Monthly Archives: September 2012

Review: Immortal City

Immortal City
Immortal City by Scott Speer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

17 yr old Maddy works as a waitress in her uncle’s diner in Angel City – the city where the Guardian Angels live, and their fans and followers. After the Civil War, the angels announced their presence and set up a way to be guardian angels for a few select people. Originally there was a council of 12 – the angels that were truly immortal, having descended from heaven. The other angels were their descendants. Or course, protection doesn’t come cheaply, and the guardians are able to live the lives of celebrities, complete with a star on the Angel Walk of Fame. Each year a group of 18 yr old angels are chosen to become the new “recruits after going through years of rigorous training, go through the rituals, and be given their assignments – they are to keep tabs on their protections as they travel through life, and if one of them is in trouble, to yank them out to safety. New angel cams are being tried out, which allows the public to see these saves from the angel’s vantage, right as it happens, on ANN, Angel News Network. Before you had to wait until video taken by someone showed up and was aired. The celebrity status of the angels at it’s highest peak. Among the new recruits, a year younger than his fellow ones, is Jackson Godspeed, step-son of Mark, who sits on the council. He has the most beautiful shimmering blue wings, and is a heartthrob to the millions that watch and hang on to the angels, follow them to events, poster their walls with angel pictures, etc. The teens are the biggest fans, but no one is immune. Maddy’s BFF Gwen is angel mad, but Maddy can’t see the reason – she is focused on working and getting out and going away to college, and she also doesn’t think it fair that rich people can buy the protection, but only a lucky few win the angel lottery, and get it for free. She believes it should be available to all, although there aren’t enough angels to go around. She thinks it’s all a big hype. One day a handsome young man ducks into the diner, and Maddy serves him – she doesn’t know that it is Jackson. He is in some minor trouble, and so he decides to use the cover of asking for a job to get out of sight. Maddy takes him into the back, but is soon joined by her uncle, who demands to know what is going on, and then Mark Godspeed shows up, and they are able to get Jackson out of there. The next day he appears at her school to apologize, and she is furious with him. But not for long. Soon they are an item, although Vivian, Jack’s ex, is jealous, and believes that once he becomes a full guardian angel he will come back to her.

But in the meantime, someone is leaving the bloody stumps of ripped off angel’s wings, their “immortality,” on their star on the Walk of Fame. Once the wings are gone, an angel is mortal and can be killed. Sometimes they are stripped of their wings and are sent back to the mortal world to live as regular humans as punishment, but this is different. Bodies of the angels who have ripped off wings are being found. They try to keep this under wraps, but fear is flying. The wings are being left on the angel’s star, and are killed in order of the stars. The next up is Jackson, who star is to be unveiled after he graduates that week. And so begins a reluctant romance, murders to solve, deception and betrayal, and of course, a look, from a new perspective, about celebrity culture, and how it takes us over. Very unique premise in using angels this way, although it was otherwise a fairly standard book. The writing is fine, but not great, and the characters are the same old stereotypes, the moody teenage girl who won’t join in, the bubbly teen who adores gossip, the brooding young man, and a few jealous girls, etc. But the concept and descriptions of life in Angel City make up for that, mostly.

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Review: Bio-Strike

Bio-Strike by Jerome Preisler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am slightly! behind on my reviews, so this one isn’t as clear as it could be. But I gave it four stars right after I finished it, so I must have liked it 😉 Harlan Devane, a megalomanic with dreams of world domination, has created a super-bug/gene that lies dormant in your genes, awaiting a trigger to unleash it’s deadly potential. It can be designed to target specific groups or people. So he decides to sell the designer gene to various groups, militant whites, militant blacks, Islamists, just about anyone who is interested in exterminating another group or race. And he himself has an interest in one man, the president of a global telecommunications company, Roger Gordian. Why he has a grudge against him personally is part of his endgame, so I can’t spoil it, but as he races to ensure his agents are in place, that the triggers are in the right hands, and is awaiting cash from his various buyers, Roger falls ill, as his trigger has been “pulled.” His security team, and his medical team race against the clock to find out what has happened to him, what or who caused it, and is it related to other unexplained deaths, such as the young new president of Bolivia, who was struck with a mysterious illness and died, although since it might cause a panic in a newly stable country, the circumstances are under wraps. it’s an exciting game of cat and mouse, of betrayal upon betrayal, from large players to small. Written by Jerome Preisler, and created by Tom Clancy and Martin Greenburg as part of Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series. A worthy entry.

