Born in Orange, California, author Jason Cordova has written books ranging from the fantastical realms of fantasy to the militaristic side of science fiction. His latest should be out soon. Really. You should probably buy it. Check Amazon . Demand it at your local store. Pay for his kitten kibble.
Posted in Book Review on July 21, 2014
Typically I don’t review two books on the same day by two separate authors, primarily because the voices are too dissimilar and the subject matter at hand varies drastically, but today I decided to make an exception after reading both The Chaplain’s War by Brad Torgerson and City Beyond Time by John C. Wright. Both are extraordinary works, bordering on instant classic status, and have compelling voices, arguments, and stories abounding within.
First up is Wright’s City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, a collection of stories which begins with the story of a private investigator turned Time Warden. Jake Fontino is a down on his luck private investigator who, through the course of his investigation, is offered the position of becoming a Time Warden — while being recruited by their arch nemesis, Anachronists, who believe that all time travel (except for sight seeing) is immoral. A visceral tale with a deftly-woven plot, City Beyond Time stamps the “Writer to Watch” label on John C. Wright.
The best part — the absolutely best part — of this first novella is the fact that it is written out of order, and yet it works. I have no idea how the author managed to pull it off, but somewhere along the line the disjointed story of a time traveler works better when it is told out of order. I tried reading it both way– once in numerical order, and once as it was presented by the author. In numerical order, the story is a quaint piece on time travel and a man with a good enough moral compass to question both the ethical realities of time travel and the strength to do what was needed. In the order presented by the author, however, it’s an amazing tale of discovery, loyalty, inner strength and how a man must face the consequences of the decision he makes. A splendid start, in other words.
The rest of the stories follow the typical short story collection format, though the storytelling level never falls off. The final story of the collection, The Plural of Helen of Troy, is another small masterpiece in the making, with Jake Fontino fighting against time, paradoxes, and destiny all as Metachronopolis begins its fall. A masterful collection of stories, one that I am absolutely thrilled to have read. I should note, however, that while I talked about Jake Fontino the most, the character Owen Penthane, from the short story within titled Choosers of the Slain, is quite possibly the best written character in the entire collection.
Overall, this is a solid collection of works, and much like Frank Miller’s Sin City, it’s a story that you will not be able to put down. A definite A+, must buy book.
Next up is Torgerson’s The Chaplain’s War, which is the story of the reluctant Chaplain’s Assistant as he struggles through war, peace, uncertainty, and questions of his own faith as humanity fights against an implacable enemy. Received as an electronic Advance Reader Copy back in May, I gobbled this one up in one sitting, and Torgerson joined my list of “Writers to Watch.”
Harrison Barlow is a trapped POW on a planet with other humans who survived a disastrous assault upon the planet by an alien race who seem to resemble mantis cyborgs. Humans, because of how we are, call them Mantis. As Barlow is tending to his flock — he continues to profess a lack of certainty involving any particular deity or religion, which endears him to his fellow prisoners of war — in his handmade chapel (while keeping his promise to the Chaplain, who died trying to protect the others), he is visited by a Mantis who calls himself Professor. He is both a researcher and a teacher, and he is very curious to learn about humanity’s faith in religion. Barlow, not sure what he can offer the Professor, tries to teach the teacher that there can be more to humanity than at first glance. Standing against the Chaplain’s Assistant is the very nature of humanity itself, as well as preconceived biases against humanity on the part of the Mantis.
Part of the allure in this story is that, unlike most SF novels with war against the aliens in it, this one is more about the search for peace, not victory. It’s a fine distinction to be had, for if victory is achieved, a certain peace could be had. However, the strategic importance in which the author lays on the “true peace” methodology over “true victory” profoundly impacts the story, and Barlow as a character. Take note: while this has action and military in it, this is less of a military science fiction novel and more of a classic Heinlein novel (Stranger In A Strange Land comes to mind). The author’s work is tremendous here, and shows the skill and prose of a writer far more mature in his years than Torgerson is.
This is also the first time I instantly messaged a writer after completing their debut novel and thanked them for writing the book. Yes, I’ll admit, I had a fanboy moment.
Another must-buy book here.
City Beyond Time — A+
The Chaplain’s War — A
Posted in Book Review on June 8, 2014
A solid first entry into the world of international spy thrillers, Martin Lessem’s debut novel, A Cloud in the Desert, is the first entrant into the Steven Frisk series and offers twists, turns and international espionage to sate the reader’s thirst.
The book opens up with a clandestine meeting in Washington, D.C., regarding an ongoing mission currently taking place along the contested Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Pakistan appears to be ready to move into Afghanistan, and there are few assets “on the ground” in the region that the CIA can rely on, Fortunately for them, one of their best and brightest, Officer Steven Frisk, is on location. But there are other elements at play as well, including some shady individuals who are letting a live nuke “go into play”, as it were.
