Sixth Prime by Dan O’Brien: The beginning of a sweeping epic that came up snake eyes for me.

Sixth PrimeSixth Prime

by Dan O’Brien
Series: The Prime Saga, Book 1

Kindle Edition, 240 pg.
2016
Read: May 23 – 24, 2018
There’s a danger that most readers have familiarity with — a novelist oversharing the details of their worldbuilding so much so that it drags down the story and characters. The opposite danger isn’t seen as often — the writer withholding the details so much that you spend half your time figuring out what’s happening, rather than paying attention to characters and plot. It’s a tricky balance, no doubt — and sometimes a novel can overcome an author falling into either ditch. Sixth Prime was not one of those success stories — for whatever reason, to be careful, to be coy, because he didn’t notice — this book fell into the “not enough information” ditch, and couldn’t find its way out of it.

There are a few storylines, somewhat connected — it becomes somewhat clearer later how they are — there’s a murder investigation conducted by a corporation that supersedes the local authorities’ own investigation; a high-ranking military official on trial (and the strange aftermath of that); a jail-break leading to another jail-break on its way to an assassination; a scientific exploration goes awry; and a couple of competing treasure hunters hunt for an artifact. Somehow these all connect to an interstellar war and forces as old as creation itself.

The characters were lifeless, little more than names and job titles — with just a couple of exceptions. The characters in the murder investigation had promise — and if this book had just focused on that storyline, this’d be a much different post. At least one of the characters in the treasure hunting story have promise (but the more villainous one was so over-the top that literal mustache twirling wouldn’t have seemed out of place).

This entire novel seemed to be a set-up for the coming series — not a novel that’s part of a series. The various stories didn’t have endings, there wasn’t an overall arc to the novel that I could see — the stories stopped, or “resolved” by authorial fiat, nothing organic. This is a problem — I can accept not tying up everything in a tidy little bow, but there needs to be some sort of closure to a novel, some sort of point to that one thing. I’m not sure I’m being entirely fair here — 1 or two of the stories might actually have had a decent resolution, but by that point, I was out of patience with the entire endeavor. A dynamite ending, or compelling hook could’ve saved it (I think), but they were nowhere to be found.

Nothing about this really worked for me — one storyline came close — but being surrounded by the rest, it never stood much of a chance. A little more restraint, a little more discipline — maybe a longer book — I don’t know. There’s something missing, I’m not sure what it was, really.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion as reflected above. Sorry about that, Mr. O’Brien, but thanks anyway.

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2 Stars

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Jimbo Yojimbo by David W. Barbee is strange, bizarre, funny, tragic and will make you say “ew” a lot.

Jimbo YojimboJimbo Yojimbo

by David W. Barbee

Kindle Edition, 154 pg.
Eraserhead Books, 2018
Read: April 14 – 16, 2018

           “Ready to make it official?” said his father.

Jimbo closed his cuttlefish eyes and prayed the revenge vow.

Let me kill ‘em, he thought. Let me exist only to punish them that wronged me, for such is the pain of my life that only the pleasure of their death will weigh it equal. Amen.

“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” his dead father said.

Who doesn’t like a good revenge story? Especially one featuring swords and blood and gladiator-like battles, and surgically-enhanced hybrid warriors, and warlord chefs, and . . . oh, man. I don’t know how to summarize this one, I really don’t. So let me just steal from the publisher:

           From the author of Bacon Fried Bastard and A Town Called Suckhole, comes a countrified samurai epic in the vein of Squidbillies if directed by Akira Kurosawa.

A flood of frogs drowned the cities and gunked up all the guns. Now an evil restaurant chain called the Buddha Gump Shrimp Company rules a finger-licking shogunate of seafood mutants and murderous redneck swordsmen like Jimbo Yojimbo. Jimbo wants revenge on the Company for killing his family and stitching a cuttlefish to his face. After a daring escape, he will hack his way through hordes of crawdad soldiers, a church of quacking gun nuts on a jihad, and Bushido Budnick, the master chef who rules them all. But with every step he takes, Jimbo Yojimbo’s sweet revenge will surely begin to taste like shit gumbo.

