Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Whispering Swarm

Michael Moorcock
Tor, 2015 (my hardcover copy was gracefully provided by Tor for review)
Size: Average (my copy has 480 pages)
Theme: Fantasy
Narrative: first-person
Main character: Michael Moorcock
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: UNLIKELY

This novel is a fictional biography of Michael Moorcock, being told in the first person as the story of his life, where he had fantastic adventures in an alternative reality part of London called Alsacia. It is book 1 of a new series, yet it provides a reasonable ending that allows being read by itself. The novel revolves much more around his family, his friends, and his acquaintances, with considerable emphasis on a myriad of inconsequential episodes of his life, while the focus on Alsacia and its fantastic set of characters often appears to be secondary. There are many references to sci-fi authors, and to the rise of the sci-fi genre and several of the magazines which turned it mainstream. The Alsacia plot revolves around him traveling to a location within London which is actually an alternate plane of existence with characters from different time periods (some of them well known from the literature).

I have to say I had not heard of Moorcock before, and I did not know his biography. He has an extensive list of works and has won several awards in the 70s. Still, this book was extremely boring for me. I struggled to keep reading through it and did it mostly since I make a point of finishing (nearly) any book I start. The plot is reasonably interesting and the story does pick up a bit in the last 100 pages. But overall, the pace and intricacies of events from his personal life spoiled this for me. The book might appeal to fans of historical fantasy but I cannot recommend it to a wide sci-fi & fantasy audience.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Master Sergeant

Mel Odom
Harper Voyager, 2015 (an ARC was gracefully provided by Harper for review)
Size: Average (my copy has 368 pages)
Theme: Military alien sci-fi
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Frank Sage
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

In this riveting story of military sci-fi we follow the deployment of Master Sergeant Frank Sage, an experienced war veteran, on the planet Makaum. Although he wished he was leaving the safety of the military training command facilities back on Terra in order to go to the expanding war front against the Phrenorians, he is commissioned to this planet in order to help bring the Makaum troops into line with Terran military standards. In Makaum, an uneasy truce is being managed between the Terran army, the Phrenorian empire, the (ta)Klar, and the Makaum natives who landed in that planet generations ago. The harsh environment and the extremely aggressive fauna and flora of the planet do not hamper the interests of different parties on its natural resources. However, Makaum might also not be that far from conflict as initially thought…

The novel is action-packed with jungle exploration, covert operations, and city pursuits. The plot also provides direct insights into the Phrenorians, namely one of their military leaders, which I found an interesting feature (although there is very little of it). There is a quite inventive array of technologies but they are easy to absorb. The same goes for some specific vocabulary introduced through the book. The plot is easy to follow, yet complex enough to keep the reader always on the edge and eager to turn the page. The main character is likable and well explored, and the other key characters work very well together.

I very much enjoyed the first installment of this series and am looking forward to reading the second book (Guerilla, which is scheduled to be launched on August 2015).

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Mentats of Dune

Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Tor, 2014 (my hardcover copy was gracefully provided by Tor for review)
Size: Long (my hardcover copy has 445 pages)
Theme: Space Opera
Narrative: third-person
Main character: several
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

This novel continues the events from Sisterhood of Dune, focused on the emergence and establishment of the great schools of Dune. As in the previous book, we learn a bit more about the Mentats, the Bene Gesserit, the Spacing Guild, CHOAM, and others. Events through the book are mostly defined by the great conflict between the anti-technology fanatics of Manford Torondo and the pro-technology industries of Josef Venport. This conflict is shaping the entire Dune universe, and greatly affecting the schools and houses of Dune.