Frisk, however, is not alone in his attempts at stopping what could turn into a nuclear event in Afghanistan. His junior agent in the field, Ali Hassan Ashwari, code-named “Desert Fox”, is also a CIA operative and working deep undercover in Afghanistan. Together they must work to stop a deep, dark attack which could plunge the region — and possibly, the entire world — into a nuclear war.
Part of the strengths of this book is the author’s intimate familiarity with the streets of London (flashback scenes) and Foggy Bottom, home to the CIA. He paints the scenes here with detailed strokes, masterfully bringing you to the actual location without taking the reader out of the book. His characterization of Frisk as a more action-oriented Jack Ryan (of Tom Clancy fame) is fairly solid, though parts of him are too good, as it were. Frisk, while struggling to complete his mission, does not seem to have any normal flaws that people have. Overall, though Frisk is believable hero, even if he is somewhat overshadowed (in this reviewer’s opinion), presence-wise, by his junior agent, Ali Hassan Ashwari. There is also a noted hat-tip to David Weber and his Honor Harrington series in the book as well, which caused me to chuckle a bit.
There are some weaknesses in the book as well. Part of it is an inconsistency towards technical details, such as “Her Majesties” instead of “Her Majesty’s” (he meant possessive, and used plural). His imaging of the Middle East is not as rich and refined as his scenes of London and Foggy Bottom were (which is understandable). There was a bit too much “I’m going to slap Frisk upside the head because he doesn’t see this coming from a mile away!” moments throughout (if the reader can pick up on a few subtle hints about things that are going down, then a seasoned CIA FSO should be able to spot it as well).
Reviews like this are difficult, because one can’t give too much into detail without revealing massive plot points. However, I can say that, given time and patience, the Steven Frisk novels can be a worthy contender to carrying on the Jack Ryan spy thriller genre. I’d read it again, and pick it up on Kindle.
Grade: B –
Reviewed by Jason
Posted in Book Review on June 2, 2014
If you were the son of a traitor and sent out into the border regions of your empire to languish and (hopefully to some) die, how much loyalty would you have if you found out that suddenly those who banished you desperately needed your help when the entire universe is on the line?
This question is just among the many confronted by Baron Lucius Giovanni, commander of the War Shrike in Kal Spriggs’ science fiction novel The Fallen Race. The alien Chxor have completely decimated the Roma Nova Empire and, with his back against the wall, Baron Giovanni is struggling to keep the remnants of its citizens — as well as his make-shift fleet — alive. Assuming his political masters back home allow him to even retain command of his ship, that is.
After keeping his ship alive just long enough to help a convoy escape an ambush of Chxor vessels, the War Shrike stumbled onto a barely-alive Ghornath dreadnought. Surprised, Baron Giovanni discovers that the alien captain is the same one who spared his life many years before. He rescues him and a few of his crew and bring them on board the War Shrike. It is then that Baron Giovanni finds out that there is a human world in the system, one that nobody had known was there. A small world, still loyal to the Imperium, called Faraday.
Part of the charm of this novel is the obvious homage to the Honor Harrington novels by David Weber. This book has it all — aliens, telepaths, pirates, staff meetings… all in direct correlation to a Weber novel. Now, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a straight “filing off the ISBN numbers” book, far from it. The fall of the Roma Nova Empire is something that is fresh and different, and the turning of the main character from ostracized ship commander to military warlord (of sorts) is very reminiscent of a Mad Max in Space vibe (I don’t know why, that was just the feel I had while reading this book). It’s a fun joyride through space.
However, there are some major issues in the first half of the book, enough so that I had a heck of a time just getting through it. There are some minor issues like the changing of the Roma Nova Empire (it goes from Nova Roma to Nova Roman to Roma Nova in about three pages), as well as a very tedious “staff meeting” where the author hits us with an info dump that is oddly placed and ill-timed. There is also mention of the main character’s father being a traitor, but without any context outside of the title “Baron” that the main character has, you really don’t get a feel for just how deep the word really goes (until about midway through the book, when suddenly everything has a much deeper feel to it, and just how poorly the word “traitor” has been used throughout thus far). There is also nothing really setting anything up as the author tries to counter world-building with random action, which unfortunately doesn’t work well initially because there hasn’t been enough time to create any sort of relationship with the main character.
All that said, this is not a bad book, not in any sense. Because while the first half of the book is problematic, the second half of it is simply stellar, and that can be laid at the feet of Kandergain, the psychic pirate captain (yeah, that combination is just as awesome as it sounds). The book, quite frankly, could have been written from her perspective and been an amazing novel. The author handles her much better than he does the main character, and she is a likable, mysterious individual who dominates every single scene that she’s in. It’s almost as if the entire first half was added just to delay her arrival, because once she does, the pacing and action flow smoothly, the dialogue is crisp and fits the characters well, and it changes from being a run-of-the-mill SF novel to being something special.
