When talking to authors I know, I hear frequently of that moment when several seemingly unrelated ideas come together. They become a “perfect storm” of sorts, and often lead to an amazing novel.

Unfortunately, BREATHLESS, by Dean Koontz, doesn’t meld separate ideas into a perfect storm. The result is more like…a perfect train wreck.

Let me state, for the record, that I actually enjoy some the stories that Koontz writes. I can appreciate the transition he made into straight-forward thrillers that he has published recently (VELOCITY, THE GOOD GUY, THE HUSBAND). Personally, I enjoyed ODD THOMAS. Are they the best novels? No. Do they serve a purpose in my reading schedule? Definitely. Every now-and-again I need light reading. Dean Koontz usually can usually fill that role.

But BREATHLESS? Man. It was just bad.

Surely you can hear the built-in marketing campaign that comes with the title of the novel? The new Dean Koontz novel will leave you…BREATHLESS! How I wish that were true. Bored? Check. Bewildered (in the bad way)? Check. Disappointed? Double-check. Breathless? Not even close…unless you count the aftermath of my screaming in frustration at having to finish this book.

BREATHLESS starts out fine…good even. We are introduced to a few characters that are decent, and that are put in interesting situations. The main inciting event deals with Grady Adams, an ex-military type, and his dog, Merlin (it’s a Dean Koontz novel, of course the PoV has a dog), as they discover a pair of unexplainable animals in the field by their (Adams’ and his dog’s) home. I don’t want to go into it too much, because the mystery behind these animals is the driving force of the story--well, what little of it there is. We also are introduced to Camillia Rivers, a local veterinarian with a dark past (are there any other kind in a Koontz novel?), who also gets involved with these two mystery animals. For the mandatory Dean Koontz creepy character, we get Henry. His opening chapters were great. All of this stays entertaining for approximately 100 pages.

And then we meander. Endlessly.

The pasts of the characters, rather than actually adding to the story, are just there as filler. They don’t actually influence anything. Being paper-thin would be an improvement over what we get here. As we move along, we are introduced to more characters that serve no purpose in the story, and whose resolutions are solved with Deus Ex Machina. On character in particular, Tom Bigger, reminded me instantly of the characters I hated in Stephen King’s THE STAND. You know, the ones that wander endlessly. Doing nothing.

Kind of like the last two-thirds of this novel I am reviewing.

The realization I came to upon finishing the novel, is that this was just a conglomerate of unrelated novellas and short stories that are forced together through contrived, thin plot threads. Leftovers (and not in the good, Thanksgiving way). Henry’s story meets with that of Grady and Camilla for a whole paragraph. Tom’s never meets that of the main characters (his resolution is the Deus Ex). It was infuriating, to say the least.

The writing? It was your typical Dean Koontz. If you like his writing style, then you will like the writing style of BREATHLESS. The book itself will probably only be enjoyed by the most die-hard Koontz fans, and even then it’s no sure-thing.

BREATHLESS just isn’t good. The idea is marginally interesting. The characters are worse than paper-thin. The cohesion between plot-threads is absurd where it even exists at all. The ending is anti-climatic and rushed. This should have been a novel to grab new readers, but instead it will push them away.

The good news? I only paid $8 for the hardback due to the ridiculous Amazon vs. Walmart price war (huzzah!). And no, it still wasn’t worth it (booooooo!). Also, this isn’t typical of Dean Koontz. BREATHLESS is an aberration. I fully expect a new novel shortly that will get him back on-track. At least I hope this will be the case. I need my simple novels after reading guys like the awesome Erikson.

That said, don’t read BREATHLESS. It just isn’t worth it. Be grateful I read it for you.

Content: I've simplified it for you this time. There’s nothing here that would offend a reader…well, except for the book itself…


Sometimes, no matter how much you like an author, their latest book ends up being a disappointment. NEUROPATH, by R. Scott Bakker, fit that description for us. As you all well know, we love his Prince of Nothing series. NEUROPATH is Bakker's attempt to put his spin on the thriller genre.

It is evident within the first 20 pages (probably less to most people) that Neuropath is written with a very strong bias and moral (if there is such a thing...dun dun DUN) bent. This book, while a mystery/thriller, is not the typical fare in the genre. There are lengthy discourses about free will vs. determinism, what free-will is exactly, identity issues, and the possibilities of contemporary neuroscience.

