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Friday, September 9, 2011

Three Mini-Reviews: “Toothless” by J.P. Moore, “Nanomagica” by Norman J. LaFave and “Tales from the Edge of Forever” by Alexander Hammond (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

In the past few months, I have read quite a few books. Unfortunately, I am unable to properly review them all. Hence, I’m taking a page from Liviu and doing three ‘mini-reviews’. The common factor uniting these three titles is that all of them are from small or independent publishers and all of them had enticing descriptions:

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J. P. Moore’s Toothless was a book which drew my attention for two reasons: the blurb which described the novel as a zombie tale set in the 12th Century and the jaw-dropping fantastic cover by Scott Purdy.

Toothless is the tale of Martin, a Templar Knight who has become a zombie in thrall to the Black Yew, which is gathering up fallen humans to create an army the likes of which has never been seen. For the first two-thirds of the novel, Martin struggles to remember who and what he was before his life ended, while trying to reclaim his humanity. A struggle made more difficult because he cannot even talk due to the loss of half of his face (see the cover above).

Martin’s actions under the partial thrall of the Black Yew make him out to be a monster, but the author cleverly paints a different picture when we see it through the Templar Knight’s eyes and thoughts. As a result, even though Martin is a murdering zombie, the reader feels an odd kinship with the Templar Knight. Plus, with a big twist coming in the latter half of the book, the novel’s ending is a bittersweet one.

On most accounts, Toothless is a good book and should have worked for me, but it didn’t. Part of the problem I think was due to the languid pace in the first half of the story which establishes Martin and his world, but doesn’t offer much explanation about who or what the Black Yew is and the magic it wields. Perhaps the biggest drawback for me though was the length of the book which felt more like a drawn-out novella. Nevertheless, give Toothless a try if you love zombie stories, good characterization and a dark storyline...

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Nanomagica by Norman J. LaFave

Nanomagica is the debut novel of Norman J. LaFave who has quite an incredible background as a scientist, engineer and educator. Of course, the author’s background is not what attracted me to Nanomagica . . . it was the intriguing blurb, which seemed to promise a SF/detective hybrid.

Set in a partially dystopian future, Nanomagica starts mid-plot before taking the reader back to the beginning where we are slowly introduced to the main characters. This includes Chicago police inspector Robert Nazio who is investigating a case with strange anomalies in it, and his friend cum hacker cum philanthropist Greg Gilroy. What starts out as a strange case becomes something much more when certain people in the world are attacked. Attacks that no one can seem to stop, let alone understand. The root of this problem takes Robert & Nazio to Houston where they will find the answer to their issues and possibly a solution.

As a concept, Nanomagica is fascinating, while the world-building has a lot going for it. The way the novel starts out as a mystery before spiraling into something much more, including a plot twist that seems to be heading in one direction and then suddenly taking a 180 degree turn, is also impressive. On the flipside, pacing and characertization come up lacking. The latter was particularly disappointing since the two main characters are two-dimensional, which makes reading the book very predictable.

The ending is action-packed with enough surprises to keep readers on their toes, but it’s not enough to redeem the book from its drawbacks. So overall, Nanomagica is a decent debut and if the author can improve on certain issues while continuing to surprise the reader, then the sequel might be worth checking out...

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Tales From the Edge of Forever by Alexander Hammond

Tales From the Edge of Forever was a surprise pick for me. I did not know much about the novel and while the collection boasted a lot of high reviews and praise on its Amazon page, I usually don’t pay much heed to ratings unless a book has over a hundred reviews with ratings of 4/5 stars. However, I was intrigued by Alexander Hammond’s novel which was described as a “delicious collection of wildly original vignettes mixing fantasy, speculation, spirituality and science invention.”

As promised, the stories in Tales From the Edge of Forever are quite diverse, drawing influences from a wide variety of genres and sub-genres. The single factor that all of the stories have in common is very good writing by Alexander Hammond, which includes intriguing set-ups and an ability to lure the reader in with a semblance of normality and then yanking the carpet out from under them, making sure nearly every story ends on a completely different track from which it began. As a result, the reader often goes into the next story not knowing what to expect.

Out of the collection’s twenty-three tales, three stories stood out for me: “Aliens, Top Secret” and “The Button”. Some of the stories seemed rather short or ended in an abrupt manner, but I think this was done intentionally, to let readers figure out things on their own. Overall, I very much enjoyed Tales From the Edge of Forever, which features a great mix of eclectic stories, clever imagination and impressive writing. Heartily recommended to fans of Jack Vance, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick and thought-provoking fiction...

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