Monday, November 28, 2011

Children Of Paranoia

By Trevor Shane

You read about death every day, see the reports on television. Some are called ‘accidents.’ The murders seem senseless and go unsolved. Did you know, however, there is a secret War going on all around you, every day? It is being waged by two sides intent on killing the other. If your family has experienced numerous deaths throughout the years, well, you might become involved in the War. “Children of Paranoia” introduces you to this War.

It will show you some of the participants, but the reason behind the killing are…well, as one characters says, “One side is good, one side is evil.”

Twenty-five year old Joe grew up with family deaths before learning about the War. When he turned eighteen, he became an assassin for his side. He followed the rules and made his kills. After nearly getting two of his friends and himself killed in New Jersey, his contact sends Joe to Montreal for a job. While tracking his quarry, Joe meets Maria, a college student.

Love blooms even in the heart of a killer. Unfortunately, the job doesn’t go well and an innocent is almost killed. After a period of recuperation followed by a few more assignments, Joe returns to Montreal to finish what he started and to see Maria. By this time, he’s sick of the War and wants out. Maria reveals two devastating pieces of news. One, she’s pregnant.
Two, she’s only seventeen, which by the rules of the War means her baby gets handed over to the other side. Joe finishes his last job and he and Maria run, knowing they will be pursued by not only his side, but the enemy as well.

This story is an interesting but poignant metaphor for the senselessness of killing, be it by rival street gangs, feuding families, or entire countries.

It portrays the War as always existing, and never ending, with nobody really understanding why certain people need to be killed. It shows that while the majority of mankind lives normal lives, certain individuals are recruited to kill or to orchestrate and assist the killers. This is a powerful story, one where you ask for an explanation, but after the last chapter, you wind up looking at certain aspects of life and wondering about the point of them.

Joe: 25, killer for his side of the War. Talented, intelligent. His mother is the only family he has left. However, he starts to question his assignments and the reason behind the War. Finally, he tires of it.

Maria: 17, college student. Doesn’t understand the War, but falls in love with Joe.

There are others, but these two are the main focus. I couldn’t get a good picture of them in my mind, but that’s okay, I don’t think I was meant to. It seemed a little too easy for Maria to accept Joe and his killing, but that’s okay, the focus isn’t on ‘reality’ but metaphor.

Basic, no nonsense, to the point. What needs to be said is said and no more.

Clinical. Lots of short, to the point sentences but long paragraphs. You know the old axiom of writers need to show not tell. Shane shows you by telling, if this makes sense, and he pulls it off very nicely. I found only one minor problem, one which is a personal quirk I try to avoid in my writing. Example: He pulled the door open. I prefer: He pulled open the door. I know, minor point, but Shane does this kind of thing a lot and I, as an writer and former editor, notice it and in places it bugged me. However, not to the detriment of the story itself.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Monday, November 21, 2011


By Daniel H. Wilson

In tomorrow’s world, more of society is computerized. From robot domestic servants to humanoid peacekeeping soldiers, mechanical, computer controlled weaponry, and vehicles capable of networking to avoid accidents. However, in an underground laboratory, a scientist has created Archos, computer life, that learns. Archos soon has access to the world and initiates a war with humanity. Starting with small incidents seen as glitches, mankind soon finds itself fighting for survival as Archos takes control of modern technology. Smart cars and computerized tanks are only the beginning as Archos designs hordes of robotic soldiers and human mutations to insure control of the world.

Near the end of the war, Cormac Wallace, photographer turned soldier, and his team find a strange cube hidden underground in Alaska. The cube is an archive of the beginnings of Archos and the entire subsequent world war. Chronicling the adventures of many of the war’s heroes, Cormac creates a document for humanity’s future survivors.

With a salute to West World, The Forbin Project, and a touch of 2001: A Space Odyssey with HAL 9000, get ready for the next story in the battle of man versus machine. In Robopacalypse, it’s technology gone haywire as, once again, mankind rues the day for overstepping the limits of artificial intelligence. Excellent!

Archos: The intelligent computer that initiates the war.

Cormac Wallace: Soldier in the war against the machines. Narrator, per se, of the history of the New War

Lonnie Blanton: Osage Indian, police officer. Helps start the resistance movement in North America

Mathilda Perez: daughter of a congress woman

Takeo Namura: Japanese computer repairman, elderly, has an android for a companion.

Paul Blanton: Militarized humanoid robot repair person in Afghanistan. He handles the peace-keeping robots in Kabul.

Lurker: 17, A Londoner who pulls phone and computer pranks. He is hounded by Archos after he ‘discovers’ a IP address is false.

Very memorable characters who evolve and develop and change as the story progresses. They have to because of the circumstances.

Minimal. Not quite as Spartan as 2001 but it’s not a talk-y book. Much of it is narrative.

Detailed narrative in chronicle form. Good research, realistic technology. The ending was a little disappointing, not quite what I expected, but interesting nonetheless and I think it says something about base humanity.

My ranking:

Black Belt

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Holy Thief

by William Ryan

1936. Russia. Stalin is in power. Churches are being demolished since religion is banned. The country is getting ready to celebrate its nineteenth anniversary of the Revolution. However, rations are short, queue lines for basics are long, and Captain Korelev of the Militia (Russia's version of a police force) shares an apartment with a widow and her young child. On the day of his move to the new apartment, he begins an investigation into the torture and murder of a young woman found in a church. Almost immediately afterward, a Colonel from the NKVD (State Security), contacts Korolev and wishes to impart some vague information and to be kept updated on the case.

The next day, a high ranking member of the Thieves (an organization of criminals working in Moscow) is found murdered. Then a member of the NKVD itself is found shot in a soon to be demolished church. Korolev finds himself caught up in a twisted plot to steal an historical religious icon.
Who wants it? Who has it? Who can Korolev trust?

A very nice change from the modern day murders you see so often. This takes you back to the beginnings of the bad old days of Communist Russia and the terror of Stalin's reign, before the KGB was popular but sending people to ungodly prisons or Siberia was. This isn't glamorous Russia, but a bleak look at a culture destined for suffering for many years to come.

Korolev: Early forties. Captain in the Militia, Russia's police force. A Believer, a religious man secreting a Bible in his apartment. Loyal to Russia and wants to see the 'dream' of Communism succeed to improve his country and its people. Fought against the Germans in the first world war.
Divorced with a son.

Popov: Korolev's superior. Dealing with one of his own men turned in as a traitor and having to defend his actions, or rather, inactions to State Security.

Semionov: Korolev's junior officer and assistant. Early twenties. Just learning the ropes.

Gregorin: Colonel in the NKVD. Interested in Koroelv's murder case.

These are the main players and I apologize, but I didn't want to spend time spelling out their entire names. I had a difficult time as it was pronouncing the names of streets and businesses. Anyway, very well defined characters. You can see the personality of each one whether government slimeball or underworld mobster or writer or party yes-man.

Each character has his or her own voice. The conversations are direct, to the point, without being too philosophical or long-winded.

Complex. Ryan does a nice job, though of describing Russia and the culture without dragging the story along. I like the setting and the time period even though I was skeptical going in. I'm not a big fan of historical mysteries, but this one drew me in. The action was good. A little predictable in the end but otherwise a very well written book. I didn't like to see a certain character killed because I thought he might be a good person to have around for the next book. Look for Ryan's sequel “The Bloody Meadow.”

My ranking:

Brown Belt

Monday, November 7, 2011

Blood of the Reich

by William Dietrich

From the mountains of Washington to the mountains of Tibet. From an aerie nunnery to a Nazi castle. Dietrich's latest books spans the generations from just before World War II to present day. Jump aboard and come along for an adventure filled with explosions, sex, treachery, and the ever elusive treasure of a lifetime.

We begin in 1938 with zoologist and SS member Kurt Raeder, who is called to a meeting with Heinrich Himmler. The Nazis are gearing for war, and the head of the German secret police wants Raeder to help assure Reich domination. Raeder is sent to Tibet to search for the legendary city of Shambhala and a power source that will give Germany guaranteed world conquest. Jump ahead to present day where publicist Rominy Pickett's life is narrowly saved by a mysterious man claiming to be an investigative reporter who knows about Pickett's ancestry. Apparently, her great-grandfather traveled to Tibet and may have brought home a secret so great people have and will kill to possess it. Together, they sort through clues, avoiding danger at every turn, in order to find what the fascists of yesterday (and their followers of today) sought in the mysterious land of Tibet.

A lot of thought went into this plot, conceived from an actual German expedition to Tibet in 1938. Dietrich uses real science and throws in some real people. It's a very good adventure story with some good twists and 'realistic' stretches of imagination.

Kurt Raeder: German zoologist and SS officer. Loyal to the Nazis. He wants to prove himself. He's also a sexual sadist when it comes to women.

Benjamin Hood: Phd. Zoologist. American. He traveled with Raeder to Tibet in the past. The expedition ended in controversy. He is handsome and rich.

Rominy Pickett: Software publicist. Sees herself as 'cubicle girl' with a dull job. She'd like to settle down with the ideal man

Jake Barrow: Claims he is an investigative reporter. Driven. Intelligent.

Beth Calloway: American woman pilot in 1938 helping the Chinese in their war with Japan. Independent. Self assured.

Very good characters. You suspect a few of them, but just who's who is a good surprise. Rominy seems a little wimpish at times, but at least she's consistent and comes through when needed.

Consistent with each character. There was a scene where a several Germans are speaking and it's a little difficult to put individual sentences to each man, but otherwise, not too bad.

Detailed enough to bring you into the scene (with scenes in the Pacific Northwest, various parts of China, Tibet, and Germany you need some
description) but not enough to bore or drag down the story. A little profanity that isn't needed. The scientific explanations aren't confusing and is actually informative and interesting. There is a little issue with changing POV in several scenes and I only mention it because, ahem, most writers aren't allowed to get away with it. On the whole, a very well written adventure and I would enjoy reading others by this author.

My ranking:

Brown Belt