Pharmacology

Pharmacology
By: Christopher Herz

Somewhere around 1993, the digital revolution was happening. The internet was starting it’s meteoric rise to the top, and headed for everyone’s homes. Pharmacology is set in the San Francisco of 1993, where the world is about to change. Herz writes a powerful character who’s trying to find her way, away from home, in a world that’s changing about as fast as she is. The book is written in a diary-like first person, that actually was a bit off-putting to me at first. As I got into it a bit more, it felt much more natural for the story. We follow Sarah, the POV character, through her life in the city as she finds herself, and finds out how much she can go through.

The writing is well done, with only a few minor things that made me pause. The language that Sarah uses is very difficult to get the hang of, but with the diary style, I think it was pretty necessary. Not many of us would write with perfect English in a diary. We’d do just as Sarah does and stick to the hipsterish jargon that’s peppered throughout. It’s an interesting story, delving into the pharmaceutical industry, and life as a young adult. On thing’s for sure, it’ll make you think a bit about some of the things that you do.

Herz, himself, is a bit of a indie-author success story. He self-published his first book, and hand-sells the copies of it as he walks about New York City. At some point, he caught the eye of an editor ad Amazon Encore and they picked him up for Pharmacology. He’s a big advocate of storytelling as well, holding a weekly skype meeting with a class of school children where they create ideas and tell stories based on the ideas of their classmates.

Pharmacology reminds me a bit of a Max Barry book, full of discontent and, in the end, a bit of eye-opening. I wasn’t sure what to think of the book when I started, but found that I couldn’t put it down after a while. A good read, especially if you like your stories with a side of distopian paranoia.

disclaimer: I was sent an ARC copy of this from the PR agency. As is my policy, review copies only get reviews if I liked the book enough to find something good to say about it. If I don’t like review copies, I don’t review them. Simple as that.

Nascence: 17 Stories that Failed and What They Taught Me

Nascence: 17 Stories that failed and what they taught me

By: Tobias Buckell

When most authors have a story that failed, they bury it somewhere deep in a drawer or closet somewhere.  What they most assuredly don’t do, is bring it out into the daylight and publish it for everybody to read.  Thank goodness Buckell isn’t one of those authors.  Nascence is an incredible journey through 17 of Buckell’s short stories that failed.  For each story in the collection he gives a short foreward explaining what it is that he was trying to do, and how the story failed.

What I found most interesting, is that for several of the stories, he has a second and third attempt at the same story and we can easily see how Buckell’s writing improved from one to the next as well as how the story evolved along with it.  It’s not often that we, as readers and authors, get that kind of view into the progress of an idea.  I won’t comment on the writing itself here, as Buckell does plenty of that (sometimes a bit too critically, in my opinion) in the collection, itself.

If you’re a fan of Buckell, you won’t be disappointed by this venture into his older works and the evolution of some of the elements that appear in the Xenowealth series.  If you’re an author, I think this belongs on the digital bookshelf right along-side the “how-to-write” books you’ve already got.  It’s a rare peek behind the curtains of short story creation and author evolution.

Pick it up from Buckell’s online store, or at Amazon.

Transfection

Transfection

By: David Gaughran

Tranfection is a short story with lots of plot packed into it.  In fact, I think it could have easily been novella length or longer, and maybe one day Gaughran will do that for us.  It’s a story about a scientist that works with Genetically Modified foods, and a discovery he makes during his research.  I can’t say much more about the plot without giving half the story away, so I’ll stop there.  Gaughran has a talent for creating that feeling of suspense that is so very necessary in the short story format.  He also has a talent for the unwritten plot.  Several times in the story, there are parts of the plot that weren’t expressed, but that came through just as clear as if they had been through the way that Gaughran delivered the response to those plot points.  It’s an old-school science fiction story that reminds me of the stories we used to get through Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

It’s a great read, and well worth the affordable price on Amazon.

 

Mercury Rises

Mercury Rises

By: Robert Kroese

Disclaimer: I was sent this book as a review copy.  As is my policy with all review copies, I don’t review them unless I liked them in some way.  If I don’t like them, I don’t review them.  Simple as that.

