Sunday, October 16, 2011

“Hell & Gone” by Duane Swierczynski (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Order “Hell & GoneHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read FBC’s Review of “Fun & Games

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Duane Swierczynski is the author of several crime thrillers, many of which have been optioned for film adaptation, including The Blonde and Severance Package. He has also written six non-fiction books; is a regular writer for several Marvel Comics series (Cable, Punisher, Immortal Iron Fist, Werewolf By Night); and has collaborated with CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker on the bestselling Level 26 series of “digi-novels”.

PLOT SUMMARY: Left for dead after an epic shootout that blew the lid off a billion-dollar conspiracy, ex-cop Charlie Hardie quickly realizes that when you're dealing with the Accident People, things can get worse. Drugged, bound and transported by strange operatives of unknown origin, Hardie awakens to find himself captive in a secret prison that houses the most dangerous criminals on earth.

And then things get really bad. Because this isn't just any prison. It's a Kafkaesque nightmare that comes springloaded with a brutal catch-22: Hardie's the Warden. And any attempt to escape triggers a “death mechanism” that will kill everyone down here—including a group of innocent guards. Faced with an unworkable paradox, and knowing that his wife and son could be next on the Accident People's hit list, Hardie has only one choice: fight his way to the heart of this hell hole and make a deal with the Devil himself...

FORMAT/INFO: Hell & Gone is 304 pages long divided over thirty-three numbered chapters. Also includes a teaser from the third Charlie Hardie novel, Point & Shoot. Narration is in the third-person, mostly via the protagonist Charlie Hardie, but the narrative once again ricochets between several other POVs, including FBI agent Deacon Clark. Hell & Gone is the second volume in the Charlie Hardie trilogy after Fun & Games, and ends on another minor cliffhanger. Point & Shoot will wrap up the trilogy in March 2012.

October 31, 2011 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of Hell & Gone via Mulholland Books. The UK version (see below) will be published on October 27, 2011 via Mulholland UK.

ANALYSIS: Hell & Gone continues the incredible tale of Charlie Hardie that began in Fun & Games—a high-octane, contemporary pulp thriller in the vein of Charlie Huston, Dean Koontz, Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. Compared to Fun & Games, Hell & Gone offers a different kind of reading experience.

For starters, Hell & Gone is not a non-stop thrill ride like its predecessor. Instead, the sequel features a heavy dose of mystery and unpredictable suspense that constantly kept me off-balance. At first, it was a matter of trying to figure out what the Industry had in store for Charlie Hardie and how Julie Lippman and her missing boyfriend fit in the picture. Answers to the first question are provided when Hardie one day finds himself the Warden of a secret underground prison, but that leads to a whole new set of mysteries involving the Prisonmaster, a death mechanism, a prisoner who knows who Charlie is, and the prison itself. During this point of the novel—which comprises the largest chunk of Hell & Gone—I was reminded of Christopher Nolan and the movies Cube Zero and The Experiment due to the unorthodox prison setting and all of the psychological drama and intriguing plot twists going on. From here, Hell & Gone evolves into a more conventional revenge thriller before ending on another cliffhanger that brings up a slew of new questions to be answered in the third and final Charlie Hardie novel, Point & Shoot.

Other differences between the two Charlie Hardie novels include Hell & Gone’s lack of black humor. Missing from the sequel, for instance, are the various fun facts—Percentage of murder victims killed by someone they know: 58—and references/quotes to action movies, Hollywood and filmmaking that added to Fun & Games’ entertainment value. While the latter has been replaced with references & quotes applicable to Hardie’s current situation in Hell & Gone, including prison movie quotes—“Now, I can be a good guy, or I can be one real mean sum-bitch.”—the sequel is a more sober affair than its predecessor, which is reflected by the serious tone of the novel and action that never descends to Fun & Games’ level of absurdity, although the central premise remains improbable.

As much as Hell & Gone differs from its predecessor however, some things remain the same. For one, Duane Swierczynski’s writing continues to be skillful and engaging, highlighted once again by accessible prose, crisp pacing, intelligent plotting, inventive ideas and memorable characters. (I particularly appreciated the author’s efforts to flesh out Charlie Hardie’s relationship with his wife and son, but felt Swierczynski could have done a lot more with the novel’s supporting characters including Deacon Clark, Julie Lippman and her boyfriend.) More importantly though, Hell & Gone is entertaining. Maybe not as entertaining as its predecessor Fun & Games, and maybe not the same kind of entertainment, but Hell & Gone is nevertheless a blast to read, just like the first Charlie Hardie novel.

