2015 Top 10 Books

2015 is nearing its end, which obviously means it time for Best Of lists to start making their merry rounds.

Here’s my 10 favorite reads for this year – note that at least one was not published in 2015, but since I read it in 2015 and since this is my list, I’m deciding it is perfectly OK to include it.

Note, too, that some are audiobooks. There’s a bit of a debate, apparently, over whether or not audiobooks count as “read” material. I began listening to audiobooks for the first time this year, and two of my favorites were discovered on that format. Again, the whole “it’s my list and I’ll do what I want” rule applies.

I’m offering this list without commentary or justification. These are the book that I enjoyed the most; your mileage may vary. I’ve linked to the reviews I’ve posted for these titles, either here or at Amazon, so feel to give them a read for my thoughts.

All right – on with the list!

  1. Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (Audiobook)
  2. A Song of Shadows (Charlie Parker #13) by John Connolly
  3. Flex (Mancer #1) by Ferret Steinmetz
  4. First Light (The Red #1) by Linda Nagata
  5. Snowblind by Michael McBride [published in 2012, but I didn’t read it until this year.]
  6. The Z Chronicles (anthology)
  7. Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig
  8. Gemini Cell by Myke Cole
  9. Within by Keith Deininger
  10. Masters of Blood and Bone by Craig Saunders

 

 

2015 Top 10 Books

Crime & Punishment – Now Available!

Crimeand-Punishment

There will always be crime. There will always be those who covet what others possess, or who are driven to acts of violence through rage or cynical design. And there will always be those who seek justice for those crimes. Yet justice is in the eye of the beholder, and rarely does it come easy.

A bounty hunter, whose own freedom depends on him finding those who must have theirs taken away, never asks why. Or what will happen to them. But when he is sent back to his home planet to hunt a child and her family, he must confront the horror of his past and question whether he can ever truly be free.

A woman holds a gun to a man’s head, getting ready to pull the trigger. But her story doesn’t start there. It starts way back when she was a kid, in outback Australia. It starts when the government began to put bombs in people’s heads. When they started toying with probability-based punishment. Now, when she pulls that trigger, she doesn’t know if he’ll live or die. Or live and die.

A young woman who has lost everything but her soul fights to reclaim her life from a violent, sadistic criminal. But when she’s given a chance for freedom, she realises escape is not enough. First, a just punishment must be exacted for crimes committed.

In the near future, where the internet has evolved into the Mind, and become so complex that content is served preprocessed and digested by personal assistant AIs, independent thought is a thing of the past, a crime even. When insurgents appear, persuading people to see the truth, a police captain begins to question where her allegiance truly lies.

Eight stories that push the boundaries of what the future holds by some of the most exciting new speculative fiction authors writing today.

Crime & Punishment (A Speculative Fiction Anthology) is now available for purchase at Amazon and, for a limited time, costs only 99c!

Add it to your Goodreads profile, too.

Crime & Punishment – Now Available!

Review: The Acolyte by Nick Cutter [Audiobook]

TheAcolyte

About The Acolyte

Jonah Murtag is an Acolyte on the New Bethlehem police force. His job: eradicate all heretical religious faiths, their practitioners, and artefacts. Murtag’s got problems—one of his partners is a zealot, and he’s in love with the other one. Trouble at work, trouble at home. Murtag realizes that you can rob a citizenry of almost anything, but you can’t take away its faith. When a string of bombings paralyzes the city, religious fanatics are initially suspected, but startling clues point to a far more ominous perpetrator. If Murtag doesn’t get things sorted out, the Divine Council will dispatch The Quints, aka: Heaven’s Own Bagmen. The clock is ticking towards doomsday for the Chosen of New Bethlehem. And Jonah Murtag’s got another problem. The biggest and most worrisome . . . Jonah isn’t a believer anymore.


About the Author

Nick Cutter is a pseudonym for Craig Davidson, the acclaimed author of the short story collection Rust and Bone and the novels Cataract City, Sarah Court, and The Fighter. He lives in Toronto, Canada.

