When Australian astronaut, Jack, crashlands on a planet during a mission and is the only survivor, he fears the worst. What he finds is a planet surprisingly similar to Earth–even speaking English–only with a culture of peace and non-violence. Seeking to survive as a homeless person, he starts busking with a guitar he finds, playing Earth songs. Before he knows it, he’s discovered and becomes a rock star, introducing the planet to Earth’s greatest rock songs, while claiming to have written them himself. But rock star is an awfully high profile for someone who is technically an alien.
This was my final accepted ARC from 2014, and I think it’s a fitting review for the last day of 2014 here on Opinions of a Wolf. This was an interesting read that kept me moderately entertained, although it wasn’t the rollicking good time I was initially expecting.
The book jumps right in to Jack as already a rock star on Heaven (the alien planet) and tells of his arrival and how he became famous through a series of flashbacks. This nonlinear storytelling works well with the plot. Starting with semi-familiar rock star territory, the book slowly reveals what is different about this planet, as well as about Jack.
It is evident that this was originally a three part series, as the plot consists of three distinct parts that, while connected, keep the book from having an overarching gradual build-up of suspense. Jack has three distinct episodes of action, and that lends the book and up and down quality that feels a bit odd in one novel. I actually think I might have enjoyed the book more if it was kept as a trilogy with each part’s plot fleshed out a bit and the overarching conflict made more evident. An overarching conflict does exist, but it is so subtle that the opportunity to build suspense is mostly missed.
Personally, Jack didn’t work for me as a main character. While I don’t mind viewing the world through a bad guy’s eyes, I usually enjoy that most when I get a lot of depth and insight into who that person is. Jack holds everyone, including the reader, at arm’s length, so I both saw the world through his objectifying eyes and couldn’t really get to know him at all. That said, I can definitely see some readers enjoying Jack and his viewpoint. He lends the unique ability to let people see the world both through a rock star’s eyes and through an astronaut’s. A reader who is into both famous people’s biographies/autobiographies and scifi would probably really enjoy him.
Similarly, the humor in the book just didn’t strike my funny bone. I could recognize when it’s supposed to be humorous, but I wasn’t actually amused. I know other people would find it funny, though. Readers expecting a Douglas Adams style humor would be disappointed. Those who enjoy something like Knocked Up would most likely appreciate and enjoy the humor.
There are certain passages that sometimes struck me as a sour note among the rest of the writing. Perhaps these are passages that would be humorous to other readers, but to me just felt odd and out of place in the rest of the writing. Most of the writing at the sentence level worked for me. It was just the right tone for the story it was telling. But periodically there are passages such as the one below that made me gnash my teeth:
Natalie is a rare beauty. A creature of potent sexuality. Someone you would step over your dying mother to penetrate. (loc 8803)
I take a seat in McCarthy’s desk chair. It’s comfortable. Luxurious in the way a set of stainless steel steak knives might feel to a psychopath. It’s beautiful and firm and smells nice, but in the wrong hands this chair could be used for evil. (loc 6821)
Again, perhaps this is humor that just didn’t work for me. I’m not certain. If you like the concept of the rest of the book, there are only a few of these passages that are easy to pass over. If you enjoy them and find them humorous, then you will most likely enjoy the book as a whole as well.
Overall, this is a piece of scifi with the interesting idea of turning an Earth astronaut into a rock star on another parallel planet. Potential readers should be aware that the book was originally told in three parts, and that is evident in the book. They should also be aware that the main character is both a self-centered rock star and a self-centered astronaut, while this viewpoint may work for some, it will not work for others. Recommended to those who enjoy both celebrity autobiographies/biographies and scifi who can overlook some bizarro coincidences.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
When out-of-work actor Lorenzo Smythe is approached in a bar by a space pilot with a job offer, he agrees to at least go meet the man’s boss and discuss it. Quickly, however, Lorenzo finds himself being kidnapped into outer space and impersonating a missing important politician, John Joseph Bonforte, under slight duress. They must keep the public from knowing the politician has been kidnapped and successfully participate in a Martian adoption ceremony or face interplanetary war.
I was excited to pick up another Heinlein, and he definitely didn’t disappoint. Similar to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein presents a delightful mix of wit, Hollywood glamor, and thought-provoking political speeches all in a well-imagined and engaging future society.
In this version of the future, space exploration has led to the discovery of inhabited other planets and two distinctly different opinions on how to interact with those lifeforms. Either dominate in a manifest destiny style or come to mutual cultural understanding and trade. The politician Smythe must impersonate, Bonforte, is the leader of the latter faction. This novel could easily have turned preachy with such a premise, but Smythe himself isn’t too keen on being friends with the aliens. As an actor, he is committed to playing his role beautifully. As a person, he isn’t sure he agrees with Bonforte. This position allows Heinlein to explore both sides of the question, as well as the gray area in-between. No easy answers are presented, but slowly what is more just is revealed.
Juxtaposed with the political plot is the whole aspect of Smythe being an actor who believes fully in his craft as an artform. Smythe takes himself very seriously even when others do not. At first, others view him as full of himself, but slowly they come to respect him and his talents. Smythe’s large self-esteem may at first cause the reader to roll their eyes as well, but it gradually becomes apparent that having confidence in yourself and your abilities as a professional is not a bad thing.
I was a professional, retained to do a very difficult professional job, and professional men do not use the back stairs; they are treated with respect. (loc 1660)
Although characters at first seem two-dimensional, the main characters slowly become more fleshed out and well-rounded. Nothing and no one is quite as simple as it at first seems, and Smythe is a great example of that.
What really makes the book, though, is its unexpected wit. It’s not so much a laugh out loud book, but it’s very much a snort of amusement style of humor that takes the book from interesting to highly enjoyable.
My vocal cords lived their own life, wild and free. (location 40)
I was as angry as a leading woman with her name in small type. (location 1068)
The romance lacked creativity or sparkle. It is easy to spot the instant it comes up, but it doesn’t come across as natural or meant to be. It mostly feels like the woman transferring her affection for Bonforte onto Smythe. I found it a bit squicky that she fails to ever really see Smythe as Smythe, not even after falling in love with him. Thankfully, the romance is an incredibly minor part of the book. The book is also slightly dated by the overwhelming presence of paper and microfilm. We’re talking the spaceship has a library with print books and microfilm. In general even classic scifi tends to imagine a future with at least slightly different versions of books and information exchange. I found it a bit odd that Heinlein failed to do that.
The ending is not unexpected entirely but it is satisfying and with enough fun details to entertain. Of the various options for an ending to this story, the one Heinlein took is enjoyable and makes sense within the world he has created.
Overall, this is a fun piece of classic scifi that tosses together acting and politics in outer space with Martians who look like toadstools and a heavy sprinkling of wit. The romance leaves something to be desired, and the tech isn’t particularly predictive or imaginative, but these are minor aspects of the story. Recommended to fans of witty scifi who don’t mind a dash of political intrigue.
4 out of 5 stars
Miriam Black is an early 20-something drifter with bleach blonde hair and a surprising ability to hold her own in a fight. She also knows when and precisely how you’re going to die. Only if you touch her skin-on-skin though. And it’s because of this skill that Miriam became a drifter. You try dealing with seeing that every time you touch someone. But when a kind trucker gives her a lift and in her vision of his death she hears him speak her name, her entire crazy life takes an even crazier turn.
This is one of those books that is very difficult to categorize. I want to call it urban fantasy, but it doesn’t have much supernatural about it, except for the ability to see deaths. The world isn’t swimming in vampires or werewolves of goblins. I also want to call it a thriller what with the whole try to stop the trucker from dying bit but it’s so much more than chills and whodunit (or in this case, who will do it). Its dark, gritty style reminds me of Palahniuk, so I suppose what might come the closest would be a Palahniuk-esque urban fantasy lite thriller. What I think sums it up best, though, is a quote from Miriam herself:
It starts with my mother….Boys get fucked up by their fathers, right? That’s why so many tales are really Daddy Issue stories at their core, because men run the world, and men get to tell their stories first. If women told most of the stories, though, then all the best stories would be about Mommy Problems. (location 1656)
So, yes, it is all of those things, but it’s also a Mommy Problems story, and that is just a really nice change of pace. Mommy Problems wrapped in violence and questioning of fate.
The tone of the entire book is spot on for the type of story it’s telling. Dark and raw with a definite dead-pan, tongue-in-cheek style sense of humor. For instance, each chapter has an actual title, and these give you a hint of what is to come within that chapter, yet you will still somehow manage to be surprised. The story is broken up by an interview with Miriam at some other point in time, and how this comes into play with the rest of the storyline is incredibly well-handled. It’s some of the best story structuring I’ve seen in a while, and it’s also a breath of fresh air.
Miriam is also delightful because she is unapologetically ribald and violent. This is so rare to find in heroines.
We’re not talking zombie sex; he didn’t come lurching out of the grave dirt to fill my living body with his undead baby batter. (location 2195)
As a female reader who loves this style, it was just delightful to read something featuring a character of this style who is also a woman. It’s hard to find them, and I like that Wendig went there.
While I enjoyed the plot structure, tone, and characters, the extreme focus on fate was a bit iffy to me. There were passages discussing fate that just fell flat for me. I’m also not sure of how I feel about the resolution. However, I’m also well aware that this is the beginning of a series, so perhaps it’s just that the overarching world rules are still a bit too unclear for me to really appreciate precisely what it is that Miriam is dealing with. This is definitely the first book in the series in that while some plot lines are resolved, the main one is not. If I’d had the second book to jump right into I would have. I certainly hope that the series ultimately addresses the fate question in a satisfactory way, but at this point it is still unclear if it will.
Overall, this is a dark, gritty tale that literally takes urban fantasy on a hitchhiking trip down the American highway. Readers who enjoy a ribald sense of humor and violence will quickly latch on to this new series. Particularly recommended to readers looking for strong, realistic female leads.
4 out of 5 stars
When Josey arrives a secluded trailer park near Albuquerque to empty their septic tank, it soon becomes apparent that not all is right in the park. In fact, most of the residents have turned to zombies. As Josey’s fight for survival goes on, we meet a quirky cast of survivors, bystanders, perpetrators–and zombies: illegal immigrants who call the valley home, their exploitative factory boss, a WWII veteran and grandpa, his young grandson, a paraplegic Vietnam Vet, a boa constrictor, bicycling missionaries, and many more. Will anyone survive the valley of death?
I have finally found the exception to my don’t-take-book-recommendations-from-other-people rule: my daddy. My dad texted me and told me he was reading a book about a zombie trailer park and asked if I’d like to borrow it when he was done. I couldn’t turn that down, so he sent his kindle loan to me as soon as he was finished reading it. I knew within the first few pages that my dad had picked a winner. That really shouldn’t surprise me, because, well, it’s my dad, and we’re very similar, but I had been burned a few times with book recommendations recently. Anyway. On to the review!
Bebb’s book is a fresh, engaging take on a zombie outbreak. The origin is a factory error, which is decidedly different from the more usual government experimentation or voodoo approach. It’s great commentary on the exploitative practices of factories, not to mention the exploitation of illegal immigrants, without ever being too heavy-handed or preachy. The zombies are a mix of the rage virus and traditional undead. Before dying they are inexplicably full of rage and will eat almost anything but also when they die they reanimate. It’s a cool mix, and I enjoyed it.
The cast of characters is incredibly imaginative, diverse, and even-handed. People are truly just people (or zombies) regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. And, really, how many books can say they have a WWII vet, a sewer truck worker, a mechanically talented Latina, a wheelchair-bound obese meth chef, a loyal dog, bicycling missionaries, and a pot-growing paraplegic Vietnam Vet. I mean, really. And none of them are two-dimensional caricatures either. They are all well-rounded and presented with thought and humanity. I also never had that problem I sometimes have in books where you can’t tell the different characters apart. Everyone was entirely unique and easy to remember.
The plot is complex. I honestly did not know how it was going to end, and it maintains a fast pace throughout. I was never bored and was never entirely certain what was going to happen next. That’s coming from a big zombie fan, so I do think that’s saying something significant about the uniqueness of the engaging plot.
What really makes the book, though, is the sprinkling of humor throughout. This type of humor won’t match everyone, but it certainly works for me. I described it to my dad as “Patrick F. McManus with zombies,” but if you don’t get that reference, it’s hard to describe the humor. So, here are a couple of quotes from the book to demonstrate it.
Your average one armed pot growing hermit who just murdered two men might be thinking about a variety of things. (location 2592)
Crazy cop fuckers done bit off my titty! (location 5423)
That second one….oh man. I laugh every time I see it.
So with all this love, why not five stars? Well, much to Bebb’s chagrin, I’m sure, there aren’t enough commas. (His author’s intro states that previous reviews said there were too many and now people will probably think there are too few. Sorry to confirm that suspicion, Bebb!) Compound sentences tend to run on and on with no commas or semi-colons, which can be a bit frustrating to read. Also, the book isn’t quite properly formatted for the kindle. Its display varies from section to section. Similarly, while some sections are clearly divided by a dividing line (such as with tildes “~~~~”), others just have a big gap, which is not what one should use for ebooks. With the variety of ereaders, it’s important to use something besides space as a signal that the reader has entered a new section, since the space can display drastically differently on different readers. It’s best to use something like the tildes between sections. Using empty space is a holdover from print that doesn’t work. Bebb did use the tilde line in some sections, but not all, so there’s also a bit of a consistency problem.
Overall, though, the formatting and comma issues did not distract me from the wonderfully unique and humorous zombie trailer park story. I’m so glad my dad discovered this indie author and passed his work on to me, and I look forward to reading more of it in the future. Highly recommended to all zombie fans, provided you like the type of humor outlined above.
4 out of 5 stars
Note: It’s currently listed for free!
ETA: Had a delightful email convo with the author, and we determined that I read an older version of the book. The current one available should have mostly cleared up editing/layout concerns.
Diana doesn’t have much going for her–a bad job and perpetual unwanted singledom, plus she’s been sleeping on friend’s couches since losing her apartment. So when a room in a building with a quirky landlord shows up, she grabs it instantly. Only to discover that a monster called Vom the Hungry is in her closet waiting for her to let him out, at which point he will probably eat her. In fact, the whole building is oddly connected to other dimensions full of monsters, creatures, mayhem, and madness….not to mention tentacles.
I obviously had to read this book. The cover has tentacles on it, and it’s clearly a Lovecraftverse story. These are both basically automatic must reads in Amanda-land.
The storyline is fairly straight-forward as far as the Lovecraftverse goes. There’s a place where the lines between dimensions and reality fade and threaten mere humans with madness. The monsters that Diana meets within her own apartment are fairly creative. There’s Vom the Hungry who is pretty endearing, there’s the hedgehog looking guy (whose name I can’t remember and can’t look up because: audiobook) who spawns copies of himself when he’s upset, and of course there’s the giant floating eye with tentacles who tries very hard to be prim and proper. They’re creative and funny.
The foes–the cult of the moon god–are not so creative. They’re your typical moon-loving shapeshifters, and the moon god even has three forms just like a certain other god of a religion we’re all familiar with. Compared to the creativity of the apartment and the apartment’s monsters, it just doesn’t feel like a worthy foe.
Similarly, although I liked Diana and the world she’s living in, she has basically no backstory. I have a hard time believing she’d have such an easy time mostly abandoning her friends and family from her time prior to the apartment. I can believe she’s not afraid and can handle the horrors, but it’d be nice if we got at least a toss-up to the concept of her having a family or even a mention of estrangement from them, if that’s the case. That doesn’t happen, so I was left feeling that Diana is very two-dimensional.
Given these elements, I’m sure I would have skimmed through it very quickly in print and probably missed the humor that it does contain, except that I read the audiobook. The audiobook narrated by Khristine Hvam. And she is an incredibly talented voice actor.
Every single character had their own entirely unique voice, and the voices perfectly matched the character, even an eyeless faceless omnivorous Vom the Hungry. Hvam is just….just so amazing to listen to! I kept listening more to just hear her perform than due to a true vested interest in the story. In fact, I looked up her voice actor page on Audible after just to maybe get another one of her books. She mostly narrates scifi/fantasy, unfortunately mostly YA, which we all know I don’t like. But I will be keeping my eye out for more of her adult work. She is just so amazingly talented.
So, overall then, the story itself rates 3 stars, but the narration rates 5, so my rating must average those two out. Be aware, though, that I recommend Khristine Hvam over the book, but if you are intrigued by the book and don’t mind a lack of backstory or average villains, then I recommend picking the audiobook for twice the fun.
4 out of 5 stars