Sci-Fi November: Review: Apocalypse Weird: The Red King (WYRD Book 1) by Nick Cole

RedKingAbout The Red King

The end of the world is only the beginning as an odd band of survivors pull together to construct a modern-day castle amid the burning ruins of suburbia lost. As undead hordes and strange otherworldly monsters ravage what’s left of civilization, things begin to go from worse to weird as each survivor’s dark past unfolds, revealing that reality might be more than anyone ever thought, and that an ancient force from the outer dark has finally arrived to conquer. Stephen King’s The Stand meets Lost in an epic confrontation between good and evil that spans history, time, and space. The Red King is the first full story to be released in the wild world of Apocalypse Weird, and it is book one of the Apocalypse Weird – WYRD arc by Nick Cole.


About the Author

Nick Cole is a working actor living in Southern California. When he is not auditioning for commercials, going out for sitcoms or being shot, kicked, stabbed or beaten by the students of various film schools for their projects, he can often be found as a guard for King Phillip the Second of Spain in the Opera Don Carlo at Los Angeles Opera or some similar role. Nick Cole has been writing for most of his life and acting in Hollywood after serving in the U.S. Army.


My Thoughts

(I received an ARC of this book via the Apocalypse Weird website.)

Holiday is an alcoholic and spends several days on a booze and cigarettes bender, completely missing the zombie apocalypse happening outside his condo. By the time he starts to sober up, the only thing on TV is an Emergency Broadcast Warning and evacuation orders from the president. He can hear the gunshots from outside, the unending bleat of a car horn, and the nice looking female jogger he’s noticed on a few occasions now has a thirst for blood. As he begins to sober up, he realizes he’s one of the very few survivors of this weird apocalypse.

The Red King opens the Apocalypse Weird line of books, which is set to be part of a shared world of various strange apocalyptic tropes written by various authors, beginning here with Nick Cole. It’s a solid idea for a new “bookverse” series that promises to deliver everything from zombies (as detailed in this book) to kaiju attacks, mutants, cyborgs, and strange weather phenomena.

All of this makes reviewing a work like The Red King a bit tricky. While I did enjoy the book for the most part, portions of the book are meant to set-up the playing field for other writers and future installments in Cole’s WYRD arc. Ultimately, I couldn’t help but feel like it was a very incomplete reading experience.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for a good series read. But, it’s becoming a bit of a pet peeve of mine when an entry fails to work well enough as a stand alone. Let me use Lee Child’s recent Jack Reacher novels as an illustration. During four books, Child used a overarching narrative of Jack Reacher traveling cross-country to meet up with Susan Turner. It’s a hook that connects the individual books, yet each of those four work well enough on their own and the central plot to each novel gets cleaned up sufficiently, yet leaves room to maneuver within this overarching “meet-up” story arc for the next book. Or, if you want to keep things in the zombie genre, check out Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series, which, again, has an overarching narrative but the conflicts at the core of each individual novel feel like a complete experience, while also saving enough of the connective narrative arch to draw you back for subsequent installments. While I appreciate the sense of scope at play here in Cole’s book, certain plot threads feel like missed opportunities that get introduced only to be entirely dropped from the narrative.

For instance, Cole spends a fair amount of time weaving multiple narratives. The book opens and closes with a chess game between The Red King and his Opponent. That works well enough as a book end and could have been a terrific way to tease the next book if there had only been some modicum of closure with the larger issues raised in between. Just as Cole has begun to lay the groundwork of Holiday’s survival story, and his developing relationship with his neighbor, Frank, he cuts away to tell the story of a spy under orders to infiltrate what I presume is a domestic terror operation. It’s a jarring change in narrative and a bit unexpected, introducing a bit of conspiracy to the zombie epidemic that seems promising at first but fails to congeal or offer any bit of temporary resolution. Another diversion involves the thumping presence of a massive, yet always unseen monster, who upsets the scenes a few times only to disappear entirely from the narrative.

