Double Down on Wild Cards: Aces Abroad

imageWild Cards IV: Aces Abroad
Edited by George R. R. Martin
Various Authors
Publisher: TOR Books
Originally Published: 1988
528 Pages

We are often addicted to things that are not entirely good for us. Not that it can’t be pleasurable, but usually there is a side effect that becomes more prominent than the actual pleasure. The addiction becomes stronger and the compulsion to keep doing what you’re doing takes over any rational thoughts of stopping.

That’s pretty much how I feel about the Wild Cards series edited by George R. R. Martin.

Wild Cards is a science fiction and superhero anthology series set in a shared universe. While most of the volumes are made up of individual short stories, written by different authors, they generally focus on a central theme or event. There are also several longer story lines which run through several of the books. Every third book uses the format of the mosaic novel. This involves several writers writing individual story lines, which are then edited by blending them together into one seamless novel-length story. Wild Cards is inspired by traditional superhero comics, and many of the authors play with the conventions of the medium, while some characters are based on existing heroes.

The series began way back in 1987. It’s still ongoing today with new novels periodically published. I remember first being exposed to the Wild Cards books back in the late 80’s but never got around to reading them. About four years ago, TOR began republishing the earlier volumes that had fallen off the publishing wagon.

Having grown up reading (and still continuing to read) comic books, I was drawn to these novels that explore an alternate universe with super heroes in more adult, realistic settings.

Which brings me to Wild Cards IV: Aces Abroad originally published in 1988. I really do enjoy this series. I’m addicted to the characters and the stories, often holding my breath for the next volume to be re-released. The side-effect is the problem I have with different literary styles for each individual story contained in a single volume. One story can be face paced while the next is written by an author whose’ writing style is not enjoyable. You have to take the good with the bad.

But its not really bad per se, more like slow. The change in authors can throw you out of the overall story. One author will keep you captivated while the next completely changes the tone and pace.

I haven’t told you anything about Aces Abroad yet have I?

That’s because I struggled how to review a book of short stories all centered around a common narrative thread written by various authors. So this review is simply setting up future ones. I feel the novel should be graded as a whole, but each story individually as well. As I progress through future installments in this series, I will take better notes on the individual “chapters”.

Overall, this was one of the better Wild Cards novels. It starts a new arc that will take place over the next couple of novels. We say goodbye to a couple of characters and are introduced to new ones. Very important to note: you should really start with the first novel if you haven’t read any Wild Cards novels.

I gave this 3 out of 5 stars overall.  Some of the short stories are real standouts including Mirrors of the Soul, Blood Rights, the Teardrop of India and Down In the Dreamtime?

I really recommend this series. It’s fun, often thought provoking and sometimes just simply weird. At the end of every novel I’m left thinking that I’ve had just enough of this universe, but eventually I get the tug to read on only if to find out what happens next. At last count there are more than 23 novels in this series, more than enough to keep feeding my addiction.

Head on over to Amazon and pick up a copy today.

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Don’t Turn Down The Palace Job: A Witty, Fun Adventure

The Palace Job (Rogues of the Republic)

imageAuthor: Patrick Weekes
Series: Rogues of the Republic (Book 1)
Paperback: 438 pages
Publisher: 47North; October 2013

 

Stop me if you’ve heard this before…

A Death Priestess, 2 escaped convicts, a 16 year old virgin, a shape shifting unicorn, an illusionist, a former monk slash contortionist, a safe cracker and a talking Warhammer that used to be a King come together to pull off a heist in a floating magical city.

Whew! Wait…there’s more.

The Palace Job is a long con that is a fun, witty, humorous romp of a story that stays three steps ahead of the reader. It pokes fun at common fantasy / adventure quest tropes and simply enjoys itself as the story runs ahead of itself.

Patrick Weekes, a writer for BioWare (a computer gaming company) has written for all three Mass Effect games and now brings his talents to write a series of books that is worthy of being the successor of Terry Pratchett. Well, almost. It’s up there. The comedy and dialogue is sharp and Weekes uses the Rule of Three masterfully in setting up his jokes. (The Rule of Three is a comedy principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.)

With a cast of thousands (or at least a couple dozen), Weekes give equal time to all of his characters. They all get a chance to shine. Their traits and identities are smoothly revealed throughout the novel. He masterfully juggles all of his characters and gives the reader just enough of their backstory to lay the ground work for future adventures.

For example: There is a magical, talking Warhammer named Ghylspwr (Ghyl to his friends.) It/he doesn’t speak English, rather, it/he spouts phrases like: “Kun-kabynalti osu fiur’is!”

And everyone knows what Ghyl is saying.

Frankly, by the time the novel ends, you will laugh at the perfect comedic delivery of Ghyslpwr.

The Palace Job is fast paced and that leads to a little confusion with dialogue. Context is everything. It’s really a question of writing style. You’ll get used to it quickly.

Behind the comedy, behind the action, is subtle and not so subtle political and social commentary. I liked that. It added some depth into the adventure and gave it some layers worth exploring and thinking about. News reports are scattered throughout the novel, delivered by a trio of marionettes consisting of a dragon, a Minotaur and a griffin. The three represent different political factions of the story.

The plot is your typical quest/heist/get-the-crew-together/adventure/escape fantasy. Throw in a military coup, a mysterious black shadow and an Inspector Javert-ish character in hot pursuit of our scoundrels. Just when you think you think you know what the plan is, it quickly falls apart and the back-up plan might have been the plan all along. Got that?

I received a free copy of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. As a result, I think the formatting of the novel was a bit off. Its conversion to eBook format was horrible (I read it on a Nook so I had the epub version). It doesn’t ruin the book, just makes the reading a bit frustrating. Don’t let that deter you though. I got this for free, so really, no complaints. I haven’t seen any formatting complaints from people who purchased this novel in a long while, so I’m going to chalk it up to the review process.

As of this review, there are two additional novels in this series. Head on over and pick up a copy of The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes by by clicking here. I highly recommend this novel. You’ll enjoy reading it.

Four Stars out of Five

Spotlight on Astounding Authors

imageNew Feature here on Astounding Books. Writing and publishing a novel is an incredible accomplishment. Every week we get a number of requests to review novels from independent and up and coming authors. As much as we’d love to have the time to read them all, we just can’t. Instead, we will periodically feature a few aspiring authors with novels that look interesting. Check them out, buy their books. Hopefully you’ll give them look. Then come back here to Astounding Books and let us know what you thought!

This Week’s Astounding Authors:

The Betrayal of KA by Shea Oliver

As the spaceship secretly lands on Earth, Ka’s mission is clear: find and kill Transprophetics. His shipmates think of him as a killer. On his home planet of Koranth, he is considered a murderer. Haunted in his dreams by the boy whose life he stole, Ka struggles to define who he really is.

A girl in a temple in Thailand. A boy kidnapped in Mexico. Both can do the impossible. Both can move objects with their minds. These two Transprophetics pose grave risks to the Donovackia Corporation as it plans its invasion of Earth.

With a blade in his hand, Ka’s decision to kill, or not, will reverberate across the galaxy.

The Red Wraith by Nick Wisseman

imageAs magic awakens in Early America, Naysin, a child of the Lepane nation, manifests talents that cause him to defile his tribe’s harvest ceremony. His punishment is exile. In the years that follow, Naysin’s twin fathers keep goading him into misusing his abilities. On the island of Bimshire, he inspires a slave rebellion before abandoning it; near his former home, he marches European settlers to their deaths; and in the forests of Edgeland, he ends a battle by massacring both sides. Such acts cause much of the New World to see him as the Red Wraith, an indigenous monster who delights in butchering white innocents. The infamy is well-earned, but that’s not who he wants to be. And when he encounters a group of fellow magic-users, Naysin realizes how he can set everything right…

Dark Destiny by Thomas Graveimage

Great friends. A perfect girlfriend. Life is good for 17-year-old Sebastian until tragedy shatters his blissful existence, awakening a dark power inside him. Visions of a ghostly and broken world lead to a mysterious woman who tells him that he’s the reincarnation of Death. With the title comes great power. Will he use it for good? Or, will he drown in the darkness of his own selfish purposes?

 

 

Penguin Random House Launches #GiveaBook Campaign

imagePenguin Random House has launched the 2015 edition of its #GiveaBook campaign, a social-media based initiative to promote books as gifts and give back to children in need during the holiday season. For every use of the hashtag #GiveaBook on Facebook and Twitter between November 16 and December 24, PRH will donate one book to the literacy charity First Book (up to 35,000 times). In 2014, the debut campaign surpassed its initial goal of 25,000 #GiveaBook posts, which led the publisher to increase its commitment.

Sharon Cho Weaves a Good Fantasy Yarn with A Slice of Quietude

A Slice of Quietude
Woven Myths Book 1
Sharon Cho
Published – 2015
366 pages

imageA Slice of Quietude is the story of Kat, a guild assassin, as she struggles to transition from her old, solitary life as a ruthless, unquestioning killer to one filled with friends, love and myths come to life.

Along this journey Kat befriends a Bard, a Warrior, and Tristian – the Scarred Woman. Together the four women deal with their often, and quite literally, tortured pasts. They ready themselves to come to terms with their previous lives and embrace what fate and the gods have in store for them. In between, there is The Quietude, a sort of psychic realm, overlaid on reality that helps characters who use it focus. Not all can use the Quietude, those that can co-exist in both realms simultaneously; some better than others.

Sharon Cho has created a very deep, vibrant, mythical world and crammed it into 366 pages, which can be a bit much. Honestly, the first third of the novel is a bit hard to get through. It’s tough. There are a lot of new places, words, names to take in and Cho goes all in. There were times I found myself screaming “Ease up a bit”!

But Patience! Focus. Stick with it and you won’t be disappointed.

Kat’s journey is fascinating and thrilling. She is a strong character and a powerful personality. It’s fun to read a novel where you can’t predict where it will go next. But at times it seemed like events went too fast. For example, Kat is an assassin. Yet it seemed like I never really got to see the true, hardened, killer side of her before she started falling in love with Tristian. On the other hand, Tristian’s story is rich and mysterious. You will quickly lose yourself in her past.  Cho did a great job here introducing us to this skilled hardened fighter, then slowly showing her vulnerable side and mysterious past.

I particularly liked the character of Kinjara, the almost famous (or famous in her own mind) bard. She weaves tall tales around campfires and in taverns. Are the stories Kinjara tells real or simply myths? They are expertly woven into the novel. As the story progresses, the line between myth and reality blurs, not unlike reality and The Quietude. This was a good technique. Cho does a fantastic job of laying clues throughout the novel, gently teasing the appearance of gods, jesters and mystical realms.

Cho has a fine eye for detail….Almost to a fault. She has some beautifully written passages that draw the reader into this world. Unfortunately at other times, she’s a bit verbose in description, whipping you back out. The fight scenes are well choreographed, but overdone. Some of the dialogue is repetitive and clunky. But as the novel moves forward, Cho quickly finds her own slice of quietude and her writing really starts to flow well.

I was pleasantly surprised by the time I finished the novel, even forgetting that this was “Woven Myths #1” and happy there would be more to the story.

A Slice of Quietude has humor, adventure, action, fantasy, comedy and romance. Overall I recommend this book. Sharon Cho is an author to keep an eye on. Get on over to AMAZON by clicking HERE and pick up a copy.

I received a copy of this book from the Author in exchange for a fair and honest review. A big Thank You! to Sharon Cho for the honor of letting me read her novel. I truly enjoyed it and look forward to her next novel.

Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5.

Near Enemy Delivers Fast-Paced, Sci-Fi /Urban Noir Fun

imageNear Enemy
A Spademan Novel
Adam Sternbergh
Broadway Books (2015)
320 Pages

Spademan is a hit man for hire.
He used to be a garbage man. Had a family.
Then someone set off a dirty bomb in Times Square.
New York – The City, Died.
His family? They died too.
Only those with nothing left to live for walk the street.
Everyone else? They left town. All 8 million of them.
Headed upstate. Outstate. New Jersey.
They also escaped by jacking themselves into the limn.
Actually, it’s the limnosphere, or limn for short.
It’s a virtual cyberspace utopia where you can live out your fantasies as an avatar.
A safe place.
Away from real life.
Away from terrorists.
But only if you are rich.
Nothing can hurt you. Get stabbed? Reboot.
Lose and arm? Grow some wings.
You can’t die. Not in real life.
Or so they thought.
Someone died in the limn.
They also died in real life
Not good.
Spademan has a mission. Who’s messing with the limn?
Corrupt Politicians?
Wanna-be puppet masters?
Egyptian terrorists?
Tough guys in overalls?
A beautiful Nurse?
(There’s always a beautiful woman in noir books and films)
If they can reach you in the limn, is no place safe?
Time is running out.

Near Enemy. Gritty. Post-apocalyptic.
Part sci-fi. Mostly urban noir. Fast paced. Grimly humorous.
Mixes Double Indemnity with Raymond Chandler with a heavy hand on the return lever of a typewriter.
Spademan?
Hard-boiled, antihero. Uses a box-cutter as a weapon of choice.
The writing? Short sentences. Quick. No quotation marks. To the point.
Kinda like this review.
Actually, just like this review.
Second book in a series.
Oh, didn’t I mention that?
I hate coming into a series late. I actually avoid it at all cost.
It didn’t matter.
Adam Sternbergh. The author.
He picks you up.
Throws you over the side of the pool.
Lets you thrash about in water.
You learn to swim.
Quickly.

Faults? It had a few.
Some returning characters seemed thrown in.
While the Spademan character is interesting, I missed out on the “hitman-for-hire” feeling.
But I’m sure it was in the first novel.
Some information toward the end of the novel and the climax refers to knowledge gained from the first novel.
Hate that.
Not important though.
You’ll catch on. I did.

My recommendation?
Near Enemy is definitely worth read.
But don’t read it.
Just not yet anyway.
Go read Sternbergh’s first Spademan novel.
Shovel Ready.
Trust me?
You probably shouldn’t.
I haven’t read it yet. But I plan to.
I definitely plan to.
I can’t honestly advise you to start a series after it’s started.
But when you are done with Shovel Ready, go read Near Enemy.
Looking forward to the next Spademan novel.

Three Stars out of Five. Good novel, easy read, interesting premise, interesting characters, page-turner.

Oh yeah. The disclaimer.
I received a free copy of this novel from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Honestly.

Interested in reading Near Enemy? Click Here and help support Astounding Books!