Mercury Rises is the second book in a series of books about an angel named Mercury.  He’s a bit of a wayward angel.  Down on his luck, you might say, eternally.  I haven’t read the first book in the series, Mercury Falls, but I don’t think that’s actually necessary in order to understand what’s going on in Mercury Rises, as Kroese does a good job of filling in the backstory without it becoming intrusive to the story.  This was one of those books that I had a hard time getting into.  Part of that, I think, was the ensemble cast that took some introducing.  Maybe that would have been lessened by having read the first book.  Maybe not.  Quickly, though, as the plot lines began to form, and the action picked up, I was drawn into the story and it read fairly quickly.  The writing isn’t the best I’ve ever read, but it is far from the worst.  And, don’t let that keep you from reading the book.  Especially if you’re a fan of authors like Terry Pratchett.  I found the story and humor in the book to be very similar to Pratchett’s.  Of course, I’m not a big fan of Pratchett, so that means that I am not really a big fan of this book either.  More a problem with taste than with anything else, and entirely my fault rather than the book or author.

One other small reader beware here.  The book is about an angel.  As you can probably imagine, there are other angels in the book, and some biblical themes.  And, it’s a satirical humor that Kroese uses.  There were at least two places in the book where my more Christian leanings were a bit off-put by the way the story went.  But, like I said, it’s a satirical piece, so remember that and it isn’t as bad as all that.  Fair warning though.

Overall, the book was decent.  Like I said, I’m not a big fan of similar books, so this one didn’t do all that much for me, but I can see fans of this type of fiction really loving this book.  You can pick it up at Amazon.

Ready Player One

Ready Player One

By Ernest Cline

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of this book for review. As is my standing policy, if I don’t like a book that I get for review, I just don’t write a review.  That being said, I still try to keep my reviews honest, so I attempt to keep the fact that the book was sent to me for free out of the review as much as possible.

I was pretty sure, just from reading the cover blurb on this book, that it was one that I would enjoy.  I wasn’t wrong.  This is an immensely fun book to read.  The geek in me was constantly finding some new thing to like about it.  The concept is pretty cool.  A billionaire gaming software maker builds an immersive virtual reality world that everyone gets addicted to.  He dies, leaving the company and control of the the VR world to whomever finds the “easter egg” that he’s left in the game.   This, of course, spawns a whole subculture of people who dedicate their lives to finding this prize.  The story is told from the first person view of one such “gunter” as he chases down the clues and tries to find the egg.  The story is littered with 80’s pop culture references.  It’s fun to read if only because of all the things that Cline finds to throw in there.

This is one of those books that, despite it’s length (374 pages), reads really quick.  I read it in about a week, which is a heck of a lot quicker than some that I read of the same length.

If you’re into 80’s geek pop culture, you’ll want to pick this up.  It’s a little bit of all the fun stuff I remember from that era thrown together to make a super fun read.

The Last Four Things

The Last Four Things

By: Paul Hoffman

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way right off.  I was sent a review copy of this book by a publicist.  My standing policy on this is that if I don’t like the book, I don’t review it.  Since I didn’t pay for the book, I can’t complain too much if I didn’t like it, so I don’t complain at all.  If I had paid for the book, then I have every right to complain about my wasted money.  Since you’re reading this disclaimer, you’ve probably already discerned that I liked the book.  So, let’s get on with the review, shall we?

This is the second book in an expected trilogy.  I really dislike reading books out of order.  I always feel like I’m missing something of the plot, world, and/or characters.  This wasn’t much of an exception to that rule.  I will say, however, that Hoffman did a splendid job of getting me up to speed on the highlights of the backstory.  That helped, and it was done in such a way that it didn’t feel like it was just a recap for the reader.  I still found myself feeling that I’d missed out on some of the character building, and plenty of the world building.  Hoffman has built this world that feels very much like a parallel world to ours, with many of our locations and religions built right in.  I found myself wondering more and more, as the story went on, where some of this came from, and how it all tied in.  Perhaps that was stuff that would have been answered in the first book.  I can’t know until I read it.

The book read quickly, despite the fact that it’s full of information at every turn.  Much of the dialogue reminded me of the dialogue from a Kevin Smith movie, or a Tarantino movie; deep and thoughtful without being too complex.  The characters are well rounded, and I found myself being drawn to them while, at the same time, being repulsed by some of what they did.  That sounds funny, but given the circumstances they found themselves in, it’s not so bad.  In fact, if you ask me, it’s the sign of some really well written characters.  The plot was well twisted, and very little of it was given away.  In fact, I think that Hoffman may have gone a bit too far in a few places in keeping the plot hidden.  The actions made sense, but they weren’t ever really given any clear justification.

