Posts Tagged sf

Superposition — Clever SF Thriller With A Solid Punch

SuperpositionIt’s not very often that I pick up a book, read it and then afterwards think “My God, the science works!”

Superposition by David Walton did that to me this past weekend.

Jacob Kelley is a physics professor far away from the brilliant minds who he had worked with in recent memory and trying to make a difference with young, fertile minds at a local small college. His life is good, and everything is in order… until one night when an old friend showed up and turned his entire life upside down. Brian Vanderhall, who worked with Jacob on the New Jersey Super Collider (think CERN, but in New Jersey), is convinced that something is chasing him. Jacob is only mildly concerned (more for his old friend’s mental state than anything) until Brian pulls out a gun… and shoots Jacob’s wife.

Except that the bullet didn’t hit her. Instead, somehow it moved around her and struck the wall. Angry beyond belief, Jacob punches Brian and throws him out of the house. But then things get very, very weird, because then ext day Brian is found dead from a gunshot wound — the same gun that he used to shoot at Jacob’s wife.

And then Jacob’s family is brutally murdered in front of his eyes by some eyeless entity from within the quantum universe itself… and their bodies disappear seconds after, gone without a trace. Weird? Oh yeah, this book is going to hit you over the head with weird, and make it work.

Superposition is half-SF novel, half-murder mystery, and is perfectly done. There was some initial confusion early on, due to the two concurrent storylines being told from a singular POV (broken down by “Up-Spin” and “Down Spin”). Once the reader figures out the pattern, however, the true brilliance of the story emerges and it truly takes off.

Imagine that in quantum entanglements there is a “mirror-verse”, for lack of a better term. Not a copy of you, but a reflection. Now imagine if that reflection came to life and had your memories, your thoughts, your feelings. Almost like a clone, but better. A mirror image, where the moles on your cheek are on the other side of your reflection’s face (hey, give me a break, this is hard to explain in mundane terms). That version of you is temporary, however, because the wave which separated you two must collapse at some point (typically when the reflection and the original are in the same situation).

That’s… not a very good explanation. David Walton does a much better job of explaining it in the novel.

The story is fantastic, and the plot is fresh and original. I’ve read books on quantum theory and a Higgs boson before (Travis S. Taylor’s Warp Speed series comes to mind first and foremost), but this is the first time where it was explained to me in terms that I could completely grok. The hell which Jacob must endure before the end of the novel makes the payoff worth it, and leaves you with a good feeling.

The pacing starts slow, but soon enough is racing along so fast that the reader can barely keep up. Some of the characters blend together, but the main characters are strong enough in their differences and opinions to make each one special and memorable in their own right.

This book is a definite read for any science geek or a murder-mystery fan, but especially for both. This one is a solid “A” for me. You should definitely check it out.

–Grade: A

–Reviewed by Jason

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First Strike — Good Story, but A Little Plain

First StrikeChristopher G. Nuttall has a fan in me, I’ll have to admit. After devouring his Ark Royal series (which was an homage to both Battlestar Galactica and David Weber’s Honor Harrington), he’s climbed into the “probably going to buy” ranks of writers I enjoy and will gladly spend money on. So I didn’t even hesitate when his publisher sent us First Strike, the first book in a brand new series.

From the very beginning of the book, humanity faces a crisis unlike one that has ever been seen. An alien has invited the major leaders of the world to a summit to assist them — and warn them that the barbarians are at the gate, and humans have very little time to prepare. Then Mentor disappears, and the book fast forwards to 15 years later, when a new member of Mentor’s species arrives to warn humans that a grave threat has emerged — the same one which Mentor warned them about years before. The Funks, as humans have taken to calling the neighborhood bullies on the intergalactic scene, have already conquered one human colony world (through nefarious legal means, proving that everybody in the universe is cursed with lawyers) and are quickly moving to take the rest of Earth’s space in the same manner. In order to prevent Earth from falling under the “benign” rule of oppressive aliens, the Federation decides that a first strike is necessary to warn the Funks that Humans will not go quietly into the night.

