2013 Hugo Award Nominees

Well holy crap! If you pay attention to the Hugo Awards, you know that the nominees for the 2013 Hugo Awards were announced today. So who has ten thumbs and is nominated for a Hugo? THESE GUYS here at Elitist Book Reviews!!!!

...you get it right? There are five reviewers here at EBR...ten thumbs...never mind.

Here at Elitist Book Reviews, we are positively thrilled to be nominated. A lot of thanks goes out to all of you that had memberships to WorldCon this year. It is because of you that we have been nominated. There were a few people who were campaigning for us (Larry Correia, for example), and we thank you for your kind and enthusiastic recommendations. A big congratulations to everyone nominated, and it's great to see a bunch of friends on this list!

Mainly, I want to thank the amazing reviewers here at EBR. Vanessa, Shawn, Nick S, and Dan. You guys are awesome, and I couldn't run this site without you four. Awkward hugs and kisses for everyone!!

So what happens next? Well, those people that have memberships to LoneStarCon 3 (this year's WorldCon in San Antonio) can vote. At that convention, the award ceremony will be held and the winners announced. Obviously, we'd totally love to win. That's where YOU come in.

Look, we can only do so much for ourselves. Limited staff and all that. The rest is up to you.



Now, below is the full list of nominees. We'll be reviewing all the short fiction, and we'll give you our picks for the awards once we've had a chance to read over the stuff we haven't already read. Here we go:

Best Novel

  • 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
  • Blackout by Mira Grant (Orbit)
  • Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
  • Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi (Tor)
  • Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (DAW)

Best Novella
  • After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
  • The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
  • On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
  • San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant (Orbit)
  • “The Stars Do Not Lie” by Jay Lake (Asimov's, Oct-Nov 2012)

Best Novelette
  • “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
  • “Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
  • “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
  • “In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
  • “Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)

Best Short Story
  • “Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)
  • “Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
  •  “Mono no Aware” by Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)
Note: category has 3 nominees due to a 5% requirement under Section 3.8.5 of the WSFS constitution.

Best Related Work
  • The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature Edited by Edward James & Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge UP)
  • Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comic Books by the Women Who Love Them Edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Sigrid Ellis (Mad Norwegian Press)
  • Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who Edited by Deborah Stanish & L.M. Myles (Mad Norwegian Press)
  • I Have an Idea for a Book… The Bibliography of Martin H. Greenberg Compiled by Martin H. Greenberg, edited by John Helfers (The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box)
  • Writing Excuses Season Seven by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Jordan Sanderson

Best Graphic Story
  • Grandville Bête Noire written and illustrated by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse Comics, Jonathan Cape)
  • Locke & Key Volume 5: Clockworks written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
  • Saga, Volume One written by Brian K. Vaughn, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
  • Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)
  • Saucer Country, Volume 1: Run written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Ryan Kelly, Jimmy Broxton and Goran Sudžuka (Vertigo)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
  • The Avengers Screenplay & Directed by Joss Whedon (Marvel Studios, Disney, Paramount)
  • The Cabin in the Woods Screenplay by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon; Directed by Drew Goddard (Mutant Enemy, Lionsgate)
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, Directed by Peter Jackson (WingNut Films, New Line Cinema, MGM, Warner Bros)
  • The Hunger Games Screenplay by Gary Ross & Suzanne Collins, Directed by Gary Ross (Lionsgate, Color Force)
  • Looper Screenplay and Directed by Rian Johnson (FilmDistrict, EndGame Entertainment)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
  • Doctor Who: “The Angels Take Manhattan” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
  • Doctor Who: “Asylum of the Daleks” Written by Steven Moffat; Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
  • Doctor Who: “The Snowmen” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Wales)
  • Fringe: “Letters of Transit” Written by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Akiva Goldsman, J.H.Wyman, Jeff Pinkner. Directed by Joe Chappelle (Fox)
  • Game of Thrones: “Blackwater” Written by George R.R. Martin, Directed by Neil Marshall. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)

Best Editor, Short Form
  • John Joseph Adams
  • Neil Clarke
  • Stanley Schmidt
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form
  • Lou Anders
  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Liz Gorinsky
  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden
  • Toni Weisskopf

Best Professional Artist
  • Vincent Chong
  • Julie Dillon
  • Dan Dos Santos
  • Chris McGrath
  • John Picacio

Best Semiprozine
  • Apex Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
  • Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Jason Heller, Sean Wallace and Kate Baker
  • Lightspeed edited by John Joseph Adams and Stefan Rudnicki
  • Strange Horizons edited by Niall Harrison, Jed Hartman, Brit Mandelo, An Owomoyela, Julia Rios, Abigail Nussbaum, Sonya Taaffe, Dave Nagdeman and Rebecca Cross

Best Fanzine
  • Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
  • The Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia and James Bacon
  • Elitist Book Reviews edited by Steven Diamond
  • Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Emma J. King, Helen J. Montgomery and Pete Young
  • SF Signal edited by John DeNardo, JP Frantz, and Patrick Hester

Best Fan Writer
  • James Bacon
  • Christopher J Garcia
  • Mark Oshiro
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • Steven H Silver

Best Fan Artist
  • Galen Dara
  • Brad W. Foster
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Maurine Starkey
  • Steve Stiles

Best Fancast
  • The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
  • SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester, John DeNardo, and JP Frantz
  • SF Squeecast, Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell, Seanan McGuire, Lynne M. Thomas, Catherynne M. Valente (Presenters) and David McHone-Chase (Technical Producer)
  • StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
  • Zen Cho
  • Max Gladstone
  • Mur Lafferty
  • Stina Leicht
  • Chuck Wendig

The Whitefire Crossing

So a funny thing happened a while back. Courtney Schafer sent me over a copy of her debut novel, THE WHITEFIRE CROSSING with the hopes that I would read it, like it, and review it. All sorts of people were saying how terrific the novel was, so I was pretty excited. Well, some stuff came up in my day job that keeps me absurdly busy, so my actual reading time has suffered as a result. Thank goodness for Audible.com, right?

