Category: book review


Have you ever wondered if our world made a wrong turn somewhere? Sure, we have computers and smartphones and shiny video games, but what happened to the yesteryear dreams of jetpacks and space travel and flying cars? Well, now we know whom to blame: Tom Barren, the world’s worst time-traveler and the protagonist of Elan Mastai’s debut novel “All Our Wrong Todays.”

As it turns out, the most important event in human history happened on July 11th, 1965, when an eccentric scientist named Lionel Goettreider launched a device that harvested a new type of energy. The Goettreider Engine revolutionized everything, solved the energy crisis and turned the world into a utopia. Goettreider himself dies during the experiment (taking 16 fellow scientists with him), but that just helped cement his status as the new messiah of the utopian world. (The unfortunate scientists are remembered as “the 16 witnesses.”)

The story begins when our hapless protagonist, the scion of a famous physics professor, gets picked as a backup in the first ever time travel expedition. The grateful people of the futuristic 2015 want to go back in time (and space, accounting for the planetary movement) to witness the famous 1965 experiment. The end result is Tom waking up in our timeline, in our 2015, which to him seems like a dystopian nightmare. The Goettreider Engine doesn’t exist; buildings aren’t organically grown from smart materials; we use gas-guzzling cars instead of the fancy flying ones; worst of all, you have to pay other adults to pay your hair! And, on top of all that, the world he grew up in has ceased to exist, along with all his friends and relatives. Meet Tom Barren, destroyer of worlds.

As a self-proclaimed sci-fi junkie, I have to say – this book is probably the best time travel book I’ve had the pleasure to encounter. (The runner-ups are “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” by Charles Yu and “Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey” by Chuck Palahniuk.) It deconstructs just about every time travel trope out there, flirts with a few that are either brand new or downright extinct, and provides dozens of quotable zingers and assorted deep thoughts.

The 380-page story is told from a first-person perspective, and we get to know Tom Barren well: an aimless 32-year-old who grew up in the shadow of his father, never had a lasting relationship and, despite being smarter than an average bear, has a remarkable talent for ruining things. (The fact that he has to share his mind with his alternate-universe self doesn’t help.) The ongoing, unceasing mental narrative reminded me a lot of the aforementioned “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe,” expect much more so.

“All Our Wrong Todays” offers something unique for fans of both hard sci-fi and human interest stories. On the one hand, the book goes into quite a lot of detail regarding the plot holes of most time travel stories. (A recurring plot point is having to track down the exact spatial coordinates – miss by 3″ and you’re done for.) On the other hand, a huge part of the plot is dealing with the impossibly large implications of wiping out an entire timeline. On top of that, there’s time travel ethics: if you change history and end up accidentally getting a new relative, would reversing the change count as murder? If you liked “Safety Not Guaranteed” (probably the best human-interest time travel movie out there), you’ll love this book because it’s just like that, but amplified tenfold.

It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel: there are plot twists you won’t see coming, turns of phrase that will stick in your mind long after you finish the book. It sets a high standard for all the other sci-fi writers, newbie or otherwise, and should be on every sci-fi fan’s bookshelf.

I give this book five out of five stars.

Full disclosure: I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review – but then loved it so much that I pre-ordered a hardcover copy.

Pre-order “All Our Wrong Todays” on Amazon. (Release date: February 7th, 2017)

“The Hatching” by Ezekiel Boone aims to capitalize on two successful trends of science fiction and fantasy: serialized novels and the “oral history” format of “World War Z.” The result is mixed and, to be fair, perfectly average.

The premise is simple, though not very scary, unless you happen to be an arachnophobe: all over the world, ancient spider eggs start hatching and producing spider-shaped weapons of mass destruction that devour everything in their path. A lot of the book follows a female scientist specializing in spiders, a female US President (whose name is not Hillary, just in case you were wondering), and an assorted cast of ex-boyfriends, grad students and an occasional cop, with a few secondary characters thrown in.

The narrative is interspersed with “Word War Z”-esque dispatches of waves of tiny spiders devouring entire villages and then cities. That’s where the book fails to meet expectations. There are only so many ways you can describe a giant black wave of cannibalistic hive-mind creatures without being redundant, and in a lot of cases, there is no background on our temporary protagonists – sometimes we don’t even know their name.

