They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded by James Alan Gardner: The Newest Canadian Super-Heroes are Back in Action

 They Promised Me the Gun Wasn't Loaded They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded

by James Alan Gardner
Series: The Dark vs. Spark, #2

Paperback, 350 pg.
Tor Books, 2018

Read: November 26 – 27, 2018

When I read the first book in the series, All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, back in January, I said “the sequel can’t get here fast enough.” I didn’t quite expect to be reading it 11 months later, but I’m okay with that.

It’s just a couple of weeks after the events of the previous book, and the newly formed team of superheroes has gone home for Christmas break. Now with just a few days before classes start up again, the team is coming back. In the last book we focused on Kim/Zircon, this time our protagonist is her roommate/teammate Jools/Ninety Nine.

Jools doesn’t even make it out of the airport before she’s dealing with the police and a powerful Darkling — and maybe a powerful Spark artifact.

(Quick reminder: In this world there are two super-powered groups: the Darks/Darklings and the Sparks. The Darks are all the supernatural-types you can think of (and some you can’t): vampires, weres, etc. The Sparks are Super-Heroes and the like (although some have gone astray))

Jools, with a little help from her friends, gets out of that mess — only to find herself signed up for more.

Soon, in an effort to keep this artifact from falling into the wrong hands — Jools finds herself cut off from her friends and in the secret-hideout with a very maverick group of Sparks — a modern-day Robin Hood and his Merry Men. This gives her an opportunity to watch other Sparks in action, to see how they live and think — and come up with some ways to evaluate her new lifestyle. Also, there’s a lot of fighting and nifty tech to read about.

I wasn’t crazy about how little time we got with the rest of the team because of this, but I think in the long run, it’ll work for the strength of the series. And when we get the team together again, it’s even better to see than it was before.

Again, I had a blast with this book. Gardner’s world is ripe with story-telling possibilities and I’m enjoying watching him develop these characters and this world. Jools is a great character — a solid combination of vulnerable and snarky, unwise and ridiculously intelligent — you’ll probably end up with her as your favorite character in the series (at least until book 3). Go grab this (and the other one, too) now.

—–

4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

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BOOK BLITZ: Freefall by Jana Williams

About the Book:

The deep-space transport ship, the Vera Rubin, is light years from Earth when botanist Elle Silver begins to question the use of their space-travel drug, HCH.  Elle notices a growing number of her friends and  fellow colonists awaken from their 90-day sleep cycles exhibiting a variety of negative side-effects and she begins to believe the drug is the culprit.  Some of the effects are minor, dry eyes and lack of appetite. Other symptoms are a bigger concern on a tiny ship packed with colonists.  With each sleep cycle completed, more and more colonists awaken both confused and barely concealing a simmering rage – rage that could be a catastrophe on a ship as crowded as the Vera Rubin.  Elle needs proof, but she also needs a plan. If the drug that allows them to travel deep-space is at fault, what then?  Elle and her friends Ashok, Achebe and Jin-Hai are pressed to their limits to find a solution to their problem before the ship erupts into chaos… with light years left to travel.

Find FREEFALL on Amazon.Com & Amazon.In

Guest Post:

As a guest writer for a post on books – I thought that rather than talk about my novel, FREEFALL per se…. readers like yourself might be interested in how the book came to be written. I think when we discover a book that really engages us, we begin to believe that writers are some mythical beings with a special ‘secret’ ingredient that allows them to write.

This could not be further from reality in my case and in many other writers’ lives too. The only ‘secret’ ingredient I might possess is a dogged determination to get my story onto the page. I learned determination and persistence from my mother. My mother also seeded in all her daughters an absolute love of reading and storytelling. Although, I continue to be the only writer in our immediate family, my sisters actively read books and even lead book club discussion groups too.

Growing up in a household of females (my father deserted us) was pivotal to my central attitude about life. I believe that there is very little that a determined girl or woman cannot accomplish. As a child, there was no one to tell me ‘girls can’t do that’ OR if my sisters did say it – I immediately set out to prove them wrong. This attitude is woven into the story of FREEFALL throughout the book.

The other tenant of the book is the importance of curiosity. I spent a fair bit of time alone as a child, poking into things, exercising my curiosity about how things worked, why they worked and even sometimes dismantling things to find out if I could make them work again. My single mother had very little extra money to fix toys that were broken or even buy new ones. So all of us girls became adept at putting dolls back together, or gluing tea sets that got broken or putting wheels back on wagons to get them working again.

