew how to turn up where he did when he did. And what about that gunship? Who do the cloaked ones belong to? Oh, and when you go into a fight, don’t partner with a person your are falling in love with. Losing focus on the roofs around the market place is seriously dangerous to your health. Try to remember that the next time you go to Wrocław in Poland. And do those bobby pins mean anything? Please, I need to know.

Definitely recommended.

I received a complimentary copy of Inversion from Farrugia


Reviews:


My reviews of:

  1. Helix I (Olesya and Sophia)
  2. Exile (Helix II)
  3. Interceptor (Helix III)
  4. Anomaly (Helix IV)
  5. The Chimera Vector (Sophia)
  6. Seraphim Sequence (Sophia II)
  7. Phoenix Variant (Sophia III)

Inversion can be bought at Amazon.com

 

Brin, David; Kiln People (2002)

As with many of his novels, David Brin’s Kiln People is an excellent science fiction story about a highly possible future. David Brin seems to keep himself up-to-date on neurological research and extends that information into alternatives we might well encounter if humans do not destroy themselves (also highly probable) before such technology becomes possible.

Racism is a huge part of the short lives of dittos in Kiln People. Dittos are clones, made of nano-clay, who live only 24 hours. A person’s  consciousness is copied into them and all of their experiences may be copied back into your consciousness again – as long as it is done within 24 hours after their birth. At that time, dittos turn into a kind of sludge. The color the ditto equals its value and abilities. Prices go from the cheapest Orange dittos, that are generally used for manual labor where independent thinking or sensing is seldom required, to the most expensive Platinum ones, that are like a better version of their Archie (original). Dittos are have varying degrees of independent thinking but must always be obedient to their Archie’s commands. They can be forced to do anything you can possibly imagine. Dittos are made to fight each other to the death, to be sex-slaves, to dig in the mines or to be substitute private detectives. Their sensory system can be hyper-sensitive or practically non-existent depending on exactly what you want them to experience, which leaves a lot of room for shitty owners to make their ditto’s life a living hell. While an Archie may do anything to a ditto they meet, instant destruction follows if a ditto harms an Archie. Even though people are allowed to make their dittos do anything, only wealthy people get away with “real” criminal activities. So, just like today. No matter how nice their owner is, dittos are still at the bottom of the social ladder. Albert Morris is a fairly decent owner.

“… I figure if you make a creature, you’re responsible for it. That ditto wanted to matter. He fought like hell to continue. And now he’s part of me, like several hundred others that made it home for inloading, ever since the first time I used a kiln, at sixteen.”

“… The copier sifts your organic brain to engrave the Standing Wave onto a fresh template made of special clay, ripening in the kiln. Soon a new ditto departs into the world to perform errands while you have breakfast. No need even to tell it what to do.

It already knows.

It’s you.”

Albert is the main character. As a private investigator he uses dittoes to go where he does not want to go. In fact, with enough money, he would never have to leave his home. Depending on the case, Albert uses different colored dittos. In Kiln People, Albert uses Ebony (huge processing abilities), Greys (used as representatives) and Greens (used for his dirty work).

Albert has two missions in life. One is to reveal the identity of Beta. Beta and Albert have a long history of killing each other (i.e. their dittos), and Albert really wants to know who is behind his arch-nemesis’ alias. Being as good a private detective as possible is his second mission. Corporate espionage and digging up dirt on  competitors is something private investigators continue to do in the future.

“Ugh. What put me in this mood? Could it be Ritu’s news? A reminder that real death still lurks for us all?

Well, shrug it off! Life’s still the same as it was in the old days.

Sometimes you’re the grasshopper.

Sometimes you are the ant.”

Albert gets hired by incomprehensibly wealthy Aeneas Kaolin, co-inventor of dittos and owner of Universal Kilns, to look into the disappearance of Kaolin’s long-time friend, Yosil Maharal. When Maharal turns up dead in what seems to be a car accident, Albert wonders if it might be something more.

One thing I really liked about Kiln People was the way Brin told the stories of Albert’s dittos in Albert’s voice. At one point, there were four Alberts at the same time. None of them knew what was going on with any of the others because they had not been reintegrated into their Archie. Brin’s world-building happened through the eyes and ears of the various Alberts. What they learned, we learned.

