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The third and final book in the Immortal trilogy is fun to read and hard to put down. Adam, the immortal with a snarky attitude and a penchant for alcoholism, gets in trouble once again, but this time the enemy isn’t someone he can track down and stop. Between the CIA, the goblin assassins and very nearly omniscient international conglomerates, there’s not a lot he can do to get out of his predicament.

“Immortal at the edge of the world” ties up some loose ends from the first book (while featuring a couple of characters introduced in the second book) and, most importantly, reveals the identity of Eve, the immortal red-haired woman from Adam’s past. Just about everything that takes place in this book was directly caused by the events at the end of the first book in the series, which only goes to show you – just because you slaughter an entire compound full of bad guys, doesn’t mean you’ll get away scot-free.

The book follows the same formula as the two before it: flashbacks at the beginning of each chapter (fortunately not typed in ALL CAPS, like they were in the second book), snarky observations about today’s world, wacky adventures involving mythological creatures, and action. Lots and lots of action. The immortal man is particularly vulnerable in this book…

That said, the book is not without flaws. The big revelation about Eve at the very end isn’t something you’d ever be able to guess, and the way it’s played out is rather unexpected and anticlimactic. (Much like the ending of Patrick Lee’s “Breach” trilogy.) Also, despite all of his experience and knowledge, our hero is still a bit of a dummy: when given an important, allegedly magical artifact, he goofs around with it for months before finally giving it his undivided attention at the very last possible moment. While the book is overall enjoyable, those two things are why I’m giving it four stars instead of five.

Score: four stars

(Disclaimer: I received my copy from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.)

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“Zombies: More Recent Dead,” edited by Paula Guran, is yet another anthology of short stories featuring the walking dead. While it features a few excellent stories, a lot of the stories are random musings on life, the universe and everything, with a zombie or two thrown in for flavor. While a short story anthology can usually get away with a few stories that aren’t quite related to the subject at hand, at some point the balance gets disrupted.

This is just a guess, but the editor might have deliberately picked quantity over quality in this anthology. What could have been an excellent, average-length anthology ended up being a cumbersome refuge of anything and everything that claimed to be zombie-related.

“The Afflicted” by Matthew Johnson: when the zombie virus affects the elderly the most, one badass nurse chooses to protect, heal and occasionally kill them in their FEMA camp. An interesting story with a lot of human element.

“Dead Song” by Jay Wilburn: something I’ve never seen before – a story about the evolution of music in the post-zombie world. Dark and fascinating, told in the documentary style.

“Iphigenia in Aulis” by Mike Carey: this seemingly innocuous story about a little girl who goes to school in a guarded compound gradually gets darker and darker. Told from the girl’s point of view, it’s one of my favorites in the anthology.

“Pollution” by Don Webb: an in-depth look into the economics of zombie ownership, through the eyes of a fairly stupid American guy who lives in (and is obsessed with) Japan.

“Becca at the End of the World” by Shira Lipkin: a very in-depth and personal look at the biggest trope of zombie fiction, where a relative gets bitten and something should be done.

“The Naturalist” by Naureen F. McHugh: once the zombie threat is under control, Cleveland becomes a penitentiary. One of the condemned prisoners turns into a zombie naturalist. A dark and interesting story.

“Selected Sources for the Babylonian Plague of the Dead (572-571 BCE)” by Alex Dally Macfarlane: a cheap “World War Z” knockoff.

“What Maisie Knew” by David Liss: in a world where corpses can be turned into subservient zombies, a drunk driver is trying to silence his victim.

“Rocket Man” by Stephen Graham Jones: a bunch of children play baseball (with their zombie classmate) and act stupid to impress the lifeguard lady.

“The Day the Music Died” by Joe McKinney: what do you do when the rockstar you work for turns into a zombie? Lock him, feed him groupies and make money off his unreleased material, of course! Dark, twisted and morbidly funny.

“The Children’s Hour” by Marge Simon: a very short and not very creative poem that doesn’t rhyme and has no rhythm.

“Delice” by Holly Newstein: a story that collects every stereotype you can think of. Zombie priestess? Check. New Orleans voodoo? Check. Horribly abused slaves? Check. Justice from beyond the grave? Check. I ended up speed-reading through this one…

“Trail of the dead” by Joanne Anderton: a short but intriguing story about an accidental Necromancer that’s stalked by a Necromancer Hunter and his reluctant assistant.

“The Death and Life of Bob” by William Jablonsky: what if a regular person from a regular office came back to life and decided to go back to work? A fun and slightly bitter story, that’s what.

