Book Review — Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

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7thson

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.

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My Top 10 (actually 18) Books of 2014

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It’s December, so that can only mean one thing – end of the year Top 10 lists! I did my favorite reads of 2013 last year, so now this can be a yearly thing. Just like last year, most of the books I read over the last 365 days or so were independently-published. Just like last year, I really believe we are in the midst of a publishing renaissance thanks to the new digital publishing tools at our disposal.

Personally, I did manage to get my second novel published, but everything else I published ended up being short stories (a couple will even be showing up in the first couple weeks of 2015). Due a lot of family situations, including a major addition to my family in August, writing just wasn’t as much of a priority during a few stretches. I can say I was able to get about 1/3 of Dead Search written and will endeavor to write the rest by spring. The year 2015 will be a great year and I encourage you to check back on this blog for future updates.

Anyway, back to the list. There are more than 10. Yep—a top ten list with more than 10. Deal with it. I took all my honorable mentions and just included them as well. Also, these are books I got a kick out of reading. Me. So if you don’t agree, I understand, but this is my list.

I don’t want to rank them, even though it will certainly come across that way, just due to seeing them in an order. So, the order will be assigned in alphabetical fashion, with one exception. The top spot belongs to one book that I know I will be reading over and over again. That book is:

The Martian by Andy Weir

martianHands down, The Martian was the best book I read in 2014. I read it in February and also listened to it as an audiobook this summer. Even after that, I still long to re-read it with fresh eyes. That’s the notes I was getting from friends when I first started reading it. From my Amazon review:

“I can honestly say I understand and I will have those jealousy pangs when I recommend it to a friend. The last book I honestly felt like that with was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. My brother was reading it for the first time a few weeks ago and I felt that. Like I wished I could go back in time, read it for the first time without spoilers and experience all those feelings I did for the very first time. This book was fantastic.”

From there, I will put the rest of my 2014 favorites in author reverse-alphabetical order (cuz those at the end of the alphabet get screwed. Jennifer Wells knows what I’m talking about), starting with:

Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells

fluencyI kept getting recommendations from Amazon and other places to buy and read this book. Finally I ran out of excuses a couple of months ago and I am glad I gave in. Fluency is a terrific tale of first contact with an alien race. Told from the perspective of a non-astronaut, Dr. Jane Holloway, a linguist, who is along on the trip to hopefully help find an “Alien Rosetta Stone,” of a sort. Instead, Holloway herself ends up being the Rosetta Stone and we see what happens in deep space when you begin to question all you know, your own sanity, and even your crewmates. Fluency is well done and I am intrigued by what Wells will offer us next.

 

The Violet Series by Logan Thomas Snyder

BV-Full-Cover-e1408487510867Three parts into a multi-part story and I’m fully engrossed. Logan Thomas Snyder has given us three tales so far—Becoming Violet, Being Violet, and Breaking Violet, and each have given us a great story with artificial intelligence as a fascinating backdrop. Here’s a part of my review of Becoming: “At first, I thought it was a typical “Bicentennial Man,” Isaac Asimov robot story with a man dissatisfied with his robot. Snyder, however, took the story in a new direction, giving the reader an introspective, yet action-filled tale of love in the face of trials. What does it mean to love? Does it have to be between two humans or can it be more than that?”
I know Snyder has a few more parts up his sleeve, but I also suspect that the farther he goes, the more the story will continue to grow and thrive. If you haven’t checked these stories out, they are just 99 cents a pop and are a great, easy read.

 

Zero Echo Shadow Prime by Peter Samet

ZESP_cover650Perhaps the most “holy cow, what did I just read” book I laid my eyes on this past year. I had heard some early buzz about this book and the cover was certainly an eye catcher. Frankly, this book did not catch on for some reason, but it still deserves an audience. From my Amazon review:

“So you might be asking – what is this book about? Zero Echo Shadow Prime is a novel about one character…or is it four…or a billion? My head is frankly still spinning a little…
But even apart from all the action, this book really offers some intriguing questions. What exactly is a human? Is it just flesh and bone or is there something more? If a person was able to move their consciousness to a computer, is there a spark of humanity there?”

Desperate to Escape by Thomas Robins

d2e fullThere are a number of authors on this list that I can claim a friendship with, and Thomas Robins is one of them. Desperate to Escape was published partly in 2013, but was finished in 2014 with a thought-provoking finish.

In four serial installments to the book, Robins gives us the story of Ineeka, an astronaut hailing from the inner city of Chicago, who, like the title implies, is desperate to escape from the constrained circumstances of her life. Throughout a flashback style narrative similar to “Lost,” Robins gives us a complete portrait of Ineeka, a girl lost on earth, but who finds her destiny in space.

Super by Ernie Lindsey

superLindsey is one of the best indie storytellers out there today. He has the ability to tell compelling tales in a variety of subjects and genres, and in Super, he took on superheroes. Super was released in the wake of “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” which showed the corruption of the government and its attempts to reign in the world’s superheroes. Edward Snowden and NSA data mining was also a very contemporary issue during the summer months when Super hit Amazon, which made the book and its subject all the more applicable.

From my Amazon review:

“I didn’t come into reading Ernie Lindsey’s Super with CA2 in mind, but it is hard to distance yourself too much from it after finishing and realizing the complex web Lindsey wove to get to the ending of the book. This is one book that I genuinely had a hard time putting down and when my Kindle ran out of battery life, I had to bide my time until it was ready for me to finish the book off.”

Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

Starship GriftersI really can’t put it better than my Amazon review.

“After reading Robert Kroese’s Starship Grifters, I came to one conclusion: everyone in the 31st century is an idiot. Rex Nihilo is either the smartest man alive, or a Forrest Gump of a con artist, lucky enough to stay alive in the face of ridiculously deadly circumstances. I’m still not sure — I’ll get back to you on that.
In fact, the only one in Rex’s world that seems to have any brains is his robot, Sasha, who is programmed to turn herself off whenever she actually has an original thought. In a world like that, Rex seems to surround himself with the power players of the galaxy who all turn out to be bumbling morons.
I don’t often laugh at the books I read, but I found myself chuckling, chortling, at times flat-out guffawing — at times uncontrollably — at Kroese’s humor placed in the best places in the story.
At the end of the story, we do get answers to questions I wasn’t sure we were asking, but it certainly paved the way for more Rex Nihilo books, which I will gladly shell out money for whenever Mr. Kroese decides to write them.”

Sand by Hugh Howey

sandSand was one of the first novels I read in 2014, and almost a whole year later, it is still a thrilling book that continues to set Hugh Howey apart from other authors. I was lucky enough to read Sand earlier than most, and shared my thoughts on Amazon:

“I can honestly say I was blown away by Sand.  After I read Part 5, I said SAND > WOOL and I’m sticking by it almost a week later. The book is just magnificent and Howey once again shows off his masterful storytelling with an imaginative dystopian world that is all at once hard to fathom and easy to believe all at once.
Hugh calls Sand the antithesis to WOOL and I can see that clearly. While WOOL is about the absolute control that a small group of people can exert upon the masses, Sand is the opposite. It’s what happens when there is no clear authority and yet people live, work, and die — all under the invisible thumb of some unknown force.

If reading Hugh Howey is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”

Eleanor by Jason Gurley

EleanorShould we call this book Eleanor 1.0? After releasing Eleanor earlier this year, Jason Gurley acquired an agent, and sold the rights to Eleanor. A new and edited version of the book should be in stores in 2015, so perhaps Eleanor will grace this list again next December. Regardless, the book I read was a great work; one that was clearly a labor of love.

From my Amazon review:

“There are many different reasons to read a book. Most times I tend to read to think about something in a new or different way. To spark my creativity and challenge my accepted ideas.
This book, Eleanor by Jason Gurley, is not that kind of book. Not that it doesn’t make you think. I had a lot of thoughts while I read this book. I thought about the similarities between it and two other books I’ve read. One was fairly recent – Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane, while the other I read when I was just a child – Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Both had a profound influence on me, but all three of these books didn’t so much make me think.
They made me feel.”
The Robot Chronicles, edited by David Gatewood

robot anthoThere were a number of short story anthologies that I just fell in love with over the last year, but The Robot Chronicles absolutely leads the way. David Gatewood started out with the terrific, but eclectic From the Indie Side, then we got various tastes of time travel in Synchronic, but it was in Robot that the audience really got a treat. So many great stories, told in manageable little chunks. There are a ton of amazing stories inside, starting with Hugh Howey’s Glitch. Among the other authors to pay attention to is Matthew Mather, Wes Davies, Patrice Fitzgerald, Ann Christy, Edward W. Robertson, and A.K. Meek among the others.

I was a HUGE Isaac Asimov fan growing up and still have a lot of reverence for a well-told robot story, so I greeted this collection with excitement and a bit of trepidation, but the authors pulled it off. From my Amazon review:

“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.”
(Reviewer’s Note: I have a story that is slated to appear in The Alien Chronicles, which is the third in the Future Chronicles series after Robot and Telepath. I was selected after I had already read and loved TRC.)

Dead in the Water by Carol Davis

DITWThis book is definitely different than most on this list. I think you’ll find most are hard science fiction with a great many set in space, but Dead in the Water takes our two protagonists to a creepy lake town in upstate New York to investigate a series of deaths over the decades.

Davis is a heckuva writer. This woman can paint a scene. Her mind works on the level of screenplays, so virtually every scene I can see set before me, as if leaping off the page and onto my TV screen. From my Amazon review: “While she is a pro at putting together a plot for short stories, Dead in the Water shows she is more than capable of adding the complexity a novel calls for. Her writing is sharp, and in this case, not for the faint of heart. She isn’t afraid to scare her readers, putting her protagonists in terrifying situations, only to play out their fears for the readers to see.”

Binary Cycle by Wes Davies

binary cycleI think a lot of people were interested to see what Wes Davies had up his sleeve after he finished telling his Silo Submerged series—one of the first WOOL fanfic stories. In Binary Cycle, Davies gave his readers a novel originally told in three parts that works quite well when put together. After reading the third part, I wrote: “The action is taken to a new level and after the early revelations in the book, Davies pushes his characters physically and emotionally, so much that the reader is left panting by the end of the book.”

Originally, I had a couple issues with the second installment and the pacing of the series, but in the third story redeemed Davies and when put together, I think it all works fairly well.

Soda Pop Soldier by Nick Cole

spsNick Cole’s Soda Pop Soldier may be a traditionally published book, but it has the heart of an indie title. Cole certainly champions independent authors and his book takes risks like an indie author might. There were certainly moments that harkened to a book like Ready Player One, but there was more to this, and in fact Cole tackles the anonymous nature of online interaction with a violence inherent to modern video games.

From my review:

“With a name like Soda Pop Soldier, I half-expected a light-hearted romp through modern video games. What I got was something completely different. Something telling about how many of us live our lives online and the anonymity that we expect. Something visceral and violent, yet clean and sanitized at the same time. Something that fully engaged my head and heart alike.”

Strikers by Ann Christy

strikersAnn Christy likes to call herself an “accidental author.” If it’s an accident, it’s a happy one, as this woman can really tell a story. In Strikersher first full-length foray outside of Hugh Howey’s silos, Ann showed what she can do. From my review:

“Ann Chisty does a fabulous job of world-building, creating a realistic dystopian world where Karas and her friends find out what they are really made of. Her characters are very believable and although she does an admirable job tying up storylines by the end of the story, there are plenty of seeds and avenues to explore in future tales in her Striker Universe. I enjoyed reading it far more than a lot of dystopian young adult books on the market today and I feel she really tapped into the emotion that fuels much of the young adult fiction market these days.”
My Sweet Satan by Peter Cawdron

mssI’ll just start with the beginning of my Amazon review:

“With a title like that, it was a little difficult for me to want to read this book. Peter Cawdron has made a title that is very provocative, but if the reader can just get past it — get to the heart of the story — they will realize that Satan has very little to do with this tale at all.”

In fact, Cawdron has made a great first contact story that is really less about the first contact than it is a character study of stressed individuals in deep space approaching the unknown. Is it really Satan or something else – something worse?

I’ve always been a fan of Cawdron’s stories and can’t seem to get enough of them. The best part of MSS was perhaps the character of Jason, the ship’s AI. Again, from my review:

“I’ll say this about Jason — he may be the best character I’ve seen in a long time. I loved what Cawdron did in creating a character that feels totally real, but is not only fictional, but also doesn’t have a body to call his own. The evolution of Jason was fantastic and I would love to see more of him in a future book if Mr. Cawdron ever decides to revisit his MSS Universe.”

Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker

Bunker_PENNSYLVANIA_Omnibus_EbookEdition-640x1024The first two parts of Pennsylvania were on my list from last year, so this isn’t too much of a surprise. Bunker finished up his book by answering questions, but certainly leaving more than a few unanswered for a sequel in the upcoming Oklahoma.

From my Amazon review:

“The book is a great work, alternating between moments of calm with the Amish lifestyle, and anxiety with the pending war between the two factions on New Pennsylvania. The simple life that that Amish lead with the chaos and politics of the “English” world raging around them. Bunker has painted a brilliant picture of this dichotomy by showing the differences between Jed and Amos. One content to be plain – the other aware of a different calling on his life.”

The Fourth Sage by Stefan Bolz

10338227_10203080505026343_2241684756519716173_nIt hadn’t been very long after I’d read Stefan Bolz’s other novel, The Three Feathers, when I got my hands on The Fourth Sage. I found it to be a wonderful example of a dystopian novel without the depressing tropes that so often inhabit those books. From my review:

“There is a positivity present in Bolz’s work that you don’t find in other author’s books. In a post-apocalyptic, authoritarian society, you would expect to find death and depression around every turn, but for some reason, whenever Aries, her winged friend, Born of Night, or any of her numerous friends appear on the page, it is difficult to not smile and know that somehow, someway, their destiny is to survive and even thrive.”

Lexicon by Max Barry

Lexicon-Max-BarryLexicon is one of the few books I haven’t written an Amazon review for, but there are a few reasons for that. One – I actually read it as a paperback and wasn’t immediately prompted to write a review, and two – it was the first book I had a chance to read after the adoption of our son was complete.

Regardless, Lexicon was a ride and a half. Hugh Howey had been pushing this book for a while and when I had some money to spend at Barnes & Noble, I specifically looked for this book and devoured it in the days that followed. I loved the secret society nature of the book and the pacing. It was extremely well-written and I’ll certainly look out for Barry’s books in the future.

Pennsylvania Book Review and Interview with the Beard himself

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Pennsylvania is a special book. If you haven’t read it, you need to — for the words, for the amazing art by Ben Adams, for the formatting — all of it that makes this indie book look not so indie. Except — wait until April 29. That’s the launch date for the Omnibus and we need all hands on deck to buy it that day. I’ll explain in a bit…alright…everybody in? Good.
In Pennsylvania, Michael Bunker has created a futuristic world where the most unlikely of protagonists takes center stage — the Amish.
I read the first part of Pennsylvania last summer and thought it was genius. I went back to find my review of that installment and found myself comparing Bunker’s tale to Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova, and John Scalzi. The comparisons are apt. While the men I mentioned have collectively written science fiction for decades, Mr. Bunker has been trying his hand at it for only a few years. Add “Amish” to that science fiction moniker and Mr. Bunker finds himself in a unique position.
I’ll have my full official review for Pennsylvania up next week when the Pennsylvania Omnibus drops in the Amazon store. (You can find my previous reviews of each of the parts on their respective Amazon pages.) The title is up for pre-order on both Kindle and Paperback right now, but you should wait until Tuesday, April 29 to buy.
Why?
Because as Indie Authors, we need all the help we can get. If the people who are going to buy PA anyway all buy it on one day, the book has a greater shot at rocketing up the charts, faster than an Amish Wagon heading to a barn raising. Michael Bunker calls it his “Book Bomb.”
I’ve read Pennsylvania and found it to be a great throwback to the Golden Age of Science Fiction, with the added element of 21st century independent author flair. Bunker did a great job crafting a world foreign to us, but yet based on a world he is all too familiar with. (If you don’t know already, Bunker lives an “off-the-grid” lifestyle, generating electricity for his computer off solar panels and sustaining him and his family off the land.) Readers really can sense a combination of a serious, but separate society in the Amish, combined with the modern politics of the time. He has already noted there will be a follow-up book, entitled Oklahoma.
With the release of Pennsylvania just a few days away, I decided I should ask Bunker the hard-hitting questions everyone is dying to know.
1. The Postal abbreviation for Pennsylvania is PA, which might also stand for Passive Aggressive. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble – why should people buy the Pennsylvania Omnibus? If you have the time to answer, that is…
Bunker employed the ridiculously-talented Jason Gurley to design his covers for Pennsylvania, including the Omnibus cover.

Bunker employed the ridiculously-talented Jason Gurley to design his covers for Pennsylvania, including the Omnibus cover.

MB:  Because if they don’t, they are with the terrorists. And besides, every time someone buys the Pennsylvania Omnibus an angel gets its wings. A puppy finds a home. An old, lonely person is comforted. But then… some people don’t care about those things…

 
2. Alright. You’ve said Pennsylvania is actually a prequel to the upcoming series Oklahoma. (Which is OK.) Can you confirm or deny that this is actually the futuristic retelling of the classic Broadway musical “Oklahoma!”? How will Curly’s story intersect with Jed’s?
MB: Jed goes back in time to stop Jud from killing Curley, only to be mistaken for Jud because of the name similarity. Because of the mix up, Jud kills Curley, hilarity ensues, and Jed goes to prison in a surrey with a fringe on top! It’s a comic love story.
 
3. As for this Facebook group, AZ… how do you feel about having your own fangroup? Also, does their name have any sense of foreshadowing, meaning is the third installment of the Michael Bunker state series entitled Arizona?
MB: It is weird and humbling having a fan-started, fan-run, Facebook fan group. I was honored when it got started and I’ve enjoyed getting to meet and know so many of the readers. But I am starting to feel I’ve been duped. Since the AZ got started, I think I’ve posted about 90% of the content in there. Wait a minute… Doh. (Interviewer’s Note: Mr. Bunker conveniently dodges the third installment question, leading me to assume he is looking to become the James Michener of state-named science fiction novels.)
 
4. What makes the Amish such great subjects for a science fiction novel?
MB: Great question. There really could be no better subject for a sci-fi novel in my opinion. The whole history of the Amish is a tale of how humans who deliberately consider what technologies they will use or adopt, interact with a world that tends to adopt technologies without much long-term consideration. Of course, no one is “anti-technology,” even the Amish, but the Amish culture is the perfect canvas to examine the future, technology, and how these things affect our lives. And of course, since the Amish came to America on huge, futuristic ships, the parallels of colonization and exploration are ready made for sci-fi.
 
Look at that marvelous beard. Gaze upon its beauty.

Look at that marvelous beard. Gaze upon its beauty.

5. I know every author these days does a zombie novel and technically you’ve already don’t yours, but what about Amish zombies?

MB: The biggest problem with Amish Zombies is trying to figure out how the first infection starts.  How do you get “patient zero”? Since the Amish eat wholesome, home-grown foods, and tend to avoid a lot of processed products, they are generally a healthy and robust people. Perhaps a young Amish man contracts the virus from an iPod earbud during rumspringa? Besides, the Amish practice of shunning would probably nip the infestation in the bud pretty quickly. Being undead is a definite violation of the Ordnung.
 
6. Hunker (Bunker + Howey) is so early 2013 and Burley (Bunker + Gurley) is so late 2013. The new jam is the Bunker-Nick Cole Bromance, which I am officially dubbing Nickel Co-Bunk. I will allow no more than 200 words of fangirling about Nick Cole’s work. And…go!
MB: You know, my relationship with Hugh was purely physical. He never appreciated my brain. And with Jason, well, I was in love with the art. We never really sat down for coffee. But with Nick, well.. he completes me. But, in all seriousness, these are three talented men, and I’m pleased to be their friend. But… desert island time? Give me some Nick Cole (or as I call him… Nick King Cole.) And unless Solzhenitsyn or Hemingway comes back in time… well, you know… (Interviewer’s Note — that response clocked in at just 84 words, meaning Mr. Bunker could have written another 116 words on his love for Nick Cole’s books. I’m sure he’s just trying to conceal his true emotions.)
 
7. There is a whole new sub-culture developing of independently published writers. In your opinion, what are some of the best aspects of being an independent author?
For each of the five parts of his Pennsylvania series, Michael Bunker employed Jason Gurley to design these mind-blowing covers.

For each of the five parts of his Pennsylvania series, Michael Bunker employed Jason Gurley to design these mind-blowing covers.

MB: There are the obvious answers. Creative freedom, more money, the community aspect of having direct access to readers and vice-versa. I am so happy to be where I am today, and in on watching and participating in the revolution. And that is my real answer. I honestly believe that we are in one of those times… those golden moments that become “a thing” historically. Like being on the Left Bank of the Seine in Paris in the 1920’s, or hanging around the Algonquin Hotel during the time of the Round Table. Very few people (when things like that are actually happening) realize that they are participating in a monumental period. There are things happening right now that students will study in the future, and we’re getting to take part in it. Some of the names we’re throwing around loosely will be (and are becoming) household names, and will become part of the cultural consciousness and lexicon of this very distinct time.  We’re a sub-culture, but what is happening now is fundamentally changing the world, and that is fun to consider!

 
8. Would you rather: Have a burrito for every lunch every day for the rest of your life OR have a donut for breakfast every day for the rest of your life?
MB: I refuse to live in a world where those two things are mutually exclusive. I choose “C”. BOTH!  (Although a breakfast burrito and lunch donut are also wonderfully valid options.)
 
9. What is Michael Bunker currently reading?
MB: I recently finished Andy Weir’s The Martian, which was wonderful, and I’ve been reading some fantastic short stories as they have been submitted for super-editior David Gatewood’s soon to be released Synchronic time-travel anthology which should be out in May.
 
10. Any other secrets in that beard of yours?
MB: Oh, I’m always finding things in there.  Bear claws, Cadbury eggs, new collaboration projects… even a whole new MB website coming soon with direct purchase and download of e-books for every e-reader.  Lots of cool stuff in that ol’, plain beard.
Thanks for having me, Will!
As always, it was a pleasure.
Michael
Additional information on the Book Bomb can be found here. (Note: thanks to Amazon’s Matchbook program, you can get the Kindle version for just 99 cents with the purchase of the Paperback — a steal!)

The Martian vs. Old Man and the Wasteland

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What does a person do when they are all alone with no one else to depend on? With the world and the universe conspiring to get them at every turn? When all hope is seemingly lost?

That’s the problem faced by the two protagonists of the last two novels I read.

Mark Watney of The Martian by Andy Weir and The Old Man of The Old Man and the Wasteland by Nick Cole.

Both are terrific reads and I look forward to re-reading both at some point in the future when I’ve forgotten how great they are.

But anyway, let’s get back to the topic at hand – a man struggling against nature, alone in an inhospitable world. Both books have this in spades, but the approach they take is decidedly different.

Let’s begin with The Martian.

ImageI’d been told for the last few months how great this book was. I guess I missed out on the Andy Weir as an Indie writer bandwagon, and that great bright orange cover seemed to be taunting me whenever I paid a visit to Amazon to browse. Finally I decided the $9.99 price point wasn’t too big of an obstacle and pulled the trigger.

I started reading the book on a Friday afternoon and was finished the next evening. With my schedule these days, that is a ridiculous timetable, but it was truly one of those books that as soon as I started reading, I had a difficult time putting down. Andy Weir tells an excellent story here; the closest reading experience I had to this was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

(and to tell you how much I loved that book, I can tell you there is a time period each year that I set aside just to read and lavish in RPO…)

The Martian is a near-future story about a man who gets stranded on Mars and is forced to survive “off the land” so to speak. With a planet trying to kill him at every turn, the character of Mark Watney could have turned out to be a bitter and jaded man. Alone on an alien planet with death around each corner. I don’t know how I would have survived, but thankfully Mark Watney was not me. Watney is an engineer and botanist. In spite of the surroundings, he makes it work for him with plenty of humor along the way. I can’t tell you the number of times I chuckled to myself or flat-out laughed out loud at Watney’s crazy stunt on the barren surface of Mars.

If this was written as a “true story,” I would have believed it. It is that good.

Throughout it all, there is a general Apollo 13 vibe. Bad things are happening and just when you think Watney’s in the clear – BAM! – Mars is out for blood. But, there is a lightness to the tone and a feeling that something good will come out of this story no matter what. The ending isn’t a guarantee by any stretch, but you find yourself rooting over the final few pages for him to make it.

Compare that to Old Man and the Wasteland.

ImageObviously there is a tonal shift between the two. While Weir takes a serious yet lighthearted tone, Cole evokes Hemingway mixed with Cormac McCarthy. Bleak and desperate.

It’s been 40 years after the bombs struck the cities of America. One by one they fell until all that was left was desolate and feral. The Old Man (we don’t get a name) goes on a journey of survival and (to him) necessity from Yuma to Tucson in Arizona. Before he even encounters any of the remnants of civilization, the man has to overcome the stark landscape and the lack of water. When he bests his environment, turn after turn, the world is trying to defeat him. We see the world through his eyes and realize while he is old and grizzled, he is comparatively sane in the insanity all around him. The ones left behind after the bombs have mostly become unrecognizable as humans and are therefore aspects of a lethal environment trying to do him in at every chance.

Nick Cole does a masterful job painting a post-apocalyptic picture using a lens borrowed from Hemingway while adding in his own 21st century elements. I enjoyed this book immensely and the ending is poignant and will pull at your heart.

Both of these books are fascinating looks at what a man will do to survive in a deadly environment – one on a planet 35 million miles from Earth, the other on an unfamiliar wasteland in a poisoned future. While Watney has his situation thrust upon him suddenly, the Old Man takes his journey 40 years after the bombs. Both are a terrific view of Man V. Nature and what will come of it and that’s the beauty of these books.

Both The Martian and Old Man and the Wasteland are 5-star reads. Both are vastly different, but take us places unexpected and thrilling.

Both times I started reading these two books, I mentioned on Facebook I was reading them. Both times I had friends tell me they were “jealous of me reading them for the first time.” I understood completely. A few weeks ago, my brother read RPO for the first time and I felt the same way – wishing I could read it all again and the little discoveries and joys when my eyes read the words for the first time.

Buy these books. Read both of them. You will not be disappointed.

Review Round-up!

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I’ve had a great couple of weeks. Releasing Dead Sight has gone terrific with more downloads than I was expecting. At the same time, Dead Sleep has seen a resurgence in sales and has gotten some great new reviews as well. One of them just came rolling in right here from fellow author Thomas Robins. I’m flattered and can only hope I live up to his expectations.

On the note of reviews, I decided to take a bunch of reviews I’ve written up for Amazon and Goodreads the past three weeks and share them here as well. This is a great time to be a reader — the quality of books out there is just phenomenal. A few notes before I begin. No review yet for John Hancock’s ROOF. A great book that I had the pleasure to beta-read. From what I understand, John added at least another 5,000 words, so I’ve held off on an honest review until I re-read the book. Looking forward to it.

Also left out here are reviews for Andy Weir’s The Martian and Nick Coles’ The Old Man and the Wasteland. I’m going to save those to for a future blog as a compare/contrast piece. I would recommend both, without question.

As for the reviews….here they are:

 

ImageAll the questions we had from Pennsylvania 1…2…3 — so many of those questions get answered in spades. Of course, I won’t spoil it here, but you can read PA4 for yourself and discover all the secrets Michael Bunker had up his sleeve all along.
By the time PA4 opens, Jed is living in “New Pennsylvania” along with a number of other old-world Amish, while the swirl of war between Transport and TRACE continues all around. The after-effects from the cliffhanger at the end of PA3 are felt through the first few chapters and helps the reader to understand what is really going on in this story. As the tale continues, Jed (and the reader) is slowly brought up to speed on what is really going on.
Not to say that this segment is left without action — on the contrary. In fact, the ending is once again a heck of a kicker to lead into Part 5…which is a month away?! Great work, Mr. Bunker. You’ll have me waiting with bated breath for the epic conclusion to Jed and Dawn’s story.

