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The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius
The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius
by John Joseph Adams
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.49
86 used & new from $4.42

5.0 out of 5 stars I'll read just one more. It's only 2 a.m., November 14, 2013
The idea of mad scientists seems so overdone, like an old relic of serials from the Cold War era, which is why it was so surprising to see such nuance in a new anthology edited by John Joseph Adams, called The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination.

The obvious expectation is a bunch of short stories about white-haired men in lab coats, cackling and rubbing their hands nefariously over a workbench covered in bubbling vials. There are a few of those in here, but the authors have given us a surprisingly wide variety of characters, goals, and motivations. Sure, there are guys, but there are also good guys with good intentions gone wrong, normal guys who are misunderstood, geniuses with broken hearts or broken minds, even children who don’t understand their own power. Another laudable choice was to include stories where the mad scientist is a woman, instead of the traditional stereotype.

A refreshing aspect of the anthology is the variety of story forms. There’s the traditional tale of world domination, told in third person. But there are also stories that use flashbacks, or unreliable narrators, or multiple twists to keep things interesting. In fact, one the most delightful stories is told in the form of an itemized list. Trust me, it works.

To Adams credit, the stories form a nice ebb and flow. He has ordered them so that one particular trope or writing style doesn’t get too repetitive. Humor is interspersed with drama. Large plans of world domination are separated by more introspective, personal tales. And despicable protagonists are tempered with more lovably mad scientists.

The difficulty in reviewing an anthology such as this is that the quality of writing varies from story to story. The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination is no exception, although it’s worth saying that the low points are few and far between here. And they’re also not all that low. A few stories suffer from a slightly tortured premise or an unusual detour, but for the most part they are all well written and utterly compelling.

Such quality shouldn’t be so surprising. Adams has managed to pull together stories from some famous and up-and-coming authors in the science fiction and fantasy world, including David Farland, Mary Robinette Kowal, L.E. Modesitt Jr., Naomi Novik, Austin Grossman, Seanan McGuire, and many more.

The greatest benefit of an anthology, and this one in particular, is that you can get a large variety of hilarious situations, fascinating characters, intriguing ideas, and compelling plots. But perhaps the largest difficulty in reading this anthology is that there will inevitably be characters that you don’t want to let go. I promise you will want to read an entire novel about some of these mad scientists. But it’s not a bad problem to have, and Adams has certainly given us an anthology that will have you saying “I’ll read just one more. It’s only 2 a.m.”

by T. Eric Bakutis
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.43

4.0 out of 5 stars Great New World!, November 14, 2013
This review is from: Glyphbinder (Paperback)
Glyphbinder by T. Eric Bakutis is a full, stand alone fantasy novel set in a completely new world. And that is why my hat is off to Mr. Bakutis—to create a new world (complete with mythologies, landscapes, different cultures, and other details) and successfully contain it in one book is not an easy task. Especially if that book is the author’s first.

The process of releasing narrative information and exposition, pacing it perfectly so it isn’t an info-dump, is very complicated and Glyphbinder has a lot of information packed into it. It is obvious that Bakutis worked hard to nail down every detail (he even says the book was a 15 year process). As a reader you need to be prepared to take in that information. Bakutis has the release valve at the right setting, so you won’t get overwhelmed.

But I almost think this one book could have been spread into a series. Why do I think that? Well, because there are a lot of really details that were very interesting, things I wanted to know more about. I guess that is a sign of a good book though.

Now, what is the book about?

Glad you asked.

Kara Tanner wasn’t alive for the war that almost destroyed her world half a century ago, but she, and everyone else in the Provinces, live with the consequences. Relationships between the Provinces are tenuous at best and those, like Kara, who work glyph magic are striving to keep the peace and make sure that same magic is never used for evil again.

At Solyr, one of the academies created to train and regulate glyph mages, Kara is at the end of her studies and has a high chance of becoming a Royal Apprentice. However, Kara doesn’t want the position for its prestige, but for the resources she needs to cure her mother of a fatal illness.

On her journey to save her mother, Kara learns that the effort to retain peace in the Provinces is crumbling and that an ancient evil, once thought banished, is gaining hold of Kara’s world and everyone she loves. But Kara doesn’t know that she is the only one that can set everything right.

Despite the slow beginning, this book offers a lot of action. In fact the last half is non-stop action, with the last fifty pages feeling like someone turned on the nitrous.

The parental part of me must warn that the violence gets a bit thick in a few spots, but not in an unnecessary or overdone way. I guess I just get squeamish about torture.

Because of the cast of characters and the depth of the world contained within, Glyphbinder is an entertaining and memorable fantasy novel. The magic is set forth with rules and boundaries, so all of you fantasy junkies (myself included) don’t have to worry about cheesy characters with cheesy powers. The glyph mages have strict consequences for the magic they practice, but I don’t want to tell too much so I will leave it at that.

Year Zero: A Novel
Year Zero: A Novel
by Robert H. Reid
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.50
91 used & new from $0.17

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Breath of Fresh Air in the Science Fiction Market..., March 3, 2013
This review is from: Year Zero: A Novel (Hardcover)
Perhaps you think you don't need a book in your life that combines sentient parrot villains, music piracy on a galactic scale, scrapbooking that will literally melt your mind, and a reality TV star dressed as a sexy nun, but you do.

And Year Zero: A Novel, by Rob Reid, has all those things.

