Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category


campbell

“[W]hen you have trouble with the beginning of the story, that is because you are starting in the wrong place, and almost certainly too soon. Pick out a later place in the story and try again.”

–John W. Campbell, giving advice to a young Isaac Asimov, quoted in Astounding, by Alec Nevala-Lee


Thin Air cover(Thin Air, by Richard K. Morgan. Del Rey, 2018, 528 pp, $28.00)

by Zeke Teflon

It’s nice to have Richard K. Morgan (aka Richard Morgan in the UK, for god knows what reason) back writing sci-fi after what seems to have been a decade wasted writing fantasy, the Landpit for Heroes trilogy. Having been a huge fan of Morgan’s previous sci-fi novels (especially the Kovacs trilogy and Black Man) I read the first thick-as-a-brick book in the trilogy, The Steel Remains — notable for its lack of plot — and got through the first two pages of the second book, The Cold Commands, before deciding I couldn’t stand reading any more of it.

Thin Air is a return to form. The tone is reminiscent of both the Kovacs books and Black Man (Thirteen in the U.S.) in both grittiness and political subtext. It’s set on a very dystopian Mars a couple of centuries hence, and is a commentary on the results of colonialism in a neo-liberal context. (Various streets and buildings are dubbed Gingrich, Hayek, Reagan, Rand, etc.)

One of the opening quotes sets the tone:

Far from heroic and romantic heraldry that customarily is used to symbolize the European settlement of the Americas, the emblem most congruent with reality would be a pyramid of skulls. (Dean Stannard, American Holocaust)

For the purposes of this review, suffice it to say that the anti-hero of this brutal tale, Veil, a genetically modified former corporate mercenary, is every bit as emotionally numbed and damaged as former envoy Takeshi Kovacs in the Kovacs trilogy. (FYI, the first book in the Kovacs series, Altered Carbon, and its sequels, is much different and considerably better than the still-good Netflix series based on it.)

The plot is intricate; every single corporate, political and governmental entity is corrupt and treacherous; and the action is almost nonstop and graphically described. There’s a huge amount of violence in this book, all of it very well and stomach-churningly depicted, and a much smaller amount of graphic and accurately described sexual content — a very welcome departure from the customary sci-fi norm of cartoonish ultraviolence and prudish sexual avoidance.

Welcome back Richard K. Morgan.

Highly recommended.

(The only thing I’d add is that for those interested in the psychology of colonialism, the best sci-fi work is Mike Resnick’s A Hunger in the Soul, regarding a barely disguised East Africa. The two best works period are Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and his appallingly funny short story “An Outpost of Progress.” Barbara Kingsolver’s horrifying The Poisonwood Bible is also well worth a read.)

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, a Spanish-English translation on Venezuelan anarchist history, a nonfiction book on the seamier sides of Christianity, two compilations, and an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover

 

 


(The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi. Tor, 2018, 316 pp., $26.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

The Consuming Fire is the second book in Scalzi’s Interdependency series, following 2017’s The Collapsing Empire. Both books seem purely commercial, lowest-common-denominator fantasy that’s set in space to give them a sci-fi gloss. There’s nothing new in either book. There’s a standard medieval political/social set-up, and the sci-fi elements are all well worn: computer simulations of the dead; “the flow,” a path between stars that somehow allows faster than light travel; and . . . well, there isn’t much else.

Worse, this second book in the series is dull. There’s nothing of political, social, scientific, or technological interest in it, and it revolves entirely around personal conflicts and political maneuvering among the nobility. (Those entertained by such things would do well to stick with Game of Thrones.) One of the reasons that this maneuvering is so uninteresting is that the characters are unconvincing: the good guys are unrelievedly pure of heart, and the villains are unrelievedly evil. In other words, they’re cardboard characters, and it’s difficult for a reader to care about such characters.

One might also mention that Scalzi appears to have had historical and political amnesia when he wrote Consuming Fire, because the “emperox,” the primary character, appears entirely uncorrupted by being the most powerful person alive. In Scalzi’s Interdependency universe, power doesn’t corrupt and absolute power doesn’t corrupt at all.

