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Reality TV and advanced technology make for high drama in this political thriller that combines the military action of Zero Dark Thirty with the classic science fiction of The Forever War.
Lieutenant James Shelley, who has an uncanny knack for premeditating danger, leads a squad of advanced US Army military tasked with enforcing the peace around a conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. The squad members are linked wirelessly 24/7 to themselves and a central intelligence that guides them via drone relay—and unbeknownst to Shelley and his team, they are being recorded for a reality TV show.
When an airstrike almost destroys their outpost, a plot begins to unravel that’s worthy of Crichton and Clancy’s best. The conflict soon involves rogue defense contractors, corrupt US politicians, and homegrown terrorists who possess nuclear bombs. Soon Shelley must accept that the helpful warnings in his head could be AI. But what is the cost of serving its agenda?
About the Author
Linda Nagata is a Nebula and Locus-award-winning author. Her more recent work includes short fiction “Nahiku West,” runner up for the 2013 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the novel THE RED: FIRST LIGHT, a near-future military thriller that was a finalist for both the Nebula Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Though best known for science fiction, she also writes fantasy, exemplified by her “scoundrel lit” series Stories of the Puzzle Lands. Linda has spent most of her life in Hawaii, where she’s been a writer, a mom, and a programmer of database-driven websites. She lives with her husband in their long-time home on the island of Maui.
[Note: This review was originally published at AudioBook Reviewer.]
Linda Nagata’s The Red: First Light is a superb military sci-fi thriller, and, for the most part, the narration from Kevin T. Collins does a darn fine job pulling the listener into the story and alongside Lieutenant James Shelley.
Right from the get-go, listeners are put into the elite armored squadron commanded by Shelley as they prepare to suit up in their mechanized uniforms, the squad connected via cerebral implants referred to as the overlay. Shelley and his team are in the African Sahel to maintain the peace as a secularist reformer rises to power. When their base comes under aerial assault, though, they realize — too late — that their peacekeeping efforts are for naught. Shelley, however, has a sort of sixth sense that has earned him the nickname King David from his comrades, who joke that he is able to receive the word of God. The truth, though, is a different story entirely and one that is both consistently captivating and increasingly frightening the more we learn about it.
Over the course of more than thirteen hours of audio, we join Shelley for a series of missions and a harrowing period of recovery after being severely injured early in the narrative. What follows, then, is a search for the truth behind his King David messages and his team’s efforts to halts homegrown terrorists working to incite revolution and tear Texas away from the Union.
The Red is a seriously dark bit of work, and more than a few scenes caught me off guard. Nagata’s first-person narrative manages to shock with sudden flashes of violence and terrific insights into the her characters. Shelley himself is a bit of conundrum – formerly an anti-war protester, he now serves the military to avoid jail time for past crimes, only to find himself increasingly loyal to the military and those who serve beneath him. The large question that looms is whether or not this is a natural growth for his character, or the result of whatever may be messing with his brain and repeatedly warning him of danger. How much of his decision and actions are truly his own? And how long can he rely on the King David insights to keep him and his soldiers safe?
I refuse to give away much more than this, but please be aware that we’re only scratching the surface of the book’s plotting. There’s a great sense of breadth to the events here, and plenty of fantastic military action sequences. The upgrades these soldiers sport is really fantastic, and the augmentations provided by the military make sense in a beautifully cynical and bureaucratic way. Operating at the behest of mega-rich defense contractors, and beneath their constant and subtle warnings of reprisal if ignored, Nagata’s story brings to the forefront Dwight Eisenhower’s warning against the military-industrial complex and their threat to democracy. This aspect makes her story feel all the more timely rather than a far-flung future scenario.
As narrator, Collins handles the material suitably well. Any criticisms I have toward his work here are very, very small, but I will say that it took me a little bit of time to adjust to his inflections and airy tones when narrating dialogue from the female characters. I also didn’t really care for his use of “spoken” shouts during some of the more-intense action scenes that requires characters to be yelling back and forth or attempting to command attention. I would have preferred to just have an actual shout with some pure energy and raw acting talent behind it. But again, these are rather mild complaints and did not take away from the overall listening experience. Throughout it all, the audio quality maintains a level consistency and solid production values, with the narration coming through crisp, clear, and well delivered.
Bottom line: Linda Nagata just earned herself a new fan with this book! I loved it and am now eagerly anticipating the chance to either read or listen to the next two books in this trilogy.
