Book Review: Half Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older

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After seeing what felt like the 1,000th tweet about this book, I finally gave in and said, “Okay, okay, I’ll buy the fricking book!” Reinforcement of the lesson for all aspiring authors – promotion pays.
Anybody who reads this blog regularly (hi, you two!) knows what’s coming since I don’t review books that I think are bad. Yep, it’s a good one. Daniel Jose Older seems to be a fairly new author, and I am ever so excited about his books.

HRB is billed as being the first in the Bone Street Rumba series, which is great news because it means we’ll see more of Carlos Delacruz, an “inbetweener,” straddling the line between being alive and dead. Outwardly, this means he’s a little grey and has a very slow heartbeat, but he can walk down the street without anybody becoming alarmed. As for how he got that way, he doesn’t really know. He has no memory of how he died, he just knows that it was violent and that a ghost, his friend Riley, saved him and helped to bring him half way back.

Now Carlos works for The Council of the Dead, a bureaucratic group of ghosts who keep the supernatural community in line – sending Carlos out to hunt those who need to die the real death (i.e. be obliterated) for causing trouble in the living world. The Council sends Carlos to kill another inbetweener, the first he has ever seen besides himself. The job leads Carlos to discover a wider conspiracy to tear down the barrier between the dead and the living. Along the way, he becomes infatuated with beautiful and mysterious Sasha, but is she an innocent pawn or one of the players?

So obviously, totally cool plot, but that’s not the best thing here. Older’s writing is top notch, leaving me wondering how damned good he’s going to be a few years from now. The dialog between characters is fast and edgy. He has a way of seamlessly telling us what Carlos is thinking followed quickly by what he actually says (not at all the same thing, in many cases) that is just plain cool and enjoyable. His characters are slick and the relationships between them are as complicated and fraught as one might expect for a guy who is only half alive and kills for a living.

The other thing I love about this story is that Carlos isn’t entirely a good guy. Not 100% antihero, but he does some shameful things. He doesn’t do them with malice, he feels bad about them later, but he does screw up in ways that cause damage. He’s a supernatural being who manages to be painfully human and relatable. It was one of those books that, faced with only 100 or so pages left, I wanted to read slower to draw it out.

I saw on Twitter that he’s already working on the next one…can’t wait!

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Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge – It’s X Meets Y

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Dear God…Chuck Wendig…I haven’t been doing the flash fiction thing much lately mainly due to time constraints, but I always love Chuck’s random number generator title challenges. So, last week he gave two lists of book/movie titles. We were challenged to write a mashup of one meets the other. I used a random number generator and ended up with a disastrous combination of The Terminator meets 50 Shades of Grey.
The result is easily the most ridiculous story I have ever written. Most definitely NOT SAFE FOR WORK…but don’t get too excited, it’s not really sexy, just very, very ridiculous.

This story is terrible and embarrassing so read it now if you want because I’ll probably take it down soon. All I can say is…sorry. Seriously…just…sorry! *slinks away*

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50 Shades of Turing

The lab was bright with artificial light and gleaming surfaces. Every piece of equipment, every table, tablet, and laptop computer was white and shining in antiseptic perfection. The young, ebony-skinned engineer was a dark contrast to her surroundings and the only organic thing in the room. Even the air she breathed was scrubbed clean by machines before she drew it into her lungs. She leaned over the little robot she was working on, reaching in with white-gloved fingers to connect a wire within its metal body.
The sterile calm of the room was interrupted by the whir of rubber-treaded wheels heading through the door, leaving little black smudge marks as they rolled her way. The sound stopped directly behind her and a tinny, synthetic voice spoke.

“God I want you.”

Robin pivoted on her stool, clenching her teeth with a sneer. She beheld the human-sized robot that had rolled up behind her. It lurked just within her personal space, clutching a loop of braided silk in its metal pincers. The weirdly big eyes that Stan had given it blinked at her once. She rolled her own eyes with a groan.

“Stan!” she called.

The bot released its silk lasso with one pincer as it made a grab for her ponytail with the other. Robin ducked out of the way, sliding off her stool to step out of the thing’s reach.

“Holy cow! We’re going to have to work on keeping you still, baby…” the synthetic voice purred.

“God damn it, Stan!” she shouted, raising her voice to an angry shout. She stalked to the door of the lab, sticking her head out to look up and down the hall for her errant colleague. The bot rolled after her, brandishing the braided silk suggestively.

“If I want to buy you a fucking car, I’ll buy you a fucking car!” it recited.

“Yeah, okay, why don’t you go do that, clanky. You can offer to pay for it with blow jobs and spankings.” She leaned in close to the bot, reaching around as it turned its head toward her face with a simulated sigh.

“I want you sore, baby.”

She yanked the battery pack from its back, hearing the satisfying snap of a hard shutdown. She stuck her head back out the door. “Stan! Your freaking kinkbot is on the loose again!” With one more disgusted glance at the bot, Robin strode across the lab to plop back onto her stool as she heard a rush of running footsteps in the hallway. Stan burst into the lab, red-faced with panic in his eyes.

“Willie!” he cried. “God, I’m sorry Robin! Did he…uh…did he do anything…unforgiveable?”

“That dialog is pretty unforgiveable, but he didn’t manage to do anything physical if that’s what you mean.”

“Ah shit. He got away from me. I’m really sorry.”

Robin folded her arms and shook her head. “50 Shades, Stan?”

Stan blushed furiously. “Stop judging me! I told you I just downloaded it out of curiosity!”

“Mmm hmm. But you didn’t delete it, obviously since your stupid bot read it and got perverted for life.”

“It’s not his fault!” Stan protested, taking the battery pack she held out to him. “He was in…well kind of in adolescence at the time. He imprinted on it. Who would have guessed that damned book would be the one to make a lasting impression?”

Robin chuckled. “Be grateful it wasn’t iRobot or he would have tossed your ass out the window.”

Stan lowered his eyebrows and glanced at Willie as if he was trying to decide if the bot could actually throw him.

“You got lucky again this time, professor. But if Herr Wanderlust rolls into the wrong lab one of these days, you’ll be saying hasta la vista to your funding.”

“I know, I know.” Stan slipped the battery pack into the pocket of his lab coat and started pacing, wringing his hands and yanking absently at his unruly mop of brown hair. “Why are they going after my funding? Haven’t I made progress? Doesn’t the fact that he’s obsessed with kinky sex from a book show that he has some form of sentience? I mean, how much more proof do we need?”

“I wouldn’t exactly call that a Turing Test, Stan. He’s just parroting the damned book.” She turned away to drape a plastic tarp over her own little robot. “And anyway, this is a respectable lab. That baby-oil-lubed embarrassment could start writing original poetry and the company isn’t going to show it to the scientific community, let alone the public.”

“I know,” he groaned. “Why? Why THAT book? I’ve got Shakespeare on my fucking e-reader! Descartes! He couldn’t have gone in for The Emperor’s Handbook?”

“That’ll teach you to keep your wanking material at home.”

Stan blushed again, turning scarlet this time. He ducked his head and stalked over to his runaway robot.

“I…I’ll see you later, Robin. Sorry again.” He grabbed a handle on Willie’s back and circled around to wheel him along to his own lab.

Stan spent the next two weeks obsessing over his impending funding review, trying to get Willie ready. He had kept the bot plugged into Netflix for days, trying to get him to imprint on something…anything other than soft porn. But when he got him up in front of the bigwigs, all he wanted to talk about was whips and some kind of vaginal balls? Stan tried to argue that as proof of independent thought. He didn’t remember any vaginal balls in the book. Wasn’t it one or the other? Who had both?

They pulled his funding and gave him a month to find another backer or clear out of his lab space. Determined to find someone to finance his impending breakthrough, he changed Willie’s entire routine. No exposure to anything but classic literature and music. No more Netflix. Willie had seemed close to getting interested in a couple of other movies, but nothing that was going to help their cause. Risky Business was only going to encourage more salacious talk and The Terminator? Oh God…Stan didn’t even want to consider where that might lead. He called up his LinkedIn profile and started searching for someone willing to back him.

***

There was nobody. Three weeks. Three weeks of begging, pleading, bargaining all for nothing. It seemed that word had spread after the funding meeting fiasco and now he was just a laughingstock. Stan sat at his desk with his head in his hands.

“Hey perk up, professor! I hear congratulations are in order.”
Stan jerked his head up and stared. It was way past time for everyone to be gone for the day. Robin stood leaning into his office in her winter coat and boots.

“Whoa sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”

Stan blinked at her. “Oh…no, it’s okay. I was just thinking. I…uh…did you say congratulations?”

“Yeah, and I meant it too! Don’t worry, you’ll get Willie’s horny ass in line. I’m glad you’re staying. It goes to show, there’s a backer for everything right?” Her phone chimed and she pulled it out to check the display. “Crap, it’s late! Gotta go. It’s after eight, you should go home too! See you tomorrow!”

“I have a backer?” he muttered at Robin’s retreating back. “But everyone said no.” Stan pulled his keyboard close and peered at the monitor as he began to type.

Two hours later, he sat back and let out a long, slow sigh. The money was there. Thousands of dollars, funneled through his own PayPal account. Anywhere from three to five $1,000 payments every night for the last two weeks, with another one made just an hour ago…but he had absolutely no idea where the money was coming from. He gasped for air, casting around his office as if he had left the answer sitting around somewhere. Should he try to find out the source of the money or just use it?

His panic was interrupted by a loud giggle followed by the sound of drunken shushing. He stared out his doorway as a heavyset middle-aged couple staggered past, leaning into one another.

Stan jumped up to follow them. “Hey! Excuse me!” he called. “This is private property. You’re not supposed to be in here.”

The couple pivoted as one, staring at him and breaking into a fresh bout of giggles. The man straightened and stepped forward. “It’s okay man. It’s cool. Willie gave us the code. We paid in advance. Online.” He glanced around and leaned in for a beer-stinking whisper, “Craigslist.”

Stan froze. “Willie? Gave you the code? On Craigslist?” He stared as the couple nodded knowingly and turned to continue down the hall. They turned left as Stan followed them at a distance. The couple stopped at the door to one of the empty office spaces and knocked – one normal knock followed by two fast raps.

The door opened and Willie rolled out. He was draped in red silk with a little leather whip clutched in one of his pincers. Stan glimpsed dim mood lighting in the office instead of the usual fluorescents as the soft lilt of La Traviata floated down the hall.

Willie opened the door all the way and rolled in close to the couple. “Come with me if you want to really live,” he said, the synthetic voice somehow managing to drip with desire and a hint of an Austrian accent.

The couple burst into peals of laughter and staggered into the office. Willie turned his gaze on Stan and rolled forward to meet him.

Stan’s mouth worked soundlessly for a moment before he found his voice. “The money, our funding. It’s from you?”

Willie cocked his head to one side.

“So you’ve…you’re really become self-aware? And…um…and also I guess…an Internet prostitute, uhh, dominant?”
Willie winked one of his big eyes and cracked the little whip in the air, making Stan flinch. “I’ll be back.”

He rolled back into the room, shutting the door behind him with a soft click.

Book Review: Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos

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I bought this book, sight unseen, after hearing some Twitter buzz that it was being criticized for having too many strong female characters. This, of course, pissed me off enough that I immediately ordered one for myself and one to give my brother for his upcoming birthday (if you’re reading this, dear brother…um, surprise??).

It wasn’t as much of a risk as it sounds since the buzz was generated by John Scalzi and I figured if he liked it, chances are I would too. Nonetheless, I was prepared to feel a bit foolish and chalk it up to a learning experience if the book turned out to suck.

I finished it in a day and a half. Suck it did not. This book was a ride. It was almost exhausting at times, but more like vigorous-round-of-sex-exhausting, not slogging-up-a-mountain-exhausting…and that’s always a good thing.

The near-future story follows Andrew Grayson – a young, intelligent, self-described welfare rat who enlists in the military to escape his hopeless and seriously shitty life in Boston public housing. He says goodbye to his sad mother and cancer-riddled, abusive father hoping to get a ticket off of Earth and a chance for a new life. We follow him through basic training, where the abundant food alone is enough to make him stay through the hardships of the program.

He makes friends, discovers his skills, and even strikes up a romantic relationship with a fellow (yep, strong female) soldier. All great stuff, but fairly relaxed until Andrew graduates and gets his first assignment. I don’t want to inject spoilers here, so I’ll just say he gets an assignment and many, many explodey things happen. It’s running and shooting and battle tactics and grenade launchers and wanton destruction followed by skin-of-the-teeth survival. It’s basically one damned thing after another for this guy and his unit and we are happy to be along for the ride.

Afterward, Kloos lets us up for a breath of air and then plunges us back into the shit for some seriously surprising space-alien adventure. Awesome stuff, full of both male and female bad-ass characters, great dialogue and quality storytelling. I see that it has a sequel, which I’ll be buying ASAP. Maybe I’ll even get two!