Readers Will Identify With Van Rompaey’s Ascension

imageAscension
The Oasis Series
Author: Jeannie Van Rompaey
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing (April 2016)
Pages: 312
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
Twitter: @JRompaey
Website: JeannieVanRompaey.com

I’ve always has an affinity for mutants and Greek mythology. Well, pretty much any mythology, be it Greek, Roman, Finnish, Native American, you name it. Imagine my delight in reading Ascension by Jeannie Van Rompaey which combined the two. I received an advance copy of this novel in-exchange for a fair and honest review.

Without spoiling much of the novel, I’ll attempt a synopsis:  At some point in the near future, the Earth’s environment has been destroyed through a combination of environmental neglect, war and scientific meddling into genetics (of plants and humans). The result is a fairly medium-sized population of mutants living in sheltered domes, protected from the harsh environment. These mutants are not your ordinary super hero variety; they have two heads, four eyes, wings, multiple arms, etc. Their character traits are based loosely on mythological beings (Mercury, Heracles, Siti, etc.) and they spend much of their time performing mindless tasks of preserving the culture of Past Earth.  Through a series of events the mutants in one sector  learn that non-mutant humans, or Completes, are living in a utopian society on satellites that orbit the Earth. Our adventure continues from there.

Told in short, engaging narratives from the viewpoint of several main characters, Van Rompaey did a great job of keeping me interested in their development as she moved the plot along at a fairly quick pace. A definite plus is van Rompaey’s richly drawn characters and the believable dialogue between them.   One challenge I did have was the lack of real threat for our main characters. Yes they have all lost something in either the past or the present, but as the conflict picked up, some of the resolution seemed glossed over only to move on to the next part of the story. I never really sensed any “danger”. At times it felt I was reading parts of several novels, each based in the same “universe”.  Ascension is a part of an ongoing series of novels, which may be why this feels the way it does.

Who we are and how we think of ourselves is a prevalent theme in the novel. In a world filled only with mutants, the three-eyed-three-legged man is a sex symbol, right? How comfortable we are in our own skin defines who we are. What happens when we find out we can change? Van Rompaey deftly navigates these questions and conflicts and creates a relatable morality tale.

As the plot progresses, Ascension seemed more like a novel that put a twist on office politics and social interaction than about identity. It definitely finds its own footing, turning managerial shake-ups, an office sexual affairs, quotas and competition between other offices into excruciating yet hypnotically funny rituals of humiliation. Readers who have spent any amount of time in an office setting will identify with our crew of colorful characters. Some situations may seem utterly implausible (even in a post-apocalyptic world filled with mutants) but its easy to overlook after investing in each of our characters.

This is a fun read; it evokes a subtle satire of the everyday workplace but its appeal is far broader. Readers will find something to enjoy in this very human tale of being comfortable in your own skin.

Van Rompaey tells an astonishing good tale, mixing up pop culture references and diverse myths into a tale you will identify with.  There are enough plot twists  to keep you surprised. Definitely worth picking up.

3-1/2 Stars out of Five for Ascension by Jeannie Van Rompaey

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Wake the Sleeping Giants for a Fun, Exciting Adventure

imageSleeping Giants
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Publisher: Del Rey (April 2016)
Pages: 320
Genre: SciFi / Techno-thriller
Twitter: @neuvel
Facebook: SylvainNeuvel
Website: Neuvel.net

Imagine you are a young child who happens to fall down a hole in your backyard only to find a giant, metal, glowing hand. A decade or so later you are working on a project that is trying to find and piece together the remaining parts to a large metallic robot that may or may not have been left here by aliens more than 6,000 years ago. Except now, you no longer are looking in your own back yard. The pieces to the robot are scattered across the globe.

Sylvain Neuvel’s thrilling debut novel, Sleeping Giants, is the first book in the Themis Files series. I think the key word here is files. Each chapter is written as either a journal entry or as the transcription of an interview. The interviews are led by a mysterious, unnamed individual who is leading the charge to find and put together the mystery of the giant robot.

The story is told through the perspective of key characters and their reaction to the world changing events they are involved in.

Neuvel has a firm grasp on dialogue, giving each character a distinctive voice and tone. Hardly ever did I find myself feeling that the conversations were repetitive or expository. He mixes intrigue and suspense with wit and humor to create a truly enjoyable literary experience.

