It's been a few months since I've bothered sharing anything (with my future-self, if we're being honest here). I've read a stack of books (and a small stack of virtual books) over the past few months, and I've been seriously lax in commenting on any of them. And now, being so far behind in my book-blathering, I'll probably just ignore all the passages that I wanted to share from each of them and just write up a short blurb that explains why I think they're worth your time to read. I'm a terrible disappointment (to myself, since nobody else reads this drivel), and this may signal the death knell of Badbartopia if even I can't be bothered to spend time on my own web site.
But before that bell tolls, here's a post about one of my favorite topics: books. And, to be honest, also one of my least favorite topics: eBooks.
Sept 1, 2019 update - I was out looking on Google for an almost-forgotten Mad magazine spoof of Quantum Leap (Quandry Heap) that I'd seen semi-recently in the garage amongst the piles of stuff I'd kept from childhood (I have Innovation Comics' Quantum Leap books hanging in the cubicle at work right now) and found the Beauty & The Feast Cracked magazine spoof I'd mentioned a while ago - and also saw a photo of a stack of un-reviewed books I'd read way back in 2011. And it was even taller than the current stack, so I'm nothing if not consistent. I suspect that many of those very worthy books from that 2011 photo never received a well-deserved mention in this backwater corner of the cyber-universe.
Apparently my Amazon reviews are good enough that authors are still finding me, despite my recent lack of book reviews. I've reviewed a bunch of non-book stuff recently, but sadly, no books - they take real effort, while a CD or pair of headphones just takes a few minutes to praise (or not, depending on my experience). Maciek Sasinowski read my review of the George RR Martin's Westeros "prequel" to the Game of Thrones novels, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, and figured his book would be right up my alley. And he wasn't totally wrong.
Heir of Ra (Blood of Ra Book One), Maciek Sasinowski
I don't claim a single genre as my favorite (though I'd guess that around eighty percent of the many books I've acquired fall into the Sci-Fi/Fantasy camp). You can see that the stack of read-and-un-reviewed books above contains a little bit of several different genres - non-fiction / essays, mystery / suspense / conspiracies, legal thrillers, historical fiction, and sci-fi / fantasy. I'd say Heir of Ra falls somewhere between Fantasy and Historical fiction. And it also falls squarely into another category: young-adult fiction.
The book's primary protagonist is a sixteen year-old girl who is very much like a younger, less-wealthy, Lara Croft (of the Tomb Raider game and movie franchise) named Alyssa. Alyssa's dad is a distracted archeologist (so now we also have an Indiana Jones, National Treasure, or maybe The Mummy vibe going) and her mom, another archeologist, died mysteriously when Alyssa was young. Alyssa is good at just about everything, exceptionally attractive, very intelligent, and just a wee bit rebellious.
"A dig in Masada," she said after a while. "A misunderstanding with the local authorities required a quick getaway." She chuckled. "I crashed our truck. Kade - my dad - and I spent two weeks in a detention facility before the U.S. consulate finally bailed us out. When we got home, he insisted on tactical driving lessons for me. He wasn't satisfied until I could do a four-wheel drift and J-turn on a dime... blindfolded."
In addition to tactical-driving, free-climbing, base-jumping, and leading a team of archaeology students, she's also apparently a kickboxer and an exceptional chess player.
Alyssa stood up. "A computer did beat me at chess once," she said, "but it was no match for me at kickboxing."
Paul stared at her for a moment then laughed. "I believe I'm detecting a pattern here. Should I be worried?"
"You should be safe - as long as you don't jam on me," she said. "But I may go ninja on your phone if it rings in the middle of the night."
Alyssa also digs 80's tunes, which I fully appreciate.
A-ha's Hunting High and Low blared from her earbuds
The dialogue/writing style of the book is unmistakably oriented to teen readers. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, it's just a thing. I've never read the Percy Jackson series (my kids have), but I've seen the films. And I'm guessing the novels read an awful lot like Heir of Ra. Which is a great thing, if you're a fan of those young adult novels. Here's a scene that's about as far from the supernatural elements of the book as possible, and doesn't even involve any kids. And I thing the target audience is pretty clear.
"Let me get this straight," he said, his voice strained. "We had our best London asset pitted against three kids." Tasha Mendeva regarded him in silence and swallowed. She forced her head up, meeting his glare. "Yet somehow, those pathetic nerds not only got away with the item from the site -" he took a deep breath - " but they sent our well-paid man to the hospital."
And then there was this. I don't know if this is teen slang or something that the author picked up from that 80s computer documentary, The Net.
"Probably a software flab"
Speaking of the supernatural elements of the book, there's plenty of that. We have Egyptian Gods (or do we?), Atlantis, cursed tombs, and also non-supernatural elements that add to the action: conspiracy theories, international espionage, possible alien technology...all kids of fun stuff. Much of the story takes place thousands of years ago.
I turn to him, straining to focus. His ageless eyes mirror the pain in my heart. His lined face speaks of hard life and labor. My breathing slows and my words now come in a whisper, yet each word strikes his ancient heart like a dagger. "The blame lies with you as it does with him. Was it not you who counseled peace between our people? They deserved death for killing our flesh and blood decades ago, yet you spoke of peace. They do not know the meaning of that word!"
He studies me with a distant stare. When he opens his mouth, his voice is trembling and quiet. "I have failed you, Horus, my grandson. I have failed to protect you and your kindred blood. The night we fled our home, I vowed to keep you and all whom you shall love safe from harm. Yet I failed you." His voice cracks as he remembers the night that will forever be engrained in our memories. "But my greatest failure is that I did not succeed in freeing you of your anguish - and hatred." He pauses, taking a deep, pained breath. "For that night I also vowed never to kill again or wage war."
The memories awaken once more in my head in agonizing detail. Once again, I am haunted by the bleeding faces of the men as they died, their screams piercing through the night air. I stare into the distance, wrestling the memories from my mind. I am Horus, son of Isis and Osiris. A welcome numbness spreads through my body. I shall know no fear.
Sadly, the book does contain a smattering of profanity. Including at least one F-bomb. So there's that to be aware of. If it wasn't a book intended for a younger audience, it might not have seemed so conspicuous. At least the writing is free of grammatical errors, is well-edited, and moves at a good pace. The story does seem to drag a little bit in some of the early way-back-flashbacks, but as you become more aware of what you're reading about, the pace of the story becomes even and really enjoyable.
I was tempted to take the lazy way out and just summarize parts of the plot, but I don't want to ruin the book for other readers, so I'll just say that Heir of Ra is an interesting combo of Egyptian mythology meets archeology-adventure meets The Matrix (didn't see that one coming, did you - The Matrix is a reference to the book's ending. Or maybe it's a Percy Jackson ending - if I'd read any of those novels, I might know). Either way, The Matrix II...er, Daughter of Ra (book 2) should be really interesting.
Oh, and one last comment - the "about the author" smiley-laced blurb was written by the author's teenage daughter (who, I'm guessing, was a major influence on the character of Alyssa). It's a lot of fun.
About the Author From the Point of View of his 15-year-old Daughter (that's me! :) Some say that M. Sasinowski writes until 4 am... fueled by a single cup of decaf coffee. Others say this Polish-born American hyper-nerd absorbs energy from late-night TV space shows. No matter the truth... he's my dad. He will never be cool. He loves archaeology, Star Wars/Trek, martial arts (especially women who kick butt), and impromptu father/daughter (that's me! :) science debates or music jam-sessions. He's kind of smart, I suppose (he has a physics PhD, and an MD, or whatever) and likes to build computers for fun. His teenage daughter (that's me! :) is occasionally a handful to deal with and also served as the inspiration for the main character in his debut young adult novel Heir of Ra. You may recognize him from his glorious hair or his tendency to do the "vacuum cleaner" dance to embarrass his daughter (that's me... :(. If you ever see this man, approach with care and greet him in a language he understands, like in Klingon or, better yet, in Wookie. Guurrghghgh!
A couple of months before I started Heir of Ra, I finished a few eBooks in one of my favorite book genres: post-apocalyptic survival stories.
I mentioned one of the books in this series about a year and a half ago, American Exodus. It was an enjoyable post-apocalyptic survival adventure so I had high expectations for the rest of the series.
Catalyst 1 Downward Cycle, J.K. Franks
Downward Cycle is a more detailed origin of the post-apocalyptic events of American Exodus and like American Exodus, Downward Cycle is also set in the southeastern United states. The events of this book closely mirror many of the events of American Exodus, but also provides a lot of the details that were missing from American Exodus and a whole different cast of characters. As with most eBooks I've read, there's no shortage of typographical errors, but if you can get past the errors, you're in for a well-executed post-apocalyptic adventure. Also in line with American Exodus, there's no shortage of profanity, so it's not a book I'd recommend for younger readers.
Downward Cycle starts out during the solar storm of 1859 - a storm that didn't have quite the same impact then as a solar storm of the same magnitude would now have. With almost no electronic devices in existence yet, most people didn't even notice anything was amiss other than a curious occurrence of the aurora borealis (in areas that don't see this light show normally) as the charged atomic particles slammed against all of Earth's the atmosphere, not just the poles.
The lights he had seen up north were pale compared to what he saw now. The brilliant ribbons of color shimmered and danced with highlights of bright pinks, reds, and vivid blues, before settling into a green which paraded out over the Gulf of Mexico like a ballet of light
The primary protagonist of Downward Cycle is, in my opinion, much more likeable than the car salesman from American Exodus. So that helped with my investment in the story.
Scott's mind began to race; the power was probably out due to a massive solar flare. Wasn't that one of the doomsday scenarios? He remembered reading several novels about a terrorist EMP blast leaving the world in perpetual darkness.
Grabbing the EDC bag out of the trunk, he headed back inside, beginning to feel like the man in the old Omega Man movie, wondering if he would be one of the last men left alive, wandering the planet in search of other survivors. Glancing up at the two bicycles on the wall, he thought that if he had to wander, it would probably be on two wheels.
As with all these stories, the bad guys band together and do their best to steal and kill their way across the countryside. To be honest, the events of this story aren't a whole lot different from One Second After by William Forstchen, but that doesn't make me like them any less. The pandemic angle and government conspiracy theory (which is shaping up to not just be a conspiracy in book two) are interesting detours from the collapse of the power grid/survival in a world full of fried electronics nd almost no electrical power generation.
Mobile County was home to over four hundred thousand people, with nearly twenty percent of those living below the poverty level. Ron said the city had been dealing with a growing gang presence, the ranks of which had now increased with the thousands of newly released prisoners. In the days after the CME, they appeared to be in a feeding frenzy. The addicts could no longer get drugs from dealers, so they were looting drugstores for prescription meds as well as from houses, hospitals. Food, drugs, fuel, ammo and even sex were the new commodities with any value. Fires raged around the city, and armed gangs patrolled the roads looking for hapless travelers. The law quickly had become irrelevant and now was non-existent. Those officers who were not killed or injured in the early hours of the crises simply had no more ammo or working patrol cars. They also had no place to put anyone arrested. Chaos and anarchy had become the rulers of this once proud southern port city.
The events of Catalyst book one lead right into book two, Kingdoms of Sorrow, which I quickly read after finishing Downward Cycle.
Catalyst 2 Kingdoms of Sorrow, J.K. Franks
Kingdoms of Sorrow wastes no time addressing one of Catalyst book one's barely-mentioned plot lines, an outbreak of a vicious pandemic somewhere in Europe/Asia that makes all the misery from the collapse of the grid just that much more miserable. We meet a whole new cast of characters, scientists and mercenaries who know a lot more about what's going on than the rest of the completely unprepared citizenry of the world. Though even they were not completely aware of what was going on.
He was on permanent assignment to Praetor, full name Praetor Paramilitary Battlegroup 9. No one used a real name or rank. He was simply Skybox-5: five for his rank, something close to a Captain in the Army, though any comparison to the normal military was irrelevant.
The ID documents they provided got him through every checkpoint without incident, and his compact go-bag included almost anything he could possibly need to move across both hostile and friendly territory with ease.
Another thought that kept creeping in was that someone at command had known the CME was imminent. The original instructions on the call had said as much by its specific travel instructions.
This disease spreading quickly becomes very familiar to fans of The Walking Dead - except the dead don't become slow, mindless shambling killing machines. They're more like the zombies of Z Nation or Zombieland.
The victims are only partially aware of themselves and their surroundings at this point. They appear to lack all ethical judgment and become filled with the desire to attack prey - an effective short-term method of spreading. The subjects experience acute rage, they attack violently . . . at times they kill, though more often it is simply to wound. Whatever, or whomever they attack are, of almost always infected in the process.
Not zombies sir," Genghis replied. "They're not brainless. They're not slow. And they're not trying to eat us, although they certainly bite. If you shoot them, they will die. You need to shoot them someplace vital, but they will die. The agent that's driving them is primitive and efficient. It wants to grow, reproduce, and survive like any form of life. Think of it more like rabies, but amped-up a hundred times. Given enough time I think it may find a better way for replication . . . and that will be worse.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S. (the above events are taking place in the middle east), our intrepid survivors from book one are fighting off marauders and when not defending themselves, they're doing their best to survive in a world without clean water, refrigeration or a very ample supply of fuel for vehicles. Book two ends with another character who is only briefly mentioned for most of these first two books making his way from the smoldering ruins of the north-eastern U.S. to his friend Scott's bastion of survival. Thing are looking desperate for all the survivors as roving gangs of murderous bandits and a disease that wipes out entire populations is making waste of the few survivors.
Oh, and one last mention-worthy tidbit - there's a very brief Hitchhiker's Guide mention...
"Pretty sure the answer to life and the universe is forty-two," Scott retorted in amusement.
I wasted no time before starting book three, Ghost Country.
Catalyst 3 Ghost Country, J.K. Franks
Our beleaguered survivors are scrambling to develop a cure of the zombie virus, fight off hordes of bandits, and take down a secret faction of the US Government plotting against them. Multiple battles ensue, people die all over the place, plots get very twisty, and the story comes to a dramatic conclusion. I'm running out of gas, so I'm not going to share any quotes from this book (most of what I'd marked sounded too spoiler-ish, anyway).
If you read the first two books (or three, counting American Exodus), you won't need my encouragement to read this one. You'll tear through it.
I'm going to ramble on about some awesome musical-type purchases I've made over the past few months in the next few days (in theory), so that's it for now. Maybe I'll even get to my Grand Canyon adventure, concerts, or any of the zillions of other things I've been planning to mention here...one of these days.