Jonathan Yen was inspired by the Golden Age of Radio, and while the gold was gone by the time he got there, he’s carried that inspiration through to commercial work, voice acting, and stage productions. From vintage Howard Fast science fiction to naturalist Paul Rosolie’s true adventures in the Amazon, Jonathan loves to tell a good story.


My Thoughts

My original The Acolyte audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

I always like a good book that gives the religious-right a much-deserved solid kick in the tuchus. When I heard of Nick Cutter’s The Acolyte, shortly after reading his previous horror novel The Deep, I was more than slightly curious to see his take on American Christian extremism run amok. That said, this book isn’t for the squeamish, the easily-offended, or those who are afraid of having their beliefs challenged. Cutter takes a no holds barred approach, confronting right-wing extremism head on in such a fashion that the hand-wringing crowd would likely deem “offensive.”

The story opens with Acolyte Jonah Murtag recalling a scene he witnessed as a child, during The Purges, in which a mentally handicapped Muslim boy is beaten, tied to his bicycle, and then set on fire. It’s a powerful opening, and sets the tone for what follows. The Acolyte is a dark work of dystopian fiction, and also one that is bleakly satirical. Looking at the current slate of GOP nominees, most of whom have publicly admitted to hearing voices in their heads and Kasich’s recent proposal to develop an arm of the government devoted to spreading religious propaganda, the Starbucks red cup scares, and a particular Kentucky Court Clerk, this story is way too plausible, which makes it scarily effective.

Cutter takes America’s present-day culture wars against far-right religiosity to a bold new level with a story that quite clearly illustrates that faith is not a virtue. Separation of Church and State is no more – in fact, The Church is the state, and the US operates under the biblical mandates set forth in the New Republican Testament. As an officer of the Faith Crimes unit, Murtag’s duties are to ensure the purity of belief among the citizens of New Bethlehem, rooting out the cultist scourges of Scientologists, Mormons, and homosexuals so they can be sent to conversion camps, where their skulls are cut open and the sin is burnt out of their brains (presuming these “criminals” survive the police raids long enough to make it so far as being arrested).

After being assigned to protect The Prophet’s daughter, Eve, and failing when a suicide bombers strikes the nightclub she parties at, Murtag finds himself wounded and accused of terrorism simply for surviving. After enduring a brutal interrogation, and plenty of string pulling for those On High, he is allowed to be reinstated as an Acolyte and charged with finding the perpetrators behind the increasing spate of terror attacks. What follows is a twisty, noir-tinged narrative that follows in the mold of classic detective fiction with plenty of violence, femme fatales, con artists, and criminal conspiracy.

The world Murtag inhabits is very well realized, with Cutter drawing on Biblical elements that most believers gloss over or outright ignore, crafting New Bethlehem has a horrendously regressive, pre-Englightment dungeon of sorts. When Murtag goes to confession after murdering a Scientologist, he has to pick a properly-sized animal to sacrifice in a spiritual blood cleansing ritual. The female Acolyte, Doe, Murtag tells us, has hit the limits of her profession thanks to the glass ceiling put in place by Leviticus, which demands she earn less shekels than the men around her because she has the wrong set of genitals. Abortions, of course, are illegal and men have the option of ensuring the viability of their woman’s pregnancy with strong-armed toughs. One bombing victim is left to the care of a hospital where nurses are praying for him around the clock and even have their best practitioner sitting at his bedside. Actual medicine, along with forensic science, has long since been outlawed, you see. Eve’s corpse, meanwhile, becomes a Vaudevillian stage-show prop in The Prophet’s ministrations, an act that would no doubt make him the envy of many real-life prosperity preachers. Cutter gives plenty of details on life following The Purge, most of them horrifying, to illustrate how badly the nation has fallen and in which religious extremism is a part of daily life, infecting the minds and actions of the entire society. As Murtag is keenly aware, and is forced to discover first-hand, it’s a very thin line separating saints from sinners.

