“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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“Not Dead Yet” by Phil Collins (Crown, 2016)


Phil Collins has been kind of quiet for the last five or so years. He said it’s because he wanted to semi-retire and actually spend time raising a family for once, having never had this experience with his previous three families during his multiple decade-spanning superstar career. He also spent it working on this autobiography. And he also spent it as an alcoholic and addicted to intense pain medications, a deadly cocktail that almost killed him multiple times. The last five years have been pretty busy for Phil, much like the previous four decades. Not Dead Yet is his story in his very own words from birth to the present.

Unlike the four founding members of Genesis, Philip David Charles Collins didn’t go to a fancy private school but lived in a poor household and had to earn everything in life from the very beginning. With a mother who loved and supported him greatly, and a father who was distant and indifferent and never seemed to believe in him, Phil knew from a young age he wanted to be a drummer. It was either that or an actor. But when his voice dropped and he had trouble getting roles that paid anything, he dedicated himself to drumming. A lesson or two was all he ever bothered with, and self-taught everything else. During the late sixties he went to every gig he could and got the chance to see acts like Eric Clapton with Cream and Led Zeppelin before they were Led Zeppelin. From a young age he had his heroes and knew where he wanted his life to go, fostered with a foundation in the growingly-popular Motown scene.

A succession of bands led to occasional gigs but nothing really stable and longterm, until he saw an ad for a drummer and went to an audition in front of Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford. He got to cool off in the pool on the private estate while waiting his turn, and was able to hear the other drummers’ auditions and learn from their mistakes. It was 1971, and that was the start of his career with Genesis.

In 1975 Peter Gabriel left the band, but Genesis would keep going on. They recorded an album with Phil doing some vocals while auditioning over a hundred singers for the lead singing role. None of them fit and at the end with touring and commitments to be made, Phil said, “Well, why don’t I have a go?” and thus the new front man for Genesis was decided. In 1980 after his marriage fell apart, Phil spent some time alone recording and eventually the result was his first solo album, Face Value, with the iconic hit and opening track that will never leave him, “In the Air Tonight.”

From then on when he wasn’t recording a Genesis album, he was recording a solo album. If he wasn’t doing that he was producing albums for Eric Clapton or Robert Plant, or going on tour with them as their drummer, or performing at both Live Aids in London and Philadelphia with the aid of a Concord, or he was becoming very close with British royalty as an important member of the Prince’s Trust. And then there was his acting career. The man was everywhere, his music was on every radio station, and the awards started pouring in. But as Mr. Collins recounts in the book, he never asked to do all these once in lifetime opportunities, but when Eric Clapton or Robert Plant asks you to work with them, how can you say no?

Not Dead Yet is both a fascinating and sobering read. Phil Collins is a millionaire many times over, and readers see how with the insane workaholic he was for over thirty years, but at the same time there are those who have suffered, who have loss, mainly family, and Phil himself has had a lot of hardship and pain himself. But he makes no excuses, admitting to his faults and failings as a father and a husband, and goes into excruciating detail when he hit rock bottom as a drug addict in his late fifties and having to go into rehab.

Not Dead Yet is a very moving book, as readers enjoy the many highs of Phil’s life and career, as well as suffering through the many painful lows. If fans want to go that extra yard, they may want to listen to the audiobook as it is read by the great man himself, with his still very prevalent London accent.

Originally written on January 4 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Not Dead Yet from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“This Year’s Class Picture” by Dan Simmons (Subterranean Press, 2016)

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Bestselling author Dan Simmons was asked to write a zombie story for the zombie anthology Still Dead, Book of the Dead 2 edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector back in the early nineties when the zombie craze was barely an inkling in the reader’s eye. He wondered what he could write about the walking dead that hadn’t been done, then he wrote “This Year’s Class Picture” which went on to win both the Bram Stoker and World Fantasy Award for best short story in 1993.

Ms. Geiss is a fourth-grade teacher who has a very set schedule for every day. She gets ready in the morning then goes to her classroom, where she writes out the daily schedule for the class to see, then she proceeds to go through each class, reading and instructing to the best of her ability. For recess, she sets her class free outside, then brings them all back. For Q&A periods, she rewards her students with treats.

The unique thing about Ms. Geiss’s class is that while it is made up of kids, they also happen to all be zombies. Ms. Geiss keeps them chained to their desks and tries every day to get a reaction out of them; to see if there might be some inkling of humanity left in them. She also makes sure her perimeter is secure. In addition to barbed wire and other obstructions surrounding the school, there’s a moat of gasoline.

This is a story about zombies. It’s also a story about survival. It’s also a story about hope. It is a moving and emotional tale that will bring you to tears in many ways.

Originally written on May 10, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of This Year’s Class Picture from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Rise: The Complete Newsflesh Collection” by Mira Grant (Orbit, 2016)


It’s been a few years since fans enjoyed the last Newsflesh novel, and in that time the dark and twisted Mira Grant has written a number of novellas for various anthologies, which fans may have missed along the way. Thankfully, the wonderful people at Orbit have helped collect all these separate stories together in this mighty and magnificent tome, Rise.

After a thankful introduction from the author, the collection begins with “Countdown,” originally published as a series of blog posts, that helps document the lead up to the rising. “San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats” is the incredible story of the rising at Comic Con when thousands of fans were trapped inside with some amplified zombies and what some did to survive, and what others did to help those outside survive a little longer. In “How Green This Land, How Blue This Sea” new head of After the End Times Mohinder travels to distant Australia which is different from the rest of the world in that the Aussies have always lived in a world where things were trying to kill them. The newsie travels to the Rabbit Proof Fence, a massive enclosure protecting the Australian people from amplified kangaroos and other marsupials that would love nothing more than to sink their teeth into some human flesh. “The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell” tells an origin story for a known Newsflesh character and is one of the most moving stories in the collection, as one teacher fights to keep her first grade class of children alive.

