Category Archives: #Thriller

Thoma, C. (2014). Boreal and John Grey. Season 2. Self-published.

As with Thoma‘s Season 1 collection, I bought the entire Season 2 of the Boreal and John Grey serial. Once again, I really enjoyed the five novellas that make up Season 2: The Threads (73p), The Snare (77p), The Warp (96p), The Loop (99p) and The Weave.

When we left Season 1, Ella’s boss changed his mind about killing Finn – as much as a Duergar/Guardian of the Gates is able to. Lots of blod had been shed, much of it by the two main characters (Ella and Finn). Now it was time for recuperation and a sort or regular life. As much as a John Grey and his Stabilizer could hope for.

Insistent ringing roused Ella from sleep, shattering a dream of Finn talking to her earnestly about lollipops.

Lollipops? Seriously?

Damn ringing continued. Had to be the alarm clock, Ella thought fuzzily and made a grab for it, upturning the lamp on her bedside table and catching it a second before it crashed to the floor.

Not the alarm clock.

Phone. Blindly she groped for it and rolled on her back to answer, her arm flopping to the side. (p. 1)

Of course, recuperation and rest are not on any hunter’s schedule. Their short leave comes to an end with the sighting of a white flying creature. All land creatures from Aelfheim are white, a necessity on a frozen world. A very long time ago Ljosaelfar made their way to Earth/Midgard through Gates created by John Grey to pierce the veil between worlds. Earth was ripe for the taking, warm and willing, while Aelfheim was frigid and stormy. Primitive Viking leaders were no threat. What the Boreal had forgotten was that invaders cannot only watch the invadees but should also watch their backs. Their attempt was thwarted by the Dokkaelfar.

Because gates have once again started appearing, that means that John Grey must exist. In Season 1 we found out that John Grey is not a single individual but rather a title bestowed on people with the ability to open Gates. As we know, today that person is Finn.

He tensed, his back arching. “Asmodr,” he gasped out. His hands curled into fists and an image hit her like a bullet between the eyes.

A blinding form, humanoid, the face dark but the rest sparkling as if made of broken mirror shards — and there was pain, bowing her spine, splitting her head, until she couldn’t breathe. The light intensified, searing into her retinas. (Kindle Locations 441-445).

However, Finn does not operate in a vacuum. For some reason his abilities require a Stabilizer, and that Stabilizer is Ella. We are about to find out what on earth a Stabilizer is and does.

Something zipped by her head. She waved a hand at her face with the vague idea it was an insect — then that something slammed into the wall of the rooftop entrance, cracking the concrete. (Kindle Locations 492-494).

There are many who want to control John Grey and his Stabilizer, for those “who control the Gates, control everything”. Hopeful puppet masters hunt the couple using their weaknesses against them. Our own history is full of successful puppet masters whose mantra is that “the end justifies the means” and are perfectly willing to kill their potential puppets if they cannot gain that control.

I really like this about Seasons 1 and 2 of Boreal and John Grey. Thoma is a Greek-Cypriot, and if anyone knows anything at all about puppet masters it is they. Even now they are victims of the breed. Maybe that is one reason the author writes so vividly and realistically about the topic.

This time, the collected novellas ended in a true cliff-hanger. If I had thought that was how the entire serial was ending, I wouldn’t have minded it as much. However, as is the case, everything about the ending points towards a Season 3.

Once again, Thoma’s writing is excellent. Rhythm, flow, and plot-tightness is maintained until the last period is written. Point of View is third person told through Ella’s eyes. Again, the story is full of action, betrayal, strange creatures, agencies, and magic, i.e. all the elements required for a great fantasy thriller. There is swearing, violence and sex (Euro-Vanilla on all three/maybe US age 16). If this does not bother you, then Boreal and John Grey ought to be a great read. It certainly was for me.


My review of:

Thoma, C. (2014). Boreal and John Grey Season 1. Self-published.