I’m mixed on this book: on the one hand, main characters are fleshed out quite well for a sci-fi/horror novel. They all have their own lives, and the subplot about two pairs of survivalists in a small desert town is fun to read. (I think that’s the first time any work of fiction had a gay survivalist couple living in a bunker – well played!) On the other hand, the names are corny (one family has Annie, Frannie and Manny) and most of the characters spend at least half their time thinking about sex and/or hooking up with their former partners.

The book has some interesting trivia about spiders, but at the same time spiders make for the least convincing horrifying creatures imaginable. (Unless, once again, you’re a raging arachnophobe.) Hitchcock’s 1963 movie “The Birds” did not age well for that precise reason – if your main plot device requires willful suspension of disbelief in order to work at all, it may be a good idea to go with zombies instead.

Overall, “The Hatching” is a perfectly decent novel – not perfect and not terrible, but somewhere in between. In terms of pacing, it might have worked better to release 1 long book instead of starting yet another series with 3 average-sized books, where the plot slowly moves through the paces. Then again, if you’re just looking for a fun book to devour during your flight or while commuting to work, this is a perfectly good choice.

Final score: three out of five stars

Order “The Hatching” now on Amazon

Full disclosure: I received an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Robert Kroese is a funny guy and one of those improbable entrepreneurs that keep the Internet interesting: he’s a blogger, a philosopher, a prolific Kindle author, and now he just might become my favorite mystery writer.

“The Big Sheep” is a hilarious twist on the established archetype of Holmes and Watson – or, in this case, Erasmus Keane and Blake Fowler. The former is an eccentric, brilliant, occasionally charismatic and frequently quotable private investigator with a shady past. (Or “phenomenological inquisitor,” as he prefers to be called.) The latter is his sidekick and bodyguard – an average guy with a knack for guns and hand-to-hand combat, on a never-ending quest to find his missing girlfriend.

This dynamic duo works in Los Angeles in 2039, 11 years after the Collapse of 2028. The origins of the Collapse aren’t explained, but it ended up dividing the country, creating demilitarized “DZ” zones (essentially, feudal kingdoms for aspiring warlords) and inspiring a hit TV show, DiZzy Girl.

The book begins with Keane and Bowler taking the case of a kidnapped hyper-intelligent sheep, followed by another case from the DiZzy Girl’s starlet, one Priya Mistry, who is convinced her life is in danger. How are the two cases connected? Read on and find out for yourself!

The book’s dialogue, that “make it or break it” element of every detective novel, is brilliantly written. The plot is original, the setting is mysterious and sufficiently noir-like, the narrative is funny, and action scenes are written well enough to grab your attention. The only downside I can think of is the lack of character descriptions. We never learn what our two heroes look like, aside from the fact that they’re adult human males, and that was a bit of an oversight, in my opinion. Fortunately, that’s the only flaw the book has. I highly recommend it for your reading pleasure and eagerly await more books in this great new series.

I give this book five out of five stars.

Order “The Big Sheep” now on Amazon

Full disclosure: I received an advanced reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Making predictions is usually a losing game, but who knows, there’s always the chance of guessing just right. I haven’t been following the trilogy’s reddit or reading any other fan speculations, but here’s what I’ve deduced after re-reading the books and watching just about every Patrick Rothfuss interview on YouTube. (Also, fair warning – this contains spoilers to the first two books, so stop right here unless you want to ruin this amazing book series for yourself.)

  • The third book will come out sometime this decade, but not before November 2017.
  • Simmon will die. (In both books, Kvothe speaks of him very fondly – the sort of fondly one would use to describe somebody who is no longer with us.)
  • Kvothe and Fenton (the second-best sympathist at the University) will end up having a bona fide sympathy some point. (If only to settle once and for all which one is better.)
  • It’ll turn out that Ambrose has been quietly killing everyone who stands between his father and the throne. His family is, after all, known for their connection to pirates.
  • After Ambrose becomes a king, Kvothe will kill him. (There will be a lot of other stuff before that, of course.)
  • Whoever the unfortunate soon-to-be-king is, the assassination will happen in Imre, by the fountain. (See the “you’re him!” scene at the beginning of Book I.)
  • At some point, Kvothe will save a princess from a barrow king (see the boasting paragraph in Book I), possibly revealing that the shamble-men (sp?) are, in fact, real, just like every other allegedly mythical creature in the trilogy.
  • Kvothe will cross over into the fairy realm, where he’ll make enough of a splash that Bast’s father (a fairy king, I believe) will give him over as an apprentice.
  • Bast will briefly see Denna (see one of the interludes in Book I, possibly while eavesdropping during “the big goodbye” scene between her and Kvothe.
  • At one point, Chronicler said Kvothe met a god and killed an angel in order to get to him. I’m afraid the latter was Auri, if only by accident…
  • It’ll turn out that Kvothe’s world is just a barbaric imitation of the grand civilization that existed beforehand (as Skarpi said in Book I, the University was built on top of another, older university). Sort of a “Planet of the Apes”-type scene that shows just how backward the world is, by comparison.
  • Even with the barbarism, arcanists have the cold fusion technology. (See the minor comment Kvothe made about cold-forging iron in the Fishery – can’t recall which book it was in.)
  • Lorren (the Archivist) is one of the Amyr – pretty obvious, considering how quickly he got to Kvothe when he requested Chandrian and Amyr books from the Stacks, and how he asked Kvothe which Ruh troop he was from during his University admissions.
  • We’ll meet Abenthe again. (Kvothe said so in Book I, at the beginning of the Tarbean narrative.)
  • Late in Book III, we’ll meet
  • Kvothe will end up collecting the 7 old artifacts left over by the survivors of the ancient civilization and using them to open the Lackless door. (See the “Seven things stand before” rhyme by a traveling troupe’s boy in Book II.)
  • The magic Denna mentioned (whatever you write down will come true) is a subtle sort of magic, much like Bast’s explanation for the power of one’s self-identity. The Chandrian slaughter musicians and any potential witnesses because having their names written down (or even spoken out loud) will give readers or listeners a degree of power over them.
  • Kvothe’s adopted name – Kote – means “disaster” in Cealdish. (Briefly mentioned in Book I.)
  • Kvothe’s overall story is that of pride and arrogance – he starts a civil war and somehow opens the stone doors and lets the demons into the world, not to mention gets his friends killed, all because he thought he knew better. (See the shortest chapter of Book I – “Pride” – for a small example of his hubris backfiring.)
  • Elodin’s reaction to Kvothe’s question about names (end of Book II) suggests that it is, in fact, possible to fundamentally change one’s name. There may be a ritual for it and it’s not as easy as just adopting a new name. A story (in Book I, I believe) mentioned that a legendary character’s name was concealed in several hidden objects. The mysterious trunk in Kvothe’s room has his name locked away, and he’d need to be in the “Kvothe mode” to open it up. (“Open, damn you. Edro.” Book II,Ch.151)
  • Perhaps the most interesting part: in one of the YouTube interviews, Rothfuss reluctantly said that a gearwin (the popular gadget made in the Fishery) is a device that can “transform heat into angular momentum.” Essentially, the hotter it gets, the faster gears turn. That shines a whole new light on the myth of Tehlu binding the top demon (forgot his name) to an iron wheel and throwing him into a fire pit. Considering all the ancient devices with giant gears in the Underthing, that means gearwins are just a small vestige of the old technology. (Kvothe, as always, didn’t make the connection.) Furthermore, Kilvin has some secret place where he dumped the overflow energy from the fire at the Fishery. It might be connected to the world’s biggest gearwin – the one gearwin to rule them all!
  • The name of the wind is Steve. 😛

Questions? Comments? Counter-theories? Post them here!

Justin Cronin’s “The Passage” trilogy reminds me of DC’s comic book movies: the premise is great, but each new installment is grittier, darker and makes less sense than the one before it.

I’ll start with a warning: if you have any sort of trauma-related emotional triggers, the first 60 pages of “The city of mirrors” will pull them, seemingly just for the fun of it. In the very first chapters of the book, we encounter (in no particular order) a stillbirth, a series of rape-related flashbacks, a man telepathically cheating on his girlfriend, a sexually abused little girl, and a religious hermit who goes to wander in the desert and then either gets extremely lucky by finding a bona fide treasure or loots an emergency supply station while presumably leaving the next stranded traveler to die.

I honestly can’t tell why Cronin chose to assault his readers like this. It’s possible that he tried to shove as much potential shock value as possible to make the book more memorable (though not in a good way) – at one point in the book, there’s a fairly detailed description of live birth. (Not quite what one expects in what’s supposed to be a vampire book.) On the other hand, it’s possible he was just trying to pad the page count. “The city of mirrors” appears to be the shortest book in the trilogy, and that’s after all the shameless padding and all the hundreds of pages spent describing nothing in general.

In the middle of the book, there’s a 200-page novel in which Zero, the original viral, corners one of our plucky heroes and shares his origin story in a very unexpected, out-of-context way. Is it possible that Cronin always wanted to write a “coming of age” story and decided to force-feed it to his readers? Or was it just something gathering dust in his desk drawer that seemed good enough to turn a 400-page book into a heavy 600-pager?

Regardless, the notion of a 150-year-old vampire moaning about his lost college girlfriend is ridiculous, especially considering that his audience consists of a single person who grew up with only the most basic education and who wouldn’t be able to grasp even the most basic concepts – things like tenure or airplanes or upper-class socioeconomic class. The story would have been much more realistic and fun if Zero would have to stop every 5 minutes and explain what things meant, but nope, we’re all subjected to a ridiculously out-of-place stream of consciousness. (Can you imagine tracking down a rural bumpkin from the year 1900 and telling them about your computer problems? Yeah, it’s *that* ridiculous.)

I might have been able to overlook all of the above and give the book a weak 4-star rating, but there are far too many plot holes and, dare I say, poor writing for a book that’s been in the works for 4 years. Just a handful of examples off the top of my head… A 35-year-old horse can run as fast as a group of virals. A character goes for a long swim and produces a perfectly dry book of matches from their pocket. A deaf person devises their own sign language – so advanced that even “War and peace” can be translated into it. Automatic rifles last just fine for 120 years before suddenly starting to break down due to advanced age. Two people that discover potentially world-ending piece of news choose not to tell everyone but instead launch a sociopathic murderous cult that involves dozens of people over the course of 21 years, none of whom say a word to anybody. (Every spy agency’s dream!) A person that’s never been on a boat learns how to operate a cruise ship in less than a month. People of the future can’t tell the difference between 870 and 1,000 years. After restarting civilization, 870 years later the pinnacle of their technological achievement is dirigibles and flashbulb cameras. (Must have been all the inbreeding.) Virals discover brand new powers that can’t be explained by any virus and turn into shapeshifters. Half the characters in the book develop superpowers – either telepathic abilities that are ever so convenient, or the ability to run for 30 minutes while bleeding from an artery without any lasting damage.

If I sound just a little bit upset, it’s because I’ve spent 2 weeks of my life struggling to finish this book, waiting for a payoff at the end, but it never came. I downgrade the book to 2 stars for the most ridiculously stretched-out ending I have ever had the displeasure to read. It’s yet another novella about people we don’t know, doing things we don’t care about, who end up lecturing us about the things we already know and, in the end, do something so extremely stupid (but pretty and sentimental – yay!) that the entire struggle appears to have been for naught.

On the upside, the language of the book is occasionally moving and often beautiful. That is, of course, when it’s not talking about child rape, stillbirths, murderous cults, shapeshifting vampires, shapeshifting humans, shapeshifting vampires that become humans or shapeshifting humans that become vampires but then change their minds and switch back to being humans.

I give this book 2 out of 5 stars.

Pre-order it on Amazon here, if you’re so inclined. (Release date: May 24, 2016)

Full disclosure: I’ve received the advanced reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Writing funny science fiction is not easy. The seminal classic, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, more or less set the standard for the funny sci-fi subgenre when it was created all those decades ago. Ever since then, it’s been held as the standard against which other funny sci-fi novels would be judged.

There are pleasant exceptions, such as John Scalzi’s novels. (Unfortunately, his more recent work has gotten too snarky, to the point where every character sounds exactly the same.) Another happy exception is a brand new novel by Gene Doucette – “The Spaceship Next Door.”

The premise itself is interesting enough: a spaceship lands in the town of Sorrow Falls, Massachusetts, and proceeds to do absolutely nothing for three years. There are no dramatic “first contact” scenes, no enigmatic aliens, no interplanetary romance – just your typical alien spaceship, hanging out in the middle of a field, minding its own business and keeping people from getting too close with its alien forcefield.

Eventually, the government sends a bright (though not very experienced) young man to investigate his pet hypothesis. He meets a quirky, precocious 16-year-old girl who knows everyone and everything in her town, and together they join forces to figure out what’s what and save the world while they’re at it. Along the way, they bump into enigmatic locals, bored soldiers (who spent the last three years waiting for an alien invasion that never came) and a wacky assortment of UFO groupies that created a trailer park community next to the flying saucer.

The book is intelligent, well written and has quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. The characters are beautifully developed and not just used as cardboard cutouts whose only purpose is to move the plot along. (I’m looking at you, Mr.Asimov.)

That said, “The Spaceship Next Door” falls a bit short of perfection in its action scenes. Some of them are explained in overly elaborate details: a certain scene involving a car and a ravine is stretched out over an entire page, even though the action is only 10 seconds long, if that. The pacing is somewhat uneven throughout the book. The first half of the book is slow – almost too slow. The second half is much more fast-paced, and the two don’t mix too well. (Think “Hot Fuzz” with Simon Pegg.) The end result is pretty, but I daresay it could have used a bit more editing around the edges.

Overall, “The Spaceship Next Door” is a decent sci-fi book that works equally well as a detective mystery (some of the plot twists were excellent), a comedy, a sci-fi novel and even a young adult book. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great experiment and a brilliant reversal of the all-too-typical “first contact” trope that’s all too common in science fiction.

Final score: four out of five stars

Full disclosure: I’ve received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Buy it on Amazon

Imagine a couple of three-year-olds playing with their action figures: chasing and shooting and yelling at each other. Good. Now imagine them using a time machine in their disjointed, barely coherent, poorly scripted story as they chase one another around the house. If you do that, you’ll have a fairly good idea of what “Alternate” by Ernie Luis is like.

“Alternate” was a serialized Kindle book, written in four installments, presumably without any idea where it was going to end up. (See also: Lost – the TV show that was supposed to last only six episodes but went on for six seasons and ended in a bizarre, mind-twisting example of grown men writing themselves into a corner.) Mind you, sometimes serialized Kindle novels work – Hugh Howey’s Wool is a good example of that.

The concept behind the book (grandly entitled “omnibus”) is pretty interesting: a society of assassins that go back in time to kill their victims, and who someday might be able to go back and rescue the people from their own past. Think of it as a combination of “Looper” and “Wanted.”

Perhaps, in the right hands, with proper editing and proofreading, the book could have been great. Instead, it ended up poorly written and filled with plot holes: a frail sixteen-year-old girl armed with a knife is somehow able to keep hundreds of people (presumably armed with guns) under her control; the book’s villain leaves a whistleblower alone inside his unlocked office, with a loaded gun and an unlocked computer terminal that contains all the dirty secrets, conveniently written down and explained in great detail. Supposedly efficient assassins turns out to be horribly traumatized alcoholics with emotional issues that would put a typical 14-year-old emo to shame. The list goes on and on…

Some self-published Kindle books turn out perfect: look no further than Andy Weir and “The Martian.” “The Alternate,” on the other hand, is a perfect example why sometimes going the traditional route may be a good idea.

I’m giving this book two stars instead of one because the author did a fairly good job describing the emotional pain of the protagonist – a man who lost his 8-year-old daughter and would do anything to get her back. Too bad those raw emotional moments are grossly outnumbered by all the graphic “torture porn” scenes of people mutilating their doomed enemies just for the fun of it, to indulge some basic, id-driven, caveman instinct that, once again, is not unlike what you’d see if you watch three-year-olds play with their toys.

Final score: two out of five stars

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Some books are impossible to put down. Some books make you call in sick to work because you simply can’t stop reading. Some books change your life forever. Max Wirestone’s “The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss” is not one of those books.

The premise is fairly interesting: a broke, unemployed geeky girl gets hired to investigate the theft of a certain unique item that went missing in an MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game). Pretty soon, however, a real-life crime occurs, and our hapless heroine gets to investigate it too.

There’s a wide variety of wacky characters, a strange online game world and, well, not a whole lot else. Our protagonist, Dahlia Moss, is described in the vaguest possible terms: chronically unemployed, still recovering from a bad breakup over a year ago, suffering from body image issues. That doesn’t stop her from body-shaming other female characters, however (“exceedingly flat. Not just her chest – everything”). I found it hard to feel sympathy for the protagonist when she uses such language against other women, goes to job interviews without any idea what she’s interviewing for, criticizes her charitable roommate who lets her live in the apartment for free, etc.

I’ve seen this book compared to “Scott Pilgrim vs the World,” and it looks like Wirestone had deliberately set out to write a gender-reversed homage. The fact that every character addresses the protagonist by her full name (“Dahlia Moss!”) almost every time they meet her is a rather strong giveaway.

The book tries to be funny, but it didn’t get more than a few chuckles out of me. The in-book continuity is odd: the narrative takes place over the course of about a week, with every day described in detail, yet at one point Dahlia mentions all the detective books she’d read since she started the case. A bad cop shows up for one scene, never to return again, while a good (and secretly geeky) cop inexplicably puts his job on the line by providing Dahlia with very thinly veiled clues about the case.

Normally, I’d give a book like this only 2 stars, but some parts of it were well written and rather quotable. (“My refrigerator is best described in terms of stark minimalism.”)

I wish Max Wirestone better luck with his future (and hopefully less ambitious) endeavors.

Score: 3 out of 5 stars

Pre-order on Amazon (release date: October 20, 2015)

“Writers of the Future Volume 31” is this year’s collection of 13 best sci-fi stories by new writers. The stories (most of which are quite enjoyable) are interspersed with occasional essays on writing by L. Ron Hubbard, Orson Scott Card, etc. Overall, the collection had some nice gems and should give every sci-fi fan hours of enjoyment. (Or days, if you’d like to stretch it out!) Each story has an amazing illustration to go with it. The artists are featured alongside the authors, so who knows – maybe this book will be the big break they need.

Brief reviews:
“Switch” by David Farland – a cop using mental performance-enhancing drug is on the case to find the drug’s manufacturer after a series of violent crimes. Interesting if you’re into police stories and action movies.

“The God Whisperer” by Daniel J. Davis – what if people had minor gods as pets? Funny and creative story – shame it was so short, because there’s definitely enough potential for a book.

“Stars That Make Dark Heaven Light by Sharon Joss – a teenage girl from a space colony of genetically modified humans discovers an intelligent lifeform in her backyard. The story has a Young Adult feel to it and it’s beautifully written.

“When Shadows Fall” by L. Ron Hubbard – a 1948 story about three men’s attempts to save a dying, suffocating Earth in the distant future. An enjoyable yet unusual story written more like a parable.

“A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” by Auston Habershaw – a teenager acquires a magical book to, well, learn magic and right the wrongs in his society (and his gang). Creative and entertaining, with a great twist at the end.

“Twelve Minutes to Vinh Quang” by Tim Napper – a deal between a Vietnamese gangster and a young woman who wants to smuggle some people through the border suddenly gets very complicated. Short and sweet, with a badass heroine but not a lot of action or plot development.

“Planar Ghosts” by Krystal Claxton – a kid wanders the scorched steppes of the futuristic, post-global-warming world, with a strange purple ghost of a girl as his companion. Interesting idea, but the execution could be slightly better.

“Rough Draft” by Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta – a bestselling sci-fi writer who stopped writing receives a novel written by himself – from a parallel universe. The story deals with practical applications of milking the multiverse for new content by artists and writers – and how it affects the creators who are still alive in this universe.

“Between Screens” by Zach Chapman – a gang of teenagers livng on a space station teleport around the universe and hijack telescopes to watch other worlds get destroyed by natural disasters. Gloomy and disturbing, if you’re into that kind of thing.

“Unrefined” by Martin L. Shoemaker – a metal refining station in deep space gets destroyed. Told from the point of view of the station creator’s bodyguard, the story is mostly about flying around and trying to save a collapsing station, followed by a story of the employees pulling themselves up by bootstraps. If you’re an Ayn Rand-loving engineer, you might enjoy it.

“Half Past” by Samantha Murray – a magician’s daughter who creates “echoes” of herself during emotional outbursts learns something very disturbing when she decides to move out on her own. An interesting slow-paced tale of emotion, magic and different stages of growing up.

“Purposes Made for Alien Minds” by Scott R. Parkin – a malfunctioning android who can only speak and think in 5-word sentences is sent to an alien world to discover why the aliens are killing off human colonists. Strange but overall enjoyable story.

“Inconstant Moon” by Larry Niven – late at night, a freelance writer suddenly realizes that the ridiculously bright moon means something really, really bad is coming. A fun story about a guy and his girlfriend enjoying their last night on earth.

“The Graver” by Amy M. Hughes – in a world where super-powered people can suck out your soul, a widower is trying to protect his teenage daughter. Dark but creative.

“Wisteria Melancholy” by Michael T. Banker – a man who gets as heavy as lead when he feels sad moves into a clinic for other psychomorphically unstable people (mostly kids). Interesting concept, well written, contains some great quotable stuff.

“Poseidon’s Eyes” by Kary English – something about a struggling artist, her magical redneck friend who lives on the beach, some ghosts, etc… If you enjoy very slowly developing stories, this might be the one for you – I ended up skipping to the end when I was halfway through.

Score: 4 stars

Pre-order on Amazon (release date: May 4, 2015)

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)