Injection Burn, by Jason M. Hough

Injection Burn, by Jason M. Hough

A high concept Space Opera full of huge ideas; instantly readable, and a hell of a lot of fun. I have been reading a bunch of really heavy non-fiction lately and this was just the right fun SF to break out of that over the last few days. It’s been such a ride reading this.

I am extremely impressed with the pacing of this novel. It builds and builds and builds, and just never lets up. A real page turner like James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series, but exploring loftier themes similar to some of those covered in Iain M. Banks’ The Culture novels. I’m a big fan of both, so this resonated with me on nearly every level.

Jason M. HoughThe cover is extremely action/military Scifi looking, and there is a lot of that toward the end, but I’m extremely happy that it’s not just an action story. There is a lot of classic, high concept, creative idea science fiction going on here as well. If you’ve read last year’s fantastic Zero World, you know this is something that Jason M. Hough is particularly fantastic at. At the risk of diverging a little here, I’m just going to say that Zero World needs a lot of sequels. It’s absolutely crying out for them.

This book is technically both the fourth Dire Earth novel, and the first in a new duology. I had previously read about the first hundred pages of The Darwin Elevator, the first Dire Earth novel, and couldn’t really get into it. So, I was only slightly familiar with the concept of the series going in, but never felt like I missed anything. I’m happy to report that this could absolutely be read without having to read any of the other Dire Earth books first; I have a feeling there are some small moments of payoff for longtime fans of the series sprinkled throughout though. I’m always really impressed with books that are both standalone, and a part of a larger series like this. That takes some serious writing chops to pull off, which Jason M. Hough obviously appears to have.

It is definitely half of a much bigger story, and ends on a cliffhanger of sorts. Thank god that Del Rey is publishing them less than a month apart. I think I would lose my mind if I had to wait much longer than that to finish this narrative. Del Rey, if you’re reading this, please send me a copy of Escape Velocity ASAP. I kind of need it.

Injection Burn is out now, and the follow up Escape Velocity will be out June 27th.

 

Skyler Luiken and his ragtag crew of scavengers, scientists, and brawlers have a new mission: a long journey to a distant planet where a race of benevolent aliens are held captive behind a cloud of destructive ships known as the Swarm Blockade. No human ships have ever made it past this impenetrable wall, and Skyler knows not what to anticipate when they reach their destination.
Safe to say that the last thing he expects to find there is a second human ship led by the tough-as-nails Captain Gloria Tsandi. These two crews and their respective captains initially clash, but they will have to learn to work together when their mutual foe closes in around them and begins the outright destruction of their vessels along with any hope of a return to Earth.


D’Arc, by Robert Repino

D'Arc, by Robert Repino

This sequel to Mort(e) picks up right where we left off and then propels itself forward. It feels like a few different genre novels married to each other: A western, a murder mystery, and an action/adventure story. I’ve always enjoyed that approach in speculative fiction. You take something fantasy or scifi, and write a story in that world from a different genre.

I thought it did a great job building up a mystery, while expanding on the mythology and worldbuilding quite nicely. In some ways it’s also a coming of age novel; a moral tale about choosing your own path, and writing your own story.

Robert RepinoRepino’s writing is extremely clean and tight. It reads effortlessly, and never gets in the way. Simple declarative sentences lay it all out for the reader. When the story really starts to get going, it’s almost like the writing entirely disappears, and you’re just… in it. I have to applaud him for that. I’m not even sure how one accomplishes something like that, but it’s impressive.

There was some fun closure for secondary and tertiary characters from the first novel, particularly Wawa. I really loved her arc in this. She was one of the better developed characters in Mort(e), so it was nice to see her get something good to chew on again in this one.

The last third, and the conclusion to the story didn’t really work for me. Early on there were a few big questions that were set up, and a great antagonist built through his own POV chapters, but those questions were mostly sidestepped, and the antagonist just fizzled out. I suspect that there will be more novels that may resolve my questions, and in fact, there was quite a bit of setup for what may be coming next. I have to admit it sounds very interesting. The world really is ripe for more stories.

All in all, it’s a fun continuation of the story that began in Mort(e), but it feels much less it’s own thing, and more an interstitial chapter in a continuing saga; something that needed to happen before the next part can occur. I’m still very excited for that next part though!

Void Star, by Zachary Mason

Void Star, by Zachary Mason

I’m notoriously picky, and it’s hard to find something that checks every one of my boxes: worldbuilding, prose, characters, and story. Usually I’ll find something that hits 2 or 3 of them; a great story, written well, but with weak worldbuilding or characters. Or a top notch world, with vivid characters, but only serviceably written. Void Star nails them all. It’s true literary Speculative Fiction, and a rare find.

It not only has that famous sense of wonder that only SF can do so well, but also elegant prose evidencing an author well acquainted with the great works of literary fiction, solid worldbuilding, an engaging story, and well developed characters that feel like they’ve genuinely lived their lives. It’s a novel of ideas, a hugely ambitious narrative, and a character novel all rolled into one. If elements of Neuromancer and The Diamond Age merged with an epic mythology poem and in the process became more than the sum of their parts, you would have Void Star. I’d call it post-cyberpunk, minus the noir element. There is a mystery present, but no tropey, down on his luck detective piecing it all together while chewing the scenery.

Zachary MasonInstead we have three main POVs, which build the narrative like three avalanches, accelerating as they accumulate, eventually converging violently and spiraling out in interesting and unexpected directions. The chapters are very short, often only five or six pages, seventy-seven chapters total in just under four hundred pages, which makes it really approachable. I would often sit down with not much time, intent on only reading a chapter or two, but the short chapters gave it a forward momentum that made it difficult to put down. The conclusion satisfies immensely, and I have a strong feeling that it’s even better on subsequent readings. If I didn’t have a few novels and novellas I still need to read before the Hugo vote this year, I would reread this one right now. I’m considering it a strong contender for the Hugo or Nebula awards next year. I do think it’s a little better suited for the Nebula though, as that award usually embodies novels with terrific prose.

Mason’s prose has an inherent beauty to it, and is a joy to read. It is poetically descriptive in a clever, nebulous way. He describes only just enough to jumpstart your imagination, leaving the hard-edged details for the reader to incorporate into the world themselves. You meet the novel halfway. It makes it highly engaging. It’s an approach that can backfire if handled by a less steady hand, but it’s wonderfully executed here. To me it’s a little reminiscent of Jeff VanderMeer’s prose.

The worldbuilding is so thorough: favelas that are nearly alive with their continually evolving construction by drone, layers of society and culture, poverty and wealth all clashing at their intersections, powerful corporations pulling strings, artificial intelligences that are as distant from us as we are to bacteria. It’s near(ish) far future, but the tech isn’t all state of the art. It’s presented in a much more realistic way; the way things have always been. You might have some tech that is cutting edge (your phone, or tablet, etc), but you still interact with other bits of technology that are nearing their obsolescence (maybe you drive an old carbureted pickup truck, or an antique motorcycle, maybe you use an ancient fax machine at work). In this world there is tech that is still far in the future for us, but to the characters using it, it’s a bit obsolete. This small detail makes all the difference in my suspension of disbelief as a reader, and makes this world that much more comprehensively thought out and impressive.

I love novels that tell a huge, satisfying science fiction story in a relatable world like this. Highly recommended.


Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse, book 6), by James S.A. Corey

Babylon's Ashes, by James S.A. Corey

Let me start by saying, if you’re 6 books into an ongoing series like this, than I’m going to assume you’re in it for the long haul, and I think you’ll enjoy the hell out of this one too.

James S.A. Corey (Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) refer to their Expanse series as 3 duologies and a trilogy (forthcoming books 7,8 & 9) to cap it all off. Leviathan Wakes/Caliban’s War tell a fairly contained story about the protomolecule in the style of noir and political thriller respectively. Abaddon’s Gate/Cibola Burn deal with the expansion out into deeper space as a ghost story/western, but Nemesis Games/Babylon’s Ashes really read like two halves of the same larger novel. They are much more deeply intertwined than any of the other sets in the series. If each novel is a different genre married into the science fiction backdrop, then I’d call Nemesis Games a survival tale, and Babylon’s Ashes a great russian tragedy a la Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy.

Gone is the simple narrative structure of the first five books, each — excluding Leviathan Wakes — with four alternating POV characters. Instead we’ve got nineteen unique points of view. But if you’ve made it this far, you’re ready for that kind of complexity, you’re already intimately familiar with most of these characters. Holden, Pa, and Filip are the main ones, but we get lots of tertiary views on the action and plot. I really love this change to the structure, and can’t help but think that The Expanse television series influenced it in some way. It does feel more like the way that a TV show handles narrative. We get a perspective from nearly every main and secondary character still living, and some new ones as well. This opens up the world even more, something that this series has done so well along the way.

James S. A. Corey

The main story involves the aftermath of the events of Nemesis Games, and how those events affect everyone, both inside and outside of the Sol system from here on. The Free Navy is causing havoc all over the place and has essentially taken over several large belter settlements. Holden and crew are caught in the middle, working with Avasarala and Fred, trying to do what they can to clean things up and bring Marcos down. Meanwhile, a splintered remnant of the MCRN is working in the shadows, silently preparing for what’s to come. And don’t forget the even larger threat looming on the periphery: whatever killed the protomolecule makers.

It’s a sad story, ultimately a tragedy, but there are several threads woven throughout that are paving a path to redemption for some, and death and destruction or others. It all makes for a terrific story, and moves at a breakneck pace toward a very tight conclusion. One that comes together so smoothly in fact, that a lot of people have been confused, thinking this was the end of the entire series. Of course, that isn’t the case, but I think you could approach this as the penultimate end to some of the earlier narratives begun all the way back in the first novel. Call it a semicolon; the conclusion of the series to follow.

The Hidden Dimensions, by Alex Lanier

The Hidden Dimensions, by Alex Lanier

This one was a trip, like a flu induced fever dream. Storywise think early David Cronenberg body horror + Alice in Wonderland + Saga + The Boondocks + 70s Sexploitation. I’m very surprised this isn’t being published by Image Comics, who are currently in the middle of a creator-owned renaissance of adult themed, fantastic storytelling. This would fit right in over there.

The story starts out with some great Science Fiction intrigue and escalates as the characters learn the darker truth lurking beneath the surface of their hometown and their own personal past. They find themselves in stranger and stranger situations while journeying through realms of reality previously unknown to them. There are some cleverly subtle undertones that highlight the kind of marginalization / abuse of populations that can occur when there’s too much power in the hands of too few. I’d recommend this for fans of Saga, Sex Criminals, and adult themed cosmic horror narratives. I don’t want to be too specific with story details, because that would ruin half the fun of discovering this for yourselves. But be warned, it is definitely a Mature comic with a capital M.

The dialogue can be a little clunky at times, and the characters are fairly one dimensional (albeit, very imaginative and unique) but this does read like the first several issues of an ongoing story, so there’s room for them to grow and become more fully realized as the story continues.

Lanier’s artwork is the real standout here. It’s fantastic, grotesque and disturbing at times, and done in a truly unique style that I haven’t seen before. It modulates effortlessly between hyperreal and a colorful caricaturesque style. I really love it. He plays with the framing a lot, rendering scenes using angles that are so beautifully cinematic, they feel like they’re drawn through virtual camera lenses. There is also a lot of work here that emphasizes what can only be done so well in the graphic novel medium.

The Hidden Dimensions can be previewed / purchased on Alex Lanier’s site here.