Friday, July 25, 2008

Half-assed book reviews, by Gerry Doyle

Maybe a better title for this post, actually, would be "Books I have read lately." Because it's about two books I read lately:

1) "Remains," by Mark Teidemann
2) "Volk's Game," by Brent Ghelfi

I've actually met both of these guys, which makes it tough to be objective, but in the end it doesn't matter because both of their books were terrific.

Two space station residents play tag.

"Remains" is a hard sci-fi mystery-thriller set in the distant future, where humanity is spread--and divided--around the solar system. Some folks live on Martian colonies. Others live in the asteroid belt. There's a well-developed community on the Moon. And for others, space stations are a way of life.

As you might expect, humans being humans, each group has decided its way of life is the best. And conflict arises.

The story follows protagonist Mace Preston through a story arc that covers years as he tries to unravel his wife's death. His investigation stretches from a disaster scene on Mars to the underworld of Aea, the solar system's largest space station. And in the end, the answers he uncovers address much larger--and more dangerous--questions than what happened to the woman he loved.

I've said before, good fiction is driven by characters, regardless of genre. This is no different. It's set in the future, but it's not about the technology. It's about loss, love, discovery. It's got heart.

Spires: both pointy and deadly.

"Volk's Game" brings us back to the present day, with all its real-life ugliness. And the main character, Volk, is an ugly guy: a former soldier, a contract killer, a dealer in unpleasantness. But oddly, Ghelfi has managed to turn a thoroughly ruthless character into a likable protagonist. You find yourself rooting for the guy even as he tortures someone. Which is more than a little disturbing.

But hey, conflict drives plot. And this book is full of conflict. What starts as a caper to steal a priceless lost artwork turns into a breathless quest to save his ladyfriend from mutilation or death, which turns into... a lot of other things. And the whole thing is set in an extremely well-researched Russia. The background oozes with cultural angst, and in many ways, the country is a character in itself.

If there's any criticism I have of this book, it is that it gets extraordinarily complex. It's a testament to Ghelfi's skill and commitment to his characters that it all comes together in the end.

So in conclusion, both of these books are great reading. Pick them up today. And don't forget to tip your author.

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