The plot is fun, exhilarating and quite enjoyable. It’s fast paced and, while not predictable, makes sense in a global kind of way.

My only complaint is toward the latter half of the novel, some characters are quickly introduced and some plot points happen so fast that they lead you to wonder if they could have been better planned or foreshadowed. The character’s personalities are revealed through their interviews.  These latter events and characters have little time “on page” to leave that much of an imprint on us and seem not as developed as other.  There really isn’t that much time for their (one in particular) motivations to be clear.

Although it’s the first in a series, Sleeping Giants stands alone. The author has written a riveting page-turner, leaving just enough speculation at the end to create a craving for the next novel in the series…which I hope comes soon. I received an advanced review copy of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Sleeping Giants is scheduled to be published in April 2016 but I read this back in December of 2015. Only now, at the request of the author, am I publishing this review.  I hope the next novel in the series is quickly on the heels of this one.

Sleeping Giants looks to be the start of a very enjoyable science fiction series. I’m looking forward to seeing what Sylvain Neuvel will do next.

3 ½ stars out of 5

CLICK HERE and order your copy of Sleeping Giants.

What Lies Beneath The Surface’s End? A Good Parable.

imageThe Surface’s End

Author: David Joel Stevenson
Paperback: 218 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace (November 2, 2015)
Website: davidjoelstevenson.com
Twitter: @geekoffgrid
Facebook: Davidjoelstevenson

Jonah Whitfield lives in a small farming village near the Deathlands, a strange desert in the middle of a lush and green landscape. The inhabitants of his village live a pastoral life, one free of excess, electronics and sloth.  Hard work is valued, family life is cherished and citizens strive for a strong sense of community. But the land holds many secrets.  Rusting mechanical machines litter a nearby junkyard.  Tools and homes are crafted from the remnants of objects  whose original uses are lost to time.  One day, while hunting, Jonah explores the forbidden Deathlands area only to find a passageway to a hidden complex, a series of tunnels filled with glowing lights, working machines…and the voices of other humans.  Here he finds questions that may very shake his view of the world.

Thus begins David Joel Stevenson’s Young Adult (YA) Dystopian novel, The Surface’s End. I have to say this was a welcoming and pleasant surprise, if not a bit formulaic.

The YA and Dystopian novel market is booming, helped in part from the success of The Hunger Games, and the self-published sensation Wool.  It seems we all can’t quite get enough of a futuristic world filled with crushing authority, bleak lives and young protagonists that offer a glimmer of hope for a better future. I know I can’t. I practically thrive on it.

Stevenson turns the tables on the basic dystopian formula by starting off in a quite comfortable place where residents have found a bit peace after what appears to have been a time of violence many generations past. History is forgotten, but not altogether gone. The shells of the former world litter the landscape, raising questions for those brave enough to ask.  Only after Jonah discovers a hidden world do we begin to see a society living in a questionable future, a future filled with laziness, lack of values and systematic separation of classes. A future that looks surprisingly like our own present.

The author did a fine job of building the mystery in the first half of the novel. Unfortunately, the second half fell into the trap of revealing too much information too fast. While I have no doubt Stevenson has more to tell of what lies beneath the Deathlands, revelations seemed to come faster than expected. The fun is in the build-up! I like my dystopian stories dripping with dispair and a protagonist that struggles  with a world that makes little sense.  There is also a not-so-subtle message that Stevenson is trying to convey to the reader – a philosophy of hard work, good values and unquestioning loyalty to family and community.  But here too, the delivery is  a blunt object over the head. Stevenson needs to trust the reader to make their own conclusions to the message he’s sending.

That aside, this was a quick, enjoyable page-turning read. The author provided me with a review copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.  My foray into the world of first time authors and self-published novels from up-and-coming independent writers, continues to be a welcomed experience. Finding a small jewel like this in the stacks of requests is what makes my hobby of book reviewing so enjoyable.

The Surface’s End was engaging, creative and hopping with energy. The author has a clean and tight writing style that is effective and affective.  Readers will eagerly want to learn what comes next. I know I do. But let the mystery build a little slower next time, ok?

Three Stars out of Five. A good, enjoyable novel that you will not be disappointed in reading.

To read The Surface’s End, pick up a copy by CLICKING HERE.  When you are done, head on back here to Astounding Books and let us know what you thought!

The Forever War a Forever Classic

imageThe Forever War

By Joe Haldeman
Originally published: 1974
Pages: 264

I’ve never been a fan of classic military science fiction. I feel there is always more emphasis on battle scenes and tech rather than character and story.  There were exceptions:  Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, which dealt  with the emotional and moral effects of war; and John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series, giving us the “wise man’s” perspective of combat and death.  In both cases there is a xenophobic subtext of how man deals with aliens (or humans) they fail to understand, but convince themselves to fear. Both Card and Scalzi (and others) owe a large debt to Joe Haldeman who created the template for speculative military science fiction novels that deal not simply with tech, but much broader and controversial issues that we as humans struggle with today.

Published in 1974, The Forever War (winner of the Nebula, Hugo and Locus Awards) is the quintessential “war novel”.  Its thought-provoking parallels to modern day warfare, uncanny prescience toward changes in human sexuality and economics, exploration of xenophobia,  and  mind-blowing  use of time-space travel mark it as a classic among classics.

At its heart The Forever War follows the career of William Mandella, one of the first space soldiers sent to battle the Taurans, a distant and virtually unknown alien race. To conquer this perceived threat, soldiers are sent through ‘collapsars’, allowing them to travel light years in mere seconds. The kicker?  While the battle or campaign only lasts a few months, Albert Einstein’s general relativity has the last laugh: the soldiers return to their original bases only a few months older, but decades later.

Those lucky enough to survive return only to find society changed and their hard won battles nearly forgotten as technological advances and additional decades-long battles have changed the war. They are sent out time and again to ever more distant locations in the galaxy while changes to society on Earth further widen the gap that links them to their former lives.  Mandella and his fellow soldiers signed up for a simple 4 year tour of duty. Instead, centuries have passed.

The author, Joe Haldeman, wrote The Forever War a few years after his service in the Vietnam War, where he served as a combat engineer. The novel is as much an exploration of that war as it is a science fiction tale of a war against an alien race. It reads like a war diary: short unemotional verses about combat, training and loss of life.  The passages where Mandella gets leave to visit his Earth (or a hospital planet) explore the trouble combat veterans have while trying to re-enter a society much changed since they enlisted.  These “shore leave” sections are a welcome reprieve from the senseless killing and combat that make up much of the novel. The novel will hit you hard in the gut, but also earn a chuckle or two as the reader sympathizes with  Mandella as he struggles with military protocol and the politics of war.

While much of the story begins in 1997, it doesn’t feel dated. Even now, 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, the themes of The Forever War are still echoing around the world. Unfortunately.

This is exactly how classic science fiction should be: addressing important issues; raising questions that parallel our current lives; and exploring the relationship between humans and the society we live in. The Forever War is worthy of numerous re-reads and further discussions. Haldeman was named a Grand Master of Science Fiction, a title well earned. As a result of reading this in e-book format, I am now left with task of finding a hardcover copy  so I can place The Forever War on my shelf next to editions of 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World and Darkness at Noon. All should serve as warnings to avoid past and future paths.

Read this book.

5 Stars out of 5

Click here to purchase and read The Forever War. 

Spotlight on Astounding Authors

Welcome to a new year of Astounding Authors. Check out this week’s offerings from exciting and new independent writers. Don’t forget to come back later and tell us how you enjoyed it. Please tell your family and friends about us. Now to this week’s Astounding Authors!

imageMoore Hollow
Author: J.D. Byrne
Publisher: CreateSpace (October 2015)
Pages: 253
Genre: Paranormal/fantasy
Website:  JDByrne.net
Twitter: @JDBAuthor

Ben Potter’s life is a shambles. As a journalist he’s hit rock bottom, writing dreck about monsters and ghouls to make ends meet after a big story blew up in his face. As a son he’s a disappointment, unwilling to follow his father, grandfather, and great grandfather into the family business. As a father, he’s mostly just not there.

Now a new assignment could change all that. All he has to do is go from London to the hills of West Virginia to investigate the strangest of stories his great grandfather told. Did a sleazy politician really raise the dead to try and win an election? And if he did, what happened to the zombies? Could they still exist? Ben needs to find out, to solve the mystery and find a way to get his life back on track.

But finding the answer only presents Ben with a whole new batch of problems. Does he use what he learns to put his life back on track? Or will he be compelled to do the right thing, even if it leaves his life a mess?

The hardest part of a mystery is deciding what to do once you’ve solved it.

Click here to learn more about Moore Hollow.

