So an Arab Spring hacktivist, an online troll, a wannabe Anonymous-style hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and a credit card scammer walk into a bar… Well, okay, the bar part isn’t necessarily part of Chuck Wendig’s new novel Zer0es, but wouldn’t that make for a great joke-writing contest?
Instead, Zer0es begins with the five aforementioned digital malcontents getting caught in various acts of online criminality, then being strong-armed by the U.S. government into working for them. The hackers can either do ten years hard time in a federal prison or spend one year working for Uncle Sam in what appears to be a secretive cyber-espionage project. Faced with a textbook example of “an offer they can’t refuse,” they soon find themselves at a remote location known only as “the Lodge.”
There, the five hackers are assigned a variety of missions, mainly penetrating the websites of seemingly unconnected companies and individuals. Slowly, however, it becomes clear that there is an actual connection: a sinister NSA program known only as “Typhon”…
K.J. Parker appears to be in a very prolific period in his career right now. In addition to the ongoing serial novel The Two of Swords (my review), which just had its sixth monthly installment published in July, and last year’s short fiction/essay collection Academic Exercises, we are now treated to Savages, a brand new full length novel. (Plus, come October, a new novella over on Tor.com!)
Maybe it’s the recent unveiling of his true identity that spurred all this activity? Whatever’s the cause, you’ll never hear me complain about more K.J. Parker on the shelves.
The setting for Savages, as for most of Parker’s output to date, is once again a vaguely recognizable (but really different) parallel of Europe during and after the breakup of the Roman Empire: there are Western and Eastern Empires, one with vaguely Roman-sounding names and one with kinda-Greek-sounding names, as well as some other parallels to countries and regions in historical central Europe. Fans of the author will catch references to, among others, Permia and Scheria, two countries that have frequently been featured in Parker’s fiction.
(The difference with the works of someone like Guy Gavriel Kay is that Parker, as far as I can tell from my very fuzzy knowledge of that period, rarely if ever refers to actual historical events and people. He mainly uses this setting as a nice, dynamic place to develop his wonderful plots and characters. By contrast, with Kay you can usually tell that character X is actually this or that king or poet or general with the serial numbers removed, and if you’re not careful you’ll run into major plot spoilers when you look up the real life history the novels are based on.)
Austin Grossman’s new novel, Crooked, features a very different Richard Nixon from the one you may remember from history class. To illustrate, allow me to start this review with a brief quote from the book’s opening chapter, showing Nixon in the Oval Office:
I closed the blinds, knelt down, and rolled back the carpeting to reveal the great seal of the office, set just beneath the public one. I rolled up my left sleeve and cut twice with the dagger as prescribed, to release the blood of the Democratically Elected, the Duly Sworn and Consecrated. I began to chant in stilted, precise seventeenth-century English prose from the the Twelfth and Thirteenth Secret Articles of the United States Constitution. These were not the duties of the U.S. presidency as I had once conceived of them, nor as most of the citizens of this country still do. But really. Ask yourself if everything in your life is the way they told you it would be.
Well, the man has a point.
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins is one of the biggest surprises of the year for me so far. A contemporary fantasy novel with strong horror elements, it sets up a wholly original fictional universe, complete with mythology going back tens of thousands of years. It’s easily one of the best novels I’ve read all year, and one I’m 100% sure I’ll reread at least once.
Carolyn is one of twelve children who were, at one point, regular small-town American kids, until Father took them in and made them his Pelapi, a word that means something like “pupil” and “librarian” combined. Father is a millennia-old deity who has collected the sum total of his knowledge in a huge Borgesian library, divided into twelve “catalogs” that each cover a subject like the gift of languages, war, time travel and so on. The children are each assigned a catalog and so, studying the arcane skills of Father, become incredibly powerful beings themselves. One can revive the dead, another can travel into the past and the future, and yet another becomes a practically invincible warrior.
Aaaand the winners of this week’s giveaway are…
For the hardcover copy of The Red: Tim G. of San Jose, CA
For the Audible code: Kris W. of Aurora, CO
Congratulations to both winners, and many thanks to Linda Nagata for providing these wonderful prizes!
For those of you who didn’t win, stay tuned as I hope to have several other great giveaways coming up soon, as well as the usual slew of reviews and SF/F-related ramblings!
I’ve made it no secret over the years that I’m a big fan of K.J. Parker, purveyor of quirky and highly intelligent fantasy, formerly a mysterious entity whose real name or even gender was unknown but recently revealed (to my unending surprise) as comedic fantasy author Tom Holt. If you haven’t read Parker yet, stop here and go read Sharps now. You can thank me later. (Here’s my review.)
K.J. Parker’s newest venture is a serial novel entitled The Two of Swords. Orbit will be releasing a new installment every month — the first three were batch-published in April, and so far a total of six are available, the sixth and newest one just released today. I don’t have exact word counts, and the installments vary somewhat in length anyway, but they feel like short-to-medium novellas — the kind of thing you can read in a few hours. At $0.99 per installment, they’re a great way to get a monthly dose of Parker without breaking the bank.