Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review – “Ripper” by David L. Golemon

RIPPER by David L. Golemon, Reviewed by Donald L Pitsiladis

Jack the Ripper. He is a legend among serial killers and the boogie man to the rest of the world. The brutality shown in the five murders attributed to him is almost as notorious as the mystery surrounding his identity and abrupt disappearance. However, what if instead of being a homicidal maniac, the Ripper was actually a mad scientist working for the British government? David Golemon explores that possibility in his latest Event Group book, “Ripper”.

Professor Lawrence Ambrose is an American scientist hired by Queen Victoria to create a formula able to turn British soldiers into intelligent killing machines. Using an early version of his concoction, later named Perdition’s Fire, the professor becomes more than anyone can imagine or control. Unfortunately, this forces the Queen to order the formula to be destroyed and the doctor terminated. After a battle reminiscent of the Mr. Hyde fights in both “Van Helsing” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, Ambrose escapes to America where he is eventually stopped by a contingency of US Army soldiers led by Lt. George S. Patton.

Per author, David L, Golemon, “The Event Group is the most secret organization in the United States, comprised of the nation’s most brilliant individuals in the branches of science, philosophy, and the military. Led by the valiant Major Jack Collins, they are dedicated to uncovering the hidden truths behind the myths and legends propagated throughout world history—from underground agencies and conspiracy theories to extraterrestrial life and UFOs.” The group is so secret, only the President of the United States (both past and present) knows of their existence. When a member of the group is captured by a ruthless Mexican cartel leader, Major Collins leads a small team to rescue her. During the course of the mission, a secret cache of Perdition’s Fire is discovered with terrifying results. The British government is willing to pay any price to destroy the formula and keep their involvement in its development a secret. Much death and destruction follow.

I freely admit that I hadn’t heard of this series before this novel. I am, however, a fan of Jack the Ripper stories, so I thought I’d give this book a go and am glad I did. The way the author weaved the story made the historical parts seem plausible, and got you caring about certain characters and whether they make it out of the story alive. (Not spoiling a thing, mums the word) As much as I enjoyed the story, however, there were some faults that proved a little bothersome. There were some recurring characters whose presence didn’t seem to add to the story. Also, while I expected a violent story since it is military sci-fi, the amount of headshots taken seemed gratuitous for a non-zombie book. Overall, I rate the story a 4 out of 5 and look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Don’s blog is named Casa de Pitsiladis. He’s also on Facebook, Twitter, and Google +.


Book Review – “The Apocalypse Codex” by Charles Stross

The Apocalypse Codex

by Charles Stross, Reviewed by Terry Mixon

This book is part of a longer series of short stories, novellas, and novels featuring Bob Howard, an agent of the super secret British organization that protects the UK from the horrors that crawl in the night. This organization, called The Laundry, is made up of anyone unfortunate enough to become a danger to themselves and those around them by acquiring knowledge they can’t be trusted with.


In Bob’s world, magic is real. Unexpectedly, it is based on mathematics and calculations, making computer programming a dangerous proposition if someone chances on the wrong algorithm. That’s how Bob Howard, an unassuming computer programmer came to be an agent for The Laundry. It’s also how he met his wife after he saved her life and she was forced to become an agent.

Over the course of the previous stories, Bob has grown more knowledgeable and powerful. His superiors have tasked him with ever more dangerous tasks because he can handle them and they have little time to spare in preparing for something they call Case Nightmare Green: the end of the world. He’d rather they didn’t, but he rarely knows he’s in for it before they drop him in the soup.

It seems Earth is reaching a tipping point. There are so many people on the planet that the level of computational power (living minds) has almost reached critical mass. The lines between our world and the other places where cold, powerful, alien intellects live have grown thin. These beings would like nothing better than to come to our world and feed, for mankind is crunchy and good with catsup.

Of course, the bureaucracy of The Laundry is legendary. As a government organization, they have fits if you can’t account for your paper clips. Most of his agency does nothing but make-work, so those who can help hold back the darkness are far and few between.

Bob is assigned to monitor several contract employees who The Laundry has hired to look into an evangelical preacher from the US who has become too close to the Prime Minister. He has to walk a tightrope, because The Laundry isn’t allowed to spy on their own government. Hence the outsiders.

He’s only supposed to keep an eye on them as they do more in depth investigation of the minister. If they find anything, he can pass the word back up the chain to his superiors. A seemingly simple task. That should’ve been his first tipoff that something was seriously wrong.

When the preacher returns to the United States, the contractors follow. That presents some new challenges for Bob. The government occult organization in the US is called the Black Chamber for a reason. They’re less a sister agency than a psycho ex-girlfriend. The last time he worked with them, he almost lost his immortal soul.

When things go from worse to threatening the end of life on Earth, Bob has no choice but to ignore his orders to withdraw and join forces with the contractors to try and prevent the end of the world. He has to go places that mortals were never meant to be and fight horrors that threaten his very sanity. If he comes out alive, that might not be a blessing.

The Laundry Files stories are part horror, part technothriller, and very entertaining. Stross throws touches of whimsy and satire into a dark world, making it not nearly as like a horror novel as it could be. This isn’t surprising to me, as I’ve read a number of Stross’ science fiction works that were excellent.

The entire series is enjoyable and entertaining. It’s also required reading to understand what has come before. The events in the later stories cannot be fully grasped without reading the earlier works. It’s a good thing the series earns a sold five stars out of five from me. The Apocalypse Codex had more than one point of view, and while that was occasionally distracting, it still gets five stars from me.

I cannot recommend this series highly enough. Run, do not walk, and get your own set. Seriously, the fate of the world might hang in the balance.


Book Review – “The Lost Fleet: Beyond The Frontier: Invincible” by Jack Campbell

The Lost Fleet: Beyond The Frontier: Invincible

by Jack Campbell, Reviewed by Terry Mixon

This book is part of a follow on series to the original six-book series The Lost Fleet. It is the second book of the Beyond The Frontier follow on series involving the same characters and thus is the eighth book in the saga of John “Black Jack” Geary.

When Justin offered this book for review, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been meaning to read the Lost Fleet series for a number of years, but just never seemed to get around to it. As part of a continuing series, I read the previous books to get the full flavor and story before reading this book. As those previous books were required to understand everything that had happened, they colored my review.

John “Black Jack” Geary was an Alliance ship commander woken from emergency cryogenic sleep a hundred years after his ship was destroyed in the opening rounds of a war with the Syndics. With little warning or preparation, he was thrust into command of a large fleet of ships when all senior officers were killed and his date of rank as Captain superseded the nearest officer by many decades.

He discovered to his horror, that the Alliance government had created a mythology around his last stand a century ago, making him almost a demigod to support them in the war effort. Those exceedingly high expectations and misconceptions of who he was caused him no end of frustration and problems in dealing with a navy that had had so many experienced officers killed and vessels destroyed that the institutional knowledge of his time was long gone.

Now fleets fought head-to-head in bloody melees that killed tens of thousands, where good tactics would save so many. Dealing with the inbred concept that bravery meant never retreating or doing anything less than going right at the throat of the enemy caused instant strife with his fellow Captains. That made the enemies inside his command almost more dangerous than the Syndics.

The original six-book series was one long story detailing his fighting withdrawal of the Alliance fleet from deep inside Syndic space to bring them safely home to the Alliance. It also dealt with his counterstrike to bring the century-long war to a conclusion.

The second series, Beyond The Frontier, followed now-Admrial Geary on to explore beyond Syndic space with the remains of his fleet under the orders of a distrustful Alliance Government. It seemed they feared he’d stage a military coup and seize political power. It quickly became apparent that some kind of secret orders were in play that made their return to Alliance space unlikely. In fact, they seemed destined to be destroyed in a way that let the Alliance government wash their hands of the troublemaking warriors.

In this book, they escaped the home system of a zenophobic alien race that was determined to destroy them rather than let them escape. In doing so, they met another race that might be more inclined to befriend humanity. They still had to return to Alliance space through yet another alien race’s space, with the clock ticking.

To my mind, this series had significant flaws. Some of them had been improved on by the time I got to this book, but if you can’t get to the island without walking neck-deep in a swamp, you talk about the swamp. I’ll briefly discuss the previous books and then discuss how my complaints and praise carries over into this book. My opinion is, of course, my own. Others seem to like the books much more than I did.

The story idea was original and inspiring. There ws so much possibility in waking someone from the past to command a war in the present. The scope of the canvas could have made for a grand story. The space technology and battle scenes were good. Unfortunately, the potential was squandered through, in my opinion, weak storytelling and poor characterization. I won’t dwell on all the things I hated about this series, but I’ll hit some highlights.

