What I've Been Reading - July 2014 Edition
The Staff of Serapis by Rick Riordan
Actually a short story. Rick's setting up a crossover book with his two series, the one featuring Greek demigods and the one featuring Egyptian, er, demigods (Too long to explain). This is the second short story doing this and it was a lot of fun, featuring Annabeth from the Olympians and Sadie from the Egyptian series. The two characters mix really well and it was a lot of fun.
Field of Prey by John Sandford
Our most reliable and consistent thriller writer. A little bit of a return to his earlier books, which is to say, grim and disturbing. When a couple teenagers go out into an abandoned farm to get laid, they accidentally uncover a well that's pretty much filled with the bodies of missing women.
Robert B. Parker's Cheap Shot by Ace Atkins
I'm not in love with Atkins' Spenser novels, but I think he probably does it as well as anybody could. The voice is just different enough that it sets my alarm bells. On the plus side, the plots are generally better than Parker's were, and he's developing some new schtick between Spenser and Hawk. Recommended.
Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome by John Scalzi
Okay. Wow. John has a book coming out, I believe in a could weeks, Locked In, that involves a near-future world that has been ravaged by a virus. But this virus causes, in some cases, the person to eventually go into a physically locked-in state, they're essentially paralyzed, unable to talk and move, but are fully conscious. In Unlocked, he presents a somewhat epistolary version of the spread of the virus and how things changed technologically and culturally as a result. The gist of it is that someone developed, basically, avatars—neural networks that could operate robots, and then the various cultural things that came out of it. It's an amazing, thought-provoking and occasionally disturbing novella and I'm looking forward to the novel.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
Needs no explanation.
Frozen Solid by James M Tabor
A research scientist goes to South Pole Station to do a Antarctic-water dive to collect some unknown bacteria that were found growing in the frigid water. Meanwhile, there have been a series of odd deaths, seemingly accidental or medical, of some of the women on the station. It's enjoyable, has some strange off-kilter behavior, and a little too closely resembles one of my WIPs, CRYSTAL STORM, which may or may not someday get finished and published, but I thought it was good.
The Churn: An Expanse Novella by James S.A. Corey
The Expanse series is terrific space opera. This takes us down to Earth, Baltimore basically, to give us some backstory about one of the characters in the novella. I'm not so sure how it fit into the Expanse series (in terms of how accurate the character's backstory seemed), but I thought it was a pretty fascinating look at the Earth of that series.
The Cuckoo's Calling by JK Rowling
Her first crime novel featuring Cormoran Strike, a PI in London. It's very British, very slow and textured, but the character of Cormoran is terrific. It's also very, very different from the Harry Potter novels, and if I hadn't known they were written by the same person I wouldn't have guessed she wrote them both. I do find that there are significant thematic material concerning the nature of fame. I imagine I will read the second one eventually.
Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples
This is an SF graphic novel my oldest son wanted me to read. It ain't a comic book. It's very adult with a fair amount of nudity, sex, and, of course, violence. It takes place in some galactic area with an ongoing war between a couple species and two of them have fallen in love and had a baby, and as a result, they are being hunted by the various governments and bounty hunters. Weird. Graphic. Engaging. Strange.
Bone Deep by Randy Wayne White
I have a lot of respect for Randy and his Doc Ford novels. Just not this one. I'll stop there.
What I've Been Reading
Graveyard of Memories by Barry Eisler
We go back to the 1970s(?) with a very young John Rain in Tokyo, just getting going in the assassination biz. It's one of Barry's best books, certainly one of his more accessible, and I enjoyed this one a lot. Learn how Rain became Rain.
The Martian by Andy Weir
A decade or so in the future NASA has landed people on Mars a couple times. In the latest mission everything goes to hell and the Mars team has to make an emergency exit. It appears that one of their team is killed and they abandoned him and head back to Earth. But due to a (sort of) bit of luck, he survived. Now he really has to survive as the only man on Mars until he can figure out how to let NASA know he's alive and they can figure out a plan to rescue him. This a novel-length version of that game where you're given a Frisbee, a bottle of Coke, a fire extinguisher and a deck of cards and try to figure out how to survive on the Moon. Weir keeps the science as plausible as possible, and the narrator (whose name eludes me at the moment) is hilariously sarcastic. Probably the best book I'll read all year.
The Black Box by Michael Connelly
A Harry Bosch novel and a good one. During the LA riots, Bosch had briefly investigated the death of of a foreign journalists, but with LA on fire, the case was shunted off to one side. Now he gets a chance to look at the extremely cold case now. Very satisfying.
Dirty Martini by JA Konrath
I've read this before and I re-read it for a very specific reason, i.e., I'm writing (on spec) a sequel to it with Derek Stillwater partnering up with Lt. Jacqueline Daniels. It may or may not get published in this fashion depending largely on Joe's wife and Joe, but I'm having fun with it. The book's good, a mass murderer called the Chemist is using botulin toxin to poison people throughout Chicago. The first time reading it I thought, "Well, Derek would be there somewhere," and also, "Damn, I should have written this novel." We'll see how it shakes out. My book, in one version or another, should be out later this year with any luck.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
I don't think I need to say more.
The Counterfeit Agent by Alex Berenson
A terrific espionage novel. It ends with a big of a cliffhanger, setting up the next novel, presumably. It's a little hard to describe, but a group, possibly affiliated with Iran, appears to be attempting to hide a nuclear bomb on U.S. soil as a kind of cold war move. Or is it a false flag operation made to make Iran look guilty?
Red Shirts: A Novel with 3 Codas by John Scalzi
A hilarious and weirdly "meta" novel that I generally read if I'm feeling blue, because it cheers me up.
The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs by Jim Rasenberger
A brilliant book, although I'm not sure I'd call the Bay of Pigs invasion brilliant at any level, although it seems to me that the CIA and the US government really never learned their lesson from the Bay of Pigs, i.e., we'll invade and the oppressed natives will be so grateful that they will rise up and overthrow their oppressor. Yeah, worked great in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais
The second Elvis Cole novel. It's an odd one and probably his weakest book (which isn't terribly weak), but the ending is a bit frustrating. Still, you can see that Crais sets up a lot of expectations and then bashes them apart, so things are never quite what they seem.
The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer
I can't decide if this novel is brilliant or I hated it. Or both. I suspect it really reflects what much of espionage is really like—nobody really has the full picture, half the information anybody has is false, intelligence agencies lie to each other, people within intelligence agencies lie to each other, they're so compartmentalized that nobody actually knows what's going on. This book has several "main" characters (or perhaps none, it's not always easy to tell) that are given POV sections lasting several chapters long. So you often see events from different POVs, but overlapping in time and location, which can make it a very disjointed read. It all comes together at the end, more or less, but I didn't feel 100% satisfied with it. Steinhauer's very LeCarre-ish, which I appreciate can be a great compliment, but it also suggests that the book might be less about entertaining the reader than making some sort of literary statement. So if you're a reader of really serious espionage novels, this books for you. If you want a touch of James Bond and fun in your espionage, well, you might be frustrated with this book.
Job Titles For Writers
I've been meaning to write more here and for some time I've been meaning to write about the topic of job titles. Which is to say, for freelance writers going through job postings, and, I imagine, for full-time writers looking for jobs, there are a lot of different names for types of writing gigs, not all of which make sense, or that seem to have become coded within the industries they represent and not necessarily to writers. Feel free to add yours.
Technical Writer -
This once referred primarily to writers who wrote technical materials for engineering and manufacturing areas. Even though I am, technically, a technical writer in the area of healthcare and medicine, I'm not really a technical writer. Because, as I said, this tends to refer to engineering, manufacturing, and increasingly, computer/IT-related writing gigs. Being "technically a writer" is something else and probably applies to people like Dan Brown and James Patterson for two very different reasons. (That's a sarcastic joke, in case you didn't get it. Although I will say, I have, from time to time, enjoyed both of their works. One, for Dan Brown before he became DAN BROWN, AUTHOR OF THE DA VINCI CODE, and James Patterson, before he started handing off the actual writing duties to other people).
Medical Writer -
If people press me about my writing and what type I do, I usually say medical writing because it gets them to leave me alone. Yes, I write a great deal about healthcare and medicine and biotechnology. But, technically speaking, a medical writer writes high-end medical materials, typically for pharmaceutical agencies. At least in terms of what sorts of job postings you see, that's mostly what they're referring to. And although I have a medical background, these gigs are more commonly looking for MDs, PhDs, or people with life science degrees who have had specific training in writing the regulatory materials needed get a drug application to the FDA. If you can do this type of writing, there's a lot of work and it pays a shitload of money, but alas, it's a bit above my pay grade, so to speak.
This one is tricky, but usually refers to people writing some version of advertising copy. These days that can mean print ads, radio ads, TV ads, or a variety of marketing materials that include white papers, market research reports, press releases, etc. I do a lot of this, but, again, within the industry, there is a "copywriter" and there is something you almost never see advertised, but is what I am: a "technical copywriter." A "technical copywriter" tends more toward white papers, market research reports and less toward website copy and advertising copy. Most of the website copywriting I do I refer to as "technical website copywriting" because it's, well, technical, like product descriptions for a clinical lab or a biotech supply company.
B2B and B2C -
I wanted to throw these out because they're common in business and technical areas, but writers off the boat, so to speak, may not understand. B2B = business to business. B2C = business to consumer. I write a lot, mostly I would say, B2B. That is to say, I write for professional audiences. Even when not writing white papers and website copy, most of my article writing is for trade journals, i.e., publications about a specific trade. For instance, Podiatry Management, which runs business-y articles about how to run your podiatry practice.
Content Writer -
I would want to make sure you understand that "content" refers to, well, the stuff you put into an article, as opposed to say, "he was a happy and content writer." I figure this one to be a catch-all phrase for people that don't actually know any of the other terms. Mostly I see this advertised by "content farms" that want to pay writers $5 to write 400 words or that want to give you a piece of royalties based on how many click-thrus you get on your article. I suspect very few content writers are content with their pay and when it comes to content farms such as Demand Studios and their ilk, well, fuck 'em, they suck. Or as I heard Joaquim Phoenix say on Fresh Air today, "The Internet is a big place and needs a lot of content." Which is apparently true and it's also apparent that there are very few standards about the quality of it, but there you go. Writer beware!
Any others? I'm sure there are.
Mostly, I prefer to myself as a "writer" or a "freelance writer."
What I've Been Reading
What I've been reading so far in 2014.
Timecaster by JA Konrath
I would say pretty typically Joe Konrath, even though it's SF. Fairly imaginative, filled with over-the-top violence, sex and humor. I enjoyed it for the most part, was a bit pissed off that it didn't end, but leaves you on a cliffhanger for the follow-up book, which I haven't read, but might. In this near-future world crime has more or less been eliminated due to Timecasting, which allows certain trained people to view recent events using a special kind of time-travel equipment. So any time a crime is committed, all the cops have to do is view backwards, see who did it, track that person back, and arrest them. Except the main character views himself murdering a woman.
A Feast For Crows by George RR Martin
Probably the most exasperating of the Game of Thrones books, because few of the main characters are featured in it. Ultimately I enjoyed it, but I was very frustrated at the beginning because the storyline has spread out so far and wide that I was having trouble tracking what was going on. But it sets up a lot of things, so there will undoubtedly be a big payoff.
The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons by Lawrence Block
Ah, Bernie Rhodenbarr, aka Bernie the Burglar, is back, this time stealing spoons of historical importance, and a manuscript by F Scott Fitzgerald, and numerous other amusing twists and turns. Block's a master and he plays with his narrative timeline. I really enjoyed this book. It was great to have Bernie Back.
iSEAL by Jude Hardin
I reviewed this at length earlier, but suffice to say I enjoyed this tech-thriller.
Innocent Blood by James Rollins & Rebecca Cantrell
The second book in the Sanguinists series, which features a group of vampires who work for the Vatican. I think I liked the first one a bit better, but this was really enjoyable, and has Judas Iscariot as a major character, as well as a returning Rasputin, among others. Highlyl recommended, albeit a bit weird. If you haven't read the first one, this one will make zero sense, though.
All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sazurazaka
An SF novel. The upcoming Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt film, The Edge of Tomorrow is based (loosely, presumably) on this novel. In the future the world is under attack by geoforming monsters and the main character is fighting them (in Japan) when he is killed and wakes up the same day. He finds himself in a time loop, ala Groundhogs Days, where he continually sharpens his skills and eventually teams up with a female special forces soldier who is renowned for her ability to kill the aliens. I liked it, but thought the third act was a bit rushed. And it's possible readers might find the conclusion to be not quite as satisfying as they had hoped because it works against expectations. Enjoyable, though.
Standoff by David Rollins
Another book by Australian David Rollins features USAF special investigator Vin Cooper. I love these books, but every single one has at least one over-to-top sequence that makes me go, "Oh, gimme a break," and in this one it's sort of the premise. After encountering a a serious incursion into the US by a Mexican drug cabal, Vin is, without much backup or preparation, thrown undercover into the group, which involves a crazy Mexican drug lord who wants to invade the U.S. A lot of fun, but it also requires a fairly major suspension of disbelief.
Deep Storm by Lincoln Child
A re-read. In Deep Storm, Dr. Peter Crane is invited to work on a top secret military installation in the North Atlantic that, he finds, is trying to recover Atlantis two miles deep at the bottom of the ocean. People in the cutting edge facility are exhibiting a strange set of medical symptoms. But Crane soon finds that the Atlantis story is just that, a cover story, and that the purpose of the Deep Storm facility is far more strange and dangerous, that they may be attempting to recover weapons or technology left there by advanced alien races. It works pretty well and I've enjoyed it every time I've read it. Very exotic locale. Child is really good at creating exotic self-enclosed environments and putting his heroes into them, ala Utopia, Deep Storm.
Storm Front by John Sandford
A Virgil Flowers novel, also a re-read, because I was in the mood for something relatively light and well written, and this book fit the bill. A minister and archaeology professor from Minnesota apparently steals an artifact from an Israeli archaeological dig that might overturn Middle Eastern history as we know it. State cop Virgil Flowers is told to accompany a woman from the Israeli Institute of Antiquities to recover it. But the minister appears to be attempting to sell it to the highest bidder, which may include Hezbollah, a couple of radical Turks, and two TV stars that operate independent Indiana Jones-like shows that want the publicity. Find out that the woman might actually be Mossad and Virgil has his hands full. Really a ton of fun.
iSEAL by Jude Hardin
iSEAL by Jude Hardin
I recently read iSEAL by my friend Jude Hardin. A little bit Michael Crichton's "Terminal Man," a little bit "The Matrix", probably a little bit "The 6 Million Dollar Man," if you're old enough to remember that TV show. This short, fast and action-filled thriller is about a Department of Defense project to have a microchip implanted in an soldier's brain, allowing the soldier to instantly access the Internet, as well as download programs to teach things, i.e., martial arts or flying a plane, etc. The main character washed out of the Navy SEALs program and volunteers to be the first human test subject. Part of the testing, however, involves temporary amnesia in order to test the device's effectiveness. But shortly after the device is implanted, an assassin kills the head of the project and "Mike" finds himself on the run from a mysterious assassin, the CIA, the DoD and law enforcement.
iSEAL is probably more of a novella than a novel. I think I read it in 3 or4 hours and it races right along with no padding whatsoever. Jude is a fine writer and he's become very deft at creating memorable characters with broad strokes, and his sense of pace—if you're a fan of the mad-dash style of storytelling, which I am—is pitch perfect.
This is a lot of fun, and clearly we'll be seeing more iSEAL books in the near-future—better sooner than later because iSEAL 1.0 (for lack of a better term) ends with a cliffhanger and I don't want to wait a year for iSEAL 2.0. If action thrillers are your cup of tea, this is your kind of book.