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John Barnes – Classic Heinlein Science Fiction

I’ve been talking up a book called Directive 51, and it’s sequel, a post-apocalypse novel, with eerie links to what’s going on now in some areas. Anyway, It was by John Barnes. I had never read him before (he’s SF), and found the book in the uncatalogued section of the library where they shove a few romance, mystery and SF PBs. They do shelve some. Another one of his I found later on the shelf in PB form. Apparently Directive 51 didn’t rate enough to make it to cataloguing or they no longer do any PBs. I read the second novel in the series and was in love. Then I read The Return by Buzz Aldrin and JB. Great story. Next it’s A Million Open Doors, a novel of the Thousand Cultures, which I am almost through. I discovered, after reading all of them, and ascribing what I found to various other things, that his books are very warm-hearted, and cozy. They make you believe in people, in hope. That people are basically good, a few bad apples, and that companions, and comaraderie are an important part of a satisfying life. I have a few more in the stack, and will be reading as many as I can find. I find him a sort of SF Nevil Shute, whose belief in humanity simply poured through his novels. I wish I had “discovered” him many years ago..

Found two more books in the Thousand Cultures series (A MIllion Open Doors), so I will be happy. I figured out, as I finished that book, that what he does is take a group of people, disparate, but basically good, most of them, and take them on a voyage of self-discovery through various ingenious means, and sends them out at the end, new and improved versions, stronger and more understanding of the world and people. In this last one, he never really explained how the culture in which the hero lived worked, but did describe the new culture, but on the hero’s terms, through his eyes and conversations – we discovered how it worked as he did. Then when he went home, (and that’s another story), he saw what made up his culture, and why it was there, and what it gave to others or not. He never tells you things directly, but leads you on a voyage of discovery along with the characters. In the Daybreak series, you had to learn how to adapt, how it happened, why, etc., the same as everyone else. No cheating. The major reviewers kept comparing him to Heinlein. Classic SF, done right. I have no trouble recommending him to anyone who likes SF at all, and even though this one was hard to understand at first, you still “get it.” So far the ones I’ve read start off slowly, since you are working your way through understanding of everything and the world-building, etc. Then suddenly it creeps up on you and it hugs you back.

Review: Carriers

Carriers by Patrick Lynch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good solid medical thriller, taking place mostly in Sumatra’s jungles, it is the search for a deadly virus source. Several case have cropped up around the world, and it’s origin is being traced back to Sumatra, and a jungle camp of a ethnobotanist who studies plants for their rare medical qualities. The team is complicated by the appearance of Holly Becker, a young woman who’s two girls were visiting their father (her ex) for the summer in order to see what he does first hand. She is met with resistance, since the disease is spreading, and the towns are becoming overrun, and the police and military are wrangling over turf wars, and now nobody can get in or out. And thus begins a harrowing and exciting journey by several parties into the dark jungles, with a virus that has an almost perfect kill rate. And no knowledge of how it spreads – contact, bodily fluids, air, etc. What the answer is, no one will guess, and that is what makes a good thriller. I would wish for a little more flesh on the characters, but the disease is the star, and that’s the way it should be. Leading the U.S. contingent is LT. Col. Carmen Travis, working for USAMRIID, who leaves her own children behind, to trace this deadly outbreak. Nice edge of your bed reading, with some nice little gruesome details thrown in for good measure, and plenty of red herrings.

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Review: Daybreak Zero

Daybreak Zero
Daybreak Zero by John Barnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the sequel to Directive 51, and I think it was even better than the first. It built on the foundation of what happened in the first book, and the people that were the main characters, and delves into why and how it might have happened, adding some twists and turns in that area, and brought the two factions to the brink of war, with other influences and dangers creeping in, such as the castles, and the outsiders. Pueblo remained the center of action, and this one was scarier, a little torture, a little spookier, and a real study into how people might work, function, and use their strengths, ad to what ends some will go to get or continue in power, and others will withstand the pull, and stand by their principles, even if they have different results. It’s grittier, larger, and I still want more. You don’t ned zombies to make it a scary world. You just need a bunch of people who are ingrained and indoctrinated with a meme. This one is still like the first, full of details on governments, how they function, and on strategies, and how large scale problems may be solved, like the mysterious EMP pulses that attack whenever a strong radio signal is sent out. Who is ending them and from where? The characters are the strong part, real people, with real ideals, and real weak points. But yet is uplifting, in a Postman sort of way, with the idea that hope, or the belief that the world is working again, albeit differently is all that is needed to jump start regular people into doing things, and that from such small starts, come bigger results.

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Review: Devil’s Wake

Devil's Wake
Devil’s Wake by Steven Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a nice zombie thriller – made very real and visceral. Although not strictly zombies, these people have fallen prey to an infection that first makes them sleepy and then turns them into biting monsters. They don’t really eat their victims, at least most don’t, but bite – trying to spread it as far as they can I suppose. The main two characters are Kendra, a teenager from a nice family in Portland, OR, who, when her father falls sick because of being bitten by one in the very early stages, has to endure his leaving home to save them, before his mind goes. Then she is given supplies and told to stay locked in the basement until a secret phrase that she has with her grandfather is revealed. She is not to come out for any reason, even if her mother asks her. Meanwhile her mother, not infected yet, but scared she might become so, calls her father and asks him to come down and get them. But in the meantime, while trying to help a neighbor, who looks fine, she is bitten by that neighbor. Finally Kendra’s grandfather arrives and she goes to his cabin in the woods, well-stocked and prepared for living off the land, with a few trips to the local market, which is still open. And that is the start of her journey. The other is a young boy, a little on the juvenile delinquent side, from a broken home, who is sent to a camp for such kids, who still have a chance to turn around their lives. The camp in is the Southern WA woods, not that far from Kendra’s grandfather. The couple that runs the place are nice, kind and have worked with troubled kids for many years, and soon the boys are whipped into shape and have learned some basic outdoors skills, including how to shoot a shotgun. The camp owns a van and a big lumbering old bus. When the camp’s owners are bitten, they have to escape. One of them they lock in the fridge until he freezes – the other was killed by her husband. They gather up as many supplies as they can in the school bus, intending to head for the nearest town in southern Washington, and stay there – the radio, sporadic as it is, says there’s safety and food and shelter there. They load the bus with as many provisions as they can, as much ammo and guns as they can find, and take off. And thus begins their journey to safety. Somewhere along the line, they and Kendra meet up and begin a long trek down the coast as it becomes less safe at each place they think is okay. Some of the people left unbitten are good, otehrs are profiteers, or bandits, or just desperate for food for their families. Eventually by the end of the book they are heading for Devil’s Wake – an island where Kendra’s aunt lives, and they hope will take them in (not giving away much since the name of the island is the title). It is the first in a at least two part book series I hope, since there is still much to tell. Good characters, Not too much on the attitude from bad teens excuse, and more about working together, with some trust issues. A few others are picked up along the way. Enjoyed it very much. Not great literature, but it’s zombies!