Here's the general synopsis. Dev is a smuggler who just lost everything. His love. His business. His money. Everything. He needs a job bad, and he needs it to pay well. So he agrees to smuggle Kiran from their home country of Ninavel into the neighboring country of Alathia. What Dev doesn't know is that Kiran is apprentice to one of the most dangerous mages in Ninavel.

Back to my story. I don't read reviews on Audible (well, I didn't before...). So I downloaded the novel and started listening. Within a very short time I found myself wondering why people liked the book. I was hating it. I wanted the book to die. I was formulating the review in my mind, and here's a bit how it went (don't worry, I didn't ask myself the questions out-loud. Mostly):

Question: Man, this book is killing me. Is it the setting?
Answer: No...no the setting is actually pretty cool.
Question: Well, then it must be the characters, right?
Answer: Huh. No, not really. The main character, Dev has a pretty cool past. Kiran's backstory is pretty great too. The side characters are kinda flat, but they don't matter much.
Question: Uh, PoV issues?
Answer: Not at all. Dev is told in 1st Person, while Kiran's sections are told in 3rd Person Limited. The distinction between the methods of delivery is actually awesome and clear, and there are no head-jumping mistakes.
Question: Well, then is must come down to the writing in general, right?
Answer: There were certainly some things that bugged me about it, but on the whole I was fine with Schafer's skill with the written word.
Question: So what the heck is WRONG with you? (loaded question)

The answer to that last question came when I accidentally started a different audio book. My first thought was, "Dang, this reader sounds awesome...ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh no wonder I hate THE WHITEFIRE CROSSING! The reader is the worst reader EVAR!!!" No really. Worst. Narrator. Ever. He made me want to stab myself in the ear with pencil. A dull pencil. Twice. Dipped in acid. I've heard kids who were in 2nd Grade read more smoothly. The narrator is Andy Caploe. Avoid anything read by him like the plague. So, I immediately did three things upon this heinous discovery:

1) Deleted the audio book from my iPod for fear that the bad narration would corrupt the other audiobooks on that device.
2) Pulled my actual copy of the book off the shelf and read it.
3) Resolved to read reviews about the quality of audiobook narrators.

Things were suddenly much, MUCH better. The novel reads quite well with a smooth flow. The plot, which follows Dev and Kiran through a treacherous mountain pass, was pretty great for the most part. The characters suddenly lost all their whining attitudes that the narrator gave them. I rather enjoyed all the detail put into the mountain-climbing sections of the novel. The back-stories of the characters had far more emotional impact, and their decisions seemed somehow better. On top of that, my ears stopped bleeding, which was definitely a good sign.

Here's the thing. Schafer actually does a pretty good job with THE WHITEFIRE CROSSING. I love the way the story was told to the reader. The feeling of the setting is pretty awesome. I understand why so many people were giving Schafer such good reviews.

That said, I did have some issues--real ones this time. The biggest one was the overuse of similes. In the immortal words of Nick Hexum from 311, "I use a simile lightly 'cuz that sh@t's played". Wise words to any author. Use one or two in a novel. Not one ever other page. It was majorly distracting and didn't actually accomplish what was probably intended. The second thing that bothered me was the convenience of how certain things are resolved in the end fight. It was predictable and shoehorned in. Lastly, the stuff that followed the final battle of the novel felt overly long. I understand the importance, but it had a bit of that feeling I had when I watched The Return of the King in the theater. Dragged out. Overall, not deal-breaking, but worth pointing out.

THE WHITEFIRE CROSSING--that actual, print version--is an entertaining read. Schafer is definitely a talented author. There is far more good in this book than there is bothersome. The setting is refreshing, which is something that we can all use more of in our fantasy reading. The best compliment I can give at this point is to say that I am really looking forward to reading the sequel, THE TAINTED CITY.

Recommended Age: 16+.
Profanity: Pretty strong and frequent.
Violence: Nothing gory. I will say that I wished the few action scenes had been a tad more detailed and dynamic.
Sex: A bit towards the end of the book, but it isn't explicit. Other than that, it's all just conversation and jokes.

Want to start the series? Good. You totally should. Here are your links:


The Fractal Prince

I’ve often talked with my wife about how our lives have changed.  We remark on how improvements in technology have changed our day-to-day lives in such significant ways that our kids live totally different lives than we did twenty years ago.  Having those types of discussions has led me to wonder what a person who was born one hundred or one hundred and fifty years ago would think about us today.  Would they even recognize what we do as a normal life?  Would they understand most of what is going on around them?  How would they deal with or understand things like computers, the internet, ipods, phones, or video games just to name a few?

