Featuring an extremely interesting — and very well executed — core concept, and thrilling action scenes, Serengeti by J. B. Rockwell (@Rockwell_JB) is a very satisfying sci-fi read. In fact, it’s more like two great reads, which I’ll elaborate on below.
First up, that interesting concept: the story’s protagonist is Serengeti, a sentient Artificial Intelligence, or AI. Serengeti’s “crystal matrix” mind controls a heavily-armed space warship, which shares the AI’s name. There is a human crew onboard as well, including a grizzled and blooded veteran as captain, but Serengeti is in charge. One of the hottest military trends today is using drones and robots to remove people from the dangers of combat; Serengeti is a logical extension of that trend although the addition of a human crew seems to be a nod to tradition as well as providing redundancy.
The latest entry in this fast-paced and fun futuristic sci-fi series, Uroboros Saga Book 6 by Arthur Walker (@ArthurHWalker) opens with a flashback that explains a major plot point before returning to a decidedly more domestic scene with Kale and Brook in post-Shutdown Port Montaigne.
No spoilers, but I now know who, and what, the Cabal are, and continue to find very endearing the growing relationship between the nanotech replica and rescue drone. We don’t spend much time contemplating laundry and vegetable gardens, however. Soon enough Kale and Brook re-join colorful ex-mercenaries Perfidy and Heavy Dub to continue the fight against rogue elements of the Cabal for control of Earth. The pace doesn’t slow until the final pages and there will be some losses along the way as the action shifts to Mars and beyond.
Fast-paced and action-packed, The Killing Kind by Chris Holm @chrisfholm is a solidly entertaining read — the book equivalent of a “summer popcorn movie.”
Michael Hendricks is a former U.S. Army special forces operator who no longer officially exists after his unit was nearly wiped out in an ambush. To atone for his actions in the military, he’s taken up a new occupation as a hitman who only kills other hitmen. But as good as he is at killing killers — the first scene, set in Miami, is a thrilling intro — Michael’s new job has attracted attention from both sides of the law. Unknowingly hunted by the FBI and a sociopath contract assassin, Michael sets out to find his next client.
Spies. Parallel universes. Sudden and unexpected twists. Time and perspective shifts — everything I liked about the first book, amplified. Europe at Midnight (The Fractured Europe Sequence Book 2) by Dave Hutchinson (@HutchinsonDave) is less a sequel than an expansion of the fascinating concept introduced in the first book (see my review of Europe in Autumn).
I greatly enjoyed returning to this near-future version of Europe where a flu pandemic has greatly reduced the population and the map is in flux. New countries are created based on city borders, neighborhoods, or ethnic homelands — basically any somewhat-organized group can declare independence and create new borders to be crossed.
Very readable and insight-filled, The New Middle East: The World After The Arab Spring by Paul Danahar (@pdanahar) provides valuable context to the events of 2010-2011 in the region. As the BBC’s Middle East bureau chief from 2010-2013, the author was an eyewitness to what happened, and the immediate aftermath. Participants on both sides of the various uprisings provide comments, and the author vividly describes scenes like his viewing of the body of deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a meat locker.
I learned quite a bit from this book, and found the chapters on Libya and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict particularly interesting. But, it must be noted that this book — like all history books, especially those chronicling near-past events — is a snapshot in time. Subsequent events inevitably change those who determine “the past,” or at least reveal new information which in turn results in new interpretations.
An imaginative and well-crafted puzzle box of a story, Europe in Autumn (The Fractured Europe Sequence Book 1) by Dave Hutchinson (@HutchinsonDave) is an ultimately satisfying genre mix of science fiction and spy thriller.
First things first: the book seemed to take a long time developing a recognizable plot. A third or so of the way in, I began to wonder not where the story was going, but *if* it was going anywhere. To be sure, the scenes were well-written and interesting, providing important background on the near-future setting and main character, but the book seemed to be just a series of vignettes.
But then dots began to not only come into view, but become connected. Not every secret is revealed or event explained, but enough information is provided for careful readers to get a better sense of what’s going on. I’m glad I kept going as in the end I really enjoyed the way the story came together.
An engrossing character study with strong thriller elements, The Mud Dance by Neil Grimmett vividly brings to life a pair of working-class British rock-n-rollers trying to make it to the ‘big time’ in the 1970s. The music scene at that time was dominated by ‘supergroups’ like Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, and Humble Pie, and featured ever-wilder tales of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll involving the bands and their groupies.
The chapters are named for songs of the period that help describe the events unfolding in that section. Each chapter also begins with a introduction set in the present where Kenny, our guide through the story, plays in a seedy music club by the seaside. Kenny’s a gifted drummer who became a ‘local hero’ more than once as his musical fortunes rose and fell. He’s now teamed up with a new keyboardist whose playing brings back some deeply-buried memories.