Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Ex-Heroes" by Peter Clines (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order the Book HERE
Read an excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Peter Clines was born and brought up in Maine, he moved to California when he grew up and worked in Hollywood for a number of years. He has also been a prop master for several movies and TV shows. He has written reviews for the Cinema Blend website as well as for the Creative Screenwriting magazine. He has previously interviewed many famous film personas such as Frank Darabont, Paul Haggis, Kevin Smith, George Romero, Akiva Goldsman, David Goyer, Mark Herman, Nora Ephron and many others. He lives in Southern California and this was his SFF debut.

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: Stealth. Gorgon. Regenerator. Cerberus. Zzzap. The Mighty Dragon. They were heroes, vigilantes, crusaders for justice, using their superhuman abilities to make Los Angeles a better place.

Then the plague of living death spread around the globe. Despite the best efforts of the superheroes, the police, and the military, the hungry corpses rose up and overwhelmed the country. The population was decimated, heroes fell, and the city of angels was left a desolate zombie wasteland like so many others.

Now, a year later, the Mighty Dragon and his companions must overcome their differences and recover from their own scars to protect the thousands of survivors sheltered in their film studio-turned-fortress, the Mount. The heroes lead teams out to scavenge supplies, keep the peace within the walls of their home, and try to be the symbols the survivors so desperately need. For while the ex-humans walk the streets night and day, they are not the only threat left in the world, and the people of the Mount are not the only survivors left in Los Angeles. Across the city, another group has grown and gained power. And they are not heroes…

FORMAT/INFO: Ex-Heroes is 261 pages long divided over a prologue, twenty-six numbered/titled chapters, and an epilogue. All chapters are either divided into “Then” or “Now” sections. Narration is in the first-person for all “Then” chapters and in third person for all the “Now” sections. The POV's both first person and third person are via Stealth, Gorgon, Cairax, Regenerator, Cerberus, Zzzap, The Mighty Dragon, Lady Bee, Banzai, St. George and a few minor characters. Ex-Heroes is self-contained and is the first book in the Ex Trilogy.

February 25, 2010 marked the paperback and e-book publication of Ex-Heroes via Permuted press. Cover art is provided by Garret DeChellis.

CLASSIFICATION: Mixing zombies with superheroes in a desolate Los Angeles. Peter Clines’s world of Ex-Heroes is George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead meets David Gemmell’s Legend meets The X-Men.

ANALYSIS: I had been noticing Ex-Heroes since last year however it kind of got lost in my “Books-to-be-checked” list. However Amazon’s recommendations made sure that it was never really out of my mind, as it always used to pop up every now and then. After the release of Ex-Patriots the sequel to this book, I contacted the publisher for review copies and they graciously sent both the books over promptly. I was hugely excited to see that it was focusing on superheroes coupled with zombies and I was hoping that it would not disappoint.

The author has quite cleverly divided the book into the past “then” and present “now” sections and thereby maintaining the tension in the story while going forward as well giving us the crucial back story. The “now” begins in the current where a sizeable portion of humanity is holed up in Paramount Studios which has now been renamed “The Mount”. The humans within are surviving from the horror outside wherein zombies freely roam and look for fresh human meat, the zombies in this world are called “Exes” as in Ex-humans. The human population though has an upper hand with the super heroes who are protecting them.

Stealth, Gorgon, Regenerator, Cerberus, Zzzap, Lady Bee, St. George and a few others have shepherded humanity and are doing their best defeat the zombies while also searching for a cure. The “then” sections focus on each superhero separately and we are given a clear look into their beginnings, this leads to a very precise picture about each of them while differentiating their personas in the reader’s minds. The story then begins as the heroes forage on almost a daily basis and try to retrieve as many tangible goods as they can with a few normal volunteers however they have been noticing that some one is competing with them and also leaving booby traps which creates further problems. The story then escalates as the people of the Mount find out who it is that has been hindering their survival and what do they want which leads to the question “what will they do to survive?”

I completely loved this book and while it was a debut book, it didn’t feel so at all. With a very clever but not wholly original premise, the author unleashes a very exciting story which grabs the reader’s attention and then proceeds to charm the reader in a variety of ways. Firstly the plot is a great one as the story begins with a scenario which should appeal to most zombie/apocalypse enthusiasts. From then on the author keeps the story moving forward with some great twists as well as the past recollections of each superhero. This tactic keeps the twin story strands; the past and the present constantly entwined while delivering the clues about the enemy and also illuminating the mistakes of the past. I was thrilled with the way the story was presented and how in the end the author managed to pull it off by coalescing all the threads and resolving all the questions arising in the readers minds.

The author has also aced the characterization department as we are given access to many characters and all of them have vastly different personalities and agendas. This was what differentiated the characters from being comic book clones. And even though most of heroes have their own issues a la the X-men, the author has conveniently provided the back stories which clue the reader in to these issues. Another tremendously exciting point was the humor which is present in all forms through out the story, from the black humor laced conversations to the celebrity zombie hunts; the author manages to make the darkness of the situation a little lighter. There also tons of references to various comic book characters, movies, SFF shows, books etc. making it an interesting read in addition to all the previous plus points.

Lastly this book’s climax draws parallels with David Gemmell’s classic debut Legend, in the sense, the reader gets a sense of claustrophobia as the holed up survivors try to defeat an enemy who has massive strength in numbers while also facing problems from within. Granted that David Gemmell’s book was built on that single premise whereas over here the book’s climax is a one long drawn out fight which will have the readers flipping pages to see who survives & who doesn’t and what is the final outcome. For me I got that overall Legend-like vibe and kudos to the author for making the climax that much exciting.

I really loved this book for all of its good points which made it such a fun read, however the parts combined together make it an excellent book all together. I would have point that I really couldn’t find any deficiencies or things to nitpick. One can point out that the author utilizes various tropes among the superheroes like the all invincible hero with the heart of gold, the secretive hero who stays alone even among the hero ken, etc. But with all the tropes being utilized Peter has still managed to put his own spin to these characters and the story thereby making it his own and one which can stand all amongst other wonderful debuts. After all almost all SFF novels utilize tropes in one form or the other and it is up to the writer to make them seem seamless within the confines of the plot. To his credit Peter Clines passes with flying colors in his debut by giving the readers a tale which they can cherish for a long time to come.

CONCLUSION: An excellent debut which spans many sub-genres and has a little bit of everything to satisfy most of its readers. Ex-Heroes is a standout debut in the superhero and zombie genre. Simply put I was completely floored by this book’s ingenuity and charm; I definitely hope that Hollywood never ruins this one by making it into a movie. Heartily recommended for all fantasy, thriller, horror fans who would want to read a book which best exemplifies the real meaning of a page-turner. Peter Clines’s debut easily makes him the most under-appreciated author of 2010 and now I can’t wait to read what he has done next in Ex-Patriots.

"The Time In Between" By Maria Duenas (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Maria Duenas Website
Order The Time in Between HERE

INTRODUCTION: Maria Duenas holds a PhD in English Philology and is currently a professor at the University of Murcia. She has also taught at American universities, is the author of several academic articles, and has participated in various educational, cultural, and editorial projects. After her immensely successful novelistic debut in 2009 in Spain with El Tiempo entre Costuras translated this year as The Time in Between, she is currently working on her second novel.

"Between Youth and Adulthood . . .

At age twelve, Sira Quiroga sweeps the atelier floors where her single mother works as a seamstress. At fourteen, she quietly begins her own apprenticeship. By her early twenties she has learned the ropes of the business and is engaged to a modest government clerk. But everything changes when two charismatic men burst unexpectedly into her neatly mapped-out life: an attractive salesman and the father she never knew"

The Time in Between has been translated by Miguel Saenz.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: A huge bestseller in Europe, The Time in Between intrigued me quite a lot when I read its blurb and the praise offered to it in various places. I asked for and was lucky to get an e-arc from the publishers and on opening the novel I was swept by its voice and narrative flow, so despite what turned into a somewhat rough first 50 pages, I kept turning the pages...

"A typewriter shattered my destiny. The culprit was a Hispano-Olivetti, and for weeks, a store window kept it from me. Looking back now, from the vantage point of the years gone by, it’s hard to believe a simple mechanical object could have the power to divert the course of an entire life in just four short days, to pulverize the intricate plans on which it was built. And yet that is how it was, and there was nothing I could have done to stop it."

The Time in Between is a first person narration from Sira Quiroga who is raised by her single seamstress mother in the Madrid of the 20's and 30's. After the opening paragraph above that hooked me on the style, the novel slows down for a while - one thing I cannot abide is silly narrators and for the first 40-50 pages Sira makes some really dumb decisions that one can see for a mile that are dumb in an obvious manner, so while the actions of the heroine are understandable somewhat as due to lack of maturity, etc, they are presented in the novel in quite an annoying fashion. However once we get past the "we've seen it coming, now let's get on with the real story" moment, The Time in Between gets its footing and it never looks back

The Time in Between flows so well that despite its 600+ page length I was shocked to see the novel ending and I could have read another 600 pages easily; actually the ending is good and satisfying to a large extent but the book could have gone on for a while more for sure. Maria Duenas definitely knows how to spin a story and I would say that she proved here to be one of those natural born storytellers whom the audience can listen to for a long time...

The other main strength of the novel beside the voice and the narrative flow, is the world building; or if you want the recreation of the atmosphere of the Spanish Marocco and later Madrid in the turbulent years from 1936 to the 1940's. Filled with expatriates, intrigue, even decadence but also with poverty and anger, the main cities of Tangier and Tetouan where the action takes place in the first part of the novel come fully to life and we see quite a few facets as Sira's fate twists and turns. This part is exceptional once we pass the first 50 pages.

Later when the action moves back to the Iberian mainland and to a Madrid devastated by the civil war and sullenly hunkering down under the new order, the atmosphere becomes bleaker but the optimistic voice of Sira never falters.

As slight negatives, The Time in Between is more detached and tension-less than I expected; it has its emotional moments for sure, but fewer than I would have liked. While Sira is a very strong character and the novel is her story after all, the secondary characters wax and wane through it with pages where indeed there appear others who are quite impressive, but also pages where only Sira seems real.

Overall The Time in Between (A+, highly recommended as an example of superb storytelling ability) is a page turner but a lighter novel than I expected based on its blurb and advanced word, so an excellent read but not a blow me away one like say last year's The Invisible Bridge.