BOOK REVIEW: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

written by David Steffen

The Lightning Thief is a 2005 modern day fantasy story about modern-day children of the ancient Greek gods living in the United States, which was adapted into a 2010 feature film as well as a 2014 Broadway musical.

Percy Jackson is a well-meaning but troubled teen who has been kicked out of five schools in six years for his impulsive behavior. He’s dyslexic and has ADHD and lives with his mom alone, his father having left when he was very young.

On a field trip to the Smithsonian the substitute teacher Mrs. Dodds draws him away from the group and transforms into a monster and tries to attack him. Percy manages to kill the monster with the help of a pen that magically and unexpectedly turns into a sword.

Soon he’s drawn into a hidden world of demigods, children of the ancient Greek gods, who have some of the powers of their godly parents but are still mortal and attract the attention of every monster in the area.

The book is a fun update to the old mythology, bringing it into the modern world and adding new layers of mythology on the old. It’s fun, appealing for kids, and gives representation for kids with dyslexia and/or ADHD, these being traits common to the children of the gods in this world. It’s a fun book, and the start of a series if you like it there are more where that came from.

BOOK REVIEW: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

written by David Steffen

The Road is a post-apocalyptic survival novel by Cormac McCarthy, published in 2006 by Alfred A. Knopf (which also inspired a 2009 movie adaptation by the same name).

A man and his son travel across the wasteland that had been the United States of America after a major (but largely unexplained in the text) catastrophe that left almost everything dead. They are following a road traveling toward the south where they believe they will find sanctuary. Subsisting on scrounged food supplies from pantries of empty homes, and avoiding other survivors who might wish them harm, they don’t know if they will find enough food to make it to their destination, or how they will survive the coming winter, or whether the sanctuary they are hoping for actually exists.

This novel, as you might expect, is bleak as hell. They and other survivors they come across are all people who’ve managed to survive for years and years after the end of almost all life on the planet, and so have made tough decisions to survive. While the man and his son have stuck to certain moral choices, many of those who still survive have not, and running into others is frequently a dangerous encounter. I found the book very compelling, despite the characters not being named, and the very sparse (and often repetitive) dialog in the book was a strong element of that, there’s not much to talk about, and much of it is the man answering the same questions or try to tell the boy what he needs to hear, and about how their relationship changes over the course of the book. The boy has never known a pre-apocalyptic world, so his father’s stories about the time before are like a fairy tale, compelling but imaginary. A solid post-apocalyptic book telling a deeply compelling and emotional story about trying to survive and trying to help your surviving family however you can, while still trying to make moral choices.

(When I picked the book up, I could have sworn it was a very old book that was published before I was born that everyone talks about, but it turns out I had it mixed up in my mind with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a completely unrelated book, apart from them both being about road trips in some sense)

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

written by David Steffen

(note: I’m behind on posting my own reviews, I read this book and wrote this review a while ago, so references to the “The Force Awakens” movie being recent, etc are a symptom of that)

Aftermath is a Star Wars franchise tie-in novel written by Chuck Wendig and published in September 2015 by Del Rey.  Since Disney decided to declare all of the pre-2014 novelizations as a separate timeline from The Force Awakens movie in 2015, Aftermath is one of the few novels in the official movie canon.

Aftermath picks up shortly after the original movie trilogy.  The second Death Star has been destroyed.  Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine are dead.  The Empire is shaken and leaderless, but not gone (keep in mind that this book was published before The Force Awakens hit theaters, so we hadn’t yet met Kylo Ren and the First Order yet).  The Rebel Alliance has become the New Republic, trying to restore as much order as possible in the wake of the conflict with the Empire.

The New Republic is seeking out the remnants of the Empire to keep them from regrouping.  New Republic pilot Wedge Antilles, visiting planets on the outer fringe to seek out Imperial remnants, discovers exactly what he’s looking for on Akiva–a group of Star Destroyers gathered around a fringe planet–but he’s taken captive before he can broadcast a message to the New Republic. Broadcast frequencies have been jammed and the Imperials are closely monitoring traffic to ensure secrecy.

Former rebel fighter Norra Wexley returns home to Akiva after the war to reunite with the son that she left behind, not realizing that she is stepping into this secretive Imperial summit.  Norra, her son, a bounty hunter, and an Imperial defector work together to find a way to fight back against this remnant of the Empire to interrupt it before it can gather its strength again.

I haven’t read a Star Wars novel since I was a teen, and I was happy to sink into the universe in print again, with the excitement of The Force Awakens movie still fresh in mind.  I did read the book after seeing the movie, but I don’t think it made much difference in my appreciation for either one since Aftermath has very little character overlap with the movie.

It had some good action, fun sense of wonder tech stuff, space battles, fun banter, a few familiar characters, all what I would expect from a Star Wars book.

One thing that I thought was interesting about this book before I even read it was the angry reaction it spurred from a subset of fans who were upset at the acknowledgment of homosexuality in the Star Wars universe (and very excited reactions from a different subset of fans who were excited about the representation).  I heard about it for months before I got around to reading the book and I was interested to see exactly what the portrayal of homosexuality was.  The presence was so minor I’m not sure I would have even given it more than a passing thought, honestly, if it hadn’t been for the big to-do made about it ahead of time.  I thought it was cool to see representation, no matter how minor, and I hope to see more.

All in all, I’d recommend it, and I’m looking forward to reading Chuck Wendig’s next Star Wars book installment.  If you’ve seen The Force Awakens and you’re looking for a little something new in the new Star Wars universe (as opposed to the dozens of books that have been released over the past 40 years that have new been retconned out of the official universe) then you should give it a try.


BOOK REVIEW: Wayward by Blake Crouch

written by David Steffen

Wayward is a… I guess I’d call it a mystery SF thriller… the second of a trilogy written by Blake Crouch and published in 2013 by Thomas & Mercer.

If you follow reviews on this site regularly, and this one seems familiar, that’s because I’ve already posted a TV review of Wayward Pines Season 1 which is based on Blake Crouch’s trilogy of books and covers a similar set of events as the trilogy of books.  And I recently posted a review of Pines, the first book in the trilogy.  The first book relied a lot on big mysteries for a lot of its appeal and revealed many of those mysteries at the end. I can’t talk about book 2 without talking about those mysteries, so if you want to be surprised go read the first book.

To give a quick recap of the first book, Secret Service agent Ethan Burke and his partner travel to Wayward Pines, Idaho to investigate the disappearance of two Secret Service agents.  They get in a car accident in town and Ethan wakes up in the hospital, and something is very wrong about the little town.  There are all kinds of bizarre rules, such as no one is allowed to talk about their past, and everything about the town seems set on forcing its residents to stay–the only road that’s supposed to lead out of town just loops back into it.  Ethan fights hard against the town and becomes the target of a fete–where the sheriff of the town  leads the citizens of the town to find and kill someone who has broken the rules.  Ethan survives the fete and because of his resourcefulness he is let in on the secret of the town.  David Pilcher, the secret leader of the town, has had a decades-long project that started when he discovered that the human genome was becoming corrupted and the human species was quickly changing into something else entirely.  When no one believed his research, he set out on a project to preserve as much of humanity as possible, gathering people he could trust to act as his staff and collecting others against their will.  His research perfected the technology of cryogenic sleep and  he put all of these people (including Ethan) into cryosleep.  1800 years later he and his staff woke up to find that his prediction had come true–the world as far as they could explore had been overrun by the evolutionary descendents of humanity–which they dubbed aberrations (or abbies for short)–vicious human predators.  They set out to rebuild Wayward Pines, protected by sheer cliffs and a high voltage fence and then woke up people to populate the town.  During his first attempt to populate the town he tried telling people the truth, but suicide rates quickly rose, and he salvaged what he could by starting over again (putting people in cryosleep erased their memory since the last sleep).  David Pilcher names Ethan Burke as his new sheriff to help enforce the rules of the town and keep people safe both from the abbies outside the wall and to keep the growing discontent among the townspeople from exploding into revolution.

Phew, sorry, long back story, but most of that’s important to understanding the basic plot of this book.

Near the start of the story Ethan Burke discovers a corpse of a woman who has apparently been murdered, and Pilcher assigns him the task of investigating.  Although the violent fetes are a part of life in Wayward Pines, unsanctioned murders are rare, due in large part to the constant surveillance of the residents.  The murdered woman was one of Pilcher’s employees working in the mountain to oversee the surveillance and discipline of the town, and she had been venturing into town in the guise of a townsperson to root out the secrets of a group of residents who have found ways to dodge the surveillance.  Meanwhile, Ethan has been reunited with his wife and son–when he first came to Wayward Pines 2000 years before he came there before her, and she was taken by Pilcher more than a year later.  But, skip forward 2000 years, and she and their son was woken from cryo more than 5 years before him so she has already settled into living in the town by the time he arrivs.

Although the setting and protagonist the same, this book has a decidedly different feel from the first book, Pines.  The first book feels more like weird fiction because of the unexplained oddities of the little town and the constant attempts of the protagonist to pick at the edges of the strangeness.  By the start of this book Ethan has a much clearer idea of what’s going on and has been drawn into the conspiracy himself, so rather than being in the position of rebellious loner he is a family man in a position of precarious power whose job is both to protect and oppress the people of the town.  He hasn’t lost his rebellious nature, but he is in a very difficult position.

The mystery of the murder made a good centerpiece for the book, (and was a surprise to me even though I’d seen season one of the TV show because of changes in the adaptation), and Ethan’s interactions with Pilcher are a constant source of new information to understand the situation this little town is really in.

The most interesting new addition to me that differentiated this book from the first one is to see more deeply into the point of view of the staff that live in the mountain surveilling the town.  While the people in the town yearn only to get out of the town, the people in the mountain yearn to get into it–to live under the open sky and be able to live a comparatively carefree life and just forgetting all the strangeness around them.  That was an interesting dichotomy to read about, and one that was largely absent from the TV show.

The book is interesting throughout, and manages to avoid the Book Two Slump of many series.  Although it depends on knowledge from the first book and leads directly into the events of the third book, it has an arc that stands on its own that starts with the major change of Ethan being promoted to sheriff and ending with major events that lead into the third book’s story.