“The Prey of Gods” by Nicky Drayden (Harper Voyager, 2017)


Book covers have a way of catching your eye, whether it’s on an Amazon Kindle recommends page, or your browsing in one of the last physical bastions of the dying printed word (AKA a bookstore). Nicky Drayden’s debut novel, Prey of Gods, is one of those covers that can pull you from across the room, as you hone in to inspect further, wondering what’s going on here. Like a work of art, the more you see of it, the more details are revealed and add to its overall complexity: whether it’s the future looking buildings under a silver sky, the giant robot holding a small science fiction-looking umbrella, or the little African girl with a look on her face that can be interpreted in a plethora of ways. Is she vengeful? Malicious? Demonically possessed? Or just pleased? What the cover does do is force you to turn it and read its wonderful words within, as you are drawn into a story unlike any other, and you won’t be able to stop until you finish its last page.

Our story takes place (for the most part) in South Africa where it is the near future and there is hope for many at various social and class levels. Just as today almost everyone has a cellphone, in this world almost everyone has a personal robot who is more than a servant, computer and personal companion; these robots becoming family to their masters. Genetic engineering is pushing ahead the frontiers of reality and science, but at the same time in a small village there are those of ancient times who posses a power within them that hasn’t been unleashed in some time. Gods, goddesses, and godlings are coming back, whether humanity wants them to or not.

Big changes are coming. A new hallucinogenic drug is taking hold of the populace that seems to grant strange powers and abilities to those under the influence, seeming to make them superheroes. Then there is an AI uprising beginning, as these personal bots link together, forming their own sentience, and questioning the role and power of their supposed masters. Meanwhile, one of those ancient gods has a nefarious plan to bring herself back to an omniscient power.

The fate of the world falls on a young Zulu girl who possesses her own powers but doesn’t fully understand them yet. Will she ultimately know what to do and save humanity?

The Prey of Gods is bursting with complex, varied and fascinating characters that make the story all the more engaging. Readers will be hooked to every page not knowing where the story will go next, and loving the journey as they are taken to other worlds, many different minds – be they human, god or artificial – and to the very edge of it all. With an ending that satisfies, The Prey of Gods is a stunning debut from Drayden that fans of the fantasy genre won’t soon forget.

Originally written on July 23, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Prey of Gods from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

 

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“Men Without Women” by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, 2017)


One good thing fans of Haruki Murakami must really like is the worldwide bestselling author never really slows down or takes a break, but just keeps on writing and writing and writing. The other good thing is the two men who have translated all of his work – Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen – also like translating his work and continue to do so, and Knopf continues to publish his work. So generally readers can expect a new book of some sort every two to three years.

Murakami’s latest volume, Men Without Women, is a collection of seven short stories that all have a similar sense and feel – a vibe if you will. They all deal – as do most of Murakami’s works – with relationships between men and women and how varied and unique they can be.

“Drive My Car” is a story about a man who due to a case of glaucoma and a DUI must be driven around by a female chauffeur who is enigmatic in her own way, as he relates stories about his life as an actor and his wife’s extramarital affairs. In “Yesterday,” Kitaru wants his friend Tanimura to go on a date with Kitru’s girlfriend to learn more about this woman. “An Independent Organ” is a story about a man who has never fallen in love, but seeks out married and committed women for relationships, until he finally does fall in love. The “Scheherazade” of the next story is a woman sleeping with a man who never leaves his room, and each time after having sex relates an unusual tale. “Kino” is a man who after being cheated on, leaves his wife and opens up a bar and meets some interesting people, and a cat. “Samsa in Love” is a twist on Kaftka’s The Metamorphosis where the cockroach wakes up as a man. In the final tale, “Men Without Women,” an unnamed narrator relates stories of a woman he cared deeply for.

Each story in this collections rings true for classic Murakami. Fans will be happy; new readers will enjoy this first foray into the author’s works. Men Without Men is both engaging and delightful.