I would not have wanted to live in such a society. I find ours challenging enough. It was an interesting society, though, and one I think most people would embrace. No room for Aspies though. Genetic tinkering had become common enough that our worst ailments were eradicated. That, I wouldn’t mind. Just as I think of today’s society, some of the political choices of the society of Kiln People did not make sense. At least the fanatics behaved predictably.

Towards the end, I felt preached at. I don’t mind crazy men’s ranting, but this felt more like Brin telling, not showing. I also enjoyed Brin’s sense of humour.

“Albert? Is that you in there?”Illusion or not, I couldn’t refuse her anything. Though lacking a body – or any other means to make sound – I somehow gathered strength to mouth four words.

“… just … a … fax … ma’am …”

In conclusion, I think I can safely say that there is plenty of action, no romance, much social commentary, humour, and some preaching. I liked it.


Reviews:


Translations:

  • Audible: Read by Andy Caploe; Brilliance Audio, 2016
  • Bulgarian: Килн хора; Translated by Венцислав Божилов; Бард, 2002; Goodreads
  • English (British): Kil’n People; London, Orbit, 2002; Review
  • French: Le Peuple d’argile; Translated by Thierry Arson; Presses de la Cité, 2004; Review
  • German: Copy; Translated by Andreas Brandhorst; Heyne, 2005
  • Hebrew:  אנשי הכבשן; Translated by Ṿered Ṭokhṭerman; מודן הוצאה לאור, 2004; Review
  • Hungarian: Dettó; Translated by Haklik Norbert; Budapest, Metropolis Media, 2009; Reviews
  • Japanese: キルン・ピープル; Translated by 酒井昭伸 (Sakai Akinobu);  ハヤカワ文庫 (Hayakawa bunko) SF1628, 2007; Cover art: 加藤直之 (Katou Naoyuki); Review
  • Russian: Глина; Translated by С. Самуйлов; АСТ: Люкс, 2005 г; Cover art: SharksDen и Д. Бернса; Reviews
  • Spanish: Gente de Barro; Translated by Rafael Marín Trechera; Nova, 2003; Review

Farrugia, Nathan; Anomaly (Helix IV) (2016)

Sophia portrayed by Haylee Collins / Photographer: Andrew Maccoll / Cover design: Pat Naoum
Sophia portrayed by Haylee Collins / Photographer: Andrew Maccoll / Cover design: Pat Naoum

Sometimes getting to know the author is as fun as getting to know the characters. Farrugia is probably as adrenaline addicted as Sophia but, thankfully, seems a ways off Denton’s brand of crazy. He is also funny as hell and a great writer.

This odd group of animals I belong to, seems hell-bent on destroying itself in one way or another. Often, I wonder who profits from the unrest going on. Seeing behind propaganda, to the Dentons, Hals and Sievers of this world, takes time and effort. What Farrugia manages to get across in Anomaly is how little the pawns, even at the level of Illarion, know. Just because two parties kill each-other, doesn’t mean they oppose each other. Unlike many of the real-world conspiracies I hear/read, Farrugia’s conspiracy thriller shows us a believable chess-game where the consequences to the players are small, but to their pawns, well.

Purity is clearly one of the pawns being played. We got an inkling of that in Interceptor. Anomaly‘s use of Hal, Denton and DC pushes me to think in one direction. Farrugia is probably just messing with my mind. Cults are terrifying creatures. Especially political cults. Nazism was one. We see another one tear its way through Europe, triggered by the 70-year-long battle between USA and Russia that is, at this part of the “game”, destroying the Middle-East. Purity has reached the point of the mob. “Burn the witches” is a chant at one of their rallies. Farrugia paints the mindlessness, hysterical anger, fear and violence present in such a mob perfectly.

We get to know Marina better. I find myself curious about her. “Will this hurt?” she asked. And it did. It takes a special kind of training to acquire the mind-set of the researchers in the various Columns, training most people would pass.

Eastern Europe is clearly in trouble and the only ones who might save it are Sophia and Olesya’s people. But only if the two groups cooperate. Both feel the need to talk but are afraid to trust the other. They know that no matter what they choose, the likelihood of their groups getting out intact is nil. However, both are the kind of leader who wants to get as much of her team out alive and as well as possible.

What on earth are Intron’s goals? They aren’t what Hélio  says. Why are Fifth Column’s implants turning up in such strange people? Who are training these new, indestructible operatives? What is DC up to? How are Purity identifying the mutants? Can paranoia be taken too far?

As usual, I had fun. Lots of action, lots of conspiracy and one hell of a mystery. Definitely recommended.

I was given an advance copy of Anomaly to review.


Reviews:


My reviews of:

  1. Helix
  2. Exile
  3. Interceptor

Anomaly is available at Amazon

Farrugia, Nathan; Interceptor (Helix III) (2016)

Helix 3 - Interceptor cover

Sievers turned his lapel out so Denton could see him reaching for a small, slender tin. He crouched and opened the tin on the floorboards, then stepped back. Inside, a large stainless steel and glass syringe. The liquid inside the syringe burned with the colors of molten lava.

“You already know what this is,” Sievers said. “And you’ll need it, if you intend to live long enough to find what you’re really looking for.”

Denton took a step toward him. “You’re using my people to get what you want.”

For the first time, Sievers smiled. White teeth flashed between his black beard. “And you are doing precisely the same.”

Colonel Wolfram Sievers and Lieutenant Denton have lived a long time. Both are willing to go to extreme lengths to achieve what they want. For Denton that seems to be world domination through Project Gate. Sievers appears to be playing another game. That game could be called chaos. Peace would probably be boring business for his superiors. Obvious suspects for such superiors might be arms manufacturers who may or may not work with biological/genetic research firms like Intero. As far as I can tell, the various countries (certainly many politicians) in the Helix world (and real) are simply pawns in the hands of these entities.

As I have said in previous reviews, one of the major appeals of Farrugia‘s stories is that they could happen. Reactions of the general populace would probably (and do) fit his description of the election of the Purity party’s leadership into Poland’s government. Fear of people with genetic mutations is increasing among the population, thereby legitimizing the Purists going after our “heroes” with the aim of targeting/turning off their mutations.

In Exile, Sophia met an operative from the Fifth Column who self-destructed when Sophia attempted to de-program her. This time around, she meets a completely different type of agent. Who or what these new operatives belong to becomes a pressing question. So does the question of DC’s loyalties. Will Jay, Nasira, Damien and Aviary be able to infiltrate Intero’s data system and what about finding Val. How is that going for Olesya and her team? And who the hell are the Benefactors?

From the various links, you would be correct in presuming I had fun with Interceptor. There is so much going on, I cannot help but dig. At the same time, I do have to stop digging and write a review. Once again, definitely recommended.


Farrugia provided me with a reviewer’s copy of Interceptor.


Interceptor is available at Amazon


My reviews of:

  1. Helix Episode I
  2. Exile (Helix II)
  3. The Chimera Vector (Sophia)
  4. Seraphim Sequence (Sophia II)
  5. Phoenix Variant (Sophia III)

Zanbaka, Elias: Environmentally Friendly (2016)

Cover by The Cover Collection
Cover by The Cover Collection

“Yeah, well, have a talk with ’em. They somehow only managed to get the money and the okay to do this right after he escaped a week ago. They got an opportunity and they ran with it! Either way, he’s boxed in now and that’s what matters,”

Convenient that Major Bushell ran away when he did. If it wasn’t for the fact that Zanbaka made up this story, I would have suspected the “specialists” of letting Bushell out of his maximum security cage.

As the story opens, we find ourselves on Hollywood Boulevard, with Sergeant Schaeffer, chasing Bushell. Schaeffer seems like a pretty level-headed police officer who has to handle Bushell, trigger-happy police officers and the specialists, all without getting killed. Particularly one officer, Lieutenant Hazzard, seems to have either/both a martyr wish or/and a killing wish. He is too angry for the kind of job he has. Lieutenant means that he should be supervising Schaeffer, but this story shows the opposite.

Bushell is messed up. His PTSD is severe and has driven him on his own crusade against Mother Nature. He seems to think that he can kill it, but nature does not go down easily. Major Bushell has experience with how thorough nature can be when it does its worst.

This is Elias Zanbaka’s first published (self-published) story. There are some awkward sentences, but Environmentally Friendly is an action-packed, fun, read-in-one-go 19 page story. I recommend it.


The author gave me a copy of Environmentally Friendly to, hopefully, review


Reviews:


Environmentally Friendly is available at Amazon