Every now and then, I like to take a chance on a book that I haven’t heard anything about. I’ll admit that cover shopping can play a big part of this. It’s probably what made me pick up R. J. Piniero’s The Fall. That and the tagline that read something like: “A man takes a jump from a weather balloon only to end up on another Earth where he’s been dead for five years.” Ok, probably not the premise of high brow literature, but hey, it does sound like fun.
I don’t know if it’s me, but I keep pulling up parallel dimensional travel books a lot lately. It’s definitely in vogue right now. And where it used to be confined mainly to space stories involving intergalactic anomalies like ST:TNG’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” now it seems like they happen in science fiction more and more on Earth. This probably says something about how self-absorbed we are with ourselves, or maybe it’s just to tell stories that are relatable. Either way, the dimensional travel aspect of this book is fairly basic and is really just a so-so plot device to create tension.
Jack Taylor, ex-Navy SEAL, is one of those “I can do anything” military MacGyver supermen that parade through throw-away action novels. He’s got some relationship troubles (so he’s not actually Superman); but all in all, he does whatever he wants however he wants. When confronted with his alternate Earth, he’s momentarily confused that this America uses the metric system, but ultimately he adapts in about a half hour to his surroundings. His brilliant wife – who happens to be part hacker, part biker chick while actually the lead scientist on big NASA projects – has her own adventures against a power obsessed general who is basically a one man Illuminati. Together this typical American couple has to try to get Jack back to his own Earth and real timeline.
I know suspension of belief is necessary for the rollercoaster rides of today’s action genre, but even though I thought I was in with the “balloon jump” premise mentioned above, this cliché-ridden construct was ultimately too much schlock for me. I don’t want to impugn Clive Cussler by saying this is Clive Cussler-lite, but that’s what I felt while reading this. If unstoppable heroes in pseudo-science stories are what you’re looking for – and you don’t want to travel to Mars with John Carter – then The Fall is the book for you.
Ok, so I’m a little late to the party, but I finally got here right?
14 by Peter Clines has been on the top of Top 10 Books lists (that I see) since it came out a couple years ago. Every time I’m looking for a new science fiction novel to read, it just waves its little hand and says, “Still here, pick me.” No, I’m looking for that “hidden” gem. If everyone likes it, it can’t be that good. Well after two years or so, I guess I can check out what all the fuss is about. Oh…the fuss is that this is a good book. It’s going on my top ten list – just a few years late.
The story starts innocently enough with Nate. He’s a regular guy that can’t find what to do with his life, has a crappy job, and is looking for cheaper rent. Someone recommends to him an older apartment building with too good to believe fixed prices. The place and the tenants seem nice enough at first blush – even if things do feel just a little odd. Well, after seeing that green cockroach, maybe things are more than a little strange. Some of the neighbors have noticed the “quirks” of the building. Nate assembles a small crew to discover what’s going on, but their amateur prying uncovers more than they bargain for.
The sheer genius of this book is its originality. The dialogue at the beginning is a little campy, but it grows on you. Something like – and this is intentional – a Scooby-Doo mystery. The reader wonders what they’ve gotten themselves into, but by the end, feel like they’re part of the gang. I thought at the start that I was getting a straight down the alley haunted house story. What I got in return was maybe the most original plot that I’ve read in the last 100 books or so. Science fiction is crowded with the same conceits: time travel, trans-dimensional travel, first contacts, interplanetary war. How ’bout something new? Now don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of the familiar in this book; where Peter Clines excels, is that he uses the old ideas with a fresh vision. And I’m thinking he may have the right kind of insight.
There will be no spoilers in this review besides what I’ve already said. (I’m already worried the black vans may pull up any second now.) Just read it. Don’t wait the years to try it. It’s fun. Let me know if it makes your top 10.
There’s no spoilers for Firefight, but if you haven’t read Steelheart yet, then you’ll probably want to skip this.
The second book of the Reckoners series takes the action and the plot to another level but it leaves some of the dialogue charm of the first one behind. This is probably due to the tension inherent in the David/Megan relationship and the switch to another Reckoner cell. However, on a whole, Sanderson has expanded the Reckoner universe in a good way. He gives depth to the characters that have been a little thin up till now. More understanding is brought to the Epics dealing with their powers and the source of them. The ante is raised going from Newcago to Babylon Restored (Manhattan) ruled by the enigmatic Regalia. All in all, Firefight survives the sophomore slump with a strong sense of its own identity.