In the book Elle reminds herself that curiosity is a good thing, it can lead to new ideas and discoveries of importance that might have gone unnoticed by others who never asked the question ‘Why?’ Asking yourself why and then setting out to find the answer can lead to amazing things. As you will see, Freefall reflects core values that I hold that women are smart, capable and caring – and can do almost anything if they try.

My own sense of adventure stems from my curiosity about life here, on this planet – which led to speculation about life – out there in another corner of the universe. Another core belief of mine is that you don’t have to have a degree from a university to write and write well. What you do need is the desire to tell an engaging story. The best place to learn how to do that is from inside a book where you can read, read, and read.

Once you’ve read a fair number of books, start mentally sorting them out into the ones you liked and the ones that were just okay – but not spellbinding. And finally, what about the books you didn’t like? Stack them up, and then start thinking about the ones you liked – What did they have in common? Do the same mental exercise with the books you didn’t like – What did they have in common? You will learn as much about writing from what you didn’t like – as from what you did. Once you know what you like in a book, you’re ready to start writing your own story.

It’s important to write something you would enjoy reading yourself, because if you’re writing a novel you’ll be spending days and weeks and months in the world you’re creating. So it better be a place that you look forward to visiting – you owe it to yourself to make it so. I truly loved every minute of writing Freefall. The editing portion was a challenge for me – because it is a bit like cleaning the house; necessary and important but certainly not thrilling to do.

Freefall came into being because I love good Science Fiction and Fantasy – and I hoped to write a story worthy of some that I have read. Also Freefall came into being because I was persistent enough to sit down every morning before going to work (and sometimes after work too) to continue writing Elle’s adventures with her friends. I would spend hours thinking about what would happen next, so that I would have a focus for the next days writing. And then, when I was done with the first draft, I willingly put in more time to fix the things that needed fixing to make the story more clear and uncluttered.

And of course you must be wondering, ‘Have I started the sequel?” Of course I have! I can’t wait to see what happens next in the Amalie Noether Chronicles. I hope you will join me in reading FREEFALL. Be assured – Elle’s adventures will continue in space in the next volume of the series

About the Author:

Jana Williams is certain that fiction can change people’s lives – especially women and girls.  Her own life is testimony to that fact.  One of five daughters, she was raised by a single-mom who placed a high value on reading and storytelling.

The ability to read, coupled with a child’s innate curiosity about the world, and access to books to satisfy that curiosity can offer significant opportunity to a child. Like most writers Jana has bounced from job to job, absorbing stories, cultures and customs as she worked.  She has been a high-speed motion picture photographer, a VFX coordinator, worked in the film industry, and the publishing trade as a book seller – a publisher’s rep and now an author.

But her first love is reading…. and with each book of the Freefall trilogy sold Jana will donate funds to Literacy agencies around the world whose work is to bring the joy of reading to others.

Enjoy a good adventure story and help others learn to read at the same time !

Find/Like Jana on Facebook  
Find Jana’s Writing advice – Twitter
 
 

 

Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang: A Healthy Dose of SF Peanut Butter in this Thriller’s Chocolate Results in a Very Tasty Book

Zero Sum GameZero Sum Game

by S.L. Huang
Series: Cas Russell, #1

Hardcover, 334 pg.
Tor Books, 2018
Read: October 22 – 26, 2018

           “I’m really good at math,” I said. Too good. “That’s all.”

I’m not sure how many times I stopped reading this book to ask, “What did I just read?” Not because I’m too dense to comprehend the words on the pages, but Huang’s work was so audacious, so confident, so imaginative that i couldn’t believe it.

Cas Russell retrieves things — all sorts of things. We don’t get details, but it’s safe to say that things like legalities, procedures and technicalities don’t enter into her Cas’ thinking. When this book opens, she’s retrieving a person — which is not typical for her, nor that easy. But Cas does it, but before she returns that person to her family, she goes the extra mile to keep the retrieved person safe (she doesn’t want to have to get her again).

This ends up plunging Cas into a world of deceit, conspiracies, secret organizations, and some of the most mind-bending situations I can remember reading.

Here’s what separates Cas from most of the action/suspense heroes we have today — that line above about being good at math. She’s some sort of genius — maybe beyond that — at math. She looks at a situation — say, getting punched in the face — and while the fist is coming at her, calculates things (velocity, force, angles) rapidly enough to know how to adjust herself to lessen the blow and the injury to herself minimal and how best to counter the attack in such a way to put down her opponent. The same goes for shooting someone, using a knife, jumping into a building, etc., etc. The math is everywhere — but Huang deals with it in such a way that even an English major like myself can see it, appreciate it, and not get put off by it.

I’m not sure that makes sense. Let me try this — I don’t know if you watched the recent Luc Besson movie, Lucy, where Scarlett Johansson plays some sort of hyper-intelligent woman who is a near-unstoppable one-woman army, it’s kind of like that — but more successful. Or maybe think Bradley Cooper in Limitless, but without the pills.

Throw that kind of thing into a gritty, twisty world of damaged PI’s, hackers, dubious government agencies and drug cartels — and you’ve got an idea about what this book holds. It’s a little SF, it’s a lot of Thriller — an action-packed winner. I don’t want to talk more about it — the characters other than Cas are fascinating. I’d be more than happy to spend more time with all of them — there’s a very mysterious figure named Rio that I really want to know a whole lot more about, but I think I prefer not knowing — he works so well wrapped in mystery. This would’ve been a fantastic stand-alone, but I’m excited to see that this is listed as the first in a series. Sign me up for a handful of these right now.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book — it all worked wonderfully. There was one thing I cracked up at (it was funny, character revealing and oh-so-original) and when I made a note about it, I noticed that I was on page 69. I’ve never tried the Page 69 Challenge, where you decide whether to read a new book based on reading that page first, because that just seems annoying. But if I’d tried it with Zero Sum Game, it’d have worked for me.

For a first-time novelist (especially one with a math degree), Huang delivers a fantastic, assured read that’s almost sure to please. Give it a shot and you’ll see why I struggled to explain why you want to read this, while thinking that you really should.

—–

4 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor: A Delightfully Charming and Fun Time-Travel Epic Kicks Off

 Just One Damned Thing After Another Just One Damned Thing After Another

by Jodi Taylor
Series: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s, #1

Paperback, 480 pg.
Night Shade Books, 2016
Read: July 30, 2018

Thinking carefully is something that happens to other people.

I lost my notes to this book, which is annoying me greatly. So I’m going to be a bit more vague than I want to be.

I could tell from the first couple of pages that I was going to have a great time with this book — our narrator is Dr. Madeline “Max” Maxwell, a specialist in ancient history. She is charming, engaging, brash, and funny. She’s a few more things, too, but let’s leave it there. Essentially, she’s a delight — it almost doesn’t matter what setting you put her in, what story you tell with her — I’m in.

Thankfully, Taylor puts her in a crazy novel, one perfectly suited for her. When we meet her, Max is being recruited by a former mentor to join St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, a very strange research facility. These historians get their hands dirty in their research in the ways that no other facility on Earth can manage — they have time machines to take them to whatever point in time they’re studying so they can see ad experience history first-hand.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But things go awry — in spectacularly bad fashion. But, for these Historians, where there’s tea, there’s hope. Using wit, sheer determination, and a little luck Max and her new colleagues will have to find a way to meet these new and dangerous challenges.

There’s a lot more action and fighting than you’d think given that the book is about Historians and the Technicians who work with them. There’s a lot of humor, some pathos, a little love — and a little more sex than I’d prefer (thankfully most of it happens “off screen,” but not all of it). The plot is impossible to summarize well — it bounces around from point to point like a ball in a pinball machine. This is not a complaint, this is a description. Months will go by in a paragraph (or less) and then things will slow down for the events of a day or two. These are Time Travelers, after all, they can squeeze a lot of activity into a short period of time.

There are some other great characters here, too. Max has wonderful, loyal and capable allies (who happen to be interesting to read about); she has fantastic antagonists — the kind of characters you can relish your annoyance/anger/moral superiority over; her friends are interesting, he love interest is about as fun as you could ask for, and is charming enough in his own right.

I wish I’d had the time to write this up when the book was fresher in my mind — or if I’d not lost my notes. This book deserved a bit more from me. Basically, this book — between characters, circumstances, plot and tone is what I’d hoped for from the Tuesday Next books. I have no idea if Taylor can keep up the freshness of the voice, the zaniness of the plot, and the engaging quality of the characters (particularly Max) — it’ll be tough to do. But I’m looking forward to finding out. I had a blast reading this one, and can’t imagine that Taylor’s charm wouldn’t win over at least 87% of those who give this a try.

—–

4 Stars

Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout: An All-Ages SF that is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser

Voyage of the DogsVoyage of the Dogs

by Greg van Eekhout

Hardcover, 208 pg.
HarperCollins, 2018
Read: October 1, 2018

           Of course, the humans couldn’t go alone. There had to be dogs. Because wherever humans went dogs came along. Like rats, only more helpful. Dogs would herd livestock. Dogs would keep watch against the unknown. And, more importantly, dogs would keep the human crew company during the long spaceflight, and on their new home, far away from Earth.

But first they had to get there.

I guess this is technically a “Middle Grade” book — but forget about that. Call it All-Ages instead — that way, adults and YA readers and . . . everyone can enjoy this SF guilt-free. I should also include this line from The Big Idea post Van Eekhout wrote on Scalzi’s blog: “Spoiler: I don’t kill off any of the dogs in this book. Why not? Because I’m not a monster, that’s why not.” It’s important to get that out of the way.

Let’s start with this: the rationale to bring dogs along on a spaceship. It’s brilliant. It also points to one of the biggest problems with Starfleet, the Colonial Battle Fleet, the Serenity, etc. A lack of animals. Sure, NCC 1701-D had pets (not that we saw them often), but they were sealed up in cabins. And Firefly‘s episode “Safe” had cattle, but that was an oddity. The animals aboard Laika are there for purposes — like the main character, Lopside. He’s there to hunt rats — where there are humans and cargo, there are rats. Something small and fast — and with a good nose — is needed to hunt rats down.

The book will do a better job explaining the roles of the other three dogs and what advances in breeding have led to dogs being capable of being more than the dogs we have today — while still remaining dogs — to become Barkonauts.

These poor, brave dogs go into the hibernation state just before the humans do to complete the voyage to a nearby star system as part of human exploration and colonization, the first mission like this humanity has tried. But when the dogs wake up, they notice something’s wrong — part of the ship is missing, as is the crew.

They’re too far into the mission to turn around, too far away for a rescue mission to reach them. At this point, Lopside and the others have to try to salvage what they can and limp along to their final destination.

Lopside is a terrier mix, he’s brave, he has (understandably) abandonment issues — which are not helped at all by the absence of the humans. He’s a little scatter-brained (like a good terrier) and he’s incredibly loyal and has a great heart. The other barkonauts are as well-drawn and lovable.

Van Eekhout is clearly a dog-lover and it comes out in his characters. He’s also a pretty good story-teller, because even with that spoiler, I was invested in the outcome and really wasn’t sure how he was going to pull things off in a way that was satisfying and that wouldn’t reduce semi-sensitive 5th-graders across the globe to quivering balls of tears (a lesson Wilson Rawls could’ve used, I have to say — no, I’m not still torn up about Old Dan and Little Ann, why do you ask?). He does succeed in that — although some might get a bit misty at a point or two. It’s a fun and creative story, and takes some oft-repeated SF tropes and deals with them in a refreshing way.

Ignore the stars — I can’t bring myself to give it more, I don’t know why. Pay attention to what I have said above and this: read the book. It’ll warm your heart, it’ll make you make you a little sad, it’ll give you something to grin about — and it tells a good story, too. What more do you want?

—–

3.5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde, Emily Gray (Audiobook): A little too zany for me

Lost in a Good BookLost in a Good Book

by Jasper Fforde, Emily Gray (Narrator)
Series: Thursday Next, #2

Unabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs. and 59 mins.
Penguin Audio, 2011

Read: September 4 – 6, 2018
I didn’t post about The Eyre Affair a couple of months ago when I listened to it, because I just didn’t know what to say about it. I was hoping that a second book would help. I’m not sure it did.

Let’s just start with the Publisher’s Summary (because there’s just no way I could do justice to this book):

           The second installment in Jasper Fforde’s New York Times bestselling series follows literary detective Thursday Next on another adventure in her alternate reality of literature-obsessed England—from the author of Early Riser.

The inventive, exuberant, and totally original literary fun that began with The Eyre Affair continues with New York Times bestselling author Jasper Fforde’s magnificent second adventure starring the resourceful, fearless literary sleuth Thursday Next. When Landen, the love of her life, is eradicated by the corrupt multinational Goliath Corporation, Thursday must moonlight as a Prose Resource Operative of Jurisfiction—the police force inside the BookWorld. She is apprenticed to the man-hating Miss Havisham from Dickens’s Great Expectations, who grudgingly shows Thursday the ropes. And she gains just enough skill to get herself in a real mess entering the pages of Poe’s “The Raven.” What she really wants is to get Landen back. But this latest mission is not without further complications.

Along with jumping into the works of Kafka and Austen, and even Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, Thursday finds herself the target of a series of potentially lethal coincidences, the authenticator of a newly discovered play by the Bard himself, and the only one who can prevent an unidentifiable pink sludge from engulfing all life on Earth. It’s another genre-bending blend of crime fiction, fantasy, and top-drawer literary entertainment for fans of Douglas Adams and P. G. Wodehouse.

There’s simply too much going on. This is Douglas Adams (mostly the Dirk Gentley novels) meets Terry Pratchett meets Doctor Who meets . . . something else, but it’s not just those elements — it’s those influences without restraint (not that any of those are known for their restraint). It’s just too zany ,too strange, too unmoored from reality.

There’s cloning to bring back extinct species, time travel, vampires, werewolves, interacting with fictional characters, rabid literary fans, characters walking into novels/other written materials to rewrite them, travel, or just to meet with someone else — and that’s just scratching the surface.

I realize that this is tantamount to complaining that there’s too much of a good thing, and I recently talked about what a foolish complaint that is. But this is different, somehow. The sheer amount of ways that reality can be rewritten/rebooted/changed in this series is hard to contemplate, and seems like too easy for a writer to use to get out of whatever corner they paint themselves into. One of the best emotional moments of this book — is ruined, simply ruined by time travel unmaking it just a few minutes later.

Emily Gray’s narration is probably the saving grace of this audiobook — I’m not sure I’d have rated this as high as I did without it. Her ability to sound sane when delivering this ridiculous text (I mean that as a compliment) makes it all seem plausible.

I enjoyed it — but almost in spite of itself. I can’t see me coming back for more. I do see why these books have a following — sort of. But I’ve got to bail.

—–

3 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

Darkside Earther by Bradley Horner: A Sweet Story of First Love Wrapped in a SF Shell

Darkside EartherDarkside Earther

by Bradley Horner
Series: Darkside Earther, #1

Kindle Edition, 221 pg.
2018
Read: September 1 – 3, 2018

I really didn’t think it could get any better than this.

But as with all tales of happiness, there’s always a floating cloud of crap over our heads just waiting for the touch of gravity to send it falling.

Axel is a not a typical teen, but he’s not a-typical. Hundreds years in the future, he lives on a massive space station in orbit above Earth. His parents are people of influence and importance on the station, and he’s being raised to join them. But that’s not at all what he wants. He’s a middling student, at best, all he really wants to do is make art and fall in love — hopefully with one particular girl from his classes. Maybe play a few video games (they’re far more immersive than anything we can possibly come up with — and are called something else, but they’re essentially what I used to play on an Intellivision).

Helen doesn’t have his artistic inclinations or abilities, but she shares his political apathy, his love of video games, his odd sense of humor and other interests (I was tempted to say that she shares his obsession with her appearance, but that’s not entirely fair to her). Her family is historically (and currently) a pretty Big Deal on Earth. Her immediate family is on this space station in part to work on behalf of the people on Earth. I don’t have as strong of a sense of her as I do Axel — at least not one I could express. That’s primarily on me — but it’s also part of the book, it’s Axel’s story, and we know him much better.

The book begins spending a little time with their courtship after setting the stage — it’s very easy to get caught up in the happiness and forget about that floating cloud of crap. Then they hit a pretty major road-bump — and then just when you get caught up in their clever ways around their obstacles, life for everyone on the station plunges into chaos.

Some bar owner once said, “it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of … little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world” with an eye to the horrors of World War II around him. Axel and Helen have a bigger conflict, and more suffering, around them — and their problems are even smaller in comparison. But that won’t stop you from being drawn to their plight (and their joy, determination, and courage, too). What these two (and their friends) go through is enough to derail relationships, families, movements — and while you’d understand why both of them would bail on their romance, you can’t help but root for these crazy kids.

It would’ve been understandable, and so very easy, to turn the parents into the villains of the piece — even just one set. But Horner resisted that, and even has Axel realizing they’re all just doing what they think is right and best — even if that’s diametrically opposed to what their children want/believe.

This isn’t technically YA, but it’s YA-friendly. Maybe even MG-friendly, come to think of it. It’s suitable for SF readers of all ages, let’s just say. Horner writes like the best SF writers used to in a way that’s approachable and appealing to all audiences. I wish more did that. I could say a lot about the science of the space station — and the cultures created by it, both in orbit and on the ground; or the politics; or the technology; the human biology . . . basically the SF-ness of it. I’m not going to, because of time, space required — and frankly, the human elements, the characters are what counts.

I wasn’t that sure this book was going to work for me, but I’m glad I gave it a chance, because this thing won me over (pretty quickly, I should add) — it had to be Axel and his way of looking at life that drew me in and then pretty much everything else kept me there. It’s hopeful, almost optimistic (given the harshness of the reality of humanity’s situation, that’s an accomplishment), you can enjoy huge swaths of it. It’s a love story, it’s the beginning of a SF epic, and you will fall under its spell if you give it half a chance. There are some big ideas here, but it’s a pretty small story, where people and their feelings are more important (and more interesting) than conflict, technological wonders, and everything else.

—–

4 Stars