Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Prayer

by Philip Kerr
409 pgs

Gil Martins is an FBI agent in Houston who works in the Bureau's domestic terrorism unit, investigating cases of extremism and domestic terrorism. Gil grew up a Catholic in Ireland but now considers himself a staunch atheist. A transition that has alienated him from his wife and young son.

Now, dealing with the recent separation from his family and a career path that seems to have stagnated, Gil has his core beliefs (or lack of beliefs) shaken as he begins investigating the deaths of several prominent and vocal atheists across the country. Each one died in a unique and seemingly unconnected way. But while investigating them he listens to the confession of a woman who claims to have been involved in killing each one using the power of prayer.

Is there truly power in prayer? And if so, is it feasible that that power could be used for anything other than good? That's the premise of Kerr's first standalone novel in many years.

I really wanted to like this book when I began reading it. It started strong and looked promising for about the first two thirds of the story. Then the wheels fell off and the story degenerated into a disappointing farce. By the end it seemed more like Kerr was intentionally just trying to be controversial rather than authoring a mystery novel.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Kill Switch

by James Rollins & Grant Blackwood
388 pgs

Sigma has a couple new weapons in its arsenal: Tucker Wayne, a former army ranger and his military-trained dog Kane. In The Kill Switch the two are called upon to help extract a Russian scientist who holds in his brain a secret that has the potential to end world hunger or to destroy the world altogether, depending on how it's used. It's up to Tucker and Kane to ensure that those who would use it for the latter, never gain access to him.

The Kill Switch is pretty similar to Rollins' other books. There's a secret that's been hidden from the world for centuries that comes to light and threatens to destroy the earth or a significant percentage of is occupants. There are twists and turns to spare, and Sigma saves the day at the end. I'm not disparaging Rollins' pattern for success. I've enjoyed all of his books and am sure I'll enjoy many more to come. I know what I'm going to get when I start one of his books, and that's exactly the way I prefer it with him.

What I'm not crazy about is this disappointing trend many authors have joined of starting to co-authoring their stories. Tom Clancy did it, Clive Cussler does it, and don't get me started on James Patterson. I don't have any issues with authors who team up and truly write a book together--like Preston and Child. What I can't stand is when an author has the idea for the book, but turns the writing of the book over to a lesser-know author--who writes it, and then gets his or her name on the cover, but in a significantly smaller font than their more widely known "co-author." I really hope that that's not the practice Rollins has taken up here with Grant Blackwood and in Blood Canticle books written with Rebecca Cantrell. If it is, then I'll have misspoken earlier when I said I'd be reading many more of his books in the future.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Kraken Project

by Douglas Preston
352 pgs

In The Kraken Project Douglas Preston brings back Wyman Ford, the ex-CIA agent who has appeared in a handful of other Douglas Preston solo novels. This time around he's asked by the President of the United States to help locate Melissa Shepherd, a young NASA computer programmer who wrote "Dorothy," an AI software program for an unmanned mission to one of Saturn's moons. During a test  run, Dorothy panics and inadvertently causes an explosion, killing several people. Soon after the botched test run both Dorothy and Melissa disappear--Melissa into the mountains of Colorado, and Dorothy into the Internet.

Ford needs to find Melissa and enlist her help in locating Dorothy and shutting her down. No one knows what Dorothy is capable of doing on her own, and he's not the only one looking for the AI program. Others have become aware of her existence and want to use her to their own ends.

The idea of artificial intelligence is not a new one. It gets hauled out by writers of popular media fairly regularly, and so the ethical and moral issues associated with it that Preston weaves into his story are nothing that we haven't seen numerous times. But he does an admirable job of making his story a unique one. The story is a fun one, and while on the surface it sounds outlandish and far fetched, it's written well enough to allow readers to suspend their disbelief and simply enjoy the book.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Gone-Away World

by Nick Harkaway
499 pgs

I believe that for the first time ever, I'm at a serious loss as to how to describe/summarize/review a book--and it's not that this is the first book by Nick Harkaway that I've ever read. Awhile back I read his second book Angelmaker and really enjoyed it. But this one is unlike anything I've ever read before.

To start with, I can't decide what genre if fits in. It doesn't easily fit into any of the already established ones. It's part science fiction, but not in a science fictiony way. It's post-apocalyptic, but not in a Cormac McCarthy's The Road kind of way. It's got ninjas battling mimes in it, but they doesn't help classify it. It is what it is, and it really deserves its own bookshelf at the bookstore.

The next problem I have with writing this review is that I can't really decide how much I liked it. Parts of it were absolutely brilliant, but I'll admit that sometimes my mind tended to wander. Harkaway's writing talent is undeniable though and if I hadn't known better, I would have assumed that this book was written by someone who had a Stephen King-sized bibliography already under his belt. He really is that good. Even at the times in the book when my mind wanted to venture elsewhere, I have to admit that those parts were still well written.

The story is narrated by a character whose name is never revealed but who works for the Haulage & Hazmat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company of Exmore County. As the story begins, he and his crew are called upon to put out a fire that has erupted somewhere along the Jorgmund Pipe, which delivers a substance known as "stuff." The world was destroyed during the Gone-Away War, and stuff is what makes the remaining world livable.

The book is absurd and witty, and it's every creative-writing teacher's dream come true. But it's not a beach read, and it's not the type of book that can be read in ten minute installments. You have to be willing to immerse yourself in the story and let Harkaway's writing talent take over. Overall, well worth the effort it took to read it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