Enlisting the aid of billionaire merchant and former Navy Captain Joshua Wachter to harass the Funks trading lines in the rear (which, given the vastness of space, is something that the author never talks about how they triangulated such a thing in the first place, much to this reviewer’s annoyance), Admiral Tobias Sampson has come up with the plan that with either protect humanity for all time — or be its untimely doom.

Nuttall’s writing is clear and concise, staying away from the common every day tropes that usually litter the pages of new military science fiction. Minus a few name drops of Star Trek characters throughout (Beverly Troy was humorous, but I’m that kind of nerd…), that is. The action is well-timed and hard-hitting, and there is just enough boom to make me happy without turning it into a Michael Bay movie. He does his aliens well, creating one character (Lady Dalsha, a Funk) whose evolution on-page from enemy to villain is worth noting. The plot is well done, though the subplots could have been fleshed out a little more, but it did not leave me wanting. Some characters were done very well, while others were there and then simply gone, leaving no hole from their disappearance from the pages. All of these problems, however, are very minor ones, and really not worth the energy to worry about.

The problem worth worrying about with this book (and truthfully, the series as a whole moving forward) is, quite frankly, plain. It’s vanilla SF (which I can enjoy, if done properly). Everything in the book goes humanity’s way, save for one little hiccup. While I’m all for the nerdy kid punching the schoolyard bully in the mouth and standing up to him, I still want there to be some drama. That element is missing from the book, the uncertainty of what is to come, and the actual feeling of humanity’s desperation is not felt. Indeed, I continued to get the sense of Imperial British “Oh dear, old boy… we might just die. Hand me another crumpet, will you?” Regulars who were stuck in a air-conditioned office battling paperwork instead of a “do or die” scenario. It lacked a sense of urgency, in other words.

All in all, I enjoyed it. A little too plain, but I have high hopes for the rest of this series moving onward. Definitely would recommend.

–Reviewed by Jason

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SBR 2-for-1 Romance Saturday SF Special: Grant Hallman’s “Upfall” and “IronStar”

Sometimes here at Shiny Book Review, we’re fortunate enough to be able to review stories that the mainstream science fiction community may not have noticed. Such is the case with this week’s “2-for-1 special” featuring writer Grant Hallman’s novella UPFALL and novel IRONSTAR. They are both set in the same universe, but many years separate the two stories.

Product DetailsThe first, UPFALL, is set in the not-so-distant future. While Europe appears to be a bit more unified than they are at present, and the space program as a whole seems far better developed as well, we’re essentially dealing with a world we know.

The essential plotline of UPFALL is this — what would you do if the space elevator you were going up suddenly became untethered? Especially if you’d just met the woman of your dreams?

That’s the situation Matthew “Matt” Dunning finds himself in. He’s works for Skyhook Unlimited, and is escorting a science client to Topside Station, while the woman he meets, Ginny Piersall, is there to do a failure analysis study. And of course, the Skyhook space elevator should not have anything go wrong, being based on “next-generation nanowire” . . . but of course, it does.

There’s only a certain amount of air available on the Skyhook, too, while the G-forces are causing many previously unforeseen problems, and there’s no help coming from the surface of the Earth because this was completely unanticipated. (Not to mention that most forms of two-way communication are cut off for completely understandable reasons.)

So it’s up to Matt, Ginny, and the other scientists on the Skyhook (or already in space) to try to figure this whole mess out. Will they be able to do it, or won’t they?

While the drama at UPFALL‘s heart is both believable and compelling, it’s the sweet romance between two smart people — Matt Dunning and Ginny Piersall — that is completely captivating. He’s a clueless nerd of a certain age, and she’s a beautiful, brainy woman who’s mostly met a bunch of men who aren’t up to her intellectual weight . . . so as you might expect, many sparks fly between them while they try to figure out just how to keep everyone on the Skyhook from dying needlessly.

