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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)

“Chekhov’s gun” – 72,700 search results on Google
“Chekhov’s rifle” – 346 search results
“Chekhov’s shotgun” – 66 search results
“Chekhov’s cannon” – 36 search results
“Chekhov’s bazooka” – 23 search results
“Chekhov’s machine gun” – 21 search results
“Chekhov’s revolver” – 19 search results
“Chekhov’s flare gun” – 16 search results
“Chekhov’s stun gun” – 10 search results
“Chekhov’s howitzer” – 8 search results
“Chekhov’s nerf gun” – 8 search results
“Chekhov’s slingshot” – 7 search results
“Chekhov’s musket” – 6 search results
“Chekhov’s blaster” – 2 search results
“Chekhov’s carbine” – 2 search results
“Chekhov’s railgun” – 2 search results
“Chekhov’s BB gun” – 1 search result
“Chekhov’s dart gun” – 1 search result
“Chekhov’s derringer” – 1 search result
“Chekhov’s tranquilizer gun” – 1 search result
“Chekhov’s arquebus” – no search results

I took a sleeping pill on the election day. At 1:15am on November 9th, I woke up to a strange world, vastly different from the one I had left behind.

We had it wrong. We had it all wrong. The conventional wisdom, the time-tested rules of politics, the elaborate polling models. All for naught.

In the age where celebrities are trusted more than scientists, where statisticians like Nate Silver are treated as oracles, where complacency supersedes commitment, our hubris humiliated us.

The Obama coalition fell apart. The white vote and the minority vote were different – vastly different – from what had been expected. The leading factors, to mangle Rumsfeld’s words, were known unknowns. We just hadn’t cared enough to know them.

My degree is in political science. I am a financial analyst by trade. The aftermath makes me want to reconsider ever mentioning my degree, ever again working as an analyst.

On the off chance you’re reading this simple blog in the future,  perhaps while researching the year that brought you Rodrigo Duterte and Brexit and Trump, know this: there was opposition. There was hubris. There was a fundamental miscalculation of who we really are.

We were arrogant. We are shaken. We shall learn.

“dancing with the stars” – 11,300,000 search results on Google
“jumping with the stars” – 59,500 search results
“prancing with the stars” – 5,610 search results
“bouncing with the stars” – 22 search results
“hopping with the stars” – 17 search results
“frolicking with the stars” – 12 search results
“reveling with the stars” – 2 search results
“romping with the stars” – 2 search results
“gamboling with the stars” – 1 search result
“skipping with the stars” – 1 search result
“frisking with the stars” – zero search results

I rarely read non-fiction. I’ve never read a travelogue. And yet I was pleasantly surprised by Tom Lutz’s latest book, “And the Monkey Learned Nothing: Dispatches from a Life in Transit.” At first, the book grabbed my attention with its title, followed by the synopsis. After I read the first few chapters, I knew I was hooked.

Lutz is a solo traveler who dreams of visiting every country in the world. He’s also a great and introspective writer. Each chapter is a short account of his personal experience in a new foreign country. They range in length and topic: walking through an empty Middle Eastern town; being stalked by an aloof young woman in South Korea; infiltrating the secret tango scene in Buenos Aires…

Like every other travelogue out there, this one is subjective. It reveals a fair bit about the author himself, while also describing the way others reacted to him. It also adds a great deal of cultural context or just funny (and occasionally disturbing) anecdotes.

Just about the only flaw I could find in the book is the dry nature of some chapters that discuss local politics. Those chapters, however, were outnumbered by the ones that gave great travel advice, made me reconsider visiting a few places (sorry, Cambodia) and taught me to avoid monkeys in tourist-heavy areas. (“They are sociopaths, like particularly nasty juvenile delinquents.”)

This book was a genuine pleasure to read. It would make an excellent present to anyone that’s curious about travel, the world, the universe and everything. Most and foremost, it’s a must-read if your wanderlust has overgrown the confines of your own country and inspired you to travel abroad.

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.

Buy “And the monkey learned nothing” on Amazon.

I want to be a stand-up comedian if I grow up. Might want to get insurance against pun-induced brain damage, though. Decisions, decisions…

iron punning

Kudos to Felicia Day for inspiring the pun barrage with this tweet.

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“I am Copper Man” – 14 search results
“I am Golden Man” – 13 search results
“I am Magnesium Man” – 7 search results
“I am Cobalt Man” – 6 search results
“I am Platinum Man” – 5 search results
“I am Lithium Man” – 4 search results
“I am Nickel Man” – 3 search results
“I am Zinc Man” – 1 search result
“I am Palladium Man” – zero search results

“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.

I’ve recently written that Patrick Rothfuss’s Book-3 probably wouldn’t come out anytime soon. (Along with some other predictions.) Well, I guess I was wrong! In my not-at-all-obsessive quest for more video interviews with Pat, I found this recent (5/11/16) video interview.

Aside from the sheer awesomeness that is Pat’s office (I count at least 15 owl-bears), there’s also a very important update: he said he’s currently editing the book to get it shorter, better and more dynamic. In his own words, he’s going through it and trying to cut out approximately 100,000 words. It’s kind of humbling to think he’s going to cut enough words to write an average, non-Rothfuss-sized novel.

So, assuming the book is already written and currently undergoing the editing process, the release date draws closer yet. It probably won’t come out in time for Christmas, but who knows – maybe we’ll get it at some point within a year. Don’t know about y’all, but I’m going to make sure to have a week’s worth of vacation saved up and ready to use just for this occasion…

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.