I’ll give this one 4 stars. I can forgive some of the editing mistakes (as this is an indie novel), and when you have such an amazing character as Kandergain, that can cover and hide a lot of other, smaller mistakes that would normally derail you. Solid story here. I’d definitely buy this one on Kindle.
–Reviewed by Jason
Posted in Interview on May 13, 2014
–note: Shiny Book Review would like to welcome guest author Tom Doyle. Tom is here to talk about his new book, American Craftsman, which came out last week. Please give him a warm welcome.
What’s the Idea with American Craftsmen?
by Tom Doyle
Looking at the cover of my debut novel from Tor, American Craftsmen, you might get the impression that my main idea from the outset was to write a modern-day fantasy of military intrigue. The craftsmen of my title are magician soldiers and psychic spies. Two rival craft soldiers, Captain Dale Morton and Major Michael Endicott, must fight together against a treasonous cabal in the Pentagon’s highest covert ranks.
It’s an active area: though a relatively new subgenre, modern-day military fantasy has (along with military SF) grown increasingly prominent. But what I think sets my story apart from related SF/F works are the other ideas I had before I focused on the military-intrigue storyline, ideas that gave my novel more of a sense of history, both literary and real world.
To my own surprise, one of my initial inspirations for this book was L. Frank Baum. When he began telling children’s stories, he had the notion of discarding the existing European folk tales and building a fantasy that was modern and distinctly American. That’s how we got The Wizard of Oz.
I wasn’t going to write a children’s story, but the thought of confining myself to a U.S. mythos for an adult fantasy was oddly exciting. I looked at American folklore, but I ended up spending more time with the great early American writers of the fantastic such as Poe and Hawthorne.
As Classical myths reveal the deep hopes and fears of the ancient Greeks, our nineteenth-century authors may be part of the country’s subconscious. If this is true, the overall creepiness of early American fiction should be worrisome. The founders of our independent fictional canon aren’t known for stage comedies filled with wordplay or for novels centered on the marriage plot. Nor did they master the simple pragmatic optimism that on the surface seemed to be the national zeitgeist. Rather, in tales filled with occult obsessions and morbid fascinations, they explored the shadowy underside of the New World’s psyche.
I fed the classic stories into my conceptual pot, and I didn’t just throw in the tasty bits from the usual dark suspects. For example, the parlor of the House of Morton has sickly yellow wallpaper in a nod to the early feminist story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
As I read or reread American fantastic literature and it stewed away in my mind, I saw the lineages of influence: for example, Poe to Chambers to Lovecraft. This reminded me of a concept I had played with in one of my earliest published stories: American families of magical practitioners stretching back hundreds of years. At first, my book was going to cover a whole secret world of American magic, with old families and new practitioners from a variety of backgrounds. But the reader of my earliest draft section, author Stephanie Dray, saw the military intrigue element and said, “This is great. Do this.” I really owe her a lot for getting me to focus on that plotline, as I wasn’t inclined to write a doorstopper-sized epic.
Once I made that choice, the military elements dovetailed nicely with my family lineages, as readers of Lucian Truscott IV would already know. The magic system emerged organically from the classic stories and from military necessities. My world almost seemed to build itself, and I was ready to populate it with my post-traumatically stressed magician veterans and my dangerously confused psychic spies. I hope you enjoy meeting them.
For more about American Craftsmen and my other stories, please visit www.tomdoylewriter.com or connect with me on the social media platform of your choice.
Posted in Book Review on April 28, 2014
Vengeance From Ashes is the first military science fiction book from author Sam Schall in the Honor and Duty series. It’s a solid piece of storytelling, and a compelling work of fiction that will be enjoyed by any fan of MilSF.
Ashlyn Shaw was a former Marine captain now incarcerated on fabricated charges and shunted off to the deepest, darkest hole they could find: the Tarsus Penal Colony. Condemned to five years of solitary confinement and practically left for dead, Shaw is surprised when she is suddenly transferred out of the penal colony and back planet side. FleetCom (the military) wants her, though she does not know why, and until she does, she will not trust anybody.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear to the former marine that there has a been a change in the government which had locked her up and made her disappear. A former admiral who had supported her even though she had been on trial was elected on the promise of clearing the charges the captain was under, as well as reforming the government as a whole. But while Shaw is being informed of all the happenings in the two years she has been “in the dark”, an attack by unknown perpetrators occurs in the capitol. Shaw, along with members of her former unit, the “Devil Dogs”, must try and protect a senator and repel the mysterious attackers.
Sometimes when you read a story, you seem to find yourself in the middle of something grand. You get to reading, eagerly awaiting the back story to propel the novel (as a whole) forward. The only problem I had with this book is that it seems like this it is the middle section and I missed the beginning. It’s not bad, per se. It just feels like I had missed something very, very important. Once I was able to break through that sensation (about 20 pages in or so) it was smooth sailing from there.