All around, a really well written fantasy with some really fun/interesting elements that make it highly readable.  I’ll have to keep an eye out for the third book when it comes out, as well as add the first to my list.

Let’s Get Digital

Lets Get DigitalLet’s Get Digital: How to Self-Publish, and Why You Should

By: David Gaughran

I think it’s important, regardless of what stage you are in on you publishing journey, to try and understand as much about the options available to you as you can before making any major decisions.  There is quite obviously a rather large discussion going on about publishing right now.  There are those who say that you should self-publish, and there are those who say that you should publish traditionally through the publishing houses.  I’ve discussed a bit about both sides here before.  I still am not entirely sure where I sit, but think that, at the moment, I am leaning more towards the self-publishing side.  Why?  Partially, because I read this book.

Gaughran makes a very strong argument for the self-publishing route.  None of which are anecdotal.  He backs up his thoughts with some very solid logic and even stronger facts, and really makes a good case for doing it yourself.  He doesn’t just tell you to wade in and get your feet wet, either, but makes the argument for still having your manuscript edited at least once by someone other than your mother or yourself.  He makes an argument for professional cover designers as well.  This isn’t just a book that says that self-publishing is great, now jump in.  The steps are outlined and ready for you to discover the path you will take with your creation.

If there’s any one thing that the book is thin on, it’s extreme detail.  For instance, Gaughran writes about using professional cover artists and editors, but doesn’t go into a whole lot of detail about who, where, when.  He also writes about the process of getting your work loaded into the various publishing services, but again doesn’t go into the exact detail on how to do that.  Which, I think, is good.  He actually expects you to learn how to do those things.  The information is freely available in several locations, and is really just a search away, so why waste the readers time hand-holding them down the path.

The book is an excellent primer on self-publishing, and is by far the best book on digital self-publishing that I’ve read to date.  This will sound a bit strange, but with some non-fiction books, you come away with the desire to read other books on the exact same subject so that you can learn more on the subject.  I didn’t with this book.  In part, I think that is because there is plenty of information there, and what detail is missing, Gaughran points the reader in the right direction to find that detail.

The book is currently available digitally only.  You can pick up a copy of Let’s Get Digital for the Kindle at Amazon (and support this site while you’re doing it).  Also, I’ve added Gaughran’s blog to the blogroll in the sidebar if you’re interested.  He posts regularly, and continues the conversation on self-publishing. He’s also listed the other ways you can get pick up a copy of the book (including a free pdf version) on his blog: Let’s get Digital.

Fuzzy Nation

Fuzzy Nation

By: John Scalzi

In interest of disclosure, I was sent a review copy of this book by Tor, the publisher.  I’ll try my best to keep that out of the review.  I won’t make any such claims about my author-love of John Scalzi.  Got it?  Free book, no sway.  Author-love, sway.

Fuzzy Nation is, as Scalzi says, a “reboot” of Piper’s Little Fuzzy.  I’ve never read the original by Piper, so I can’t really speak to whether Fuzzy Nation takes a huge detour from the original or not, nor can I compare the two.  What I can tell you though is that it is a terrific story.  The plot cruises along and Scalzi does a wonderful job of hiding the motivations and important plot twists from the reader until they are absolutely necessary.  The writing, typical to Scalzi, is short on elaborate description and long on action and dialogue.  Neither of those, in my opinion, is a bad thing.  It lends to a book that reads quickly, and keeps the reader turning pages, and, also is what has gotten the name John Scalzi associated with the term “Bestselling”.

Having not read the original, I don’t know how much credit to give to Scalzi for the story itself.  Whether a majority of it came from Piper, or, from Scalzi, it was good.  A classical morality sci-fi tale about finding sentient life on a otherwise non-sentient planet and the reactions of those who would rather it stayed a non-sentient planet.

I think that, if you’re read the original, you really should read this “reboot”.  Really, even if you haven’t, you should read it anyways!  Another great novel from John Scalzi!

P.S. The original, “Little Fuzzy”, is available for free at Amazon for Kindle.

ADDED: Fuzzy Nation also has it’s own Power Ballad Rock Song by Paul and Storm.

