A Christmas Schmuck

Some time back I reviewed a book called The Last Day Of Captain Lincoln. The author, Exo Books, recently sent me another short story to read. This one, Schmuck the Buck, isn't a sci fi tale but a holiday one, all about Santa's Jewish reindeer. It's fully illustrated and a quick, entertaining read. At first glance it appears to be a light, humorous, and modern re-imagining of the tale of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. By the end Schmuck has to save Christmas, and does so in a very Millennial way. But at another level it's also a story of resilience against bullies, being true to your own nature, doing what has to be done, and accepting yourself for who you are. And, at the end, we are reminded that what makes us the same, what can bring us together, is far more important than the differences we might have.

It's worth a look for something different this holiday season, and you can find it at schmuckthebuck.com or on Amazon.

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The Last Day Of Captain Lincoln

Book review: The Last Day Of Captain Lincoln
(Amazon)

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The opening might lead you to believe this will be a regular action sci-fi story. It isn't. It ends up being a meditation on the meaning of life and death, and a commentary on how we do (or more often don't) openly talk about death. At least as an American I can say while I know I and everyone I know will die, I don't think we spend enough time framing that knowledge with an examination of life. As Socrates said - the unexamined life is not worth living - and Captain Lincoln spends the book doing just that. We may not actually know the exact date of our deaths, but that's no reason not to spend time considering how we've lived and the impact we've had on others. This is definitely something I would consider important to anyone who wants to engage in long term thinking.
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Red Desert

Book Review: Red Desert series by Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli.
(Available on Amazon)

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I first discovered this book series on Twitter, and Rita kindly offered a copy of book one for free. It was a quick read, and I decided to carry on through the rest of the series. Because the books are a continuous story it didn't make sense to just review the first book, I'm reviewing the entire series.

At first, through the fairly quick read of Point Of No Return, the story (primarily following exobiologist Anna Persson) has a fairly similar feel to Andy Weir's Martian novel. Lots of science, a focus on accuracy of the science, great descriptions of what it might be like to be on Mars, to see that barren but varied landscape. Descriptions of how one might live on Mars, the difficulties, the travel from Earth to Mars, how you might handle the differences in gravity, all nicely filled out to give you a good table to set the story on. Unlike The Martian, there are multiple characters living on Mars, so the personal story told is often focused on the interactions between these people. Where The Martian is a loner, Red Desert gives us a cast of characters forced to live and work in close quarters for several years, and they must learn to deal with that reality.

Then the story takes a twist. I won't give away any spoilers, but I will say the Red Desert turns from speculative science to science fiction, with more emphasis on the fiction. It's in the early stages of book two this turn begins, and I for one enjoyed it and got hooked even deeper into the story. I'm all for realism in sci-fi (The Martian, Interstellar, The Expanse) but I'm also all for imaginative fiction that stretches the imagination. Monticelli's series adds elements that would be at home in an episode of Doctor Who, and morphs from a how-it-might-be science manual to a sci-fi thrill ride. It reminded me of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's books, giving a twist of the bizarre to otherwise normal crime stories and dramas. Red Dessert combines these elements to stay scientifically grounded in the background of the story, while taking on a more freewheeling ride for the characters.

I do have minor quibbles. On a technical level, this series was translated from Monticelli's native Italian into British English. I'm ok with the Brit part, but here and there I ran into wrong verb tenses, or wrong singular/plural nouns. A minor distraction that could be taken care of with another round of editing (and to be fair, I'm finding some of the same in John Scalzi's Ghost Brigades right now). My other quibble is that much of the foundation of the relations between characters is told in flashbacks, and I think the flashbacks were spread too far and too deep into he story. Sometimes the motivations of the characters were hard to decipher until a much later flashback filled in some critical detail. I think some of the flashbacks could have been sliced in earlier. Despite this it didn't take away from my overall enjoyment of the story and I can still recommend it to sci-fi fans looking to take an imaginative trip to the red planet. Click on the Amazon link above and take the trip yourself.
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