Genre: Science Fantasy
Publisher: Angry Robot
One can sum the theme of The Poison Eater with one word: secrets, and if one was interested in exploring more one could say that it’s about protective secrets. Set mostly in the city of Enthait the story centers round Talia, the Poison Eater. Her job is to at regular intervals ingest poison, in the end ten different kinds, and through this see visions of threats while also endangering her own life. Once all the poisons have been taken she will be the Orness, the ruler of the City, and in charge of the aria, an apparently great weapon in her charge. The job of Poison Eater is pivotal for the existence of Enthait and the people, who depend upon the visions in order to send out soldiers to cut off the threat, a ritual that ensures the safety of the community, but that ritual comes with a price; the possible death of the Poison Eater. Talia is well aware of this and has managed to survive seven poisons, a feat not pulled off by many others, even if she has a secret; the fact that she is not the Poison Eater at all.
A stranger to Enthait, arriving alongside a mechbeast named Khee, she has managed to hide her violent past and has taken the position in order to take control of the aria so she can exact revenge on the monsters that haunt her dreams. Living in constant fear of being revealed as the fraud she is it becomes evident that she is not the only one who is keeping secrets, that in fact there are deeper secrets going around in Enthait, and that the reason for her survival so far might not be able to help her anymore.
The Poison Eater is the first fiction based in the role playing world of Numenera, a science fiction world mixing futuristic technology and a fantasy setting, one billion years in the future. Though it takes place on Earth, this is never addressed in the story. It is unclear how much the reader must be aware of this world or is expected to be aware of it. The story in itself is not affected by this knowledge, but Germain does leave quite a few things out; like the terminology the characters use. They make reference to certain objects or jobs that the reader has to guess at, but becomes clearer the farther one reads. It is understandable if some might lose interest in reading when words are not explained and even though holes in a story usually is a good thing it at times can take the reader out of the tale.
The story of Talia the Poison Eater is intriguing enough on its own and the backdrop of Numenera as a setting is not really necessary. That being said, the omission of details pertaining to terminology and the history of Enthait or the so called vordcha is a bit much to overlook. It makes the emotional connection to the main character and the other figures who pass through the story almost non existent and it is difficult to invest the book. Germain has the ability to create and interesting plot and the thought of a futuristic dystopian world where past technology is still being used is fascinating, but unfortunately it never comes together as something the reader gets to sink their teeth into. For the bright spots in the book there are dark ones that take away from them and in the end the latter ones outweigh the former.
Publisher: DAW Books
Prequels are an interesting cultural affair. In movies the have been used to extend the life of a franchise, maybe the actors are too old or just not interested in continuing, maybe it is a promise once made to fans that the background story will one day be revealed, only to fall short i.e. Star Wars 1-3 or Prometheus. In literature it is something different; a device an author might use to further explore their created world, to tell those tales merely hinted at in a fleeting moment between two characters or to widen the intrigue. In his Tales of Egg and Dunk, beginning with The Hedge Knight, George R.R. Martin gave his readers a taste of his world before A Song of Ice and Fire takes place. He explained those things his original series could not, for such a departure would have made little to no sense.
Bradley P. Beaulieu, perennial favorite at the Guild office, has now also released a prequel to his Arabian Nights fantasy Twelve Kings in Sharakhai and is therefore subtitled The Song of Shattered Sands 0,5.
In this book the reader is treated to a tale from Çeda’s past, before the events of Twelve Kings take place. She has already made a name for herself in the fighting pits, and is referred to as The White Wolf. Çeda becomes involved with an ehkreh, some form of demonic entity, by the name of Rümayesh who lures her into her lair in order to steal her memories. Çeda finds herself fighting to not reveal her inner secrets, ones that may very well ruin her, to the crowd that Rümayesh has gathered. She’s in luck and is saved by two godling children; Hidi and Makuo and that is where she thinks the adventure ends, but alas that is not so. The White Wolf finds herself drawn in deeper and an intricate part of the ehkreh’s destiny.
Of Sand and Malice Made is a fun foray into Çeda’s history. It hints at some of her secrets and the conflict within her and the community in which she lives. The world of Twelve Kings comes alive in a vibrant blend of smells, colors and sound that complements the first book in a wondrous way. Çeda becomes somewhat of a classic picaro in the desert landscape and guides the reader through her reality filled with mischief, dangers and exotic people, like a child showing off her new room to first time visitors. Beaulieu’s world complements his protagonist and she does the same to the backdrop that houses her. His descriptions of places and people has been his strength throughout his production and without it his fairly fairly simple intrigue would fall flat. He uses tropes more common in the setting of a 19th century coming of age novel and places it in a world foreign to that kind intrigue, taking a page from Stephen Donaldson.
To those who have read Twelve Kings Of Sand and Malice Made is a welcome return to the dry climate of Sharakhai and satiates the thirst whilst waiting for the next installment. For a new reader it may well be a good starting point before delving into the complexity of the Shattered Sands series. The book is shorter than most fantasy fair and the story less elaborate, but nevertheless enticing.
Of Sand and Malice Made cements Beaulieu’s position as the next big thing in fantasy and makes us hunger for more; more Çeda, more Sharakhai and more hot desert sun.
Genre: Horror,bizarro, Science-Fiction
Publisher: Burning Bulb Publishing
Boston Lust is the third installment from Nigerian author Wol-vriey about the very hard- boiled Bud Malone and as the previous two it takes place in a not too distant future Boston. This time Malone is confronted with a serial killer who is praying on gay/bisexual women, leaving them both sexually spent as well as drained of blood. This foe does not show up in pictures and the puncture marks on the women’s bodies all point to the work of a vampire. It hits Malone a bit close to home when a woman he has previously helped, as well as had romantic dealings with, turns up as one of the victims. It becomes even more sinister once Malone realizes that the vampire has stolen a ring of great power that he himself retrieved from the Abstracta, a sort of parallel city intertwined with Boston.
Malone is contacted by the beautiful Trudi Carmen to venture into the Abstracta to pair the ring with a white version she is in possession of, but instead it becomes a hunt for the vampire leader who has been praying upon the women of Boston.
Boston Lust is a story filled with action, thrills and sex. It is part noir, part erotica and part science fiction all blended in quite the stew. It is obvious that Wol-vriey knows exactly what he is doing and that he possesses a great imagination. The characters surrounding Malone and the various creatures that he encounters, from golems and talking rats to godlike beings playing basketball on a court made from human skin all show a depth and complexity that adds very much to the tale. On the one hand this is the strength of Boston Lust, but on the other hand it is somewhat detrimental to it as well. There are many questions that never get answered, at least not here, it is very possible that what the Abstracta really is and where the creatures come from is discussed in an earlier book, but in this one it leaves the reader wanting more. With quite a limited intrigue, this does cause the book to fall a bit flat. It would indeed have benefited from more meat and added dimensions.
There is also a good deal of graphic descriptions of sexual encounters, causing Boston Lust not to be for every reader, but for those who can handle scenes on par with Fifty Shades of Grey or Outlander this does not actually take away from the story, instead it enhances it.
All in all Boston Lust is a book that holds the reader’s interest for a good while. It never becomes dull, there are never any slow moving parts, so that while passes one quickly. It maybe doesn’t satisfy ones demand for finer literature or intrigue and it creates questions that one needs answered and maybe that gets the reader interested in Wol-vriey’s other work.
Genre: Horror, Science-Fiction, Fantasy
Publisher: Chelshire Inc.
Vincent Conrad is an entrepreneur, a visionary and a man who wants to persevere the wild monsters of the world and put them on display for everyone to see in his theme parks called Monsterland. Monsterland is built up of three areas based on the three monsters known to the world; Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies. The opening of these parks are a big deal and several dignitaries; like politicians and ambassadors from foreign countries are attending all over the nation.
