It’s a little bit strange that this is a new book because it feels a lot like something I might have read in the 1970’s.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
In the not too distant future, it will become nearly impossible to kill someone. 99.9% of the time, when someone is intentionally killed, they come back – their bodies disappear from where they were “killed” and reappear at their home, naked, in bed. Only death by natural causes or true accidents are otherwise permanent. No one knows how or why this has happened, but it has definitely changed everyday life in many ways – including the creation of a job as “Dispatcher” … someone who ‘kills’ people for pay so that they can be reset for whatever personal reason they might have. (Let’s say someone is in surgery and something goes wrong … ‘dispatch’ them so that the don’t actually die, allowing doctors to try again.)
But while some old problems have gone away, some new problems arise. What happens when a ‘dispatch’ goes wrong and the target actually dies? Who is responsible? And if you wanted to really torture someone now you could torture them to death, have some goons waiting for the body to reappear, take the person and keep up the torture.
Enter Tony Valdez, a licensed and bonded Dispatcher. When a fellow Dispatcher is kidnapped, local police call upon Tony to help them understand the Dispatcher job and to navigate some of the Dispatcher shortcuts to getting a job done.
What a great, almost obvious, idea. I mean, so many people today play video games in which a character ‘dies’ and their life is reset to a home base (or at least reset to somewhere presumably safe) – why not take this into the ‘real’ world?
The book, and particularly the character of Valdez, have all the hallmarks of a Scalzi story – some irreverent humor and some scathing satire. And if you read Scalzi, chances are this is just what you are looking for.
Unlike many of his other books, this one is almost 90% detective mystery, with a sci-fi setting. He does this well, though for such a short book (a novella or even novelette, actually) we spend perhaps too much time setting up the world and the main character before we get to the mystery.
I understand that this was written with the intention of being an audio piece – read by Zachary Quinto. While I may have missed any specific inflections that Quinto may have added, because I read this rather than listened to it, I think it stands just fine as s short sci-fi mystery. It’s also quite a clever world and I’m eager to read the next volume and wish that Scalzi would return to this series.
Looking for a good book? John Scalzi’s The Dispatcher, originally written for audio and now published in a special edition by Subterranean Press, is a clever sci-fi mystery with all the loveable wit and gruffness that Scalzi brings to his books.
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author: John Scalzi
series: The Dispatcher #1
publisher: Subterranean Press
hardcover, 130 pages
Humanity was given access to a greater section of the universe when an alien race gave us access to 29 wormholes, bringing humans to twenty-nine new star systems. What the alien race never mentioned was that another race of beings, now known as the Axiom, controlled every other system in the galaxy. The Axiom are an aggressive, dominating race, but fortunately they’ve been asleep since humans gone out to the new systems.
When communication from the 29th wormhole/system has gone silent most assume it the result of internal strife. But Captain Callie and her crew of White Raven have heard that there might be something else happening at 29 – something that would be much more devastating to humanity – and so they pay a visit and discover humans who have been grafted with all manner of additional and strange limbs and other parts. The Axiom, it seems, are awake and running a human harvesting facility and making plans to attack full force.
This is the third book in author Tim Pratt’s The Axiom series, and just as with the first two, I found this to be some really fun space opera. In my review of the previous book I mentioned that the stakes were about as high as they could get and having high stakes was a key ingredient in space opera. Now, of course, I see that the stakes could get higher … and do.
There are some twists and turns along the way in this book. Just as we think we know someone and how they will react, they tend to surprise us. Some people will step up and make some life or death choices.
One of the things that stood out to me here is the action level. Pratt ramps up the actions and we have some all-out slug fests that are really page-turning. High on threat level, high on action, with characters who are flawed heroes – just what we need in some really exciting sci-fi.
Looking for a good book? Tim Pratt’s The Forbidden Stars is the third in his Axiom series. This one is a fast-paced thriller with mad-scientist-like aliens bent on taking over the universe.
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The Forbidden Stars
author: Tim Pratt
series: Axiom #3
publisher: Angry Robot
paperback, 400 pages
Our government is at war. With fast food.
We are in what might be best described as the future in an alternative timeline in what was once the United States of America. The Northeast has seceded and the rest of the country is now run by “the electoral descendants of King Mike, a man who made it his mission to form a country based on good, clean living.”
And what happens when something becomes illegal? There becomes a black market for those things. Wes Montgomery is a journalist at the last actual paper newspaper in the union (now called the Federation). When he’s not covering the news, he’s making it, as a bacon and egg dealer on the side. He gets caught by the local constabulary but Detective Blunt has bigger fish to fry and wants to use Wes to get at the biggest illegal food dealers in the Federation.
Wes will be watched closely by Detective Hillary Halstead, who falls for his charm (and his steaks) and the two get intimately close. Together they will face the dangers of the underworld and enough gut-filling foods to film a feature-length dining scene ala Tom Jones.
I really loved the idea of this book, and the on-point pertinent satire. We’ve had leaders declare a war on drugs, a war on communism, war on immigration, war on business monopolies. How much of a stretch is it to suggest someone might declare a war on junk food – particularly in light of the fact that Americans are generally more obese than those of any other country and Americans also consume more junk food than anyone else.
Once the novelty of this idea wore off, however, the book began to sag a bit. Wes’s slow, dry manner made it hard to keep up the energy needed to stay interested. What’s in the next chapter? More Food? more sex? And this is different from the other chapters how…?
This was fun, but I feel it would have been better off with tighter editing and a sharper focus toward the end.
Looking for a good book? Bacon and Egg Man by Ken Wheaton is a clever dystopian novel that follows in the footsteps of satire novels such as Catch-22, Candide, and Slaughterhouse-Five but doesn’t quite live up to these literary giants.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.
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Bacon and Egg Man
author: Ken Wheaton
publisher: Premier Digital Publishing
paperback, 274 pages
From the publisher’s description, as found on Goodreads:
After the Nova-Insanity shattered Earth’s civilization, the Genes and Fullerenes Corporation promised to bring humanity back from the brink. Many years later, various factions have formed, challenging their savior and vying for a share of power and control.
Glow follows the lives of three very different beings, all wrestling mental instability in various forms; Rex – a confused junkie battling multiple voices in his head; Ellayna – the founder of the GFC living on an orbital satellite station and struggling with paranoia; and Jett – a virtually unstoppable robotic assassin, questioning his purpose of creation.
I think that’s all you really need to know, although the description does go on.
Three beings wrestling mental instability, including a robotic assassin questioning his purpose. Uhhhh…. That alone would suggest that either this is going to be a wild, Philip K. Dick-like tale or a messy conglomerate of ideas. The possibility of the former is what had me excited to read it, but unfortunately it came across as the latter.
There’s a lot going on here … a LOT … but that shouldn’t be a detriment to the story – it should enhance the reader’s desire to put it all together. Unfortunately it is a detriment. We get bogged down in the weight of this world and all the information that we have to receive in order to make sense of it all.And somehow there’s characters in here, involved in the story, but I never felt I got to know them and I certainly cared even less about them.
A big chunk of the plot revolves around ‘Glow’ – a nanotech drug. While there was a pretty interesting facet of this drug (the ability to survive from host to host, carrying portions of the previous host(s) into the next host), I really couldn’t shake the feeling that this was so familiar.
Drugs and drug use in science fiction is not a new concept but it does feel as though we’ve suddenly seen a rash of ‘tech drugs’ in recent sci-fi and I can name three that have come from publisher Angry Robot (Ramez Naam’s Nexus series; Ferrett Steinmetz’s Flex series [okay … not a tech drug, but a high-profile drug around which the series is based]; and Amanda Bridgeman’s Salvi Brentt series’ drugs).
‘Glow’ didn’t feel new and creative but rather a slightly creative rehash of what has gone (recently) before.
Looking for a good book? Glow, by Tim Jordan, is a science fiction novel that tries to encompass too much in a wildly inventive manner and the result is a difficult to read mess.
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author: Tim Jordan
publisher: Angry Robot
paperback, 400 pages
There was a time when I wouldn’t have even considered reading a military fiction book, even military science fiction. But the descriptions I had seen for Sean Danker’s Admiral looked really appealing to me so I thought I’d give it a read. I’m glad I did.
A ship in deep space has for sleepers (individuals in a cryogenic stasis) aboard. They are members of the Evagardian Imperial Service. The ship loses power and brings the individuals out of their sleep. They all seem a bit groggy and unfamiliar with one another. The last to wake is in a sleeper pod bearing an admiral’s insignia. And so the individual takes command over the other three (an ensign, a private, and a lieutenant). But is he really an admiral?
They find themselves stranded on a planet, their supplies running out, no way to send a distress call, and their limited sensors indicate they may not be alone. Can someone who may or may not really be an admiral command this small team and keep everyone safe until help arrives? Will the three others support and follow the one they think is possibly an admiral? Why did their ship suddenly lose control? Where are they and is anyone else near?
Sean Danker has written a powerful science fiction mystery with a great deal of suspense. There are some shades of Alien here, but this story is much more about the four protagonists. Who are they? Who are they to one another? Who are they to those who sent them out on the ship?
The action is intense and because we get to spend some time with each of the four protagonists we get to experience their concerns and fears, which compounds our own. I felt as though we never really know what is happening, but that puts the reader in the same position as the characters. This helps us empathize with them, creating an intense experience.
This book was Danker’s debut, and he really hit a homerun. There are now six books in the Admiral series as I write this and I’m definitely going to go look for the next one right away.
Looking for a good book? Admiral, by Sean Dankers, is a solid, suspenseful, sci-fi mystery, well worth reading.
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author: Sean Danker
series: Evagardian #1
publisher: Ace Books
hardcover, 309 pages
It is 1952 and World War II is over, but it’s still fresh in people’s minds. And when you’re an ace fighter pilot who worked privately for a secret branch of the U.S. government, you’re now out of work and looking for excitement. Samantha “Sam” Moxley is that fighter pilot – a dominant woman in a male-dominated service. Sam steps up and takes charge when things get tough and she thrives on adventure. Now she realizes that the organization that she once worked for, known as “The Nine,” has to be stopped from getting their hands on a special key that leads to the renowned Hall of Records.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
There’s a new space station about to be commissioned and there will be many high-level dignitaries arriving for the dedication. A ship on the way to the ceremony experiences catastrophic explosions, ripping the ship apart. Fortunately, a maintenance in the area is able to rescue the passengers and they are able limp along to a habitable moon while they wait for rescue. But is the moon already inhabited? Are there unknown dangers?
Teen Jedi, Vernestra, is among the survivors. She is currently charged with protecting her padawan, a young inventor (Avon Starros) and J-8, Starros’s unusual droid. The two will face a number of tests, challenging the youth to stay the course and trust in the Force.
The writing is crisp and there’s plenty of intrigue and action to keep young readers engaged. And having our protagonist a young girl is a sure-fire way to get all genders of young readers interested.
I’m not particularly well-versed in the Star Wars world but I know that there are many dedicated fans who know all about and regularly discuss (argue) Star Wars canon. In fact, I don’t much care one way or the other what is ‘canon’ – I just want to read a good story. But knowing just the little I do about this world, I have to wonder about the idea of having a fifteen or sixteen year old Jedi Knight. Not as a padawan, but a full-fledged Jedi. Great for selling books and maybe even a Disney television show, but as part of their ‘official canon’?
As a book, this works just fine. This doesn’t have to be set in the Star Wars universe – this could be any teenage sci-fi hero. We get plenty of teen concerns – doubts about their own abilities and trying to find their way in an adult world while still struggling with the awkwardness of coming out of childhood.
How this fits in the Star Wars: High Republic universe, I have no idea, but that’s not part of my milieu.
Looking for a good book? A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland is a good middle-grade sci-fi adventure book that happens to be set in the Star Wars High Republic universe.
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A Test of Courage
author: Justina Ireland
series: Star Wars Disney Canon Junior Novel, Star Wars: The High Republic
publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press
paperback, 240 pages
What happens if you don’t make your payments on the starship you’re flying? It gets repossessed, of course. But what does it take to repossess a starship? Firstname Lastname is about to find out.
Firstname Lastname is a young woman (and yes, that’s really her legal name, due to a clerical error, but she goes by “First”) who is one of the very few humans left in the universe (a botched invasion of Earth left both the invaders and humanity nearly exterminated) and she’s wandering, looking for work wherever she can find it. Often that comes by way of jobs that aren’t exactly legal. She’s hijacking cars and selling them to a fence when she finds herself caught in a trap specifically to catch car hijackers. But this trap isn’t set by law enforcement, but by an individual pulling together a crew of skilled thieves to work as a legal (but just barely) team repossessing starships.
It takes some time for the team to adjust to, and trust, one another, but they find a common bond in wanting to truly be legit, and they respect each others’ talents. First may finally have a home and a family.
This is a fast read that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is light space opera (think Guardians of the Galaxy without the cute raccoon and tree or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) with a wafer-thin plot. In fact, the plot feels more like a set-up for future stories because we don’t get much here other than an introduction to the characters as individuals and as a team. We get a sense of what they are capable of but what they are doing never feels as important as how it affects their relationships.
I quite enjoyed author Patrick S. Tomlinson’s ‘Children of a Dead Earth’ series (is this a recurring theme in Tomlinson’s work … a dead earth?) and was really interested in reading this new series. I like Tomlinson’s writing style but we’ll need to see more plot and less forced humor for me to continue with future volumes.
Looking for a good book? Starship Repo by Patrick S. Tomlinson is a quick, light space opera that doesn’t offer much interesting story but does set up some fun characters that will hopefully be challenged in future books.
author: Patrick S. Tomlinson
series: The Breach
publisher: Tor Books
paperback, 336 pages