By book’s end, I couldn’t help but wonder, what was the point of any of that? Obviously those scenes are there simply to connect this book to the work of other authors, but they feel too misplaced, and raise too many unanswered questions while offering nothing in the way of even minor resolution, to feel like necessary detours. If the question is ‘why are those scenes in this book’ and the answer is ‘wait until the next book to find out,’ well, I don’t feel like that’s a sufficient enough answer. It frustrates me when I begin to realize that a particular story exists only to tease the next part of the story, and spends more time setting up future installments rather than focusing on the present details and providing at least the appearance of resolution. Let’s get some closure to the weird story threads introduced here, just enough to feel natural and significant, and then blow things wide open again in the next book.

There’s my big complaint out of the way. And, thankfully, what is here and what does get resolved works well enough enough to keep me happy. The characters are pretty strong and relateable, and I was rooting for the trio of survivors at the book’s core all the way through.

I really liked Cole’s depiction of Holiday, giving the man enough of a solid character voice and heroic actions to make him sympathetic, but also giving him a very serious flaw that forces him into one questionable act after another. He’s a great flawed protagonist whose inner-demons help drive some of the conflict in the narrative, and whose choices have damaging repercussions. His alcoholism plays an integral role to the narrative, and it gives the book some much needed dimension to help set it apart from other zombie books.

I also really liked the relationship between Holiday, his neighbor Frank, and a female survivor named Ash. They make a fine trio, and there’s a terrific sense of camaraderie and a building trust as they rely on one another to survive and work together. I also found the resolution to the relationship side of their story to be particularly strong and necessarily damning. There’s a lot of heart in their final scenes together, and it works wonderfully.

The big question then, is, am I willing to check out what else Apocalypse Weird has in store during the coming months, and the answer is a resounding yes. Despite my quibble’s with some of the subplot developments occurring in The Red King, it certainly sounds like there are some terrific ideas coming through the pipeline and some very intriguing stories happening within the overarching premise of the Apocalypse Weird universe. I’m more than willing to check out the next installment to see how things shake loose and to see if I can get a better handle on what, exactly, is happening in this lineup of novels. The Red King may not have satisfied me 100 percent, but as an opening gambit to something much larger, it certainly has my attention.

buy Apocalypse weird: The REd King (WYRD book 1) at amazon
Sci-Fi November: Review: Apocalypse Weird: The Red King (WYRD Book 1) by Nick Cole

Sci-Fi November: Book Bloggers and Reviewers eBook Giveaway!

I’ve not had much time for blogging lately, so this is going to be quick. Thanksgiving will be upon us soon, and one thing that I’ve been really thankful for this year are my readers.

I debuted my sci-fi thriller, Convergence, earlier this year. It got some praise from Publisher’s Weekly as a result of being a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 contest, and was a Kobo Next selection in the Sci-Fi Category. Even more important, it got some positive reviews from readers over at Amazon.

Last month, I released a short horror story, Consumption, which also picked up some terrific praise from bloggers and readers.

So, to all of you who have read either, or both, of these stories – Thank you! It truly means a lot, and I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I loved writing them.

But, I’d like to get my books into the hands of more readers. For a limited time, let’s say until the end of November, I’ll give you a complimentary copy of my works.

The catch? I want honest reviews. Reviews are the lifeblood of new readers like me, and they are certainly noticed by other potential readers who might be on the fence. If you are a book blogger, or a reader who is willing to provide a review on Amazon, Goodreads, etc., fill out the form below, let me know which story you want (or both!), and I’ll send off the eBooks to you soon. I’m relying entirely on the honor system here – my work for your 100% honest review. Deal? Deal.

 

Sci-Fi November: Book Bloggers and Reviewers eBook Giveaway!

Sci-Fi November: Hard Sci-Fi Film Classics – From Tor.com

Contemplate Your Place in the Universe with Hard Sci-Fi Film Classics! | Tor.com.

Earlier this week, sci-fi/fantasy publisher, Tor, released this list of must-watch hard sci-fi films. Among its selections are Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, Contact, with Jodie Foster, and the recently released Interstellar.

