Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Stephen King needs no introduction and so I won't bother with it. However, as for my personal experience with the author I have never read a book from him that I loved. Just liked. Or didn't like too much. I have finally found the one a thoroughly enjoyed. I present, his newest release: Revival


Hardback copy
In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs—including Jamie’s mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of thirteen, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family’s horrific loss. In his mid-thirties—addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate—Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.


I can finally say that I have found a Stephen King novel that I truly, truly love. Not liked. The novel's conclusion is terrifying. I was left thinking about my own destiny for several days after finishing it. What happens after it all ends? Jamie discovers the answer to this question and it's one that I dreaded so much, maybe because these thoughts plague everyone from time to time. People like to think that there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe there's not. What made this novel utterly terrifying was not any monsters or psychos or any other 'horror' tropes. What made this novel terrifying was simply not knowing.

Who knew?

I'm very much aware that many King fans were disappointed thinking this story would be a straight horror novel, and if that's what you are expecting, don't bother with reading it. We don't get anything 'scary' until the last act. Let me give you the gist:

The story centers on Jamie from the age of six all the way into his sixties. You are introduced to his family, his town back in the 'good' old days, and life around a religious town and the new pastor in the neighborhood church. Charles Jacob. The man is fascinated with electricity and whenever he can, he applies his discoveries to his preaching. He has a wife and small child. Our main character loves him and so does the rest of the town until the TERRIBLE SERMON.

The terrible sermon was one of the reasons I enjoyed this novel. The thoughts and conclusion the Rev. states in the midst of grief are very similar to my own. I also grew up in a very Christian home and had a lot of questions. I enjoyed his speech but was saddened by the reason he came to it. Tragedy does make us see the world a lot differently. I won't reveal more than I have to in this review. I hate spoilers. Just know that the pastor ends up leaving town but also leaves a mark in little Jamie's heart and life.

Later, Jamie grows up to be a musician and is deep into drugs. A theme Stephen King uses a lot. You know what they say, draw from life experiences. However, this here is where the story lost a tad of momentum. Jamie's drugs and musical life turned the story into a whole different one. Not at all the novel we started out with, the one that had me reading the first act in a single night. The second act sat too long in secrecy and Jamie went on and on discussing old musicians and bands and you know, all that shit that starts in E. It got a tad tedious after a while. I was almost let down until Rev. Danny came back into the picture.

Throughout the novel we are hinted at the strange electricity Charles Jacobs is working with. One that has cured and been curing people for decades, but leaves aftereffects that in some cases can be fatal. Jamie grows more curious as he himself gets a volt dosage and well, Something Happened. The last act concentrates on finding out all the answers and the conclusion is one you are either going to love or hate.

The book as a whole had its ups and downs. Mostly ups. There were so many passages that I loved. The characters intrigued me. I would have liked to have seen more of the family instead of the musical people in Jamie's life. And I'm not completely convinced that Jamie would have gone out of his way to help Jacob at the end. But overall, the novel was a great read that I deeply recommend.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Culling

Robert Johnson is an Okie who moved to California later in life. He's studied film and became a screenwriter. He's won plenty of awards. The Culling is his first book.


Hardback copy
Carl Sims, a young virologist, discovers a plot hatched by a group of international scientists to cull, in a matter of weeks, two-thirds of the world's population - some 4.5 billion people, by releasing a deadly virus that kills two thirds of those it infects. Their goal is to reduce Earth's population from an unsustainable seven billion to two billion. What is he to do? Try to stop the conspiracy, or join it?

Horrific, yes, but what if this culling could prevent the extinction of some forty percent of our planet's flora and fauna? Or if he was certain it was the only way to prevent an even larger human die-off, incurring significantly more suffering, by the end of this century? Or if he were convinced it represented the only hope for humanity surviving at all? This is at the heart of this thriller, for these viruses do, in fact, exist.


The title alone drew me in to this little gem of a novel. Yes, some of us are very aware of how overpopulated the planet is, but culling the herd is most def an inhumane way to go about it. This novel takes a look at scientists who are looking at the bigger picture. Save the earth by taking out a good percentage of the reckless population who can't seem to stop breeding.

This actually got me thinking about deer. How every year we have a season where hunters are allowed to bring down the deer population. If we culled the human herds one has to admit we would be of a manageable size. One: people would stop having so many children if the fear of them dying this or the next year was eminent. Two: we would have a smaller population if a lot of us got wiped out yearly. TIs it more humane or inhumane than dying from a deadly virus? Okay, I got a little carried away there. Back to the novel.

Carl Sims is a virologist who works for the CDC. He gets sent on a mission to investigate a potential outbreak of the flu in China. Jenna, epidemiologist, and two interns have to figure this out while not getting contaminated and not getting killed. The first half of the novel has us dealing with the Chinese outbreak, and I enjoyed the facts the novel tries to tell the reader through Carl and Jenna's discussions with the interns. Yes, it was not as subtle as it could have been, but I enjoyed it, nonetheless.

