The Data Disruption by Michael R. Underwood

The Data DisruptionThe Data Disruption

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, #0

Kindle Edition, 68 pg.

Read: May 27, 2017

It’ll come to no surprise to any of my longer-term readers that I liked this — it’s pretty established that I’m a Genrenauts fan. I dig the characters, the world(s), the type of stories Underwood’s telling — the whole kit and caboodle. This story is no exception — I liked it. This takes place just before Leah is recruited, so the team is functioning very smoothly — no growing pains needed — just King, Shireen and Roman doing their thing like seasoned pros.

It’s a pretty straight-forward, classic cyberpunk story (yeah, I’m old enough that cyberpunk can be called “classic”) — notorious hacker, D-Source, has gone missing. Which is causing all sorts of problems for the rest of his crew, and (by extension) all of Cyberpunk world as well as ours. So King and his team (minus Mallery, off in Western world) head out to save the day. They’ve worked with D-Source in the past and therefore have an easier time getting an “in” to the story in-progress. What results is a solid heist story with all the cyberpunk bells and whistles.

Underwood has been modeling this series after TV shows, and wrote this as a “lost pilot” to “serve as an introduction to the series, which I’ll use to invite more people into the worlds of Genrenauts.” Here’s my problem with that — no one watches a lost pilot until the show’s been around for a while, and usually only fans see it. No one sits down to watch “The Cage” (or the two-part version, “The Menagerie”) as an introduction to Star Trek, and for good reason. Similarly, Leah Tang is our point-of-entry character, and to remove her from the equation takes something away from the overall story. Also, there’s something that’s slowly revealed over the course of the first few books that’s just blatantly stated. I just think that works better the way that Underwood originally wrote it.

Still, Underwood knows what he’s doing, and if he thinks this will work to bring in new readers, I hope he’s right.

Putting that aside, I’m supposed to be talking about the story, not Underwood’s plans. The story worked really well. It was a little too short for me — but it’s supposed to be short, so I shouldn’t complain. Besides, I almost always complain about short story length — even I’m tired of that. While the story was told in its fullness, I just would’ve liked to see everything fleshed out a little more — also, I wouldn’t mind spending more time with my friends. Fast, fun, with good action — celebrating what makes a cyberpunk story work — and winking at the genre at the same time.

Still, any time with the ‘Nauts works for me. Good story, decent intro to this series that I can’t stop recommending — and a great price (free). Still, reading this after the sixth book would be my recommendation after starting with The Shootout Solution.


3.5 Stars

Cyber World: Soundtrack of Humanity’s Tomorrow

Cyber WorldCyber World: Soundtrack of Humanity’s Tomorrow

Hex Publishers, 2016

I enjoy music, I listen to a lot of it — but I’m no expert, so take this for what it is.

Okay, I’m not technically an expert on the other stuff I write about, but I’m closer to one when it comes to writing than I am music. But at least with books I have an idea how to talk about them, I really don’t know what to say about music — “I give him a 42 but I can’t dance to it!”

There’s a very 80’s-vibe to a lot of this music (a good thing, by and large, in my opinion . The Scandroid songs sound to me like something out of a British synth-pop band. Which may make it less than appealing for some, but it works for me (although some of the lyrics could be more interesting). I did learn what the word “Aphelion” means, though, so there’s that.

The best stuff on the album are the instrumentals — Celldweller’s “Patched in” is great background music — I’ve already been using while writing and reading. Which is not to take anything away from Mega Drive’s two songs — I alternate which of those I like best, but both are getting a lot of play time on my devices.

The three instrumental songs, in particular, do a great job of getting you into the right mood for the kind of stories the book tells — where those with vocals take you back to the era where Cyberpunk was born. So they can also put you in the right frame of mind.

A good companion piece to the anthology, and a fun listen overall. I recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this album by the publisher, which was going above and beyond. I thank them for this — it was very generous and pretty cool of them.


3 Stars

Cyber World by Jason Heller and Joshua Viola, eds.

There’s a soundtrack to this anthology, and I’ll be posting about that tonight — short version: if you like music that shares the same roots as these stories, you should check it out.

Cyber WorldCyber World: Tales of Humanity’s Tomorrow

by Jason Heller, Joshua Viola eds.

Kindle Edition, 250 pg.
Hex Publishers, 2016

Read: October 26 – 31, 2016

Heller insists in his Afterword that this is not a collection of Cyberpunk stories, and who am I to doubt him? Although it feels pretty punk to ignore the Editor/The Man. It sure feels like Cyberpunk — but I’m also pretty sure that it doesn’t matter what I call it, as long as I say that it’s good, strong, creative, mind-bending, and occasionally mind-blowing. I can’t summarize this anthology better than Hex Publishers did:

Cybernetics. Neuroscience. Nanotechnology. Genetic engineering. Hacktivism. Transhumanism. The world of tomorrow is already here, and the technological changes we all face have inspired a new wave of stories to address our fears, hopes, dreams, and desires as Homo sapiens evolve—or not—into their next incarnation.

Cyber World is a collection of this new wave of cyber-inspired tales, that should appeal to a wide audience. There’s part of me that wants to write a paragraph or two on each story — well, most of them — but I don’t have the time for that, and I can’t imagine many of you would read it. So I’ll opt for brevity. As I read through this collection, I noticed that my notes had a theme, I’d consistently remark on three aspects of the stories: 1. The Premise/Cyber-Conceit; 2. The Story/Characters; 3. The Language Used/Way of telling the story. Now, this actually sounds like a pretty decent strategy to approaching these, but I’m not clever enough to do that deliberately, apparently. Almost every story here nailed two, if not three, of these aspects.

There was a story that only scored on one front for me, but I’m not going to mention which one, because I know others will strongly disagree with me — I might even disagree in 6 months — so I’m not going to focus on it. Even those stories that didn’t do much for me, I can absolutely see where others would say that they’re a favorite. Usually, when I read a bunch of short stories I don’t see where people would have much appreciation for some of them (I mean, I know tastes vary, but sometimes you just don’t get why people like stuff). Not here — tough to ask for more than that. The writing is on point — lean, terse, quick-moving — with the occasional appropriate exception. There’s something that made me smile about all but one of the stories. The voices are strong and individual — yet pretty much clearly belong together.

I do want to talk about a few of these — sorry, no one really wants to read about how I write these things, but I think this says something. I wrote that fragment, and then took one more look at my notes, trying to find 3 or 4 stories to focus on and I came up with four in a row and stopped myself before things go out of hand. Again, this speaks to the strength of this collection. I still wasn’t able to restrict myself to 4, though:

  • Mario Acevedo’s “Reactions” is maybe too-brief, but a compelling look at remote warfare drugs and the effects of both of those on the brain/soul. Just enough zag to his pretty obvious zig to make this a keeper.
  • “The Rest Between Two Notes” by Cat Rambo contains this line:

    But this is New York City, and there can be traffic jams or terrorist threats or flash plagues to contend with…

    “flash plagues.” I love that concept. There’s just so much — probably a novel if someone wanted it, in those two words. The rest of the story was pretty weird and disturbing, and though provoking on its own, but those two words (for me) sealed it as a favorite.

  • “The Faithful Soldier, Prompted” by Saladin Ahmed reflects the international flavor of this book as well as featuring an odd mishmash of spam emails and religious revelation. Something only Ahmed could probably pull off.
  • “Staunch” by Paul Graham Raven pushed just about every stylistic button for me — mix of bio/technical/cyber/genetic fiction, plus political/economic commentary — and a whole bunch of other stuff — while telling a tight story.
  • “Will Take Care of Our Own” by Angie Hodapp is probably the most accessible, closest to mainstream story in this batch. Which doesn’t stop it from being a great story about politics, with some interesting commentary on contemporary issues — just what SF is supposed to be about — with a good fallible protagonist.
  • Minister Faust’s “The Ibex on the Day of Extinction” felt very different from most of these stories, and I don’t know how to talk about it without spoiling the whole thing, but I wanted to focus on how good it was.
  • “The Singularity Is in Your Hair” by Matthew Kessel — can I use the word “sweet” about one of these? Probably not, but this tale about VR helping a person with a debilitating disease experience more than many people is very close to it.
  • “A Song Transmuted” by Sarah Pinsker just blew me away several times.
  • “It’s Only Words” by Keith Ferrell — is almost a counter-point to the worlds the rest of these take place in — a dash of Thoreau to rebut the rest.
  • “The Bees of Kiribati” by Warren Hammond was just freaking chilling — a police interrogation to a heinous crime, becomes so much more. I want a book in this world, now. Just without the creepy killer (it can have another creepy killer, I just don’t want anything to do with this one again).

Heller (and I read his book Taft 2012 before starting this blog, so you can’t read all the nice things I thought about it at the time) and Viola did a bang up job with this collection. They might not love the label cyberpunk (but someone neglected to tell those who wrote blurbs, or the promotional material I read), and perhaps it’s not the most accurate — but if these stories aren’t Cyberpunk, they’re the result of evolution from Cyberpunk. Cyber World is a direct descendant of Mirrorshades — a couple of these stories could’ve easily been included in that collection (but some require more current cultural/technological input).

Don’t read too many of these in one sitting, it takes away some of the impact — but you’ll have a hard time stopping once you start. One of the best collection of stories I’ve read in forever.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. I thank them for this.


4 Stars

Near Enemy by Adam Sternbergh

Near EnemyNear Enemy

by Adam Sternbergh

Hardcover, 306 pg.
Crown, 2015
Read: January 14 – 16, 2015I will admit to being a bit nervous about this — Shovel Ready hit me in a sweet spot and I wasn’t sure that Sternbergh was going to be able to follow it up with an unnecessary (I thought) sequel. Also, as long as I’m being honest — without looking at my post or notes, I’m not sure I could’ve described what about Shovel Ready appealed to be so much. It took less than 2 pages of Near Enemy for it to come back to me — yeah, good story, world building and all; but it was the voice and the distinctive way Sternbergh employed the voice that really worked for me. Obviously, in two pages I had no idea if he could pull it off in terms of story/character/etc., but that voice was there, so I was going to enjoy finding out.

Even more than Shovel Ready (I think), this is a Cyberpunk novel as told by Elmore Leonard. It’s been a year since we left Spademan and the rest, and if there’s anyone who expected a happily ever after for any involved, well, I think they didn’t pay close enough attention to the book. Perseophone and her baby are tucked away upstate, and Spademan’s back to work. Once again, though, he doesn’t complete a hit. He finds the target, Lesser, while he’s in the Limnosphere, and is persuaded to wait a moment until he emerges. Lesser gives the wildest story about what happened to him inside — so wild it’s technically impossible. Spademan’s curiosity is piqued, so he lets Lesser live while he looks into the veracity of his claims.

Spademan’s investigation leads him into a maze of politics, police corruption, Islamic activism, assassins that make Spademan look amateurish, and a strange quasi-religious/quasi-Luddite group. The plot’s really not that twisty — it can’t be while being told in Sternbergh’s minimalistic style — but it’s definitely not straight-forward. And though I saw the big surprise twists coming — their reveals were very satisfying. It’s violent — but not as violent as you’d think a novel about an assassin in a very dystopian New York would be.

One example of the violence is a fight scene in the Limnosphere that suggests the climactic battle in The Matrix missed a golden opportunity by not taking fuller advantage of the impossible and/or strange that would be possible in a virtual world.

Of course the ugliness isn’t limited to the damage that people can do to others’ bodies — there’s plenty of other trauma to be found. One example is Spademan’s description of how the City reacted to the last major terrorist attack:

Cops came after midnight.
Special ops. Special cops. The lethal kind, who never bothered to memorize Miranda rights.
Clad in black. Move in tandem.
Red laser dots dancing over locked doorways.
Hand signals. Gloved hands. Give the go-ahead.
Boots unleashed on doors. Doors caved in with a clatter. Suspects scrambling as they’re yanked from their beds, still tangled up in the sheets. Some half-dressed, some half-cursing, dragged into hallways under sweeping flashlight beams, wrists zipped up in plastic cuffs, then shoved down the staircase. Some more than shoved.
A few unfortunate escape attempts shot down as they fought back. Or at least that’s how it got written up in the reports.

At the same time, in the midst of the blackness, there’s moments of happiness, contentment, camaraderie.

There’s a real heart to this character, real sadness — maybe even hope. When you thinking you’ve got Spademan figured out — he does something you don’t see coming. There’s this flashback to a High School (maybe Junior High) English teacher working with Spademan that’ll tug on your heartstrings.

Near Enemy successfully builds on Shovel Ready expanding the world, characters and story strongly, as well as setting things up for (I’m guessing) a final climactic novel that is going to knock my socks off.

This is the kind of book that makes you want to call in sick, blow off appointments and resent the fact that you have loved ones that want to spend time with you (and that, ordinarily, you want to spend time with, too). It’s as immersive as the Limnosphere, with none of the side effects, and just as addictive.

Note:I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. Which was generous and cool of them, but didn’t impact what I said about the book.


4 1/2 Stars