Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Ghosts of Karnak, by George Mann

Ghosts of Karnak (The Ghost, #3)

I purchased this thinking the titular Ghost was the same character from the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Beware the Gray Ghost"—one of my favorites. It was a great story where we find out Batman patterned a lot of his approach to crimefighting from an old TV show, The Gray Ghost. (Even cooler, the Ghost was voiced by Adam West, a nice nod to Batman history.) Sadly, although the art on the cover of Ghosts of Karnak seems to support this, the Ghost from the novel clearly isn't the Grey Ghost I wanted.

Set in a steampunk-inspired 1920s New York City the plot finds the Ghost initially fighting mobsters, but they take a back seat when a mystic religion that wants to destroy Manhattan is uncovered. The book is surprisingly violent, with deadly force seemingly the only thing ever used—"Batman doesn't kill" is a mantra not shared by the Ghost. To that end, the Ghost uses explosive rounds in his gun rather than regular bullets, that burst targets "chests like glistening, blooming flowers." Resurrected ancient Egyptian gods, sentient baboons, and living statues feature in the climax; while interesting, they completely pulled me out of the world and story. Overall I found this book to be disjoint and disappointing; but to be fair, I went into it with a very different expectation than what I found.

First Sentence:
Her name was Autumn and like the season that had invested her with both name and temperament, her apperance heralded the onset of a fall.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

After the Golden Age, by Carrie Vaughn

After the Golden Age (Golden Age, #1)

A coming-of-age story, this novel focuses on Celia, the only daughter of the world's greatest superheroes, Captain Olympus and Spark. Celia has no powers herself, though, and spent her childhood feeling like a disappointment to her famous parents. After a major act of rebellion she ran away to college, became a forensic accountant, and has refused to have anything to do with her family while rebuilding her life. However, when her parents' archenemy is jailed for tax evasion, Celia is assigned to the case and finds her worlds drawn together once again.

While superheroes and villains are at the core, this is really a tale of redemption simply set in a four color world. There are a few different mysteries in play, but everything is wrapped up neatly (if predictably) at the end. The main romance jarred me a bit; I clearly misunderstood the age of one character so the sudden affair seemed to come out of nowhere. Regardless, I found myself rooting for Celia and look forward to the next volume, Dreams of the Golden Age.

First Sentence:
Celia took the late bus home, riding along with other young workaholic professionals, the odd student, and late-shift retail clerks.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, by Bradley W. Schenck

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis

Described accurately on the back cover as "Fritz Lang's Metropolis meets Futurama" this book is set in a future that might have been envisioned in the 1930s, complete with space pirates, personal rockets, robot sidekicks, mad scientists, and private adventurers. There are a couple of main plots that coalesce at the climax—almost too many plots. There are a lot of groups running around and until they start bumping into one-another the story is pretty chaotic. The humor saves the novel, though, with the city's Experimental Research District (where all of the scientists maintain their laboratories to keep all of the explosions contained and the rest of the city safe) being my favorite location and the world's smallest giant robot my favorite character. Overall the book is pretty light, but the madcap adventure and pulpy descriptions and depictions of the art deco world are worth a look.

First Sentence:
The Scarlet Robots of Lemuria had begun to climb the walls of the citadel by the time Dash remembered to check the time.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Ghost in the Wires, by Kevin Mitnick with William L. Simon

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker

Subtitled "My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker" this is a rollicking story of how Kevin Mitnick became a computer break-in artist, how he eluded the FBI for years, and how he was eventually caught. It is a fascinating read; he starts by breaking into the phone company to make free long distance calls, and continually improves his skills and systems access until he can control tapping any phone. He stole thousands of credit card numbers and personal details, and created multiple false identities to evade the FBI when they caught on. Mitnick claims he never used any of these details for personal gain, but instead simply approached hacking as a problem to be solved—he wasn't interested in the credit cards, just the challenge of obtaining them.

Mitnick goes into great detail about how he got into so many systems, and that detail is fascinating. Most of his entry points weren't purchased on the dark web, but obtained through fairly straightforward social engineering. We hear all the time about how we are never supposed to give out passwords over the phone or provide detailed answers for people we don't know, but over and over again Mitnick does exactly that. For example, he'd call someone and ask if they were authorized for a particular system, and when they said yes he'd reply with something like, Your password is '0128.'" The person on the other end would respond, "No, no, no. My password is '6E2H." And just like that, Mitnick had another password. Simple.

Mitnick comes off as antisocial, narcissistic, and arrogant which is a bit surprising as he is the author; I'd expect he'd tone down his disdain for authority or contempt of social mores. He shows a staggering lack of remorse, and his regrets all center around him getting caught. While not very likable, his story is compelling and hard to put down. If you are in any way interested in cyber crime or the dark side of technology, this is a must-read story.

First Sentence:
My instinct for finding a way around barriers and safeguards began very early.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Barbary Station, by R. E. Stearns

Barbary Station (Shieldrunner Pirates, #1)

Space pirates versus murderous drones controlled by an insane artificial intelligence: not a bad hook! Adda Karpe and Iridian Nassir are our heroes; two women that hijack a colony spaceship and take it to a space station run by pirates hoping to join their crew. What they find is the pirates hiding in the walls of the station and its security AI hunting them. The adventure is fairly by-the-numbers, but fun to read—kind of like an old Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon serial. The author isn't afraid to kill off characters which adds some surprise and gravitas in places, but the main characters are predictably safe throughout. Not a lot of humor, but I did like the chapter headings; each one listed the crimes that occur within, such as "Changes Accrued: Piracy, Assault and Battery, Theft." Not an amazing book, but a solid adventure perfect for a long airplane ride.

First Sentence:
Despite the darkness, the pressure on every centimeter of skin, and the smooth, flat plastic in front of her nose, Adda Karpe was not locked in a coffin in deep space.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

The Night Angel Trilogy, by Brent Weeks

The Night Angel Trilogy (Night Angel, #1-3)

This is a collection of three novels: The Way of Shadows, Shadow's Edge, and Beyond the Shadows. As such, it is a long read—almost 1200 pages not including the glossary and list of characters at the end. (The glossary and list are well worth reading; they have a fair amount of humor in them, which is sorely lacking in the main narrative.) The story follows a young thief as he apprentices to an assassin and with a magic artifact becomes one of the most powerful people in the world.

Weeks is clearly heavily influenced by George R.R. Martin: magical creatures, warring kingdoms, an incestuous queen, and a tendency to kill off major characters mid-novel. They both share a love for excessive gore as well; Weeks does not shy away from describing the horrors of the dungeon, slavery, or murder, often bordering on uncomfortable. A scene where it is discovered that dead women are being used as sculpture and furniture was particularly disturbing (and quite misogynistic). The biggest difference is that Weeks actually finished his series, where we've been waiting nearly a decade for the next volume of Martin's epic.

The plot is great, both gripping and compelling. The rest is a mixed bag, though. Many of the heroic characters experience some depth and growth, but the villains are largely one-dimensional. Magic plays a huge part in the story, but the mechanics lack definition; maybe I'm just used to Brandon Sanderson and L. E. Modesitt Jr. though. The descriptions of the land are pretty solid, but without a map it was difficult to judge distances and it seemed that the time to travel between places varied greatly. Overall, a great escapist read, perfect for a long airplane ride (or three).

First Sentence:
Azoth squatted in the alley, cold mud squishing through his bare toes.

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