Brilliance and Shadow Ops – The Search For The Perfect Mutation

When I was a kid I loved the X-Men. They were my favorite superheroes and I watched all the cartoons and read all the comics. Now many years later, that love has in no way diminished. In fact it has likely grown. So when I discovered multiple books about mutants I was very excited. The book series I discovered are Shadow Ops by Mike Cole and Brilliance by Marcus Sakey. The books focus on very different elements of mutations and society, and both come away with different flavors of story.

Lets start with Shadow Ops. The book is about a world where when mutations start occurring, all of the mutants are either co-opted into the military or killed in order to protect the normal population. Mutations come in two groups, acceptable and forbidden. The acceptable mutations are elemental magic (fire, earth, air, water) and the unacceptable tend to deal with some weirder things such as necromancy, and making portals. Our protagonist is a military mutant hunter who manifests one of the forbidden mutations, and to deal with going from hunter to hunted. These books jump head first into the human vs. mutant theme with a military flavor. It is very clear from the onset that Mike Cole has some familiarity with armed services and the book blends mutation and military fiction very well. I have no experience with any armed forces, but I still found the book very accessible and interesting. I have found there is a tendency in military books for authors to get bogged down in very minute detail of army procedure, which I felt this book avoided for the most part. The real pull of Shadow Ops is that Myke Cole made a world that blends military and mutation really well. The army and the mutants both feel like they are equal forces to be respected in the books and gives them both equal time in the spotlight. Each book in the trilogy follows a different protagonist as you get to see both different mutations and jobs within the army structure. While I had a few problems with pacing, the books left me very satisfied and I definitely recommend.

The second mutant series I looked into is a bit weirder. Brilliance, on top of having a gorgeous cover, is another story about mutants: but not your standard variety. In the world of Brilliance, mutations don’t give you superpowers. Instead they make you really good at things like accounting. Now if you are like me you are thinking “What? That sounds super boring.”, but bare with me. Brilliance is a different kind of story than Shadow Ops. Mutants in Brilliance gain powers like being able to think in computer code, making them the best programmers in the world, or being able to intuitively understand cause and effect in human actions, making some people super detectives. Marcus Sakey created a world where 1% of the population is making 99% of the rest of the world obsolete in a non-violent manner and it leads to some truly fascinating scenarios. One example is one of the mutants is able to understand the patterns of stocks and bonds and as a result amasses hundreds of billions of dollars on the stock market; essentially crashing the economy. All of these mutants change the world around them in thought provoking ways, while unintentionally ruining the lives of 99 people around them. This inevitably leads to conflict between mutants and humans and the book follows the conflict as it grows. For someone who is looking for an interesting take on superpowers or mutations I highly recommend.

While I enjoy both of these mutant series a lot, I find myself still desiring something more. Both of the stories focus on the human vs. mutant element which is the standard go to in mutant stories. I would love to see a series in the future that focused more on the intense mutant on mutant rivalries that occur in the X-Men between Magneto and Prof X. The fact that these two series have come out recently, and done so well, gives me hope that new authors might come up with ideas for mutants I haven’t even thought of. Regardless, I recommend both of these series and encourage anyone looking for a good time to pick them up.

Shadow Ops: 7.0/10

Brilliance: 7.0/10

P.S. As a bonus, another good mutant/superpower book that I have already written about is Vicious by V. E. Schwab. If you are looking for even more mutant/superpower action you can find it here.

Wool – If Depression Was a Book…

So I just finished Wool by Hugh Howey and I was left somewhat stumped on how to review it. On the one hand, the book was very well written. On the other hand I didn’t really enjoy it for personal reasons. As such, the following is going to be a rather odd review, but let us first start with a rundown of what the book is about.

Wool is the story of a ruined Earth. The air has become so poisonous that to go outside results in a rather quick and horrible death. To deal with this, the remains of humanity live in a giant silo underground where, with strict resource management, they have managed to survive the holocaust outside for hundreds of years. However, the difficulties of living in the silo are not really a factor of the material, but the psychological. See, the only knowledge of the outside that the inhabitants of the silo have are one or two camera feeds that depict a desolate wasteland outside. As such, over time many start to wonder if the outside of the silo is really what it seems. To wonder what it is really like outside the silo is regarded as a damnable offense, and the punishment is extremely fitting; you are let outside. It is in this way that curious individuals get to learn the truth of their world and have the “wool” removed from their eyes.

The book is about the psychological pressures and perils of living in this closed community, and it runs like a giant psychology experiment. It is incredibly well written, layering mystery and revelations on top of one another. The book has five parts, each revealing new twists and turns of the society and how it functions. I have a masters in psychology (and by this I mean it is a passion of mine), and I feel that Hugh Howey did an incredible job setting up some of the most interesting psychological interactions I have ever read about. In addition, the life in the silo is well documented and fascinating. The descriptive prose of the 150ish floor safe house is stunning and I got a great feel for what this marvel of science must be like. However, none of this really mattered to me in the end because the book is depressing as hell.

I think it is important to distinguish between a book that it is sad and a book that is depressing. Sad books are great. When a beloved character dies, or something horrible happens, it is a sign of incredible writing. The ability to make you care about a fictitious character is an art, and I love it when authors can make me feel sorrow for the loss of a character. Making a depressing book like Wool is equally impressive but not at all fun. Wool left me crushed and filled with despair. This book is not about finding a magical cure for the world. This book is about a small group of people trying to survive the worst thing to happen in human history, and it going poorly. I feel that there was supposed to be a theme in the book, reminiscent of the original Jurassic Park (“nature finds a way”), about tenacity and surviving in the face of utter extinction. Instead I just ended up feeling like I probably would have killed myself in this horrible madhouse of a silo to simply end all the pain and suffering. This was the sign that,maybe, this book was not for me.

I again want to state that this was a great book but way outside the bounds of what I find enjoyable. If you like post-apocalyptic stories about survival, or the silo concept sounds cool, I recommend you pick it up and give it a read. However, if you are very empathetic to the plights of characters like I am, or find books can have deep emotional effects on you, I do not recommend.

Rating: 6.0/10.0

Hannu Rajaniemi: Collected Fiction – Something for Every Kind of Sci-Fi Fan

In between the larger books I read for review, and for my own personal enjoyment, I like to read smaller works to fill my down time on the subway or right before I go to sleep. As such I decided to pick up a collection of short stories to kill time. Enter Hannu Rajaniemi. Hannu is the author of the critically acclaimed Quantum Thief trilogy; a hard sci-fi series about a quantum thief (a profession I am still not entirely clear on). Unfortunately for Hannu, I have heard very mixed things about the Quantum Thief trilogy ranging from love to hate. As such, I figured I could kill two birds with one stone by checking out his writing in his collected fiction and gain some smaller pieces to read while I traveled.

And it turns out that Hannu Rajaniemi’s Collected Fiction is definitely good enough to kill at least two birds, probably three (which is how I will now possibly be rating books). The first thing I will say about the book is that it has something for everyone. Hannu is extremely creative and has a ton of great ideas. As such, the book is filled with a plethora of stories from every kind of sci-fi, some fantasy, and even things like horror and historical fiction. I found myself excited for my next train ride to find out what tale I would get to next and how I would like it on the spectrum of things. There were stories about ghost astronauts, dragons who are bffs with computer servers, cyber gods, a voodoo identity crisis, magical fish, cyber plagues, transdimensional dogs, histories of planets, and much more.

On that note, I found the stories to be of varying levels of enjoyment. However, I found that my enjoyment of the tales very often had to do with my taste, as the stories that I liked less were simply about subjects that I did not find interesting. Additionally, there were only a few stories I did not like. For the most part my feelings of the stories ranged from good to great. Hannu seemed to do very well in a short story medium, packing tons of excitement and emotions into quick reads. The tales all felt like they fit the short fiction medium, and the works felt like they had the impact of larger novels despite their small size. The writing was clean and the prose was good; showcasing worlds, science, and magic from tons of stories to a dazzling effect.

I will say that after reading the collected fiction I can understand where some of the Quantum Thief criticisms came from. Hannu seems to focus on explosive creativity and wild ideas much more so than structured world building and clear plot. This is in no way is a bad thing, and it serves to make the books more fantastical to those who go into it with a desire to flex their imagination. That being said, at times the workings of the stories went over my head and in multiple instances I found myself wondering if I missed information due to a lack of technological know-how.

Despite this, Hannu’s collected fiction has inspired me to both pick up the Quantum Thief and to explore other collections of short stories as I found his tales much more satisfying that I expected. If you want to dream of other worlds and scientific marvels, and want to do it in bite size pieces, I highly recommend checking out Hannu Rajaniemi’s Collected Fiction.

Rating: 3 dead birds and 7.0/10

Daniel Abraham And The Importance Of Creativity

This month my book club read Leviathan Wakes, I just finished reading The Widow’s House, and I am about to start reading Nemesis Games. All three of these books were written or co-written by the author Daniel Abraham, so I thought it might be a good time to take a moment to appreciate one of the weirder and more creative fantasy/sci-fi authors out there.

As I have already said, Daniel Abraham is a strange writer. He has three main bodies of work so far that are all wildly different from most novels in a wonderful way. Abraham is not the best writer I have read. His characters can tend to fall a little flat, his prose needs a little work, and the plethora of other attributes that make up excellent writing can sometimes be a little absent. However, when you read his work you likely won’t even notice these flaws because each of his books are so interesting, exciting, and strange that they will distract you from any problems the books may have.

20350308Lets start with the weirdest of his work, The Long Price Quartet. These books are about… well it is almost impossible to describe. My best one line summary would be “battle poets” but this falls woefully short. The books take place in a world where abstract ideas can be captured via poetry into deities that give the writer complete dominion over that idea. An example of these deities is Seedless, the first one we meet in book 1. Seedless encoumpasses the idea of “lacking a seed” and while that may sound obvious, he can do a number of incredible things. He brings untold wealth to the city of his home by speeding up crop harvest with his ability to remove seeds. But he also represent a weapon of mass destruction to keep foreign armies away because he could make an entire continent barren (wombs without seeds) with a thought.

However, there is a drawback to having these god-ideas as your slave. The deities are always trying to escape the poem that imprisoned them, constantly trying to kill the men and women who captured them. This coupled with the fact that an idea can only be captured by a poem once makes the lives of the poets awful as they either try to find new ideas no one has thought of to bind, or hold the idea they have bound and not get murdered. The long price in the title refers to the cost of a poet’s failing, the cost being a horrific death somehome relating to the abstract idea in their poem. The books continue to get stranger as they go and are truly one of the most unique reads I have ever had.

Next up we have The Dagger and Coin, an epic fantasy about the power of money and subterfuge. This five book story is about a dangerous cult that starts sweeping a world and the people who fight to stop it. The book is heavily focused on the economy and the inner workings of finance. That may sounds dull to some of you, but I promise that Abraham finds a way to make working at a bank house seem exciting and eventful. In addition to its economic focus, the book is set in a world with not one, not two, but thirteen races with major differences; in addition to there also being a 14th race of dragons. Abraham actually published a small piece on the taxonomy of the races that can be found here.

There is a lot of moral grey space in this series, and I honestly find myself relating to one of the “villains” of the story more than anyone else. I would say that these books contain Abraham’s strongest characters out of his series, as all the different players in the book feel like by products of their environment and behave and think in very different ways. The books also go out of their way to defy typical fantasy tropes, such as being a “child of destiny”. If you are looking for something new and different, but are uncomfortable straying as far from the path as the long price, I recommend this series.

Finally, we have my personal favorite of the lot, The Expanse series. The Expanse is written both by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, and is a going to be a 9 part space opera. By space opera, I mean a sci fi novel that focuses more on human emotion and interaction that hard science fiction. Each of the books is devoted to different major themes that are explored both literally and metaphorically in the books. The themes cover some topics such as Human arrogance and mastery of the universe, unrestrained science, utilitarianism, manifest destiny, and the list goes on. The books are wildly creative and paint a vivid picture of a human race that has colonized the solar system and slowly redefined allegiances based on the planet of origin.

Leviathan Wakes (the first book) was the single highest rated book my club has read so far (with my personal rating of a 10/10). The appeal comes from all the things I said above, but also from the fact that the stories are probably the most intense and exciting books I have ever read. They are the very definition of edge of the seat excitement and I found I was having literal adrenaline rushes as I read them. The first book revolves around a missing girl, an international conspiracy, and an unknown pathogen reeking havoc on the solar system. From this starting platform the story devolves into further and further mess as people fight to survive in the crazy universe that Abraham and Franck have written.

Daniel Abraham is not the best writer I have ever read, but he is certainly one of the most creative. This creativity expanded the scope of my imagination while reading books, which is not a small feat. If you feel like you keep reading the same book, or you are looking for something to go beyond the bounds of your imagination, or you just think any of the concepts I described were cool, I implore you to read something by Daniel Abraham.