Review: Apex (Nexus Arc Book 3) by Ramez Naam

Apex-144dpiAbout Apex

The Explosive Conclusion to Nexus and Crux

Global unrest spreads through the US, China, and beyond. Secrets and lies set off shockwaves of anger, rippling from mind to mind. Riot police battle neurally-linked protesters. Armies are mobilized. Political orders fall. Nexus-driven revolution is here.

Against this backdrop, a new breed of post-human children are growing into their powers. And a once-dead scientist, driven mad by her torture, is closing in on her plans to seize planet’s electronic systems, and re-forge everything in her image.

A new Apex species is here. The world will never be the same.


About the Author

Ramez Naam was born in Cairo, Egypt, and came to the US at the age of 3. He’s a computer scientist who spent 13 years at Microsoft, leading teams working on email, web browsing, search, and artificial intelligence. He holds almost 20 patents in those areas.

Ramez is the winner of the 2005 H.G. Wells Award for his non-fiction book More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement. He’s worked as a life guard, has climbed mountains, backpacked through remote corners of China, and ridden his bicycle down hundreds of miles of the Vietnam coast. He lives in Seattle, where he writes and speaks full time.


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley.]

I was instantly captivated by Ramez Naam’s sci-fi debut, Nexus, and have loved reading how his characters and this near-future Earth have responded to the burgeoning transhuman movement. With Apex, Naam picks up the story threads left at the end of book two, Crux, and delivers a highly satisfying conclusion to his series.

Apex is a large book, in both page count and scope. The advanced brain enhancement technology of the NexusOS has been causing a political stir for quite sometime, and it all comes to a head here. There are political coups, conspiracies, terrorism, riots, the rise of AI, and the threat of nuclear warfare.

This is a dense novel, with multiple subplots revolving around the birth of the PLF, a pro-transhumanist terror group, technological heists between China and India stemming from the viral load of the once-human Su-Yong, and disputes over the US presidential election, and so many other moving pieces intersecting these various subplots that the book feels much longer than it really is.

And that, really, is my only gripe. While Amazon lists the page count of this book at 608 pages, it feels twice as long and makes for a bit of a ponderous read. There is just so much happening, and so many characters involved, that it’s hard not to feel the weight and pressure of the story. I recall the prior two books being rather briskly paced and energetic, whereas this one is more of a massive pot-boiler. While it took me some time to get through, it was certainly well worth it. There’s also the issue of information delivery, with segments of the story being told in large chunks and then abandoned for a long while to focus on other issues, before circling back to pick up the threads on something else.

All that said, I did find Apex to being a strong finish to the story with the characters meeting their natural conclusions and, in some cases, a few surprises along the way. I do wish more would have been done to make Sam less one dimensional here, as she’s been a strong character previously with a very interesting background and journey throughout. It’s a bit of a shame to have her reduced here to a simple worrywart, mother figure with little else to do. I was happy to see Ranjan Shankari with a more integral role this time around, though, and Kade’s steps toward becoming a leader was very well done.

Naam is due tremendous applause for keeping all the gears turning in this massive tome. As I said, there is an awful lot happening here, with a lot of spinning plates to keep an eye, but the author does a fabulous job of tying up the various thread and delivering an energetic and compulsively readable finale to not only Apex, but to the series as a whole.

If you’ve been following the Nexus series thus far, then grabbing a copy of Apex is a no-brainer and it brings the series to a close with a rollicking finish replete with serious tension and action. If you haven’t been, then I highly recommend you start at the beginning, where you’ll likely find yourself becoming a fan in no time.

Buy Apex At Amazon
Review: Apex (Nexus Arc Book 3) by Ramez Naam

Now Available: Weapons of Mass Deception by David Bruns

WeaponsMass_CVR_LRGI had the pleasure of reading Weapons of Mass Deception earlier this month, and really enjoyed what David Bruns and J.R. Olson did here. It’s a finely-tuned military thriller on the bleeding-edge of today’s global politics. There’s a great deal of action, and most of all, heart, with solid characters across the board. You can read my review of this title here, check out their press release below, and order a copy of this just-released title at Amazon right now.

