Category Archives: Reviews & Interviews

Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells

It has a dark past—one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more. Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue. What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…

 

I moved Artificial Condition to the top of my reading list after getting the approval email from NetGalley because I absolutely love The Murderbot Diaries. Wells’ writing is superb, and her wit and subtle snark shines in the form of a rogue SecUnit who would probably slay humanity if only it could finish watching the future’s version of Netflix.

In Artificial Condition, we see more of Eden’s world, and the behind-the-scenes politics and machinations that push the story forward. I love that although Eden can totally murder all humans, it’s still afraid of other sentient constructs. She and ART bond over their love of space soap operas, and Eden’s allies increase.

Eden needs allies, because its rouge slaughter of the miners doesn’t hold water, and the truth just may be more criminal than the story. Humans are so much worse than Eden originally thought, and as Eden examines the artificial condition, so too must we examine the human condition.

Artificial Condition is another home run from Martha Wells, and the wait for Rogue Protocol will be a difficult one. Five stars, get it now!

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Books of the Raksura series, the Ile-Rien series as well as YA fantasy novels, short stories, media tie-ins, and non-fiction. Her most recent fantasy novels are The Edge of Worlds in 2016 and The Harbors of the Sun in 2017, the final novel in The Books of the Raksura series. She has a new series of SF novellas, The Murderbot Diaries, forthcoming from Tor.com. She was the lead writer for the story team of Magic: the Gathering’s Dominaria expansion in 2018. Her work has appeared on the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Award ballots, and her books have been published in eleven languages.

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All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern. On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is. But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

What’s not to love about a misanthropic robot that might destroy humanity, if only they didn’t create such wonderful holo dramas? I think that my favorite aspect of the Murderbot Diaries is that Eden could totally kill all humans, but, like, meh. In a world of highly skilled humans, we often end up doing only what is required in our job because there’s no incentive (other than losing our job) to do more. Oh how I relate to Eden and ter loathing of humanity. How many times have I been at work, and wished that I were Netflixing or reading a book instead.

In All Systems Red, we get the backstory of Eden and ter sordid past as an ineffectual murderbot. Ter really does care about the humans that te is expected to protect. Te doesn’t have to protect them, because of the hacked governor, but te does it out of a sense of professional responsibility.

I enjoyed All Systems Red, and look forward to reading more offerings by Martha Wells, especially more Murderbot Diaries. Five stars! Recommended to scifi fans and misanthropes everywhere.

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Books of the Raksura series, the Ile-Rien series as well as YA fantasy novels, short stories, media tie-ins, and non-fiction. Her most recent fantasy novels are The Edge of Worlds in 2016 and The Harbors of the Sun in 2017, the final novel in The Books of the Raksura series. She has a new series of SF novellas, The Murderbot Diaries, forthcoming from Tor.com. She was the lead writer for the story team of Magic: the Gathering’s Dominaria expansion in 2018. Her work has appeared on the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Award ballots, and her books have been published in eleven languages.

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Cradle of the Deep, by Deirdre Gould

The Keseburg once boasted a complement of fifty thousand. Generations of hardship, space hazards and disease have whittled it down to just under thirty thousand. That was the number when a small crew of resource miners departed on a routine asteroid run three months ago. But when they return home to the ship, all traces of their friends and family are gone. The Keseburg is silent, adrift, and running out of fuel. As they search the massive ship for survivors and answers, something else stalks them. Something that does not belong on the Keseburg.

The story of Issk’ath continues in Cradle of the Deep. What? You thought that the series was about the people aboard the Keseberg? ‘Fraid not. It was always about Issk’ath and its interaction with humanity, or at least the humanity that’s left. Issk’ath deals with guilt, called iterations in the narrative. Each time it does something that could be seen as inhumane, Issk’ath iterates. The parallel with humanity is not wasted here. Some people are wracked with guilt for minor infractions. Inter-generational guilt is a common theme in literature. But at times, Issk’ath is immune from its guilt – we’ve all encountered someone whose agenda precludes all other feelings, including guilt. But what is the nature of guilt, and by extension humanity? If a machine can feel guilt, then what is it about humanity that sets it apart from machine or even our genetic ancestors?