I’ve missed out on a few of their choices, particularly Moon, which I actually blind-bought on Blu-ray but have yet to watch. Nor have I seen the original 1972 version of Solaris. I’ve been wanting to give the George Clooney remake a second viewing, though, as it’s been a few years since I last saw it and I remember enjoying it a bit. I think Sunshine merits another watch, as well, particularly given the close involvement of Professor Brian Cox. And, of course, 2001 is an immortal classic and has pretty well set the standard for space movies. I’m hankering to rewatch Contact, a film that I know I saw, but which I cannot remember a single damn thing about.

As far as dislikes go, I was completely underwhelmed by Gravity. I found that one to be too repetitive, dull, and the film wasn’t able to convince me that Sandra Bullock’s character ever should have been cleared to leave Earth.

I also dislike that none of these films are available on Netflix!

I haven’t caught up with Interstellar yet, and will likely wait until it hits Apple TV. I know Phil Plait has knocked the science in this film, and Lee Billings wrote, for Scientific American, that “some of the science in Interstellar is laughably wrong.” I typically don’t have a problem with suspension of disbelief, and I typically love Christopher Nolan’s films, so I’m not terribly bothered by the scientific inaccuracies (and it sound like there is a lot!) so long as I can enjoy the story.

So, what does Tor consider to be the best? Here’s the quick run-down, but be sure to check out the link up top for the details.

Interstellar (2014)

Contact (1997)

Gravity (2013)

Gattaca (1997)

Silent Running (1972)

Dark Star (1974)

Solaris (1972)

Sunshine (2007)

Moon (2009)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

What are your thoughts on Tor.com’s list? Any you would add or take-away? Let’s hear it!

Sci-Fi November: Hard Sci-Fi Film Classics – From Tor.com

Sci-Fi November: Film Review: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

apes_1Confession: I never saw the original Charlton Heston films in the Planet of the Apes series. I’ve seen bits and pieces of them here and there, mostly as a kid flipping through the channels and catching snippets between commercial breaks on the Saturday or Sunday afternoon movie that aired on the stations higher up on the dial. Most of what I knew of these films was absorbed through the cultural zeitgeist and pop culture references in things like Spaceballs or Mystery Science Theater 3000. I did see the Tim Burton remake and was not impressed. So, color me surprised when, in 2011, I decided to check out the prequel/reboot of this 20th Century Fox franchise with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and was thoroughly impressed. And it was based on the strength of that film alone that I needed to see the follow-up, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

So, I bought and watched the latest on my Apple TV via iTunes this past weekend, and really loved this flick.

Since we know these films are basically leading into the original 60s-era Heston movie, we know that war between the humans and apes is inevitable, and we know who the victors will ultimately be. But, damn, the journey to get there? Excellent, excellent stuff.

It’s been ten years (movie-time) since the simian flu leveled the human race and the apes became ascendant. In fact, at the movie’s start, head-chimp Caesar and his lieutenant and friend, Maurice, speculate that the humans may have become extinct. This isn’t the case, of course, and the moment of first-contact between the two species in at least a decade is one that’s fraught with peril.

Throughout the movie, there’s a wonderful simmering tension between the various divisions, and the threat of violence is nearly constant. Both the apes and the humans find themselves divided over issues of trust and loyalty, and the relationship that develops between Caesar and Malcolm, our central human protagonist, played by Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), is borne out of a mutual desire for peace that is not equally shared by their compatriots.

caeserOne of the central themes at the heart of this movie is what it means to be ‘human’ (so to speak). There’s a definite fear of The Other on display here, distilled most cogently with Kirk Acevedo’s (Fringe) Carver and the ape, Koba. Both are twisted by their prejudices, and Koba bears the scars of his time as a test subject in a lab, where he was tortured by humans. And while Caesar and Malcolm work to overcome the pressures placed upon them by these darker, more animalistic fears, whatever peace they can arrive at is tenuous, at best. A stalemate, or even cooperation, may be achievable, but both are so overwhelmed by the events surrounding them and have come too far to make anything other than temporary accommodations.