At the same time a group of youngster are offered free tickets to the grand opening in their little town, an event to be attended by the president himself. The opening day is crowded and everyone is there, even the town sheriff who is skeptical of Conrad and his plan for the town or even his plan for the world.
Monsterland is an amazing place and it mixes animatronic beasts with the real deal. Swamps with controlled werewolves, areas with rocking vampires and pens with pathetic zombies, a scary place to be, but something goes horribly wrong.
Monsterland is your garden variety story of a theme park gone wrong, in essence following the formula we’ve seen from Jurassic Park to The Simpsons’ episode at Itchy and Scratchy land. The idea of having real monsters in the park is novel enough, but Cash just doesn’t take it to that level in where it becomes fresh. The book contains all the aspects that a reader has come to expect from this kind of tale; the group of young kids complete with a bullish jock type, the nerd and his brother both abandoned by their father and the cute girl. There is the small ton sheriff, who incidentally is the stepfather to the nerdy protagonist and the dark savior himself; the seemingly misguided Vincent Price character who created the park out of a naive dream.
Cash does try to give the story a deeper dimension than the exclusive theme park trope and lets the reader delve into the minds of certain werewolves, zombies and vampires and also adds a political spin to the story. There is a hint of a bigger picture, as well as more somber character building with some of the cast, but it is never truly pursued and that is unfortunate. The book would have benefited from a hundred pages more to follow these backgrounds and development of the political aspect, now it is more of only quick glance at what could have been a much more intriguing book that much like Harold Sipe and Héctor Casanov’s Screamland would have taken a familiar theme and told an exciting story.
Publisher: Del Rey
When Dr. Rose Franklin was a child she fell into a hole and found a large metal hand. This would influence the rest of her life and lead her into a career in the scientific field. This also lead her back to the giant hand she found as a child. Heading a secret government team she is tasked to find the other parts of what might just be a gigantic robot, apparently buried all around the world. Her movement and progress is tracked by a nameless figure who is constantly recording everything said in the matter. The gathering of body parts ends up being more difficult to perform and harder to keep secret than they first imagined and the method they choose devastates several inhabited areas, causing other nations to take notice.
At the same time the team is trying to figure out how to control the giant machine, that appears to be some form of weapon, and also deciphering the language associated with it. As outer forces try to control the project, among others the American government, the team is also plagued by inner turmoil, jealousy as well as betrayal and as the nameless leader tries to keep control of the situation it seems as if it is all heading towards certain doom.
There are many interesting aspects to Sleeping Giants, both in the way the story is told, but also the content. As mentioned the story moves forward through a series of interviews held by a nameless person. It is through this person’s questions as well as the odd military report and diary entry that the reader is let into the minds of the characters. Just like earlier authors like Samuel Richardson (Pamela) and Bram Stoker (Dracula) Neuvel adds a fair amount of credibility to the tale, as well as quick pace to the events as it excludes pondering as well as unnecessary background stories.
Neuvel’s characters are all at first glance sympathetic with a common goal to delve into the mystery of the robotic pieces, but as it all develops it becomes clearer that they are all conniving, egotistical, underhanded, in short; human. As they strive understand what they are dealing with and are being pushed or pulled from various angles they risk losing sight of the true goal.
Sleeping Giants manages to be an original Science-Fiction story and that is quite unusual today. It is both philosophical, historical and political in the same vein as Kornbluth and Pohl’s Space Merchants, exciting and at the same time with a subtle warning about the here and now.
The novel is classified as the first installment of a series called the Themis Files and if this is what the reader will be treated to in the premier book, then we are all in for a treat.
Series: A Tale Told Twice
What happens when two authors take one word and build a story from it independently, without any common parameters or rules? That is the plan behind the A Tale Told Twice series and first out is the strange worlds of Birdsnatch; an experiment between C.J. Cummings and Mark Ryan.
The first Birdsnatch Tale is by C.J Cummings and the apocalypse is upon us. As people all around the world are hiding in their underground bunkers Melon, a thieving, hoarding, nasty man has another idea. He is finally going to do what he has always planned to do and that is to transform into the hero Birdsnatch. While his cat/rat pet Cattermole watches he dresses in a superhero costume and ventures out into the empty world. During his exploration his Birdsnatch persona takes over more and more, the opposite of his depraved true personality. He meets Trinket, another outcast, who has escaped a life trapped in a bunker with her father and his friends. Like Melon she has dreams of being something other than what she is, but without going to the same extremes. Together they watch the world burn, hunting for food and living in a nest with Cattermole.
The second Birdsnatch tale, written by Mark Ryan, is set in the future. A future where plastic surgery has become very dangerous. So dangerous in fact that when it goes wrong it turns the patients into mutated, deranged killers. Faye Crichly is an administrator who has been assigned to a special task force designed to take out these mutated victims. Events become more interesting when Dex Finor, the second son in a prominent family, vanishes after fat reduction surgery. It is also revealed that the Government, the second government, has willingly experimented with plastic surgery to produce mutated monsters. When Finor surfaces the team must spring into action.
The concept of finding a word and then have two authors create separate tales from it is an interesting one, more so if the tales share a similar beginning or taking off point. Birdsnatch, the word, is the only thing Cummings’ and Ryan’s stories have in common and therefore the yarn they spin from that becomes less interesting. The most fascinating part is how varied the stories actually are; In Cummings’ fiction we are confronted with a husk of a man finally getting the opportunity to be the hero he has always wanted and what happens to him once that personality begins to dominate their shared body. This is more interesting than what has brought on the ensuing end of the world, as is the few other characters one encounters in the story.
Ryan’s tale on the other hand gives the reader a fascinating glimpse into quite a bleak future. The politics and structure of that world is only hinted at, but is interesting enough that, as a reader, one has to ask oneself what has lead to this. In contrast to this fact Ryan’s main character or any character for that matter are fairly uninteresting or engaging. It isn’t until the very end that one really starts to wonder what the implications of the actions of the government will have on the world.
Since both tales are so very different it would be unfair or even unwise to pin them against each other, both of them have strengths and weaknesses, but are both worth a read.
Cummings’ tale is an open and closed story whereas Ryan’s definitely gives the impression of an introduction or prequel to a grander story that he may revisit in the future. Cummings’ is also the only author who constantly uses the word Birdsnatch where Ryan uses it but twice. This makes it seem as if Cummings wins out in the end, seeing as he used the word better, but without knowing the parameters of the method used it is a moot point. The stories are both wonderfully told in their weirdness and there are some truly bizarre aspects, but never going overboard.
In the end Birdsnatch becomes an interesting exercise in how different two writers can imagine the same word, but it never breaks down any doors. Instead it is a good introduction to two young authors who very clearly have exciting and bizarre tales to to tell.
Birdsnatch is available from amazon.com
Clowns are real, the clown mafia is a real thing and they are both active in Little Bigtop a fictitious neighborhood in the world of Carlton Mellick III. It is a world where comedy has been outlawed by the government, where being a clown is having a radically different DNA, altered through an injection or being born as it and where the strippers’ breast squeak.
In Little Bigtop the Bozo family rules under Don Bozo and his Capos. They mainly deal in prostitution, the drug Laughy-gas and underground comedy clubs. They also deal in an ongoing feud with La Mystère, the French clown mafia, the sideshow freaks; the result of what happens to the ten per cent Happy Juice does not work on and The Carnies of Carnival Island.
To be a Clown is a way of life. Not only do you have a permanent red nose or white skin, but you shoot bubblegum guns, use balloon knives, dress in baggy pants and love ice cream. People who aren’t clowns are called Vanillas and are frowned upon in Little Bigtop, the way clowns are frowned upon in the rest of the world.
Although the reader is never directly informed about how the clowns began appearing, the history behind Little Bigtop or much about the world surrounding ClownFellas hints are dropped here and there, letting us put the pieces together ourselves. For those hoping to read a mafia epic along the lines of The Godfather, albeit with clowns, this is not the book for you. Carlton Mellick III’s mob book is more of Pulp Fiction than Goodfellas.
The book consists of six parts, all centered round one or more characters, each with a different dilemma that must be dealt with. Some of these include a vet caught in the middle of the war between The Bozo Family and La Mystère, a clown called Pinky Smiles trying to propose to his girlfriend while trying to avoid getting whacked and Buggy Buttons who tries to put on the biggest comedy show ever. Though the tales have little to do with each other there are some recurring figures and themes, but not enough to make the book anything more than a collection of short stories that take place in Little Bigtop.
Mellick’s book is wonderfully bizarre with its characters, accessories and details, yet the stories themselves are far from original. They are mostly standard fair; betrayal, mistaken identity, blackmail and racing against the clock only with clowns. Every now and then there are some amusing parts and interesting twists, mostly related to the physiology of the clowns or their quirks and Mellick is talented enough to make the stories engaging. The characters are convincing and one can see Little Bigtop as one reads and hear the typical New York jargon dressed in clown clothing.
In the end ClownFellas is an entertaining read, mostly due to its novelty value and it would be interesting to learn more about the world these clowns inhabit, but it is not a hardboiled Clownfather.
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Author: James S.A. Corey
Publisher: Orbit Books
Leviathan Wakes is much more than your garden variety Sci-Fi novel, sure it has the weight of 500 plus pages behind it and most of the technical jargon down, but there is more to it than that. There is more than at first meets the readers eye and this is what makes it so good.
The story is set in an unspecified future, where the world is split into three nations of sorts; The Belt, Earth and Mars. The nations, while this is not specifically discussed, seem to have a fragile peace and anything can rupture it. The peace is threatened when the abandoned ship the Scopuli is destroyed by an unknown assailant. Jim Holden, who works on a water hauler, becomes witness to this and the death of his crew members investigating the Scopuli. Evidence points to Mars being involved in the destruction of the ship and as Holden announces this to the world he and the rest of the crew become involved in the political mess that surrounds the solar system.
At the same time the security officer Detective Miller is presented with the case of finding Julie Mao, the daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur. During his investigation, which seems unpopular amongst some factions, he is directed to the Scopuli and becomes involved with Holden and his crew. They soon discover that there is more to the story than just a simple wanton destruction of a ship; an alien virus threatening to wipe out humanity has been unleashed and they are at the center of it.
James S.A. Corey, the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, have managed to create something very interesting with the first installment of their Expanse series. It’s a science-fiction novel that can appeal to a broader audience, very much in the same way George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice has crossed the line from Fantasy to main stream fiction. There is a difference though; where Martin removes many of the fantasy elements from his books and turns them into historic fiction with focus on political intrigue set in a made up medieval world Corey embraces science-fiction and makes it relatable to most everyone. This is done by delivering just about the right amount of technical terms to make the story believable as well as presenting real human problems and emotions. At the same time Corey pays homage to other genre fiction like the horror genre with the virus ridden plague zombies, thrillers when it comes to the sullen detective Miller with his own dark past and just a tiny hint of Western.
There is much to enjoy when it comes to Leviathan Wakes and it does truly get the reader excited about the follow up: Caliban’s War. There is horror, suspense, humor and humanity and several literary references that even the most hardened anti genre fiction reader would find amusing. Now we just have to wait and see if the SyFy channel can stay true to the story and all that is great with it. The language is not too heavy handed either which at times can be the downfall of any sci-fi novel.
Leviathan Wakes is available in Paperback, as an e-book, as well as audio and a 10 episode first season has been ordered by SyFy.