Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

KroeseStarshipGriftersWhere I Got It: Kindle Unlimited

Narrator: Kate Rudd

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2014)

Length: 7 hours 30 minutes

Series: Book 1 Rex Nihilo

Author’s Page

Rex Nihilo thinks he savvy and smart and no amount of evidence to the contrary will convince him otherwise. Luckily, this robot sidekick (and keeper), Sasha, is able to navigate a safe-ish path for both of them…. most of the time.

This was a very, very fun book. The humor reminds me a bit of Douglas Adams but better because nearly all of it is delivered in Sasha’s dead straight manner. She is a robot after all. This book is clever. The dialogue is witty, the characters are fleshed out, the plot is carried through. And I snicker-snort laughed my way through it. Sasha is the perfect character to deliver much of the humor in this book in that straight, matter-of-fact voice of hers.

Sasha is one of those nearly independent thinking robots. Someone somewhere at some time decided it was a bad idea to have sentient robots roaming the galaxy, so a governor was installed in them that monitors for individual and original thoughts and if any are detected, the robot is shut down for 15 seconds and a small part of its memory wiped. So, every time Sasha is on the verge of an independent thought, she shuts down for 15 seconds only to come back to it with no recall of what she was thinking or about to say. This little gimmick added to the humor of the book quite a bit.

The story starts off with a card game in which Rex unwisely bets his entire wealth, as little as it is. Then we wins some hands, and a few more, and the rich guy he’s up against starts making ludicrous bets – his ship, and then a planet he owns. Rex wins, much to the amazement of nearly everyone, just in time for a ruckus to start. Rex and Sasha flee in the newly won space ship, Flagrante Delicto. Meanwhile, Sasha who is always cogitating if not outright thinking, has discovered that Rex’s new planet is actually in arrears on some taxes. So he is now in a great amount of debt. The kind of debt that attracts bounty hunters.

But he has bigger problems that that right now (at least until Pepper Melange in her ship Bad Little Kitty shows up). As circumstances evolve, he gets sucked into the conflict between the Malarchian army and the revolutionary Revolting Front. He makes promises he can’t possibly keep to both sides. Rex is a total scoundrel and Sasha keeps him alive and sometimes makes him look competent.

There were just so many fun parts in this book. At one point, Sasha takes a pretty heavy hit to the face, which does some damage to her face plate. She and the guard start up a conversation about armor and what works best for both protecting and damaging. I swear, they were flirting! And Sasha deserves a fun date.

The ending had a surprise twist that was cleverly done. There’s definitely more going on with some of these characters! I’m really hoping for more Sasha/Rex adventures.

The Narration: Kate Rudd was perfect for this book. Since everything is told through Sasha’s eyes, Rudd maintained this polite yet just-the-facts voice for the entire book. It was perfect for delivering the humor. Of course she did character voices for whenever someone else was speaking and she kept them all quite distinct. There’s an evil villain who is described as having a screechy voice and Rudd did that one quite well – definitely a screech but not so much that it got on my nerves. I also liked her sexy voice for Pepper. 

What I Liked: Simply a joy to read; all the humor; Sasha was my favorite character; Rex gets himself into plenty of trouble; lots of interesting characters; surprise ending; great narration; awesome book cover.

What I Disliked: Nothing – this was a lot of fun!

What Others Think:

Battles and Book Reviews

Paper Blog

Sabotage Reviews

SFF Audio

The Atomic Sea Vol. 2 by Jack Conner

ConnerTheAtomicSeaVol1Where I Got It: Review copy.

Narrator: Ray Greenley

Publisher: Jack Conner (2015)

Length: 6 hours 30 minutes

Series: Book 2 The Atomic Sea

Author’s Page

Note: This is Volume 2 in the series and I feel this is a series best read in sequence. Volume 1 is freaking awesome but it also gives you a good basis for the characters’s motives in Volume 2

I so very much enjoyed Book 1 and then got distracted by life and other books. But I am very glad to be back in the world of the Atomic Sea. Vol. 1 set the stage with the war and the messed up oceans and the tainted people. An unlikely group forms – they aren’t quite all friends but they do all have some shared enemies. Now in this volume we will learn more about the motives behind the war, about what exactly created the Atomic Sea, and about how little chance they actually have of saving their beleaguered world.

Dr. Avery is still alive and kicking and he, the mysterious Layanna (who was pulled whole from the sea in Vol. 1), and their new odd friends (Muirblog, Janx, Simon, Hildra, and Byron) are just hanging out on a mountainside trying to plan their next move when they see a flying ray (possibly hunting them) in the distance. Yet before they can move out, the Mikvandi attack. They’ve got fish faces and weapons, so you know Avery will probably be having nightmares. Layanna in her weird Cthulu-amoeba-like form saves them only to have the Mikvandi declare her one of their gods (one of the Minuthra) and insist on escorting her to the other gods. Layanna is amenable to going with them because she believes the Minuthra will have an active altar, which is a kind of other dimensional portal. She wishes to contact her friends for very secret reasons which she reveals later in the book and which would be spoilery to chat about in detail here.

Things don’t go as planned and the whole lot of them make an escape attempt. Only some of them get out on a dirigible but they have a direction to go and a quest that they adopt because if they don’t then what hope do they have? Layanna needs another active altar and the crew need answers. Layanna can only give them some but they are kind of mind blowing. It’s all kinds of wonderful messed up.

So if I tell you more of the plot, I will be in spoiler land, so I won’t. In broad strokes, I just thoroughly enjoyed this book every bit as much as Vol. 1. If you eat tainted meat from the Atomic Sea, you start getting these weird fishy mutations – and no one has pinned down a predictable trend (will it be gills and bulging eyes or shark skin and a spiny mohawk?) nor a real way to cure it. So we have these humans who have managed to stay all human, such as Dr. Avery, and then you have humans who had no choice but to eat tainted fish to survive and have these fishy attributes (like our big warrior Janx), and then you got Layanna who can have a human form or her other dimensional Cthulu-like form. I just love all the clashes and chances for odd friendships this causes in the book.

One of my favorite, possibly amoral, characters from Vol. 1, Cpt. Sheridan, returns in this book but not till perhaps half way through. I’m glad she’s back on scene because she adds some real angst to the sometimes emo Dr. Avery. These two bounce off each other in ways that highlight both Avery’s humanity and Sheridan’s coldness.

Then there’s the human sacrifices and the Minuthra gods and dirigibles and giant caverns that house whole cities. It’s like HP Lovecraft and Jules Verne got together and had a baby and named that baby Jack Conner who gave us The Atomic Sea series. We got adventure, a touch of guttural terror, the fear of the unknown, things way larger than you messing with your life, and good people stuck in bad situations. Yeah. It’s that good.

I was provided this audiobook at no charge from the narrator in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks!

The Narration: Ray Greenley did a great job with Vol. 1 and he continues to do so with Vol. 2. He does amazingly well with all the distorted fish voices. He makes Sheridan sound ice-cold but then he can switch to the emo Dr. Avery in the same conversation, back and forth multiple times, without missing a beat. Excellent performance.  

What I Liked: Sea mutations on land!; Dr. Avery continues to be a complicated guy; we learn some significant things about Layanna; dirigibles!; human sacrifices and daring escapes; whole towns hiding in giant caverns; excellent narration; even tho the cover art hasn’t changed, it’s still a great cover. 

What I Disliked: Nothing – I really enjoyed this book. 

Driver 5 by Ray W. Clark

ClarkDriver5Where I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Larry Lang

Publisher: Driver5books (2016)

Length: 2 hours 18 minutes

Author’s Page

The man who will be known as Driver 5 for the entire book is offered a sweet fast car by an odd old man. He jumps at the chance and takes it for joy ride but soon finds himself in the midst of a zombie-filled land. Luckily, he runs into Leah pretty quickly and she gives him the basics and directs him to a safe place. This underground complex houses most of the remaining humans in the area and they have been fighting an ongoing mission to take out a half-demon half-human Hitler who has set up base in Detroit. Yeah, I know. This isn’t a deep work but it a lot of fun. Just sit back and enjoy the ride!

Right off the bat, I’m going to tell you my pet peeve with this story and then we can get to all the good fun stuff. First, there is only one female character, Leah, and she is a woman, not a girl. Additionally, 5ft 9in is NOT short. Just setting the record straight there Driver 5!

So Driver 5 has been sucked in to this alternate timeline where Hitler did a sneaky and deadly attack at the end of WWII which sunk much of the western USA and Japan and part of China, and created these zombies. He then dabbled in some occult stuff, became part demon, and moved his center of operations to Detroit. Ha! I was just snort laughing throughout this book in entertainment – some of the stuff is just so far over the top I had to laugh along with plot.

At the underground complex, Driver 5 (no one wants to know who he really is or what he’s like because these drivers don’t have a long life expectancy) gets gussied up for the quest. He gets some cool nanotech that heightens his reflexes and lets his car recognize him as the sole driver and it connects him to his weapons as well. The car gets well stocked for the crazy drive from Indianapolis to Detroit. Leah gets to be his copilot. Now why folks of this history line don’t drive yet have the tech to send people to hunt down drivers in alternate histories is a little odd, but hey, we’re hear for the crazy Thunderdome ride experience, right?

And, indeed, it is a crazy, crazy road trip. Leah does a good job keeping Driver 5 alive and he eventually gets up to speed and starts doing his fair share of zombie killing. Eventually, Leah becomes Driver 5’s romantic interest and she’s a full grown woman who can make up her own mind about him. When they get to Detroit, their intel says demon Hitler is set up in a sports stadium and is well defended. Yes, the ending was a full on action flick.

In short, I could totally pick apart the plot. There’s a lot things that won’t hold up under even light scrutiny. But honestly, that’s not why I listened to it. I read that book blurb. I knew going into it that this was not a book to take seriously. Yet I still enjoyed the hell out of it. So, yes, go pick up a copy, enjoy it, revel in zombie killing while driving a fast car with a weapons-competent leather-clad woman at your side.

I received this book free of charge from the narrator in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: The narration started off rough. Larry Lang sounded muffled at first and some of his sound effects drowned out the narration. But things did get better. By the end, he has a good balance of sound effects and his narration doesn’t sound so muffled. Leah always sounded like a woman and the male characters all sounded distinct.

What I Liked: Just fun to listen to; zombies – anyone can shoot a zombie and not feel bad about it; demon Hitler set up in Detroit – ha!; the cool tech; Leah and her competence.

What I Disliked: 5ft 9in is not short; there’s only 1 woman so I guess this alternate history won’t be repopulating quickly; the narration was a little rough.

What Others Think:

AudioFile

Sunshine Blogger Award

I was awarded the Sunshine Blogger Award by My Library Card Wore Out, and yes, I did get a little bit of a giggle out it. But I guess even the sun has a little dab of darkness here and there whenever it farts a bit of pent up energy into the universe.

As it goes with these fun little awards, there are rules – which I don’t always adhere to, but I expect most people do these things for fun.

  • Name drop and link to the blog of the person who nominated you.

  • Answer the eleven questions from the blogger who nominated you.

  • Nominate up to eleven wonderful bloggers and write (or borrow/steal) eleven questions for them to answer.

  • Bend said rules

And here are the questions from My Library Card Wore Out, along with my answers.

What are you currently reading and why did you choose that book?

I’m always in the middle of a few books. I’m currently listening to my very first Star Wars book, Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne. I’ve really enjoyed Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles and then a blogger friend gifted me his Star Wars book. I’m only 1 disc into it so far, but it’s a lot of fun and makes me want to rewatch the Star Wars movies. Then I’m also listening to Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest by Keira Gillett. It’s a great kid’s book that takes place in Norway and had all this mythology stuff thrown in. Trolls and the Wild Hunt! Then on the Kindle I’m also listening to Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese. The humor reminds me a little of Douglas Adams but not so over the top all the time. I’m quite enjoying that as well. Then I’m trying to eyeball read Bad Apples 2: Six Slices of Halloween Horror and The Golden Valley: The Untold Story of the Other Cultural Center of Tibet. I’ve been dealing with a lengthy illness and it leaves me greatly fatigued so my text reading is very slow.

When you were a teenager, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A biologist of one flavor or another. For awhile, it was a marine biologist. Then I was into bugs. Reptiles are cool too. Pandas – so adorable and so horribly inefficient at surviving!

There’s a massive asteroid heading your way and it is about to destroy planet Earth and you have 24 hours to live. What would you do for your last 24 hours?

Well, first I call those that I want along for the ride and tell them to get their butts over here. Then I start packing my rocketship. I’ll need food, bedding, entertainment, toilet paper, pet food, and seeds to get the grow vats started. Then the last 6 hours will probably be spent convincing people and pets to get their asses on the ship, doing the final checks and warm up, and then actually getting off the planet.

Tea or coffee?

Tea. Black orange tea is one of my favorites. Last year I tried to become a coffee person, but it tears up my stomach when I drink it straight, and so I really only like it if it’s totally froofrooed up, and then it’s not really coffee anymore, is it?

Book or movie?

Usually a book, though I do like action movies with lots of special effects on the big screen. The age of the Super Hero movie is a great thing to alive for!

You can only watch one movie for the rest of your life. What will it be and why?

That’s a tough one. I’m tempted to cheat and say The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the Firefly series including the movie Serenity. Lady in the Water is a top pick as well. Or perhaps Brick. Or Pitch Black.

You find a genie and he says that he can transport you into your favorite book. Forever. What book would it be and why?

The Terre D’Ange Cycle by Jacqueline Carey. It’s a great mix of historical fiction and fantasy, with no small amount of quality sex thrown in.

What’s your favorite website (any subject)?

The giant panda cam at the national zoo. It feels a little voyeuristic but, hey, it’s pandas!

If you could meet any celebrity, who would you meet and why?

