Brian Pinkerton – The Gemini Experiment

Author: Brian Pinkerton

Title: The Gemini Experiment

Publisher: Flame Tree Press

[ARC copy, the book will be published in May 2019]

 

Synopsis:

Tom Nolan has just learned he is going to die. The young father is terminally ill and coming to grips with his fate until he is recruited into a privately funded, covert experiment. In a secret lab, Tom’s physical appearance is immaculately duplicated into a sophisticated robot. The robot will host the digitized consciousness of him. But when Tom’s replica escapes before the transfer can take place, he is faced with the horrors of an alter ego bent on death and destruction. As the experiment draws the attraction of spies, Tom is caught up in an international crisis with a showdown that could change the course of the world.

Review: 

The concept of a robot replica of a human being, perfect in every detail and equipped with a digital version of a human mind, is a long-standing trope in the science fiction narrative and a tough subject to approach given all the technical aspects and, more important, the ethics involved in such a project. It is also one of the most fascinating ideas of the modern era, suspended between the paradise of eternal youth and the hell of a possible Skynet-style future.

Brian Pinkerton chooses a narrow path, conceding little or nothing to the technical mumbo-jumbo and skipping most of the ethical questions. This book is about action, about the struggle of the main character to survive and squeezing out the good old “normal man in big troubles” pulp concept until the last drop. To say the least, it’s a bold move. The results are somewhat mixed. The plot runs smoothly, the rhythm is always fast, but there are some issues (see below, “cons”) that somewhat take me out of the book.

The pros of this novel are about a very well-conceived plot, its successful delivery to the reader and the action-oriented approach. We get a light science fiction/action thriller, with excellent management of plot twists. The Nolan family is well portrayed, the same can be said for many supporting characters.

The cons of this novel are basically three; the first is about the general feeling of being inside an ‘80s movie, that could be enjoyable but doesn’t work with the science fiction premise. The second is about the villains, that share the same ‘90s taste (to shout it out loud, USSR and modern-day Russia are very different!). The last is about action scenes, those are straight out a rerun of some Chuck Norris ‘80s movie. I love that stuff, but it’s totally outdated.

Where to find it: Flame Tree Pressamazon.com

Vote: 06,50 / 10,00.

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Michael R. Johnston – The Widening Gyre

Author: Michael R. Johnston 

Title: The Widening Gyre

Publisher: Flame Tree Press

[Advance reader copy, due to be published on March 2019]

 

Synopsis: Eight hundred years ago, the Zhen Empire discovered a broken human colony ship. Given a place to live by the Zhen, humans are safe. But it hasn’t been easy. Not all Zhen were eager to welcome another species, and humans have faced persecution. One of the first humans to be allowed to serve in the Zhen military, Tajen Hunt became a war hero but he failed in a crucial mission and resigned in disgrace. When Tajen discovers his brother has been killed by agents of the Empire, he and his crew set out to finish his brother’s quest: to find Earth, the legendary homeworld of humanity.

Review: 

Every now and then the Space Opera genre wakes up from its current day mediocrity, and something good shines under the light of a different star. This is what happened with this book, which has the predetermined potential to become the first of a series. The basic concept (see the synopsis) is not new, and the setting is also a well-known trope in the business, what shines is the craft of the author and his ability to create a real page-turner that releases here and there moments of fun alternate with a lot of well-depicted action.

Quite frankly, it’s not a back-to-the-basics novel. Space Opera was pulp action set in a science fiction environment (back off, this is my opinion!), most of the time centered on a likable character and a set of useful cardboards supporting actors. The gist was the struggle against big enemies, with a flamboyant third act to prepare the final triumph. In this book we got plenty of conflict, drama and almost impossible odds; but the characters are all well-portrayed, believable and “real” enough to keep the reader close to every page. Plus, we have a current level of complexity in the world building and a lot of hints about the backstory of the whole alien civilization in charge.

The plot is a crescendo, which is a tradition for a Space Opera. The difference between this book and many others is about the plot management. Every step, every bump-and-grind moment of the story, flows naturally with ease. That keeps the reader comfortable, well set in the story. The use of the first person is often criticized in a story full of action, but it works just fine in this novel. It’s an old trick, a way to tell the reader that there is always a way out for the main character. Just stick with Tajen Hunt and ride shotgun in his spaceship, the ride will be worthy of your money.

The pros of this book are based on a magnificent world-building, with a believable alien race. The backstory of the Zhen empire is solid, and it’s functional to the comprehension of their civilization. The main character development is also substantial, and the same applies to the main cast.

The cons of this book are about tropes. I know, it’s tough to create something new in a subgenre explored for decades, not to mention the movies. Let’s say that the ghost of Han Solo and the spirit of the Millenium Falcon are in their places, OK?

Where to find it: Flame Tree Pressamazon.com

Vote: 07,50 / 10,00.

Daniel M. Bensen – Junction

Author: Daniel M. Bensen

Title: Junction

Publisher: Flame Tree Press

[Advance reader copy, due to be published on January 2019]

 

Synopsis: There’s a wormhole in New Guinea and, while much isn’t known, one thing is for sure – on the other side is a planet similar to ours, with a habitat suitable for life. Japanese nature show host Daisuke Matsumori will be one of the first to visit Junction, a patchwork planet of competing alien ecosystems. But his exploratory party crashes in the wilderness and members continue to die. What is causing these deaths? At first it seems clear that is must be an alien predator or the hazardous landscape, but Daisuke starts to wonder wheter human politics might be more deadly than alien biology.

Review: 

One of the significant challenges of science fiction is world building, a key factor for any novel-length work. If the author fails to deliver a believable world, then everything else fails, no matter how good could be the prose or how accurate could be the cast of characters. It’s a dangerous game, balanced between the need to portray something different from reality and the challenge to win the suspension of disbelief from the readers.

Daniel Bentsen apparently doesn’t like to play safe and starts this novel with a bang, placing a wormhole on Earth. That’s a bold move for sure, followed by another – on the other side of the wormhole (!), there’s a planet that connects an unknown number of wormholes (!!), each with a different ecosystem in the closeness.

Add to the mix one of the most peculiar cast of characters ever seen, set up as an exploration party in this strange new world, then put in a massive dose of well-built scientific speculation about different life forms and biochemistry (yay!) plus the familiar thrill of the adventure and a whodunit that leaves corpses scattered along the path. What do you get? Well, it’s one of the most unique science fiction novel in the last ten years or so. What’s even more interesting is that there is the potential for much more, for more novels or even a shared universe, all along the n-ways to get in and out of Junction.

The pros of this book are about originality, solid bases on real science (biochemistry), humor and some great choice in the development of the main characters.

The cons of this book are about a lack of perspective about the potential of such a discovery in the “real” world. We get a lot of hints about the tension between countries and such, but it’s the weakest part of the book.

Where to find it: Flame Tree Pressamazon.com

Vote: 08,00 / 10,00.

J.D. Moyer – The Sky Woman

Author: J.D. Moyer

Title: The Sky Woman

Publisher: Flame Tree Press

[Advance reader copy, due to be published on September 6th, 2018]

 

Synopsis: Car-En, a ringstation anthropologist on her first Earth filed assignment, observes a Viking-like village in the Hartz mountains. As Car-En secretly watches the Happdal villagers, she begins to see them as more than research subjects (especially Esper, a handsome bow-hunter). When Esper’s sister is taken by an otherwordly sworld-wielding white-haired man, she can no longer stand by as a passive witness. Knowing the decision might end her career, she cuts off all communication with her advisor and pursues the abductor into the dark dangers of the mountains below.

Review: 

Imagine a new world. Our planet came back to its wild state, the damages of the antrophocene almost undone. A score of well-maintained ringstations are all that’s left of our bold civilization and, on Earth, a few pockets of our descendants make a living in a pre-industrial culture much alike of their Viking ancestors. It’s a dream for any anthropologist to observe on the field one of these villages, hidden by magic-like technologies.

All around them, the memories from a long-gone past. Our civilization, the Builders, left ruins and strange things and more subtle memories of centuries of high-level progress. This is a post-human world, where a good sword and a swarm of insect-like drones may coexsist. But it’s also a very human place, where the love of a woman may move mountains and change the course of the future.

J.D. Moyer spares nothing in this story in his efforts to give us a fast-paced novel, where even the necessary bits of backstory are delivered smoothly until every piece clicks into its place. This book is the first I read from this author and has convinced me to keep in mind his name for the future. Read his interview at the end of the book, the guy got the right stuff.

The pros of this book are many, but the first place award goes to the worldbuilding. This version of our future, the differences between a pre-industrial society and off-world culture are fuel for many things to come (guess what, a second novel in the same scenario is on the way). The whole set of characters works fine, even for the more borderline, and the plot runs fast. I was more than a bit wary about the romance, but it works just fine.

The cons of this book are small stuff, details that are a bit cranky here and there. No spoilers here, but there is a fantasy element that entirely doesn’t work, and a couple of the minor decision made by Car-El looks more than a bit abrupt, not quite in line with the general profile of the character.

Where to find it: Flame Tree Pressamazon.com

Vote: 08,00 / 10,00.

Hunter Shea – Creature

Author: Hunter Shea

Title: Creature

Publisher: Flame Tree Press

[Advance reader copy, due to be published on September 6th, 2018]

 

Synopsis: The monsters live inside Kate Woodson. Chronic pain and autoimmune diseases have robber her of a normal life, happy life. Her husband Andrew’s surprise of a dream cottage for the summer is the gift of a lifetime. It’s beautiful, remote, idyllic: a place to heal.

But they are not alone. something is in the woods, screeching in the darkness, banging on the house, leaving animals for dead. Soon, the cottage becomes Kate’s prison, and they’ll both be lucky to escape alive.

Review: 

When it comes to horror, the real horror that we may know in our lives, the subject of incurable diseases is absolutely prominent. The pain, the decay of the body, the progressive destruction of our lives and the consequences on the people we love are fuel for nightmares of the highest sort. It’s a living Hell, where both the ill and the caregivers are put in the harm’s way 24/7, with little or no hope for the future. This is the basic scenario for this novel, a premise for one of the strongest married couple ever seen in a work of fiction, two characters that looks ready to break the fourth wall and come to your house (read the interview at the end of the book, it will be quite interesting).

Kate and Andrew are a meta-character of sort, both dysfunctional but bonded by a love so strong that makes difficult thinking about one of them without the other. Their connection is so powerful to trespass even the most difficult moment in the Kathy’s illness and the pivotal points of this book. If nothing else, this novel is a tribute to the concept that love is always the stronger emotion, no matter the odds.

The turning point of this book is the decision of taking a break, a vacation in a cottage near a lake in Maine (sooner or later somebody will explain why so many horror pieces take place in this state). The place is wonderful, the surroundings ideal for relaxing and to ease the pressure on the main characters. But there’s more. Much more. In the darkest corners of the woods lurks something that comes straight out the worst nightmares, ready and willing to take everything from Kate and Andrew.

Once again, we have two well-known tropes here. The house in the woods and the mysterious creature. A combination that always works if the writer knows its job. What makes the difference here? Two different factors, both important. The first is about the craft of Hunter Shea. He’s able to build up tension and pauses, to create a rhythm in the narration that engulf the reader like a vise grip. The latter is about the aforementioned characters, they are so well-defined that the reader will find himself/herself caring for them.

The pros of this book are about the cast of characters, the first-hand knowledge of the complex interaction between the ill and the caregiver in a couple, the strength of the relationship between Kate and Andrew. The horror element is well conceived and masterfully unleashed in the plot.

The cons of this book are about some minor aspects in the final part of the book, related to the actions of the monster. I don’t want to spoiler the plot, but I think that there is too much in the last ten pages or so.

Where to find it: Flame Tree Press , actually not listed on amazon.com

Vote: 08,50 / 10,00.

An Open Letter To Science Fiction Writers

Dear All,

Have I told you lately how much I love your works? No? Well, this is a good time as any to tell you so. I’m reading good science fiction and enjoying some good TV show, thanks to your efforts. Thank you, straight from the heart.

Now, can we speak about a couple of serious problems?

Continue reading

Jonathan Janz – The Siren And The Spectre

Author: Jonathan Janz

Title: The Siren And The Spectre

Publisher: Flame Tree Press

[Advance reader copy, due to be published on September 6th, 2018]

Note: in the publisher site, the title is “The Siren And The Specter.”

Synopsis: When David Caine, a celebrated skeptic of the supernatural, is invited by an old friend to spend a month in “the most haunted house in Virginia,” he believes the case will be like any other. But Alexander House is different. Built in the 1700s by a land baron to contain the madness and depravity of his eldest son, the house is plagued by the shadows of the past and the lingering taint of bloodshed. David is haunted, as well, for 22 years ago,  he turned away from the woman he loved, and in sorrow she took her life. Now David suspects she’s followed him to Alexander House.

Review: for an author, especially for a horror author, sooner or later comes a time to create a novel that tackles one of the most practiced topics of this particular field of narrative: the haunted house. It’s a risky business, especially if such author adds to the plate other well-frequented issues like the American folklore and the figure of skeptic main character.

On the pro side, readers are ready and willing to have another story to read in the same old setting, with the memories of previous tales helpful to establish the suspension of disbelief that is the trademark of a successful novel. The cons are about the giants who already took this path. Confronting with the works of Shirley Jackson or Richard Matheson is no easy task. I’m happy to tell you that Jonathan Janz is able to spin a great story, ready to stand proud even in the shadows of such great predecessors.

As usual, the start of the narration is a bit slow, with all the pieces and the main characters that fill their places and set the stage for the disturbing developments that will follow. David Caine, the main character is well rounded and utterly credible in his efforts to stay sane and focused, even when confronted with the darkest part of his past. With him, you will find an excellent cast of believable characters and, of course, one of the most diabolic mansions ever described in a novel.

When this book reaches its full speed, it becomes one Hell of a rollercoaster. I will not spoiler the plot, but I can tell you that you will get more of what you will on your deck. Nobody is safe, and nothing is sacred in this book, the presence of Evil strong in every shadow of this corner of Virginia. The resolution of the main character will be forged in the hardest way, pushing his limits to the max and over. The pace of the plot is fast but not to the point of becoming muddy, you will be able to follow the events until the end.

Not everything is perfect, I have to say. For some of the minor characters, it will be useful to add some space, a bit more of development and/or some scene to bring them closer to the reader. One of the significant action-oriented scenes is a bit cranky, and it kills some tension in a pivotal moment. These are minimum flaws, perhaps due to cuts in the editing phase. Anyway, this novel is well worth reading, you will not be disappointed.

Where to find it: Flame Tree Press, Amazon.

Vote: 08,00 / 10,00.