David Markson was an interesting writer.  He wrote The Ballad of Dingus Magee, which was made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra, three crime novels, of which this is one, and several other later novels which were rather different in style and approach to the normal narrative style.  I am halfway through one of them now, and it is something of a slog, to be frank.

But Epitaph for a Tramp is wonderful.  Hard-boiled 1959 noir crime novel, cleverly written,  Chandler-esque in style.

A couple of years ago,our protagonist, a P.I.,  married a chick he met on the beach, and he  fell in love at first sight.  They marry soon after, but sadness is on the horizon.  Turns out, she is a troubled creature, finding solace in the arms of strangers whenever he is away on a case. He divorces her and carries on with his life.   This is exactly why your mother always tells you to wait a couple of years before marrying, because it takes time for the real person to reveal him/herself.

A year or so after the divorce, she comes to his apartment in the middle of the night, having been stabbed in the street, and bleeds out on his floor.  The rest of the book is him trying to discover who killed her.

It was good,– good writing, a good mystery, an interesting background story, and as usual, I had no clue as to the murderer, so I was happy with it.  More and more often, these days, I only want something easy peasy to read at night before I fall asleep, because I am too close to falling asleep to read anything too heavy.  Well, that’s what happens when you stay up into the wee hours of 7 pm.

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OUT OF THE PAST by Renée Pawlish

This is the fifth in an apparently endless mystery series by the Amazon #1 bestselling author.  I know she is the Amazon #1 bestselling author because it says so right on the cover!  She is an extremely prolific author.  Once you get the basic structure down pat of a detective story, you can churn these things out by the dozens.  *I* couldn’t.  I couldn’t write my way out of a paper bag, so I even admire the authors who can continually  come up with a new slant on the fundamentals.

This is kind of a comic mystery story.  Here’s the official blurb:  Compelled by a dark secret from his past, private investigator Reed Ferguson takes on his most unique case yet: bodyguard for young, spoiled trust-fund baby Stephanie McMahon. As Reed tries to protect her from her father’s enemies, he gets more than he bargained for. Things are not what they seem, no one can be trusted, and the past has a way of coming back to haunt us. And when suspicious deaths begin piling up, Reed knows he might be next. With a twisting plot and film noir fun that readers have come to expect.

OK, the big secret from his past is that back in his salad days, he and a few friends set up what amounted to a Ponzi scheme but soon shut it down.  Only a very few people know about this.  A wealthy guys uses this info  (how in the world did he learn of it?) to blackmail Ferguson into bodyguarding his wild and headstrong daughter, who wants no part of being bodyguarded.

But gee, a friend of hers commits suicide, another friend from her college circle dies, and the bodies start piling up.  The dialog is fun, the situations are on the light amusing side, and all in all, it is a decent mystery.  I almost guessed the villain of the piece.  OK, not exactly, but I was closing in on it.  Give a girl a break, will ya?

ANCHOR LEG by Jack Croxall

This little sci fi YA was almost good.  Almost.  Fell a bit short as the ending drew near because the actions became more and more improbable and the plot more predictable.

Official blurb:  Humanity has spilled out into the Solar System, into a succession of giant space stations known as the Relay. Seren Temples is a security apprentice running the Relay’s remote Anchor Leg. When sabotage strands her vessel near another damaged ship, Seren and her team are sent across to investigate. The second ship is a zero-G graveyard. Inside its vast hold, nothing but a single vial of frozen blood.

Seren is 17 years old. Her boss, the head of security, is injured during a riot control, and during that riot, a man steps in and shoots one of the security team, killing him.  Another member of the team goes after the shooter, and kills him.  He is taken into custody and thrown in the brig. The head of security is in a coma in the hospital, leaving only two members of the team still available and functioning — the former pirate turned good guy, and the 17-year-old trainee.  So.  Who does  the captain of the ship make acting head of security?   Sigh.  Yes.  The 17-year-old trainee, because, duh the other one used to be a pirate.   [Insert eye roll here.]

So right there, I am trying to decide whether to just abandon the book at this point, or slog forward.  I slog forward, because it is actually a space mystery/thriller and I usually finish a mystery, no matter how less-than-excellent they are.

The mystery itself wasn’t bad, but really, the star of the show being a 17-year-old?  That wasn’t really working for me.  However, I did like the world building — very creative.  The sci part of the fi was a smidge lame,  but the author wasn’t going for competition with Miéville or Kim Stanley Robinson, so we readers just went along for the ride.

I think I just discovered a new genre:  cozy sci fi YA mystery/thriller.    🙂

 

 

ABADDON’S GATE by James S. A. Corey

I love literary allusions.  Some of them I have to look up, like this one.  This one I believe is a reference to a questing game, where Abaddon’s Gate is the entrance to the third and final layer of the prison built by the five gods of this game’s world. Beyond this gate lies the Heart of Abaddon, where the dark god, twisted by centuries of torment, strains against his prison. It lies at the bottom of the Realm of Madness, surrounded by constantly flowing falls, which carry the entire realm’s torment down upon the imprisoned god.

Abaddon’s Gate the novel picks up a year after the events of Caliban’s War, (and in case you have forgotten the gist of that episode of our space opera, you can refresh your memory here)   For generations, the solar system — Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt — was humanity’s great frontier. Until now. The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus’s orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless dark.

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.

A young Belter, the space opera counterpart to our teenagers,  tries to thread the ring with his spaceship, and it sets into motion a major interplanetary incident that brings each of the major Solar System factions (Earth, Mars and the Outer Planets Alliance) to the Ring, where they begin to study the construct, and keep tabs on one another.

We lose many of the secondary characters from the previous books, but Miller the detective who died in the first book, shows up again,  a phantasm constantly reminding Holden to check the doors and corners.  A ghost?  Have we gone paranormal?   Holden manages to get the Rocinante through the gate thing without being pulverized by keeping the speed slow.  He then EVAs out to what looks like  a guardhouse, or something, where he meets Miller again, and learns that Miller is just a visual of the entity that is the protomolecule created to communicate with him.  Insert eye roll here … why him especially?  Oh, well.  It’s fiction.  Move on.

Meanwhile, some chick, the daughter of a bad guy who was finally brought to justice and is languishing in jail, is out for revenge on Holden, so that plot thread twists around the investigating the protomolecule thing/ring plot thread, and all in all, it is all good fun.

Several more books to go in this series.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM by Cixin Liu

This is an award-winning sci fi book by China’s most famous sci fi writer.  It was written in 2008 but not translated into English until 2014 by the excellent Ken Liu, no relation to the author.   It is the fourth most common surname in China.

Should you have forgotten your physics, I will be happy to refresh your memory.  In physics and classical mechanics, the three-body problem is the problem of taking an initial set of data that specifies the positions, masses, and velocities of three bodies for some particular point in time and then determining the motions of the three bodies, in accordance with Newton’s laws of motion and of universal gravitation which are the laws of classical mechanics.

Historically, the first specific three-body problem to receive extended study was the one involving the Moon, the Earth, and the Sun.  In an extended modern sense, a three-body problem is a class of problems in classical or quantum mechanics that model the motion of three particles.

Now, can we take this particular issue and make an interesting and exciting science fiction tale out of it?  Why yes, yes, we can.  Set in China, it starts off with the cultural revolution and a disgraced scientist who is beaten to death.  His daughter, an acclaimed scientist herself, is recruited from a labor camp to work at a top secret facility out in the boonies.  It’s massive telescope and radio tower and equipment are said to be for the war effort and to prevent further conflict.

Fast forward to the modern day and we meet Dr. Wang, another top scientist in his field, now recruited by the government via the police and military to help them with a strange situation.

It is basically the story of  the two scientists, Ye Wenjie, an engineer working in a top-secret military base during the 1970’s, and Wang Miao, a nanotechnologist in current day China. While events in current day China unfold for Wang, the story of Ye is told in alternate sections. The nature of the top-secret base is uncovered during the intricate story.

This is a dense, Byzantine plot, with switchbacks and a role-playing virtual reality game not making anything any easier to follow.  It is just chock full of physics.  Thank goodness it stops just short of giving us calculations and mathematical summations.  My physics is a little shaky.  OK.  A lot shaky, but while it helps to have a basic understanding of the physics, it is even more helpful to have a basic understanding of human nature.

We think that if we meet extraterrestrials, it will be all hi and welcome.  But what if it isn’t?  What if the safest thing is to remain silent, instead of looking for life in the great cosmos?  Because what if that life is looking for us…. for no good purposes?

It is all about trust, loyalty, curiosity, and wishful thinking.  And there are two more books in the series.

 

 

 

CALIBAN’S WAR by James S. A. Corey

I am not sure, but I think Caliban is a reference to either the X-Men world of superhuman robotics run amok, or to Roger McBride Allen’s Isaac Asimove’s Caliban, which is set on a planet in Asimov’s Foundation universe, and focuses on a cultural and legal dilemma posed by the Three Laws of Robotics after a roboticist is apparently assaulted by one of her robots. This event threatens to cause a global panic, because the planet’s entire way of life relies on the belief that robots are incapable of harming or disobeying humans.

Caliban’s War is the second in The Expanse series written by two guys with one name.  The first is Leviathan Wakes,  which is a humdinger and which I talk about here.   And even though I said in that review I thought I would pass on No. 2, I changed my mind, and boy am I glad I did.

The official plot summary:  On Ganymede, breadbasket of the outer planets, a Martian marine watches as her platoon is slaughtered by a monstrous supersoldier — kind of a robot monster. On Earth, a high-level politician struggles to prevent interplanetary war from reigniting. And on Venus, an alien protomolecule has overrun the planet, wreaking massive, mysterious changes and threatening to spread out into the solar system.

In the vast wilderness of space, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante have been keeping the peace for the Outer Planets Alliance. When they agree to help a scientist search war-torn Ganymede for a missing child, the future of humanity rests on whether a single ship can prevent an alien invasion that may have already begun . . .

I am really enjoying the universe which James S. A. Corey, (aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) have created for this series.  Lots of great planets, which although in real life would seem just absolutely uninhabitable, in this universe of theirs, Mars has been terraformed and ice planets like Ganymede are the breadbaskets for the outer planets.  Everything is possible. This second novel in The Expanse series finds Holden and the crew of the Rocinante trying to stop further attempts to weaponize the protomolecule, with a little help from a Martian marine, a belt-born botanist, and a UN power broker.

Yeah, it is kind of Robots Run Amok Are Us.

And yeah, it is space opera, but interesting space opera, with great science-y stuff and wonderful characters.

Loved it.

THE DIAMOND AGE by Neal Stephenson

The official blurb:  The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer is a postcyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson. It is to some extent a science fiction coming-of-age story, focused on a young girl named Nell, and set in a future world in which nanotechnology affects all aspects of life. The novel deals with themes of education, social class, ethnicity, and the nature of artificial intelligence.

I have no idea what post cyberpunk is.  I’ll go look it up for us.  Be right back.

OK,  I’m back.  You are going to LOVE this:

Post Cyber Punk is the reaction to the Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy of Cyberpunk. Of course, Post Cyber Punk involves Reconstruction of concepts Cyberpunk deconstructed, or deconstruction of Cyberpunk Tropes (such as the Dystopia). The Cyberpunk genre itself was meant as a reaction to utopian fiction popular in the 1940s and 1950s while exploring technology’s possibility for abuse Twenty Minutes Into the Future (tech from Star Trek will just result in Brave New World), but as the genre itself got so Darker and Edgier to the point of being just as unrealistic, it was predictable that Cyberpunk itself will get a deconstruction.

Yeah.  I don’t know what all that means either.

How about this?   Post-Cyberpunk is a modern reaction to the now antiquated visual qualities of ’80s inspired cyberpunk. Post-Cyberpunk tends to have a greater focus on Transhumanism, space travel, and emerging technologies that weren’t imagined at the time of the ’80s.

Back to Stephenson and The Diamond Age.   It is set in a near future that is unrecognizable in some ways and disturbingly familiar in other ways. Nations have dissolved and people now tend to congregate in tribes or “phyles” based upon their culture, race, beliefs or skills. Nanotechnology has upended society, and even the poorest people have access to matter compilers that create clothing, food and other items from a feed of molecules. Still, the lack of education and opportunities for the underclass has created a wide division between them and a wealthy phyle like the Neo-Victorians, who have adopted the manners and society of the British Victorian age.

John Hackworth is a brilliant nanotechnologist who lives with and works for the neo-Victorians. He is approached by one of the leaders of the clan, Lord Finkle-McGraw, to secretly create an interactive smart book for Finkle-McGraw’s young granddaughter. Lord Finkle-McGraw fears that the neo-Victorian society is too hidebound and commissions Hackworth to use his skills to create a children’s book that will develop a more educated and inquiring mind. Hackworth develops this book, the “Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer,” but can’t resist the temptation to (illegally) create a copy of it for his own young daughter.

Unfortunately for Hackworth, Dr. X, the Chinese black market engineer whose compiler Hackworth used to create the copy of the Primer, wants a copy of the book for his own purposes as well. Hackworth is mugged on his way home with the Primer by a gang under Dr. X’s direction, but the young thug who grabs the book gives it to his 4-year-old sister Nell rather than to Dr. X. The education Nell gets from the interactive Primer ends up changing her life drastically. While Nell’s life is benefited immeasurably by the Primer, Hackworth runs into serious trouble, caught between the pressures exerted by both Lord Finkle-McGraw and Dr. X, both of whom are aware of his crime and both of whom are using Hackworth for their own interests and goals.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I lifted this plot synopsis whole from a reviewer named Tadiana on Goodreads.)

There are a couple of side plots which kind of bog the book down, but all in all, a long, dense but fascinating read, as are all of Stephenson’s books.

I ‘read’ this book via my text-to-speech function on my Fire, and it was disconcerting that the reading voice kept pronouncing ‘Primer’ with a long ‘i’, like paint primer.  lol

I have to be in the mood to read Stephenson, but when I am, I really like his work.