#Review: MJ-12: ENDGAME, by Michael J. Martinez

510yHfinWeL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_The usual set of disclaimers before I review any Michael J. Martinez book:  I’ve reviewed nearly everything he’s written on this blog somewhere, and not only did he thank me by name in the afterword of one of his earlier books, my review of MJ-12: Shadows is actually excerpted inside MJ-12: Endgame.  On top of that, he was nice enough to provide a book blurb for Tales: The Benevolence Archives, Vol. 3which I have featured right on the front cover.  I’ve never met the guy but if I ever do he’s gonna get a hug and there’s nothing he can do about it.

(Well, okay, there probably is.  But I’m hoping the police don’t get involved.)

Now, that said: I bought this book all by myself with my own money on purpose and there is no universe where I’m gonna write a fake positive review just to curry favor.  If I hadn’t liked it, I’d just never mention reading it on the site.

We good?  Okay.

One way or another it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I really liked this book.  MJ-12: ENDGAME is the third and final book in the MJ-12 trilogy, an alternative history book about CIA spies with superhuman powers (called Variants in this series) during the Cold War.  As usual, the premise all by itself earns the book a read for me, and this particular novel begins with the death of Stalin in 1952 and basically covers the CIA’s machinations to make sure that the head of Stalin’s secret police, Lavrentiy Beria (go ahead, click the link, I’d only barely heard of him too,) doesn’t end up in charge of the USSR.

Only, minor twist: Beria is a Variant, and can sorta shoot flames out of his hands, and he’s also in control of the Soviet Union’s still-very-much-a-secret Variant program.  MJ-12: Shadows sent me to Wikipedia to check up on stuff after I read it.  Endgame had me doing research damn near immediately, because I wanted to make sure the minimal stuff I remember from the couple of books about Stalin I’ve read was mostly accurate.

So you can read Endgame on a bunch of levels.  If you’re a history buff, you’ll enjoy it because the Cold War is interesting enough on its own and the Soviet Union immediately post-Stalin was, uh, a bit more volatile than most of the time.  If you like spy novels, you’ll get a great old-school spycraft novel, only with people with superhuman abilities instead of James Bond-style fancy gadgets.  And if you like superheroes, well, you won’t exactly get superheroes per se– these folks are spies, with all the moral gray areas that implies, and some of them make some, uh, rather cold decisions over the course of the book– but the range of powers Martinez’ characters have and the various drawbacks and limitations of those powers are fascinating.  There’s a great balancing act going on in this book– there are a lot of characters, and while the book does a decent act of standing on its own I’d strongly recommend reading the first two first, because there are so many moving pieces, such as an entire subplot going on involving the Korean War.  The end result is an elegantly-written, complex novel that still manages to clock in at just barely over 300 pages.  There’s not a wasted page anywhere in this book, guys; it’s that well-done.

My only complaint?  I want more, and while Martinez doesn’t exactly tie the universe up with a bow on it the ending makes it clear that while there is definitely space for future books in this universe they will take place in an entirely different status quo.  That said, this series is radically different in tone and genre from the Daedalus series, Mike’s previous trilogy, and I genuinely can’t wait to see what he’s got coming next.

All available stars; would read again; you should go read now.

In which I shitpost

I don’t actually have anything of substance to say tonight, to the point where I’m not going to bother cross-posting this to Facebook like I usually do.  I’m mostly just posting because I’ve had a nice little run going for the last several weeks and I’m coming out of my September Death Cold (TM) just in time to go back to work.  So… thank unions for three-day weekends, I suppose, because otherwise I’d have had to take off from work and now I don’t have to.  Yay?

temperIt was actually a pretty pleasant weekend despite all the near-death nonsense.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the weekends lately, and this weekend I finished Foundryside, which was amazing, and then read Nicky Drayden’s new book Temper from cover to cover too.  I reviewed her previous book, The Prey of Gods, and it was one of those books where I didn’t necessarily like it all that much but the goddamn thing was oozing potential to the degree where not buying her second book really wasn’t something I even considered.    Here’s the thing about Nicky Drayden: each of her books, so far, have actually been six books.  Temper is just as stuffed full of ideas as TPoG, but it’s a bit more cohesive and less insane and while it still wasn’t quite a five-star read for me I am absolutely still onboard for her next book and think you should check one or both of them out.

This has been a spectacular year for reading, guys.

Hmm.  I guess that counts as a topic for the post?  Sure, why not?

Go read FOUNDRYSIDE right now

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Guys I am very tired and very sick and I should have been in bed an hour ago but instead I started this 500-page book like last night or maybe the night before that again I’ve been sick and this weekend is a bit of a blur but holy shit it’s good and I just finished it after reading basically all day and you need to read it now now now now dammit now why are you still here

God I need sleep

I been readin’: some reviewlets

4169sZXxF0L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_I spent a lot of time reading this weekend, which is the best way to spend a weekend; I managed to read two complete books cover to cover basically before even getting into the shower yesterday, and knocked out another one this afternoon.  I know I keep saying it, but it’s nice not working weekends.  I didn’t even put my watch on today!  That’s how awesome this weekend has been.

