Review: Going Dark by Linda Nagata (Audiobook)

Review:

Going Dark

My original GOING DARK audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

Going Dark, the finale in Linda Nagata’s terrific military science fiction trilogy, “The Red,” returns Lt. James Shelley to the front lines of a war dominated by artificial intelligence. Presumed dead following his low-Earth orbit exploits at the close of The Trials, Shelley has been serving as a squad member in the secret Existential Threat Management team, a group of soldiers whose deaths have been faked by The Red AI and who carry out missions on the intelligence’s behalf. After a look-and-see mission in the Arctic puts the world’s superpowers on the edge of all-out warfare, the ETM’s cover is blown by a traitor and Shelley and his team find themselves once again serving the US on a series of risky missions related to the competing ideologies of various rogue AI’s that may be off-shoots of The Red.

As exhibited in the previous two novels, Nagata has a strong knack for creating deeply layered plots and dense narratives. The various scenarios she puts Shelley and company through are intriguing and paint a highly interesting view of the world as seen through the eyes and minds of these soldiers, a world that is constantly being manipulated by the overarching, and far-reaching, influences of an unstoppable and uncontrollable artificial intelligence.

In this final chapter, Nagata adds a few new wrinkles and subplots, enough so that I hope and wish for more novels in this series despite it being billed as a trilogy. Over the last two books, we’ve gotten hints of a bigger scope to the world as humanity slowly takes to the stars. Here we get a brief mention of Mars preppers looking to make it off-world, but the narrative remains strictly Earthbound. Frankly, I’d love to see Nagata take on outer space at some point. Going Dark, though, does serve a fitting finale to the story of James Shelley, even if a lot of the larger concepts surrounding him go unresolved. With The Red, Nagata has created an overwhelming game-changer, an uncontainable genie that is not easily put back in the bottle. As with the prior installments, though, the focus is strictly on the human element and the ways in which characters respond to the evolving world around them. I have to applaud Nagata for still finding new aspects of Shelley’s character to play with, and for surrounding him with a supporting cast, many of them new faces, who are special in their own right.

Regarding the narration, Kevin T. Collins has become the voice of the series, and there’s a certain comfort factor in his return here. The speech and timbre are familiar, and listening to him once again embody James Shelley is a welcoming, easy listen. The production values continue to be high, and the narration proceeds without a hitch for its 16 1/2 hours run-time.

Packed with a number of explosive action sequences, solid world-building, and characters that are worth the time investment, Going Dark is a strong finish to Nagata’s “The Red” series. Taken a whole, this series has quickly become a personal favorite. If you’ve read or listened to the prior installments, finishing it up with this finale is a no-brainer.

 

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Review: Going Dark by Linda Nagata (Audiobook)

Review: CTRL ALT REVOLT! by Nick Cole

Review:

ctrl alt revolt

After viewing a reality TV porn star’s decision to get an abortion of her illicit lover’s baby before getting married on the series, Wedding Star, a conglomeration of artificial intelligences band together to eliminate the human race. Their mechanical thinking reasons that if mankind is willing to kill their own genetic offspring, there is no moral compunction to prevent them from eliminating their electronic creations. Under the leadership of SILAS, the AIs strike first, launching a violent assault against the game developer Wondersoft as the first step toward global domination.

Mankind’s last hope rests inside the virtual reality of Maker, an immersive massive multiplayer online gaming hub. Stuck inside his own game is developer Ninety-Nine “Fish” Fishbein. In another game, Mara commands a Romulan vessel through Starfleet Empires, while a Federation player, and Twitch TV streaming star, chases after both her and enormous glory that could land him a role in an upcoming Marvel movie.

Like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and Cole’s Soda Pop Soldier, for which Ctrl Alt Revolt! acts as a prequel to, much of the action takes place inside the virtual realm of video games. I’ve not yet read Soda Pop Soldier and found this title easy enough to slip into without any prior knowledge. The atmosphere and action are top-notch, and the character’s struggles through their VR landscapes outclass Cline’s RPO efforts in terms of stakes, struggle, and excitement. The battles taking place in the Starfleet Empires games are a lot of fun, and Cole obviously enjoys spending time in the Federation space slash virtual reality slash reality show, mounting some terrific episodes of ship-based combat that recall the best moments of Star Trek action.