I think it would be great to meet Alan Dean Foster. I grew reading his scifi books and I especially love his Pip & Flinx series. From his website, it looks like he travels a lot as well, so I bet he would have lots of great stories to tell over drinks.

You can also meet any person from history, who would you choose to meet and for what reason?

Queen Elizabeth I of England. She was a ruler, and a fairly successful one, at a time when women weren’t rulers. She was also a bit more tolerant than other nations in regards to religious practices. Tho she did have a temper, so things would never be boring in her court.

You can only study one thing for the rest of your life. What would you choose to study?

Women in history. Since it has been overlooked for so long, there’s always more coming to light, so I think it will be decades, perhaps centuries before that chunk of history runs out of surprises for us.

As usual, I like to leave these things as an open mic. If you enjoy answering random questions, please join in – either in the comments or via a blog post. With that said, I will mention some blogs I enjoy following. I spend time over at The Audio Book Reviewer, where they have not only reviews but also giveaways and narrator and author interviews. Musings on Fantasia is a great place for not just chatting about books but for also writing tips/shares and such. It’s run by the author Liesel Hill, whose short story The Hatching is one of my favorites. I’m fairly new to following X+1, who has been hosting a read along of The Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch, but there’s other good stuff there too. I’ve read several of Edward Lorn’s books and I like to follow his blog as well – book reviews, darkly humorous fun stuff, sometimes commentary on current events. Fangs, Wands, & Fairy Dust is rather eclectic in book reviews, some commentary, and cool giveaways. I enjoy catching the weekly Buzz Worthy news over at Cuddlebuggery. Under My Apple Tree is also an eclectic reader/reviewer and posts pics of birds and flowers as well. For more audiobook fun check out the AudioGals and The Guilded Earlobe.

Here are my 11 questions for folks who want to play to answer: 

  1. Do you have any phobias
  2. If you were to create your own special ice cream, what would it be?
  3. Who are your favorite hero duos?
  4. What was the last thing to keep you in suspense?
  5. Do spoilers ruin the experience for you?
  6. Who is your favorite comedian?
  7. You’re about to be tossed into a post-apocalyptic world –  pick the world.
  8. If you could be a super villain, what would be your super villain name?
  9. You’re arranging a family dinner out – fancy place where you have to dress up or comfy clothes and comfort food?
  10. What are your current top 5 favorite reads?
  11. What is your favorite format (paperbook, ebook, audiobook) of reading material?

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

LiuThePaperMenagerieAndOtherStoriesWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrators: Corey Brill, Joy Osmanski

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 15 hours 41 minutes

Author’s Page

This is my first adventure in Ken Liu’s works and it does not disappoint! Liu really shows off his diversity in this collection. From historical fiction to fantasy to science fiction to murder mystery to contemporary literature – Liu does it all well.

Below is my summary and thoughts on each story. I do my best to avoid spoilers. Most of the stories have a pretty serious ending, though there are few that use humor here and there. This is a thought provoking collection of stories. Several cultures are represented and many of the stories carry culture clash themes.

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”

Evan and his wife Ming Ping discover an atomic particle that lets humans view a snapshot of history. As their discovery is put into use, lots and lots of questions are raised. The initial focus is given to an atrocity carried out by a Japanese experimental science group (Unit 731) during WWII. This story was chilling and thought provoking. Should the past be laid to rest so that future generations can move forward? Or should we bear witness to every atrocity of the past, keeping them close in memory? 5/5

“Mono No Aware”

Hiroto lives on a space ship, the Hopeful. The story moves back and forth in time as our main character has flash backs to his time as a kid. His family packed up and went with all their neighbors to a tent city awaiting to board a space ship. However, not enough were available. Yet kid Hiroto gets a seat on an American space ship that launches in time to avoid the asteroids that slam into Earth. His past weighs heavily on him as he makes decisions in the present. While this story was interesting, it didn’t hit me as hard as several of the others. 4/5

“The Waves”

Earth has become polluted and the Sea Foam carries humanity outward to another habitable planet. In Earth’s last transmission to the ship, they send the specs on how to build a microscopic virus that allows one to become immortal. The ship occupants decide to let each person decide for themselves. However, because of how things are on the ship, for every immortal, there must be someone who chooses to age and die. Since the ship is traveling for generations, this was common sense. Maggie is the main character we follow through the story. When Sea Foam does arrive at their destination, there’s a surprise waiting for them and folks have yet another choice to make. There were several creation myths woven into the story quite cleverly, bringing up the question of whether they could be true. 5/5

“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”

This story explores the vast ways the peoples of the universe write and read books. Some use a proboscis to both write and read books, like a record player. Some do so through scents and flavors. Another species are large strung out wisps that float through the universe reading planets and black holes. There’s a few others, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. This story was a big info dump, but a very interesting info dump, like an encyclopedia entry. I really enjoyed this one! 5/5

