Archive for the Angry Robot Army Category

Book Review: The Deaths of Tao, by Wesley Chu

Posted in Angry Robot Army, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction, Spy, Thriller, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

TheDeathsOfTao-144dpiTitle: The Deaths of Tao (Tao #2)

Author: Wesley Chu

Publisher: Angry Robot, 2013

Length: 464 pages

Price: $7.99 US/ $8.99 CA

ISBN: 978-0-85766-332-0

An alien race known as the Quasing have been inhabiting the earth since their ship crashed here long before the dawn of humankind. They have survived by inhabiting the bodies of native forms of life, from dinosaurs, to sharks, to humans. Throughout prehistory, the goal of the Quasing has always been to find a way to return to their home planet, but over time, disagreements arose as to how best to go about achieving this goal, and two factions were formed. The Genjix are completely willing to sacrifice humankind to return home. The Prophus have charged themselves with the dual task of keeping that from happening, and finding a better way.

The Deaths of Tao is the second book in the Tao series. A number of years have passed since the end of The Lives of Tao. Roen Tan and his Quasing, Tao, have been in hiding, playing from the sidelines for years after uncovering a global conspiracy so brazen not even senior Prophus officers want to believe it. But now, there’s proof, and it’s going to take some bold moves to save the human race.

Wesley Chu is an Associate Vice President at a bank by day, and a husband/writer/dog owner/Kung Fu master/gymnast/actor/gamer/former stunt man by night.  He is a contributor to the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland.

As the second book in the Tao series, The Deaths of Tao is also Chu’s sophomore novel. The second book always comes with a bit of fear surrounding the tale of sophomore slump, both on the part of the reader and the part of the author. Go back and read that bit of bio in the previous paragraph. Back? Okay. Then believe me when I tell you, Chu stared the possibility of a slump in the face, summoned his inner stunt man, then Kung Fu mastered it to a bloody pulp on the mat.

Whereas The Lives of Tao is often referred to as a humorous sci-fi spy novel, The Deaths of Tao is so much more. The Deaths of Tao is a solid sci-fi spy thriller, this time with more political maneuvering and human drama. Characters and situations show greater depth in this book, and the humor has taken on a subtler, somewhat more realistic tone. That doesn’t mean Chu has thrown out the ridiculous scenarios Roen and Tao find themselves in or talking about, by any means – after all, life is often silly and ridiculous – but the story has taken a slight turn away from the parody it might have been, in favor of exploring the stories of the people populating it to a greater degree. Here is where the author took one of his largest gambles. Much of what has made The Lives of Tao so successful is how ridiculously funny it is. Adding so much real tension and human drama (but, you know … with aliens) in a series known for its comedic value. But Chu does it, and he does it well.

The Deaths of Tao is, simply put, such a fun read. Jam-packed with espionage and intrigue, intense action and fighting scenes punctuated by humor at just the right moments, and characters that are well worth becoming emotionally invested in, it never seems to falter in pace or flow. Joy, hope, humor, fear, sadness, are all expertly conveyed, sometimes even within a single paragraph.

And the things many readers love most of all? Huge plot twists – some you’ll see, some you may not, all perfect for the story. And one hell of a cliffhanger ending…

Book Review: Crux (Nexus #2), by Ramez Naam

Posted in Angry Robot Army, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

Crux-144dpiTitle: Crux (Nexus #2)

Author: Ramez Naam

Publisher: Angry Robot, August 27, 2013

Length: 560 pages

Price: $14.99 US/ $16.99 CA

ISBN: 978-0-85766-297-2

The year is 2040. It’s been three months since the nanodrug Nexus 5 became open source, and the world has become a different place. Nexus has the power to link minds, increase learning ability, and to bring people together. It has the potential to help humankind achieve great things. It also has the potential for abuse, if in the hands of a select few. Under pressure from the governments of the United States and China, among others, Kaden Lane saw few other choices but to release the source code to the world at large, putting his faith in the basic goodness of most people.

“He’d seen incredible science done, published carefully on anonymous message boards. With Nexus 5 they were getting glimpses of paths to reversing Alzheimer’s and senile dementia, making incredible progress in connecting autistic children to neurotypical adults. They were suddenly moving forward again in deciphering memory and attention, in seeing ways to boost intelligence. This was a tool that would change everything about the study of the mind …”

The uses of Nexus are myriad, from joining the minds of musicians and making the orchestra one living thing to being used to coerce others for personal gain. To help avoid abuses and stop coercion, Kade built back doors into the Nexus source code before releasing it. Now, the governments of the United States and China want those codes, and they’ll stop at nothing to get them.

As Kade struggles to keep order and stop abuses, a new terror cell has cropped up, calling itself the Posthuman Liberation Front. The more the US government rallies against human enhancements, the harder the PLF strikes back. The harder the PLF strikes, the more public opinion sways against its goals and toward the control the government publicly wishes to exercise. One step too far, and the war against trans- and posthumans is on.

Crux is the second book in Ramez Naam‘s Nexus series. Nonfiction works by Naam include More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement and The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet. He has worked with Microsoft and been involved in nanotechnology research, and his work has won him the HG Wells Award for Contributions to Transhumanism, given by the World Transhumanist Association.

In this brutal, honest sequel to Nexus, Naam explores humankind’s ability to always justify our actions and motivations, as well as how we do or do not learn to exercise restraint and self-control when given immense power – both ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ alike. He delivers smart, concise social and scientific commentary through the use of well-developed, complex characters, full of loves and hurts, scars and hopes, realistic motivations, and pasts that explain them all.

Readers will gain a complete understanding of every character, allowing them to form their own opinions after exploring the various points of view on transhumanist technology, all while being pulled through a well-formed story sure to entertain readers of science fiction, or anyone with an interest in future technologies. Stories of hope and fear, of power and helplessness, of inner demons at war with the better angels of our nature intertwine from cover to cover, making for a compelling read that’s hard to put down.

Naam’s writing is always strong, fluid and sure. Realistic, wholly believable plot twists follow one after another, puzzle pieces falling neatly into place, building suspense and mystery before satisfying conclusions. With gripping, heart-pounding action scenes and muscle-binding tension normally reserved for horror stories, Crux is a book you don’t want to miss (though I should note, it may not stand alone well. Readers will be well-served by reading Nexus first.)

Book Review: The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu

Posted in Angry Robot Army, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Science Fiction, Spy with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

The Lives of Tao coverTitle: The Lives of Tao

Author: Wesley Chu

Publisher: Angry Robot Books; April 30, 2013

Length: 464 pages

Price: $7.99 US/ $8.99 CAN

ISBN: 978-0-85766-329-0

Tao is a Quasing, one of a race of alien life forms from the planet Quasar whose ship broke up in Earth’s atmosphere millennia ago, stranding its inhabitants on a strange new world completely inhospitable to their gaseous forms. To survive, the Quasing discovered, they must become parasitic, inhabiting the bodies of the native life forms. Throughout prehistory, they inhabited dinosaurs and Neanderthals, until humans showed promise of the ability to evolve in a manner that might someday allow the Quasing to return to their home.

For the last five hundred years, the Quasing have been at war with themselves, split into two factions: the Genjix, who follow the original Quasing idea that humans evolve technologically faster when in a state of conflict, and the Prophus, a splinter sect who has come to appreciate humankind and who believe the same technological advances might be made through peaceful means.

Roen Tan is an IT technician living in Chicago. He spends his days plopped in front of a computer, whiling away the hours at a job he hates. His nights are spent shoving his face full of pizza and gaming or, on occasion, being talked into going to a nightclub and drinking himself into lonely regret. But after one such night, Roen finds he is no longer alone in his own head, and he is given the opportunity to live a life he’s only dreamed about.

Training to be a secret agent isn’t easy for anyone. But when you start out as an overweight, middle-aged slob, well … things are bound to get interesting.

Wesley Chu is an Associate Vice President at a bank by day, and a writer and martial artist by night. As a writer, he contributes to the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. With past work as an actor and stunt man as well, Chu has a background ripe for writing fun, action-packed stories, and his debut novel, The Lives of Tao, is just that.

The Lives of Tao is a blend of sci-fi and spy as we rarely see it. From the very first pages, the reader is dumped right into the middle of the story of the Quasing civil war, with quick, fluid action scenes that continue throughout the book. As the tension ebbs and flows along, so too does the narrative. Chu evades a lot of detail work, preferring to keep the plot moving and twisting along by pulling the reader from one event or action scene to the next, giving the story a good sense of motion and progress throughout.

After the events at the Chest of the Menagerie, I do not have much to tell that could show you any insight as to who I am. Because from that point on, it has been nothing but mindless war…

As the current situation races ahead at what is often a break-neck pace, each chapter begins with Tao telling Roen the history of the Quasing on Earth.

We used to be two sides playing chess with humanity’s evolution as the prize. Now, we play simply to defeat the other side. In a way, the Prophus fell right into the Genjix’s hands.

The Quasing have done a lot to influence human evolution, for good and for ill, and there are a lot of historical Easter eggs scattered throughout the story, adding to the fun and novelty of it. Tao himself has inhabited Genghis Khan, and other Quasing have had hosts as important to mankind as Voltaire, Shakespeare, Churchill, even Peter the Apostle. At the same time, Chu’s characters are rather simple, but in a good way. Like classic Bond characters, Chu fleshes out the stereotype for the reader to start with, adding small details along the way to flesh them in a bit, but never too much. This story is all about the action.

There are a few minor redundancies and unwieldy sentences throughout the book, but nothing out of the ordinary for a debut novel, and nothing that really upsets the story for more than a moment. All in all, Chu’s writing is strong, and his ability to write tragic, heart-rending scenes into such a fun, easy story is proof that he’s found his calling as a writer.

The Lives of Tao has some good take-away lessons for readers, as well. As comic as Tao’s training of Roen can be, it also contains inspirational advice that is bound to make readers reflect on their own lives. There is much about being the person you want to be and not making excuses to let yourself fail. Much as the practice of Tao is The Way of life, the character of Tao shows Roen the way to live fully. And isn’t that something we could all use a little help with?

Book Review: Nexus, by Ramez Naam

Posted in Angry Robot Army, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

Nexus CoverTitle: Nexus

Author: Ramez Naam

Publisher: Angry Robot, December 2012

Length: 464 pages

Price: $14.99 US/ $16.99 CA

ISBN: 978-0-85766-294-1

 

In the year 2040, governments are either embracing the new possibilities brought by nanotechnology or waging war against it. Often, waging war against a thing means using the very thing you’re waging war against, keeping it for oneself while trying to keep it out of the hands of the general populace.

Kaden Lane is a doctorate student at the University of California, San Francisco. He and his friends are up-and-coming new voices in the field of neuroscience. But when Kade and his friends are caught using and improving the banned nano-drug Nexus in their research, they’re pulled into a war they never intended to fight.

As various governments fight to keep the general populace and other governments from using new technologies to evolve into Transhuman and Posthuman beings, powerful new laws and international agreements are written. Human rights are redefined,  liberties taken away.

Ramez Naam is an expert in the technological field. He has been involved in the production of some of the most widely used software in the world, as well as nanotechnology research. Naam is an advocate for human biological enhancements, and was even awarded the HG Wells Award for Contributions to Transhumanism by the World Transhumanist Association. His previously published nonfiction work, More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement, supports his advocacy of these enhancements.

Given Naam’s background, it should come as no surprise that Nexus is a brilliant story, filled with smart, well-informed opinions from both sides of the debate on the ethics of biological enhancements; and of course, the concerns of those who fear unknown quantities simply because the future is unknown are covered, as well. Naam’s experience with emerging technologies lends realism to the scientific work carried out and studied in Nexus, ensuring that all of it is believable, and making a strong bond between the reader and those being vilified by people in power.

Naam’s writing is strong, clear and concise, with perfect ebb and flow in pacing. Readers are allowed to read at their leisure throughout the bulk of the story, but are pulled along at breakneck pace during action scenes filled with excellent tension and potential dangers ready to explode at any minute. Characters are wholly believable, with complete personalities and understandable back-stories that enable readers to relate to each and every one of them, in turn, but always coming back around to root for the protagonists in the end. Throughout Nexus, new twists and turns are introduced with new characters, each with their own motivations, causing readers to invest heavily in getting to know each of them and explore their own thoughts on each character’s motivations before deciding whether they are in agreement or disagreement with their views. This is no easy feat for a writer, but Naam makes it look like nothing in the world could be more natural.

At the heart of Nexus is a deep exploration of the course we as a society are currently on and where it is bringing us. In Nexus, one need only be suspected of being in breach of the Emerging Technological Threats Act to be scooped up by Homeland Defense’s Emerging Risks Directorate, or the ERD. These suspects have no right to a lawyer, no right to a trial by jury. They can be detained indefinitely, subject to the whims of a few select people; they just simply disappear one day, the story of their arrest appearing in the news as a government victory over potential terroristic threats to national security. Sound familiar? It should. These are the very provisions in the recent US National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, that caused such an uproar with activists online and was sadly dismissed as inconsequential by most members of the general public.

In so much of the scientific progress we make, the potential for abuse exists. With each new discovery, we must ask ourselves anew, “What price are we willing to pay to make this leap? Is this my decision to make for all of humankind?” And this is the crux, the main theme of Nexus. With technology moving and evolving so quickly that we, as a society, cannot keep up, science becomes as dangerous as it is beneficial. But which outweighs the other? Who gets to decide these things and enforce them? All-powerful government agencies who can strip basic rights away from human beings on a whim? The folly of that is as ludicrous as there being no oversight at all. As with all things, there must be balance. Too bad that’s something humankind has never been too good at …

Parts of this story are truly terrifying, which is really saying something, as it isn’t a dystopian future Naam paints, but the future reason and logic tell us to expect based on our current course; there is no reason to believe this isn’t what our future holds. Only if a willingness to explore and fully understand new things trumps fear can we ever hope to change this. One of the most moving and powerful scenes in the book sums it up nicely. In part:

“Power is best when it’s distributed most broadly. That’s what Democracy means. That’s what freedom means. The right to determine your individual destiny belongs in your hands, and no one else’s.”

Nexus is a story everyone should read. As a cautionary tale, it will likely be considered in league with Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World in the years to come. The question is, will we learn from this one?

Book Review: Pantomime (Micah Grey #1), by Laura Lam

Posted in Angry Robot Army, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Strange Chemistry, Urban Fantasy, YA with tags , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

Pantomime-144dpiTitle: Pantomime (Micah Grey #1)

Author: Laura Lam

Publisher: Strange Chemistry, February 5, 2013

Length: 392 pages

Price: $9.99 US

ISBN: 9781908844378

 

 

Ellada is a wondrous place. From the mysterious beauty of the smooth, blue outcrops of glowing Penglass, to the small, dusty apartment of the local spice merchant, curiosities abound. The inhabitants of old may be long gone, but their memory lives on in mechanical artifacts and tales brimming with strange magics.

Sixteen-year old Iphigenia ‘Gene’ Laurus would much rather romp through fields and climb trees in a shirt and trousers with her brother and their friends than be trussed up in corsets and lace for the debutante ball. She’s certain no one would want her anyway, with her ‘condition’ and all, but Gene isn’t being given much of a choice in the matter. When she discovers there’s something even more important she isn’t going to be given a choice about, Gene has very little time to make some very big decisions.

