After a full weekend enjoying the company of family and friends, taking care of some errands, and writing a chapter of Translocator 3, I’m winding down for the night by checking out some science fiction mystery novels I haven’t read yet, and thinking back on the ones I’ve enjoyed.
I’ve always loved sci-fi and speculative mystery, everything from Ghostbusters to the TV show Fringe to the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep to almost everything Isaac Asimov ever wrote. I immediately fell in love with Minority Report when I was a kid, and of course Blade Runner is a classic and Philip K. Dick did SF noir like no one else.
But there are a ton of science fiction mystery books I plain didn’t know about, or that I missed because I was busy doing something else.
You can always count on Goodreads for a good starter list. I’ll be checking out a bunch of these in an effort to get to know the genre better: Science Fiction Detective Novels.
I also want to give a shout out to these three novels from writers I admire. I read two of them recently, and I’m in the middle of the Asimov book, but so confident of its stature as canon in the SF mystery field that I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, too
This is the classic science fiction detective novel on which most of the fascination with Asimov’s work is based. Set a millennium into the future, Detective Lije Baley is forced to work with a Spacer robot detective…who is practically indistinguishable from a real person. This fascinates and disgusts him, and it gets worse when his orders go beyond work and begin to infringe on his delicate family life.
The concept of this book hooked me from the start. Here it is from the book page:
“One day, not long from now, it becomes almost impossible to murder anyone—999 times out of a thousand, anyone who is intentionally killed comes back. How? We don’t know. But it changes everything: war, crime, daily life.”
Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher. When his friend and colleague goes missing, Tony gets involuntarily pulled into a missing person’s investigation.
While Sanderson is known for writing epic fantasy, this incredible short novel shows he’s got SF detective mystery chops, too.
Police have the ability to take a snapshot of a day, and relive it. They use it to solve crimes. “Anthony Davis and his partner Chaz” relive May 1st in an attempt to solve a crime.
If that sounds surprising, just wait until you read what happens next.
As I was putting this blog post together, I saw at the bottom of the Snapshot page that the film rights have been options for this story. Here’s to hoping that means sequels, because I enjoyed the hell out of this book.
Click on the book covers or titles above to check the books out on Amazon. (Those are affiliate links, which means I get a few pennies if you buy the book. That money goes back into this blog, which means more books by me like the ones you see above. Thanks in advance for your support!)
I bought a thriller novella in the grocery store checkout line today.
Well, I’d call it a novella. James Patterson and his publisher call them “BookShots.”
Now that I’ve finally had a chance to actually read one of these, I have some thoughts.
To start, I was among those chuckling under their breath when Patterson’s BookShots were first released.
I thought, Why is he renaming novellas? This is just a marketing shtick. Call it what it is.
Well, that’s true. I mean, look at the first line of his introduction, which is on the first page after you turn the cover:
You’re about to experience a revolution in reading—BookShots.
BookShots are a whole new kind of book — 100 percent story-driven, no fluff, always under $5.
I snorted a little. A revolution? Really?
You see, as an author familiar with book marketing, this is a little transparent to me. He literally just renamed novellas!
Also, a lot of authors are offering “100 percent story-driven, no fluff, always under $5” on the Kindle these days (though rarely in paper, even they have to admit).
None of this stopped me from buying the book, though. (Helped that it was 20% off) Call it professional curiosity. And the back cover copy was interesting.
This book is called Manhunt. The back cover reads…
MICHAEL BENNETT, BE GRATEFUL YOU’RE ALIVE.
Someone attacked the Thanksgiving Day parade directly in front of Michael Bennett and his family. The television news called it “holiday terror”; Michael Bennett calls it personal. The hunt is on…
Followed by pull quotes from Lee Child and Michael Connelly (thriller authors of the same type as Patterson, in case you didn’t know).
I finally opened the book, and what I found was a sparse, plot-driven terrorism thriller with good hooks and an emotional punch.
Part of me is still a little irritated that Patterson is coopting short novels and renaming them as this gimmicky “BookShots” bullshit, but the other part is impressed because the story has done its job and drawn me in.
The writing is solid and fast paced, but not without depth. One sentence paragraphs are common. There’s a very clear character voice and setting.
The chapters are short, often no more than two pages. If I had to guess, 500-750 words per chapter.
But the story moves. Hook after hook after hook. It’s very plot driven (what Patterson calls story-driven, I suppose), but as I said the depth is still there. We’re deep inside Michael Bennett’s head, whether he’s worrying about his large brood of adopted children or chasing a terrorist through the street.
I’m halfway through this book so I can’t say whether I was satisfied with the ending. But I’m gonna finish it.
In spite of the transparency of the marketing ploy, I’d happily read another one of these books. At the least, I’d pick it up and read the back cover.
I hate the name “BookShots,” but they seem to be entertaining stories, if you’re into the type of thrillers James Patterson is known for. Look past the silly branding and expect to be entertained.
And, to be clear, it’s not that you couldn’t get more out of an indie book, and probably for less, especially if you buy on Kindle or Kobo.
But I don’t know many authors who can do in 2 pages what Patterson seems capable of. To move a story at the pace he does takes skill.
Apropos of nothing, here’s a photo of the really excellent opening page of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel, The Word for World Is Forest, which I happen to have on my bookshelf.
I’ve become obsessed with studying the openings of novels I love due to a writing course I just finished, and this one truly stands out in my mind. So I went back to find it an decided you ought to check it out, too.
The reader gets a complete picture of who Captain Davidson is and what he’s all about from the first line.
“Two pieces of yesterday were in Captain Davidson’s mind when he woke, and he lay looking at them in the darkness for a while.”
Controlled, cold, but perceptive. Military, obviously in charge of…something. What?
A few lines later and most readers have realized this captain a total ass. Captain Davidson is not remotely likeable. From halfway down the page I want to punch him in his smug face, the picture is that vivid. Yet he’s irresistibly engaging, too.
And then there’s that lovely line of setting amid his ugliness…
“…thinning the mud to a red broth that ran down rocks into the rainbeaten sea.”
If that doesn’t let you know how this man feels about the planet on which he’s been stationed, I can’t help you.
A great opening. Deep into the character so quickly. Really makes me think. And want to reread the book, but this time I might start at the beginning of the series instead.
This is a deleted scene from my novel, The Republic. It takes place in Episode 4: High Crimes, and looks at a pivotal moment in the story, but from a new character’s perspective, a soldier who is also an APU mechanic.
by M.G. Herron
Private Rajit Kapur tossed the blackened rag to the ground and stood, arching his back against the stiffness in his muscles. He drew a dirty sleeve across his face, but sweat still skidded down his greasy brow to sting his eyes. In the distance, a lantern at the top of the Capitol building flickered, signaling that the senate was still in session. No doubt they would be going late into the night.
He looked back down at the day’s futile effort. He’d been working on the APUs since he woke up. What most people call mechs, soldiers call Armored Personnel Units—or “apes” because of their long arms and fearsome power. His gorilla of the day, number 049, was still broken as hell, but now it was less dirty. The shine had returned to the metal armor on the front. He set the cockpit’s control panels and joysticks to rights, replacing parts that had been broken or too burned to bother cleaning. Soot seemed to be permanently embedded in the fine cracks between panels, and along edge of the foglights embedded in the sternum, but at least you could tell it was a fighting machine again and not just a big hunk of scrap metal.rivate Rajit Kapur tossed the blackened rag to the ground and stood, arching his back against the stiffness in his muscles. He drew a dirty sleeve across his face, but sweat still skidded down his greasy brow to sting his eyes. In the distance, a lantern at the top of the Capitol building flickered, signaling that the senate was still in session. No doubt they would be going late into the night.
Repairing the APUs was tedious work that made his back ache, but Raj liked it better than night patrols, or marching in formation drills, or cleaning the officer’s mess hall. Come to think of it, almost anything was better than that last one.
Besides, Raj was good with machines. And it bothered him that he hadn’t been able to get a single one of these busted grease monkeys to gas up yet.
“Ey Kapur! You figger out how to turn yours on yet?”
“Thank god. You had me convinced you were a mechanical genius there for a while. Glad to see a problem can stump you, too.”
Private Stanislov, a mechanic who joined the APU squadron right before they flew back from the western border to offer support in Enshi, did not share Raj’s desire to get the APUs back online.
Stanislov kicked the metal leg of the APU nearest to him with contempt. His boot failed nudge the half ton machine from its spot.
“I don’t get it,” Raj said. “I’ve already swapped out fuses in all three, rewired the diagnostic panels to two of them, run the reset operation from my tablet twice. And still no juice!”
“The longer we spend back here in the parking lot the better as far as I’m concerned.”
“Maybe the lithium batteries were damaged in the fighting.”
“That wasn’t a fight, it was a slaughter.”
Raj didn’t want to have that discussion again, so he changed the subject.
“It’ll take half a day to pop one open and scour the core for damage.”
“And what? You don’t actually think a little fall punctured the battery.”
Of course he didn’t. The mechs were designed to withstand long-range weapons, patrol a thousand miles of border, and hold their ground under artillery fire. They weren’t meant to be easy to destroy. But what else could it be?
Kapur looked at the wires running to the tablet he’d left on the pavement by the leg of 049. The face of the tablet glowed a bluish tint.
Kapur picked up the tablet and ran the core diagnostic one more time. He keyed the ignition of the mech twice to dead air.
“Fuck it, man,” Stanislov said. “It’s a lost cause.”
Kapur put his fists on his hips and stared over the prone bodies of the dead mechs. It was weird being this close to the Capitol, but it was, at the same time, heartening to be reminded what you were fighting for. Kapur only hoped the people inside knew what they were doing.
As he watched, the lantern blinked out.
A second later, rows of green LEDs that ran up the left leg of all three prone mechs flickered to life.
“What the hell?” Stanislov said.
Private Kapur disengaged himself from Stanislov’s excited grip and picked up his tablet, which was still hardwired. The screen filled with commands, like the readout you might expect to see during operation. But no one was in the pilot’s seat to issue the commands. “But I didn’t do anything.”
The mech to which Private Kapur’s tablet was connected bent its knees and torso and used the gyroscope in its core to rotate itself to its feet. It twisted right, and then left, as if surveying its surroundings. Then it cocked back one arm, the multiple turrets embedded in its forearm clicking as they rotated.
“Stanislov, watch out!”
Stanlislov swiveled back just in time, and that’s why he was able to turn his body a few inches and dodge the missile that blasted out of the APU’s leveled arm.
The projectile exploded at the foot of the rot iron fence bordering the lawn in front of the Capitol building. Shards of metal flew into the air, smoke rising in a column through the boughs of the trees that shaded a garden where a certain senator and a certain magistrate had sat to rest earlier that day and watched Raj and Stanislov pull the mech off a truck.
The tablet jerked out of Private Kapur’s hands and skidded across the pavement as the mech ran toward the smoldering hole in the fence.
Hydraulic pistons and the heavy metal thud of mech feet sounded to Raj’s left. The other two mechs were waking up and looked as if they wanted to follow the first one.
Stanislov had scooped his tablet off the ground and called in a code black. A single, long, wailing siren sounded in the air across the whole army camp.
Raj sprinted to the nearest operational APU and dove into the pilot’s seat. He jammed the yolk forward and took off in the direction of the rogue mechs. At least a dozen soldiers who had been patrolling the perimeter when the mechs broke through were close on his ape’s heels.
Why on Earth did it take me so long to crack open a Joe Abercrombie novel?
I burned through Half a King in two days, reeling and obsessed.
A “fast-paced tale of betrayal and revenge,” as George R.R. Martin puts it on the cover, this fantasy novel is swift, dark, subtle, cunning, and brutal.
Half a King tells the story of Yarvi, second son of the king of Gettland, who was born with a crippled left hand. With half a hand and the scorn of his family, he feels like half a man, and is stunned when the murder of his father and older brother shift him unexpectedly onto the throne.
If half a man can’t even stand up to his peers or hold his own in a fight, how can he expect to rule a kingdom?
Yarvi resents the position his kin’s untimely death has put him in. No one around him seems to think him remotely capable of doing the job, least of all himself. But that’s just the start of his journey. When a quest for vengeance takes an unexpected turn, Yarvi must first prove himself worthy before he can claim his birthright.
I highly recommend this one if you like medieval fantasy, or stories of vikings, or reading about ruthless cultures steeped in war. Read this one if you’re a student of human nature, because the characterization is spectacular.
I don’t know why it took me so long to read a Joe Abercrombie novel, but I’ll definitely be returning to his world soon.
Like my reading recommendations? Buy Half a King on Amazon and support this blog and Joe’s books at the same time (through Amazon’s affiliate program).
It’s been another day in the word mines for yours truly, with not much news to share, so I’m choosing to take this blessed moment of calm to remind you that this is the last opportunity to receive six free ebooks, and enter to win two different bundles of paperbacks for your home library.
One offers prizes in multiple packages, all awesome indie books, all signed by the authors.
The other is a collection of 52 bestselling paperback books from the top science fiction and fantasy authors working today.
And as always, both are great ways to discover new authors you may fall in love with.
Honestly, you can’t go wrong. But be sure to read the terms and walk in with both eyes open. As with everything in life.
Last week for both giveaways. Don’t wait!
Happy binge reading.
SciFiBridge.com – Fall Sci-Fi Signed Book Giveaway
The other day I wrote about how creativity is not a well that can be emptied, or which diminishes over time. It’s more like a muscle that gets stronger with exercise.
I was talking about writing. But sometimes coincidence packs a hell of a punch. I fired up my podcasts app yesterday and saw that Jocko Willink, decorated Navy Seal, was guest hosting The Tim Ferriss show.
The topic? Discipline.
He has a new book out called Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual. One section talks about the “psychological win over the enemy” that a person gains from waking up early, which leads him to the topic of discipline.
This is what he says…
“Now, some scientists have claimed that discipline dissipates the more it is used—that willpower is a finite resource that is reduced every time it is used during the day.
This is wrong. That does not happen.
To the contrary, I believe, and studies have shown, that discipline and willpower do not go down as they are called into action—they actually get stronger.”
Could it be that discipline and creativity are the same that way? They get stronger, better, smarter, the more you use them? The more you work at it?
This makes sense to me. Creativity, especially regular writing output over a long period of time, certainly requires discipline. It can be hard. It calls up fear. It demands sacrifice. Creativity and discipline are the same that way.
Willink goes on for a while about this. Then he warns the reader away from the downside…
“Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Once you step off the path [of discipline], you tend to stray far. When you don’t prepare what you need to do the ne
xt day, when you sleep in and then skip your workout and you don’t start attacking the tasks you have—because you didn’t write them down the night before—that is when you make bad decisions. That is when your will and discipline fail. You figure you might as well have that donut for breakfast and once you have done that, might as well put down four or five pieces of pizza for lunch. It doesn’t matter anymore—you’re off the path and that is a disaster. Your will didn’t break—it never showed up in the first place.
So. Get on the path of discipline and stay on the path.
Discipline begets discipline.
Will propagates MORE WILL.
Hold the line across the line and victory will be yours.”
Willink’s words inspired me so much I actually got up early this morning and exercised. That’s why sleep is calling me at 9:21pm on a Saturday. So I’m going to head to sleep.If you’re still awake for a while longer, you can listen to the man read the words himself on Tim’s show. He is inspiring.
I picked up this high tech thriller a few weeks ago. Started reading tonight.
The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks. Published 2005 by Vintage Books.
Good solid opening chapter, a training scene combined with a betrayal. Our hero, Maya, reminds me of the skateboarder in Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash, a fearless young woman. Danger obviously lurks around the corner. And it’s exceptional, because Maya has been prepared for it in a perfectly believable way.
The voice is stark and cyberpunky and occasionally sarcastic. I’m into it. This is what the talking heads said (from the back cover):
“A cyber 1984…page-turningly swift, with a cliff-hanger ending.” —The New York Times
“A fearless, brilliant action heroine; a secret history of the world; a tale of brother against brother… and nonstop action as the forces of good and evil battle it out.” —The Times-Pocayune
Those are good blurbs.
Anyway, reading is always a relaxing way to end a night. Are you reading anything good tonight?
What have I been reading lately? I’m glad you asked. Here’s a list of all the good science fiction/fantasy books and stories I’ve read over the last few months.
Originally, I had it set in my mind that I would be doing blog posts for each book, but I’ve come to realize that this is an unrealistic expectation. Plus, I read a lot of short stories because I love the format. So I’m going to experiment with this roundup format instead—the focus, as ever with me, is science fiction and fantasy books and short stories.
(Psst, links to books are affiliate links, which means I get a few cents if you end up buying one or two. Thanks for the tip!)
A military science fiction tale fashioned after the Star Wars universe. The book has been described as “stormtroopers in Afghanistan,” which is not an inaccurate description—the story follows a company of Legionnaire’s (as they’re called in this world) who are incomparable shots with a blaster rifle and wear smart battle suits that protect them while they battle rebels on behalf of the (often incompetent) Empire.
But to just describe the book as Star Wars-inspired doesn’t do this particular story justice. Seeing what these men go through, living through their particular experience of combat, manages to be both emotional and endearing. It had me alternately laughing and choked up as they face death with a sense of humor.
Cole and Anspach have since released three more books in this series, so If you’re a fan of Star Wars, you’re bound to love it. Subtle (and some not-so-subtle) nods at the history of the original SW trilogy will have long-time fans chuckling and cheering them along.
I originally thought of this one as a purely scientific apocalypse story. What’s most incredible is all the legwork Mather did to set up a very realistic hard science apocalypse using real-life astronomy. The story is good, too. Our main character is a climber and adrenaline junky (easy for yours truly to relate, let me tell you), who is on a vacation in Rome with her mother when the world turns upside down.
Or maybe upside down is the wrong expression. When the world explodes might be better. I don’t want to ruin it, but if you like hard sci-fi, books like The Martian, or Thrillers with a sci-fi bent, then check this one out.
“The Key” by Isaac Asimov
I found this sci-fi mystery short story in a paper copy of The Best From Fantasy and Science Fiction: 16th Series. I love Asimov’s short stories, and a large chunk of what he wrote uses the mystery structure with his typical science fiction slant. The best part was when the detectives found a secret code, and they interpreted it as corresponding to the names of the moon’s craters, which, it turns out, were named after a lot of ancient astronomers who believed the Earth was the center of the universe.
It was a fun mystery that held up well though more than 50 years has passed since it was written. No buy link for this one because I can’t find an ebook on Amazon that has it. Wikipedia tells me you can find it in The Best Mysteries of Isaac Asimov, a collection of his stories.
“Passerby” by Larry Niven
Another great sci-fi short stories from the 1960s, I read this in the Galaxy from September 1969. I’ll admit here that this is the first Larry Niven story I’ve read, and I was definitely not disappointed. The story is built around a metaphor, and a frame story to boot, so the writer in me was absolutely delighted. A peoplewatcher in a park meets a “rammer” (a space man) who has returned to Earth from a journey through the stars where he encountered a mysterious golden celestial being who walks among the stars. It’s one of those stories that makes you stop to reflect.