Why do I bring this up, you ask?  Because reading THE FRACTAL PRINCE by Hannu Rajaniemi made me feel like that person from the mid 1800’s coming to today.  I felt like someone who had been thrust into a world that I didn’t and almost couldn’t understand.  And I say that not as a bad thing.  I’m not gonna lie to you, this book was a tough read, especially at first.  Terms are thrown around and I had to make sense of them myself until the context of it gave me foundation for what the terms meant.  Still, I eventually figured this world out and it was a world full of wonders and problems.

I’ve tried writing down a synopsis of what this book is about several times.  And as much as I read it and think I understood THE FRACTAL PRINCE, I’m having a heck of a time trying to sum it up in only a few paragraphs.  The terms in the book that got in my way at first make it hard to tell you about some of the concepts.  You don’t know what those terms mean or why they should matter to you.  In fact the whole novel is so centered on this technology far far in the future that I’m just gonna give up.  Instead I’ll give you the synopsis from Amazon:

“The good thing is, no one will ever die again. The bad thing is, everyone will want to.”

A physicist receives a mysterious paper. The ideas in it are far, far ahead of current thinking and quite, quite terrifying. In a city of “fast ones,” shadow players, and jinni, two sisters contemplate a revolution.

And on the edges of reality a thief, helped by a sardonic ship, is trying to break into a Schrödinger box for his patron. In the box is his freedom. Or not.

Jean de Flambeur is back. And he’s running out of time.

See what I mean? If that synopsis doesn’t help you much, don’t worry.  It didn’t help me either.  This is not an easy book to tie down with a few sentences.  And I don’t think it’s supposed to be.

In the end the problem I had writing about this book is the problem I had with the book.  It seemed so in love with the technology that it failed to tell as compelling a story as I would have liked.  I can think back on it and remember some of the events and even some of the characters, but the problem was that all of that was so overshadowed just trying to figure out and understand the novel. It makes Rajaniemi's follow-up to THE QUANTUM THIEF (which I liked well enough - check out the review here) a tough book to flat-out recommend. 

I certainly enjoyed reading it and I loved the sensation of seeing a far-future that was so utterly alien.  That sense of wonder in my opinion is the reason to read the book.  The story was secondary to it.  If you like those big ideas and that scope and imagination then I would say THE FRACTAL PRINCE (and it's predecessor) is for you.  If you want a rip roaring yarn that’s hard to put down because you just HAVE TO KNOW what’s going to happen next, then I might give it a pass.

Age Recommendation: 16+  It just seemed rather complicated
Violence: Not much that I recall
Language: A bit here and there
Sex: A weird sci-fi-type scene at the beginning, not too graphic but certainly there

Want to give these novels a shot? Here are your links:


Fire With Fire

I can't stop smiling. It's been far too long since I've read a good Science Fiction novel. Once my go-to genre, Science Fiction has taken a back seat to Fantasy of late. Charles E. Gannon's FIRE WITH FIRE absolutely falls under the definition of good Science Fiction. It is a novel that has reminded me just what it is that I love about the genre and it has ensured that I will be following Gannon's work closely in the years to come. FIRE WITH FIRE sets a great many things in motion, signaling the start of what I assume will be a sweeping SF epic.

Here is the Amazon description:

2105, September: Intelligence Analyst Caine Riordan uncovers a conspiracy on Earth’s Moon—a history-changing clandestine project—and ends up involuntarily cryocelled for his troubles. Twelve years later, Riordan awakens to a changed world. Humanity has achieved faster-than-light travel and is pioneering nearby star systems. And now, Riordan is compelled to become an inadvertent agent of conspiracy himself. Riordan’s mission: travel to a newly settled world and investigate whether a primitive local species was once sentient—enough so to have built a lost civilization.

However, arriving on site in the Delta Pavonis system, Caine discovers that the job he’s been given is anything but secret or safe. With assassins and saboteurs dogging his every step, it's clear that someone doesn't want his mission to succeed. In the end, it takes the broad-based insights of an intelligence analyst and a matching instinct for intrigue to ferret out the truth: that humanity is neither alone in the cosmos nor safe. Earth is revealed to be the lynchpin planet in an impending struggle for interstellar dominance, a struggle into which it is being irresistibly dragged. Discovering new dangers at every turn, Riordan must now convince the powers-that-be that the only way for humanity to survive as a free species is to face the perils directly—and to fight fire with fire.

And that is just the beginning of the beginning. FIRE WITH FIRE is a first contact story overflowing with espionage, politicking, diplomacy, and problem solving. Given the complexity of the novel, Intelligence Analyst Caine Riordan makes for a suitable protagonist. I appreciate Caine's prior background in journalism, as it speaks of his experience following leads and exposing hidden agendas. It also brings Caine into conflict with his superiors. Caine is a Boy Scout. He has made a career of airing the dirty laundry of the powerful and influential. Now he finds himself working behind the scenes, going from straight-arrow to cloak and dagger. Caine is also a polymath, making him a jack-of-all-trades. He's not nearly as suave as James Bond, but he is three times as resourceful. 