Later, Carl gets sick and travels back to the USA and decides to leave quarantine and go to Alaska to find out about a deadlier strain of Influenza. This part had me a little annoyed with Carl. He is a virologist. He knows how important it is to take safety precautions. His delusional belief that he wasn't sick was a little too unreal for someone who knows how his job works.

The other half of the novel gets to the reveals, and I can't expand on them because of spoilers. I understood the motives and the reasons for the scientists wanting to do what they did and I was not surprise with who the scientist were because the novel doesn't try to hide much. What you see is what you get all the way until the ending which was  sad but so real. I enjoyed this novel.

About the characters, I liked them all. They were all diverse and all had their own reasons for doing what they were doing. No, they were not likable. Not all. But they were real. Even Carl's ex girlfriend, when she lost her cool and wanted to make the antiviral so bad that she does something seen as evil, its explainable. I saw her point. Her reasoning. The novel does spend time with a few folks at the CDC that I didn't know enough or cared enough to remember, but they were crucial as well. Everyone had a purpose in this story. No characters wasted. From the interns who needed to be imparted knowledge, to the wheelchair bound friend who helped get Carl out of a lot of bad situations.

About the plot, first, I loved the narration. I love the pan in and pan out feel of every spot Carl finds himself in. The first chapter, the intro, was perfect and it set the tone for the rest of the novel. A mosquito comes down to poor village in South America and bites our host, our MC. From there on we go on a trip from country to country and scenario to scenario. All at a great pace.

Good book.

Monday, December 8, 2014


Robin Cook, again...

My last review was my first introduction to the doctor/writer. It was an old eighties novel: Outbreak. The back cover had the picture of the prolific man and his optimistic smile. Although Outbreak was not as good as I expected or wanted, it was not bad, either. I also happen to be one of those readers that if by chance discovers a 'new' author and their style or themes interest me, I will give it another go, or three, or four or...oh Dean Koontz. But I digress, point is, if I liked you a first time, I will read you a second. And so here I am again with the New York Times Bestselling Author. This time I picked a newer book: Nano


Hardback copy
 Intrigued by the promise of the burgeoning field of medical technology and the chance to clear her head, Pia takes a job at Nano, LLC, a lavishly funded, security-conscious nanotechnology insititute in the picturesque foothills of the Rockies. Nano, LLC is ahead of the curve in the competitive world of molecular manufacturing, including the construction of microbivores, tiny nano-robots with the ability to gobble up viruses and bacteria.

But the corporate campus is a place of secrets. She's warned by her boss not to investigate the other work being done at the gigantic facility, nor to ask questions about the source of the seemingly endless capital that funds the institute's research. And when Pia encounters a fellow employee on a corporate jogging path, suffering the effects of an apparent cardiac arrest and seizure, she soon realizes she may have stumbled on a possible Nano LLC human guinea pig. Is the tech giant on the cusp of one of the biggest medical discoveries of the twenty-first century—a treatment option for millions—or have they already sold out to the 
highest bidder?


I finished reading the book a week before I started this review. Why? I had mixed feelings and wanted to sit on it for a while, let it marinate. In the mean time I finished another book that was quite good, and solely because I want to get to that review, I finally decided to finish this one...or start it. Either way, here I am.

What initially intrigued me about Nano was the topic. Nanotechnology happens to interest me. Maybe because the field hasn't been explored enough--or maybe I just haven't read enough books on the subject. Intrigued as I was, I was even more drawn to this book because the author is a doctor. I figured Cook would explore the topic in depth and maybe even teach me something I didn't know. Wishful thinking, I guess.

I did enjoy some scenes and the science aspects. Yes, there were great scenes and mysteries early on that captivated me enough that I kept reading, but ultimately I was disappointed.

Let me start with the plot, Pia is a young woman employed by a corporation working on new treatments and technology in an unethically manner. Pia is like a dog with a bone and once she discovers something is off, she goes to incredible lengths to find out what exactly happened, which reminded me of the character in the last Robin Cook book I read who pretty much did the same thing. Except that Pia was ridiculously hard to like. Everyone loved her. Everyone wanted to be in her company. But she was a loner and not a social person. They explain the reasons for her detachment, and still I found it hard to believe everyone would want to be friends or even have in their life some girl who didn't like anyone. I was not a Pia fan. I did not root for her and more than once I wanted something terrible to happen to her, or better yet, have George--her friend--tell most of the story.

George, her doctor friend, disappeared after the first few chapters and didn't return until the end when Pia needed him and then another time in the middle where she needed him again. That was his whole character, coming in for the rescue. Pia used everyone in her life to get what she wanted. Her boss, her friend, her other friend who seemed to have been set up to be a love interest and later we discover that not to be the case, and the reason for this was not as much a surprise but an unnecessary twist. There was no plot requisite for us not to know sooner or for Paul to have had a great interest in her. Pia also put herself in dangerous situations in order to discover facts that were not crucial to her life. I had the same problem with Cook's last novel. I didn't really understand the MC's motive.

The other characters were not very rounded or interesting except Berman, the CEO. Essentially, the bad guy. He had a great motive for everything he did. His research would eventually lead to a the cure to Alzheimer or so he was aiming for that goal, which ran in his family. He had some rich, book, movie, man flaws. He wanted to conquer and dispose. Not the most original, but believable. He kept me intrigued.

Paul and George were one in the same. Two doctors. Two friends of Pia. Two men concerned with finding her when she put herself in one dangerous situation after another. They gave her sound advice. She didn't listen, and yet, they still blamed themselves when the ultimate bad happens--again. George recruits the help of her father who had never really been in her life only once before. In another book. This was not Pia's first book. She was kidnapped in the last book and her father tried to help her get out of that situation, too. Same plot here.

The ending was the most disappointing part of the story. We have a new setting. London. Great. We have new characters--last minute--but cool and so many opportunities for a kind of ending like the ones Cook is known for, rapid fire, a real thriller. But no. The ending had the main villain as nothing more than an incompetent fool. New villains took his place, and Pia became utterly useless as all the 'smarts' she had used thus far were thrown out the window when she again and again refused to cooperate after having no leverage. I was surprised she didn't die sooner or in the book that came before Nano. The ending was fuzzy. You are supposed to guess if our MC made it or not. I didn't care.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Robin Cook is a doctor and author of medical thrillers. A New York Times Bestselling author. I have heard of him before but never actually picked up one of his books until now. Better late than never. Others have said that all his novels follow the same pattern of a doctor finding out something is wrong in the system and then running around trying to beat the clock. I can't either agree or disagree because I haven't read one of his novels yet...well, I have now. Let's talk about Outbreak:


Hardback copy
When the director of a Los Angeles health maintenance clinic succumbs, along with seven patients, to an untreatable virus, Atlanta's Center for Disease Control goes on red alert. Unless the virus is isolated and checked, mankind may be facing its gravest medical crisis since the Black Death.

Assigned by the CDC to investigate the disease, Dr. Marissa Blumenthal is soon caught up in the ultimate nightmare. The California case is merely the first in a burgeoning series of outbreaks that occur in unrelated geographical areas but with puzzling commonalities: The locations are always health-care facilities, and the victims are only physicians and their patients.

As her investigation takes increasingly bizarre turns, Marissa finds that behind the natural threat lurks a far more sinister possibility: sabotage.

Before she discovers the truth, Marissa must overcome her superiors' fury, her colleagues' doubts—and the wrath of a powerful cabal, sworn to achieve its aims, no matter what the cost in human life—including Marissa's.


This novel was many things. A thriller was one. I picked it because of the title alone. It so happens to be about an Ebola outbreak. Seemed like another timely novel. It was a quick read and fun. I happen to be studying epidemiology at the moment and so there were smiles on my face whenever he reference medical terminology that I actually understood. The medical jargon was fun! There was a lot to like here--and some not.

The author is a doctor in real life. I always find that those little details to be intriguing. Makes me feel like the author knows what he's doing. Of course, maybe he tried to drive that point a little bit too hard. There were scenes where our MC spends too much time in contaminated hospitals doing the same thing over and over again, and we were told step by step why she was doing and how she was doing it.

Example: Marissa had to travel from hospital to hospital whenever an outbreak got out. She was sent by the CDC. In each situation there were steps that needed to be taken. After the first outbreak, we were well aware of the procedure. No need to hammer that in every single time she visited another hospital. It got repetitive at best. Repetition was one of the factors of the novel that I didn't enjoy. Marissa goes to the airport about a dozen times. Marissa with Ralph. Marissa eats hotel food. Marissa's feelings on Dubchek. Marissa gets attacked--and always gets away. Marissa at the CDC at night doing things she shouldn't be doing...so and and so on. I would've liked to have skipped to the chase.

The love stories in this novel also rubbed me the wrong way. Not because I don't enjoy them. But because there wasn't one, really. Ralph was an older friend of hers. He was always just there. Not much happening with him, which made me wonder about him. Tad was a younger co-worker who did whatever she wanted her to and then fizzled out at the end. Then there was Dubchek. The man hit on her once and kissed her without her consent. She rejected him and so he spent the rest of the book making her life a living hell. Marissa spends too much time blaming herself for the whole incident and that just didn't sit well with me. I won't say how that part of the relationship unravels, but lets just say, that alone ruined the ending for me.

Marissa's motives also bothered me. She went far and beyond to find out the truth when it could have caused her a good job and friends. Her obsession with the outbreak was taken to extreme levels. Marissa had up to that point been a bit of a people pleaser and then suddenly she just needed to travel all around the country, breaking the law, and fighting criminals in order to learn the truth. Why? I just never felt that she had a really good reason to do any of it. At one point she acknowledges that she was endangering herself and that she had little proof of anything. I agreed. I also didn't buy that she was the only doctor who understood what was going on. The index case and everyone who began the individual outbreaks had all been mugged or attacked at one point. No one seemed to have noticed this or taken note except for our MC who also happened to have been new at her job.

Despite all the flaws in the novel, I still enjoyed it. The first part was spent learning and setting the scene for the second half which is  the thriller part. I wanted the story to end with more of a bang because the second half rode hard, but it didn't. I was left wanting a tad more. Again, despite all this the last few chapters kept me at the edge of my seat, and I did not stop reading until it all ending. For this alone, I give the book a huge amount of credit. It entertained me and taught me. Also, it was fun reading about the 80's.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hidden Empire

There has been a lot of controversy about Orson Scott Card and his 'beliefs'. I personally don't care what I person does in their private time--unless it's against the law--as long as it doesn't affect or seep into the writing. Unfortunately, I can't say that's the case with Hidden Empire. Shame since OSC is not a bad author. He's imaginative and his stories are interesting. A lot of folks I know still love Ender's Game despite disliking the man who wrote it. Fair enough. The novel I'll be reviewing today was a gift. I probably wouldn't have picked it up on my own. However, I don't regret reading it even though sometimes it was a difficult task...


Hardback copy
The war of words between right and left collapsed into a shooting war, and raged between the high-technology weapons on each side, devastating cities and overrunning the countryside. 

At the close of Empire, political scientist and government adviser Averell Torrent had maneuvered himself into the presidency of the United States.  And now that he has complete power at home, he plans to expand American imperial power around the world.

Opportunity comes quickly.  There’s a deadly new plague in Africa, and it is devastating the countryside and cities.  President Torrent declares American solidarity with the victims, but places all of Africa in quarantine until a vaccine is found or the disease burns itself out.  And he sends Captain Bartholomew Coleman, Cole to his friends, to run the relief operations and protect the American scientists working on identifying the virus.  If Cole and his team can avoid dying of the plague, or being cut down by the weapons of fearful African nations, they might do some good.  Or they might be out of the way for good.


I wanted to like this book. I really did. The premise interested me. I was in the mood for outbreaks and deadly viruses. The world handling a crisis. It was even a timely read with this current Ebola crisis, but man was this heavy on the politics. If you are a right-winged, Christian who loves Fox News and don't believe in Global Warming, you'll like this a lot. If you like military jargon and vague action scenes, you'll love this novel. If you enjoy a lot of backstory and too many references to the previous novel (which I didn't know existed or read) then you'll enjoy this story. If you enjoy precocious children who are ridiculously wise for their age and who love to banter with Mommy, you'll also like this story...I could do this all day. Fact is, I didn't enjoy any of those aspects of the novel. I read to be entertained, not to be told what's right and what's wrong. This was supposed to be Science Fiction. It read more like wishful thinking on the author's part.

Anyhow, I'd like to believe that every novel has some good in it. So, I'll concentrate on what I did like. The novel starts with this little African boy whose whole family dies from an outbreak started by a monkey. I won't say more. Did I already say too much? A captivating start and I kept hoping the kid wouldn't die since he was so interesting. I also enjoyed learning about the different languages in the various African tribes.

The president of the United States wanted to quarantine the whole continent of Africa in order to prevent the virus from reaching the states. A lot of people found issue with that. As they should. A lot of folks wanted to go to Africa and help the sick. The whole thing is a PR nightmare for the president and his people.

About the president's people, Cole, a military officer, and Cecily, a mom who loves to bake cookies for her five kids and councils the president on the side. I didn't connect with the mother too much. Not with how she handled her eldest son's, Mark, whole do-good crusade. But I did like Cole. He was smart and knew what to expect and who not to fully trust. Before being sent to Africa to check out what the deal was, Cole knew the whole operation wasn't right. As a good soldier, he does what he must, but suffers deadly consequences. Action ensues and they find themselves trapped in a country they can't leave and sick. The Muslim bad guys are coming to get them! But are they really the bad guys, or are the bad guys 'friend's? The pre-ending was big. The real ending was anti-climatic. It should have ended several pages before it actually did.