Jonathan Yen’s narration is pitch-perfect for the tone of this book. He has a gritty, almost-gravely, style that lends itself beautifully to the first-person noir elements that are pervasive in Cutter’s writing, giving the book a sort of L.A. Confidential by way of religious fundamentalism vibe. Murtag is a straight Joe Friday-type, and Yen voices the Just The Facts, Ma’am sensibility wonderfully, but also adopts some natural voice-work for ancillary characters, with his performance of The Quints, a murderous batch of quintuplets, suitably scary and effective. The production values are top-notch, too, with nary a hiccup in the nine-plus hours of listening time.

Part horror story, part word of warning, listeners of The Acolyte should at find themselves thankful that this story is only fiction.

[Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com]

Review: The Acolyte by Nick Cutter [Audiobook]

Reblog: A review and discussion of ‘Revolver’ by Michael Patrick Hicks

Many thanks to Tommy Muncie for this insightful and gracious review of REVOLVER! Some choice snippets follow, but please give it a read in full over at the link below.

What makes it so brilliant is that it stirs emotions in the reader that mirror the way emotions are stirred by the media within the story itself: a strong reaction and a response are what’s desired.

‘Revolver’ is a brave, powerful piece of writing that says ‘let’s not dress things up or put thin veils on the idea, let’s just shout about it and make it read like it’s a gun pointed in the reader’s face.’ It’s unapologetic, visceral, and the kind of story that would probably have sent the Clean Reader app into cyber meltdown. Give it a read if you like your stories to take you to the edge of your seat.

Source: A review and discussion of ‘Revolver’ by Michael Patrick Hicks.

REVOLVER is available now for purchase on the Amazon Kindle, or free to read to members of Kindle Unlimited or the Kindle Owners Lending Library. You can check it out by clicking here.

Reblog: A review and discussion of ‘Revolver’ by Michael Patrick Hicks

Review: The Z Chronicles – An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

Z ChroniclesAbout The Z Chronicles

Z. Among the most monstrous creations of our imaginations, the zombie terrifies, with its capacity to pursue its prey, to run it down, exhaust it to surrender, unrelentingly.

In this title in the acclaimed Future Chronicles series of speculative fiction anthologies, fourteen authors confront the nightmare, that horrific mirror of ourselves that pursues us with untiring hunger.

The Z Chronicles features stories by bestselling authors Hugh Howey (Wool), Jennifer Foehner Wells (Fluency), plus twelve more of today’s top authors in speculative and science fiction.


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review.]

The Z Chronicles is the latest in Samuel Peralta’s ever-growing series of The Future Chronicles anthologies. While I’ve only read a couple of the previous collections, this zombie-themed antho is far and away my favorite of the bunch and represents one the strongest over-all anthologies that I’ve ever read.

There is a mighty fine assemblage of authors here, and a number of superb stories that, on their own, more than make the price of entry completely worthwhile. And, as with any good anthology, this has given me a nice starting point to delve deeper into the works of authors that are new to me. In fact, after reading several of the stories included here, I immediately hopped onto Amazon and bought a couple titles from writers like Ann Christy and Deirdre Gould. Following here, then, are a few thoughts on my favorites – consider this a LIGHT SPOILER WARNING and feel free to skip down to the bottom if you want to be completely blind going in.

Christy’s story, VINDICA, kicks of The Z Chronicles in grand style with a story of insurrection in an underground habitat built for the rich. It’s a strong stand-along story, but also provides a great taste of the author’s Between series.

KAMIKA-Z by Christopher Boore, and Will Swardstron’s Z BALL are also very strong efforts, with the former featuring cyborg zombies unleashed upon the US during a war with China. This one is told across three viewpoints of a single family struggling to survive. It’s dark, but the characters are richly developed and their own unique voices are allowed to shine across each chapter. My only complaint is that I really wanted to see more of these cyborg zombie things! It’s such a cool concept, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Boore expands on it in a larger work soon.

