Monday, January 23, 2012

Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “Shadow Ops: Control PointHERE
Read an excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: As a security contractor, government civilian and military officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Counter-terrorism to Cyber Warfare to Federal Law Enforcement. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He’s also a graduate of the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop and is a close friend of Peter V. Brett. He also won the 2003 Writers of the future award for his story “Blood and Horses”. His passions include comics, fantasy novels and late night D&D games which eventually set him on a path of being a wordsmith.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Across the country and in every nation, people are waking up with magical talents. Untrained and panicked, they summon storms, raise the dead, and set everything they touch ablaze.

Army officer Oscar Britton sees the worst of it. A lieutenant attached to the military's Supernatural Operations Corps, his mission is to bring order to a world gone mad. Then he abruptly manifests a rare and prohibited magical power, transforming him overnight from government agent to public enemy number one.

The SOC knows how to handle this kind of situation: hunt him down--and take him out. Driven into an underground shadow world, Britton is about to learn that magic has changed all the rules he's ever known, and that his life isn't the only thing he's fighting for.

CLASSIFICATION: The Shadow Ops series is a multi volume urban fantasy series which combines the superhero aspect showcased in X-men comics along with the military themes espoused in stories by Glen Cook. Stirring the pot with his own style, the author unleashes a potent tale upon the readers.

FORMAT/INFO: Shadow Ops: Control Point is 389 pages long divided over thirty-four numbered and titled chapters. Narration is in the third person solely via Oscar Britton. There is also a glossary about the terms, acronyms and slang utilized in the story. Shadow Ops: Control Point is the first novel of the Shadow Ops series.

January 31, 2012 marks the North American Paperback and e-book publication of Shadow Ops: Control Point via ACE books. Cover art is provided by Michael Komarck.

ANALYSIS: I first heard about Myke Cole via Peter V. Brett’s blog, he had mentioned his friendship with Myke a few times and this particular section about his then book titled “Latent” caught my attention nicely:
It is great Military Fantasy – the X-Men meets Black Hawk Down. Myke has been one of my inner-circle test readers for many years, and vice-versa. There is a lot of him in The Warded Man, and a lot of me in Latent. Keep your eyes peeled for it.”
The military fantasy line along with that awesome elevator pitch made me aware of Cole and I was particularly awaiting more news about it. a few months ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Anne Sowards. Anne had pointed out his book as one to watch out for and had some effusive praise for it as well. Thereafter Myke was awesome enough to send me the book’s ARC and I dug in wanting to see how justified the hype was all about in regards to Control Point.

Firstly the story opens with a nice action packed sequence which not only introduces the main protagonist Oscar Britton but the world which is vastly similar to our own except for having one crucial anomaly, that is MAGIC! A world wherein people are waking up with various elemental powers that have to be classified and kept under study. Thus the nations around the world are trying to adapt themselves around this change and started their own official magic-infused soldiers and battalions. Oscar is a simple soldier however once he’s involved in the take down of two teenage “Probes” [Rogue Magicians or Selfers], he witnesses casual brutality which shakes his conscience and he’s forced to help the US Supernatural Corps take down the two at the expense of the safety of his own team members. Once the task is accomplished, while recuperating Oscar suddenly goes Latent and manifests a rare type of magic called Portamancy which not only places him squarely at the top on the wanted list but also makes him special in the eyes of those who are on the search for greater power.

Thus begins the tale of Oscar Britton, who discovers that not all conspiracy theories are false and things are never what they seem to be. The story then moves on to the next phase of his rehabilitation at the hands of the US government which is the true meat of the story and makes this debut such a fantastic one. Author Myke Cole has indeed worked on this story for a long time and it shows vibrantly as the themes which are nuanced within the plot are felt strongly by the reader. The characterization of the main protagonist as well as the fellow character cast is a rich one, perhaps a bit impeded with the third person view chosen. Yet the author resolutely gives the reader a terrific view of the protagonist’s thoughts, feelings and the profound metamorphosis through a narrative prose style which nails the reader’s attention through and through.

Perhaps the best part of the book (for me at least) is the vividly imagined worldscape, to come up with the explosive mix of Magic in today’s world is not hard at all. However to postulate the world scenario created and then convincingly entrance the readers with it, is something of a rave-worthy talent. To find it in a debutante makes it special, and this is the best thing about this book. The world and magic system showcased seems to be so thoroughly constructed that its hard to point out flaws in it (not that they are absent, but on a very close examination are the few ones visible). These minute aberrations can perhaps be better explained with the reason that since this is the first book, the author went in for a more action packed plot eschewing the detailed expositions so as to not sacrifice the narrative energy.