Happy weekend reading!


TWIN CITIES VETERANS RELEASE MILITARY THRILLER ABOUT NUCLEAR TERRORISM

Iranian nuclear program, rogue intelligence operatives, Navy SEALs – all with a Minnesota touch.

U.S. Navy veterans David Bruns and J. R. Olson have released their co-authored military thriller, Weapons of Mass Deception. Based on the premise that Saddam Hussein really did possess nuclear weapons–which he smuggled into Iran before the 2003 US invasion of Iraq–their story weaves historical fact and technical accuracy about military operations into a tale that could be ripped from today’s headlines. Both authors are long-time residents of the Twin Cities Metro and their novel features local landmarks in some of the key chapters.

Bruns, a former US Navy submarine officer and corporate executive with a science fiction series to his name, provided much of the writing, publishing, and marketing expertise to their creative joint venture. Olson’s 25-year career as a naval intelligence officer specializing in human intel or HUMINT, took him to war zones in Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf, as well as a stint as the US Naval Attaché to Finland. His experiences helped to build the plot for Weapons of Mass Deception and ensured technical realism in their storytelling.

Bob Mayer, West Point graduate, former Green Beret, and New York Times bestselling author, states: “These two Navy veterans have put together a ripping yarn about modern-day nuclear terrorism. I was hooked from the very first page.”

Both Bruns and Olson are graduates of the United States Naval Academy and the idea for their partnership grew out of an April 2014 speaking engagement to the Minnesota chapter of the Naval Academy Parent’s Association where they were invited to talk about their careers. At the conclusion of their respective stories, a member of the audience suggested the two collaborate on a novel.

Now, one year later, Weapons of Mass Deception is available in print and ebook at Amazon.com (http://bit.ly/buy-wmd) and at BN.com (http://bit.ly/WMD-on-BN). For more information, visit www.davidbruns.com.

Now Available: Weapons of Mass Deception by David Bruns

Review: Weapons of Mass Deception by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

WeaponsMass_CVR_LRGAbout Weapons of Mass Deception

May 14, 2015

Patriot Games meets The Fourth Protocol in this riveting story of modern-day nuclear terrorism.

In 2003, the world watched as coalition forces toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, then searched—unsuccessfully—for the weapons of mass destruction they were certain existed.

None were ever found, but they do exist. On the eve of the invasion, a handful of nuclear weapons was smuggled out of Iraq and hidden in the most unlikely of places—Iran.

Now, as the threat of WMDs fades into a late-night punch line, a shadowy Iranian faction waits for the perfect moment to unleash Saddam Hussein’s nuclear legacy on the West.

Brendan McHugh, a Navy SEAL, meets a mysterious Iranian diplomat on a raid in Iraq. His former girlfriend and FBI linguist discovers a link to Iran among a group of captured jihadis. And pulling it all together is a CIA analyst who can’t forget about Saddam Hussein’s WMDs—even if it costs him his career.


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an ARC of this novel from the authors in exchange for an honest review.]

Weapons of Mass Deception, a collaborative effort between two Navy guys, is a top-notch military thriller and one that I hope is only the beginning of a new series.

The book is filled with as much heart as it is technical know-how and first-hand experience from the authors in the realm of naval operations and military intelligence.

There is a lot of depth and many moving pieces to the narrative, which concerns Iraq’s fabled weapons of mass destruction. In the story, Saddam’s nuclear arms were very much real and smuggled out of Iraq and into Iran just days before the US invasion in 2003. What follows is a sprawling narrative involving a trio of Naval Academy graduates that the writers track across more than a decade as they settle into their various career paths and remain united by the central terrorist operations of a rogue Iranian Quds Force agent.