I have a confession to make: I suck at naming characters.
I’m not kidding. Once, while working on a first draft, I realized my book featured three Jakes. Which, apart from sounding like an ill-conceived second sequel to CHINATOWN, probably made the story a little tough to follow. (Note to self: THE TWO JAKES was a massive flop. Even among hardcore mystery fans, that joke ain’t likely to land. Not that that’s ever stopped you before.)
Even when I manage to avoid repeating myself, the names I’m drawn to have a certain sameness to them, like those parents who name their children Braden, Caden, and Jaden. That’s fine for triplets, I guess. (An aside to parents who do this: I’m being polite because I want you to buy my book. It’s not fine. In fact, it may constitute cruel and unusual punishment.) But in a work of fiction, it pierces the illusion of a wide and varied world, and pulls back the curtain of authority we writers hide behind.
When I sat down to write THE KILLING KIND, I wanted to avoid my usual naming rut. I wanted names that sounded lived-in, authentic. So, as a music geek, I turned to an unlikely source for inspiration: the real names of punk artists who use stage names.
Straight-laced FBI agent Charlie Thompson has little in common with her namesake, whom Pixies fans know better as Black Francis. Ditto her partner, Henry Garfield, who takes his name from Black Flag front man turned spoken-word artist Hank Rollins.
Though I changed the spelling a tad, my rockabilly stoolpigeon Eric Purkhiser is named after the late, great Lux Interior of The Cramps.
And Hendricks’ best bud Lester Meyers is named after legendary punk innovator Richard Hell (born Richard Lester Meyers) of Neon Boys, Television, the Heartbreakers, and the Voidoids.
Not all my characters are named after punk musicians, of course. Rough-hewn hitman Leon Leonwood takes his name from the “L.L.” in L.L. Bean, as a nod to my adopted home state. I likely cooked up Chicago Mafioso Monte D’Abruzzo’s name after a particularly tasty glass of Italian red. Alexander Engelmann’s surname was taken from Glennon Engleman, a St. Louis dentist who moonlighted as a hitman. (Posthumous congratulations, Glennon: you’re no longer America’s most hated dentist.) His alias—L’Engle—was borrowed, with apologies, from Madeleine L’Engle, author of A WRINKLE IN TIME. And casino pit boss Bernie Liederkrantz keeps the stage-name theme alive, although he’s certainly no punk musician—he’s a felt-based game show host better known as Guy Smiley.
But what of my lead character, Michael Hendricks? The truth is, I tried out several names before I found one that stuck. He began life as Michael Stark, after the warrior angel and Donald Westlake’s nom de plume, respectively. But that struck me as too cheesy—like Chase Stone or Slade McFacepunch. Plus, the world’s already got a Ned Stark and a Tony Stark. How’s poor Mikey going to stack up against Iron Man and the Lord of Winterfell? (No, really, fanfic authors: I wanna know.)
So how’d I land on Hendricks? I tend to think of Michael as a little prickly and unapproachable, but oddly compelling. One day, when I was editing the opening chapter of THE KILLING KIND, I read this and it clicked:
“[Hendricks] missed the dark greens and cold blues of northern New England, where even the hottest summer sun failed to warm the deepest hollows of the forest, and the water ran cold all year long.”
Cold, piney, unapproachable, and a little bit James Bond-y… yeah, I named him after gin.
One last thing: Hendricks burns through a goodly number of aliases over the course of THE KILLING KIND—each of them an easter egg, a winking reference. But those, I think, I’ll leave you to discover.
Chris Holm is an award-winning short-story writer whose work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011. His critically acclaimed Collector trilogy made over forty Year’s Best lists. His latest novel, THE KILLING KIND, is about a man who makes his living hitting hitmen, only to wind up a target himself. For links to Chris on Twitter and Facebook, visit http://www.chrisholmbooks.com.
A blockbuster anthology of original, blood-curdling vampire fiction from New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors, including Charlaine Harris, whose novels were adapted into HBO’s hit show True Blood, and Scott Smith, publishing his first work since The Ruins.
Before being transformed into romantic heroes and soft, emotional antiheroes, vampires were figures of overwhelming terror. Now, from some of the biggest names in horror and dark fiction, comes this stellar collection of short stories that make vampires frightening once again. Edited by New York Times bestselling author Christopher Golden and featuring all-new stories from such contributors as Charlaine Harris, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Scott Smith, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Michael Kortya, Kelley Armstrong, Brian Keene, David Wellington, Seanan McGuire, and Tim Lebbon, Seize the Night is old-school vampire fiction at its finest.