Z BALL casts the zombie uprising through the bright lights of American sports. This one is a wonderful outside-of-the-box approach to the zombie apocalypse and the way society responds and adapts to changing circumstances. And, just for good measure, it’s all wrapped up in a nice shell of conspiracy and paranoia.

Hugh Howey and David Adams play around a bit in Howey’s own I, Zombie world. GLORIA is a story of a woman coming to grips with her own zombiefication, while Adams presents a similar story of a transgender individual who has been zombified. Both of these showcase a great bit of internal character development as they grapple with their post-death existence that finds their healthy mental states locked inside bodies they can no longer control thanks to the ravages of the plague.

Peter Cawdron’s FREE FALL is another excellent piece that begins with a bit of a sci-fi bent as an astronaut returns to a decimated Earth. The opening bit of this story is a terrific slow-burn as the spaceman attempts to establish contact with Houston Ground Control only to slowly realize things are not quite right. It slowly morphs into a more traditional zombie-survival story, one that is really well done. Fans of the comics Y: The Last Man and The Walking Dead should find quite a lot to appreciate here.

CURING KHANG YEO finished off the anthology with a stunningly rich character piece that finds the title character cured after several years as a zombie. Reclaimed by a very different world than the one he left, Yeo discovers that there are worse things than being a zombie – namely, living with yourself in the wake of all that you’ve done and those you’ve killed. His sense of guilt is supremely palpable, with the struggle between his own desires and the wishes of his medical saviors (if you can really call them that) is effectively striking. Author Deirdre Gould scores a huge, huge win with this story and I loved it so much that I immediately grabbed a copy of the first installment in her After The Cure series. While YEO is set in that same series, it is certainly effective as a stand-alone, but I suspect readers discovering Gould for the first time will find it difficult to ignore her novel-length works after reading this one. I, for one, absolutely need to know more about the world she’s constructed and the psychological and societal aftermath of this cure.

As with any anthology, there were a couple stories that didn’t strike a strong chord with me, but those that did, particularly those outlined above, were just incredibly top-notch efforts. Overall, this is a wickedly strong anthology and zombie fans should be devouring this one ASAP. If you’re going through withdrawal’s of AMC’s The Walking Dead, or looking for something to fill the gap left by Jonathan Maberry’s ROT & RUIN series, this fix is now in. Highly recommended!

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

Sci-Fi November: WANDERERS – A Short Film

WANDERERS_ringshine_03
Image source: erikwernquist.com

It’s hard to believe that November is nearly over, and with it the conclusion of this year’s Sci-Fi Month (you can find all my contributions here).

I want to leave you with this short speculative science fiction film, Wanderers, by . The voice-over is excerpted from Carl Sagan’s reading of Pale Blue Dot, and the visual imagery is inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson and Arthur C. Clarke, whose names should all be familiar to fans of science, both fiction and non-.

Wernquist writes about this film on vimeo:

Wanderers is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available.
Without any apparent story, other than what you may fill in by yourself, the idea with the film is primarily to show a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighboring worlds – and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there.

You can find more information on this film, as well as a gallery of images, at his website erikwernquist.com/wanderers.

Now, turn up the volume, play this film in full-screen, and enjoy.

Sci-Fi November: WANDERERS – A Short Film

Sci-Fi November: Review: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

ThreeBodyProblem1About The Three-Body Problem

Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple award winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.


About the Author

Liu Cixin is the most prolific and popular science fiction writer in the People’s Republic of China. Liu is an eight-time winner of the Galaxy Award (the Chinese Hugo) and a winner of the Nebula Award. Prior to becoming a writer, he worked as an engineer in a power plant in Yangquan, Shanxi.

Ken Liu (translator) is a writer, lawyer, and computer programmer. His short story “The Paper Menagerie” was the first work of fiction ever to sweep the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards.


My Thoughts

(This review is based on an advanced reader’s copy received from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Liu Cixin, one of China’s most popular science fiction authors, is making his US debut thanks to Tor Books‘ publication of The Three-Body Problem. Originally published in China in 2007, Liu’s novel is the first in a trilogy (the next installment, The Dark Forest, will release in July 2015) and the first Chinese science fiction novel to be translated into English, thanks to the efforts of Ken Liu.

The Three-Body Problem is a work that unfolds across time, beginning in the late 1960s at the height of China’s Cultural Revolution. After witnessing the murder of her father by revolutionaries, Ye Wenjie finds herself politically tainted, yet useful to the new hierarchy of command. As an astrophysicist, she possesses skills that make her suitable for work at the Red Coast Base, a secret installation that she’ll never be able to leave and that has spawned much speculation and rumor.

In the present (or, at least, very near-future), Wang Miao, a nanotechnologist, is enlisted to infiltrate a cadre of cutting-edge scientists and learn their secrets. What he finds, instead, is an ominous layer of secrecy that has left several other scientists, including Wenjie’s daughter, dead. Along the way, he stumbles upon Three Body, a virtual reality simulator depicting the end and rebirth of civilization on a world surrounded by three suns. The conflicting gravity fields and the ebb and flows of the planet’s orbit inevitably leads to disaster, and the game’s participants are challenged to find and exploit a pattern in the chaotic three-body problem.

Liu presents a science fiction story that is grounded in modernity and physics, fully utilizing the aspects of “science” alongside his fiction. The narrative thrust is largely cerebral, as well as political, and constantly engaging. He has a skillful hand in layering the many mysteries at the book’s core, and pulls all the various threads together for form a complete whole by book’s finish.

While the book’s description bills this novel as an alien invasion story, it’s really not until late in the game that the plot dovetails toward that revelation. It’s clear that this ingredient will play a larger role in the other two installments, but for now it’s a simmering plot point that helps to really blow up the novel in the third act. I’ve seen some marketing that claims this book has the “commercial action of Independence Day,” but that’s really not the case. The Three-Body Problem is a far more subtle and nuanced work that favors a slow-boil approach, rather than attempting to be a run-and-gun actioneer. As for the aliens themselves, what we learn of them is pretty magnificent and I can’t help but think that their evolutionary tract must have been pretty damn innovative. Their scientific savvy is mind-blowing, although Liu is able to relate the real-world high-level physics supporting his plot in easily digestible chunks.

In fact, I found the strongest elements of this novel to be on its scientific and (mostly) Earth-based foci. As an American reader with an interest in both science and history, I was truly fascinated by the political machinations that dogged these characters, particularly Wenjie, and which shaped their approaches to science and their world. This intersection of politics and science is a topic Americas would do well to pay keen attention to, particularly in light of science-denying politicians, like Lamar Smith and James Inhofe, garnering positions of power. The focus on China’s Cultural Revolution and how that would shape a first-contact scenario was a very refreshing break from the presentation of similar material shaped by largely democratic, English-speaking countries. While I felt a bit of tonal similarity to British sci-fi author, Alastair Reynolds, the cultural forces informing their works are nicely dissonant.

The only real problems I had with the story were a rather bland set of characters, but the thriller-like momentum of the plot itself kept the story moving briskly despite not having a solid protagonist to really latch on to or worry about. Wang is bit too stiff and lacks any really strong elements of characterization. As I said earlier, this is largely a cerebral effort, but it lacks a lot of heart. There were also several instances where the dialog felt a bit stiff and stilted, with characters frequently going into long-winded monologues,  but perhaps something was simply lost in translation. In the end, though, these are minor gripes that are far outweighed by the sense of mental excitement and enjoyable brain-games the novel carries.

Overall, I found The Three Body-Problem to be a solid work and a wonderful introduction to a terrific writer. I was truly delighted with the way Liu developed his plot and the follow-through he exhibited in unraveling the scientific quandaries of this first-contact scenario. As the first in a trilogy, it promises enough scope and an epic scale, along with a spectacular thoughtfulness, to keep me eagerly awaiting the remaining two titles. I really need to know how the rest of this series plays out!

buy The Three-Body Problem At Amazon
Sci-Fi November: Review: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin