Working as a book reviewer has been surprising. When I started, I had a mental list of what I wanted to read and what I would enjoy. Science fiction and fantasy were nowhere on that list. Well, after reviewing almost 300 books, I’ve learned. It turns out that there’s good writing everywhere, even in genres that I decided years ago that I didn’t want to bother reading.
I can’t claim to be well read in the genre, but I do have some books I can recommend to you.
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The first one is so good, it grabbed me on the first page. It’s The Wolf Itself by Mikel Evins. Happily, it’s Book 1 of The Kestrel Chronicles. Book 2 is The Return of the Angel, and book 3 is The Golden Way. Check them out on the author’s website: www.evins.net. The other way I found them was to go to Amazon Books and then look for the author’s name. They’re hard to find, but worth looking for.
Evins does a fine job of world-building and character development. The main characters in this book are Captain Esgar Rayleigh, who recently inherited his father’s struggling space shipping company; Esgar’s brother, Jaemon; Chief Verge, a Hama Model 17 who looks like a silver football; Mai Greenhill, a raw recruit described as “a compact and muscular Canine” from Callisto; and our narrator, Lev, the ship’s doctor and also a non-biological (robot is a slur). The self-aware ship, Kestrel, is also a character.
In the middle of the “night,” Mai locates a signal from a ship that has been derelict for over 100 years. This windfall, worth a fortune as salvage, may be the saving of the company. Several crewmen, including Lev and Able Spacer Angier, the almost-trite whiner of the crew, are sent to investigate. What they find is sufficiently creepy to keep you on the edge of your seat to the end of this can’t-put-it-down novel.
I don’t want to tell you more and give away plot twists. I do recommend this book highly.
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If cozy mysteries are too tame for you, then maybe you’d enjoy one of the weirdest police procedurals that I’ve ever read. Fair warning, there’s sex and a lot of violence. The book is Wandering City Blues by Jonny Lupsha.
What’s a wandering city, you may wonder.
At some future time, a lethal red fog comes out of the ocean and covers the Earth a thousand feet deep. At the same time, 13 enormous creatures also come out of the ocean. These creatures, each one different from the others, are the last refuges for those few thousands of humans who survive the fog. When I say these creatures are huge, they’re more than a quarter of a mile tall and large enough that people can build cities on their backs. And they wander. They have different routes, some of which intersect. As the book opens, we are now 100 years past the ascension. Four generations of humans have lived on the creatures.
Because it takes a while to set up this world for the reader, we’re fairly well into the book when the first murder occurs. Detective Leon Adler and his partner Iris are assigned to solve the mystery. And if you think things have been strange so far, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Leon and Iris follow their suspect across their world from one huge creature to another until they finally solve the mystery.
As important as solving a case usually is in a book like this, it take second place to the world building and character building that this author does. Leon and Iris are unique as partners in crime solving. And no matter when you think you have them figured out, there’s always another surprise coming.
And the very best thing about this book is the hint on the last page that there may be a second book in the works. I certainly hope so.
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The thing about science fiction is that when the technical aspects are foregrounded, it can be pretty nerdy. Most of my early reading of science fiction took place in the 1950s and 60s when writers seemed to be most interested in the Gee-Wow! Science. But those same technical aspects can be the background of a good story.
Endurance by Amy Spahn is that story. You get a hint of what’s to come from some of the cover copy. It reads: “Protect. Serve. Try not to screw up.” I might be stretching the definition of police procedural (a realistic depiction of police work) since this takes place in the future, but that’s how I would categorize this book.
The Endurance is the space ship, sort of a mobile police van, to which a number of un-fireable and less-than-perfect officers have been banished. It patrols empty space somewhere to the left of Neptune. To say that morale is low when new Captain Thomas Withers comes aboard is putting it mildly. Each of the assorted crewmembers is there for a different reason, each strange in their own unique way. And, yes, Withers has also earned his superiors wrath.
How long does it take them to get mixed up in major cases that their bosses want them nowhere near? Not long at all. They draw the interest of the Haxozin, a hostile and aggressive race of space aliens bent on including as many inhabited planets as possible in their empire. Until members of the crew of the Endurance accidentally contact them, they don’t know Earth exists
The police are also dealing with the Uprising, a confederation of criminals and terrorists bent on destroying the government.
The book comprises five novellas and two short stories. I recommend it. You can check out Amy Spahn’s website at www.acspahn.com.
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A Face in the Sky by Greg Jenkins is an odd book that I couldn’t put down, and I’m still mulling the ending. The lead characters are Bob Stallings, a disaffected junior college teacher; Johnny “Jet” Black, a failed baseball pitcher yearning to get back to the big leagues; his estranged daughter and celebrated porn star, Zooey Zanders; and aspiring reporter Laura Kennedy. So far, this might sound like the beginning of an average novel. Oh, by the way, did I mention that it’s about the end of the world—not so average after all. The back cover blurb calls it “an apocalyptic tale with literary flair.” I’ll go along with that.
Strange things begin to happen, first in other places and then to Bob.
Buildings start to disappear. They don’t explode or implode or burn. They just disappear, leaving no residue. Then individuals all over the world start reporting seeing a giant face in the sky. Bob scoffs—until the day he sees the face. It grows and grows and grows until it fills the entire sky, and it tells him that the world will end soon.
Have you thought about what you would do if you heard that the world would be ending soon? Whatever you thought, it isn’t what Bob did, and therein lies the story.
This is Jenkins’ fourth published book. His others are a novel, Code Green; a book of short stories, Night Game; and a nonfiction book, Stanley Kubrick and the Art of Adaptation. He has also published many short stories in various journals.
A Face in the Sky easily fits in with the best books I’ve read in the past few years. I strongly recommend it to you.
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One of the rules of writing is never to start with a weather report. Whoever made up that rule clearly never read Iron and Smoke by Brandon Nolta. He starts his book with a prologue as follows: “Autumn chill settled on the willow trees with the night, chasing away the last gasps of brutal summer heat with the promise of clouds and snow to come. Despite the bite in the air, the nocturnal life of the Missouri countryside was as active as ever, the hunters and the hunted settling into their eternal roundabout.”
When I read something like that, I say to myself, “Ah. This is going to be a treat.”
And it was.
It’s the story of Aquinas Moore, a young magus. In 1884, he’s sent by the Western Council, made up of magi and other magical beings, as a liaison to the Shoshone and in particular to Calls Thunder Song, a shaman who senses a terrible evil about to engulf the world. The council sends Aquinas to placate Calls Thunder Song, but not because they believe in his warning. However, Aquinas finds that the warning is true and the coming battle even worse than the council could have imagined.
So, on one side we have an overwhelming and possibly unstoppable evil. Whom do we have on the other side? Aquinas; Calls Thunder Song; his son, Fights the Wind; a group of elderly Shoshone; the god Iktomi; his former wife, the goddess Eagle Woman; and a reanimated dead man are our ensemble cast of heroes. Who are you betting on?
Well, we know who won. After all, we’re still here, but as with so many books, it’s not the “what” that’s in doubt, it’s the “how.”
The quality of the writing holds up all the way through, and the end is more than satisfying.
This book is part of my continuing education on not judging a book by its genre. I would not normally have picked this one up in a bookstore, but now that I’ve read it, I can recommend it to you as a book not to miss.