Book Review – Invariable Man

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in manWhen I was in high school, I adored Isaac Asimov. I devoured nearly everything I could get my hands on that he had written or had his name plastered on from short stories, novels, works he edited, and even fact books. One of those was the short story Nightfall.

To say my mind was blown by Nightfall was an understatement. Asimov took a concept completely foreign to an earthling, and made it terrifying and compelling all at the same time. When he teamed up with Robert Silverberg to expand the story into a full-length novel, it became a book I would read over and over.

Fast-forward to 2014 when The Robot Chronicles was released. Once again, it harkens back to my love of Asimov and all of his amazing robot stories. One of the tales in the anthology was A.K. Meek’s Invariable Man. It was one of my favorites from the collection with headfakes left and right, showcasing Meek’s great storytelling along with a great robot theme.

So you can imagine my delight when I found out Meek had taken his story and expanded it for a longer – and richer – robot experience. Just like with Nightfall, the story becomes a new animal, separated from the confines of a pre-set wordcount, and given the ability to breathe on its own While IM was a great addition to The Robot Chronicles, it makes a wonderful read all on its own as a short novel.

Just like in the short story, our protagonist is Micah, an old man living in the wreckage – literally, and psychologically – of a war between robot and human. He fixes things, and uses the scrap metal all around him to improve his own lonely life. I really don’t want to say too much because the twists come less than a quarter of the way into the story and don’t let up until the final page. Suffice it to say Meek has a plan for Micah and that plan may not always turn out like you might expect.

I really enjoyed reading the expanded version of Invariable Man and look forward to more of Meek’s writing into the future.

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Book Review – The Dark Knight

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Dark nightWith his hand solely responsible for two of the Apocalypse Weird novels thus far, and half of another, it’s safe to say Nick Cole is guiding the direction of the AW stories. With The Dark Knight, Cole ups the ante even farther, introducing new characters we can’t help but root for, and a startling aspect that no one saw coming.

Out of the six AW novels complete so far, Cole’s The Dark Knight (releasing Monday, Feb. 23) is the first sequel in the ranks. Because of that, there is little stage setting for the main group of characters we met the first time out. But, Cole gives us a new character – literally the title character of Cory, who goes as Batman (or The Dark Knight). I’ll come back to him in a moment. The sequel gives Cole a lot of freedom to push the boundaries of his existing characters (which he wasn’t afraid to do back in The Red King anyway) as well as smash the expectations of a sophomore effort.

Back in TRK, Cole gave us the shady figure of Holiday, along with the steady Frank, and the mysterious Ashley. By the end of the book, we find Holiday refusing to accept reality, diving back into his drunken ways, and almost killing his friends along the way. In his wanderings, he finds new survivors and brings them back (and they’ve got their own issues and mysteries as well), but Frank swears Holiday off. The two men who depended on each other and survived due to that trust are done. Frank will not give Holiday any measure of trust, no matter what Holiday does to try to become the hero the group deserves.

While that is playing out, we wander outside of Frank’s newly-built castle and meet Cory. Cory is special. Cole doesn’t ever say what it is that makes Cory special – Down’s Syndrome, Fragile X, or whatever – but it’s clear a person like Cory wouldn’t survive long in a post-apocalyptic world without help. So where has he been the past few weeks as zombies terrorized the city? That’s a twist I’m not going to share, but suffice it to say, I didn’t see it coming. It adds an entirely new dimension for the AW world to explore and I loved it.

Cory is searching for his father, a police officer, who inspired Cory to become Batman, costume and all. Whether searching for diabetic supplies for his neighbor at the nearby pharmacy, or trying to survive a world gone mad, Cory’s safety and security lies in his alter-ego.

I am Batman.

I am the Night.

Cory becomes the Night and survives the horrors of Apocalypse Weird, only to be discovered by Ashley, setting up some potentially exciting scenes in Cole’s third book, already named The Lost Castle.

There is a great story in this book, but at the same time, Cole is teasing us. He is setting the chess board. The titles aren’t coincidental – The Red KING, The Dark KNIGHT, The Lost CASTLE (otherwise known as a ROOK). Cole has a master plan up his sleeve and isn’t willing to tip his hand just yet. There are more moves to be made, some by him, perhaps some by other writers.  I can’t wait for the third book, and frankly every book to be put out under the AW banner in the future. The world is being destroyed and I’m having a great time in the process.

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.