Seize the Night: New Tales of Vampiric Terror is a highly successful anthology, one that puts vampires back into the shadowy, hidden corners where they belong and makes them creepy, chilling, at times downright frightening, and even occasionally sympathetic. There’s nary a sparkly, star-crossed love to be found here. Instead, we’re getting back to the old-school roots of vampiric lore, going back to the heydays of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. As far as I am concerned, this is a vital return to form for these stoic, and historic, universal baddies.
Collected here are twenty brand new and diverse short stories (“Mrs. Popkin” is co-written by Dan Chaon and Lynda Barry) that range from historical period pieces reaching as far back as the Mayan empire to near-future post-apocalyptic wastelands, that takes us stateside and across the pond to the UK and Sweden, from idyllic neighborhoods to a Philippine village ravaged by a tropical storm. Equally diverse are the representations of the vampires themselves, some decimating the world as a viral plague, or appearing as the more common Gothic figures, or water-dwelling creatures of the night.
While this anthology is incredibly strong, there were a few stories that failed to satisfy me, which is pretty common, and frankly expected, in any anthology. Still, there were several authors that I expected greatness from and they definitely delivered; better still, there were a number of surprises along the way to keep me happy. I won’t cover all twenty stories here, but a few worth particular mention are:
Seize the Night has the singular aim of making vampires terrifying again, and it heartily succeeds in its mission. Golden and the contributors deserve a fair amount of applause for their work here, and this anthology is a wonderful reminder of what made vampires such a popular horror staple, and why they continue to endure across the ages.
[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley for review.]
From the bestselling horror author of Within These Walls and The Bird Eater comes a brand-new novel of terror that follows a teenager determined to break from his family’s unconventional—and deeply disturbing—traditions.
Deep in the heart of Appalachia stands a crooked farmhouse miles from any road. The Morrows keep to themselves, and it’s served them well so far. When girls go missing off the side of the highway, the cops don’t knock on their door. Which is a good thing, seeing as to what’s buried in the Morrows’ backyard.
But nineteen-year-old Michael Morrow isn’t like the rest of his family. He doesn’t take pleasure in the screams that echo through the trees. Michael pines for normalcy, and he’s sure that someday he’ll see the world beyond West Virginia. When he meets Alice, a pretty girl working at a record shop in the small nearby town of Dahlia, he’s immediately smitten. For a moment, he nearly forgets about the monster he’s become. But his brother, Rebel, is all too eager to remind Michael of his place…
About the Author
Born in Ciechanow Poland, Ania has always been drawn to the darker, mysterious, and sometimes morbid sides of life. Her earliest childhood memory is of crawling through a hole in the chain link fence that separated her family home from the large wooded cemetery next door. She’d spend hours among the headstones, breaking up bouquets of silk flowers so that everyone had their equal share.
Beyond writing, Ania enjoys cooking, baking, movies, and traveling.
Learn more about Ania on her site, http://www.AniaAhlborn.com.
Want to connect? Follow Ania on Twitter @aniaahlborn, or find her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/aniaahlborn.
You think your family is messed up? Brother, you ain’t seen nothing yet!
You see, deep in the Appalachia woods is farmhouse far off the beaten path. And inside this farmhouse is a twisted little family of cannibals, overseen by their brutal matriarch who has a penchant for killing young women. Brothers Reb and Michael have a relationship that borders on master/servant, or perhaps owner and pet, the dominant alpha and the cowed beta. Taken as a whole, the Morrows are a sick clan where the term ‘sibling rivalry’ barely even scratches the surface.
If you’re a fan of The X-Files like me, you be sensing shades of the episode “Home” about inbred killers, or maybe The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s shades of both here, which is absolutely a good thing! And holy hell, is this ever a dark read.
I’ll admit to being a bit lulled by the early happenings of Brother, where Ahlborn spends a lot of time establishing these sickos and their relationships, building a family history with alternating chapters that plumb earlier periods of Reb and Michael’s life together, along with their sister Lauralynn, who is mysteriously absent from the present-day sections.
There is actually a lot I want to talk about here, but can’t for fear of wading too deeply into spoiler territory. I’ll just say the family dynamics here a bit…complicated, and leave it at that. The resolution is satisfyingly bloody, with a final denouement that felt like Ahlborn was sticking fish hooks into my heart and steadily jerking the line around. The finale is stupendous and horrifying and bleak, with an absolutely marvelous twist.
Ahlborn plays this one like a master locksmith, slowly moving the tumblers into place and then letting everything fall with a satisfying click, revealing all the goods.
[This review is based on an advanced copy received from the publisher via NetGalley.]
Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The second Death Star has been destroyed, the Emperor killed, and Darth Vader struck down. Devastating blows against the Empire, and major victories for the Rebel Alliance. But the battle for freedom is far from over.
As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance—now a fledgling New Republic—presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.
Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’s urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.
Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical-genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.
About the Author
Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He’s the author of many novels, including Blackbirds, Atlanta Burns, Zer0es, and the YA Heartland series. He is co-writer of the short film Pandemic and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative Collapsus. He currently lives in the forests of Pennsyltucky with wife, son, and red dog.
The release of Star Wars: Aftermath marks the official relaunch of the Star Wars Expanded Universe into post-Return of the Jedi territory. It is also a release that has been greeted with a rather rabid divisiveness among the Star Wars fandom community. When it released on Force Friday (Sept. 4, 2015 to the rest of the world), it was assailed almost immediately with one star reviews, with online groups devoted to the original Expanded Universe — titles now marketed under the Star Wars: Legends banner — encouraging fans to buy the Legends titles in an effort to outsell Aftermath. That doesn’t seem to have worked as, at the time of this writing, Aftermath is now sitting in fourth place on the USA Today and NY Times Bestseller lists. The more vocal and ferociously devoted fans of the previous Expanded Universe have also taken umbrage at the inclusion of gay characters, strong female leads, the lack of the film’s heroes, and apparently any and all non-one-star reviews posted at Amazon.
Given the intense backlash meeting this new entry to the brand-new Star Wars canon, the immediate question is, is Aftermath any good?
The answer is, thankfully, yes. We’re off to a pretty strong start with the relaunch, with a few enticing teases during this book’s resolution that promises to only get better.
Opening with the immortal words, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” and giving us a brief “crawl” through recent events to establish this story, you’d be hard pressed to not hear the infamous opening notes of John Williams’ score.
As noted, this book is free of Luke Skywalker, while Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Leia pop up ever-so briefly in cameo appearances (the Han Solo cameo in particular is pretty tantalizing and opens up the door for what should be a pretty solid adventure in its own right).
Our characters here are Norra Wexley, an ace Rebel Alliance pilot, her son Temmin, an ex-Imperial Loyalty Officer Sinjir Rath Velus (whose motivations are explained wonderfully and with a gracious bit of depth and truth for a man in his position late in the book), and a bounty hunter, Jas. Temmin has some robot-building mojo and has updated one of those ridiculous, monotonous, and childishly awful battle droids from The Phantom Menace to be his personal bodyguard. More impressive, Wendig has taken this battle droid, named Mister Bones because of the animal bones it wears as a sort of stylized armor, and because it was named by a 15-year-old, and turned it into something interesting and humorous.
On the villain side, we are treated to Admiral Rae Sloane, who has captured Rebel/New Republic pilot Wedge Antilles, and has organized a meeting on the planet Akiva in an effort to reunite the fractured Empire. Among those gathered are a prominent banker and slaver, who is in the crosshairs of the bounty hunter, Jas.
What could have been a pretty good Star Wars story in its own right takes on an epic scope with a series of interludes. In these vignettes, Wendig is able to explore the ramifications of the war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, and the reader is able to get a deeper sense of the state of the galaxy, the threat the Empire still poses, and the process of rebuilding as the Alliance shifts gears towards becoming the democratic New Republic. I loved getting a peek into all these various corners of the galaxy and these characters responses to the conflicts affecting their lives, either directly or indirectly.
Writing in third person, present tense – a stylistic choice that Wendig has used in his previous novels – the story is given a sense of graceful urgency, propelling the reader along through the action. Some have voiced their displeasure at this approach, but I have zero problems with it and, as with previous Wendig books, I was able to sink right in and enjoy.
Star Wars: Aftermath is a good, fun start to a new series of books, and one that provides enough galactic intrigue to start building depth across the gap between this title and the release of the film, The Force Awakens, later this year. If, like me, you had no particular attachments to the previous Expanded Universe, it’s a good time to dive in without worrying about continuity outside of the films. But, if you did have a strong attachment to those prior novels, I still encourage to approach this work with an open mind and decide for yourself.