Caine does exhibit moments of reluctance during his service of the Institute of Reconnaissance, Intelligence, and Security or IRIS for short. IRIS is responsible for his thirteen year long nap, and though Caine supports the Institute's mandate to protect Earth from exosapient invasion he detests their methods. Caine suffers from a short term amnesia of the 100 hours before being placed under cryo-sleep. Corcoran and Downing, the spy masters of IRIS, use this as leverage to get Caine to do their bidding. Corcoran and Downing are Machiavellian in their processes but they are not unsympathetic, especially later in the novel when it becomes apparent what they have sacrificed to protect their species. After all, "Sometimes adopting the methods of your adversaries is the only effective strategy..." Opal Patrone, another recipient of long term cryo-sleep, also becomes an asset of IRIS. Her military history marks her as an ideal bodyguard for Caine, whose actions place a target on his head.

It's worth noting that all of the characters in FIRE WITH FIRE are strong and dynamic. They aren't particularly deep but they do display multiple dimensions. The characters act and react to ever-evolving circumstances but none of them ever feel like spectators. Still, it's not the characters that make FIRE WITH FIRE such a fantastic read. Gannon obviously knows his stuff. I'm not afraid to admit that I was glad for my Kindle's dictionary function while reading. That's not to say that there are loads of incomprehensible words or science. This isn't space opera but it's not quite Hard SF either. There is an exploration of scientific concepts, particularly the Wasserman Drive, but FIRE WITH FIRE is more of a thriller than anything else.

Gannon delves into the economics of interstellar trade, the politics of planetary colonization, struggles between government and corporations, the consolidation of power, and the complications of first contact. Exosapient diplomacy is the best part of the novel and in this way FIRE WITH FIRE is reminiscent of another favorite of mine, THE COURSE OF EMPIRE by Eric Flint and K.D. Wentworth. There are moments of thrilling action, including narrow escapes and botched assassination attempts, but the real excitement comes from the human-alien interaction.

"You came here expecting a tea party and found yourself in a diplomatic death match."

It's not long after the Earth unifies under the World Confederacy that it gets an invitation to participate in the Accord, a democratic council of alien states. What at first appears to be a friendly invitation soon takes on a sinister light as the human ambassadors realize that the council might not be so unified, leaving humanity in an unenviable position. The communication between the different races is awesome. Each race has different mannerisms, culture, and motivations. It takes quick thinking and collective brain power for the human ambassadors to maneuver through the pitfalls that come with walking into such a FUBAR scenario.

FIRE WITH FIRE is a building block in the foundation of Gannon's Science Fiction epic. This could be read as a standalone novel but I don't see why anyone would want to. There are big, big things on the horizon as the book closes. Some questions are answered (quite satisfyingly I might add) and even more questions are posed. Once Gannon starts the ball rolling, there's no stopping the momentum. I am ecstatic to have found a new SF author worth following and I eagerly await the sequel.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Some, not too heavy.
Violence: Some, nothing too graphic.
Sex: Suggested.

Want it? Buy it here.

River Road

It's been a few years since Hurricane Katrina, and all the paranormal goings-on in ROYAL STREET (EBR review). DJ has been settling into her role as the New Orleans sentinel, a wizard who keeps the preternatural denizens from running amok. At her side is Alex Warin, previously an enforcer for the Council of Elders, and now co-sentinel and best friend--even if she's not above admiring his good looks and muscular physique.
The boundaries with the Beyond and the human world were cracked by Hurricane Katrina, but things seemed to have settled back to normal--well, the new normal, anyway. At least until the historically undead Jean Lafitte asks DJ for her help intervening in a dispute between two tribes of Cajun merfolk. Merfolk along the Mississippi River have been falling ill and each tribe blames the other for poisoning the water. It won't be long before humans become affected.

DJ and Alex go to investigate and come across a dead body in the marsh...who turns out to be a wizard.

DJ is a great narrator and Johnson's crisp and creative prose is fun to read. We follow along as she puzzles out the behaviors of the people around her--despite some elven blood which gives her empathic abilities, she still has trouble understanding why people behave the way they do. Her style of magic, Green Congress, means she's limited to incantations and potions, so no fancy lightening bolt zaps for her, she has to do it the hard way. DJ, however, is resourceful and determined. She needs to prove to the Elders that assigning her as sentinel was the right decision.

While the entire book is told from DJ'S PoV we learn a little more about Alex and how well he really understands his co-sentinel--and to her surprise still likes her despite all her quirks. There's the love triangle with Jake, Alex's cousin, and newly minted enforcer for the New Orleans area. Johnson has fun with the romance (even making us wonder about Jean Lafitte's motives--what would that be, a love quadrangle?) and it's entertaining to watch DJ's bewilderment with the men around her.

Of course there's another main character of RIVER ROAD: New Orleans itself. Here we get to see less of the main city and more of a wider area, with its marshes, rivers, and back country. We still see the aftereffects of Katrina and what the new life in NOLA means, and not just for the magical community.

From page one the pace is strong, clear until the end of the book, much like in ROYAL STREET. The investigation is revealed bit by bit, some clues obvious and others not so obvious. Johnson weaves the love story, the mystery, the mythology together with a deft hand. I love the interaction between the magical species, their prejudices, behaviors, and motivations. There are some minor plot inconsistencies and the big action scene at the end could have been less contrived, but it still worked with the narrative.