Co-authors Bruns and Olson bring a lot of knowledge to the table, having operated in the trenches of the US Navy and Commander Olson’s twenty-one years as a naval intelligence officer and U.S. Naval Attaché to Finland. There’s definitely an “insiders” feel to the level of detail and machinations in both the US Armed Forces and intelligence community, as well as the global operations of a terrorist network hellbent on achieving nuclear Armageddon.

There is also an added layer of heart thanks to the interpersonal relationships between the trio of US Naval Academy graduates and the rocky on-again, off-again love story between Brendan and Liz, the former a SEAL and the latter now working for the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. As the authors chart the lives of these two, as well as fellow Academy classmate turned CIA analyst Don Riley, over more than a decade of their careers, we really get to know each of them very well. The authors also spend a considerable amount of time developing their terrorists as well, particular Rafiq, which helps prevent the bad guys from being overly-simplistic, one dimensional stock villains. There’s a great amount of character development and depth across the board, along with a healthy dose of honor and mission-driven purpose on both sides of the aisle.

Fans of Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, or Nelson DeMille should feel right at home with this story of lost nukes, Navy SEALS, intelligence agency operatives, and up-to-minute global politics. This is a terrific addition to the line-up of military thrillers and should not be missed. Highly recommended.

Buy Weapons of Mass Deception At Amazon
Review: Weapons of Mass Deception by David Bruns and J.R. Olson

Review: The Dragon Chronicles: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

dragon chroniclesAbout The Dragon Chronicles

April 30, 2015

Dragons. They are more than a memory from an age of wizards and heroes. These winged, fire-breathing beasts soar through the traditions of many lands, and through our dreams. In their many guises – Western or Eastern, reptile or lizard or serpent, wyvern, hydra, basilisk – dragons embody everything that we humans call magic.

In this volume of the acclaimed ‘Future Chronicles’ anthology series, twelve authors invite you to journey to very different worlds – lands of fire and fury, of legend and lore – but all worlds where dragons roam unshackled from myth, freed from the imagination, and real.

“The Dragon Chronicles” features stories by bestselling authors Elle Casey (War of the Fae), David Adams (Ren of Atikala), K.J. Colt (Klawdia), Terah Edun (Courtlight), and Daniel Arenson (Dragonlore) plus seven more of today’s most visionary authors in fantasy and speculative fiction.


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced review copy of this book from a contributing author.]

The Dragon Chronicles is the latest in Samuel Peralta’s “The Future Chronicles” anthology series. As with the prior entries, he has assembled a strong collection of diverse voices in the fields of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Each anthology presents an overarching theme to unify the various short stories, and we’ve seen collections centered around robots, artificial intelligence, aliens, and telepaths. Now, we get dragons!

Although the Chinese zodiac calendar says 2015 is the year of the sheep, pop culture seems to think otherwise. And it’s a good thing, because I doubt as many intriguing stories could be told about sheep. This year seems to very much be the year of the dragon – Game of Thrones seems to have hit critical mass with the debut of season 5 and rampant speculation on when the sixth novel in George R.R. Martin’s beloved series will be released. Author Matthew Reilly put his own stamp on dragon lore with his theme park-centric story, The Great Zoo of China, earlier this year. Even the latest Apocalypse Weird novel, Genesis, by Stefan Bolz, hits on the element of dragons. While it may not be directly relevant, we’re even getting another ‘Dragon Tattoo’ novel later in the year, with Lisbeth Salander making a return under the helm of a new author.

Seems like dragons are everywhere these days. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Peralta collects here a group of authors who seem to love, respect, and admire these great mythical creatures, and who have some fun figuring out intriguing ways of presenting stories putting these winged fire-breathers front and center.

As with any anthology, not every story hit the mark for me, but the majority of the entries here work quite well. I’m also not a huge fantasy buff and have a hard time losing myself within this particular genre, so my hat is truly off to these writers for making it somewhat easy for me to find escapist entertainment within these covers. I’m not going to discuss all twelve stories in this collection, but what follows are some brief thoughts about those works that really stood out for me.

The Dragon Chronicles gets off to a very strong start with Ten Things You Should Know About Dragons by Elle Casey, who presents a story about a dragon-rider trainer named Ish. She captures his voice very well and pulls off the direct communication between narrator and reader very well, with some splashes of humor, particularly in relation to the name Ish. This is a very effective short story and a solid beginning to what follows. It’s also rather funny-ish!

Daniel Arenson’s Of Sand and Starlight takes a turn for a dark with an embittered protagonist who has turned to prostitution to make ends meet. She has the ability to transform into a dragon, but her powers are outlawed by the tyrannical empire ruling the land. Good characters, good ideas, and good world building, all wrapped up into a small story.

More whimsical is KJ Colt’s Tasty Dragon Meat, about a butcher who discovers the profits of selling dragon flesh for consumption, and who learns about the horrible aftereffects of such dining when his child begins growing scales. This one was a lot of fun, with much of the story driven by the butcher’s increasingly bad choices, all made in an effort to fix his many mistakes, while also being emotionally resonant.

Ted Cross does a beautiful a job with his tale of a treasure hunt gone horribly awry for a group of young Vikings trespassing upon a dragon’s lair. The youthful characters of Dragon Play are well done, and I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of The Goonies vibe in their doomed sojourn. Kim Wells gives an interesting spin on dragon mythos, and the history of life on Earth itself, with The Book of Safkhet, an ancient scroll that tells the tales of a doomed civilization. Grey, by Chris Pourteau, presents a stirring tale of friendship between a female human child and an ancient dragon who is the last of its kind. The emotion and turbulence on display between these two very different species is wonderfully authentic and may be my favorite of the bunch.

As I said before, not every anthology can please every reader. For my own tastes, this collection felt a little too long, and I was a bit surprised at the number of stories that relied on shape-shifting for its central conceit. It was an interesting approach at first, but one that became a bit dulled through repetition.

Still, those small caveats aside, I found The Dragon Chronicles to be a pretty solid collection overall, and a sturdy addition to Samuel Peralta’s ongoing Future Chronicles series. Dragon lovers should find a number of stories to enjoy here (in nicely digestible sizes at that).

Buy The Dragon Chronicles At Amazon
Review: The Dragon Chronicles: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

Review: Writer Emergency Pack

Arrived today: The #writeremergency #darkmode deck! @writeremergency @johnaugust #amwriting

A photo posted by Michael Hicks (@mphicks79) on

Back in November, I supported the Writer Emergency Pack as a Kickstarter project and received the final print deck in December. I was absolutely thrilled with the final card deck, and wrote about it a bit back then and posted a couple pieces of iPhoneography to go with it.

Tuesday night, I received the Kickstarter backer-exclusive Dark Mode deck, which is basically the same as the regular pack but printed on sleek all-black cards and a much darker box. It’s really nice looking and a fun little change of pace from the standard cards. The Emergency Pack crew even added the delightful little touch of wrapping the Dark Mode deck in black tissue paper, helping to emphasize the stygian nature of this updated deck.

The two #writeremergency packs side-by-side. @writeremergency @johnaugust #darkmode #amwriting

A photo posted by Michael Hicks (@mphicks79) on

Although these decks started out as a Kickstarter project, the Emergency crew is now making the standard decks available on a wider scale. Every writer can (and should!) now buy them via Amazon.

Here’s the review I posted on their product page:


This is a terrific and easy-to-use resource for writers both established and up-and-coming, designed to help storytellers get out of whatever corners they’ve written themselves into or to brainstorm ways of reinvigorating stalled ideas.

The Emergency Pack is designed to look and feel like your average deck of cards, like Bicycle playing cards, but for authors in a jam. Using these cards is very simple and is outlined on a 3-step “Emergency Procedures” card at the front of the deck: focus on your writing conundrum, draw an illustrated Idea card at random, read it and then read the corresponding Detail card. Maybe the ideas will help, or maybe they won’t, but the goal is get you asking “what if?” and to hopefully get you drifting back into the right territory. Some random cards might be “What Would Indy Do?”, “Switch Genres”, or “Kill The Hero.” The accompanying illustrations are well-drawn, detailed, and amusing (and sometimes even downright irreverent).

