AGENT TO THE STARS, J0HN SCALZI – THE AUDIOBOOK, NARRATED BY WIL WHEATON

AgentToTheStars

This was the first book by John Scalzi I ever read. I so loved it, I’ve been following him ever since.

This book is funny, clever, witty. The characters are oddly believable even though the story is totally wacky. Or is it? Michelle Beck — former cheerleader and box office hot ticket is Hollywood agent Tom Stein’s biggest client. Until Tom meets extraterrestrials who hires Tom to represent them. The Yherajk believe their best hope for a peaceful first contact between their race and humanity is via the movies. Even out in space, they know they need a great agent to make it in Hollywood … and they’ve decided Tom is it.

Agent to the Stars stands out as one of the most memorable science fictions books I’ve read in the last decade. Which is saying a lot since I read a great deal of fantasy and science fiction. From my first reading, it has been in my top five favorite sci fi audiobooks and in the perhaps dozen science fiction books I’ve read more than once.

One of the mast interesting things about Scalzi is his ability to write in a wide variety of styles. He can be serious, funny and often, a mix of both. He can be wild and crazy or highly technical — or both –and he makes it work. No one writing in the genre today works harder or produces more good science fiction. This was the first of his books I read, but it hooked me like a fish on a line.i

Read it. If you like sci fi, humor, wit — or just appreciate well-written stories. It will not disappoint you.

THE REST OF THE STORY – THE PLAGUE FORGE, Jason M. Hough

PlagueForge

The Plague Forge by Jason M. Hough

Book 3 of The Dire Earth Cycle

Random House Publishing Group

Del Rey Spectra - Del Rey

Publication Date: September 24, 2013

This story of a future dystopian earth continues where The Exodus Tower left off.

SPOILER ALERT: This review contains spoilers If you have not read the first two episodes of this series, stop now, go back and read them. 

On their first visit, the aliens  left an elevator that can lift space craft up high enough so that they need little fuel to launch out of Earth’s atmosphere. For a while, it gave the world a great economic boost … until they dropped by again and left the plague. It killed millions upon millions and left millions more as mindless, kill crazy sub-humans.

The setting for all the books is the late mid-24th (2385) century. The first “gift” from the aliens was the elevator in Darwin, Australia. The second was the plague that forced the remainder of earth’s population to gather in their remnants. The Elevator — its proximity — confers a kind of protection from plague.

Skyler Luiken is an immune. It’s a naturally occurring phenomenon affecting a tiny percentage of the population, enabling them to walk freely in the atmosphere without special breathing apparatus. Originally, with a crew of fellow immunes Skyler flew scavenging missions to collect resources to keep Darwin alive. His ship is gone and half his crew dead. Those not killed were separated when a piece of Darwin’s population broke away to build a new settlement in Belém, Brazil where the aliens dropped a second space elevator.

Now, the aliens are back again. On schedule as predicted. Why? What do they want? They’ve left artifacts, keys for the humans to patch together … to what purpose?

Not only are they back, but they are heading for the exact spot where the plague started. Are they coming to finish off what they began and kill the rest of the human population? Or are they coming to save earth and end the plague? How about both?

In this third volume of the Dire Earth trilogy, the intrepid Skyler Luiken is back in touch with Samantha, who is living undercover in the Jacobite-dominated city of Darwin … and his original group captain has reappeared.

It’s time for a reckoning. Skyler and Tania — now the unwilling “head” of the Belém colony — have to figure out how to put the puzzle together. Their problem? They have little to go on except hints, speculation, and fear. The urgent question remains: what do the aliens want? The secondary question is … well … who is going to wind up with who when it’s all sorted out. Skyler and … Tania? Ana? That is if anyone survives.

This final volume is where you will get the answers you’ve been waiting for. It’s a fast, taut thriller-type trip into a badly broken future as the good guys have to figure out who the bad guys are, if the bad guys are the bad guys or maybe they are good guys, sort of. Then, there are the Jacobites and Grillo who have taken over Darwin … bad enough without the potential doom coming with the aliens. Ultimate destruction or salvation await — in the air and on the ground. Talk about caught between a rock and a hard place …

Of the new science fiction I’ve read in the past couple of years, this is one of the most interesting. It is classic sci fi, the kind of story that hooked me on the genre more than 40 years ago.A tight, taut thriller, it raises plenty of questions, an endless number of questions. The final book holds the answers and I can hardly wait!

