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Category Archives: Books

Book Review: Who

whoI always get nervous when I get a request to review a novel. My usual MO is to read a book, and review it if I like it, so that others can get the same pleasure out of the novel as I did.

When it’s in reverse, and someone asks me to read a specific book and review it, my neuroses kick in. What if I hate it? What if the author is someone I like? What if it’s a friend or a family member, and I have to do a negative review, because the work sucks? What if it’s boring? What if it’s badly written? What if…

When Karen A. Wyle sent me a blurb about her new book “Who,” and asked if I would review it, I was intrigued by the description.

Death is no longer the end. Those who prepare, and can afford it, may have their memories and personalities digitally preserved. The digitally stored population can interact with the world of the living, remaining part of their loved ones’ lives. They can even vote.

But digital information has its vulnerabilities.

After the young and vital Thea dies and is stored, her devoted husband Max starts to wonder about changes in her preoccupations and politics. Are they simply the result of the new company she keeps? Or has she been altered without her knowledge and against her will?

But I was nervous at the same time, for the very reasons I described above. What if I hated it?

I needn’t have worried. I couldn’t put the book down. It was intelligently written, engrossing, and not at all what I expected.

I’m a fan of novels that explore what happens after we die. I’ve written at least one short story on the subject – something way too dark and depressing to share with readers right now.

One of my favorite episodes of the series “Black Mirror” involves a woman who loses her husband, who is subsequently “resurrected” by a service through the use of his extensive social media presence.  He is not real, and he is not meant to be. He’s merely an echo digitally created for her to communicate with – an echo she uses to keep the memory of her husband alive in the virtual world. Eventually, the service provides a body using synthetic flesh that is almost identical to her deceased husband. The robot isn’t real. It cannot be. He’s a digital echo comprised of all the information he stored about himself online.

In “Westworld” – one of my current favorite television series – the idea of androids gaining consciousness of the world around them is explored.

In the movie “AI: Artificial Intelligence” the story of Pinocchio is retold through robots who are capable of experiencing emotions and learning to be human.

The ideas in “Who” are not new, but Karen delves deeper into those ideas and explores what can happen when power-hungry humans get a hold of technology that can store human consciousness in digital form. At the same time she explores the digitized “humans” themselves and probes the idea of the human being – his essence, his conscience, and what makes the human being… well… human.

The bright side: Loved ones can continue to interact and be together in every form but the physical after the corporeal body has died.

The bad news: Like any technology, it can and will be abused for those seeking power and profit.

The “stored” dead people live in a digital world. Their consciousnesses downloaded – recorded and digitally preserved. They can interact with their loved ones and with one another. They can continue to create, work, and enjoy hobbies in their digital existence. They can get politically involved and eventually gain the right to vote.

Just imagine how this technology can be abused by power-hungry entities – both corporate and political!

Information stored is information that can be altered.

Personalities stored can be altered – changed to hold political views convenient to those in control – without the knowledge or consent of those to whom these personality traits ostensibly belong.

Can you imagine what an unscrupulous corporation – or politician – can do with that kind of power?

Could they create an army of voters who would form a solid voting block to push legislation through? Would the “stored” – altered to vote in a particular manner – eventually outnumber living voters and usher in a new era of government control and power, as designed by those who seek it?

And what about individual rights? Do the “stored” still have them, even though they’re digital entities “living” inside someone’s servers?

Are they human? What makes them human? What kind of protections do they enjoy under the Constitution?

These are all complex themes.

Karen is an attorney, and she obviously understands the law so well, that she is able to apply it to the characters she created and weave a tense courtroom drama that explores these issues – humanity, civil rights, digital technology, consciousness, conscience, and individuality.

She makes the legal dilemmas entwined in these very real issues readable and interesting without spewing lawyerese or preaching to the reader about right and wrong.

She simply tells a story, and she tells it well.

I’ve read plenty of authors who do nothing more than produce a thinly-veiled vehicle for their political views, with cardboard characters and a crappy plot. They lecture the reader endlessly about political ideals, and produce so much badly written dreck that does little more than allow them to vent in written form.

Karen A. Wyle does none of that. She seamlessly creates a complex world in the near future that is fraught with intricate and elaborate moral dilemmas and uses her knowledge of the law to weave an intelligent, suspenseful, and engrossing story!

It’s the holiday season, so grab and enjoy! This one’s a keeper!

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It’s today!

For those of you who were jealous I got to read Mike Williamson’s latest “Freehold” novel before any of you sad sacks, man up and get thee to a book store today, because “Angeleyes” is now out, and you should get it.

If you haven’t read my review, I linked to it above, and I assure you that you won’t be sorry you got the book.

I’ve often asked what you would do in a zombie apocalypse – how far you would go to protect yourself and your loved ones?

“Angeleyes” examines those ideas through a wider aperture.

How far would you go to protect real freedom, your way of life, and your home? What would you sacrifice for your team, your military family?

Most of us would reply that we would sacrifice everything for our country – especially those of us who volunteered to serve in the armed forces – but can you really imagine what that could involve?

“Angeleyes” explores those ideas in very detailed, painful, personal ways, and aside from the action and the fascinating examination of the Freehold war from yet another perspective – one we haven’t yet seen – it’s those ideas that touched me most as an immigrant and an Armed Forces veteran.

Enjoy!

Pieces of the Puzzle

freeholdI wrote the other day, after finishing “Angeleyes” that I enjoy seeing the Freehold war from the perspectives of the different characters – particularly since Mike Williamson does so well at hopping into the characters’ skins and telling their stories from the inside. He’s explored the war from the perspective of a refugee from Earth, a special forces operative, and a human intelligence asset. Two years, a short story explored the war and the asymmetrical tactics employed by the Freeholders from the point of view of a low-level UN troop. (If you haven’t read this one, you absolutely should! It’s really one of his best!)

And now, Mike has written “Starhome.”

There are no battle scenes. There are no disturbingly graphic training or psyops descriptions. It’s written from the perspective of someone who never wanted to get involved in a war in the first place, but was forced into an untenable situation by circumstances far beyond his control. “One didn’t have to be involved in a war to suffer, nor even in line of fire. Collateral economic damage could destroy just as easily.”

Go read it. It’s short and well done, and you’ll enjoy the story for what it is – a short exploration of the situation by someone who just wants to live his life in his home.

I view the Freehold universe and the books written in it so far as a puzzle. They say history is written by the victors, and it’s true. But writing the Freehold war from all different points of view puts together pieces of a much more complete puzzle than the usual black or white, good or bad, honorable or corrupt outlook we get from any one character.

War isn’t easy. It isn’t cheap. Collateral damage doesn’t just include slaughtered women and children, casualties don’t just include troops in combat, and victory sometimes comes at a high cost.

By giving us pieces of the Freehold war puzzle, Mike shows us a more complete picture of warfare and humanity writ large.

Book Review: Angeleyes

Yes, I did at one point have a mini van. Yes, I did drive it. Yes, I had that license plate. Yes, I got it before “Freehold” was actually published.

Those of you who have been readers for any length of time know I’m a big fan of Mike Williamson’s work. It’s not because we’ve been friends for more than 15 years, or because I loved “Freehold” before it was ever published – I loved the concept, the universe, and the characters well enough to be a fan before being a fan was “cool.”

For a while, I had this license plate – before the van it was attached to was totaled on black ice in the winter of 2004. Mike recently sent me a photo of it. I never had any.

I think what Mike does better than most authors is character development. He has this innate ability to become the character – to crawl into their skin and speak in their voice, regardless of whether male or female. It’s something I appreciate, and it’s something I’m learning to do myself as I develop my writing skills. Mike does it effortlessly. His work doesn’t feel like an author writing in first person, or from the perspective of the character. It feels like you’re inside the character looking out, whether it’s a female facing a complete change of life, perspective, and environment, or an arrogant, testosterone-filled young guy, developing from an snotty, conceited kid into a lethal weapon, into a cold, calculating defender and patriot, into a father, into an old soul with a conscience. He does it effectively – almost as if tossing aside who he is and becoming who they are.

His latest “Angeleyes” is no exception. It will be available in hardcover on November 1. I wanted to get this review out before that time, so if you were trying to decide whether to purchase this book, you could make a somewhat informed decision. The blurb is pretty straightforward.

Angie Kaneshiro never planned to be a spy. She was a veteran of the Freehold Forces of Grainne, and was now a tramp freighter crew-woman who hadn’t set foot on the dirt of a world in ten years. Angie was free, and that was the way she liked it.

Then the war with Earth started. One thing Angie knew was human space. She knew where the UN troops garrisoned, the methods they used to scan and chip their own to control them. Even better, she had a mental map of the access conduits, the dive bars, and the make-out cubbies people used to get around restrictions.

The UN forces may hold most of the stations, the docks, and the jump points, but now the Freehold of Grainne has its own lethal weapon. The Intelligence branch sends a freighter crewed with Blazers, special forces troops. All Angie has to do is lead them through the holes. Responsibility for the explosions and wreckage will be theirs. But war is complicated, and even the most unwilling of heroes can be forged in its crucible.

I will not reveal a whole lot more plot than that, but I will say that “Angeleyes” is much more than what is written here.

Yes, it’s told from Angie’s perspective, but this book is not about Angie per se. Yes, she develops as a character and as a person from a selfish tramp to a true citizen of Grainne who is willing to sacrifice it all for the ideals on which the nation has been founded, and from someone who spent a whole lot of time ensuring she was never close to anyone to someone who found family in the unlikeliest of scenarios.

angeleyesYes, it’s Angie’s story and her development as a person. But it’s also a close examination of heroism, sacrifice, patriotism, rules of engagement in war, the warrior ethos, and the mentality that is necessary to protect the ideals you truly hold dear.

It’s a look – from one character’s perspective – at those who are willing to sacrifice everything for those ideals.

I’ve often asked what you would do in a zombie apocalypse – how far you would go to protect yourself and your loved ones?

“Angeleyes” examines those ideas through a wider aperture.

How far would you go to protect real freedom, your way of life, and your home? What would you sacrifice for your team, your military family?

Most of us would reply that we would sacrifice everything for our country – especially those of us who volunteered to serve in the armed forces – but can you really imagine what that could involve?

“Angeleyes” explores those ideas in very detailed, painful, personal ways, and aside from the action and the fascinating examination of the Freehold war from yet another perspective – one we haven’t yet seen – it’s those ideas that touched me most as an immigrant and an Armed Forces veteran.

 

Dragon Awards: the Aftermath and Beyond

I was going to ridicule Lena Dunham today, but screw her! The Dragon Awards have been announced, and they’re fantastic!!!

First, let me explain. DragonCon took place this weekend in Atlanta, where the very first awards for science fiction and fantasy were presented. The awards were completely fan-driven. You registered. You received a ballot. You voted for your favorites. Your vote was recorded. The winners were announced today! That easy.

Like the Dragon, our recipients are extraordinary and unique. Fueled by the passion for their art, they have spread their wings and soared above us all. Their inner fire, the burning in their hearts and souls, cannot be restrained. Once set free, their work, their fire, has influenced and inspired countless others, burned into our hearts and minds forever.

In the spirit of the Dragon and with infinite admiration, we created The Dragon Award as a token of their individuality and greatness. We are pleased to present all of our award winners with the essence of the Dragon, its fire, suspended perpetually as a permanent reminder of their contributions.

Dragon_Award-221x300There’s no cliquish “No Award” for nominees that didn’t fit a particular mold. There are no nomination rule changes designed to counter bloc voting keep out undesirables.

Fans vote for their favorite. That’s it.

And this year is epic! I’m so excited for some friends of mine, I could squee! There are some categories in which I didn’t vote, because I hadn’t read any of the works, and I don’t play video games or role playing games, but overall, this was terrific! Fans voted for their favorite artists, authors, and works based on what they liked – a truly fan-driven, fan-awarded endeavor.

  • Best Science Fiction Novel: Somewither by John C. Wright.
  • Best Fantasy Novel: Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia.
  • Best Teen/Middle Grade: Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett.
  • Best Military SF/F: Hell’s Foundations Quiver by David Weber.
  • Best Alternative History: League of Dragons by Naomi Novik.
  • Best Apocalyptic Novel: Ctrl Alt Revolt! by Nick Cole.
  • Best Horror: Souldancer by Brian Niemeier.
  • Comic Book: Ms. Marvel
  • Graphic Novel: The Sandman Overture by Neil Gaiman.
  • Best TV show: Game of Thrones
  • Best Movie: The Martian.
  • Best PC/Console Video Game: Fallout 4.
  • Best Mobile Game: Fallout Shelter.
  • Best Board Game: Pandemic Legacy.
  • Best RPG/Collectible/Card Game: Call of Cthulhu.

I just spoke with Nick Cole on Facebook. I have never seen anyone so excited, and I’m SO happy for him! If you haven’t read Ctrl Alt Revolt, go read it. Do yourselves a favor.  He’s great!

Nick Cole: So excited!!!! And thank you thank you thank you for your vote! I never win! What a day!!!!’

Nicki Kenyon: I’m currently imagining you hopping up and down. LOL! Awesome news!

Nick Cole: I was! My wife was doing cheerleader kicks!!!

And do know that Nick was facing some stiff competition, including from a novel I absolutely loved – Marina Fontaine’s “Chasing Freedom,” so you know it had to be good!

I’m so happy for both of them! Both are brilliant authors, so go and read!

I’m not a fan of Game of Thrones. I fell asleep when I tried to watch it. Not my thing. But I know a lot of others like the show, so more power to them!

honorFor Best Horror, I actually voted for Declan Finn’s “Honor at Stake,” and while he didn’t get the award, it’s a book I highly recommend you read. Declan first sent me a copy right before I went in for surgery, knowing I would be laid up and hungry for reading material. I’m SO grateful he did!

I will say, I’m not a vampire fan. Much like zombies, the genre is horribly overdone and difficult to do well and originally, so it takes a lot for me to enjoy a vampire story.

But Declan approached it from a different point of view. He examined the mythology from the perspective of a Catholic, and a doctor. He posed a plausible medical explanations for vampirism and for good vice bad vampires from a religious context.

The sociopath and the vampire – two characters you would expect to be evil (or anticipate one of them would sparkle, if you’re into that sort of thing) – are completely antithetical to what you would anticipate. Their actions define them, not their thoughts or their “nature.” I kind of like that.

evil laughBut putting all of that aside, Declan’s story is fun! It’s fast-paced. It’s action-filled. It’s sweet at times. It’s enjoyable, and it’s not over! There’s another on the way. *insert evil, satisfied laugh here*

If I have one criticism, it’s that the way he wrote the Russian character isn’t exactly accurate, both in language and in speech. But being from that part of the world, I’m picky.

Pick it up. You’ll enjoy it. Trust me.

I’m also experiencing tingly sensations at the fact that Larry Correia – the International Lord of Hate himself – has won the award for best Fantasy Novel! I have “Son of a Black Sword” in hardcover, vice in electronic form. The reviews – deservedly so – are stellar! On Amazon, 78 percent of reviews gave the novel five stars, and an additional 15 percent gave it four stars. Of the one-star reviews one admitted they didn’t read the book, because the Kindle version was too expensive. Another one thought he’d be smart and give it one star for keeping the reader on the edge of his seat! And a third claimed the book was too “sad.”

It’s interesting to note that when fans are legitimately given the opportunity to vote for the works they enjoy, there’s no “No Award.” There’s no wooden assholes. There’s no chortling, cackling CHORFs, snottily snickering how they kept the undesirables at bay.

There are fans. They vote for what they like, and the writers, artists, cinematographers, and others reap the benefits – the gratitude of thousands of fans, who enjoyed the work and wanted to reward their faves with recognition.

And that will inevitably cause the CHORFs to clutch their pearls, gnash their teeth, and snottily declare that the Dragon Awards don’t matter, because they’re not part of that elite clique of haughty Hugo recipients and nominees. They will mumble about how the pathetic Sad Puppies got so trounced, they had to go and start an award of their own, even though that’s a ridiculous contention. There will be slander in the press and on social media. Don’t believe me? It’s starting already. From File 770:

Gee, an award put together by puppies, was awarded to puppies.

Color me shocked. SHOCKED!

Here’s some sour grapes for you from the same site.

Good. The Puppies have been saying since these were first announced that they would be the “real” awards as far as they were concerned. They get to give each other awards, they’ll hopefully leave the rest of us alone, everyone wins. And as it’s a new award, there’s no cultural expectation getting in their way. They can talk on their own blogs about how the Hugos are irrelevant, and we can ignore them.

And more unfounded accusations from the CHORF set, because RABIDPUPPIESSADPUPPIES!

Congratulations to VD. Now he has found an award that actually is run by a cabal (albeit his cabal), maybe he’ll fuck off and leave the Hugo’s alone.

I encourage everyone to go look at the opening page of Somewhither on Amazon. Shocking piece of sophomoric crap.

For Puppies by Puppies, as mentioned above.

Evidence? Screw your evidence? Let’s make caustic accusations without a shred of proof to back them up, because we weren’t a part of this, and because we didn’t get our chance to castigate the puppies (whom we see as a boogie man under every bed) with “No Awards” to prove our superiority.

And then we have this mutant.

crazy

pearlsIt’s all good. I expect these bitter, sad little howler monkeys to hurl their acrimonious turds. It’s what they do in between pearl clutching and insulting those evil non-enlightened juvenile canines with wooden assholes.

It’s about time a real fan award took center stage. Congratulations to all the winners, and the Hugos can keep the assterisks.

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