Blockade Billy

Blockade Billy

By: Stephen King

I don’t think I’ve ever made it a secret that I’m a bit of a Stephen King fan.  A majority of my early adult reading list consisted of early King works.  They were dark, mysterious, psychological thrillers that drew me in and held me until the book was over.  Many of his latest works, however, hold none of those properties for me.  Blockade Billy was no exception to that emerging rule.  Make no mistake, King is still a storyteller among storytellers.  He can craft a story like very few have ever been able to.  They just aren’t the type of stories that I fell in love with so long ago, and it becomes harder for me to anticipate each new one with the same vigor.

Blockade Billy is really a small novella sized book with two short stories in it.  The first, the title story, is a story about a baseball player who became known as Blockade Billy and the season that he saved, and killed, all in the span of a few short games.  It’s written in a bit of a strange method, as a sort of transcript of someone telling the story to King in an interview for a story.  It works.

The second story is called Morality.  It’s the story of a young married couple who just want to leave the big city behind and move to a nice little town in the country, but can’t afford it.  Until the wife’s employer offers a very lucrative deal.  All she has to do is help him set his morality aside and perform a sin.  King touches on many of the obvious topics of a tale of this type, but does so in such a way that they are never really expressed, but merely shown through the characters actions.  A hefty feat, but well done.

I must admit that I have very little idea what the idea was in combining the two into one book.  Neither has anything to do with the other.  It’s almost as if King had the baseball story that he wanted to release, but it just wasn’t long enough, so he found an old story that would help fill up the space and threw it in.  It’s worth reading, but I’m glad I didn’t pay full price for it and got it off of Paperbackswap instead.

American Gods

American GodsAmerican Gods

By: Neil Gaiman

I think that to properly understand some of what I’m about to say, you must know my back story with this book.  Literally, years ago (at least 5-6 years), I bought a used copy of this in hardcover off of amazon.  It’s been long enough ago that I don’t even remember why I bought it.  Perhaps it was recommended through the amazon recommended engine.  Or, perhaps I read something else by Gaiman that made me want to read something further.  Whatever the case may be, I bought a copy.  When I received the copy, I flipped through the pages as I usually do, only to find that the copy that I was sent was a signed, limited edition copy.  But, I still never read it.  Sometime spring, a local Relay for Life team was having a used book sale as a fundraiser.  People bring in and donate books to be sold for $1.  Who can turn down a book sale?  Not me.  While perusing the titles, I came across a paperback copy of American Gods.  I bought it.  That way, I could carry it around and read it without worrying about damaging the signed copy that I have.  And, so, I finally read American Gods.

And, I’m so angry at myself for not having read it earlier.  American Gods is easily the best book I’ve read so far this year.  Granted, it was only the 8th book of the year, but I think that it will remain right up there at the top.  Enough gushing.  Let’s get down to the review.

The book, quite simply, is about American Gods.  It’s an incredibly interesting look at what might happen to the gods of the old world when the people who believe in them visit and move to America.  Throughout, we follow an ex-con named Shadow who gets picked up on his way home by a man called Wednesday.  From there, we learn that there is an epic battle of survival among the old gods and the new gods.  (I won’t go too much farther, as even that is a bit more spoilery than I usually care to go.)

Gaiman does an very good job of giving life to the many old (and new) gods that we encounter through the book, and makes the incredible task of tying them altogether seem effortless.  There were times when the plot slowed, but the information there was tied to the plot and made the slight plodding worth while.  This is, very much, not a suspenseful story.  At least, not in the traditional sense that you are constantly wondering what is going to happen to this character or that character, or, when will that bomb blow up.  It is, however, suspenseful in that you find yourself wondering how each of the plot points that are introduced will develop.

I thought that the book was a wonderfully put together piece of literature.  (I should note that I quickly borrowed this to Jake, and he disagrees to some degree.)  I think that it owes a great deal of that to Gaimans skill.  He has an incredible grasp of language, and prose.  A lesser author would not have been able to breath the life into this story that Gaiman did.

I don’t know where to place this book, genre wise.  In a way, it’s a piece of literary fiction.  In another, it’s a paranormal fiction novel.  Maybe it’s best being called a literary paranormal fiction?  I don’t know.  But, if you’re a reader, I think you owe it to yourself to read it.  I know I wasn’t disappointed.