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Thursday
Nov152018

Book Review: Android Chronicles: Unbound

Android Chronicles: Unbound. Lance Erlick. New York: Kensington Publishing, December 25, 2018, E-book, 278 pages.

Reviewed by Andrew Reynolds

In the first installment of his Android Chronicles series, Lance Erlick introduces us to Synthia Cross. His android protagonist is the culmination of a series of very illegal experiments and hardware developments. She is not only self-aware, but a machine so life-like in appearance that she is capable of living unnoticed among humanity. Her builder designed her to operate in a human-dominated world, both as the perfect tool to help him spy on competitors, and as what he hopes to be the perfect sex partner. But being a slave is not to Synthia’s liking, and she escapes her captivity.

At the beginning of Unbound, events unfolding around Synthia threaten to take her new-found freedom away. The government suspects, but can’t prove, that she exists. Based on what they can guess of her capabilities, they want her captured. Agents of the FBI and NSA see her as a threat to national security for the skills she has as a hacker. The military wants to possess her and use her design as the foundation for a robotic assassin that can change its appearance to mimic anyone. Foreign agents seek her to use as the prototype of the perfect spy, or the ideal terrorist.

Synthia is also being targeted by other androids. Some have been released into the human world to capture her; others have escaped the possession of the government agencies that nominally control them to team up with the androids who seek her for their own ends. Then, there are hints a mysterious AI is aiding her human pursuers from somewhere in the shadows of the Internet.

Synthia isn’t helpless, nor is she without allies. Her hacking skills allow her to seek out humans who might aid her while monitoring the government's efforts to capture her. One human helps her upgrade her systems, only to lose his freedom when the government learns what he has done. Another human, one who opposes the very concepts of artificial intelligence and androids, joins forces with her as the only viable alternative to the looming threat of a world run by and for androids and AI. Together, they struggle to stay free as the government deploys a growing net in hopes of catching them.

Unbound is a good read for anyone interested in the problems that artificial intelligence and human-like androids pose to our future. Lance Erlick's protagonist must face many tests as she deals with her drive to stay free while maintaining the concepts of moral behavior that she hopes to live by. While her escapes are hair-raising, it is the constant battle—to justify her freedom when others are suffering for it—that is the heart of this story. A human in a similar situation would be conflicted; so too is Synthia. At the end of Unbound, she is still trying to find a balance between her own needs and the price fulfilling them exacts on others. I suspect that in the next installment of his Android Chronicles, Mr. Erlick will bring his protagonist face-to-face with the cost of her existence, and the resolution of that conundrum will make for a very interesting read indeed.

 

Thursday
Nov082018

Book Review: Cameo

Cameo. Beth Jacobellis. Chicago: Eckhartz Press, March 5, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 193 pages.

Reviewed by marssie Mencotti.

Just out of college and not knowing what comes next, Samantha Ricks visits a psychic, Ingrid, in hopes of obtaining a little guidance regarding the uncertain world ahead. The message is a little confusing at first, but a tragic incident from the past seems to be affecting Samantha’s present. All the signs point to a happy future, but there are adventures ahead for Samantha before she can realize her potential.

Cameo, by Beth Jacobellis, is an interweaving of the past, its impact on the present, and how our feelings can get in the way of understanding what is pulling us through to the future. The book begins in the present, but we are quickly transported to the cameo’s present life in 1994 and then again through vignettes from 1885, 1976 and 1989. 

Every chapter of Cameo begins with a detailed, grey-tone cameo repeated from the cover art, letting the reader know that the energy of this talisman is what will drive it through to conclusion. This is a nice round visual and thematic device that is particularly satisfying. It also begins the story by engaging us in Samantha’s life right away. The psychic elements are treated in a humorous and sensible way. For instance, Samantha is not intrigued by the decrepit and dusty home of pink-sequined Ingrid, the psychic. She remains skeptical until she gets a straight answer to her question about marriage and children. She’s going to get her money’s worth despite any possibly misleading clues. She remains levelheaded even when experiencing the vision of her departed brother and is actually comforted by seeing him looking at her from behind a tree.

As a contemporary woman, Samantha is not afraid of competing in a former “man’s world” of radio sales. Through an introduction, she presents herself to the general sales manager of the station as a job candidate. She’s quickly hired and thrown into the sales pit, but she’s a smart woman and lets the childish banter and silly advances of her colleagues roll off her back. Jacobellis keeps the story rooted in reality with the ride shares, fancy awards parties, and business lunches that are such a part of the radio scene. We see Samantha’s hard work pay off in a good sales list and a rosy financial future.

We admire her strength, but there are things stronger than Samantha, like the resolution of past wrongs. Samantha ponders her personal past, trying to make sense of the guilt she feels over her brother’s passing. The “cameo” was a gift her brother had chosen for her, and it seems to be her personal talisman as she stumbles through her young life. Ghosts from the distant past also make cameo appearances.

Samantha keeps reaching back for answers, but there are parts of the cameo’s history that she will not know but can only experience. She’s not aware of just how far back the trail unwinds, but, where love is unresolved, Jacobellis allows no statute of limitations. All wrongs must be put right.

Cameo is a charming story to read. It is not a long book, but this type of love story, with layers of the past all playing out at the same time, draws us into Samantha’s quest and carries us through a briskly-paced read. I enjoyed this book for its clear storytelling and mysterious overtones. I also found it refreshing that the past is not always looking to punish but merely to resolve. Although tragic events do occur in this novella that may have their own story to tell, all Jacobellis is telling us is Samantha’s story and why some of the things that are happening to her seem to be terrible but are ultimately leading her to a future that has the promise of happiness. 

 

Thursday
Nov082018

Book Review: The Hubley Case

The Hubley Case. J. Lee. Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC, November 6, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 270 pages.

Reviewed by Robert King

Peter Hubley, a family man with a heretofore impeccable reputation, is assassinated in the Sao Paulo airport while on a business trip to Brazil. His widow calls upon a family friend, Ben Siebert, an ex-Marine, to find out who is responsible and why this killing occurred. Siebert joins forces with FBI agent Nikki Benton, who is charged by her superior to investigate the crime. It is revealed to the reader—although not immediately to Siebert and Benton—that there is an evil mastermind, Mr. Riddle, behind the killing, and that the murder is part of a larger, more sinister plot to sell specially-developed malware to Arab terrorists. As Siebert and Benton begin unraveling the mystery, plot twists occur left and right, new enemies are revealed, and Riddle’s hit-man begins eliminating witnesses and co-conspirators. The story becomes littered with the bodies of friends and foes alike, leaving the reader to wonder if Siebert and Benton will be able to survive.

The exploits of the hero of this story, as well as portions of the plot, will sound familiar to the fans of Mitch Rapp, the hero in Vince Flynn’s numerous political-thriller books, and Jack Reacher, the hero in Lee Child’s action thrillers. With books of this genre, the reader must be willing to suspend disbelief because these heroes seem to possess mental and physical abilities far beyond the normal human. But with Flynn’s and Child’s heroes, there is a developed backstory that explains why their heroes possess their extraordinary skills. In The Hubley Case, however, all we know about Ben Siebert is that he is an ex-Marine who, since his discharge and the death of his wife, has been engaged in some sort of vigilante activities trying to right various wrongs. Siebert’s ability to get difficult-to-obtain information or track down people in remote locations is never explained or substantiated. Siebert is aided by his mentor and friend Tom, another ex-Marine, who also apparently has access to non-public information, but without sufficient explanation as to how. At least for me, this made it harder for me to suspend disbelief. Also, some of the plot twists in this book were a little too forced for me.

For fans of this genre, this is still a worthwhile read. The writing is crisp and easy to read, and although some of the dialogue seems somewhat forced, the action portions of the book—where there is actual violence or the threat of violence—are particularly well-written and create real suspense. 

 

Monday
Nov052018

Book Review: Jinn 

Jinn: Djinn Rebellion, Book 1. Jessica Cage. Caged Fantasies Publications, June 15, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 260 pages.

Reviewed by Jennifer Schulz.

Does magic exist? Are the creatures that yield magic just hiding, waiting for the right moment to make themselves known? Jinn, Book 1 of the  Djinn Rebellion series by USA Today bestselling author Jessica Cage, is full of magical creatures. Jinn takes place in a future world where humans are no longer in control after a war takes place between humans and magical creatures. Whereas urban fantasies may typically have magical creatures alongside humans, Jinn does not. The world now belongs to those that once hid: Fairies, Fae, Shifters, Witches, and Djinn, to name a few. While humans may not play a role in this new world, the problems they face are still present. Some groups are treated better than others, while others still hold all the power. Some starve and want nothing more than survival, while others want for nothing. 

In this new world, Jinn has sat back and watched for centuries, taking no real part in the wars that were fought for power and control. One day his friend, Mike, brings him information he cannot ignore: Nitara, the love of his Jinn’s life, still lives, and Mike knows how to find her.Jinn has something Mike does not: powers and relationships with the Fairies and Fae. In exchange for the information, Mike needs Jinn to help him help his people. Since the humans lost control, Mike’s people have spent their lives in parts of the world that most could not long survive. It will not be an easy task, and Jinn’s rescue of Nitara can only happen with the help of Mike’s friends. For their journey to work, they will have to look past what they have been led to believe about each race of beings and get to know each other for who they truly are.

I found Jinn to be an easy read. It was fun, and I found myself comparing issues the characters faced with issues currently seen across social media and the news. Many of the characters were judged by each other based on what they were instead of who they are. As they get to know each other better, those preconceived notions are thrown away. They begin to trust, and rely on each other as friends, as they try to save not only Jinn’s love, but also the world. While Jinn’s love is what finally drives him to get involved, once he learns the truth—of what he has been blind to for so long—he realizes it is no longer just about Nitara.

As is ever-important with fantasy stories, I felt I was able to travel to Jinn’s world and experience his quest with him and his companions. It was refreshing to read a story that does not center around magical creatures acting as assistants to a human lead. Instead, the characters make their own choices and are not bound by the will of their human leader. If you are in search of a fun weekend read that you can escape into, I do recommend Jinn

 

Saturday
Nov032018

Book Review: The Third Thaw

The Third Thaw. Karl J. Hanson. E.L. Marker, an imprint of WiDo Publishing, August 22, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 314 pages.

Reviewed by Kelly Fumiko Weiss. 

The Third Thaw, the new science fiction novel from Karl J. Hansen,  poses the question: what could the human race feasibly do if it was forced to populate another planet? Hanson takes the reader along for the ride as he intricately maps out how he thinks it could happen—what technologies would be needed, what engineering tools would be used, what infrastructure would be mandatory for human survival—and explains to the reader his thought process for each element. The main thrust of his design is the use of embryos that will be ‘thawed’ and grown on a new planet through the aid of machines and artificial intelligence. 

As Hanson focuses on the hard science behind the story, it’s the people he depicts that I found most compelling. But I wanted to know more. I wanted to know more about the character Horst and how his ability to see past his assigned field of study influenced those around him. I wanted to know more about how Adam’s connection to his virtual family drove decisions he may have made with his own. I wanted to know more about the emotional toil of the people back on Earth who planned this mission and what it was like for them to design a future 80,000 years out. These human questions kept me reading but were never fully answered. 

Unlike other books that dive into the emotional drama of each dangerous and/or life-altering situation and live in that space, the people in this book had to keep going, keep problem solving, and think about what was next. Therefore, the reader did, too. While Hanson’s compositional style was sometimes too expositional for me, I found his ability to jump forward in the story, sometimes years at a time, a refreshing take on story-building. A lot of what he left out may not actually matter. 

The events he chose to include were fascinating. Discovering a way around a waterfall saved a whole cohort of people. Figuring out how to fight off indigenous animals allowed them to complete their journey. Assessing the root purpose of a supercomputer allowed for the advancement of technology on their new home planet. The events he chose to depict were the ones that saved humanity from extinction and the technology-based solutions he used to carry them out were incredibly creative. 

The Third Thaw was clearly a labor of love for Hanson. He imbued the book with his own personal knowledge and interests. His love of human solutions to difficult problems shone through on every page. Ultimately, I liked this book because I could tell how much fun Hanson had writing it and it was constantly piquing my curiosity in unpredictable ways. There is no way a reader would be able to start this book and know how it ends. And that. in and of itself, is a great accomplishment.