Archive for February, 2011

Ex-Heroes… Not Your Everyday Apocalypse

So you see, there’s this zombie uprising across the United States. Yep, not original. But then you throw in the fact that super heroes are trying to stop them (and mostly failing) and suddenly you have a whole new ballgame in Peter Clines‘ Ex-Heroes. Published by Permuted Press, Ex-Heroes takes place in the now, when the zombies have risen up mysteriously throughout the states and have begun to decimate the world population.

The story shifts around between flashbacks from various heroes with snazzy nicknames like Gorgon, Stealth, Zzzap and Resurrector and the now, while they’re struggling to protect an entrenched fortress in Los Angeles called “The Mount” (Paramont Studios).

I’ll be honest with you: I wasn’t expecting the depth of Clines’ characters when I started the book. I was thinking “Zombies and superheroes… only Marvel can screw this up and thankfully, this guy isn’t Marvel”. I figured lots of guns, decapitations and explosions would be the recipe of the day. I wasn’t disappointed, but was also rewarded with Clines’ quick wit, realistic portrayal of a group of regular Joe’s struggling to survive side by side with super heroes in a post-apocalyptic society and dark humor interspersed with real life situations.

The story starts out with the focus on the Mighty Dragon, a suddenly powerful man who can breathe fire, fly, and is invulnerable to bullets. He is reminiscing about how he became a super hero just before he is to lead a team out into the wilds of Los Angeles, scavenging for food and ammo, the narrative switching back and forth from third person “Now” telling and the first person reminiscing scenes. It’s rather seamless, and I was actually surprised when, 2/3 of the way through the book, I suddenly realized that the author had switched POV’s without me even noticing. THAT is the sign of a good story and a better writer.

But one thing in the story makes it all a terrifying “this is not the zombie apocalypse I was hoping for: the ex-heroes, the heroes who were bitten and now called “ex people” like the other zombies. Their powers still mostly active and, well, powerful, they wander around Los Angeles in a mindless state. They are dangerous but uncontrolled… or so we think.

The heroes and normals inside The Mount must battle the exes (zombies, remember?) and the normals of a street gang who are led by a man known only as Peasey. This culminates in a shocking revelation about one of their most trusted heroes, as well as the fate of the world.

This book is good. Very, very good. I enjoyed it thoroughly and was upset when I got to the end, because it was all over. I was also a bit surprised at how fast I read it, which is also a good sign. The more engrossed in a story I become, the faster my reading speed becomes. It’s weird, but it’s always a good barometer of how much I’m enjoying a book.

This book is a definite buy. It’s entertaining, fun and a very well-paced story. I’ll be reading Ex-Heroes again.

–Reviewed by Jason


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“Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded” — amusing look into the mind of John Scalzi

Ever read a blog and think to yourself “Damn, this person is funny”? Well, take all those thoughts, roll it into one massive collection of blogs then sell it as a book and you’ll come up with John Scalzi‘s Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded. Published by Tor almost a year ago and in this house for about 8 months now, I finally got around to reviewing it after going back multiple times to find one of his entries in the book which amused me – and there are a lot of them.

Most bloggers (and writers) will have one or two good posts a year, ones that are absolute diamonds in the war-torn rough of the blogosphere (whoever came up with that term, by the way, needs to be shot in the face with a shovel) and simply need to be saved for future generations. Scalzi, on the other hand, seems to revel in having amazing posts come forth from his font of insanity on a regular basis, which means that if you want to stay ahead of the game, you have to visit his actual website. Ah, but this isn’t an homage (or pimpage) to Scalzi’s website, but to this hilarious book.

…you know, now that I think about it, this is an homage to his blog. Because without his blog, we would not be reviewing this book.

The book opens with Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Wesley Crusher… but don’t remind him of it, he gets a little tired of it) talking about Scalzi and pretty much setting the tone for the book with an unusual diatribe. From there, we are welcomed into the mind of Scalzi through the various blog entries, some completely helpful (his entry about young writers is particularly eye opening for all aspirants out there) to absolutely insane (bacon taped to his cat). Each entry receives its own chapter, which helps the reader find their way through the labyrinth of Scalzi’s perpetual insanity. Hey, I like the guy, really. But… you need to be a special person to be a writer. An insane type of person.