Hidden Empire has its moments and all the epidemiology and author knowledge over how outbreaks occur was what made me enjoy it the most. Enough that I overlooked a lot of the other stuff that bugged me throughout the story.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Girl in the Road

A first novel by author Monica Byrne. She's a writer, playwright, and traveler. She holds degrees in biochemistry from Wellesley and MIT. Just mentioning all these things explains a lot about her novel, and the ideas used and the very vivid world she created.


Hardback copy
Meena, a young woman living in a futuristic Mumbai, wakes up with five snake bites on her chest. She doesn't know how or why, but she must flee India and return to Ethiopia, the place of her birth. Having long heard about The Trail -- an energy-harvesting bridge that spans the Arabian Sea -- she embarks on foot on this forbidden bridge, with its own subculture and rules. What awaits her in Ethiopia is unclear; she's hoping the journey will illuminate it for her.

Mariama, a girl from a different time, is on a quest of her own. After witnessing her mother's rape, she joins up with a caravan of strangers heading across Saharan Africa. She meets Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. Yemaya tells Mariama of Ethiopia, where revolution is brewing and life will be better. Mariama hopes against hope that it offers much more than Yemaya ever promised.

As one heads east and the other west, Meena and Mariama's fates will entwine in ways that are profoundly moving and shocking to the core. Vividly imagined and artfully told, written with stunning clarity and deep emotion, The Girl in the Road is a true tour de force


Two girls. Two stories. Two different decades. One side of the story centers on Meena, an Indian girl--yes, the protagonist is Indian which was so refreshing--and the other pov was centered on Mariama, an African girl--yes, already liking the diversity here.

Right off the bet you get a sense that Meena is not right in the head, and that she's keeping a lot from the reader. First point of view. She thinks she's being followed and decides to leave the country to go to Africa, where her parents were murdered long ago. Meena is a smart girl and went to the best schools. She's a tad entitled with strong prejudices. This make sense since she grew up with a family and culture that looked down on certain races and lower classes. Meena also has a rebellious streak and has lots of sex with guys and girls. Doesn't matter to her. The one thing that was going well for her was the relationship with a transgender performer. However, as the story continues one starts to wonder why her girlfriend didn't come along. Is she even alive? Does she exist? Meena sees all types of things that aren't really there.

The midpoint of her journey has Meena walking a trail. And this concept was amazing to me. The trail starts from India all across the ocean to Africa. It's walkable but very unstable. It's like backpacking on ocean scales. I liked a lot of the devices that Meena took with her and all the names for the futuristic tools. Like the sunbits and scrolls. Very clever. Meena did often go into her head to think about her past and some parts in the middle got a little tedious because of it, but eventually something else would happen or she would encounter a person.....there's more here with Meena, but honestly, I thought her problems were just okay in comparison to Mariama's side.

I also found a lot of her decisions unnecessary. Like leaving the country in the first place...at least it seemed that way to me for so long, and so it was hard to relate to her because I thought her leaving was a tad over the top, and she had no good reason. I think if there's one thing I didn't enjoy about Meena's story was how much the author withheld from us. Too much to the point that I just couldn't cheer for Meena. Like there was a bit where she intentionally tossed the equipment that filtered the water to make it drinkable, something she desperately needed on a trip from India to Africa on foot! Delusional or not, it just didn't seem like something Meena would do. However, she would sometimes redeem herself with her cunning nature.

Now for the fun part, Mariama. I loved her whole story. In fact, I often wanted to skip Meena's aka Durga's chapters just to get to her story. Unlike Meena who's a wealthy twenty something-year-old, Mariama was a slave little girl. Her mother was abused and raped and tells the little girl to run off and be free. To find someone who can take care of her. This is how this little girl's journey started. She does find two men who are on the road doing a delivery that will take them about six months--give or take. Mohammed and Francis. I liked these two. I liked that they were good to her. Mohammed was a tad more wary and Francis was a loveable character, probably my favorite of the side characters.

Another person that eventually joins the three of them is Yemaha. Little Mariama becomes obsessed with this lady named after a goddess, and Yemaha is kind to her. Teaches her a language, as does Francis, and sleeps beside her at nights. Mariama takes to her very strongly to the point that her entire pov is dedicated to her. She doesn't address the reader. She addresses Yemaha. It took me a while to get used to that, but once I did I found it interesting. A lot of adventures happen on their journey and the sights are beautifully described. Either the author did a lot of research--which she did. Or she visited some of these sights--which she also did. It was a learning experience for me and I loved the richness, the nuances, learning about other cultures. Even if the story does take place in the far future.

Overall, the two tales come together and a lot is revealed at the end. I do believe that my connection with Meena would have been stronger if I had known a lot of her issues a lot sooner. For Mariama I felt like I was given a very straight forward story and even though there were twist and bends and her ending was indeed surprising, I can't say the same for Meena. Mariama was more chaotic and wanted more out of life. Meena just wanted to find the person who killed her parents, an odd motivation since she'd never in her life really cared about it up until that point. Sure, she missed having parents, but nothing warranting a long trip. Again, there was more to it, but I didn't know at the time so I couldn't connect. By the time we are told all the truth, my attention had already shifted to Mariama and stayed with her. Even when I knew how Mariama's story was going to end, I still wanted to see how she would end up doing what we were hinted at throughout the novel. I cared to see. I cared about the character.

There were so many layers to this novel, and you have to pay attention to everything because if you miss something, you really missed something. I enjoyed reading it. I enjoyed the world and the tools in it. The diversity. The places explored. I enjoyed it. Good stuff.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Brave New Worlds

John Joseph Adams has also edited another anthology which I enjoyed a great deal: Wastelands: stories of the apocalypse.  I enjoyed all the shorts a great deal, most of them. A little bit about the editor, John has been called, The reigning king of the anthology world with numerous anthologies under his belt, and he's the founder of Lightspeed Magazine. He's a writer, editor, publisher...the man does a lot. Today, I'm taking a look at another one of his anthologies, one about dystopian futures: Brave New Worlds.


My copy
You are being watched.

Your every movement is being tracked, your every word recorded. Your spouse may be an informer, your children may be listening at your door, your best friend may be a member of the secret police. You are alone among thousands, among great crowds of the brainwashed, the well-behaved, the loyal. Productivity has never been higher, the media blares, and the army is ever triumphant. One wrong move, one slip-up, and you may find yourself disappeared -- swallowed up by a monstrous bureaucracy, vanished into a shadowy labyrinth of interrogation chambers, show trials, and secret prisons from which no one ever escapes. Welcome to the world of the dystopia, a world of government and society gone horribly, nightmarishly wrong.

When the government wields its power against its own people, every citizen becomes an enemy of the state. Will you fight the system, or be ground to dust beneath the boot of tyranny?


I'm only going to mention the shorts that I enjoyed. The first of that was the very first story: 

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

A haunting tale about a village that has a peculiar yearly ritual where all the members of the town gather to pick out a name, and whoever is chosen, well, is chosen. To what? Nothing pleasant. What I interpreted from the tale is that sometimes we get so caught up in the routine of it all that no one really questions if what were doing is right. It just is what it is, what we've always done.

Red Card by S.L. Gilbow

Probably one of my favorites. In this particular dystopian future the right to kill is a law. However, its also a drawing. You don't get to decide when you are given that right, but once you have it, you carry the card for as long as you want. No one is supposed to know who has the card. Some suspect. Some dissect and talk about the reasoning or how much the killed person deserved it. 
Linda kills her cheating husband and then has to deal with the temporary celebrity status that killing someone gives you. A sad ending, but an interesting look at human justification. No different than the death penalty. Basically, one person deciding that you don't deserve to live and the world agreeing. Chilling. 

Ten with a Flag by Joseph Paul Haines

Another one of my favorites, this one is centered on a world where you are let know in advance what type of child you are going to have and how successful he or she going to be, ahead of time. Like those tests that determine if your child is going to have an afflicting disorder.
The couple in this story gets told that their son is a ten, the highest, the smartest, the most successful. They should be happy, right? But that's ten with a flag. A flag means that their is going to be something wrong. But they can't know what it is. So the decision becomes, to keep this child with great potential or not because whatever the flag signifies isn't worth the risk? Does knowing really change anything? My answer to this is, it shouldn't, unless you just have to know everything.

Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: one daughter's personal account by M. Rickert

I found this one fascinating because it has partly happened in some places in the world. In this story, women have lost most of their rights, especially their reproductive rights, and if they don't abide by the new world order, they are killed. A daughter has had a normal life up until her mother disappears and they know that she is one of those 'traitors' that needs to be hung. The daughter is angry at her mother for causing her father and her so much grief. The daughter doesn't know what she's lost, what freedom her mother had once enjoyed and so can't sympathize. Very sad story. And makes one wonder about what you're passing over to your kids, what type of world. A world with less freedom? More. About the same. None...

The Funeral by Kate Wilhelm

Here's another one where girls do not have many rights. They are given tasks and jobs and they must obey and live the life that is appointed to them, but one girl discovers through a senile old woman that there's another place where life doesn't have to be that way. Can she figure it all out in time? Fun story told through a young girl. I like how the elders twist certain jobs, to make everything that isn't what the child is supposed to be doing in life seem terrible in comparison. "You don't want riches and fame those people are miserable. And everyone knows your job (insert job here) is so much more satisfying." Oh, the lies we tell ourselves.

O Happy Day! by Geoff Ryman

This one is the opposite of the last two. Men have no rights. And the more violent ones are sent to concentration camps and killed. The only ones who don't get killed are the gays. The gays have to assist in the killing of straight men. The story's focus is on the group of men that have the terrible job of assisting in the death of other men. They have to say and do without protesting until one guy comes along and questions it all. But how much do others want to change? How much can one person do? Is it better to live miserable in an unjust world or die? Is it worth living if you're miserable? Or does one hope a change will come along? Who starts that change? Why don't you? Tragic story about being so close but having others sabotage you. 

Billennium by J.G. Ballard

Overpopulation, the more people, the less space. This story takes a look at what a crowded world looks like, if you had little room to move to and fro, and your apartment was so tiny it’s basically a closet. I felt claustrophobic reading this tale. There was no room to walk or breathe, almost. And every so often more space was taken from the people. I actually thought the tale was a tad optimistic in its report of how a crowded world would even think to sync that well without chaos. But a warning tale nonetheless.

Pop Squad by Paolo Bacigalupi

In this one, the cure to old age has been invented and nobody dies. But if nobody dies that means that no one else needs to be born. It's against the law. If you break the law, your newborn, infant, toddler gets killed. Theirs a police squad specialize in getting rid of unwanted children. Do people really want to live forever? Would it really be living? Those are the questions this story asks. And isn’t one of the points of human nature to procreate, passing down genes, teaching the new the ways of life. This dystopian future had the illusion of a utopia. I enjoyed the struggles some of the mother’s faced when just wanting a little baby to hold and love is against the law. Another one of my faves.

Dead Space for the Unexpected by Geoff Ryman

Productivity at the work place and using time wisely. Here we have a stressed out boss who can’t be stressed out because his heart rate is being monitored and his skills, how to handle firing an employee, or how to best manage every second of every hour that he works. Give a whole new meaning to work being one’s life. Interestingly enough, I found his workload quite perfect in the perspective of a corporation. You get more for your buck out of your employees...

Just Do It by Heather Lindsley

What if companies could legally shoot darts at you to make you want their product. The ultimate in advertising. You get hit with a little sucker and everything in your body tells you that you just have to eat in that restaurant or buy those shoes. Works every time. But what if they wanted to take it a step further? In an age where websites monitor our buying habits is too hard to fathom a world where they could chemically induce us to want their junk? 
This short unnerve me because there was no escape to consumerism, and then I look around and think, well, there isn't an escape now. We just let it happen. Complain a bit, but accept. 

Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonegut. Jr.

Everyone is finally equal! No one is smarter or prettier or more accomplished than you. No one talks better or has more. We are all the same. EQUAL. However, the price to pay is to dumb all the smart people down with loud chips in their brains and place bags in the faces of the pretty ones. I liked the theme and what the story was trying to say. However, I did disagree with a few points. Maybe intelligence can be measure, or can it? And Beauty certainly isn't universal. I think the entire time reading this one I kept thinking, who gets to decide who are the prettiest in the population?

Caught in the Organ Draft by Robert Silverberg

It's already known that the old decide the future of the young. They control the senate and congress and all those important positions of power, but what if the old never died. What if because they get to decide for the rest of us, they decide that the young have to donate organs to the old. An organ draft. The old live longer lives, more years of servitude, while the young get treated like cattle. Doesn't seem so far-fetch when you see the amount of young bodies whose lives get gambled with in war. They don't get to decide much now. This little tale is one to warn us that our elders don't always know best.

Of A Sweet Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs by Adam-Troy Castro

This one was bitter sweet. Imagine if you can live in paradise for nine days. The most fun and the most happy you have ever lived for nine days of dining, drinking, music, festivals, hiking...what ever you love to do, you get to do all day, every day, for nine days. Sounds perfect, right? Then comes the tenth day, and then you live through utter horror. The worse imaginable horror. Slow death, torture, rape, slaughter, bombings...the worst. The character in this story has to decide if the nine days of utter pleasure are worth the one of unimaginable pain.
Personally, I think that decision is quite easy for me. No. I hate pain. All pain. And I'm pretty sure that I'd spend every second of those good nine days dreading the tenth, and so I wouldn't fully enjoy them. Others might disagree. It depends on your personal experience. If you already live a life of misery then maybe those nine days are worth the tenth. This one was a great one. Really enjoyed it. 


In between the shorts I did like, there was a ton of others that I didn't enjoy or was indifferent to, and so I’m not going to mention them, but here are some of the honorable mentions:

Independence Day by Sarah Langan
The Minority Report by Philip H. Dick
Geriatric Ward by Orson Scott Card

Get yourself a copy of Brave New Worlds if you're also a lover of dystopian stories. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Dean Koontz has always been a hit or miss for me. I find that the novels I do enjoy by him are either loathed or loved by others. Most of us can agree that he does have some good work out there. It also depends on you, the reader, and where you are in your reading cycle and what you want or expect from a story or an author. 

TheTaking was the first novel I have ever read by Mr. Koontz. I enjoyed the suspense and build-up. The ending left me a little dry, but it was my first introduction to the man, and I just had to come back for more.

The second novel I read: The House of Thunder. This one is still, to this day, my favorite novel by Koontz. Again, it all has to do with where I was in my life at the time and what I was looking for. He delivered. 

However, Fear Nothing was disappointingly boring. I was not engaged by the characters or the plot. I find that I feel that way about Koontz first point of view novels. He gets into the character’s head to the point that I want to get out. I never got into Odd Thomas because of the view point, or his newest novel, Innocence. Not that I dislike first POV. I just don’t like his take or his characters’ inner ramblings. 

A little history: Koontz was first published as a science fiction writer. He did some horror later. A lot of mix and match. But his line of thrillers, are to me, so much fun and entertaining. Engaging plot and the characters are always running until the very end. Fun, quick reads. The Good Guy is a great example of this. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. In it Koontz created one of the most interesting villains I have ever read. And so today, I’m taking a look at one of his fast-paced thrillers: Velocity


My hardback copy
Bill Wile is an easygoing, hardworking guy who leads a quiet, ordinary life. But that is about to change. One evening, after his usual eight-hour bartending shift, he finds a typewritten note under the windshield wiper of his car. If you don’t take this note to the police and get them involved, I will kill a lovely blond schoolteacher. If you do take this note to the police, I will instead kill an elderly woman active in charity work. You have four hours to decide. The choice is yours.


The novel is divided into three parts:  

Part One: The Choice Is Yours (Confusion and introduction to mayhem)
Part Two: Are You Prepared For Your Second Would? (Where the killer taunts Billy)
Part Three: All You Is How You Live (Where Billy races to save the woman he loves)

I read this entire book fast enough and most of that had to do with the easy and swift writing, short paragraphs, short chapters. And no purple prose. The MC is a run-of-the-mill everyday man who works at a bar. The novel starts with a very interesting story told by a customer to an out-of-towner about how his neighbor ended up dead. That intro alone is worth reading. 

Anyhow, what seems like just another regular day at work turns into a nightmare after Billy finishes his shift and finds a note on his windshield wiper:

     If you don't take this note to the police and get them involved, I will kill a lovely blond schoolteacher somewhere in Napa County. If you do take this note to the police, I will instead kill an elderly woman active in charity work. You have six hours to decide. The choice is yours
 Billy Wiles is not sure if the note is a joke or if he should take it seriously. He doesn't pay too much mind to it until he receives another note and people start dying. The plot is set up quickly and the reader is left guessing who the killer might be from the few acquaintances in Billy's life: Jackie, the barkeep, Ivy, the young co-worker, the lawyer, Steve Zillis, another co-worker, his police officer friend, Lanny, who grew up with Billy...you start to suspect everyone and everyone could possibly have a motive.

Billy eventually suspects that someone wants Barbara's money. Barbara is his fiance. She has been in a coma for years due to a tragic accident. The lawsuit makes her rich. She can't use that money in her condition and others, like her own doctor, feel that her earned millions could go to a worthy cause instead of a comatose patient. But Billy is entrusted with her keep. He believes she will one day wake up. He visits her everyday, and on rare occasions, she mumbles words in her sleep that he doesn't understand, but sound poetic--or disturbing.

Meanwhile, the killer enjoys toying with Billy, and on occasion, hurting him, but Billy is not a stupid man. He analyzes and thinks his decisions through. I did find that at times the plot worked to his advantage a lot, especially toward the end where all the chips fell exactly where they needed to fall. I expected more, although the mystery and suspense is where the real fun of the story lies. The killer, or like Billy liked to call him, the freak, does give him clues here and there, some of the clues point to a specific someone in Billy's life. I won't say more. T.S Eliot is quoted a lot in the novel.

Dislikes: I was a little disappointed in the way some of the clues and the helpful tip he used to ultimately solve the puzzle were conveniently given to the MC by random folks without them even knowing. Like those movies where someone says just the right thing that makes a light bulb finally switch on in the main character's head. I also did not like how much time was wasted on leads that went nowhere, or how there just happened to be a huge, volcanic hole in the earth that few people knew about and Billy used to dispose of the bodies and evidence. A little too easy if you ask me.

Missed Potential: I do think the story could have delve more into Billy's dark past. It was hinted at for most of the story, but we never really knew more until the third part of the book. His parents' history  or even the officer who constantly harassed him as a boy were worthy of more time.

Liked: There is a great scene toward the end where Billy confronts the potential killer and doesn't realize he is using the same level of violence on the suspect as the killer had used on others--including himself. I think Billy's psychological decline is my favorite part of the story and how he has to struggle to keep his shit together all the way until the end.

If you are looking for a quick, enjoyable thriller, Velocity is a good novel.