The Bene Gesserit are in great turmoil, with their order split between the sisters that reside in the Imperial Palace and the ones that moved to Wallach IX. Valya harkonnen is taking up an important role in the sisterhood, while trying to re-establish the broken Harkonnen family. And she is mostly concerned with revenge on Vorian Atreides. Within the sisterhood, abilities such as truth saying and use of the voice are just appearing. The Mentat school established by Gilbertus Albans will face dire times, as he continues to hide the Erasmus core, while attempting to keep in good standing with Manford’s faction. Josef Venport is expanding and strengthening his stand through a myriad of options: from hiring Fremen to do sabotage work for him, to building new Cymeks. And in the midst of all this, the emperor starts to feel insecure and powerless against the two great factions, as they

The style and pace continue from the previous novel. I much enjoy the very short chapters switching between the multiple storylines. The book is packed with action and adventure, with some twists and turns, but mostly many plots unraveling simultaneously. The only aspect that could be better is that the authors keep reminding us of some basics when the action moves to a group or character. For someone reading the book, this needless repetition gets boring and off-putting. Yet, this is a must read for Dune fans and everyone who read the previous installment  (having read through the entire Legends of Dune series beforehand is absolutely mandatory in order to understand the plot). I look forward to reading the third novel of this mini-series and I highly recommend this book.

Related work:
This novel continues the storyline from “Sisterhood of Dune”. Within the extensive Dune universe novels, this storyline occurs after “Dune: the battle of Corrin” (from the Legends of Dune prequel trilogy) and before “Dune: House Atreides” (from the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy).

Monday, June 29, 2015

An interview with Bob Mayer (author of the Area 51 series)

I have just had the opportunity to ask a few questions to Bob Mayer, the author of well known sci-fi series such as Area 51. Since I have been reading Bob's work for over a decade now, you can imagine it was an absolute pleasure to have this chance, which I am happy with share with you... I'm currently going through his excellent "Area 51: Nightstalkers" series (of which I already posted some reviews).

SFB: First of all, I fell like I know you well from years of reading the "Area 51" series over a decade ago. How did you make the transition from that previous series to this new one?

BM: I wanted to merge my military books with my science fiction.  The basic idea was coming up with a Special Operations team that deals with those things that go bump in the night.  When I was in Special Ops, we'd meet other units and talk, and often each though the other unit was doing some high speed stuff.  Although we did fly around in black helicopters, we just thought someone was doing other, more neater stuff.  It turns out they was us.

SFB: Obviously, your time as a Green Beret has given you a lot of military background which transpires through your writing. Do you make a conscious effort to include as much detail and jargon as possible or rather shy from exaggerating not to overwhelm the reader?

BM: I don't want to overwhelm the reader with jargon or describing gear.  Tom Clancy would spend pages describing how a nuclear weapon works.  I figure readers can google that if they want.  I'm more concerned about the effect on characters and plot.  There is the additional factor of not wanting to divulge anything classified.

SFB: What is the most challenging aspect of writing about events that in some way follow from some personal perspective/experience?

BM: Letting go of reality sometimes.  Spec Ops we 99% boredom and 1% terror.  Readers don't want the 99% boredom.  One of our favorite sayings was "Prepare to Prepare."  You can't write that.

SFB: Are there some key writers that you feel have - in some way - molded your approach to writing? And if you had to pick a favorite current sci-fi writer, who would it be?

BM: I try to read writers that are better than me.  Actually, I really enjoyed Kate Atkinson's Life After Life.  While not science fiction, it certainly stretched the boundaries of the imagination considerably.  

SFB: There are so many sci-fi, action, and military novels coming out these days, it is often a struggle just keeping up with news. What do you think of the current writing/publishing/reading world?

BM: The market is saturated and will continue to be so.  Since anyone can publish now, it seems everyone is.  They key is to gain a core readership of fans.  And to try different things.  I actually think story-telling is changing and the straight narrative is no longer the rule.  Playing with time and point of view is more acceptable to readers.

SFB: Finally, what can we expect from the 4th book and subsequent ones in this series?

BM: The fourth book is out and it's Nightstalkers: Time Patrol.  And it moves my Nightstalkers into a new unit-- the Time Patrol.  I introduce it in this fourth book, then essentially launch a new series, with the same characters.  The fifth book comes out 25 August and is Time Patrol: Black Tuesday.  It introduces a concept I'm going to use in all the books in the new series:  the Time Patrol has to send six operatives into the past to the exact same date, but in different years.  And they have to stop the Shadow from trying to destroy our timeline.  For Black Tuesday, for example, 29 Oct, we have, of course, the 1929 Stock Market crash (although the problem on that day is something much more nefarious), Sir Walter Raleigh's beheading in 1618, the first internet message ever sent in 1969 and other events.  I'll follow that with Nine Eleven and more books.  It's a really fun series and brings up a lot of what-if's.

Bob Mayer is a New York Times bestselling author, a graduate of West Point, a former Green Beret (including commanding an A-Team), and the feeder of two yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus. He’s had over sixty books published, including the #1 bestselling series Area 51, Atlantis, and the Green Berets. Born in the Bronx and having traveled the world (usually not the tourist spots), he now lives peacefully with his wife and his Labs at Write on the River, Tennessee.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Rift (Area 51: The Nightstalkers)

Bob Mayer
47North, 2014 (my copy was gracefully provided by 47North for review)
Size: Short (my paperback copy has 257 pages)
Theme: Military sci-fi
Narrative: third-person
Main character: The nightstalkers team
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

The story starts with an unusual rift forming in the Gateway Arch at St. Louis MO. In this case, a person comes through (the ex-team member Burns), and with the Nightstalkers team on his tail, moves through the US until Knoxville TN. Not by accident, this coincides with the current residence of Scout’s parents. But what are the intentions of Burns in trying to create a new rift? This and other questions, some that had been lingering from the two previous books, will be answered in this novel.

As the pages turn, we find more about Neeley and Hannah from the Cellar, who play a vital role in this book, and also Ivar, who is show to be more than what everyone thought. There is still room to learn details about the beginning of the Nightstalkers and the creation of the first rift.

I much enjoyed the pace and the mystery aspects of the book. The end was quite unpredictable and gave a sense of closure. With the team presented and characters explored during the two previous books, the author did not need to spend much time on that, and could focus on the storyline. I found it as compelling as the two previous installments, and highly recommend it as a follow-up from book 2.

Related work:
This is the third book of the series, after “Nightstalkers” and “Nightstalkers: The Book of Truths”.

Monday, April 20, 2015

An interview with John Wright (author of the "Eschaton Sequence" series)

I recently had the opportunity to ask some questions to John C. Wright, author of the "Eschaton Sequence", a series that includes "Count to a Trillion" and the newly released "Architech of Aeons", extremely inventive sci-fi books, some of which I already reviewed earlier a review link is provided at the bottom of this page). John was kind enough to answer a few challenging questions about his work, and I am delighted to share the interview with all of you...


SFB. What inspired you to write a space opera series? 

JCW. Love and ambition.
The simple, juvenile, absurd and unabashed wonder of E.E. Doc Smith and his many imitators are beloved to me. I like the gigantic scale, the Wagnerian thunder, the action, the destruction of planets, men like gods engaged in Ragnarok. What Mr Smith did in his Skylark books, and, later, more successfully in his Lensmen books, is put across something of the sense of the real scale on which astronomical events take place. In his plot-writing he was careful to build each act of the drama onto a larger and larger stage as the action ramped up, first planetary, then interplanetary, then interstellar, then intergalactic, and so on.
More to the point, Olaf Stapledon in his book STARMAKER likewise places his action on an ever increasing scale, the early timelines in his book going by year, the later by century, and then by millennium, eventually reaching to the Eschaton, the end of time itself.
My ambition was to see if I could pen a hard science fiction story on the same ever rising geometric scale, running from the current day to the end of the universe, using nothing know known to current science or solemnly speculated by current scientists (such as the negative mass particle which appears in VINDICATION OF MAN, the next volume in the series).  There is no faster than light drive, no time travel, no psionics in my universe. For a man to go from here to Andromeda galaxy, at two and a half million light years away, takes two and a half million years earth-time.
Moreover, I have been so awed at the real astronomical marvels real astronomers have discovered, that I swore a great vow never to invent a marvel when I wanted to impress the reader with the wonder of the universe. Example: A diamond weighing 10 billion trillion trillion carats is at the heart of a dead white dwarf star fifty lightyears from Sol form the central plot point of the first volume in the series.
Example: Mira is a giant Mira is a red giant star 300 lightyears away at the end of its life, moving fast enough (291,000 miles per hour) to create a tail of material behind it 13 light-years long. This is mentioned in passing in the current volume.
Example: Andromeda and Milky Way are going to collide in a few billion years. This comes up in the final volume.

SFB. In what ways would you say The Architect of Aeons differs from the previous books in the series?

JCW. Since I conceived of the story as a unit, merely broken into several volumes due to its length, this is an impossible question to answer. It is like asking a playwright in what way Act III differs from Act II and Act I.
ARCHITECT takes place on a larger stage – the action is interstellar rather than (in the prior volume) interplanetary -- and covers more time than the previous volumes, it grants the characters additional depth and development (since Blackie and Montrose are forced, despite their mutual hatred, to work together) and the first major information about the Hyades aliens and their remote inhuman purposes for enslaving the human race come onstage.

SFB. Your main characters, Montrose and del Azarchel, are both friends and rivals and are in love with the same woman. How do you balance this dynamic between characters? Do you think Rania affected significantly the course of the story?

JCW. A puzzling question, one which I am at a loss to answer. I am not sure what you mean by 'balance' nor by 'dynamic'. The hero and villain cooperate when a greater impending threat forces them to do so, and otherwise they seek to murder each other honorably, according to the custom of the Code Duello, the code of duels, of their home century and culture. Each character acts according to his own interior logic as established by his past upbringing and future ambitions.
Rania is the main plot driver of the story. It is her decision that shapes all history both for Earth and for the Milky Way, and for the local Virgo Cluster.  For better or worse, the Lorenz contraction of her protected starfaring means that character suffers only a few decades of passing time while events on Earth continue onward for sixty six millennia, and so her time onstage is remarkably limited.

SFB. Who are your main inspirations and key reference authors in sci-fi?

JCW. Only inferior authors have inspirations: genius robs. In this case, I have robbed ideas, themes, names, and situations from E.E. Doc Smith and Olaf Stapledon.

SFB. What can readers expect regarding the end of the novel? Will there be twists and turns?

JCW. This novel is not the last. It is merely the fourth in a projected six volume series.
My story concerns a cosmic mystery, and, naturally, the essence of mystery is that the ending when it comes be logical in hindsight yet unexpected in foresight.

SFB. What is the most challenging aspect of writing a multi-part story? And the most rewarding one?

JCW. The most challenging aspect to me as an author is persuading reviewers that it is one story, meant to be read as a whole, not six separate stories with six different beginnings, midpoints, and endings. Reviewers unfortunately are required by the needs of publication and marketing to review each volume as it comes out, and render a judgment on each sixth separately.
There is greater difficulty than a short story in maintain a consistent character voice, thematic elements, plot continuity and props.  My file of notes is longer. Just the five timelines, each on a different scale, take up a score of pages.
One gaff I made, for example, is that in one book I listed the weight of Montrose's firearm (six pounds) as the weight of his dueling armor (forty pounds). It is slips like that which annoy readers. They more easily creep into the text in larger stories.
Even Homer nods because Homer write things the size of the ILIAD and the ODYSSEY .
The reward is, of course, that a truly massive canvass gives a wild imagination plenty of elbow room to create something of like magnitude. Readers enjoying the story can submerge into the imaginary cosmos for longer than a short story or a novel: it is the difference between swimming in a lake versus swimming in the sea.

