Book Review — Nomad

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Whew.

After reading Nick Cole’s The End Of The World As We Knew It and Matthew Mather’s Nomad within a day of each other, I was mentally exhausted. The two books wore me out. I described how Cole’s book was an exercise in retracing our steps in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse yesterday, but Mather’s book was a visceral look at a very specific end of world event. Both had the hallmarks of apocalyptic fiction, but they were as different as can be when it comes to the action and plotting.

nomadIn Nomad, Matthew Mather tears things apart. Families, countries, economies, planets, galaxies…all get ripped apart between the covers of his latest novel. I read his earlier book from this year — Darknet — and found it frightening in a way that was almost difficult to describe. In Darknet, the threat is real, but invisible. In fact, the antagonist can strike and be gone again without you even knowing it, the only traces are digital breadcrumbs left in its wake.

In Nomad, Mather does it again, creating an invisible villain — the titular astronomical anomaly — but the effects this go-around are more immediate, more violent, more physical. Instead of bank accounts and identities being torn asunder, it is the literal earth that undergoes an upheaval in Nomad.

The story is fast-paced and energetic from the get-go, placing all of our characters in Rome. Some are there for pleasure, some for work, and others are trying to hide from the authorities. The latter is our young protagonist Jessica. We first meet her while she is on a tour of an Italian castle with her mother, but her story goes much deeper and gives her a rich and detailed backstory. In fact, as the story kept unfolding, we kept seeing new aspects of Jessica’s character that led to numerous “aha” moments. Mather wonderfully wove her story in the fabric of Nomad and gives us a great character we can live through in this book as well as others to come.

What was great about Mather’s previous books was the scientific reality he’d grounded things in from the technological terror of Darknet to the scenarios he plays out in CyberStorm. The same is true for Nomad, with actual astronomical possibilities. In fact, the very anomaly he showcases in the book popped up in the news as a discovery in just the last few months. The terror of space really isn’t what we can see — it is what we can’t see, and Mather proves it with this book.

Mather takes the reader on a wild ride, and all of it feels genuine and authentic. Our characters are real and we want them to be real and to make it in the face of overwhelming adversity. With all that can possibly go wrong, can humanity go on? What will an event like this bring out? The best, or the worst in us?

As for the next books in the planned trilogy, Mather certainly has a plan for the second book with the path for our characters, but planted enough seeds along the way to make sure the reader knows the path will be rocky and difficult. I massively enjoyed this book and am very much looking forward to Sanctuary

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Book Review — The End Of The World As We Knew It

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With the long weekend and another day off yesterday, I was able to polish off some of that reading list that never seems to shrink. I posted my review of Hank Garner’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son yesterday, but that was really the tip of the iceberg.

On Tuesday night, I finished Nick Cole’s latest book, The End Of The World As We Knew It (TEOTWAWKI). It was epic. It was grand. It was heartbreaking and yet hopeful. More on that in a bit.

In a Nick Cole hangover today, I finally got around to starting Matthew Mather’s Nomad. I kept hearing great things about it, but it just came out at a bad time to get to it immediately (same thing with Cole’s book). With a few hours riding in a car today, I figured it was as good as a time to start as any. I couldn’t stop. Any free moment I had, I was back at the Kindle, craving more of Mather’s version of the apocalypse. I LOVED it, but for different reasons than why I loved Cole’s novel. I’ll share my thoughts on Nomad later this week…first I want to get TEOTWAWKI off my chest.

teotwawkiFirst off…I hate Nick Cole. I hate that he can write like he can. I hate that he makes me care about his deeply flawed characters. I hate him so much I can’t help but love him just a bit.

I will admit when I first opened the book, I struggled with the first few pages. Found footage in book form. Ugh. It seemed like an unnecessary plot device, but after a few pages, it settles down. Yes, there is the aspect of these recordings and journals being found and pieced together, but the stories are quite broad and involved.  As a reader I found the two main stories quite distinct and after a while I forgot they were “found footage.”

In that case, it does draw comparisons to the modern-day standard in zombie fiction — World War Z. Max Brooks’ classic is well known for being a series of vignettes that are only tied together by the slimmest of threads (NOT the movie, which features Brad Pitt as a very capable thread). In this case, there is a sense of that as well, but instead of it showcasing the tales of survival (or death) at the hands (and teeth) of the zombies, Cole shows us the humanity left behind in its wake. He shows the emotions, the torment, the shame, the bitterness, the economics, the brutality, the…life that is left when the plague wipes out most of the nation. What he does better than Brooks from a narrative point of view is he uses the protagonists of Alex and Jasonn (mostly Jason) to find all of those aspects of humanity in the aftermath. Jason’s journey is one made by countless characters throughout literature, starting with Odysseus. He needs to find the love of his life, but with Alex he only has the vaguest idea of where to look. Along the way we see his faults, his fears, his failures on his trek from New York to Los Angeles.

There really is so much to take in along the way, Cole could have easily tripled the size of the book with the rich details he added with developed secondary characters. Shoot, Cole could write a whole other story with just the character of Chris, or The Lady, or…any number of them.

But we get Jason and Alex. Star-crossed lovers, separated by thousands of miles of land and millions of infected zombies between them. Who are they? What choices do they make? How does that affect everyone else? What does that do to their very souls?

I loved Nick Cole’s book. Described as “The Walking Dead” meets “The Notebook,” I can honestly say as someone who hasn’t watched either (I know, I know!) that this book delivers. If you like a healthy dose of philosophy and romance with your zombie literature, this book is for you. I really could go on and on about what I felt as I flipped each page of this book, but suffice it to say I felt all the things. I felt joy, sadness, anger, shame, courage, and fear. Cole places you at the center of the apocalypse and makes sure that you know that each character has their own apocalypse. Each person gets their own ending and even with similar circumstances, each ending is unique. Read this book. You won’t regret it.

Book Review — Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

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Today I’m reviewing Hank Garner’s latest novel, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. I’m a big Hank Garner fan, but not just because of his writing. He has definitely been emerging as a talent and its hard to deny it when people like Nick Cole rave about his writing. But, lately I’ve been taken so much by his Author Stories Podcast. Hank has been running his podcast for a little over a year now, putting out a weekly interview with an author. Many of the authors are indie up and comers, but lately he’s had HUGE interviews with Andy Weir (The Martian), Matthew Mather (Nomad), and Hugh Howey (WOOL). I love listening to these things and I get a lot of encouragement and motivation from them each week.

But, when you come back from his podcast page, check out his latest book. Here is my Amazon review:

When I read Hank Garner’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, I kept loving it, seeing Garner’s growth as an author with a fantastically creative novel. The first thing I read of Garner’s was Mulligan, and while it was good, there were a few pacing issues that sometimes could keep the reader distant from the action. In Seventh Son, Garner has amped up the action and keeps his characters moving with a clear motive and momentum throughout the book. Even the characters are not always who we think they are and their actions go against the grain at times, adding to the intrigue.

I remember first hearing about Garner’s book when it was tied to the Apocalypse Weird series, but somewhere along the way, Garner separated it from that universe. It is clear Garner’s book can stand on its own, with a full realized backstory going back thousands of years to set up the action that takes place simultaneously in 1865 as well as the present day.

Our main protagonist, Oliver, is the title character who is tasked with being the secret keeper for his family’s legacy. The main problem is that the life he was destined for arrives when he least expects it and the secrets he protects are even a secret to him. As he tries to figure out what he is meant for, and who is actually is, the reader is taken on a great ride of ancient sacrifices, futuristic travelers, and secret organizations.

I loved Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and look forward to the next book from Mr. Garner.

Book Review – Darknet

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Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00014]Just like in his massive hit, Cyberstorm, Matthew Mather does what he does best: he takes reality and adds just enough of a sci-fi touch to make it terrifying and relatable.

When I first started reading Darknet, it took a little while before I became really engrossed in the high-tech world of finance that the protagonist Jake O’Connell lived in. Just like some of the characters themselves, I found myself in over my head in the world of crypto currency, algorithms, assassin markets, and dark networks, but my patience was rewarded when the reader learns alongside those characters.

Mather makes sure the reader knows no one is safe in his world, introducing and killing off multiple characters throughout the book. In fact, I wasn’t totally sure if his protagonist Jake was really truly safe to get comfortable with until about a quarter of the way into the book.

As a stock broker in New York, Jake is familiar with the high-stakes game of Wall Street finances, but is unprepared when his world crumbles around him. His childhood friend dies in a mysterious accident in London, his boss is arrested on charges by the SEC, and he himself is framed for rape, causing his wife and daughter to leave him. All the while, Jake is trying to clear himself and ends up uncovering a massive secret that could threaten the economies of nearly every country on the planet. Along the way, he finds his own life in danger as well as those of his family and friends.

Once I really got into the story, I couldn’t put it down, reading in every spare minute until I was done. Mather is a phenomenal storyteller, weaving a thriller like the best out there. I was impressed with the immense and complex world he had created in Darknet, topped only by the characters and the situations they find themselves in around every corner.

The scary thing about Darknet is that Mather completely creates a plausible scenario for a near-future event. What if some of the technology we use and employ today evolves to the level of where it exists in Darknet? What would happen? Just like the potential of catastrophe in Cyberstorm, Mather presents a worst-case scenario of sorts in the midst of a thriller.

I loved this book and will look forward to reading it again in the future. Well done, Mr. Mather. Keep writing them like this and I’ll keep reading them. I received a free advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review – The Robot Chronicles

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We are creators.

Regardless of our professions, each of us is inherently a creator. We start early, creating unconquerable cities with building blocks and spinning entire lives centered around dolls and teddy bears. Creation is at the heart of humanity. Even when we think of our meals, we are mentally creating appetizing combinations of cuisines.

The art of creating has advanced by leaps and bounds as technology has advanced us as a species. Part of the problem with humanity creating is the fear that we might be too good at it. That we might create something we can’t control. That our creation takes on a life of its own.

We’ve seen this in literature for hundreds of years with Frankenstein as the long-lasting example. More recently we can point to 2001, Terminator, Blade Runner, The Matrix and dozens of other books and movies that have shown us what humanity has dared to create has ultimately come back to bite us in the end.

robot anthoAnd so, we get the latest David Gatewood anthology of short stories, The Robot Chronicles. Gatewood has again assembled a ridiculous amount of literary talent for 13 outstanding stories all involving robots in one form or another. Headlining the collection is Hugh Howey (WOOL) and Matthew Mather (Cyber Storm) and neither one disappoint. Howey’s story, Glitch, was published not long ago on its own and reminded me a lot of the movie Real Steel with fighting robots. What one person perceives as a glitch may be more than that, especially to the robot.

I’m not going to go through each of the stories, but each was fantastic and memorable in their own unique ways. I was a huge fan of Isaac Asimov as an adolescent and found each of his Robot stories to be their own moral tales in many ways. These stories are no different, offering viewpoints on what life actually means and how we treat it. Just because we are the creators, does that mean it lessens the life we hold in our hands?

A perfect story to go along with this idea is W.J. Davies’ Empathy for Andrew, where we see a situation similar to what Asimov’s Dr. Susan Calvin might have been involved in. Testing new and breakthrough robotics techniques, scientists push the limits of where the line between robots and humans lie. Andrew is the titular robot who is put through a battery of tests to test his empathy chip and Davies does a remarkable job in telling this story.

Another story I remember from Asimov’s Robot collection was that of Satisfaction Guaranteed, another Susan Calvin story where she was noticeably absent until the end of the tale. In this story, a woman has a human-like robot live with her and eventually she comes to think of him as more than a robot. You see this theme played out in two separate stories – Ann Christy’s PePr, Inc. and Patrice Fitzgerald’s I Dream of PIA. Both handle this theme in remarkable different (and in Fitzgerald’s case, bawdy and funny) ways.

There are also hints at Asimov’s child/buddy stories like A Boy’s Best Friend or Robbie where a child has a robot for a companion and friend. Edward W. Robertson takes the story further. His protagonist, Alex, received Bill as a companion when he is young, but over the years they become more than that – business partners and musicians. Just like a number of famous musicians, things happen and the band doesn’t always survive, but in Baby Your Body’s My Bass, Robertson ends the story on a positive note, in a very Golden-age way.

But the stories that really resonate and stick with me tend to be those that have a larger scope in mind – like A.K. Meek’s The Invariable Man where the fate of the world may be at stake or Deirdre Gould’s post-apocalyptic story System Failure.

One of the best things about this collection of stories is that it got me to get out my collection of Asimov robot stories and re-read and re-discover them in the light of this remarkable modern anthology. Each of the stories in TRC is fantastic, even if I didn’t specifically name the story and author. I’ll carry these stories with me for a long time.

I really enjoyed The Robot Chronicles, just like I did with Synchronic and The Indie Side. David Gatewood is becoming someone to know in the science fiction short story game and his anthologies are now “can’t miss” books for me.

The Robot Chronicles will be available for sale on Friday, July 25.