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MJ-12: Inception

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A team of superhuman covert operatives emerges from the ashes of World War II in a Cold War-era paranormal espionage thriller from acclaimed genre-bender Michael J. Martinez.

It is a new world, stunned by the horrors that linger in the aftermath of total war. The United States and Soviet Union are squaring off in a different kind of conflict, one that’s fought in the shadows, where there are whispers of strange and mysterious developments. . .

Normal people across the United States have inexplicably gained paranormal abilities. A factory worker can heal the sick and injured. A schoolteacher bends emotions to her will. A car salesman alters matter with a simple touch. A former soldier speaks to the dying and gains their memories as they pass on.

They are the Variants, controlled by a secret government program called MAJESTIC-12 to open a new front in the Cold War.

From the deserts of Nevada to the palaces of Istanbul, the halls of power in Washington to the dark, oppressive streets of Prague, the Variants are thrown into a deadly game of shifting alliances. Amidst the seedy underbelly of nations, these once-ordinary Americans dropped in extraordinary circumstances will struggle to come to terms with their abilities as they fight to carve out a place for themselves in a world that may ultimately turn against them.

And as the MAJESTIC-12 program will soon discover, there are others out there like them, some with far more malevolent goals. . .

344 pages, Hardcover

First published September 6, 2016

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About the author

Michael J. Martinez

13 books118 followers
I’m a father and writer living the dream in the Golden State. I’ve spent nearly 20 years as a professional writer and journalist, including stints at The Associated Press and ABCNEWS.com. After telling other people’s stories for the bulk of my career, I’m happy that I can now be telling a few of my own creation.

When not being a parent or writer, I enjoy beer and homebrewing, cooking and eating, the outdoors and travel.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews
Profile Image for Leo.
4,385 reviews408 followers
October 9, 2021
A fast paced, super entertaining novel with people with superhuman powers that promises no dull moments and delivers very much! Eager to continue on with the series
Profile Image for Chris Berko.
471 reviews117 followers
January 19, 2019
Let me tell you how much I loved this book.
I was hankering for a spy/espionage story and was looking at old Tom Clancy (whom I have never read) and Robert Ludlum books for something to get into when I saw a review my Goodreads friend Hanzel wrote for this, raving about it, and it colored me intrigued. I bought it, read it, and thought of doing little else entertainment-wise until I just finished it. The whole X-men meets Mission Impossible thing led me to believe it was going to be a little bit comic bookish but instead this turned out to be an awesome and very deliberately paced, mature piece of fiction. A lot of twists and turns, enough unanswered questions to propel the story into the next book, and just enough time spent with the characters outside of the action scenes to make them real for me, to the point where it mattered what was happening to them. That kind of connection matters to me and really makes a difference as to whether I am going to continue a series or not and I have to say I've already bought books two and three without a second thought. I'm glad I read this and it definitely exceeded expectations in every way.
Profile Image for Hanzel.
165 reviews21 followers
January 14, 2019
A book about powered individuals (called a Variant in the US), the twist no super heroics, no rejoicing, no parades, everything is done secretly even the Variants live their lives mundanely(although most of their time were used for training), the time, after world war II, and the onset of the cold war between the USA and USSR (for the new generation, USSR meant Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, the only country in my opinion that gave Uncle Sam a run for his own money).

This one reads like a spy-thriller with powers, hmmmm a Jason Bourne with bullet proof body and eidetic memory (had to consult a dictionary for the word), where every fight is in the shadow or unseen!! Just think the CIA and KGB personnel running around the world with actual phenomenal abilities, one minute you see two ordinary individuals walking towards each other, then suddenly.............oh you thought you saw something.......

This is a good read, the author truly captured the time and the various nuances (ideology and etc. also one of the worst attitude of a person - a racist)during those bygone days..........

Book two here we go!!!!
Profile Image for Michael Underwood.
Author 37 books254 followers
September 6, 2016
“X-Men meets Mission: Impossible. Martinez takes a concept as simple as ‘Super spies that are actually super’ and comes away with a hit. Filled with compelling, well-rounded characters, MJ-12 is my new favorite spy series.”
—Michael R. Underwood, author of Geekomancy and the Genrenauts series
Profile Image for Beth Cato.
Author 113 books563 followers
May 24, 2016
The Cold War becomes even more chilling as super-powered Americans are trained to become super-spies in Martinez's new alternate-history thriller. It's morally-complex, intense, and so steeped in the 1940s, you can smell the cigarette smoke.
Profile Image for Luther Siler.
Author 9 books112 followers
July 24, 2016
I have gone on the record twice as being a big fan of the work of Michael J. Martinez. I have read all three of his previous books from his Daedalus trilogy, and I loved the latter two enough to rave about them on my blog. In the third one, he was kind enough to mention me in the afterword. I’ve never met the guy, but we interact occasionally on Twitter. He is my favorite current, working adventure writer. I have no idea if he’s noticed my books or not.

Well, one way or the other, I lucked into an advance copy of the first book of his new series. The book is called MJ-12: INCEPTION, and the series is just called Majestic-12.

The Daedalus books were about… well, quite a lot of things, actually. Dimension-hopping hard-sci-fi steampunk space galleons with aliens on Venus and ancient magic affecting the real world. They were, uh, a bit hard to categorize, but what was clear about the entire series was that Martinez had a huge amount of fun writing them, particularly in the last installment of the series.

MJ-12: INCEPTION is a very, very, very different series from the Daedalus books. So much so, in fact, that were it not for his love of genrebending (or, perhaps, hatred of the idea of genre) bleeding through, I’d not have been able to guess that the books were by the same person. That said, I can find out quickly if you are interested in reading the book by asking a very short question: How do you feel about Cold War superheroes?

Okay. You just told yourself whether you should read this book or not. And if I have any influence, you should. MJ-12: INCEPTION isn’t as madcap or as breathtakingly original as the previous series, but it’s a convincing period piece set at the very beginning of the Cold War, right after the end of World War II. Harry Truman is a character, as is large chunks of his Cabinet, and if Martinez played fast and loose with any historical events other than a couple of obvious ones they got past me. It’s not as fun as his previous series but I’m not sure that’s a criticism, as “Cold War thriller” isn’t necessarily a genre I need to be a lot of fun. It is, instead, a solid espionage story that links the emergence of superpowered people, known as Variants, to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings (well, Hiroshima, specifically) and then imagines what might happen if the United States and the Russians both had access to an expanding pool of metahumans. Along the way we get a cool look at mid-1940s tradecraft and a bit of Bond-level gadgetry.

It’s not the Martinez I’m used to, but I’ve pre-ordered the hardcover despite getting the book for free. The rest of you can have it on September 6. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Cobwebby Eldritch Reading Reindeer .
5,258 reviews297 followers
March 24, 2017
Review: MJ-12: INCEPTION
by Michael Martinez

I am so excited that MJ-12: INCEPTION is the first in a new series by author Michael Martinez. This novel is totally engrossing, and will appeal to any readers who love science fiction, history, conspiracy theories, espionage thrillers, and riveting writing with well-delineated characters and heart-in-mouth suspense. Back in 1945, at the U.S. Atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, an anomaly was “created,” directly below the atmosphere point at which the bomb exploded. Meanwhile, Nazi scientists predicted such, and secured subterranean chambers under the former Reich Chancellery in Berlin (even though that portion of Berlin was by then under Soviet control). They also managed to create conditions to which a similar anomaly appeared. As the years roll forward, the U.S. “captures” the Hiroshima anomaly and installs it at Groom Lake in Nevada: Area 51. The Soviets transfer theirs to a neuropsychological institute in Leningrad. Both sides battle for supremacy in understanding and utilitizing individuals who have been tracked, targeted, and changed by the anomalies: “Variants.” Many in both governments fear the Variants' divergent superpowers, and many others see them as future superweapons. Very few except Lieutenant Commander Daniel Wallace any longer recognise them as humans.
Profile Image for Tracey.
49 reviews15 followers
July 22, 2017
MJ-12: Inception is the first novel in an early Atomic Age, paranormal spy series by Michael J. Martinez, author of the Daedalus series. It opens with a devastating post WWII situation during a routine night patrol in the American sector of Berlin. Only Lieutenant Frank Lodge survives the ambush, but he emerges changed. A few months later in Hiroshima, U.S. Navy Lt. Danny Wallace investigates an anomaly given top secret priority. In the tunnels below the wreckage of a hospital, Wallace discovers a phenomenon of intense white light thought to have a connection with the detonation of the A-bomb. This light is believed by an elite few to be linked to the changes experienced by several unsuspecting Americans. U.S. officials call these people Variants; normal people who have been spontaneously endowed with unique abilities that they are not sure how to control and don't fully understand. President Harry S. Truman green lights a highly classified agenda designed to contain, control, and possibly exploit these metahumans' abilities and, in doing so, Operation Majestic Twelve is born.

The main characters in this story are feared because they possess paranormal powers. It's all too easy to believe that our government would go to great lengths to keep their existence a secret. It's also conceivable that they would immediately try to use them as spies. Martinez brilliantly introduces the U.S. government's first paranormal team, Frank, Cal, Ellis, and Maggie, by revealing their bios via confidential reports, and by narrating in the POVs of the Variants themselves. The story follows them through their military quarantine and training, as they learn to control their abilities and work as a unit. I was fascinated by the psychological impact that becoming a metahuman under the government's influence had on each of the Variants.

