Kingdom of Needle and Bone by @miragrant (aka @seananmcguire) #vaccination #apocalypse #antivax #pandemic

Kingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant

Very often science fiction is used to explore contemporary controversies through an artificial window of time — imagining some value system extrapolated to an extreme. This short novella does that. Sort of. It’s not symbolic, it’s not allegorical — it’s pretty much an on-the-nose attack of the anti-vaccination movement. One imagines that if the author had set out to write an anti anti-vax book, it would have turned out much like this.

Poor vaccination rates open a window to Morris’ Disease — an extra lethal version of measles. People die in the millions. And that’s just the beginning. Dr. Izzy Gauley is struggling to hold together her medical practice in this new reality, until she discovers that the worst is yet to come. Izzy realizes that the very survival of humanity is at stake and takes steps to protect who she can — all while hiding a dark secret of her own.

The writing here has a clinical, detached tone that fits the main character and the situation well. It does, however, hold back the potential emotional impact of the story. On top of that, this is a very short book. There’s simply not time to dwell on feelings and sensations.

It does, however, provide a striking vision of a worldwide pandemic that is all too realistic. Medical details are laid out clearly and plausibly. Moreover, this isn’t some far-off future world of flying cars and killer robots. It’s a world just like our own. This story could take place next year, next month — or tomorrow.

  • Rating: 4-stars
  • Length: 30,000 words
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Drugs: Vaccinations?

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Review: Station Eleven by @EmilyMandel #post #apocalypse #traveling #symphony #cult

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Why are we so fascinated by stories about the end of the world? Maybe it helps us appreciate the comforts of civilization that we usually take for granted. Or maybe our world has become too rigid, our roles too neatly scripted. Throwing it all away and starting over from scratch can seem like the only way to reach our full potential. I imagine most readers secretly imagine they’d hunt for food and fix abandoned machinery and battle bandits just as competently as the characters in these stories, if not more so.

While much of the novel is set 20 years after the deadly disaster, there are frequent detours to other times. We see the character’s lives before and during the plague — but not necessarily in that order. Through these non-chronological scenes we see the wide array of characters connect and reconnect in unexpected ways. It creates the feeling of pieces of a puzzle falling into place one at a time.

This particular story dwells much less on the actual ending of the world than on the aftermath. Much of the action is set 20 years after the deadly plague that almost wiped out humanity. The dust has settled and people are gradually rebuilding. As a result, it’s not a story about surviving — but a story about living. A frequently quoted line from Star Trek gives the novel a slogan of sorts: “Survival is Insufficient.”

  • Rating: 5 stars
  • Length: 88,000 words
  • Sex: No
  • Drugs: Nah
  • Violence: Some

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Review: The Armored Saint by @MykeCole ‏#Fantasy #Military #Dark

The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

This is a dark, ominous fantasy story set in a world ruled by fear. On the surface there is the fear of magic and demons. Below that, however, there is a more immediate and earthly fear — the fear of the militarized religious order meant to protect against magic and demons. These zealots roam the countryside killing with impunity.

As the novel begins, it’s difficult not to see these holy knights as the villains of the story. They have clearly been corrupted by their unquestioned power. Whatever protective mission they may have once had now seems little more than an excuse to brutalize the innocent.

The novel also takes an unexpected foray into LGBT rights. We see a character deeply infatuated with a person of the same gender, and another pining for a lost love. We are also told, however, that such relationships are strictly forbidden. It’s a risk to even talk about such things — once again the unquestioned authority of religion casts a long shadow.

But this isn’t really a story about the evil of religious dogma or the importance of sexual freedom. The events of the climax muddy those waters a bit. It still feels like a story with a message, but not a message that’s quite as straightforward at it might have seemed at first. This is the first book in a planned trilogy, so we may have to read further to really understand the author’s point of view.

  • Rating: 4.25 stars
  • Words: 56,000
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Drugs: No
  • Continued in The Queen of Crows

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Review: Blackfish City by @sentencebender #scifi #distopia #nanobonded #orca #city

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller

This novel presents a future that is both wholly original and, somehow, reasonably extrapolated from the present. Ecological disaster and war have rendered much of Earth’s land area unlivable. The story is set in a massive floating city — imagine an oil drilling platform multiplied 1000 times. They have unlimited geothermal energy, the latest technology, abundant resources. It could be a utopia. Instead an elite few have manipulated the system for their own benefit, while the majority barely survive.

The story begins with threads from an array of different characters. We see life on the floating city from a variety of perspectives. At times it seems almost random and haphazard, but in time we see that these characters are connected in unexpected ways. We come to know the characters and individuals, so their eventual connections have much more impact.

This is also a novel that presents queer topics — same-sex relationships, non-binary gender — quite openly. There isn’t the “token gay” character. Rather the gender/sexuality spectrum is simply a part of life. It’s one thing about this dystopian world that feels refreshing and optimistic.

  • Rating: 5 stars
  • Words: 92,000
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Drugs: Some

Review: Dread Nation by @justinaireland #zombies #althistory #civilwar #race #ya

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

You might think the zombie thing is played out, but not so. This book manages to breath new life (forgive the pun) into the zombie trope by imagining the American Civil War interrupted by dead soldiers rising up and attacking their former comrades. This is only slightly more horrifying than what actually happened…

As the book opens, the country is beginning to emerge from the resultant chaos. Politicians are telling people the zombie problem is Under Control. But is it really? As you might imagine, mayhem ensues.

The story is fast paced and exciting. Our heroine is a young woman trained in the techniques of zombie combat and she gets plenty of chance to put those skills to use. But why does she receive this training in the first place? Because in this version of America, people of color are used as human shields against zombies. The zombie apocalypse is unrealistic, of course. But the rest is sadly believable.

For a novel set so far in the past, this story is surprisingly relevant to the present. I think that is because it deals with the fact of racism in a clear and unflinching way. Racism is not represented as an occasional evildoer with a chip on his shoulder. Instead it is an institution, bent on keeping a whole people down.

  • Rating: 5 stars
  • Length: 120,000 words
  • Violence: Yep
  • Sex: Strongly Implied
  • Drugs: No

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Review: Annihilation by @jeffvandermeer #SouthernReach #AreaX #thriller #scifi #ominous

Annihilation: A Novel by Jeff Vandermeer

Some books are unsettling. This book begins with unsettling and branches out from there. From the very first pages there is a sense that things are not how they seem. Secrets are kept. Lies are told. Danger is lurking. The question is not whether these explorers should be afraid, but what should they be afraid of most: the wild and uncivilized landscape? The mysterious organization that sponsored the mission? Or each other?

The sense of foreboding comes from some pretty clear hints in the text — “only the surveyor would last more than the next day or two,” is hard to miss — but also from the style of the writing. Vandermeer’s prose here is elegant, but just a notch off. Think beautiful, lyrical language that doesn’t quite make sense.

The entrance to the tower leading down exerted a kind of presence, a blank surface that let us write so many things upon it. This presence manifested like a low-grade fever, pressing down on all of us.

The novel is told from the first-person point of view, which isn’t generally my favorite. Here, however, the unreliable narration becomes a plot element in itself. The layers of mystery unfold gradually — or not at all — engaging the reader’s interest to the very last page.

Speaking of that, this is the first book in a trilogy. There are plenty of unanswered questions left to motivate you to go get the next book. This story, however, manages a satisfying dramatic arc better than most. You feel like reading more, but you don’t feel cheated by what you’ve read.

  • Rating: 4.75 stars
  • Length: 63,000 words
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Drugs: Spores?
  • Continued in Book 2: Authority

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Review: The Incident Under the Overpass by @anne_mcclane #paranormal #romance #nola

The Incident Under the Overpass by Anne McClane

Since her husband passed away, Lacey Becnel has been hiding from life rather than living it. Life, however, becomes very hard to ignore when she meets Nathan, a dreamy guy who also happens to be the target of a murderous conspiracy. On top of that, Lacey appears to be developing magical powers!

You might expect that this murderous conspiracy stuff would be the focus of the novel, but in reality the mystery of Lacey’s strange, new powers occupies most of the story. There is also will-they/won’t-they romantic subplot — actually, at least two. The murdering and mayhem is pushed to the back burner for much of the book.

That’s okay, because Lacey and her journey make for good reading. Wounded by both her husband’s unexpected death and his unexpected (and frequent) infidelities, Lacey is unsure of herself and her place in the world. As the novel opens, she is in a serious rut. As she moves through the story, we see Lacey grow as a person and find a little of her mojo. Her process isn’t finished by any means, but Lacey takes important steps toward becoming her best self and that is gratifying to read.

The writing style is simple and straightforward. The setting, New Orleans, comes to life. Details and description serve the story, not the other way around. It was fun to read. There are quite a few references to comic book characters which I found odd, considering 12-year-old boys aren’t in the target audience for this book. But I guess the Incredible Hulk has become an important cultural touchstone while I wasn’t looking. Overall this is a fun story with a vivid setting and engaging paranormal elements. Read it!

  • Rating: 4 stars
  • Length: 130,000 words
  • Violence: Moderately Bloody
  • Sex: Dramatic and Explicit
  • Drugs: No

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Review: Song of Edmon by @adam_mouthsoff #scifi #combat #martialarts

Song of Edmon by Adam Burch

This is something of a meandering, epic adventure. The poor main character, Edmon, goes from one disaster to another for the whole book. The plot is mainly a long series of awful things happening to this one guy. Just when you think he might be figuring things out, something else comes along and slams him down again.

The setting, however, is quite well fleshed-out. The story takes place on a planet with the same rotational and revolutionary period. As a result, the same side of the planet always faces the sun. You would think the day side has a great advantage, but not so! In a stroke of unbelievably (I mean that. It’s really not believable) bad luck, most of the planet’s land area is on the dark side. The daysiders live out their lives on tiny islands in the middle of vast ocean, while the more technologically advanced and powerful nightsiders gather in vast cities along the sunset strip.

These nightsiders have a bit of a violence fetish. Their system of government seems to be based on trial by combat — the most capable fighters ascend to the aristocracy, while the rest die or live out their lives in shame. The wealthy elite hold onto their power by training their sons in martial arts from the time they are old enough to walk. Commoners — most of the time — don’t stand a chance.

Initially Edmon, our hero, isn’t really into this Hunger Games stuff. He wants to be a musician. One after another, however, the brutalities of his life push Edmon further and further into violence. He is soon living for revenge above all else. He has been so frequently betrayed and attacked that he’s not entirely sure who exactly he wants to take revenge on, but he knows he wants revenge.

Eventually, Edmon learns some super wicked Kung-Fu from a blind master and is in a position to open a can of whoop ass on his enemies. But has he learned anything in all his suffering? Is becoming a fearsome monster really his destiny?

Music is a running theme throughout the novel. Edmon pursues a musical career, yes, but it underpins everything. Edmon learns the see the musical rhythms of fighting. Even his mystical fighting powers, he finds, rely on the music of the vibrating strings of matter itself. It’s a kinda neat analogy, but doesn’t really make up for the overall bleak story.

  • Rating: 3.25 stars
  • Length: 160,000 words
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: Explicit
  • Drugs: No
  • Continued in Roar of the Storm available January 2018

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Review: Secondborn by @Amy_A_Bartol #scifi #dystopian #action #romance

Secondborn by Amy A. Bartol

This novel starts off feeling a lot like Divergent by Veronica Roth. There’s a futuristic society divided into functional areas. There’s a young woman who leaves behind everything she has ever known to venture out into badassery. There’s the dreamy guy who keeps showing up, but whose feelings are mysterious.

This story, however, throws in a wrinkle in the form of hard-core primogeniture. Firstborn children inherit all rights and privileges. Secondborns are basically sent into indentured servitude. Third or forth born are targeted for extermination. You essentially have a wealthy elite living the high life on the backs of their younger siblings.  Talk about dystopian.

This is an original and intriguing idea, but I wonder how it would work in practice. Each family can only have one secondborn child after all — I don’t think that would be enough population to create a permanent lower class. Remember the 1% got to be the 1% because there are only 1%.

The story is fast-paced and exciting, but sometimes the main character felt ill-defined. What is she doing? Whose side is she on? Also this novel suffers from a serious case of Book-one-itis. Many things are presented that don’t become relevant within this story — presumably they are setting up events for the next books in the series. Also there isn’t really an ending or resolution. The plot merely pauses to wait for the next book to come out.

Altogether, this is a good choice for someone looking for a new series of dystopian, romantic adventures with a kick-ass female protagonist. But if you weren’t in line to see Divergent on opening night, this book might not be your favorite.

  • Rating: 3.5 stars
  • Length: 110,000 words
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Drugs: No
  • Continued in Traitor Born available April 2018

 

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Review: Amberlough by @Larazontally #spy #thriller #retrofantastic

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

This is a novel about a nation disintegrating — and bringing people and relationships with it. Amberlough is a fictional city in a fictional world at the height of a Jazz Age-esque decadence. The people of Amberlough have tremendous freedom — not just political freedom, but the freedom to be themselves. Rigid gender roles and sexual dogma aren’t even on the radar. It’s an interesting study in what a society could be like without the moral biases we are so used to. But it can’t last!

The citizens of Amberlough, you see, are too complacent. Rampant corruption is eating away at their institutions, leaving them ill-prepared to repel internal and external enemies. For a reader, the intricate ins-and-out of political intrigue are a bit overwhelming at first. This world is created in great detail and — being a world created out of whole cloth — all of those details are brand new. People, places, political parties, rivalries, institutions. All things you’ll need to learn. But don’t worry! You’ll pick it up in no time.

The novel presents an engaging spy thriller set against a backdrop of a world unraveling. It’s a beautiful, colorful world, created here only for us to watch it destroyed. The sort of place you wish you could visit — if not actually live in. In its destruction you see how fragile goodness can be — in people and in society. But you also see that resistance always rises up.

  • Rating: 5 stars
  • Length: 124,000 words
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Frequent but not Explicit
  • Drugs: Dealing but not Using

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