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Tag Archive: Ed McBain


Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s not often a sequel surpasses the first novel in the series, but that’s the place where Spaceside lands.  And that’s saying something, because Michael Mammay′s Planetside was one powerful first novel.  I first reviewed Planetside before its release only a year ago here at borg, and its combination of military thriller and sci-fi action story was one of last year’s best sci-fi reads.  Happily for readers of Mammay’s first story, the protagonist this round is again Colonel Carl Butler, that ex-military mastermind who keeps getting pulled back into danger.  Imagine Edge of Tomorrow’s General Brigham a few years after the war or Starship Troopers’ Lieutenant Rasczak if he’d lived to fight another day, and you’ll have an idea of what you’re in for with Colonel Butler.

But this story and this style is different for Mammay.  I saw Planetside as military conspiracy-thriller in sci-fi dress, but this time Butler is part investigator in a planetside mystery as a bit of a future noir or tech noir detective.  Where Planetside featured plenty of the grunt-side action of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, this story delves more into the strategy and corporate politics (think Weyland Corp.), providing a fine standalone story.  Yet for those that take on the first novel (as they should), Spaceside fleshes out the secrets of why Butler was thrust far away across the galaxy to deal with the alien race called the Cappans in the first place.  Two books in and readers will be asking for more–Mammay has concocted one of the best science fiction universes around.  So just when a new series of Blade Runner novels is on its way, Spaceside fits the bill as a worthy read-alike of a future, cybernetically enhanced human trying to stay alive while he’s constantly dodging bullets (although Butler’s borg nature is downplayed for much of the story).  More like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner than Philip K. Dick’s source novel, Mammay’s story is a compelling character study that amps up the intrigue.

Instead of spending most of this novel’s adventure in outer space as the title might suggest, ex-Colonel Butler finds himself grounded, exiled, shunned, and scorned for the murders of millions of Cappans resulting from his decisions in the pages of Planetside.  Instead Butler is relegated to leading corporate team-building sessions where he takes groups on virtual reality combat missions with him as the real-life war hero.  It’s embarrassing, but it pays the bills, and it keeps him busy after his wife left him and took half his money.  That’s until the CEO calls him into his office to investigate a hacking of a major rival corporation–after all, his title has the word “security” in it.  If Butler can figure out what went wrong at the rival, then his own company can make sure it doesn’t happen to them, too.  Or so his CEO figures.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Our look at the works of master crime writer Donald E. Westlake continues with his 22nd novel published under his own name and 75th (give or take) novel in all, Brothers Keepers, reprinted this month by Hard Case Crime for the first time in 30 years.  It’s a deeply human, thoughtful, descriptive, and humor-filled look at a monk named Brother Benedict living in a 200-year-old monastery in Manhattan in the mid-1970s. When a 99-year lease on the land on which his monastery was built expires, and no one can find the original lease contract, the monks’ lives are upended.  The problem is the land has become too valuable for the underlying owners–successors to the landowners that granted the lease during the American Revolution–not to cash out.  The crime is real:  Someone has stolen the lease from the monks, and worse for the Brotherhood, they believe one of the monks conspired with the landowners to hide knowledge of their rights until newly issued options to buy the land vest–meaning any rights the monks may have cease–on New Year’s Day, only a few weeks away.

You’ll hear the Jack Ryan line in The Hunt for Red October, “next time, Jack, write a memo,” as Brother Benedict becomes the monks’ bearer of bad news, only learning of the lease situation by reading the newspaper and seeing it mentioned as part of a story on the skyscraper set to replace the current buildings on the block.  Soon he is the designated instrument of solving the problem, requiring him to travel, a concept that is anathema to the Brotherhood: travel is to be avoided at all cost.  When he accompanies a more authoritative monk to confront one of the owners on his posh estate, a chance encounter with the owner’s attractive daughter prompts Brother Benedict to question his vows.  When another encounter finds the monk and the woman target of a mugging, Brother Benedict has no choice but to confront his curiosity and fears, taking on more and more of the burden to find the original lease, rumored to have an automatic renewal clause that grants his Brotherhood–The Crispinite Order of the Novum Mundum–the right to renew the lease for another 99 years in the Brotherhood’s sole discretion.

First edition of Westlake’s Brothers Keepers.

For those familiar with property law, there’s a nearly unimpeachable attention to the law of leases that becomes the through line of the story.  The rights of landowners, the public interest of preserving historical structures, right vs. wrong, good vs. bad, all intertwine with an order of monks who simply want to live their repeated, weekly routine without interfering with–or being bothered by–the outside world.  The result is Brothers Keepers, a one-sitting read, a 300-page, laugh-out-loud (at least one laugh every other page) page turner that makes for the perfect follow-up to Hard Case Crime’s most recent Westlake reprint, Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, another highly recommended retro-read reviewed here at borg last year.

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Our borg.com Best of 2016 list continues today with the Best in Print and a bonus wrap-up of other year’s bests.  If you missed it, check out our review of the Top Picks and Best Movies of 2016 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2016 here, and the Best in Television here.

Without further ado, this year’s Best in Print:

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Best Comic Book Series – Old Man Logan (Marvel).  With just enough backstory from prior series focused on the future world version of Logan/Wolverine, writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino took us through the struggle of the superhero that survived all his contemporaries, only to be plunged into a parallel world where everything is familiar but nothing is the same.

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Best Graphic NovelWonder Woman: The True Amazon, Jill Thompson (DC Comics).  Writer/artist Jill Thompson is probably the best creator in comics today.  Her origin story of Wonder Woman is vibrant, and she presents a flawed, complex, and ultimately strong and fearless heroine.  The best Wonder Woman book we’ve ever read.

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Best Comic Book Limited Series/Best Crossover Comic Book Series – Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (DC Comics/IDW).  James Tynion IV and Freddie Williams II pulled together an impossible team-up of characters that ended up working great together.  An action-packed, nostalgic fun trip.

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Best Comic Book Writing – Matt Kindt, Dept.H (Dark Horse).  Kindt pulls together an incredibly nostalgic assemblage of the best action concepts: classic science fiction of the H.G. Wells variety, G.I. Joe Adventure Team-inspired characters, and a fun character study and whodunit that will have you searching out your old game of Sub Search.  We just hope he makes a prequel at some point so we get to see a similar quest with an old fashioned copper-helmeted deep sea diver.  A fun read month after month and the best writing comics have to offer.

After the cut we continue with the best in comics, books, and more from 2016:

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Cut Me In Ed McBain

Review by C.J. Bunce

Some writers know how to suck you right in from the first page.  Take the late author Evan Hunter aka Ed McBain.  In his 1953 novel The Proposition (published under another pseudonym, Hunt Collins) McBain gave his lead character Josh Blake a timeless voice that conjures a confident, put-upon literary agent melting in the sweltering summer city heat, trying to cut himself in on a big deal that will land him the good life–like a million dollar home and a big swimming pool.  Blake is like a mash-up between Jack Nicholson’s J.J. Gittes in Chinatown and Nicholson’s Will Randall in the film Wolf–written decades before either character was created.  Think Gittes because of the pulp noir mystery, and Randall because we’re maneuvering the politics of the literary world.

Why single out a 1950s crime mystery by Ed McBain?  Because the folks at Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime found this gem, and have released it this year for the first time in more than 60 years.  Originally published as The Proposition by Hunt Collins, it was later published as Hunt Collins’ Cut Me In–a great title that fits the story much better.  The new edition, labeled as a McBain novel, features a classic style pulp cover by Robert McGinnis with a dead ringer for Suzanne Somers.  She sits by the pool, the pool that is the target of Josh Blake’s affection.  So if you’re like this reader, you’re seeing Nicholson and Somers play out this great movie that never was.

The Proposition paperback

And you can read the first chapter of Cut Me In right now.  First, just the facts.

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