Martinez also takes the time to detail some of the social injustices experienced by his diverse cast of characters in this Cold War era tale. I was outraged for Cal, the African American factory worker who is definitely my favorite character. His interactions with the bigoted Ellis alternately made me uncomfortable and frustrated by the lack of justice in the world. Through it all, Cal maintains his compassionate nature and I never stopped rooting for him. Maggie, the school teacher who can manipulate people's emotions, is the most terrifying. Her lack of deep emotional commitment or connection to anyone makes her truly scary. Martinez achieves a perfect balance of delving just deep enough into each character to give the reader a detailed understanding while still leaving a tantalizing amount of information open for exploration in future novels in the MAJESTIC-12 series.

Martinez is truly a gifted writer in that MJ:12 Inception has a distinct and utterly different flavor than his previous series. Although I only know about organizations like the CIA from books, movies and literature, his portrayal of the inner workings of government programs seems authentic. I enjoyed reading the confidential reports written from the perspective of top officials in the CIA. Martinez, a master at genre blending, has created an exciting new series by mixing a pinch of James Bond to a dash of the X-Men and then combining that with a dose of politics and old-fashioned cloak and dagger espionage.

With MJ-12 Inception, Martinez weaves an intense tale of patriotism, Cold War politics, the U.S. spy network, and the nuances of human relationships which I simply couldn't put down
Profile Image for Bianca Scharff.
Author 2 books14 followers
June 15, 2018
This book was great. While reading all I could think was this is X men for grown-ups but don't ever say that around an X men fan because they will school you on X-men and how serious it can be. Otherwise still great, the powers this group of chosen people have are unique and interesting. Especially as you read on and watch those powers develop showcasing how even the powers you thought to be the weakest can actually turn out to be the stronger more scary powers. This book kept me reading until the end a classic spy game with a revamped American twist. My only complaint which is tiny is that I wished the ending tied up nicely. I know it was leaving everything open ended for the next book but I really felt a lack of closure especially when it came to the death of a certain special character. Otherwise I recommend it.
934 reviews17 followers
July 29, 2016
MJ-12 Inception is an ambitious fantasy spy-fi novel set during the early years of the Cold War. Normally I’m a bit leery of stories where the characters have super-powers. I believe that authors have to make a good justification for the existence of unusual powers. Michael J Martinez exceeded my expectations, by not only making an unusual and well-done argument, but also by leading readers to believe that there may be an ultimate cost related to the event that transformed these distinct individuals.

There is no visible pattern behind who is touched or what power will emerge. It is only natural that both sides see them as assets, and potential threats. For now, the US government is training these variants as agents, but that is not to say that their government won’t turn on them in time.

The characters themselves are varied, and their personalities and history play a role in how they approach their abilities and how their abilities change them. Like the teacher who acquires the ability to manipulate emotions and the soldier who acquires both the memories and skills of the dead, it is impossible to remain unaffected. Even the ability to heal is a double-edged sword.

MJ-12 Inception is both a complete stand alone adventure and a thrilling introduction to a richly reimagined Cold War spy-fi series. I eagerly await Michael J Martinez’s next novel featuring the Majestic 12.


I received a copy of MJ-12 Inception from the publisher and netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Erik Dreiling.
62 reviews1 follower
December 15, 2016
This was an exceptional start into a new series. "MJ-12: Inception" is a story that isn't confined to just one genre; it had shades of a traditional spy thriller, mixed with superpowered people designated Variants, and it's all set against the backdrop of the early days of the Cold War.

The characters were written sharply, I even found myself rooting for the troublesome Ellis Longstreet towards the end of the book. If I were to pick a favorite character, I would have to go with Cal Hooks. His character provided a unique insight to how black men, women, and children were treated back in those days -- and he still kept his head up and helped his fellow friends.

I highly recommend this book for anyone that is interested in a fresh take on science fiction and spy thrillers. Terrific read!
Profile Image for Fresno Bob.
742 reviews8 followers
April 15, 2020
fast-paced alt history with "people with powers", if you like "Declare" by Tim Powers, or "The Milkweed Triptich" by Ian Tregellis, you'll like this. If you liked this, you should read those!
Profile Image for Jeffrey Grant.
401 reviews6 followers
May 24, 2020
I felt this was an interesting different take on the superhero story. Setting it in the aftermath of World War 2, and tying it in to a number of real-world conspiracy theories added a bit of an extra twist that set it apart from some other superhero-themed stories.

The characters were fully rounded people as well; most of them weren't really defined by their superpower, except in cases of all-encompassing powers where it makes sense that it would sort of override or alter their personality. They also weren't either toned down or demonized based on the time period and the people selected. For example there's one person who's a traditional Southern white gentleman of the period and I thought his portrayal was done well; he's not a violently aggressive racist trying to kill black colleagues, but there is a constant and unrelenting level of racism to what he does and how he acts that just never goes away. And the other characters react in ways that make sense based on their experiences and backgrounds; you don't have someone suddenly expressing 21st century morals in the middle of 1945, but neither is the racism ignored or accepted. I thought the issue of sexism was approached similarly well.

Despite all that I don't think it's a series I'll be continuing with. I like the idea of the X-men, but most if not all of their stories are about escaping or avoiding people who are ostensibly on the same side as them. On top of that, almost none of the abilities are helpful, at least the way everyone describes them; anyone who seems comfortable with their powers is immediately and constantly under suspicion from everyone else for being too powerful, but at the same time all of the people worrying are putting themselves through extreme mental torture because of whatever massive burden their own power represents.

I prefer superhero stories where the hero(es) get their "superhero moment"; they're able to go up against an enemy or complete a mission, using their powers, and they come out on top. When they're constantly afraid of their own powers and every time they try to use them they get smacked down and nullified, it feels like the author doesn't actually want the powers to be there and would rather just write a mundane espionage or combat story.
267 reviews
March 16, 2018
It's been my experience that the first book in a series should hold your interest as well as introducing the cast of characters, and this inaugural novel managed to do both. A mysterious force, found by both the Americans and the Nazis (then stolen by the Russians), is sending out periodical bursts of energy that is transforming certain humans into X-Men like metahumans, each of them with a different power. The U.S. locates some of these enhanced humans and quarters them at Area 51, training them to become operatives to perform sensitive missions for the government. These metahumans must overcome their distrust of each other, their handlers and their Soviet counterparts to investigate how advanced the Russian program is when one of its founders reaches out and asks to defect. The setting of just after World War II and the start of the Cold War is fresh, and the use of historical figures such as Truman and James Forrestal, who was linked to the MJ-12 documents that purportedly dealt with the investigation and cover up of UFOs, is used perfectly. As the novel moves along, you start to care more and more (with one exception) for the American agents, and there are more than enough sub plots and conspiracies to get one ready for the next installment in the series. My shout out goes to Maggie, the female member of the team, who quickly shows that she us more than a match for the men both in training and out in the field where she keeps a very cool head and doesn't hesitate to use her enhancements or her gun if needed.
3 reviews
June 16, 2020
Danny, a smart, nice guy is watching certain people. People he believes have powers. With the people he recruits along side of him, they encounter a life-threatening situation. Along side with Frank, who is a soldier that falls into the hands of a Nazi scientist who is performing an experiment that will be world-changing. During this event, Frank is changed… he is able to “absorb” the knowledge and skills of someone he touches when they die. And he’s not the only one… a powerful surge of energy has swept the planet and affected a very tiny percentage of the population, and certain government employees are in a race to find these changed individuals and see exactly what it is they can do. We meet characters that can do unimaginable things.

MJ-12 Inception is an outstanding fictional book of the Cold War. Martinez weaves a story so intense that the characters and plot came to life before my eyes. Not only was I watching the story unfold, I became part of it; I felt like the camera man recording a movie about this incredible book. Michael J. Martinez creates realistic dialogue, sets a great pace, and makes the story visual.

MJ-12 Inception is an exciting, intense, and amazing. I recommend this fantastic novel to anyone who loves becoming part of the story and the lives of the characters, and to readers who won’t mind forgetting the world around them.
Profile Image for Marsha.
Author 2 books35 followers
June 11, 2021
This book seizes on an interesting premise: what if mutants were recruited by the government? It’s not a new idea, by any means. But this novel covers ground by presenting the reader with fascinating characters working for the newly created C.I.A.

After bombing Hiroshima, terrifying white vortices referred to as “anomalies” spring up, unleashing energy that creates Variants (as the Americans term them). We get military personnel, foreign diplomats, racist bigots, Russian mafia, Nazi scientists and enough covert operatives to fill a McDonald’s. It sounds like zany fun but the grim seriousness of it lends the novel a sobering air of plausibility.

Mr. Martinez paints a convincing picture of an alternate history of a post-WWII earth, with opposing sides jockeying for control and super-powered humans uneasy about what their governments intend for them. There’s human drama alongside the expected pyrokinetics and small moments of humor although this isn’t a book for comedy.

This looks to be a promising beginning to a scintillating series, one that probes the ever-shifting sands of loyalty, power and friendship in the face of overwhelming odds.
January 27, 2020
This was book was a lot of exposition. It's an origin story and I understand that I truly do. At the same time, it became pretty obvious that this is the first part of a trilogy. So, I'm assuming that #2 in the series will pick up the action a bit more. It's not poorly written. The characters are interesting and 'real.' It's a bit of a slow burn and didn't pick up the pace until the final 1/3rd of the book. I'm looking forward to #2 and hoping that it picks up (pace-wise) from where the first book ended. Not bad, Maynard.
Profile Image for Gökçe.
Author 7 books42 followers
September 8, 2017
Süper kahramanlar gizli servislerin emrinde olsaydı ne olurdu sorusuna cevap arayan bir roman MJ-12: Inception. Açıkçası daha heyecanlı olmasını bekliyordum ama yazarın anlatımda seçtiği yöntem yüzünden zor okundu. Birden fazla bakış açısını, tam tamamlanmayan hikayeleri ile okumayı zorlaştırmış. Başka türlü yapabilseydi daha başarılı olabilirdi. İkinci kitapta tanışmaları anlatmayacağı için daha başarılı olmasını bekliyorum. Çizgiroman okuyanlar için çok yenilikçi değil fakat tavsiye ederim.
Profile Image for Alli.
Author 1 book17 followers
November 26, 2018
Excellent spycraft and it gave me a lot to think about in regards to writing alt history. Obviously this is extremely well researched, and with intermittent "reports," it feels authentic in the way alternate history should.

Maggie easily stands out as my favorite character, and I think she has some of the most interesting development, but Frank, Danny, and Cal are all great and I can't wait to see what happens in the next installment of this series.
Profile Image for Dare Talvitie.
Author 4 books8 followers
September 18, 2020
Even though MJ-12: Inception wasn't a long book, it still took too long to get going. The last third or so I really enjoyed, but the parts before that were treading over familiar ground, a superhero/spy origin story that felt completely done to death.

Still, the end was good, the previously low stakes felt properly raised. If I could trust the story to keep up the pace it achieved, I'd probably be getting the sequels in a heartbeat.
Profile Image for Nathan.
12 reviews3 followers
February 5, 2017
This book is just plain fun. A great cast of characters, a very interesting set of superhuman abilities, set against the backdrop of Cold War spy games. The best part, in my opinion, is how well the author satisfactorily ends this story while setting things up perfectly for later books in the series. Looking forward to future Variant adventures!
Profile Image for Perry K.
6 reviews4 followers
July 13, 2017
A fun and entertaining read about an alternate cold-war history with powered individuals. The premise was believable, the characters varied and faithful to their roles and personalities, and the powers were unique and entertaining. I look forward to the next installment in this series.

Disclosure- The author was kind enough to let me read and advanced reading copy. Thank you sir!
Profile Image for Alex Jackl.
130 reviews5 followers
January 31, 2018
This was okay and had some interesting ideas

I think this wasn't a bad book but I didn't like it so much. I thought h t the characters were relatively interesting and I think Martinez did a good job in painting the post-WWII world. I usually love super-hero stories but th I s left me a little cold. Can't say exactly why.
Profile Image for Luke.
60 reviews24 followers
April 28, 2018
Although I enjoyed the premise and some of the writing, the persistent lack of period accurate research for vocabulary, attitudes, and just plain facts defeated any interest in this book, series, and author.

It’s disappointing as almost all of the errors could have been resolved by some minimal googling.
Profile Image for Danny Pearman.
77 reviews3 followers
January 12, 2020
This was something a little different to the usual stuff I read. Not going to say I didn't enjoy it because I did, although, I found the characters a touch on the flat side, the main plot was enjoyable but seemed to feel a little rushed at the end. I will read the second one to this trilogy but its not at the top of my reading list at this point.
609 reviews2 followers
October 12, 2017

Hello, this is a really, really great story. The writing was excellent and very entertaining to read. I really like stuff that goes back to the OSS days and the Nazis. Damn fine stuff. Thanks.
1,364 reviews3 followers
December 22, 2018
Essentially an alternate take on the X-Men, set in the late 40s. Reasonably fun, though the prose and characterization are unexceptional and the plot (and the ideas underlying it) don't cover any unexpected ground.
343 reviews5 followers
March 3, 2019
Slow book. Last 100 pages pick up a bit. Not sure if I cared at that point. I doubt I will read any more in this series. Characters are decent. X-men plus spy thriller just sounds like it's a can't miss idea, but this is not quite what I expected.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews

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