Hello again from Home!
Happy Chocolate Bunny Holiday, Nutters. I hope you’re all enjoying the start of spring and the return of that bright shiny thing in the sky. If you watched the video of my recent Baja adventure, in the last Coconut Chronicle, you may think that I spent all of my vacation hiking, fishing, making funny faces, and eating tacos. Yes, I did these things, but I also did something less video-worthy… I read.
In the three-plus years that Josh and I have been working on Warpworld (book two, Wasteland Renegades will be ready soon!), my reading time has suffered. Oh sure, I still make a point of getting some books under my belt but I’ve been more of a small sip reader, as opposed to the infinitely more enjoyable big gulp reading I used to do.
This is all a very long set up for a cool project I set up for myself on this vacation. You see, in 2012, I was accepted as a member in SF Canada, an organization of speculative fiction professionals here in Canuckistan. This rag tag fleet of fugitives made me feel immediately welcome and I wanted to get to know them all better. And, by “getting to know them”, I mean, getting to know their work. I sent out a general email, asking the group to give me one title of theirs, (story, book, or poem), that they thought I should read. I got back a list that will take me about a year to read. From that list, however, I and my budget chose about ten selections from different genres to upload to my new Kindle.
Have I mentioned I am now an ereader convert? All hail the mighty pixel!
Kindle in hand, I headed south, ready for long stretches of big gulp reading. While I didn’t get through as many titles as I’d hoped, (there was an awful lot of hiking and taco eating going on, and I might have slipped in a non-SF Canada read or two), I enjoyed everything I read. I’ll be posting longer reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, but here’s a sampling for you!
Trooper #4 by Noah JD Chinn
It’s almost impossible to tell you about this story without giving away all the surprises that make it worth reading. However, in my Goodreads review, I called it “a genre-bending existential thrill ride“, so if that doesn’t get you excited then I don’t know what will. This starts out as your typical end-of-the-world zombie fest, and ends up as something else entirely. The protagonist, T. Felice is tough, funny, and the perfect tour guide through a world turned sideways and upside down.
Chinn’s writing is economical and effective, the pace is fast, and the story is gripping. Trooper #4 has all the elements of a classic action story—compelling hero, evil villain, a world in need of saving—but with enough metaphysical twists and turns to feed every reader’s inner philosopher.
Redshirts meets The Walking Dead? Close.
Honest notes: If you’re an impatient reader, the first few chapters may not grab your interest. Hang in there, it’s worth it, and you’ll understand the reason for those first chapters later on.
Highlights: Plot twists that sucker-punch you. Cliches that know they’re cliches and are really funny because they know they’re cliches. Philosophy where you least expect it. Laugh out loud moments.
The Courtesan Prince by Lynda Williams
This is the first in a ten book series. (Yes, ten! And I complain about the work involved in five?) I will be reading more. I’m going to focus on this book, but for more information on the series check out the Okal Rel universe.
Set in a future of inter-stellar space travel and abandoned earth colonies, The Courtesan Prince is a space opera of the best variety. Adventure, romance, sword fights, sex (tee hee), FTL travel, politics, culture clashes, this book has it all. The story centers around two distinct civilizations, Reetions and Gelacks, and four main characters. The action begins when a small group of Gelacks attempts to reestablish contact with the very distant, (and very different), Reetions, 200 years after their devastating war.
The adventure and romance are enough to keep readers interested but, for me, the heart of this story was the interaction of the two civilizations through the main characters. Ann and Ranar are Gelacks, theirs is an egalitarian world, steeped in equal parts reason and bureaucracy. Von and Di Mon belong to the mysterious Reetions, to whom ancestry is everything and whose society is bound by strict rules of conduct, (often enforced at the end of a sword).
Through these characters, Williams touches on issues of gender and social equality, personal responsibility, sexual orientation, and cultural relations. By turns, she titillates and informs, and never leaves the reader with the sense that they are being given the dreaded “message”.
Looking forward to more!
Honest notes: The prologue intimidated me. It’s nothing like the rest of the book and you could easily skip it until the end and not lose anything.
Highlights: Rich, detailed sci-fi/fantasy mash up. Compelling main characters, (especially Di Mon – I wanted more!). Homosexual relationship between two main characters, (in a homophobic society), handled really well. TENSION on every page!
The Sand Dragon by Michael F Stewart
Let me just say, if I’d known this was a story about vampires, I probably wouldn’t have chosen it. So I’m glad I didn’t know. And they don’t sparkle, in case you’re wondering.
Different aspects of novels linger with me after the final page is turned (or turned off, as the case may now be). With Trooper #4 it was the crazy plot twists, with The Courtesan Prince it was the amazing world building, with The Sand Dragon, it was the setting.
The discovery of a giant pterosaur skeleton in the tar sands of Fort Mic brings paleontologist Kim Axon back to her home town, and launches a series of chilling events that will leave the small mining community fighting for survival. The story is told from multiple points of view, from which the reader is shown the various facets of Fort Mic. This is a dirty, isolated, unforgiving part of the world—an ideal setting for horror. Most Canadians have heard of the tar sands, few of us actually knows what goes on up there, which makes this tale all the more intriguing.
With an interesting mix of science and mythology, Stewart maintains a fast pace as the body count rises and the truth of what’s been hidden beneath the Fort Mic earth is gradually revealed. This is a horror story, so expect gore. Not for the squeamish!
Honest notes: This is a big story that covers a lot of ground. I would have liked more time (pages) to get to know the characters a bit better.
Highlights: Creepy setting that seems custom-made for evil. Unique vampires and back story. Twist at the very end that I never saw coming.
*I also wanted to mention that Michael is doing some very cool things with his latest project, Assured Destruction, a YA novel and transmedia adventure. Check it out!
Scream Angel by Douglas Smith
I’d actually planned on reading Chimerascope, a collection of Douglas Smith’s short stories, but Amazon decided to throw a strange hissy fit so I had to settle for just one stand-alone story. Luckily, the one I chose was amazing.
I have to confess here that I am biased. I LOVE short stories, particularly speculative fiction short stories. I have written several, one or two of which I consider ‘good’. The short story is a very difficult form to master, and probably the reason it has traditionally been used as a proving ground for fiction writers. Smith has mastered it… hold on a moment while I shake an angry, envious fist at him.
*shakes angry fist*
Scream Angel is about Jason Trelayne, a former soldier who was forcibly addicted to a drug (scream) that enabled him, and his fellow soldiers, to carry out systematic xenocide. Now, hiding on the fringes of civilization, Trelayne runs a circus populated by orphans from the same races and societies he once helped destroy or enslave. He is a haunted man, crippled by his addiction and his past. But, when he’s discovered and his circus family is threatened, Trelayne has to face who he was, who he is, and who he wants to be.
I finished this story with a giant case of writer’s envy. In a short space, Smith lays out layers of love and redemption, and forces the reader to examine how one man can be both good and evil.
Honest notes: Not a problem for me but some might find the many characters hard to follow at first.
Highlights: Creative premise that’s super scary to contemplate. Not your average love story (understatement). Plethora of themes. Questions linger long after the end.