Even worse, the story is largely built upon exposition rather than narrative (telling rather than showing), the amount of dialogue is ungodly, often page after page of it — Chapter 5, for instance, is eleven pages long, and eight of those pages are devoted to dialogue — and the purpose of the dialogue is primarily expository. One odd aspect is that Scalzi throws in quite a bit of swearing into the dialogue. The end result is that Consuming Fire reads like a YA novel the author has attempted to spice up with gratuitous cursing.

As well, due to the moderately distant third-person narration, there’s essentially no interior monologue — Scalzi tells you what his characters are thinking and feeling rather than allowing his characters to do it themselves — as well, there’s not much in the way of action sequences, and the comparatively few descriptive passages are nothing out of the ordinary.

Given Scalzi’s previous achievements, especially the vivid “Old Man’s War” military sci-fi series and his fine comic sci-fi novels, Agent to the Stars, Fuzzy Nation, and Redshirts, The Consuming Fire is shockingly bad.

Very much not recommended.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, a Spanish-English translation on Venezuelan anarchist history, a nonfiction book on the seamier sides of Christianity, two compilations, and an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover

 


Wrath of Leviathan front coverOur new release, The Wrath of Leviathan, by T.C. Weber, is now available. It’s book 2 of the cyberpunk BetterWorld trilogy, and is available as a physical book and also as ePub, Mobi, and PDF e-books. Set against a background of an even more repressive security-state USA, with monopolization of the media by a manipulative megacorporation, MediaCorp (think Fox and Facebook combined and on steroids), The Wrath of Leviathan continues the tale of a group of hackers and activists who’ve resorted to illegality to break the stranglehold of the government and MediaCorp on the communications and political systems, and who are being hounded mercilessly and murderously as a result.

The first book of the trilogy, Sleep State Interrupt, was a nominee for the 2017 Compton Crook Award for Best First Science Fiction Novel.

If you’re a reviewer or blogger, review e-copies of both Sleep State Interrupt and Wrath of Leviathan are now available via NetGalley.

The final book of the trilogy, Zero-Day Rising, is scheduled for publication in 2019.


Corrupted Science front cover

We’ve been running a NetGalley promo, and will be changing the available titles shortly. Corrupted Science will be archived this coming Sunday night, August 26, and replaced by another title, so if you review books and are interested in Corrupted Science, it’d be a good idea to sign on with NetGalley now.

We’ll be archiving most of the other currently available e-books a week after that, so again it’d be a good idea to sign up with NetGalley now if any of the following are of interest.

Here’s a brief description of NetGalley followed by a list of currently available titles.

* * *

If you read e-books and even occasionally review them on Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, etc., or your blog (if you have one), you might want to check out NetGalley. Ditto if you work for a library or a bookstore.

NetGalley a service that provides free e-books to those who review at least some of the free books they download, or who work for institutions (bookstores, libraries) that order books. This differs from the unrestricted book-giveaway sites in that while anyone can create a NetGalley reader account, prior to okaying a book download publishers can check to see how many of the books a particular reviewer downloaded he or she reviewed. So, publishers are free to turn down “reviewers” who have downloaded say 20 or 30 books and haven’t reviewed any of them.

But if you like to read e-books and at least occasionally review some of them, or work for a library or a bookstore, it’s great. It couldn’t be easier to sign up for this free service at NetGalley’s web site, and even very short, one- or two-sentence reviews count.

We currently have the following e-books available for download by reviewers:

  • Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology, and Politics in Science (revised & expanded), by two-time Hugo Award winner John Grant. This brand new book (pub date June 15) covers the historical period from the days of Galileo to the present, and covers a very wide range of topics including fraud by scientists themselves, the vast array of corporate misuse and misrepresentation of science, and the misuse and misrepresentation of science by authoritarian regimes, notably Nazi Germany under Hitler, the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the USA under Trump, with a special focus on climate change denial under Trump.
  • Sleep State Interrupt, by T.C. Weber. This cyberpunk thriller deals with an even more overtly repressive near-future America and the struggle against that repression by a multicultural crew of hackers and political activists attempting to wake the USA from its “sleep state.” Sleep State Interrupt received a Compton Crook Award nomination in 2017 for Best First Science Fiction Novel and has received dozens of favorable reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads.
  • Anarchist Cookbook front coverThe Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe, introduction by Chris Hedges. Anarchists have talked for decades about producing an anarchist cookbook, a book whose contents accurately reflect its title. A book written by anarchists that delivers recipes for social change, recipes for tasty food, and accurate information about anarchism. There have been several false starts on such a book, but no one has ever published one. Until now.Topics covered include the nature of anarchism, approaches to social and political change—what works and what doesn’t, avoiding entrapment by the FBI, food politics, and vegan recipes and cooking for both large and small groups. Popmatters says that this book “features a lively tone and inspiring argument. . . . [It’s an] affordable and handsomely produced compendium.”
  • Cover for Stage Fright:40 Stars Tell You How You Can Beat America's #1 FearStage Fright: 40 Stars Tell You How They Beat America’s #1 Fear, by Mick Berry and Michael Edelstein, PhD. This groundbreaking book contains 40 interviews with highly accomplished public figures on dealing with stage fright, offering tips from their own experiences in overcoming it. Jason Alexander, Mose Allison, Maya Angelou, David Brenner, Peter Coyote, Olympia Dukakis, Melissa Etheridge, Richard Lewis, Ron Paul, Robin Williams, and 30 others sound off about their trials with stage fright, candidly discussing their fears and insecurities with life in the public eye and ultimately revealing the various paths they followed to overcoming them.
    Stage fright sufferers from all walks of life—whether a high school freshman nervous about an oral presentation or a professional baseball player with the eyes of the world on him—will find consolation by understanding the commonality of their problem, as well as helpful information to finally shed their inhibitions.
  • Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front coverFree Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia, by Zeke Teflon. The reviews tell you all you need to know regarding this sci-fi novel about a hard-bitten bar musician exiled to a prison planet filled with religious and political cults:

“Solidly entertaining . . . reminiscent of early Mick Farren.” –Publishers Weekly

“The plot holds the reader’s interest and should appeal to a fairly wide audience.” —Booklist

“[Free Radicals] is among the best future-shock reads in years. . . . Teflon wields a dark sense of humor . . . and is a terrific depicter of violence. . . . [Free Radicals] is the only sci-fi novel I’ve read that captures the gritty existence of a futuristic bar musician . . . [It also] makes great use of border Spanish; . . . If we lived in the ’60s and ’70s when audience-rattling paperbacks like Naked Lunch were cheap, plentiful and available on pharmacy spinner-racks, critics would hail Free Radicals as a masterpiece.” —Tucson Weekly

So, if you review books and any of these titles appeal to you, we’d suggest signing up with NetGalley now, as we’ll be taking down these titles from NetGalley shortly and replacing them with others.

Finally, just a reminder that book reviews are fun to write and that your reviews do matter and can be a tremendous help to both small publishers and to other readers.


Corrupted Science front cover

We’ve been running a NetGalley promo, and just changed some of the available books. Corrupted Science will be down soon, replaced by another title, so if you review books and are interested in Corrupted Science, it’d be a good idea to sign on with NetGalley now.

The titles we archived were The American Heretic’s Dictionary, by Chaz Bufe (the 21st-century successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary); Disbelief 101: A Young Person’s Guide to Atheism, by S.C. Hitchcock; and Nicolas Oakley’s far-future coming of age social/political sci-fi novel The Watcher.

Here’s a brief description of NetGalley followed by a list of currently available titles.

* * *

If you read e-books and even occasionally review them on Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, etc., or your blog (if you have one), you might want to check out NetGalley. It’s a service that provides free e-books to those who review at least some of the free books they download. This differs from the unrestricted book-giveaway sites. While anyone can create a NetGalley reader account, prior to okaying a book download publishers can check to see how many of the books a particular reviewer downloaded he or she reviewed. So, publishers are free to turn down “reviewers” who have downloaded say 20 or 30 books and haven’t reviewed any of them.

But if you like to read e-books and at least occasionally review some of them, it’s great. It couldn’t be easier to sign up for this free service at NetGalley’s web site, and even very short, one- or two-sentence reviews count.

We currently have the following e-books available for download by reviewers:

  • Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology, and Politics in Science (revised & expanded), by two-time Hugo Award winner John Grant. This brand new book (pub date June 15) covers the historical period from the days of Galileo to the present, and covers a very wide range of topics including fraud by scientists themselves, the vast array of corporate misuse and misrepresentation of science, and the misuse and misrepresentation of science by authoritarian regimes, notably Nazi Germany under Hitler, the Soviet Union under Stalin, and the USA under Trump, with a special focus on climate change denial under Trump.
  • Sleep State Interrupt, by T.C. Weber. This cyberpunk thriller deals with an even more overtly repressive near-future America and the struggle against that repression by a multicultural crew of hackers and political activists attempting to wake the USA from its “sleep state.” Sleep State Interrupt received a Compton Crook Award nomination in 2017 for Best First Science Fiction Novel and has received dozens of favorable reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads.
  • Anarchist Cookbook front coverThe Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe, introduction by Chris Hedges. Anarchists have talked for decades about producing an anarchist cookbook, a book whose contents accurately reflect its title. A book written by anarchists that delivers recipes for social change, recipes for tasty food, and accurate information about anarchism. There have been several false starts on such a book, but no one has ever published one. Until now.Topics covered include the nature of anarchism, approaches to social and political change—what works and what doesn’t, avoiding entrapment by the FBI, food politics, and vegan recipes and cooking for both large and small groups. Popmatters says that this book “features a lively tone and inspiring argument. . . . [It’s an] affordable and handsomely produced compendium.”
  • Cover for Stage Fright:40 Stars Tell You How You Can Beat America's #1 FearStage Fright: 40 Stars Tell You How They Beat America’s #1 Fear, by Mick Berry and Michael Edelstein, PhD. This groundbreaking book contains 40 interviews with highly accomplished public figures on dealing with stage fright, offering tips from their own experiences in overcoming it. Jason Alexander, Mose Allison, Maya Angelou, David Brenner, Peter Coyote, Olympia Dukakis, Melissa Etheridge, Richard Lewis, Ron Paul, Robin Williams, and 30 others sound off about their trials with stage fright, candidly discussing their fears and insecurities with life in the public eye and ultimately revealing the various paths they followed to overcoming them.
    Stage fright sufferers from all walks of life—whether a high school freshman nervous about an oral presentation or a professional baseball player with the eyes of the world on his bat—will find consolation by understanding the commonality of their problem, as well as helpful information to finally shed their inhibitions.
  • Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front coverFree Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia, by Zeke Teflon. The reviews tell you all you need to know regarding this sci-fi novel about a hard-bitten bar musician exiled to a prison planet filled with religious and political cults:

“Solidly entertaining . . . reminiscent of early Mick Farren.” –Publishers Weekly

“The plot holds the reader’s interest and should appeal to a fairly wide audience.” —Booklist

“[Free Radicals] is among the best future-shock reads in years. . . . Teflon wields a dark sense of humor . . . and is a terrific depicter of violence. . . . [Free Radicals] is the only sci-fi novel I’ve read that captures the gritty existence of a futuristic bar musician . . . [It also] makes great use of border Spanish; . . . If we lived in the ’60s and ’70s when audience-rattling paperbacks like Naked Lunch were cheap, plentiful and available on pharmacy spinner-racks, critics would hail Free Radicals as a masterpiece.” —Tucson Weekly

So, if you review books and any of these titles appeal to you, we’d suggest signing up with NetGalley now, as over the coming months we’ll be taking down these titles from NetGalley and replacing them with others.

Finally, just a reminder that book reviews are fun to write and that your reviews do matter and can be a tremendous help to both small publishers and to other readers.


Quantum Thief cover

“But first, tell me: Why religion?” Paul asks.

Isaac laughs. “Why alcohol? Once you try it, it’s hard to give it up.”

He opens the flask and takes a swig. The vodka burns on his tongue.

“Besides, this is the faith of champions my friend: a thousand arbitrary rules you just have to accept, all completely irrational.”

–from Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief