When the chance of a lifetime to travel to outer space presents itself to journalist Cormac Easton, he jumps at it, even if it’s to the detriment of his marriage. After all, it’s not every day that you get to travel to space, and he figures things will work out once he returns home. There’s only one problem. His entire crew (with the exception of one woman) is dead, leaving him alone in the ship. When the book starts, Cormac begins to slowly list the ways the crew dies. Some are unusual deaths, and some are more mundane, such as a heart attack, but one thing is sure: Cormac has no idea how he’s going to get home, since his fuel level is descending rapidly, and the ship didn’t turn around at the halfway point like it was supposed to. So, Cormac makes a terrible choice, and finds out things are absolutely not what they seem.
The vastness of space has always been fascinating, and terrifying, to me. In fact, while there are tons of folks that would love to travel to outer space, I’m not one of them, so The Explorer held a sort of morbid fascination for me. As I read the narrative, the specter of the cold, black nothing outside of the ship was always hanging over the events unfolding inside, and Cormac’s realization that he may never get home builds slowly, and excruciatingly (in a good way.) The Explorer reads like a diary, and through Cormac, we get to know each of his fellow crew members, first with Cormac as part of the action, then with Cormac as an outside observer of the events leading up to him being the only one left, hurtling through space. I don’t want to reveal exactly what happens, because that would spoil part of the book, but more than a thriller, and a sci-fi novel, The Explorer is a character study of a man that is full of heartbreak and regret, and what his actions have led to, not only for him, but for those around him. He is falling apart in body and mind, and what he observes among the crew is not only shocking, but leads him to question everything about this once in a lifetime trip that was supposed to make them famous the world over and unite the human race. Or so they thought.
The Explorer is one of the most exciting, creepy, and heartbreaking novels that I’ve read in a long time. Part sci-fi thriller, part mystery, with a liberal sprinkling of horror, and a fast pace that will keep you racing through the pages, this one is un-missable, and I expect it to land on a ton of Best of 2013 lists, including mine. The author leaves a few questions at the end, but in this case, it’s a good thing, and I wasn’t left wanting. Let’s just say that after reading this, I won’t be getting me on a spaceship anytime soon. Don’t miss this one!(less)
In six months, earth is going to be hit with an asteroid, estimated to destroy over half of the population of Earth, and Detective Hank Palace thinks he’s probably the only cop left that cares anything about solving cases. Concord, New Hampshire has come to be called “Hanger Town” in reference to the overwhelming suicide of choice of its citizens. When he’s called to the scene of a man that has supposedly hung himself in a McDonald’s bathroom, something just doesn’t look right, and Hank Palace is determined to get to the bottom of it. They’re still not sure where the asteroid will land, but justice must still be served, right?
End of the world scenarios in fiction aren’t hard to come by recently, but out of all of them, the asteroid/meteor/large thing falling out of the sky is one that fascinates me more than others. I imagine getting the news that in a year, or maybe six months, something big is gonna hit, and I’m in the blast zone. Would I go on with life as usual, or would I throw caution to the wind and live out the rest of the days like there’s no tomorrow (which may or may not be true)? Hank Palace is one of the ones who decide to go on as usual, doing his job, and doing it to the best of his ability. All Hank ever wanted to be is a cop, and he pursues this case with a single minded doggedness that is almost unheard of in these strange new times of self-indulgence and wild abandon. He does his job in spite of the quiet snickers and not so subtle ribbing from his colleagues, as things begin to crumble around him. The story is told by Hank, and we follow him as he navigates the trail of the victim, a quiet, socially awkward insurance man. As Hank puts together the clues, following strict procedure, he stumbles onto something much more than a mere hanging, and the body count begins to rise.
The Last Policeman is much more than a police procedural or a pre-apocalyptic scenario. It’s a study of a man determined to do the right thing as society crumbles and hope begins to crumble with it. Hank reminded me a bit of Marge Gunderson, the indomitable police chief in Fargo, and as the case unfolds, so does Hank, and so do the little ins and outs of Concord and its inhabitants. Things in this book are so subtle and understated that the bits of violence can be jarring, even though the violence is never over the top. I think Hank was as surprised about it as I was, yet he perseveres with dignity, and even a bit of off kilter grace. I suspect part of what drives Hank in his investigation is that he sees a bit of himself in the victim, and following through is really the only choice he has. Ben Winters’ writing is nuanced, lovely, sometimes poignant, and a pure pleasure to read. I hope that The Last Policeman gets the attention that it deserves, because it’s a hell of a book and about as close to perfect as it gets for me. I hear that it will be a trilogy, and I can’t wait for the next one!(less)
Juno Mozambe is gonna take KOP (Koba Office of Police) back, and the first step is taking over protection of a brothel that Emil Mota (Juno’s arch enemy) has already claimed. With a motley crew of dirty cops, and an ex-prostitute/bodyguard named Maria, Juno takes a stand against the nightly riots that accompany rolling blackouts that plunge the city of Koba into darkness. When Muto gets wind of this, he’s not amused, and Juno’s intimidation tactics aren’t working against him anymore. When the men of Juno’s crew begin turning up slaughtered in the most brutal ways, Juno knows he’s up against someone, and something, bigger than Muto. Along with his former partner (and honest cop) Maggie, he vows to get to the bottom of it, before another man dies, and KOP is corrupt for good.
There were a few times when I thought I knew where Kop Killer was going. I so didn’t. Really didn’t. Kop Killer is the third in a series featuring Juno Mozambe, but if you haven’t read the first two, that’s ok, because the author does a great job on catching you up on events without info dump, although you might miss out on some of the emotional resonance gained from reading the first two. Kop Killer is a wonderful mashup of police procedural, (very) dark noir, and some of the creepiest sci fi you’ll ever read. There’s humor here too, of the blackest kind, and you may find your mouth twisting into a slow, grim smile, since it kind of creeps up on you. Koba is a humid, sticky, fly and lizard ridden, leafy green mess of a city and it’s such a part of the narrative, it’s almost its own character. As Juno gets deeper into the gruesome murderers that seem to stick to him like flies (couldn’t help it), even the jaded ex-cop can’t believe how depraved this killer is. We’re talking shape shifters (not what you thinks), a creepy doctor performing the most awful of experiments (just…ugh), and a group of cops so corrupt your mind will spin. I love my gray heroes, and Juno fits firmly in with the best of them. His heart is in the right place, even as things fall to pieces around him, and he’s fiercely loyal. It will certainly take someone like Juno to bring down KOP and make things better for the people of Koba, and I promise you’ll enjoy this dark and scary ride!(less)
The Games, Ted Kosmatka’s first full length novel, has already garnered comparisons to some heavy hitters like Jurassic Park and The Relic. I like both of those books, so was certainly anxious to give it a try. The Games is similar to those titles, but only in general theme (how much should we be tampering with DNA), but otherwise, it’s an entirely unique creature (at least to me.) Silas Williams is our go-to guy here, and even though he’s a brilliant scientist, the author paints a picture of a rather haunted man. One who is beginning to have second thoughts about the career that’s buoyed him most of his adult life. Divorced and childless, creating the genetic mishmash creatures for The Games has so far fulfilled him, even if they are inevitably destroyed. The Games is a disturbing event coinciding with the Olympics that pits genetically altered creations against each other in brutal gladiatorial combat. The only hard and fast rule is “no human DNA”. I like to think that anyone with an ounce of compassion wouldn’t go near something like this, but the truth of the matter is that people would probably be buying tickets in droves. *Shudder* Silas is gearing up for a year pretty much like any other when his newest creation is “born”, and it’s like nothing he’s ever seen before. This creature not only looks unlike anything in the animal kingdom, it soon begins showing an alarming amount of strength and intelligence, so Silas begins digging deeper into its creation, since this time, things went just a little bit differently…
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering how you could possibly like a character that creates creatures just to fight to the death, a la dog and chicken fighting on a grand scale, yes? I admit, I was skeptical, but like Silas you will. There’s something very vulnerable in his need to create and fill his own emotional voids, and he’s just plain…likable. When he brings in a xenobiologist, Vidonia Joao, to hopefully categorize The Beast into something they can understand, they start a rather sweet romance, one that doesn’t seem forced and adds quite a bit of depth to the story. The Beast is terrifying, and the scenes with this creature will make the little hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. There’s a subplot involving Evan Chandler, creator of the supercomputer responsible for The Beast’s genetic coding, that’s unexpectedly complex and heartbreaking, and really makes you think about just what it is that makes us human, and the very nature of good and evil. Combine all these elements with polished prose and a breakneck speed, and you’re looking at some serious late night reading. I stayed up very late just to finish this, and The Games certainly lives up to its buzz. Ted is the author of quite a few award winning sci-fi/speculative fiction short stories, and his talent is on full display in this full length work. The Games is a sci-fi/thriller with unexpected depth and humanity, and a few twists that I didn’t see coming. Very highly recommended!(less)
Kris Davenport is having an interesting night. First she’s awakened by a woman that claims to be her from the future, then her double takes her to the mountains, explaining on the way that she’s got to get things right this time with ConRad, then tells her to get out of the car and take a run, that there’s not much time before Armegeddon. A bit jarring, yes? Well, Kris better get used to jarring, because Dark Future is one long, dark ride for our heroine. Kris jumps forward in time to Dark Planet, after humans have nearly been wiped out by an alien race. Dark Planet is her new reality, and ConRad thinks she’s a spy, no matter that he’s inexplicably drawn to her, and her to him. As scared as she is, she feels like she’s seen him before and felt his touch, but how could that be? Strap in for an exciting ride, because after this, it’s nonstop.
Dark Future is an appropriate name, because it’s most definitely dark. By the end of this book, poor Kris has gone from relatively carefree surgical intern to possibly being the key to the salvation of the human race. Once ConRad finally accepts that Kris is not a spy, their journey takes a dramatic turn. Women are at a premium at this point, and ConRad must “claim” Kris as his own to keep her safe. Obviously this doesn’t go over well with Kris, but this is a new order, and she’ll have to give a little to survive. When she makes the choice to save a life, the Elders take Kris and her entire world shatters around her. The author really puts our poor heroine through the ringer in this one, emotionally and physically. If you find yourself making comparisons to Sarah Connor from Terminator, you wouldn’t be far off, because they’re most certainly there, with Kris going from self-professed coward to possible savior of mankind. It’s a long, hard, tortuous journey, and Ms. Klein manages to weave a heart wrenching love story among the sci fi action. Told in Kris’ voice, you won’t be able to help falling in love with her, and wincing every time she has to make a heartbreaking choice (of which she has to make a few). If you enjoy cinematic sci-fi action with your romance, Dark Future is a journey well worth taking!(less)
When Joan travels back 200 years and lands in 1888 England, a la Terminator, she’s immediately greeted by snarling cerberi and an English Gentleman by the name of Simon Grenville. Joan is in search of the man that’s at fault for causing the fall of civilization, and the horrid world she lives in, and plans to destroy him, in hopes of saving mankind. Turns out that Simon has his own agenda involving the evil Alex Raynell, and he agrees to help Joan in her mission.
The opening scene, when Joan arrives in a dark, rain swept field and must fight numerous beasts to save herself and Simon, really got me excited for this book. Honestly, I expected lots of action, fighting, etc., but the reality was somewhat different than I expected. That wasn’t a bad thing though! In fact, I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed reading about the lengths Joan goes to in order to fit in to proper society and get close to the man that’s she’s after. On the back of the book, it says “It’s Terminator meets My Fair Lady”. Well, the beginning certainly was Terminatoresque, but we really don’t see any real action until the last quarter of the book, but like I said, that’s ok, because I really liked the characterizations, especially how Simon is drawn to Joan in spite of her rough exterior and less than delicate sensibilities. Joan is hard not to like, and Simon enlists his younger sister, Ellie, in helping Joan fit in, with hopes that it will bring her out of her shell, for it’s Ellie that Reynell had brutalized, bringing about Simon’s wrath and the end of what was a close relationship between Simon and Alex. Simon is a skilled magician, which is part of why he has no problem believing Joan’s story as to where and when she came. There are definitely some sexy bits, so No Proper Lady will definitely appeal to romance fans, but I believe it should appeal to anyone that enjoys a well written story, and the juxtaposition between Regency England and the not so distant future might appeal to fantasy/light sci-fi fans as well (if you don’t mind some serious sexy with your sci-fi.) I’ll definitely look forward to Ms. Cooper’s next novel, No Honest Woman, in April 2012!(less)
The Panama Laugh has been high on my to-read list for a bit, but it moved up in the queue because Paul Goat Allen (of Barnes and Noble) said it was aw...moreThe Panama Laugh has been high on my to-read list for a bit, but it moved up in the queue because Paul Goat Allen (of Barnes and Noble) said it was awesome. Yep, The Panama Laugh made a zombie fave list of his, and it’s been a few books since my last zombie novel, so it was time. There’s a fairly comprehensive synopsis above so I won’t rehash it. I will say that The Panama Laugh grabs you by the throat, hard, pretty much from page one and doesn’t let you go. Please let me stress this. It. Doesn’t. Let. Up. Dante Bogart is pretty much everything I love in an anti-hero. Yes, I’m a sucker for the bad boys sometimes, I admit it, and Frosty D. (don’t call him that)¸falls right in with just the kind of guy that would get my motor running. When the man wakes up naked, bloody, and loaded for bear in the middle of a battleground, gets up, surveys the scene, takes a suspicious-yet-valuable looking case with him, and makes his getaway, I’m totally his by the time he washes up at the home of his old friend Van Fish, wondering where the last 5 years went. His old flame, Trixie (that’s Dr. Trixie to you) is there too, and she’s a little bit pissed at how Dante left things between them. That’s really the least of his worries though. Trust me on this one. When the laughers start invading the shoreline of Fish’s jungle home, the real fun starts.
Thomas Roche pulls absolutely no punches with Panama Laugh. The guffawing (this is seriously creepy-making), hysterical dead come from every direction, and thanks to a relatively good supply of ammo, lots of guts end up flying around. Lots. A veritable cornucopia of gooey flying zombie flesh fills the pages of The Panama Laugh. As Dante, Trixie, and Van make their escape via air, eventually ending up on a nuclear fortified gunship of the coast of San Francisco, our hero rarely flags. Told in first person from Dante’s POV, the narrative goes back and forth between the action at hand to the events leading up to the zombie apocalypse, and it’s not a pretty story. Corporate greed, a madman’s desire for eternal life, and radical groups bent on depopulation make for a heady cocktail, and Dante’s experience with the nasty cause of the Panama Laugh is very, very personal. Giving away too many details would take away the visceral fun of this awesome, terrifying, gruesome, and warped roller coaster ride, and I certainly don’t want to do that. Roche’s writing is tight, immediate, and engaging, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to read it in one sitting (ok, I read it in two, but I wanted to read it in one.) Horror lovers will eat this one up (sorry about the pun), and if you’re a true zombie fan, it’s not to be missed. I was in the mood for something “zombie”, different, and awesome, and I got all three, and more, with The Panama Laugh. Put this one on your must list!(less)