Short Story Review: “The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza

4 of 5 stars.

As robotics and artificial intelligence make huge advances, questions about the borders of humanity surface in science fiction. In this profoundly moving tale a military man merges his mind into the AI of the mech suit he pilots. He lives completely within the suit, never emerging. Does this make him more than mere man? Or less?

After a harrowing battle in which he took a lot of shrapnel, the pilot abandons his ordered post to see his little girl, Flora. It’s that familial connection that he craves–needs–more than any other. Flora doesn’t flinch upon recognizing the massive automaton stalking her path home from school. She’s familiar with the suit and the burden.

Meanwhile, the pilot can only express himself through the limited vocabulary of the mech. And memory gaps and glitches keep freezing him up and blocking his feeds . . .

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Day by Day Armageddon by J. L. Bourne

Day by Day Armageddon (Day by Day Armageddon, #1)Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s much to like in zombie epics as they explore the fragile constructs of humanity. As most of the populous succumbs to the epidemic literally turning human to inhuman, each survivor is tested on their personal resilience and humanity as it relates to empathizing with others and perhaps banding together. As the epics move away from “Day One,” they inevitably start to explore higher levels of humanity in the modes of society and government once the pre-apocalyptic has been washed away.

The graphic novel series [and television show], The Walking Dead covers the latter issues with much exploration and depth. While the novel series, The Alpha Plague by Michael Robertson, details the opening 48 hours of such a plague over a couple books before opening into the latter topic.

This brilliant series set in the form of a journal by one survivor will appeal to fans of both. An Arkansas native stationed in San Antonio for Naval Flight School makes a New Year’s Resolution to keep a journal. By his second entry, Jan 02, an epidemic is rumored to be spreading across China. By the end of the month, it’s everywhere . . .

The journal-entry method of story telling works extremely well here as it delivers what the hero knows, when he knows it. His mindset changing is chronicled hour by hour. Margin notes presumably made by the protagonist help to drive the perspective home as if he’s studying his own thoughts for later review and reassessment. Luckily, he’s not alone in the world. Just a couple doors down, a neighbor and his dog are trapped by a moat of the undead . . .

The tale is highly enjoyable and recommended. Also recommended is having as companions in any apocalypse: an athletic guy with military survival training, an engineer, and a dog . . .
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Novel Review: The Apostates, Book 3: Lake of Fire by Lars Teeney

Lake of Fire (The Apostates #3)Lake of Fire by Lars Teeney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Apostates trilogy [plus 1 prequel short story] concludes with this installment. The grammatical errors and editorial missteps that plagued the trilogy opener pick back up here creating a confused if not painful read.

Taking place in North America, a dystopian government has come and gone after a nuclear apocalypse and environmental breakdown ended the United States. While speculative, the series tweaks history, too, creating a parallel universe to ours. The dystopian government, a cyber-backed theocracy under the long-lived rule of President Shrubb, and its ultimate undoing were the plot of the early books. But it makes reappearances here in scattered scenes throughout the book that usually lack indicators clarifying the chronology. They do little to aid this installment and much to pull the reader from the current storyline.

President Shrubb is a clear reference to President George W Bush and his anti-science, religiously inspired leadership. But from there, previous installments took an Orwellian development in layering society with acronyms of a doublespeak nature. It was clever and effective–then. Now in the wake of the theocracy, new governments have emerged in city-states across the continent to try to undo the damage. However, they’re still using the former system’s acronyms which places them out of context. The series also doubles down on the references to current politics veering the tale toward a Mad Magazine style spoof. Haliburton becomes Halibut. Google becomes Boooogie!. Rahm Emmanuel [current mayor of Chicago] becomes Ram Manual. It’s too much. And unnecessary. And all taking place in the throwback scenes not aiding the plot.

Other missteps doom the immersive quality of this tale. 1) Too many chapters starting with a couple long paragraphs that refuse to name the subject character, instead repeating “he/she” as if the subject should be a mystery. 2) Repeatedly defining terms which have been established. [“Pinging” is communicating via neural implant. So, always saying “pinging via neural implant” is redundant.] 3) Repeatedly comparing landmarks to current American ones, thereby not believing in its own overlay. ie Saying what a city or park used to be called. 4) The throwaway, sexist handling of crowd scenes with sweeping general terms. [The men did “x.” Women screamed. Children cried. Over and over again.]

Finally, the book has an epilogue. And shouldn’t. The scene has no bearing and I suggest not reading it. It’s akin to the final episode of the television series “Lost”, reveling in itself but opening new, unexplained topics.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I previously read and reviewed the other books in this series:
     New Megiddo Rising (Apostates, #0)–4 stars
     The Apostates (Apostates, #1)–2 stars
     The Apostates: Remnants (Apostates, #2)–4 stars
 
 
 
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Novella Review: The Adakian Eagle by Bradley Denton

3 of 5 stars.

Detective thriller meets World War II historic fiction in this novella set in the Aleutians when a private finds first a ritualistically slaughtered bald eagle on a wind-swept volcano on Adak. He returns to the scene of the crime to find a murdered Navy grunt.

What unspools is a tale of power, corruption, intimidation and canny detective work on the part of the Army base’s lead news reporter. Profound rifts divide the island’s inhabitants: native and military, enlisted and officer, army and navy. Distrust run deep. Echoes of A Few Good Men reverberate through the story.

A supernatural element comes into play when the private and the detective go on an Aleutian vision quest for answers. It’s an unnecessary plot device akin to finding a magic mirror to reveal all of the elements . . .

This tale appears in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Morning Star (Red Rising, #3)Morning Star by Pierce Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel completes the The Red Rising Trilogy in a worthy and satisfying way. The expansive world-building of the second installment pays off as Darrow and company try to realize his martyred wife’s dream of a caste-less solar system.

The entire series is highly recommended.

The first in the series, Red Rising, was easily one of the best debut novels of 2014. It took tones of dystopian, young adult series like The Hunger Games and elevated the dialogue on social justice, honesty and loyalty. The second and best in the series, Golden Son, abandoned all comparisons as the world-building went into overdrive, sculpting the framework for the grand conflict of liberating the enslaved masses throughout the solar system. The plot veered toward Space Military without losing its heart. If anything, the human element matured to a nuanced field of grays.

A year has elapsed between the second and final installments. Darrow is a broken shadow of his former self having endured nothing but torture and seclusion since he’s last been seen. His allies need to be rebuilt and re-earned. And, he needs to rebuild himself physically, emotionally, mentally, and strategically. Much has transpired in his absence vaulting him to mythic status which even he cannot live up to. The expectations are mountainous, and hope dwindles . . .

While coasting on the great work of the second installment, pleasingly this novel doesn’t embrace a fairy tale ending. Unless one means the original Grimm’s tales which were dark messy things embedded with lessons for the ages.

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Novel Review: The Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson

The Farthest CityThe Farthest City by Daniel P. Swenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Much of the current divisive political climate echoes throughout this far-future sci-fi world. Dystopian ruling cultures have taken hold on multiple worlds in the galaxy and the ensuing conflicts are rapidly pushing planets toward an apocalyptic event horizon. And it’s not the first time it’s happened.

On Earth, humanity drove itself extinct in the biological and nuclear nightmare known as the Old War, or World War III. Their sentient AI survived them. The “Chines” evolved, expanded, and then restarted the human race from embryonic stock. After nurturing the humans and establishing them in mostly underground cities, the Chines abandoned eden to give the humans space and to create their own worlds deeper into the galaxy.

Interestingly and not inaccurately, for both humans and Chines, the other race is their mythic creator race. For humans, the promise of the Chines returning is their only hope when a hostile insectoid alien race arrives on Earth and threatens extinction of humans, again.

In alternating chapters, two separate and barely related storylines follow two distinct heroes and their very different responses to the threat on Earth.

Sheemi, a largely disgraced military grunt, is sent by her high ranking general father off-planet to find the new world of the Chines on a mission to obtain their help against the alien Hexi. Sheemi’s boredom in space leads to her sexual laxity and eventual, disgraceful pregnancy–all before finding hints of the Chines. The military space travel involves skirting parallel universes to make instantaneous deep space jumps.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Kellan is a living cultural myth–and not a liked one. “Special” humans emerge and are shunned in the new cities of Earth. Like a recessive gene or a latent computer program, some rare humans are born with the urge to either dig, tinker, draw or sing. The subject of their focus is always ancient Chines. Get the four together, and extraordinary doors and locks hidden across Earth open . . .

The breadth of the historic world-building is astounding. The fallibility of the protagonists is commendable. The novel is highly recommended.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Dog Country by Malcolm F. Cross

Dog CountryDog Country by Malcolm F. Cross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

And what’s a person who’s been only really trained for war do after being forcibly taken out of the war? This question is an escalation of the issues raised by the transition of a soldier to civilian life. Conflict arises as the soldier is underprepared for the transition, and the civilians fail to understand the POV of the soldier. This sci-fi tale grasps this scenario and runs with it.

By the 22nd Century, genetically engineered, clone soldiers that contain a blend dog and human DNA are made for war. Until they are freed in a half-assed attempt to mainstream the young pups. Despite the efforts of many adoption parents, most of the dogs end up back in the military with whole divisions populated by gen-mods.

Edane, a gen-mod dog, survives the Tajik War but not on his own terms. He lost an arm and was sent home. He’s unsettled with how it all played out and struggles to come to terms with his sense of not belonging in civilian life. His adoptive mothers and his girlfriend likewise fail to see his POV. Edane finds an almost satisfactory answer in the semi-pro Military Simulation Leagues. And then another war comes along . . .

This novel brilliantly captures both the failed communication and understanding between the military and civilian POVs and a strikingly realistic mindset of a gen-mod dog-human struggling to read social cues and emotions that he wasn’t raised to read.

Secondarily, it poses an interesting scenario with a crowd-fund revolution hiring a mercenary army to overthrow a dictatorship.

Slowing the flow of the novel is the time-jumping between the Tajik War and later points. Also, the similarity of names to denote the clone aspect of the gen-mods obfuscates the individuality necessary to pull off this multiple POV novel. Overall, this novel is very good and recommended.

I received my copy of this novel directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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