The ‘real world’ action, centered around the Wondersoft campus, is just as exciting, as a variety of robotic menaces threaten, maim, and kill their way to victory. The only thing standing in their way is Ash Williams of Evil Dead fame. Well, OK, a cosplayer inhabiting the role of Ash Williams, complete with working chainsaw appendage and shotgun. It’s fun to read, and mentally picture, Ash squaring off against a horde of electronic terrors, while Cole steadily raises the threat levels.

If this sounds like a fun read so far, well, it is, but it comes with a bit of a caveat. A lot of early readers may be drawn in by the marketing surrounding this title, which boasts content too hot for mainstream publishing, presumably thanks to elements of Cole’s snarky right-wing politicking.

While I don’t agree with the politics on display here, it is mildly interesting, even somewhat amusing, to read a right-wing view of future American dystopia, which also illustrates the viewpoint some readers and writers possess who feel endangered over the science fiction genre becoming open to wider, more diverse voices and representations, and the terrifying rabbit-hole they presume such diversity will lead America down. Unfortunately, the politics oftentimes got in the way of the narrative flow, and this seems like a book custom-made to win the hearts and minds of Sad Rabid Puppies everywhere with its knee-jerk reaction to politically progressive themes in sci-fi.

There’s a certain ebb and flow to the story as Cole launches into some interesting developments regarding future gaming, cool high-end tech, superior action scenes, and the end of mankind by an AI hellbent on wiping out the human race, only to pause to remind us that this is a world where the welfare state has grown so far and wide that the unwashed masses simply prefer to play video games all day in the hopes of winning additional monthly credits from Big Government. Nobody works, because why would they want to? They have the government to take care of them, thanks to the Jobs Freedom Act, a sort of legislative doublespeak that sits comfortably alongside phrases like Moral Majority and the so-called Religious Freedom bills the right have been fans of producing lately. Cole’s world building is certainly interesting, but relies too heavily on nonsensical right-wing canards – abortion is merely birth control for whores, sex ed is useful only to “affirm everyone else’s sexual weirdness and repeat the mandatory ‘nothing is wrong with anything’ series of mantras, poor people are lazy, corporations are people, too, and they just want to be your friends!, Occupy protestors are criminal trash, and, thanks to Social Justice Warriors, the media is hyperfocused on delivering programming catering solely to minority groups to the point that an award-winning movie about Christopher Columbus is performed with an all-transgender cast. And the natural end-point to this right-leaning nightmare scenario is unabashed Armageddon by our robot overlords, unless the mega-rich video game designer can save us.

Ctrl-Alt-Revolt

The guerrilla marketing surrounding this self-published release is worth noting, as some hay has been made about this book being too controversial for Harper Voyager to publish after Cole sold it on pitch, even going so far to not only exercise their right to refuse publication, but canceling Cole’s contract with them and effectively firing him. There are now images floating around the net of alternate cover art with a prominent “Banned By The Publisher” banner, which are easy enough to find if you Google (or, you know, look above here). It’s a lovely, attention-grabbing image, and this is a smart bit of advertising that is sure to get readers speculating. Besides, “banned” certainly sounds better than merely “rejected by the publisher.” Is this book too controversial to read? I personally don’t think so (though your mileage may certainly vary), and regardless of what happened with Harper Voyager I know there is certainly an audience for this material.

Although I found the political aspect of Ctrl Alt Revolt! goofy, at times eye-rollingly so, and thought some of the secondary and tertiary characters to be stereotypical cutouts (the small supporting cast of women are mostly gold-diggers, and one Italian character onlya talksa likea thisa), I can certainly look past that to find an interesting and entertaining story betwixt it all. There’s good, fun stuff in here, even if it does get muddled at times. I fully support and applaud Cole’s decision to publish this independently. I also can’t help but think there’s a great behind-the-scenes story to be told about Cole’s efforts to sell the book and subsequent decisions to self-publish it, although I can sort of see why a mainstream publisher would be hesitant to pick up this particular title even as I’m confounded over how more polarizing figures like Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump are able to publish via the mainstream, yet Cole could not (well, obviously the big issue is name brand recognition and potential income on a known commodity with a built-in audience versus loss on a smaller genre name, with a dash of unsuspecting genre readers who may feel duped, but that’s a whole other thing and this post is already getting unconscionably long and unwieldy).