“All the Flavors”

Set in the gold rush era of 1860s in Idaho, Lily Seaver and her dad Jack make friends with the local Chinamen. Lao Guan (or Logan to his American friends) tells Lily Chinese stories of Guan Yu, a glorified or perhaps mystical warrior of old. However, the Chinamen butt heads with some locals, Obie and Crick. Eventually, Obie brings charges against Logan. I really thought I would enjoy this story more, as I typically like Old West tales. I found the pace slow and my mind kept wandering.  3/5

“The Litigation Master and the Monkey King”

The litigator Tian is considered lazy but when a widow comes to him for aid, he stands up for her at the local court. He succeeds only to have the widow come to him again for assistance on another matter. The entire time he chats away with the Monkey King in his head. The story starts off a little comical as Tian was dreaming of enjoying a big feast with the Monkey King. Then the story gets serious and then it gets a little brutal. Still, I liked it. Tian has some idea of what his good deed will cost him and even though he has a quick tongue and a quicker wit, he doesn’t make it out of this story unscathed. 5/5

“The Paper Menagerie” 

Jack’s mom is a mail order Chinese bride and his dad is American. Jack has to muddle through growing up with all the comments from neighbors and friends about mail order brides. His mom is a paper artist, making him origami animals to play with. As a small kid, he adores these animals. But as he ages, the insults start getting to him. He packs away his animals and demands real toys. He wants American meals and for his mom to speak good English. He starts ignoring her and is ashamed of her and doesn’t want to look anything like her. The story was rather sad but poignant. I think anyone who has struggled with cultural identity can relate to this story, no matter what your heritage is. 5/5

“State Change”

Rina was born with an ice cube for a soul. Her college friend Amy has a pack of cigarettes for a soul. Each character has their soul manifested as an object that must be protected. Rina lives in constant fear that her cube will melt and her soul will be no more and her heart will cease to beat. Going out for anything requires a thermos and a freezer at the destination, which limits her socializing. It was a fun little piece though a bit slow moving.  4/5

“The Perfect Match”

The AI Tilly and the Centillian Corporation control info. They are in nearly everyone’s house via their electronics, monitoring all their wants and needs. Tilly is helpful in making suggestions and in offering up directions and coupons and even playing match maker. However, a small group of people (including Jenny), believe this kind of data gathering to be wrong. Tilly is so pervasive in Sai’s life, he no longer knows if what he wants is truly what he wants. This story held my attention throughout and was a bit relevant to today’s arguments on government monitoring of phone and internet. 5/5

“Good Hunting”

Liang and his father are demon hunters and they start this story off hot on the trail of two hulijing. Yan and her mother can shape shift into foxes. Liang corners Yan but then lets her go, continuing to meet in secret a few times a year. As the railroad progresses into their area, magic begins to fade out. Liang and Yan each have to find a way to reshape themselves or fade away. The story was a bit haunting, a little sad, but with hope at the end. 5/5

“Literomancer”

Lilly Dyer is going to school in Taiwan during the Communist craze. She and her dad are from Texas but she’s constantly teased at school for her Chinese lunches. One day she meets Mr. Kan and his adopted grandson Teddy. Mr. Kan has a bit of magic – literomancy – which means he can tell fortunes from words looking at the hidden meanings in the characters. Lilly inadvertently gets Mr. Kan and teddy into trouble when she shares some innocent stories with her parents over dinner. I did not see that ending coming! It was a sweet story about building friendships despite vast cultural differences and then it ended so harshly. 4/5

“Simulacrum”

This story is told in 3 voices, like written letters. Paul and Erin were traveling a lot for work but then had Anna Larimore, their accident baby. When Anna is a teen, she catches her dad at home having sex with his 4 simulacrum of his past infidelities. Paul helped create the simulacrum and he didn’t see any difference between them and other virtual tech. Anna becomes estranged from him and eventually her mother leaves her a message about how one weak moment shouldn’t define a person for the entirety of their life. It was an interesting story but a bit short. I felt more could have been done with the simulacrum and how their wide-spread use has affected society. 3/5

“The Regular”

The Watcher has killed yet another prostitute in the Boston area. This time, the prostitute’s mom, Sarah Ding, hires PI Ruth Law to find the killer. Ruth used to be law enforcement, but then tragedy struck and she went into the private sector. She has various enhancements, as many folks do in the story. Some strengthen her grip or give her muscles speed. She also has a regulator, which controls her adrenaline spikes and suppresses her sorrow. This was a pretty good murder mystery. Additionally, I like all the tech. I ached for Ruth and her loss and her inability to cope, relying heavily on her regulator to block out emotions. 5/5

“An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition”

This tale starts off talking about aliens who can join together, experiencing each other’s dreams, fears, hopes, memories, feelings, etc., but when they separate, they are basically copies of one another. The story is a bit rambly, kind of broken up, and makes large leaps. There is this bit about a couple and their child, but it doesn’t really anchor the story. There’s lots of talk about what is love and such. This tale didn’t really work for me. 2/5

“A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel”

In this little bit of alternate history, a great tunnel was built in the early 1900s connecting US pacific coast with Japan and China. The story follows a now old, retired tunnel worker Charlie, and Betty, an American woman with grown children (who are off doing their thing). The story flashes back and forth between their blossoming relationship and his memories of digging the tunnel. He has nightmares sometimes about the things he had to do while building the great tunnel. This story made me think of some of the early construction in the US, such as the Hoover dam and some of the big New York buildings. There’s a human cost to such success.  5/5

I received a copy at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration:  Corey Brill did a fine job with all the Japanese words and accents. For some stories, only a few character voices were required but each was distinct. Joy Osmanski also did a nice job. When there were only a few character voices required, I could easily tell the difference between them. Although when singing the Irish wake song, her voice lacked masculinity (in “All the Flavors”). for “Simulacrum”, the two narrators tag teamed it, which was well done.

What I Liked: A variety of genres represented in the collection; most of heady and provoke deeper questions; I loved the various cultures represented; cultural identity and culture clash are themes in several of the stories; great cover.

What I Disliked: There was one story was too rambly for me to enjoy.

What Others Think:

The Biblio Sanctum

SF Signal

The Speculative Herald

SciFi Now

Strange Currencies

Buzzy Mag

Speculative Book Review

Fantasy Faction

Eye of the Apocalypse by Dylan James Quarles

QuarlesEyeOfTheApocalypseWhere I Got It: Kindle Unlimited

Publisher: Dylan James Quarles (2014)

Length: 427 pages

Series: Book 3 The Ruins of Mars

Author’s Page

Book 3 picks up right where Book 2, Waking Titan, left off. The AI brothers Remus and Romulus are still in the Martian construct (kind of like being trapped in the Matrix). Earth is recovering from the Pulse that killed so many.  Harrison Assad and crew are still trying to puzzle out the Martian ruins.

This was quite the ending to the trilogy! This book is nearly twice as long as the previous book, and I’m glad as there was plenty of ground to cover. The crew find a device and those that touch the device have meaningful yet strange reactions to it. Harrison, as the crew’s archaeologist, has a deep fascination with the ruins and the device, focusing on them even though there are more pressing concerns. His friend Ralph Marshall does his best to bring his friend out of his funk (a fellow crew member died in Book 2), but with the Pulse having caused so much damage back on Earth, it’s hard to be cheery about anything.

Captain Tatyana Vodevski probably has the hardest job in this book. Circumstances will arise that require her to consider mutiny against her supervisors back on Earth. She will lose more of her crew and one will go mad. She will have to undertake dangerous missions herself, but also allow her crew to undertake some as well. I definitely wouldn’t want to be Tatyana in this book, even tho she is a bad ass.

Dr. Elizabeth Kubba’s character arc for the entire series is one of the most fascinating. She’s not a total good guy but neither is she a total bad guy. She’s complex and that makes her very interesting. In Book 2 she made some choices that I totally disagreed with, so I was all set to have her be a big villain in Book 3. She surprised me!

Back on Earth, the politics continue to play out despite the world wide event created by the Pulse. One of the lead guys who put together the Mars mission finds out about a secret plot to send a manned spacecraft to take over the Mars station and the ruins. He finds a secret way to left Captain Vodevski know about it and then she has to make some hard decisions about how to handle it. Killbots! Freaking killbots folks! Like the team on Mars doesn’t have enough to deal with! We lose a few more crew members, some unexpectedly, and the group continues to splinter even more.

Then we have the AIs Remus, Romulus, and Braun trapped in the Martian construct, which is replaying out millions of years of history for them. Through these chapters, we learn how Martian society arose and about the alien Travelers that appeared. A religious cult arose to worship the Travelers and eventually became the governing body of Martian society. The AI brothers also learn how Martian society fell.

While I found those chapters interesting, I was worried that the story would take too much of turn towards magic or something spiritual that couldn’t be explained. I’ve really enjoyed the science base for much of this trilogy and a little of the unknown goes a long way. For the most part, now that I know the ending, I feel the author kept things grounded and that while there are some things beyond human knowledge at play here, most of the unexplained could be broken down by science eventually.