This is one of those books that, depending on your view of life, you’re either going to love it or hate it. There is no middle ground here, as evidence by the various people I’ve asked about it. There are absolutes in judging this book, with one side screaming “I hate this arrogant piece of sh*t!” to the other, with their altar with a man-sized Scalzi statue made of bacon worshipping the deliciousness of all.

Okay, maybe they’re not that far gone, but still…

It’s a great book and available in paperback. I recommend you go to his site and read the archived blogs, however. It’ll save you money and frankly, if you buy the book you’re just giving him money for a condensed view of Whatever. They’re all there, and you will include the new stuff that no longer appears so dated that you almost look good in your prom suit.

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“The Agent Gambit:” excellent, plus a great intro to Liaden Universe.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s THE AGENT GAMBIT, an omnibus by Baen Books that combines their first-ever Liaden Universe (TM) novel, AGENT OF CHANGE, with their third novel and direct sequel to the former, CARPE DIEM, is both excellent and a great introduction to Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe.  These two novels deal with Val Con yos’Phelium, pilot, Scout, and Agent of Change, and Miri Robertson, a supposedly Terran mercenary who’s much more than she seems to be, and contain rousing action, great dialogue, and some of the best comic characters ever — Edger and Sheather, eight-foot turtle-like creatures who happen to be blood-brothers of Val Con yos’Phelium.

AGENT OF CHANGE shows the problems Val Con yos’Phelium has in full measure.  He didn’t become a secret agent by choice; he was “recruited,” more or less forcibly, by the sinister Department of the Interior, because he is the Heir (or Nadelm) to Clan Korval, an extremely powerful Clan on Liad.  The Liadens are called one of the “Clans of Men” by Val Con’s allies, some Clutch Turtles, even though Liadens, unlike most humans, tend to have some extra psychic abilities (sometimes extremely small ones, but there); this distinction is important, because without the Liadens being seen as “human-plus-other” rather than merely “other,” it would be much harder for readers to empathize with them.

Yet we do empathize with Val Con’s plight as easily as we do with Miri Robertson; they are both soldiers who’ve fought bravely, have survived their duty, and now must deal with the aftermath of war while having rousing adventure after rousing adventure.   The world building is excellent, of course; how not, in a Lee and Miller novel?  But what’s best about AGENT OF CHANGE is how a soldier resumes his more-or-less normal life; even with the rousing action, there’s a romance going on between Val Con and Miri that forces Val Con to the self-examination necessary to resume his life and former career as a Scout and pilot despite the extra abilities forced upon him by the Department of the Interior.  Val Con realizes he’s more than he’d given himself credit for, while Miri also realizes the same thing about herself, and the two of themselves end up pledging themselves to one another not merely for the sake of the mission, but for life.

CARPE DIEM is a direct sequel to AGENT OF CHANGE, and is about how Val Con and Miri survive on a somewhat primitive planet that seems remarkably similar to 20th Century Earth.   They’ve so far outwitted their enemies, while their allies in the Scout community (Val Con’s contemporaries), the mercenaries (where Miri Robertson’s name is both respected and feared), and of course the Clutch Turtles are seeking them with increasing desperation.  Yet from the start it’s obvious that while Val Con and Miri will accept help from their allies — if their allies can find Val Con and Miri, of course — they’d rather do it on their own.

How Val Con and Miri survive, thrive, find allies and deepen their marital relationship is for you to read, but I can assure you, if you love space opera, or science fiction romance, or straight-up old-fashioned speculative fiction with many twists and turns in the plotline, you will become as enthusiastic about Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe as I am.    CARPE DIEM features excellent world building, a well-drawn “clash of cultures” narrative, a highly hissable villain in the Commander of the Department of the Interior, an outstanding romance, and the “hero’s journey” (with both Miri and Val Con) couldn’t be any better.

So now that you’ve read this full review, go out and grab THE AGENT GAMBIT omnibus, right now — then go get everything else Lee and Miller have ever written, singly and together, too.


** Note that chronologically, Lee and Miller’s second novel was CONFLICT OF HONORS, which was included in their  THE DRAGON VARIATION omnibus (also put out by Baen Books) last year; I have already reviewed that, highly favorably, here at Shiny Book Review.

—- Reviewed by Barb

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Hard Magic — Guest Reviewed by Walt Boyes

Today’s review comes to us from a guest reviewer, Walt Boyes. Walt is a published author and a member of the SFWA (Science Fiction Writer’s Association), as well as on the Editorial Board of The Grantville Gazette, part of Eric Flint’s popular 1632 series. He can be found at the Big Bananaslug.

I’ve just finished reading the electronic Advanced Reader Copy (e-ARC) of Larry Correia‘s newest novel, Hard Magic: Book I of the Grimnoir Chronicles. Correia burst onto the urban fantasy scene just a couple of years ago with his first novelMonster Hunter International and its sequel, Monster Hunter Vendetta.

His is a really fresh voice in urban fantasy, with a hero (on reflection, that looks a lot like Correia himself–making him the largest MarySue in fantasy) who is an accountant, a bar bouncer, a gun nut, and who survived an attack by a werewolf by throwing him out of a multistory building’s window to smash on a car parked below. Correia has new and hysterically funny takes on Orcs (they love Heavy Metal and are working for good), Elves (redneck trailer trash elves, whose queen weighs about 500 lbs and wears enormous muu-muus), Gnomes (gangsta rapping Gnomes at that).

So it wasn’t a big surprise to see his new series, the Grimnoir Chronicles, is built out of a whole new take on magic and magic users. I can’t decide whether it is an alternate history with magic or an urban fantasy in an alternate universe. Who cares? It’s a great read.

It seems that an entity fleeing an enemy in another galaxy or universe has given to many humans the ability to do magic with the Power. But each is only a one trick pony, firestarters, movers, travelers, healers, etc., except Okubo Tokogawa, the Shogun of the Japanese Imperium. He is called the Chairman, and his talents are multiple and he has surrounded himself with specially trained and magically reinforced Iron and Shadow Guards. These are, respectively, super samurai and super ninjas.

The Grimnoir (a corruption of Grimoire and Noir) Society is dedicated to the death of the Chairman and the end of the evil Imperium of Japan.

In this book, we meet Jake Sullivan, who has been freed from Rockville Penetentiary by J. Edgar Hoover so he can be used to kill “magically active” people or Actives. One of the people he is sent after is his former lover, Delilah– who is a Brute. Sullivan is in prison because he killed a Louisiana sherriff who was about to kill a young black Active. Sullivan is an autodidact, but he’s widely read and has studied magic heavily.

Correia only occasionally slips into gun porn, which is one of the biggest flaws in the Monster Hunter series…and his mastery of the vernacular of the pulp novel is as good as that of one of the minor characters in the book, an accountant named Chandler.

The action is non-stop, the character development is excellent, with one exception, and the book will sell well to hard-boiled detective readers as well as urban fantasy readers. People who like their vampires with sparkles, however, should probably not read this book, although they are encouraged to buy a copy to make up for what they’ve done to vampire fantasy. Correia’s Monster Hunter series is a terrific antidote to cute zombies, sparkly vampires, and such rot. The one exception to the fine, measured character development is the character of Sally Faye Vierra. She becomes too powerful too fast, and without a lot of rationale except that the storyline requires her to do that. Perhaps she will be further developed in the next volume.

As soon as the book is available for general sale (it is scheduled for May 1st 2011), you should all go out and buy a copy. It is a great read and Correia is a large enough man that he will need to have all the income he can get to keep his body going so he can write more of these great urban fantasies.

Nice job, Larry. And if you are a HUGO voter, Larry is eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for new writers, and he should have a really good shot at it.

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