What's a Cibola?

This book shouldn't exist.  There's no real reason for it, and I'm kind of annoyed by its very existence.  Cibola Burn is the fourth book of the Expanse Trilogy.  Yes, book four of three.

The Expanse Series was finished.  They'd completed the story and it was done.  And yet, here we are with another book in the series, and two further in the wings; thanks, Orbit.  And, of course, I bought it and read it because I'm an idiot who likes to encourage authors to stretch series beyond their completion.

Anyway, the nuts and bolts: the Expanse Series is the sci-fi series by James SA Corey.  Which is to say, the series written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.  It's set in a futuristic world where the earth has partially colonized Mars, the larger asteroids, and a few outer moons.  It's some pretty crunchy sci-fi, so there's no laser blasters or teleporters.  In fact, the books even deal with things like acceleration, water consumption, air consumption, and other mundane issues.

While the books shift focus (using Point of View characters), the main focus of the series is the four person crew of the Rocinante a "salvaged" Martian warship.  While we also focus on other characters, the central character in the books is James Holden, the captain of the Rocinante.

The other main plotline running through the books, the main motivator for the events of all the books, is something called the "protomolecule", which is a biological organism from an ancient, ancient race of beings that were long dead before life crawled out of the muck on Earth.  While this ancient, unnamed, race has been dead for billions of years, there are hints that they may actually be the source of all intelligent life in the universe.  Or at least the ultimate source of life that led to humans, and these books don't have other intelligent life.  And, of course, because you can't have an ancient progenitor without an even older enemy, there's some kind of... adversary out there that was responsible for the death of the progenitor species.  All of this is naturally shrouded in mystery and uncertainty, because you can't just spell it out for your readers; gotta keep the mystery.


Yet More Zombies

I'll be honest here.  I really didn't intend to A) do more zombies or B) turn this into the Seanan McGuire Power Hour, but sometimes it just works out that way.  So, here we go.  More zombies and more McGuire.

The Newsflesh Trilogy is written by "Mira Grant" which is McGuire's pseudonym.  Dunno why she's using one here, but that's hardly important.  The trilogy is set in 2041 or so, following a massive zombie uprising in 2014.  So let's take a look at how these particular zombies work.

It's actually pretty clever.  The zombification was caused by two engineered viruses meeting, merging, and mutating.  The irony of it being that one was a cure for cancer (it worked) and the other was a cure for the common cold (it worked).  However, when the two combined, it caused any mammal over roughly 40 pounds to get up after it had died and start munching brains.  There's more specifics, but that's the gist of it.

Like with the Velveteen series, she takes her core concept and then expands out on how it effects the world at large.  Frankly, this world building is probably the most interesting thing about these books, largely because she's really taken the time to build a plausible world (once you accept the whole zombie thing).  For instance, in a world where everyone is immune to every form of cancer, smoking is extremely common.  Like, 1950s common.  Also, blood tests to check for "amplification" (meaning you're turning into a zombie due to exposure) are so common that most any outside door has a built in panel, some vehicles have testers on the handles, and people carry numerous disposable testing kits.  And biohazard bags for disposal.  In this world, it seems like the average person has upwards of a dozen blood tests a day, unless they never leave their home.


The Door

There's this door.

Every time I walk to work, I take a shortcut through an alley, and I see this door.  At first, I didn't think much of it, you know?  Door in an alley; who cares?  But for some reason, it always kind of creeped me out.  Gave me the willies, or jibblies, or whatever you want to call them.

And I'm not sure why.

I think it's because of how the door looks.  From a distance, it almost looks like graffiti.  The dimensions are all wrong, like it was painted there by someone trying really hard to get it right, but getting it just wrong enough that it doesn't look real.  The uncanny valley of doors.  But when you get closer, it looks like any other door.  Well, any other door that's still living in the uncanny valley.

So it's either some extraordinary art, or really shoddy manufacturing to blame here.  I'm not sure which I'd prefer.  All I know is that every time I get near it, I start walking faster.  Like my legs don't want to have the rest of my body anywhere near that stupid thing for any longer than is strictly necessary.

It's a little unnerving.

I kinda want to check it out, though.  Is that stupid?  I wanna touch it.  See if it's paint or just some messed up back door to... um... whatever office or story or whatever is on that side of the alley.

Maybe I should just find a new route to work.


Ex-Tree! Ex-Tree!

I don't know about you, but when I think of a reporter, I have a few archetypes that spring to mind.  The first is the fast-talking, hard-hitting, hard-drinking chap who talks out of the side of his mouth and has a placard that says PRESS in his hat band.  He's also usually going on about "what a scoop!" while running to a pay phone.

The next archetype to spring to mind is the reporter-turned-opinion man.  The two that instantly come to mind are rather local, but they're Mike Royko and Rick Kogan.  I never heard Ryoko's voice, but Kogan sounds like he spent 300 years having a dozen cartons of Chesterfields for breakfast.  They're cynical, but fair.  They've seen it all, done most of it, and bring a wealth of experience to their writing.

Following that, we have the maniacs.  The Hunter S. Thompsons of the world.  When it comes to Gonzo journalism, you're either setting yourself up to writing a million words, or nothing.  I'm opting for nothing.

The last group that I usually think of are the modern investigative journalists.  Sadly, in many ways, "modern" means "1980s" here, since shrinking news rooms and shrinking budgets have greatly reduced their ranks.  But here we have the 20/20 era John Stossel or David "Fight Back!" Horowitz or, going local again, Dane Placko.  Still, these are the guys who do volumes of research and make sure their ducks are all in a row when they go after the corporations and politicians.  The people who actually speak truth to power, as opposed to random Tumblr activists.

Sadly, all of these are a dying breed.  The first probably never existed outside of Hollywood, the second is rare just for the time required, the third tends to flare out almost instantly, and the last is being eaten by budget cuts.  So, what we have left is... well... this:


One (Well, Two) More Superhero Book(s)

Yes, I seem to be on a bit of a superhero kick, and yes, these are actual titles: Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots and Velveteen vs. The Multiverse.  I suppose it's only fitting that a superhero book have a hyperventilating title.

These books, by Seanan McGuire, are another exploration of superheroes and superhero tropes in a modern, real (for varying definitions of real) world.  Like many books in this genre (D-List Supervillain to a lesser extent; Soon I Will Be Invincible to a much greater extent), it is a deconstruction of superheroes and a tongue-in-cheek look at what a world would actually be like if superhumans were common and people fell through rips in the space-time continuum on a regular enough basis for there to be scientists who spend their entire careers studying such things.


Zombies. Why Did It Have to Be Zombies?

It's a book by John Ringo.  I could probably just end the review here.  But I won't.

Islands of Rage & Hope is the third book in the "Black Tide Rising" trilogy series.  Not to be confused with Dark Waters, which is what I originally wrote.  Anyway, on with the book.

It's... okay.  It seems to avoid a lot of the things that people like to poke Ringo for.  I mean, sure, it's still gun porn, but it's not too excessive in that regard.  Pretty much everyone is stridently right-wing, but since it's the zombie apocalypse, that isn't particularly in your face.  But just because it isn't full of "Oh John Ringo No" moments doesn't mean there aren't issues.

First issue is the setting.  I am sick an tired of zombies and have been for quite some time.  I've never found them to be particularly interesting, so the series is starting in a hole for me.  On the plus side, Ringo's probably just using them because a zombie apocalypse gives him a lot of enemies for his heroes to kill.  When you're looking at a 1-3% survival rate, you can mow down thousands of zombies without worrying you might run out.  This means he's not trying to shoe horn in tired social commentary via zombies (looking at you, Romero).


Coming of Age

I am not a fan of coming of age stories in a general sense.  At this point in my life, I'm not going to find them inspiring; I'm more likely to find them depressing.  It's not that I'm ancient or ready for AARP, but I've pretty come of age.  Did that awhile ago.

Hell, I'm not entirely sure what the phrase means, and I certainly couldn't provide you with a checklist of the required elements of what makes a coming of age story.  I guess it's kind of like art (or porn): you know it when you see it.

Of course, when somebody front loads a review with this many qualifiers, you just know there's going to be a "but..." or a "however...".  And there is, so I'll spare you the anticipation and just get on with it.

Chicagoland is the debut novel by Aaron Rath.  Written like a memoir, it tells the tale of Scott Duluoz and his... well... his coming of age.  Unlike most coming of age stories, this one actually resonated with me.  I think part of the reason for this is because we're of an age.  When he's talking about his anticipation of riding the dotcom boom, I was sitting in a coffee house shaking my twenty-something head saying, "That's totally gonna bust."

The character of Scott is roughly five years older than me, so I can easily relate to much of what he went through, even if the specifics were different (I've never dropped acid while crashing at a frat house on a hippy college).  There were several times while I was reading this that I found myself nodding along with various antics or concerns, so on and so forth.

One of the most poignant moments in the book is when Scott is walking down a street at night and notices that he's in the 2000 block of the street he's on, which makes him think about the years corresponding to the addresses he walks by.
2000: present day, adrift at the edge of the Chicagoland sea. Overworked, underpaid, indebted, remote, and lonely for the dawn of a new millennium...
Adrift?  You bet your ass adrift.  In many ways, this book captures that sort of listless, lost, enervated, and aimless sort of ennui that settles in on your shoulders when you hit your early twenties and realize that most everything in your life up to this point has left you utterly unprepared for how the world really is.  Even setting aside modern additions like six figure student debt for a largely useless "Studies" degree, every poor bastard leaving college feels that.  You got to college and you thought, "Damn, high school was for chumps.  This is the real deal!" only to have Life laugh and kick you in the groin.

So perhaps I'm a little cynical.

Perhaps that's part of why I could relate to Scott so easily despite our experiences being wildly different in  the particulars.  The paint may be different, but we're driving the same car.  Then again, perhaps that's sort of the point of a book like this.  You grab hold of a connection with someone else, finding silent camaraderie in a shared, or at least similar, experience.

Frankly, isn't that what matters?

I hate to claim that a single coming of age story is applicable to all people as I really think they're a generational thing, and an earlier generation's coming of age won't properly resonate (much like how I consider PCU to be my generation's Animal House), I will say that this one will probably resonate with the thirty-something set.  It's a recommendation regardless, but especially so for my generational peers.

If you're interested, you can find it on Amazon.  Rath e-published this himself.  It's a measly fin to buy or you can read it on that Kindle unlimited thingie if you have that.



By Scott Stantis
I think Scott has pretty much nailed it here.  The Illinois Machine has decided to take the supposedly sacrosanct ballot referendum and twisted it to further their own pathetic ends.  It's not just enough that Quinn, Madigan, and Cullerton have decided to just browbeat their serfs, and unfortunately, that includes me.  So, what do we have on the ballot this time around (thanks to Ballotpedia for the information here and throughout):

  • Right to Vote Amendment: "Provides that no person shall be denied the right to register to vote or to cast a ballot in an election"
  • Crime Victims' Bill of Rights:  "Modifies the Crime Victims' Bill of Rights by strengthening the rights of crime victims during criminal court proceedings"
  • Minimum Wage Increase Question: "Increases the state's hourly minimum wage to $10"
  • Birth Control in Prescription  Drug Coverage Question: "Requires prescription birth control to be covered in prescription drug coverage health insurance plans"
  • Millionaire Tax Increase for Education Question: "Increases the tax on income greater than one million dollars to provide additional revenue to schools"

Superheroing on a Budget

 It seems I'm on something of a Jim Bernheimer kick.  It's really not my fault; I blame those freaking unicorn stories.  I also blame his breezy writing style that lets me tear through his books so quickly.

Anyway, today we have Confessions of a D-List Supervillain and Origins of a D-List Supervillain.  Both tell the story of Calvin Stringel, the aforementioned d-list supervillain.  They're both told in first person, and Confessions is written much like a tell-all memoir, while Origins reads more like your standard first person narrative.

Confessions, written first, tells the story of how Cal, literally, saved the world, while Origins is a prequel, fleshing out Calvin's back-story and telling tales of when he was just a lowly rent-a-thug.  While Origins is chronologically earlier, it really should be read second, as many of the little jokes and... call aheads (what's a precognitive callback?) won't make any sense otherwise.

I quite like the world Bernheimer has created here.  There are superhero teams, classifications of superhero (and villain), and lots and lots of villains and heroes populating his world.  It's about as densely packed as the Marvel universe, even to the point of having a multi-branch hero organization much like the Avengers.

He's also taking the time (mostly in Origins) to get into the down and dirty, day-to-day minutiae of the villain lifestyle.  Concerns about your clients being willing to kill you on a whim, worrying about where you'll get enough money to fix damaged equipment, laundering said money, all sorts of stuff.  In other words, Origins humanizes the low-level supervillain, which makes them look good, while Confessions is more about humanizing superheroes, which is far less flattering.

Like the Spirals of Destiny series, this is a quick paced bit of summer reading.  Also like Spirals of Destiny, there's supposed to be another book coming (so says the Also By page in Origins).  Unlike Spirals, I'm not entirely sure where he's going to go from here.  He can't really do another prequel unless he plans to spend a couple hundred pages on Cal's college days, and the story was pretty much wrapped up at the end of Confessions.  But I suppose he could always do an alien invasion of the return of The Overlord.  Superhero worlds are good for never running out of fodder.


So I Bought the Second One Too

Right then.

After finishing the first book in the series, I obviously picked up the second book.  Sorceress continues the story of unicorn-rider Kayleigh and her unicorn Majherri.

Unfortunately, it is literally impossible to discuss the plot and events of this book without completely spoiling the ending of the first book.  And considering the first book ends with a twist, I really don't want to do that.

So let's just call it the continuing adventures and leave it at that.  Like the previous book, it focuses on Kayleigh and Majherri.  Unlike the first book, it's more regimented (for numerous reasons, but I'd like to think that the author improving is one of them); for instance, the chapters alternate between the two characters.  Odd numbered chapters are Majherri, even ones are Kayleigh.

I'm pleased to mention that the copy editing on this book is vastly superior to the first book.  Italics are consistent, there's minimal their/there or your/you're errors and punctuation is correct (no more dropped quotation marks).  It's a welcome change as the copy editing in the first book was severe enough to actually hamper my enjoyment.

As for the book itself... well... it's light fantasy.  Very light.  It's not bad by any stretch (I quite enjoyed it), but it's not an epic for the ages.  In fact, it almost has the feel of a YA novel, especially considering the rather short length (~320 pages on my Nook, so... 150-175 paperback?).  It's also inexorably tied to other novels.  You can't read Sorceress without first reading Rider and the story is incomplete as is because he hasn't finished and released Champion

I fear this may be coming across as more harsh than intended.  This isn't high art.  This is a couple rungs above fanfiction, and if the author was a teenaged girl, I'd be sorely tempted to call Kayleigh a magic-girl Mary Sue.

But you know what?  I liked it.  Sure it was fluff, but it was fun fluff.  It's enjoyable and interesting and I want to see where the next book leads, especially considering the introduction of the Yar's animal spirits.  Hell, it's more fun than what the Temeraire series turned into (it was a bit of a chore by Empire of Ivory and was utterly unreadable by Tongues of Serpents).  If nothing else, at least Kayleigh doesn't languish in hundred page long bouts of self pity, and Mr. Bernheimer knows his pacing.

So, so what if it won't boost my book reading cred like the Night Land or the Wasp Factory.  I enjoyed it.  And I can think of far worse ways to spend three bucks.  In fact, I'm even going to outright pimp it.  You can buy Sorceress (and Rider) at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Smashwords.  And probably other places too.  Enjoy.  And then you too can say, "I read a book about a magical teenager and her battle unicorn."



I wake up, and I see an email notification on my phone.  My blog has received its first comment!  Hooray!

Turns out it was a spambot.  Figures.

Also, I have three page views from a BlackBerry.  Didn't know those were still used by anyone except President Obama.