 

imageBasquiat Bounce
Author: Chris Murphy
Publisher: CJM Publishing 2015
Pages: 227

Acclaimed Abstract artist Sun Yat Pill has just had his most successful Gallery opening. After the exhibition, he goes home and retrieves the painting he has been working on for the last 2 years, his masterpiece, ‘The St. Matthew’. With painting in hand, he takes the subway to the South Bronx. On a deserted ghetto block, he leaves ‘The St. Matthew’ in the backseat of an abandoned, rusted Volkswagen Bug. With his mission accomplished, he returns home and promptly hangs himself, committing suicide.

Where is ‘The St. Matthew’ and why did Pill take his own life? As these questions grow in the media, a Basquiat Bounce begins to creep into play.

The Basquiat Bounce is a novel that highlights the talent and absurdities of the contemporary art world. A business where Terence Koh’s ‘Dialectic’ (A dried turd wrapped in gold foil) or Mark Kostabi (Who has his assistants paint for him) can command hundreds of thousands of dollars and have solo exhibitions around the globe. Through its cast of eccentric characters, The Basquiat Bounce tries to make sense of this industry in an often hilarious and always entertaining fashion.

Click here to purchase Basquiat Bounce by Chris Murphy.

 

imageAlawahea: The Azellian Affairs, Book One
By Sara L. Daigle
Genre: Sci-Fi, Fiction, Fantasy
Book Publisher: Merry Dissonance Press
Pages: 478
Web: SaraDaigle.com
Twitter: @SaraLDaigle
GoodReads:SaraDaigle

Tamara Carrington always felt different. One event in high school left her wondering if maybe she really was a freak, although she’d managed to leave that experience in the past—buried deep in her psyche. With the arrival of the exchange students from the planet of Azelle to her college, Tamara’s long buried memories threaten to erupt. As Tamara’s emotions build and her friendship with the Azellians grows, so does the knowledge of secrets within her own family.

With the deterioration of her mother’s health, Tamara doesn’t know where to turn for answers or solace. What has her family been hiding? Why does she feel inexplicably drawn to the Azellians? What will happen if she unleashes her long-suppressed passion? Will she survive or even recognize herself afterwards? Wanting answers, yet being afraid of what she might find, Tamara wonders if it would be better to remain asleep.

Click here to read.Alawahea: The Azellian Affairs, Book One by Sara Daigle.

That will do it for this week. Be sure to Like the Astounding Books Facebook page so you won’t miss any updates.

Floor 21 Offers Post-Apocalyptic Fun

imageFloor 21
Author: Jason Luthor
Publisher: Amazon Press 2015
Pages 144
Twitter: @jl_TheProfessor
Website: Jasonluthorwriting.com
Facebook: Facebook.com/JasonLuthorWriting

 

I have to say this is one of the best surprises I’ve read this year.

I’m a sucker for a good post-apocalyptic / dystopian story, so it’s no surprise Floor 21 by Jason Luthor hooked me from the start.

Jackie is a curious, independent and headstrong 17 year old female living in one of the top floors of a Tower that is besieged by a black, oozing muscle-like mass that reacts to pain and emotions. Everything below Floor 21 is unlivable. The higher you live, the better the conditions. Jackie lives on Floor 4. No one knows or remembers before the Creep infested their massive tower, or what lies below or beyond. Questions and inquisitiveness is frowned upon by the secretive and reclusive Authority who live on Floor 1. Follow the rules and everything is fine.

Except everything isn’t fine. No one talks about the Creep. Jackie’s parents are acting weird. People disappear; some return acting different after going through Reinforcement. When Jackie begins to ask questions, the answers she seeks might just bring the whole tower down around them.

Jason Luthor crafts a compelling, fast paced, mysterious story that creeps up while you are reading. (See what I did there?) At only 144 pages, it’s a short read that seemed like a prologue to a much larger adventure.

The author uses recordings of monologues made by Jackie as a narrative device to tell her story. Halfway through the novel the recordings switch from Jackie to that of a Commander on a Scavenging team, instructed to go below Floor 21 and look for food, materials and any secrets that may unlock the reason the Creep came to the tower.

Luthor expertly manages the release of information that explains the backstory of the Tower. I like that. New information is introduced in a matter-of-fact way and I never felt at a loss. [(Except for the steaks. Like, seriously…Where do the steaks come from? It’s not Creep Meat is it? Gross!) in my best 17 year old voice]. He also doesn’t give away the farm. There is obviously more to the story and that’s the sign of good world building.

A few nitpicks:

It’s often hard to get a good deep look at the secondary characters of a novel when the narrator is “recording” their actions. These important characters often come across as one dimensional or cardboard-like. Also, I think Luthor had to explain a few times how Jackie was actually recording given what she was doing.

Jackie’s use of modern slang was a bit distracting. The events of the novel are set decades or centuries in the future. Her dialogue just didn’t come across as that of a 17 year old girl; maybe 14 years old. Of course it’s been a while since I was a teenager so who knows.

The ending felt a bit rushed, but the plot wrapped up nicely, paving the way for the next installment in the series. (There will be a next installment right?) It’s certainly not a stand-alone novel.

All-in-all this had the feel of a very good novel in the Young Adult category. NOT THAT THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT. Personally? I think there are some fantastic YA novels out there today that I wish were around in my time. My point being, while it’s not deep-thought science fiction, it’s light enough to hook the most adamant of sci-fi fans, while appealing to a much broader audience.

I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to read and review this novel and look forward to more stories from Jason Luthor. Floor 21 is a wonderful start to what looks like a promising series.

Discover a new indie author today. Head on over HERE and pick yourself up a copy. At 144 pages, Floor 21 is a quick, enjoyable read that I know you will appreciate.

3 stars out of 5.

(Looking for more independent authors? Check out The Indie View. )

Aftermath Sets Stage For New Star Wars Canon

imageStar Wars: Aftermath
Author: Chuck Wendig
Publisher: LucasBooks 2015
Pages: 400
Twitter: @ChuckWendig
Website: TerribleMinds.com

I’m writing this the Monday after the big Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens premier. My mission before watching the current installment of the popular franchise was to finish a sort of “Prequel” novel: Star Wars: Aftermath.

Now I know there’s a gag reflex that goes along with the word prequel, but this novel is set immediately following the battle of Endor and the repercussions of the events in Return of the Jedi. It does nothing to spoil the new movie, yet it does add to the world building that is the new canon for Star Wars. And yes, there are a few references in the novel that show up later in the new movie.

I’ve never been a big fan of the former literary Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU). I read and enjoyed the Timothy Zahn Thrawn novels and picked up a couple other EU books. With the release of TFA, the old EU has been thrown out and a new canon is being built. The EU, to me, became a so convoluted in scope that I just didn’t have the time nor the desire to get that immersed in the timeline. With Aftermath, the Star Wars literary universe resets and re-launches.

The novel is really split between two sections: one story of a rag tag group of misfits trying to find their place in a new galaxy, a world without a Death Star, Darth Vader or the Emperor; the other thread consists of short, chapter length stories that deal with more “aftermath” from the viewpoint of, essentially, citizens from across the galaxy.

The main story revolves around a former Imperial, a bounty hunter, a former Rebel fighter and her son. There is also a droid, of course. Their lives converge on a planet where the remnants of the Empire are meeting to discuss the future of their reign and what to do about the Rebels, or now, the New Republic.

Intermittingly there are stand-alone chapters that tell the stories of characters and planets across the galaxy, including a chapter with Han Solo and Chewbacca, other notable Star Wars characters, and the planet Jakku.

While the novel is titled Aftermath, it seems more like a Prologue to what will surely be numerous new canonical stories set in the Star Wars Universe, connecting Return of the Jedi to The Force Awakens. The initial story arc and the sub-plots are not really memorable, but they do serve to initiate new world building and set the tone for future novels… and that’s ok.

Fans of the Star Wars cinematic universe will recognize familiar characters and locals. Fans of the animated Star Wars universe will see and read very familiar situations. Similar to what they are doing with their Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney seems to be supervising the interconnectedness of their Star Wars properties. That’s good news for fans.

Overall, Aftermath does a good job of arranging the building blocks of a new Star Wars universe. It’s a quick read filled with action, twists and new heroes with questionable motivations. Can a former Imperial or Bounty hunter change sides and be a force for the light side? (Could a former Stormtrooper be a hero?)

Star Wars: Aftermath, while not essential reading, is good filler material and enjoyable to say the least. It’s escapist reading, meant to fill the time between movies.

Three Lightsabers out of Five. 

To purchase a copy of Star Wars: Aftermath, CLICK HERE!