 

ImageI hadn’t read a Travis Mohrman book before I decided to read Singular Points. I immediately regret that decision; his previous books will all be added to my “To Be Read” pile, but for now, let’s talk about SP.
What’s in the description is the basis for the book. A man, David, is grieving for his dead wife and stumbles upon another dimension and hidden powers he had as he works through his rage. His best friend, Brian, his sister, Debbie, and his dog are all faithful companions on his journey of discovery, which turns out to be a necessary moment of self-discovery when the fate of the entire world is at stake.
I loved the quiet moments where David and pals are discussing philosophy and their new-found powers, but towards the end, the book takes a left-turn into a…dare I say it…almost Dragonball Z type direction. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the payoff at the end and will gladly look forward to whatever Mr. Mohrman has up his sleeve in the future. Good work!

 

ImageTo tell you the truth, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I knew that Logan Snyder had this story called This Mortal Coil up his sleeve for a while now, but the details were always a bit sketchy. I purchased without really reading the description and then dove in, completely unaware of what I was getting myself into.
And in a way, that’s what our book’s hero, Willem, does as well. With amnesia at the beginning of the story, the only thing he knows is that there are people trying to kill him. A clever and resourceful protagonist, Willem eventually teams up with Theresa and a few others in an attempt to turn the tides on the hunters.
Along the trip, we discover this world right alongside of Willem and Theresa and find out there is a lot more to meet the eye than we previously thought. The action is tight and well-balanced against the dialogue as Snyer weaves this story to an epic conclusion.
One of the only complaints I would have is that this story is a novella, but the characters and story would lend itself quite well to a full-blown novel. At least one character, I felt, would have been more fully realized in a larger setting, but the story still works exceptionally well as written currently. If nothing else, it will give Mr. Snyder reason to return to this creative world. Well done!

 

ImageTime Travel books can be tricky to pull off and the ones that work can be revered. It’s a little too early to tell how good Paul Kohler’s Linear Shift will end up, but through the first two parts of his episodic story, he’s got a great start.
I liked Part 2 better than Part 1. There was more meat to this one. The first part was a brief introduction to Peter and how he fits into a mission to travel to 1942. Like Peter, the reader can feel frustrated by the lack of openness by his boss about the proposed mission and it’s only at the very end that we get a good picture of what is really going on.
If I have one complaint, it is that the time travel aspect of this time travel story is saved until the very end and teased until the final parts of this story, but the cliffhanger leading into Part 3 is fantastic. Instead of launching right in, however, Kohler gives the reader a lot more background and character development leading into the linear shift. At the pace he had going into the finale, Part 3 looks to be dynamite.

 

ImageLike Jason Gurley, I’m a father. Like Mr. Gurley, I have felt many times like I am abandoning her when I go to work. The first few years of my daughter’s life, my job forced me out of the house for 50-60 hours a week and little to show for it. Luckily, I was able to make a career change and be in my daughter’s life more since then, but the feelings resurfaced tonight as I read through The Dark Age.
I had gotten the digital file the day Jason published and I received the paperback a couple of weeks ago. But, I put off reading it. It isn’t long, but I still waited. I convinced myself I had other, more important things to do, but the fact is: I was scared. I knew what the story was about and I wasn’t sure that I could face my own inadequacies as a father while reading the story. I shouldn’t have waited, but my fears were certainly justified.
Jason Gurley has put into a very short story the feelings many working parents have and put it into the story of a man leaving Earth for over 100 years in the process. The heartbreak of not being there — ever. It hit really close to home. I am in awe of this story and will treasure my autographed copy. Well done, Mr. Gurley, and thank you.

 

ImageWhen Thomas Robins last left Ineeka at the end of Desperate to Escape, Part 1, we found out there was a LOT more going on than she could have even suspected. The mechanical problems that plagued her space shuttle were not simple after all.
So we start in on Part 2, fully expecting those situations to come to a head, but instead Robins takes the reader in a whole new direction. As always throughout DTE, we are kept grounded with Ineeka’s story of personal tragedy and triumph on earth years before she ended up on that space shuttle. Robins has a skill in telling the story of a woman constantly running from her past, whether that direction leads her around the United States, or around a space station.
The kicker to this tale comes at the end when we find out where Robins really intends to take this story. Any conceptions I had going into this book were changed in just a few pages. Well done — looking forward to Part 3 with bated breath.