Shuffling through the deck during one of my own jams helped me brainstorm a finale to a recent short story that I had no idea how to finish. The writing had gone smoothly throughout, right up until the climax. And while the fix ended up being fairly simple, it wasn’t really until I’d played around with these cards that I realized how helpful the Emergency Pack truly was. It gave me a much-needed kick in the rear, helped me think my way through a muddled segment of story, and wrap up my project in a way that I found both useful, true to the story, and a worked as a satisfying finish.

The Writer Emergency Pack is a fun little tool for writers, and it’s small size – the same as your average deck of playing cards – makes it’s conveniently portable for authors on the go. If you’re the type to write while traveling or at your local coffee shop, you can easily incorporate this pack into your writing routine at any place, at any time. You might not always need it, but, then again, it is for emergencies, and you never know when it might come in handy. It very well could save your entire story, although some of your characters may never forgive you.


I’ll have a new short story printed in an upcoming anthology (currently slated for Aug./Sept. time-frame), and I absolutely did use these cards to drum up that piece’s finale. They were a total lifesaver (well, for me, as an author anyway. Less of a lifesaver for some poor fictional schmucks, but whatever). I’ll let you be the judge on how well I did with that story later this year, but as far as I’m concerned the Writer Emergency Pack has proved to be an excellent investment already. I’m keeping these cards handy and close to the keyboard when I write, just in case.

And if you want some more info on these cards, check out www.writeremergency.com/

Review: Writer Emergency Pack

Review: Apocalypse Weird: Genesis (The White Dragon, Book One) by Stefan Bolz

AW-GenesisAbout Genesis

This is the story of the very beginning of an apocalyptic event as seen through the eyes of an eighteen-year-old girl. Nothing could have prepared her for what is about to happen and she has to face some seriously tough stuff before the end.

During the thirty-six hours of terror that turn Kasey Byrne’s life upside down and strip her of everything dear to her, something inside her awakens. It is gift and curse alike for it can destroy her or turn her into the most powerful weapon against the evil that has reached the shores of our world.


About the Author

I remember back in Germany, I must have been around twelve years old when I began to read, or, better, devour, weekly 66-page novellas about ghost hunters, paranormal phenomenons, demons and vampires. I’d buy one on a Friday from my allowance (the other part of it went to seeing Kung Fu movies) and then would read it on Saturday morning before getting up. Later on, during my mid to late teens, came Alistair MacLean and Robert Ludlum who made me dream about becoming an international spy or a double agent. “Where Eagles Dare” or “The Matarese Circle” captured my imagination and I traveled with my heroes to all the exotic locations around the world, with danger lurking at every turn. It was then, at the age of seventeen, when I first realized that I wanted to write. It took me twenty years to actually start doing it and another ten before I wrote my first novel. Never give up.

Check out my youtube channel at
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC05eV_Om-_KL0Zw2rv9tNYw


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an ARC from the Apocalypse Weird crew for review.]

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about the Apocalypse Weird bookverse is that it has been a wonderful gateway to a lot of new authors I might not have otherwise found. Nick Cole and Michael Bunker are pretty well known names, but it’s been a real treat discovering writers like Chris Pourteau, Jennifer Ellis, Kim Wells, and Forbes West, among others. The latest to join the AW roster is Stefan Bolz, with Genesis.

Right from the start, Bolz had me deeply invested in his primary character, Kasey Byrne, who we meet as a child with a rebellious streak. There’s a terrific bit of insight into Kasey’s young mindset that quickly brings us up to speed on who this girl is in a very short span. When her 18-year-old self takes the reins, I was already deeply invested and quite attached to Kasey and her role in the constantly-building apocalypse.

