Friday, March 25, 2016

Dissolution by Lee S. Hawke

Welcome to a city where everyone and everything is owned by corporations. This is a place where the outcasts are known as corpless, because they have no corporation to care for them. The city is known as Unilox. The book is Dissolution by Lee S.Hawke and it is way too easy to get sucked into this one. I'd be careful here folks. This is one of those "I sat down for a sec while my coffee was perking and thought I'd start it. Then I ended up half an hour late to work" kind of books.This one moves quick right up until the end and it's well imagined and engaging.

Dissolution is a highly Dystopic work. I like that about it. Society has gone too far to the uhh.. something. An all encompassing government (and in effect that's what the corporations in the book are)  that exists to provide for their citizens and squish as much work out of them while owning all of the proceeds is Leftist. A totally unregulated economy is Rightist. A total lack of religion as shown in the book is Leftist. The society of the corpless on the edges of town with no real government who help each other without having to be told to are showing Rightist values. I don't know how to classify this one politically. I'm guessing that people on the edges of either side are going to see a lot of the other side in this work. I find it fascinating.

Be prepared to be shocked by this one. It's pretty edgy. The story starts with our heroine, Madeline preparing to be auctioned to a number of corporations. She's hoping to go for over a hundred-thousand credits, a "century" as she calls it. I don't do spoilers so I won't reveal what happens but it's nowhere near what she expected - and that's what launches the rest of the book. Things go from bad to worse to hopeful to "Wow, did that really just happen?" and it's the journey that makes it fun.

The characters in the book are awesome starting with our very own Madeline, who sees her world turned upside down and won't stop. She is resilient when many others would not be. She strips herself of everything she is used to. All of her comforts and advantages as an Experimental are cast aside when she needs to go dark to avoid the people pursuing her. She manages to thrive and succeed anyway. This is a young girl with the intestinal fortitude that I would hope for my own daughters to show in a situation as crazy as  Madeline finds herself in. She's hardcore.

The rest of the cast is equally as interesting. Madeline's parents are very believable as people who want the best for their daughter and risk themselves and everything they have to get it. From her boyfriend who helps her, to his boss who is apparently part of some resistance movement. The good guys are the good guys. That's not to say that there isn't some nuance or that the actions of the characters don't make sense intrinsically but there is a clear line between those who are working for a better world and those working to support the status quo.

Part of the fascination of this book for me is that a lot of the people within the story are so steeped in their own society that they don't see what's wrong with it. Madeline begins the work excited because she is about to be auctioned off to a corporation. She dreams of bringing in a good price. Her parents wish her luck on her big day and assure her that she'll be bought by the corp that she desires. The librarian in the book is a member of the resistance (I think) and uses her monetary value to shield herself from harm. I approve of the woman doing whatever she could to defend herself, but I don't know that I would have ever thought to use the threat of a lawsuit to save my own life. Kudos to Hawke for writing an internally consistent story and making it work in just the right ways to keep the action moving and the story believable.

Despite all of this, the work has one major problem for me: It's too short. This is a one hundred seven page book that takes a HUGE leap on about page ninety-three. I don't want to go into details because it would spoil the ending but there needs to be something else here. I'm thinking some planning, some sneaking and some wiring for starters. I like the ending. I really do. I just think it comes up too quickly with too many of the details missing. I get the fact that this would have taken longer to write and edit, but I think it would have been worth it. I mean this as a compliment to the author. I want to see more of your work. I wish it were here.

Speaking of seeing more of Hawke's work, I'm hoping she writes more in this universe. There is a lot of potential here. Some of the characters in the work deserve their own books. I don't think we'll be seeing much more of Madeline, although it is theoretically possible. Still, the existence of a potential resistance in this environment is something I find exciting. I'm hoping that before too long there will be a story released that will fill in a couple of the blanks in this book. I'd love a chance to read through something along those lines.

Despite the fact that there are some things missing, I really enjoyed this work. Granted, it was short but I literally read it in less than a day. I just checked Amazon and Ms Hawke only has one other work out and that is a collection of short stories. I intend to pick that up in the not too distant future, but I'm really hoping for some longer fiction as well. She has the ability to do it based on what I just read. I'm hoping to see it happen soon.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of five Uconns

Lee S. Hawke
Blind Mirror Publishing, 2016

Dissolution is available for purchase at the link below:

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Wasteland Chronicles Omnibus by Kyle West

One day, I realized that my queue was empty and that I didn't have any more books to review from people who had sent one to me to review. (Not that that's a hint or anything. I mean, sure, if there were an author reading this and they sent me their work they'd be next up. But feel free to ignore that fact if you want. I can always review stuff I've gotten off of Bookbub or Netgalley. On the other hand, I'm always very appreciative of the authors who do submit. I wuvs them and stuff. So if you've got a SF/F story of at least novella length the submission guidelines are to send either a .pdf or a .epub to and ask for a review. If you add a .jpg of your cover I'll use it at the top of your review. If not, I'll post the review without one.) So, I went back into Mount To Be Read on my Nook and decided I'd dig up something that looked good that I hadn't read yet. Lo and behold, I came upon an omnibus edition by an author I had never read. The Wasteland Chronicles: Omnibus Edition was just chilling on my home page on my Nook looking neglected.  It sounded good and I've been a fan of post-apocalyptic works since probably Mad Max (the original not the new one) and in print since at least Battlefield Earth. This one sounded good. I was right. It's got it all.

Fans of the blog know that I avoid spoilers whenever possible. I'm wondering how possible it's going to be to avoid them this time. There is a lot to these first three books (Apocalypse, Origins and Evolution) and there are a lot of twist and turns. Even when things look like they're getting beter then get worse. West doesn't drop boulders on his characters, he drops entire worlds. In one case literally as the Apocalypse has passed not in the form of a war but in the form of the Sweet Meteor of Death (ok, so he names it Ragnarok) come to crash into the northern United States. Things then go from bad to worse.

The United States government established a bunker system before the asteroid struck. It was believed that the bunkers would provide the manpower necessary to repopulate the United States after the initial shock of the strike and associated environment issues died down and things were back to normal-ish. Then the bunkers started to fall, one by one and nobody, or at least nobody in Bunker 108, where our hero Alex Keener is from, knows why. It is believed that some probably fell prey to bandits. Some others were too big for that to be the case though. Case in point being Bunker 1, home of the President of the United States and his Cabinet. It fell years ago and the reason it fell is a mystery. One day is was there and broadcasting. The next day it stopped. That's all we know at the beginning of the book. The reason later becomes obvious, but I won't say why here.

I mentioned Mad Max earlier and it's a fit comparison. Not so much the battle over fuel per se but the existence of the Wasteland and the danger of traveling. Actually, Alex begins the story on foot and alone in an area with no law and order. That's about as safe as you would imagine under the circumstance. He gets lucky at one point. That's as much as I'll say for now. It really does move the story forward at this point and gets us involved in the larger world.

At first, it's a simple introduction into the wastelands of California. It's much colder there than it would be now because of the dust thrown into the air by Ragnarok. Vehicles are scarce to the point of being almost unheard of. Batteries are considered to be a form of currency. Food is scarce and gangs not only abound but hold most political power goes along with gang membership.

Then things get weirder. We find out about Blights, where fungus grows and monsters live. Eventually we find out where they came from. There is some serious weirdness here, but it explains what happened in Bunker 108 when this whole series started. Then we find out why they're spreading... And I'm revealing too much. Just believe me when I say we end up understanding better because Alex has to understand it.

I like the way this works though. First, we learn about our main character. We start to care about his and his motivations. He shows us some guts. Just as we fall in love with Alex, he moves forward into a world that is much bigger and more complicated than he realizes. I like this for another reason as well: Since Alex doesn't  know much about the world around his bunker we can learn about the environment along with him. This works well because West can tell us what we need to know without info-dumping for pages on end. It's a good technique; enlightening and entertaining.

The rest of the cast is easy to believe and fits into the world nicely. From Makara, the Raider turned good-guy to Anna, the warrior woman with a katana they all fit into the world nicely. They do what they should given their established personalities. They make us care about them. The bad guys work as well: Emperor Augustus of the Nova Roman Empire is an evil man by our lights: He uses slaves and holds gladiatorial games to get rid of his enemies. By his lights though, he is a hero. He has managed to build an empire and establish law and order within its boundaries. He has protected his people from the predation of those from outside his empire and established economic well-being for many. Sure, he's a power mad dictator, but he doesn't see it that way. It's all for the "greater good of the people."

I'll be honest about something here: I bought the books as an omnibus. They work perfectly as a seamless book but I'm not sure how they would do separately. That's not to say that they would be bad, but I actually had to look at the table of contents at what point to find out what book I was on. I thought I was still on the first one and it turns out that I was about halfway through the second one.  There seriously is no definite ending to these books that I noticed. That doesn't make them bad stories. It's just kind of weird.

I do have one other complaint about the works in question: I'm guessing Mr West doesn't have much experience with firearms. Alex carries a nine millimeter Beretta throughout the series. Don't get me wrong. I've been trained on the M9 Beretta. It's not a bad firearm for what it's used for. It's just that it's a handgun and no one in their right mind goes into a situation expecting a problem with a handgun if you have any chance at all to upgrade it. Rifles have longer range and hit harder. The reliance on a handgun is a bit strange. I'm guessing he just didn't know any better.

I have not yet read the last four books but I don't know that I'd start The Wasteland Chronicles in the middle. A lot of the same reasons I gave for liking what I've read so far would make it difficult to catch up if you start in book three or four. West Heinliens his world building wonderfully but his lack of info-dumps and filling in past details may make it difficult to catch up. That's alright though. The first book is Apocalypse. Just start there or with the Omnibus, the way I did.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Batteries

The Wasteland Chronicles: Omnibus Edition
Kyle West
Self Published, 2015

The Wasteland Chronicles: Omnibus Edition and the works it contains are available for purchase at the links below:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

David Gosnell's The Wielder: Sworn Vengeance

Arthur McInerney and his crew of summonlings are back and this time it gets even uglier. Welcome to David Gosnell's The Wielder: Sworn Vengeance. We're glad you could join us. Don't get comfortable though: This one is a rough ride with accusations, betrayal and the search for vengeance. Arthur's methods aren't gentle and they shouldn't be. When the goal of the enemy is no less than the invasion and capture of the Earth by the demons of hell, the time for subtlety is past. Arthur and his friends go through the ring and come out again. Whether they're stronger or not is questionable.

This one starts off with a bang. Malgdorath, Arthur's nemesis and all around evil creep, is at it again and he is succeeding in his plan of promoting religious strife to bring the world closer to Hell. It's a scary time with news broadcasts showing violence daily. Enemies aren't always who we think they are and friends aren't always bound to a human frame of reference. Some "friends" just flat out aren't friends. The whole world has lost it's mind and things are continually getting worse.

It's into this environment that our hero, Arthur McInerney, finds himself thrust as a result of his failure to destroy Malgdorath in The Wielder: Betrayal. He's in for the fight of his life and he knows it. That is, IF he can find Malgdorath. You would think that finding an evil demon would be easy, but not so much. Much of the book involves fighting and looking. Frustation abounds.

Arthur, of course, also has to deal with personality conflicts among his summonlings and this time it gets nasty, with his succubus turning herself into a hag because she's having a snit. I found it funny. Arthur sometimes manages to say things to his summonlings that cause all kinds of problems without meaning to. That makes a lot of sense because how many of us have hurt someone without meaning to, simply by saying something? I know I have.

The fight scenes in this book are awesome and once again very reminiscent of a battle out of a MMORPG. This time it has more of a boss fight feel than a Battle Ground feel but it's definitely there. I was into the book on one hand and on the other I couldn't help but here my raid leader screaming "Kill the adds!" Seriously. They were well written and fast paced. There was definitely one fight that didn't end quite the way I expected it to. It did, however end in a logical manner that sets up the next book.

The scary thing about this book isn't the demons. It's not the magical conjurations or even the attempt to turn Earth into a literal hell. No, I see this book in light of my history degree. The terrifying thing here is that much of the conflict in The Wielder: Sworn Vengeance could happen at any time. Christians fighting Muslims is nothing new. Vlad the Impaler earned his nickname (No, his mother did not call him her "little impy" when he was growing up.) by impaling his enemies and those who had betrayed him and his kingdom as a Christian at war with Muslims. (And he's still considered to be a national hero in Romania because he kept the Muslims/Ottoman Empire out.)  ISIS is beheading Christians daily. The attempts by the demons to draw Israel and the greater Jewish community into the fray ring too true for comfort. I really liked this part of the book but it haunts me. We could see something similar emerge in the near future and it wouldn't take a supernatural event to make it occur. This one is going to keep me up at night.

Gosnell has a feel for just how much reality and vice versa. Too far one way and this book becomes a cartoon. Too far in the other direction and it becomes a half-assed documentary. Somehow though, he manages to blend them in seemlessly and in the right proportions. We're on the edge of our seats the whole way wondering if this thing is going to tip.

Maybe equally as important is the fact that Gosnell doesn't take sides in the religious conflict in his book. There is no over the top moralizing. There is no proselytizing. Gosnell writes the narrative as a narrative and not a religious tract. He's not asking you to take side against anyone but Malgdorath and company who are basically using people of all faiths for his own ends. I looked for a moral. Not only did I not find one, I didn't find so much as an attempt at one. That's good. If I want to be preached to, I'll go to church. Gosnell doesn't do that.

I really have one complaint about the work and it's one I've brought up about a lot of books that I've reviewed: I hate Cliff Hanger! He's an asshole! Look, I was going to buy the next book anyway.  There's no reason to do this to me. I quit watching prime time TV for exactly this reason. I don't need to be left hanging for months/years an author writes the next one. It's just frustrating. I've hated cliffhangers since the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Best of Both Worlds. Oh noes the Borg have Picard. What's going to happen now? I guess we'll find out in September... Ugh. My opinion of cliff hangers has not improved since.