Originally written on July 23, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Men Without Women from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Furthest Station” by Ben Aaronovich (Subterranean Press, 2017)

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The furthest station in question of this short novella refers to the last station on the Metropolitan Line of the London Underground, and the one located furthest from London. What’s piqued the interest of PC Grant and the Folly – officially known as the Metropolitan Police’s special assessment unit, which is essentially your Mulder and Scully: the people you bring in when the case involves something unsolved and what can only be classed as paranormal – are sightings of ghosts on the Underground.

Teaming up with Jaget Kumar of the British Transport Police, along with Toby the ghost hunting dog (one of Grant’s ongoing “experiments”) and his “wizard-in-training” teenage cousin, they meticulously work their way through the investigation: scouting as many of the Tube trains as they can during regular business hours when these ghosts have been sighted; drawing them in with magic, and Grant making a hypothesized deduction that there’s been a kidnapping. The question is who?

Often, these Subterranean Press novellas are really great, because they give fans a new albeit shorter book to enjoy before the next full-length one is released. And, alternatively, if you’re new to Ben Aaronovich and his particular brand of British urban fantasy, the Furthest Station is the perfect introduction, as it features all the main characters, an engaging story, and allows the reader to get sucked into the series and want to start at the beginning once they’re done.

Originally written on April 26, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Furthest Station from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Agents of Dreamland” by Caitlin R. Kiernan (Tor, 2017)


Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Agents of Dreamland has everything you X-Files buffs could want: FBI agents, clandestine government groups, conspiracy theories up the wazoo, a mystery shrouded in an enigma sworn to secrecy, and the possibility of one really terrifying alien species.

In a ranch house close to the Salton Sea on the San Andreas Fault, east of San Diego, the brainwashed Children of the Next Level await their carefully scheduled transcendence under the commands of the cult leader, only there’s something much scarier going on here than drinking some strange Kool-Aid. A day later beyond the very distant orbit of Pluto, the New Horizons probe suddenly loses contact with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Meanwhile, in a town in Arizona made famous by an Eagles song, a covert government agent known as the Signalman meets with a very strange woman. The Signalman has been in this line of business for a long time; he’s seen a lot, but the events unraveling in his life and his world right now are a whole new variety of terror. He was at the ranch house and saw the end of it all there, while wearing a high-level contamination hazmat suit. The woman has information for him, she has seen so much and seems to know the future, next to her the Signalman feels like a small child, but he has to do his job. And do what he can to keep the wheel turning.

For a short novella, Agents of Dreamland has so much packed into it, it feels like a full novel, and by the end the reader may be wishing for another two hundred pages. Told through back and forth chapters, it’s a story that forces the reader to put the pieces together and it’s not until the very end that the full puzzle shows itself.

Originally written on April 28, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Agents of Dreamland from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“New York: 2140” by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit, 2017)


Reading a nice, long Kim Stanley Robinson novel is like going on a great vacation: you have a decent idea where you’re going, you know it’s going to be for a while, you know you’re going to get up to some great adventures and have a great time, and you never want it to end. In his latest book, New York: 2140, from the cover and the title, the reader might think they have a good idea what they’re about to get stuck into, but this is a Robinson novel after all, so the reader may get a few things right, while others will be shocking and thrilling and completely surprising.

Most science fiction novels involving a distant and changed future would begin with a long description on how this world got to be this way, but this author does it a little differently, introducing the main characters with P.O.V. chapters that educate the reader on the character and his or her background, and indirectly on the world, how it is and a little about how it came to be this way. Eventually there are chapters from a somewhat omniscient character looking to tell the reader how things went how over the last hundred and fifty years. In this way, Robinson eases the reader into his 600+ page book, like a multi-layer delicious cake where each layer entices you that little bit more.

Let’s introduce our lead players. There are the two friends, coders, who hatch an idea to shake up the entire world economy, and then they just disappear. There’s the market trader guy who does magical things with stocks and shares and makes plenty of money doing it; he’s used to getting things his way, money, women, power. There’s the internet star who travels around in her zeppelin trying to save animals and get herself on camera with or without clothes for her millions of viewers. A building super from Eastern Europe who is much more than that and excels at solving problems. There’s the cop, a detective, New York’s finest, who is always drowning in work, but that’s because she’s damn good at her job. And then there are the two boys who appear to be orphans and not registered anywhere, and they’ve just found something buried under the ground, beneath the waters, under the long stares of the semi-submerged skyscrapers. The characters find themselves drawn together in a most unusual journey.

