“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.