These are going to be short reviews, but they’re all you’ll need to determine if the books described are worth your time and money.
- Brilliance by Marcus Sakey: Unfortunately, this book does not at all live up to the title.
Bestselling author Lee Child described it as, “The kind of story you’ve never read before.” That’s not true. This kind of story has been done before, and a lot better (Wild Cards, for example). The premise is that in 1980, a percentage of the population was born with uncanny abilities that go right up to the edge of supernatural, but don’t quite reach it (they’re called “abnorms”). No psychokinesis or telepathy, but one guy manipulated the stock market to make himself a multi-multi-billionaire and ended up crashing it. Some are just super-intelligent. The main character, Nick Cooper, has the ability to read body language in such a way as to make him an unbeatable hand-to-hand fighter. Some abnorms have become terrorists, so Nick, under the employ of the government, goes to stop them. It’s an impossible mission. There are many nonsensical plot twists; a standard Hollywood divorced-but-we’re-still-great-friends relationship; a new love interest who happens to be incredibly beautiful; a my-child-is-in-danger plot element; and a 9/11-style attack that was actually carried out by the U.S. government, Truther-style. Sakey breaks up the action sequences by telling us how Cooper makes his unnaturally-quick combat decisions, which slows the pace down and destroys the scene’s excitement. I really wanted to like this book, but couldn’t. Two stars out of five.
- Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells: This is a first-contact science fiction novel about a group of present-day astronauts plus one incredibly-talented linguist who go to a derelict spacecraft to explore it. The protagonist, Jane Holloway, is the linguist. She also alternates between weepy-weak and stronger than combat-hardened military veterans. Plagued by a past tragedy that doesn’t seem so bad, she needed a great deal of persuading from a borderline mentally defective engineer to join the space mission (as if the opportunity to meet extraterrestrial life wasn’t much of a draw). The engineer happened to be the love interest. Her fellow astronauts act like angry high schoolers with firearms (in one laughable scene, the captain tells the crew to put armor-piercing rounds into their handguns), the love interest is extremely incompetent at just about everything, and her supernatural ability to pick up languages faster than others can program a VCR enables her to communicate telepathically with the one surviving intelligent alien aboard the ship. None of these characters were likable or acted in ways that made sense, the plot was a mishmash of alien politics and crew infighting, and the story seemed too much like a setup for future volumes rather than its own discrete narrative. Two stars out of five.
- The Wayward Pines trilogy by Blake Crouch: A sci-fi thriller that consists of Pines, Wayward, and The Last Town. There were times when I was reading these books that I literally couldn’t put them down for love or money. They were awesome. Extremely well-written, accurate with weapons, complex in characterization, and exciting from start to finish. The big secret to the town of Wayward Pines, revealed in Pines, was a bit disappointing and unbelievable, but overcame that anyway. Wayward didn’t suffer from the middle-book slump that so many trilogies experience, and brought real tension to the overall story. The Last Town had a disappointing ending, but it wasn’t a failure of writing. I simply strongly disagreed with the choices the characters made at the end, though the epilogue gave it a final punch. If you read nothing else in the thriller genre this year, at least pick up Wayward Pines. Four out of five stars.