There are some very serious issues at work in both Rise Of… and Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, with both movies exemplifying important social issues. I always enjoy it when science fiction films can take certain touchstones of the modern world and expound on them in interesting ways, as the original Star Trek was able to do against the real-world backdrop of the Cold War era. There is a certain relevance to these two films, but neither get bogged down as ‘message films’ that feel the need to beat you over the head with their self-importance. You can look at them as deeply as you need to, or enjoy them as pure entertainment.

movies-dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-performance-captureBeyond a fine script, the digital effects and set design are massively impressive. A lot of credit has been given to WETA and the motion-capture performance given by Andy Serkis, and rightly so. These mo-cap actors playing the apes have done an incredibly job bringing their respective primates to life, using prosthetic aids to help change their posture, gait, and movements, to make the CGI overlays all the more realistic. On the set design front, a lot of work and detail have gone into making a suitably post-apocalyptic San Franscisco, showing us what the city would look like as nature begins to overrun the area and its human inhabitants have taken to old buildings repurposed for shelter areas and quarantine zones. The forest dwellings of the apes are quite a marvel, as well, and a lot of work has clearly gone into making it look and feel like a community for this burgeoning, intelligent, and connected species.

The iTunes digital release boasts terrific sound and audio, with the surrounds picking up some nice sonic details, particularly during rainy scenes or the roar of a waterfall, and, of course, during the chaotic action of the finale. There’s also an array of iTunes Extras, including a commentary from director Matt Reeves and a bevy of behind the scenes production materials, along with an image gallery and theatrical trailers.

All in all, I enjoyed the heck out Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. It’s a terrific installment that lives up to the expectations set by its predecessor, and sets the stage for the third film, which is expected in 2016.

Buy Dawn of the planet of the apes at amazon
Sci-Fi November: Film Review: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Sci-Fi November: DEFIANCE Release, and the works of Lucas Bale

heretic     defiance      whatitmeanstosurvive

Regular readers of this blog are probably aware that early next year, Lucas and I will be releasing a sci-fi anthology, along with a number of other terrific writers with some truly great stories to tell. I’ve reviewed each of his works and dug them all, and I think you’ll like them, too.

Lucas has a new release out today called DEFIANCE. This is the second book in his Beyond The Wall series, and I got to read an ARC of it last week. It’s killer stuff, and well worth picking up. As an added incentive to buy, it’s only 99 cents today!

But, Lucas isn’t stopping there. If you haven’t read the first book in his series, THE HERETIC, that one is currently free. Also free, his recently-released short story WHAT IT MEANS TO SURVIVE.

So, you can grab all three of his titles for just under a dollar. Not too shabby.

Check out his Amazon Author profile for the links to his titles and enjoy: http://www.amazon.com/Lucas-Bale/e/B00LGVGUMO

Sci-Fi November: DEFIANCE Release, and the works of Lucas Bale

Sci-Fi November: Review: Defiance by Lucas Bale

defianceAbout Defiance

The darkness in the human heart is infinite.

At a time when power means everything, the ultimate power, the imperium, rests with the Consulate Magistratus. The murder of a man in the lowest caste may be inconsequential, but one man, one of the Caesteri lawmen who still believes in justice, refuses to ignore it.

The woman he hunts is violent and unstable, and haunted by her own callous ghosts. She will drag him to the furthest reaches of space, where the abyss which awaits them hides an unspeakable truth.

When faced with their own mortality, there is no limit to what human beings will do to protect themselves, their family, their property. The human mind changes when exposed to relentless horror. It becomes dehumanised. The grotesque becomes mundane.There is no pity, no remorse – only instinct. An instinct which cannot be controlled.

The imperium belongs only to those who are strong enough to wield it.

The war to control humanity’s future is about to begin…

Defiance is the second book in the acclaimed Beyond the Wall series, an epic hard science-fiction space opera about the future of humanity and the discovery of the truth of its past.


