Phoenix Afterlife, James Leth

Phoenix Afterlife, James Leth

Phoenix Afterlife

Mesa Vista is an incubator for tech start-ups. Eliot Stearns, at a loss for two weeks from his normal job, applies to participate in a study at the Rocky Mountain Neurocybernetics Research Institute. After all, having nanobots create a map of his brain to further research into Alzheimer’s and dementia cures sounds like a laudable cause, and solves his problem of two weeks of unpaid leave that he can’t really afford. It isn’t until he goes looking for a place to save some private files, and finds a file already there with his signature filename and containing a dire warning that he begins to really consider that he may be in serious trouble…

Phoenix Afterlife was one of those books that I emerged from still chewing happily on some of the ideas in the story, which provided me with an interesting distraction for quite some time after finishing it. James Leth has used his plot to frame discussion on a few fascinating ethical and scientific concepts. The story itself is a well-structured thriller, playing with society’s ongoing involvement with scientific progress and communication, as well as its deep-rooted fear of the unknown, and the characters were well-developed and believable. This is definitely a title I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys a thought-provoking read with their science-fiction – gripping and unique.

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A Cup of Pending, Jonah Gibson

A Cup of Pending, Jonah Gibson

A Cup of Pending

Sometimes a life can turn on the least expected actions. When successful investor (and criminal) Oliver Crews tripped the homeless man in front of him in the coffee queue, he wasn’t expecting anything more than some petty revenge for the delay. Unfortunately for Oliver, his briefcase was the last stop for Tommy and his friend Cliff, and they hatched their own revenge—to the tune of $45 million in laundered drug money, leaving Oliver on the run from the drug cartels, a crooked cop, and, last but by no means least, a reality TV show producer…

A Cup of Pending offers sun, sand, and supermodels in an entertaining combination of unlikely events. With the series of coincidences going off like a string of firecrackers, this well-written thriller is amusing and entertaining by turns, guaranteed to keep you turning pages. The characters are complex and unique, definitely one of the strengths of the story, and the reality show theme carries over well into the storyline. Author Jonah Gibson picked a good plotline to showcase his light-hearted, fast-paced style, making the book eminently readable. I’d recommend this to anyone needing a good beach read—or a glimpse of the Tropics to pick them out of the mid-winter doldrums.

Dancing with the Dead, Charles Freedom Long

Dancing with the Dead, Charles Freedom Long

Dancing with the Dead

In Dancing with the Dead, Charles Freedom Long explores the life and death of Fahd Abdul al-Sharfa, a jihadist from the Mahrat mountains trained as a scientist to infiltrate the elite Luna base. Bartered for gold as a child, he was sold to a terrorist by his clan and raised in the Western style, moulded to be the perfect fit for recruitment by the powerful Lumina Corporation. His mission: to destroy the works of Satan – Luna City and both Earth’s space stations. However, both on Earth and beyond, the ripples of the plot are spreading, and alien and psionic peacekeepers are circling in on Fahd’s identity. At stake are death, truth … and the continued existence of humanity.

The premise of Dancing with the Dead is fascinating and unique, theorising the presence of the dead beside and among the living cultures, both human and alien, respected for their insight and consulted at the personal and political level. This social integration of the dead, new to Earth, is skillfully developed by Charles Freedom Long and convincingly integrated into the story. In some ways, the worlds of the dead overshadow that of the living in this story, as the motivations of the living jihadist and his trainers specifically to destroy the space installations are not made entirely clear, although the influence of the dead on the sides of both law enforcement and the terrorists is striking. Equally, Fahd’s growing self-doubt in regards to his mission, in many ways the keystone of the story, is rooted in his brief romantic encounter with a stunning alien, after having dedicated most of his life to the terrorist cause. Overall, however, the book is definitely worth the read for the thought-provoking philosophical questions it opens and the originality of the ideas on offer.

Of Men Made Gods, Osman Welela

Of Men Made Gods, Osman Welela

Of Men Made Gods: A Tale of the Lost Arts

Faced with a relentless enemy, the Danu, the First People, are forced to flee their homeland, but even in their remote refuge, their enemy pursues them, leaving all their hope resting in the power of their strongest magicians. Generations later, when the same foe returns fortified with magic of their own, the Danu face a choice that will define their race, and the rift between the faction that believes that blood magic is the only option to save their race and the faction that believes that blood magic will damn all that they stand for appears to be unbridgeable.

Of Men Made Gods is an interesting, thought-provoking fantasy novella, replete with magic and creatures of myth, and framing the dilemma of where a race’s ethical ground defines the race itself in an imaginative setting. Osman Welela’s civilisation of magic users holds themselves above all, keeping others only as slaves, which adds an ironic under-layer to the main storyline, and the gradual degeneration of the society’s values is clearly sketched in as the story progresses. There were a few typographical errors that periodically pulled my attention off the story, but overall I found this novella to be definitely worth the read; well-structured and offering food for thought along with its story.

Unfathomable Chance, K T Munson

Unfathomable Chance, K T Munson

Unfathomable Chance

Unfathomable Chance is a sweet, well-written blend of romance and YA sci-fi, with a range of species reminiscent of Star Wars. Thrown from finals week into the piranha pond of interstellar politics, our heroine has a choice of learning to swim very quickly or sink without trace, and while she tries to figure out who murdered her predecessor, half the universe is trying to propose to her. Given that I’m a notorious grump where it concerns YA, when I say that I enjoyed the story, you may take it that I meant the well-written as well. K. T. Munson’s writing is well-paced and imaginative, and the sharp contrast between the mundanity of her protagonist’s family life and the sci-fi elements is used very effectively.

As far as the characters are concerned, Diana came through strongly; perhaps falling a little into the over-omniscient at times, but generally relatable and convincing. However, it was the secondary characters that really made this story for me, especially Kal Zed, the Catorian who assigned himself as Diana’s advisor and protector. Combining many of the key feline tendencies in one furry, warmth-loving, mildly cranky package, the author managed to make a thoroughly plausible argument that cats are a sentient alien species living undercover on Earth.

Overall, the balance between adventure, romance, and crime investigation was excellent. The primary focus was the character interactions, as you might expect, but there was no abrupt Hail Mary save in the final resolution to the investigation, and the romance didn’t hijack the plot. I have no hesitation on dishing out four stars to this book; it was a very enjoyable read.

Reviewed for Knockin’ Books blog.