Perhaps, before going on, we should reassure readers that the questions and information Bakker poses in this novel are presented (purposefully) in a way that makes them seem, not only plausible, but probable. However, contemporary neuroscience cannot do what is inferred within the context of the story. We want to give this reassurance because this book is scary. Very. Scary. It is the most dismal, disturbing, and gut-wrenching fiction book we have read in a long time. The only things we have read that have topped on the uncomfortable stomach-turning scale have been nonfiction.

NEUROPATH follows the Point of View of Tom Bible, a psychologist. If you have read Bakker before, the profession of the PoV should come as no surprise. Tom is divorced with two kids, and his relationship with his ex-wife is seriously strained. The main plot of the story focus on Tom helping the FBI find his friend Neil, who has been working with the NSA, manipulating terrorist's brains in an effort to accumulate intelligence to save lives, and a topic of debate between the characters called The Argument. Tom's friend has apparently gone off the deep-end, and is abducting and torturing innocent people by scrambling their brain functions to his own design.

It's a twisted, and seriously awesome concept. However, as with most things in life, it's the execution that matters. Bakker dropped the ball here. If you have been keeping up with EBR, you know it breaks our heart to say it, but it's true.

While Nick loved the book, it wasn't at all because the book was well done. It was the questions the book asked. Steve was so disgusted by the way the questions were handled he couldn't enjoy it.

The main PoV, Tom, dominates just about every page in almost every chapter with the
discourses of The Argument, what it is, what it means, and why it is important. For Nick, this was, despite uncomfortably biased (reminding him of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged), extremely fascinating and prompted several discussions with coworkers and friends where he took Tom's and Neil's side. For Steve, this was simply torturous maid and butler exposition.

The first time this kind of thing happened, we could forgive it, because it was written so well. After happening a few dozen times, however, it tended to rub us wrong. Essentially, it is as if we the readers are reading a transcribed conversation between a psychology professor and his unconvinced student. The concepts are explained well, and the writing is fantastic, but the simple fact that Bakker is "telling vs. showing" is extremely problematic.

The tone of the novel is VERY bleak. Probably not more so than any of Bakker's other works, but it feels like it because of the contemporary setting. There is a line in the novel where a character states, "I don't like happy endings." That is a pretty clear indicator of how things are going to go. Look, we like grim and gritty--if you haven't figured this out by now, you haven't been paying attention. Shame on you. NEUROPATH was too bleak for Steve, Nick thought the tone was perfectly set. Abductions and murders that happen are very well done, but the ending of the novel will leave you feeling...sick. Not to mention that you can know for a fact that if Bakker had written more past the last page, it would have gotten worse yet. When you match all that with the hopeless nihilistic philosophy saturating the novel, it's hard to like it. In the end, this caused Steve's dislike. If you aren't one to enjoy psychological and philosophical debates, that can't be ended or decided, you will not enjoy this book. If you are like Nick and the ending leaves opportunity to discuss the content, and debate it, and pore over your own thoughts and opinions on the matter, you will put the book down feeling much more fulfilled.

There are plenty of twists and turns, and some come with a pleasant surprise, but most felt a little too convenient, perfect, or forced. As expected in a thriller, characters do stupid things so that the plot can move forward and the conflict can be cultivated. We know that's part of the genre. Doesn't mean we have to like it. And we don't. The side stories going on the in the book do very little other than provide thin reasons why the FBI resources are spread so thin. Specifically, a side plot about a serial killer named The Chiropractor. When you have a story about one antagonist, and there is a side story about another, you know exactly what is going to happen it is inevitable (picture us doing Agent Smith's voice right now). When he does finally show up, there is no wow factor or surprise, more like a "Well...finally" kind of feeling.

Steve didn't like the novel, but he didn't hate it. Nick like the theme, ideas, and questions, enough to like the novel, but appreciates and agrees with why Steve was disappointed. Bakker is a seriously gifted writer. He manages to explain everything in perfect clarity. Considering the deep topics, his writing makes them easily understandable, and makes the pace move along fantastically. We just couldn't like the execution of a terrific premise, and in Steve's case the tone of the novel. This novel really should have been so much...more.

Another issue, that needs to be mentioned outside of the content ratings section because of its prevalence, is Bakker making females into over-sexualized objects. You know the instant a female main character shows up that she will be involved in some sort of sexual relationship with the main PoV. The scenes are graphic, but unlike the Prince of Nothing series, they don't seem to have much point other than shock-value. His characters in NEUROPATH seem to end up in porn-movie scenarios. They are, in a word, absurd.

If you really dig psychological and philosophical debates and concepts, you may enjoy this novel, you may not, but you WILL enjoy the questions that are posed. If you are really into Bakker, you may enjoy the book if can overlook its flaws. But this is easily his weakest effort at story-telling. Not to mention, the graphic content could easily turn off a majority of people.

Recommended Age: 18 and up for the graphic content and the concepts.
Language: This is an R. Scott Bakker novel. Tons. And. Tons.
Violence: Yeah, and some of it is meshed with sex. The parts not mixed with sex are very, very well done.
Sex: Lots. And it all feels cheap and unnecessary. We are starting to worry about Bakker's wife.


While at World Fantasy I had the pleasure to meet, and speak to, Mark Teppo. One of our friends, Kat Richardson, kept telling Steve and I that we had to meet him. She couldn't say enough good things about him and his writing. So the search for the man began. After finally finding him, Steve and I both agreed that he was one of the coolest people at the convention, and we couldn't wait to read LIGHTBREAKER his book. Conveniently, it was given to us for free while at the convention.

OK, confession time. (Admit it, you got nervous for a moment when I said that, didn't you?) LIGHTBREAKER was published by Night Shade Books in 2008, and the sequel HEARTLAND was published in 2009, so I'm a little bit behind the times on this. Other than the obvious fact that I got the book for free, I am reviewing LIGHTBREAKER, instead of it's sequel, because it is the beginning of a fairly new series and I thought it would be a better place to start. Hey, I don't need to explain myself to you. I do what I want.

From looking at the cover, despite thinking Mark Teppo was an awesome guy, I couldn't help but think, "Ugh...ANOTHER Urban Fantasy. How long until the Vampires, Werewolves, and wise-cracking protagonists wear out their welcome in publishing?" The cover really doesn't inspire confidence in the book at all, which is an aberration for Night Shade Books. Jeremy Lassen and Co., have great art design skills. But apparently they took the day off when it came to Mark's book. Shame on them.

This book made me dizzy with all the preconceptions I had that were shattered. In fact I think that is the pivotal bit of information to enjoying this book. This is not your typical Urban Fantasy. LIGHTBREAKER is intelligent and densely written, showing off Mark's incredible grasp on the English language. In fact it is so much so that at times it feels almost like a university professor teaching instead of a storyteller entertaining. This gave a very specific feeling of detail to the book, which was awesome. On the other hand, I got irritated in a few places were Mark went way overboard with similes and animal comparisons. In one paragraph, fairly early on in the book, every sentence compared one thing to some kind of animal. It felt ridiculous.

The main character was another expectation I got wrong here. He is not a happy dude. He has issues. I was expecting standard Urban Fantasy fare, with a protagonist that wins every fight, has a witty comment for every situation, and has an uncanny knack for solving every situation he faces, etc. (I'm not going to mention Harry Dresden specifically, but you get the idea...oh wait.) Markham is haunted by a past that we, the readers, only get hints about at first. But what we do know, and eventually learn by the end of the book is that this guy has had it pretty rough, and he has not come out of it emotionally unscathed. The first third of the book is about his thirst for revenge for having his soul stolen. Yeah, I'm not kidding. I'd hate to be this guy. This makes the story interesting, and the mystery of Markham's past one I wanted showcased quickly, but it also made Markham kind of unengaged as a protagonist. He isn't immediately likable.

Along those lines, the plot itself isn't immediately engaging. I was well into the book (100-120 pages) before things actually started to pick up and move. This is even despite a long chase sequence at the beginning, and an explosive (literally) action scene. Once Mark starts to introduce the magic system a bit more and the politics associated with it, it became a LOT better. Then once the plot shifts from revenge to the big story of the novel it moved even faster.

Now, you may be asking, "What makes this worth picking up amidst the rest of the flooded Urban Fantasy market?" Well, in short, it's different and it's good. Oh, you want more? (Greedy....) Mark Teppo has blended a number of unused themes in his world-building to create bizarre, unique concepts that will grip you in their familiarity and exotic feel. He uses a mix of Qabalah, Judaeism, Christianity, Tarot, and Crowley to create the magic of his world. As someone who has studied, even if briefly, all of the above it was really entertaining seeing how he weaved the concepts from those into his own form and applied them to the novel. However, he uses terms from them relentlessly, again giving the feeling of a professor lording his knowledge over his students instead of imparting that wisdom, and never fully explains what any of them mean. All of the mysticism is mired in vagueness, and yet still manages to make sense in context. I'm not sure whether to applaud or scowl about it, but the fact is his descriptions of the mystical and ethereal border on genius.

At the forefront of the story is one of his creations called The Chorus, which is the weapon Markham uses. It is, essentially, a group of souls Markham has collected that he can manipulate into mystical attacks, wrap around his body to impart strength, or sense other magic. Oh, and they talk to him. Voices in his head. Yeah, I told you he has issues.

A big plot thread is the ability to steal souls, possess someone else's body, and what follows when that happens. It was all very interesting but, hopefully without spoiling too much, the climax had a very Japanese anime feel to it. I think it got just a bit TOO big and a bit TOO cataclysmic. Also, with all the soul jumping, and body jacking there is a lot of need to describe a body without a soul. I think this is the book's (or author's) biggest failing. He uses the words "meat", "meat-sack", and their ilk so many times it starts to get really distracting. Like, a lot. Really a lot.

One other thing. Remember how I was snide about Vampires and Werewolves (I don't share Steve's acceptance of them, and am ready for the Vampire craze to be over)? Well they are absent. Yay! Time to celebrate. If it weren't for the zombies I would have done the Nick Happy Dance. Even the zombies (which were the flavor of the year for 2009, and need a break) were pretty unique.

Will you like it? LIGHTBREAKER is a very smart book that stands out in a genre saturated with mediocrity. It has a very slow start, but is an exciting book to read once it gets going. There are too many unique ideas present in the novel to pass it up, if you are a fan of the genre. Like I said earlier, with the correct expectations for the book it will not only entertain but make you actually use that mind of yours.

Hidden Empire

I read and loved, with certain reservations, Orson Scott Card's EMPIRE. So when I found out there was a sequel pending for imminent release I was excited to see how the franchise was handled.

If you haven't read EMPIRE, here's a quick rundown. The possibility of a civil war, in America today, becomes very real when the President and all his staff are assassinated. Reuben and Cole become pawns in a conspiracy to an American revolution. The ending leaves us with a Princeton professor leading both the Democratic and Republican parties, and taking the office of the President with more than just a few suspicious events to those with a keen eye (Read: The main characters) in his resume.

HIDDEN EMPIRE picks up three years after EMPIRE left off, with more of the exploits of Captain Cole, Cessy Malich, Averell Torrent and Reuben's jeesh. The jacket of the book talks about President Torrent, and how Cessy and Cole are the only ones who can bring his machinations to light. The story was something of a surprise. After EMPIRE ended, and after reading the book jacket, it was obvious what the plot of this sequel would be, or so I thought. In the opening chapter of this book that all changed when the readers are exposed to Africa and a new epidemic of civilization-crushing proportions.

Wait. What about Torrent? Exactly. What about him? Tracking down evidence of his dangerous ambitions and the means he uses to certain ends is only a very small part of the plot. The majority is spent in Africa dealing with the outbreak of the deadly virus, and the government there.

That said, I have to admit I admire Card for his strict adherence to the story he chose and the necessity of the plot, no matter how painful. Now, I don't mean painful in the way of Dan Brown or the Terrys. I mean painful in the way of when Wash dies in the movie Serenity (seriously, the statute of limitations on this movie is long past). There were some moments that were pretty wrenching, and perfectly done.

While Card adheres to the story wonderfully, he breaks convention in other ways. For example, it is common knowledge that thrillers are very character light (If you didn't know this before, you're officially part of the "In-the-know" group. Welcome). However, Card delivers a political thriller that, while not character dense, has some decent progression in that regard.

There is an excellent use of moral viewpoints from the characters. Meaning there isn't a lot of gray area here, and a lot of very defined black and white, but everyone's view on what is black and white is different. It was very cool to see an interesting perspective like this in a day when gray morality is king. The main characters think what they do is good, and know that what the antagonists do is fueled by their reasoning that they, themselves, are good.

A couple gripes I had about the book were fairly large and irritated me all the way through, and some of them have been the criticisms that Card always gets, and is probably used to.

The main one is: Why is it so impossible for Card to write a believable viewpoint for a child. OK impossible may be the wrong word--Chinma could very well be accurate--but the rest of the kids drive me crazy. In what world can a 10 year old debate politics with her Advisor-to-the-President mother, and come out ahead? In what world can a 10 year old comment on the particulars of life in Africa with irony and sarcasm? Seriously Card? Every single one of Cessy Malich's five children border on genius. They make Cessy, who is supposed to be brilliant, look foolish a number of times. I find it interesting that all these years after Ender we are still subject to Card's inability to write the viewpoint of children. I think that Card knew he needed to have Cessy show her thoughts and feelings through dialog, and there was no one to fit that role, so he forced the kids into that shape. They swing back and forth between irritatingly childish and political masterminds. This was seriously disappointing. It wasn't until the end when the story left the younger kids and focused on Mark and Chinma that it became believable.

Speaking of the dialog with Cessy. The next biggest complaint was the fact that she starts talking to Chinma (who is a native African), in English, which is his fourth language by the way. No big problem here, until you actually see the implementation. We are shown multiple times Chinma's inability to speak English very well, such as not knowing simple words, like fever. Yet Cessy talks to him about infanticide, and abortion, and gives detailed history lessons of Christian behavior, and while he may not agree with what she is saying, he certainly understands it. Get a hold of your dialog Card, so I can retain hold on my sanity! This is just sloppy.

Oh yeah. So is messing up the name of one of the pivotal characters in the first book. Her name is DeeNee, Card, not DeeDee. This kind of mistake doesn't speak well for the editing done for this book. It only happens once, but was noticeable enough that I pulled EMPIRE off my shelf to make sure I wasn't mistaken.

The last big issue I had with the book was that writers choose their words carefully, and Card has included enough very specific phrases that are acerbic enough to make sure this novel, a thriller, remains politically charged, and only for that reason it would seem.

There was one final part of the novel that rubbed the wrong way. It was the obligatory "Africa-scenes". I get why Card set the majority of the story in Africa (though I think it would have been interesting to be daring and set it elsewhere), because it created all sorts of moral and political dilemmas. I also get why he included the "Africa-scenes", which include tossing an infant in the air to use as target practice with an automatic rifle, the village raid complete with rape (though, this is never actually happens on screen), etc, but I also wonder if they were needed.

The book is an extremely quick read, about three hours worth. When I put the book down I had, at the same time, a desire for more about Torrent and his political machinations, and a feeling of satisfaction for what the book did include. (Conflicted! Such drama!)

Will you like the book?
If you're a fan of Card, this is fairly standard fare for him, so you will know what to expect. If you are a fan you will like this book. It's basically Tom Clancy-Lite, with better, and more interesting characters and resolution. If you like the political thriller genre, chances are you will be entertained.

Card's website is here, go check it out, and give him props for a, despite it's flaws, really good book.

Interview with Kristine Kathryn Rusch

First off, Kris, we want to thank you for taking the time to chat with us a bit. As per tradition here at Elitist Book Reviews, we want to give you a chance to brag a bit. Tell us (and our readers, of course) what makes you an awesome author. Don’t hold back, modesty isn’t allowed.

Wow. This isn’t in my nature. Tried answering this question twice and found that my Midwestern upbringing and my natural reticence make it impossible to do. So gee, I guess, um…all I can say is read my stuff and find out.

Why don’t you give our readers a bit of your writing history.

I started writing really young (my first story finished at age 7). When I was 12, my brother gave me a subscription to Writer’s Digest, and that set me on the road to professional writing. I started writing nonfiction professionally at 16 when I did the high school column for the local paper (and got paid for it!), and sold my first small press short story at 22. Sold my first professional short story at 25 and my first novel, The White Mists of Power, at 29. I haven’t looked back since.

How about we chat a bit about your novel, DIVING INTO THE WRECK. Frankly, we loved it, and we don’t like very much SF. Where did the ideas for this novel come from, and how did you manage to make them so distinct?

I love old-time sf—the rockets and rayguns stuff that the print version of sf hasn’t seen for years. Adventure fiction for lack of a better term. I read an article about diving old ships in the ocean, and realized that some day someone would dive old spaceships (I hope!), and that got me the first section. That—and stories my husband Dean Wesley Smith has told about diving for bodies with search-and-rescue in Idaho. (He’s done almost everything, that man.) Then I saw an article about cremated ashes left in the basement of the Oregon Mental Hospital (the same one Ken Kesey wrote about in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). The ashes had no names, only numbers, and the key was lost. The paper was calling it a room of lost names. I got lost souls from that, dunno how, and that became the novella, “The Room of Lost Souls.” Halfway through writing it, I realized that this was part of the same story as “Diving.” And then I had to finish it all. There’s more, you know. Just sold Asimov’s another novella in Boss’s world. And in 2009, published another in Asimov’s called “The Spires of Denon,” which is set in the Diving world, but doesn’t involve Boss.

We mentioned in our review of DIVING that we were impressed with how accessible the novel was. Was this a goal of yours when you began writing this novel? If so, why was it important for you?

I want people to read science fiction. I’m a former science fiction editor and I can’t read half the novels published out there. That’s just wrong. SF was one of my biggest escapes as a kid. I still love the TV shows (Stargate: Universe, anyone?) and the movies, but the many of the sf print people put that down as “unoriginal” or “has been done before.” (Just this month got a professional reviewer comment on one of my short stories that it was a great story, but not worth calling a good sf story because it didn’t do anything new.)

Here’s the crazy thing: if you made that the criteria for any other genre, the genre wouldn’t exist. Murder? It’s been done before. Romance? You had that in your last book. As my college creative writing professor said on day one of class: There are seven plots. Shakespeare did them better than anyone. If that scares you, leave now.

Any plans for future stories set in the DIVING universe with Boss as a PoV?

Oh, yes.

What do you consider the best book you’ve written so far?

The one I just mailed off. It’s always that way. And it’ll always be a different book that no one has seen—except Dean, who is my first reader.

You’ve been writing SF for quite a while now. What are some of the recent trends that you like and dislike about SF?

I love the kick-butt heroines that are taking over the field. Just love .’em. And I’m happy that so many editors, especially in books, are going back to the adventure side of the field, no longer caring about that “this has to be new” thing. I love the way that YA has taken over sf. You want good sf? Go to the YA section of the bookstore. As for the stuff I don’t like, see my other answer, above.

We are going to put you on the spot a little here, so don’t kill us. A few years ago at WorldCon in Los Angeles, you mentioned something on panel that stuck with us. When discussing the blending of genres, you mentioned that you felt Mystery was a style, not a genre. Do you still feel this is true? Why is mystery such a large part of the novels you write?

I did? Jeez I sound so smart on panels, and I’m really just spitballing. I may have meant that noir is a style—Chandler is all about voice, for example. In fact, a lot of mystery is all about voice because—you know—murder and crime has been done before.

I think mystery is my most natural genre. I see the dark side of everything—criminals lurking in every corner. Plus I naturally think about how to break the rules. So I write stories where criminals (usually) get their comeuppance, but the fun for me is figuring out how they would break the rules—and how someone would stop them.

If you could recommend good, accessible SF to hesitant readers, what novels would you recommend, and why?

I used to say read the best of the year volumes, but there are too many and one has become dang near unreadable lately. I will say pick up Asimov’s. Right now, Sheila Williams is publishing some of the best sf in the field. And read more than one issue. She publishes everything from the hard-to-understand slipstream stuff for the old timers, to action/adventure for folks like me. And then there’s Connie Willis: To Say Nothing of the Dog, for example, for good time travel. Scott Westerfeld The Uglies (This is YA). Jack McDevitt’s novels. Mostly, though, I’d suggest picking up an SF book, and reading the opening two or three pages. If you get lost, put it down. That author’s not for you. (My rule is that if they have more than 3 made-up unrecognizable words in the first 3 pages, then I won’t read the rest of the book. It starts hard and gets harder.) If they hook you, buy it. And step outside the genre section. YA and romance have some good sf (check out Linnea Sinclair in romance). You just have to find it.

As busy as you are, do you get a chance to read much? What authors get you excited?

I read every day. And authors new to me get me really excited. So do good books. Every month I do a recommended reading list on my blog. I make a point of citing all the stuff I think is good there.

How do you go about the writing process, and for you, what is the most enjoyable aspect of it all?

I love to write new stuff. I hate writing the end. I used to skip right over that part. (I’m better now). My stories often arrive out of order, and that can be irritating, but fun as well. I never know what’ll happen next—not even in my own brain.

What’s next for Kristine Kathyrn Rusch, or your other pseudonyms for that matter?

A short story collection will come out in the spring called Recovering Apollo 8 and Other Stories. I have a lot of short fiction appearing this year. Then early next year, Kristine Grayson—my goofy funny romance pen name (once heralded as the Queen of Paranormal Romance)—will make a return appearance with a novel called The Charming Way. And there’s more in negotiation and under discussion. I just can’t confirm any of it yet.

Ready for a tough question, Kris? Who do we have to bribe…err, talk with to get cameos in your next novel? We make really good cookies.

Cookies—months of cookies—would do it.

Kris, it’s been a pleasure talking with you. We’ll have you on our Hugo ballots. Any last words for the readers?

Thank you for the request (and the Hugo rec!) For the readers, lemme say this: I can’t do it without you. You’re the best. Thanks for buying and enjoying my work.

Starship: Flagship

STARSHIP: FLAGSHIP is the fifth, and concluding, book in the STARSHIP series, which is an entry in the Birthright Universe. If you are not familiar with Mike Resnick, and his Birthright Universe, we'll give you a quick lesson. Resnick is as decorated as an author can be with almost 60 published novels, a couple hundred short stories, 30 or so Hugo nominations, and 5 of those which he has won. The guy knows his writing.

The Birthright Universe is a 20,000 year long story that encompasses Man's rise to Galactic adventures, and his subsequent fall. Ambitious doesn't even begin to describe the project Mr. Resnick is working on.

The STARSHIP series is a Space Opera about the final phases in the Republic stage of Man's Galactic experience, and the beginning of the Democracy. Rogue Naval officer, Wilson Cole, and his ship the Theodore Roosevelt, formerly of the Republic's Galactic Navy, take the stage for the telling of this story. In this final chapter of the STARSHIP series Cole and his extremely small group of revolutionaries square off against a Republic of 60,000+ worlds and a Navy of ships--most of which outclass even the Teddy R--in an attempt to overthrow the government. No small feat...or so one would think.

Our biggest complaint (of only a few candidates to be honest) was that this is an -or should be- impossible feat. Cole's rogue Navy has 800 ships, against 300+ million, almost all of which are outgunned, so obviously open military action is ruled out. Duh. Well what does that leave? Guerrilla warfare, a propaganda campaign, sabotage, etc., are the usual suspects. There is a problem with that. Cole only has a very small, but dedicated, group of supporters, against the population of the Republic. There's no way he could pull off a Galaxy-wide propaganda campaign against the most powerful government the Galaxy has seen. Yet, everything enfolds (with one minute, early exception) unbelievably easy. That sound you hear is us groaning every time Cole succeeds in outwitting the Republic. Remember, the Republic has the population of 60,000+ worlds. You mean to tell us that the leaders couldn't find JUST ONE PERSON who could see through Wilson Cole's deception? Puuuuh-lease! (In case you were curious, Steve did snap his fingers back-and-forth while saying "Puuuuh-lease." It added quite a bit to the presentation. We promise.)

Now, this isn't to say there isn't any tension. There was plenty as we approached the outcome of the series. But in reality, this is more of a testament to Mr. Resnick's ability to engage the reader with his writing and sweep them along. We really just wanted a disaster or two...but instead we were disappointed every time things slid so easily and effortlessly into place. The ending wasn't exactly what we expected, but the resolution of the book still came about with really no effort.