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Review: Omega

Omega by Patrick Lynch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A second read for me, but the first time is forgotten since it was in the late 90s? Marcus Ford is a brilliant ER doc, working in a hospital in one of the worst sections of LA. He could have a cushy job, but he likes this one, and he is where he is needed. He is a widower, and has a teenage daughter. One day a patient comes in, shot by a rival gang member through the throat, but he is operated on and still lives. Meanwhile, a policeman who was at the scene, is also in the hospital for an injury to his leg. They get them stabilized and all seems to be fine. Marcus goes off to give a presentation, put on by his old friend from med school, now on the board of health, about the overuse of antibiotics, and the growing trend of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. He meets a young woman there, but that breaks up when is is approached by a man, a pioneer in the field, who is now retired, and wants to talk to Marcus about this problem, but do so more privately. They agree to meet that friday at a condo the guy owns . In the meantime, the patients he was working on suddenly start developing drug-resistant pathogens, and he and his team are immediately suspected of causing it by the hospital’s germ “Nazi” as they call her – improper techniques, lack of sterile conditions – what is known as nosocomial infections – spread by the hospital itself. Marcus doesn’t believe this, and starts asking around. He is contacted by a doctor from a prestigious private hospital who had heard about his talk and wanted to talk to him about a patient of his that seems to have a similar problem. And so follows a thrilling ride, as he tries to uncover the source of the infections, how to stop them, and then it gets personal. A good medical thriller from Lynch.

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Review: Pandemonium

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I show that I read the first book, and have a few vague memories of it ( I wasn’t writing reviews back then – just noting that I had read the books), but that’s all, so this was sort of like jumping into the series half-way. I would recommend reading Delirium first. This one involves the continuation of Lena’s adventures now that she is “outside.” Her friend Alex, that she escaped with, has either been taken prisoner or died in the escape. She barely makes it out alive, and tries to get as far away as she can from the additional guards patrolling the perimeter, and the raids sent out from the city. She stirred up a hornet’s nest with her escape. But she is found by Raven, a girl who is one of the invalids, or uncureds. Lena had been told all her life that the raids over the uncured areas had removed all invalids, but is seems that is not the case. Many were wiped out, but some survived. She is taken into one such encampment of mostly children, where she is fed, and nursed back to health. But she must pull her weight in this new and strange uncured land. She learns to get physically fit, and to make do, to scavenge, and hunt, and cook. Inside the city, meanwhile, life goes on for the cureds. They live a life devoid of love, emotion or anything, as each undergoes a procedure at 18 to “cure” them of such undesirable traits that the leaders feel are the reason that society got into trouble in the first place. They place their reliance on church and the Book of Shh, a compilation of the bible and their new strictures against love, etc. I was hampered by my lack of recall on how the society is set up from the first book, but I got the gist of it. Lena is determined to help her new friends, since she wanted to escape the cure in the first place, and works hard, and eventually is sent back to the city to infiltrate and spy. But things are not as they seem and Lena must figure out who she is, and who are the people around her that she has trusted, or distrusted. Another book in the series will hopefully answer the questions left hanging. I can’t truly judge this book, since it wasn’t a stand-alone. You have to read the first in order to really make more sense of the whole story line. I did, but since my recall is almost nil for most books, unless really great, I’m in the dark.

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Review: The Games

The Games
The Games by Ted Kosmatka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a really good book – reminded me in a way of Masello’s The Bestiary. The basic premise is that a group of scientists, in the near future, are working on building, from the genetic code, a hybrid animal that will compete in a new feature of the Olympic games, the Arena – these non-human hybrids, one from each country, will fight to the death until only one is standing, and the honor and glory of the best bio-engineering goes to the winner. The game is held in the city of the last winner. The U.S. has been the winner for the past three games, all that has been held. The Games are overseen by a board, and by a board within each country. The U.S. board is pleased that they have been winning, but last time they barely squeaked by. So they decide to bypass the head of the genetic research department, without his knowledge, and ask a computer to design a new animal. What comes out of the mind of the mad genius who built the computer, and the computer’s soft logic programing, is awesome and scary. Terrifying, horrifying, and plausible, it is a stay up all night reading to the end kind of book. Swift paced, not big on characters, but the plot is good, and I thoroughly enjoyed this look into bio-ethics.

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