SFB. In this book, Montrose and del Azarchel try to map out a future that stretches beyond millennia. Is it hard as an author to think on such a scale yourself? 

JCW. If it difficult to write on this scale, I am unaware of it. One gets a sense of how much changes in human life in such magnitudes of time by looking at the past, and extrapolating accordingly.
It is certainly fun for me. I hope for the readers as well, but one must direct that question to them.

SFB. What is the most rewarding aspect of writing this type of novel where you are allowed to imagine what the future will be like and create worlds? What is most challenging?

JCW. All science fiction writers, even the least imaginative, imagines the future and creates worlds.
The most rewarding aspect and the most challenging aspect are one and the same: a science fiction writer has to perform all the same tasks as a mainstream, muggle writer, an invent plot, characters, theme, setting, props, dialog. But then there is one task , the crucial task, which the mainstream writer must avoid at all costs and the science fiction writer must embrace at all costs. Our world must be different from the visible world of the reader, the here-and-now. Even writers of historical drama cannot invent new periods of history, but writers of alternate history must, or else they are not writing alternate history. Likewise, science fiction must either take place in another time and place outside the known world and current year, or an element from the outside must intrude in.
Because we invent new universes beyond the known universe each and every time we do this, the science fiction writer invites the reader to observe the basic and fundamental truths of the universe by comparing it to his imaginary universe where at least one fundamental is different. Even something as lighthearted as STAR WARS cannot help but do this: by introducing talking mechanical men, the reader cannot help but wonder what makes humans human. In the wire-fu cyberpunk yarn THE MATRIX, deep questions about the nature of truth and reality float to the surface.
No matter how profound books like GONE WITH THE WIND or WAR AND PEACE might be, they cannot address the question of whether machines have souls or whether reality is objective because no alternative to our current reality can be addressed. On that level, even the most juvenile and shallow issue of MACHINE MAN comics penned by Jack 'King' Kirby or the most mature and majestic prose penned by blind Milton in PARADISE LOST, because these deal with nonhuman robots or superhuman angels, must address issues more fundamental than the deepest issues pondered by Tolstoy, Hemmingway, Steinbeck and the other luminaries of this mundane world.


PS: The fourth installment, "The Architect of Aeons", has been released on April 20, 2015. I will review it at a later time.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Judge of Ages

John C Wright
Tor, 2014 (a review copy was gently provided to me by Tor)
Size: Average (my paperback proof copy has 380 pages, but final version might differ)
Theme: Evolution
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Menelaus Montrose
Recommended minimum age: Young Adult
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: LIKELY

As the third book in the “Count to a Trillion” series, this is the sequel and the mandatory companion to “The Hermetic Millennia”. It picks up straight from the end of the previous book and continues narrating the story of Montrose, the “judge of ages”, awake from his hibernation slumber in order to deal with a major threat to his tombs system, which have been raided and are being plundered. Still unrecognized by his captors, he continues to attempt to regain some control over the tombs’ security systems, working together with a myriad of thawed people from different epochs along the last ten millennia. As expected, the pace and style are the same as the 2 previous installments in the series. The story continues being very one-dimensional. But in this book, it seemed to me that the author does a better job grabbing the attention of the reader and keeping him motivated to find out how the story will develop.

I have to say I enjoyed this book more than the previous one (and in fact, more than the first one as well). This was due to two aspects: first, there is more action and story development and less chatter (the latter being the worst aspect of this series), and second, the author comes up with a feasible way near the end of the book to explain a lot of the events which had only been hinted at. John Wright clearly has a tremendous imagination, which is the strong feature of this series. The described events are as imaginative as compelling, although a little bit too ambitious in scope and magnitude which renders this future scenario very hard to accept even in the realm of sci-fi. Unfortunately, there is still one major flaw persisting from the previous book: despite the fact that the characters are from different races and lived hundreds or thousands of years apart, many of them apparently (and unbelievably, in my opinion) share a peculiar sense of humor. I also have trouble accepting that a post-human as Montrose can exhibit brilliant projections on some issues and total lack of insight on others. But his weird sense of humor (and of some of the cast around him) was really what put me off the most while reading the novel.

I’m actually eager to read the final novel in the series, since I have the feeling it will either be a very good caper, or a monumental failure. Time will tell, but I’m really keeping my fingers crossed for the former.

Related work:

This book is the sequel to “The Hermetic Millennia” and should not be read before the first 2 books. A fourth and final book in the series has just come out.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Ben Bova
Tor, 2013 (my copy was gracefully provided by Tor for review)
Size: Average (my hardback copy has 367 pages)
Theme: Sci-fi thriller
Narrative: third-person
Main character: several
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

There is a side of the moon which is perpetually facing away from Earth, making it a prime location for placing an astronomy observatory to explore space without interference from all the ambient light that exists in any place on Earth. However, as a set of huge telescopes is built there, a competitive endeavor is attempting to setup an array of mirrors in solar orbit which would function as an optical interferometer with unprecedented capability to observe deep space. As problems start arising in the lunar colony observatory, the race for who is able to first visualize and analyze an apparently Earth-like planet - dubbed New Earth - will soon turn into a struggle for survival in the inhospitable conditions of the moon.

This novel is a thriller with a dash of sci-fi. It includes some current topics, such as nanomachines and human performance enhancement, but it is not hard sci-fi, and the technical details and descriptions are easy to follow. There are a few space walks and short rocket trips, but most of the story develops within the observatory. There are half a dozen main characters around which the story revolves, and they are reasonably well explored, although the story being short does not leave much room for great insights into each of them.

It was the first novel by Ben Bova that I ever read, and I quite enjoyed reading it. However, given the fame of the author, I was expecting a more vibrant and complex story. Although nothing is very unique about the plot, the narrative is successful. At times, the pace is a bit slow but did not get to the point of boredom. Overall, it works very well as light reading. I would recommend it to sci-fi fans, particularly those that like space thrillers.

Related work:
This book is part of the Grand Tour series, which deals with space exploration and colonization. Although the story can be read independently, it can be said to have a follow-up in the book New Earth (already available).

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Invisible Library

Genevieve Cogman
Tor, 2015 (my copy was gracefully provided by Pan Macmillan for review, in an exquisite binding)
Size: Average (my paperback copy has 329 pages)
Theme: Fantasy mystery
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Irene
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

Irene is a Librarian, part of an organization that exists beyond the borders of our world. The Library connects multiple planes of reality, and has the goal of collecting works of literature from all those realities. The Library is a realm of order and its agents have to fight the forces of chaos, which create unnatural events and impossibilities. In this story, Irene is tasked with finding a specific book in an alternative London, but that reality is festering with chaos influences, which includes supernatural creatures such as werewolves and vampires, but also a combination of magic and technology often acting unpredictably.

The story is compelling and rich in details, with a smooth narrative and a fast pace. The plot has several twists and yet maintains a strong grip on the main storyline. Characters are very well developed, and we learn much about them from their conversations along the book, discovering more at each page turn. I very much enjoyed reading it, being a welcomed change from my more usual sci-fi. And, having no prior expectations set, it was an unanticipated pleasure.

The “Invisible Library” looks like the very promising start of a new saga. The world created by Cogman is teeming with possibilities and promises of many more adventures for Irene and the Librarians. Thus, I am looking forward to a follow-up novel, and highly recommend this first installment.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Book of Truths (Area 51: The Nightstalkers series)

Bob Mayer
47North, 2013 (my copy was gracefully provided by 47North for review)
Size: Short (my paperback copy has 258 pages)
Theme: Military sci-fi
Narrative: third-person
Main character: The nightstalkers team
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

Continuing from the first “Nightstalkers” series book, we again follow the operations of the US covert special-ops team. This time there is no looming alien threat. Yet, a truth serum is on the loose and as it starts infecting more people (and ones with considerable power within the military ranks), an impending nuclear disaster is at hand and it is up to the nightstalkers to stop it. But as they tackle this threat to the nation – and in fact the entire world – we get to know other players from the secret operations world. As the truth starts being spit out all around, we learn some of the nation’s best kept secrets, and the entire world might be at stake.

The second book of this series keeps the pace and decisive action of the first. Mayer continues to grip the reader tight to the story. The team plays a much smaller role though, as new characters are introduced and other agencies involved.  It is much less sci-fi than its predecessor and more like a thriller fiction… I much enjoyed reading it and would recommend as a continuation of the previous book. If anything, I have to say I wished the story was longer and we got more details throughout.

Related work:

This is the second book of the series, after “Nightstalkers”, and will be continued in “Nightstalkers: The Rift” (already available).

Friday, January 16, 2015

Nightstalkers (Area 51: The Nighstalkers series)

Bob Mayer
47North, 2012 (my copy was gracefully provided by 47North for review)
Size: Average (my paperback copy has 311 pages)
Theme: Military sci-fi
Narrative: third-person
Main character: The nightstalkers team
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

The Nightstalkers are a covert special-ops team, operating from near Area 51, and dealing with extremely dangerous threats to the nation, particularly nuclear, chemical, biological, and alien threats. And, as their leader would put it, ‘things that go bump in the night’. With extremely high clearance for intel, access to absolutely all equipment and weaponry in existence, and discretion on the level of force required to get the job done, this small team recruits only the most exceptional individuals. In this book we follow them on a couple of missions related to a strange phenomenon: strange man-made rifts which are thought to bridge between our world and either a parallel dimension or an alien world. These rifts represent a significant threat and are not easily dealt with…

The plot is well defined, and characters are interesting and well explored. The pace is quite nice, and there are no useless plot fillers; every page contributes to the overall story. Bob Mayer is the author of the Area 51 series, a great series I have read a few years ago. The ‘Nightstalkers’ series follows the same style he imprinted onto the Area 51 books.

This is excellent military sci-fi. There is just enough detail on the military aspect to make you feel you are part of a real covert-ops team, yet not abusive to the point where it seems like you are reading a tech-spec. Yet, it is the action adventure side of the story which grabs you and does not let go. I went through the whole book very quickly and immediately started reading the sequel. I highly recommend it to all sci-fi fans.

Related work:
This is the first book of a new series, and at the time of this review, books 2 and 3 are already available.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Hellhole Inferno

Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Tor, 2014 (my paperback ARC copy was gracefully provided by Tor for review)
Size: Average (my paperback ARC copy has 446 pages)
Theme: Space Opera
Narrative: third-person
Main character: General Tiber Adolphus
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

The story picks up right after the events of Hellhole Awakening, the previous novel of this series. Thus, this really works as a continuation of the ongoing story rather than as a single novel by itself. And, as one could expect, the writing style, the plot flow, and the pace of the story continue in line with the earlier books. That being said, I should remark that Herbert and Anderson maintain their usual option of multiple plotlines developing simultaneously and the story switching between locations/characters to follow where events are unfolding.

The main plot is now around a renewed attack by Commodore Percival on the DZ planets, by order of the new Diadem, the continued attempts of the Xayan alien species to reach their Ala’ru, and the asteroids which are en route to Hellhole. With the previous army of the Constellation under guard at Hellhole, the power balance has shifted, and the confrontation between the Commodore and the General will change significantly. Also, the book reveals exactly what Alu’ru is and why it has caused rupture among the alien race.

I enjoyed the book and felt it concluded the series very successfully. The events are not blown out of proportion nor are there out-of-character actions (which I’ve seen a lot when trying to end a novel). Although some might say the series is shallow, for me this was light and entertaining reading and, when taken that way, I’d say the books are definitely worth the time.

Related work:
Hellhole Inferno concludes the Hellhole trilogy, after Hellhole and Hellhole Awakening.