transhumanScience-fiction veteran Ben Bova takes a break from his futuristic “Grand Tour” explorations of outer space and the resulting human drama. His latest novel, TRANSHUMAN, is more a speculative medical thriller enhanced with commercial and political overtones. When these enhancements motivate the main characters, the results are both thought-provoking and suspenseful.

Luke Abramson, a brilliant cellular biologist, is battling lung cancer in his twilight years. Yet the one true joy in his life is his 10-year-old granddaughter, Angela. When Angela is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and given less than six months to live, Luke knows it time for drastic action.

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The Madonna and the Starship

madonnaScience fiction isn’t only all “that Buck Rogers stuff,” as one character derisively claims in James Morrow’s THE MADONNA AND THE STARSHIP. A primary objective, as the narrator Kurt Jastrow notes, is worship in the “church of cosmic astonishment,” to find that perfect mix of narrative dash and dizzying concept which keeps the best stuff “on the proper side of the rift that separates exhilarating junk from irredeemable dreck.”

Morrow’s work will often self-consciously dive into the Dumpster, pulling out of the garbage pile some half-baked old-school detail and—with a big smile on his face—spinning it into philosophy. As indebted to Calvino as to pulp, his very best novels (like the classic TOWING JEHOVAH) are sharp satires willing to risk a bit of “sophomoric scoffing,” too. THE MADONNA AND THE STARSHIP is, alas, not one of his best, but it displays his characteristic panache and may be (for newbies) a nice entry point.

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Hot Lead, Cold Iron

hotleadIt’s 1930s Chicago, land of the mob families and corrupt politicians, and old-school gumshoe Mick Oberon is one of those trench coat-wearing, wand-waving types. Yes, HOT LEAD, COLD IRON is a story that takes the real-world idea of Prohibition-era Chicago and mixes in some otherworldly like elements — namely, that of a magical Chicago Otherworld that easily interacts with the real Chicago.

Oberon is called upon by the wife of a Mafia boss who has a case is the coldest of cold cases: finding her daughter who’s been missing for over 16 years. What has been living in her house all these years is actually a changeling that she has been pretending is her real daughter.

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The Least of My Scars

leastmyscarsSerial killer William Colton Hughes is doing quite well with the Bundy model, like a shark never stopping to sleep, moving from hunting ground to hunting ground. He’s not interested in the limelight and lurid spectacle. As he puts it, “if you’ve gone nationwide, you should be ashamed.

“To live on that screen is to die the moment the jackoff on the couch looks away. To really live is to waver at the edge of an open-eyed dream, so that everybody’s always jerking their head around, sure you’re there.”

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Robot Uprisings

robotuprisingsSince the popularity of his 2011 novel, ROBOPOCALYPSE, Daniel H. Wilson has become the contemporary expert on Robots Behaving Badly. Now he enlists the help of prolific and award-winning anthologist John Joseph Adams to present ROBOT UPRISINGS, a collection of stories about how our development of and dependency upon robots goes terribly wrong.

Thanks mostly to the surprising variety of represented authors — including a few nonfiction and up-and-coming writers mixed in with some well-known names — the result is not only cautionary, but wonderfully diverse and entertaining.

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A Darkling Sea

adarklingseaThis may be his first novel, but A DARKLING SEA has such confidence in the telling that most readers will assume James L. Cambias is a seasoned pro. The novel is smart, tense, often funny and written with a simple clarity that belies the big ideas and the tricky tonal juggling act the author manages without breaking a sweat.

A classic story of contact — and misunderstanding — between species, SEA depicts a human scientific base deep beneath the ocean planet of Ilmatar. Terrans are examining — at a carefully-monitored distance, avoiding any interaction — the biology and culture of the large, vaguely-crustacean creatures who farm the nutrient-rich rifts on the ocean floor.

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Phone Call from Hell and Other Tales of the Damned

phonecallhellI’m always up for a collection of short stories, and the new collection from Jonathan Woods, PHONE CALL FROM HELL AND OTHER TALES OF DAMNED, is not disappointing one iota. Take the title to heart, folks, because for the bulk of the contents, someone usually winds up dead or at least shot.

To kick things off, we are treated to a history of a gun from the weapon’s perspective, “The Handgun’s Tale.” The gun talks of his owners and their peculiarities. “Phone Call from Hell” deals with a man who helps out prisoners in a special way: leaving his phone on as he was being satisfied. The caller in question is none other then Charlie Manson. Woods also inserts real-life characters into “Writers Block,” where we find Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene on the hunt for spies and adventure in Havana.

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It Doesn’t Suck: Showgirls / Raise Some Shell: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

itdoesntsuckBefore it went belly up, Soft Skull Press produced a series of small-size film books under the DEEP FOCUS banner. Each paperback found a different noteworthy author (i.e. Jonathan Lethem, Christopher Sorrentino) delivering an anything-goes essay on the movie at hand (i.e John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE, Michael Winner’s DEATH WISH). It was a nifty idea, mostly brought to its full creative potential, but only lasted five titles.

Now, ECW Press embarked on a similar (and similar-sized) project, POP CLASSICS, but has expanded the scope beyond just cinema to encompass all of popular culture. First out of the gate are Adam Nayman’s IT DOESN’T SUCK: SHOWGIRLS and Richard Rosenbaum’s RAISE SOME SHELL: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.

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Wake of the Perdido Star

wakeperdidoIn 1805, a young American family is hounded out of Hamden, Connecticut, for a variety of reasons. The mother is of Cuban stock; their religion is Catholicism; and the father, while displaying the egalitarianism of the Founding Fathers, matches it with a rough temper and the inability to make peace.

His bristling at the elitism of the town’s elders breaks their hold on the community, and so they decide to make their way south to Habana. Father Ethan, mother Pilar and their son Jack wind their way to Salem and seek to board the Perdido Star to find their new home in Cuba.

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Watching You

watchingyouClinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin returns in WATCHING YOU, Michael Robotham’s ninth thriller. It adds new viewpoints to what seems at first like a standard stalker-themed story. While intriguing, the narrative comes close to losing itself in the midst of these new departures.

Marnie Logan’s husband mysteriously disappeared a little over a year ago, and she is finding it hard to hold herself and her family together. Without proof that her husband is dead, Marnie cannot access his funds, claim his life insurance, nor halt the automatic payment transactions he long ago instituted. So she takes desparate and dangerous steps to make sure she can pay the rent and feed her two needy children.

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