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Peter Clines’s books are always addictive, unpredictable and beautifully crafted. His latest novel, “The Fold,” follows that pattern and may be his greatest book yet.

Meet Leland Erikson. He goes by “Mike,” which is a nickname for a nickname, and he’s one of the smartest people in the world. In addition to having sky-high IQ, he also has perfect recall. Instead of developing his talents, however, he teaches English in a small high school, choosing to lead a normal life instead of that of a dissatisfied genius. His well-established routine changes when an old friend from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) pays a visit and asks for a favor… A team of scientists developed a teleportation device that works perfectly fine, but something might be off about the scientists themselves.

The premise appears to be fairly simple. After all, teleportation is one of science fiction’s most popular tropes. (Who among us hasn’t heard “Beam me up, Scotty”?) In his usual manner, however, Clines takes that concept, turns it inside out and changes it into something completely novel and unrecognizable. Writing anything about the “how” behind his teleportation machine would bring spoilers, so suffice to say that it doesn’t quite work the way you (or any of the characters) would expect. The seemingly benign technology has a strange origin, stranger implications, and it just might destroy the world as we know it – and it’s up to Mike Erikson to save the day.

Each of the Fold’s characters is well developed and given their own personality, which, unfortunately, isn’t something one can see in every sci-fi book. From grumpy scientists to Star Trek-obsessed technicians, by the end of the book you feel like you’ve known each of them for ages. The dialogue sounds unforced and natural, with regular, everyday interactions interspersed between mysteries and action scenes. (Which are amazingly well written, by the way.)

Perhaps the main challenge was writing the protagonist in a way that would be easy to relate to and show just how brilliant he is. That’s not always an easy task: after all, we all remember the cringe-worthy, chipmunk-like character of Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: TNG. Mike (short for “Mycroft,” for obvious reasons) is written in a way that makes him easy to follow and understand. The metaphor he uses for his prodigious brain is ants: tiny memory ants carrying pieces of information back and forth. He’s not always right, and his flashed of insight are well explained as he goes about saving the day using mostly his brain, not brawn.

In order to make this an objective review, I tried to find some negatives or things that could use improvement, but I haven’t been able to think of any. The Fold is a straight-up, shoot-from-the-hip sci-fi masterpiece, with mad scientists, reclusive geniuses, bizarre technology, doomsday threats and plot twists you’ll never be able to predict.

(Full disclaimer: I received a free advance review copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Score: 5 stars

Pre-order on Amazon (release date: June 2, 2015)

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Most self-help books are notoriously vague and wishy-washy, with one-size-fits-all recommendations and generic assurance that everything will be okay.

“Superproductive” by Chobi Grace is not one of those books. Unlike most other works in that genre, it gives plenty of practical advice (throw your TV remote in a drawer!), psychological insights into why you do the things you do, and nifty ways to hack your daily routine to make it more productive without using up too much of your resources.

At just 50 pages, the book contains all the useful information without the fluff that one usually finds in self-help books. The stories and parables in the book are short, sweet and to the point (the parable about angels was particularly amusing). The book’s illustrations and design make it a lot more appealing than most self-published books on Kindle, which makes it both a visual and an intellectual treat.

If you’ve ever wondered where all your free time goes, or if you’ve always dreamed of writing that Great American Novel, you should give “Superproductive” a chance – it will not disappoint you.

Score: five stars

Buy it now on Amazon

“When Mystical Creatures Attack!” by Kathleen Founds is a quirky book that defies simple descriptions.

It’s a book about a disgruntled young high school teacher in a tiny Texan town, who gets driven insane by her ungrateful students and ends up in a bizarre mental hospital. It’s a book about a girl who takes the teacher’s English class. It’s a book about a dorky boy who has a crush on the girl.

It’s a book pieced together from emails, diary entries, monologues and hilarious recipes from a Baptist cookbook.

It’s a book about life and death, destiny and suicide, love and apathy, teenage pregnancies and abortions. (Trigger warning.)

It’s a book where the ending can be easily guessed, and yet it’s unexpected and poetic and beautiful.

It’s a book that’s frequently hilarious, occasionally touching, and amazingly well written throughout.

It’s a book that deserves a 5-star rating and more.

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Amazon link

“Time Travel: Recent Trips” is yet another sci-fi anthology edited by the prodigious Paula Guran. While this book has some remarkable stories, it appears that the volume’s motto was “quantity over quality.” Some of the stories are downright tedious, while others have almost nothing to do with time travel and serve as a filibuster platform for their author. Because of all that, the book ended up being an average, run-of-the-mill anthology that gets only 3 out of 5 stars.

“With fate conspire” by Vandana Singh: in a dystopian, drowning world of the future, an illiterate refugee gets rescued because her brain is uniquely tuned to a machine that can look into the distant past. When she’s not being haunted by ghosts of people from the past, she sabotages the project because of her feelings. And more feelings. With some feelings on top. A sad weepy story if you’re into that sort of thing.

“Twember” by Steve Rasnic Tem: a middle-aged man living in a small town reminisces about the past while giant mysterious escarpments roam the world and alter the time-space continuum when they pass. Yet another “human interest” story that doesn’t exactly revolve around time travel.

“The man who ended history: a documentary” by Ken Liu: not so much a sci-fi story as a 46-page-long (the longest in the anthology!) NC-17 history lesson about Japan’s Unit-731 from World War II. A Chinese-American historian uses his Japanese-American wife’s invention to experience the past and relive old atrocities, which reopens old wounds and changes the way people view history. Great potential for a great story, but it ended up being rather dry.

“The carpet beds of Sutro Park” by Kage Baker: a glitchy immortal cyborg (see Kage Baker’s “The Company” series for more information) falls in love with a woman while he records her hometown for posterity. Original but depressing.

“Mating habits of the late Creaceous” by Dale Bailey: a magnificent story about a married couple that spent all its money on a time travel to see dinosaurs. A great combination of science fiction, giant lizards and the human element.

“Blue ink” by Yoon Ha Lee: a very clever story about a schoolgirl who gets recruited to help fight the battle at the end of time. Short, beautifully written and with an unexpected ending.

“Two shots from Fly’s photo gallery” by John Shirley: a historian who specializes in the Old West time-travels to the gunfight at the OK Corral to save the woman he loves. A thoroughly researched and excellent story.

“The mists of time” by Tom Purdom: an engaging story about a wealthy man who goes back in time to shoot a documentary about his great-grandfather liberating a pirate ship full of slaves.

“The king of Where-I-go” by Howard Waldrop: a strange story set in the 1970s – a Texan guy’s younger sister gets recruited into a paranormal research project. Curious premise, but the story itself meanders – more about life in the 60s and 70s than anything else.

“Bespoke” by Genevieve Valentine: a cute short story about a post-time-travel world, where a young seamstress helps create authentic period clothing for wealthy tourists going back in time.

“First Flight” by Mary Robinette Kowal: a little old lady goes back in time to 1905 to record one of the Wright brothers’ flights. A feel-good story where, for once, interfering with the timeline doesn’t cause a disaster.

“The time travel club” by Charlie Jane Anders: a quirky story about a group of friends who meet each week in the basement of a Unitarian church and share their made-up stories about time travel, until a real time traveler shows up… Fun and creative.

“The ghosts of Christmas” by Paul Cornell: science fiction meets Lifetime channel in this story about a woman who uses an experimental time travel device to haunt her own past and future, her mather and her daughter. A lot of monologues about feelings, not a lot of science…

“The Ile of Dogges” by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette: a very Kage Baker-like story about a time traveler rescuing a play that would have been destroyed otherwise.

“September at Wall and Broad” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch: an excellent story that combines the inefficiency of federal bureaucracies (the Time Department), the highly believable description of what it would be like to be a timestream operative, and the little-known Wall Street explosion of 1920. Highly recommended.

“Thought experiment” by Eileen Gunn: an engineer invents an unusual way to time-travel, but fails to consider the consequences. A goofy and entertaining story.

“Number 73 Glad Avenue” by Suzanne J. Willis: A woman and her magical tiny android sidekick steal time from people attending their parties. An unusual concept, though the story itself is a bit confusing.

“The Lost Canal” by Michael Moorcock: an unsuccessful and far too lengthy homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “John Carter of Mars” novels. Apparently, a million years from now people will still speak English and remember what happened in the 20th century and what happened in the 23rd.

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

Amazon link

It’s been a while since I published a new book on Kindle, so I figured I’d celebrate by doing a good ol’ giveaway! Today and tomorrow only, you can download a brand new, absolutely free (as in cheese!) copy of my latest book, 50 shades of yay: great thinkers on happiness.

As the snarky title explains, it’s about the nature of happiness. What is it, what is it not, why don’t I have it, and where can I score some – those are just a few questions that are covered in 50 different essays, poems, aphorisms and philosophical reflections on the topic. You’ve probably heard of some of the featured writers (Emily Dickinson, Abraham Lincoln, Socrates), but some of the others will definitely be a pleasant discovery. Consider Christina, the 16th-century queen of Sweden, whose insightful notes and memoirs are virtually forgotten these days.

This book has a little bit for everyone: serious discussions on the nature of happiness and short, snappy soundbites; serious philosophical texts and thought-provoking poems; viewpoints from both optimists and pessimists. 50 shades of yay has something for everyone, and certainly something for you to help you on your personal quest toward that most elusive goal, happiness. Happy reading and best of luck!

Download link

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.)

Order it on Amazon

“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

Buy it on Amazon

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