Upgrade by Blake Crouch: a thrilling sci-fi masterpiece details a near future where examining what it is to be human is vital for survival.
In Upgrade, the writing flows smoothly and efficiently as the story hits the reader impactfully.
The world building, character creation, and science are all too real.
The pace is tremendous – Upgrade does not let up!
And the ending is both moving and realistic, painful in its beauty.
The Following Review of Upgrade by Blake Crouch Spoiler Warning.
Imagine sharing a last name with your mother who was solely responsible for killing millions, unleashing an unrelenting pandemic of genetic mutation in the world, and who also made so many geneticists and biologists very training an illegal act deemed so by the Gene Protection Agency.
Logan Ramsay is an extremely intelligent man, but one who grew up dreaming of being his mother’s equal of off-the-charts genius.
And then he stands trial for her crimes against humanity and goes to jail.
The jealousy is gone.
Once freed he starts a family, and Logan enjoys nothing more than playing chess with his daughter and being a family man, when he is not paying a personal penance for the blood his mother spilt.
Out of jail, Logan is working for the GPA to bust illegal gene labs and dealers of illicit genetic material.
This is a world where lower Manhattan is under water, and a Las Vegas confidential informant has his own lab where he makes new species for the wealthiest of collectors, including a new dragon, and he is allowed to, by the GPA, because he hands over those illegal scientists that come to him with more nefarious intent for material and supplies.
When a lab bust becomes a trap and an explosion of an ice bomb sends shards of genetic altering virus irrevocably into Logan’s system, he receives one of the first human DNA upgrades.
Logan learns how to dial down the emotional parts of his brain in order to think more rationally, or work less distracted.
He can read heart rates, blood pressure, and faces so well that he can discern the truth and lies and anticipate many actions before someone does it.
He is stronger than he has ever been.
He can remember every detail of everything he has ever read or seen in his entire life.
His sister is upgraded as well. The two of them learn that from beyond the grave their mother infected them with a Scythe program to alter hundreds of parts of their DNA and improve their overall state so that they will act to save the dying world.
It is Miriam Ramsey’s dying wish. Before humanity dies as a species in a hundred years, she has gifted it with the means to save it from itself.
But will humans remain humans when they are all upgraded, or will they be something else?
And what could go wrong trying to infect and convert billions of people?
Logan sees the need for the world to change but not at such a cost as homo sapiens becoming something else at his mother’s whim, and then his sister tries to kill him.
She takes their mother’s research and flees.
The only two upgraded humans on the planet nearly kill each other over their ideals, a point that is not lost on Logan as he does not see the upgrade as a final solution to the doomsday clock.
End of Spoiler Warning.
Crouch’s research into genetic markers, DNA, and myriad aspects of the human brain and its actions is truly remarkable, and he writes with ease, inserting the research in a way that is accessible to those who are not scientists and also in a way that is natural as it is shared by the characters in the story.
And the messages are not lost in the science or the riveting plot.
This is one of those things that great science fiction authors, like Isaac Asimov or Michael Crichton often achieve in their works.
You invest deeply in Logan’s character and those around him, while the story whips into a frenzy and all the while science is at the center of what is happening.
With Upgrade, Crouch has written a brilliant tale that goes deep into what it means to be human and whether or not being human at a genetic level can or should save the species.
The Case of Death and Honey by Neil Gaiman A+ Areté Editions deliver the seminal follow-up to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s last Sherlock Holmes tale, “The Adventure of the Creeping Man,” and both the Neil Gaiman novella and the letterpress treatment of the stories by Areté are pure gold!
The Case of Death and Honey: The Numbered Edition by Areté may be the finest, most awe-inspiring book I own.
As a huge fan of Gaiman and a Sherlock Holmes fanatic, I sensed the special editions of both the story that Doyle wrote to inspire Death and Honey, as well as the The Case of Death and Honey book itself would be truly special.
The tale woven by Neil Gaiman is one of emotion and legend, and it is written in the Victorian Holmes period and then the early 20th century, and though his style is his own, it greatly emulates the feeling that Doyle wrote this himself.
And having the world’s premier bookbinder Rich Tong, of Ludlow, the true pioneer and great artist in the field, produce the white goatskin binding full of gold to adorn the gilding bands and the intricate artwork of bees and magnifying glass and golden honey, of course, made this such an incredible, stand-out production.
But it is what is within the book that matters (more on the fine press treatment later), and The Case of Death and Honey is a mysterious treasure of Sherlock Holmes stories.
The following book review of The Case of Death and Honey will have mild Spoilers* starting now:
In a tragic, yet predictable – and realistic – future for Mycroft Holmes, the famous detective’s brother, who was essentially the backbone of the British government, calls Sherlock to him as the morbidly obese Mycroft lies on his deathbed in his early middle years.
