When book blurbs reference Douglas Adams and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," alarm bells the size of cannons go off. I never got the joke (despite being a huge Monty Python fan), and Adams' work just left me more puzzled than amused.
But for some reason, I decided to read Rob Reid's "Year Zero" (Ballantine Del Rey, $25, 357 pages), despite the "Hitchhiker" mention and -- once more proving, as my hillbilly father used to say, that even a blind sow finds an acorn now and again -- "Year Zero" was a delight.
I'm sure part of the pleasure was its immersion in pop music (I was a rock critic for 25 years, after all), and the book's cool premise: Humanity doesn't do much well in the galactic scheme of things, but its music is so great, sentient beings actually expire from joy upon listening to it. Nor does it hurt that Reid is a very funny guy.
The plot combines copyright law, alien species, hairbreadth escapes and a little romance, and it all works wonderfully. My only complaint: The aliens have really bad taste in music, opting for the cheesiest '80s hits and completely ignoring bands like the Pretenders and Hüsker Dü. But even if you don't have an opinion or don't remember the music, "Year Zero" is still a fun read.
"Technomancer" by B. V. Larson (47North, $14.95, 366 pages) also moves along really quickly, as Larson spins a noir-ish tale about a Las Vegas investigator of the occult who wakes up in a sanatorium with no
Las Vegas, of course, is the perfect locale for a slightly unscrupulous protagonist with a taste for the ladies and no objections to violence -- and for this plot, which involves alternate worlds, Arthur C. Clarke's definition of magic (it's worth looking up if you don't know it already) and plenty of twists. Larson also leaves room for a sequel, or sequels, and I would not be averse to reading the next adventure of Quentin Draith.
"Nebula Awards Showcase 2012" (Pyr, $17.95, 332 pages). Since I mentioned Monty Python earlier, I feel justified in using that group's hard-to-beat transition: And now, for something completely different .... Every once in a while, I read a collection of short stories to see if my youthful fascination with the form will ever return -- and I have to say "Showcase" restored a little of my faith. As always, there are some stories that just don't work for me, but there were enough that did to make it worthwhile reading.
Overall, I think that's true of most collections like this one. Each reader will enjoy some stories, and be unmoved by others -- but the categories differ from person to person. So I don't know if a book like "Nebula Awards Showcase 2012" is worth buying, but it's probably worth checking out of the library.
And speaking of getting back to my sci-fi roots, I picked up "Energized," by Edward M. Lerner (Tor, $27.99, 333 pages), which is an old-fashioned, hard-science sci-fi book. Luckily, the science isn't off-the-charts hard (some astronomy, engineering and such), but sadly, the old-fashioned applies to the writing style, too. In fact, it seems Lerner missed all those composition seminars that emphasized "show, don't tell," because he keeps telling us how cool his main characters are, but neither of them ever really comes to life.
In fact, almost all the characters are pretty bloodless, which makes it difficult to muster the energy to care about what happens to them. Still, Lerner puts them through their paces, and even in their typical near-future dystopia, manages to put an old-fashioned positive spin on the old-fashioned American, against-all-odds spirit.
Contact Clay Kallam at firstname.lastname@example.org.