I am a die-hard, life-long, can’t-get-enough-of-it Stephen King fan. The Stand and the Dark Tower series sit proudly in my list of all-time favorite books ever. He can’t write a book that’s too long for me, or with too many characters, or with too outrageous a plot. Even in my least favorite examples, I still always find some element worthy of turning the pages to the gritty end.
If you have ever wished that HP Lovecraft wrote more stories about the elder gods, dark things beyond human understanding, and that particular brand of madness born from knowledge no one individual should know, the short story anthology, Madness on the Orient Express, was collected just for you! This set of sixteen tales of insanity centering around the fabled Orient Express both serves as a poignant love letter to Lovecraft and as an exceptional addition to modern horror. Some pieces utilize Lovecraft’s signature writing style while others are more modern, but each one presents a perfectly encapsulated piece of atmospheric creepiness in word form.
The challenge with your main character being a murdering psychopath is all about giving your audience a reason to want to be in their head for a couple hundred pages without slitting their wrists. You can do that by creating a small shelf of understanding for their throat-slitting tendencies, as in the case of the criminal-targeting Dexter. Or by telling a sympathetic backstory, filled with the kind of traumatic abuse that shapes the very worst among us, such as *insert horror movie franchise villain here.* In Beverly Kills, however, we get a straight-up serial killer worthy of American Psycho without any shading or excuses.
If you peruse my lists of books on Goodreads, you will immediately see a distinct preference for genre. If the world is ending, I’m reading about it. This list is heavily influenced by the Apocalypse, and certainly by Science Fiction in general, but I’m pretty pleased with the variety I managed to work in this year.
I’m going to cheat a bit in limiting myself to 10 items for this list. I’ve found it impossible to list a number of items without also including their various prequels, sequels, and so forth. I’m a firm believer in consuming the whole story!
These were my favorite reads from 2014, and I hope I inspire you to pick a few of them up.
If I had to describe The Spartak Trigger (and, as it happens, I do—that’s the nature of reviews), I would say that it’s a good book disguised as a bad book. At first glance, everything about this book says that you should hate it. The protagonist is not just thoroughly unlikeable but actively loathsome. The plot is thin and far fetched. Perhaps worst of all, it employs a number of hackneyed tropes and devices throughout and resolves plot conflicts with coincidences that strain credulity even for fiction.
However, what sets The Spartak Trigger apart from a hundred third-rate spy novels is that it KNOWS all of this about itself and wears these flaws on its sleeve. And, underneath it all, the book is actually really well written, to the point where I didn’t want to put it down.
When this assignment was first sent out by my boss, I had fellow friends and reviewers approach me with, "Dude, did you pick up that James Bond review?" See, if you know me well enough, you'll know that I am a HUGE James Bond fan! I've seen each of the 23 films more than once. I have autographs from all SIX actors who have played James Bond in the official movies (Yes, including George Lazenby . . . ). I even have signatures by Judi Dench, Richard Kiel (Jaws), and Honor Blackman, better known as "Pussy Galore." I even still own a Nintendo 64 gaming system solely for the purpose of playing the best James Bond video game ever made, Goldeneye. So, when I first picked up a copy of James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy and read that it was dedicated "to fans of spyfi, espionage, and, of course, James Bond aficionados everywhere," I knew I was meant to review this novel.
I pick up a Young Adult novel, I want to find some very specific things. A spunky, take-no-prisoners heroine. A troublesome love interest. Someone (or something) evil to fight against. Throw in some element of the supernatural, apocalyptic, dystopian, fantastic, the other-worldly, and I'm a happy reader.
In Storm Siren, author Mary Weber brings us a fantasy realm filled with faeries, magic, and monsters, and layers in a gritty social environment filled with slavery, poverty, and political intrigue. Weber echoes themes from The Hunger Games and The X-Men in a unique, imaginative world for the reader to explore.
When I'm asked what supernatural power I would choose for myself, the ability to clone myself has always seemed very tempting. Let my clones do all those things I don't enjoy . . . working out, public speaking, washing the car, etc. Whatever my intent, speculation about the benefits of this power always diverts very quickly into some very questionable moral ground.
Imitation by Heather Hildebrand, takes this selfish impulse and explores the implications of using clones in the larger society. When created by a super-secretive corporation, at the whims of megalomaniacal sociopaths, there are going to be serious moral issues.
How would you like the world to end?
The End is Nigh, the first installment of The Apocalypse Triptych, a collection of short story anthologies from editors John Joseph Adams (Wastelands, The Living Dead) and Hugh Howey (Wool, I, Zombie), gives us a deep menu from which to choose. Alien invasion, artificial intelligence takeover, collision with celestial body, mass suicide (as recommended by THE VOICE OF GOD), drought, killer nano-bots, EMP, all manner of plague (including the zombie variety) . . . and in at least one case, apocalypse by unknown event.
It took a little while to get hooked into this story. Terms of Enlistment promises to be an action-packed thriller but starts off more like a military memoir. Sure, that assumes a fair amount of exciting stuff can happen, but I was beginning to despair that it would all be portrayed from a safe distance, instead of sticking me right into the thick of things.
I needn’t have worried.