Friday, June 29, 2012


Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

I had high hopes for Amped, having really enjoyed Robopocalypse, and it didn't disappoint. It's a smart, futuristic thriller that does what many books in its genre fail to do nowadays--it gets you to think.

The book takes place in the not-too-distant future. Technology has advanced to the point where many of the disabilities and shortcomings that plague mankind can now be fixed with a neurological implant. People suffering from epilespy, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADHD and variety of other disorders no longer have to suffer, they're now able to live not simply normal lives, but the implants give them advanced abilities above and beyond those of normal humans. Likewise, children born with below average intelligence or even severe mental handicaps are now able to quickly surpass their average peers in mental and physical abilities.

The book begins with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling being handed down. The Court's ruling states that since the surgery to receive an implant is an elective surgery, and since those who receive one receive an unfair advantage over those who don't, recipients should receive no protections under the 14th Ammendment. They essentially have none of the rights of a U.S. citizen.

Owen Gray is a teacher who has grown up thinking that his parents had given him an implant as a child because of his epilepsy. But his father, who was one of the developers of the implants, gave him one that had the ability to do far more than that. The implant's true abilities have been dormant in Owen's mind all his life. But with the Court's ruling, and the civil unrest and violence that it leads to, the true nature of the implant is about to be revealed to Owen.

Wilson is a young writer and he's been described as Michael Crichton's successor in the technological thriller genre. I'd compare him to Aldous Huxley as well. I mentioned before that the book will make you think. There are a lot of philisophical and sociological questions that it's sure to make readers think about. As I read it I was continually reminded of the thoughts and impressions I had while reading Brave New World.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Redshirts by John Scalzi

Fans of the original Star Trek series already know the significance of wearing a red shirt on that show. For those of us who prefered girls to Vulcans, an explanation might be useful. With the exception of Scottie, wearing a red shirt on the original series was a sure-fire sign that your character was not going to live long. Redshirts, as they're affectionately referred to by Comicon attendees and the like, were always falling victim to some disaster or battle with the enemies of the United Federation of Planets. John Scalzi has taken that little bit of Trekipedia and used it to write a very entertaining book.

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union. But he quickly begins to notice that all is not right aboard the ship. Rarely does an away mission return without having lost at least one of his fellow low-ranking members of the crew to some battle with aliens. And while the key officers are often critically -- and usually in a dramatic fashion, injured on these missions, they never seem to share the same fate as their subordinates.

Dahl and his fellow ensigns begin to investigate what's really going on with the Intrepid and come to a realization that is as surprising as it is brilliant.

That secret makes the book well worth the short amount of time it will take to read it. And you don't need to be a big fan of the series to enjoy it. If you liked Galaxy Quest, you'll like this. I've never cared for the original series myself. I have seen most of The Next Generation series and I liked all of the even-numbered movies that they've made. But even with that limited interest in Star Trek, I thought the book was a lot of fun and it made me interested in reading more of what Scalzi has written.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, June 22, 2012


Nocturnal by Scott Sigler

I’ve seen the movie Misery several times and love it. But I have to admit that every time I’ve watched it (since the first time), I’ve had to turn my head away and close my eyes when Annie hobbles Paul with the block of wood and the sledgehammer. I’ve never been able to watch the footage of Joe Theismann’s final play. I know what happens, and I’m not man enough to handle seeing it. There’s just something about limbs bending where they’re not supposed to bend that I don’t do well with. Bloody entrails pulled out of a person's abdomen, decapitations, stuff like that doesn’t bother me, but a visibly broken limb makes me cringe and quite honestly makes me a little light-headed. Which brings me to Scott Sigler's new book Nocturnal.
I know when I start reading a horror story by Sigler, that I'm going to experience some light-headedness. I know I'm going to cringe and squirm at parts, but I still can't wait to read one every time one comes out.
I first discovered Sigler when I picked up a copy of his book Infected about microscopic aliens that enter earth's atmosphere and then the bodies of humans and begin to grow. That book made me cringe numerous times as the human hosts took drastic measures to try to rid themselves of the parasitic hitchhikers. Nocturnal delivered as well.
Bryan Clauser is a homicide detective in San Francisco who has begun having vivid and disturbing dreams in which he stalks and violently kills human prey. But these aren't merely dreams he's having. At the same time Bryan is having these violent dreams, they're actually taking place on the streets of his city. As he tries to investigate the murders he discovers that all of the victims are tied to one person, an awkward and bullied boy named Rex.
Rex likes to draw. It provides him an outlet for the miserableness of his life. He's the victim of abuse, both at school and at home, but his drawings have begun to become reality. Shortly after he draws the horrific demise of one of his abusers, that abuser comes to an eerily similar demise.
Bryan's dreams and Rex's drawings are signs of something much larger that's been going on in and under the city of San Fancisco for more than a century. 
I enjoyed Nocturnal a lot. I've never read anything by Sigler that I didn't like, so I'm not surprised. His stories are always entertaining, and even though they occasionally make me question my manhood by making me cringe like a little school girl, they always jump to the top of my to-be-read pile whenever a new one comes out.  

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Daniel O'Malley Interview

Daniel O’Malley is an Australian who graduated from Michigan State University and earned a Master’s Degree in medieval history from Ohio State University. He currently works for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, writing press releases for government investigations of plane crashes and runaway boats. More impressive to me though is the fact that he's written a book, a very good book called The Rook. I won't get into details on the book here because I already did that in this post. Mr. O'Malley was kind enough to take some time away from writing his government releases to answer a few questions about his writing.

First of all, let me congratulate you on The Rook. I certainly enjoyed it and from reviews I've read of it, I wasn't alone. There are aspects of the book that reminded me of Torchwood, Men in Black, and X-Men. Were any of these inspirational in the writing of The Rook?

Thanks so much, I’m really glad you enjoyed it. As to influences on The Rook, there’s been quite a few. In terms of approach, one of the writers I most admire is China Mieville. His books are always so crammed fulled of ideas, they make for a very rich and detailed world. I tried to have something similar – glancing mentions of things that suggested a vast history.

As to the works you mentioned above, well, I enjoyed Men in Black very much (and I loved the animated series when it was on). The thing that really caught my eye was the blasé attitude of the staff when dealing with the most astounding and insane situations. And I was a tremendous X-Men fan as a kid. I thought it was so cool how everyone had their unique power and they formed a (usually) coherent team, so it’s definitely something that impacted on me.

Torchwood hadn’t come out when I started writing the book, I don’t think. I was certainly well-along by the time I heard about it. In any case, I’ve only seen one episode of it, and while I liked it, I don’t think it had much of an influence on me. The idea of a Government organization that secretly deals with the bizarre is an old one, and it was one I enjoyed playing with very much.

The main character in your book, Myfanwy Thomas, is a woman suffering from amnesia who is in possession of a series of letters left for her by her previous self. That allowed you to write her as two separate and quite different characters. Was that something that evolved as you wrote the story or was it something you planned from the beginning in order to allow you to show the transformation she underwent?

Originally, the letters from the old, pre-amnesia self (‘Thomas’) were mainly going to be a useful way to provide background information. A nice way to give infodump. But then it became important (and amusing) to me that there be some significant differences between the old Myfanwy Thomas and the new Myfanwy Thomas. The letters were already going to be a part of it, and as I wrote them, Thomas became very much her own character. I grew more and more fond of her, and it was sad, because the whole book was based on the fact that she was going to be destroyed, before the book even began.

Gestalt was one of my favorite characters in the book. He's one person with four individual bodies which he's able to operate simultaneously. I tend to refer to him as male but since one of his bodies is female, I'm not sure that's technically correct. Where did the idea for that character come from?

Gestalt came out of me helping my friend move house. I was carrying furniture down all these flights of stairs, and I thought ‘this would be so much easier if I had a bunch of bodies.’ And voila! I had Gestalt! I had to put down the thing I was carrying, so that I could write down the idea.

Most first-time novelists have the luxury of spending years writing and fine tuning their first book trying to get it published. When they do get picked up by a publisher, I would think that the writing process has to change because now there are deadlines to deal with and other people involved in the creative process. How has getting published changed the way you approach writing?

Not a lot has changed, to be perfectly honest. If you’re going to write, there’s always something in the back of your head that pushes you to write – whether it’s a deadline or the hunger to get the story told. I always tried to be disciplined about it, even before I was published – even before I found an agent. I set myself the daily minimum of pages (2 on weekdays, 4 on weekend days), and would then really, really try to hit it. Of course, I failed frequently (and continue to do so.) Sometimes the lightning hits, and you’re pouring out text, and sometimes you’ll find anything else to do instead of write.

I understand The Rook is the beginning of a series and that you're currently at work on the sequel. When is it scheduled to be published? What do your readers have to look forward to in this next one?

I am labouring away on the sequel, and while I’m going to have it to my editor early in 2013 (he says firmly), I don’t know when it will actually escape out into the world in book form. There’s a whole long procedure that has to be gone through. Editing. Re-editing. A whole lot of things. So, it’ll be a while yet. But, in the meantime, I’m very excited about it. The next book is going to follow two new characters (although Rook Myfanwy Thomas will feature prominently.) It’s a story about diplomacy (and a pointed lack thereof), supernatural terrorism, and the etiquette surrounding afternoon tea. Also, it’s going to explore Europe, and see how some other countries deal with their supernatural problems.

Thanks so much and good luck with the next book.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
(728 pgs  A Song of Ice and Fire series #2)

In general, I'm not a very patient person. But with reading GRRM's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, I'm not going to have much of a choice. He's written five of the seven books so far, but the last couple have come at a rate of one every 5-6 years. So I'm trying to space them out as I read them. My goal is to stretch it out so that I finish the fifth book around the time the next one is published. We'll see. I read the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones eight months ago and have been waiting patiently to read book two, A Clash of Kings.

I hesitate to say too much about the story itself, since it's a series in progress and I can't say much without revealing plot points from the first book. So rather than provide a summary, I've decided to explain why I'm liking the books as much as I am.

First of all, for a fantasy story it has an overall sense of realism. There are elements of the fantastic throughout, but so far they haven't played a major role. Instead, it's the depth of the host of central characters that GRRM writes so well that drives the story. The characters are never either good or evil, they're always both. There is no quest to destroy a ring, nor is there the journey of an orphan prophesied to save the world. At the center of the series is a throne - made of iron spears. Surrounding that center are the machinations of both men and women who want the power that comes with it.

Next, GRRM doesn't follow the traditional formula for a character-driven saga. No character, no matter how central to the story thus far, is guaranteed to still be living by the end of the chapter. At first it was a little jarring when a major character was lost, but it gives the story a sense of uncertainty that compels the story along. And it emphasises the fact that the story is not about a central figure.

Next, GRRM's writing is head and shoulders above almost all others in his genre. I mentioned it when I reviewed AGOT, but I compare his writing to what I usually only find when I read classical literature.

Overall, a great book, a great series. I'll be patiently awaiting next spring when I'll allow myself to read A Storm of Swords.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ray Bradbury

"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Ray Bradbury

Normally when I hear about famous people dying, I hardly give it a second thought. But that hasn't been the case since I heard yesterday of the passing of Ray Bradbury. I've mentioned before that I owe my love for reading to Stephen King, but that's not entirely accurate. It would be more correct to say that King is responsible for my renewed love of reading. In elementary school I read a lot but then quit reading for a few years until my parents bought me King's Misery. My initial love for reading began when I was in third grade and as a class we read Bradbury's short story All Summer in a Day. At the time I simply enjoyed the story. But the fact that over thirty years later my mind goes back to it every time I hear in the news about kids being bullied, is a testament to the impact and power books can have.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Interview with A.J. Jacobs

If I were to pick an author I think I would most enjoy having lunch with, A.J. Jacobs would definitely be in consideration. From his books he comes across as very funny, unassuming, and dare I say a little unbalanced? He is the editor at large of Esquire magazine who has written four books, all of which I highly recommend. Three of his books have chronicled his efforts of self-improvement and one of them, a series of month-long experiments in which he used himself as the guinea pig.

His books will make you laugh and sometimes make you squirm as he boldly subjects himself to situations that your average self aware individual would never consider. Here is a real quick interview with the author:

You set out initially to improve yourself mentally, spiritually, and physically. Now that you've addressed all three aspects of your life, how successful do you think you were? Do you think you're a significantly different person today having gone through those years of self-improvement, compared to the person you'd otherwise be?

Well, part of being a better person is being humble. So I don’t want to say I’m the Most Improved Person in the World. (Or that I’m the Humblest Person in the World). But I will say, my life has changed in hundreds of ways, and most of them for the better.

Numerous times for your books you knowingly placed yourself in situations that a normal man would never have subjected himself to, (i.e. attending a pole dancing aerobics class, your month of radical honesty, and your month of abiding by every command your wife could come up with). But when you write about those situations, you write about them as if you don't have any reservations. Was that really the way you felt going into them? If not, was there any one thing you were most anxious about subjecting yourself to?

I do get nervous. In fact, sometimes it can almost be an out of body experience. When I practiced Radical Honesty and said whatever was on my mind, part of me was observing myself with disbelief. But I put myself into these situations because they are usually fascinating, and usually end up improving my life. Even pole dancing is healthy.

Many of the experiments you've subjected yourself to also had a significant, and not necessarily enjoyable impact on your wife as well. Is it safe to assume she demands significant gifts for her birthday, anniversary, Valentine's Day, etc? Did she ever veto any of your plans?

Yes, my wife has the patience of Job. Or actually more patience. I learned from studying the Bible that Job actually gets kind of short-tempered and cranky. Though you can’t really blame the guy. Anyway, my wife is patient, and does receive significant gifts. In my book The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as An Experiment,  I let her get a little payback. I spent a month doing whatever she said. Essentially, I was her servant. She became drunk with power, it was kind of scary. As for vetoes, yes, she’s nixed quite a few. Several readers, for instance, suggested that we reenact all the positions in the kama sutra. She put the kibosh on that quite quickly.

In your latest book Drop Dead Healthy you took the approach of trying to achieve perfect health for one part of your body at a time. If there was only one piece of health advice that you think everyone needs to know about and implement into their life, what would it be?

If I had to choose one, I’d say: Stop sitting! The research on the effects of sedentary life scared the bejesus out of me. Sitting for more than four hours a day raises the risk of heart disease by up to 60 percent. If I’m sitting, I try to get up every half hour and walk around for a couple of minutes. I actually took it to the extreme: I bought a treadmill, balanced my laptop on top of it, and wrote my book while walking. It took me about 1,200 miles.

What's next? Are you working on a new book currently? If so, can you tell me anything about it?

My kids want me to write a book about Spending a Year Eating Nothing But Candy. They say they would join me in this quest. Not sure that would be a big seller. I do have a few half-baked or quarter-baked ideas, but I haven’t settled on which one yet. I think taking a month off is probably healthy.

Thanks very much and I look forward to whatever you come up with next.