On a sliding scale to the film comparisons, I’d say it is not as terrible as The Phantom Menace, but at least as good as Attack of the Clones and a solid follow-on from Return of the Jedi. We might not be into The Empire Strikes Back territory, but the set-up promised in the final chapters of Aftermath looks like there’s a very fun story ahead of us.
[And if you’ve made it this far and thought this review was helpful, please vote at Amazon to indicate as such. I don’t ever ask for this, but given how often and how quickly positive reviews for this title are getting slammed by the so-called “fan” community, those of us who did enjoy the work would appreciate the support. Thanks in advance!]
Indie authors of the horror/thriller genre should check this out. Teri’s reviewed a few of my titles in the past, and is opening up a chance for free publicity throughout October.
Originally posted on Books & Such:
For the month of October, I’m planning a new series for Books & Such – one I hope to continue yearly. I’m calling it Bad Moon On The Rise – 31 Days of Thrills and Chills, featuring one author per day, so if you’re an indie author of horror/thriller books, send me your info! This is your chance for free publicity, to talk up your book, learn about other authors of the same genre, and hopefully sell some books. Each post will contain any information you’d like to include, such as a book synopsis, author bio, contact links, buy links and a short interview.
I still have some openings, so email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and title of your book and I’ll send you an info sheet within the next week.
I’d appreciate any help in spreading the word about this – thanks in advance!
So things have been buzzing quite a bit over Chuck Wendig’s latest, a media tie-in novel to a small franchise you might have heard of called Star Wars: Aftermath.
I wrote a piece about some of the reactions floating around out there in the wake of this book’s Force Friday release on Sept. 4, and it seems to have been drawing a lot of eyeballs. WordPress tells me it’s getting lots of traffic and that my stats are booming. In fact, yesterday and today have been the two most-visited days this little blog has seen (if not ever, than at least in quite a very, very long time). And in these last two days, my post on Star Wars has become the most viewed post of the year on this blog. Crazy stuff, that.
Apparently getting mentioned by Chuck Wendig and The Mary Sue is a good way to generate traffic to a single entry on this blog. Not that I’m complaining. I’m happy for the visit, and maybe a few will stick around for more in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.
In a much less ego-centric fashion, though, the salient point to take away is that whatever protests were aimed at Aftermath have clearly failed. If the goal, either from rabid fans of the prior Star Wars Expanded Universe or rabid puppy/GamerGate types who loathe diversity in their science fiction, was to steer people away from this latest Star Wars novel, then it has seriously failed. If the goal was to shut down any interest in the title, then that, too, has failed.
The mob rule that 1-star reviewers had enjoyed over the weekend is slowly degrading as less divisive readers and fans weigh in. Over the last 24 hours reviews have doubled, and the 1-star reviews, which at the time of my writing yesterday had accounted for more than 50% of the book’s reviews, has now dropped to 40% and the title’s overall rating has increased from two stars to 2.7.
I suspect that the book’s ratings will increase as more people chime in. Soon, balance will be restored to the Force.
While any title is bound to have 1-star reviews, the velocity and ferocity with which they came is more than a little bit suspicious. So, I think that what we’re seeing now is an increase in level-headedness, an increase in honest reviews from those less invested in the old Expanded Universe, and the curious who were brought into the fold because of all the vitriol and attention brought to Aftermath by this anti-Disney, anti-New EU campaign (if that was, in fact, the leading cause behind all those initial 1-stars).
This whole campaign kerfluffle has also given the book a lot of attention at Amazon, as the curious click through to that book and buy it, increasing the book’s sales ranking, as noted by Mr. Wendig over at his blog:
Amazon algorithms are interested not in the quality of the reviews but rather the attention that the reviews and the book get. (Meaning, a passel of negative reviews actually elevates the book’s overall sales ranking. Which in turn garners it more sales. Amazon reps have been clear with me on this point: buyers buy books with reviews, period. Not good reviews, not bad reviews. But rather: quantity of reviews impress buyers to make purchases. So, leaving a ton of bad reviews actually increases the book’s sales.
If my own writing on this 1-star campaign yesterday is anything to go by, then many more readers will soon be discovering and purchasing Aftermath just to see what all the hubbub is. And that, of course, means that the campaign against the Expanded Universe and diversity in our fiction has, again, failed and failed miserably.