The Buried Life by Carrie Patel

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Carrie Patel’s first novel, The Buried Life, is a dystopian mystery set in the underground city of Recoletta. Centuries before a disaster known only as the Catastrophe forced humanity to abandon the surface and build underground city-states. There they built a pseudo Victorian society based on order and class. Literature and art are freely disseminated, but history, philosophy, and technology are all strictly controlled.

Inspector Liesl Malone and her new partner, Rafe Sundar, are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy when two members of the aristocracy are found murdered. Patel draws the reader into her world primarily through the detectives and their investigation. World building is achieved piece-meal, and indeed, some elements are left entirely unexplained. Patel also uses the characters of Jane, a laundress for the wealthy, and a reporter, Frederick, to examine the society from different angles. Malone and Jane are the most developed characters though both make decisions at the end that are not out of character, but do feel slightly rushed.

The Buried Life is a good first novel with a decent mystery, and an interesting world. The characters are occasionally a little flat, and the concepts need fleshing out. In some ways the novel felt more like table setting, but I look forward to the sequel.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for Review

Jani and the Greater Game by Eric Brown

 

Jani and the Greater Game is a good old-fashioned adventure story set in turn-of-the-century India, but it isn’t quite the world we know. Jani Chaterjee is a young woman, half Indian, half British, who finds herself in possession of an object that could change the world forever, and reveal the dark secret at the heart of the Empire’s astounding technological revolution.

This is an alternate, steampunk version of history built partly out of a solid grasp of history and partly out of a knowledge of contemporary adventure stories. Brown layers the story with historical and cultural detail and literary allusions mixed liberally with his own concepts. It is not a particularly subtle novel, especially in its depiction of racism at the time, but in a story that starts with an airship being shot down and includes mechanical elephants, battling spies, and alternate universes, subtlety is not a particularly important trait.

Jani herself is a fun creation. Unexpectedly resourceful and brave, she is trapped between two worlds and forced to unravel a decades old mystery simply to survive. The other characters are, perhaps, less well drawn. The villains are almost caricatures sketched from stock adventure story characters, but this seems more deliberate, as this is, in fact, an adventure story.

Jani and the Greater Game is a rip-roaring pulp adventure story full of steampunk imagery, and flavored with historical and political commentary. Above all this book is simply fun.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for Review

Head Full of Mountains by Brent Hayward

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Head Full of Mountains was an unexpectedly lyrical novel set at the end of time. Crospinal has spent his life keeping his father company, living in a world of machines and secrets, untouched and heartbroken. As his father slowly dies, the machines die with him, leaving Crospinal alone and uncertain with a task and purpose he cannot understand, and was never explained.

The novel follows his confused, uncertain entrance into a world he was unprepared for and doesn’t understand. There are a growing number of hints that he is not what he thinks he is, and his father was not entirely truthful. The central mysteries of Crospinal and the world are teased out slowly. This is a novel of ideas that never quite spells things out but trusts in the reader’s intelligence. We see the world through at a remove through Crospinal’s eyes. He doesn’t have a frame of reference for the world he finds himself in, and likewise the reader doesn’t have a reference point for his perspective.

Head Full of Mountains is a dark interrogation of what it means to be human, what it means to be broken filtered through an at times meandering story of an equally broken world, one that demands and deserves a great deal of attention.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for Review

First Drabble Published On SpeckLit Today: Writing Update

The Snickerdoodle War has been published today.  It tells the secret history of the Vampire’s ancient war against the snickerdoodle, clearly a serious and deadly affair…

This is the first of 4 drabbles that will be published on SpeckLit over the next few months. “The Tourist” will be published on August 8th, “Waiting for the Bus” on August 24th, and “The Ogre Raid” on September 17th.

In other news, I’ve had another story accepted at T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog. So, all in all, not a bad month so far.

(Except for the part where I’m stuck in rewriting hell…on two stories. At once.)

 

Book Review: White Rabbit by K.A. Laity

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K.A. Laity’s White Rabbit is tightly written fantasy noir. James Draygo is a disgraced former detective who makes a living as a genuine psychic masquerading as a fake. When a wealthy media mogul’s wife is murdered in his office and he’s left literally holding the gun, Draygo finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy involving cults, drugs, ghosts, and the titular white rabbit.

Laity stays close to the novel’s noir roots. Draygo is a more or less note perfect execution of a private eye complete with a drinking habit, tragic backstory, reluctant heroism, and a deeply buried heart of gold. The mystery plot has a few minor twists and turns but it doesn’t concentrate on the murder mystery aspects. It is the exact nature of the supernatural threat that is slowly uncovered and Laity does an excellent job of slowly unfolding the information. Draygo’s relationship with a reporter, Helen Saunders, likewise remains well within the noir playbook but is suitably engaging. There is a great sense of fun with this book that never descends into satire.

White Rabbit is fast paced, pitch perfect noir with a well-developed fantasy world and tight characterization. Highly enjoyable.

**Received copy from NetGalley for review

Book Review: Doctor Who: Tales of Trenzalore by Justin Richards, George Mann, Mark Morris, Paul Finch

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Doctor Who: Tales of Trenzalore is a series of short stories that take place during the long centuries Matt Smith’s Doctor spent alone on Trenzalore, protecting the town of Christmas. There is certainly a great deal of story potential in the setting and the inherent melancholy of the concept and slow aging of the Doctor, especially since the episode itself only had time for vignettes. The tie-in novels here have an opportunity to expand on what was on screen in a way that they haven’t since probably the Target Novelizations.

 

I should mention at this point, if it isn’t already obvious, that I am a Doctor Who fan and that it is nearly impossible for me to approach this book objectively. For one thing, despite the criticism the episode has come under, I maintain that the idea of the youngest Doctor ever regenerating because he aged to death is one of the most brilliant regeneration concepts yet. Of course, a tie-in novel taking place within Matt Smith’s final episode that includes returning monsters from across Doctor Who’s 50-year catalogue is not really intended for the uninitiated. I should also point out that although I have read a huge amount of Doctor Who novels, I haven’t read a new one since the New Series started, nine years ago. This puts me in a slightly odd position.

 

This isn’t so much a continued story as a series of incidents guest starring old monsters and surrogate companions. Each story is by a different author. The stand out for me is probably the last one, The Dreaming by Mike Morris, largely because of the monster in question and because the crotchety old Doctor is a joy to read. Nevertheless, there are no real standout moments from any of the stories. Doctor Who: Tales of Trenzalore feels mostly like squandered potential. It’s a fairly good series of run (or hobble) arounds, and a tasty feast of references, but it could have been more than that. The end result is more slender than it needed to be.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for review

Book Review: Dag by Nicholas Wilson

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Nicholas Wilson’s Dag follows Dagney Morgan of the Department of Agriculture as she unravels a vegetable conspiracy that stretches from big business to the government. This is a fast-paced thriller that is not afraid to take a number of turns towards the outright absurd.

 

The novel opens with the discovery of a vegetable-hybrid sex doll and only gets more bizarre. There are corn-human babies, genetic engineering and all manner of mad science hijinks. Wilson’s dialogue is witty and fits the light tone of the novel. The characters are moderately developed. Some effort was made with Dagney, but her relationships seem to occur more for the sake of plot than character.

 

Dag is a novel of big brash ideas and imagery. It is fast paced and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, and it isn’t trying for anything more. Taken on its own terms it’s a quick fun read, but light and lacking in substance.

 

**Received copy from NetGalley for review

 

Book Review: The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul Di Filippo

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Paul Di Filippo’s The Steampunk Trilogy contains three bizarre and occasionally humorous novels taking the reader from Queen Victoria’s amphibian doppelganger to racist naturalists and black magic, and finally the interdimensional love story of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.

I was first introduced to Paul Di Filippo through his surreal short story collection Shuteye for the Timebroker. The Steampunk Trilogy continues his tradition of the bizarre and the weird. The first novella, simply entitled “Victoria” follows Cosmo Cowperhwait the inventor of a human-amphibian hybrid that bares an uncanny resemblance to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, as well as an insatiable sexual appetite. This is a satire of Victorian mores, politics, and, of course, of the stereotypical mad scientist. Cosmo finds himself embroiled in a plot at the highest levels of the British Court, fights in a duel, and find brief passion.

The second novella is “Hottentots” is less outrageously funny, at least on the surface. This is in part due to the fact that the story is told, for the most part through the eyes of Swiss-born naturalist Louis Agassiz, who is apart from pompous and self-aggrandizing, also a proud unrepentant racist. As a result, Di Filippo adopts a more satirical tone as Agassiz confronts anarchists, voodoo, academic maneuverings, swordfights, and a Lovecraftian horror all without loosing a hint of his arrogance or smug assurances.

The final novella, “Walt and Emily,” follows Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman’s blossoming love as they join a spiritualist and scientific expedition into the afterlife. More than either of the previous stories, “Walt and Emily” delights in literary references and games. The story is saturated with poetic quotations and the unrepentant silly fun not only of a love story between Dickenson and Whitman but the idea of them visiting the afterlife. It was also, the story which, for me, felt as though it had the most room to breathe. While all of the stories were enjoyable, the first two couldn’t help but feel a little rushed.

On the whole, however, The Steampunk Trilogy is a gleeful journey through the more peculiar side of Steampunk.

***Received copy from NetGalley for review

Book Review: Patton’s Spaceship by John Barnes

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Patton’s Spaceship combines noir, time travel, alien invasion, and alternate history into good old-fashioned pulp adventure. Mark Strang is a former art historian turned private investigator, intent on revenge. While on a case, he finds himself cast into the past of an alternate history where Germany won WWII. This is not the most original of alternate history settings, being practically a genre all of its own, but Barnes has fun with the tropes and there is a certain degree of realism to his fallen America. The use of JFK and, of course, Patton is reasonably thought out and amusing.

 

Barnes has also developed his larger time travel universe. This is not a novel deeply interested in the intricacies of time travel, but it is filled with various time traveling factions originating in multiple versions of history, and multiple times. It is a richly detailed background that is easily capable of sustaining further novels in the Timeline Wars Series. This is a massive canvas that later novels will take to an alternate colonial America, and an alternate Rome.

 

Patton’s Spaceship is clearly the opening novel in a trilogy and is in some respects most interested in setting up its concepts and introducing its lead character. It does both quite well. This is not a dense novel of ideas, however, but more of a pulp cold war story waged across dimensions and time. This is not a bad thing. I enjoyed it immensely and I intend to seek out the other two novels in the series. A fun, quick read.

 

***Received copy from NetGalley for review

Book Review: Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen

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Alias Hook is a darker retelling or sequel to Peter Pan. This has become a fairly popular conceit in recent years—reexamining the monstrosity inherent in a boy who never grows up, in a world of endless games. To call this a reimagining does a disservice to J.M. Barrie, whose original story was far more ambivalent about the title character than many of the subsequent adaptations. Jensen uses Hook as the lens to follow in Barrie’s footsteps. She approaches Hook on his own terms, as a pirate with a past full of bloodshed, slaughter, rape, and pillage who has been trapped in an endless, pointless battle with a tyrannical boy for an eternity.

 

This is a dark, twisted, oddly hopeful love story with a dark, bitter Hook at its center. His experiences and character are well, even lovingly, drawn. Jensen clearly has an interest in pirates and it comes across clearly. After an eternity of pointless battles with Peter Pan, that leave Hook unable to die and forced to rebuild and fight again, a woman arrives in Neverland, too old to be a Wendy, and everything changes.

 

Alias Hook is a romance as much as it is a meditation on childhood, dreaming, war, and stories, and it fulfills the themes and questions inherent in the original and adds more of its own. This is a familiar world, yet so very different. Like a dream. I enjoyed this book immensely, but then I always routed for Captain Hook. Always.

 

***Received copy from NetGalley for review