There is plenty of suspense in the novel, and enough background action to lay down the authenticity of the Devil Dogs and what they do. In the end, however, the story is about a Marine captain doing everything in her power to protect those who love her, and those who are loyal to her.
A positive read. A–.
–Reviewed by Jason
Posted in Book Review on April 22, 2014
It’s not very often that I get to compare classic books to their modern brethren (and enjoy them, I guess I should add), so when I received Open Wounds by Brandon Ford, I wasn’t expecting what I got. What I’d been promised was “horror” but what I got instead was something dark, twisted, without any sort of supernatural beings in it and seemed absolutely true.
Let me reiterate: it’s billed as horror, but it could be any teenage girl’s everyday life.
That’s scary. Really, really scary.
Kate Montgomery was your ordinary 14 year old girl when her parents divorced. Her father, who started drinking, became violent one day and hit his wife, Kate’s mother. Soon afterwards, Kate is forced to move cross-country with her mother, away from the only life she has ever known, and into the old haunts and streets of her mother’s childhood neighborhood in Philadelphia.
Jobless and without any sort of training, Kate’s mother is forced to find work at a dive bar. Meanwhile, Kate struggles at school and tries to fit in. But a dark specter looms over the family past as Kate becomes very nervous and uncomfortable around her grandfather, a sullen and quiet man. This all is depressing, true, but this is all nothing compared to the Hell that awaits her when her mother brings home a new boyfriend.
Without giving too much away, I can say that Kate’s mom’s new boyfriend is a very evil man. He drags Kate and her mom down into a dark, hellish pit of despair and hopelessness, one that Kate sees but cannot escape. Her life continues to get worse and worse as every imaginable horror is heaped upon her, crushing her spirit and her psyche. She becomes a “cutter” and begins to leaves angry scars on her legs and thighs.
When I read this, I was instantly reminded of the 1971 classic Go Ask Alice. However, Open Wounds leaves little to the imagination as the reader is assaulted with the pure agony of Kate’s life, her struggle to remain human, and her loss of faith and family. It’s gritty, realistic and terribly frightening… and, quite frankly, perfect. I mean, it’s a horrifying story, but I think that’s what makes it so damned good. I don’t know from what dark, personal hell Brandon Ford dug this from, but he needs to tap into this reservoir more often. This is, by far, the best thing of his I’ve ever read.
The pacing is rock solid, not too fast, and builds steadily towards a satisfying climax. The character of Kate is empathetic, endearing, and achingly sad, and it pains the reader to see her go through all that she has to. The secondary characters are complex and chilling, even Kate’s best friend. The setting (late 70s’-early 80’s Philadelphia) seems to straddle the fence between gritty reality and a product of the author’s mind.
In the end, the story triumphs over all else, and leaves the reader thoroughly satisfied with Kate and her story. This book is a definite must-buy for any fan of the teen genre, or anyone else who likes a chilling, dark novel.
How good is it, one asks? Well, I sat down to read just one chapter before I went to bed, and ended up reading the entire book in just one setting.
Buy it. Read it. See what I’m talking about.
–Review by Jason
Posted in Book Review on April 2, 2014
Very rarely does a debut novel make a lasting impression upon the reader. Usually, the first novel is the author looking for their voice and haven’t mastered the delicate art of building up the suspense. R. S. Belcher’s debut novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, destroys those preconceived notions.
The book starts with the young Jim Negrey leading his horse Promise across a barren wasteland of desert in 1869. Near death and with little water, Jim is on the run from the law for a terrible crime. However, before the law can hang him, Jim has to survive the desert known as the 40-Mile. His hopes were to find a railroad job in a new city under a new name. But a shadow, something more than a crime he committed, lingers over the boy. Between dangerous animals stalking him and the desert, he is doubtful he will survive.
Before the desert takes him, though, Jim is found by a strange Indian named Mutt and an even stranger man named Clay. The two men hail from the town of Golgotha, which is the closest town to where Jim wants to go. He accepts their ride into town when they are attacked by the coyotes which had been stalking Jim. Clay kills two, though the coyotes seem to be mildly nervous around Mutt. Jim is taken into town and, for the time being, will live another day.
Or perhaps not. As he’s getting off the wagon, Mutt (who is the deputy sheriff in the town) gets a call for help. A deranged and drunken man has taken hostages inside the general store, and Mutt needs to stop him before he hurts anyone. He deputizes Jim, and they prepare to try and figure out how to stop the man from hurting anyone inside. Before they can do anything which might end up with some bodies, though, the town sheriff gets back to town. Jon defuses the situation with Mutt managing to save an innocent woman’s life, and the town settles down. Jim, uncertain what to do next, is officially deputized by Jon and taken to get some food and some rest. For the first time in a long time, Jim feels like he’s somewhere he belongs.
Intertwined in the story about the crazy town of Golgotha is a deeper story about an angel who, while not exactly defying the Host, begins to doubt nonetheless. Because of this, he is tasked to stand guard over the sleeping darkness. Biqa, annoyed and angry, obeys, though it is evident that he is not happy with his punishment. After a time, though, his watch begins to take on a deeper meaning. Biqa begins to understand the little beings who exist around him, and begins to feel for humanity.
This book… wow. Just wow. There is a blend of religion and folklore in the book that drags you in and makes the reader really think without lecturing. The pacing is fantastic (as evidenced by reading it, for the second time, in less that five hours) and the characters are all very well thought-out and believable. The setting of the town itself is magnificent, and seems to be a character all its own, a breath of life in what would normally be merely a static piece of scenery in any other work. The darker undercurrent of the book, which both drives the plot and lends a creepiness factor to some characters, is wonderfully done. The overall story arc is absolutely rock-solid.
This book is a must-buy. I’d give this to someone asking me if I had read anything good and new lately. The author has done a tremendous job, and I for one can’t wait for the next round.
–Reviewed by Jason
Posted in Book Review on March 31, 2014
Tiger Gray’s debut novel No Deadly Thing takes place roughly during the Iraq War (2004 edition) and stars Ashrinn Pinecroft as a military veteran who is severely injured during the war. During the battle in which he was wounded, he gets the feeling for the first time of a “higher calling” and charges recklessly into the fight. After being injured in said battle and discharged, he is recruited into a mystical organization called the Order. The Order fights against “the serpent”, which is the symbol for evil across the board, thought this is (again) not explained well initially. Because of his military experience, Ashrinn is tasked to train the Seattle-Tacoma area group of the Order, which is just getting off the ground there. Beset on all sides by lack of experience and equipment, he struggles to bring the (children, really) under his tutelage to be ready for combat against the ancient evil before it is too late.
Meanwhile, his home life is an unspoken mess. His son, who doesn’t quite grasp his father’s mental and emotional war within, is struggling to go about his everyday life now that his dad is back from the war. Ashrinn’s wife, on the other hand, is thrilled that he is home and that he has finally discovered the power within him that the esoteric society (the Order) recruited him for. However, there is a taint to her aura, and Ashrinn suddenly realizes that he does not trust her or her own side of the power.
Let me get this out in the open right now: this book could have been amazing. Instead, it falls flat and is merely average.
The idea behind it, the concept and breathtaking research that the author delves into to bring the powers inside both the protagonist and the antagonists is amazing. There is talk of the Morrigan (Celtic goddess), dryads, Mesopotamian gods intermingled with Zoroastrian belief, western civilization and the modern world.
Excellent research into esoteric and ancient religion aside, there really isn’t any smooth transition points in the story. You never get a feel of right about Ashrinn, and his movements are wooden and do nothing more than to try and move the plot forward. It’s hard to explain, but bear with me for a moment. When Ashrinn talks, it doesn’t come out as honest and appealing. He’s a very unlikable protagonist, and yet he doesn’t fit into the mold of anti-heroes that one can root for. He’s just there, and this is a crime unto itself. The background that should have been around him is not there. There is no reason to cheer him on. The strange conflict he has between his wife and a new recruit early on does nothing to make me like him more, and actually detest his weakness. I’m not demanding that he be inhuman and unfeeling, but the inner conflict inside him should be a little more evident, make him more appealing to the reader. Here is where the author failed.
The plot is convoluted but there, and the pacing is fast (a little too fast at some points, but who am I to complain about a fast-paced novel?) and doable. The right elements for a tremendous book are there, but something is missing. My gut tells me that it’s the main character. Plus, it’s about a military veteran, but what? Not every infantryman can teach people to become soldiers instead of fighters, for example. I just didn’t get the feeling that, despite him using the military to escape his eccentric family beliefs, he really never seemed to “be” the Special Forces operative that the author portrays him to be.
A mildly decent read, nothing to shout to the heavens about however. I’d borrow this one from the library, or perhaps look for it on an e-reader at a discounted price.
–Reviewed by Jason
Posted in Book Review on March 18, 2014
I recently read Earth Girl (reviewed here by Barb) and thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was one of those novels which sucked you in, built up the suspense, and then hit you when you weren’t expecting it, built you back up, and finished with a grand conclusion,
In short, everything that the first book in a series should be.
Unfortunately, I’m not reviewing Earth Girl. I’m here to review Earth Star, which definitely suffers from the sophomore blues.
Jarra, recipient of the highest award available to mankind, is ready to return back to school after her harrowing rescue of the downed space ship in Earth Girl. She returns back to school and, surprisingly, runs into some issues with her being an “ape” — something that really didn’t crop up in the first book (except for one character, and this was developed nicely in terms of character growth, I felt at the time). She is shocked and surprised at her classmate’s reaction to her, but takes it as well as she can, since she still has her boyfriend/intended (the rules for marriage and such are very complicated). Just as she is preparing to delve back into her studies, however, she and her betrothed are both whisked away by the military.
