Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Welcoming Our New Reviewer

Richard AbbottI'm pleased to announce that author Richard Abbott has joined the ranks of the New Podler Staff. Richard is the author of Far from the Spaceports, which I reviewed earlier this month. Besides science fiction, Richard also writes historical fiction. His other novels include The Flame Before Us, Scenes from a Life, In a Milk and Honeyed Land.

Richard will be joining us as a reviewer. He hopes to discover some science and speculative fiction that offers optimistic, rather than pessimistic, outlooks with good characters and prose to boot.

Welcome aboard, Richard!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Far from the Spaceports by Richard Abbott

Book cover for Far from the SpaceportsQuick wits and loyalty confront high-tech crime in space.

Welcome to the Scilly Isles, a handful of asteroids bunched together in space, well beyond the orbit of Mars. This remote and isolated habitat is home to a diverse group of human settlers, and a whole flock of parakeets. But earth-based financial regulator ECRB suspects that it’s also home to serious large scale fraud, and the reputation of the islands comes under threat.

Enter Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate, sent out from Earth to investigate. Their ECRB colleagues are several weeks away at their ship’s best speed, and even message signals take an hour for the round trip. Slate and Mitnash are on their own, until they can work out who on Scilly to trust. How will they cope when the threat gets personal?

While the story got off to a slow start, it certainly wasn't dull. Abbott introduces us to Mitnash and does just enough world-building to hook the reader with an intriguing future. Humanity has colonized a good chunk of the solar system, and artificial intelligence (AI) has come to fruition. It's something that the technorati would approve of. And while space travel has improved, it still takes weeks to travel from Earth to the asteroid belt. This remoteness allows for a bit of self-governance that libertarians could find comfort in—it isn't anarchy or the Wild West. It does mean that there will be no cavalry coming to Mitnash's rescue should he get into trouble with the locals. He is very much alone, surviving by his wits.

The AI entities work alongside humans and have personalities that are indistinguishable from them. In this age of never ending Terminator films and Kurzweilian singularity worship, it's actually refreshing. One drawback is that Mitnash relies heavily on Slate to do the heavy lifting. While that comes in handy for number crunching, "she" executes some of the best action, leaving Mitnash as spectator too often. The story is told from his point of view so the reader misses out on Slate's version of events. Mitnash does get in a bit of peril when he finds himself unable to rely on her, and this winds up being the most tense scene in the book. I think I would've liked a bit more of that. They're a team, for sure, but it seemed to me that Mitnash needed Slate more than she needed him.

There's a tremendous attention to detail, which threatens to be too much for the casual reader, but Abbott stops short of going too far. It plays into his world-building. While it isn't all essential to the story, it does help the reader get the feel of the place. I never got a proper understanding of the local gravity—one-fiftieth that of Earth—but I'll chalk that up to my being stuck on Earth my whole life.

Only found a handful of typos, so the editing gets a thumbs up from me.

Far from the Spaceports is a delightful read. Abbott's characters are very personable and make for good companions as he carries us to a promising future. There's no dystopia here; man and machine work together to fight crime through skill and wit rather than heavy-handed government oversight or firearms. David Brin would approve.

For more information, please visit the author's website.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Muses of Roma by Rob Steiner

Reviewed by Erin Eymard.

book cover for Muses of RomaMarcus Antonius Primus began a golden age for humanity when he liberated Roma from Octavian Caesar and became sole Consul. With wisdom from the gods, future Antonii Consuls conquered the world and spawned an interstellar civilization.

Three weeks before the millennial anniversary of the Antonii Ascension, star freighter captain Kaeso Aemelius, a blacklisted security agent from Roman rival world Libertus, is asked by his former commanders to help a high-ranking Roman official defect. Kaeso misses his lone wolf espionage days—and its freedom from responsibility for a crew—so he sees the mission as a way back into the spy business. Kaeso sells it to his crew of outcasts as a quick, lucrative contract…without explaining his plan to abandon them for his old job.

But Kaeso soon learns the defector’s terrifying secret, one that proves the last thousand years of history was built on a lie.

Can Kaeso protect his crew from Roman and Liberti forces, who would lay waste to entire worlds to stop them from revealing the civilization-shattering truth?

Rob Steiner's Muses of Roma is unlike any alternate history novel I've ever read. The premise of the novel is simple: Imagine that Rome never fell and is now bent on conquering the stars.

Steiner seamlessly blends historical fact into his story, slightly altering bits, but pulls no punches in this process. This is first evident with the quote preceding the prologue: "I found Roma a city of marble and left it a city of steel" - Marcus Antonius Primus. This is a play on Augustus Caesar's quote "I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble" (marmoream relinquo, quam latericiam accepi). The book is peppered with enough Latin phrases and tidbits to make the Romanophile in me giddy.

The prologue starts with Marcus Antonius taking the eternal city aided by cannons and muskets. His march through Rome amidst gunfire and smoke is a surreal scene. Steiner goes on to explain that deep in the deserts of Egypt, Marcus Antonius is bestowed upon "by the gods" the secrets of advanced technologies.

One of my favorite lines from the prologue is:
He passed the Circus Maximus on his left; its large walls were pockmarked with musket shots.
I found myself trying to imagine what the people of the city would have been thinking as a man leading an army with the power of the gods marched to take the city from a man they worshiped as a god.

The shock of the prologue (especially after the author deftly explains the rapid technological advancement) serves as a warning to the reader that this is going to be a wild ride.

Fast forward 1,000 years and we are on the streets of Roma. The city has all the feel of ancient Rome even after the characters catch a bus. A young woman, Ocella, is trying to smuggle a boy, Cordus, off planet, which is where the true sci-fi aspect of the book takes hold.

We meet Kaeso, former Umbra (secret agent) and captain of the Caduceus, as he is trying to keep his spaceship flying. His crew is a hodgepodge of people running from their pasts all with their own secrets. Kaeso’s own secrets could put the lives of his crew in jeopardy. The interaction between the crew is not unlike the Malcolm Reynolds' crew in Firefly. They fight like a family and would give their lives for their crewmates.

After a disastrous job and an injury to a crew member, Kaeso’s past catches up to him and he is tasked with returning to the eternal city to retrieve Ocella and Cordus. In the process, they discover a millennium's old secret that could change the course of humanity.

I have never gotten so wrapped up in a book. I will be purchasing the remaining books in the series but only once I have time to devote myself to being locked in a room and do nothing but read this. This is not a series that one reads in small spurts. Steiner constantly pulled me in and held me captive for hours on end.

For more information, please visit the author's website and read this interview.
The reviewer purchased a copy of this book. A review was not solicited.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Cloud Country by Andy Futuro

Book cover for Cloud CountryWell, that could’ve gone better. Saru had found the blue-eyed girl alright, but she’d blown up half of Philadelphia in the process. Whoops. Now she was a fugitive, robbed of her implants, relying on her "wits," hunted by aliens, Gods, and the monstrous spawn of fornicating universes. It was a crap deal, but it wasn’t all bad. She’d stolen a plane, a luxury model with a fully stocked minibar. And she had company, a rogue Gaesporan named John. And there was something strangely liberating about having screwed up so badly you couldn’t really do worse.

Cloud Country is the sequel to No Dogs in Philly and picks up within hours of its end. The story reads a bit like a bad acid trip version of Alice in Wonderland—I don't mean that as a complement. It's all about Saru wandering around aimlessly in real and imagined landscapes, encountering people, aliens, and monsters who want to do her harm. It isn't until about three-quarters of the way through that the point of it all was made clear. And that's far too long. If the first book hadn't been so good, I wouldn't have finished this one.

Saru remains an unlikable character. I like strong female characters, but I don't want them to be petulant brats. In the first book, I rooted for her. In this book, I was rooting against her. Self-confidence is sexy, but self-absorption is a turn off. I wanted her to fail so that maybe a shred of humility would creep into her consciousness and make her aware of how much of a jerk she is. I felt sorry for (almost) every other character that had to deal with her. Again, it was at that three-quarters point that we see any glimmer of hope that she realizes that it's not all about her. She actually cares about her native city of Philadelphia, though I'm not sure why. At the climax of the story, she finally shows some compassion, but I don't know if it made a lasting impression on her soul.

Unfortunately, the editing in this book is terrible. My experience was marred by comma problems (missing or too many), capitalization issues (gods not Gods), a lack of transition from narrator's voice to Saru's thoughts, scene inconsistencies, and run-on sentences. Sometimes Futuro tried to cram as many adjectives and phrases into his sentences as possible. It was like he was having a Special K power trip and was feverishly writing everything down that came to him. Here are a few examples:
She howled and leapt from her crouch at the nearest doctor, and the pain raced up to her brain, where it echoed like a tolling bell and grew and grew, so that her vision shook with its vibrations, and her legs spasmed like skewered insects, and the blackness filled her head again, her few seconds of consciousness swallowed by pain.
There was a whoosh and skitter, and tentacles wrapped around her body, ankles, shins, thighs, navel, breasts, arms, neck, wrapping tight, barbs digging into her skin with hornet-sting pain.
She took deep breaths, the stench bursting the vessels of her nose to gush blood, the air cutting her throat and jabbing acid holes in her seared lungs, lips burned and curled away, eyelids burned, the eyes steaming and boiling in their sockets.
She remembered this, this conversation, the two of them huddled in their makeshift sleeping bags in the tree fort back in the woods, the secret fort to get away, to hide, clinging to each other to stay warm, ears pricked, hearts pounding at every snapping twig and scuffling squirrel, alert, alert, alert, waiting afraid.
If the editing in No Dogs in Philly didn't bother you, then it won't here either.

In summary, Cloud Country is a disappointing sequel to No Dogs in Philly. The hard-boiled cyberpunk Lovecraftian vibe is gone, replaced with a bizarro fantasy that wanders aimlessly for far too long before getting to the point. This is reflected in the author's tendency to make sentences as long as possible through the use of commas and conjunctions. There's the kernel of a decent story here—you can see it in the imagery the author evokes—but the manuscript needs to be sent to an editor to bring it out in some coherent fashion.

For more information, please visit the author's website.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

How NOT to Take a Rejection from Us

While stumbling around the internet today, I came across this. In essence, it was an author bemoaning a rejection letter he received from us. He was having a bad day and chose to rant on his blog about it. I've copied the pertinent part below, but you can click on that link to read the whole thing and verify that I'm not misquoting him.

My magnum opus received a rejection today, not for publication, but rather, that it was not qualified for a review by any “reviewers” on the website “The New Podler Review of Books: Small Press and self-published books worth reading”. Now I don’t remember ever submitting a review request to this site, although it’s possible. I don’t normally ask for reviews except when I am just putting a book out there and need a few ARC reviews posted so that the almighty ad sites will consider my money worth spending (and then I normally impose shamelessly on fellow authors).

Now the facts that the aforementioned review site is built on the most hideous of the free backdrops on the free “” and that my rejection came from a (free) Gmail address notwithstanding, their subtitle would suggest that my self-published book is “[not] worth reading”. Now had the site just said “Podler Reviews” I probably wouldn’t have given it a second glance. Okay, that AND if the current book under review didn’t have a cover (and writing) quality equivalent to that of a sixth-grader (no, that’s not true—not true at all. Such a commentary insults the sixth-grader).

I know, we’re supposed to have thick skin. And I usually do. Or pretend I do. But just as each time a reader enjoys my work it makes my day, not matter how many books I ever sell or have reviewed, it also stings when someone takes time out of their day to reject you. Doesn’t it? Or am I alone here, wandering in the literary desert of criticism with eyes gouged out and a bloody wrap around my head? It’s a bummer when people that consider dog poop as literature reject you as unreadable. I know, I know, it actually defies logic, but what can I say?

Now while this post was made three years ago, I couldn't help but reply. Things posted to the internet live forever or, at least, until they're taken down. As I write this, my comment is awaiting moderation. So here it is just in case it's rejected:
Ha! This is wonderful. I’ve only just now stumbled upon this post, so I shall respond on behalf of the New Podler Review of Books.