The story was told solely from the point of view of Black Jack Geary. That meant every other character was not as fleshed out as it could be. Many authors manage to give the supporting cast the feel of real people in similar circumstances, but that didn’t seem to happen for me in this series. With the exceptions of his Flag Captain and the Alliance Representative (whose names have already escaped me even though I read eight books with them in it), all other characters were two-dimensional cardboard cutouts.

This single point of view might have been relieved if Geary had left the single ship he was on more than a very few times. That lack of travel meant that the reader saw a lot of his control room, the conference room, and his quarters. That’s pretty much it. For eight books. The repetition of the same space and the same characters was like an anchor around my neck.

The motivations of the other Alliance officers and government officials were stereotypical and not nuanced in the slightest. The heavy handed way that they were made into foils grated on me.

The never-ending “I’m not really Black Jack” commentary by Admiral Geary got old fast, too. Sure, he’s not, but at some point he should have accepted that he couldn’t change how the universe saw him and stopped bitching.

The reflexive heel-digging resistance by every officer in sight to the tactical skills he brought from the past to aid them (when their own legends said he’d come to lead them to victory) got old in book one. After half a dozen more it was a significant negative to the story. It made everyone look like homicidal, suicidal idiots.

Lastly, a personal peeve. Geary married one of his officers when they returned to Alliance space. There was a small window where they were of equal rank and he was not her commanding officer. Great. It was one of the high points of the story.

The restriction imposed on them for the next several books, after he was named Admiral, where they couldn’t even be seen alone together, much less share a room or a marital relationship grated on me like fingernails on a chalkboard. A huge opportunity for making a secondary character more solid was squandered for a situation that added little real conflict to the story.

In all, the first seven books of this series did not entertain. They paled in comparison to any other military science fiction I’ve read, particularly the Honor Harrington saga by David Weber or The Heritage Trilogy (and subsequent books) by Ian Douglas. Virtually every other piece of military science fiction I’ve read made this series a very poor last choice. The series as a whole gets two stars out of five from me, with only the battle scenes saving it from a single star.

Invincible, the book I had to wade through the swamp to get to, showed some improvement. Not a lot, but enough to be mentioned. Not everyone inside the fleet was ravening to go kill everything in sight. The machinations of the government representatives felt a little more realistic. There were things other than combat happening that really mattered. Aliens were met and some depth was shown in other characters. A little.

This book earned itself three stars out of five, for what I would consider average quality. My recommendation to anyone tempted to read the series is to reconsider. You’ll never get those hours back. Find some different options to explore and save yourself the irritation.


Book Review – “Song Of The Serpent” by Hugh Matthews

SONG OF THE SERPENT by Hugh Matthews, Reviewed by Timothy Schneck

I am of two minds when it comes to SONG OF THE SERPENT. The part of me that enjoys a good fantasy novel finds this book just okay. However, my inner geek that grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons really enjoyed the book. This was a book that I found hard to put down once I got into it (about the third chapter). The book does not really have a slow start, but I am new both to the Pathfinder world and this author, so there was a bit of a getting to know each other period. Once I got comfortable with everything I had a really hard time putting the book down, as I stated above.

The characters were likeable and you quickly grow attached to them. Even the main character, who’s a scoundrel that is really only in this world to further himself along at someone else’s expense, grows on you to the point you find yourself cheering him on. The book flows along at a fast pace with hardly any lulls in the action. There is also a little comedy thrown into the mix. If you are a fan of other books based on role-playing games such as the Forgotten Realms novels or the Dragonlance novels you will greatly enjoy this book. Hugh Matthews did an excellent job of taking the fun and excitement of playing Pathfinder and transforming it into this story.

The strong point for fans of role-playing games will be the downside to those that are not. The book is quirky at times with a lot of magic that can pull a reader out of the story if they are not familiar with how the magic system in these types of games works. The magic can be over the top and almost mechanical at times. The same can be said for the combat in the story, as at times it seems almost like the recounting of a battle fought in the game the book is drawn from. There were times I could almost hear the dice rolling on the table as I read through a few scenes. However, I would still recommend the book to people that enjoy fantasy without have ever played the game because it is a fast, easy read that will draw you in and keep you turning the pages. And despite the game mechanics that can be seen poking into a few scenes, it still has a good story at its core.

Tim Schneck is a long-time listener of the Dead Robots’ Society podcast, an aspiring writer, and has been reading fantasy/sci-fi novels for over 30 years.


Book Review – “Pathfinder Tales: Blood of the City” by Robin D. Laws

BLOOD OF THE CITY by Robin D. Laws – Reviewed by Gilberto Galvez

Magnimar is a city with personality, and one of the few people who truly understands its personality is Luma Derexhi. She is a “cobblestone druid,” a spellcaster who uses the city as her source of magic, and a member of House Derexhi, a prestigious family of mercenaries. Luma and her younger siblings form the elite company in the house. Unfortunately, although she is the eldest of her five siblings, she is also a bastard and a half-elf, and her siblings look down on her. Luma decides that she has had enough and stands up to her siblings, but they don’t take it too well. She finds that the people she used to trust aren’t trustworthy any longer, and she and a team of her new allies attempt to put a stop to the newest conspiracy in the city.

The best part of this book was Luma’s magic. It was interesting to see her experience every new trick the city taught her, and the possibilities seemed endless. I enjoyed reading how different the citysong sounded in each section of the city, but there was one thing about her magic I found annoying. The personification of Magnimar makes an appearance at one point in the middle of the book, and is then never heard from again. Luma doesn’t even think to consult her for advice or pray to her somehow.

The worst part of this book was the characterization. In the first chapter, we are introduced to Luma and her five siblings, and I had trouble telling them apart for a long time. Their dialogue isn’t very unique for each character, which was the major problem. Every group conversation that Luma was involved in had the other characters doing nothing but providing information with words that any one of them could have used. Luma’s one-on-one conversations usually had more unique dialogue with the character she spoke to, but I would have liked this to be the same for all of her conversations. Other than that, I could tell the characters apart through their actions and appearance, but dialogue is usually what really makes a character.

None of the events that made up the plot were surprising except for Luma’s complete change of character after she experienced a traumatizing event, but I guess it was slightly believable. Other than that, the ending happened mostly as expected with only Luma’s new found hardness changing anything. The last scene was surprisingly powerful because of it.

The strengths of this novel were based mostly on the world that had already been set up for it. I might try to look for more Pathfinder Tales after reading this one. Maybe some of the others will have more than just an interesting world. Still, it was an okay read, and I would recommend it to those who need something quick or are involved with the gaming world.

In the future, Gilberto Galvez sees himself as an English teacher writing in his spare at time. In the present, he’s a high schooler attempting to write in his spare time. He has a few unfinished novels in the cloud due to NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo, and he’s also written quite a few short stories. When he isn’t writing, he’s either working, reading, or on Twitter. It’s usually Twitter.


Book Review – “Blue Remembered Earth” by Alastair Reynolds

Book reviewed by Shawn Micallef

The Akinya family is one of wealth and prestige. It’s a family that has seen the labors of its matriarch, Eunice; grow the family to become rich and powerful. Eunice has put herself in seclusion and lives in a space station called, “Winter Palace”. It is here that she dies and we find the lives of the Akinya family may change for either the good, or be ripped apart.

These are some of the items that Alastair Reynolds introduces readers to in the book, BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH. This is first book in his Poseidon’s Children series.

The book opens up with a letter, of types, explaining slightly what may lie ahead in the book. It gives us a bit of a background into who Eunice was. We then are given a prologue that introduces to Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya. These two children are the grandkids of Eunice and at an early age we find them exploring around the family compound.

This exploration leads them into trouble when they come across an artifact from a forgotten war. The events of this prologue help to give a bit of foreshadowing of who Geoffrey and Sunday grow up to be. Geoffrey becoming a man obsessed with studying the elephants of Africa and flying his old Cessna airplane over more modern devices. Sunday moved out into the stars and lives in a zone on the Moon were the devices of their modern world are not always active.

These events all tie together into what will eventually become a mystery into the loose ends that Eunice may have left behind upon her death.

The family company is being run by cousins Hector and Lucas who seem to look for profit over so many things. Geoffrey and Sunday are seen as family outcasts as they have shunned their family obligations and have gone and done their own thing. Geoffrey receives a small amount of money for his elephant research, but Sunday is left to fend for herself.

It’s after Eunice’s death that Geoffrey gets an offer few could refuse. The cousins come to him asking him to clear up a family loose end and check out a safe deposit box that Eunice left on the moon. After much decision Geoffrey agrees to go after he is insured the cousins will increase his funding. As we follow the story along we find out the contents of this safe deposit box will lead both Geoffrey, and Sunday, into a mystery that could unravel the family, if not the world.

Reynolds goes into much detail explaining this near utopian future that people live in. People have the ability to “ching” with each other not just over miles but over planets. The ching being a way they can speak to each other using implants that all humanity is given. Along with this ability people can even be in two places at one time as they can control a golem of themselves in a different location.

Along with these wonderful abilities there is the mechanism that ensures people do not harm each other. If one attempts to take a swing at a family member in anger they are shut down forcibly through a mind attack. As one reads we will see this happens to one of our leading characters.

What Reynolds does with this book is open the reader to a whole new possibility for our future. We find that Africa has become a dominant power and that man has colonized space and are even mining asteroids and moons. The utopia is not complete as there are still conflicts between governments and more importantly family.

As you read this book you find that it will appeal to readers of different genres. The fans of sci-fi will find a lot to love about this book. There is the science of this world that is explained in some great detail. This detail is not just saved for the science but also the way the landscape and characters are described. There are elements of mystery also within the book as we read along we look at the same set of clues that drive both Geoffrey and Sunday along in their investigation. Along with those there is also some political intrigue as there are powers that are just as curious about what Eunice head.

Overall, BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH could be seen by some to be a slow read as Reynolds does such a great job in painting the world we find the story set. This could cause some to see the story as being to descriptive. The argument for that is that within those descriptions there is a beautiful well painted world. There is also the fact that the story, and sub plots, is told in a way that people should find it a great read. A book may be a departure from Reynolds other stories but is still worth a read.

Shawn Micallef is better known by fans of the podcast as Knightmist. Shawn has turned his talent for reviews from movies to now books. He has a varied, near eclectic, taste in his likes of music, movies, and books. Along with having written reviews for Shawn has begun writing short stories and has shared some of them on his personal blog. The blog contains other reviews and is a slowly growing work that is just as eclectic as Shawn. Visitors will find things from life stories, to personal thoughts and of course reviews. The blog is a place the 39 year old married man, places those odd moments of life that come to light when he has time to reflect. It just makes sense that a man who lives in Wisconsin with his wife and two cats may seem a bit eclectic. If you consider the man went from being a troll, to a yooper and now a cheese head can things get any more odd? To define those terms well you’ll just either have to contact him or just look them up online.


Book Review – Stephen Wallenfels’ “POD”

Book reviewed by Scott Roche

Let me start by saying that the best science fiction books aren’t about the science. They’re about the characters and what they go through. That’s true of most fiction, naturally. I think that in sci-fi some authors get lost in the techie bits. That doesn’t happen in POD by Stephen Wallenfels. He gets that it’s about building characters that we identify with.

What we have here is your basic alien invasion story. Floating spheres of doom (or “pearls of death” as Josh calls them and thus the title) arrive in the skies of Earth early in the morning, west coast time. Anyone unlucky enough to be caught outside or in a vehicle during that time disappears in a flash of blue white light. Josh, a sixteen year old in Prosser, Washington, and Megs, a twelve year old in LA, tell us the story from their perspective. I mean that literally as Wallenfels tells their story in first person, present tense.

Josh is trapped inside his house with his Dad and their dog. Food and water supplies dwindle and the alien presence encroaches further and further on their life. The tension, typical of any parent/teen relationship, is dialed all the way up and ends in a way that horrifies the young man. Meg finds herself alone in a hotel parking garage. She and her Mom were on the run from an abusive relationship. Meg’s Mom leaves for an early morning “job interview” and warns the girl to stay in the car. Thugs have taken over the hotel, and Meg sneaks around searching for food, water, and anything else she can use to stay alive while hiding from them.

I really enjoyed this novel. The short chapters, switching point of view every time, kept the tension ramped up. I loved the fact that a story usually told from an adult perspective was flipped on its head. I also liked the decision to let the older character keep his parent present while the younger is separated from hers. All of these factors also contributed to the thick plot. Like I said in the beginning though, it’s all about the characters.

The reader spends most of the prose locked inside the two protagonists’ heads. If they were weakly made or uninteresting then the book would have fallen apart. Meg and Josh were both strongly written and believable given their ages and struggles. The constant threat of the PODs and the unveiling of each layer of intrusion made for the perfect shadowy villain. The aliens were both a strength and a weakness in the book though. Their purpose and the area of their influence aren’t fully revealed, or perhaps not revealed at all, until late. I’m okay with that, since they aren’t intended to be more than a catalyst for the plot. When at least a side effect of their efforts (if not the complete reason for their being there) is revealed it was a bit of a let down.

Still, by the time the book wraps up, I want to know what comes next in the lives of these two. So all of Wallenfels’ efforts in building Josh and Meg does pay off. This is the first of a series, so I’m guessing that we do get to hear more. I for one will be looking out for it. I just hope that he keeps the PODs mysterious and the characters transparent.

I have one minor gripe. I really have no idea who the audience is supposed to be. Meg’s half of the book would be awesome by itself, as would Josh’s. There is a connection between the two stories, but it’s not necessary to either. Her half is perfect for the younger set, but his half is perhaps a bit too disturbing for them. On the flip side, if I were a teenage boy I would totally have been into what happened to Josh, but wouldn’t have cared about Meg as much. If you have younger kids, there are some graphic spots and some strong language. As an adult I was able to enjoy both. I give this a solid four stars.

Some creatures feed on blood and revel in the screams of their prey. Scott Roche craves only caffeine and the clacking of keys. He pays his bills doing the grunt work no one else wants to take, bringing dead electronics back to life and working arcane wonders with software. His true passion is hammering out words that become anything from tales that terrify to futuristic worlds of wonder. He’s also constantly seeking out talent for the publishing empire that is Flying Island Press. All that and turning three children into a private mercenary army make for a life filled with adventure.


Book Review – Gareth Roberts’s “Doctor Who: Shada”

Doctor Who: Shada by Gareth Roberts and Douglas Adams – Reviewed by Amanda Cales

First, let me preface this review by saying that I am a diehard Doctor Who fan. I have watched every episode, seen and loved every Doctor, and spent weeks listening to over 90 Big Finish audio plays. I’m also pretty damned fond of Douglas Adams, both his own work and his work on the television series during the 4th Doctor’s reign. I do not say all of this to brag or boast, but simply to provide an accurate backdrop of the knowledge I went into this book with. Since my opinion on SHADA seems to differ dramatically from most people’s, if my review causes any argument or discussion, I want that discussion to be about what I’ve said here, not whether or not I know my Doctor Who, or the fact that maybe I just didn’t “get” something about the series. I get it, trust me. I just didn’t like it.

At first, I was greatly excited to read a Doctor Who novel, especially one based on Shada. I’d heard about Shada before, of course. I’d salivated over the previews provided for the Big Finish adaptation in 2003. I’d read all about the lost script and the weighty burden of carrying on Douglas Adam’s legacy. To have a book with this much-lauded title in my hands was thrilling. Unfortunately, this thrill was quickly lost as I began reading and discovered that SHADA is, essentially, a pale, half-hearted copy of HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY with Doctor Who bits stuck onto it.

I am sure that Gareth Roberts tried his best. It is obvious that he has great love and respect for Douglas Adams. His pages are littered with the kind of language Adams would use, and even includes a rather heavy handed, groan-inspiring reference to HITCHHIKER’S in the last chapter. But I am also sure that Roberts got so lost in trying to be faithful to the Adams name that he forgot to actually write a decent book. SHADA is littered with annoyances, ones that only grow and become worse the more time you spend with the book.

First and foremost is the host of characters in the book, which Roberts switches between with an almost manic intensity. There were many points throughout SHADA when you would literally switch between two or three characters on the same page. Not only was this highly annoying and made it difficult to keep up with or care what was going on with any specific character—after all, they were only going to be there for a few paragraphs, why bother getting invested—but it speaks to me of a weak writing style that relies on confusing or postponing the reader’s satisfaction instead of an actually strong narrative.

Secondly, there was far too much conflict. What? Too much conflict in a book? Nonsense, you say! Before SHADA, I would have agreed with you. Sadly, it isn’t impossible, in fact Roberts seems to thrive on it. Every single problem that arises in this book lasts about as long as the character POVs do, and then is thwarted just as quickly. Every time you think that something is going to be resolved or taken care of, in comes another character or situation to mess it all up.

By the end of the book, things are such a tangled mess and there are so many people to keep up with, that my head began to hurt. I literally cheered when I put this book down, because then I could go back to reading stories where the entire plot didn’t revolve around some idiot stumbling in at the last second and mucking things up for everyone else who had, up until that point, worked quite hard to put everything right. There was no satisfaction to be had from any of the conflicts or issues being resolved because a new one would just spring up in its place instantly. It was the most frustrating thing I’ve ever read.

Granted, this constant barrage of mini-conflicts was often the way of the old television series, but this is 2012, not the 70’s. Things have changed, and to be honest, a lot of the writing for the old series is awful by today’s standards. To look back on it fondly (and ignoring the bad bits for the sake of The Doctor) is one thing. To emulate it is another, and once again spoke to me of a very weak writing style.

While on the subject of weak writing styles, another irritating thing about this book is the fact that Roberts felt the need to repeat everything. I swear I have read the sentences “a thin, indistinct babble of human voices” and “he seemed like such a nice old man” so many times that they will be emblazoned into my brain matter for all time. He does this to try and make it sound like Adams is the writer, since there is a lot of this type of humorous repetition in books like HITCHHIKER’S, but he goes overboard with it to the point where it’s utterly annoying and actually caused me to speed read through certain sections because, well, I knew what he was going to say anyway. Why bother reading it?

Along these same lines, there are absolutely no surprises in SHADA. The plot “twists” that do happen, you can see coming from a mile away, and when they finally hit all they’re there for is to cause yet another annoying conflict where someone (usually a woman) gets kidnapped or something is about to blow up. I knew exactly how this book was going to end almost from the beginning, which made getting through all 416 pages of it quite a slog, let me tell you. I understand Roberts was trying to be faithful to the source material, and a lot of the 4th Doctor’s adventures were exactly as predictable as this. Everything and everybody turns out fine by the end. But Roberts makes absolutely no attempt at all to even try and make it seem like things might not turn out that way—in fact, he actually foreshadows the happy ending several times throughout the book! Again, he provides me no reason to keep reading, and so many reasons to put SHADA down and walk away. (And, as it turned out, I was exactly right about how everything ended and the bad guy was defeated, missing only a few minor points. Snore.)

And finally, we have the characters. I will give Roberts credit for utterly and completely nailing The 4th Doctor’s character perfectly. The only thing that was missing was him offering someone a jelly baby. He also did a fairly good job with Romana, although I repeatedly got the impression he’d grown up with a crush on her because he is constantly describing how beautifully aloof and poised she is. (I often found myself rolling my eyes and saying “OK, I get it! Shut up already!”) Anyone who’s seen Lalla Ward as Romana already knows this. Anyone who hasn’t isn’t going to care and probably got it after the first few lines. K-9 was also well done but offering someone credit for correctly writing the character of a robotic dog seems a bit insulting.

Unfortunately, this is where the list of good characters ends, and the extremely frustrating main character comes in. Chris Parsons. Oh, how I hated Chris Parsons. He is your typical bumbling fool of a scientist, who doesn’t understand anything but his machines and his work. Naturally, of course, he’s madly in love with a woman, but he doesn’t understand her either. In fact, he barely understands how to say her name, or even say “hello” to her. Oh, how sick I am of this character. I’m sorry, but women are not that frightening. Neither are men. We’ve all been shy or tongue-tied a time or two, but most of us can at least carry on a semi-decent conversation and do not mistake every single move the opposite sex makes as some sort of vicious attack or symbol of undying hatred. Not to mention, it again speaks of extremely lazy writing to rely on this dead-horse of a trope. The shy scientist who can’t talk to women? Oh, please. And I would even have accepted this if Roberts had given Chris any other redeeming qualities. But he doesn’t. Oh no. In fact, he uses Chris’s stupidity to cause multiple conflicts that would have been easily resolved by him keeping is idiotic gob shut, and that to me is unforgivable. To make a character stupid on purpose just to pad out your plot? Please excuse me while I fetch my torch and pitchfork.

Furthermore, the romance between Chris and his object of affection, Clare, (yes, this book is full of names which look similar, I don’t know if this was Roberts trying to be like Adams or Roberts just being a git) doesn’t exist. There is no reason presented why either of them should love each other. The one scene in which Clare is thinking fondly of Chris basically consists of her loving him because he’s useless. I suppose men being useless can be adorable from time to time, but to base an entire relationship on it? To fall madly, head-over-heels in love with someone for it? Um…no. Especially not when Clare is a highly intelligent, successful young scientist herself with a bright future and career ahead of her. Why would she want to burden herself with this tongue-tied idiot? Roberts never tells us. He never gives us any reason for this relationship existing other than the fact that it just does. Because that’s how it works in real life, right? Women fall in love with men they fell sorry for all the time! And then they get married and have fat babies and live happily ever after. Forget the torches and pitchforks, I’m going to go grab a bag to vomit into.

So yes, that was SHADA. If it hadn’t been for promising to write this review, I would have stopped reading about a quarter of the way through and never gone back. The sad part? I wouldn’t have missed a damned thing. I give Roberts credit for trying, and for faithfully copying the voice of a great author. I do not give him credit for being a creative person, a good writer, or even someone who knows what a good story looks like. Go read some more books, Mr. Roberts. Maybe listen to some good writing podcasts. Then come back and show me if you’ve improved at all. Until then…SHADA gets two stars out of five. I am so glad that’s over with.

Amanda “Queen of the Wiki” Cales was born on August 2nd, 1988, and is currently a resident of Knoxville, Tennessee. Sometimes known as Mandaray or Gwenna, Amanda lives with a couple of people who insist they are genetically related to her. She doesn’t believe them, since she is clearly made entirely of Awesome. Amanda has been an aspiring writer since the tender age of 8, and while writing her own stories has been a bit of a hit and miss journey, writing snarky and occasionally insightful blog posts has become one of her favorite hobbies. She started NOTE TO SELF some years ago as a way to keep her thoughts together, and things sort of blossomed from there. Recently Amanda has vowed to get back on the writing horse (which is about as uncomfortable for her as it sounds) and put to rest some of the plethora of stories she’s had running around in her head over the past 24 years. She plans on publishing sample chapters of these books on her blog some day soon, so stay tuned. She is also a former co-host of the Dead Robots’ Society podcast, and they miss her dearly every episode.


Book Reviewers Needed

Here at the Dead Robot offices we’re proud of all the fine authors and publishers that we’ve been able to bring on our show to share their knowledge and insight with you, our listeners and fellow writers. A rather recent development, however, is the sudden influx of books sent us by publishers that they’d like to have reviewed by our site. Now, I’m already a slow reader as it is, and I know my co-hosts are up to their necks in writing, podcasting, publishing, and everything else, so I’m hoping that some of you out there might be able to help. If anyone would be interested in reviewing a book for the site, check back here (or check our Facebook page) from time to time, and I will post up the books we have available for review. Then, if it seems like a book you’d like to read and review, reach out to let me know. I’ll send the book to you, and all I ask is that you read and send me a review in a reasonable (like a week or two) amount of time. Oh, and of course the book is yours to keep as well. So there you go. It helps us, it helps the kind publishers who send us these books, and it helps you fill out your bookshelf. That’s what we call win-win-win. 🙂

Right now I have four paperback books on my desk. They are:

SONG OF THE SERPENT (A Pathfinder book) by Hugh Matthews

CITY OF THE FALLEN SKY (A Pathfinder book) by Tim Pratt

BLOOD OF THE CITY (A Pathfinder book) by Robin D. Laws

POD by Stephen Wallenfels


Book Review – Jeremy Robinson’s “SecondWorld”

SecondWorld by Jeremy Robinson – A Review by Larry Tubbs

I’m embarrassed to admit that SecondWorld is the first book by Jeremy Robinson I’ve read. A fact that will be soon changing, I assure you. It is a thriller in the complete sense. From the moment you meet our hero, ex-Navy Seal, current NCIS special agent Lincoln Miller, you never leave his side as he swims, runs, jumps, drives, flies, paddles, and climbs through countless harrowing attempts to end his life, before he can stop global annihilation at the hands of recently-thawed Nazis bent on bringing an end to the world war they feel was not lost, but simply paused, until such time as their final solution could be carried out. Whew!

The story moves at a relentless pace. So much so that in many ways it feels more like a video game than a novel. This is not a criticism. I for one enjoy a good video game. In fact, this story and the writing style evoked fond memories of playing the Nazi-killing shooter games of my youth, like Castle Wolfenstein. In fact, I’d love to see this story realized as an action role playing game by the folks at Bioware. This would make a great adventure using the Mass Effect engine. Who wouldn’t love their chance to help our hero rid our planet of Nazis?

As entertaining as the novel was, I can’t quite bring myself to give it 5 stars. The story brings together a core group of characters, attempts to bond them together through common struggles, and elevates them almost to the point of superhero status. They even give each other code-names like “Survivor”, “Cowboy” and “The Kidd” (two Ds, that’s important, it sounds tougher). This is very fun, but requires an extreme suspension of your disbelief, even more-so than what is required to accept the overall premise, which in itself is quite fantastic. At times this was so distracting that it took me out of the story. But, these times were brief, and I was able to get past them.

And I’m glad I did. SecondWorld, even with its faults, is an immensely entertaining read. It has inspired me to seek out more of Mr. Robinson’s work. Read this book. I wouldn’t start it in the late evening however, unless you plan to sacrifice a night of sleep. You have been warned.