Rise also features two brand-spanking new novellas the world has never seen before. “All the Pretty Horses” is the powerful story of Shaun and George’s parents, Stacy and Michael Mason; how they survived the rising and found a new lease in life and ultimately made the decision to adopt two very special children. “Coming to You Live” continues the events immediately after Blackout, giving fans some much needed answers and story.

This collection is a delight and shows the true breadth and complexity of the Newsflesh world. And to add the icing on this delicious bloody cake: there is a NEW Newsflesh novel coming out in the fall called Feedback.

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

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

“Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch (Random House, 2016)


From the author of the Wayward Pines trilogy (now a TV series) comes Blake Crouch’s follow up novel which is in every way as addictive and compelling as his previous works.

“Are you happy with your life?”

These are the final words Jason Dessen hears before he is abducted by a complete stranger. The man takes him to a warehouse where he injects him with something. The man is wearing a mask, obscuring his identity. Dessen falls unconscious. When he comes to he is strapped to a gurney and surrounded by people in hazmat suits. He has no clue who anyone is, but they all seem to recognize him. He manages to escape and return to his home where he finds his house filled with different items, furnished and decorated differently. It is his home but at the same time not. According to photos and what he can tell, he is also not married to the wife he loves very much, and doesn’t have a son he loves more than anything in the world.

The mysterious thrill of Dark Matter folds over and over on itself, like a thick taffy plot, that keeps the reader’s eyes glued to the page, not having any clue where the story is going to go next. The story goes places that other stories that have dealt with this similar subject before rarely dare to go, pushing the limits of imagination. Crouch clearly had a lot of fun writing Dark Matter, and the readers will have an equal amount of fun reading it.

Originally written on March 26, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Dark Matter from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Welcome to Night Vale” by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (Harper Perennial, 2015)


It is likely that you have heard in some way, shape or form of the podcast Welcome to Night Vale that has grown to incredible popularity over the last few years. In addition to putting up new episodes every couple weeks, the team continues to go on live tours not just across the United States, but also across the globe. While there are some overarching themes and ongoing subplots on the podcast, it can best be summed up as a wonderfully weird and random show that The Guardian says “Belongs to a particular strain of American gothic that encompasses The Twilight Zone, Stephen King and Twin Peaks, with a bit of Tremors thrown in.”

In the Welcome to Night Vale novel, there is the familiar setting and the many familiar characters listeners have come to know and love and hate and sometimes both at the same time. But there is also a coherent story being told from start to finish, which is a welcome change from the titillating randomness of the podcast. Of course, Cecil Palmer plays an important role in the novel, with some “excerpts” from his radio show after certain chapters.

Something mysterious is going on in Night Vale. Mysterious even for this town, which is saying something. Certain people in town are awaking to discover a piece of paper stuck to their hand that says “KING CITY.” When they throw the paper away, it magically appears in their hand again within moments. Whether they saturate the paper in water, burn it to ash, or tear it into tiny pieces, it just keeps coming back. And no one knows why.

Nineteen-year-old pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is one of the “victims.” But she’s had enough with just being part of the status quo for like forever, and wants to get to the bottom of this. It will involve getting to King City. The problem is she has no idea where it is, and as far as she can recall she’s never left Night Vale, ever. She’s not even sure if she can leave the town.

For listeners who might be wondering how well this quirky podcast would get transposed into a novel, have no fear. The book is just as entertaining and addicting as the podcast, and is perhaps better in certain ways for its coherence and resolution. Two words that listeners have just come to accept rarely happens on the show, which is part of the reason they love it so.

If you’re new to Night Vale and are not sure what to start first, I’d recommend doing a few episodes of the podcast to get a feel for the show. But you could just as well read the novel and enjoy it and then feel super happy that there are a ton of episodes you get to hear and learn all about the characters you just read about.

And for the die-hard fans, you’ll want to get the audiobook because it is expertly and masterfully read by the voice of Night Vale Radio, Cecil Baldwin.

Originally written on March 23, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Welcome to Night Vale from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Arkwright” by Allen Steele (Tor, 2016)


Bestselling science fiction author Allen Steele’s latest novel, Arkwright, is the science fiction equivalent of Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. Readers get to experience the saga of the family Arkwright and its friends through the centuries and across the distant reaches of space.

Nathan Arkwright is a successful science fiction author, considered one of the “big four,” along with Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein. Arkwright begins a highly successful series called Galaxy Patrol that has him writing 18 books in the series. But in the late eighties he announces the last book in the series and that he’s done with writing. For the rest of his career he focuses his research and wealth on helping science projects looking to achieve interstellar travel.

At his death, he bequeaths most of his wealth to the Arkwright foundation, a nonprofit whose sole goal is to continue helping and funding these science projects to build a spaceship that will get a small population to a distant planet and set up a new colony. This is the story of how that is done through the years and generations of Arkwrights and their team. How they create a unique way to transport this population to the distant planet and what happens when the colony arrives on a distant, new world.

Steele clearly had fun writing this, taking a trip down memory lane to the early days of science fiction and then creating a colony ship unlike any that has been done before. There have been many books written about just this subject, and Steele himself has done a number of them before, but in Arkwright readers get to see everything develop through the eyes and emotions of its characters with ideas and technology that has barely been explored before in the genre.

Originally written on March 27, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

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