Thursday, May 13, 2021

Nanoreviews: Axiom's End, Angel of the Overpass, Murder by Other Means

Ellis, Lindsday. Axiom's End [St. Martin's Press]

It's interesting (to me) how a reader can know absolutely nothing about a book and avoid any sort of plot description and still be so very wrong about what the book is. It's a remarkable skill. With that said - Axiom's End deals with the idea that the United States has, in fact, made First Contact with an extraterrestial and, naturally, has covered it up. Nils Ortega is part of a group attempting to expose the government's lies and, it seems, gain as much publicity in the process. - but this isn't the story of Nils. This is the story of his daughter, Cora, who wants absolutely nothing to do with Nils, government conspiracies, and the unwanted attention it has brought to her life. Unfortunately for her, the truth about the cover up gets closer to her life than she wanted and she's in the middle of more conspiracy and truth about aliens than she ever would have imagined.

Despite featuring aliens and mind control and massive government conspiracies, Axiom's End is a fairly grounded novel because it's relatively tight to Cora's perspective and the reluctant hero works well here. One odd aspect to Axiom's End is that it's not set five minutes in the future, it's set five minutes in the past. Axiom's End is set in 2007, so during the second Bush administration. In some ways, it works better than actively being set during the Obama or Trump years or than making up a fictitious president. In other ways, it's just weird. The Bush / Cheney / Rumsfeld of it all feels like a different America and makes Axiom's End more dated than perhaps it should - though I do wonder what reading this in another ten years would be like. Either way, it's a solid science fiction novel. 
Score: 6/10

McGuire, Seanan. Angel of the Overpass [DAW]

Angel of the Overpass is the third of the Ghost Roads novels focusing on Rose Marshall, a ghost with a very full afterlife. The nature of her death (being hit and killed on the side of the road on the way to her high school prom) helped make her a ghost with a particular type of haunting (she's a phantom hitchhiker) but it's also made her a target over the decades from her murderer, a man (named Bobby Cross) who made a deal at the crossroads for eternal life. As with any of Seanan McGuire's novels, Angel of the Overpass is not about just one thing but if it was, it would be about Rose's potentially final fight against Bobby Cross and his attempts to end her life (again).

The Ghost Roads are a side series to McGuire's Incryptid novels - Rose Marshall is a minor side character there, but up until Angel of the Overpass there was minimal crossing over back to Rose's story. That changes here because the inciting incident takes place in the eighth Incryptid novel (That Ain't Witchcraft) - which presents a small barrier to entry - less so if you've at least read The Girl in the Green Silk Gown and Sparrow Hill Road, but this isn't a start novel it's the culmination of a journey.

Angel of the Overpass lives on the last third of the novel - if you've read enough of Seanan McGuire you'll be perfectly at home throughout the this novel but McGuire sets up that last act so well that even if you're "only" enjoying the ride you'll be strapping yourself in for that ending. Seanan McGuire escalates so well (spoilers, I guess, but there's a ghost dinosaur and it *works* for reasons). As a general rule, I enjoy the Ghost Roads but I don't love them like I do her Incryptid novels - but that ending - oh, that ending. It was glorious and wrenching. Seanan McGuire knows glorious and wrenching.
Score: 7/10

Scalzi, John. The Dispatcher: Murder by Other Means [Subterranean / Audible]

I dug The Dispatcher (my nanoreview) when I read it back in 2017 and I expected to equally enjoy a second Dispatcher novella should John Scalzi decide to write one. He did, and I did, and here we are. Murder by Other Means, like The Dispatcher was written as an Audible original - which means it was published (and presumably written) with being an audio book first and a print book second. I don't know quite what that means in terms of what the best way to enjoy this particular story because I don't listen to audiobooks for reasons so I only encounter the work via print. With that said, John Scalzi's writing in general and with Murder by Other Means in particular is smooth, breezy, accessible and straight up fun to read. That's what Scalzi does and that's what he does here.

Murder by Other Means is set in our world, except inexplicably 99.9% of all murder victims are brought back to life wherever they feel safe. Accidental death = death. Murder, well, you're probably coming back. It doesn't need to make sense. Accept it and roll with it. What that means is that if you *want* to commit a murder you've got to be a bit more creative about that and people around Tony Valdez start dying in pretty suspicious ways. There's a plot afoot and it's told with the wit and panache readers have come to expect from John Scalzi. I think Murder by Other means works better by following The Dispatcher rather than standing alone but it works fairly well on its own. Scalzi still makes sure everything is explained and the dots can be connected - which is actually what makes Murder by Other Means as much fun as it is, when Scalzi starts connecting the dots and bringing things together it's a bit of a murderous romp.
Score: 7/10

Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 5x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him