Having said as much, I really did enjoy this book. I went through it in like a day. It was a roaring good time. I'm looking forward to the next one. For all my whining about a cliffhanger, I didn't read the preview at the end. Fortunately for me I just checked Amazon and it looks like there has been a sequel released already. I'll be picking that up before too long, rest assured. It sounds like a good one.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5  Swords of Light

The Wielder: Sworn Vengeance
David Gosnell
Self Published, 2013

The Wielder: Sworn Vengeance is available at the link below:

Friday, March 11, 2016

Debbie Manber Kupfer's P.A.W.S.

I've always said that good Young Adult literature can -and should- be enjoyed by adults. Once again, I was proven right *buffs fingernails on shirt* by Debbie Manber Kupfer's P.A.W.S. a coming of age/finding one's self story starring a young girl named Miri who inherits a charm from her Omama (grandmother) that allows her to transform herself into a cat. Along the way she faces many and massive changes to her life as well as threats from an outside force and the sudden reappearance of a family member she had never thought she'd see again.  Oh, and this is just the first book in the series. I'd bet the rest of them are going to be crazy.

 Manber Kupfer treats us to a story of a hidden world, one where shapeshifting is common and functioning magic is not unusual. One where werewolves exist and have the choice to be good or evil. It is a milieu where some inherit their shape-shifting ability in the form of charms passed down since time immemorial and others have to study and work to learn the magic necessary to change forms. Nothing is as it seems to outsiders - and not always to insiders either.

Miri receives her charm from her Omama but she does not at first realize that her powers actually exist. Even upon realizing that she can shift forms into a cat she does not realize that other powers come along with the gift. She suffers through trying to learn about her power and thence herself throughout the book. This, along with the struggle against an evil werewolf named Alistair, forms the two main problems of the book, but the desire of Miri to learn more about herself is where this book really shines.

P.A.W.S. is a story about a teen aged girl trying to find her place in the world. It feels real mainly because it's a struggle we can all identify with. At some point in time pretty much every human being has to figure out who they are and what they want. Miri is no exception. She flounders a bit but that's okay because we all do. She has to deal with some problems with bullying as well. That's something that many of us, including myself, have dealt with as as well. Miri finds herself in many situations that hit hard, not because of their unusual nature but because I've been there and done that. This is a little girl that I have a lot in common with.

The flip side of that is that she gets to do things that those of us who actually exist can only dream about. What would it be like to change into a cat, to be able to change into a cat and scamper away from trouble? If I could sense and project the emotions of others what would/could I use that for? If I could have chuck my humdrum existence and enter into a magical world, I'd do it in a minute. Miri is a bit more hesitant but it's easier to say that I'd change my whole life in a minute than it would be to actually do it.

Miri is, in some ways, the kind of person we all wish we could be. When one of her former classmates shows up at P.A.W.S. Miri manages to get along with the girl and try to get along with her. When a long lost relative show up, one that Miri feels abandoned by, she does her best to comfort them as they are recovering from their wounds and get to know them. I got the feeling that Miri could very easily have been a very bitter young girl. It's not hard to picture her rejecting people and crawling into a shell. The fact that she does not do so is a credit to her. The fact that this works in the story is a credit to Manber Kupfer. Forgiveness is something I've been struggling with. I could take a lesson here.

P.A.W.S.'s main antagonist is also easy to understand. Alistair is a flat out criminal who covets power for its own sake. He surrounds himself with others who wish to serve him to gain power themselves. Added to that is the power of mind-control. He can literally force people to do things against their will or prevent them from doing things that they want to simply by telling them not to. This isn't just a form of intimidation. They are completely unable to resist. This adds a bit of a horror element to what is otherwise a work of urban fantasy but the more the merrier... and it adds to the story which is important. If you don't hate Alistair by the time you've finished the book then don't ask me why because I can't help you.

 He treats the titular organization with hostility because they are a threat to expose and defeat him. He is every inch the conniving, manipulative bastard that men like Hitler, Lenin and Stalin were. He's just not as successful. Then again, he spends the entire story trying to gather more power to himself.  He may be on his way. If you want to know how successful he is, I guess you'll have to read the book. It's worth your time.

All that being said, this is not a perfect book. A bit more description would go a long way. The majority of the book takes place in the P.A.W.S. compound but I never really got a good grasp on what it was supposed to look like. This is a story that is very similar in some ways to the Harry Potter saga but it doesn't quite rise to that level and one of the reasons is a lack of imagery. Harry's first view of Hogwarts was epic. Miri's first view of P.A.W.S. is kind of ho hum. This doesn't ruin the story but it does keep it from reaching its full potential. That much being said, this is still a solid story and well worth the time I took to read it. I'll be contacting Mrs. Manber Kupfer shortly and inquiring as to how I can get hold of the sequel.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Charms

Debbie Manber Kupfer
Self Published, 2013

P.A.W.S. is available for purchase here: