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.
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!
Bird Box by Josh Malerman shatters minds with SST brilliance, as the author’s 2014 debut novel rattles all senses with the riveting tale like no other, so too, does SST Publications craft a signed limited numbered edition that is reminiscent of the book’s world, sharp and wonderfully haunting.
Civilization falls to chaos, as those who see something, some creature, go insanely violent on themselves and/or others: welcome to Bird Box.
There are few tales so poignant that you root for the characters so strongly you feel their utter incessant terror so strongly.
The following book review of Bird Box by Josh Malerman will contain *SPOILERS up until the fine press edition of the S/L book from SST is reviewed in detail.
Is Malorie insane?
Clearly the world she resides in has gone insane.
The mother of two debates taking a dangerous winter trip on a river toward a possible sanctuary.
They will be in a rowboat for twenty miles.
The boy and the girl are four, and they will have to risk going outside and traversing the river up to a section of rapids blindfolded the entire way.
The mother’s words are rough with the two children, stern, and candid: they must not take off their ‘folds’ no matter what happens.
Outside, unknown creatures cause madness upon sight of them.
You see it and you lose it and go mortally violent; unless, of course, you are already mad yourself, and then you will welcome the embrace of the savior or cleanser or xenocidal force that has been unleashed on earth.
I had a feeling early into the novel that I had no idea what the creatures were and I might end the book without knowing what they were.
That idea is a tricky writer to reader relationship, to say the least (more on this later).
Aspects of the creatures accumulate: they could be small or enormous, they could be frequently stalking all humans, or sporadically invading city streets, row by row, they could be trying to touch, or scare blindfolded people into looking at them.
The unnerving loss of sight and the unknown haunting menace gives far more weight to the thrilling Bird Box than many of the great suspense novels out there.
The story flashes back and forth, from when Malorie first finds out she was pregnant and the subsequent unraveling of society and back to the dangerous river voyage.
As the world collapses, she escapes to a house that is a sanctuary, of sorts.
It has a well, electricity from a hydroelectric dam and a lot of stores for the half a dozen or so trying to live out the horror in a home with all the windows covered; for safety, no one sees the sky anymore.
The dynamics of the semi-democratic household full of realistic characters with great personalities and their own unnerving anxieties – that decide when or when not to take in someone like Malorie, a showing pregnant woman that will be two mouths to feed before long – are enthralling.
Malorie’s love for another grows, as the housemates struggle to adapt and get along and progress.
Can the landline, not powered by electricity but by a weak electrical signal in a phone cord, let them reach others who have survived with their sanity intact.
For a long time, I thought the birds would be the monsters in the book.
But it is the finding of a cardboard box full of birds at an abandoned home that brings a real-time alarm, a chirping warning system, for when the creatures get close that is essential to surviving.
Only Malorie and her children survive the house, and the birds, and together they march on to a place that someone on the phone says is a real sanctuary for any who can make it up the river to them.
The place is protected and full of good people.
And so Malorie waits until she deems the kids can understand enough to take the trip in the rowboat and she risks it all.
Getting to her destination by route of that damn river is so nerve shredding!
Sure, there are creatures, but there are also animals living in the wooded region that you forget about in the apocalyptic times, like wolves that attack and badly injure Malorie.
She even passes out and wakes to find her kids have learned to each row a paddle, in tandem.
Nothing was more creepy or intense than actually getting to the sanctuary and seeing through Malorie’s eyes as she risks it and takes off the fold and assesses whether or not the place is a trap or a real safe zone for her and the kids.
Your stomach will tighten and spasm with fear, as the worst seems inevitable.
But that is Malorie’s view, of fear, and not the reality, and when she realizes they are all safe it is one of the most beautiful moments in literature – I got choked up.
She had never named the boy or girl, her kids, and the entire novel they are called ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ so that Malorie upon getting them to safety names them, finally, for the girl’s mother who died in the house giving birth at the same time Malorie birthed her son, and she names him after her love that she met in the house.
And after all of the non-stop page turning full of realism, blood, tension, terror, and time that goes by in the grim world, the reader does not get to find out what the creature is.
And it works brilliantly.
*SPOILERS END here.
The SST Publications limited edition of Bird Box by Josh Malerman is marvelous and the fine press production is reviewed here.
The book is signed by the author, Malerman, and artist Ben Baldwin and has a limitation of 400 copies.
And this book is stunning to behold.
The SST Bird Box cover art and dust jacket is one of the wildest designs I have ever seen!
The child is wearing the blindfold and hearing the world shown: their trip on the river, the flying birds, the forest and the rickety speaker setup – the lone semblance of society – and of course blue tone for the cold and the water, and lots of darkness wherein the mysterious creature could be anywhere.
And that is just the dust jacket art. The design wraps around and even goes all the way to the folded in parts at the boards – it looks amazing and would make a great poster.
The six illustrations by Baldwin are remarkable and visceral, and my favorite, by far, is of the screams as the poor home owner goes mad, tied to his chair; it gives me the shivers.
SST’s Bird Box edition is a perfect emanation of Josh Malerman’s story within.
The clothbound book is sturdy and a gorgeous light blue with blue foil stamping.
This is one for the ages.
As my first voyage into SST Publications, I could not be more impressed with the UK fine press publisher.
Crackle and Fire: An Angela Hardwicke Mystery by Russ Colchamiro combines compelling characters with noir-mystery and sci-fi tropes and blasts them into exciting new territory.
What is the audience for this work of speculative fiction? This is from the book’s description on Bookshop.org:
“[Crackle and Fire: An Angela Hardwicke Sci-Fi Mystery is] For fans of Doctor Who, Blade Runner and Philip Marlowe…”
And Crackle and Fire is just the first in The Angela Hardwicke Mysteries Book 1 series. Book 2 is coming in the not-too-distant future.
The following book review of Crackle and Fire: An Angela Hardwicke Mystery contains **MILD SPOILERS for the book’s plot in the opening.
Russ Colchamiro’s tale combines many of my favorite plot elements and world building for an innovative, gritty, pull-no punches neo-noir-mystery in the Universe.
The Universe may span the outer reaches of space, myriad places of which earth is just a tiny blip on the radar, and that is all the more reason for the need of the PI, the private investigator Angela Hardwicke.
Her inner monologue is self-critical and always interesting, as this inner speech often betrays to the reader the nerves that flare up, or the terror that floods her vision, when on the outside, she appears as cool as they come.
Angela Hardwicke has seen a lot and her mannerisms – such as having the tears in her long trench coat sewn over and over again – show a vast amount of experience, stubbornness, and grit.
The woman is savvy and cautious, but also tired; she is as tired as any of Raymond Chandler’s most worn-out cops, PIs, or fugitives.
The writing echoes Hardwicke’s exhaustion, and right from the outset of the story her mental weariness proves very costly.
She slips up in taking on a case from a likeable guy that is so nervous he borders on squirrelly.
And what a fun character Gil Haberseau turns out to be!
The accountant is terrible at math.
But people like him, so he gets on pretty well.
That is, at least until Gil’s intern disappears with stolen files tied to the worst of the mob, the Anshanis.
When Hardwicke wants no part of the ruthless Anshanis (after a past run-in gone sour), Gil corrals her by mentioning her name was in the stolen files, which is why he has come to her.
But he has almost no information to give the PI that will help her track down the missing intern.
She can feel the lies, the inherent danger that is only showing the tip of the iceberg above the water’s surface.
And then, as clacking shots are made on pool tables around her, the obvious damning truth – the omitted truth – comes home to her, but not in a self-reliant epiphany; it is her friends that have to explain it to her.
Gil is no accountant.
And his ‘intern’ may come from other dimensions in the vast multiverse to their own universal realm, Eternity, meaning the stakes and the complications pertaining to them are infinitely more than Hardwicke could ever have imagined.
To start the case, really start the case this time, she ambushes her own client in his apartment and confronts him for his lies.
The intern, from a remote planet called earth, could be big trouble.
The story is riveting in both the personal aspects of its characters and the page-turning action, but it also has a grandiose scope far beyond the notion of the known universe.
Fractured Lives: An Angela Hardwicke Sci-Fi Mystery (The Angela Hardwicke Mysteries Book 2) By Russ Colchamiro will be released in September 2021!