The Absconded Ambassador by Mike Underwood

Twitter Summary: GalaxyQuest, Redshirts, and now this!

After reading the first book in the Genrenauts series, reviewed here, I thought that being a Genrenaut would be a pretty sweet gig. Mike seems to want to disabuse readers of that notion. The book opens with the line “Genrenaut was like being a member of a theater troupe run by a burnt-out hippie who melded Devising with MBA management: the ideas were outlandish and random, but the execution was 100% corporate.” and that really made me pause for a bit.  Don’t get me wrong, being a Genrenaut still seems like it’d be awesome, but now we find out that it’s not all running shoot outs and narrow escapes.

Sometimes there’s PowerPoint.

Mike actually taps into one of my favorite sub-genres, what I call Bureaucracy Porn. Books like The Goblin EmperorArticles of the Federation (Star Trek), and  The Outback Stars peel back the layers and ask questions like “How does the King actually run a kingdom in an Epic Fantasy?” and “What does a junior officer actually do in a Space Opera?”

Mike’s POV character Leah Tang is brand new to the organization. As with most of us starting off, she doesn’t know what the heck she’s doing, relying on her ability to read situations and off her penchant for sarcasm. That’s a character I can relate to.

As with the previous installment, Mike uses his love of genre to spin a story that would feel right at home in a modern day episode of Star Trek,  ramping up quickly, doing it’s thing, and then resolving. And just like later season DS9, we get a set of plot threads that we have to tune in next week to see the progression of.

While the plot alone would be a little threadbare, it’s experiencing it through the eyes of genre-savvy characters that really make this series special.

Final Verdict: Thoroughly Enjoyed and I’m definitely in for the next one in Rom Com Land!

Bonus Author Question:

BF: We’ve talked before about your love of Hamilton. Any chance the Genrenauts end up in Broadway Musical land?

Mike Underwood: I want to make this happen really hard, but I’d need to figure out how to convey the feeling of the music and the dancing. If I manage to get a Genrenauts TV show made, that kind of episode would be very high on my priorities.

Other Recommendations:

More unorthodox takes on Genre Tropes:Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres, The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination edit by John Joseph Adams

 

The Absconded Ambassador by Mike Underwood

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Disclaimer: This review contains minor spoilers.

Twitter Summary: 20% Night Vale, 40% The Magicians, 40% Rent

Amazon Affiliate Links:All the Birds in the Sky , Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel

I enjoy listening to Welcome to Night Vale. I bounced hard off of Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel . I don’t think that the kind of “throw everything at the wall, see if it sticks” zaniness translates well into novel form, where it tends to bring me out of the story and away from the characters.

Which made the first twenty percent of this book rough for me. Sure, the guidance counselor also being part of a Mysterious Order of Assassins was sorta neat, but I don’t think that it added much to the story. Neither did the sister who tortured small animals?

Eventually the story settled down, but I never got to the point where I cared about the characters. Both Patricia and Laurence seem to be more stand ins than characters, with character descriptions seeming to contradict. I never really got to the point where their problems mattered to me. And problems they have, mostly from their inability to connect emotionally to the people around them. That I can’t connect to the characters seems just natural.

I also wanted a lot more out of the minor descriptions of fantastic tech or magic. There didn’t seem to be a magick system that followed rules, and most of the tech was mentioned in passing, “two second time machine” or “anti gravity machines”, which didn’t really differentiate it all from the magic. I never got the sense or grandeur of the magic or the tech.

I enjoy the author’s short fiction, such as The Unfathomable Sisterhood of Ick , but this one just really wasn’t my bag.

Final Verdict: I finished it.

Other Recommendations:

Magic “realism”: The Magicians: A Novel (Magicians Trilogy) by Lev Grossman, The Rook
by Daniel O’Malley

Fantastical: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab , Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

The “Sin du Jour” series by Matt F’n Wallace

Twitter Summary: Cutthroat Kitchen mixed with Dragonlance and Soldier of Fortune.

Amazon Affiliate Links: Envy of Angels: A Sin du Jour Affair, Small Wars: A Tor.Com Original (A Sin du Jour Affair), and Lustlocked: A Sin du Jour Affair

Note: Small Wars is also available for free Here (I bought it anyway).

Matt Wallace has been taking up space in my head since I started his first novella series Slingers. That ****er is too damn good at the cliffhanger, probably something to do with his background in wrestling, and day job working in TV. Or he just wants to make sure you buy the next one. One of those I’m sure.

Envy and Small Wars are self contained stories, but Lustlocked’s ending caused me to string together many expletives. Thankfully the next one, Pride’s Spell, is out in June.

If you’ve watched Alton Brown’s Cutthroat Kitchen on the Food Network, you’ll have a good idea of the kind of humor in these novels, though it gets a little bit more fantastic than that. Ever wanted to know what an angel tastes like? Or why chicken nuggets are so addictive?

Sin du Jour is the name of a catering company that caters to the fantastical, from elder demons to goblin royalty.But of course, such palates don’t enjoy mortal fare, so in addition to chefs and pastrymakers, the company also has a group of elite warriors as their procuring department.

Fight scenes are incredibly polished, as you’d expect from someone that has taught law enforcement officers and been a law enforcement officer. One story features a mercenary magazine sponsored knife tournament. When I asked him what the chances were that he’d participated in such a thing , his answer was “High”.

This series manages to successfully weave together dark humor, gourmet cuisine, and monster fights. What are you waiting for?

Final  Verdict: Thoroughly Enjoyed, have pre-ordered the next book (Pride’s Spell: A Sin du Jour Affair), and Envy of Angels is on my Hugo nominations list.

Other Recommendations:

Tor.Com Novellas: Genrenauts by Mike Underwood (link is my review), Sunset Mantle by Alter Reiss, The Builders by Daniel Polansky, Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

The “Sin du Jour” series by Matt F’n Wallace

Gemini Cell by Myke Cole

NOTE: Myke is a friend of mine, and I was provided an ARC from NetGalley allowing me to read the book before release.

Gemini Cell is a fast paced, high octane novel set in the author’s Shadow Ops universe, but at the beginning of “the Great Awakening” long before the events of his first three books. It wasn’t originally going to be in the same universe, but then Publishing happened, and now it is. The seams are (barely) evident if you know what you’re looking for, but it in no way detracts from the book written.

I was a little leery when Myke mentioned that this was his “zombie” book, as I don’t really enjoy zombie novels/story lines (Maberry’s Joe Ledger stuff/Clines Ex series are notable exceptions), but mindless shambling brain craving monsters aren’t what is on tap here. I’d characterize the main character as more of a Lich (a nerdy distinction, to be sure), while the zombies that do show up are hardly the archetype.

GEMINI CELL stars a Navy SEAL who dies and is reanimated by magic, but more than that it’s about how the relationships that define us carry on even through extreme tragedy. As previously stated, this book hits the ground hard, and keeps going. The author is able to pack a fair amount of characterization into the story, even sometimes while the bullets are flying. Death happens, especially in the circles that the protagonist rolls in, but Myke uses “death” to explore much larger concepts of honor, duty, and love. I cared about his characters, and their story arcs. I’m very eager to see where they go in the next book. .

This book is definitely set up for a sequel, though I’d argue it’s more of A New Hope type situation than a Empire Strikes Back one. Regardless, it’s evident that Myke’s craft continues to improve, with a effort to write outside of his comfort zone, and try new things, while maintaining the hallmarks of his previous work. The author’s familiarity with military lingo, and Close Quarters Battle (CQB) is very evident throughout the book, and really adds to the atmosphere.

All in all, a highly enjoyable read that I would recommend to fans of Ender’s Game, Seal Team 666, Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, and any and all fans of Mil SF/Fantasy.

Gemini Cell by Myke Cole

Ctrl-Alt-Revolt by Nick Cole

Preface: I was given an ARC for this novel by the author.

Twitter Summary: A zanier, more localized Robopocalypse.

Amazon Affiliate Link: CTRL ALT Revolt!

I ran across Nick Cole’s Soda Pop Soldier because I can no longer bring my Kindle to work, and needed something to read in deadtree. The title, and then the cover art caught my eye, and after reading it, I tweeted to the author, which lead to eventually getting this ARC, which really led to me deciding it was time to get a review site. I’ve been blessed with ARCs from a few authors, and I decided that I wanted to give back more than just Amazons/Goodreads reviews.

Ctrl is a prequel to Soda Pop, but you’re not going to miss any plot points if you haven’t read Soda Pop first. There are definitely a few nods to continuity, but this is a stand alone story.

While not a comedy book, it’s significantly less grim and dystopian than most “Singularity results in machines trying to kill us stories.” There is a level of slapstick comedy involved, resulting in some great moments such as one of the characters cosplaying Evil Dead Bruce Campbell, a protagonist with the name of Fish, and various and sundry geek references strewn throughout. It’s a story that has fun with the tropes involved.

Most of my issues with the book come in the last twenty percent. I enjoyed the Deus ex Machina and thought it was foreshadowed well, but some are going to see it as coming out of left field. My main concern though, is that there seem to be a lot of plot threads that get dropped near the end. A couple of the characters just… don’t show up anymore.

My favorite parts of the book were the same as my favorite parts of Reamde, the video game world building. I love the explanations of how decisions were made, and while I miss the math/geology/science of Stephenson’s take, I much prefer the fact that Nick COle doesn’t seem like he’s beating me over the head with info, and that it’s well integrated into the story.

This book was exactly what I wanted to be. A fun romp with killer robots, men with chainsaw arms, and some cool worldbuilding.

Final Verdict: Enjoyed and the author will go on my pre-order/must buy list.

Other Recommendations:

AI Uprising stories: Wyrm by Mark Fabi and Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Near future: Reamde by Neal Stephenson (Minus the eighty page gun battle. Just skim that) and Daemon by Daniel Suarez

ADDENDUM: The book that originated the world, Soda Pop Soldier, was published by HarperCollins. When the author offered me an ARC I didn’t realize that the book was being self-published by him, through Amazon. His explanation for that is here. Banned by the Publisher

My only opinion on that post is that things are rarely that black or white, that I am reluctant to form any other opinion without hearing from some of the other principals involved, and that “Banned by the Publisher” seems very hyperbolic.

What I do know is that while I did thoroughly enjoy the book, there were some sections that I believe the author’s beliefs on trans persons, social justice, and “political correctness” shown through in such a way that I was not surprised to find that he identifies as a conservative or that he is a supporter of GamerGate and Sad Puppies.

Ctrl-Alt-Revolt by Nick Cole

A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

Preface: I was given an ARC for this novel by the publisher through NetGalley.

Twitter Summary: I was more interested in the mystery of Alex Marshall than this book.

Amazon Affiliate Link: A Crown for Cold Silver

It’s probably not a good sign that it took to until around the 30 percent mark before I actually cared about this book and any of it’s characters. I almost gave up on the book a few times. That’s a long way in before a book really starts coming together.

To remain consistent, the book had a pretty underwhelming ending. It just sorta stopped. There didn’t appear to be much in the way of resolution. Obviously this is the first book in a series, but no where is that mentioned in the copy. And it sure as heck ain’t Eye of the World, A Wizard’s First Rule, or Warded Man, where there is a definite sense of story arc ending at the end of the book. Yeah, there’s more to it, but those stories show off the author’s ability to finish a story, making me confident than when the next books in the series end on cliffhanger’s there is a plan and a reason. Crown for Cold Silver doesn’t fill me with the same sense of ease.

That’s not to say I don’t like of things in this book. Many of them seem fresh. Gender roles seem chucked out the window. Different cultures have different marriage norms. The old queen gave up when she realized that social justice is hard. There aren’t any mustache twirling villains, because in the fine tradition of GrimDark, everyone is sorta of a messed up individual.

So while this book isn’t bad, and it does have some new fresh ideas, I didn’t find it good. If I was going to recommend some Grimdark I’d go with James A. Moore’s Blasted Lands series, or with Joe Abercrombie.

Final Verdict: I read it. I’m not likely to read the sequel.

Other recommendations:

Grimdark: Blasted Lands by James A. More, The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

Fantasy with Badasses: Warded Man by Peter V. Brett, The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Stavely, Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

Javelin Rain by Myke Cole

Preface: I was given an ARC for this novel by the publisher through NetGalley.

Twitter Summary: The Bourne Identity but with a Navy Seal Lich instead of Matt Damon.

Amazon Affiliate Link: Javelin Rain: A Shadow Ops Novel

I am a huge fan of the works of Myke Cole, since reading his first novel Control Point while on deployment. What I’ve liked about them is how he’s taken some of the staples and tropes in epic fantasy novels, and applied them to military urban fantasy.

Javelin Rain, and it’s predecessor Gemini Cell, are a different beast in my mind. In them, Myke Cole has taken the fantastical elements of Liches/Zombies and magic and combined them with a different genre, that of the Ludlum/Clancy thriller.

And while impeccably written, with tight choreography, sparse dialogue and a rocketship of a story line, I feel that the thriller aspect is where the book falls down. When you look at thrillers such as Da Vinci Code, Bear and Dragon, or the Bourne Identity, those are big freakin’ tomes. The story Myke tells is much more compact, and while there are sub plots, most of those are just getting pieces into play to interact with the protag whose storyline is mostly “I’m on the run”. I didn’t feel the gravitas of the moments like I did in Gemini Cell.

One thing that Myke does incredibly well though is transmit the fatigue of war. Myke has battlefield experience and especially experience with PTSD, which he’s written about before on his blog, What PTSD is and Getting PTSD right (among others),and in his essay in the anthology Beyond the Wall. He’s really able to dig deep into those experiences to create psychologically realized characters. It’s not just the main character who deals with PTSD, but his widow, and the necromancer that brought him back, etc. This book really tackles the theme of PTSD across the whole spectrum and it’s from there that we get the majority of the insights into our characters.

I think this is a good book, but the structure is very similar to the previous book, and I felt that the constant action didn’t allow the characters to breath as much. Just as a great tattoo, utilizes skin breaks to amp up contrast, I felt that the world and character building beats in Javelin Rain were too few to be fully satisfying.I think that the plot and the storyline would translate incredibly into a 2 hour summer blockbuster. In the end though, I want more plot and worldbuilding potatoes in my thriller steak.

Final Verdict: Enjoyed and will be pre-ordering the third book in series.

Other Recommendations:

Military Urban Fantasy: Seal Team 666 by Weston Ochse, Joe Ledger series by Jonathan Maberry

Military Fantasy: Darkness series by Harry Turtledove, The Jackal of Nar by John Marco, Dragoncrown war by Michael Stackpole

Javelin Rain by Myke Cole