Year Zero is a breath of fresh air in the science fiction market. Aside from Scalzi's Redshirts, there aren't many humorous science fiction novels being published lately. Make no mistake, Year Zero's primary goal is to be a humorous novel, and the science fiction is more set dressing. In fact, one of its faults is that at times it feels like it's trying too hard to be funny. But we shouldn't punish the book for such a minor transgression, especially when the majority of it is genuinely funny.

Year Zero follows Nick Carter, a struggling lawyer at one of the biggest firms in New York. If his name made you think of a particular member of the Backstreet Boys, you're not alone. Some music-loving aliens make the same mistake.

In fact, the entire galaxy loves human music. Billions of species in the galaxy are superior to us in every way but one: Their music is terrible. Since they first picked up the theme song to a sitcom broadcasted into space back in the 70s, aliens have been recording and sharing all the music they could get from little old planet Earth.

Until they found out that it's illegal.

That's right, just like the hacker down the street, the unprincipled teens in your local high school, and your mother, aliens are guilty of music piracy. Thanks to stringent rules about honoring the laws of primitive species, every civilization in the known universe owes us a lot of money. All of it, in fact. This has made many aliens mad, and more than a few have decided that it would just be easier to make the problem, namely humans, go away. Carter must do some of the most creative lawyering of his life in order to save Earth and settle the biggest potential lawsuit in the galaxy amicably.

Patent law and music piracy litigation isn't exactly the most exciting plot device in the science fiction canon, and Year Zero seems to labor under this weight at times. But it's a fresh idea, and Reid deserves praise for making it interesting and simple enough to understand. However, in some places, especially the end, the details can get a bit tedious and manage to slow down the otherwise fast pace of the novel. At least Reid, who is a former entrepreneur in the music business, is very familiar with the subject, and his expertise helps make sense of such complex legalese.

It's very tempting to compare Year Zero to the most famous example of humorous sci-fi: Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Both involve an underdog protagonist who is swept off the planet and gets tangled up in intergalactic hijinks. In some ways, the humor feels as manic and random as Hitchhiker's, but it's oh-so-different in other ways. While Douglas Adams wrote something that felt like it could fit in any decade, the satire and wit in Year Zero is very in the now. Painfully so, at times. Reid relies heavily on allusions to songs and pop-stars that are funny, but probably won't age well. And for someone who didn't come of age in the 80s or 90s, much of it will be hard to decipher. The upshot, on the other hand, is that music lovers and pop culture aficionados will find tons of quips and easter eggs seemingly made just for them.

The pace of the novel is quick and it has some very steady beats until near the end. When a book takes you across the universe to spend time with weird and hilarious extraterrestrials, it feels like hitting a speed bump to settle down at the end and resolve a conflict centered around legal interpretations of the law.

Despite these minor hiccups, Year Zero is still a good read and an easy sell. It is just the right kind of zany, often inventive, and does an excellent job of satirizing the particular brand of crazy we call modern life (and the particular legal insanity thereof).

We need more of this. Not necessarily a sequel, I mean, but more humorous fiction. I recommend reading this book for its own merits, but also in the hope that strong sales for Year Zero will mean a market more friendly to humorous sci-fi in the future. If anything, the future will be just too absurd to take seriously, and that's no fiction.

Rapunzel's Revenge
Rapunzel's Revenge
by Nathan Hale
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.60
134 used & new from $2.33

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Brothers' Grimm meet Pecos Bill, December 27, 2010
This review is from: Rapunzel's Revenge (Paperback)
What happens when you mix Pecos Bill and The Brothers Grimm? You get a tall-fairy tale called Rapunzel's Revenge; a graphic novel that any kid would love. The story takes place in an Old West fairy tale land called Gothel's Reach.

In following the traditional story of Rapunzel, there is a girl that becomes imprisoned in a tower and then is able to escape through the use of her extremely long hair, but after that the story is a little different from the original. Let's just say that the Brothers Grimm's version didn't include Dwarves, magic forests, giant rattlesnakes, men riding buffalo, and Rapunzel using her hair to take down bad guys.

Rapunzel's Revenge leaves tradition behind and goes even further into a new and rich Western epic. Written by Shannon and Dean Hale and colorfully illustrated by Nathan Hale, this graphic novel is packed with action, adventure, and comedy that is great for the kids.

This graphic novel is very clean and is appropriate for beginning readers and up.

I don't read very many graphic novels but this one caught my eye and I am glad that I now own a copy signed by the illustrator.

The Ruins of Gorlan (The Ranger's Apprentice, Book 1)
The Ruins of Gorlan (The Ranger's Apprentice, Book 1)
by John Flanagan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $5.08
583 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Good for a ten-year old..., December 29, 2009
First off, this book was way too long for the story that it told. All of the excitement starts in the last fourth of the book. The POV(Point of View) is all over the place and that makes all of the characters pretty much one-dimensional. There is a lot of exposition in this book that could be expanded (shown not told)and that would have made the world more rich and detailed. In addition, the beginning storyline is a LOT like "Magician: Apprentice" by Raymond E. Feist, so if you have read that book, then this book will seem cliche.

Now on the other hand, if you are a looking to purchase this book for a ten-yr old, then by all means do it. It is entertaining in a shallow enough way that a young person could digest it well. The king's struggling humor and the spunky pony make for fun comedic episodes, but it is still cliche.

The main pro and con:

Pro: Great for an innocent youth.

Con: POV is all over the place.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 11, 2010 4:11 PM PST

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