Action-jammed, entertaining, and sometimes profound pseudo-history SF despite the pulpy plotting.

THE LUNA MISSILE CRISIS

In this SF novel, an alien mothership blunders into a historic Soviet space flight, triggering conflicts and mayhem between Russia, America, and the extraterrestrials.

SF authors Bruno and Castle recast the 1960s Cold War with an alien encounter of the unfortunate kind rather than Cubans. A vast mothership carrying an amphibious race (the Vulbathi) materializes in 1961, by chance—or perhaps God’s design; a few Roman Catholic characters ponder this—in the path of Yuri Gagarin’s manned space flight, killing the pioneer cosmonaut. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, assuming American aggression, launches his nuclear arsenal, which the advanced Vulbathi divert but don’t exactly neutralize. A belt of Eastern European countries becomes the “Dead Curtain,” irradiated and strewn with alien refuse and weird aftereffects (shades of Arkady and Boris Strugetsky’s first-contact classic, Roadside Picnic). Three years later, the Vulbathi—known in human slang as “Toads”—sojourn on the moon in an uneasy détente with Soviet, American, and Chinese officials, who covet their superscience and maintain peaceful relations despite the traumatic history and the black market in copied Toad gadgets and arms. Kyle McCoy was a foot soldier in the early Dead Curtain American-Russian-Vulbathi skirmishes who miraculously negotiated a cease-fire. Now, he is prominent in the DAR—not the Daughters of the American Revolution but the Department of Alien Relations. He is invited to an interspecies summit meeting to chart a future. But deadly sabotage, assassination, and terror ensue. Meanwhile, it goes unappreciated that present at the scene is not really Kyle but his ne’er-do-well twin brother, Connor, a junkie, con man, and part-time Hollywood actor, who switched places. Yes, that’s right, and more than one character marvels at this groaning cliché. The authors’ hell-for-leather approach brims with battles, betrayals, and cartoony villains, including a recurring New York City Mafia crime lord (who ultimately gets a more positive evaluation than the statesmen and politicians). President John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Neil Armstrong, and J. Edgar Hoover are among the real-life eminences who show up (seldom in a flattering light), though a sense of nostalgia gets dispelled by the occasional anachronisms in the prose. Still, there are no cellphones or PCs in this diverting roller-coaster ride through what-if time and space.

Action-jammed, entertaining, and sometimes profound pseudo-history SF despite the pulpy plotting.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-949890-61-7

Page Count: 486

Publisher: Aethon Books, LLC

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

GIDEON THE NINTH

From the Locked Tomb Trilogy series , Vol. 1

This debut novel, the first of a projected trilogy, blends science fiction, fantasy, gothic chiller, and classic house-party mystery.

Gideon Nav, a foundling of mysterious antecedents, was not so much adopted as indentured by the Ninth House, a nearly extinct noble necromantic house. Trained to fight, she wants nothing more than to leave the place where everyone despises her and join the Cohort, the imperial military. But after her most recent escape attempt fails, she finally gets the opportunity to depart the planet. The heir and secret ruler of the Ninth House, the ruthless and prodigiously talented bone adept Harrowhark Nonagesimus, chooses Gideon to serve her as cavalier primary, a sworn bodyguard and aide de camp, when the undying Emperor summons Harrow to compete for a position as a Lyctor, an elite, near-immortal adviser. The decaying Canaan House on the planet of the absent Emperor holds dark secrets and deadly puzzles as well as a cheerfully enigmatic priest who provides only scant details about the nature of the competition...and at least one person dedicated to brutally slaughtering the competitors. Unsure of how to mix with the necromancers and cavaliers from the other Houses, Gideon must decide whom among them she can trust—and her doubts include her own necromancer, Harrow, whom she’s loathed since childhood. This intriguing genre stew works surprisingly well. The limited locations and narrow focus mean that the author doesn’t really have to explain how people not directly attached to a necromantic House or the military actually conduct daily life in the Empire; hopefully future installments will open up the author’s creative universe a bit more. The most interesting aspect of the novel turns out to be the prickly but intimate relationship between Gideon and Harrow, bound together by what appears at first to be simple hatred. But the challenges of Canaan House expose other layers, beginning with a peculiar but compelling mutual loyalty and continuing on to other, more complex feelings, ties, and shared fraught experiences.

Suspenseful and snarky with surprising emotional depths.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31319-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A slow-gathering hallucinatory adventure that eventually delivers a great payoff.

HARROW THE NINTH

From the Locked Tomb Trilogy series , Vol. 2

Quirky space opera, dark fantasy, Gothic novel, and unreliable-narrator thriller combine in unusual and unpredictable ways in the second of a series.

Harrowhark the First, newly created Lyctor of the Emperor—a near-immortal councilor and warrior—is in some difficulties. The young necromancer is having serious trouble integrating the soul of her sacrificed cavalier, a necessary step in assuming her full powers and ensuring her body will fight when her soul is immersed in the undead realm of the River. Perhaps this trouble stems from her mistaken belief that her dead cavalier was cowardly bad poet Ortus Nigenad; readers of the previous volume, Gideon the Ninth (2019), know that Ortus died before the Lyctor challenge began; Harrow's true cavalier primary was the crude, defiant, and appealing young woman known as Gideon Nav. Harrow’s rewritten memories of a past that never happened as well as her conviction that she’s insane makes it nearly impossible for her to fully prepare for a hopeless battle with a planet’s vengeful soul—or to determine what’s real from moment to moment. Harrow is nowhere near as fun a protagonist as snarky, passionate Gideon, and we soon realize that her troubles are mostly self-inflicted. Although she remains sympathetic, Harrow wanders through most of the book confused, sad, desperate, and repressed except for a secret and kind of creepy passion for the Body, a beautiful, feminine-appearing preserved corpse she glimpsed in the taboo and supposedly inaccessible Locked Tomb at her home, and whose ghostly presence seems to follow her everywhere. It’s somewhat grim going until the final fifth of the book, when the story gathers itself with thrilling speed, delivering exciting action sequences and explosive revelations.

A slow-gathering hallucinatory adventure that eventually delivers a great payoff.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-31322-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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