Confused, Jarra and Fian agree to assist the military with a top secret project — identify the alien artifact that has suddenly appeared and is headed directly for Earth itself.
IN a race against the unknown, Jarra discovers that there is more to her life — and her mysterious birth family — than she could have possibly ever imagined. Unfortunately, that’s all this book does at this point — imagine how great it could be. A stagnant story line with echoes of promise, but nothing really going on as the investigation into the alien artifact is extremely drawn out, and life around Jarra goes on.
The ending feels rushed, and comes off as something that the author threw together once she realized that there was little more she could do building up the romance between Fian and Jarra. There is some tension there, but it feels contrived as the author introduces prospective interests only to throw them out the airlock as Jarra finds out she’s either related to them or they are already committed to someone and would never break that commitment.
The pacing is slow, but the characterization of Jarra is true to the previous book. However, gone is the toughened survivor out to prove everyone (secretly, I’ll add) that people are wrong about Apes. The story seems to be one giant build up, and then there is no payoff at the end — it’s almost a hand-off to the final novel, and really frustrated me. It’s a beautiful story, with lots of good prose and is technically sound, but… it’s lacking something.
Overall, not the best follow up to a breakout novel, but I’m willing to bet that, if combined with the eventual third book, it’ll be an astounding addition to the series as whole. I wouldn’t recommend buying it, however, unless you’re dead set on owning the entire series in print. Look for it when Kindle offers an ebook discount, or perhaps borrow it from the library.
Reviewed by Jason
Posted in Book Review on February 6, 2014
It’s been a while since I’ve read an anthology that I haven’t been a part of, so when the
psychotic nutjob social media coordinator and anthology editor Nick Sharps over at Ragnarok Publications asked if I would be interested in reviewing a book featuring kaiju (Japanese for “strange creature”) and fresh off my complete enjoyment of Pacific Rim, I enthusiastically agreed.
I was not disappointed. Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters was, overall, simply amazing. Instead of an overall review, however, I’m going to review each story individually, so that each author can be featured and their story dissected and given the proper space for the review. Edited by the aforementioned Nick and Tim Marquitz, it is a collection of tales that should satisfy every type of kaiju lover.
Big Ben and the End of the Pier Show (James Lovegrove) starts off the anthology, and is a story about a man who was stuck with a part of his family’s legacy that was driving him under: a tourist pier that his grandfather had built. He contemplates selling it, as well as burning it down. But just as he’s about to, he hears word that a kaiju nicknamed “Red Devil” is slowly making his way up the English Channel. The U.K.’s response? Big Ben, the lone fighting machine that is the only thing left that can potentially fight the kaiju head-on. A good, solid start with plenty of action, Lovegrove sets the bar fairly high for all the writers to follow.
The Conversion (David Annandale) is up next, and his story about the Eschaton, the Jewish “End of Days”, the name for the kaiju which is intent on destroying Manchester and the characters believe that faith can turn back the monster. Family conflicts abound here, but the primary story (faith vs kaiju) is a bit overshadowed by the slow build up. A decent enough story, though not one of my favorites. However, the ending of the little story more than makes up for the slow start and leaves the reader with a satisfied conclusion.
Day of the Demigods (Peter Stenson) was a humorous tale (for me, anyway) from the point of view from an actual kaiju who was struggling to make it in his own society. Rejected by his cousin/crush (I’m sure kaiju mating options can be limited at the best of times), Sweetgrass is determined to make it big in Hollywood, so he stomps into the city to audition for the studio execs at various production companies. Unfortunately, he can’t really talk to him, because his voice is so loud it blows out their eardrums when he tries to communicate. Mass panic ensues, and some hilarity as well, since Sweetgrass isn’t the smartest kaiju out there. A very well written story, and an interesting perspective as well.
The Lighthouse Keeper of Kurohaka Island (Kane Gilmour) is next and, quite frankly, is my favorite story in the book. It is the story of Shinobi and his father, who are lighthouse tenders along the many Japanese islands. It is their duty to ensure that all lighthouses and up and running, including the lighthouse on an island which is not mentioned on their maps but Shinobi’s father seems to know where it is located: Kurohaka Island. There, Shinobi is shocked t ofind many bones of enormous monsters and his father tells him that this is where the kaiju come to die. When Shinobi presses for more info, his father tells him the story of their family and how the firstborn boys always have the sight to see monsters, which includes fascinating stories about his grandfather who was at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which was the site of two kaiju battles and not nuclear explosions like everyone thought. This story is a sad and powerful one, and as I said before, my favorite.
Occupied (Natania Barron) was a confusing story about a woman and a kaiju who share a strange connection. A disjointed tale which seems to revolve around a magic pair of scissors and the descendant of the creatures who fell from the heavens eons before, it could be argued that the tunnels the woman featured in it represent her mind, but I’m not entirely sure that one was correct. After such a powerful story previously, this one was a bit of a letdown. I think it would have been better served elsewhere in the book.
One Last Round (Nathan Black) starts off differently, with a movie being filmed about the KRASER, a kaiju response machine and the… superhero(?) Colonel Ausum defending New Orleans against the kaiju Akoni, the devil of Tokyo. After the end of the scene, the star of the film discovers that the films about the KRASERs were being stopped, which would mean an end to the kaiju-fighting robots, since they rely on the movie proceeds to fund them. However, as the set is closed down and the KRASER is being removed, the kaiju alligator Grimmgarl attacks New Orleans, and it’s up to the KRASER team and Colonel Ausum to stop it before it “does what Mother Nature failed to do: level New Orleans.” A good, fun story.
The Serpent’s Heart (Howard Andrew Jones) is another good story, featuring a group of men who serve the Caliph and are drifting in the middle of the ocean after being attacked by a sea monster. They are rescued by a mysterious ship captained by an exotic, dangerous woman, and not all is as it appears. This is one of those stories that I can’t go too much into detail without spoiling it, so I’ll just give this one a positive grade and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Monstruo (Mike MacLean) is about a kaiju about to hit Playa de los Muertos (fitting name for the beach, actually) and tells the story about how the kaiju are drawn to a selected “person” who had been marked by one of their scout bugs on the planet. In this case, it is a little boy. Task Force M operatives are scattered around the globe to eliminate the person “targeted” by the infiltrators, but unfortunately the hero of the story can’t bring himself to kill a little boy and the devastating effect his decision has on Mexico City. A good story, worth a second read once you get to the end and everything makes more sense.
The Behemoth (Jonathan Wood) is the story of a mech pilot who is the best at beating the kaiju when they attack. However, he risks losing everything when he discovers that his wife is chosen to be a Proxy — a person who runs the interface between the Mech and the pilot, buffering the pilot from the circuitry at the cost of all of the Proxy’s memories. The story takes the reader back through time and shows the mess that the pilot, who was once idealistic and fighting for the people, becomes as time wears on. The pilot has a plan to save his wife, however, though the cost could be too high for everyone involved. Great, great story here, and I really like how the author delves into the psyche of a warrior who has seen too much, been given too much power and how it can twist any man.
The Greatest Hunger (Jaym Gates) is another powerful story about a kaiju named Derecho and her handler, a woman with psychic powers who is a slave to the owner of the kaiju. She tries to keep derecho alive and motivated to fight in the arena, hoping to simply keep her friend alive. She devises a plan to save both her and Derecho, and exact their revenge upon their masters at the same time. Great story, if a little slow at first, but with a solid conclusion. The author has a great voice and would love to see more from them.
Heartland (Shane Berryhill) is a story I really didn’t care too much for. It was less kaiju and more virginal sacrificing, which is interesting but oddly placed in the book. Our protagonist must save her daughter before she is to be sacrificed by the elders of the city. It almost reads like a battered wife story, with a heavy-handed approach that comes off a bit awkward. Perhaps it’s the subject matter that turned me off from this story, but even the ending left me completely unsatisfied. Though I will again add that perhaps it’s just me, and others may like the twist at the end. I think it’s too Shyamalanian.
Devil’s Cap Brawl (Edward M. Erdelac) is a story of a shaolin monk and a kaiju which is accidentally awoken during the building of a railroad line through the mountains sometime during the late 19th century. Joe Blas was a rough man who was trying to meet his quota and build the railroad line, but his superstitious workers (mainly Chinese and Indian) slow progress down when they believe that they will awaken a great monster in the mountain. A slow starting story, it builds nicely as the reveal of the shaolin monk is made and the kaiju appears. Good story, if, as mentioned before, a bit slow to start.
Shaktarra (Sean Sherman) is a story about a powerful kaiju which is released onto unsuspecting Las Vegas, and a dimensional shift occurs and drags people into a dense jungle where the lizardmen worship the kaiju as a god. A decent story that was heavy on action but light on just about everything else, it’s an okay story that is supported primarily by the idea (wishful thinking on my part) of destroying Las Vegas.
Of the Earth, of the Sky, of the Sea (Patrick M. Tracy and Paul Genesse) is a story which takes place in shogunate Japan and stars three slumbering kaiju who were, in ancient times, protectors of Japan. They are left to slumber, however, as their destructive capabilities almost outweighs their usefulness. This comes to an end, however, as gaijin (the British) arrive and begin to demand that Japan open their ports to trade. Using their ironclad ships and destroying everything in their way, the Japanese grow desperate and summon their kaiju to protect them — but at a terrible price. A great story, this is another one of my favorites in the book and has everything a reader could want — action, story, romance and loss. Good, good story here.
