Monday, July 23, 2018

Book Review: THE ROBOTS OF GOTHAM by Todd McAulty

Title: The Robots of Gotham

Author: Todd McAulty

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication Date: June 19, 2018

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

I have a thing for robots.  Before that is taken completely out of context and used against me in a future Presidential run, allow me to please explain.  For those who have taken the time to read my brief bio in the right column of my blog, you know that the author who I hold singularly responsible for my love of reading is Isaac Asimov.  And the specific book I cite for this is The Robots of Dawn.  I fully admit to somewhat unfairly holding every book that features robots in it up against that ridiculously high standard because to me, the quintessential books about robots will always be written by the master Asimov.  That doesn't stop me from searching out and reading any and all robot stories I can get my hands on since by and large, I still enjoy them even though I know they most likely will never move me the way that Asimov's creations did.  THE ROBOTS OF GOTHAM by Todd McAulty is a book that has had considerable positive buzz associated with it in recent months.  I am a bit late to the party on this one but was able to obtain a copy from the publisher a few weeks ago.  When I found out that the story focused on robots that attack and take over certain countries in the world and even areas of the United States, I immediately had thoughts of the movie The Terminator. I was extremely excited to try this book out to see if it would live up to the heaping of praise from many reviewers.  And so I began reading with the fervent hope that THE ROBOTS OF GOTHAM would scratch that omnipresent robot itch that I have constantly carried around with me since my early teenage years.

THE ROBOTS OF GOTHAM begins with the description of a world that has been overrun and threatened by evil fascist machines.  The United States is no longer united with much of the eastern seaboard having been taken over by the brutal machine armies.  Manhattan in fact, has been annexed by a robotic monarchy of sorts and is now a no-go zone for civilians living in the surrounding areas.  Other states in the country have sued for peace and established treaties with the occupying forces that enable them to remain semi-autonomous, but that peace is very fragile indeed as open attacks begin to occur with more regularity in the neutral zones. The American resistance has been subdued somewhat but there are still pockets of freedom fighters who remain and organize secretly in an attempt to come up with some sort of plan to combat the machine threat and regain America's independence.  The robots are brutal however, and are intent on rooting out and crushing any resistance wherever it is found.  The main character of ROBOTS OF GOTHAM is Canadian businessman Barry Simcoe.  Mr. Simcoe is caught in a hotel in Chicago during one very violent machine attack and is subsequently taken into custody by the local authorities.  There he meets a Russian medic named Sergei who is stationed with the occupying army and a battered robot also in custody named 19 Black Winter.  Black Winter is not a part of the robot takeover and soon becomes a friend of Simcoe's in his quest to find out what is happening with regard to the robot takeover.  As Simcoe becomes more persistent in looking for answers, he uncovers a conspiracy to release a plague on the American populace to be perpetrated by the machines in a final act of subjugating the United States under the heel of the machine overlords once and for all.  It is now incumbent upon Simcoe, Sergei and 19 Black Winter to expend all effort to attempt to make contact with the shadowy resistance and to thwart the robots' plan of a weaponized extinction event unlike any other.  As they scramble to get this done, they eventually stumble across a robot colony living underground that may or may not be friendly to their cause.  Why they are there is a mystery and what secrets they harbor could end up tilting the balance when the ultimate disaster plan is put into motion.  Through it all Simcoe is persistent in his belief that humanity can and will be saved, no matter what he has to do to make that dream a reality.  Add to that the fact that other countries in Europe are beginning to fall one by one to the fascist robot aggression, and it becomes even more urgent than ever to stop the machines from gaining more of a foothold.  The rebellion must begin and end in the United States where there is still a sliver of hope to throw off the chains of the robot oppressors  What secrets will be revealed in the meantime will shock Simcoe and his friends to the core before all is said and done.  

This book started off with a bang for me and kept going at a feverish pace until about the 25% mark.  It was then that the action settled down a little and the story became more of a technical read for large sections.  This is understandable when you consider that author Todd McAulty earned his Ph.D.  by using supercomputers to solve huge real life data problems.  So to say that he is a smart cookie would be a vast understatement.  And there is a lot of techno-speak in this book, make no mistake about it.  I really did think that the plot itself was quite intriguing and at times, the story of the robot takeover of certain parts of the world was very well done and compelling.  I thought that if more information was given on the background of why the robots rose up to become this aggressive occupying army, it would have made this book a much better read.  However, the lack of historical context and more specifics on the back story made this a very good popcorn fun book, but ultimately caused it to just fall short of being a truly incredible one in the end.  Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy ROBOTS OF GOTHAM quite a bit, I was just let down somewhat by the focus being more on the applications and technology aspects of the robots as opposed to their particular origin and motivations. There were times when the book really engaged me and I lost track of time, and these were the times when it really sucked me in.  I liked the way that the occupied United States were handled as well, with many of these states broken out into different territorial zones.  The robot plan of dividing and conquering is something that has interesting connotations for what could possibly take place in our own society.  The confusion and chaos that would engender would simply be incalculable, so it is interesting to ponder the ramifications of what would occur in that kind of scenario, albeit not caused by robots but say with cyber attacks or an attack on our power grid.  in the end, I would definitely recommend THE ROBOTS OF GOTHAM to anyone who is looking for a cool robot apocalypse story with loads of technical jargon and characters who persevere through the direst of situations. Weighing in at 688 pages, it is also a tome that you can really sink your teeth into and enjoy for a long period of time. I found it to be a fun and entertaining read that barely missed delivering fully on a very promising premise.  But that can always be rectified in book 2, which I will be sure to pick up when it is completed.  Overall, a very good Science-Fiction book.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Book Review: PATERNUS: WRATH OF GODS by Dyrk Ashton

Title: Paternus: Wrath of Gods

Author: Dyrk Ashton

Publisher: Paternus Books Media

Publication Date: July 10, 2018

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

For those who aren't aware, Dyrk Ashton has done the impossible with respect to my reading tastes.  He's actually made me a fan of Urban Fantasy.  For years it has been my least-favorite sub-genre of Fantasy and I avoided it like the plague for a long time.  I approached it much like I approached country music, tolerated but never a big part of my listening experience.  That being said, anyone who read my review of Dyrk's first book in this series Paternus: Rise of Gods knows that I unequivocally loved it almost beyond explanation.  I thought it was a rip-roaring action story with a dash of Celtic Mythology and characters who instantly felt like people you knew and wanted to read as much as you could about.  That's a triple threat that most authors can't pull off, but Rise of Gods was a truly watershed moment for me in that it changed the way that I viewed Urban Fantasy.  I also think the fact that it isn't pure Urban Fantasy but also contains elements of ancient mythology really served to make it more accessible to me. I found it equal parts Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising (both favorites of mine).  The awesome part of finishing the book was knowing that the next installment in the series, PATERNUS: WRATH OF GODS was being released a couple of weeks later.  Since I enjoyed the first book so much, Dyrk very graciously reached out to me and asked if I would like to be one of the select few to receive an advanced reader copy of book 2, to which I said "HELL YES I WOULD!".  Unfortunately since I had such a backlog of books at the time, I wasn't able to get to it before the official release date of July 10th. Eight days later isn't too bad I guess and I absolutely flew through this book as quickly as I did book 1 in the series.

PATERNUS: WRATH OF GODS picks up immediately following the events of the first book.  To avoid spoilers I will forgo describing how book 1 ended, suffice it to say there were many battles between gods, monsters, mortals, and all sorts of hideously magnificent creatures of a mythical persuasion.  The main characters Fi and Zeke are left battered and bruised and awaken to find their party separated in different parts of America.  The Deva now find themselves searching for long lost allies wherever they can find them so that they can be at full strength when the eventual war with the evil Asura begins.  But the Asura are not resting on their laurels, for they have dispatched assassins to try and pick off members of the Deva one by one in an effort to decimate their ranks.  Led by Kleron, they have hatched a plan to hunt down Fi and her friends and eliminate all of the Firstborn before they can pose a threat.  Kleron is ruthless in his pursuit and has recruited some nasty mythical minions to do his dirty work for him.  Fi and Zeke are thrust in the middle of an all out war between the gods of old, when mere months ago they were simple teenagers working at a hospital for the old and infirm.  Now they are key players in defeating the evil of the Asura and their master plan of world domination.  Together they embark on a journey to help Kabir and the rest of the Deva collect allies, who may or may not be still alive, to assist them in the upcoming battles ahead.  The path is fraught with much danger and murderers lurk around every alleyway and dilapidated house in this shattered American landscape.  Along the way Fi and her allies travel to many different locales, both in the real and parallel world where monsters hold sway. They also encounter and fight legends out of a storybook that are suddenly very real.  I find myself needing to be less than specific because to reveal too much would be to give away a hell of a fun and engaging adventure story.  The ultimate question before the final pages of this book are: who will survive among the Deva to make it to the next book, what other seemingly normal characters will be revealed to be anything but normal, and will Kleron succeed in rallying the evil forces of the past to severely damage or eradicate the Deva once and for all?  The journey to finding out these questions is a long and interesting one indeed.  Do you have the fortitude to find out?  If so, you need to read PATERNUS: WRATH OF GODS and find out for yourself.  I will make one guarantee though, you won't be bored and it will be a thrilling ride that you won't soon forget.

Okay, so damn you Dyrk Ashton for writing another brilliant book for which I now have to wait at least 8 months to a year to find out what happens next.  PATERNUS: WRATH OF GODS has managed to exceed the brilliance of its predecessor and that is a really difficult thing to do.  One way to measure the greatness of a book is by how pissed off you are when it's over because you didn't want it to end.  And I was pretty pissed off when I turned the final page of this book, I have to tell you.  I can't gush enough about how much I love this entire story arc that Dyrk Ashton has penned.  The characters have grown immensely and in unexpected ways, the mythology continues to both educate and excite, the world-building is among the best of any book or series I have ever read.  There seems to be universal praise for Dyrk Ashton lately and I have to say that it is more than deserved.  Dyrk has created a story that perfectly blends the real world and the world of legend.  And he also manages to seamlessly make them both equally compelling and relateable to each other.  If you aren't reading this series, you should drop whatever you are reading right now and get on the bandwagon.  You will not find a more breakneck, action-packed, mysterious, thrilling, and historically fulfilling Fantasy book anywhere.  These characters constantly make you question their motives and their allegiances.  That's where I found the true brilliance to be honestly.  Betrayals are aplenty and there is zero predictability in both the characters and the plot.  I thoroughly dislike books where I can pretty much tell how the story is going to go and how the characters will act.  The characters in PATERNUS: WRATH OF GODS are by no means that way at all and often they shock the hell out of you.  In conclusion, I will again reiterate that these books need to be savored and experienced for the wonderful tales that they are.  Those looking for Urban Fantasy with loads of action and creatures of myth, look no further than the Paternus series.  You will be in for a wild ride that will restore your faith in what incredible writing can achieve when executed by a true master.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Book Review: THE SOLDIER by Neal Asher

Title: The Soldier

Author: Neal Asher

Publisher: Night Shade Books

Publication Date: April 3, 2018

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2

In the year 2001 I was working as a bookseller at Borders.  One of the truly amazing things about my job at the time was that I was given the Fantasy and Science-Fiction section to shelf and maintain.  It became my section and for four glorious years, I got to read some phenomenal titles (at a pretty good employee discount might I add). It was during a marathon shelving session one day that I spotted an interesting-looking book called Gridlinked by then debut Science-Fiction author Neal Asher.  The cover was absolutely stunning and the description on the back of the book hinted at "big idea" Space Opera with a compelling mystery at the heart of the story.  I bought the book immediately after my shift ended and took it home that very evening.  Let's just say that I completely devoured Gridlinked in about three days, I simply could not put it down. Any time I was able to steal five minutes here or there, I picked it back up and continued reading.  The reason why it clicked with me in such a way was that It reminded me a lot of my favorite Science-Fiction author Iain M. Banks.  Like Iain's books, yes there were some heavy ideas and some really technical Hard SF involved, but it was also a very accessible story that was enjoyable to read. Since then, I've been a big fan of Neal Asher and have read many of his books over the past almost two decades now.  So when I discovered that he had a brand new series titled The Rise of the Jain out, the first book being THE SOLDIER, I jumped at the opportunity to request a review copy.  The review copy was received a few days later and I was more than ready to get down to business and spend some quality time with Mr. Asher's latest creation THE SOLDIER.

