Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Neptune's Brood - Charles Stross

Neptune’s Brood
A Space Opera
Charles Stross

Krina Alizond-114 is a metahuman on a mission.  So far, her mission has lasted thirty years.  It’s not a problem, since she can download and upload her soul chip into new bodies as necessary.  She’s worried about her sibling, Ana, who dropped out of sight without warning.  Searching for Ana means travelling to various planetary systems; not really what Krina wants to be doing.  As a banker, she’s used to the soothing regularity of spreadsheets, not strange places with strange beings.  But she’s afraid that something has happened to Ana.
Finding transport to her next planetary system isn’t easy, and she’s forced to take a work-fare on a chapel ship that’s headed in the right direction.  The Chapel of Our Lady of the Holy Restriction Endonuclease is dedicated to seeding the stars with the Fragile.  The Fragile are real, biological humans; a species that has an alarming tendency to go extinct when dropped into foreign ecosystems.  It should be a boring trip, full of drudgery.  Instead, the chapel ship is boarded by pirates.  Taken on board the pirate ship, run by Count Rudi, is really only the beginning of the adventure.
The universe of this book is based on a simple concept: everything begins and ends with the creation and retirement of debt.  If you have any background in accounting/bookkeeping, there’s a lot here to amuse you.  If you know nothing about accounting or the economics of doing business over vast distances of space and time, don’t worry: Krina will explain it all to you.  If you can read this without having Monty Python’s “Accountancy Shanty” running through your head at odd moments (and there are many) then you’re stronger than I am.

The action moves to different places across the stars.  Each planet and society is different, and, for all the alien-ness (for lack of a better word) seems completely realistic.  This can be read as a straight space opera, a science fiction adventure, a personal journey, a mystery to be unraveled, or all of these.  The narration contains quite a bit of dry humor for those who care to tease it out of the language.  That just adds another dimension to the whole.  The plot continues to unwrap itself, layer by layer, throughout the book.  There’s really never a dull moment.  This is what every scifi novel wants to be: a completely unique and memorable experience.
Rating: 9
July 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-25677-0 (hardcover)

Also by Charles Stross:



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rubbed Out - Riley Adams

Rubbed Out
A Memphis BBQ Mystery
Riley Adams
Berkley Prime Crime
The Rock and Rib barbeque competition happens every spring in Memphis.  As the owner of Aunt Pat’s, a local bbq restaurant, Lulu Taylor isn’t in the competition.  She’s just there to support the Graces – Cherry, Flo, and Evelyn - three of her friends who work as docents at nearby Graceland.  Despite the fact that the theme of the competition is inexplicably an Eastern European country, the Graces have decorated their booth with tons of Elvis.  No one who knows them would expect anything different.  What’s unexpected is their next-door-booth neighbor, Reuben Shaw.  Reuben is sure that he knows everything about everything and seems delighted to put down his fellow competitors with snide remarks.
When his venom turns on his own teammates, things get dicey.  Lulu and the Graces race next door in time to find Brody Jenson holding Reuben by the throat.  Apparently Reuben impugned the honor of Brody’s wife, Sharon, who is standing on a table to try to escape the fray.  Cherry, ever the practical Grace, knocks Reuben over the head with a plaster Elvis she just happened to grab on her way over.  That breaks up the melee.  It also marks Cherry as a great suspect when she and Lulu find Reuben dead later that evening.
This is the fourth installment in an always-entertaining series, following DELICIOUS AND SUSPICIOUS, FINGER LICKIN’ DEAD, and HICKORY SMOKED HOMICIDE.  The construction of the mystery story is classic: beginning with a close-up of the victim and suspects and eventually spiraling outward to encompass past events and motives.  There are plenty of suspects to keep things lively and another murder to solve before the end.  As fun as the mystery is, it’s the characters that endear this series to me.  They’re all realistic characters who (in many cases) have known each other for years.  Some are more eccentric than others, but they have a sense of community, family, and decency that makes this reader wish that a visit to Memphis and Aunt Pat’s was in the cards.  I’m happy to report that this series only gets stronger with each book.  I hope to be able to hang around with this bunch for a good, long time.

Rating: 7 ½
July 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-25999-3 (paperback)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Boy Nobody - Allen Zadoff

Boy Nobody
Allen Zadoff
Little, Brown and Company
Thriller/Young Adult

It’s one thing to be the new kid in school in the middle of a school year.  It’s something very different when you’re there in order to carry out a mission.  The mission is pretty standard: assimilate, eliminate the target, then fade away again.  In this case, the target is the mayor of New York City.  He has no idea why he’s been ordered to terminate the mayor, nor should he care.  But when he meets the mayor’s daughter, Samara, he begins to privately question what he’s doing and why.  Samara is beautiful and very intelligent.  The mayor is her only living parent.  He wonders how she’ll cope if he succeeds. 

Doubt is not allowed in The Program.  They recruited him at the age of 12, educated him, and trained him to be the top operative that he is.  For years, he’s done the jobs he’s been given without question.  Now 16, he’s beginning to think beyond the scope of the mission.  That puts him in danger of failing; and failure can be deadly.
This is a thriller written for a young adult audience, but it’s very easy to forget that.  The story is told from his (we don’t find out his name until very late in the game, since he hasn’t used it in years) perspective, and the first-person narration makes everything much more immediate.  His developing feelings for Samara illustrate his youth and inexperience with anything approaching a normal life.  The writing is fluid and the pace is lightning-fast.  The story is complete in this novel, but there’s clearly room for sequels.  I’d like to see where Boy Nobody goes from here.

Rating: 7 ½
June 2013
ISBN# 978-0-316-19968-1 (hardcover)