Your scathing criticism of our usage of free stuff is spot on and accepted. But we’re hardly alone in this.

We have changed the motto since you visited us. It was there from the beginning and was established by the site’s founder, who is no longer with us. I never thought that it was intended to alienate authors whose work was rejected by us. More like, “Here are some indie books that we came across that are good. Obviously, there are more, but [insert lame reason here].” We didn’t get to read The Martian or Wool when they were indies. Doesn’t mean they sucked.

I won’t apologize for the lame covers of some of the books on the site. Indie publishing has been plagued with that from the start. Instead, we’ve had a page dedicated to sites where indie authors can find affordable book cover designers.

Yeah, Blood Land was submitted to us via MailChimp, that mass mailing service. I don’t know if you used them or someone did it on your behalf. Regardless, it means that someone didn’t read our submission guidelines. Mystery/Thrillers really aren’t our thing. Maybe one of the available reviewers at the time was into it, but he/she took a pass for whatever reason.

If you had read our submissions page, at the bottom you would’ve seen this:

“We reject over 95% of the submissions we receive, and that includes the very good along with the not so good. If you’re rejected, you’re in good company. One author we reviewed posted that he only received five reviews out of 144 submissions to book bloggers. Keep trying!”

We send out form rejections because it consumes less time, and when managing a slush pile, I like to take the easy route. Kind of like using MailChimp to send out a bunch of submissions to prospective reviewers.

I’m sorry if the rejection letter that was sent to you hurt your feelings. It wasn’t meant to do that. It was sent to provide closure. Some authors like to have that. Also, I’m sorry that you felt that rejecting your work meant that we thought it was crap. That was not the case. Yeah, the book cover on the site at the time was amateurish, but the writing was not. Judging books by covers…yeah, I know.

Anyway, I’m sure that you’ve moved on. I hope that this reply clears things up for you. I also hope that when you get rejected, you shrug and move on.

It just goes to show that you can't please everyone. Oh, and the book currently reviewed at the time was Embustero. I guess sci-fi isn't his thing.


Monday, April 25, 2016

The Northern Star: The End by Mike Gullickson

Book cover for The Northern Star: The EndReviewed by Erin Eymard.

The final novel wraps up the journey of John Raimey, who, thirty-five years before, became the first bionic soldier ever deployed in the field. He is a giant, a Tank Major, fourteen feet tall and with enough power in his fists to level buildings. He is a legend of war, cursed with a fate where everyone he touches - even in love - dies.

Evan Lindo, the father of bionics, now rules the world through his most ingenious creation, The Northern Star. But a war in the Middle East has triggered events that lead to Raimey. And a secret has been unveiled that sets Raimey on one last mission before he finds his place in Hell.

Mike Gullickson's The Northern Star: The End is the perfect ending to his The Northern Star trilogy. It brings the series and your favorite characters to satisfying conclusions. I read the book in three days but kept putting writing a review aside because nothing I wrote seemed to do justice to Gullickson's story.

One of the things that I always loved about Gullickson's writing is that he makes you care about his characters. You become invested in them and find yourself rooting for them (even the ones on the 'wrong' side). His storytelling is witty, real, and heart wrenching at the same time. You truly come to care about characters in this series, whether they are with you from page one of The Beginning or if you just met them in this book. Their journeys engage you. Their triumphs excite you. Their failures move you.

The characters in this trilogy are, with three exceptions, various shades of gray when it comes to morality. And while the majority of this book follows John Raimey and Mike Glass, both men who have done bad things by following orders but are nonetheless sympathetic characters. They are just vehicles bringing the reader to the true heart of the struggle between the characters of Vanessa, Evan, and Justin.

Vanessa represents the maiden, mother, and crone character. We first see her as a child losing her parents; then we see her as a mother, of sorts, to the world; and finally we see her as the aged goddess who wishes to save the world. Evan's evolution takes him from brilliant scientist to power hungry genius and then monster. His story is one of how absolute power corrupts absolutely. And finally there is Justin, the Sleeper King, whose story proves that sometimes you just can't escape your destiny.

The whole series is a science fiction masterpiece that will make the reader evaluate our current paths in regards to technology and the internet. Great read! Will read again!

For more information on The Northern Star series, please visit the author's website.

Monday, April 11, 2016

God of Ruin by Michael John Grist

Original cover for God of RuinIn the battle to defeat King Ruin and protect the Bridge between souls, ex-Arctic marine Ritry Goligh tore his own soul into pieces. Now those pieces, embodied as six rugged marines spread across the tsunami-blasted world, are adrift without Ritry to guide them.

Their captain, Me, is addicted to dying in raids against the remnants of King Ruin's army. Ray longs for the love he lost. Far seeks the mythical heart of the Bridge, So is lost to her calculations, while twins Ti and La have split as far apart as possible. They trudge from bunker to bunker blinded by loss, mopping up holdouts from the war.

But the war isn't over. It's only just begun. From the ashes of King Ruin's defeat a godlike power rises, one that understands the Bridge better than Ritry ever did, and means to bring a flood so vast it will erase every soul from history. Me's only hope is to ascend to godhood himself, before everyone he loves is washed away forever.

If you haven't read the first two books in the series, then this review will contain spoilers for those books.

New cover for God of RuinIn the promos for the new season of Fear the Walking Dead, someone off-camera is heard to say, "To defeat the monster, you become the monster." In effect, that sums up what happens here. King Ruin's successor, the Pawn King, has built upon King Ruin's knowledge and gleaned how to transcend the Aetheric Bridge from Ritry's technique. With the knowledge gained from both, he becomes even stronger than King Ruin and Ritry's chord. Knowing what he's capable of, the chord wrestle with the moral dilemma: Does one adopt the tactics of the evil Pawn King in order to defeat him? Does the end justify the means? Many within the chord's army don't think so, and the debate threatens to tear them apart.

If you've read the first two books in the series, you'll be familiar with Grist's style of alternating chapters between the real world and the metaphorical landscape of the mind. But whereas the first two books featured Ritry in the real world and his chord handling inner space, this book throws that convention out the window. As the blurb above explains, Ritry's chord went from metaphorical to physical at the end of King Ruin. With the Ritry gestalt no more, the real world narrative is handled by "Me", the leader of the chord. But he handles the narrative in the inner space journey as well, so if you don't pay attention to the chapter titles, there's a chance for you to get confused as to what's going on.

Both versions of Me embark upon solitary quests to battle their respective foes in the physical and metaphysical worlds until they blend together to become one surrealistic landscape. The science fiction and dystopic elements of Mr. Ruins are gone, replaced by fantastic elements where the laws of time and space are irrelevant. Both protagonist and antagonist strive to achieve godhood to reshape the world as they think it should be.

But this isn't merely a battle of good versus evil. Grist is too smart an author to reduce the story to these simplistic elements, though he leads us to believe this at first. Eventually, we learn how the Pawn King came into existence, a child in one of King Ruin's brutal courts. We see what horrors he endured just to survive and what his goals ultimately are. Grist's resolution of the conflict between Pawn King and Me is unexpected, but it makes sense.

God of Ruin brings the Ruins trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. The war waged in the desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland is but a prelude to the battle to control existence itself. It reinforces the message from King Ruin: Our pain defines us. But God of Ruin also asks us what we would sacrifice to erase that pain. Would we sacrifice those we love? Would we turn that pain on others? Would we sacrifice our very souls? But if pain defines us, should it be erased at all? Grist explores these questions in the surreal landscape of the mind and the ruins of a tsunami and war ravaged world.

For more information about God of Ruin and the Ruins trilogy, please visit the author's website. You can also read my reviews for Mr. Ruins and King Ruin.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Supergiant by Scott Rhine

Book cover for SupergiantFind an exploit; hack the universe.

Chief Engineer Roz Mendez pilots a ship with a revolutionary star drive that could travel ten times as fast as current technology. The job has given her a chance to find riches, romance, and earn a reputation that will counter the discrimination she’s felt her entire life. All the ship needs to make history is a few repairs and a renowned physicist who can adjust the jump equations. The trick is finding the professor without tipping off the Bankers, the species with a monopoly on faster-than-light communications. Just making a profit at each port without getting arrested is hard enough.