At any rate, seeing as how I really enjoyed all four of the books I’ve finished, but I don’t want to write four full book review posts, y’all get some quick reviewlets instead of a solid week of book posts.

We’ll start with Into the Drowning Deep, by Mira Grant, who is also Seanan McGuire.  I’m a big goddamn fan; I know I’ve talked about her under both pen names around here repeatedly, so I’ll cut to the chase on this one: it’s her best book.  ITDD is kind of a book designed to push my buttons in a lot of ways; all of the characters are scientists (and damn near all of them are women scientists, which is even better) and the book is a great mix of research-intensive oceanographic geekery, cryptid speculation, and gut-wrenching horror.  It takes a lot for a book to scare me, to the point where I can only recall praising one book in the past for how scary it is.  This is right up there.  It’s also insanely movie-friendly.   I want to see this movie on the big screen so bad I can taste it, and some Hollywood bastard needs to shovel a ton of money at Seanan and get this on screen now.

410o6yuEykL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_ My love for Tor.com’s novella line continues to grow with every book they release.  I have damn near an entire shelf of them by now, and I’m at the point where I’m putting them on my Amazon wish list the second I find out about them regardless of who the author is or the subject matter.  That said, P. Djèli Clark’s The Black God’s Drums is a perfect exemplar of what I love about the line: an author I’ve never heard of (I have found so many good authors through these novellas!) writing an alt-history featuring characters that are generally underrepresented in genre literature.  In this case, the book is set in an antebellum, independent New Orleans, in an America that is split into at least three or four different factions, with airships and steampunk and, oh, right, orisha magic.  The main character, a young girl named Creeper, is possessed by Oya, an African god of wind and storms, and occasionally is able to manifest magic powers.

Oh, and there are nuns who are basically spymasters, which kinda rocks.

51UnBCky8WL._AC_US436_QL65_I have actually already read most of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins mysteries, but it’s been a really long time and I’ve been slowly working my way through his books over the course of this year.  This is the third one I’ve read and the second of the Rawlins mysteries.  It’s weird; the last time I read a lot of Mosley was in college, and for years I’ve been telling people that he was an author where I was really fond of his sentences and paragraphs but that I didn’t necessarily love his books.

College Luther was kinda dumb, I guess.  Or he was half right, at least, since Mosley remains a brilliant craftsman as far as the beauty of his writing goes, but I really wasn’t giving his skills with plot and story enough credit.  I’ve been enjoying these books much more on the second pass-through than I did when I first read them, and even back then I recognized how good the guy was.  There will be more Mosley to come this year, that’s for sure.

81LZP9WQ7yL-1I encountered Ismail Kadare’s The Traitor’s Niche through Twitter, and specifically through my friend Anne Leonard, who Tweeted out a link to this New York Times profile of the book.  It caught my interest as well, and when Barnes and Noble actually had the damn thing when we popped in on Saturday I took it as a sign and bought it.  Kadare’s book is the one I’m most conflicted about out of everything I read this weekend, mostly because I feel like I didn’t quite get everything that was going on: the book was written in 1978, and only recently translated into English, and while it’s supposedly about the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire, it’s actually about Albania in the 1970s.  Albania in the 1970s was a client state of Russia and controlled by a dictator.  This is therefore not only literally translated from the Albanian it was written in, but is metaphorically complicated as well; the book demands to be read on a couple of different levels and the simple fact is that I’m not in possession of the necessary background knowledge (I just told you everything I know about Albania) to be able to read the book with the understanding and background knowledge that it probably deserves.  I four-starred it on Goodreads, but it could have been a five and it might end up in my 10-best list at the end of the year anyway.  It’s just kind of a rough book to form a snap opinion on.

What’s it about?  Severed heads.

Just trust me.  🙂

My Saturday so far

  • Be awakened by the boy at 7:10 AM, who informs us that he has finally lost his first tooth!  The bad news: it fell out while he was asleep and is nowhere to be found, and we are forced to reluctantly conclude that he swallowed the goddamn thing in his sleep.  We are hoping he didn’t aspirate it.
  • While drinking my cup of coffee, read P. Djéli Clark’s The Black God’s Drums from cover to cover.
  • Eat a piece of leftover birthday cake.
  • Tweet a bit.
  • Read Walter Moseley’s A Red Death from cover to cover.
  • Eat lunch
  • Shower
  • Go to the bookstore and buy even more books
  • Write a blog post
  • Begin reading Ismail Kadare’s The Traitor’s Niche.

So far, so good.