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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Blood Drama by Christopher Meeks

Christopher Meeks knows how to engage a reader and tell a story. His collection of short stories, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea showcases Meeks' mastery of small moments and was the book that made me a huge fan of his work. The great joy I found in those stories compelled me to buy every other book he's written.

In this book, Blood Drama, tells a longer story. It begins with Ian Nash, a drama school grad student who is having a bad day. After being dropped from his Ph.D. program, Ian stops for coffee and manages to wind up as a hostage in a bank robbery gone wrong. It's a classic case of a bad day gone much worse.

Meeks takes all the cliches of a thriller, the desperate criminal, the wise-cracking cops, the beautiful FBI agent and the hapless every man caught in the middle and takes them mostly in the ways you'd expect. But there are enough "wait, he did what?" moments in the tale to keep you turning the pages and the dialog sparkles and cracks with wit. I found, as I turned the pages, that while I certainly didn't like every character (indeed, I found Ian pretty annoying at times) I cared what happened. I bought into the story and the characters.

Meeks is not afraid to be outrageous and while the book comes dangerously close to collapsing under the "writer's fantasy problem" (Do you think the beautiful FBI agent is going to fall for the annoying, self-absorbed, Mamet-obsessed writer-type? Is said writerly guy going to grow as a person and save the day? Well, what do you think!) Meeks manages to both play by the cliche, poke fun at it and hit a layer of truth underneath it all. When I've described some of the more outrageous scenes to friends they've said "that sounds awful." And you'd think it would be, but somehow under Meeks' watchful eye and wise pen, it's not.

Meeks writes about people trying to solve problem of making it through the day. Blood Drama sees just how bad a day can get. Meeks takes the thriller and gives it a heart. A dopey, exasperating heart, but one that beats true.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Twittering from the Circus of the Dead by Joe Hill

I'm a big Joe Hill fan. I've reviewed his three novels (Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, and NOS4A2) here and last month I got to meet Joe at the Seattle Public Library. Joe is a great guy and not that scary in real life. He gave a great reading, answered numerous questions, posed for pictures with fans, and signed books and Kindles.

I was thrilled yesterday to find that a new Joe Hill story was published as a $0.99 Kindle single. I clicked the buy button in a heartbeat and plowed through Twittering from the Circus of the Dead in one sitting.

Joe Hill is a terrific (and terrifying) writer and he proves it here by telling a story entirely in tweets. His bored teenage protagonist thinks she is on the worst vacation ever. When things get more interesting, she finds things much worse than boredom.

Twittering from the Circus of the Dead is a quick read and quite scary. I love Joe's novels and and now I'm loving his short stories. I'm still dipping into his short story collection, 20th Century GhostsTwittering from the Circus of the Dead is well worth the buck I paid for it.

Keep those stories coming, Joe!

Crux by Ramez Naam

In his first novel, Nexus, Ramez Naam burst onto the science fiction stage with a terrific book filled with credible augmented humans set in a fascinating future. Nexus was a thoughtful thrill-ride that came to a very satisfying, action-packed conclusion. In his latest novel, Crux, Naam takes his readers further into a world changed by Nexux, the mind-linking, mind-enhancing technology combining nano-technology, pharmacology and software.

Crux is a thoughtful thriller. While the book is filled with gunfire, assassinations, fist fights, carbon fiber and nano drones, once again it is the very human struggles that propel the story. Crux is fundamentally a story about power, the powers of the government and the powers of the individual.

The events in Crux take place six months after the events that made up the story in Nexus. Naam vividly describes both great good and great evil made possible by Nexus enhancement. Some people are empowered, some are addicted, some are enslaved. Naam is very good at writing conflicted characters, showing how evil can come from good intentions, how good people can fail and how hard choices can be.

Naam never lets philosophy get in the way of a good story. While his characters do battle with their consciences, they are mostly busy trying to stay alive and the story zips right along. Naam does manage to find the time to add small bits of humor to his tale, including a great scene where an enhanced Chinese clone and a grizzled CIA operative compare battle scars. Another great running joke are the repeated scenes where the reader is shown that running Bruce Lee software in your head doesn't make you Bruce Lee.

Crux does the work of great science fiction, it makes the reader look closely and critically at what kind of world we are building here and now. In Crux, Naam doesn't let the reader off with easy answers. Instead he gives them fascinating questions, compelling characters and one hell of a story.

(Note: I was fortunate enough to receive an Advance Reader Copy for this review. Crux will be published later this month.)