This is the second book in the Gigaparsec series and thus this review may contain spoilers for those who haven't read the first book.

In Void Contract, we were introduced to Max, a war weary ex-special forces operative looking to make a life for himself in the civilian world, errr, galaxy. While on a job, he encountered Echo, a Magi (the mysterious race that gave humans the initial push that eventually led to their interstellar leap) who helps him with his PTSD, and discovered a stowaway alien unrecognized for its primitive sentience. Along the way he recruited a wide variety of misfit specialists from various alien races whose goals in life were compatible with his. They all have good hearts, but they're willing to bend the rules and break a few laws to achieve their goals. A bit like Firefly in that regard, but with aliens and without the signature dialogue.

The book is mostly a series of "jobs" that the group must undertake to achieve their overarching goal of finding said physicist. While there is no single villain to play the antagonist—unless you count the Bankers, who remain in the background the whole time—there are several minor villains along the way, but they're merely minor hurdles to surmount. The complexity in the story isn't so much in the plot as it is in operating a commercial starship, which is very much a business. The group spends a good deal of time figuring out what goods they need to purchase from one world to sell on another to acquire the starship parts or writs to undertake certain actions they need to get to that physicist.

While the first book was told from Max's perspective, this one is told from Roz's perspective. That's her on the cover. She was one of the last people recruited to join the crew in Void Contract, and there's a bit of chemistry between her and Max. Roz is a pilot and engineer, her technical background means that her role is mostly a non-combative one. Unfortunately, too much happens off camera that Roz (and the reader) is often told about things after they've happened. She's privy to things that matter in the overall plot—the ship's game changing improved FTL drive, secrets of the Magi—which others aren't. But for the most part, these metaplot revelations aren't as captivating as the off-screen action.

Characterization remains solid. All of them have depth and distinct personalities, drives, and ambitions. Their interactions with one another strike me as realistic. In particular, I found Roz's narration to be genuine. Her mindset and technical background brings a fresh perspective on the group dynamic. She's an everyday woman, the sort that you know from work or you've been friends with for years, with everyday concerns that you would expect, just set in a distant future.

As for the technicals, editing is solid. I only found 13 typos, which is on par with a traditionally published book.

Supergiant is a solid sequel to Void Contract. Rhine showcases his talent as an author by switching narrative POV without losing the essence of the overall series storyline. In fact, he broadens its depth by providing a fresh perspective on the interactions of the characters and makes them relatable. While the story is mostly about performing a series of minor jobs to advance the metaplot, it still makes for an entertaining read. It would not be difficult to turn this series into a TV show. Considering the current sci-fi friendly climate, Rhine should consider pitching a screenplay to the networks.

For more information about the book, please visit the author's website.

UPDATE 3/19/16: The list of typos was sent to the author, and he has informed us that he has made the corrections to the manuscript.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Results of the "Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off"

Last year, Mark Lawrence convinced ten blogs that normally only review traditionally published books to participate in his "Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off". 300 entries were sifted down to 10 finalists. The winner was announced this past weekend. We really haven't covered indie fantasy since 2014—those reviewers have resigned from this blog—so I recommend that you look through the list and follow the links offered to learn more.

Book cover for the 10 Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off finalists.

I applaud Mark Lawrence's initiative and effort. I also applaud those review blogs for being open-minded enough to take on the challenge. I hope that this experience changes their attitudes towards the multitude of authors who are either forced to self-publish or choose that path from the start. It seems suspiciously easy for people to forget that Hugh Howey, Martin Weir, Amanda Hocking, Anne Charnock, and Michael Sullivan (just to name a few) all got their start as indie authors. While I'm not saying that all self-published works are equal, they certainly deserve equal consideration at the 21st century equivalent of the book store.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Somniscient by Richard Levesque

When reformed dream hacker Nix Nighthawk's sleep chip malfunctions, he is forced to seek help from a world he is trying to avoid—his old friends in the pirate dream network. But that world has changed, and Nix soon finds himself at the center of a complex plot to overthrow the vast corporation that controls every aspect of society. Betrayed by his lover, his friends, and even the technology that defines him, he has to choose: go back to living his safe and controlled existence, or be the hero and join forces with the revolutionary known only as The Somniscient.

