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Osama the Gun

Norman Spinrad. Wildside, $14.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-4794-2095-7

In this thought-provoking work set in the near future and first published in 2007, Spinrad (Raising Hell) traces the course of his protagonist’s life from naive youth to veteran soldier. His hero is named Osama and is born in a Caliphate that includes most of the Muslim world. As a young agent of the Caliphate in Paris, he leads a series of attacks on Parisian landmarks with “graffiti bombs” (a sort of automatic tagging in grenade form), followed by the use of actual munitions. Osama flees from France and undertakes the hajj, after which he is called to Nigeria to aid the Muslim government in its fight against rebels backed by America’s robot army. Back in the Caliphate, a final showdown looms with the U.S. Throughout the book, Osama struggles to discern what Allah calls him to do rather than what Earthly political entities require of him. This book will no doubt discomfit many readers because it portrays the U.S. and the Caliphate governments as equally dubious, and devout Muslims may consider some of Osama’s thoughts and actions sacrilegious, but the Muslim figures that Spinrad depicts are, by and large, earnest in their beliefs, even as they disagree. At its core, the book is about a young man struggling with his faith and the politics that are rightly or wrongly attached to that faith, and his choices feel plausible even to readers who would make very different ones. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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She-Wolf and Cub

Lilith Saintcrow. Fireside Fiction, $14.99 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-0-9861040-5-3

Saintcrow (the Jill Kismet series) teams up a cyborg agent and a genetically engineered child vampire for a cyberpunk western adventure in this lackluster novel. An excess of technobabble certainly gives a sense of the setting but distracts from the story. The population of the future U.S. has mostly retreated to cities, and the government heavily restricts travel to the wastelands outside. When the narrator agent is sent to kill a young boy, Geoffrey, she balks and instead takes him away from his corporate caretakers and smuggles him out of the city. Out west they find more civilization than they were expecting, as well as several groups looking to get Geoffrey back. The agent’s voice is coldly clinical about the realities of her enhanced body and job as an assassin, which makes her reticence to discuss Geoffrey’s vampirism, even in her internal narration (“He needed to... drink”), seem out of character. Geoffrey is a much more interesting character, especially when it is revealed that he can telepathically communicate with the sand worms in the desert. Unfortunately, one or two interesting ideas don’t make up for a slow plot overburdened with exposition. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Black Rain

Matthew B.J. Delaney. 47north, $14.95 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-5039-3701-7

Stories about artificial intelligence and what it means to be human are getting old, and Delaney (Jinn) unfortunately adds little to the conversation with this weak near-future novel. Jack Saxton, football hero and philanthropist, has everything ripped from him shortly after his father names him the new head of Genico, the family company. Jack’s brother, Phillip, convinces police that Jack is actually a Synthate, an engineered human. Synthates have no rights in this future Manhattan and are starting to revolt. Jack and his wife, Dolce, are both Synthates who believed they were human. The plot continues to twist, more Synthates and motives are revealed, and many people die. The action and intrigue of the story are strong, but the philosophical and religious discussions bring things to a screeching halt and reveal Delaney’s ignorance of the full scope of American slavery. (A Synthate explains that “Before anything else [black people] were acknowledged as humans,” erasing the considerable efforts of many white doctors, scientists, and pundits to demonstrate the relative or absolute inhumanity of the enslaved.) A powerful villain recalls anti-Semitic caricatures, compounding the book’s issues. An overly optimistic ending does nothing to redeem the rest. Agent: Kimberley Cameron, Kimberley Cameron & Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Lost Signals

Edited by Max Booth III and Lori Michelle. Perpetual Motion Machine, $16.95 trade paper (378p) ISBN 978-1-943720-08-8

This eclectic mix of superb horror fiction delves into the what-ifs of radio technology and what might lie in its impenetrable static. The stories all unsettle the reader. In Matthew M. Bartlett’s eerie “Where Night Cowers,” a young boy finds a radio with mysterious powers. A man wrestles with the lamentations of those he has wronged in Betty Rocksteady’s “The Desert of Wounded Frequencies.” In Josh Malerman’s “The Givens Sensor Board,” the titular piece of equipment has unspeakable capabilities. Some stories are as creative as they are disturbing, including T.E. Grau’s “Transmission,” in which a lonely man confronts a transmission that mentions supernatural forces. The authors play with the unnameable and unmentionable; there are no cheap scares or easy answers. The complex setups lead to satisfying payoffs that leave readers intrigued and shaken, as good horror is meant to do. This satisfying collection is a welcome addition to the genre. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sunrise Crossing

Jodi Thomas. Harlequin, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-373-78930-6

In Thomas’s stellar contemporary, Crossroads, Tex., is where broken people go to hide, and with kindness and trust, they find friendship and love. Talented artist Victoria is desperate to escape from the gilded cage in which her parents have trapped her. Dallas art gallery owner Parker helps her disappear to Crossroads, setting off a chain of seemingly unrelated events: Tori meets and falls in love with ex-con Yancy, bounty hunter Gabe returns to his childhood home, and deputy sheriff Fifth starts dating helicopter pilot Madison. And when it’s Parker’s turn to run away from Dallas and her problems, Clint, the grieving widower next door, is the only one she can call. Thomas’s talent shines as every multifaceted character is painstakingly crafted with an intricate set of motivations. There are no cardboard cutouts or shortcuts here. The pacing is just right, never bogged down with anyone’s backstory. The ending is not rushed, and just like real life, the resolution is messy. There are some unanswered questions, but the strong love among friends, lovers, and neighbors make the ending satisfying. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Cave of Lost Love

Morton Chalfy. Renaissance E-Books, $14.99 trade paper (252p) ISBN 978-1-5334-4570-4

Chalfy projects love across the ages with this nifty mix of prehistorical and contemporary romance. Over 10,000 years ago, Muta and Rami walked upright somewhere along a river in North America. After Gatherer Muta receives an omen that she must embark upon a trek into unexplored territory to find a new home for the tribe, Hunter Rami, her husband, agrees to accompany her. Once they’re settled into a wonderful cave, their lives take a turn when Rami is seriously injured during a hunt. Little did they know that their cave drawings will survive to inspire a 21st-century romance between archaeologist Matthew and photographer Sheila. Both stories are poignant, and the one about the prehistoric couple really shines. While in camp with their tribe, Muta and Rami’s roles are strictly prescribed based on gender. Once they’re on their own, however, loneliness and their love for each other begin to blur those lines. Chalfy’s tender rendering of these ancient characters sets this novel a notch above its peers. (May)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Lazarus Vector

Erica Obey. Blank Slate, $16.50 trade paper (350p) ISBN 978-1-943075-22-5

In this fascinating contemporary paranormal mystery, Obey deftly combines political intrigue, tests of ethics, and the danger of miracles. Dr. Clare Malley long ago lost hope that her career as a medievalist would lead her to adventure. Then she is invited to investigate the question of whether a man called Father Enoch is performing miracles. Jonas Croswell survives an attempted murder—and those who saw him shot say Father Enoch healed him. But the thaumaturgy of Father Enoch is not unfailingly a blessing. He also miraculously healed a young boy who then terrorized the people around him and disappeared. Obey delicately balances a religious procedural investigation with a science fiction twist. Defying genre convention, the characters do not rely upon violence to combat the horrors that surround them. Each could justify giving in to the temptation of revenge, casting aside morals in favor of pragmatism. Obey instead depicts wit and humanity as the only fitting weapons against evil. Heroic acts of kindness and decency subtly demonstrate the power of honest faith, and are contrasted against the brutal reality of a secular world. The delightful prose style propels the narrative to a satisfying conclusion full of hope and love. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Poinciana Road

Margaret Way. Zebra, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-4201-4170-2

Way (His Australian Heiress) veers all over the place with a tangled tale of twisted siblings, long-lost love, and possible Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Child psychologist Mallory James returns to Moonglade, the Australian plantation where she was raised, to care for her beloved uncle Robert, who’s had a heart attack. Having left the area years earlier after being betrayed by her fiance, Jason Cartwright, Mallory is shocked and dismayed to find that Jason and his decidedly disturbed twin sister, Jessica, have been hired on at her uncle’s estate. Her longtime friend and occasional adversary, Blaine Forrester, is also nearby. As Mallory settles back into her old home, she can’t help but begin to love Jason’s feisty young daughter, Ivy (who is suffering from a variety of confusing maladies), and she and Blaine begin to wander down the path of romance. But it’s obvious, particularly after a tragic event, that their happiness won’t come easily. Way’s hero and heroine are likable, but the constant head-hopping and side plots—including a confusing turn into mysticism—make this uneven story hard to follow. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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