#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.

#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.)

FINAL COVER REVEAL: TALES FROM THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES

My entire life nowadays is just looking at things and saying holy shit over and over and over and over.  Jamie Noble Frier is absolutely the real goddamn deal, guys.  And while you’re at it, do not sleep on that blurb at the bottom there.  Michael J. Martinez blurbed my goddamn book.  WHAT IS HAPPENING.

Release date on this one real soon.  For now, you can pre-order Balremesh and Other Stories for just 99 of your human Americapennies.  That one will be out July 5!  My birthday!  Preordering is like giving me a present!

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

I have51V8EMC0iNL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg gone on the record twice as being a big fan of the work of Michael J. Martinez.  I have read all three of his previous books from his Daedalus trilogy, and I loved the latter two enough to rave about them on the blog.  In the third one, he was kind enough to mention me in the afterword.  I’ve never met the guy, but we interact occasionally on Twitter.  He is my favorite current, working adventure writer.  I have no idea if he’s noticed my books or not.

Well, one way or the other, I lucked into an advance copy of the first book of his new series.  The book is called MJ-12: INCEPTIONand the series is just called Majestic-12.  

The Daedalus books were about… well, quite a lot of things, actually.  Dimension-hopping hard-sci-fi steampunk space galleons with aliens on Venus and ancient magic affecting the real world.  They were, uh, a bit hard to categorize, but what was clear about the entire series was that Martinez had a huge amount of fun writing them, particularly in the last installment of the series.

MJ-12: INCEPTION is a very, very, very different series from the Daedalus books.  So much so, in fact, that were it not for his love of genrebending (or, perhaps, hatred of the idea of genre) bleeding through, I’d not have been able to guess that the books were by the same person.  That said, I can find out quickly if you are interested in reading the book by asking a very short question:  How do you feel about Cold War superheroes?

Okay.  You just told yourself whether you should read this book or not.  And if I have any influence, you should.  MJ-12: INCEPTION isn’t as madcap or as breathtakingly original as the previous series, but it’s a convincing period piece set at the very beginning of the Cold War, right after the end of World War II.  Harry Truman is a character, as is large chunks of his Cabinet, and if Martinez played fast and loose with any historical events other than a couple of obvious ones they got past me.  It’s not as fun as his previous series but I’m not sure that’s a criticism, as “Cold War thriller” isn’t necessarily a genre I need to be a lot of fun.  It is, instead, a solid espionage story that links the emergence of superpowered people, known as Variants, to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings (well, Hiroshima, specifically) and then imagines what might happen if the United States and the Russians both had access to an expanding pool of metahumans.  Along the way we get a cool look at mid-1940s tradecraft and a bit of Bond-level gadgetry.

It’s not the Martinez I’m used to, but I’ve pre-ordered the hardcover despite getting the book for free.  The rest of you can have it on September 6.  I highly recommend it.

REVIEW: Michael J. Martinez’ THE VENUSIAN GAMBIT, plus an awesome thing

Let’s start this with a careful look at the cover of The Venusian Gambit:

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The following are all present:

  • A nineteenth-century British redcoat;
  • A French soldier, or possibly a British soldier in a naval uniform, I’m not completely certain;
  • zombie;
  • A lizard thing;
  • A person in power armor, all in what appears to be
  • A jungle, which in reading you will discover is located
  • on Venus.

You already know whether you need to read this book.  There is no point to discussing the plot.  That cover tells you everything you need to know and you should absolutely judge this book by its cover.

The Venusian Gambit is book three of the Daedalus series, following The Daedalus Incident and The Enceladus Crisis.  I did not review The Daedalus Incident, but I loved the hell out of Enceladus.  Gambit concludes the series, in a rather final way, although I’d love to see future books set in either of the universes established in this series.  Honestly, if you read the review of Enceladus you already know what I’m going to write here, with the caveat that this book officially makes Martinez my favorite adventure writer currently working.  Yes, adventure; the series has science-fictional trappings, of course, especially since half of each book is set in the 2300s, but these, to me, are old-school adventure stories, and I think they owe more to Tarzan or, especially, Indiana Jones than to, say, Philip K. Dick.

You will read this series if you like fun.  A brief digression: The Flash is either my favorite or second-favorite show on TV right now depending on whether the last episode of The Walking Dead aggravated me or not.  Why?  Because it is immediately and constantly apparent that each and every actor on screen is enjoying the hell out of themselves while they’re at work.  The Daedalus books have that same feel to them; Gambit is stuffed with enough fun for any four normal books of similar length, and I have the feeling that Martinez was cackling to himself as he devised some of the things that happen to his characters at the end of the book.

(Also, on a personal note, I love that Gambit and The Sanctum of the Sphere both have their big climactic scenes set underneath giant pyramids, and… well, you’re going to have to wait for Starlight to come out to see the similarity to that book that entertained me.)

I finished the book today.  I don’t always read afterwords to books, but for some reason this one kept me going, and about a third of the way through it, I thought to myself Man, it would be neat to see my name in one of these someday.  I swear to God that is exactly and truly what happened.

And then this happened:

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So… I need a disclaimer now, I guess?  This book was totally getting a rave review before I found my name in it.  And now I need to stalk Michael J. Martinez and find him at a convention somewhere so I can get this thing signed.

Go to Worldcon next year, dude.  I’ll see you there.  🙂