Review: Where Shadows Play

"Like if Stephen King wrote an episode of LOST."

I didn't know what to expect when I started this book. Obviously I know Danny McAleese--understatement of the day--but it was described to me as "Young Adult/Paranormal," which isn't really my preferred genre. But the story grabbed hold in the first chapter and wouldn't let go. The trio of main characters--Aaron, Jason, and Hailey--are deep and likable, with a unique... well, "relationship". All of it is compelling and relatable before we even get to the book's primary setting (which we arrive at pretty quickly). 

I've never read a paranormal book like this. It was fast-paced like a thriller. It never slowed down or meandered the way a lot of books do, and every chapter ended in a way that made me say, "Well crap, I can't stop reading NOW." I started this book before bed (a mistake), stayed up too late reading, and picked up the next morning as soon as I had my coffee. It's been a while since I've been that engrossed in a book.

What makes this story extra cool is that it's based on an actual location: the Verdura Plantation in Florida. Only the pillars exist today... which, well, makes sense when you read this story. 


Great characters, exciting--and real--setting, amazing story. I'd recommend this to anyone, regardless of their genre preference. 

Review: Ready Player One


Ready Player One has one hell of a hook: the creator of an online MMO-style world has died, and he's leaving his fortune to whoever can reach the hidden ending within his game. Like a Golden Ticket for World of Warcraft. Every gamer's dream.

The book paints the picture of a dystopian future where pollution and an "energy crisis" leave the world in an unlivable, awful state. Most people spend their time immersed in The OASIS, a virtual world accessed with VR goggles and haptic gloves. The setting is realistic and believable, and the book is immediately engrossing. The creator of The OASIS was obsessed with the 1980s, the decade he grew up in, so the virtual world he created is replete with pop culture references. The entire book is a grin-inducing walk down memory lane.

Unfortunately, beyond that, the book has very little going for it. I struggled to finish, and only did so out of an obligation of completeness. 

The plot is bland and predictable: an unexpected boy is the one to find the first "key" to The OASIS puzzle. The characters are one-dimensional and have no real development. The protagonist eases his way through the book without any real strife, succeeding in a never-ending series of deus-ex-machina style skills:

  • "To get the first key you had to beat the Skeleton King at the game Joust. Fortunately, I'm the best in the world at it and win on the first try!"
  • "To complete the first gate I had to reenact the entire War Games movie. Fortunately, I've watched it a billion times and know all the lines by heart!"
  • "To get the one-up coin I had to play a perfect game of Pac-Man, something only 5 people have ever done in history! Even though I'm rusty at my Pac-Man skills, I become the 6th person after just a few hours."
  • "To get the second key I had to beat the game Zork. Fortunately, I know the game by heart!"
  • "To pass through the second gate I had to reenact the movie Blade Runner. Fortunately, I know the movie by heart!"

It's that sort of thing, repeated over and over. There's never any struggle, strife, or hardship, beyond the first ten pages of the book where the protagonist's living quarters are described (which stops being an issue a few pages later when he's suddenly famous and rich). 

Plot issues aside, the writing disappointed me. It's extremely "telly" (as opposed to showy). The pacing is strange and frustrating: Cline will spend pages and pages describing something unimportant, like the posters on the wall of their chat room. Then, when we reach an important part of the story (such as reaching the Dungeon where the first key resides) he'll skip past all of the action with a single "I completed the dungeon and reached the final room," type sentence. It's maddening. 

Overall, the simplicity of the story and the quality of the writing make this book feel like a Middle Grade book masquerading as adult fiction. I think it will do much better as a movie (which is due out in 2018), but as for the book, you can get the same experience merely by reading a list of 1980s movies and videogames from wikipedia. 

I don't know what I expected with this book, but it's certainly not what I got. 

Review of Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes was like an erotic science fiction massage for my brain.


My wife, who knows me better than anyone, bought me a signed copy for my birthday last month. I was excited. Who wouldn't be? I'd heard of the series, knew it was good enough to turn into a SyFy show, and had been meaning to read it. 

The book starts off with horror. Gruesome, grotesque, throat-closing horror. It's a strong hook, filling the reader with questions.

After that, it settles into a good rhythm. You may not know this, but James S.A. Corey is actually a pseudonym for two authors who collaborated on the book. As such, there are two main POVs:

  • Joe Miller, a security officer (a detective, really) working on Ceres.
  • Jim Holden, the Executive Officer on an ice mining ship.

Miller is a fine character, centered around the search for a missing woman (who, by no coincidence, we meet in the horrific prologue). Good motivation, good story, good everything.

But Holden and his crew are the gem of this book. After having their ship destroyed by terrorists, Holden is forced to become the Captain of their escape vessel. Along with two engineers (Naomi and Amos) and a pilot (Alex), much of the book is spent bouncing from one near-death experience to another, always barely managing to survive or weasel their way out of trouble.

As many readers will probably say, it feels a lot like Firefly. Holden is an honorable captain with a sense of humor, and he'll do anything for his crew. And they love him for it. The relationship between all of them is natural, to the point where the reader feels like one of the gang. 

Beyond that, the politics of the book are exciting. There are several competing factions: earth (run by the United Nations), the Martian Congressional Republic, The Belt (a rough collection of the asteroid belt bodies), and the Outer Planets Alliance, which is described as "The Hezbollah of the system." The unraveling relationship between all of these forces is, by itself, a compelling story. 

Yet it's not the main story. Without giving too much away, Phoebe--a moon of Saturn--is discovered to be a weapon sent to the solar system millions of years before humans evolved. An alien organism, known as the "protomolecule", is recovered on the moon and... well, you'll have to read to find out. 

Leviathan Wakes has a solid standalone story, but it's very clearly the beginning of a long series. And it's so good, so fricken good, that you're happy for it. As soon as I finished the book I quickly bought #2 and #3, and spent four unhappy days waiting for them to arrive by mail.

The cover of the book has a blurb from George RR Martin: "It's been too long since we've had a really kickass space opera," and he's right. If you like science fiction, you'll love Leviathan Wakes, and be thirsty for more.

Review of State of Fear, by Michael Crichton


I've been reading Michael Crichton for a long time. He's easily my favorite author. Like most teenagers, Jurassic Park blew my mind and had me reenacting scenes with my GI-Joes in my bedroom. After that I absorbed everything he'd written: early work like Andromeda Strain and Terminal Man, then his middle-career work Congo and Sphere, and the later books like Timeline, Congo, and Next. I loved it all. Crichton could do no wrong in my eyes, and he never  disappointed.

Well, unfortunately that ended with State of Fear.

State of Fear tells the story of eco-terrorists attempting to make climate change appear worse than it actually is in a variety of staged catastrophes (flash floods, antarctic shelf collapses, and tsunamis). An unsuspecting lawyer from California is swept up in the attempt to stop them.

The book falls short in numerous ways. First, the characters are extremely flat. Peter Evans--from whose point of view the majority of the book is told--is boring and unmotivated. He has no clear goals or ambitions, and is simply swept along in the events. The two mysterious characters who suddenly appear to try and stop the terrorists also have no backstory or motivations, beyond a vague "We have to stop them" attitude. The entire thing is weak. It's a thriller, so less backstory is expected, but when the characters have no reasons for their motivations it becomes dull.

Secondly, the book's pacing/plotting is formulaic and boring. They're in Pasadena trying to stop lawyers. Now they're in Antarctica for [insert vague reason here] and oh, they stumble upon a terrorist plot there. Now they're in Arizona trying to halt a flash flood. Then they're fighting the terrorists on a tropical Pacific Island. It's a collection of individual scenes strung together in a patchwork plot that feels disjointed. Crichton's writing is fine, but the story itself is sub-par. 

But the largest reason I didn't enjoy the book is because the entire thing was written as a strawman attack against cllimate change. Crichton paints all environmentalists as psychotic and extreme, rabidly insisting global warming is real and going to whatever means necessary. You know how, when you're explaining an argument and you want the other side to look dumb, you puff out your cheeks and make their exaggerated voice really deep and slow-sounding? This entire book feels like Crichton doing that. "Hurr durr, the environment!" 

Not only is the book itself written to paint environmentalists thusly, but Crichton goes so far as to attach an entire 20 page thesis at the end of the book, where he lambastes modern scientists as 100% corrupt and equates Climate Change Theory with the Theory of Eugenics. "Eugenics was widely accepted in the 1930s," he goes on to explain, "and we look back on it as ridiculous. The Theory of Climate Change will look the same in another century."

It's fine to have an opinion on an issue, even if others disagree. Discussion and discourse are important. But State of Fear is an elaborate attempt to paint the other side as extreme, when it's simply not the case. That would be more excusable if the book were entertaining, but this work of fiction fails in that regard as well.