Following Steelheart’s overthrow in Newcago the Reckoners, led by Jonathan Phaedras, find themselves drawn by clues to Babylon Restored – the mostly underwater remnants of Manhattan island. There Prof and David (now increasingly known as Steelslayer) must figure out Regalia’s plans to keep the city and its many inhabitants from being destroyed. Of course along the way, David wants to find Megan and save her from the corruption of Epic powers. He believes that together she may be able to overcome Firefight. The local Reckoner cell doesn’t make it easy for David to fit in, but they’re all working on the same side….right?
The issue with stories where key characters are getting corrupted by some force is how to keep the characters true during their corruption phase. I felt like Sanderson walked the line with this in Firefight. Prof and Megan’s struggles seemed to sometimes be no big deal and at other times almost without hope. I’m sure this is to keep the tension high in the struggle, but it came off as forced and somewhat arbitrary. Again, I think that this is an issue with first person perspective – trying to reveal the heart of other characters while stuck in the head of the protagonist. But, kudos to Sanderson for at least wrestling with humanity as opposed to just having superheroes with issues. That is what mainstream media keeps offering up as depth.
Like all middle books, there’s still plenty of more answers to be solved. If the third book was already out I’m sure that I would go ahead and read it, but this isn’t the type of series where the months of waiting are going to be taxing…looking at you Patrick Rothfuss. If you like superhero stories or just fun action, these will please.
Mitosis is the short story interlude between Steelheart and Firefight. The main purpose is as a post script to the story in Newcago after Steelheart is slain. It follows the pursuit and destruction of another Epic named Mitosis. The story helps draw the two novels together in a continuous flow. It’s not necessary, but it does bridge the gap well. The reason for mentioning it here is that Mitosis’ story is alluded to several times in Firefight. So much so, that it might do you well to read this brief intertestamental tale. It’s worth the hour of your time.
No author has been more recommended to me – either by friends or computer generated algorithims – than Brandon Sanderson. Apparently he fits so strongly into that science fiction/fantasy wheelhouse that he’s become a must read. I haven’t picked up a book of his until I decided to finally take a flyer on Steelheart. This is probably not the book that would have been suggested for me to start with, but it did its job. I finished it wanting more of the series. As a young adult series (which I didn’t know until after I started), it’s not as deep as some stories out there, but he does a good enough job with character development and unique concepts to pull the reader through.
Times are hard in Newcago – what Chicago became after the Epic Steelheart transmutated the entire metropolis into steel. Epics are humans that have developed superpowers; the downside is that they all are evil. With their enhanced powers, they subjugate the populace for their own pleasure with Steelheart running the show. David was there the day Steelheart came to power. He saw the Epic kill his dad, but not before he saw the seemingly invulnerable Steelheart bleed. Now he holds the secret to bringing Steelheart’s reign to an end. To do this, he must somehow join with the Reckoners, an underground team of Epic hunters, and convince them to help take down the strongest Epic of all.
Steelheart is a fairly fast paced book. Told in first person from David’s perspective, there is a lot of inner monologue from the near-twentysomething, but Sanderson doesn’t get bogged down with the hero’s vengeance or angst over his life. He allows David to continually act. This draws the reader down a story that could have stalled out, but the action keeps it alive. The concept of power corrupting is not a new one, but to introduce it to a superhero world where it corrupts all superheroes into villains is an excellent conceit to generate plenty of fun storylines. In essence, this becomes a dystopia-lite. Sure the Epics run the world, but none of the characters in the book have any more than just a hint of the brokenness that slavery in actuality brings. It’s meant to be a fun soft action book, and it succeeds.
First person books are a pet peeve of mine. They rarely succeed as the author continually has to throw in semi-third person vantages to get the full story across. And they can get too much into the inner life of the hero. Insight is good, a constant monologue is mind numbing. Sanderson does a decent job keeping it light without needing much objectivity thrown in. I know it’s to try to get young readers to put themselves in David’s place, but being passable is not the same as being preferable.
Check it out if your looking for a fun quick “superhero” read. I’ll probably need to get some of Sanderson’s other work to get a full exposure to his style.
This was my thought pattern for about a month before this book came out. When it finally came I out, I pretty much devoured it as fast as I could. I’ve been a fan of Stephenson’s work since a friend gave me a copy of Snow Crash about 15 years ago. His works have gone up and down in story quality even if his writing has always been fairly top notch. Seveneves falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. If you like speculative fiction, you should love this book. If however, you’re looking for a plot that wows with its stunning climax drawing all the threads of the book together, keep looking. In fact, read Stephenson’s Anathem.
The main premise of Seveneves begins when the moon explodes for some uncertain reason. Why the moon has exploded doesn’t really matter that much when the protagonists realize that the moon fragments are going to burn up the Earth’s atmosphere in two years’ time. What matters is that most of the population of the Earth is going to die, and that to survive, a lot of people who are prepared to live for 5000 years off-planet need to get into space. Simple enough, right?
The first two-thirds of this book read like Apollo 13 for the whole human race. It’s fast paced, full of lots of really cool science and common sense. It gets the reader thinking about how they are going to survive massive calamities. Should I even take a toothbrush? Will my bad breath kill someone? Maybe the toothbrush can be a multi-purpose tool? Nah, just use your finger. But really, the author develops so many realistic scenarios that one believes that this exodus into space could really be accomplished. (Editor’s note: It can’t. We would all be toast.) The characters that are put in charge of this Herculean feat are alive and vivid – full of all the nuances you would expect out of them. The drama and suspense suck you in to turning page after page. Even when long explanations of things like “Lagrangian points” and “orbital mechanics” go on for way too long, it builds the intensity of what the extraterrestrial refugees have to go through. It becomes, literally, high drama. I found it very enjoyable.
The last third of the book is a denouement that wants to be its own story. It didn’t succeed. Without giving away any spoilers, it would be hard to divulge much, but the author gets involved in true speculation on a possible future. He develops a great world full of wonderful things, yet the storyline put forth here falls flat. It is if the plot is just a vehicle for world-building ideas. This reads more like a travelogue plus – “just a little bit of character interaction as I tour you around what I have thought up.” This is very unfortunate because up to this point the story had been quick and gripping. It becomes almost a quest of loyalty to the characters to finish the book. I would have felt better if the first part was released without the second part, and a follow up novel that was more thought out was written later.
Oh well, maybe Neal is trying to get some acclaim as a futurist like he did post-Snow Crash. He became renowned for his term Avatar and of his vision of an web-linked society presaging the Internet connected present. Maybe Seveneves will get more people to invest in asteroid mining. (I know I am.) However, my finishing thought was that a lot of really good conceptional work was done for a story that ended a little flat. It was solid writing throughout, it just needed a little more payoff to be top notch. A must read if you’re a Stephenson fan; otherwise, it might not check all your boxes.
Not too long ago I finished the novella Parallel by Anthony Vicino – a fun jolt of SF electricity that should be on everyone’s Saturday afternoon reading list. Being a recent convert to his blog One Lazy Robot, I thought I would contact him to see if he wanted to chat about Parallel, writing, and whatever else. He seemed polite enough once I offered to pitch only softball questions at him. Do you think this whole ISIS war is really a distraction by the Illuminati to keep us from realizing that they’ve gotten Hillary Clinton into office?
Oh yeah, typically I have enough ego to think that if I was walking down the street with the average SF author that most people would think that I was the cool one. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case with Anthony. See that pic up there of that guy climbing upside down on that sweet rock arch? Yep, that’s Anthony showing his awesome science fiction writing skills – and he’s cooler than you. So now you should read his interview…
Let’s start with the title Parallel – I like it for its simplicity, yet it seems to have some depth. Did you go through other title choices?
Like Superman, I only have one weakness: naming things. And bullets. But naming things tends to give me more headaches on a day-to-day basis than bullets, so I put it higher on the Things I Really Dislike Having To Deal With list.
With that disclaimer, I’m really glad you approve of Parallel. Typically I’ll fumble through fifty thousand iterations of a title before I settle on the one that feels right—and then about two weeks later somebody will point out a fundamental flaw with whatever name I had my heart set on and then I’ll have to go with whatever was second on the list. Parallel was no exception. Its working title was Masters of the Universe which I thought was an interesting juxtaposition between Hari and Gerald (who think they’re the masters of their own universe) and Ryol and Falia (who are literally running the show). Thankfully somebody pointed out that Masters of the Universe might confuse readers into thinking this was He-Man fan-fic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but readers would probably leave in a huff of disappointment at the lack of Grayskull references.