I can't wait until the next installment.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: A handful
Violence: A few fights; one semi-gruesome corpse scene
Sex: One steamy scene that ends before anything happens

This is a great new Urban Fantasy series you should check out:



Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier

When Steve read SHADOW OPS: CONTROL POINT last year he was able to find both the good and the bad in Myke Cole's debut novel. His review (read it here) was fair and accurate, and I would have expected no less. When I read it a week ago I couldn't find as many good things to say of it. I recognized the potential within but I couldn't get past my intense hate of the protagonist, Oscar Britton. Ordinarily I would have skipped the sequel altogether but there seemed to be general agreement that SHADOW OPS: FORTRESS FRONTIER was an improvement over the debut. I wanted to see Myke succeed so I gave it a shot. For the most part I'm glad I did.

Colonel Alan Bookbinder is a glorified paper-pusher. Every day he faces armies of documents on the battlefield of his desktop. That is, until he unexpectedly and inexplicably manifests a magical power. In no time Alan is torn away from his comfy office, separated from his loving family. He is thrust into a logistics role at Forward Operating Base Frontier, America's armed presence on a hostile alien planet called the Source. When Oscar Britton escapes from FOB Frontier he causes a massive crisis, leaving the soldiers stationed there without support in the face of increasing assaults. To save the men under his command, Alan will have to become a true soldier and a true leader.

It only took a few chapters before I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Alan Bookbinder (yes Bookbinder, apparently his occupation was fated at birth) is not the despised Oscar Britton. Despite being a desk jockey, Alan displays more courage in the first few pages than Oscar does in all of SHADOW OPS: CONTROL POINT. As an administrative worker posted on a frontline military base he is a fish out of water. He's painfully aware of his shortcomings, he doesn't delude himself as to his position in the scheme of things. He struggles to find his command voice and he's determined to do his job to the best of his abilities. It's charming to follow the progression of Alan's character arc as he learns to assert himself and eventually become a fighter and a commander. It's also neat to read from the bureaucrat's POV for once, given all the military fiction where "real" soldiers find themselves battling logistical and political red tape. It's also great to experience the Supernatural Operations Corps from a less negative perspective than Oscar's.

SHADOW OPS: FORTRESS FRONTIER doesn't waste much time getting into the thick of it. Having read the first book in the series I appreciate this greatly, though newcomers may not. Still, I think this book is mostly accessible to the uninitiated.

Things were going very, very well for the first 80 pages - and then Oscar Britton made his return. I knew that Oscar would be featured but I was unaware that he would get his own POV. I was far less enthusiastic about the following 80 pages. Oscar is as hypocritical and grating as ever. Not even the people he broke out of prison like him, and rightly so. At one point the character Swift tells Oscar that he is a "sanctimonious, self-righteous douche bag" so at least I'm not alone in that belief. You might also expect Oscar to be less trusting given the betrayals he has faced. All it takes to earn his approval is a few kind words and since that's the case I've got a bridge I'd love to sell him. "They told me you were dumb, just not how dumb." Go ahead and pile low IQ on top of that extensive list of flaws and you're left with a character that is impossible to care about.

I will say this about Oscar Britton, the anti-Mary Sue: he's no longer indecisive. I can't call him Lieutenant Waffles anymore.

Therese, the obligatory love interest is nearly as annoyingly smug as Oscar. It doesn't help that her only interest in Oscar is his status as protagonist. The relationship is heavily contrived. Sarah Downer is pretty well worthless. I started out hating her in SHADOW OPS: CONTROL POINT because she massacred a bunch of school kids with her magic and Oscar spent the rest of the novel making excuses for her behavior. I can't even hate her anymore. She manages to get horribly injured in almost every battle fought. Both books lack a strong female presence. Therese is a love interest, Sarah is an ineffectual child, and Woon (who is introduced in this book) undergoes no development.

I was excited that Harlequin made an appearance later on in SHADOW OPS: FORTRESS FRONTIER. His conflict with Oscar made him the hero of the first book in my eyes and though his POV is brief, it had me hoping that he might feature more heavily in future entries to the series. None of the other characters get much development. Most are flat and featureless. The villains are not "heroes of their own stories" they are just villains of this one.

SHADOW OPS: FORTRESS FRONTIER introduces the naga, a race of snake-people. The naga are much more regal and intimidating than the goblins. Including the naga and the Indians was a wise move on Myke's behalf. It expands the setting past the United States (and the US base). One of my biggest complaints with the first book was that it failed to capitalize on the global ramifications of the Great Reawakening. The naga are extremely cool and unique as far as fantasy creatures go. They, like the Indians, also have their own agenda calling to mind the quote, "Defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies."

The action is even tighter than before. The fight against the agni danav was a standout scene, and the battle at the finale is a thrilling moment. The combination of magic powers and modern military might against hordes of wicked creatures makes for an exciting read. The diplomacy with the naga can be just as compelling as a good fight scene. Portamancy (the magic of portals) is cool but it's so useful as both transportation and offense that the only way to prevent it from being overused to solve every problem in the universe is to give it to Oscar Britton, the wildly unimaginative grunt. Assassinating the witch Scylla could have been as easy as opening a portal behind her and shooting her in the back of the head but this is Oscar we're talking about. It would have been equally as logical for the SOC to send a scout sniper to take out Scylla from half a mile off come to think of it - she's powerful but not omnipotent. Alan's magic proves to be just another reason to love him. Alan does not belong to any of the establish schools of magic, instead he is somewhat of a magic thief. He can steal the magic of other sorcerers and bind it to objects. This struck me as a neat wink at the RPG crowd. Instead of the Flaming Sword of Xuzl you get ice-enchanted shotgun slugs.

In tone and plot SHADOW OPS: FORTRESS FRONTIER feels similar to more traditional military science fiction than fantasy. This suits me just fine. The first book was an irritating struggle against authority, revolving around the same argument time and again until the final page. This novel examines the challenges of leadership and duty. The writing is as strong as before, as that's something Myke already had a solid grasp of. SHADOW OPS: FORTRESS FRONTIER makes massive leaps of improvement over its predecessor, earning my grudging respect and affirming my faith in the potential of this series. Now if only he'd just kill Oscar Britton...

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Lots of swearing, these are rough military types after all.
Violence: Death and destruction, guns and magic.
Sex: None.

Or you can get SHADOW OPS: CONTROL POINT here.

Extinction Machine

Eeek! It's Joe Ledger time! Please allow me a moment to geek out...Thanks, I needed that. Here we have EXTINCTION MACHINE, the fifth Joe Ledger Novel by Jonathan Maberry. I'll admit, I was a little panicked going into EXTINCTION MACHINE because I saw some rumor online declaring it the last Joe Ledger Novel. The good news is: this rumor was pure speculation, there is a sixth book in the works. The great news is: it will be called CODE Z, and it is a direct sequel to the debut Joe Ledger Novel - PATIENT ZERO. So with that dreary cloud of depression safely behind us, let's get on with the show!

Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences have faced everything from zombies to transgenic monsters, from the Ten Plagues of Egypt to vampires. Now they find themselves contending with UFO's, crop circles, reverse engineered alien technology, Men in Black, government cover-ups, and secret cabals. The President of the United States of America has been abducted by persons unknown and the fate of the world once again rests in the calloused hands of Echo Team.

"We could easily see a new age of empire that would reshape every map on Earth."
"With alien technology?"
"With alien technology."

With Jonathan Maberry's Joe Ledger Novels you can always expect the unexpected. But aliens? Aliens?! I'll tell you what, that really came out of left field. To be fair, I never expected Ledger and Echo Team to face off against vampires either but I consider ASSASSIN'S CODE to be Maberry's best novel to date. In a lot of ways Maberry is the inverse to Larry Correia. Both are phenomenal authors that write high-octane thrillers but Maberry pens speculative science techno-thrillers where Correia is the master of urban fantasy. Before going into EXTINCTION MACHINE I figured that if Maberry could convincingly write plausible zombies, monsters, and vampires then he could manage to do the same with UFO's. And you know what? Sometimes it pays to bet on the House.

EXTINCTION MACHINE kicks off with a bang, raising the stakes right out of the gate. Joe and Echo Team get their butts handed to them, quite an uncommon occurrence. The President gets taken from the White House right under the noses of the Secret Service, the abductors leaving only a crop circle in their wake. As we go further down the rabbit hole we learn that maybe those conspiracy theory whackos aren't so crazy after all. Maberry treats the concept with respect and so it never seems silly or over-the-top. EXTINCTION MACHINE is never dull, and frequently had me going to my laptop for research. I consider it an accomplishment when I get so invested in a book that I need to know if some of the material is based in fact. I don't think that Dan Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE is a masterpiece of literature but it had a similar effect on me. I believe that aliens exist somewhere out there in the universe, though I've never put much faith in alien visitation of Earth or UFO's. It could be that EXTINCTION MACHINE has shifted my mindset slightly - but that's beside the point.

The point is that this is a door-breaching, flashbang-banging, helluva good time. Those of you who have been following this series know the score by now. Joe Ledger is the Jack Bauer of mad science threats to the United States (and the world). He has rage issues developed by childhood trauma and a fractured psyche. He juggles three personalities - the ever diminishing, idealistic Modern Man, the patient and inquisitive Detective, and the bloodthirsty Warrior. When the Warrior persona is triggered, Joe Ledger becomes a human WMD. Having faced all manner of weird and terrifying foes in the past, Joe displays what I would consider to be the proper amount of skepticism for UFO's and reverse-engineered alien technology in EXTINCTION MACHINE. Obviously being tossed head first into a world of aluminum foil hats and little green men would be a shock for one as cynical and battle hardened as Joe, but his reluctance does not transform into full blown, obtuse ignorance.

The rest of the Department of Military Sciences is back in form. As always, Mr. Church is mysterious and intimidating in equal measure (seriously, when is this guy going to get a spinoff novel about his time in the field? Make it happen Mr. Maberry). Top Sims and Bunny are training the new batch of cannon fodder -- I mean, the new members of Echo Team. Rudy Sanchez, the Jar Jar Binks of the Joe Ledger Novels, is getting married to Circe O'Tree. Fortunately for all, Rudy's involvement in EXTINCTION MACHINE is minimal. Dios Mio! Best of all, Joe's combat dog Ghost is back. It's funny but Ghost has more character than most of the human cast. He's a lovable companion and a fierce asset in the war on strange evil.

As far as new characters go I took an immediate liking to Junie Flynn. Though, I do have a complaint to make. Is it possible to introduce a female character without her ending up as someone's romantic interest (specifically Joe's)? I'm not a feminist or anything. I don't jump every time I see women misrepresented in fiction because frankly, I see people of all types misrepresented. But when it comes to Joe Ledger romances I'm automatically put-off. The relationship with Grace Courtland felt forced and instead of giving it time to develop it was cut off quickly, leaving Joe to mope around like a teenager. It was traumatic, I'll admit, but readers were given no time to warm to the relationship to even care. I feared early on in THE KING OF PLAGUES that Circe O'Tree would wind up as Joe's next conquest.  That didn't turn out to be the case but she did wind up with Jar Jar. With ASSASSIN'S CODE it was clear that the obligatory mourning period was over and a new romantic interest would be introduced to the plot. And now with EXTINCTION MACHINE we get Junie Flynn. I apologize if this smacks of ranting but poorly written romances don't sit well with me.

The villains of EXTINCTION MACHINE tread the line between campy Bond ne'er-do-wells and frightening sociopaths. They aren't as memorable as past villains. At one point Howard Shelton commits that ultimate unforgivable sin of super-villainy - he fails to kill Ledger when he has the opportunity and instead chooses to monologue his evil scheme. I will say this, at least Shelton has somewhat good intentions, but he does fall lean more heavily on the "Bond ne'er-do-well" side of the line.

During the first half, EXTINCTION MACHINE feels slightly scattered. Joe's First Person POV falls by the wayside and much of the story is told from the Third Person perspective of secondary characters and villains. This method has pros and cons. On the plus side, readers get a broad view of the picture. There a many moving pieces and this helps readers find their bearing. On the minus side, the pacing flags. Don't get me wrong, it's still relentless, but Joe's arc suffers from the disrupted flow of the narrative. Maberry deftly wields short chapters and pseudo-cliffhangers to keep readers going, "I'll put the book down and feed the kids honey I swear! Just one more chapter..." It's a wise format that may result in your untimely divorce - also very Dan Brown'esque in its execution.

EXTINCTION MACHINE is a Joe Ledger Novel through and through. It stays true to form, offering readers bone-crunching action, snarky dialogue, and twisted revelations. This entry in the series shares much in common with Men in Black, X-Files, Fringe, and even the video game Crysis. On a scale of my favorite Joe Ledger novels this falls right after ASSASSIN'S CODE. If you haven't yet picked up the series, now would be the time to do so. Oh, and Go Orioles!

Age Recommendation: 16+
Language: Tons.
Sex: Some nudity, some sex, but it's not Fifty Shades of Joe Ledger.
Violence: Joe Ledger is even more deadly at hand-to-hand combat than he is with a gun. It can get messy.

Want them? Buy them all!
PATIENT ZERO, the first features zombies!
THE DRAGON FACTORY, the second features Nazi clones and genetically spliced creatures!
THE KING OF PLAGUES, the third features a weaponized version of the Ten Plagues of Egypt!
ASSASSIN'S CODE, the fourth and best features vampires!
EXTINCTION MACHINE, the fifth features UFO's!

Power Under Pressure

In THE FALLING MACHINE (EBR review) we were introduced to Sarah Stanton and her father's team of heroes called the Paragons. In the sequel HEARTS OF SMOKE AND STEAM (EBR review) Sarah's life changes as she learns the difficult truth of what it really means to become a Hero. In Andrew P. Mayer's exciting conclusion, POWER UNDER PRESSURE, Sarah must become the hero, or else watch the people and the city she loves fall to the machinations of the villainous Lord Eschaton.

Lord Eschaton's plans are coming to fruition. He wants to see the human race realize its glorious potential using his fortified smoke, even if it means making martyrs of New Yorkers in the process. His first experiment is Nathaniel, Sarah's step-brother, captured in the battle for the Hall of Paragons. Meanwhile Sarah and Emilio are trying to rebuild Tom the automaton, because they won't survive Lord Eschaton's plans without him. Unfortunately, Tom is not the same machine he was in FALLING, even making the loyal Sarah question his stability.

Mayer's development of the technology shines in POWER. Lord Eschaton and Emilio's experiments are really what drive the story, and it's interesting to watch the technology develop and evolve. One wouldn't think that a machine could change much over a series, but despite not seeing much of him in book two, Tom's transformation in book three is clever and explores fascinating ideas and possibilities.

If you haven't read the first two books, POWER won't have much appeal--there's too much back story and character development in order for it to make sense. FALLING and HEARTS are both satisfying reads, with an interesting cast of characters, and a well-drawn setting. Sure, as a first-time author, Mayer's books aren't without their flaws, but on the whole the series has been enjoyable. And by book three, Mayer's storytelling should be improving, right?

As a reviewer I try to give new authors leeway as they progress in their writing, because even though they're published, writers are still honing their craft. I remember Brent Weeks' first series, Night Angel, was fun and enthusiastic, but had serious new writer issues. He's since improved considerably. While Mayer has great ideas and fun characters, I didn't see any improvement with POWER; in fact, all the problems from the first two books only got worse in book three. POWER felt like Mayer pounded out everything he had as fast as he could and didn't bother to go back and revise it for plot/consistency/characterization.

To prevent repeating too many of my complaints about books one and two, I will provide for you a Reader's Digest version of all the books' issues: painfully slow plot buildup, PoV changes in action sequences that overlap chronologically and thereby slow down important events, predictable fights, repetitive and sometimes confusing characterization, clunky prose and trite dialogue.

I got through the first quarter of the book and began to wonder if book three was the end of the series as planned. I got halfway through and began to despair that it wasn't. Where was this plot headed? I couldn't tell. All the new PoVs indicated to me that Mayer was expanding the story, making it head into many other potential directions. Sure the secondary characters are interesting and I like what he did with them (there are too many to explore here in detail in order to explain), but the extra PoVs made the book lose its focus. By the end I'd lost my interest in the main characters, the climax (while exciting) was on the whole unimaginative and predictable, and the resolution left enough loose ends to hint at possible sequels. Not really the best way to wrap up a series.

Despite all the extra information about the cast of characters, we get the opposite problem with the city since the story is limited to a few locales, which is unfortunate. We get a taste of the era, but by this point the setting feels more like repetitive gripes about society's attitude toward women and minorities, and less about what it was like to live in 1880s New York City.

I wanted to like POWER, I really did. Mayer has created an interesting world by exploring  how a new era of heroes rises from adversity and how personal ability and technology makes that happen--all while doing it in a fresh setting. Ultimately, though, Mayer didn't spend the time refining POWER UNDER PRESSURE to give the conclusion the series deserved.

Recommended Age: 16+ (more for the sexual references than for the violence)
Language: Not really any
Violence: Fighting, deaths, and torture, but not particularly graphic
Sex: Referenced

You can check out this series here:




The Emperor's Soul

I've mentioned this before, but I absolutely love to see established authors tackle short fiction. Take an Epic Fantasy writer; can that person actually focus and write a self-contained short story, novelette or novella? You'd be surprised at how often they can't. I'd suggest that writing a novel is a completely different skill-set than that of writing short fiction. So when I come across an author that can do BOTH well, I get pretty excited.

Brandon Sanderson is an established author. Love him or hate him (I think that on the whole, he is terrific) he's a household name for those that read Fantasy. One of my biggest complaints about Sanderson's work has been his wordiness. Lot's of people standing around, doing nothing terribly important to the story. A while back I was at a signing for a different author and ran into Brandon. I asked if he had anything new coming out that I should be on the lookout for, and he told me he'd email me LEGION and THE EMPEROR'S SOUL the next day. I read LEGION, and found it quite entertaining. But it didn't feel complete. It felt like a pilot to a TV series as opposed to a full story.

THE EMPEROR'S SOUL, however, is a complete story that reminded me of why I became such a big fan of his in the first place in reading ELANTRIS. Ironically, this novella takes place in the same world as ELANTRIS, though you wouldn't know that with a casual read.

SOUL follows Shai, a Forger who was caught in the act of trying to replace the Moon Scepter with a near identical creation of her own. That's what Forgers do; replace real goods with fake, or turn inferior goods into ones that match those of higher quality. Shai is due to be executed for her crime when she is given an opportunity she can't refuse.

Make a forgery of Emperor Ashravan's soul.

Emperor Ashravan was injured in an attempted assassination, and his empire's enemies will use this to their advantage if they find out. Shai has one-hundred days to pull it off.

In my opinion, THE EMPEROR'S SOUL is one of Brandon Sanderson's best pieces of fiction. Period. The story is tight and focused without an ounce of fat. The dialog is crisp, and doesn't meander as Brandon has been known to allow. Not only that, but completely absent is the overwrought wit that suffocated ALLOY OF LAW and WARBREAKER. This is a serious story, and that seriousness lends itself into every facet of the narrative.

In a story about forging, the biggest question that is presented seems to be "What is art?" Shai's only ally in this story is Gaotona, the Emperor's chancellor. Gaotona is frequently confused as to why Shai would spend so much effort on creating a forgery as opposed to creating something new. The beauty of this novella is how Shai's and Gaotona's views on art (amongst other things) intersect and merge as the story progresses, causing each character to grow in ways they never could have individually. It was natural. It was perfect.

I am a firm believer that we as humans only truly grow and progress when faced by seemingly impossible tasks. I've witnessed this in my own life and in the lives of those closest to me. The moment when the average person overcomes that impossibility is perhaps a work of art itself. I think that this is where THE EMPEROR'S SOUL shines, in letting the readers experience the very real changes that Shai and  Gaotona go through.

On a more meta level, I can't help but feel that maybe Brandon felt a little like Shai when he began completing The Wheel of Time. This novella felt very personal, and was made all the better for it.

One of the many criticisms I have of short fiction (including my own) is how they rarely seem to have a solid ending. They just kind of...stop. SOUL has a powerful ending that is uplifting and as near to perfect as you can get. I'm not going to spoil it (obviously), but I don't think it could have ended any differently and retained the emotional impact that it had.

Brandon Sanderson's THE EMPEROR'S SOUL is one of the best pieces of short fiction I have ever read. It will be on my Hugo Ballot, and it should be on yours as well. Go buy this novella. You will never regret it.

Recommended Age: 14+
Profanity: Nope
Violence: At the end we get some deliciously shocking violence that reminds us all that Sanderson knows how to writing action in a Fantasy setting.
Sex: Nope

Here is your link. Go buy it. Now.