Like Traveler in the Dark, Cradle of the Deep focuses on a small cast of characters. Prior to this story, Issk’ath moves from permissive to overt action to “save” humanity from their frail casings. This causes much iteration, and sets us up for the crew of the Dolan to discover the Keseberg adrift with all souls lost at the hands (pincers?) of a homicidal robot. Can someone dying say no to termination under the claim of humane action? Can an otherwise able-bodied person choose to end their life for convenience?

The odd naming structure that baffled me in book one is gone from book two. It’s much easier to understand who is talking to whom in this story. Themes of predestination, choice, and rebellion are rife in this installment of Ex Situ. The narrative did suffer a little bit in this book, with some omnipotent head-hopping. I was able to follow who was doing/thinking what, but at least once or twice, I had to reread a paragraph when I got lost. The story was a fun read, and the ending worked well setting up book three without short-changing the reader. I’d give Cradle of the Deep four stars.

Deirdre Gould lives in Central Maine with her three children and husband. She’s also resided in northern Idaho, coastal Virginia and central Pennsylvania, but all of them just led her back home. The winters sure are cold, but that just means the zombies run slower. The area is isolated, but that just means the apocalyptic diseases don’t spread as quickly. And the storms are bad enough that no one thinks you’re crazy for “prepping.” It’s kind of ideal for a post-apocalypse writer when you think about it.

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Aftermath, by Kelley Armstrong

Three years after losing her brother Luka in a school shooting, Skye Gilchrist is moving home. But there’s no sympathy for Skye and her family because Luka wasn’t a victim; he was a shooter. Jesse Mandal knows all too well that the scars of the past don’t heal easily. The shooting cost Jesse his brother and his best friend–Skye. Ripped apart by tragedy, Jesse and Skye can’t resist reopening the mysteries of their past. But old wounds hide darker secrets. And the closer Skye and Jesse get to the truth of what happened that day, the closer they get to a new killer.

I knew that Aftermath, by Kelley Armstrong, would elicit strong emotions. It’s about the family of a school shooter after all. I found Skye and Jesse to be written well, and very relatable. The emotional arc of both characters was believable, and within the norms one would expect of people in this situation. The writer does an excellent job of disguising the antagonist throughout the book. I had my eye on a character, but as expected that character was only a red herring. I had correctly guessed who the villain was, but the author had me doubting myself before the reveal, and their was definitely a “oh no they didn’t” moment that is fortunately overcome right away. I wasn’t totally sure until the very end.

This is a story of emotional healing after a tragedy, and how something like a school shooting can affect those connected to the dead and injured. School bullying is forefront, and there’s an obvious theme of those responsible for protecting children seeming to fail again and again to do so. While gun violence is a pertinent topic here in the states, the book doesn’t advocate gun control or gun fetishism. I’m glad that that topic wasn’t shoehorned in. It could’ve easily been the focus of this story, but the victims and the families of those that died and the shooters were what this story was truly about.

I started reading Aftermath on a Wednesday evening, and couldn’t stop reading until I had consumed it all. Aftermath is a powerful story about love, loss, and redemption. Five stars, and highly recommended.

Kelley Armstrong has been telling stories since before she could write. Her earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers’ dismay. All efforts to make her produce “normal” stories failed. Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement writing dungeon. She lives in southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and far too many pets.

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Drop by Drop, by Morgan Llywelyn

In this first book in the Step By Step trilogy, global catastrophe occurs as all plastic mysteriously liquefies. All the small components making many technologies possible—navigation systems, communications, medical equipment—fail. In Sycamore River, citizens find their lives disrupted as everything they’ve depended on melts around them, with sometimes fatal results. All they can rely upon is themselves. And this is only the beginning . . .

Drop by Drop is an interesting concept: plastics all over the world start to liquefy, and anything depending on plastics stop working. The idea is very much like the TV show, Jericho, and a non-zombie post apocalyptic story is a fresh read, so I requested it on Netgalley. The problem with Drop by Drop is that there is no plot. The story just meanders through a few years without a solid understanding of the flow of time. I think that the entire story spans a few years, maybe as many as four? The time shifts are abrupt, sometimes happening in the middle of a chapter. The vignettes are interesting by themselves, but linked together with no apparent ending to the story, the whole thing is an exercise in futility, but excessive head hopping soils even the interesting vignettes. Often I had to re-read a page or paragraph to figure out whom the section was about. Any time this happens in a book, I’m knocked out of the narrative, and any time the reader is knocked out of the narrative, it’s a chance that they’ll stop reading. I think that this story would’ve been better as a series of short stories, or even following a particular character through out the ordeal, perhaps in some sort of repeated chronology to show how different people and couples handle the plastic apocalypse. Very few of the characters are relatable, and although some backstory is filled in, the origins of most of the characters are nebulous at best. One of the biggest sins I feel a writer can commit is a bad ending, and Drop by Drop does just that: nothing is resolved, and a new impending doom is introduced to entice you to purchase book two. It took me five days to grind through a book that’s 336 pages, so you can imagine how frustrating it was to end in a cliffhanger. I kept hoping for a payout, but that wasn’t the case. Overall, I’d give Drop by Drop three stars, and with a $13 price tag for the ebook, I’d avoid this story entirely.

Morgan Llywelyn is an American-born Irish author best known for her historical fantasy, historical fiction, and historical non-fiction. Her fiction has received several awards and has sold more than 40 million copies, and she herself is recipient of the 1999 Exceptional Celtic Woman of the Year Award from Celtic Women International.

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The Good Twin, by Marti Green

Mallory Holcolm is an unfulfilled waitress and aspiring artist living in a Queens boardinghouse when she learns something astonishing about her past: she has an identical twin sister named Charly she never knew existed. Charly is a Princeton graduate, a respected gallery owner, and an heiress married to her handsome college sweetheart, Ben. Charly got everything she ever wanted. Everything Mallory wanted, too. And now it might be easier than Mallory ever imagined. Because Ben has reasons of his own for wanting to help her. It begins with his startling proposal. All Mallory has to do is say yes. But as their devious plan falls into place, piece by piece, Mallory learns more about her sister and herself than she ever meant to—a discovery that comes with an unexpected twist. A chilling deception is about to become a dangerous double cross. And it’s going to change the rules of Ben and Mallory’s game to the very end.

There seems to be a lot of animosity toward The Good Twin, by Marti Green. When I saw it on Netgalley, I requested it. I started reading it on a Friday evening, and read until it was done, finishing very early Saturday morning. It’s very compelling, and while some of the motivations for Mallory don’t quite pass muster, it’s an engrossing read. It was hard to find sympathy for Mallory, but I’m not sure what I would’ve done different. Charly was much easier to identify with – most of us have felt betrayed at some point in our lives, and Charly’s arc was, I think, a better read than Mallory’s. Part three is a little bit of a downer, and it felt rushed – almost incomplete. Overall I really enjoyed the story, and am awarding it four stars.

After receiving her Master of Science degree and New York State Professional Certificate in school psychology, Marti Green realized her true passion was the law. She went on to receive her law degree from Hofstra University and worked as an in-house counsel for a major cable television operator for twenty-three years, specializing in contracts, intellectual property law and regulatory issues. A lifelong New Yorker, Marti Green moved to The Villages, FL nine years ago, and now lives there with her husband, Lenny, and cat, Howie. She has two adult sons and five grandchildren.

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Zero Limit, by Jeremy K. Brown

For war hero Caitlin Taggart, mining work on the Moon is dirty, low pay, and high risk. But no risk seems too extreme if it helps her return to Earth and the daughter she loves more than life itself. Offered a dangerous, long shot chance to realize that dream; Caitlin will gamble with more than just her life. By leading a ragtag crew of miners on a perilous assignment to harvest an asteroid, Caitlin could earn a small fortune. More importantly, it would give her clearance to return to Earth. But when an unexpected disaster strikes the mission, Caitlin is plunged into a race to save not only herself, but also every human being on Earth.

Let’s talk about Zero Limit, by Jeremy K. Brown. Definitely a high-stakes read. In a story in which everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Disaster after disaster. Failure after failure. But that’s every space disaster story I’ve ever read or written. At some point, you get this almost “disaster fatigue,” where the scene is set, and you’re like, “who’s gonna die in this chapter?” The first disaster was all “Whoah!” but then subsequent ones were less and less “Whoah,” until they were commonplace.

I’m not sure when this story was written, but as with many scifi stories, Zero Limit critiques the current political brouhaha, and takes it to the next level. The xenophobic actions of the U.S. president sever all travel between the Earth and the Moon, setting up the protagonist for the dangerous prospect that tips over the first disaster domino. And oh boy, do those dominos fall. Did I mention disaster fatigue? There are definitely correlations with current U.S. border policy, and the issue is played out to a conclusion, but, and this is the most important part, the author doesn’t hit us over the head with that plot point. It’s there, and the reader is allowed to draw whatever conclusions they wish. Science fiction allows us to explore the topics of our time, and for many people, U.S. policy is in the forefront of their minds.

The writing is solid, and the writer did enough research that nothing jumped out at me, and I mostly had no problems suspending my disbelief. I did find the constant “stuff going horribly wrong” aspect a little hard to swallow, but what is a space disaster without disaster? All in all, I give Zero Limit 3.75 stars. It’s a good read. I’ll probably check out Ocean of Storms, co-written with Christopher Mari. It, like Zero Limit, are free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Jeremy K. Brown has authored several biographies for young readers, including books on Stevie Wonder and Ursula K. Le Guin. He has also contributed articles to numerous magazines and newspapers, including special issues for TV Guide and the Discovery Channel, and recently edited a collector’s issue on Pink Floyd for Newsweek. He worked for 10 years for WWE, serving as Deputy Editor of WWE Magazine and as a member of the company’s television writing staff. Jeremy published his first novel, Calling Off Christmas, in 2011 and is currently at work on another novel. He lives in New York with his wife and sons.

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Extinct, by RR Haywood

The end of the world has been avoided—for now. With Miri and her team of extracted heroes still on the run, Mother, the disgraced former head of the British Secret Service, has other ideas… While Mother retreats to her bunker to plot her next move, Miri, Ben, Safa and Harry travel far into the future to ensure that they have prevented the apocalypse. But what they find just doesn’t make sense. London in 2111 is on the brink of annihilation. What’s more, the timelines have been twisted. Folded in on each other. It’s hard to keep track of who is where. Or, more accurately, who is when. The clock is ticking for them all. With nothing left to lose but life itself, our heroes must stop Mother—or die trying.

Minor spoilers ahead.

Who doesn’t like a time-travel science fiction book? By book three, we know that the opening scene of Malcolm running through the bunker will actually happen at the very end of the book. And the scene was underwhelming. It was as if the book was done, and some editor was like, “Uh, we don’t have one of those scenes that doesn’t make sense until the end,” and one was shoehorned into the book.

I think that Extinct is the worst of the trilogy. The British Secret Service guys return from book two, and they’re just boring. Every chapter that featured them I just groaned. They started getting interesting in the last 25% or so, but the ending was lacking. If this weren’t the conclusion of the trilogy, then the ending would work, but there are so many characters that are left dangling.

And what the heck is up with Mother? There is absolutely no reason for her to behave the way she does. She’s evil for the sake of being evil. Her motivations are far-fetched, and her motivations don’t even make her hate-able – she’s just a pathetic trope.

But we do get to see Harry killing Nazis, so that’s great. Sigh. The Harry/Emily angst is cringe worthy as well. Konrad is the stereotypical nerd with no redeeming qualities other than- I don’t know- running the portal? Messing up so that the team has to rescue him? Another sigh. Many plot points were hard to suspend disbelief. I know, I know, I’ll buy into time travel, but not plot X…

Extinct wasn’t bad per se, it just felt rushed, and the story wasn’t fully formed. The ending was bunk, and the villains were passé cardboard cutouts of the villain trope. A disappointing three stars for book three. Since they’re all free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers, they’re still worth the read.

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RR Haywood was born in Birmingham, England but has spent most of his life living on the beautiful south coast. He has had a passion for reading for as long as he can remember. One of his favourite genres is Post-Apocalyptic fiction and he has worked his way through every book he could find. Some were great and some not so great and what he wanted was a minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day detailed exploration of what would happen. This desire to explore the world after such an event gave birth to The Undead, which is now the UK’s bestselling zombie horror series, compared to The Walking Dead and many other great works. This underground smash-hit series draws readers from all walks of life with compelling characters, incredible descriptions and breath taking action sequences that have had readers gripping their kindles, laughing out loud and crying real tears.

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Day Killer, by Clara Coulson

Cal has spent the past three months recovering from his injuries in the wake of the violent scandal that nearly tore DSI apart. Now back in Aurora after a stint in physical therapy, Cal’s trying to get his life back on track, his mind back in shape, and his attitude back in check before he returns to active duty in a few weeks’ time. But when a mysterious vampire shows up half dead at Cal’s apartment, and an old rival warns him that the dangerous Black Knights are plotting a major attack against Aurora, Cal finds himself caught in the middle of an off-the-books case that has the potential to end his career—and his life. With enemies closing in from all sides, and his DSI colleagues left in the dark, Cal has no choice but to trust his instincts, a vampire he just met, and the very man whose savage attack traumatized him forever. Because if he doesn’t, Aurora will fall, and millions of innocents will fall with it.

I knew Day Killer would be awesome. I have yet to read a Clara Coulson City of Crows novel that I didn’t like. I did like that Cal is almost solo in this adventure. I like Erica and Cooper, but it was fun to see Cal do his thing. With the DSI taking a back seat to this adventure, Day Killer is all Cal all the time.

Without spoiling anything, I’m looking forward to reading Cal to be awesome in book six. There has been this rather annoying self-deprecating angle to Cal that while it works as a character flaw, just grates on the nerves. Since the timeline of the books is compressed, it seems as if Cal has been with the DSI a lot longer, and I keep forgetting that he’s the baby crow.

Book five wraps up the main story nicely, teases a little something something about Cooper, and sets up a new world of Cal. I think I liked Day Killer more so than Doom Sayer, and am looking forward to reading Spell Caster this summer. I’m gonna say that this one is the best of the bunch, and five stars is the only rating possible.

Clara Coulson was born and raised in backwoods Virginia, USA. Currently in her mid-twenties, Clara holds a degree in English and Finance from the College of William & Mary and recently retired from the hustle and bustle of Washington, DC to return to the homeland and pick up the quiet writing life. Clara spends most of her time (when she’s not writing) dreaming up new story ideas, studying Japanese, and slowly reading through the several-hundred-book backlog on her budding home library. If she’s not occupied with any of those things, then you can probably find her playing with her two cats or lurking in the shadows of various social media websites. In the publishing sphere, Clara is currently occupied with the City of Crows urban fantasy series, and its companion series, Lark Nation.

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The Lives We Lost, by Megan Crewe

First, the virus took Kaelyn’s friends, then her family, and now it’s spread beyond her island. No one is safe. But when Kaelyn finds samples of a vaccine hidden in her father’s abandoned laboratory, she knows there’s only one option: seek out someone who can replicate it. As Kaelyn and her friends head to the mainland they face greater challenges than they ever could have imagined. Not everyone they meet wants Kaelyn to succeed-and many simply want her dead and the vaccine for themselves. With the chance of finding help slipping away, will Kaelyn be forced to sacrifice those she loves in order to rescue the human race? Megan Crewe’s second installment in this powerful and gripping YA series tackles self-preservation, first love, and hope. This heart-wrenching story of one girl’s bravery and unbeatable spirit will leave readers fervently awaiting the final book in this suspenseful and action-packed trilogy.

The Lives We Lost is very much like The Way We Fall. I think that the plot was thinner in TLWL over TWWF, but book two is character-driven, and not plot driven. It did seem to drag on a bit in some sections, and the decisions made by Kaelyn were often confounding, but that’s what I’d expect from a 17-year old protagonist. The same black and white in a world of gray was present, but Kaelyn is starting to see that the world is not as rigidly black and white as she saw it on the island.

Because every post-apocalyptic story has to have a megalomaniac whose charisma attracts the worst of the worst, but the masses keep in line because of the implied brutality, we have the inkling of that exact character who will presumably be prominent in book three. I’m up for book three. It’ll be nice to finally have some closure for the series. Like book one, I’m rating The Lives We Lost four stars.

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Like many authors, Megan Crewe finds writing about herself much more difficult than making things up. A few definite facts: she lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and son (and does on occasion say “eh”), she tutors children and teens with special needs, and she’s spent the last six years studying kung fu, so you should probably be nice to her. She has been making up stories about magic and spirits and other what ifs since before she knew how to write words on paper. These days the stories are just a lot longer.

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