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Hugh Likes Fiction: Killing Is My Business

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Killing Is My Business

Written by Adam Christopher

Published by Tor

The Skinny: Christopher’s follow-up to Made To Kill is another rollicking robot noir set in 1960’s L.A.

Ray Electromatic is the last functioning robot in1960’s Los Angeles, and he’s the world’s only robot private detective. At least, that’s what his business cards say. His real job is assassination. With his trusty computer/business partner Ada, he finds his target and gets the job done. But when Rays targets start turning up dead or missing before he can complete the job, he starts to wonder who he can really trust.

Christopher returns to his post-robotics Los Angeles for a second novel that is as much of a noire delight as the first. Like all good detective novels, it doesn’t rely on having read Made To Kill, while pushing Ray’s story forward in some fun and interesting ways. The author has a knack for voice, and he balances the 60’s sci-fi and noire elements superbly. Ray’s momento-like limitation, the fact that his memory tape only lasts 24 hours, is used to good effect in this story, and requires Ray to engage in a fair amount of trust, something that always goes awry in a noire world.

Killing Is My Business is a cracking read, and you can pick it up from your local bookstore, or download a copy from Amazon.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Vampire Hunter D

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Vampire Hunter D
Written by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano
Translated by Kevin Leahy
Published by DH Books

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The Skinny: Kikuchi blends Horror, Sci-FI, and Western tropes into an exciting novel, but the penny dreadful style keeps it a guilty pleasure.

It’s Dracula Season once again! The time of year when I turn my blog over to all manner of spooky content. And today we’re looking at Hideyuki Kikuchi’s original novel, Vampire Hunter D.
In the year 12,090 A.D, post-nuclear war humanity rises from the ashes, only to be enslaved by ancient horrors, the vampires. But even their immortal reign is not absolute, and as their empire crumbles, a single vampire hunter, half-human and half-vampire, rides the frontier. When he meets a teenage girl on the side of the road, a victim of her local vampire lord, he becomes embroiled in saving her from the count, his daughter, and the fearful townsfolk.
Vampire Hunter D is a whole-hearted embrace of genre. It mixes Western, Horror, and Science Fictions aesthetics to create something both iconic and familiar. Kikuchi’s love for black-and-white horror movies is evident, and the book is sprinkled with cameos and references, beginning with the villainous Count Lee. The sci-fi tropes stand up surprisingly well alongside the horror aspects. The world of the frontier is grim, and humanity lives mostly in the ruins, first of the modern world, then of the fantastic one created by the vampire civilization. But as powerless and preyed upon as they are, Kikuchi’s vision of humanity is still resilient and relentless, ready to conquer the challenges in front of them no matter how long it takes. D, the mysterious rider in black, takes up most of the oxygen in the story, but the world building is constantly surprising and delightful.
Unfortunately, not all of the tropes Kikuchi takes stock in are as amusing. His female characters in particular come up short. Doris is at turns shown as strong, smart, and capable, but she is constantly in need of rescue, and is almost totally valued as an object. In this short novel, she’s stark naked at least twice, and is threatened with rape more than once. These tropes also go back to the tone and trappings of the Western and Horror genres that Kikuchi revels in, but the sexism in this book leaves a bitter aftertaste to the more engaging parts.
The book is also illustrated by powerhouse artist Yoshitaka Amano, and he brings a heavier pen and ink style to these illustrations that are a stark contrast to the watercolors he is more generally known for, such as his character designs.
Vampire Hunter D is a thrilling adventure novel with genre trappings, over the top prose, and some problematic choices on the part of the author. You can find it in ebook and print from your favorite retailer.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Rencor

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Rencor: Life in Grudge City
Written by Matt Wallace
Published by From Parts Unknown Publications

“Rencor: Life in Grudge City” is the Luchador Superhero Detective novella you didn’t know you needed in your life. The eponymous setting is a U.S/Mexico border town founded in the 1950’s as a sort of hometown for luchadores. But like all things, time moves on.
Ten years ago, Technico El Victor III and Rudo Mil Calavaras III fought their last, epic match in the ring at Coleseo Rencor. The climactic battle saw the defeated Calavaras banished from Rencor, a place where the rules of the ring and the rule of are one and the same, forever. It was the beginning of the end for Luchadores in Rencor.
Now, El Victor is scraping by in a world that doesn’t hold the enmascardos in the same esteem anymore, and Mil Calavaras works as a ‘reformed’ consultant to the FBI, successful but denied his home and revenge. But an unusual break-in at Museo Rencor will bring El Victor back to hero work, and Mil Calaveras back to his hometown. Will the former rivals solve the case, or kill each other first?
Rencor: Life in Grudge City is another fast-paced, inventive, and supremely entertaining novella from Matt Wallace. Steeped in the unique lore of the lucha libre and populated by his usual eccentric and elegantly sketched characters, the book draws in the reader and gives them everything they need, even if they’ve never heard of the likes of El Santo before. Wallace’s deep knowledge and abiding love of old-school wresting shines through in every page, and the work is elevated by it. His embrace of the super-heroic and mystical bits, in a graying world that is leaving such things behind makes for a not only entertaining read, but a moving one.
While Wallace’s action scenes are outstanding and for the most part easy to follow, I think a glossary for some of the more technical moves and terms would have been helpful. I was never really lost, but Wallace throws out a lot of wrestling terminology throughout the book. That’s honestly the only criticism I can say, although I will add that the novella ends on a hell of a cliffhanger. Hopefully Matt will return to Rencor soon.
Rencor: Life in Grudge City is available in print and ebook. You can buy it via Amazon, or order it from you local bookstore.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Written by Becky Chambers
Published by Harper Voyager

Sometimes the best Science Fiction is quiet and thoughtful. The genre is often buttressed by “Big Ideas” and zap-gun adventure, but my favorite stories are the slower, more character-focused novels. These are novels like Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, or Nathan Lowell’s Quarter Share. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is squarely in this sub-genre, and it excels.
Rosemary Harper is a privileged girl from the upper crust of Martian society. When she decides to escape her past and society, she takes a job as a clerk on a long-haul wormhole boring ship, The Wayfarer. The misfit crew of the ship is completely different from her former life.
While the story is framed by Rosemary’s story, it is a picaresque novel following the misadventures of the small, tightly knit crew. And the book shines in this respect. The crew of The Wayfarer are efficiently constructed, and for the most part, incredibly likable characters. From Dr. Chef, one of the last survivors of an alien species that destroyed itself in a ceaseless civil war, to Kizzy, the wild-child engineer, this book is filled with unforgettable, engaging characters that treat each other like family rather than coworkers. The upcoming Star Trek series will be lucky to be half so charming.
Chambers’ galaxy is also well presented and engaging. The places that The Wayfarer travels are all detailed and iconic. She also creates a galaxy where humans aren’t top dogs. Having poisoned our home planet and settled into a pair of bickering factions, Humanity is a minor player in galactic politics. This is always a refreshing position to take in Sci Fi, and it works really well here.
This book may not be for everyone. Chambers skips past a lot of the things traditional SF banks on. We hear about massive space battles and galactic discourse in the same way the characters do: Through news and rumors, with small hints at chewier, bigger plot elements throughout the book. This is a small, personal story, and Chambers tells it well. But if you go in expecting Senate hearings or military pomp and blaster fire, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is available from Amazon and other online booksellers, or from your local bookstore.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Greedy Pigs

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Sin du Jour: Greedy Pigs
Written by Matt Wallace
Published by Tor

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We’re on book five of Matt Wallace’s seven course Sin du Jour series, and if you aren’t onboard by now, I don’t know what to tell you. These novellas haven’t stopped kicking ass, and “Greedy Pigs” is no less great than the preceding four.
After being embroiled in supernatural politics and nearly taken over, Sin du Jour finds themselves catering the gala festivities as the new President of the supernatural community is installed. But something bad is coming, plans are being laid, and Lena’s best friend and fellow line chef Darren is in the center of them.
Everything that makes Wallace’s work great is still on display here. The characters are efficiently but deeply rendered, the plotting is tight, and the writing is just as wickedly sharp as ever. As things hit the fan, the humor is a bit less on display, although Wallace still finds places to sprinkle comic scenes in, such as a set of errands Lena and Bronko make early in the story that are by turns funny, charming, and bittersweet, with some uncomfortable revelations about pandas.
Greedy Pigs is the fifth part of Wallace’s seven part Sin du Jour series, which you really should be reading by now. Go read it in ebook or print, and be sure to find out more about it on Tor.com.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Six Wakes

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Six Wakes
Written by Mur Lafferty
Publishedd by Orbit
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Six Wakes is the ultimate Sci-Fi locked room mystery. The six-person crew of the Dormire wakes up in the cloning lab. They are staring at their own corpses, with no memory of what happened, or anything else, for the last 24 years of their interstellar journey. Light-years from Earth, they’ll have to figure out what happened and how to survive when at least one of the crew is a murderer.
This novel is a story of paranoia, survival, and the ethics of cloning and life extension. Mur’s story is full of rich characters, drama, and unexpected twists. But what I found most interesting were the choices Lafferty made in building her world. The premise hangs on some very hard science astrophysics to build the sense of tension and isolation. This isn’t a quick warp through the galaxy. The characters have been stuck together for a very long time, and they have a much, much longer way to go. The cloning technology, however, is very soft SF. It’s a surprising choice, considering how much of the story, and the mystery, relies on it.
While she never breaks her own rules, Lafferty focuses on the ethics and moral issues of life extension, and what a world where some people will effectively live forever and others won’t, means, and the paradox of the ultimate revenge being reduced to a minor inconvenience. The cloning tech, however, is based on a movie-producer’s idea of how hacking works, and literal glowing goo. I wasn’t particularly bothered by this choice, but hard SF purists may consider it cheating.
Six Wakes is a chiller of a Sci-Fi mystery filled with interesting ideas and plenty of tension. You can find it at your local bookstore, or in print and ebook from Amazon.

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Hugh Likes Fiction: Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End

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Star Wars Aftermath Book 3: Empire’s End
Written by Chuck Wendig
Published by Del Rey
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Star Wars Celebration was this weekend, and as a big nerd, what better time to gush over my latest Star Wars read, Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End?
The remains of the Galactic Empire’s fleet gather above the wasteland planet of Jakku. The fledgling New Republic Senate becomes mired in debate over committing to one last assault. And the last disciple of the late Emperor Palpatine activates an installation hidden in the sand…
The final book in Chuck Wendig’s aftermath series has the complex task of wrapping up his trilogy and also bridging to the new and old trilogies. It juggles these tasks fairly well, although if focuses much more on the former than the later. We do get some scenes with a young Hux and and the birth of Han and Leia’s son is a plot point that the novel determinedly skirts.
Instead, the novel focuses on wrapping up the adventures of Wendig’s crew of misfits, and he starts by splitting the party. Half of the cast is running around Jakku, and the other half are in the New Republic capitals. Wendig’s look at space politics isn’t quite as gripping as Claudia Grey’s, but is still witty and fast paced enough to not be a drag on the story. He also continues to sprinkle in vignettes throughout the galaxy, including a surprisingly touching short story about Jar Jar Binks. Really.
The Aftermath series has always been controversial. Criticisms have ranged from Wendig’s clipped writing style to his use of darker themes to his inclusion of queer characters. The novels were also favored targets of fans of the original Expanded Universe material. Two of these groups of fans made a concerted effort to tank the series, but Aftermath remained true to itself throughout the trilogy. This is no mean feat, especially for a licensed property.
Afthermath: Empire’s End neatly wraps up Chuck Wendig’s trilogy and is a great stepping stone to further adventures in the Star Wars universe. Pick up a copy at your local bookstore, or order it from your preferred digital book syndicate.

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