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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Buy CTRL ALT Revolt! At Amazon

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!

Original post:
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CONVERGENCE is Available To NetGalley Readers Until Feb. 20

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

Books Ahoy!

I can’t believe how quickly this month has flown by. January, and the first month of the 2016 Goodreads Reading Challenge, is nearly at a close.

The good news is, I’ve got some solid reads lined up for the final week of this month and into February. Here’s what’s on tap for the foreseeable future (with purchase links below, if ya kennit):

 

Unit 731 by Craig Saunders ($2.99)

Envy of Angels: A Sin du Jour Affair by Matt Wallace ($2.99)

Lustlocked: A Sin du Jour Affair by Matt Wallace ($2.99)

The Shootout Solution: Genrenauts Episode 1 by Michael R. Underwood ($2.99)

The Absconded Ambassador: Genrenauts Episode 2 by Michael R. Underwood ($2.99)

The God’s Eye View by Barry Eisler ($5.99)

The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga, Book 1 by Kameron Hurley ($1.99)

Empire Ascendant: Worldbreaker Saga, Book 2 by Kameron Hurley ($1.99)

So, lots of what I expect to be good reading to get me through for a bit. Note that these prices are subject to change – especially the Worldbreaker Saga; I think this only a Kindle monthly deal. And jeez, I’ve had Mirror Empire on my to-read list for a good long while. Since that book has been out for a bit, it’s probably time I get my butt in gear on this one.

Mind you, I may not tackle these in this order depending on any particular whims that strike me.

What’s on tap for you, what are you reading or planning on reading soonish?

Books Ahoy!

Signal Boosting, Reviews, and Accolades

In December, I was a part of two anthologies – Crime & Punishment and The Cyborg Chronicles – which means it’s time to give them a bit of a signal boost! If you haven’t gotten these two books yet, now’s the time!

The Cyborg Chronicles is only 99c for a LIMITED TIME! Act fast!

I had a lot of fun writing for these two anthologies, and it feels wonderful to see readers responding so positively to these books as a whole, as well as my efforts within each.

My Crime & Punishment story, The Marque, is a weird western that has gotten a few nods from readers, who call it:

a powerful yet bleak vision of our future. Michael Patrick Hicks’ story completely swept me away-I found it hard to put down.

scary, creepy, and exciting

Samuel Peralta does the foreword on this one, and it’s a sublime bit of short fiction in its own right. If it were up to me, and if it were such a thing at all, Karma would get a Foreword of the Year award. It’s just brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, that author Anthony Vicino named it one of this Top 7 Short Stories of 2015 over The Leighgendarium!

Over in The Cyborg Chronicles, I wrote a short story set in the DRMR series, which is the focus of my two novels, Convergence and Emergence. Preservation is completely separate from these two books and presents all-new characters in a wildly different setting from the main books, so it can be enjoyed entirely as a stand-alone solo adventure.

Readers are calling this one:

An action-packed thriller with a heart…

Page turning carnage ensues, the kind I’ve loved in this author’s other works. If you can find anyone better at writing an ultraviolent action scene, let me know who they are. …this story struck the perfect chord with me.

My Favorite story in the groupWhat kept kept me immersed in it was Mr. Hick’s fine style. I am notably impressed.

Revolver eBook

Finally, although it came out in August, I’m heartened to see Revolver getting some love! Author Edward Lorn named it Best Novella 2015, and Anthony Vicino included it in his round-up of Top 7 Short Stories of 2015 for The Leighgendarium.

Anthony calls Revolver

a lesson in authorial bravery… a truly gut twisting, heart wrenching, sphincter squeezing tale of loss and abandonment that stuck with me long after the last page.

While Edward writes in his Amazon review,

An Instant Classic On Par With “1984” and “V for Vendetta”

The piece is multi-layered and utterly thought provoking, but the writing is really the prize-winning pony here. Hicks writes with the confidence and prose of a seasoned professional. I don’t know how long he’s been writing, but I’m impressed. There are writers who’ve been putting words to paper for decades who don’t write this well.

Revolver aims at the world we live in and blows its head off.

You can find these books for sale over at Amazon right now!

Signal Boosting, Reviews, and Accolades

2015 Writing In Review (plus a shameless plea and a peek at 2016)

Last year was a banner year for me in terms of sheer accomplishments. 2015 was definitely my best year as a reader, my wife gave birth to our son (OK, so this is more her accomplishment than mine, but I’m at least 50% responsible for her enduring 9 months of morning sickness, back aches, heartburn, and the random thumping, kicking, and punching of various internal organs, that all resulted in our little bit of awesomeness that is a tiny, hilarious human who deprives us of much-needed sleep), and I was at peak productiveness writing-wise. It’s this last part I’ll be writing about today because this is, largely, my silly little author blog.

So, 2015 in terms of writing – I was in three anthologies, released a solo novel, and published a short story that originally appeared in one of these anthologies.

I also finished the manuscript for a novella, tentatively titled Mass Hysteria!, of approximately 50,000 words. I’m estimating this brought me to about 180,000 words of fiction written across the year. This is an awful lot of writing for me! I also wrote 141 blog posts, figure those are about 500 words each, a nice conservative estimate which gives me an additional 70,500 words written. *Phew!*

In terms of sales, 2015 was a definite improvement over my first year as an author-publisher, but still fairly insignificant in terms of income and paid sales. Income doubled over 2014, but not enough to off-set expenses put toward self-publishing my work, which means my indie career is still a far-cry from being a successful endeavor and I’m starting off 2016 heavily in the red. Expenses in 2015 were also double those of 2014 thanks to larger promotion efforts and editing (Emergence is a bigger book than Convergence, and more words means more money spent to edit).

A successful writing career is built on hard work, talent, and a whole lot of luck. Although I’ve got a few dedicated and devoted readers (thank you!), I haven’t yet gotten lucky enough to really break through. Although, in its first week of release, Emergence outsold the entire previous year’s worth of sales for Convergence, it was not enough to break-even on the expenses generated by editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing. I did run a couple free promos for Convergence, which were pretty damn successful in terms of volume, but had little impact in terms of carry-over toward more sales of Emergence or my other works. I gave away about 7,000 copies of my first novel, which is awesome, but I suspect a very large number of purchasers were simply collecting a free title. I saw little in way of new reviews and only about 4 percent of those ‘buyers’ went on to pick up my other titles. It’s a bit distressing, but also a lack of simple, pure luck. I just haven’t found my audience yet. That said, the word of mouth surrounding the solo release of my controversial short story, Revolver, generated a good amount of interest and sales, but it’s definitely not a best-seller by any means. Furthermore, Revolver is a very unsubtle and highly polemic work that may not exactly be the best entry-point for my work; I have to expect that title to maybe turn off a lot of new readers, actually. The good news is, those that do like it seem to be enthusiastically supportive of it, which is freaking awesome!

Unfortunately, all this means that a lot of the big stuff I had wanted to do in 2016 will likely have to wait. This comes down to easy economics, since I can’t spend money on making more art without that art making money to spend. One project I had wanted to tackle was producing audiobooks of my DRMR novels, but this is a very expensive undertaking and could easily set me back several thousand dollars. This would be on top of getting Mass Hysteria cover art and edited. And I’ve begun working on another sci-fi novel that I should be able to finish sometime this year, but finding the time to really sit down and write is getting more difficult (psst – having a kid can be a huge time drain! Who knew? But seriously, he’s awesome and it’s worth it. But still.), so everything is still kinda TBD on that front.

This means that some plans for 2016 are being shifted around a good deal. I’m seriously considering shopping around Mass Hysteria. If I can hook even a small publisher with this title, it’ll save me a lot of money in terms of editing and artwork. It’s an apocalyptic horror story, and there’s a few horror houses that I think it would align pretty well with. Kindle Scout could also be an option, but kind of a last resort for now since they require a completely finished book for submission, which still leaves me on the hook for editing and cover design costs. So we’ll see what happens there.

I’m determined to get Mass Hysteria released in 2016, but the when of it all is very, very murky at this point. Those two December anthologies have also given me two more short stories that, in about six-months time, I’ll be free to release as stand-alone titles, which means The Marque and Preservation will need an extra bit of work to get ready for their individual debuts. Again, though, I have zero idea what kind of timeline I’ll be able to operate on with those, and that’s a little bit scary and disheartening. I wanted to have a solid timeline to plan out releases for this year, but the financial aspects are seriously cloudy. So, hey, if you want more books from me, get buying them! Tell your friends to buy them! Buy copies for your friends, family, loved ones, enemies, neighbors, pets, dolls, future readers, strangers at the bus-stop, pantsless subway riders, your reading club, whatever.

One bright spot, and I need to keep in mind that it’s still early, but my inclusion in The Cyborg Chronicles, the latest release in Samuel Peralta’s acclaimed series of The Future Chronicles anthologies, looks to have given my profile a slight boost. In 2015 I went Kindle exclusive and have stayed there for a while. In the wake of my Chronicles story, it seems a few more readers are borrowing my DRMR books, so that anthology could be a nice entry point for new readers to find me.

Diversification is key, really. Readers weren’t finding my solo works, but look to be discovering it a bit more now that I was fortunate enough to get invited into a release as large as The Cyborg Chronicles. I may be appearing in a couple more anthologies in 2016, but the ink isn’t dry enough for me to discuss those details yet and anything can happen. For instance, I was slated to be in a fourth anthology last year, but the publisher dissolved before the book could be released. So, for now I’m only focusing on my cli-fi novel currently in progress. I’ve got a good 5,000 words built up there at the moment and plenty more on the way.

Cli-fi, sci-fi, what is this? What’s this about? Again, too early to discuss, but it’s a future-Earth story set in the days after humanity has firmly wrecked the world and climate change has significantly altered the geographic landscape. It’s a bit of a seafaring story with rogue military squads, pirates and salvagers, and mermaids. Wait, mermaids? Maybe mermaids. We’ll just have to see about that.

2015 Writing In Review (plus a shameless plea and a peek at 2016)