In the deepest of deep space, two previously warring races now exist on the edge of a knife in a very fragile peace pact that keeps both in an unsteady truce for the time being.  These two factions are the Polity, a human populated string of worlds and the crab-like alien Prador kingdom.  Separating the two is an accretion disc, a compact solar system that was designed by the Jain, a long-dead alien species.  The purpose of the accretion disc is a mystery but what is known is that inside it possesses the most powerful living technology ever conceived that has the potential to obliterate entire civilizations.  Neither the Polity nor the Prador want the responsibility of being in charge of the accretion disc since any misstep in exploring its contents could mean the extinction of their worlds in the blink of an eye.  As a compromise, both factions agree to assign an impartial and independent third party to make sure that the accretion disc remains stable and is not allowed to expand and escape into the wider galaxy, since this would be utterly catastrophic.  Anything coming out of the accretion disc is to be destroyed immediately upon exiting.  Orlandine is part human and part AI and is the one who is eventually assigned the daunting task of manning the weapons platform located next to the accretion disc.  As she embarks on her guarding and study of the accretion disc, she is slowly being influenced by her assistant Dragon that the disc could actually be an ancient trap set by the extinct Jain civilization that will inevitably spring upon its unsuspecting guardians at a specified time.  Orlandine doesn't want to believe that this could be true but Dragon is persistent in his theory.  Enter Angel, a maniacal android that has plans to attack the human Polity and is searching for a devastating weapon that can make this a reality.  In Angel's search it discovers and resurrects THE SOLDIER, a super weapon seemingly created by the long-dead Jain millions of years ago that may have escaped the accretion disc somehow. With THE SOLDIER in its possession, Angel can initiate a war that will make the previous battles between the Polity and Prador look like child's play.  But there are more soldiers that are concentrated in and around the enigmatic accretion disc that may be able to counter their now weaponized colleague. As both the Polity and the Prador begin to realize that there are technologies long-sleeping that are deadly and are now being awakened by these third-parties, they see an opportunity to reignite the war between them and potentially use these soldiers to their advantage in a new war that would see them victorious once and for all.  Then something occurs that neither side expects and it suggests that the Jain may not be extinct after all.  Could it all have been the very patient plan of an ingenious ancient race that simply wanted everyone to think it was gone?  And to what purpose would the Jain have to remain dormant for so long only now to revive themselves?  What part do the Polity and the Prador play in this game of galactic conquest played out on the stage of the deepest recesses of space?  

Neal Asher just doesn't have the ability to write a book that doesn't have an abundance of complex technology, diverse alien species, mind-bending science, and just flat out entertaining story lines.  You really have to pay attention however, because the history that he provides and the back story are vital to what will eventually take place and to even have your mind wander for a page can completely lose you.  It's part of what I really like about reading a Neal Asher story, he's going to provide an immense amount of information and also a heck of a lot of action along the way.  You will never be bored with anything that he writes.  THE SOLDIER is a wonderful beginning to another tremendous Space Opera series.  The mystery of the ancient Jain civilization is brilliantly delivered in such a way that the anticipation of the final reveal creates such a tension as I turned the pages.  That's the way great storytellers do it.  I feel like Neal Asher has gradually become one of the great writers of Space Opera today, right up there with the likes of Peter F. Hamilton and Alastair Reynolds (both British compatriots by the way).  THE SOLDIER had such an incredible balance of interesting alien technology and Military SF battle scenes that I was left totally satisfied by the end of the book.  This is an incredibly deep read with many layers to be peeled.  If you are a fan of Space Opera, Hard SF, Military SF, or Science-Fiction that involves mysterious ancient alien races, this book will scratch all of those itches and then some.  Do run out and grab a copy of THE SOLDIER as soon as possible.  It is a terrific self-contained Science-Fiction story that also leaves much more to discover in future entries of the Rise of the Jain series.  Can't wait to see what lies ahead!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Book Review: THE BASTARD FROM FAIRYLAND by Phil Parker

Title: The Bastard from Fairyland

Author: Phil Parker

Publisher: Self-Published through Amazon

Publication Date: March 6, 2018

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Let me begin my review by first saying that we are truly blessed as readers and reviewers to be part of an amazing revolution in the book industry at this very moment.  Never before have self-published authors had such visibility and a platform to get their work out there and read by such a large portion of the book-buying public.  This is really a great development and I personally have been fortunate enough to read some fantastic entries already in the Self-Published Fantasy Book-Off.  That has only continued with this the first book in the Knights' Protocol trilogy by British Fantasy author Phil Parker.  The title of the book is THE BASTARD FROM FAIRYLAND and as I mentioned, it is one of 300 entries in this year's SPFBO, showcasing a ton of great and talented authors.  When I received a review copy of this title from the author a couple of weeks back, I snuck a quick peek at the first page as I often like to do with new books that I will be reviewing.  The opening sentence of the book grabbed me almost immediately: "There were fairies at the bottom of my garden and they were torturing someone."  Now there's an opening line that will either have you running for the hills or diving in head first!  For me it was definitely the latter and as I plopped myself down on my comfy couch that night to begin reading THE BASTARD FROM FAIRYLAND, there was definitely a feeling of great anticipation of what I might encounter in the pages to follow.

THE BASTARD FROM FAIRYLAND alternates between two different realms living side by side - the human realm, which is modern-day Glastonbury, and the fairy realm populated by both light and dark fairies.  Robin Goodfellow is a fairy who has been exiled from the fairy realm and has lived among humans now for centuries.  The crime for which he was exiled is not immediately revealed, but what is known is that Robin is shunned and hated by both his fairy brethren and also his human neighbors. Humans see him as a vile demon and therefore give him a wide berth not quite trusting him, while his fellow fairy folk despise him for very different reasons.  You see, Robin is a shit-talker and instigator of sorts.  He's also a very tortured individual.  Robin has the ability to summon incredible power and ferocity through his alter-ego Puck, who he is constantly battling to keep at bay since his new life began in the human realm. That's not to say he hasn't been tempted to unleash Puck in certain instances where he's felt threatened or just plain wanted revenge on one or two of his enemies.  Robin is soon visited by one of those enemies Llyr, an utterly evil fairy from the Dark Court who it seems has a not-so-great history with Robin that goes back to his pre-exile days.  Accompanying Llyr on his visit is Robin's one-time friend and lover, Oisin.  Oisin has obviously been brought against his will to be used as leverage by Llyr to get what he wants from Robin.  The conversation starts out semi-cordially but quickly escalates as Llyr begins angrily questioning Robin and demanding to know "Where are you hiding the Knights!!?"  The Knights that Llyr is referring to are teenage twin brother and sister wards of Robin's who he has sworn to protect.  The twins are from a special line of humans who alone have the power to defeat the fairies should a war ever occur between the two realms.  Llyr becomes increasingly unstable during his questioning of Robin and it is clear that he has been plotting for some time to attack the human realm, but first he must eliminate the obvious threats that the Knights pose to his well-laid plans.  Robin somehow manages to escape Llyr and flee with Oisin before Llyr can realize what is happening.  They run away in a moment of confusion and after collecting themselves, embark on a search to find the twin Knights. Knowing Llyr's plans, It is now up to Robin and Oisin to find the twins and avoid a potentially catastrophic war between the Realms.  The only problem is that the Knights have been abducted by human slavers and Llyr is in hot pursuit with his fellow dark fae.  The fae are at the cusp of igniting an all-out attack on the Human Realm while it is at its weakest and most vulnerable.  You see, the sea levels have risen and society is in a shambles in human England.  And this is the perfect chance for the Dark Court to take back what was once firmly in their control, tearing through the divide that separates their magical home and reality.  Can Robin and Oisin rescue the Knights before Llyr reaches them?  Will Llyr succeed and his dark fairy cohorts descend on Glastonbury with a violent fury that finally obliterates the humans for good?  In a world where the line between human and supernatural is being blurred by the minute, a final war may be a very real certainty if Llyr is allowed to win.  And the only one who can save this all from happening is battling his own inner-demons and trying to come to terms with his conflicted feelings for a former lover that he thought were buried long ago.  

THE BASTARD FROM FAIRYLAND is a very ambitious book.  There are so many themes and conflicts going on at the same time.  There's also an interesting combination of modern dialogue with a more traditional Arthurian backdrop complete with fairies.  Much of the action takes place in the same geographic area where Camelot was historically located.  In fact, it's where Robin's cottage is built that he lives in while exiled in the human realm.  This lends a very nice contrast to the modern real world element of characters who aren't afraid to throw around some profanity, and also a gay main character, which unfortunately is not seen nearly enough in Fantasy books these days (although it is slowly getting better).  I found the fact that Phil Parker wrote his main character as gay quite refreshing because I am a firm believer that our art should reflect the times that we live in.  With LGBTQ rights becoming more and more protected and the community coming into its own in the last decade, it really is important to write books like this and more importantly, to READ books like this.  At the same time, the fact that Robin is gay is never put forward in the kind of way where it seems forced into the storyline but rather, it's just one of many things that make up who he is.  So the relationship between Robin and Oisin flows naturally within the story as the book goes on and as with any relationship, there is friction and there are challenges to be faced by the two as they also try to rescue the Knights.  The prose is simply beautiful and I found myself at times really sympathizing with Robin as a tortured soul who is not accepted by anyone.  He is the true definition of a loner but this never holds him back from always trying to do the right thing.  He admits in the book that his fatal flaw is caring about what happens to others and we see this vividly through his actions and interactions.  There is quite a bit of suspense as the book goes on and it slowly builds to a crescendo as both Llyr and Robin are racing to achieve each of their specific ends, one good, one evil.  THE BASTARD FROM FAIRYLAND offers so much to like and I really did enjoy my journey into this intriguing dual world of human and fairy.  Another great entry in the SPFBO challenge that I think could really make some noise.  There are two other books in this trilogy and I definitely plan on reading both in the near future.  But for now I am just going to savor what was a truly wonderful reading experience.  This one is definitely worthy of some notice, so check it out.  It's a book that takes you to a Fantasy world unlike any other but also reflects our times in a very real way.  A unique and fresh modern take on a genre that sorely needs more books like this.