Archive for science fiction

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?

Guest Post by Guy Hasson: Confessions of a Science Fiction Author

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Fiction, Free Fiction, Guest Post, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on April 9, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

Today, I am pleased to present you with a guest post by Guy Hasson, author of The Emoticon Generation and Secret Thoughts. Who doesn’t love free fiction? Enjoy!

Confessions of a Science Fiction Author

Guest Post by Guy Hasson

I got myself in a jam.

A year ago I came across a great idea for a science fiction story. But, innocently enough, since like many of my ideas it could actually be implemented today, I thought to myself: Why should I write a science fiction story about it when I can just create a start-up and potentially earn millions?

Well, that’s what I did, and that’s how the trouble began.

The idea was simple enough. Once upon a time, radio shows for greats like George Burns and Jack Benny were brought to us by sponsors, as in The Campbells’ Tomato Juice Program, The Hinds Honey and Almond Cream program, The Swan Soap Show, and so many more. Later, on TV we had such greats as The Colgate Hour Comedy Hour, and today some of the more popular podcasts are brought to us by Stamps.com, GoToMyPC, Audible, Adam & Eve, and more.

The SF author in me thought, “Why sponsor content? Why not sponsor time?” It sounds crazy, but it’s really simple. My company (which I named Brought To You By) market-tests how people spend their time, and tries to find patterns according to their jobs, income, hobbies, family status, etc. Next, we’ll be offering money to families in exchange for having a banner and push messages on their computers/iPhones/tablets/ etc. which the message is usually along the lines of: “This hour is brought to you by [so and so]”.

Sounds innocent, right? So why am I in a jam? Because right now, we’re beta-testing, and we’re beta-testing the product on people I know, namely: Myself and other science fiction authors. They (not me) are all getting money to have our apps on their various computers, iPads, and so on. So now, when I go to visit my parents, my iPhone tells me, “The next hour will be brought to you by Advil.” When I play with my kids, my iPad beeps every five seconds, “This hour is being brought to you by Toys R Us.” When I write, that time is brought to me by Interzone. When I spend time with my wife, that time is brought to me by the sex store three blocks down. My breakfast is brought to me by Honey Nut Cheerios, my sleep is brought to me by Prozac, and when I sit down to watch TV the commercials are brought to me by TiVo. The time I spend sitting by myself thinking about ideas for stories is brought to me by J.J. Abrams, looking for pitches to new shows.

And now I can’t stand it anymore. There are commercials everywhere I go, no matter what I do, and I can’t concentrate on anything. The entire thing was meant as a joke, as a funny idea for a story, and now it haunts me every minute of every day, and I have to endure two more months of beta-testing. And possibly I’ll be forced to continue to use it years later, as a personal example while we’re pushing the product.

I learned my lesson. My ideas belong on the page, not reality. But still, yesterday I had the best idea for a science fiction story, except that it could actually be done today. I shouldn’t just give it to the world, right? I can make millions from it if I keep it to myself and start another company. And this one is foolproof, and wouldn’t annoy me as much as this one does. Okay, one more, and then I’m out. Just one.

 

 

Guy Hasson is the author of The Emoticon Generation and Secret Thoughts. Check out his website and follow him on Twitter.

Book Review: Dark Faith: Invocations, by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon, ed.

Posted in Apex Book Company, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Occult & Supernatural, Science Fiction, Slipstream, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

Dark Faith InvocationsTitle: Dark Faith: Invocations

Author: Maurice Broaddus & Jerry Gordon, ed.

Publisher: Apex Publications

Length: 292 pages

Price: $15.95

ISBN: 978-1-937009-07-6

 

Not all of us are religious, but we’ve all got faith in something. Whether it be a god, another person, our own selves, or just faith in the knowledge that in the end, things will be alright, faith is what keeps us going when we have nothing else left. In this collection of twenty-six stories edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon, authors such as Jay Lake, Lavie Tidhar, Jennifer Pelland, and Mike Resnick walk us through the highs and lows of the human experience with tales of the successes and failures of our myriad faiths.

Maurice Broaddus is the author of the fiction series The Knights of Breton Court, the novel Orgy of Souls, and numerous pieces of short fiction.

Jerry Gordon has also published a number of short fiction works, and his book Breaking the World will be available from Apex Publications this year. Together, Broaddus and Gordon also edited the first Dark Faith anthology, also published by Apex.

In ‘Subletting God’s Head,’ author Tom Piccirilli graces readers with the story of Eddie, a young man who is, for $2600 a month, subletting “a three-bedroom walk-up on the top floor of God’s head, sandwiched between two five-story brownstones on West Sixty-eighth.” Fast-moving and easy-reading, ‘Subletting God’s Head‘ is an entertaining story. Piccirilli‘s writing is strong, whimsical but firm, flippant but serious, and absolutely blasphemous in its down-to-bare-tacks approach to bringing out the humor in what is a very serious situation to many. “[Eddie] doesn’t blame Adam and Eve for fucking up,” we’re told. “They were just doing the human thing. It was all God’s fault anyway. You let two child-like beings loose in the world and then tell them, Okay, you can touch anything BUT NOT THIS GIANT TREE RIGHT HERE IN THE VERY CENTER OF THE GARDEN. You can eat anything EXCEPT FOR THIS BIG TASTY DELICIOUS YUMMY REFRESHING RED APPLE, DON’T IT LOOK GOOD.”

Much of Piccirilli‘s irreverence is shocking in its audacity, but I suspect this is to get readers to examine their own thoughts and motivations, how they think of and treat other people. Above all, readers will find a perfect description of mankind’s struggle to live in the shadow of a religion which many believe is often inhospitable to human nature. We find other comforts. We enjoy the little things in life as their own rewards. We love. We find our place and live our lives, and if the Big Man we’re renting space from doesn’t like it, our choices are 1) live with that, or 2) spend our lives living for someone else, regardless of our own ideas, loves, wishes, comforts … our own selves.

Jay Lake gives us an inside view of life with cancer in ‘The Cancer Catechism.’ I told myself I couldn’t focus on this story in this review, because it struck a very personal chord. Cancer took one of the most important people in my life away from me less than a year and a half ago. Now that it’s review time, though, I can’t bring myself to overlook it, so you’ll just have to bear with me being unprofessional for just a moment.

Jay Lake has been fighting cancer since 2008. It started in his colon and has since metastasized to his lungs and liver, despite multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy. In ‘The Cancer Catechism,’ Lake is therefore able to deliver to us a terribly moving story from a very personal viewpoint. With writing that is always clear and to the point, Lake describes what it’s like to live with cancer, why he fights, and what gets him through. I don’t think it would be possible for me to ever thank him enough for detailing this view, and letting me see the other side of the struggle someone I loved so deeply went through. In my thirty-seven years, I think this is the very first horror story to ever make me cry. Repeatedly. And if you intend to argue that nonfiction about cancer isn’t really Horror, please don’t. I have seen the Devil. His name is Cancer, and it is horrifying.

Back to being professional …

Multiple stories in Dark Faith: Invocations teach us that sometimes, faith isn’t religious, it’s just what gets you from day to day, such as in Lavie Tidhar‘s ‘Robotnik.’ Other stories, such as Elizabeth Twist‘s ‘Kill the Buddha,’ show us that sometimes, the faith we want  isn’t necessarily the faith we have, and when we see others who do have the faith we want, we do our best to destroy it, to smooth over our own insecurities.

All in all, Dark Faith: Invocations is a fantastically written, well-edited anthology. The stories range so broadly across the spectrum of human faith that just about anyone should be able to find some they identify with. Each and every story triggers deep, introspective thought and encourages the reader to examine their own beliefs and the ways they move through the world. I would highly recommend this one to any mature reader who enjoys haunting, beautiful, and sometimes downright silly stories. But I warn you: it will make you take a good look at yourself, the life you lead, and the life you want to lead. If this isn’t something you’re prepared to do, well … then this book is even more for you.

 

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?

Magazines! Goodies! Free Books! Oh, My!

Posted in Apex Book Company, Apex Magazine, Arts & Entertainment, Books, Contests, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Occult & Supernatural, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2012 by Jessica Nelson

A lot of you know that I write a monthly blog column for Apex Book Company called The In/Human Element: Creatures, Species, and Societies of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, and How We Relate to Them. A lot of you read that column each month, and some of you are even kind enough to share links to it on social networking sites. (Thank you for that!) What some of you may not know, is that a lot of the subject matter for those articles is inspired directly by stories and interviews in Apex Magazine. It’s a great magazine, and I feel so lucky to be writing for such a fantastic team.

So what does this have to do with anything, you might ask? Well, Apex Magazine is currently running a subscription drive, and they’re offering tons of bonus goodies and chances at even more bonus prizes to people who are subscribing during the drive. Free samplers, books (even some signed books and ARCs!), Apex necklaces, even whole swag bags! And some of the books are by authors whose books I’ve reviewed right here on AllwaysUnmended, such as Lavie Tidhar.

So? What are you waiting for? If you want to know what Apex Magazine is all about (hint: if you like the books I review here, you’ll love Apex Magazine’s speculative fiction-y goodness), there’s no better time than right now to subscribe.

Click here to read more of the awesome things you could get with your new subscription, and to find links to subscribe!

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