JIMBO YOJIMBO is [a] fast-paced post-apocalyptic redneck samurai tale of love, revenge, and a whole lotta mutant sumbitches.

I’ve read plenty of imaginative works over the last couple of years where I asked myself “what did I just read?” Typically, that was because as imaginative as the novel might have been, the author didn’t relay the information too well and I just couldn’t follow it (I usually didn’t feel like I missed much). With this book, every time I asked something like, “Did he just say this cult was called the Holy Quackers?” I’d have to answer with, “Giant figures, wearing tattered camouflage kimonos and rubber boots, with giant duck bills on their face? Yup, he did say that.” As strange, as out there, as bizarre as the trappings got — the story made complete sense. It wasn’t overly complicated, it wasn’t overly messy, it was really a straight-forward revenge tale. Just one that felt like it was the offspring of any two randomly selected sentences from My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist.

Strip away everything and you’re looking at a tale of a guy who was betrayed by his wife and watched his father be butchered by a megalomaniacal dictator, who just wants to rescue his daughter from that dictator’s clutches (and, sure, maybe overthrow the government while he’s at it) while being pursued by his wife and his arch-enemy (who happens to be fixated on his wife, too). It’s a basic story, decently developed and told — effective enough to entertain. But, once you add in the humor, the voice, the panache, the multiple cults, the hybrid warriors, the very strange world all this takes place in — and the tale becomes dazzling.

And you buy it — you buy all of it. Including the fact that Bushido Budnick can create entirely new species in his lab, but can’t figure out how to take guns work anymore because science is hard or something. I’m not even sure it’s that your disbelief is suspended, the book’s just so cool that your disbelief says: “Who cares? I’m not Neil deGrasse Tyson. Just turn the page ‘cuz I want to see what’s next.”

The fight scenes are disturbing, and bloody and . . . you’ll say “ew” frequently. There’s one fight near the end that just might be the grossest thing I read in 2018. There’s another that’s as close as you’ll get to the Bride v the Crazy 88s in The House of Blue Leaves in print (just with robots, warriors with crawdad claws for hands, a samurai with sea anemones attached to his head in place of hair, and so on).

I’m tempted to just list off some of the stranger and/or cooler ideas that are given life in these pages, like the cult that “worshipped ideas and facts, and their relics were strange, ancient items that had mostly turned soggy in the flood: books. . . building a small army of highly literate and lethal fanatics dedicated to discovering and protecting that which would outlive them all: the untouchable truth of knowledge.” But I won’t — just trust me, there are plenty. This book is like the Mos Eisley cantina scene — something strange and interesting to look at everywhere, with a bit of violence and a bit of business going on in the midst of it all.

I’m in danger of going on too long here and I’m pretty sure I’m repeating myself — if you like bizarre settings, stories told with panache and boldness, and don’t mind a good bit of violence along the way — get this. David W. Barbee is the real thing, I’ve got to get more of his work soon.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this in exchange for my honest opinion — I greatly appreciate it (the book wouldn’t have appeared on my radar if not for that), but it didn’t make an impact on my opinion (beyond giving me something to have an opinion about).

—–

4 Stars

Wires and Nerve, Volume 2 by Marissa Meyer, Stephen Gilpin

Wires and Nerve, Volume 2Wires and Nerve, Volume 2: Gone Rogue

by Marissa Meyer, Stephen Gilpin (Illustrations)
Series: Wires and Nerve, #2

Hardover, 324pg.
Feiwel & Friends, 2018
Read: March 30, 2018

I’m really not sure what to say about this one. It’s part two of the story begun in Wires and Nerve where Iko is tasked with hunting down rogue Lunar wolf warriors scattered over the Earth. We also see what reforms Cinder is bringing to the Lunar government and what happens to the rest of the main characters from The Lunar Chronicles following Winter.

Honestly, I think I’m going to just copy and paste from the last book, because this is really just part 2 of that same story and my comments stay the same:

The Lunar wolf warriors are not just going to roll over, there are some that are preparing to strike back against Iko — and Cinder.

Throw in a love story, an examination of Iko’s true nature, and some nice catch-up with our old friends, and you’ve got yourself a fun story. It’s fun, but it’s light. If it were prose instead of a graphic novel, it might take 40 pages to tell this story. Which doesn’t make it bad, just slight.