So far, each of the AW writer’s have been able to put a suitable spin on each of their regional catastrophes, going bonkers with time travel, alien invasions, demonic motorcycle clubs, zombie bears, the mysterious and clearly crazy Dr. Midnite, and more. Bolz adds to the mix a New Jersey gone insane with mass suicides, a cool spin on the demonic motorcycle riders — dubbed here as Blood Riders — and a nasty shape shifter.

Stefan takes the intriguing route of filtering his story through a young adult fantasy tale, the climax of which will no doubt have readers clamoring for book two. The White Dragon itself becomes an intriguing component of the finale, and promises to have a much grander role as this particular series progresses. And Kasey’s overarching role in the apocalypse writ-large, and the developing myth-arc shaping up in the background in each of these books, promises to be epic. There is a definite sense of the Hero’s Journey in Kasey Byrne’s life, and I’m very eager to see it take shape.

Buy Genesis At Amazon

Review: Apocalypse Weird: Genesis (The White Dragon, Book One) by Stefan Bolz

Review: Hugh Howey Lives by Daniel Arthur Smith

hughhoweylivesAbout Hugh Howey Lives

In 2174 authors are obsolete. With the exception of a few human ‘Author’ titles printed in the small basement and back room Libraries, all stories are created by the Artificial Intelligence of the Archive. Most believe the ‘Authors’ are only brands to lure people into spending their credits on print. One woman believes that one of them, author Hugh Howey, is real, and still alive. Her Librarian feeds her belief that Hugh Howey is still sailing around the world, uploading his work to the Archive. Convinced she has found clues in his stories as to where he now resides, she and her girlfriend sail to an island, where she believes Hugh Howey lives.


About the Author

Daniel Arthur Smith is the author of the international bestsellers THE CATHARI TREASURE, THE SOMALI DECEPTION, and a few other novels and short stories.

He was raised in Michigan and graduated from Western Michigan University where he studied philosophy, with focus on cognitive science, meta-physics, and comparative religion. He began his career as a bartender, barista, poetry house proprietor, teacher, and then became a technologist and futurist for the Fortune 100 across the Americas and Europe.

Daniel has traveled to over 300 cities in 22 countries, residing in Los Angeles, Kalamazoo, Prague, Crete, and now writes in Manhattan where he lives with his wife and young sons.

For more information, visit danielarthursmith.com

Readers who subscribe to Daniel’s newsletter receive a FREE SHORT STORY and free copies of his books, usually before they are published: danielarthursmith.com/newsletter


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an ARC of this title from the author for review.]

Hugh Howey Lives is the first title I’ve read by Daniel Arthur Smith, and I was greatly impressed with the sci-fi concepts at play here. Readers will get treated to human synthetics, bioinformatics, and a good dose of light philosophy, but the real draw here, and what kept me engaged the most, was the tremendous breadth of heart that went into the work.

Yes, the book is an ode to indie publishing’s biggest success and the author of the wildly popular Wool series. For indie authors, Howey’s name has a certain cache to it, and the man has proven himself to be a tremendous writer in his own right, in addition to helping popularize ebooks and the author-publisher landscape into forces to be reckoned with. But Hugh Howey Lives is also a heck of a lot more than a simple homage to a single particular author, and really Smith could have picked any novelist to grace his book’s pages and come up with a story equally solid and compelling.

While Howey’s name is checked numerous times throughout, the real meat of the story is about authors and writing in general, and the true ode here goes to the wordsmiths and literary artists who create the books we love so very much. There’s plenty of wonderfully developed themes to munch on here – from the process of creation and the God-like abilities authors possess in their world-building, to the books and authors that shape and inspire other writer’s, and the balance between creating art and sacrificing ourselves for that necessary good, right down to immortality itself.

Hugh Howey Lives is a short book, a bit over a hundred pages or so, but Smith packs an awful lot of depth into it and kept me riveted throughout. There’s a few surprises in store for readers here, which I refuse to spoil, but I will warn you: you may want to keep the Kleenex handy for the finale, just in case.

Buy Hugh Howey Lives At Amazon
Review: Hugh Howey Lives by Daniel Arthur Smith