Meanwhile, drawbacks include a slow beginning, a conventional third act, and another cliffhanger ending, but as a whole, Hell & Gone is a successful follow-up to Fun & Games and another engrossing book from the twisted mind of Duane Swierczynski...

"Manhattan in Reverse" by Peter Hamilton (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Peter Hamilton Website
Order Manhattan in Reverse HERE
Read FBC Review of The Dreaming Void
Read FBC Review of The Temporal Void

INTRODUCTION: Peter Hamilton needs no introduction since he is one of today's leading science fiction writers and the ‘King’ of modern space opera. Even his second tier space operas are head and shoulders above most everything written in the genre. But at his best like in The Night's Dawn trilogy which is my all time favorite finished sff series, or in “Pandora's Star” with its vividly described future and multilayered plotlines that converge in so many interesting and unexpected ways, the author evokes a sense of wonder that is unrivaled…
Manhattan in Reverse is the author's second collection after the superb A Second Chance at Eden which brought together all the stories related to his Night's Dawn universe. While in Manhattan in Reverse, the Commonwealth stories - most notably the two Paula Myo ones - have an unifying theme, the rest are more eclectic and do not have any commonality beyond "sense of wonder".

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: As I have read each story here close to original publication, I will present each story with comments including how they stood out the test of time for me.

Watching Trees Grow (very good) - Justin Raleigh is murdered in his quarters but police and the family representative Edward Raleigh cannot figure why; this happens in an alternate 18th century, where the Roman Empire never fell, technology developed quicker and consequently people are already much longer lived - here we see an embryonic form of the author's immortality theme that is so prominent in the Commonwealth and Void series. The story goes on in flashes for centuries, technology advances, Edward Raleigh is still around and the murder is still unsolved for a long time; an apt title and a story that still resonates though mostly for its world building than for the generic characters.

Footvote (mediocre) - a new planet is to be colonized by people escaping Earth's economic hardships, but there is one man that controls the entrance through the unique wormhole there. He makes some rules that reveal more of the author's beliefs than make sense; could be read as a parody I guess but it is mighty unimpressive otherwise, though it is quite short and thankfully ends fast.

If at First... - (excellent) - a sweet riff on the themes of time travel and multiple universes; would not do to spoil it beyond that but it brought a smile to my face when I read it long time ago; sure, it's a bit wish fulfillment but to be honest a lot of what Mr. Hamilton writes is anyway.

The Forever Kitten (pointless) - the shortest story of the collection and written to some stringent page limits for some mainstream magazine from what I remember and it shows; waste of creative talent here.

Blessed by an Angel (excellent; recounted in The Dreaming Void too) - the conception and birth of Inigo. Great overview of Commonwealth life between the end of Judas Unchained and the start of The Dreaming Void too. This can constitute a great introduction to the Void trilogy though it needs the Commonwealth books for full appreciation.

The Demon Trap (best story of the collection) - Quintessential Paula Myo in action on a colony world. This can constitute a great introduction to the Commonwealth duology that starts in Pandora's Star, but the main attraction is seeing at novella length why Paula is one the author's greatest characters and arguably the best of the whole Commonwealth/Void universe.

Manhattan in Reverse (very good) - The one new offering in the collection, this story takes place right after the end of Judas Unchained, when Paula Myo finds herself mighty unpopular for prosecuting and convicting a war hero for the recently discovered crimes of his youth. So she is "advised" by a senior Dynasty member to take a break and as it happens he knows the right place for Paula to go; while not quite a police matter, there is a puzzle with some non-sentient natives and their recent interactions with the human colonizers; an apt title gives a clear clue at how the story goes, while the tale remains very entertaining to the end.

Overall, Manhattan in Reverse (A+) is a great collection which brings together all the author's output at short length after the Night's Dawn series and I would highly recommend it for both fans and readers that are interested to see what the fuss is about Mr. Hamilton's doorstopper novels. Three very good to outstanding novellas and two excellent novelettes offer lots of value with the mediocre offerings being precisely and of course very unsurprisingly those at short to very short length.