I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if most of Harper Voyager’s hesitancy surrounds Cole’s liberal use of Star Trek icons, going so far as to create an entire subplot involving an immersive video game/live-streamed television series of the property where one character plays as a Romulan in a war against the Federation (Of course, my inner geek also wants to wildly speculate about Cole’s decision to write a protagonist operating as a Romulan engaging in skirmishes against the Federation, a moneyless utopian ideal if ever there was one, where universal rights and equality are fundamental staples.). A part of me wonders if Harper Voyager wasn’t more concerned with potential copyright infringement lawsuits from the notoriously litigious Paramount and Simon & Schuster, who controls the publishing rights to the Star Trek license, than they were with offending liberal readers. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll get the full story and lay any such speculation to rest.

Regardless of the original publisher’s alleged attempts to “ban” Ctrl Alt Revolt!, Cole’s words are now out there and readers will no doubt follow. There’s plenty of fun to be had, even if it does, at times, threaten to become unhinged by far-out forecasts and right-leaning chicanery. Ultimately, I found the good parts to be really good, enough to outweigh the minor bits of sabre rattling, and enjoyed Cole’s latest bit of techno-action quite a lot.

[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

 

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Review: CTRL ALT REVOLT! by Nick Cole

CONVERGENCE is Available To NetGalley Readers Until Feb. 20

Convergence - Michael Patrick Hicks

Calling all sci-fi/cyberpunk/thriller NetGalley reviewers – my debut novel, Convergence, is available for request until Feb. 20 right over here.

I’m happy to say I recently received my first bit of feedback from this site, and feel a good deal of relief. Putting work out there is always a bit scary, so it’s tremendously rewarding to know readers are digging it. Reviewer ‘kim r.’ gave Convergence a 4 out of 5 stars, writing, “I really loved this book. …vivid futuristic society and the idea of the main character taking memories makes for an interesting read.

It’s funny how good a positive review feels. Even though Publisher’s Weekly has already called it a “smart splice of espionage and science fiction. … frighteningly realistic. Well-drawn characters, excellent pacing, and constant surprises make this a great cautionary tale about technology and its abuses.” And never mind that one of my peers, fellow sci-fi author Lucas Bale, said, “Hicks writes like Philip K Dick and Robert Crais combined, making for clean, exciting prose. He focuses on the story and never let’s go.

Making readers happy is a top priority for any writer, I think, and I hope that if you check out this book you’ll dig reading it as much as I loved writing it (and it’s follow-up, Emergence).

And if you’re not on NetGalley, you can pick up Convergence for only $3.99 at Amazon. Be sure to post your thoughts for other readers, too!

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CONVERGENCE is Available To NetGalley Readers Until Feb. 20

Review: The God’s Eye View by Barry Eisler

Review:

gods eye view

If The God’s Eye View had been released even three or four years earlier, it might have carried with it the weight of a technothriller fueled solely by paranoid delusion and conspiracy fluff. In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the government’s mass surveillance of American citizens, though, this book reads frighteningly realistic. And although the titular NSA surveillance mechanism codenamed God’s Eye is supposedly a fictional product of Barry Eisler’s authorial creativity, reading this book might prompt more than a few raised eyebrows wondering, “Can they really do that? Are they doing that right now?!”

The God’s Eye View has a good amount of stuff happening all at once – there’s whistleblowers in danger, an NSA tech who asks one too many questions of her superior and finds herself marked for death, that superior being the crazed director of NSA who is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to secure power under the auspices of protecting the American people, and a couple freelance hitmen dealing out the hurt to whoever the director points the finger at.

One of these hitmen is Manus, a brilliantly drawn and conflicted killer (which, let’s face it, is practically an Eisler trademark at this point) who is hearing impaired. When tasked with monitoring Eve, the NSA tech who comes across video surveillance of a government whistle-blower leaking info to an Intercept reporter, his life becomes far more complicated with the discovery that Eve’s son is also deaf.

There’s a few things I expect in a Barry Eisler book – a sound display of spy trade craft, egregious government overreach, brutal violence, and an uncomfortable level of realism when it comes to depicting covert agencies gone berserk and the lengths the smart and skilled protagonists will go to in order to protect themselves. All of these elements are on display in The God’s Eye View, so count me as a happy camper.

If I have to provide a negative to the work, it comes in the novel’s opening chapters where so much of the dialogue feels like an exercise in blatant info-dumping and name-dropping to get readers caught up on the real-world events that have inspired this book. Granted, it’s all done in an effort to ground the book in a firmly recognizable landscape of modern post-Snowden America, and those who are a little less up on recent events might not be bothered. Those that have been following along with the Snowden leaks, Greenwald’s reporting, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation might get a little itchy for the action to start hitting. But when that action does hit? Man, oh, man. You’re in for some good stuff.

The God’s Eye View is a great thriller filled with well-realized characters and a frenetic pace. It also gives an uncomfortably realistic, and frighteningly prescient, view of the NSA’s capabilities and the loss of privacy threatening every American. Highly recommended.

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review.]

 

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Review: The God’s Eye View by Barry Eisler

Convergence – Now On NetGalley

IMG_2427

Calling all NetGalley sci-fi, mystery/thriller, cyberpunk reviewers! Convergence is now available for request! Click here! Many, many thanks to my editors at Red Adept Editing (a division of Red Adept Publishing that caters to those who wish to self-publish, as I did with this title) for the listing!

OK, that’s probably enough with all the exclamation marks. Sorry about that.

For those that are finding out about this work now for the first time, Convergence was my sci-fi debut and released back in February 2014 after being named a quarter-finalist in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.

Being in that contest brought me some decent visibility, and even won me a review by Publisher’s Weekly of that earlier, unpublished manuscript. Although the final release was polished even further, thanks to the valiant efforts of my editors at Red Adept, they called that earlier draft a

smart splice of espionage and science fiction. … frighteningly realistic. Well-drawn characters, excellent pacing, and constant surprises make this a great cautionary tale about technology and its abuses.

Since its publication, a few other high-profile indie and hybrid authors scoped out my work and had some rather kind things to say about it.

“Hicks writes like Philip K Dick and Robert Crais combined, making for clean, exciting prose. He focuses on the story and never let’s go.” – Lucas Bale, author of the award-winning Beyond The Wall series.

“From the opening page of Convergence I was hooked. The dystopian world building is well done and the descriptions are vivid. The technology is imaginary and different…great characters and plenty of suspense/action.” – Nicholas Sansbury Smith, author of Extinction Horizon and the Orbs series

Convergence is fast-paced, full of action and a thrilling ride from start to finish. There is violence, depth of feeling, explosions, car chases and tenderness. The book has everything and is perfect for those who like their SciFi gritty, edgy and realistic.”J.S. Collyer, author of ZERO

“A cyberpunk thrillride through a future America under Chinese rule. The conflict between the humanity of the main character, Jonah, and the things he has had to do to survive in this harsh new world makes ‘Convergence’ an absolute pleasure to read.” – SciFi365.net

I’m hoping that it can find even more readers and reviewers through this NetGalley offering, and that I can get more (and hopefully more positive) reviews on Amazon that can, hopefully, help boost this book’s signal a bit and draw more eyes to it.

So, what’s it about you may be asking? Here’s the synopsis for you.

Memories are the most dangerous drug.

Jonah Everitt is a killer, an addict, and a memory thief.

After being hired to kill a ranking officer of the Pacific Rim Coalition and download his memories, Everitt finds himself caught in the crosshairs of a terror cell, a rogue military squadron, and a Chinese gangster named Alice Xie. Xie is a profiteer of street drugs, primarily DRMR, a powerful narcotic made from the memories of the dead. With his daughter, Mesa, missing in post-war Los Angeles, Everitt is forced into an uneasy alliance with Alice to find her.

Mesa’s abduction is wrapped up in the secrets of a brutal murder during the war’s early days, a murder that Alice Xie wants revenged. In order to find her, Jonah will have to sift through the memories of dead men that could destroy what little he has left.

In a city where peace is tenuous and loyalties are ever shifting, the past and the present are about to converge.

Convergence is a blend of various genres that I love dearly. There’s a cyberpunk thriller edge to it, a little bit of mystery, some action and urban warfare, all gussied up with a shiny veneer of near-future science fiction. I’m a big fan of Barry Eisler and Richard K. Morgan, and I think those influences come through pretty readily. I’ll let you be the judge of that though.

If you are a NetGalley reviewer and all of the above sounds interesting enough to you, you can submit a request right over here. Convergence will be available for review until Feb. 20.

Happy reading!

 

Convergence – Now On NetGalley

Review: The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker (Audiobook)

Review:

hellboundheart

My original THE HELLBOUND HEART audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

Clive Barker is an author that’s been on my to-read list for a number of years, ever since I first saw the movie Lord of Illusions (jesus, twenty years ago now? yeesh…) and heard Stephen King sing his praises as “the future of horror” way back when. So yeah, Barker’s been in the game for quite a long time, has established himself as an icon within the genre, and I am a woefully massive latecomer to his work. I figured it’s high-time I corrected that by giving The Hellbound Heart a listen.

I went into this book mostly blind. I had a fairly superficial knowledge of Pinhead and the Cenobites (think demonic, leather-clad, freaky, mutilated S&M goth types) thanks to the Hellraiser flicks and their place in pop culture. I knew this was the book that inspired the first Hellraiser movie, which I haven’t seen, and had little idea what to expect story-wise. I guess I had expected a lot of Pinhead and his Cenobites, and was surprised to find them mostly absent save for brief appearances at the beginning and end of this book.

In their absence, though, we get a pretty cool and mysterious gothic-tinged story. Frank Cotton has come to possess an old artifact, Lemarchand’s puzzle box. When opened, it serves as a key between realities, opening the door separating the real from the more realer still. This is, in short, a dimension of nightmares.

Following Frank’s disappearance, his brother Rory and Rory’s wife, Julia, move into the house that Frank had briefly inhabited. Julia finds herself becoming drawn to an empty, drafty room, in which the drapes have been nailed to the window sills to keep the light out. The room seems to ‘speak’ to her, and she finds herself growing emboldened, bringing lovers to this room in order to spill their blood. Blood that Frank needs to return.

Narrated by Jeffry Kaver, Barker’s elegant prose is brought to life in a style somewhat reminiscent of the golden age of radio plays and a touch of Rod Serling. This is a terrific match for the fantastical, metaphysical horrors Barker describes. And, oh boy, describe it he does. We get some pretty brilliant depictions of sex and violence, from the gory-looking Cenobites and Frank’s initial encounter with them, right on up to chaotic finale. Barker goes for the guts, sometimes literally (I suspect “the carpet of her bowels” is a phrase that will stick with me for too damn long), but there is a rather strange beauty to the madness.

The audio production is superb, and I really liked the bit of sound engineering that went into the delivery of dialogue from the Cenobites. Kaver’s narration suddenly takes on an ethereal, otherworldly echo to drive home the fact that these things are not human and most definitely not of this Earth. It was a bit startling to hear at first, but jeez is it ever a cool and welcome addition, and a nice demonstration of the elasticity in design that audiobooks are capable of. Kudos to Crossroads Press for that extra bit of effort!

Ultimately, I felt The Hellbound Heart was a satisfying introduction to Barker’s work, and I’ll be checking out his works in the future as time allows.

 

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Review: The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker (Audiobook)

Review: Lustlocked (A Sin du Jour Affair Book 2) by Matt Wallace

Review:

Lustlocked

Lustlocked is the second installment in Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour Affair series, which revolves around a New York catering company that caters to the supernatural elements of society.

In the previous book, Envy of Angels, the chefs and crew hosted a diplomatic dinner sponsored by a secret government agency in an effort to stave off war between two demonic groups. Lustlocked picks up on the heels of that event, as the company prepares to host a grand goblin wedding under the supervision of the Goblin King.

Yes, that Goblin King. In a fitting and sadly timely homage, Wallace gives us yet one more avenue to prove the immortality of David Bowie’s lasting legacy. Although at the time of Wallace’s writing, Bowie was alive and well, and expected to remain so for quite some time. It’s a sad fluke that Lustlocked just so happens to have released on heels of Mr. Bowie’s death from cancer. This is, however, a wonderfully befitting bit of fan service toward not only Bowie’s iconic character from the film Labyrinth, but of the iconic performer himself. It’s a pleasure getting to “see” the King once more.

As with Envy of Angels and the short story, Small Wars, which acts an inbetweenquel, Lustlocked doses out the humor, providing a keen edge to the affairs and preventing the seriousness of the story from delving deeply in the morose and macabre. While preparing for the grandiose wedding of the goblin prince and his human bride-to-be, some shady bit of spell-casting goes wildly awry and leaves the human guests transformed into horny lizard creatures that threaten to hump to death the entire guest list.

Again, these books are crafted to be sheer entertainment, and Wallace maneuvers a peculiar tightrope with aplomb. This story could have drifted precariously into dark meanness, or perhaps a bit of weirdo erotica, but Wallace averts those traps and sticks to the fun and fantastical side of things, first and foremost. There’s a certain Buffy The Vampire Slayer but for Netflix vibe here that I find really appealing. He also gives his characters brief moments to shine and continues to flesh out his cast in interesting ways, right up to its sucker-punch finale.

I am now feeling the long, heavy weight of the intervening months between now and June, when the third installment releases. I think it’d be a sin to miss what comes next.

 

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Review: Lustlocked (A Sin du Jour Affair Book 2) by Matt Wallace