Tag Archive: science fiction


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.

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

“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)

“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

“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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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.)

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