Archive for September, 2014

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

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

Buy it on Amazon

(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*

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.