My first thought when I read the title was, "What the heck does 'somniscient' mean?" It's not listed in the dictionary, so I tried to break it down into its parts.

somni-: a combining form meaning “sleep”, used in the formation of compound words.

omniscient: having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things.

When I put both parts together, I get someone that has complete knowledge of the sleeping world. It's the screen name of one of the characters, a dream hacker, in the story. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Levesque has created a world that uses sleep as currency. Everyone needs to sleep, so people earn "Zs" in order to sleep. You also use the Zs to buy things, pay for services, food, water, filtered air. The story takes place in the 22nd century. There's been some geological and economic upheaval that has brought civilization to the brink of collapse. One tech company, enLIGHTen, has pretty much all the power as it was their idea to use sleep as currency. Their device, the Loop, is surgically attached behind one's ear and connects people to the internet 24/7. Imagine seeing your Facebook feed updating all day and night. It also runs the sleep app which prohibits people from sleeping if they don't have enough Zs in their accounts.

Being someone who prizes sleep more than money, I thought that this was a horrific idea, and I would think many others would too. But if you want to be part of society and enjoy the comforts of civilization, you have to get one. I would be one of the "unLooped", the people who live on the margins of society. They can sleep all they want, but don't have jobs, homes, food, or anything else. Nix gets caught up in the rat race. He's burned out trying to earn enough Zs so he can sleep, but paying for rent, utilities, and other bills comes first. He can never seem to get ahead. He's trapped, working for the very company that makes the Loop. He literally becomes an indentured servant.

When people do get to sleep, they can buy dreams that they run on their sleep app. But just as people buy apps that their phone makers don't want them to today, people in this future L.A. buy unsanctioned dreams. Unsanctioned dreams can have malware hidden in them that can screw up one's Loop or steal their Zs.

Most of this is explained in the backstory that Levesque pours on the reader at the beginning of the book. It takes a while for the story get moving as we're introduced to Nix and the world he lives in. While it's a fascinating concept to have sleep as currency, I couldn't help but think that these people were idiots for agreeing to this system, so it took me a while to become sympathetic to their plight. But it isn't Nix's fault; he was born into this world. As we come to feel sorry for his lot in life, something happens to him, and the story's pace picks up. Nix is now on the run, and we're rooting for him to succeed.

But one-third of the way into the book, just when we get hooked, Nix disappears from the narrative. The story resumes several years later with another character in charge of the narrative. I was completely thrown by this abrupt change. I felt as if I was starting over. It took me quite a while to start feeling sympathetic for this new character—she's a trophy wife—after getting invested in Nix, and the pace of the story slowed to a crawl while she reflected on her predicament in life. The story eventually returns to Nix—and the pace picks back up—but it isn't until the second half of the book.

Another interesting avenue Levesque explores is gender identity. Because the Loop digitizes thought, one can, in essence, upload one's personality to a host computer and then implant it into another Loop. Through this process, a man and a woman are forced to share a body. Each takes turns controlling the body. The visiting personality gets to experience life as a different gender, complete with different sensations that they're not used to. The host personality gets to experience the visiting person's feelings and actions after ceding control of their body, even when they run counter to their own.

As for the technicals, I only found a few typos. As far as I'm concerned, that's professional quality editing.

In The Somniscient, Richard Levesque has created a unique world where sleep is currency and certainly not free. While it is an intriguing concept and Levesque provides the framework and world building for such a society to exist, the introductory backstory weighs the story down. The characters that provide the narrative are so self-absorbed with their respective plights that they slow down the story, and the sudden switch from one to the other nearly derails it. Still, The Somniscient makes for an entertaining read as Levesque uniquely explores gender identity, the "have versus have not" divide, and the extent our digitally obsessed culture will go to get its internet fix.

For more information about The Somniscient, please visit the author's website.