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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What I'm Reading: Builders and Made To Kill

Here are two books I recently read and reviewed for Booklist. As usual, I have included my draft review and have incorporated my "three words" and extra readalikes.

The Builders by Daniel Polansky

Nov. 2015. 221p. Tor, paperback, $12.99 (9780765385307); Tor, e-book, $2.99 (9780765384003)
REVIEW.  First published November 15, 2015 (Booklist)


Revenge is a powerful emotion, and if you are already a stone-cold killer, revenge can be a dangerous weapon as well. In this briskly paced, dark fantasy epic, the Captain, a mouse, is a brilliant and talented outlaw who was previously bested but is now determined to avenge his loss. He rounds up his old team of small animals (e.g. mole, badger, owl, salamander) to reignite the war between the brother Lords and reinstate “the Elder” to the throne. The characters are animals yes, but they are not the least bit cuddly. All are well trained assassins with a special talent, all are very good at  job, all want their Lord to stay in power, and each spills plenty of blood along the way. This is Redwall all grown up with a Western sensibility.  Expect excellent world-building, a huge cast of interesting characters, and a suspenseful, well executed storytelling style that keeps the reader guessing until the final page. Despite the high body count, there is also a satisfying amount of smart, dark humor here. A great option for fans of the off-kilter, The Sisters Brothers or the novels of the late Elmore Leonard.

Three Words That Describe This Book: revenge, unique characters, not what you think

Readalikes: This books surprised me-- in a good way.  A fantasy with animals that is really a spaghetti western.  There were parts of this book that reminded me of a Tarantino movie.  I didn’t this in my official review, but I still can’t shake the similarity especially to Kill Bill or Reservoir Dogs.

Another readalike I couldn’t fit in the review is to True Grit by Charles Portis. Again, I think it’s the “not what you think” quality of both stories that is a match as well as the shared western sensibility. 


Made to Kill by Adam Christopher

Nov. 2015. 256p. Tor, hardcover, $24.99(9780765379184); e-book(9781466867154)
REVIEW.  First published November 15, 2015 (Booklist).


The genre blending trend takes an enjoyable turn in Christopher’s science fiction--hardboiled PI hybrid where he imagines writing “Raymond Chandler’s long-lost science fiction epic.” The year, 1965. The place, Hollywood. In this alternate history, the world is doubly captivated by the Cuban Missile Crisis [JFK is still alive] and a big Hollywood premier. Enter our hero, Ray, a robot PI. Ray is the last robot left in a world that used to be dominated by them. He has recently been reprogrammed by his supercomputer boss, Ada, to be an undercover contract killer, but with only a 24 hour memory tape, Ray is not sure how or why this happened. When a sultry starlet comes into Ray’s office with an order to kill her leading man and a bag full of gold bars to cover the payment, Ray is put in the middle of an evil conspiracy with roots much deeper than the movie industry. The action, plot, dialog, and characters are straight out of Chandler, while the science fiction elements are reminiscent of the very best of that genre from 1940s and 50s [think Dick and Heinlein]. A fun, fast read for anyone willing to take the speculative leap, and with two titles in the series already planned, a must add for most collections.

Three Words That Describe This Book: genre blend, alternative history, fun

Readalikes: I purposely chose the word “fun” in the final sentence of the review because this book was fun. It was a wink-wink story for those in the know when it comes to old school PI noir and classic robot SF, but it was also well done. This is more than an homage or a parody-- it is a good work standing on its own. I also love how it does what the very best SF is supposed to do-- use a world that is not to comment on our own world.

Another book that does all of this excellently is Redshirts by John Scalzi. In this case, it is an homage to/parody of Star Trek, but again, it becomes much much more.

I also felt that Made to Kill’s ability to pay homage to a well trod genre while still being a good work in and of itself reminded me of the zombie-thriller genre blend, Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant. Christopher’s novel is the first in planned trilogy itself.

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