He speaks to life, living it, and charges Sherlock with a final problem to outshine all the rest in his career: find the fabled and oft searched means to ward off death with not a metaphorical fountain of youth, but a real solution to the problem.
The very foundation of this comes from Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” that Gaiman takes us to with a direct letter to Watson instructing his friend to change his account to make the creeping man who had been onto some form of youth concoction able to literally scale walls as though he had taken on a monkey-like form.
By making the original story more far-fetched it would dissuade others from keying in on the aspect of eternal youth.
Sherlock Holmes endeavors to beekeeping for years and then searches until as an old man he finds a rare bee and an extraordinary beekeeper.
End of Spoiler* Warning.
The characters in the story are mainly Holmes and Old Gao and his angry bees of the misty hills.
They are all extraordinary in their own ways.
The writing of Sherlockian prose could not be better suited for this tale of intrigue.
Gaiman’s The Case of Death and Honey could be the best farewell the detective for hire will ever receive in fiction.
And so onto a review of both the Numbered Edition and the Fine Edition of The Case of Death and Honey crafted by Areté Editions.
First the more affordable fine editions, signed by the artist only, are a soft red cloth and adorned with gold on the cover in a great frontispiece of art by the illustrator of the books, Gary Gianni.
Gianni crafted more than 40 pieces of art for the book and they are done in the traditional black and white style, like Sidney Paget that Holmes’ tales were originally published with in The Strand, and these were made into plates to stamp the pages with the images. They look so so good!
The paper is thick and two-color letterpress – red and black – is used throughout (by Hand & Eye Editions).
And bees and leaves adorn the pages as letterpress accents randomly throughout the text making for one heck of a premier printing production.
The silky cloth helps make this book of the finest quality and it matches an edition of “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” that was made to accompany the story it inspired, and it is also beautifully illustrated.
For the Numbered books, the pages have gold on top of the page block, and gilded edges on the sides and the entire production just floors me.
In an oversized volume with a faux-wooden slipcase that has leather and a skeleton with dripping honey on the front, the raised bands on the spine, many of them, are all surrounded by real gold.
The leather goatskin binding is truly the nicest I have ever handled.
There is a tipped-in colored piece of art of Holmes and Mycroft discussing life by Gary Gianni that is remarkable and poignant and reading the story in such a manner is one of the most pleasurable experiences one can have.
They also produced an Artist Edition that I was not able to review but it looks awesome and included embedded original art in each cover.
WOW and A+ are too weak to describe the magnitude of the grandiose fine press treatment for this project.
I was very lucky to have a great talk with bestselling author of Chasing The Boogeyman Richard Chizmar, renowned artist-illustrator Mark Molnar (Dune Centipede Press Edition fame), and bestselling author of Bird Box and Goblin Josh Malerman.
And more will be coming as soon as I catch up in the Rune Works TFF Wood Shop.
For the many who have waited months for their project to come to life, I greatly appreciate your patience and I am close to caught up on anyone that has been waiting well beyond the ETA.
361 By Donald E. Westlake: unique, hard-hitting brilliance brings hard-boiled gritty noir down an alley that you cannot leave until the book is done.
Hard Case Crime thankfully brings many treasures like 361 back to the forefront of fiction on today’s market.
Personally, despite loving crime, mystery, and hard-boiled fiction, I had yet to read a novel of Donald Westlake’s.
And here is the beauty of HCC’s paperback series: it is very easy for a good friend in the know to mail me a book that will kick my ass, and get me into gear, just like 361 did.
If you love Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, Max Allan Collin’s Quarry series (to name one), then this 1962 publication will be very appealing and not the least because it is a style all Westlake’s own.
Warning, Will Robinson! This book review of 361 by Donald E. Westlake has Spoilers* for the opening pages.
Ray Kelly has landed in New York retired from his time abroad as a US military man. He feels bad at talking to his brother’s wife, who he has not met, on the phone to get directions. He cares about family.
When Ray’s father, Willard, picks him up and talks about how his brother settled down happily and then remarks how good his Ray looks after all those years, father and son break down crying.
Dad brags about the air conditioning in the car and remarks, “chased a lot of ambulances lately,” as he was an attorney with a good sense of humor.
Westlake has brought a happy family together and the pair drive over New York City’s George Washington Bridge in what has been an uplifting tale so far.
In 361, Westlake pulls one of the fastest literally punches to ever gut the main character and the reader.
And then a Chrysler pulls up beside them and fires a gun, so that Willard appears to vomit blood and falls over into Ray’s lap as the car hits the bridge barrier.
A month later, Ray wakes in a hospital minus an eye and his one leg shattered and put back together in a way that would leave him with a debilitating limp.
End of Spoiler Warning*
Westlake pulled the rug out from under me so quickly I nearly dropped the book.
Readers beware of Donald E. Westlake, whose use of realistic dialogue, rich character feeling, and sharp descriptions make up boisterously boiled worlds that are increasingly intriguing as the tale winds on.
The plot gets harrier and harrier as it goes on too.
There are some mysteries and some surprises.
And 361’s ending is wholly original, utterly pragmatic, and very satisfying.
Dune & Frank Herbert immortalized by Centipede Press in a limited edition that creates a uniquely bold, intricate, imaginative, and sharp book, a true work of art – illustrated by Mark Molnar – befitting a masterpiece that is one of the greatest science-fiction novels of all time.
There are few works as grandiose, moving, tragic and exhilarating as Frank Herbert’s Dune.
The following book review of Dune by Frank Herbert is SPOILER-FREE* and will touch on the story and then focus on the signed-limited fine press edition published by Centipede Press in 2021-2022.
Dune can be summed up as masterful sci-fi, and every facet of the Centipede Press tome does it justice.
Dune is one of my favorite books, and so as to not give a 30-page thesis of a review on the story for the ages, I am tabling that (at least for today) in favor of focusing on what I consider the epitome of a physical book encompassing the revolutionary work of Frank Herbert.
For the uninitiated, Dune is another name for the desert planet Arrakis – which aside from tiny polar ice caps – is entirely covered in desert.
Arrakis is itself one of the most dominant characters in the book.
The extremely harsh environment makes water the most valued commodity for any living or traveling on the planet, and it molds one of the toughest peoples that live in the deep desert, the Fremen.
Arrakis is also the only place in the galaxy where spice mélange is found. This is found in sand patches and has to be mined quickly before gargantuan sand worms arrive; they dwarf even Guild spaceships and come to devour spice, or anything on the surface making unnatural noise.
The spice is a drug-like property found in many things like flavoring for cooking, or as part of recreational drug use, and it also has hallucinogenic prescient properties making it the sole way the Guild navigators can successfully fold space and time, achieving interstellar travel.
Dune and the spice are necessities to that space flight monopoly.
The characters, Paul Atriedies, and his mother the Lady Jessica, Stilgar, truly make the story what it is, as they grow amidst the innovative world building, where the setting, revenge, intricate politics, and innovative technology intermingle within the galactic regime.
But beware this work is a tragedy, similar in some ways to Homer’s Oedipus (but not the Oedipean complex), and so there are joys and pains and losses and victories, but the book is fully fleshed and nothing is one-sided, not even joy.
WARNING! I have tweaked the Goodreads summary of the book here to be near to Spoiler-Free*:
“Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for…
“When House Atreides is betrayed . . . [Paul] evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, [but] will [he] bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream? [And at what cost will the attempt bring to Paul and to all?]”
End of Spoiler Warning*
Centipede Press accomplished something truly extraordinary with their S/L of Dune: their offering is a vast work of art that truly bears the essence of the journey of Paul Atreides from Caladan to Arrakis.
And speaking of art . . .
Mark Molnar’s incredible illustrations and paintings for Dune have become definitive views of the characters and world.
The overall book design is sleek, sexy, and works to capture Mark’s art in every aspect, from the capped slipcase’s spine window onto a worm illustration to the similar circular cutout in the cover boards.
There is a stunning and vast two-sided dustjacket featuring an enormous painting of Paul Muad’Dib with spear amongst the vast stony and sandy Arrakean backdrop as a worm’s surfaced beneath the planet’s two moons that look golden on the horizon.
There is a large foldout map – from the original publication – showing the areas of the planet that are discussed in the book.
The book is printed on Mohawk Superfine paper, and there are over a dozen interior full color illustrations by Mark Molnar and the back of each one has a gritty sand-like feel to it that is a lot of fun in the hand.
But the feel of the numbered edition is like nothing I have ever experienced, as the black Nabuka Prestige cloth is a suede-like other-worldly smoothness.
There are 500 signed editions and 250 unsigned, and the latter have a fine Japanese cloth binding.
Though Frank Herbert is not with us writing in the physical realm any longer, his family and his son, Brian (who helped his father in the writing of the last couple of books in the series), approved a facsimile signature.
And what is more, the book has an introduction by Michael Swanwick and he and Brian Herbert and Mark Molnar have signed the 500 copies.
The epic tale is encapsulated in a mammoth book sized at 7¼ × 11 inches.
And the other five books in the Dune series are forthcoming with 500 signed copies and matching numbers to the owners of Dune.
If you get an opportunity to acquire a signed or unsigned C.P. edition of this great tale, do not pass it up!