New York: 2140 is a look at a future world that has suffered a lot, as seen and experienced through a unique group of characters who find themselves unexpectedly drawn together. It’s a complex, diverse and fascinating group with an incredible backdrop of a world that is constantly in flux. And then there’s the hurricane . . .

Originally written on April 28, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of New York: 2140 from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Last Year” by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor, 2016)


“Two events made the first of September a memorable day for Jesse Cullum. First, he lost a pair of Oakley sunglasses. Second, he saved the life of President Ulysses S. Grant.” The opening lines to bestselling author Robert Charles Wilson’s latest book, Last Year, do what many of his past books have done: they make you stop and think and consider this what if: why are expensive modern day sunglasses being used in the same context as a president from the late nineteenth century?

It is the not too distant future where humanity has sort of discovered time travel, except it’s limited time travel, using special giant mirrors that can take people and things back to a certain point in the past, but not too distant past. The mirror is only “open” for a limited time to reduce the risk of the past learning and gaining too much from the future. It’s a great draw for tourism, the “opportunity of a lifetime.” And for those living in the past, they get to see what the future looks like.

Jesse Cullum is a man of the nineteenth century working in the specially constructed city for the people of the future. In a bold move that he does more out of reflex, he takes down a man looking to assassinate the president, and finds his world changed. He is promoted and becomes a member of a special investigative team looking to protect the president and other important people, as well as get to the bottom of a smuggling ring that is bringing important items from the future back to the past and selling them on the black market, including guns like the one the man was using to assassinate the president.

Much as Robert J. Sawyer’s Red Planet Blues was a noir detective novel set on Mars, Last Year is a gripping time travel novel with a noir detective story at its heart. Time travel stories have been done in many shapes and forms, which is why Wilson’s book offers a new angle on the whole time travel idea with something a little different, along with real and interesting people and a controversial central plot.

Originally written on March 15, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Last Year from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Change Agent” by Daniel Suarez (Dutton, 2017)


What if you could take a medication that could cause your body to go into reactive shutdown, altering your DNA, and when you recovered enough to regain consciousness and look in the mirror, you see a completely different face attached to a completely different body? And what if some truly despicable people were able to manufacture this medication? Welcome to Daniel Suarez’s chilling new novel, Change Agent.

It’s the year 2045, and Kenneth Durand is one of the top agents at Interpol fighting genetic crime. He specializes in tracking down hidden and very illegal labs performing “vanity edits” to an embryo’s DNA to make the future child smarter, or taller, or stronger, or all of the above . . . all for a nominal, or not so nominal fee. Because while the science and ability may exist, these mad scientists cut corners and don’t always comprehend what they’re really doing.

But the man behind one of the biggest cartels in the world known as the Huli jing, who is rumored to have this ability to edit an adult’s DNA, one Marcus Wyckes, is the biggest threat to be taken down. Any members of the cartel that are discovered always turn up dead, while Wyckes seems unable to be found. Durand gets full support to track down the Huli jing with whatever resources he needs.

Apparently this is one step too far for the cartel and they capture Durand, applying their secret supposedly nonexistent medication. The man wakes up days later to find himself in a hospital sore and tender in many ways. He looks in the mirror and Durand finds the face of Marcus Wyckes staring back at him. He has now become the most wanted man on the planet, and the police are on their way to the hospital.

Daniel Suarez has an uncanny ability with his science fiction thrillers to tell a story that not only seems vaguely plausible but makes the reader wonder if all this horrible stuff might be happening right now. Change Agent makes you wonder and think and hope, from the bottom of your heart, that this will never come to fruition, even if there’s a small part of your brain telling you it certainly will. The ending of the book unravels a little with the somewhat over the top action, but overall Change Agent is both a fascinating and gripping book that will keep you glued to every page.

Originally written on March 16, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Change Agent from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.