I absolutely loved the scifi/fantasy/thriller story Boreal and John Grey, Season One. Thoma is an author that justifies self-published works.  Season 1 contains the novellas “The Encounter” (45 p), “The Gate” (70 p), “The Dragon” (94 p), “The Dream” (100 p) and “The Truth” (107 p).

Although it was early September, the cold bit to the bone and the air smelled like snow. Snow and piss and trash. The alley stretched ahead, empty of life and strewn with crushed cans and paper.

Ella didn’t move. Faint humming filled her ears, and clicking noises sounded. The clouds above shifted, though no wind blew. The Veil was thinning. Shades would be lurking, waiting to pounce. In the past, faint, frail faeries came through; these had recently turned into more malevolent creatures — kobolds and goblins with a taste for blood. (p. 1.)

Right off the story reveals the quality of Thoma’s work and the kind of story we can expect. The first two paragraphs seethe with potential action and foreshadow a dark story. For Boreal and John Grey, Season 1 is a dark and action-filled story about elements of the Paranormal Investigation Bureau (PIB) and its dealings somewhere in the US.

PIB Voyants (“Sight”, i.e. can see Shades) are paired off and sent to investigate and deal with possible sightings of Shades (Vaettir). Ella Benson and Simon Esterhase make up one such pairing. An anonymous call was redirected to their team, yet only Ella turns up to hunt. What she discovers about the Veil and the Shades disturbs her boss, David Holborn. She does not reveal that when a goblin was about to kill her, it was instead destroyed by a man who fought “like a hurricane” and who left after making sure she was OK (without sharing his name). Throughout the story Ella finds that trusted people aren’t trustworthy while suspicious characters might not be suspicious after all. We also meet the ever-trustworthy Mike, Ella’s neighbour, friend and also Oracle (“He hears the Shades.”, p. 116).

Ella and the mysterious stranger are our main characters. Both are “Heroes“, i.e. “solitary people who fight for the greater good to the detriment of themselves and who do what must be done so others can live normal lives.”

Thoma tells us that she was inspired by the Icelandic saga Eddukvæði by Sæmundar (English translation). I saw this in the details of the story and how the characters from the Edda fit into modern US and  its paranoia. Edda’s inspiration made for recognizable yet new and original characters. I loved the description of the alternate evolution on a Boreal world (brrr).

Any steady reader of this blog knows that romance is not my thing. A majority of romance authors seem incapable of writing believable character interaction. Not so with Thoma. In this case I believed both the emotional and physical interactions that took place. The sex was European vanilla, and the violence held back yet remained believable. Swearing fit with its position in the story.

Certain issues were extremely relevant in a global context. Hatred left from wars leading to atrocious actions from extremist groups on both sides (e.g. Dave and Adramar) is one issue. Relationships across racial/ethnical divides is another. Child abuse a third. No preaching was involved. I hate preaching, even when I am the one doing the preaching. The worst part of the story was that it ended.

Information was weaved into the story in a manner that kept the drive going. No stutters or dissonances were found. Due to Thoma’s world-building, and how tight the story was, I found it difficult to  take breaks.

Each episode flowed flawlessly into the next and the amount of editing that must have gone into this showed. Fortunately, the novel ended without a cliff-hanger. There was a clear opening for continuing the story.

By now you must realise that I heartily recommend this scifi/fantasy/thriller. Fun characters, great resolutions, sex and some violence are all wrapped up into one of the better stories I have read this year.

I bought my copy at Amazon.


My other Thoma reviews: Rex Rising

West of the Pecos by Zane Grey

As some of you know, I have a blog dedicated to Zane Grey. He published action romance novels in the early 1900’s.

West of the Pecos; New York, The American Magazine, 1931

18Feb

Illustrated by Frank Hoffman

West of the Pecos

was first published as a 7-episode serial in The American Magazine from August of 1931 to February of 1932. In 1937 Harper & Brothers published the story as an action romance. The Zane Grey’s Western Magazine published West of the Pecos in 1947 and again in 1954. The main characters are Pecos Smith and Terrill (Rill) Lambeth with Sambo as supporting character. As usual, nature plays an important role displaying Pecos River, Horsehead Crossing and Langtry around 1865-1871 (ZGWS). A free copy is available in Roy Glashan‘s library.