The end comes to a crescendo as three main points have to be resolved to not only save the Mars mission but also Earth. The last quarter of the book was difficult to put down (someone has to eat at some point!) and I felt the ending was quite satisfying. Remus, Romulus, and Braun are all trapped in the Construct and the big ship that brought the crew to Mars can’t make it home without an AI. There’s also a lone killbot on the surface of Mars that the ground crew have to deal with. Finally, all of humanity is concerned that there will be yet another Pulse that will wipe out what remains of Earth’s human society. It was quite the thing to see how the author brought it all together. Definitely a worthy trilogy!

What I Liked: Martian ruins; the AIs get to experience Martian history; Cpt. Vodevski has a tough job all around; Marshal and Harrison continue the bromance; Dr. Kubba’s character arc for the trilogy was a surprise;  killbots!; a very satisfying ending.

What I Disliked: Nothing – thoroughly enjoyable!

Interview: Dylan James Quarles, Author of The Ruins of Mars Series

QuarlesTheRuinsOfMarsEveryone, please give a warm welcome to science fiction writer Dylan James Quarles. We chat about what is cringe-worthy, a fantasy author dinner, South Korean English classes, ancient Khmer art, and plenty more. I’ve really enjoyed Dylan’s The Ruins of Mars trilogy, which is currently available not only as Kindle ebooks, but also in the Kindle Unlimited program. Enjoy!

If you could be an extra on a TV series or a movie, what would it be?

One word—Hannibal. In case you missed it while it was out, Hannibal was a cerebral retelling—slash—reimagining of Thomas Harris’s famous Hannibal Lecter series. Though the show only got 3 seasons, I can say without hesitation that those 39 episodes are among the best to have ever graced the airways. If I could go back in time and audition for a role as one of Hannibal’s “dinner guests”, I would. I’m totally a Fannibal!

What makes you cringe?

Hmmm…how much time do you have? I kid, but no really—I’m a very cringey person. Today I’m feeling cringey about soda, high fantasy, Xbox, Sushi with mayonnaise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3, British beer, Kraft Singles, sloppy exposition in serialized TV shows, and my senior yearbook photo. Tomorrow, who knows?

Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

Reality in fiction is tricky. Fiction is a form of escapism, or at least that’s how I treat it. Personally, I write to entertain. Things like bathroom breaks, though necessary in real life, can be glossed over in a book without making it seem somehow unrealistic to the reader. We’re all well aware of what goes on in the bathroom. Not much new ground to cover there!

That said, sometimes a big part of the entertainment factor in a story is the realism. With, The Ruins of Mars Trilogy, I purposely set the story in the not-too-distant-future so that I could draw from the themes and challenges of our current ‘reality’. Sure I pushed the boundaries of realism pretty far, but I always made sure to keep from breaking them all-together. Realism can be great for building tension and atmosphere. Again though, unless someone invents a new and interesting way to take a pee, not much use in lengthy bathroom scenes.

What has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?

My most difficult job was teaching English in South Korea. I lived in a small city, called Mokpo. I’d done a bit of traveling in Europe and Southeast Asia before moving to Korea, but nothing really prepares you for the shock of total immersion. At the time, I think Mokpo had fewer than 200 foreigners, in a city of 300,000 people.

Still, the actual teaching was the hardest part about living there. Many South Korean students attend regular school in the day, then head to private English academies in the afternoon and evening. These poor kids were in school all day, five days a week, for like twelve to fourteen hours at a stretch.

Moreover, ‘teacher sticks’ for punishing students were still a thing when I was there. On my first day of work, my boss proudly issued me my very own teacher stick, and told me to use it as often as I pleased. That fucking thing went straight in my bottom desk drawer and never saw the light of day again.

I still keep in contact with a couple of my old students, and despite the insanity they went through as kids, they’ve all grown up to be happy and engaged members of the global community. I couldn’t be prouder of them.  In fact, without naming names, one of my former students makes an appearance in the first Ruins of Mars book as the creator of Remus and Romulus!

QuarlesWakingTitanIf you could own a famous or historical art work, what would it be? Would you put it on public display or keep it privately?

Just one piece? I’m a big fan of art, I really am. It influences my writing, my mood, my whole outlook on the world. Art decorates my home from wall to wall—it covers every surface.

While my overall favorite style of art is probably classical Renaissance, I simply adore ancient Khmer architecture from Southeast Asia. I think my favorite piece of artwork is actually a full-on temple located in Cambodia. Its name is Bayon, and among its many wondrous flares are something like 30 tall pillars with giant faces carved into every side!

Maybe if I were Carmen Sandiego I would steal it for my own collection. Since I’m not though, I think it’s best to share the wonder of a place like Bayon with the rest of the world.

If everyone came with warning labels, what would yours say?

If I had a warning label, it would say: Caution, even so much as mentioning Rome will result in an immediate explosion of anecdotal information and personal opinion.

This is what my wife likes to call, ‘Rome blasting.’ I am OBSESSED with all things Rome, and have been ever since I was a kid. I can remember when I was six years old, and my family rented a house in the south of France. My grandmother would take me to see the aqueducts and ruined amphitheaters that peppered the landscape nearby, and I would spend all day playing among them.

Since then, I’ve been to the Eternal City twice, and have plans to return again as soon as time and money will permit. Additionally, I’ve read works by Pliny, Suetonius, Lucretius, Tacitus, Virgil, Cicero, Julius Caesar, Petronius, Marcus Aurelius, and Plutarch, as well as numerous contemporary historical works and fiction. Like I said, I’m obsessed. Even The Ruins of Mars has a bit of ‘Rome blasting’ in it—the AIs Remus, Romulus, and Ilia are all taken from Roman mythology.

If you could sit down and have dinner with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would they order?

My fantasy dead-author dinner party would include the likes of Homer, Petronius, Edith Hamilton, Joseph Campbell, and Oscar Wilde. Homer and Petronius would probably want to eat something weird like peacock tongues or roasted dormice. As for Edith, Joe, and Oscar, I imagine that like me, as long as the wine kept flowing, they’d be up for just about anything!

Care to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

Unfortunately, I have yet to meet either of my two favorite, living authors. Nevertheless, if by some miracle I were to cross paths with Carlos Ruiz Zafon, or Philip Pullman, I would most likely ‘fanboy’ like a mother-effer, and kiss both of them on the mouth…with tongue.

QuarlesEyeOfTheApocalypseWhat is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?

Well, I’m a huge movie buff with a film degree to boot. Nerdy arguments sort of go with the territory! It usually doesn’t take much to goad me into a fight though. All you have to say is something like, “Prometheus was actually pretty good,” or “Jesse Isenberg should be in more movies.”

Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches on a genre-bending mythological thriller called, The Man from Rome. Although I’m most well known for writing scifi, this novel is a bit of a departure from The Ruins of Mars. I wanted to show people that I am a storyteller first and foremost, and not limited to one genre. Besides, as I mentioned above, I love all things Rome. It was only a matter of time until that love turned into a project!

Set in modern-day Rome, the novel tells the story of a bloody vendetta between two ancient Immortals. However, as was the case with The Ruins of Mars Trilogy, it isn’t long until this outwardly simple premise begins to mutate and take the story in unexpected directions. Also in keeping with my style, I shift the narrative from character to character, giving the reader an ensemble experience.

To create the depth and authenticity the story needed, I pulled extensively from Greco-Roman mythology, history, and lore. At the same time, I put a distinctly scifi twist on it by avoiding fallbacks like ‘magic’.

Sure, certain characters can do amazing, seemingly superhuman things, but that is only because they are literally superior to humans in the evolutionary hierarchy. To me, this is a more compelling idea than out right divinity as it speaks to the nature of power and its corrupting influence on the ego.

Really though, The Man from Rome is a slick, kinetic thriller with plenty of twists and turns to keep any reader engaged. I wanted to repeat my success with The Ruins of Mars by writing something that anyone could enjoy, not just fans of the genre. It has a well-rounded cast of characters, vivid descriptions of Roman architecture and cuisine, and action sequences that any Ruins of Mars fan will instantly recognize as distinctly Dylan-esque!

I hope you will consider it for your future reading list. But be warned, if I did my job right, you’ll be booking a ticket to Rome by the end of the third chapter!

Places to Find Dylan James Quarles

Website

GoodReads

Twitter

Facebook

Amazon.com

QuarlesTheRuinsOfMarsBook Blurb for The Ruins of Mars:

Set against the turbulent backdrop of the near future, The Ruins of Mars opens on the discovery of an ancient city buried under the sands of the red planet. Images captured by twin sentient satellites show massive domes, imposing walls, and a grid work of buildings situated directly on the rim of Mars’ Grand Canyon, the Valles Marineris. With the resources of Earth draining away under the weight of human expansion, a plan is hatched to reclaim Mars from the cold grasp of death. A small band of explorers, astronauts, and scientists are sent to the red world in mankind’s first interplanetary starship to begin construction on a human colony. Among them is a young archaeologist, named Harrison Raheem Assad, who is tasked with uncovering the secrets of the Martian ruins and their relation to the human race. Aided by the nearly boundless mind of a god-like artificial intelligence; the explorers battle space travel, harsh Martian weather, and the deepening mystery of the forgotten alien civilization. Begin the epic journey in Book One of the Ruins of Mars Trilogy.