August 2021

To say we have a busy month is an understatement. This month is so packed with releases that I forgot about a few of the ARCs I’d received. I mean, there is NO WAY I’m finishing them all this month. Heck, I might not get to them all before the end of the year. So there will be some picking and choosing which to read—which is something I really like to avoid. But, oh well. Can’t avoid it sometimes.

ARC

The Godstone – by Violette Malan (8/03)

Untitled Series #1 / Standalone

Goodreads

Fenra Lowens has been a working Practitioner, using the magic of healing ever since she graduated from the White Court and left the City to live in the Outer Modes. When one of her patients, Arlyn Albainil, is summoned to the City to execute the final testament of a distant cousin, she agrees to help him. Arlyn suspects the White Court wants to access his cousin’s Practitioner’s vault. Arlyn can’t ignore the summons: he knows the vault holds an artifact so dangerous he can’t allow it to be freed.

Fenra quickly figures out that there is no cousin, that Arlyn himself is the missing Practitioner, the legendary Xandra Albainil, rumored to have made a Godstone with which he once almost destroyed the world. Sealing away the Godstone left Arlyn powerless and ill, and he needs Fenra to help him deal with the possibly sentient artifact before someone else finds and uses it.

Along the way they encounter Elvanyn Karamisk, an old friend whom Arlyn once betrayed. Convinced that Arlyn has not changed, and intends to use Fenra to recover the Godstone and with it all his power, Elvanyn joins them to keep Fenra safe and help her destroy the artifact.

Shards of Earth – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (8/03 US)

Final Architects #1

Goodreads

Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade him in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers.

After earth was destroyed, mankind created a fighting elite to save their species, enhanced humans such as Idris. In the silence of space they could communicate, mind-to-mind, with the enemy. Then their alien aggressors, the Architects, simply disappeared—and Idris and his kind became obsolete.

Now, fifty years later, Idris and his crew have discovered something strange abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects—but are they returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy hunting for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, that many would kill to obtain.

Devil’s Fjord – by David Hewson (8/05)

Faroe Islands Mystery #1

Goodreads

If the new District Sheriff, Tristan Haraldsen, thought moving to a remote village on the island of Vagar would be the chance for a peaceful life with his wife Elsebeth, his first few weeks in office swiftly correct him of that notion.

Provoked into taking part in the village’s whale hunt against his will, Haraldsen blunders badly, and in the ensuing chaos two local boys go missing. Blaming himself, Haraldsen dives into the investigation and soon learns that the boys are not the first to have gone missing on Vagar.

As Tristan and Elsebeth become increasingly ensnared by the island’s past, they realise its wild beauty hides an altogether uglier and sinister truth.

Paper & Blood – by Kevin Hearne (8/10)

Ink & Sigil #2

Goodreads

There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.

But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.

The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.

Bloodless – by Preston & Child (8/17)

Agent Pendergast #20

Goodreads

A fabulous heist:
On the evening of November 24, 1971, D. B. Cooper hijacked Flight 305—Portland to Seattle—with a fake bomb, collected a ransom of $200,000, and then parachuted from the rear of the plane, disappearing into the night…and into history.

A brutal crime steeped in legend and malevolence:
Fifty years later, Agent Pendergast takes on a bizarre and gruesome case: in the ghost-haunted city of Savannah, Georgia, bodies are found with no blood left in their veins—sowing panic and reviving whispered tales of the infamous Savannah Vampire.

A case like no other:
As the mystery rises along with the body count, Pendergast and his partner, Agent Coldmoon, race to understand how—or if—these murders are connected to the only unsolved skyjacking in American history. Together, they uncover not just the answer…but an unearthly evil beyond all imagining.

The Pariah – by Anthony Ryan (8/24)

Covenant of Steel #1

Goodreads

Born into the troubled kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe is raised as an outlaw. Quick of wit and deft with a blade, Alwyn is content with the freedom of the woods and the comradeship of his fellow thieves. But an act of betrayal sets him on a new path – one of blood and vengeance, which eventually leads him to a soldier’s life in the king’s army.

Fighting under the command of Lady Evadine Courlain, a noblewoman beset by visions of a demonic apocalypse, Alwyn must survive war and the deadly intrigues of the nobility if he hopes to claim his vengeance. But as dark forces, both human and arcane, gather to oppose Evadine’s rise, Alwyn faces a choice: can he be a warrior, or will he always be an outlaw?

Twenty-Five to Life – by R.W.W. Greene (8/24)

Standalone

Goodreads

Julie Riley is two years too young to get out from under her mother’s thumb, and what does it matter? She’s over-educated, under-employed, and kept mostly numb by her pharma emplant. Her best friend, who she’s mostly been interacting with via virtual reality for the past decade, is part of the colony mission to Proxima Centauri. Plus, the world is coming to an end. So, there’s that.

When Julie’s mother decides it’s time to let go of the family home in a failing suburb and move to the city to be closer to work and her new beau, Julie decides to take matters into her own hands. She runs, illegally, hoping to find and hide with the Volksgeist, a loose-knit culture of tramps, hoboes, senior citizens, artists, and never-do-wells who have elected to ride out the end of the world in their campers and converted vans, constantly on the move over the back roads of America.

Inhibitor Phase – by Alastair Reynolds (8/26 EU)

Revelation Space Universe

Goodreads

Miguel de Ruyter is a man with a past.

Fleeing the ‘wolves’ – the xenocidal alien machines known as Inhibitors – he has protected his family and community from attack for forty years, sheltering in the caves of an airless, battered world called Michaelmas. The slightest hint of human activity could draw the wolves to their home, to destroy everything … utterly. Which is how Miguel finds himself on a one-way mission with his own destructive mandate: to eliminate a passing ship, before it can bring unwanted attention down on them.

Only something goes wrong.

There’s a lone survivor.

And she knows far more about Miguel than she’s letting on . . .

Ranging from the depths of space to the deeps of Pattern Juggler waters, from nervous, isolated communities to the ruins of empire, this is a stealthy space opera from an author at the top of his game.

Other Releases

Nolyn – by Michael J. Sullivan (8/03)

Rise and Fall #1

Goodreads

After more than five hundred years of exile, the heir to the empyre is wary about his sudden reassignment to active duty on the Goblin War’s front lines. His assignment to rescue an outpost leads to a dead-end canyon deep inside enemy territory, and his suspicion turns to dread when he discovers the stronghold does not exist. But whoever went to the trouble of planning his death to look like a casualty of war did not know he would be assigned to the Seventh Sikaria Auxiliary Squadron. In the depths of an unforgiving jungle, a legend is about to be born, and the world of Elan will never be the same.

Music

Not aware of any interesting releases this month, but I don’t follow music like I obsess about books—often I don’t pay attention to what’s happening until they’re already out. So here are a couple songs that came out last week. The first is by German alt-rock band Flash Forward, the second by Italian EDM-Celtic-Folk outfit The Sidh. While Syl is a good song and all, if you’ve never thought “what would happen if I added bagpipes to EDM” then Utopia is a must-listen!

btw I’ve noooo idea what’s going on in this video, so don’t ask me, eh?

Gaming

Still working on Disco Elysium as I had a system crash which wiped out all my saves from all my games and I had to start over from scratch. Which… not ideal. It’s taken me some time to get back into it. So four days into my first impression of Disco Elysium I had to restart it. “Disappointment” is an understatement. And not just for this game, but about 90% of my library on the PS4. I have a few online backups but for the most part it’s all gone.

Anyway, I’ve taken to some other Indie games to distract me—a number of which I’m working on posting something about, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ve been playing through Islanders, This War of Mine, Northgard, Fez and Hyper Light Drifter based entirely on what I feel like at any given time. Hopefully more to come on these later!

Currently Reading

The Godstone – by Violette Malan

So far this has been a good read—I’ve some issues with it, I must admit, but I’ll probably still recommend it (at least, judging by how it’s going right now I would). I’m at ~70% mark so probably no review out by the 3rd, though hopefully it won’t be too long a wait.

A Gathering of Ravens – by Scott Oden

This month’s audiobook is sure an uplifting one. A well reviewed grimdark fantasy, it’s something I’ve been after for a while now. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is the right time for it. The world over here is looking slightly bleak, and this isn’t exactly going to cheer me up. But then, who says that’s what I’m after?

Life

Pretty apocalyptic out west. I’ll have to remember to include a photo later this week. There’s a major drought going on, and recently we’ve been plagued with the fires that have been running rampant in California since last year. The only reason it isn’t worst is that winter is a thing here. But as fire season rolls around in 2021 we find that fire season actually started a month earlier than usual and likely won’t be over any time soon. Maybe not even after the first snow—which I genuinely pray happens in August this year. Last year first snow waited til September 5th, but this year we need it more.

The smoke has been awful. In the unhealthy range straight for the last two weeks, it doesn’t look to be letting up any time soon either. Not a great time to work outside. But with half our staff leaving on August 1st, it’s just going to get busier. And I’m behind on reading as it is. With the nine releases this month I’m anticipating—all of which I have copies for—…well, it’s going to be a challenge for me to finish probably around three. At the moment I’d guess the Godstone, the Pariah and… maybe Paper & Blood? I’ve no idea. I guess we’ll see.

And I didn’t even mention COVID yet. Actually, I’m going to skip it. It ain’t looking good—enough said.

Any of these or other releases you’re excited about? Books, games, music, whatever really. How’s the smoke where you live? Anything else new—let me know!

Outpost – W. Michael Gear (Review)

Donovan #1

Scifi, Space Opera, Aliens

DAW Books; February 20, 2018

442 pages (Paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.3 / 5 ✪

Welcome to Donovan.

One of the farthest worlds from Earth, Donovan is as far as one can get from civilization. A beautiful world of forest, it is truly a breathtaking planet, one that the locals adore and fear in equal measure. For while Donovan is gorgeous—paradise it is not. A truly hostile, alien world, everything is trying to kill them. From the quetzals and bems and other apex predators that camouflage themselves to hunt; to the sentient plants that wrap their roots or vines around someone and then garrote or engulf them in flame; to the slugs that burrow their way into people and eat them from the inside-out; to the disease, heavy-metal poisoning, and morale and attrition that affects every colony on the fringes—death lurks around every corner.

While the locals love it, the future immigrants aboard the colony ship Turalon might not agree. After two years crammed in a tin can, they are about to get their first peek at Donovan—and the world does not greet them with open arms. Even neglecting the flora and fauna, the existing pioneers are cold and untrusting of their Corporate counterparts. Even before the ship touches down, tensions arise, only to flare as the colonists get the first glimpse of their new home.

Kalico Aguila is an ambitious and cutthroat executive, sent to determine whether Donovan is worth salvaging. Though it is a world of bounty and treasure, the hostile nature of the place, along with its remoteness makes it a risky investment. That’s even before considering that the last seven resupply ships have gone missing around Donovan, never to be seen again. And so the Corporation have sent Supervisor Aguila—along with her Marine Sergeant Cap Taggart—to investigate and report back. That is, if they can make it back.

Talina Perez represents the hope of Donovan. One of the de facto leaders on planet, it’s up to her and her people to keep the colonists safe from the encroaching wildlife. A task that challenges them constantly. Shortly after the story begins, Talina and her understudy Trish Monagan have an encounter with a quetzal that has gotten inside the colony—an event that will change Talina forever. And when the change starts to manifest itself within her, it could save, or doom her world forever.

Would-be colonists like Dan Wirth just can’t wait to get planetside to start their new lives. But when the planet is Donovan… they might not want to stay very long. Not that Dan is worried. Not that Dan is his real name. A psychopath, “Dan Wirth” is ready to forge a new legacy on Donovan—one he means to pay for in blood.

But when the ship touches down, tensions explode, leaving the two sides at each other’s throats. And that’s even before the lost Freelander mysteriously appears in orbit—a ship that wreaks of blood and death and is stocked with little but bones.

You know the stories that take place on an alien world, or a colony on the edge of civilization, or a town in the middle of nowhere, or any other combination of mysterious, exotic, alien, strangeness and/or the unknown? I really dig those. The unknown—and more specifically what secrets and mysteries are lurking within it—has always fascinated me. It’s why I love science fiction and fantasy so much in the first place.

Enter Outpost, which combines so many of these and adds danger, murderous aliens, psychopaths and a death cult into the mix. And Donovan is such a great setting! I mean, actually Donovan is kinda a terrible setting—for the colonists, at least. But for the reader (and I guess the author), it’s a wonderland, a paradise of new and original ideas, each more wild (and terrifying) than the last. And with the existing colonists, the new would-be colonists AND the existing planetary inhabitants all together vying for control of the planet… well, it’s just a recipe for success. One that Gear delivers on with a fascinating tale of mystery and discovery! There’s even a group of former colonists that just took to the bush and somehow live in peace with all the dangers of Donovan. They’re not around much in Outpost, but look for them in the future, as they’re such an untapped potential.

In general, I loved Outpost! The characters are a great blend of authoritative, renegade, ordered, desperate, experienced vs. inexperienced that it’s great to compare their multiple POVs even when they’re not interacting. And add a wild card to the mix for Dan Wirth, the resident psychopath whose agenda essentially can change at the drop of a hat? It’s really well thought-out, well executed; a great read all around. The chapters are short but immersive. They all weave together quite nicely to form a tale of deceit and lies and mystery and love and adventure. I got major Edge of Tomorrow vibes—particularly with the indigenous life (especially the quetzals), and the struggle against a wholly alien enemy that isn’t well understood. Though I’m not entirely taken with it, it’s a pretty close thing.

Talina or Trish were probably my favorite POVs, with Iji or Tip thrown in as my favorite bit character. But there’s really no going wrong with any of them. Kalico Aguila was also quite strong. Dan Wirth I hated, but in all the good ways. Cap was a bit shallow, if I’m honest, for a POV—but he’s really my one complaint.

I do hate it when characters are killed off just to further the plot, however. Now, when a character dies or has to die over the course of the story, that’s fine. But when they die specifically to set up some kinda plot device—like a whodunnit scenario—it gets to me. Now I’m not saying who dies (and you really shouldn’t be surprised that SOMEONE DIES in this book—Donovan is a scary place, be prepared for everyone to die in this) in case of spoilers. Sufficient to say that someone does JUST to further/create a plot device which is just frustrating.

TL;DR

Outpost is a 450 page gambol (I love that word—it’s like a frolic) that goes by in a blink once it gets moving. I mean, there’s some action, yes. And maybe one or two alien species intent on tearing the humans to shreds. Also something about a death cult. A mystery of disappearing ships. Two factions—no, THREE factions—at one another’s throats. A dwindling crowd of people forced to work together or die divided on a world that seeks to expel them or drink them dry. So… pretty much just a nice frolic. I mean, if you’re into that.

The Emperor’s Railroad – by Guy Haley (Review)

The Dreaming Cities #1

Post-Apocalyptic, Fantasy, Scifi

Tor.com; April 19, 2016

173 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Twitter

3 / 5 ✪

Quinn is a knight of the Angels. Armed with a six-gun and two swords—one for killing the living, another for killing the dead. Abney is one of the last two survivors of New Karlsville (his mother is the other), fleeing for the safe harbor of Winfort. Quinn has agreed to escort them there, for a price.

The world has changed—as you’ve likely gathered. The Great War changed everything. Turned cities to glass, and others to dust. But the world is even more dangerous than just that. The dead do not stay dead. The living don’t stay that way neither. There be Angels, and dragons.

The road to Winfort will be long and hard. But with Quinn by their side, Abney and his mother might just make it.

My second time through this one, and still I think that it took its sweet time getting moving. The world is quite nice when it starts rendering in, but again it takes its sweet time. It’s like a DOS prompt that takes forever to load properly, but once it does is quite enjoyable. Actually… yeah, the entire book is like a post-apocalyptic or fantasy DOS game. The main problem with it is that books aren’t used to being games, and so that first 50 pages where nothing really happens are more of a letdown. Which—if you’ve only got 170 pages to tell a story—is quite a long time to wait.

Okay, okay. SOME things happen in that first 50 pages. There’s the origin story of how all this began—told from Abney’s POV. Now, it doesn’t tell us what happened to New Karlsville. No, that comes later. It also doesn’t tell us Quinn’s story. It just tells us how Quinn and the two refugees meet. Which, to be honest, is a bit dry and a bit light on details.

Once the story gets going, however, it’s quite the tale. Set in quite the world. A fantasy meets post-apocalyptic setting, complete with swords, guns, trains, dragons, angels, and the undead. And there’s more too—some of which you’ll meet should you continue the series. In general, I found the second story preferable to the first, but you’ve got to start somewhere. And it’s good to meet Quinn before getting too far along with his story. Because while this is told from Abney’s POV—it’s Quinn’s story. And not a bad one at that.

The whole thing has kind of a Metro vibe to it (the games, not the books—so a perilous scramble through the apocalypse, not a metaphysical stumble through it), which isn’t a bad thing. Exodus, in case you’re wondering. And if ever you can come close to describing a Metro game in your stories, you’re doing something right.

TL;DR

It’s quite a quick read once you get into it. Quick, but enjoyable. I have the ebook version that I got for a buck; and I’d easily call that worth it. Recently I picked up a paperback from my local library, and it’s more than worth the time spent there. While the Emperor’s Railroad isn’t the best story you’ll ever read, most of that’s down to the sluggish start. I’d recommend it—in part because I know Book #2 is better than #1. While 3/5 means it’s not great, it’s not a bad way to spend a few hours by any means.

The series continues with Book #2 of the Dreaming Cities—The Ghoul King, at the moment the de facto conclusion to Quinn’s adventure. Guy Haley maaay return to the series at some point, but right now he’s busy industriously churning out 40K novels for the Black Library.

Rabbits – by Terry Miles (Review)

Standalone

Thriller, Scifi

Del Rey; June 8, 2021

432 pages (ebook)

Goodreads
Author Website
Rabbits Podcast

4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Penguin, Del Rey and NetGalley for the eARC! Any quotes are for demonstrative purposes only, included to help showcase the level of detail and writing style that the author employs, and may not be included in the final, published version. All opinions are my own.

Jeff Goldblum does not belong in this world.

Rabbits is the debut novel by Terry Miles. Based in the universe of a 10-part podcast by the same name, Rabbits (the book) is a standalone adventure that can be enjoyed without prior knowledge of the game. The game is everything here—not that it makes any sense. At least, not at first.

Enter K.

K is our tour guide to the world of Rabbits—a world that he’s somewhat obsessed with. Ever since the eighth iteration of the game, K’s been trying to find a way in. But with the tenth recently ended, his wait may be over.

Enter Alan Scarpio. The reclusive billionaire—also known as Californiac, winner of the 6th iteration of the game—is in Seattle, looking specifically for him. He needs K to help him fix Rabbits before the 11th iteration begins, or else the entire world may pay the price.

Only a few days after their first meeting, Scarpio disappears. And shortly after that, the 11th iteration of Rabbits begins. But something is undeniably different. Within days several experienced players have gone missing, and something begins to lash out at causality. But is it the game, or is it the universe itself that is broken? And even if K can win the game that’s not a game—will it matter?

But, as they say: Win the game, save the world.

Rabbits, above all else, is utterly addictive, entirely readable, totally immersive, and borderline nonsensical. Honestly, I’ve read few things like it. Books that I needed to keep reading—without fully understanding what the hell was going on.

At the center of this stands Rabbits (the game). It’s basically a series of incredibly unlikely events or concurrences occurring in a pattern, a pattern that leads its players down a particular path that—if they’re good enough—will lead them to something impossible. And this impossibility will do two things: first, provide them with another clue that will allow them to progress in the game; and second, make certain that they will never turn their back on Rabbits again. As I said—Rabbits is utterly addictive. No more so than to its players.

My first impression of Rabbits is that it’s like The Matrix crossed with the God Game, combined with a heavy dose of Fringe. Shortly after finishing Rabbits, I did two things. One—I started rewatching Fringe (if you haven’t seen it I can’t recommend this enough). And two—I watched the Matrix. If you haven’t seen Fringe, that’s bad enough, but if you haven’t seen the Matrix, you’ve been wasting your life. Right. Anyway. Here’s an example.

Enter the Matrix.

About six and a half minutes in, the following iconic scene begins.

Wake up, Neo…

The Matrix has you…

Follow the white rabbit.

You know what happens next. But let’s say it doesn’t. Instead of following the rabbit to a club playing Rob Zombie, let’s say he follows it to a Blockbuster. There, after losing sight of her, a display of an original copy of Michael Collins catches his eye. Of course, he buys the VHS of Michael Collins because lead man Liam Neeson once played the lead in another period piece—Rob Roy, about the folk hero, Rob Roy MacGregor. “MacGregor” being the Scottish spelling for “McGregor”. As in “Mr. McGregor”. Neo takes home the movie and watches it, but instead of Michael Collins, the tape turns out to be a copy of Looney Tunes episode “Haredevil Hare”, the cartoon which famously introduces Marvin Martian. From there, everything proceeds as you’d expect. Or does it? For after watching Haredevil Hare for the 3rd time, Neo notices a disparity between the episode he remembers and what he sees. You see, in the mockup of the Daily Snooze, the fictional newspaper which once proclaimed “Heroic Rabbit Volunteers as First Passenger”, Neo instead sees the headline “Seattle Bar Reopens After 16 years as a Mime studio”, which he uses to go to a bar, order a Harvey Wallbanger, go home with a redhead girl named Jessica, and find the “Night of the Lepus” poster she has in her flat. A movie also known as “Rabbits”. Upon removing the poster from the wall, Neo is confronted by a strange phrase, scratched into the wallpaper: “The Door is Open.” (After which, presumably he takes the blue pill, falls asleep, wakes up, and then the regular movie begins.)

And that’s a crash course on how to play Rabbits. You follow seemingly random yet somewhat connected clues around the city, until they lead you to another clue, an impossibility, or a mention of the word “Rabbits”. The phrase “The Door is Open” is also popular, so that’s there too. And on and on the rabbit-hole goes until eventually you either win, die, go insane, or crash from lack of sleep, malnutrition, scurvy, and whatever else.

But with the uncertainty here regarding the improbability of patterns and events, just how sure can you be that you’re playing the game? Well… you can’t. At all. And while the patterns and clues and chase makes Rabbits an intoxicating read, the uncertainty and obscurity makes it incredibly frustrating.

For the longest time, I had no idea what exactly was going on in Rabbits. I had absolutely no trouble reading on, because I wanted to figure out where it was all leading. The good news is that as the story progresses, you’ll eventually get a better sense of how Rabbits works. Once you do, it’s a pretty thrilling adventure.

That is, until the conclusion, which goes a bit strange. Well, stranger. Think the Matrix: Revolutions crossed with the later seasons of Fringe strange. Yeah—it’s that bad. Don’t get me wrong, the ending is good. But the conclusion is nuts.

Other than the story (which I think I’ve covered quite enough), the characters are what makes a book great. The characters of Rabbits are… pretty good, actually. K is the only POV, and he’s a pretty good one. I actually came to care a good bit about K and what happened to him. The supporting cast is… a mixed bag. Mainly it’s Chloe, who is equally strong. I would’ve liked a little bit more backstory on her, but she has more than enough depth and development that I cared about her right alongside K. Otherwise, nobody else really stands out. I mean, most of the supporting cast is made up of hipsters—so “depth” might be asking too much. Or it could be that no one other than those two is around long enough to make a lasting impression. Not that they die or anything; they just fade in and out.

TL;DR

While at times a bit complex and convoluted, Rabbits is an immersive and entertaining thriller set in a near-present Earth. Though it only really features two main characters (and one POV), both are written and fleshed out quite nicely. Even after it’s over, Rabbits leaves a lasting desire for more—so much so that I immediately watched the Matrix, and then started bingeing Fringe (two of the outlets that it most reminded me of). The reason to read Rabbits, however, lies in its story. A story surrounding a game that’s so exclusive, so obscure, that it’s difficult to even know for sure that you’re playing it. But once you figure out the game that’s not a game (which you will, if you stick with it), Rabbits provides a fast, intoxicating chase down the narrow alleys and rain-slick Seattle streets. A thirst for adventure mingles with the sense of impending doom. If you fail, you might just die. But if you win—win the game, save the world.

The Apocalypse Seven – by Gene Doucette (Review)

Standalone (?)

Scifi, Post Apocalyptic

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; May 25, 2021

363 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin, Mariner and NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

When the world ended, it wasn’t with a bang. It was with more of a… blah.

Thus passes the Whateverpocalypse—the end of the human race, where cities fall to ruin and the entire planet becomes overgrown. There seem to be no survivors, except those few that overslept the end of the world, awakening only after everything had already ended.

Carol and Robbie are students at Harvard—both freshmen, they awaken to find their dorms deserted and Cambridge around them in ruin. While Carol had spent her last night in, Robbie had gone out drinking. Neither remembered the world ending, but Robbie didn’t even recall stumbling home. And while disoriented, he’s barely in the dark at all compared to Carol—as she’s blind and all.

The two soon run across Touré—a twenty-something coder, and the only person excited by the prospect the end of the world presents. With him in tow, the group soon adds Bethany, a teen with a mysterious past and a helpful skillset (all of which suggesting a record). As they explore the ruins of Cambridge, the group soon discovers that the end of humanity is only the beginning of their poor luck. There’s also the lack of power, the packs of violent boars choking downtown, the freakish weather (including hailstorms, tornadoes, snowstorms and heat waves all in the same week), not to mention the horse-sized wolves.

Elsewhere, the world is little better. Paul is a non-denominational preacher living in backwater Vermont. He awakens to the apocalypse on Monday but it takes the man til Sunday to notice anything wrong. Once he does, he discovers a voice on the radio—the last sign of human life he’s seen. Soon he sets off for Boston, eager to meet Ananda, a former MIT adjunct, who remains picking through the ruins of her former campus for clues. Also there’s Win—an olympic hopeful stranded in the countryside. All leads eventually point to Boston, where the Apocalypse Seven might eventually meet, if they can survive the Whateverpocalypse long enough to find one another.

And even then, it’ll take all their combined effort to not only discover what ended the world, but to survive what comes next.

I do love a good apocalypse now and then. This one does it all without any undead, too, which is impressive. I was getting major Last of Us vibes from this—not so much the story, but the world. Those stolen moments between the cutscenes where nothing’s actively trying to kill you. The decaying, overgrown cities. The wildlife just milling about. The quiet. For the most part, this was a quiet apocalypse. One that provided a good premise, and then just let the story unfurl until The 7 (my shorthand for the survivors) finished filling it in. I can’t say enough about how much I loved the story. It combines a physical sense of loss and deterioration with the struggles of its survivors. Carol is missing her seeing-eye dog. Everyone’s lost family. Some are away from home. None are in their comfort zone. Mental breakdowns co-mingle with physical hardships. Loss with hope. The mystery of what’s befallen the world brings them all together, focuses them on something other than just trying to survive (well, except maybe Touré). And throughout it all there’s an undercurrent of lively—sometimes silly, sometimes dark, always entertaining—humor. Lots of jokes seemingly off the cuff. In conversation. During emergencies. At the literal end of the world. It all goes together exceptionally well—which I loved.

Despite this being the end of the world, it never seems all that hard to survive. I mean, there IS everything that’s trying to kill The 7 all the time, but otherwise. They’re helpfully stocked with Noot Bars—your lembas from LotR, grot from the Faithful and the Fallen, and a number of other things from other places. Noot is basically an foodstuff that never goes bad, has all the nutrients a body needs to live, and leaves something to be desired in the taste-department. So… basically an MRE. And since the young’uns are all stocked up, they’re not likely to starve to death. Win and Paul can hunt, but this is mostly glossed over shortly upon being introduced. Ananda’s nutrition is barely even addressed. I honestly would’ve expected a lot more survival from this story, but there’s comparatively little. It’s a tale more about the mystery, the strange happenings, and the atmosphere.

And the end of the world atmosphere is strong. It kept reminding me of the Last of Us or the like: huge sprawling metropolises empty of people, overrun by animals, overgrown and haunting as hell—except with out all the zombies. No zombies. Just the end of the world, and whatever happened to cause it. I have to say, while I eventually called the ending, the big reveal was nowhere near done after one twist. There were a number of other details that made the whole thing worth it twice-over, even though I did pretty much guess the overarching mystery. And even if you wouldn’t read this for the mystery of what happened, it’s a well-written apocalypse tale with a tense, spooky atmosphere and wolves the size of horses—recommending it is pretty much a no-brainer.

I would recommend skipping the epilogue. While it may provide a little closure, for me it raised more questions than it answered. And as I assume this is a standalone—you don’t need that in an ending. Everything was all well and truly wrapt up before—don’t ruin it.

TL;DR

The Apocalypse Seven is a thoroughly enjoyable post-apocalyptic science fiction dystopian set in a world teeming with life. Just empty of humanity. No undead, no super mutants, no robotic overlords. Just an overgrown world with desensitized wildlife and wolves the size of compact cars. And the mystery of how it got that way. Only seven survived (The 7) and they alone set out to solve this new world or die trying. Possessive of a tense, haunting atmosphere; a strong and immersive mystery; an all-too human cast complete with both strengths and weaknesses; and another twist even when you assume all’s been said and done—the Apocalypse Seven presents an excellent post-apocalyptic scifi and executes it just as well. While there’s comparatively little survival in terms of the Pincher-Martin-level I expected, the mystery and tension carries the story more than well enough. There’s little to hate about this one, and a lot to love.

Murder By Other Means – by John Scalzi (Review)

The Dispatcher #2

Scifi, Mystery

Subterranean Press; April 30, 2021

192 pages (ebook)
3hr 33m (audio)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Subterranean Press and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Times are tough. Even as a dispatcher, Tony Valdez is forced into taking some gigs he otherwise might not have. Jobs in a legal grey area. After one of these, Tony takes his earnings to the bank, only to get himself embroiled in a robbery. A robbery involving a person Tony is quite familiar with—a dispatcher, like himself.

But it’s only when the robbery goes wrong that this peculiar fact is brought to light. When the dispatcher dies—he doesn’t come back.

It’s only then that Tony finds out that this particular death may not be so peculiar after all. In fact, several dispatchers have died recently. Died and stayed dead. And for reasons neither Tony nor anyone else seems aware of, he may soon join them. But how do you kill someone when 999 out of 1000 people murdered are magically restored to life? The answer is to murder them… by other means.

The second Dispatcher novella, John Scalzi returns us to a world without murder. A recession has infected this dystopia, and Dispatchers aren’t the only ones struggling to get by. Tony Valdez plays lead fiddle in this once again, with some few returning characters from the first entry. Again the text is dialogue heavy, but this doesn’t flow quite as well as the first one did. The story isn’t quite as immersive, nor does it seem as polished as it did the first time around. In fact, it seems a little like a rush-job. The premise itself is still a good one, however. And given this interesting world to explore—especially how one goes about murdering someone without actually doing the murdering—even a less polished product will do.

The detective story itself, ironically, I found better than the first. There was more suspense and intrigue, as opposed to the first where I called the ending inside the first half hour. This time I hadn’t a clue what was going on until at least the halfway mark, which made it all the more interesting. It was the back and forth with Detective Langdon that ruined it for me. In fact, I didn’t like either of their characters as much this time around. Tony acts a bit too much of a little-goody-two-boots, despite his less-than-legal behavior throughout much of the books. I found it more than a bit hypocritical.

Now, it’s still a good story, still a good read, still a good time—I just didn’t like it as much as the original. As far as whether I’d recommend it… mostly, yeah? The Subterranean Press copy is quite nice, but I don’t think it’s worth $40. The ebook version comes in at $6 (or £4.35) which is much better. The audiobook is free on Audible—and it’s hard to beat free.

The Alien Stars: And Other Novellas – by Tim Pratt (Review)

Axiom Universe

Scifi, Novellas

Watkins Publishing; April 27, 2021

238 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Angry Robot and Watkins Media for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Fresh off my first Pratt novel Doors of Sleep, I decided to give his Axiom universe a go. This omnibus collects three novellas all set in said universe, and presents a debatably good intro to the series itself. Or does it?

The Augmented Stars

Delilah Mears joins the crew of the Golden Spider, a scout vessel on a hush-hush mission out onto the fringes of known space. To her, the Axiom are nothing more than a myth: a race of pseudo-Reapers that haunt the galaxy, laying waste to any civilization they come across. So when it turns out that the mission itself is to investigate a cosmic anomaly—one that may or may not be an Axiom death trap—she’s caught a bit off guard. But upon setting out, the mission parameters aren’t the only surprise in store for Mears. Space pirates, rogue A.I.s, and myths come to life feature in this action-packed novella.

…which was generally interesting—and served as a good intro to the Axiom universe, even though I’m told it contains spoilers for the books. The novella starts off on the right foot; an adventure to the edge of space, a mysterious captain with quite a sense of humor, an interesting new galaxy to explore. From here, we go to the equally mysterious anomaly, get boarded by space pirates—enough to tie off any adventure nicely. The ending was a bit of a letdown, and I do think Pratt could’ve drawn out the suspense (and length of the novella) a bit more, but all in all it was an enjoyable adventure told in a bite-size portion.

3.5 / 5 ✪

The Artificial Stars

A.I. and Trans-Neptunian Alliance President Shall receives a strange message from a past version of himself that he thought had been re-absorbed into his consciousness and destroyed. The request: come to the edge of the universe to see something important—if he doesn’t, the universe will be destroyed. So Shall convenes his cabinet to decide how to handle the threat before ultimately setting out to meet it.

I just could never take this one seriously. From the outset, it runs like a cheesy scifi series one-off. An AI splits his personality and it eventually gets away from him and decides that it is the real consciousness and he the copy, so we get the gang together and set out on a harebrained adventure to stop it. But first, the presidential cabinet rehashes some of their past adventures together, like a full-on knockoff of the A-Team. From there everything carries on predictably. This is something that fans of the series will ultimately probably enjoy, but I found it ridiculous, cheesy, and stupid.

1.0 / 5 ✪

The Alien Stars

Lantern, an important figure among the aliens known as “the Free” or “the Liars”, recounts a harrowing personal journey she undertook to confront her ghosts from her past, nightmares from the present, and specters that only the future could hold. The story is told via a number of letters sent to her star-crossed love and human friend, as she goes up against a threat to the galaxy—one that she is uniquely designed to fight, one that she fully expects to claim her life.

It’s actually quite touching, this one. Again, I felt like Pratt could’ve really drawn it out a bit more: heightened the tension, atmosphere, mystery—and that the story would’ve been better for it. As it is, the Alien Stars reads reasonably well, and ends much better than either of the others before it, but not before tugging a bit on the heartstrings on the way out. This one I found had the slowest build, but ultimately the best conclusion.

4.25 / 5 ✪

TL;DR

All in all, I would like to reassess my previous statement that this omnibus would be a good jumping-off point for the Axiom universe. The novellas all contain spoilers for the main series, so it’s probably not a good place to start if you think you’d like to read the Axiom trilogy. Also, while there’s a bit of hand-holding, this is more the type of thing that existing fans will enjoy more than newcomers. But for a newcomer like myself: one decent read, one good read, and one dud. I suppose it’d not bad, but if you’re really interested you should probably start with the Wrong Stars.

Fugitive Telemetry – by Martha Wells (Review)

Murderbot Diaries #6

Scifi, Novella

Tor.com; April 27, 2021

176 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Tor, Tor.com & NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Warning: Contains spoilers for Murderbot Diaries #1-5

Fresh off Murderbot’s first full-length novel, Fugitive Telemetry returns to the novella format which takes place prior to the events of Network Effect, but after those of Exit Strategy. So just forget about all the things you’ve probably forgot about already and let’s get started.

When a dead human is left in the middle of one of the main corridors of Preservation, it’s up to Murderbot to find the culprit before they kill again. Or, you know, before more humans whine to it.

The first question: did Murderbot kill the human?

No, it didn’t. And if it did, it wouldn’t leave the dead human out in the open.

But—in a shocking twist—since Murderbot has the most experience with dead humans, it is tasked with helping the port authorities discover the real killer before they kill again.

I’d forgotten how much I missed this. It’s really hard to remember just what the first couple novellas really excelled at (as they both presented a likable, antisocial non-human, yet oh-so human lead) when there’s been no letdown. All the novellas were good, as was the feature-length novel. But Fugitive Telemetry exceeds all expectations. Here is a Murderbot in its native habitat—solving a mystery with some would-be allies who don’t trust it, stalking a shadowy killer before they strike again.

It gives the same vibe as All Systems Red or Artificial Condition—the first few novellas, back when it was still a Rogue SecUnit surrounded by enemies—but with more pert and polish to the writing, the story. For who could be the murderer? It could be anyone: GrayCris, come to finish the job; another rogue SecUnit, come to meet the legend; random humans, serial killers, aliens—it could literally be anyone. Except Murderbot. At least… it doesn’t THINK it did it, but how would it know? It’s named MURDERbot, after all. And if its human “allies” were to learn this, they’d probably suspect it to. And so it has to find the killer so it can go back to watching media in peace, without being interrupted for every dead human that turns up.

The last thing that I’m going to mention is Murderbot’s character arc. It went on quite the progression through the original four diary entries. From a nameless, faceless AI soldier to a rogue and killer. Then to a would-be savior, a freedom fighter, a mercenary, a consultant, then finally a trusted friend. Network Effect rather missed out on adding to this arc. Now, there’s some progression there, sure, but there’s almost as much regression. Fugitive Telemetry—set before the events of Network Effect—continues the original character arc, presenting a character more reminiscent of what appears in the later novel. And, as much as I’d like to know what happens after the events of the novel itself, I think Murderbot still has a bit more to tell before we come to that.

And yet, there’s an problem. I have one problem with Fugitive Telemetry. ONE. The price is ridiculous. $12 ebook, $18 physical for a 170 page novella is just stupid, no matter how good it is. Ebook prices being what they are… it’s not the time or place to get into this. Sufficient to say that $12 is too much for an ebook, a novella—even one as outstanding as this.

The Dispatcher – by John Scalzi (Review)

The Dispatcher #1

Scifi, Novella

Subterranean Press; April 20, 2017

128 pages (ebook)

2hr 18min (audio)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4 / 5 ✪

Taylor Barnes was the first to die. About 8 years prior to the present, he and his wife were in Iceland celebrating their anniversary. Unbeknownst to him, she had been having an affair and was preparing to leave him, but had been unable to summon the courage to confront him about it. And one day while out hiking in Iceland, she finds a workaround—and pushes Taylor off a cliff to his death. The next thing he knows, Taylor wakes up at home: confused, disoriented, but very much alive.

Soon after murder victims stop dying, soldiers start waking up at home after being shot or blown up, death row inmates cheat death the moment their sentence is carried out. In 999 out of 1000 cases, those murdered come back to life. After 8 years, there’s a whole system to the chaos.

Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher—a professional assassin tasked with humanely disposing of people in the throes of death. But not all Dispatchers are so conscientious. As with any profession, this one harbors a dark side, where its purveyors exist in a moral grey area. When a fellow Dispatcher goes missing, Valdez teams up with the police to find his friend before it’s too late—and while doing so is forced to confront all the dealings his fellow Dispatcher had his hands in. But while he may cheat death the first time, even Dispatchers aren’t immune when a natural, non-violent death comes a-knocking.

For the most part, I found the Dispatcher a lovely read with an engrossing story, a concise conclusion, and an interesting, well-thought-out premise. It’s a fairly short read—only a little over two hours (if you go the audio route and 1x speed)—and I would’ve liked to see a bit more from the world before being whisked away. While the mystery is a rather compelling one, it’s hampered by the time constraint, and everything seems to come to Valdez a bit too easily because of this. We’re presented with the issue, then we learn about it, and arrive at the conclusion. There’s very little detective work, chasing leads, ghosts, or dead ends.

This may not be the detective story you’ve always wanted. The one that turns your brain inside-out before ultimately blowing your mind as it concludes its journey. But it’s interesting, entertaining, and leaves no thread un… unthreaded? Seeing as how there is light at the end of the tunnel, I’m happy to give this a recommendation. With another Dispatcher novella coming out soon (through Subterranean Press—though it’s already out in audio), we may yet be able to explore more of the world, and jump back behind the eyes of Tony Valdez.

One Day All This Will Be Yours – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Review)

Standalone, Novella

Scifi, Time Travel

Solaris; March 2, 2021

192 pages (ebook)

4.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Solaris, Rebellion and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own. All quotes are subject to change in the official publication. Don’t blame Rebellion, or me if they do.

One Day All This Will Be Yours is a love story for the ages.

Kinda.

I mean, there’s some sort of romance within, along with plenty of ages (since time travel and all), and it’s definitely a story, so there’s that. The rest of it basically answers the question: What would happen if a sentient nuclear warhead fell in love? Could it forever deny its baser instinct to eradicate life, or would it… boom?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Stalin and Hitler is cheating.”
“I don’t see why. Achilles is cheating, he never even existed.”
“Says the woman with three Jack the Rippers.”

The fight’s begun by then. It is…
Strangely hilarious.

Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s literally no one to remember—except for me. And I’ve forgotten.

See, the thing about screwing with causality is that eventually, it’s really hard to remember where the start of things and the end of things actually was. And that was before we broke time.

While I don’t remember who started the war—much less whose side I was on—I was the one to finish it. Then I tidied things up as best I could and came here, to the end of time itself. There was no place left for me where I’d been. Or should I say, “when I’d been”. But with time irreparably broken, there was only one place to go. And only one thing to do: see that it never happens again.

This is one of those stories where we never learn the narrator’s name. But his name’s not all that important, to be honest. Probably doesn’t even remember it himself. That’s the thing about causality and time-travel; it really messes with the old noodle. Sufficient to say he’s a time warrior—the last of his name.

The concept works really well. A time warrior, trying to prevent another time war before all of time is destroyed. Or, MORE destroyed, I guess. It being a time travel story, it made my head hurt if I tried too hard to sort everything out. The good news is: the book never tried very hard to sort everything out. Didn’t even really take itself seriously. Oh, there’s a plot, and a story, and they’re both lovely to boot. But it’s filled with tongue-in-cheek, sarcasm, and dark humor. Combined with the detailed, if not intricate, plot—it makes for an entertaining, intense, and often hilarious read.

[We] have a fine old hoot watching Hilter get chased round and round a field by an allosaur. It’s very therapeutic. And the thing about allosaurs is they can run really quite fast, and the thing about Hitlers is that they can’t, not really, or not for very long.

And that’s all before the love story kicks off.

I won’t say much about that, just that… it’s certainly something. I mean, I would totally read more romance novels if they were like this.

While the ending makes for a bit of a letdown (again, no spoilers), One Day All This Will Be Yours is another excellent example of the author in novella form; quirky, creative, unique, and incredibly entertaining.

TL;DR

One Day All This Will Be Yours is the idea time-travel novella—not too intense, not too serious, not TOO hilarious, but just enough of all those combined. Also, entertaining. Very entertaining. My personal choice for the greatest love story of all time (pun intended), the time warrior’s adventure is by no means boring before he meets his perfect match. And while there is a bit of a slump at the very end, ODATWBY provides a unique, amazing take on time travel, and causality itself. Definitely recommended!

And if you haven’t read any of them by now, Tchaikovsky is making a habit of putting out one or two novellas a year through Solaris/Rebellion. My most recent favs have included Walking to Aldebaran and Firewalkers. Look for him later this year with Shards of Earth, a full-length novel from Orbit, and Elder Race, a novella from Tor.