“When Templeton Lambeth’s wife informed him that if God was good they might in due time expect the heir he had so passionately longed for, he grasped at this with the joy of a man whose fortunes were failing, and who believed that a son might revive his once cherished dream of a new and adventurous life on the wild Texas ranges west of the Pecos River.

That very momentous day he named the expected boy Terrill Lambeth, for a beloved brother. Their father had bequeathed to each a plantation; one in Louisiana, and the other in eastern Texas. Terrill had done well with his talents, while Templeton had failed.

The baby came and it was a girl. This disappointment was the second of Lambeth’s life, and the greater. Lambeth never reconciled himself to what he considered a scurvy trick of fate. He decided to regard the child as he would a son, and to bring her up accordingly. He never changed the name Terrill. And though he could not help loving Terrill as a daughter, he exulted in her tomboy tendencies and her apparently natural preferences for the rougher and more virile pleasures and occupations. Of these he took full advantage.”

Zane Grey was known for thorough research for his stories and appropriately portrayed characters according to each storyline’s class, gender and color. In West of the Pecos we find ourselves in Texas before and after the war between Southern and Northern states. Texas never experienced the major invasions that other Southern states did. Shortages of essentials like food, medication and paper was extensive because essentials went to the army. To support the war, new property-, poll-, income- and distilling taxes were imposed. Refugees started arriving and wounded men returned. Crime rose and sometimes these were answered with lynchings. Since most white men, like Lambeth, joined the army, women took over the running of most facets of life. Many cotton plantations were not as affected as other industries (TSLAC). However, the Lambeth women experienced hardship, and their slaves probably felt the increasing lack of ready income the most. When the war ended, Lambeth returned a widower with a fifteen year old daughter (Rill) to provide for and a plantation he no longer wants to run.

West of the Pecos is about gender differences, how Texans viewed African-Americans, crime as a consequence of the war, poverty and not giving up. It’s probably one of my favourite Zane Grey action romances. The action is excellent. As usual nature plays a vital part……………………………….

The rest of the review is on zanegreyandme.wordpress.com

Stross, Charles; Iron Sunrise (2004)

Considering this is my third or fourth time reading Iron Sunrise, it should come as no surprise that I like it. Iron Sunrise is a science fiction thriller space opera lingering within certain degrees of believability. There are two main characters. One of them was apparently in the previous Eschaton story, Singularity Sky.

Rachel Mansour is Black Ops, i.e. top-secret with/without wet-work (e.g. killing people). I’ve never figured out why politicians, academics and the military use so many substitute words in an attempt to camouflage what a soldier often has to do. Although, in the case of politicians, in real life and in Iron Sunrise, I expect it has to do with living in pretend worlds inside their own heads. Pretenses and pretty words do nothing to save people like Rachel from having recurring nightmares. She is the kind of person, who instead of asking “Why should I do this?” or “Why is this happening to me?” asks “Why not me?”. She is who the UN sends out to clean up their or other worlds’ messes. In the first part of Iron Sunrise, Rachel has a nasty encounter with Emperor Idi Amin. She manages to save Geneva from him. After that, she is sent off to save humans from themselves.

One of the people who experienced the start of the mess Rachel is trying to fix is our other main character, Wednesday Strowger. The first few pages are about her experiences three years earlier when  her invisible friend, Herman, asked for her help.

She’d read the papers in the strong room, realized how important they must be, and pushed the door ajar, thinking to leave – yanked it shut barely ahead of the snarl and the leap. Acrid smoke had curled up from the hinges as she scrambled into the duct-work, fled like a black-clad spider into the service axis and though the pressurized cargo tunnel and the shadows of the almost-empty dock, panting and crying as she went. Always hearing a scrabble of diamond-tipped claws on the floor behind her.