Speaking of the ending, the last 1/5th of the book came completely out of nowhere, with no foreshadowing whatsoever. It wasn't quite Deus Ex, and it was a satisfying read while keeping the pages turning. But, it was still ridiculously convenient, and truthfully, a bit sloppy. It was as if Resnick knew he had written himself into a corner and needed an out.

Another plot-based stumbling block, for us, has to do with the believability of the general population of the Republic, and their reactions to the events in the book. The issue we had, was that Wilson Cole orchestrated events that made the Republic do incredibly terrible things. However, despite Wilson Cole obviously being the source of these events, it made the Republic become a hated entity by the Galaxy. Then, when Cole and his team did the exact same things the Republic did, as far as the general population was concerned anyway, it made people hate the Republic even more, instead of Cole. It made no sense for things to unravel this way.

Resnick seemed to have the most fun with his characters. They are interesting, distinct, and clever. In fact there were more than a few moments we thought to ourselves, "Seriously guys? There is a war on, in case you didn't notice. Its time to quit with the witty banter." The dialog in so many places is very entertaining, but boils down to one-liners and quips. Even keeping that in mind, the characters feel...pretty full. This is really an incredible feat since Cole is our only PoV character, and other than him not many of the other characters get much in the way of screen-time.

We love the alien who thinks he is Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, and refers to the Captain as Steerforth. Brilliant idea Mr. Resnick. The Valkyrie is incredibly annoying. Every line she has involves some outburst of how she wants to kill someone, blow something up, fight war, not hide, etc. We got it Mr. Resnick, we got it. Wilson Cole, we think, is a superhero in disguise. Reading about him during this book is like watching a World Champion chess player pitted against a third grader. He manipulates events at every turn, and single-handedly outwits his enemies. (Mr. Resnick must have based his character on Nick...) Though this does come at a price, other than the obvious undermining of the tension. Easily half the chapters end the same way. Cole's crew trying to keep up with his mastermind plan, trying to guess what is going on, and then Cole having the last sentence in a chapter, and saying the exact opposite of what his crew surmised. Fun, if a bit formulaic and obviously intended for minor cliffhangers.

It should be difficult to review the book without commenting on the ethical/moral questions raised (for Nick anyway, because he loves to debate ethics and play the devil...err, devil's advocate), but, sadly, it isn't. The ethical question Mr. Resnick was obviously, and admittedly, trying to raise was about torture. When does harsh interrogation become torture, and is torture crossing the line. However, it was such a small (and like everything else in the book, quickly resolved) plot point in the middle that it was little more than a blip on the radar. We were pretty bummed about this.

Ok, we dealt with the obligatory quirks that we didn't like. But was there any good? How did we actually like the novel? This book, despite what we think are it's failings (and what book doesn't have them?) was actually ridiculously fun to read. Resnick has completely captured our attention and imagination. Give us more Birthright Universe please.

The plot, though requiring a heavy dose of suspension of disbelief, (Heavier than normal obviously. We ARE talking about SF after all.) was very enjoyable. There wasn't a single boring part, or paragraph we felt like skipping. All of the things that we had a hard time liking, actually serve the book in an awesome way. It makes the book quicker, light, and easily accessed, all while dealing with the expansive universe (which amounts to the single most ambitious project either of us have encountered), ethical concerns, and modern-day allusions. It is a perfect starting place--well, after reading the other 4 books of course--for newcomers to the Space Opera genre.

Should you read the book? It only takes 2-3 hours and is worth much more than that. The STARSHIP series is a fast-paced Space Opera that should be bumped to the top of your reading list if you're in the mood for some SF. If you're like us, and really if you're not get to work on that (because who wouldn't want to be?), after reading the STARSHIP series you will eagerly be heading to your local bookstore (or Amazon if you want to be more like Steve) and pick up his other works, such as STALKING THE VAMPIRE and STALKING THE DRAGON.

Other awesomeness about the book? Well Picacio did the covers and Pyr published them (with great quality mind you). Enough said.

LANGUAGE: A few F words.
VIOLENCE: A discussion of torture, but no actual scenes or description of it. A couple laser blasts to the head, but as is the case with Space Opera, it is clean.
SEX: No scenes or acts, but plenty of references to the main character and his love interest sharing a bed.

Go check out Mike's website.
Picacio's blog.
And, of course, Pyr's website.

Tell them all how much you love them and us.