One of the reasons I’m so bad at naming things is because I have this obsession with titles that work double duty. In the case of Parallel you get the really obvious connection to parallel universes, but less obvious would be the symmetry in the main characters story arcs.
Hari and Gerald give a fun start to the story. Their friendship helps build the camaraderie of the story. Do you see yourself as one of these guys? Maybe not where they end up, but like someone plugging away at their big break, and hoping not to get killed in the process?
I live in terror of dying on account of my own stupidity. In that way I’ve got a whole lot of Gerald floating around in me. Then again, I’m excitable and prone to poor decision making so I got a little Hari, too. They’re very relatable and that’s part of their appeal. We all know somebody with more brains than common-sense (Hari), and we all know a curmudgeon with a heart-of-gold (Gerald). This makes the story feel familiar and comfortable even though things start getting weird right quick.
Ryol and Falia are a nice “parallel” to these two. Whereas friendship and science seem to bond the guys, the women are bound by family and duty. How was it writing these strong female leads?
It’s been my experience that women tend to have their shit together more-so than men. That’s pulled directly from a lifetime’s worth of careful analysis, by the way (I’ve got enough sisters to make a really bad-ass human pyramid).
Writing strong female leads is a challenge for me. It requires a lot of conscious thought because I want my lady characters to be informed by their gender, not defined by it. I think sci-fi as a genre has struggled with this in the past, but I think there’s been a lot of positive progress made in recent years as writers become more aware of how nuanced gender relations truly are.
One of the things I love about fiction is getting inside a characters head and experiencing dangerous/novel situations from the relative safety of my sweatpants and hammock. Frankly I get tired of always being inside the head of middle-class white dudes. I’ll take the compelling female lead any time.
I really enjoyed the framework of the parallel dimensions. This sci-fi conceit has been used plenty of times by many different authors and screenwriters, but you used it in a very accessible way. Did you have any inspiration for this?
If I’d written Parallel forty years ago it would’ve been a solid twenty pages longer filled with dense info-dumping. Readers back then simply didn’t have the frame of reference for it. I’m lucky that in the past twenty years there have been a lot of great television shows (Sliders and Fringe) playing with this very idea. As a story device it’s been flushed out enough in popular culture that you only have to lay the barest groundwork and people can jump right in and hit the ground running.
The inspiration for Parallel came from reading a bunch of Michio Kaku (one of the leading theoretical physicists dealing with Super-String Theory) and tossing around the idea of free-will versus determinism, and imagining a world where those two concepts were not mutually exclusive.
Speaking of well used tropes which was written completely naturally, the Aurora/computer integration. Felt like this was one of the strongest parts of the story background. Your concept of the data integration to the mind just seemed obvious, but I’ve never quite seen it presented this way before. To me it felt like the natural step to where the future of technology is headed. Is that how you see it? Are future humans going to have more interconnection with computers? What’s the basic breakdown of your thought percentages? (i.e.. 5% to breathing, 40% to getting food, 50% wondering if the Marvel universe is actually good or just better than most low brow entertainment the public is fed, etc.)
Oh man, my thought percentages would be so peculiar. I have pretty severe ADHD so I don’t multi-task very well. I work best when I focus one hundred percent on a single task until it’s finished and then move onto the next thing.
The thing I find fascinating about computer integration is that progress in this area is all about improving efficiency. We already interact with our computing systems (smart phones and computers), but we lose so much potential productivity simply as a consequence of how we’re interacting. The logical step is to remove the barrier between computer and brain, creating a symbiotic relationship between the two.
I deal with this concept a lot in my book Time Heist, because the possibilities are limitless. Researchers have already shown such amazing progress in the field of neuroprosthetics (cochlear implants, motor neuroprosthetics that restore movement to individuals with motor disabilities, visual implants) that it’s hard imagining a future where this technology is not as common place as current smart-phones.
P.S. Let me know when you figure out whether or not Marvel is actually any good. This question keeps me up at night. We might need Aurora on this one.
I’m trying to stay away from spoilers because people should just take the time to read this story. However, I want to know more – more about pretty much everything. I thought the Alliance was a great idea for a SF world. I want to know more about Falia and her fate. I want backstories on Hari and Gerald. I especially want to know more about the Graesians and their integration in and eventually out of the group of dimensional governments. Obviously, the Lenoreans have some explaining to do so we can understand the true Parallel. What the heck is Eitr? Really I just want to know, are we ever going to get to see more from this world? It’s a fast paced novella that has great ideas and quick action. Can we get a more fleshed out novel of this at some point?
I’ll give you this little Easter Egg: I was not the one to coin the word Eitr. On this one, Wikipedia is your friend.
I’ve been surprised by the number of requests for a fully fleshed out book in the Parallel world. I have a story arc simmering in the back of my skull and would love to sit down right this minute and write it up, but unfortunately there are a number of other projects I’ve got to finish before I can revisit that universe. My goal is to write the follow up story by Fall 2016 though, so for those of you planning ahead, put that on the calendar.
Who are you, and what led you to writing some cool science fiction?
Well, I studied Psychology, Religion, and English in college. Then I graduated and realized I didn’t want to do any of that. So I ran off to travel and rock climb. For the last seven years or so that’s what I’ve been doing; working in the rock climbing community and traveling. That was great, but about four years ago it dawned on me that I couldn’t sustain that lifestyle into old age.
I wrote a bunch as a kid, but I never took it very seriously. My dad used to pay me $.10 a word for my short stories on the off-chance I might someday strike it big as a writer. I doubt those stories will ever be worth more than the paper they’re written on, but there’s something valuable in having someone believe in you before even you do.
So about four years ago when I started rethinking my lifestyle choices, I decided to give this writing thing a chance. As for genre, well I’m just a guy that loves spaceships, aliens, and lasers. Science Fiction simply feels like home.
I should be receiving my hard copy of Time Heist shortly. It must be nice having a book to give to people. How do you compare electronic books to traditionally printed books? Like a technological transition of becoming more interconnected with technology, do you think we’re close to where people are falling in love with reading primarily through e-books, or is the full tactile feel of physical books going to be the dominant way people come to love great stories for a while to come?
Excellent, I hope you enjoy Time Heist. If not, well, then you just keep your words in your mouth. Nobody wants to hear about it!
No, I’m just kidding.
Having an actual print book is validating in a lot of ways. Writers spend a lot of time working in solitude, and I think after awhile everybody simply assumes we’re secretly watching cat videos on youtube for hours on end (which we are, but shhh… don’t confirm that rumor). Having an e-book to point to is cool, but it’s still this ephemeral thing floating around the digital aether. People don’t grasp the magnitude of the accomplishment.
But an actual print book? Well, jeepers, that can be used to bludgeon a man. Now we’re talking.
E-books are only going to gain in popularity. The market’s booming growth of a few years back has plateaued, but it’ll continue slowly growing year after year for the foreseeable future. Kindergartners today are being given Ipads, it’s only a matter of time until kids forget what a book looks like altogether.
Does that mean print books will disappear? Nah, I don’t think so. Not anytime soon, at least. I mean hell, vinyl records are making a resurgence and that’s way more niche than books. My guess is that hardcovers will become pricier, printed runs more limited, and physical books on the whole will become akin to collectors items.
Tell me about your upcoming projects. I see you’re working on the Time Heist trilogy. Is this consuming most of your days?
The rest of the Time Heist series has sort of grown into this hydra’esque monster. The Firstborn Saga was originally supposed to be a triptych of trilogies (which would be nine books spread across three trilogies), but I started doing this stupid thing where I would write side-story novellas between each book (which added another 6 books total to the whole Saga). It’s been fun, but it’s tossed a steaming heap of work onto my plate.
Infinity Lost and Mind Breach (books 1.5 and 2 of the Firstborn Saga) are back from my alpha reader and waiting for me to dig into their fourth drafts. While those were away I busied myself by writing a fantasy/alien world novella called Purgatory, and a collection of short stories, a novelette, and a novella dealing with a peculiar assortment of topics ranging from robotic babies to sentient homes and a cryogenically frozen assassin.
All those stories are slated for release this Fall, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in front of the computer recently (none of which is wasted on cat videos, I promise.)
Do you have a “day job”? Or is your writing enough to support you?
I wash windows on occasion (a good excuse to get out of the house and actually interact with other human beings), but otherwise it’s just writing at the moment.
How much has One Lazy Robot helped get your name out there? That’s how I found you. Actually you found me. You “liked” one of my reviews on Childhood’s End, I clicked over to 1LR and thought, “I’m in.” Do you feel like it’s become the primary way to get your stuff out there?
Ah, Arthur C. Clarke, uniting strangers from across the digital void!
Blogging is a great way of getting yourself out there and building a fan-base, especially as a new author trying to gain traction. One Lazy Robot was interesting because it sort of just took off. People seem to like the particular brand of the crack I’m peddlin’ over there, so that’s good, but it’s funny because a lot of my followers don’t even realize I write fiction. Whoops. I’m failing on the self-promotion side of things, I guess. But that’s okay, the internet’s a big place with a lot of people shouting into their cyber-megaphones, begging for you to buy this or that. I don’t want to be that. I’d rather build relationships and put out interesting material. So far it’s been working.
Is science fiction an easier genre to write in or is it easier to get good stories out of it because there is less constraints? Actually, I kind of think science fiction is harder. Here’s why:
Writing regular fiction requires no world building. Throw your story in Anytown, USA and there ya go. Science fiction on the other hand requires you to think long and hard about the world your creating. Sure, it can still be Anytown, USA, but the point of science fiction, besides being entertaining, (in my opinion) is to think about the interplay between society and technology.
What will the world of tomorrow look like once we all have brainchips connecting us to big computers?
What happens to the economy on Earth when we set off to colonize other worlds?
These are the questions science fiction should be trying to tackle. If you’re just throwing lasers and aliens in the story for the cool explosions, well, then you’re the literary equivalent of Michael Bay. That’s not an insult, but it’s also not really a compliment.
Sidenote: I am totally guilty of gratuitous action, lasers, and aliens in pretty much all my stories. Do as I say, not as I do.
With that said, I think science fiction is way more fun to write than any other genre. And in the end, if you’re not having fun, why bother?
Do you want to be a science fiction writer or just an author?
I’ll write in any genre, but I seem to be carving a niche for myself in sci-fi. I have a Young Adult Urban Fantasy series tentatively named Deathtectives (this name will almost certainly be changed before release day) coming out next Spring, and I’m really excited to test the waters in that genre.
What’s the SF book, movie, and TV series people should read and watch?
Hannibal for TV series.
Inception for movies.
Altered Carbon – Richard K. Morgan
Any authors that you think readers should discover?
Right now I’m really digging on Lauren Beukes. She’s not new to the genre, but damn I love her voice/style.
Are you worried about the robot uprising? If so, what’s your odds on guess for how long we have?
A friend of mine works on a DARPA funded machine learning project and she assures me we are a long ways away from the robot uprising. Then again, that’s precisely what I would expect the robot’s right-hand woman to say so I’m gonna say: imminent.
Are we better off trying to go through a dimensional rift or discover FTL travel?
Both: Go through a dimensional rift to a world where they’ve already discovered FTL travel.
Sometimes it’s fun to just randomly pick out a new story to read from out of the ether. I did that this week when I picked up this little SF novella Parallel by Anthony Vicino. He’s the author of a blog I check out from time to time: One Lazy Robot. This is the first work of his that I’ve read, and it was a lot of fun!
Parallel is a nice bundle of clever science fiction ideas all thrown together in one short tale. It starts when two friends open a rift into a parallel dimension linking Earth to a much bigger cosmos (cosmi?) than they personally bargained for. I don’t want to give away too much, but to say it’s an explosive and entertaining story that will leave you wanting much more of this world and the culture it brings with it. I don’t know if Mr. Vicino has plans to develop the worlds of the Alliance more in any future work, but the fragments given here do tantalize.
All in all the pacing of the story is quick. The dialogue between the friends Hari and Gerald is corny enough to have the ring of truth between guys, and it helps the reader engage. There is a lot here from plot lines to just scene dynamics that could use fleshing out. The writing is a little unpolished, but its charisma goes a long way. You have the time to check this out. It’s worth it.