Richard Kadrey is primarily known for his Sandman Slim series, but he is starting a new series. The Everything Box ($24.99, due mid-April) starts about 4000 years ago, right after the Great Flood. It seems that God decided that creating humans was a big mistake, and sent an angel to earth with a doomsday device to finish off any humans that survived the flood. Before the angel got around to using it, a human stole it from him.
Jump forward to present-day Southern California. The angel can’t go back to heaven until he finishes wiping out the human race, and he still hasn’t found the doomsday device. He’s been traveling around the world for the last 4000 years, searching for the device, and trying other ways to kill off the humans. Somehow, the device has made it to Southern California, and he’s determined to find it. But so are a pair of competing incompetent cults that want to bring about the apocalypse, assorted collectors who think it is just a very valuable magical heirloom, and the government. Coop is a thief who specializes in stealing magical items. After stealing and delivering a small box to a mysterious client, he comes to the attention of the government and is forced to cooperate with the Department of Peculiar Science, a fearsome enforcement agency that specializes in the odd and strange.
The book is less profane than the Sandman Slim series, but is at least as funny. Highly recommended.
Linda Nagata’s The Red trilogy (First Light (#1, $9.99), The Trials (#2, $9.99), and Going Dark, (#3, $9.99)) is set perhaps 50 years in our future, and is told from the point of view of Lieutenant James Shelley, the commander of a squad of high-tech soldiers involved in a small war in Africa. As he explains to a new member of his squad:
“There needs to be a war going on somewhere, Sergeant Vasquez. It’s a fact of life. Without a conflict of decent size, too many international defense contractors will find themselves out of business. So, if no natural war is looming, you can count on the DCs to get together to invent one.”
So, Shelley leads his LCS–linked combat squad–out of their small fort, wearing their titanium exoskeletons and wearing their LCS skullcaps which control the implants the army has put inside their brains, carrying their smart weapons, to fight the insurgents. Their helmets provide them with quiet communications among the squad, video feeds from drones, communications with Guidance (an off-site army overseer), and send audio/video feeds from all the helmets back to Guidance. But Lt. Shelley has an uncanny ability to detect danger that the army doesn’t understand, and he hasn’t lost a soldier in 9 months. And the army is determined to find out how Lt. Shelley always knows when his squad is in danger.
Lt. Shelley is in the army to avoid prison time for participating in a protest back in the U.S., and is highly cynical about the government and the defense contractors. As time goes along, his cynical nature is overwhelmed by events. The audio/video feeds from his squad’s helmets have been made into a top-rated reality show back in the U.S. without the knowledge or permission of his squad. The defense contractors are certain they can get away with murder because they have bought so many “zombies” in Congress that the government will never investigate them. And then there is the matter of his strange ability to sense danger.
The Red trilogy is fast-paced, disturbing, and very well written. In the second volume, Lt. Shelley is on leave, visiting his father in New York City, and the description of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder while walking down the sidewalk without his armor, his weapons, and his link to Guidance (after relying on those during his many months in combat) is riveting.
I picked up Guerilla by Mel Odom ($7.99) and was very impressed. Only after I finished the book and started looking to see when the sequel would be out did I realize that I had read the second book of the series without reading the first book, Master Sergeant ($7.99). And I still don’t know when I’ll be able to read the next book.
Makaum is a jungle planet full of deadly plants, insects, and larger critters on land and under the water. Over 400 years ago a generational colony spaceship crashed on Makaum. The survivors of the crash learned how to cope with the planet and developed a low-tech lifestyle. Makaum becomes much more dangerous when the war between the Terrans and the Phrenorians (an empire of scorpion-like beings) reaches the planet. The natural resources of Makaum are desired by the Terrans, the Phrenorians, and other races (who are less militarily inclined than either the Terrans or the Phrenorians, but are just as greedy and more sneaky). And then there are the commercial corps and the criminal gangs who also want to get rich from exploiting the planet. The jungles are full of interesting psychoactive compounds that can be marketed to assorted races.
The indigenous Makaums are trying to cope with the invasion of their planet, with some trying to preserve their traditional culture, while others are trying to grab as much wealth as they can from all the competing greedy invaders.
Master Sergeant Frank Sage doesn’t want to be on Makaum. He wants to be fighting on the front line of the war, not stationed on a planet that is supposed to be protected by various treaties that everybody is quietly violating. But as long as he’s stuck on Makaum, he’s going to try to protect the native culture as much as he can from all of the threats, military and criminal.
While there’s plenty of action in the books, what really impressed me was the depth of cultural detail of all of the many alien races portrayed in the books.
I’ve already recommended Jacey Bedford’s two science fiction novels in her Psi-Tech series, Empire of Dust($7.99) and Crossways ($7.99). Her first fantasy, Winterwood ($7.99), has just come out, and it is also very good. Winterwood is set in England, primarily in 1800, where the government Mysterium regulates magic among the less powerful practitioners, but a few very powerful practitioners have been secretly serving the crown since they helped Queen Elizabeth defeat the Spanish Armada.
Rossalinde Goodliffe discovered when she was young that she had some magical ability, but her mother strongly disapproved, and she never registered with the Mysterium. Instead, after her father’s death, she helped young pirate Will Tremayne steal one of her father’s ships, and began her career as a privateer for Mad King George, preying on the French and Spanish shipping that supported Napolean. She married Will Tremayne, and after he died she started dressing in men’s clothing and became the new Captain Tremayne.
In 1800 she is summoned home to her mother’s deathbed, where her mother passes along a magical family heirloom. As she tries to understand the significance of the heirloom and tries to track a family tree that she never suspected she had, one of the secret powerful practitioners for the crown begins trying to kill her. The Forest Lord and his Lady become involved, as do a wolf shapeshifter and the fae. And her pirate crew often are involved. Although Winterwood tells a complete story, a sequel is planned, as well as more novels in the Psi-Tech series.
by Elizabeth LaVelle
Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiquil Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types is definitely NOT your average summer camp, as teens Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley learn in Lumberjanes Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy ($14.99 trade pb, ages 10 and up, full color graphic novel). One night, when they spot a woman who turns into a bear, they sneak out of their cabin and follow her into the woods, only to find themselves doing battle with a pack of 3-eyed foxes. Their counselor Jen catches them on their way back into camp, but the disciplinary meeting with camp director Rosie takes an odd turn: instead of calling their parents, she listens to their story, then tells the girls they'll see stuff they might not understand this summer, but that they're tough enough, and they should stick together no matter what. Good advice, because the next day finds them facing a river monster, navigating the traps in a hidden cave by solving a series of puzzles, and more. But can they elude the over-protective Jen long enough to accomplish what they need to? The fun continues in Lumberjanes Volume 2: Friendship to the Max ($14.99), as they deal with more mysterious goings-on and supernatural hijinks. Whether they're following a plan or dealing with unexpected events on the fly, the girls stick together. It's fun to see how their different skills - math, verbal, feats of strength and athleticism, and sheer derring-do - all come into play as they face each new challenge. Fortunately for Jen's peace of mind, when she expresses her uncertainty about her work at the camp, Rosie assures her that the girls don't need Jen to punch a bear - they handle that just fine on their own - they need someone smart and practical to keep them from getting in over their heads. (When Jen says that's OK, but sounds dull, Rosie suggests studying martial arts.) From that point on, Jen is in on the action, and finds her own particular ways to contribute. These graphic novels are packed with action, surprises, humor, and smart, strong women, and I'm really looking forward to Lumberjanes Volume 3 ($14.99, expected in early April).