The Flight of the Red Monsters (Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam) is a story which was wrongly named. I got the impression throughout that it should have been “Fall Into Shadow”, which would have suited the story much better. The story is about revenge on both sides, as the red monsters who live in the oceans are pissed about their homes being polluted by humanity and the heroine of the story out for vengeance against the red monsters for killing her fiance. She loses herself in her quest for vengeance, and joins a shadowy group of people who are fighting back against the kaiju. A good story, though a bit confusing between the point of view shifts (those keep you on your toes), though it had another one of those twist endings. At this point of the anthology, however, I’ve started expecting them.
Operation Starfish (Peter Rawlik) is a story set just after World War Two, when nuclear “testing” is occurring in the South Pacific. The Russians, British and Americans have secretly teamed up to use their nuclear bombs to destroy kaiju as they appear from beneath the waves of the Pacific. The story is pretty good, though with a bit of “what the hell?” scattered within (the USS Miskatonic made me chuckle, however), it was a little confusing towards the end. Still, pretty good overall.
With Bright Shining Faces (J.C. Koch) was just weird. It tells the tale of a little girl who draws monsters, but the monsters aren’t there to hurt her classmates or her teacher. The teacher is mildly concerned about her student’s ability to start to take over the class, but doesn’t worry about it too much. Eventually it turns into a horror story straight out of Arkham as everyone begins to turn into nightmarish creatures. As I said, the best way to describe this one was “weird”.
The Banner of the Bent Cross (Peter Clines) was a fascinating look at ancient Greek myths, where kaiju have been hiding right beneath our noses. When the legendary Argo is discovered by Nazi Germany, it is put into action against the allied forces. Desperate, the allies seek out historians who may be able to help. Their come up with a suggestion: awakening the sisters Scylla and Charybdis, who have a hatred towards Jason and the Argonauts and desperately want revenge. Their plan works, but with disastrous results. A good story by the author, it’s possibly the most original one in the entire bunch, as it touches on something nobody has ever thought of before: kaiju have been mentioned since the time of the Greeks, just in a different form.
Fall of Babylon (James Maxey) is another brilliant story about the End of Days, though this one is kind of twisted. The Lamb of God is marching into New York City, and the only person who can stop it is a washed-up teen pop star. My confidence in her saving the day, obviously, was not too high. Nonetheless, the author creates enough twists and turns to make it work, culminating in a fight between the pop star, her brother, a fallen angel, the great dragon and the Lamb. Great, fun story here.
Dead Men’s Bones (Josh Reynolds) is kind of mash-up of zombies and kaiju set in World War One. It’s almost kind of mystical story, though it does have some interesting characters, I think the author hit the shock factor a bit too hard. It was more of a tell and less of a show, though it did have parts in it that were okay. It was decent enough, but personally not my thing. Other may like it, however.
Stormrise (Erin Hoffman) is a story I tried to read, but couldn’t get into it. I tried, but it didn’t grab me. I can’t really review this one.
Big Dog (Timothy W. Long) is a story about Big Dog, a kaiju fighting machine built just after the fighting in World War Two ended. Crewed by a mixture of German, American and British, the Big Dog is tasked at defeating the massive kaiju that the Japanese Empire are sending out to destroy the rest of the world. With some internal tension among the crew of the Big Dog (the German is a former tank commander, the pilot’s husband was killed by a German tanker) it’s a good story with some solid meat to it. I enjoyed this one quite a bit.
The Great Sea Beast (Larry Correia) is the story of Munetaka and his encounter with the great sea beast. Discovered half-dead and poisoned by the son, his recollection of the events which led to the death of his father and many sailors of the Minamoto clan is discounted and he is ridiculed. He becomes a brilliant archer, however, and eventually begins to hunt the great sea beast himself. It’s a solid story with a very realistic portrayal of feudal Japan.
Animikii vs. Mishipeshu (C.L. Werner) is a story about two Native American kaiju who battle after one of awaken during a copper mining expedition in Canada. This was pretty good overall, though I kept picturing the Plains Indian Thunder God in place of one of the kaiju. A separation between the two could have really helped, or perhaps fully delving into that mythology might have. Still, fun story, and the only one to really take a look at Native American mythology.
The Turn of the Card (James Swallow) wraps up the book, and is a story about a kaiju which takes on London (the United Kingdom seems to be the target of choice for the kaiju in this book). In the midst of a city-wide evacuation, India 99, a helicopter crew, is trying to get a relative out before the kaiju who are fighting among themselves destroy the entire city. Packed with plenty of action and suspense, this story was near the top of my list as well, though not for obvious reason. The dialogue, something I usually don’t comment upon, was absolutely perfect for the characters, breathing a life into them that prevented the story from flopping. It’s a pretty satisfying conclusion to the entire book.
Overall, the book was very good. Most of the stories weaved seamlessly between each other and I was generally pleased with the stories. A must-buy for anyone looking for some kaiju-related books, or anyone looking for a fun, entertaining read. No link yet for those looking to purchase, but keep an eye out at Amazon for the book to premier.