It's been a while since I did a review round - for reasons I'm hoping to blog about in the very near future - but time to catch up on what I've been reading, starting by picking up a lightsaber...
Star Wars: The High Republic - Into The Dark, by Claudia Gray
Star Wars blew my mind when I was a kid. I remember getting my parents to walk me backwards out of the cinema so I could see the credits rolling up the screen for as long as I could.
After that, I devoured the pages of the Star Wars Weekly comic, with stories about the Starkiller Kid or Valance the Bounty Hunter and more.
And yet, I've been away from reading Star Wars for a while.
I picked up this book in the High Republic series after a recommendation - and the appeal of it for me was new characters on new adventures rather than being too closely hooked into movies or TV shows.
In it, a padawan, Reath Silas, is travelling on board a transport ship in a group of Jedi when a disaster hits. Some kind of explosion rips through hyperspace, throwing ships violently into normal space. Silas and his allies find themselves near an ancient space station, and pull together with other survivors to get on board.
Once on board, they start to explore - and the station is not quite as empty as it first seemed, with a sinister presence making it felt at the edge of their senses.
So far, so good - and with the prospect of an alien menace to top it all.
I probably enjoyed about half the book - but I'll confess it frustrated me. The trouble was, the Jedi themselves are regarded as wise and powerful, but it's mostly their decisions that mess everything up.
The central plot events simply don't happen if the Jedi aren't there to cause the problem. It's like that whole debate about Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant, where the Nazis don't get it without Indy's involvement.
That and there are some moments where it beggars belief that the lead characters could be quite so dim or give up so easily.
So, while the setting is great, and the characters draw you in... in the end, the book just annoyed me.
I'll dive back in to another Star Wars book before long, but this was the wrong one to pick for me.
AI Rating: 2/5
Star Wars: The High Republic - Into The Dark is available on Amazon.
The Crossover Paradox, by Rob Edwards
It's sequel time! The Crossover Paradox is the sequel to The Ascension Machine, a tale of alien superheroes learning to handle their powers and... well, life itself, at a futuristic academy.
I loved the first book, in which the lead character, Grey, finds himself masquerading as someone else and unexpectedly making friends along the way.
The sequel brings the characters back for a new term at the academy - but there have been some unexpected shifts along the way. There's a distance between Grey and some of his closest friends, which leaves Grey feeling a little out of place again. Which would be fine if it wasn't for the murder.
Oh yes, there's a murder. And after a year of lying about who he really is, Grey becomes a suspect. There's only one person who knows he is innocent - Grey himself, and so he sets about investigating who the real killer is.
What he uncovers won't just impact his own future at the academy, but perhaps even the academy itself.
It's full of twists and turns, without getting too slowed down by the mystery - there's plenty of action along the way too.
Most of all, I love the personal touches, the way in which Grey questions the friendships he has unexpectedly come to rely on, and the way those friends prove their worth as the mystery deepens.
It's a fun read, a warm, witty, clever read, and I loved it.
AI Rating: 5/5
The Crossover Paradox is available on Amazon.
Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon is a short story collection from Brent A Harris - and I'll freely confess I'd read most of these in different publications over time, but it's lovely to have them all collected together.
Let's start with the headliner - Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon was nominated for a Sidewise Award, and deservedly so. A collaboration with Ricardo Victoria, it told of time travelling space dinosaurs trying to save their future. I'll say that again: Time. Travelling. Space. Dinosaurs.
C'mon, a hook like that, how can you not want more? And more you get, because this collection has a new story in the same setting, a prequel.
There are a lot more stories in here to discover - with hardly any other dinosaurs in sight. Ok, maybe a couple more dinosaur stories. I loved The Terrible Lizard of Holborn Hill, for example, or the story Dust of the Earth, which imagines a world where Jurassic Park was never written.
Personally, perhaps my two favourite stories are Lost Treasure, about time pirates, and The Ellian Convergence, which is as sweet a literary love letter to Star Trek as you could wish for.
The nicest thing of all about the collection, however, is you can never tell where each story will take you - the world is not the limit when there are different worlds, different universes, different dimensions to go and explore.
Dive in. Have fun. Don't get bitten by a dinosaur.
AI Rating: 5/5
Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon and other Time Travel Twists is available on Amazon.
Hell Divers, by Nicholas Sansbury Smith
Never mind the logic, look at how freaking cool everything is!
Hell Divers reads like a computer game shoot-em-up turned into a book. The lead characters are Hell Divers - big, brave heroes doomed to die parachuting from the huge flying airships housing the last of humanity to retrieve precious supplies from the ravaged Earth below.
It's a turn-the-brain-off kind of book. There are two airships left, each of which holds around 500 people, and yet somehow people don't recognise one another within these ships that has been their only home for their entire lives. Then there's the supplies down below, somehow still usable a couple hundred years after global war torched the Earth, and somehow packed nicely into what seem like loot boxes ready to attach a hot air balloon too and lift back to the airship.
That's before you even get to the inexplicable mutant monsters, but hey, if you can accept the rest, go all in.
It all plays out in as macho a fashion as you would expect, with thinly painted characters about to get into life and death situations that some of them aren't going to get out of intact.
But you know what? Sometimes, you need something to clean the palate. It's a speedy read. It goes exactly the way you'd expect it to. And if that's what you need? It scratches that itch.
It makes no sense. But it's fun.
AI Rating: 3/5
Hell Divers is available on Amazon.
The Silver Archive: Dark Skies, by Matthew Kresal
OK, this is a very, veeeery niche product, so I gotta give you some homework. Stop reading this, and go and watch every episode of the 1996 one-season wonder that was Dark Skies, and sadly never got a second season, then come back. It's probably on YouTube these days. Go ahead. I'll wait.
Ok, you probably didn't go do all that, and if you're reading this still, you're probably aware of the show, perhaps even a keen fan. It was a conspiracy show, weaving a story of alien invasion around particular moments of American history.
Matthew Kresal delves behind the scenes of the show in this book, and discovers all kinds of interesting nuggets. Think of it as a DVD commentary on the show, if you will.
There is, for example, the very weird interactions the showmakers had with shady people who claimed the show was closer to "the truth" than they realised. I laughed out loud at the moment where one showmaker declared he wasn't going to go and meet someone at midnight in a cemetery for anything.
Then there are the details of the show itself, and the resolution it found its way to when they got word that it was being cancelled.
Dark Skies was a great little moment in US TV, and this book adds depth to the experience for those who have fond memories of the show. It's really absolutely not for someone who doesn't know the show - and more than 25 years on from the show, there's not many newcomers finding it now. But if the series still tickles an itch in your brain, this is a delight.
AI Rating: 5/5
The Silver Archive: Dark Skies is available from Obverse Books.
What if the bad guys win?
That's the premise at the bleeding heart of this cosmic horror anthology - and the bad guys here are the elder gods of Lovecraftian mythology.
It starts with a belter of a story. The Smiling People, by Andrew Peregrine, follows the last survivors of our world, going about their daily business in a city surrounded by a wall made of the dead bodies of their loved ones. As they struggle to exist, they are followed by the Smiling Ones, strange entities who watch, and provide packages of food, and follow, and destroy whoever they wish. And they smile.
It follows one character as he hides his remaining secret, as he tries to talk to a woman he works with, as he perhaps hopes of escape. Brilliantly written, and utterly terrifying. My first work I've read by this author, I look forward to more.
I also thoroughly enjoyed The Pestilence of Pandora Peaslee, in which partisan resistance fighters take on Ythians who have occupied the world, but might just open the door to worse.
Some of the other stories aren't as strong, and a couple are a little muddled - but The Smiling People makes the anthology worth reading alone.
AI Rating: 4/5
Apotheosis: Stories of Survival After The Rise of the Elder Gods is available on Amazon.
The Fall, by Alan Baxter
This is a return to the world of The Gulp, the five-story collection of interwoven stories from Alan Baxter that tells of the bad town of Gulpepper, where reality warps and twists so hard it will choke the life out of an unwary visitor.
The first book introduced us to the world, and this visit again sees stories bumping into one another's locations as Bad Things begin to happen.
This time round, the greater evil at the heart of the town starts to show itself. But not so quickly. Baxter takes his time to show his hand. First we have a curio shop that ensnares an outsider with its weird magic. Then there's the fishing boat that takes us to a place even local residents are afraid of. Then there's the disintegration of a farmer's life and the extent he goes to in order to cover up a crime he has committed. And a group of scouts who find themselves pursued by horror and forced to seek refuge in the one town they shouldn't set foot in. All that before the grand finale itself.
Think of it as a series of Twilight Zone one-shots that wind together in the end, but with an Australian accent and a satisfying squelch as a shotgun blasts a whole in something that used to be flesh.
Warped. Twisted. Fabulous.
AI Rating: 5/5
The Fall is available on Amazon.