“Stemming the Tide” by Simon Strantzas: in a post-zombie world, a misanthrope and his girlfriend take a trip to watch a zombie tide.

“Those Beneath the Bog” by Jacques L. Condor (Maka Tai Meh): a bunch of hermits (Native Americans?) hang out together, cook some deer, tell each other’s fortunes… This is one of the longer stories in the anthology and I stopped reading 1/3 of the way through. There might be zombies at some point in this glacially slow story, but it’s hard to tell.

“What Still Abides” by Marie Brennan: an interesting short story told in ye Olde English style about a zombie problem in the feudal Europe.

“Jack and Jill” by Jonathan Maberry: a young boy with cancer and a deathwish waits for a giant storm to arrive, but that’s not the only disaster he’ll experience… A sad and well-written story.

“In the Dreamtime of Lady Resurrection” by Caitlin R Kiernan: a mad scientist gently kills his girlfriend and brings her back to life to learn what’s on the other side. An unusual take on zombies, to say the least, and filled with purple prose.

“Rigormarole” by Michael A. Arnzen: a poem about a mad scientist’s unorthodox solution to the zombie problem. Fairly short and clever.

“Kitty’s Zombie New Year” by Carrie Vaughn: the hostess of a paranormal radio talk show encounters a zombie during a New Year’s Eve party. A very pragmatic take on zombies that avoids the genre’s usual tropes.

“The Gravedigger of Konstan Spring” by Genevieve Valentine: a fun and slow-paced short story about a town where water can make you immortal, and what it means to be a gravedigger in a place where no one really dies.

“Chew” by Tamsyn Muir: a disturbing story about a murdered woman coming back to life, told from the perspective of a young German boy right after WW2.

“‘Til Death Do Us Part” by Shaun Jeffrey: a surreal and creepy story about a man and his young son reintegrating their zombie wife/mother into their lives.

“There Is No “E” in Zombi Which Means There Can Be No You or We” by Roxane Gay: all is fair in love and war – a woman in Haiti uses the zombie powder to get a lover.

“What Once we Feared (A Forest of Hands and Teeth Story)” by Carrie Ryan: a first-person narrative from a teenager who hid from zombies in a skyscraper’s penthouse with his four friends. Gritty, realistic and very well written.

“The Harrowers” by Eric Gregory: an amazing story that combines zombies, noir and just a little bit of cyberpunk (zombie cyborg bears!). A guide is tasked with helping a young man find his lost father outside the city walls, but nothing is as it seems… One of my favorites from this collection.

“Resurgam” by Lisa Mannetti: a story within a story about medical students stealing dead bodies (for science!) and the dead bodies coming back to life.

“I Waltzed with a Zombie” by Ron Goulart: a cute and occasionally funny story about a hack Hollywood writer in 1942, written in the style of that era.

“Aftermath” by Joy Kennedy-O’Neill: an unusual zombie story in that the infected eventually got cured. A former English professor describes the post-zombie world and provides increasingly disturbing flashbacks to her past. One of the best stories in the anthology, in my opinion – it reads just like something from “World War Z.”

“A Shepherd of the Valley” by Maggie Slater: a profoundly sad story about a religious hermit who lives in an airport with his 11 exoskeleton-controlled zombies, and a teenage girl that walks into his life. Reminded me of the video game “The Last of Us.”

“The Day the Saucers Came” by Neil Gaiman: a quirky little poem about the day the world changed.

“Love, Resurrected” by Cat Rambo: a necromancer’s undead girlfriend, who also happens to be a brilliant tactician, looks back at her life and tries to catch a remarkably talented warlord. A brilliant short story.

“Present” by Nicole Kornher-Stace: a high school student and her baby flee from zombies. Disturbing, to say the least, with some meta humor about zombies and horror stories.

“The Hunt: Before, and the Aftermath” by Joe R. Lansdale: a middle-aged couple goes on a zombie safari to save their marriage. A typical narrative of a cheating man, only with zombies in the backdrop.

“Bit Rot” by Charles Stross: a truly unusual take on the zombie genre, featuring insane irradiated androids on a spaceship. Excellent concept and execution.

Score: 3 stars

Disclaimer: I received my copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Link to the Amazon page

Brad R Torgersen’s first novel “The Chaplain’s War” is an unusual combination of “Starship Troopers” and “Old Man’s War.” Unlike most other sci-fi novels, it shows a realistic outcome of mankind meeting a sentient alien species: we get our asses kicked. The ass-kickers in question are giant mantis-looking creatures that are part-cyborg (fused with bona fide flying saucers) and thousands of years ahead of us technologically.

The book begins on the lovely planet known as Purgatory, where our hero, Harrison Barlow, is a chaplain’s assistant in a long-term POW camp after a failed human invasion on an alien world. Things start to get interesting when a mantis who calls himself Professor shows up and asks to learn about human religion before all the humans get wiped out.

What follows is a series of misadventures, peace treaties, broken promises and action scenes as our unlikely hero tries (and fails, and tries again) to broker peace between the two species.

Despite what the title might suggest, the book isn’t about religion. It’s about humanity, individuality and, to a certain extent, spirituality – and one giant space bug’s quest to learn what those things really mean.

While the book was entertaining, I’m giving it only 4 stars: the ending seemed far too long (if you’ve seen the movie “Inside Man,” you’ll understand) and the flashbacks to the protagonist’s boot camp experience distract from the main narrative, especially since the reader already knows how exactly things will turn out.

Overall, “The Chaplain’s War” was a fun read. If you liked John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War” series or if you were secretly rooting for the bugs in “Starship Troopers,” you just might enjoy this novel.

Final score: 4 stars

(Disclaimer: this book was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review)

Preorder it on Amazon (release date: October 7)

The second book in Gene Doucette’s “Immortal” trilogy suffers from the classic case of author fatigue: when your editor is pressing you for a sequel and when your devoted fans will buy anything to read more about their favorite character, the motivation to write the Great American Novel may not be there…

(See also: the disappointing sequel to Justin Cronin’s “The Passage.”)

The story is fairly simple: an oracle tells our favorite immortal that he’s about to die. In the meantime, a series of strange events that may or may not be related to his past in ancient Greece happen to our protagonist, leaving him seemingly no choice but to jump back into the fray.

The ingredients from the first book all seem to be there: an immortal alcoholic? check; snarky observations about civilization? check; bizarre events that don’t quite add up until the very end? check… sort of. There are far fewer flashbacks to the olden days and a lot more seemingly irrelevant (at first, at least) preludes to each chapter. They’re written IN ALL CAPS, which gets very tiresome very quickly, especially as they get longer with each chapter. They make sense in the end, but it’s not very reader-friendly.

Unlike its prequel, “Hellenic Immortal” doesn’t quite have the same black-and-white moral dilemma where the world’s fate is on the line. Throughout the book, and up to the very end, I kept wondering why Adam couldn’t just walk away. After all, he did that a lot earlier in his life. This book reminds me of the joke I heard about “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark: if Indie stayed home and didn’t do anything, the outcome would have been exactly the same. All that running and getting shot at was for nothing. (Sorry, Indie fans!)

I wouldn’t recommend this book, unless you were a huge fan of the first book and wanted to speed-read through it on your way to book three.

Final score: three stars

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Daryl Gregory’s “We Are All Completely Fine” is a short novel (or a long novella) about the world’s most dysfunctional group. Its five members feature a retired monster hunter, a gamer that got more he bargained for, a survivor of a cannibal massacre, a woman whose bones have intricate (but unknown) carvings and a goth girl who is literally (monster) jail bait.

The book is told from different perspectives (5 protagonists, later joined by their therapist). Each voice is unique and individualistic, which isn’t always easy to pull off. Each story is different and unique in its own way, and in the end they all come together for an action-filled finale that shows what happens when more or less regular people try to save the world. (Think “Mystery Men.”)

“We Are All Completely Fine” accomplishes what Chuck Palahniuk’s “Haunted” failed to do: it weaves different stories about damaged people together into a curious narrative which, in addition to spooky horror, also features some humor and unexpected LOL-worthy moments.

If you’re a fan of H.P.Lovecraft or just like interesting, otherworldly fiction, you just might like this book.

Score: 5 stars

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(Disclaimer: this book was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review)

What would you do if you were functionally immortal and immune to all disease and infection? (But not to sticks and stones and bullets.) The protagonist of Gene Doucette’s “Immortal” does the most logical thing: he becomes a raging alcoholic who drinks his way through thousands of years of human history while trying to stay out of trouble.

Unfortunately, with great lifespan comes great eloquence: our hero is a blabbermouth and as a result, everyone and their dog knows that there’s an immortal guy wandering the world. In today’s modern world, where everything is interconnected and bad guys stay in touch, that could be a problem…

The novel’s narrative starts out in a prison/laboratory, with our unlucky hero looking back at the events that led to his predicament, with occasional flashbacks to his adventures (or misadventures, rather) centuries ago. Vampires, demons, pixies and dragons are real (but magic is not), and Adam (as he currently calls himself) had plenty of run-ins with them over the ages.

If you enjoyed the TV show Highlander but liked Methos more than Duncan MacLeod, you just might enjoy this book: the main character is wily, clever, snarky, provides a lot of hilarious and contrarian opinions on historical events, and firmly believes that discretion is the better part of valor.

I couldn’t put this book down once I started reading it and I can’t recommend it highly enough. :)

(The book was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Buy it now on Amazon

The Hero of the Bay of Tampa

I’ve just spent half the day on the most popular beach in Tampa with the most advanced metal detector on the market. I haven’t failed to find anything of value – I have succeeded in confirming that there were no landmines or live artillery rounds buried in the sand!

People of the Bay of Tampa, you may sleep safely. I am not the hero you need, but I am the hero you deserve.

*stares stoically into the distance*

Florida,
The frontier of fun,
Where the fluffiest clouds,
Like fairy tale refugees,
Fill up the sky.

Impressions of Texas

My wanderlust is calling me once more… This time, the call is amplified by the logistical difficulties of the local dating scene and the large transfer bonus from my employer. I’ll depart for Tampa in only 83 hours and hopefully never return to this small rural Texan town that I’ve called home last year.

When I first moved to the outskirts of Fort Worth, I’d thought my Texan experience would be filled with wacky shenanigans the likes of which can only be experienced in the South. I thought I’d document them in great and hilarious detail and publish a bestseller titled “The Adventures of a Siberian in Texas: Yeehaw, Comrade!”

Alas, that wasn’t meant to be. There were no cacti, no armadillos, no wacky accents… Hell, I haven’t even managed to convince any locals to go cow-tipping, even though there’s a cow pasture just a mile away from my house. As much fun as it was to observe cheeseburgers in their natural habitat, it’s time to move on now.

I’ve had no great and noteworthy adventures in Texas, but just for the sake of posterity, here are some impressions of the Lone Star State from yours truly: cowboy-themed districts filled with Chinese goods; terrible dog owners; snow in San Antonio; Siberia-like landscapes; roads designed by M.C.Escher; cops who don’t understand laws of physics; trains… so many trains; a giant rat devouring roadkill in the middle of the night in the middle of the highway in the middle of nowhere; trading fireflies for broken unicorns; children with too much time and too many eggs; sector F8; lectures on theology; going to Church on Sundays; sushilessness.

So it goes.

One of the sadder things about the science fiction and fantasy genre is that readers often overlook older stories and novels, choosing to chase new releases instead. This anthology, edited by Gordon Van Gelder, seeks to right that wrong by reprinting stories that were originally published between 1956-2011. (For the most part, they’re closer to 1956.)

Some of the stories are hilarious, some are great, some aren’t. This anthology is an excellent way to get to know great authors from the decades past, but a few of the stories leave a lot to be desired, which is why I’m giving it only 4 stars instead of 5.

Brief story synopses:

“The Third Level” by Jack Finney: an average Joe time-travels when he discovers a hidden third level of the Grand Central Station. A fun story that shows not all time travel fiction needs to be complicated.

“The Cosmic Charge Account” by C. M. Kornbluth: a little old lady with latent psychic abilities reads a self-help book and decides to change her universe. Literally. The book’s pompous writer and a young publisher head out to stop the disaster in this hilarious, quirky and surreal story that has many genuinely “laugh out loud” moments.

“The Country of the Kind” by Damon Knight: the world’s last sociopath is all alone in the futuristic utopia. An unusual, sad and tragic short story.

“The Anything Box” by Zenna Henderson: a teacher gets curious when one of her first-graders spends all her time playing with an invisible magic box. A “soft” sci-fi story that explores the human nature instead of science or technology.

“The Prize of Peril” by Robert Sheckley: in a world where new laws make it legal for reality TV shows to kill their contestants for the promise of prize money, one man is on the run from a gang of murderers while the country cheers on. An excellent story that combines “The running man” and “Hunger games.”

“—All You Zombies—” by Robert A. Heinlein: A man in charge of resolving temporal paradoxes gets assigned a particularly challenging case… This story gets better each time you read it – the time travel paradox it describes is one of the best I’ve seen yet!

“A Kind of Artistry” by Brian W. Aldiss: In the strange distant future with its matriarchal society, genetic engineering and space exploration, one man is trying to do his best. A fairly long and disturbing story that features the mother of all Oedipus complexes. Probably my least favorite in this anthology.

“Green Magic” by Jack Vance: In a world where magic is commonplace and anyone can study it, one man wants even more as he follows his great uncle’s research on a new type of magic. A well written cautionary tale that reminds us all to be careful what we wish for.

“Narrow Valley” by R. A. Lafferty: a Native American enchants his tiny plot of land to make it inaccessible by just about anybody – as an enterprising 20th-century family is about to find out. A goofy story that makes fun of just about everything under the sun.

“Sundance” by Robert Silverberg: a human scientist that’s supposed to eradicate an entire species of cute little creatures to terraform a new planet begins to have his doubts… An unusually written, deep and truly intelligent short story about the morality of terraforming and the dangers of the human-centered worldview.

“The Attack of the Giant Baby” by Kit Reed: A baby starts to grow bigger and bigger after its scientist father screws up. A goofy story that’s a lot like the movie “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.”

“The Hundredth Dove” by Jane Yolen: A story about a fowl keeper, a king and his enchanted bride. To me, this seems more like an old-fashioned fairy tale than a fantasy story, but to each their own, I suppose…

“Jeffty Is Five” by Harlan Ellison: What happens to a child that stops aging (both physically and mentally) at the age of five? A very serious (and somewhat sad) take on this very strange concept from the point of view of a childhood friend who grows up.

“Salvador” by Lucius Shepard: American soldiers fighting in El Salvador are given drugs that make them stronger, faster, meaner – at the cost of their sanity. A very bloody, disturbing but well written story that was doubtlessly inspired by the horrors of the Vietnam War.

“The Aliens Who Knew, I mean, Everything” by George Alec Effinger: A not-too-bright U.S. President describes the planet’s first contact with friendly but insufferably pedantic aliens. A hilarious take on the usually scary “first contact” trope.

“Rat” by J. P. Kelly: In a dark cyberpunk world of the future, a super-intelligent rat is dealing drugs and staying one step ahead of the authorities. Definitely an unusual premise and very well written with more action than most other stories in this anthology.

“The Friendship Light” by Gene Wolfe: A handyman uses his skills to destroy the lives of his sister and her husband. A fairly complex horror story that features low-tech mischief instead of high-tech space-age devices usually found in science fiction.

“The Bone Woman” by Charles de Lint: What if creatures from Native American myths were real and still roamed the earth? The protagonist follows a strange homeless woman who collects bones for some mysterious purpose. A very interesting story that reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods.”

“The Lincoln Train” by Maureen F. McHugh: In this alternate universe, Lincoln barely survives the assassination attempt and his administration strikes back by forcibly relocating former slaveholders. The protagonist is a young woman that’s about to be relocated with her elderly mother. A great story that would make an amazing novel.

“Maneki Neko” by Bruce Sterling: In a futuristic Japan where a self-aware computer network operates a complex system based on gifts and favors from millions of people, an American FBI agent gets in a world of trouble when she tries to play by the book. A quirky and satirical story with an unusual premise.

“Winemaster” by Robert Reed: When people learn to transmute their minds into nanobots and code, the physical world loses its greatest minds, as well as most of its population. A prototypical “hard” sci-fi story that features everything from the nature of consciousness to corrupt genocidal governments to visitors from other worlds.

“Suicide Coast” by M. John Harrison: In a world with highly addictive virtual reality games, the protagonist is stuck in a love triangle with his daredevil friend and the friend’s wife. Or is he? A definitely unusual story that’s very meta, if you like big plot twists.

“Have Not Have” by Geoff Ryman: A story of a fashion designer who lives in the last village in the world to go online. A human interest story about life in the middle of nowhere and the stereotypical plucky provincial characters who are about to have their lives changed forever.

“The People of Sand & Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi: When the world becomes a toxic dump, what should genetically modified creatures (who can eat trash and plastic, among other things) do when they find a bona fide biological dog on the loose? An immensely interesting (if slightly disturbing) story set in a dysfunctional world. (Just like all of Bacigalupi’s fiction, really.)

“Echo” by Liz Hand: After an unknown disaster destroys the world as we know it, a woman waits for her lover on an uninhabited island, with only her dog as her company. A sad tale that provides the human angle that’s so often missing from “end of the world” stories.

“The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates” by Stephen King: A man killed in a plane crash finds a way to call his wife. Even if you’re not a fan of Stephen King’s fiction, you’re guaranteed to like this story.

“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu: The son of a Chinese mail-order bride turns his back on his heritage and his mother’s magic origami toys. If you like human interest stories with just a touch of science fiction, you’ll love this one.

Score: 4 stars

Buy it now on Amazon

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