“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.

“Apes and Angels” by Ben Bova (Tor, 2016)


In the second installment of the Star Quest Trilogy, Bova follows the same trajectory he left off in Death Wave. A wave of death is spreading through the Milky Way galaxy, wiping out entire planets whether there’s intelligent life on them or not. A vastly superior alien race contacted Earth to let them know they know how to help these alien worlds who have no clue of what is coming at them.

Apes and Angels is the story of an Earth mission, the crew of the Odysseus, traveling across many light years to Mithra Gamma where they begin studying the beings that live on the planet, with the goal of ascertaining how to contact them and protect them from this oncoming death. It becomes a bit of a Star Trek episode with the “Prime Directive” coming into play, as they grapple with how best to approach the alien race. Meanwhile on a neighboring planet is a primitive aquatic species that has been deemed too simple and primitive to be worth saving, and yet one scientist on the mission believes they are intelligent.

Apes and Angels, while an interesting experiment in what it is attempting to do, has a number of failings. The quick-moving scenes from Death Watch feel like an overly dramatic soap opera in this novel, with relationships and emotions between characters that lead to petty jealousy, making everything pretty heavy handed.

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

To purchase a copy of Apes and Angels from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Ocean of Storms” by Christopher Mari and Jeremy K. Brown (47North, 2016)


Ocean of Storms is the type of science fiction that not only piques your interest, but grabs your imagination and sucks you right into the story.

It is the near future, and much like now, the world isn’t doing so great. Tensions are reaching a pinnacle as the US and China stand on the brink of possible nuclear war over Taiwan. Then there is what seems like a worldwide electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that shuts down everything electronic planet wide and causes a lot of trouble. Days pass and governments around the world start getting everything up and running again and it is then they discover the origin of this mysterious pulse: a catastrophic explosion has struck the moon and now there is a massive gash in its surface. The answer to all this seems pretty obvious: we are most certainly not alone in the universe.

And then the race is on to find out just what is happening on the moon and what might possibly be inside that recently created chasm. China gets an unmanned probe into space first and gets some closeups of the giant black hole in the lunar surface. The US wants to get a manned mission out to the moon pronto, the only problem is no one’s been to the moon since the 1970s and the technology just really isn’t there. Nevertheless, NASA is given carte blanche to do what needs to be done, but still can’t make it happen. Eventually a joint mission between the US and China is formed and finally launched.

The book is essentially divided into two parts: the first putting together the mission to the moon and then finding out what exactly is there, and the reveal is somewhat predictable; while the second part focuses and dealing with what has been discovered back on Earth. The momentum and drive of the first part definitely slows and gets a little lost in the second part, as the book turns more into an action thriller. Overall, Ocean of Storms is an interesting and catchy read that fulfills all the important buttons to be pushed when reading speculative fiction.

Originally written on January 5, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Ocean of Storms from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Codex Ocularis” by Ian Pyper (Pelekinesis, 2016)


Codex Ocularis is a journey; a journey through time and physical space to a distant planet, but also a journey through the mind.

There is a planet in a galaxy far, far away that is unlike any planet you’ve ever seen or known of. It is known as Ocularis because it is eye-shaped, and has a focused lens pointed right at planet Earth. Yes, the planet is in fact looking at Earth and from what it sees, it is creating unique creatures in the aqueous humors of its surface. How do we know this? Because of one Astronaut/Psychonaut/Holonaut who has traveled across the dimensions of time and space and visited the planet through this unique advanced technology that employs the mind in some way. His words and diagrams have been left in his log book known as the “Codex Ocularis,” where you’ll find his thoughts and musings, his scientific theories and revelations of Ocularis.

Codex Ocularis is partly a storybook, partly a philosophical journey, and partly Ian Pyper having a lot of fun illustrating the ideas of a planet. The concept is an interesting one, but the execution is a little lacking. The astronaut’s notes are done in cursive that make it hard to read certain words at times. The content of the writing is pretty complex and “pretend-scientific” that kind of loses the reader. The illustrations are fun, but get a bit repetitive and when the reader isn’t sure what they’re reading, it makes understanding the images even harder. The book could’ve used more structure and plot to help the reader along.

Originally written on May 12, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Codex Ocularis from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Kronos Rising: Kraken Volume 1: The Battle for Earth’s Oceans has Just Begun” by Max Hawthorne (Far From the Tree Press, 2016)


After thrilling fans with a new giant-sized menace on the high seas with a taste for human flesh in Kronos Rising, Max Hawthorne is back with a new species of sea monster in Kronos Rising: Kraken. If the first book was the “Jaws” event for readers, then its sequel takes it to the level of Pacific Rim.

It has been thirty years since the tragic events of Paradise Cove, and the world is now a changed place. Giant pliosaurs now ply the oceans in the multitudes wreaking havoc against sea vessels and wiping out crews. In retaliation, there are those crews with unique vessels looking to capture the high-priced bounty that is the pliosaur. There are specific rules on what can be killed and what can be captured. Our story focuses on brothers Garm Braddock running the Gryphon, an anti-biologic submarine with some unique weaponry and tactics specifically designed to take out the pliosaur or bag it. At the secret research facility known as TARTARUS is Garm’s brother Dirk, working on the primeval pathogen that is alive and well within the blood of the pliosaurs. Meanwhile, in the deep ocean depths there is a new menace on the rise, one that makes the pliosaurs look like puppies.

Hawthorne has once again done his research in marine life and what it’s like living on and off the sea, whether it be above or below the waves. While the characters are interesting and well-developed, Hawthorne takes it too far with men being men in a combat zone and wanting to outdo each other; at some points the reader is just waiting for them to undo their flies and whip it out. There are a number of graphic sex scenes in the book that just come out of nowhere and derail the reader from novel. Overall, Kronos Rising: Kraken goes on for too long and loses its momentum unlike its thrilling predecessor.

Originally written on July 13, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Kronos Rising: Kraken from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Frozen Sky 3: Blindsided” by Jeff Carlson (JVE, 2016)


With Jupiter being a hot topic item in the news these days, it’s time for a riveting science fiction thriller set on one of Jupiter’s moons. Cue bestselling author Jeff Carlson’s latest novel, the third installment in the Frozen Sky universe.

Like the previous novellas, Carlson throws the reader right in the middle of some intense action, with Vonnie dealing with the Sunfish and things being pushed to the limit. In Blindsided readers learn more about the complexities of the Sunfish and the fact that they’re a lot more intelligent and developed than anyone really thinks, except perhaps Vonnie. Carlson cuts back and forth between Vonnie working with the sunfish and the interactions of the people in the European Space Agency, giving an insight into what life is like living in a small space many millions of miles from Earth.

Meanwhile, tensions are increasing with the Brazilians and the Chinese, as well as a new “competitor” entering the ring, just as the sunfish are getting all haywire because of a creature deep below the ice that is having a strong effect on them, but the big deal is it isn’t a sunfish.

Originally written on August 11, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Frozen Sky 3: Blindsided from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Mostly Void, Partially Stars” & “The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe” by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (Harper Perennial, 2016)

 

Go here to enter the Welcome to Night Vale giveaway

For perhaps the first time in history a couple of books have been created, written and brought together for every single conceivable type of fan, but you’ll have to read to the end of this review to find out exactly how. I am talking of Mostly Void, Partially Stars and The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe that collect all the episodes for season one (the former) and season two (the latter) of one of the most popular podcast shows in history. I am talking, of course, about Welcome to Night Vale, which features an astonishing number of followers and avid listeners, a bestselling novel (with the same title as the show), and a cast that seems to be continually on tour playing to sold-out shows across the globe, while still recording new episodes and releasing them every two weeks.

The last book I had that collected all the episodes for an entire season was for The X-Files, but as addictive as those books were each time they came out before the airing of the new season, the Welcome to Night Vale collections are just as addictive and perhaps more important, for they feature more material. In addition to the complete scripts for every episode of the season, there is bonus material, such as some awesome illustrations that sometimes relate to the current episode being read and sometimes not. The reader can choose to study the image and forget about the haunting soullessness of say the Glow Cloud (ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD!) and lose themselves in the detail of the shocking artwork, or perhaps be terrified by the graphic detail of the illustrations that they immediately go back to reading the script.

Mostly Void, Partially Stars features an introduction by bestselling author and awesome tech-nerd (Boing Boing) Cory Doctorow. A contents list for each episode, providing handy referencing. As well as the script for the live show “Condos.” The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe features an introduction by author and Night Vale contributor Maureen Johnson, as well as the bonus script to the live show “The Debate.” Both volumes feature a piece from the creator of all the awesome music for Welcome to Night Vale, Disparition, as well as all the artists featured on “the weather” segment of the podcast. The other really awesome thing about both books is that they feature intros to each episode. The majority are written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, while others are written by Cecil Baldwin (the voice of Night Vale) and many of the other cast members, guest stars and guest writers for the podcast. The intros provide a back story, a history and/or an insight into a specific episode, or just an entertaining anecdote.

Good you’ve made it this far. So if you’re reading this it means you are familiar in some way to the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, and you may be wondering (though if you’ve read this review fully I don’t really see how) how these books will benefit you. Well, you will likely satisfy one of the categories listed below which each, in turn, explain why you need these crucial Night Vale volumes.

1) You’re a die hard fan of Welcome to Night Vale: You’ve listened to every episode multiple times, you’ve been to many live shows, and you know everything there is to know about the characters. But sometimes you don’t have the option of listening to a particular episode or remembering a particular phrase from the middle of an obscure episode. These books are the tools to accomplish this. You can find that episode and read that phrase in an instant!

2) You’re kind of a fan of the show but haven’t heard everything: So you missed a few episodes here and there, especially in the first couple of seasons. No problem. Just start with Mostly Void, Partially Stars and you can find those “lost episodes” and read them in less than five minutes and get all caught up.

3) This is the first time you’re hearing of Welcome to Night Vale: Firstly, welcome. You’ve made the right choice. Secondly, you now have the option of listening to many many hours of this awesome show, but that takes a lot of time you might not have, especially if you heard the Night Vale cast is coming to a city near you next week and your friend just bought you a ticket and you need to get caught up fast! Well, these two volumes can be digested in record time and then you’ll have a fruitful lexicon for seasons one and two of the show. However, I’d recommend listening to the first episode or two, no, not to boost their download numbers, Night Vale has already broken a lot of records in that regard, but to acclimate yourself to the show and to familiarize you with the deep, baritonally-comforting emanances of the shows narrator, one Cecil Palmer. After that you’ll be able to read each episode from the book with his wondrous voice solidly fixed in your head, equal to a narration by Morgan Freeman or Sir David Attenborough. Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the wonder that is Welcome to Night Vale.

Originally written on September 5, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To help support BookBanter and purchase a copy of Mostly Void, Partially Stars click HERE; to purchase a copy of The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe click HERE.