I was shocked to see a different artist credited with this one — maybe my memory is shakier than I realized, but man…I thought it was the same stuff. Gilpin did a great job keeping the look the same. Yeah, cartoonish — but it fits the story. It’s dynamic, eye catching and fun — just what Iko’s story should be.

I’m glad I read these two, but I hope Meyer walks away from this world now to focus on whatever’s next. Read this if you read the first. If you’re curious about what happens after Winter, these two are a fun way to scratch that itch, but totally unessential.

—–

3 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

Blood Binds the Pack by Alex Wells

Blood Binds the PackBlood Binds the Pack

by Alex Wells
Series: Hob Ravani, #2

Kindle Edition, 496 pg.
Angry Robot, 2018

Read: February 20 – 23, 2018


How do you follow-up a book like Hunger Makes the Wolf? Which took the elements of a biker-gang, oppressed miners (and other blue-collar types), magic, space travel, and corporate greed to create an action-packed, fun, suspenseful and surprising read. Well, you take that foundation, and build on it to create a book that takes those elements and does a better job with them.

The pressure on TransRift Corporation is mounting (even when they don’t realize it), especially on their operations base on Tanegawa’s World. There’s a growing level of unrest with the miners — which they respond to in a way that hasn’t worked for anyone since the opening of Exodus. There’s the constant need for more resources, if possible, resulting in stronger and more efficient product. The government is sniffing around, wondering about what they’re up to and how they’re treating people. Meanwhile, the loose organization of miners in each city is getting stronger as are the ties between them. All in all — it’s a powder keg ready to blow.

Not having to create a world, Wells is able to spend more time on characters this time (at least that’s my impression — it’s not like I was dissatisfied with the characters in Hunger). We see depths and shadings of character in people I wasn’t sure where capable of depths and shadings — and if we get that from beings like that, imagine what we get from the more fully-formed people.

When writing about the last book, I said that I wanted more with the Ghost Wolves as a whole, to get a better feel for them. I got that this time — but not quite enough. I’m not sure what it would’ve taken, however. They seem more cohesive as a unit — Hob taking to leadership, and the Wolves taking to Hob. It’s a fascinating group — and one I clearly can’t get enough of.

There were plenty of mysteries, questions, enigmas wrapped in each other about the nature of the Weathermen, the Bone Collector, Hob’s abilities (and those of others, too) and what TransRift Corporation has found in the mines left over from Hunger — and Wells doesn’t answer them all. Are some things clarified? Are some things better understood? Yup. Does everything get spelled out for the reader? Nope. I love the fact that there’s a whole lot that we don’t get to wrap our brains around, but that we just have to accept — just like the characters. But it’s done not in a way that you feel unsatisfied with what you’re given.

There’s even a little bit of sweetness to be found in friendship, family, and romance. Not so much that it becomes a “kissing book” or anything, it’s just an added touch.

I find the politics a little hard to swallow and simplistic — but I can’t think of the politics of any SF book/world that don’t strike me this way, honestly. At least not once they get beyond the most vague notions. I’m only mentioning it because it seems that important to the novel. Which is not to say that it detracts from things too much — if I can suspend disbelief enough to buy the capabilities of the Weathermen, or a fire-throwing, one-eyed, space-biker; I can buy whatever the workers on Tanegawa’s World try to replace the corruption they’ve suffered under.

I get the feeling that this is going to be a duology — there might be more stories to tell with the Ravani, or Tanegawa’s World, but they probably won’t be as closely tied to these two. I’m satisfied with a duology — we got a complete story and a very satisfying one. Wells started strong and ended stronger — can’t ask for more than that.

I’m excited to talk about this book and I want to say a whole lot more — and feel like I should. But I’m not sure what else to say without giving anything away. Hunger Makes the Wolf was one of my favorites last year, and this is better. Ultimately, there’s not much more to say than that.

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4 1/2 Stars

The Meifod Claw by JW Bowe

The Meifod ClawThe Meifod Claw

by JW Bowe

Kindle Edition, 384 pg.
Serious Biscuits, 2017

Read: February 14 – 16, 2018


I’m going to keep the synopsis-y part of this vague because the blurbs for this book are pretty vague, and to a great extent, so is the book. This takes place in Wales, it involves a former sailor now confined to a wheelchair and a mostly abandoned farm-house (it fills up after a chapter or so), his niece, his nephew (who pretty much owns the house and funds everything in the book) and his nephew’s friend — who dropped out of a master’s level physics program to take part in the hi-jinks that occur. Oh, at some point a dog is introduced — he doesn’t seem to add much to anything, only serves to derail the progress of the plot for a bit, but he seems like a cool dog, and I’m a sucker for cool dogs.

The guys have assembled at this abandoned farm to work on a project and the niece/sister drops in every now and then to “tsk” at them and examine the books. When they’re not working on the project — and frequently as an aid to working on the project — the uncle, nephew and friend get high, drunk, stoned, and wasted, at the same time. There are probably a few other nearly synonymous terms I could throw in there, too.

I’m honestly not sure if the project is supernatural in nature (there’s a salt circle involved, but it doesn’t seem to do anything, and I’m not sure anyone believes it ought to), based in some sort of physics/”fringe” science (there’s a lot of talk that indicated that), or some sort of combination thereof. Frankly, I’m not convinced that the novel is all that certain of the nature of the project. I know a whole lot more of the drinking and drug habits of the characters than of the reason they’re together. The nephew is the Visionary, the friend is the brains behind things (although there’s very little time that I can tell you that he’s doing anything), and the uncle is the guy who lives in the house.

I do know that one of the side effects of this project is that it is some sort of miracle-grow product for plants — which means that the marijuana they use and sell to finance this project is larger, higher quality, etc. than one should expect. There is some contact with supernatural/spiritual entities, some with alien life (or they’re all three), a government agency and someone who’d done the same kind of work as these three earlier (and hints that they’re not alone).

I got frustrated with this novel quickly, but stuck with it hoping it’d change my mind (or that I’d at least figure it out), but the way that the story was told got in my way. Every time someone makes a decision, or gets a new piece of information, relaying that information/acting on the decision is put off for a day and a half (at least) for alcohol and recreation pharmaceutical use. During that day and a half any number of things can be said/happen that delays the relaying/acting. It is so infuriating. Maybe it’d have been better if the results of the binge-drinking, acid use, cocaine snorting, etc. were amusing or interesting, but I doubt it.

There was every reason in the world for me to get into this book, and I just couldn’t. Maybe it was my mood (I don’t think so, I wanted a book just like this at the time), maybe it was something else outside the book, so that I should recommend this to you all. But I’m pretty sure it was the book this time — if you’ve read this and disagree with me? I’d love to hear why. I wouldn’t mind changing my mind.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

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2 Stars

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown

Iron GoldIron Gold

by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising, #4

Hardcover, 600 pg.
Del Rey Books, 2018

Read: February 5 – 13, 2018

. . . We didn’t prepare for this.”

“How do you prepare for a kick in the balls?” I say. “You don’t. You suck it up.”

“That supposed to inspire me?. . .

Darrow’s words about the mission he and the Howlers are ill-prepared for also apply to readers of Pierce Brown books. At some point, you have to suck it up and keep moving. I typically considered Brown’s writing to be full of gut-punches, but Darrow’s anatomical metaphor applies, too. Yeah, we love the books, and Brown makes sure the experience is almost as harrowing for the readers as it is for the characters.

After President Snow dies, after Tris finishes with the Factions, after The Matrix reboots, after The Emperor Dies and the teddy bears sing, “Yub nub, eee chop yub nub,” what happens? (well, thanks to J. J. Abrams, we have an idea about that last one) Iron Gold lets us see what happens 10 years after the events of Morning Star.

The Republic is still at war, trying to finish off the remnants of the old order — the Senate isn’t rubber stamping Darrow’s requests and that is proving problematic. The people are tired of the bloodshed and want the focus to move to strengthening the fledgling government. Driving Darrow to a last-ditch and dramatic gesture. The lives of the Reds on Mars is technically better, they’re technically free, but things aren’t much better — in fact, they may be less safe. Criminals on Lune are doing well, but those who served during the War are still trying to deal with the trauma they survived. Meanwhile, on the far end of the solar system, some exiles from Lune are looking to regain some prominence. Brown jumps around from story to story, between various perspectives, surveying the wreckage of the Society and the birth of the Republic.

Each character is as well-drawn, and fully developed, as sympathetic as those who came before in the series — even those who are critical of Darrow/the Republic (if not downright opposed to it). This is a more complicated world than the one we last saw. I’m going to keep things pretty vague and not go further than this, because half of the joy of this book is in the exploration.

Jumping from perspective to perspective, between storylines that have almost nothing to do with each other make for a lesser novel than the previous books in the series. When I was following a character — their story was gripping, I was interested and invested — but the instant the perspective shifted? It was all about the new story/perspective and I pretty much forgot about the previous. Darrow’s story was the exception, but I attribute that to my long-standing connection to Darrow, Sevro and the rest. I loved the conclusion of Darrow’s story — because of what it means for Darrow and the rest, and what it means for the next book in the series (saga?).

I’m glad we got this look at the aftermath of the Rising — if we were going to get anything at all — it seems right for things to be this way. I wasn’t as invested in this novel as I was in the previous ones, but I’m just as invested in this world. I hope the next one will grab me better, but until then I wait on tenterhooks and with hope that Darrow and the rest will deliver the goods. This is not the place to jump on the series — go back toe Red Rising and start from the beginning, it’s worth it. For those who’ve been with man from his harrowing beginning through his even more harrowing and devastating triumphs, this is a must read.

—–

4 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's FaultAll Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault

by James Alan Gardner
Series: The Dark and the Spark, #1

Paperback, 382 pg.
Tor Books, 2017

Read: January 9 – 10, 2017

…paranoia is our friend. Paranoia is our sunscreen, our condom, our duct tape. Paranoia tells the truth nine times out of ten, and the tenth time is when you weren’t paranoid enough. We will never correctly anticipate what flavor of shit will hit the fan, but we can calculate the trajectory and attempt to avoid the splatter.

Let’s start with the title, shall we? Straight off you know this book is going to be action-oriented, heavy on the explosions and most likely offbeat in style.

This is one of those books that it almost doesn’t matter how good the novel itself is, because the set-up is so good. Thankfully, let me hasten to say, the book lives up to the setup. So here’s the setup: it’s a parallel universe to ours, exactly like it (down to the certainty of the existence of Elton John), but in the 1980s Vampires, Werewolves, etc. admit their existence and sell their services — what services? Being turned, in exchange for exorbitant rates, so that the newly supernatural could enjoy their riches and powers for extended lifespans. Before long, the 1% are essentially all monsters in some way (literally so, not just depicted as monsters in print, on film or in song). The haves are supernatural, the have-nots are human — literally, these groups are two different species.

Yeah, the imagery isn’t subtle. It’s not supposed to be.

A couple of decades later, Sparks show up — Sparks are, for lack of a better term super heroes. They battle the forces of Darkness, so are obviously called Light (both groups have a tendency to be a little on the nose). There’s a pseudo-scientific explanation/excuse fr the way their powers work (contrasted to the magic of the other side). Fast-forward to the present, four college students/housemates are in an almost-deserted engineering lab building on campus when one of the labs blows up. This results in these four being turned into Sparks and they are immediately compelled to defend their city and combat a scheme launched and directed by Darks.

While doing this, they need to come to grips with this new reality for them, their news powers, their new identities, and so on — not to mention coming up with costumes.

This book features THE (triple underscore) best explanation of/justification for simple masks being an adequate disguise and/or the efficacy of removing a pair of eyeglasses to hide a superheroes identity.

The writing is crisp, the characters are fully fleshed out and the kind of people you want to spend more time with. I’m not going to get more into it than that, because you really need to experience the relationships (and many other things) by yourself.

This looked like a fun read, and it is a blast (no pun intended, but fully embraced), but it’s more — there’s heart, humor, some meta-narrative, and strong super-heroic and magical action. I really liked this one — it’s one of the best super-hero novels I’ve read in the last few years and the sequel can’t get here fast enough. Grab a copy today and thank me tomorrow.

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4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge