the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘thriller

You ever notice that some books really work, others work relatively ok, and some just don’t quite work?  And those that work, you just can’t put them down!  Maybe when I say “it works”, what I mean is pacing,  I’m not really sure what I mean, actually.

 

Well, right now, I’m reading a book that really works – Darwin’s Radio, by Greg Bear.  Darwin’s Radio came out  in 1999, and won the Nebula in 2000 and was nominated for the Hugo, Locus, and Campbell awards.   As I was zipping through the first 80 pages, I realized I wanted to know why this book works as well as it does. Is it the pacing? The characters? The presentation? The science? The all of the above? I wanted to pick it apart and figure it out.

darwins radio works

I’m about a third of the way through Darwin’s Radio, and this is what I’ve come up with so far:
– The first thing I noticed was how much showing Bear does, and how little telling. Very early on, a character has a mountain climbing accident, and wakes up in a hospital. Bear doesn’t give us a description of the man’s injuries, but the way that other people treat him gives us a pretty good picture of the state this guy is in.  Instead of describing the picture, Bear paints one, and lets the reader look at the painting and get information that way.  It’s up to the reader to decide how much they want to see.

 

– The info isn’t dumped. This is a hard science thriller with lots of genetics, anthropology, molecular biology, the study of viruses and diseases, how bacteria works, how our bodies fight off diseases and how early mankind might have fought off diseases and probably more science stuff that I haven’t gotten to yet. It’s fascinating as hell, but way over my head. None of it is dumped.  Most of it is presented through dialog, with the old trick of “Let me tell you what our team has been doing in the lab these last two weeks” type conversations. Is that a trick? Sure it is. But it gets your reader a lot of information in an accessible and non-info-dumpy way. And hey, now I have just enough knowledge to sound like I know what I’m talking about next time I’m at the doctor’s office.
– So far, there’s been zero action. No chase scenes, no fights, no nothing. Which is a little weird, since a lot of recent books I’ve read have super intense action scenes as a way to get the reader hooked on all that 100% pure awesomesauce. This book is all scientists and politicians and others talking about things, and trying to figure stuff out. The “action” is in how fast their ideas are transmitted.  They bounce ideas off of each other (typically while learning their funding is about to be cut), and the fast pace comes when their brain is moving faster than their mouth, and the ideas tumble out  . . .and it’s totally cool.
– So we’ve got all these characters who are trying to solve the problem from different angles, and everyone has slightly different information to share, or not.  But us readers have *all* the information.  This is where the tension comes from.  I know that this guy knows this one thing, and this other lady knows this other thing, and these jerks over here know something else. So omg, when are they going to share what they know!! Because if they don’t, this horrible other thing is going to happen!

 

Gah!  I gotta go read this book!
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a book that fucking works.

caline conspiracyThe Caline Conspiracy, by M.H. Mead

published in 2012

where I got it: received review copy from the author (thanks!)

 

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Do you like mystery thrillers?  Do you like smartly written characters involved with right around the corner technology? Do you find yourself having to balance day time stuff chaos with family chaos?

 

I just heard a lot of Yeses.   The Caline Conspiracy, part of the Detroit Next series by M.H. Mead, is a book for you! (Check out my interview with Alex Kourvo, who is half of the M.H. Mead writing team)

 

In the near future, messing around with human genetics is frowned upon, but messing with animal genetics is big business. Realizing how much we spend on our pets, the newest and most lucrative trend are genetically modified pets.  Calines, which look like a small dog, but include canine and feline genetics, offer the loyalty of a dog, the intelligence of a young child, the cuddle factor of a cat, and are completely hypoallergenic.  Calines are expensive as heck, but they truly are the perfect pet.

 

Private investigator Aidra Scott’s newest client is the very recently widowed Gloria Frithke. Mrs. Frithke’s husband was found dead in their home, his throat torn out and the family caline standing nearby.  The pet did it, of course. But Gloria is convinced there is something bigger going on. Can Aidra get to the bottom of the mystery before the evidence is destroyed, and Mr. Frithke’s research is lost forever?

 

At first blush, looks like a standard mystery novel with a few speculative fiction elements, right? Well…… Almost.   Along with the expected trappings of your standard mystery thriller, things like great pacing, chapters that end on smartly written cliffhangers, spying on people, and sneaky PI stuff, The Caline Conspiracy has well-presented scifi tech that blends seamlessly into the plot, excellent worldbuilding, and one of my new favorite protagonists: Aidra Scott.

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Burning Midnight McIntoshBurning Midnight, by Will McIntosh

published February 2016

Where I got it: Received ARC (thanks!)
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What if, for a very small fee, you could be better at math? Or could fall asleep easier at night? Or could digest anything? Or had better eyesight? Or could hold your breath a little bit longer? Or any one of a hundred other things that could make your life just the smallest bit easier? Wouldn’t that just be the best?
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Thanks to mysterious marble sized orbs that fell from the sky, everyone’s life is a little easier. All you have to do to reap their benefits is find a matching pair and burn them. Burn the slate gray ones for a beautiful singing voice, forest green for enhanced senses, copper to become ambidextrous, chocolate for enhanced strength, and so on. The rarer colors are of course, more expensive, but anyone can afford a common color, or even find the common ones in their own backyards and randomly all over the city. Orbs can only be used once, but the skills they impart last a lifetime.
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Teenager David Sullivan, who goes by Sully, had his fifteen minutes of fame when he found a Cherry Red, one of the rarest and most valuable orbs. Young and naive, he was talked into selling it to a famous collector. And then a team of lawyers cheated Sully out of the money. Well, the collector, Alex Holliday, says it was done fair and square. It’s not Holliday’s fault Sully didn’t read the contract through.  It’s an event that’s come to define Sully’s life.
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Is there such a thing as a free lunch? Some people feel the orbs are evil, that they are harmful. Some people refuse burn them, yet still buying and selling them to make a living. Sully and his working class friends often burn only the commonest, cheapest orbs. As it is, the little bit of money Sully makes at the flea market barely makes up for the family’s lost income when his mother loses her job. Sully feels protective of his Mom, he’s all she’s got.

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But what are the orbs, really? Should we be burning them, willy nilly, with no thought of what it could do to us, long term? Holliday continues to brag about all the colors he’s burned, making speeches and putting his prized orbs on display in his department stores. He reminds me a little of Zachary Quinto’s character in the first season of Heroes, “collecting” every talent he can. Ugggh, I want to punch Holliday in the face.

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annihilation scoreThe Annihilation Score, by Charles Stross (A Laundry Novel)

published 2015

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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This is the sixth Laundry novel, but in a way, it’s the first of its kind (By the way, Start Here).  Laundry novels have always starred Bob Howard, IT programmer turned computational demonologist. No matter how shitty his day is at work, he can usually come home to his wife Mo. She works for the Laundry too, and sometimes it’s her coming home from a crappy trip to be soothed by her well meaning husband. Bob might be an apprentice (and possibly heir) to The Eater of Souls, but Mo has him beat. You see, she is the handler for what is known as the Pale Violin.  the “This violin kills demons” sticker on the violin case is no joke.

I rushed through The Rhesus Chart, the Laundry novel that comes right before this one. I really, really wanted to get to The Annihilation Score,  because this book is told from Mo’s point of view. Yup.  Barely any Bob in this baby, this novel is all Mo, all the time. Oh, and let’s not forget the semi-sentient violin that creeps into her dreams and wants to kill her husband.  can’t forget that.

 

For those of you just joining us, Mo’s instrument is made of human bone, her fingers bleed when she plays it, and she can’t let it out of her sight because it gets very lonely, and very, very hungry. Remember Elric’s Arioch?  You’re on the right track,  just crank the demon eating darkness up to eleven.  Mo calls her violin Lecter, and if you listen very closely, you can hear his whisper. He doesn’t want much from you, yet, but if you’d only listen to his voice ….

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Charles_Stross_-_The_Rhesus_ChartThe Rhesus Chart, by Charles Stross (Laundry series #5)

published in 2014

where I got it: purchased new

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If this is the first you’ve ever heard of the Laundry, I advise starting at, or at least near, the beginning. Start at the beginning with The Atrocity Archives (book 1) and then pick up Jennifer Morgue (book 2), or read book 2 and then book 1, and then you can generally hop around a bit once you’ve gotten a feel for what the hell is going on. Fanatics will disagree, but I say yes, you can hop around in this series, and read the books as you come across them.  Anyways, the premise is that Bob Howard, unassuming IT professional, saw something he shouldn’t’ve, and suddenly found himself working for a secret British Intelligence service known as The Laundry. When things go bump in the night, these are folks who bump back. And by “bump in the night”, I mean otherworldly horrors of the deep who see us as a snack, and by “bump back” I mean employ computational demonologists, zombies, and enslaved demons. It’s a good time, and you can’t tell your friends or neighbors what you do for a living, ever.  Bob’s wife Mo is also employed by The Laundry, and she is responsible for one of their most powerful weapons – a violin that screams and kills. Hard to tell if she owns the violin or if the violin owns her. It gives her nightmares and makes her fingers bleed.  I guess it comes down to what moves faster? The Laundry? Human stupidity? the hunger of Cthulhu? Or the planets and stars aligning in such  a way that none of it will matter any more.

 

I have always loved the narrative voice of this series. Bob is sarcastic and smart, and the only color his humor comes in is black. When you know the end of the world is right around the corner, gallows humor is where it’s at. But where his wife Mo is concerned? Bob is a puddle of caring, heartfelt goo for her. It’s quite adorable, actually.  Bob could read me the advertisements in the phone book, and I’d probably be happy. Actually, Bob really needs to read me the instructions of how to do my taxes. Because that would be fucking awesome.

 

To shift gears ever so slightly, all it takes is looking at formulas and certain mathematical equations in just the right way for something awful to happen.  Maybe you let a demon through. Maybe you let it take a chomp out of your brain. Maybe the side effect is a scorching allergic reaction to sunlight, and gaining an addiction to human blood. It’s really too bad, as that’s exactly what happened to a bunch of code monkeys who work for a bank. With no one to guide them, what are these baby vampires to do?

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Lock_In_CoverLock In, by John Scalzi

published 2014

where I got it: purchased new

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A near future scifi thriller, Lock In has an engrossing and compelling start.  I really loved the first few chapters of Lock In, really dug the world Scalzi built. Depending on how you look at it, he’s either being sneakishly subtle, or heavyhanded with his observations on how society in general treats anyone who is different from the norm, especially those with disabilities.  The novel takes place some 20 years after Haden’s Syndrome has left its mark on humanity. A type of encephalitis, many victims of Haden’s suffer from “lock in”, completely aware and awake, but unable to move or communicate. Thanks to neural technology, people who live their lives locked in (known as Hadens) can remotely use robots, called Threeps, to somewhat experience normal life. Even better, is the option to use an Integrator, a person who will allow a Haden to use their body for a contracted time.  For many Hadens, the only people who see their actual, physical bodies are their immediate family members and their home health care aides.

 

Chris Shane, poster boy for Haden’s and now all grown up, chose a horrible week to start his new job at the FBI.  They aren’t quite sure what to do with him, and he’s been partnered with Agent Vann, who loves antagonizing the local cops even more than she enjoys self medicating. So, right off the bat we’ve got some interesting characters. Shane is trying to get out of the shadow of his famous father, Vann has a secretive history she tries to drink away, and they’ve got a really weird murder investigation on their hands.

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superpositionSuperposition, by David Walton

published April 2015

Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Pyr!)

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Imagine a fast paced thriller mashed up with a quantum physics book for a layperson. Now throw in family dynamics, a suspensful murder mystery/police procedural, and an unexplainable monster.  That’s Superposition. Ignore the terrible cover art, this is a pretty good book.

 

For such a short and ultra fast book, I liked how Walton developed the characters, especially Jacob and his family. Through conversations with Jacob’s wife Elena, and their kids, we immediately know a lot about the particulars of their family situation (one of these details becomes incredibly important later). As he spends more time with his daughter Alessandra, it was fascinating to watch him realize he might not be the amazingly perfect father he always thought he was. I won’t go as far to call the book heavy on “feels”, but Walton crams a ton character development into very little space. Other characters too, are quickly given depth – his friend Jean’s marital issues, his brother in-law Marek’s deep seated morals and loyalty. This is a science driven thriller, yet it read like a character driven novel. that’s a good thing.

 

To get the story off and running, Jacob’s old co-worker Brian randomly shows up at his house one night, terrified. Trying to prove a point, Brian shoots Elena, who suffers no ill effects.  The next thing Jacob knows, he’s on trial for Brian’s murder. Brian had been alive the evening he shot Elena, found dead the next morning in his lab, was seen alive that afternoon, and then was never seen again.  Jacob’s family has also disappeared, will he soon find himself on trial for their murders too?

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.