After the evacuation of Old Newfoundland Four, we next meet Wednesday three years later. She is now 19 has people out to kill her. Wednesday ties them to her past. Again, with the help of Herman, she jumps, once more, into the fray. That jump eventually brings her into contact with Rachel.

Another person sent by her government to clean up after other people’s stupidity is U. Portia Hoechst. Same thing, only she belongs to the other side, the enemy to Wednesday and Rachel’s beliefs about right and wrong. Portia is as convinced of the need for the ReMastered as Rachel believes in the need for Eschaton. Two people, each trying to bring the galaxy back into their kind of order. Take what it may. Already, Wednesday’s home-world, Moscow and her second home on Old NewFoundland have been destroyed or made uninhabitable for humans. Once more, Wednesday and millions of other people stand to lose their lives.

I’m on Wednesday and Rachel’s side, but that is because Stross has written the story with them made out to be the quasi-goodies. Yet I can see the attraction of a tyranny run the way the ReMastered do. Only if I was considered one of the usable ones. The only good tyrannies, in my mind, are ones with leaders who put the needs of their people before their own wants. Yeah, not likely.

There are some technologies that Stross describes that I wouldn’t mind. Smart pigments for hair and skin could be incredibly fun to play with. But not really practical unless you’re trying to camouflage yourself. I’m not sure about brain implants (basically a smarter brain) because the concept seems too easy to hack. Plus they seem kind of clunky. Plus I’m not sure which parts of the brain they would be hacked into. Our brains are only electrical impulses traveling along a fragile network easily disrupted by neurochemical signals. I imagine our calorie intake would have to increase to make up for the extra energy requirements of a global implant such as Stross describes. Cause we would have to be able to energize these networks by ourselves, the way we do with our meat brains. Which is why I’m not buying all the “hard science fiction” labels that Iron Sunrise has gotten. Not when it comes to Eschaton either.

Faster than light travel, wormholes, null spaces or even almost up to light travel are never going to happen for humans. We are too stupid to come together as a planet for long enough to get it done. Hell, we’re too stupid to make our own planet more environmentally sound. Even me, and I know what is going on. But that doesn’t make this stuff any less fun to read about. Iron Sunrise is an excellent thriller that is already, more or less, happening here on Earth. This is how stupid people are. And how dedicated. And how terrified yet willing. And how terrifying. And how greedy. Greed. Ain’t it wonderful. Where would thrillers be without it or fanaticism.

If ever an Artificial Intelligence comes about that is somewhat like Eschaton, it deserves a UN citizenship.

According to Stross, the set-up of Iron Sunrise

“allows for narrative structures that map onto intercontinental travel circa 1880-1914; we have railroads space elevators that link national planetary populations to ports space stations where steam starships dock, to transport passengers and cargo slowly between stops; and we have trans-oceanic telegraph cables causal channels to allow instantaneous (but expensive and limited-bandwidth) information transfer.”


My reviews of other Charles Stross stories

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)

China, Max; The Sister; Skinnybirds Productions; 2014

My copy of The Sister, is the 2014 edition. Apparently, some of the problems in the 2012 edition have been corrected.

“You should have learned to swim.”

The perfect murders are the ones where the murderer is never discovered. As The Sister is a traditional mystery-thriller, that cannot happen. Having said that, the boiler-suit murderer seems a likely candidate for a murderer who might never have been caught in real life. That has to do with his methods.

When we are introduced to him, we find ourselves in Cornwall during the summer of 1967. The year my sister was born.

“You told Lei you were coming here?” the girl asked. “Are you sure she won’t get lonely and come down to join – us?”

“No. She won’t come here. Like I said, we argued, and now we’re not talking … besides, she is scared of this place, what with all those old stories …?”

20 August 1967 three things happen simultaneously. The Milowski family decides to go on a picnic not far from a haunted site. Something he sees through a telescope unsettles seven-year old Bruce, and he decides to investigate that feeling. He is too young to realize how dangerous following such hunches might be.

At the same time, the above-mentioned Lee follows in the foot-steps of her disappeared boy-friend.

Rescuers found his tent pitched near the mine’s entrance. It was empty, his equipment missing. Unable to find any trace of him outside, the rescue team concluded that he must have decided to sleep in the mine. …

At the same time, at Celtic Deep, Vera begins seeing things, and the first thing she sees is the death about to happen.

All three lives are irrevocably changed, while the boiler-suit serial killer gets to keep on doing what he enjoys most in the world.

The Sister is about power. The lengths to which we are willing to go to have it and the lengths to which others choose to go to take it from us. Max China also shows us some long-term effects of traumatic events. Some of these ways of dealing with trauma, reminds me of how I used to deal with my own experiences. I was also reminded of the strength it took to discover how to live with PTSD and to acknowledge the effects of that survival.

China’s serial killer is frightening because he is believable. Watching programs and reading articles about real life serial killers has shown me that the boiler-suit killer would fit right in. Vera’s powers are what brings The Sister into the realm of fantasy/paranormal fiction. I would not want a stone like the obsidian stone in my life, nor would I wish the slightest ability to see into the future. I liked Vera. She is a woman who chooses to bear burdens that most of us would be unable to carry.

The editing of The Sister is good. It is a relief to read a story where the author understands the words he uses, has a basic understanding of spelling and grammar, seems to have the ability to listen to what editors and beta-readers suggest and understands the music of words. In addition, the characters are believable. While I might not like all of them, they are people I can relate to on some level. Yes. Even boiler-suit man. Finally, I prefer the third-person point of view China uses in his storytelling.


Reviews:

Silvers, Shane; Obsidian Son (Nate Temple I); Argento Publishing, 2012

I completely agree with the criticism of some of the reviewers of Obsidian Son. Much in the way of the Paranormal Romances I have read, Obsidian Son has a bizarre view of looks and what attracts people to each other. Instead of big cocks, there are big racks. The main character is shallow, obnoxious and has few redeeming qualities. In addition, there is a lack of research. Finally, there are grammatical problems.

In spite of all that, I had fun. Imagine what Shayne Silvers could have accomplished with a better team. So many of the authors I read, or try to read, claim their stories have had editors and beta-readers. As does Silvers. Hmmm. Who are these editors and beta-readers?

I still had fun. This is an urban fantasy interspersed with mythological and magical creatures. The main character has magic, is wealthy and is extremely attractive to the opposite gender. Some of that attraction is because of out-of-control magic. There are dragons. They are the best part of the story. Really fun dragons.

Not recommended.


Reviews:

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)

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

 

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

Farrugia, Nathan; Exile (Helix II) (2016)

Helix - Episode 2
Photo by Andrew Maccoll, Cover design by Pat Naoum

Nathan. You cretin.  If telepathic strangling had been possible, I might have given it a try all the way from Norway. Cliff-hangers like this should be forbidden.

History repeats itself over and over and over again. Using The Fifth Column as his title for the Sophia series, and inserting Sixth Column as rebels to the usurper group, shows us how we continue to live in repetition. The tool used by any power, be it national or institutional, to get the public to go along with it is two-fold: propaganda (mild brainwashing) and force. In the Fifth Column trilogy, Denton and McLoughlin used both to get a strong hold on US military, US government and US public. Propaganda uses less blood and is often (usually) difficult to see through.

I am 51 years old and have been through all sorts of propaganda periods. Usually, I like to think of myself as a feminist. In Exile, Nathan showed me how far I have left to go.

Damien, Jay and Nasira have gone to Las Vegas to get hold of Aviary (from The Fifth Column). Since Jay has lost his genetic advantages, and is still healing from the killing shots from Helix I, he is get-away driver. Nasira and Damien want to rescue Aviary and have to get through a group of Marines guarding her room. Nasira begins the fight and Damien joins in.

“That would be my cue, Damien thought.

He launched for the marine behind him, grasped the barrel of her gun and twisted it up, tangling her trigger finger. The scope broke her nose, blood spattering the door of the room.”

I was completely surprised when the marine was a woman. So much for my feminism. But that is the power of propaganda. Farrugia just dump women and men into situations without regard for gender and lets them do their thing. And that is incredibly cool and hopeful.

There are three main groups in Exile. The first is the above. Their self-imposed job is to find Aviary and get her to help them again. The above shows one of the complications that arise.

Our second group is Olesya and Ark(adiy) and their masters. Val was taken by Intron Genetics Incorporated operators towards the end of Helix I. She was the third operative taken that week. They are not the only three who have been kidnapped. The loss of Ark’s sister hit both of them hard, and they desperately want her back. But Illarion does not agree with their assessment of Intron’s involvement. So he sends them to Poland due to an apparent shift of Fifth Column operatives to Eastern Europe and the loss of several hunters in the area. Something major seems to be going down.

The third group is Sophia, Czarina and Ieva. Sophia rescued and deprogrammed both of them. At this point she was teaching them to deprogram others. That is Sophia’s main mission (much as it is Olesya’s), to catch and deprogram Fifth Column operatives. However, catching people who fight for their lives is not a simple matter. At least Sophia has access to the location of every live Fifth Column operative.

Finally, there is the matter of Denton and Loughlin’s goal of making impossible-to-catch operatives. These two are extremely driven people who will do absolutely anything to accomplish their goals and retain their positions. That includes operators like Priya, who Sophia stumbles across on one of her jobs to save people from the clutches of the Fifth Column.

Well written as usual. Fun and believable fighting. Plenty of intrigue. Farrugia does techno-thrillers well. Definitely recommended.


Exile: Helix II is available on Amazon US


My review of Helix: Episode I


An ARC of Exile (Helix II) was given to me by the author


Intron:

Introns are present in the initial RNA transcript, known as pre-mRNA. They need to be removed in order for the mRNA to be able to direct the production of proteins. Pre-mRNA, therefore, undergoes a process, known as splicing, to create mature mRNA. (6, 8)

It is vital for the introns to be removed precisely, as any left-over intron nucleotides, or deletion of exon nucleotides, may result in a faulty protein being produced. This is because the amino acids that make up proteins are joined together based on codons, which consist of three nucleotides. An imprecise intron removal thus may result in a frameshift, which means that the genetic code would be read incorrectly. (3)

This can be explained by using the following phrase as a metaphor for an exon: “BOB THE BIG TAN CAT”. If the intron before this exon was imprecisely removed, so that the “B” was no longer present, then the sequence would become unreadable: “OBT HEB IGT ANC AT…”

Farrugia, Nathan M.: Helix: Episode 1 (2016)

Hi, I’m Nathan and I make up stories. There’s a word for that. Delusional. And sexy.

Helix: Episode 1 is part of the world of The Fifth Column. What I like most, aside from how well the text flows, is its realism. No mental leaps are required of me to believe in the likelihood of the methods used to acquire soldier material, how these people are tested, what training they receive and their use. The military and population application of all of the genetic manipulation described, especially unquestioning loyalty, is frightening.

Some of the brainwashing techniques described in the Sophia serial is brainwashing we all go through. Propaganda is poured at us from every available medium from the time we are born. Our ethics and moral values are all part of this propaganda. Soldiers who are sent to kill, especially the ones who end up in some form of black ops, must endure even more. What military and intelligence leaders want are people who obey and find a way to achieve whatever their leaders command them to do as efficiently as possible. Unlike religious cults, though, the military cannot have unquestioning loyalty in such men and women. At least not in officers.

The Fifth Column is not an officially sanctioned group. They aren’t interested in their doings getting out to the public. So their brainwashing needs to be more thorough.

One of their tools for finding relevant children is the Human Genome Project. Based on certain genetic markers, children from around the world get tested by Project GATE. Olesya, our main character, is one such child. Except she does not seem to have the desired genetic marker. However, she does make it into the program.

“For a while, he was silent. It was the longest she’d seen him not talk. Above the, fireworks crackled, then trickled down the velvet sky. Olesya tried to imagine what this scholarship on the other side of the world would be like without her big brother.

The snow squeaked under Zakhar’s jacket. He rubbed his face with a gloved hand and she realized he’d been crying. The fireworks had faded now, golden glitter in the night.”

Project GATE aims to make the perfect killers. By combining extensive testing, combat and assassin training, brainwashing techniques and an engineered virus, Project GATE gets unquestioning, loyal and adjustable soldiers.

After one of their tests, Olesya, together with other team-members, is broken out of Project GATE by the Sixth Column and de-programmed. The Chimera Vector took us through that process and it was not fun for either the programee or the de-programmer.  Getting de-programmed is only the beginning of Olesya’s life with a mind of her own. Now the Sixth Column wants her to be their soldier. She, and the others from her old team, fight to free other Fifth Column members and to find their own people who seem to be disappearing. Theirs is a race against time and a superior power.

It turns out the Sixth Column is not only fighting against the Fifth Column but also against an organization whose members wear white armbands. All of these conspiracies give us much action, well-written action. With his background, Farrugia has the tools for being able to make the fighting realistic. Realism by itself, would not work well for some of the car-chases, so we get a bit of Bondism as well.  We reacquaint ourselves briefly with Sophia and it is interesting to see what that tells us about the Sixth Column.

Helix was fun, had great flow and interesting people who kept me entertained. Definitely recommended.


Reviews:


My reviews of other Fifth Column stories


Helix, Episode 1 is available at Amazon

Vincent, Steve P.: State of Emergency (Jack Emery II) (2015)

State of Emergency, Momentum, 2015
Cover design: Xou Creative

Once again we enter the world of master-sleuth and journalist Jack Emery. Believe it or not, there are people out there who are against world peace. In and of itself that is not a problem. However, when that person has a powerful organization backing them up, the world is in danger. A prime real-life example is Dick Cheney and his connections with the weapons’ industry. Power-hunger seeps into the pores of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Administrator, Richard Hall, and his fanaticism drives USA towards another chasm.

The world needs people like Jack Emery, who, with the right motivation and co-conspirators, does not give up until a truth is found. And, that my friend, is something State of Emergency gives him.

The story starts off with Iranian computer scientist student, Dhaneshgahi, being kidnapped off MIT grounds. Already, we know that the target is in a heap of trouble, that the crime involves cracking and that the target is difficult.

The entire population of the US definitely qualifies as a difficult target, with the main perpetrator acting as “a friend in need”. Through his naughtiness, Richard Hall will, finally, experience the kind of USA he has longed to see. One that is much more controlled. A dusin apparent terrorist attacks have been pulled off. The National Security Council has no idea who is behind the attacks. Nor do they know how to defend against them. How do you defend against an enemy who has no name or known agenda? Richard Hall, through FEMA, suggests to the President that FEMA could use State Guards to protect vulnerable targets and ramp up general FEMA support. She tells him to make it happen. Finally, Hall has his foot inside the tower of power.

Richard Hall does well as a serial killer. He is driven by an inner mania to get his philosophy into life, cost what it may. According to him, the ends do justify the means. Cue crazy person laugh. Except in Richard Hall’s mind he is the only logical person around. And that may be correct. Where logic leads you depends on your starting point. His starting point is that control and punishment are the only tools through which the United States might return to greatness.

The system controlling the capacity and flow at the Hoover Dam is broken into, and “unprecedented flooding” follows. Jack Emery becomes curious. Curiosity in a journalist can be a dangerous thing if that journalist has freedom and connections to dig below surface facts. Saving the US in Foundation made Jack connections that got him into unusual places. Like the Hoover Dam after the break-in. The terrorists had not been able to cut the hard-wired security camera feeds. Jack and his buddy Joseph got to see the entire break-in and wondered about the team’s easy entry. From small mistakes the powerful may fall. And fall they do, all in usual Jack Emery style.

Break-ins, break-outs, invasions, battles, shortages, concentration camps, death on both sides, rebels, underground radios, explosions, moments of high tension and romantic entanglements all come together to form a fun and addictive State of Emergency. Definitely recommended.

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Reviews: