The A-Men – John Trevillian

January 15, 2011

I love this blog.  Really, I do.  I get to share my opinion about books and any other random thoughts I want with all you wonderful readers, and people send me books to review.  Seriously, they just send them to me.  It’s great, especially when they are good books.  Occasionally they are only mediocre books, or entertaining but not thought provoking books, or would be great with better editing books…so yeah, there is a downside, since I still feel obligated to read and post about them (fortunately I have yet to receive a bad book).  But that isn’t the case today.

Today I finished reading The A-Men by John Trevillian, the first book in a trilogy.  First of all, he has the coolest name I’ve run across in a while.  Second, he has a fast paced writing style that kept me interested the whole time – this is one of those books I finished in one day.  There were no lags, no places where it seemed like a good time to take a break.  In fact, my little guy was wondering why I had my nose in the book all day!  And third, he has created a cast of characters that keep me guessing.

The A-Men is set in a future Earth, in a dystopian society where governments are largely useless and a handful of major corporations run the world.  The book cuts between five major characters, each chapter focusing on one of them.  It is told from first person point of view, but each chapter is titled with the name of the character who is speaking, so it is less confusing than you might think.  There is D’Alessandro, a scientist developing the X-Isle project – using the brain of a whale to power an organic computer and create a new sort of virtual world – unaware that most of ‘civilization’ has left Earth and moved into massive space stations orbiting the planet.  And Pure, a young woman on the ground who gets caught up in the collapse all around her.  And Sister Midnight, a soldier trying to survive after being sent to keep order on the planet while the corporations pulled out, then abandoned by her own leaders.  And 23rdxenturyboy, an experiment in combining human and animal DNA – more human than not, he escaped from the lab he was being held in along with another prisoner.  And lastly, Nowhereman, also called Jack, who erased his own memory after setting himself up to be in the group of soldiers sent planetside.   The characters are eventually brought together as they struggle to survive, and to understand their situation.

The A-Men is action packed and exciting, and while it may not be deeply thought provoking, it will certainly keep the mind busy with all it’s twists and turns.  My only complaint is that it ends rather abruptly, with a lot of unresolved issues.  So if you read The A-Men, plan on reading The A-Men Return and A-Men Forever as well.  I certainly do.


I Am Number Four – Pittacus Lore

August 15, 2010

Did you like the tv series Roswell?  Then I Am Number Four should be right up your alley.  Four is definitely aimed at the teen crowd, featuring teens as the lead characters, lots of super-powered action, and a fair bit of young love.  It is supposedly authored by Pittacus Lore, who is actually a character in the book.  (Neat shtick, I’ll be interested to see how it plays out in the long run.)

Four starts with a teenage boy and a man in a hut in the jungle.  The man is killed, the boy runs for his life, but he doesn’t make it far.  We then cut to another teenage boy at a pool party in Florida, who suddenly has a burning pain around his ankle as a charm warns him that another of his kind has been killed.  This is our introduction to Number Four, who we come to know as John, an alien refugee whose race was nearly exterminated by a terrible enemy race.  His race, the Lorien, is divided into to castes that worked together – the Garde, who have special abilities, the Cepan who help and teach the Garde, and run the government of the planet.  Nine Garde children escaped on a ship to Earth, each with an adult Cepan to protect them and teach them until their abilities or legacies manifest when they are teens.  It appears they are the only Loriens left.  We follow John and his guardian, Henri, as they continue to run and hide, waiting for John’s legacies (read superpowers) to develop and preparing for the day when they will fight to reclaim their planet.

As his powers develop, John begins training to fight the enemy – the Mogadorians.  He also manages to fall in love with a human girl and become best friends with a schoolmate who believes his father was abducted by aliens.  Henri remains vigilant, always watching for signs the Mogadorians may have found them, even as John begins to resist the idea of running again.  News comes from an unusual source – John’s alien obsessed best friend has a newsletter that has an article about Mogadorians planning to invade Earth.  When Henri goes to check it out, the Mogadorians pick up their trail and they and their human friends have to fight for their lives against a horde of alien monsters.  That fight by sucking the life out of everything around them – their weapons are literally powered by the life force of surrounding trees and plants.

The plot is a bit far-fetched, a lot more fantasy than science fiction, but it is fast paced and easy to read.  There is enough allegory to support a deeper read if you work for it (the Mogadorians attacked the Lorien to steal their resources because they poisoned their own planet but still refused to give up their lifestyle and develop different technologies – their planet died despite the influx of materials from the conquered planet) and there are some touching moments between fight scenes.  There is also a good hook to lead you into the next book – it is obviously a series.


Inferno – Todd Riemer

August 6, 2010

What would Philip K Dick and Stephen King’s love child look like if it grew up reading 1984 and watching Saw movies?  Probably a lot like Inferno by Todd Riemer. There is the decaying dystopian society with requisite brutality and opression, a demon spirit and the ghost of a dead lover caught between two worlds, and well-crafted though rather graphic scenes of torture and abuse.  This book is not for the faint of heart but it does have nice, tight prose and good imagery.

The hero of our story, Blum, tells us of his experiences through flashbacks and real time narration.  We first meet him in a dream (which honestly put me off a bit, because I didn’t realize it was a dream at first and it seemed incomprehensible, but eventually I read past the first page and it started to make sense).  We discover he has been imprisoned for years for rebellion against the oppressive regime that murdered his lover, who was at the time pregnant with his child.  We follow him through escape, return, capture, resistance, and another insurrection.  Along the way we discover he is being manipulated by a demon spirit called the Midnight Man who hopes to corrupt Blum completely so that he can take the Midnight Man’s place as a tortured and miserable ruler of hell.  The Midnight Man holds the ghost of Blum’s lover hostage in the fires, where she will remain until Blum kills her murderers, thereby freeing her to be reborn into a new life.

Inferno is Riemer’s first novel, and is self published.  Most of the time I am leery of self published books, because they tend to have grammar and punctuation errors that drive me nuts – more so than books from major publishers with copy editors.  I was pleasantly surprised that that was not an issue with Inferno, although it has a unique, almost stream-of-consciousness, style that took some getting used to.  Once I adjusted to the style, I quickly got caught up in the imagery of the book.  If you enjoy dark stories and don’t mind graphic violence, this is a good read with redemption and a little nugget of hope at the end.

For those of you who prefer a multimedia experience, Riemer also has a website here for all things Inferno.


Don’t Panic – Neil Gaiman

October 25, 2009

So I got another book review request, this time by an actual well known author!  Go me!  And on top of that, it is a book about another really great author.

Don’t Panic is the story of how The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams came about.  It is very funny, filled with personal anecdotes from the man himself as well as many others who were involved with the series in some way – whether the radio version, TV, movie, books, records, merchandise, computer game, or just by virtue of being near Adams at some point during the process.  It is also written in a style that borrows from the tone of Hitchhiker and apparently from Adams – always slightly bemused, as if it can’t believe this ever actually happened. 

As a poor, uneducated American, I had no idea how many versions and spinoffs there were of the original radio series.  I mean, there’s a Hitchhiker’s computer game?  Who knew?!  I also had no idea how many popular British actors, comedians, TV and radio people were associated with Adams or Hitchhiker’s.  Some of the people mentioned I had not even heard of, though apparently they are quite famous across the pond. 

I am normally not a fan of ‘the making of” type books, but Don’t Panic is done in such a way that, rather than destroying the mystery of Hitchhiker’s, it adds to it, giving the impression that Adams’ life (lived entirely on Earth as far as I know) followed the same haphazard pattern of the series.  If you are an Adams fan, this book is a great addition to your collection.  My next task in the sci fi world will be to reread the entire series with a new eye for detail and an increased appreciation for the randomness that went into its making.  Maybe the Dirk Gently books too, just for the heck of it.


Necrolysis – Crispy Sea

August 16, 2009

This is another book I found on Authonomy, although I believe it has since been removed.  The author was kind enough to let me read the whole book, since I got hooked on it while it was available on Authonomy.  Although it could still use a little polish – there were a few spots that were overdescribed and the occasional misplaced punctuation mark on my last reading – the story is great.

 Necrolysis is set in the relatively near future, in a world struggling to deal with serious environmental problems which have made the survival of the human race questionable at best.  However, many of the worst problems are being dealt with by a company headed by a genius named Martha English.  With Martha in the lead, the company has made great headway in reducing pollution and improving medicine and longevity.  They have developed a number of new technologies including nanobots that virtually stop aging and ‘trees’ that eat contaminants in the water and air.  Things seem to be moving along swimmingly, until Martha’s second in command, Emerald McKenzie, discovers that some of the company’s facilities are secretly being used to murder citizens and harvest their parts.  Emerald uncovers a conspiracy to replace these citizens with brainwashed clones – a conspiracy led by Martha herself.  Emerald and her boyfriend go on the run and start a group called SurvivorS to try to fight back against Martha’s conspiracy.

 This is definitely not a PG book (there is a lot of violence, cursing, and a fair bit of sex), but for us grown ups it is a fast paced sci fi thriller with lots of interesting gadgets thrown in.  I definitely recommend it, and I hope it is available in bookstores soon.


Bimbos of the Death Sun – Sharyn McCrumb

August 9, 2009

Yes, really.  That is the actual title of the book, and I read it anyway (on the recommendation of a friend and after hubby read it first and verified it was worthwhile).  It is quite good, title not withstanding.

So, there are no actual bimbos or death suns in the book.  In fact, I can’t really say it is a science fiction novel at all.  It is a murder mystery set at a science fiction convention (a con).  The victim is a famous science fiction author, Appin Dungannon, known for his terrible temper and for his hatred of any fan who doesn’t look like the stereotypical bimbo of a death sun.  The hero of the story is an engineering professor who wrote a fictional story about a theoretical engineering problem, which was turned into a little known sci fi paperback titled – you guessed it – Bimbos of the Death Sun.  Our hero, Dr. Jay Mega, gets suckered into being a featured guest at the con as 2nd string to the famous author Dungannon, by his girlfriend, Dr. Marion Farley.  She is an English professor at the same college, and a recovering fan herself.  The bad guy – well, that you have to find out for yourself.

The novel exploits the quirks of fandom, and gives spot-on descriptions of your typical uberfans found at any con.  It is also clever, and at times even witty, and the mockery is done with love, in true fan style.  (Anyone who has been to more than one con knows the fans mock each other mercilessly, though not for things mundanes would consider mockable.  Or even comprehensible, most of the time.)  I highly recommend it as a quick, enjoyable read, good for a little variety when you are overloaded with science fiction.  And I’m currently reading the sequel – Zombies of the Gene Pool.


Agent to the Stars – John Scalzi

June 12, 2009

In my continuing effort to read every book Scalzi has published, I picked Agent up from my local library.  I actually read the foreword (normally I skip them – they tend to be boring) and was pleased to discover this is the first novel he wrote.  It is a funny story, with a lot of Scalzi’s typical humor, which was good since that is a large part of why I read his stuff.

Agent to the Stars is the story of humanity’s introduction to an alien race for the first time.  The aliens are highly intelligent, ethical, and just want to be friends.  The problem is that they look like our collective worst nightmare – talking piles of goo – and they smell worse.  They first became aware of humanity when they started receiving our television signals decades ago, and have been studying us based on tv ever since.  So, of course, when they get here to meet us, they are aware that they have a PR problem.  And what do you do when you have a PR problem in the television age?  You hire an agent to sell you to the masses in the best light possible.

Enter Tom Stein, an up-and-coming young agent in LA.  He gets the unenviable task of figuring out how to introduce humanity to these talking piles of goo that look like the bad guys in many a sci fi movie in such a way that humanity accepts themas friends.  He also gets to be the 2nd person on Earth to make contact with actual aliens (his boss at the agency being the first).  I’d say that’s a hell of a perk.

This is not an action book, and there isn’t a lot of high drama.  But it is fun, and funny, and a quick read for a night relaxing at home.  Or a day at the beach, which is where I read most of it.


The Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler

June 3, 2009

The only previous Butler I have read is Lilith’s Brood, which was very definitely science fiction, so I was expecting a very definitely sci fi type of book this time too.  That’s sort of what I got…

The Parable of the Sower is set in a near-future dystopia where the United States has pretty much fallen apart.  There is rampant poverty, environmental disaster, homelessness, violence, and drug use, and the few who try to maintain the old way of life live in walled communities and venture out as little as possible.  The story is centered on Lauren Olamina, a 15 year old girl living just outside L.A. when we first meet her.  She lives in on of the poorer walled communities, but her community has food and water, and some of the adults even have jobs that pay money instead of food or other goods.  Lauren sees the trend toward ever increasing violence, and doesn’t believe the sanctuary of the walled community will last.  Her father is a Baptist minister, but she finds his faith unfulfilling in the face of the horrors around her.  She begins to develop her own religious belief system which she calls Earthseed. 

Lauren’s fears of her home being destroyed are realized when her community is attacked by addicts one night and the entire community is burned, and most of the occupants are brutally killed.  Lauren and two others escape from the wreckage, and decide to make their way north to what they have heard is a better area.  Along the way she continues to develop Earthseed and share it with others.

The book is sci fi in the sense that it is set in the future, and there are a few technologies that while possible today are not available.  However, there are no aliens swooping down on us – either for attack or rescue.  There are no super-technologies to solve all our problems, and no super-humans with special powers either.  There are only people, struggling to make it through a nightmare world, and occasionally trying to make it better.  With Octavia Butler’s writing skill and command of language to back it up, it’s enough.


The Last Theorem – Clark & Pohl

May 18, 2009

The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clark and Frederik Pohl is a clever little story about a young Sri Lankan mathematician named Ranjit Subramanian.  Early in his life Ranjit becomes obsessed with Fermat’s Last Theorem (which I admit I don’t understand at all) – it is a mathematical proof which A 16th century mathematician named Fermat supposedly solved but never published or apparently wrote down anywhere.  Mathematicians ever since have been trying to recreate the proof.  Due to circumstances largely beyond his control, Ranjit winds up being jailed in a foreign country where he is tortured before being isolated for many months.  During this time he returns to the Last Theorem as something to occupy his mind, and actually figures it out.  He is of course eventually rescued and publishes his proof.

At the same time progressively more dangerous weapons are being tested all over the world, producing effects which are eventually noticed by aliens.  These aliens take a dim view of species developing both war like tendencies and advanced technology, so they decide to exterminate humanity while their rapidly improving weapons are still primitive enough to be no threat.  Humans, of course, have no idea the aliens even exist, much less that they have noticed Earth and decided to take such drastic (at least from the humans’ point of view) action.

All of this is set against a modern landscape of wars, political conflict, and general disregard for life.  The book is quite current, having been published in 2008, which adds realism often lacking in classic science fiction.  On the other hand, it was written by two of the biggest names in classic sci fi and has the sense of style and scope found in older sci fi literature.  It was an easy and enjoyable read that also raised questions about our continuing development as a species, should one feel inclined to contemplate such weighty matters.  (It also used lots of big words and intellectual-sounding phrases, which may have influenced the tone of my review ;).)  I wish these two had done more together.


Ghost Brigades – John Scalzi

May 9, 2009

Ghost Brigades is the follow up to Old Man’s War, which I read a while ago but apparently did not review (it’s really good).  Although both are set in the same universe, and Ghost Brigade occasionally refers to events that occurred in Old Man’s War, it is not really necessary to have read the one to enjoy the other.  Though it does add that extra something.

The Ghost Brigades are super soldiers, and not just any super soldiers.  All the human soldiers in this universe are 75 year old humans from Earth who get brand new upgraded bodies with increased speed and strength, synthetic Smartblood, and other nifty toys.  But the Ghost Brigades (aka Special Forces) get all sorts of experimental upgrades as well, and they are built from the DNA of adult volunteers who died before they were able to be taken off planet for their basic training.  While the “realborn” soldiers have their 75 year old minds transferred into new bodies, the Ghost Brigades are born into adult bodies with brand spanking new minds and no previous experience.  Fortunately they have built in computers in their heads to provide them with needed knowledge until they gain their own experiences.

The story revolves around an impending war between humans and 3 alien races who suddenly and for no apparent reason stopped fighting each other and started conspiring against humanity.  A Special Forces mission to gain intelligence about this new situation reveals that a human has turned traitor and is working with the aliens.  And of course it’s not just any human, but a brilliant scientist who was working on military technology before he turned traitor.

Since I hate giving spoilers, I’ll stop there with the plot description.  The book is well written, clever, and uses some cool tech ideas.  I especially enjoyed the stuff about consciousness transfer.  There are a few info dumps early in the book that were a little irritating since I had previously read Old Man’s War and already knew the info.  Of course I might feel differently if the info had been new to me.  Like Old Man’s War, this book takes a fairly serious tone, but glimpses of Scalzi’s wicked sense of humor peak through.

Overall I highly recommend this book, as well as Old Man’s War, and pretty much anything else written by John Scalzi.


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