Saturday, March 17, 2012

Poseidon's Children Book Review

Title: Poseidon's Children
Author: Michael West
Publisher: Seventh Star Press
Pages: 332
ISBN: 9781937929954

Much like the publishers that came before them, readers may not know how to classify Poseidon's Children at first glance. As Michael mentioned last month in his guest blog, "Bringing Poseidon's Children to Life"; without realizing it, he had found himself ahead of the publishing curve with a manuscript that would in today's market easily be labeled urban fantasy. An amalgamation of Leviathan sized nightmares written into 332 pages of hair raising, bone chilling, fist pumping action with a little bit of adventure thrown in for good measure, Poseidon's Children has the perfect blend of two popular genres: science fiction with overtones of horror.

And if you don't believe me, here's the synopsis from the back of the book:

In Poseidon's Children, man no longer worships the old gods; forgotten and forsaken, they have become nothing more than myth and legend. But all that is about to change. After the ruins of a vast, ancient civilization are discovered on the ocean floor, Coast Guard officers find a series of derelict ships drifting in the current–high-priced yachts and leaking fishing boats, all ransacked, splattered in blood, their crews missing and presumed dead. 
And that’s just the beginning.

Vacationing artist Larry Neuhaus has just witnessed a gruesome shark attack, a young couple torn apart right before his eyes… at least, he thinks it was a shark. And when one of these victims turns out to be the only son of Roger Hays, the most powerful man in the country, things go from bad to worse. Now, to stop the carnage, Larry and his new-found friends must work together to unravel a mystery as old as time, and face an enemy as dark as the ocean depths.
In his first book in a projected four book series entitled The Legacy of the Gods, West manages to take Atlantian myths -- you know, from the fabled, ancient city of Atlantis -- and imbue them into an already great story, bringing a richer tapestry of world building to the urban fantasy genre. This is something that I've found to be absent in other urban fantasy series as of late. Where most urban fantasy authors are happy with writing the same thing with only marginal re-imaginings, West has breathed new life into a bloated, redundant genre, commanding it with a voice that cannot be ignored.

Although it's not West's first published work, at times Poseidon's Children reads very much like a first novel. Slow in parts and lacking time for character development (this only applies to a few specific main characters), West still manages to pull off juggling such a large cast of characters fairly well, something he manages to pull off fairly well, with only a few bumps along the journey. Hopefully the second installment, Hades' Disciples will give the characters who weren't given the time to mature as main characters the opportunity to do so.

Fast paced and in your face, there were several scenes that scared the living piss out of me and several more that made Poseidon's Children a memorable read for me; one that I'm not soon to forget. If you're looking for that subtle horror that West does so well, then be warned because there is nothing subtle about this novel! From the first gruesome "shark attack," readers will know exactly what they're dealing with as they delve into the deep with Poseidon's Children.

If John Carpenter wrote prose, his pen name would be Michael West. Poseidon's Children reads exactly like a Carpenter film in all the right places, which isn't much of a surprise since Poseidon's Children was originally conceived as a screenplay. West proves that he can flawlessly write vivid scenes with a director's eye, tactfully inserting all of the Hollywood hallmark scenes and expectations into prose, without pulling the reader away from the story; explosions, fascinating creatures, budding romances between protagonists, a cult of chuthulu-like worshippers seeded on earth from an alien identity, and a fabled city risen from the darkest depths of the earth. This novel makes for one hell of a read. That's why I'm giving Poseidon's Children 8.5 out of 10 TARDIS's.

If you're looking for an urban fantasy series that puts a new twist on urban fantasy, then Poseidon's Children should be your next read!


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Guest Blog: Author Chris F. Holm: The New Noir

I recently contacted Chris F. Holm after reading his debut novel from Angry Robot, Dead Harvest, and loved it so much I asked him to stop by The Sci-Fi Guys to share a bit about the genre of noir.

The New Noir
Chris F. Holm

“Noir” is perhaps the slipperiest term in all of literature. That’s in large part due to its muddy origins; our modern use of the term derives from the film noir of the ’40s and ’50s, which in turn borrowed heavily from the bleak crime tales that began cropping up in the U.S. during the Depression. James Cain, author of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and DOUBLE INDEMNITY, is widely credited as the creator of the modern roman noir. Before Cain, the term was used to refer to what we’d now call Gothic novels, but afterward, the term took on a life of its own.

Thing is, Cain wasn’t wild about the label, and those classic film noir flicks? Yeah, they weren’t called that then. The title was bestowed upon them by a French critic years after they began popping up in theaters, and the so-called noir canon wasn’t really well-defined until the ’70s, when critics and cinema historians adopted it en masse; before then, most of what we consider film noir were simply melodramas. So really, noir fiction is the result of a decades-long game of telephone that bounced from books to movies and back again, with stops on two continents along the way. (For a modern analog, ask any group of kids what “emo” means. I’ll bet you get a couple dozen different answers, none of which will correctly trace the term back to the hallowed ’80s D.C. hardcore punk scene. But I digress.)

The definition that’s gotten the most traction of late is noir preservationist Eddie Muller’s; he called noir “working-class tragedy,” That ain’t half-bad, but it’s more descriptive of where noir’s been than what noir is. For my money, noir boils down to bleak humanism. It’s all about lousy options, bad decisions, and dire consequences.

But regardless of whose definition you go with, you’ll notice something’s lacking: namely, any mention of genre. That’s because for as much as noir’s assumed to be a subset of crime fiction, it’s more vibe than subgenre. And, as many an enterprising modern writer seems intent on proving, that vibe is one that plays just as well with fantasy and science fiction as it does with crime. Witness William Gibson’s brilliant NEUROMANCER (which, okay, came out a while back, but then Gibson’s always been ahead of the curve), Jeff VanderMeer’s unsettling FINCH, or any number of works put out by my (utterly fantastic) publisher, Angry Robot, by folks like Adam Christopher, Tim Waggoner, and Lauren Beukes.

Or, if you’d prefer, witness my humble entrant in the realm of fantastical noir, DEAD HARVEST.

DEAD HARVEST is the tale of Sam Thornton, a man condemned to collect souls of the damned for all eternity, and ensure they find their way to hell. Sam was collected himself decades ago, after striking a deal with a demon to save his dying wife. When Sam’s dispatched to collect the soul of a young girl accused of slaughtering her family, he comes to believe she’s been framed. So he decides to do something no Collector’s ever done before: he defies hell and sets out to prove her innocence.

Yeah, sure, DEAD HARVEST contains its share of crime. But I’d argue it’s not the crime that makes it noir. What makes it noir is Sam’s predicament – the fact that his choices led him down a path where the only redemption he’ll ever achieve in life is in his own mind, because his fate is long since sealed. What makes it noir is the fact that every option available to him is shit, and absolution’s off the menu.

Of course, I could be wrong. But then, the book is what the book is, regardless of how it’s tagged. And if I’m very, very lucky, maybe twenty years from now, some enterprising historians will lump me and all those other folks together under the moniker of new noir.

Hell, if I’m read that far out, they can call me whatever they’d like.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Dead Harvest Book Review

Title: Dead Harvest
Author: Chris F. Holm
Publisher: Angry Robot
Pages: 384
ISBN: 9780857662187

Dead Harvest is the riveting debut of author Chris F. Holm. The novel first caught my interest several months back when Angry Robot made the announcement on their website that they had acquired a new author for a two book deal. I'll admit, the announcement piqued my interest, but what really got me all revved up and ready to review were the amazing hardboiled, pulp-style covers for both books. Without peeking at the first page, I knew what to expect.

With Dead Harvest, Holm introduces Samuel Thornton, an archetypal, chain-smoking, hardboiled badass. But he's not your typical badass; he's a Collector of Souls. After striking a deal with a demon to save his dying wife, he's now damned to an afterlife worse than Hell, Sam hunts the souls of those who have been marked with similar fates. When he's assigned to pluck the soul from a young woman named Kate, whom he believes to be innocent of the horrific crime of killing her family, he does something no Collector has ever done before: Sam refuses to dispatch her soul to Hell. What culminates within the pages of Dead Harvest are the repercussions of uttering such a phrase. Sam will have to do everything within his power to keep the world from ending while proving the innocence of his assignment.

With such a powerful synopsis, I found myself jonesing for more before I had even managed to crack the spine of Dead Harvest. From the cover of the book to the basic premise, I couldn't wait to dive in. When I finally did, I found myself prolonging the inevitable: finishing it. 

With his debut novel, Holm's managed to do something that not many authors have been able to do in the span of an entire career, let alone with their debut novel: flawlessly mesh urban fantasy with a darker, grittier sub-genre that urban fantasy demands. Although not the first to do so, Holm has certainly managed to set himself apart from authors who preceded him. I think within the next six months to a year, a handful of authors will float to the surface to be the new torchbearer's for the noir genre, and Chris F. Holm will be leading the charge. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Angry Robot spearheads this quasi-renaissance. With such an arsenal of titles already in their quiver (and with more in the works, they'll be hard to stop.

On the run from demons, angels, forgotten gods, and a kamikaze Collector named Bishop, Thornton will do anything he can to save the life of Kate, even if that means being chased through New York City while he plans his next move (cue: Robert Johnson's "Hellhounds on My Trail"), and decides on Kate's innocence.

With succinct prose and believable characters, Holm introduces not only a hardboiled hero, but a supporting cast that carries the pace, while also building the intensity. Something I would have never expected from a first novel.  Holm does a wonderful job of filling in the reader as the story unfolds, using flashbacks perfectly; right when I wanted to keep reading, he threw me into the past. There wasn't a single infodump throughout the entire novel. Instead, Holm flawlessly jumps through time and space to show the reader everything they need to know.

For those that like noir or are curious to see it blended with a more popular genre, then don't miss Dead Harvest . Memorable characters, situations and style are all the things that will keep me coming back for more of Holm's work in the future. The Wrong Goodbye, -- the sequel to Dead Harvest -- is already on my TBR pile for 2012, and will probably land at the top when an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) surfaces. Holm delivered in spades, and I loved every second of it. That's why I'm giving Dead Harvest 8.5 out of 10 TARDISes
Yeah, it was that good.