Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Vicious Circle (A Joe Pickett Novel),by C.J. Box

In "Vicious Circle," C.J. Box's master storytelling allows the reader to smell the cold, fresh scent of Wyoming's pine tree forests, and see the hard whiteness of the stars and moon over the dark blue of the Teton Mountains.

Picking up from the 16th novel, Box weaves a tight multilayered plot involving a few very bad and very corrupt characters. Dallas Cates, the rodeo star who abandoned Pickett's daughter by the side of the road, is out of prison. Together with two ex-cons, he intends to avenge himself and his family by killing Pickett and his whole family. As Pickett desperately tries to keep his family safe, he is confronted with seemingly honest individuals conspiring to destroy his reputation, and the riddle as to where Cates is getting the money to buy them off. "Vicious Circle" is a page turner that I literally could not put down.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

* Print Length: 377 pages
* Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (March 21, 2017)
* Publication Date: March 21, 2017
* Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016, by Rich Horton

Rich Horton packs this anthology to the brim with bite size stories with unexpected plot twists and surprise endings. Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays a lead role in many of the stories. There are AIs that love humanity, such as the android in "I am Paul, Martin," by L. Shoemaker, where a future android provides medical and sweet empathetic care to Mildred, an elderly woman with Alzheimers disease. And in "Cat Pictures Please," by Naomi Kritzer, there is a caring AI who wants only to help you since it knows everything about you, and wants cat pictures in return.

In some stories, time travel happens in unique, surprising ways. For example, in "Time Bomb Time," by C.C. Finlay, the author cleverly poses the implied question, what if you read a story about time travel and find yourself reading the same conversation twice? Is it a typo? An heuristic device? Or have you traveled back a few minutes in time?

A science fiction and fantasy anthology would be incomplete without a few dystopian futures, and Mr. Horton does not disappoint. In Ray Nayler's, "In Mutability," two strangers, Sophia and Sebastian, reside in a future world where death apparently is no longer inevitable, but neither stranger has many memories. One day, at the cafe in which Sebastian spends his days, an unknown woman, Sophia, befriends him and shows him a photo of the two of them, centuries old. Neither remember each other or the photo, but why not?

In "Folding Beijing," by Hao Jingfang, (translated by Ken Liu), a future Beijing has become so crowded the population is divided into three spaces where First Space contains the rich and well educated, and Third Space contains the poor and lower classes. As each class awakens, another space rotates and folds up. Lao Dao, a Third Space waste processor, wants to enroll his daughter in a music and dance kindergarten. To do so, he must get more money by illegally carrying messages and goods to and from First Space. Author Hao Jingfang's story, however, is more than a glimpse at a possible dystopian future based on class and privilege. Rather, it is an Aesopian tale about love and friendship, and where true contentment lies.

Most of the writers in this anthology are exceptionally talented, and a few will take your breath away. In "The Karen Joy Fowler Book Club," by Nike Sulway, an older female, who loves her solitude and her library room, walks alone in a Serengeti-type outdoors and fears that her type will be extinct because the daughters do not see the need for procreation. In this beautifully told tale, are the women human?

Another author who captivates is Will Ludwigsen, whose channeling of a 1940s pulp science fiction writer and his writing for a 1960s, "Twight Zone"-type of television show, "Acres of Perhaps," is sheer genius. As the writer grieves for his lost love who has died of cancer after 50 years together, he remembers the 60s and the two other writers for the show, one of whom believed he was living in an alternate universe. The story is a loving homage to rural America, 1960's science fiction and two great romances. Ludwigsen is an award wining author and this story demonstrates why.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

* Print Length: 576 pages
* Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
* Publisher: Prime Books (June 10, 2016)
* Publication Date: June 10, 2016
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC