Mar. 14th, 2017

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The Operative is the second book in Gerald Brandt's San Angeles sci-fi thriller series and it continues the story of Kris Merrill.

Premise: In The Courier, Kris finds herself caught up in the politics of the corporations that rule a near future Earth, as well as the heavens above, when she accidentally witnesses a murder while delivering a package. She survives--because she's a survivor--but she can't return to life as a courier now. Instead, she's become involved in the resistance, training to be one of their operatives. But the Meridian corporation still wants her dead, as well as certain elements within the resistance itself. And they're willing to do anything--even use her mentor and lover Ian Miller--to get to her. As the city descends into civil unrest, she must find a way to rescue Ian ... but she doesn't know who she can trust.

I enjoyed this continuing story and thought it moved in a believable direction for Kris herself. She isn't really the kind of personality you'd think of as being an "operative," and that's clearly a drawback for her in the novel, giving it an immediate sense of tension. So while she has the training to be an operative, her heart isn't really in it, causing all kinds of problems throughout the novel as she searches for Ian and discovers who she can and cannot trust. This being a second novel in a series, there is a transitional nature to the novel, with not only Kris shifting from her courier days to something else, but the entire city and political shape of the world shifting as well. I'm looking forward to the third installment in this series.

If you like SF thrillers, I'd definitely recommend this series.
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I'd heard many people talking about this book when it first came out and finally broke down at a book signing and bought it. Mostly, I'd heard that if you grew up in the 80s, you'd love it. And I have to say, that's the case.

Premise: In the near future, a gigajillionaire who built his fortune by creating a virtual reality system that's used by the entire world--a world slowly decaying because more people prefer to live online than unplugged--dies and bequeaths his entire fortune to whoever can find and defeat the three gates he's hidden inside the virtual world. Wade, a teenager, is one of those desperately searching for the gates. But it's been years and no one has even found the first one, let alone come close to finding all three. And then Wade figures out the first clue and finds the first gate ... setting of a worldwide hunt for control of everything, a hunt that turns deadly almost immediately, both for Wade and for those he finds as allies on the way.

This is a great concept for an SF novel, and tapping into the 80s nostalgia is spectacular. I have to admit that I didn't get all of the 80s references, even though I grew up during that time, but I certainly got enough of them to get thoroughly involved in the story. Wade is a character that you can sympathize with immediately and root for throughout the entire book. And the puzzles and clues are sufficiently twisted that I couldn't figure them out on my own; I had to live through the story along with Wade as he figured them out.

If the novel had been only about the puzzles and their solutions, it wouldn't have been that great, but it transcends that initial plot structure and makes the story more about the characters and, to a lesser extent, the world as it has become. You get involved in Wade's relationships with some of the others searching for the gates, and you hate the corporations attempting to find the gates for their own gain just as much as Wade does, setting up the perfect antagonist. And throughout, you get a strong glimpse of what the world is like outside the virtual reality setting. My only complaint about the novel is that, at some point, I expected the novel to somehow address the world and its problems more directly. Instead, the real world ends up being shifted off stage and is only marginally addressed as a "commentary" on our society. More could have been done here, without it shifting into railing against evils in society.

In the end, though, this was a spectacular book. A definite read for those who grew up in the 80s and enjoyed SF&F when they were younger. And if you look deep enough, there's even some commentary and warnings about society and where we might be headed.
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The last day to nominate for the HUGOs this year is almost here! You must get your nominations in by March 17th. I'd like to point out what is eligible for a nomination from Zombies Need Brains this year. Basically, it's everything from the ALIEN ARTIFACTS and WERE- anthologies, but since we don't print the word counts of each story in the anthology, I've conveniently broken down the stories into which category they belong in below. Also note that Patricia Bray and I are eligible for an Editor Short Form award. If you do consider us for the editor award, please nominate us separately, rather than as a single entry, since the HUGO nominations rules in particular don’t seem to allow for dual nominations. Here’s the breakdown of eligibility:

Hugo Eligibility:

Best Editor, Short Form:

Joshua Palmatier
Patricia Bray

Best Short Story:

“Best in Show” by Seanan McGuire
“We Dig” by Ashley McConnell
“Eyes Like Pearls” by Susan Jett
“Among the Grapevines, Growing” by Eliora Smith
“A Party for Bailey” by David B. Coe
“Cry Murder” by April Steenburgh
“Paper Wasp” by Mike Barretta
“Point Five” by Elizabeth Kite
“The Promise of Death” by Danielle Ackley-McPhail
“Witness Report” by Katharine Kerr
“Attack of the Were-Zombie Friendship with Benefits” by Sarah Brand
“The Whale” by Anneliese Belmond
“Shiftr” by Patricia Bray
“Radio Silence” by Walter H. Hunt
“The Familiar” by David Farland
“Me and Alice” by Angela Penrose
“The Other Side” by S.C. Butler
“The Sphere” by Juliet E. McKenna
“Shame the Devil” by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
“The Captain’s Throne” by Andrija Popovic
“Weird is the New Normal” by Jacey Bedford
“And We Have No Words to Tell You” by Sofie Bird
“Titan Descanso” by James Van Pelt
“Music of the Stars” by Jennifer Dunne
“The Night You Were a Comet” by Coral Moore
“The God Emperor of Lassie Point” by Daniel J. Davis
“Pandora” by C.S. Friedman
“Round and Round We Ride the Carousel of Time” by Seanan McGuire

Best Novelette:

“Missy the Were-Pomeranian vs. the Masters of Mediocre Doom” by Gini Koch
“Anzu, Duba, Beast” by Faith Hunter
“The Five Bean Solution” by Jean Marie Ward
“The Hunt” by Gail Z. Martin & Larry N. Martin
“Alien Epilogue” by Gini Koch
“The Haint of Sweetwater River” by Anthony Lowe
“The Nightside” by Julie Novakova



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Joshua Palmatier

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