#REVIEW: MJ-12: SHADOWS, by Michael J. Martinez

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Let us begin with the obligatory disclaimer: I’ve read all of Mike Martinez’ books, and reviewed all but the first one in this space.  Mike apparently noticed my review of THE ENCELADUS CRISISand he actually thanked me by name in the Afterword of THE VENUSIAN GAMBIT.  I’ve gotten both of his last two books early as ARCs, with the request that I review them honestly.  And Mike was also kind enough to do a cover blurb for TALES FROM THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES, which is going to be out super soon.  (Stand by for an announcement in the next couple of days, actually…)

So anyway.  I read MJ-12: SHADOWS on my trip last week.  And it’s interesting; I didn’t actually review the first Michael Martinez book I read, THE DAEDALUS INCIDENT, because I like my narratives straightforward and TDA is anything but and it kind of bounced off of me a bit.  But I loved the sequel, which is still my favorite of his books.  Now that I’ve read his second MJ-12 book, though, I’m starting to wonder if Martinez is just really good at hitting the ball out of the park when he writes a sequel.  The premise to the series is thus: the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II led to certain individuals around the globe randomly acquiring superpowers.  Of course, this being the beginning of the Cold War, both Russia and the United States have a distinct interest in acquiring those individuals and using them to advance their own national security.  The series, effectively, is a historical fiction Cold War spy thriller with superheroes, only there’s no crazy costumes and no saving cats from trees.  SHADOWS, cut loose from having to set up all that background, gets to focus solely on superpowered individuals (“Variants”) being badass spies, and it’s both a more densely plotted and more historically interesting book than INCEPTION was as a result.  This book must have been hell to write; it snakes in and around a bunch of actual historical events and pulls them into its orbit and its narrative (and the characters are spies, right, so the Actual Historical Narrative we know about is just the cover story!) and I think it’s one of those cases where the more you know about the actual history of the early Cold War, the more you’re going to like the book.  I mean, I know a little bit about James Forrestal, right?  And I hit a Certain Moment with him in the book and then spent an hour in a Wikipedia spiral.

Again: this book had to be a bastard to write, but at the end of it we’ve got a great spy novel involving dueling world powers with superpowers against the specific setting of the CIA interfering with early independence movements in Syria and Lebanon, with a little stop in Kazakhstan in October of 1949 along the way, and I’m not going to tell you what happened there because it counts as a spoiler if you don’t know the history.  I find it kind of fascinating, too, that the two most interesting characters are a deeply Christian African-American former day laborer whose powers cause him to age or grow younger when he uses them– hurting people makes him younger and healing them makes him older– and Harry Truman.  Toss in a former Nazi scientist and a couple of coups and, oh, something that may very well be a parallel dimension inhabited by the dead, because this is a Michael J. Martinez book and it just wouldn’t do to not have something completely bananapants insane in it and you have a book that I very much enjoyed reading, a book that neatly avoids feeling like the second book in a trilogy precisely because it’s tied in so closely to actual historical events and history doesn’t work in a three-act structure and you have what probably isn’t my favorite of his books (that’s still ENCELADUS) but may well rank as his best work nonetheless.  Yes, he gave it to me for free.  Yes, I’m buying it anyway, once it comes out on September 5, because I can’t not have this in print.  And you should too.

(“Completely bananapants insane” is your pull quote, Mike.  Just FYI.)

#Review: SOVEREIGN, by April Daniels

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You may, perhaps, recall my exuberant review of April Daniels’ Dreadnought  from back in February.  I bought that book early and was kind of taken by surprise by it when it showed up in my mailbox, and then I was taken by surprise a second time when I enjoyed it as much as I did.  And it’s not only still on my shortlist for the best books of 2017, right now it’s still easily the best book I’ve read all year.

The sequel, Sovereign, showed up in my mailbox on Wednesday.  I preordered this motherfucker the second I found out it was available.  Thursday night, despite having slept all day and being generally exhausted, I made the terrible mistake of starting the book before bed, and as a result did not get nearly as much sleep as I wanted to.  Friday I woke up, took the boy to day care, came home, made myself breakfast, sat down in my recliner, and didn’t move again until I’d finished the book.  Partway through all that, I sent the following Tweet:

And I was telling the truth!  I did, indeed, have shit I wanted to do yesterday!  Shit involving my own books!  And I did absolutely none of it, because once I picked up Sovereign there was absolutely nothing else in my life that I needed to do other than finish that gatdamb book as quickly as I could.  April Daniels is the real deal, Goddammit, and now she’s written both of my two favorite books of the year.  I love this world, I love Danielle Tozer, I love the way this book does everything Book 2 in a series needs to do while setting up the third book quite nicely, and every single damn one of you needs to go pick up both of these books and read them right now because they are fantastic.  I wish I was half as good as Daniels is at this stuff.  Half.  I don’t know when the third book is coming out, but I plan to literally be the first person to preorder it when it does.

Why are you still here?  Go buy books, dammit.

#REVIEW: The Prey of Gods, by Nicky Drayden

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Every so often I go back and forth on whether I should ever be posting book reviews here.  I follow a lot of Real Author blogs, and most of them don’t do book reviews– or, if they do, they mostly let the authors talk themselves.  This is actually how I encountered The Prey of Gods, a book I first found in a Big Idea post over at John Scalzi’s blog.

Honestly, I’d have ordered the thing based on the cover alone.  Look at that.   It’s awesome.

The book’s completely goddamned out of control, though.  Completely.  Out.  Of.  Control.  There are at least two more main POV characters than there need to be, probably half-a-dozen unnecessary subplots, and the story itself has so many things mashed together– a runaway dik-dik invasion (and if you’re thinking “will there be jokes about dik-diks?” right now?  Yes there will.), a species-jumping gene-altered virus that turns people into gods, actual gods, AIs gaining sentience, adult circumcision, 37,000 people being murdered by the main character in a fit of rage that we’re all supposed to forget about because she’s supposed to be sympathetic, a number of other brutal murders, a character with mind-control powers who has sex (? Maybe?) with his best friend then wipes his memory of the event, which is more than a little rapey, a pop musician who also has healing powers, a politician tasked with eliminating the dik-dik invasion who is also a cross-dressing singer who wants to open for the previous singer, his mother who is some sort of tree goddess, and jesus christ it never stops.

Here’s the thing, y’all: I stopped reading this with like 20 pages left because I just couldn’t take the crazy any longer– right around the time when mind-control dude swapped his boy/friend’s brain into his, then downloaded his own brain into his pet robot, then had several pages of stressing out about available hard drive space while he was trying to find room in the robot’s hard drive for his entire brain and the robot’s personality, but only after preventing his boy/friend, who may or may not have been dead at the time, from becoming a tree.

That’s not an exaggeration.  

I couldn’t do it any longer.  But if you read the GoodReads reviews, there are a lot of people who really like this book, and I wouldn’t even really argue with someone who did?  Nicky Drayden is an impressive writer, and I want to see more from her.  But I couldn’t take this book.  So… check it out, maybe?  But caveat emptor, or something?

I see movies

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You like movies, right?  Everybody likes movies.  You may have noticed that they made another movie about that Spider-Man dude recently.

Quick!  Guess if I saw it.

Of course I did.  And I’m pleased to report that I liked it quite a damn lot; I continue to be amazed that Marvel has cranked out something like ten thousand of these movies and I haven’t seen one I disliked yet.  It’s not the best superhero movie of the year– that title belongs to Wonder Woman still, but it’s a solid effort, especially when you consider that there have been like seventeen movies just about Spider-Man in the last fifteen years or so.

Highlights: Tom Holland, Tom Holland, Tom Holland, and Tom Holland.  Also Michael Keaton.  Actually, hell, let’s be honest here: I like the entire damn cast.  There’s just enough Robert Downey Jr– I didn’t want this to have as much Iron Man in it as, say, Civil War did– and he’s got enough screen time that it’s more than a cameo but not a lot more than a cameo, if you know what I mean.  Putting Peter Parker back in high school was the right move, and Tom Holland plays young more than well enough.  Michael Keaton as the Vulture (who, note, is never actually referred to by that name) is the best villain Marvel’s put on-screen since Loki, and I actually really like how low-stakes the film is for most of its runtime; it fits Spider-Man’s role as a street-level hero.  This movie gets the character’s soul completely right, and that’s really important.

One minor gripe: this guy?

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The character’s name is supposedly Ned?  And maybe he’s supposed to be Ned Leeds, although they don’t ever use his last name, and shouldn’t Ned Leeds be a lot older than Peter anyway?  And: nah.  Fuck that.  This isn’t Ned.  This is Ganke, dammit, and I want Miles Morales in a Marvel movie.  Donald Glover plays his uncle Aaron!  He’s out there, dammit!  Quit giving me his friends under weird pseudonyms and his relatives and give me Miles Morales!  

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I also saw this, finally.  You may remember my review of the book of The Girl With All the Gifts: I loved the hell out of it, and it ended up being my second favorite book of 2016.  I actually first heard of the book when I saw the trailer for the movie and it blew me away, and then I waited a year and a goddamn half and the damn movie either never came out in the States at all (I’ve been unable to get a solid answer on this, and believe me, I’ve looked) or got such a limited release that I was never anywhere near a theater that showed it.

Well, good news: Apple to the rescue!  I was able to rent the movie for 24 hours for just 99 cents, and if anything it’s even a bit creepier than the book was– and, remember, I loved the book.  You won’t be able to find this in theaters anywhere, but it’s absolutely worth hunting down if you have any way to stream it.  Read the book, too, while you’re at it.