Micah Grey is a runaway, hiding from authorities and trying to find his way in a world much bigger and more dangerous than his life as a sheltered noble had ever let him experience before. When he joins R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic as their newest aerialist, Micah begins to learn what it means to really belong … until his past and present come crashing together.

Pantomime is the debut novel by author Laura Lam, due out from Angry Robot’s YA imprint, Strange Chemistry, in February of 2013. Many novelists debut with a good, if somewhat shaky story. This is not the case with Laura Lam. If Lam presents this strongly in her first published novel, readers of YA spec-fic have a new author to keep eyes on.

Pantomime is an enthralling tale about identity, set against a backdrop where almost nothing is what it seems. The circus is all about the illusion created for the audience, and Lam shows that sometimes, so is everyday life. Lam’s world-building skills are well-honed, creating a land with a full, colorful history and mythologies that feel well-fleshed. Beautiful scenes of magic, mystery and intrigue are painted with a skillful pen. Characters are wholly believable, with full, complex personalities readers will identify with easily. Circus tents and costumes are dusty yet vibrant, dirty but rich, altogether creating a nostalgic fantasy world this reader was happy to get lost in.

The text begins in the summertime, when Micah is caught snooping around the circus and makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to audition to be a performer. Following chapters alternate back and forth between Micah’s and Gene’s stories. At times, this can be a touch confusing, because the two characters have quite literally everything in common, but even this was done with skill and purpose. Never does clarity lack where clarity is wanted, and never does the flow falter, the pace always exactly where it needs to be.

In fact, the only thing I dislike about Pantomime, is it is not possible to discuss the story in the depth it deserves without spilling spoilers all over the page: a thing I do not like to do, as readers deserve to discover things anew on their own. After outlining the overall story and discussing the technical merits of the writing itself, all that’s left is discussion on the salient points the book makes. From here on, it is up to you to decide how badly you want to know what this book is about. As this is a work of fantasy, it feels safe to say we’ve reached the edge of the map of the known world. Caution: Here be spoilers.

There are generous clues leading up to a twist in Pantomime’s plot. When Gene and Micah’s stories come together, readers are given confirmation that yes, Gene and Micah are, in fact, one person; one intersex person, who had been raised as a female and taught that her unusual gender was a defect, something to be ashamed of, by a mother who cared more for what society thought than what was healthy for her daughter. Gene made the difficult decision to run away when she overheard her parents talking and learned not only was she adopted, but she was also about to have surgery the next day to remove her ‘deformity’ … a surgery they never mentioned was a possibility, let alone did they ever ask her thoughts on it.

At this point, I should mention my intention to use whichever female/male pronouns go along with how Gene/Micah is identifying at a given point in the story. Where circumstances are more generalized, I will use female pronouns, as that is how Gene is most accustomed to thinking of herself in general in this book. The fact that I need to include this disclaimer, instead of using intersex-specific pronouns speaks volumes. They simply don’t exist in any kind of standardized, well-known form, and they need to. That I had to ‘teach’ my electronics that ‘intersex’ is a word is even more telling. And, truth be told, Gene/Micah isn’t truly intersex, either … having full sets of both male and female organs, she is a true hermaphrodite — something that, in our real-life world, is physiologically impossible, which is why the term intersex was created — to help dispel the myth that intersex people have all working parts of both sexes. They do not. However, as true hermaphrodites cannot exist and intersex people do and this story bears strongly on struggles they go through, I will treat Gene/Micah as intersex. This may make some people angry with me, if they think I am furthering the hermaphrodite/intersex confusion, but honestly … I am doing my best to take this discussion where it needs to go and be informative of those differences at the same time. Please bear with me.

As if the identity crisis that comes along with finding out suddenly and unexpectedly that one is adopted weren’t enough, Gene is suddenly thrust into a position where she has a very limited amount of time to figure out who she is — something it takes most of us our whole lives to figure out. Understandably confused growing up in an environment that taught her half of the things she felt and loved were ‘wrong’ to feel and love, Gene has a lot to learn about herself, as well as the world at large. As Gene, she was attracted to boys she knew. As puberty progressed around the same time she ran away and her body continued to develop, Gene found herself attracted to girls as well, complete with male physical responses, and her confusion only grew, as her former sheltered life had never taught her any sexuality other than hetero existed, and she was completely unprepared for the eventuality that her male parts might be as – or more – responsive as her female parts. No one ever bothered to discuss the possibility that her penis might get hard, because they had so firmly set her as a female in their own minds and planned to make her fully female as soon as possible, regardless of Gene’s feelings.

I imagine life as a parent of an intersex child would be difficult, as well. Surgery can be performed shortly after birth, and the child then might never have to know the social stigma involved with being born different. But there is no way of knowing which gender the child will someday identify with most, and what do you say, then? (“Sorry, honey, we already had a boy. You get to be a girl. Go play with your dolls.” – or – “Sorry, honey, I had no way to know. I wish I could take it back.”) And that’s the stickler, right there. Surgery cannot be taken back. Once that decision is made, there is no way to put things back the way they were to begin with. Approximations may be made, but not without considerable trauma and confusion. Then, there is the option to not perform surgery; to wait until the child is old enough to make those decisions for themselves. Possibly the most noble decision, as the child remains whole and involved in their own fate, but this is not without its repercussions, either. This child’s entire life will be spent figuring out who they are or want to be, which is painful enough for the average person. Every question of identity and self will be magnified by the simple fact that these questions no longer just want answers, they need answers. And all the while, the child will be growing up subjected to ridicule and isolation, because the world around them simply doesn’t want to be bothered to understand and just let them be.

The story of Gene/Micah’s sexual preference confusion also addresses concerns faced by anyone of a sexuality they have never known existed. If a person grows up in an environment where a person is either hetero or gay/lesbian, what are they to think when they find themselves attracted to both sexes? Or if they find themselves completely unattracted to anyone in a sexual manner? When peers notice a person acting ‘differently’ than what they expect of a hetero person and ask, “are you gay/lesbian?” and the person knows they aren’t, because they don’t ‘like’ anyone or they also ‘like’ the opposite sex, all they can say is no, and everyone else goes on assuming they are hetero (or lying), while said person is left to wonder, if they aren’t gay/lesbian but they don’t seem to be like most everyone else, then what are they? In the internet age, this is perhaps becoming somewhat less of a problem, but not less enough. While simply searching Google may provide a label, it does nothing to increase understanding, or to bringing acceptance from family and peers.

Pantomime is almost guaranteed to win awards, as well as being banned in places it most desperately needs to be read. The main themes of identity, sexuality, and gender norms are hugely controversial topics today, polarizing populations as few other things can. On the other hand, coming just on the heels of US elections proving that there is a larger shift towards acceptance occurring, this may be just the perfect time to force these topics into the light of day and give them their due discussion. Many schools in the US are shying away from discussing these issues at all, for fear of backlash, but the spate of teen suicides in Minnesota’s Independent School District 11 (Anoka/Hennepin) and elsewhere has shown – to those who care to see the truth – that pretending controversial subjects don’t exist is no way to help our society learn about them. Each and every one of our kids has a right to understand themselves and their place in the world, and to feel loved, accepted, and human. Our children are the ones paying the price for some people’s refusal to accept reality.

The book says a lot about society’s expectations on us to conform, as well as the effects those expectations can have – expectations of kids, of boys and girls and how these expectations differ between genders, even our expectations about gender in general. It also does a good job of exploring and illustrating how those expectations have and have not changed over time, showing that even in societal norms, evolution is a necessary and inevitable thing. Pantomime speaks a lot about how society makes people who differ from the norm (in this case, because of a supposed physical ‘deformity’) feel shamed and fear being ostracized, put on display, made fun of – as if this physical difference changes who they are, or even the fact that they are a person, a human being with thoughts and feelings, with a right to live their life with the same freedoms, dreams and goals as everyone else.

Being sixteen is hard, for everyone. At what is arguably the most confusing point in a human life, the last thing anyone needs is added pressure because of differences we have absolutely no control over. How sad a world must we live in, when kids are killing themselves because they are constantly ridiculed, or fear being ridiculed, simply for being who they are? How sad a world must we live in, when some people are okay with the fact that this is happening, even if they don’t think they are contributing to it, when they are?

The circus, the trapeze, and the tightrope are amazingly apt metaphors for the careful balancing act Gene (at this point, Micah) must live through on a daily basis. Past experiences have instilled in him deep fears of rejection. These fears have a direct effect on his future behaviors, causing him to be less open with people who would be willing to accept him for who he is. But when you lie by omission, you leave open the avenue of assumption, and you cannot always guess where that road will lead. When Micah is finally forced into finding the courage to open up to the people who love him, these people are hurt by the omissions, not understanding why they couldn’t be trusted, causing a downward spiral of fear and guilt that is increasingly harder to get out of. In the end, far more than just those who are different end up being hurt. The toll on society at large is far greater than those who judge so cruelly ever care to admit. And in real life, we don’t have any safety nets.

I imagine Pantomime will run either hot or cold among readers. The story inspires deep thought and understanding of social differences for those who are open to such things, a catalyst for exploring further our expectations and treatment of one another. I think everyone should read it, and everyone who reads it will be affected; no one will walk away from this story with lukewarm feelings about it. Some will love that it humanizes people outside of societal norms and lets readers understand the pain and difficulties that daily tasks so many of us take for granted can cause. Others will be affronted by this very same thing, threatened by their own lack of understanding. Still more may be upset by the way Gene/Micah’s sexuality and sexual identity hinges on mythology, another part of the hermaphrodite/intersex confusion; but I think overall, the thought and attention given to the topic at all will be appreciated by the vast majority of people, regardless of gender specifics.

Laura Lam manages to fit all of this into one volume, with tons of action and suspense leading up to a thrilling climax and a cliffhanger ending begging for a sequel. I’ve only just finished Pantomime, and already I’m dying to know when book two comes out (hint: I think the author is in the editing stages now, so it’ll be awhile, given book one releases in February).

Bravo, Ms. Lam. A stellar debut performance. Take a bow.

 

Book Review: Mockingbird, by Chuck Wendig

Posted in Angry Robot Army, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Occult & Supernatural, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2012 by Jessica Nelson

Title: Mockingbird

Author: Chuck Wendig

Publisher: Angry Robot Books

Length: 416 pages

Price: $7.99 US/ $8.99 CAN

ISBN: 978-0-85766-233-1

 

A lot of people have troubled pasts. Miriam Black has a troubled past, present, and future. After a dangerous series of events almost costs her life, Miriam has settled down and tried to live some semblance of a normal life for the man she loves. But torn between wanting Louis and wanting to be herself and do her thing, Miriam decides her way and the highway are the best way for her. This time, Miriam is seeing things she’s never seen before. The forces of darkness are after Miriam. They don’t like that she’s been changing fate.

Mockingbird is the second book of the Miriam Black series by author Chuck Wendig. Wendig is a self-described penmonkey. He is a novelist, a screenwriter, and a game designer. His website and blog, terribleminds.com, offers up essays, writing advice, flash fiction contests, author interviews, and any number of other interesting tidbits for readers to enjoy. Other published works include Blackbirds (Miriam Black #1), Bait Dog, 500 Ways to Tell a Better Story, and Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey.

Where Blackbirds winds up for a one-two punch, Mockingbird makes the first strike, and it’s a devastating blow to the head. True to form, Wendig’s descriptions are gruesome, graphic, and vivid. Readers are gut-punched by unexpected twists after constant misdirection leaves them dizzily hanging off the ropes. Even the ropes themselves are made of different ends of storyline being pulled out of nowhere and being twisted and braided into one neatly-plaited cohesive whole.

Wendig’s writing style is tight, fluid, and gripping, making the story easy to pick up and tough to put down. His knack for capable foreshadowing has only gotten stronger in the scant few months between the release of Blackbirds and Mockingbird. When readers are confronted with “The way is shut,” we know there’s about to be a whole lot of death going on, even though the scene it’s set into is harmless enough. I’m already looking forward to Cormorant (Miriam Black #3), due out from Angry Robot Books sometime in 2013.

I would highly recommend Mockingbird to any mature reader who enjoys a little piss in their Cheerios. If you enjoy the Odd Thomas series or The Dead Zone, you’ll find much to love in the Miriam Black books, especially if you like a little dirt and grit between your teeth. If you’ve ever thought Odd Thomas is pretty cool, but he’s a little too clean-cut and straight-laced, Miriam Black is for you.

Book Review: The Corpse-Rat King, by Lee Battersby

Posted in Angry Robot Army, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2012 by Jessica Nelson

Title: The Corpse-Rat King

Author: Lee Battersby

Publisher: Angry Robot, August 2012

Length: 416 pages

Price: $7.99

ISBN: 978-0-85766-287-3

 

Marius don Hellespont and his apprentice Gerd are corpse-rats – professional looters who find their living on corpse-strewn battlefields before the dead are collected by their fellow soldiers. Marius has taught Gerd the most important rule of looting is to “only steal what you can swallow.” But when Marius discovers the King of Scorby himself among the dead, the temptation of a rarely-worn-in-battle crown is too much for even a seasoned professional like him to ignore. When Marius is mistakenly taken to the Kingdom of the Dead with the crown in his possession, the dead feel duped. They take Marius’ heartbeat, and tell him if he wishes to live again, he must find them a king.

The Corpse-Rat King is the first full-length novel by author Lee Battersby. Battersby is also the author of a collection titled Through Soft Air. His short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies alike.  The Claws of Native Ghosts and Father Muerte & The Flesh have both won Australian Shadows Awards, and he has numerous other awards for short stories, including five Aurealis Awards. Marching Dead, the sequel to The Corpse-Rat King, is scheduled for publication by Angry Robot in 2013.

As a debut novel, The Corpse-Rat King sets the bar pretty high for future works. Battersby assaults readers with creepiness right from the outset, and the ridiculous situations the characters find themselves in makes for subtle, chuckle-worthy humor that never feels out of place. It’s clear that Battersby has a real flair for storytelling. His fantastic descriptions often catch readers off-guard and vulnerable to unexpected emotions, while still managing to keep the overall tone lighthearted and comedic.

What struck me the most, was that The Corpse-Rat King manages to be a zombie novel, without being a zombie novel. It certainly isn’t marketed as a zombie novel; if it were, I likely would have missed out on reading it, as I have an aversion to most things zombie. Unlike most modern tales of the undead, though, Marius is not afflicted by a terrible disease; there is no contagion and no pandemic, only a somewhat rotten state of physical being that is useful and humorous as often as it is inconvenient or gruesome.

Throughout the story, Marius learns a lot about his priorities in life. Lines such as “The men of power, with access to money, and lands and all that Borgho could provide, and who put into place whatever demand the King made with no care for others as long as it increased their money, or power, or both,” bring to mind struggles as old as time. Current relationships between U.S. politicians and Wall Street is only the most recent example from the real world, but it has been happening all over the world for time immemorial. It seems this is one lesson of life we think and talk a lot about, but never seem able to eradicate. Battersby really only touches on it, but he touches on it well, making a point to remark that common con-men are no different from those with more overt positions of authority in their abuses of power and advantage.

I would recommend The Corpse-Rat King to mature readers who like dark humor and aren’t offended by occasional vulgar words and situations. I look forward to reading more adventures of the undead from Lee Battersby.

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