About the Author

Lucas Bale writes the sort of intense, gripping science-fiction thrillers which make you miss your train. Stories which dig into what makes us human and scrape at the darkness which hides inside every one of us.

His debut novel, THE HERETIC, is the gateway to the BEYOND THE WALL series, an epic hard science-fiction space opera about the future of humanity and the discovery of the truth of its past.

He wasn’t always a writer. He was a criminal lawyer for fifteen years before he discovered crime doesn’t pay and turned to something which actually pays even less. No one ever said he was smart, but at least he’s happy. He blushes when people mention him in the same sentence as Iain M. Banks or George R. R. Martin, bless him.

If you’d like to hear about new releases before everyone else, get advance review copies of those new releases and every short story he ever writes for free then subscribe to INSIDE, his semi-regular newsletter, here: http://www.lucasbale.com/inside

If twitter is your thing, you’ll find him at @balespen


My Thoughts

(This review is based on an advanced reader’s copy provided to me by the author.)

I greatly enjoyed Lucas Bale’s The Heretic when it released earlier this year, finding it to be the beginning of an ambitious science-fiction series with a heck of a lot of promise. Book Two in his Beyond The Wall series, Defiance, struck me as even better in nearly every way.

There is a lot of mystery surrounding the narrative that propels the book’s central characters into action. Starting off with a murder and the hunt for a fugitive, the story expands on the mythology introduced in The Heretic and the scope of the Imperium’s domain and the power of the Magistratus. We’ve got murder, a fugitive on the run, political chicanery, a lost spaceship, and more. While not a direct continuation of The Heretic, although there are references made to the events that occurred in that book, Defiance is a bit more like a necessary side-journey.

Bale’s series is what he calls ‘series episodic.’ There’s a large, overarching story connecting the two works, although the characters are different and separated by the vast reaches of space. They inhabit the same universe and live under the same threatening weight of the Imperium’s fist. With new characters comes a new locale, as well, and the world of Jieshou feels vastly different than The Heretic’s Herse. The central characters of Weaver, a sort-of policeman, and the fugitive, Natasha, whom he spends the book hunting, are new faces to the expanding cast and take center stage this time around. Through their eyes, we get to familiarize ourselves with the criminal underworld of Jieshou’s Bazaar, and find Weaver up against some significant odds.

I felt that the characterizations were stronger, and the threats they faced to be more immediate and more prevalent. Weaver has a terrific bit of inner conflict, often arguing with himself over the merits of obeying orders versus following a more morally correct path. Natasha, too, is an intriguing sort and seems to possess a rare quality that allows her to navigate through the wormholes connecting the empire, and to pass through the farther reaches of the Imperium’s domain and beyond The Wall, a section of uncharted and uninhabited space. Or is it? Hmmm…

As Bale produces these novels to be part of a larger whole, we’re left with one heck of a cliffhanger. Most of the mysteries introduced along the way are resolved, but plenty more gets teased in order to set up Book Three.

The Beyond The Wall series is shaping up to be a terrific showcase for Bale’s talents with plenty of future-past mythology and an expanding scope that is starting to feel as large as the universe itself. Recommended.

buy Defiance at Amazon
Sci-Fi November: Review: Defiance by Lucas Bale

Sci-Fi November: Convergence Giveaway Update

IMG_2427

I feel like I’ve just hit a bit of a milestone. As of today, 100 people have added Convergence to their To-Read lists, and more than 160 people have entered the giveaway to win one of five signed copies of the print edition. Not too shabby, I don’t think!

If you haven’t entered yet, don’t worry – there’s still plenty of time. The contest is running until Nov. 29. You can enter to win over here (US only)! And be sure to add it your Want To Read list, too.

I’m hoping to see lots more entries over the rest of November, and hopefully the word of mouth and the positive reviews my book has received can help get Convergence into the hands of new readers.

Of course, if you don’t like the odds of winning and want to guarantee yourself a copy, check out the purchase links for the eBook and physical copies here.

Sci-Fi November: Convergence Giveaway Update