As I’m a sucker for sweet romances, especially between two smart people who must solve an incredibly challenging problem by pooling their resources, I enjoyed UPFALL very, very much.

IronStarApproximately 200 years later, the events of IRONSTAR take place. Lieutenant Kirrah Roehl of the Regnum Security Service is the navigator of the Arvida-Yee, a very small survey ship. She enjoys her job, especially when she and her shipmates discover “hablets” (that is, habitable worlds suitable for colonization). And she enjoys being part of such a small crew because it’s like a family.

However, when the Arvida-Yee discovers a habitable planet they weren’t expecting, they encounter hostile fire from aliens called the Kruss — who are traders, but who definitely aren’t kindly and don’t have thought processes most humans can understand. The only thing Kirrah’s Captain is able to do before the ship blows apart is to order all of his crew into their survival suits and get a “mail tube” off to inform his superiors that something hinky is going on.

When Kirrah regains consciousness, she realizes she’s on the surface of the planet. (Hallman deftly accounts for this by the survival suit having its own drop bubble with a gel interior. Apparently the technology is now so good, it was able to “go to ground” on its own, without any information from Kirrah herself.) And while the planet is beautiful to look at, everything seems poisonous . . . worse yet, she believes everyone on her ship except her died instantly.

Then she discovers a young boy wandering in the middle of the forest. (Or, as I thought of it, a “forest-swamp,” as it appeared to have characteristics of both.) The boy, Akaray, warns Kirrah of an imminent attack by some of the local wildlife, and rouses all of her latent maternal instincts.

She quickly realizes that something is badly wrong. Akaray is crying, and between her own knowledge and her suit’s translator (which isn’t perfect, but gets the gist of things fairly quickly), she figures out that he’s lost his parents and everyone he knows due to his village being destroyed.

You see, there’s a war going on between two factions on this planet — the more or less peaceful people (who don’t seem to have a clan name; they do follow a King, but he’s elected rather than hereditary) and the rather obnoxious Wrth. The peaceful people have priest-healers who use something akin to Reiki healing with perhaps a bit of touch-empathy or even low levels of touch-telepathy, and just want to be left alone, while the Wrth are raiders who don’t seem to either have the priest-healers at all, or at minimum do not value them.

And the Wrth have allied themselves somehow with the Kruss, even though they don’t fully understand this . . . but Kirrah, of course, figures it out fairly quickly. This is the primary reason she’s made Warmaster, and is chosen to lead the fight the Wrth.

Kirrah also finds love in a most unlikely place — with Ro’tachk Irshe, a senior enlisted man. Irshe is old enough to respect Kirrah’s intelligence while young enough to appreciate the pleasures of the flesh . . . and as the peaceful people Kirrah’s helping don’t seem to have the same hang-ups regarding sex that Regnum-trained humans do (perhaps because of the priest-healers and their Reiki-like skills), they become lovers.

Down the line, Kirrah will have to decide: Does she want to stay on this world with Irshe and his people, the ones she’s been leading in order to throw off the Kruss’s noxious influence? Or will she go back to the Regnum? (Further reviewer sayeth not.)

So there’s action-adventure here, in spades. There’s a more-or-less traditional romantic science fiction plotline as well, and a coming of age story for Kirrah, and there’s all that interesting stuff from the priests . . . not to mention some dreams and visions that may or may not have a psychic component to them. And the new world is compelling, the science makes sense (hallelujah!), the military acts in comprehensible ways, both in the Regnum and on this new world . . . all good.

But there is one teensy-weensy drawback here, and that’s how quickly Kirrah adapts to everything.

Look. IRONSTAR has a lot going for it. It’s intelligent and interesting, the characterization is good, I believed in the romance between Kirrah and Irshe, and even the “fish out of water” element was carried off with aplomb.

But Kirrah doesn’t have many weaknesses. She’s impetuous, sure. But she’s young. And she’s very smart, and she’s very adaptable, and she’s adopted a kid despite her youth . . . really, in some ways, Kirrah seems almost too good to be true, excepting that darkness within her that, as the priest-healers keep pointing out, makes her the exceptional military commander she is.

But that makes me wonder why Kirrah was on the Arvida-Yee at all. Is the Regnum so stocked with good military commanders that they were willing to turn Kirrah away? Or did they just flat miss the fact that Kirrah could be exceptionally good if she was pushed to her limits?

Regardless, Kirrah is here, the world is here, and what Kirrah does is worth reading about. I just wish she would’ve had some obvious personal weaknesses aside from being young and impetuous, that’s all. (Mostly because I wanted to give IRONSTAR an A-plus, but just can’t under the circumstances.)

Bottom line? I enjoyed UPFALL and IRONSTAR quite a bit. This is excellent fiction with some solid science and some good, believable romances in the bargain . . . and I look forward to seeing more of Hallman’s writing in the future.

Grades:

UPFALL – A-plus.

IRONSTAR – A.

— reviewed by Barb

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Interview: Author Kal Spriggs

Editor’s note: One of the really near things we get to do here at Shiny Book Review is to interview new and upcoming authors. It’s always fun to see what goes on with the thought process behind any author’s mind, and when a new voice breaks onto the scene, it’s captivating to see just where their mind goes. 

Today’s interview was set up on a whim. I’ve been horrible about reviewing books lately and decided (with Barb’s assistance) that we were going to start doing some interviews. The problem, naturally, was to decide who to interview.

After much deliberation, I decided on this young writer named Kal Spriggs. Kal is a new science fiction author who was introduced to me by past SBR reviewer Leo Champion. His first two books, Renegades: Deserter’s Redemption and Renegades: The Gentle One are both available at Amazon for a low price of $0.99. While many people shy away from an underpriced book (or, in this case, novella), I know a good deal when I see one. So without further ado, here is our exclusive interview with Kal Spriggs.

Shiny Book Review: Okay, so tell us… who is Kal Spriggs?

KS1Kal Spriggs: Hmmm, interesting question

I would say that Kal Spriggs is a guy who likes to explore things, both in real life and in his head. He’s a guy who likes to ask what might happen if things were different, and likes to find out how things work. Less introspectively, Spriggs is active duty military, an engineer by education, and an Army brat by origin.

He’s a Scorpio, likes long walks on the beach, and meeting interesting people…

SBR: Wow. I… uh… wow. So what in the world possessed you to become an author?

KS: Frankly, I love to write. There’s few bigger rushes for me in life that can match the feeling of writing an awesome scene. Writing is something that I find to be a catharsis, and it lets me really delve into some of my curiosity about how things work. Creating an entire universe, society and then the physics, and even the fundamental laws of the universe lets me dive into asking the complicated questions.

Also, it gives me a nice escape from the mundane and a good way to share some of the cool things I’ve seen, even if reimagined a little bit.

SBR: Complicated questions? Care to give me an example?

KS: One of the complicated questions that especially appeals to me is: what exactly makes us human?

Where do you draw the line… and when you encounter aliens, or have mutants, psychics, and genetically engineered people, how does the line become blurred?

I personally think that treating people with respect is an essential part of our own humanity. But some species we encounter might be anathema to that concept. How do you respect a homicidal alien who views you as sentient food? How do you not react with instinctive fear to someone who can not only read your mind, but can bend you to their will? Human interaction at that level is interesting for me.

Another area, since I’m fascinated with warfare, is how the societal norms influences tactics, strategy, weapons design, and so-on. We see a bit of that in current warfare, quite a bit in ancient warfare (i.e., the western Greek/Roman style of shock troops versus the eastern style of skirmishers).

So I try to build a society’s war-making capabilities around their values and ideology. It gets interesting, sometimes, especially when I end up designing a race of ADHD aliens with more limbs than good sense.

SBR: So do you cover this in all of your books or do you spread it around a bit? Tell us about what you’ve written already.

desertersKS: My current series I have published, The Renegades, uses a lot of this. I’ve got psychics and aliens and even a genetically engineered ‘super-soldier.’ The interaction between them and normal humans is particularly interesting to write, and I think I manage to make it fun to read.

There’s distrust, particularly from those who haven’t dealt with these unknown people

There’s hostility from some of the aliens, who’ve been on the wrong end of a lot of prejudice, and nervousness about the abilities of a psychic from everyone.

As far as the societal influences, there are big differences in military tech of each of the big political groups. The tactics the different groups go for, and the overall strategies and goals of the various powers are complicated.

To top things off, the future is bleak for humanity in this universe. Two alien races have invaded, most of the human nations are at war with each other, and piracy has become so rampant as to be a common occurrence.

I’ve got another series that is set a few years later, which starts with The Fallen Race, where a handful of humans are the last hope to turn things around. What can I say… I’m a sucker for the underdog.

SBR: So if I suggest the first series reminds me of 1998 Somalia, you’d say…?

KS: Well, only if Somalia had a massive military bent on world domination and the main characters started out in a Somali prison labor camp and had to stage a break-out with a werewolf, a centaur and a mix of mercenaries, missionaries, and pirates.

SBR: That’d possibly be a better result than what we got…

KS: I wouldn’t rule it out… though we didn’t get to use nukes. They do in my book.

SBR: Always a game changer, nukes. So who do you like to read in your down time — assuming you have down time?

KS: Unfortunately, I haven’t had a lot of that lately. Still, I have a few favorite authors that I make time for. Heinlein is at the top. David Weber, John Ringo, Tom Kratman, Ryk Spoor, Mike Shephard, David Drake, Jim Butcher…

Pretty much I read at least two or three books a month. Down considerably from when I had lots of time and could read five in a week and still have time to write. Or maybe I’m just getting old, who knows?

SBR: Yeah, we have similar reading tastes. I’ll have to give Mike Shepard a look, though. So what do you have coming out next?

KS: I’m currently working on getting a military SF novel The Fallen Race ready to self-publish. It’s set in the same universe as Renegades, only the main character has a pocket battleship at his disposal.

To balance it, he’s got not just one, but two empires bent on his annihilation, as well as several rather large pirate factions.

When I finish edits on that, I’ve got my first Epic Fantasy coming out. Echo of the High Kings is my take on fantasy and magic. I’ll admit that I actually sat down and busted out my thermodynamics books when I went to see what was possible with the magic system

Though, again, rather little of that made it into the book. But at least it was math for a good cause.rgo-cover

SBR: Okay, earlier you mentioned you like to write “awesome scenes”. What, to you, defines an awesome scene?

KS: For me, an awesome scene is one where everything fits. Character, Character background, plot, theme… when it all comes together and the story damn near writes itself. When all the loose ends that were bugging me all come together in a nice little bow.

Sometimes it’s a plot twist even I didn’t see coming, and sometimes it is something so inevitable that when I read what I wrote, I realize I was headed there all along.

It normally involves a character that even I discounted stepping forward to make his mark. Sometimes it is a villain turning the tables or even renouncing his villainous ways… or sometimes it is a hero taking a last stand. It often involves some action or conflict and a strong resolution, either positive or negative. When it gets me tearing up or laughing as I write it, I know I’ve nailed it.

SBR: Nice. So is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about Kal Spriggs?

KS: There’s a question that will have me waking in the middle of the night saying “Aw, crap I should have said…”

SBR: *laughs*

KS: Seriously, I think we’ve covered most of it. Short of grovelling and asking them to read my works, I think I can safely leave it at that.

SBR: Well, that’s good enough for me. I’ll do the groveling for you. To buy Kal’s books, please follow the links below. Feel free to spread the word and let people know about this brand new up-and-coming author you heard us talk about (seriously, we like it. Lots) you discovered before he became famous. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to sit down with us, Kal.

KS: Not a problem, thanks for having me

Link for Renegades: Deserter’s Redemption

Link for Renegades: The Gentle One

Kal’s Amazon Page

Kal’s personal blog

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