I also want to see how the author expands this world/magic system as there are some glimpses shown that are tantalizingly cool. Lastly the author being a military personnel brings to life a veritable slice of the military life and all the good & bad aspects of it. This exploration creates a rather catch-22 situation for the protagonist and which is wonderfully exploited by the author with some terrific shades of the 1990s X-Men Saga seen. Also within it we are also introduced to perhaps one of the best counter-foil characters ever created, this character is one of those which the readers will just love to hate giving almost no reason to ever change those thoughts.

Lastly there are a couple of hiccups in this book, namely that in between Oscar’s transition from a runaway latent to a self-measured warrior of the Shadow coven, the pace of the book slackens as the book energy perhaps mirrors the protagonist’s plot-induced confusion. This aspect lasts for about 80-odd pages and once its over, the pace picks up again, and for the second drawback is that the author hasn’t quite thoroughly explained some of the crucial happenings in the book. These aspects if focused upon cause the book to feel a bit weak for example it is never quite thoroughly explained as to why/how Oscar got his powers and what marks him out as a “special water baby”. This is just me but when you enjoy certain stories a lot you want them to have almost next to nothing in the negative departments. This might not be the case for every reader and so will depend on each person’s taste.

CONCLUSION: Myke Cole’s debut is another ace from the ACE book stable and possibly heralds a series which if handled competently, can be an absolute break out saga. Myke delivers a standout book which not only gives the readers a different type of a story but also carves a further niche in the sub-genre that is urban fantasy. If you aren’t excited yet for this book, you should be, this is a superb release to start off the new year and one which can be read across genre lines. I can’t wait to get my hands on Shadow Ops series: Fortress Frontier and see where he plans to take the reader next.

2011 BSFA Shortlist with Comments (by Liviu Suciu)

Via SFSignal from which I grabbed the image above and then from Torque Control here are the 2011 shortlist nominees for the British SF Association best novel award. After a few comments, I will include the nominees in the other three categories below.

Best Novel


COMMENTS: While smaller that its US analog Nebula, and not on the scale of the best sff award today - the British Arthur Clarke one - the BSFA awards are (imho) much more interesting and "respectable" than the often butt of jokes Nebula ones and I always take a look at them. This year the shortlist contains three major sf novels that have all made my top 25 list of 2011.

You can find more information and comments in the reviews linked above.

In addition, there is the provocative "Osama" from Lavie Tidhar (the author of the superb "Bookman Files" series from which the third installment The Great Game will be published soon and I plan to review it in early February, while the first two books have been reviewed HERE and HERE). I have a review copy of Osama and I will definitely take a look in the near future too.

Then for the last nominee, Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith, a book and author I have not heard of before - one of the beauties of these lists is bringing such to attention - but as it is available inexpensively as an ebook at the link above, I have just bought it and will take a look as the blurb is intriguing and the sample reads well.

Of the three major novels above, I would go with By Light Alone as my clear top choice and I give it 33% odds to win, though I would say the big favorite remains Embassytown. The Islanders is an extraordinary book in its way, but I would say it is the "most acquired taste" of the three.


As promised here are the rest of the nominees in the other 3 categories.

Best Short Fiction
The Silver Wind by Nina Allan (Interzone 233, TTA Press)
The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell (Asimov’s, July)
Afterbirth by Kameron Hurley (Kameron Hurley’s own website)
Covehithe by China Mieville (The Guardian)
Of Dawn by Al Robertson (Interzone 235, TTA Press)

Best Non-Fiction
Out of This World: Science Fiction but not as we Know it by Mike Ashley (British Library)
The SF Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition ed. John Clute, Peter Nicholls and David Langford (website)
Review of Arslan by M J Engh, Abigail Nussbaum (Asking the Wrong Questions blog)
SF Mistressworks, ed. Ian Sales (website)
Pornokitsch, ed. Jared Shurin and Anne Perry (website)
The Unsilent Library: Essays on the Russell T. Davies Era of the New Doctor Who (Foundation Studies in Science Fiction), ed. Graham Sleight, Tony Keen and Simon Bradshaw (Science Fiction Foundation)

Best Art
Cover of Ian Whates’s The Noise Revealed by Dominic Harman (Solaris)
Cover and illustrations of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls by Jim Kay (Walker)
Cover of Lavie Tidhar’s Osama by Pedro Marques (PS Publishing)
Cover of Liz Williams’s A Glass of Shadow by Anne Sudworth (Newcon Press)