The Plague Forge is a great read. If anything, it’s faster moving and more like a thriller than the first two books. It is exactly what you have been hoping for if you’ve been following the series. Now available!

Gift of doom? The aliens return with The Exodus Tower, by Jason M. Hough

The Exodus Tower by Jason M. Hough

Book 2 of The Dire Earth Cycle

Random House Publishing Group – Del Rey Spectra - Del Rey

Publication Date: August 27, 2013

This unique story of a future dystopian earth continues where The Darwin Tower left off.

Dystopian futures for our planet have become a genre. This story manages to combine elements of the Zombie apocalypse (not real Zombies, but  similar behavior), alien visitors with a strange, secret and maybe lethal agenda … and of course … the post plague survival.

On their first visit, the aliens  left an elevator that can lift space craft up high enough so that they need little fuel to launch out of Earth’s atmosphere. For a while, it gave the world a great economic boost … until they dropped by again and left the plague. It killed millions upon millions and left millions more as mindless, kill crazy sub-humans.

The setting for all the books is the late mid-24th (2385) century. The first “gift” from the aliens was the elevator in Darwin, Australia. The second was the plague that forced the remainder of earth’s population to gather in their remnants. The Elevator — its proximity — confers a kind of protection from plague.

Skyler Luiken is an immune. It’s a naturally occurring phenomenon affecting a tiny percentage of the population, enabling them to walk freely in the atmosphere without special breathing apparatus. Originally, with a crew of fellow immunes Skyler flew scavenging missions to collect resources needed to keep Darwin’s population alive. His ship is gone and half his crew dead. Those not killed were separated when a piece of Darwin’s population broke away to build a new settlement in Belém, Brazil. Because the aliens have been back and that is where they have dropped a second space elevator.

Structural diagram of a space elevator. The ea...

Structural diagram of a space elevator. The earth is shown in a “top-down” perspective looking at the north pole, with the space elevator in equatorial orbit.  Space elevator structural diagram.

Confusion and fear deepen as the human population starts to tear itself apart. Skyler Luiken and scientist Dr. Tania Sharma have formed a colony around the new Elevator’s base, utilizing mobile towers to protect humans from the Builders’ plague. After fending off an attack from a roving band of plague-immune mercenaries bent on world domination (do humans ever learn?) a frightening suspicion is growing day by day.

The aliens are coming back. There’s a schedule. What will they do this time. But more important? What do they want? Why have the come, what’s the real purpose of the elevators and the towers? Deepening unease and ever wider rifts between colonists makes the future dark indeed..

In this second volume of the Dire Earth trilogy, the intrepid Skyler Luiken in Belém, and Samantha, his co-explorer from his first crew each begin to uncover and to some degree, unravel a lot of truth … disturbing and frightening truths with dark implications.

It’s a great read, as good as the first book. I’m just taking a short break before I dive into the final volume.

Of the new science fiction I’ve read in the past couple of years, this is one of the most interesting. It is classic sci fi, the kind of story that hooked me on the genre more than 40 years ago.A tight, taut thriller, it raises plenty of questions, an endless number of questions. The final book holds the answers and I can hardly wait!

I enjoyed these books from the first page of the first book. Taut and tense, full of thought-provoking concepts, there is nary a dull moment..

The Exodus Tower is scheduled for release on Kindle and paperback on August 27th.

The third and final volume of the trilogy — Plague Force — scheduled for release September 24th.

Keep watching the skies … and this site for the review of the final book in September.

Dystopia with a twist – The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough

The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough - Book 1 of The Dire Earth Cycle

Random House Publishing Group – Del Rey Spectra - Del Rey

Publication Date: July 30 2013

Books about the dystopian future of earth are an entire genre nowadays. Whether it’s the post Zombie apocalypse, earth after the aliens have worked us over, earth after the bombs have dropped, earth after we’ve destroyed our own environment, earth after a plague or any of myriad unpleasant futures our imaginative science fiction writing community envision for us, postapocalyptic dystopian science fiction has proliferated. We can’t get enough of it. Me neither. I just eat it up.

The Darwin Elevator fall into two dystopian categories — post alien and post plague. It’s also a fine, fun piece of science fiction writing. It has great heroes (male and female) and some seriously nasty, bad-ass villains. There’s plenty of action and nary a dull moment.

SpaceElevator

In brief? The aliens came. They built an elevator in Darwin, Australia that is functionally a ladder to the stars as well as a quick-launch (well, not so quick, but highly economical of energy) pad for space shots.

The setting is late mid-24th century — around 2385 in Darwin, Australia. It’s the last human city. Most of the world’s population died of the plague brought by the aforementioned aliens. No one is quite sure whether the plague was unleashed intentionally or not, but the results of it have been devastating. Any parts of the human population not huddled around the elevator (built by the aliens) in Darwin — an area that confers protection on people under its “umbrella” — are now mindless, savage subhumans. Not zombies. Just very nasty.

Skyler Luiken was born with a natural immunity to the plague. It’s rare, though not unheard of. He and a group of fellow immunes  fly missions to scavenge urgently needed resources to keep Darwin functional. When the Elevator starts to experience frequent — unprecedented — power outages, Skyler and his intrepid crew, as well as the young and beautiful scientist, Dr. Tania Sharma are tasked to solve the mystery and repair the elevator. If the elevator fails, that’s the end of humanity. Doom.

This is the first book of a trilogy. The second and third parts are due out in mid August and early September. This is good insofar as you don’t have a long wait for the rest of the story. Bad, insofar as you know the good guy — Skyler — is going to make it, no matter how dubious his situation looks because, well, he’s the hero and there are two more books scheduled for publication. I don’t have a problem with this since I read a lot of series, trilogies, duologies and frankly, I prefer knowing the hero is going to survive. I’m not good with high level literary stress.

Although this certainly falls into the dystopian postapocalyptic science fiction designation, it isn’t quite like anything else I’ve read. The elevator — the entire concept — is interesting and unique. There are hints that there’s a lot more to this technology than mere technology. It’s not just power and gears and engineering specs. There’s something more going on, but we aren’t going to find out what that is quite yet.

I enjoyed the book from the first page. Sometimes, when you start a book, you just know it’s going to be a good one. This is a good one. Real science fiction, well written, nice and tight and tense. And based on an interesting premise. As sci fi goes, that’s pretty much what you need. It’s available on Kindle and paperback.

I highly recommend it. I can promise a good, not boring read that will make you absolutely want to read the next installment — The Exodus Tower — scheduled for release August 27th.

Tomorrow, you can read my review of The Exodus Tower. You can pre-order it through Amazon and probably elsewhere, too.

Daily Prompt: Bookworms in a Bookish Home

Photographers, artists, poets: show us BOOKS. And here are books. Audio books. Hardcover books. Paperbacks. Kindles. Books for everyone in a home full of books.

The World’s Most Powerful Soccer Mom Vampire – Samantha Moon Rising, by J.R. Rain

Samantha Moon Rising, by J.R. Rain includes 3 short novels and a short story.

Under one cover, you’ll find books 5, 6, and 7 in the Vampire for Hire Series: Vampire Dawn, Vampire Games, Moon Island, and the short story Teeth.

BenBella Books – Publication Date May 21, 2013

I was really happy to have the opportunity to review this collection. I read the first four books when I had just gotten my first Kindle and they were on sale, whipped right through them and looked for more. Alas, there were no more and I grumpily moved on.

A couple of years have passed and lo and behold, she’s back. And wow, is she back. More powerful than a locomotive. Maybe more powerful than two locomotives and not merely able to leap tall buildings at a single bound, but able to fly long distances on her very own, powerful wings. Okay,  she’s not really human when she’s flying having morphed into “something else” which I glean is more or less bat-like, but still and all … she can fly. She can do a lot of things. Read minds. Send mind messages. Control other people’s minds. Beat the crap out of almost anyone, human or other.

But she’s still a total wimp about her kids … but her kids are growing up. Fast and they aren’t your ordinary kids, either.

Her ex is still a total sleaze, but hey, what are exes for, right? She’s more than a vampire. Much more. She has powers and abilities well beyond the ordinary and she is beginning to realize what she knows she can do is the tip of a very large iceberg of power she has barely tapped. It may turn out that Samantha Moon will be the most powerful of her kind — ever. Because she is changing and growing and learning … and so are her children and even the friends and family who are in frequent contact with her. It turns out that power is contagious.

She retains her ambivalence about her peculiar condition. There are aspects of it she loves. There’s nothing like a good long fly to clear ones head and her physical strength and ability to virtually instantly heal from injury is nothing to sneer at. But she knows her powers come from a foreign entity who lives as a parasite in her … an “other” who is not the kind of creature she would welcome into her parlor, much less her body. She has a lot to sort out. In the mean time, there are crimes to solve and wrongs to right — and Samantha Moon is the vampire to do it.

These are short books. Too long to be novellas, but not really long enough for me to consider them full-length novels. Having three of them under one cover is much more satisfying. I could dig in and read my way through to the end. These are very smooth reading and quite addictive. The characters are unique, interesting, with enough back story for long contemplation. A bit of philosophy, arcane history, modern mystery, some love and cuddly sex … and you have a formula that will keep you up until dawn is breaking. I lost some serious sleep reading this book — or maybe books.

No, it’s not deathless literature, but it’s very well written, smooth as silk. The characters are unique. Highly recommended and I do hope that more books are on the way!!

Samantha Moon Rising follows your favorite suburban-mother vampire to where she’s never gone before as she tackles her most frightening cases yet.

Book 1: Vampire Dawn – Someone is leaving victims drained of blood, and all signs point to a killer vampire. At the same time, Samantha’s son is undergoing some astounding changes. He’s becoming a little super guy and she needs to understand what this means. But her work is keeping her busy, tracking down a serial murderer. Soon, another ancient medallion will change her world …

Book 2: Vampire Games – Samantha Moon is investigating the strange death of a popular boxer. She realizes the official story doesn’t add up; there’s a lot more going on than reports indicate. A talk with the M.E. confirms her suspicions and as she uncovers the young fighter’s past, she comes face-to-face with an unexpected evil. Samantha has to confront the growing supernatural powers of those near and dear to her and the unexpected betrayal of someone she has come to trust, maybe love.

Book 3: Moon Island — In a very Agatha Christie setting, Samantha and her new best friend travel to a private and remote island off the Pacific coast. Here she must hunt not merely a killer, but an entity of enormous and evil power who has been murdering members of one family for generations. Still struggling to understand what she has become and is becoming, she realizes that this creature is personally targeting her,  threatening to destroy her and those about whom she most cares.

Available in paper back. So far, I could not find the three-in-one version on Kindle. Probably it will become available. In the meantime, you can buy the paperback and you can buy each of the books included as a separate Kindle download. Worth it, no matter how you do it.

Retrocausality: All You Zombies, Robert Heinlein

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Time travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is not a criticism. It’s a compliment. Not many things make my brain do back flips and somersaults. Time travel is an impossible concept I cannot understand because it is inherently incomprehensible. Therefore, I love it.

One story by Robert Heinlein which I read long decades ago in a compilation of his classic short stories remains on the top of the heap of such tales. It took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”

In this strange endless and infinite loop, a baby girl is mysteriously dropped off at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945. “Jane” grows up lonely and dejected, not knowing who her parents are, until one day in 1963 she is strangely attracted to a drifter. She has a brief passionate relationship with him and becomes pregnant.

The stranger disappears. During a weird and complicated birthing, Jane’s doctors discover she actually has two complete sets of sex organs. With her life on the line, the doctors change her from female to male. Jane is now a man.

And then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby. Jane is a man and childless. Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter and eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he makes pregnant during a brief affair. It gets even more complicated with the involvement of the Time Corps and a bartender all moving forward and backward in time. Find it, read it, and get your own brain in a twist!

Suffice to say that all the characters are one. The story is a paradox, completely impossible yet so logical you can neither reject nor accept it. And, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone and everyone is Jane. She is her complete family: tree, trunk, branches, roots. I found this amazing diagram of the story. I do not know where it originated and I would love to credit whoever drew it in the first place.

Tree of lives

The logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father and child forever living in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is delicious and mind-blowing.

You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25 right now, click here. OR … probably you can find it as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories, but I don’t know exactly which anthology. I’m sure you can find it somewhere, though. It’s a classic and if you read it, you will not forget it. I promise.

I have read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this  particular story, has stuck fast in my brain as probably the most perfect paradox as the past, present and future all roll in on themselves.