(Update: I mention below that I recommend the first two books in this series, but I no longer feel that way, since I discovered Dan Simons is a terrible human being and I believe we not only can’t separate the artist from the art but that we shouldn’t. Maybe that’s a blog for another time, but suffice it to say I can’t endorse the work of anyone who distorts American ideals and espouses beliefs that hurt innocent people simply trying to live happy, fulfilling lives the best way they can.)
I acknowledge it’s unfair of me to review Dan Simmons’ entire Hyperion Cantos together because it’s a long, complex journey with highs and lows in terms of both narrative drama and writing quality. In many ways, it’s less a four-book series, and more a duology of duologies. Unfortunately, the first two books are far superior than the latter two, which mainly serve to button up the universe. If these books interest you at all, I might recommend reading only the first two; however, the Endymion books might compel you, and you might find yourself beginning to resent them and questioning whether it was worth beginning the series in the first place.
Before I picked up Neverwhere, I’d never read any Neil Gaiman. I know. I couldn’t believe it either.
I went for Neverwhere because American Gods seemed like too much of a commitment (but I’ll get to it), and it intrigued me as an archetypal urban fantasy novel, a genre I’m trying to get more into.
Everyone seems to love Neverwhere. It seems to occupy a space of underground reverence (no, that’s not a pun). All of my friends on Goodreads have given it five stars, and nobody will dare utter a bad word about it.
So I will. I’m sorry to say I thought Neverwhere was just okay.
I’ll probably keep this much shorter than most reviews. Andy Weir’s follow-up to his mandatory-reading sci-fi novel The Martian is just okay. And you know what? That’s okay. It would be unrealistic to expect any human being to replicate the utter brilliance of a novel like The Martian. Its shadow is long, and its influence is broad. Not even Barry Bonds hit a home run every time he came to the plate, and he was on drugs.
There are many arguments to make for Artemis, and if we didn’t already know what Weir was capable of with The Martian, Artemis would be a standout novel in its own right. The world-building is utterly fascinating. The science is authentic but never exhausting. And Artemis still contains Weir’s nerdy, amazingly fun wit, not to mention the atmospheric charm that we’re reading something written by a guy who legitimately loves the playground he’s playing on.
Where Artemis falters is, perhaps, in something Weir took for granted with The Martian. The premise of The Martian is so immediately gut-wrenching: Astronaut Mark Watney is caught in a storm during an emergency evacuation, and his team, thinking he is dead, leaves him behind. But Mark is not dead. He is alive, and he must survive until his rescue.
In many ways, The Martian is an inferior story. It’s clearly a premise intended for Weir to play with survival scenarios on Mars. Those are fascinating in their own right, but they are not a narrative.
PULLING STRINGS is easily one of my favorite novels of 2017. Not only is it smart and meaningful, but it’s also fun as hell. It is a novel in that place where genre fiction and literary fiction blend, a novel you might see a literature professor and his or her student run into each other and discover they have something in common.
The synopsis goes something like this: Agent Colt has a psychic ability to fire kinetic mind bullets from her fingers. She’s a legend at the Department of Scientific Investigation (which doesn’t exist … but it could!), and she has led a storied career that the new recruits talk about in hushed tones. Now, however, she’s approaching retirement, working a cushy detail out of a field office in Middle America. It’s boring compared to her heyday. Then a new case comes in, and she thinks it could be her swan song. Little does she know the target she’s hunting is the most dangerous psychic she’s ever encountered.
Generally speaking, whenever someone says, “the book was better,” about a book-to-film adaptation, I feel the need to punch them in the throat. I could go on a long digression here about my feelings of film adaptations, the different camps of people wanting them to be faithful, and creative freedoms of artists as well as the nature of truth, but I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say, The Girl With All The Gifts film adaptation gets it both wrong and right in really fascinating ways.
I loved Autumn Moon. In a genre where there just aren’t that many good stories, it shines as an example of the werewolf tale’s potential. Autumn Moon demonstrates how to tell a deeply human werewolf story in a fascinating, alluring world rich with mythos and intrigue.
I Am The Night does something else entirely.
Rooted in the Autumn Moon framework, I Am The Night continues the narrative of Drake Burroughs, but like Drake, the novel’s nature has evolved. This one puts Drake in the spotlight and focuses on his struggles in the aftermath of the first book.
Drake has changed, and the core of Slade Grayson’s storytelling has changed, too.
Ashton Kutcher once said the only reason he works out is in case the zombie apocalypse happens and he needs to save his loved ones. Far too many zombie story protagonists seem prepared for it. While the main character in The Reaper Virus does have some resources that give him an advantage for survival, he isn’t one of those people. In Walking Dead terms, he has more in common with Eugene than Rick or Darryl, but the truth is he’s just an ordinary guy who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances, a classic setup.
The story begins with a preface from Nathan, the main character who shares the author’s name. In this preface, the story presents one of the coolest promises I’ve ever read:
“I ask that you judge me for who I am and what I fought for, not what I’ve done.”
Concept: Everything from Western fairy tales, fables, and myths is real. The powers of good and evil, light and dark, are locked in an eternal struggle that goes all the way back to the beginning of time. A modern day woman finds herself wrapped up in the war as she discovers she has the power of influence, to command the light and the dark, but the other side of that coin is she has become a target.
Execution: Do nothing that is obvious. Subvert expectations time and again. Build a rich, alluring world that incorporates fantastical elements of old Anglo-Saxon cultures to modern urban contemporaries. Create unique characters based on familiar ideas. Entertain. Stimulate the intellect. Cut the fat and reject nonsense. Tell a simple, powerful story that’s never been told before.
My experience in reading Frightfully Ever After by Nick DeWolf had a recurring theme, which was to be continually impressed by how incredibly imaginative it is. Originality and creativity are planted firmly in the driver’s seat. In trying to analyze the experience, I kept thinking of words like “alluring,” “captivating,” and “immersive.” I’ll no doubt use those words multiple times as I write this.
Though not a tome—and by fantasy standards, it’s relatively short—it secretes imagination. Cracking this book open, breaking its spine for the first time, I had to wonder if this thing was bound in the bone marrow of Beowulf or Edgar Allan Poe.
Notes From a Necrophobe by T.C. Armstrong is a novel about one family trying to survive the end of the world with zombies and biological hazards and terrible humans, oh my! It may sound familiar, but it isn’t. Keep reading.
This is a world that is coping with a parasitic threat, which has turned our most precious resource (water) into the most deadly substance on the planet. There hasn’t been a total collapse, but we get the immediate sense that the collapse is still happening. There are authorities, though their power is limited, and as expected, they only get less capable as the story progresses.
One of the main themes is that life goes on after the apocalypse but that there’s a yearning for the time before. The difference is that, after the end, some modern conveniences persist, including the Internet and TV. The characters grow to rely on these resources, which makes their inevitable removal that much more painful. It’s an interesting approach to the end because it’s somewhat atypical. The theme is familiar, but it has new nuances.
The treatment of the infection seems to be that the threat is the disease, not necessarily the monsters it creates. It’s a really interesting tone. The characters have to be especially careful about the environment, and the zombies are part of the world they find themselves in. They are an elevated kind of vermin. One character even laments in one of my favorite lines early on, “They are like cockroaches these days.”
Another favorite line of mine involves one of the characters calling another a “wenchbag.” I like it because it reminds me that this novel has a very wide range of tones of voice, and T.C. juxtaposes it in a humorous way. T.C. writes from the perspective of a mother as well as all of her children, one of which is an adolescent. Each of the characters have a distinct voice, and it’s certainly one of my favorite aspects of the book.
In fact, much of the story is told from the perspective of the children, and this gives the book a somewhat young adult feel to it. It’s well done in that it isn’t overwrought with ignorance to convey youth. We aren’t beaten over the head with it. The kids are people with their own personalities and ideas. Though, it certainly contains its fair share of high-level writing, including some scientific exposition, as well as adult-level ideas and themes. Of course, there’s the violence and gore.
In a way, Notes From a Necrophobe spans all ages.
It reads like journal entries, but it isn’t an epistolary. The writing style is a good mix of contemporary and modern fiction.
Apart from the standard terminology, T.C.’s writing has a specific personality. At times, it is morbidly funny without being pure horror satire. The comedy is based in these characters being jaded with the horrors of their world, but they aren’t casual about its dangers.
There are pretty clearly three acts to the story, though they aren’t delineated in text. With each act, the characters’ situation obviously grows more dire, and it is when conditions are at their bleakest that I felt like T.C.’s writing was at its most potent. That said, I tend to enjoy that kind of thing more, and another reader may find one of the other acts more entertaining or interesting. In this sense, Notes From a Necrophobe offers a range of experiences.
Overall, Notes From a Necrophobe succeeds in distinguishing itself in well-trodden territory. I think any zombie fiction fan will find it enjoyable, but even outside of the genre, there’s plenty of intrigue and enjoyment to be had.