Review: Extinction End by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Lookit me finishing a book! It’s been a crazy year, and I’ve not read anywhere near the amount of books that I’ve wanted… although that hasn’t stopped me buying books because that’s just crazy talk. What has been all kinds of great is the discovery of Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s Extinction Cycle series (big up Geoff Brown for putting me onto them).

I’d been sitting on Extinction End (book five in the series) for a while, which is no reflection on the book itself, rather on my complete lack of time to give it the reader-respect it deserves. Two minutes before bed with eyes feeling like sandpaper does not good reading make. Also makes AJ cranky-cranky-something-something.

So between moving house and all the “fun” that goes along with that, I managed to get away for five days to my father’s farm where there is nothing but the call of birdsong, verdant hills as far as they eye can see, and steer fights over mounds of dirt (don’t ask). The perfect reading environment.

Before I go any further, time for the requisite spoiler warning:

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. LIKE, BIG MOFO SPOILERS THAT WILL SPOIL IN ALL THEIR SPOILERY SPOILMENT. CLICKETY-CLACK, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

extinction-end

In my Amazon review, I called this series military-horror at its finest, and I have a foot in this world (not the Variant world, ‘cause I don’t think I’d have enough clean underwear to make it through a Variant meet-and-greet), but the military-horror publishing world – I read a lot of it, and I know stand-out when I read it.

Extinction End was supposed to be the final book in the series, and while book six is about to hit the bookshelves any day now, this tale is told with finality and the tying up of threads for the characters trying to survive in this new world. Although part of me has to wonder whether Smith was truly finished with Team Ghost tales, as the epilogue really did leave it open for more.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Variants have evolved with each book, and are now thinking, strategizing and some are speaking – crude though it is – but it’s a kind of mental… telepathy that has the Variants working as soldiers. Desperate, now, for the only food source available – people. They’re also breeding – evolution really is kicking it up a notch here.

With a great mix of science and military action, Extinction End is hard-core – and it should be. It was written as the last book, so things are always going to get worse before they get better… if only slightly better. There are several threads running through this, but it’s held together by the two main characters: Master Sergeant Reed Beckham and Dr Kate Lovato – now expecting their child.

From beginning to end, there’s no let up on the tension; it’s fast-paced, and tightly packed with action and gunplay. And to add to it all, there’s mutiny afoot. That’s the thing with an apocalyptic event, people (by definition) are going to come at the problem in different ways, and they’re always going to believe their way is the right way, the only way.

Smith plays with these threads like a puppeteer, manipulating and shifting the players on the stage like a macabre dance. Nothing is guaranteed in this world. And going into this book with the knowledge Smith isn’t afraid to maim or kill major characters (you and I need to speak about Riley, Nick), each chapter was like the tightening of a bowstring – there’s only so much give before it snaps and takes you out.

There’s no doubt Smith has a great regard for the women and men who serve in the armed forces; it’s evident in the way he’s drawn those who don the uniform, in their character and their willingness to sacrifice all to save those they’re meant to protect. And some do. Not all make it through this book, nor should they, and with a possible advantage over the Variants, it’s Team Ghost that goes in again.

The last few chapters of this book were a hard read. You know not all of the team will make it back, that the shit will really hit the fan – you’ve been following these characters for five books now, something’s gotta give. And it did, in a big way.

Now if you’ve read this far despite the spoilers, I’m giving you one last chance to look away – major spoiler ahead.

I admire a writer who takes the hard road with a main character, and Smith does that by having Reed hit with Variant venom. It’s a death sentence by all accounts, but the quick thinking of Big Horn via two field amputations saves Beckham’s life. The loss of his right hand and his left leg from the knee down, plus impaired vision means he’ll never be the soldier he once was. His war is effectively over. Tough call it must have been, but it was the right call.

There’s a strange satisfaction in that; Beckham’s not invincible, that war claims everyone in some way or another. From the man in the street who sides with the Variants for survival, to the colonel aboard a battleship who orchestrates a mutiny for launch codes (now that was a satisfying death!). No one is immune, and Smith shows this in both harsh and subtle ways.

There is so much to like about this book – it grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let you go. That’s what a story should do, it should drag you into the world, kicking and screaming if it must, but it makes you a participant, makes you invested, and makes you both want to turn the next page while dreading it also.

If you haven’t read this series, you need to rectify this immediately. And with book six – Extinction Aftermath – due out today… or tomorrow (time zones are weird), you won’t have to wait to see where Team Ghost ends up next. It’s Europe. Told you there’d be spoilers.

Well, don’t just sit there reading this, *flaps hand* Go. Now. Buy the books!

On a Goodreads scale, I give Extinction End five stars.

Guest Post: Hollow House by Greg Chapman

Today, good friend and fellow scribe, Greg Chapman, is here to talk about his debut novel Hollow House, and the characters that call Willow Street home. I was lucky enough to get an advance read of the story, and Greg’s nailed the use of grey characters (my favourite kind). Add an abandoned house with a checkered history, nosy neighbours, and an up-and-coming serial killer… well, you’ve got quite the cauldron of chaos.

*hands over mic* You’re up, Greg!

There’s a saying that goes something like, “For evil to thrive, good men need do nothing.”

Which begs the question: if evil were to appear in the form of a creepy old house, in a normal everyday street in today’s era, how many of the people living there do you think would care? And how many would have the courage to take on that evil?

This, is in essence, the crux of my debut novel ­– Hollow House.

Hollow House

Morally ambiguous characters fascinate me, especially in the horror genre. I mean, honestly, no one is perfect, right? We all have flaws, and some of us even choose to do bad things. These types of realistic characters are perfect for horror novels, and perfect for evil entities looking to return to the real world.

There are thirteen main characters in my novel: there’s a dysfunctional family of four (the Campbells), the old Markham couple (Mr Markham being a veteran of World War II), the Cowley family (divorcee Alice, her son Dale, and her suicidal daughter Amy) journalist Ben and his lonely wife Megan, and of course, Darryl Novak, a rookie serial killer who follows in the abusive footsteps of his dear-departed mother.

Any of these characters could live on your street, and any street could have a creepy house on the corner. What do you think their chances would be of combating the evil within – and without – if they aren’t willing to face their own demons?

When I started writing Hollow House, I knew it wasn’t going to be your typical good versus evil tale. It’s going to be hard for readers to find any heroes in my tale. Sure, there will be some you will sympathise with, or even relate to, but like? I’m not so sure.

horror novel greg chapman hollow house

If there’s a novel that you could compare Hollow House to, it’s probably Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, a modern retelling of the Dracula story, but set in a small town. The people who live in the town are the focus in King’s novel, as they are in mine. And I, too, choose to put my characters through hell – a relentless downward spiral they find more and more difficult to escape.

It was a lot of fun to write, but unless you love horror fiction, you might not find much light within its pages. My only hope is that you recognise these characters enough – and care about them enough – to see if they survive.

Check out the trailer for Hollow House here.

Hollow House is published by Omnium Gatherum Books, and made its debut July 25, 2016.

Get yourself a copy!

Review: Extinction Age by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Lookit me reading and reviewing like a regular reader-person. The world’s gone crazy! Crazy, I say! Now if you’ll just let me slip out of this special white jacket that ties in the back, we’ll get on with the review.

Extinction Age is the third in the five-book Extinction Cycle series by Nicholas Sansbury Smith, and while I was eager to get into the story, I did enter with some trepidation. This book is the ‘meat’ in the sandwich of the series, and I’ve often found that this is the book where that tends to suffer from middle-book-wandering, but this is definitely not the case with Extinction Age.

Now before we go any further…

SPOILERY-SPOILERS MAY OCCUR PAST THIS POINT. READ ON AT YOUR OWN PERIL. SERIOUSLY. DON’T MAKE ME TELL YOU TWICE.

extinction-age

Extinction Age begins at a cracking pace, and also in the underground sewers of New York. Master Sergeant Reed Beckham and his rag-tag group of Delta Ghost and Marines are fleeing a horde of Variants, unaware they’re actually in the monsters’ lair… and their meat locker.

When you put monsters and soldiers in a claustrophobic environment, then add in a human food store, and that damn clickety-clack the Variants make (think that god-awful sound from Day of the Triffods), you’re in for some full-action, high-tension scenes, and you just know someone’s going to bite it.

Humanity isn’t doing so well either – with major, supposedly impenetrable political installations falling to the Variants, panic is starting to set it, and those in power are making some pretty shitty self-centred decisions, some even clamouring for power.

And running through this is always the science. It really is a race against time, and it’s a race humankind isn’t winning. Sometimes, humanity is its own worst enemy. Smith plays on this theme quite well, and often leaves you wondering who the real monsters are in this story.

The writing is tight, and the peaks and troughs throughout the story take you on quite the rollercoaster ride, and just when you think things couldn’t get any worse? Well… it’s never going to be an easy ride. While doctors Lovato and Ellis have created a new weapon, in doing so, Lovato unintentionally puts Beckham in harm’s way, but as that seems to be his comfort zone… still makes for tense-ridden moments.

But the ending? Oh, you will not see that coming. Many didn’t. J But it was a cracker of a way to end book three in the series.

This is my favourite of the Extinction Cycle Series thus far. So that thing I said earlier about ‘middle-book-wandering’? Yeah, doesn’t apply here.

On a Goodreads scale, it’s a solid 5.

Guest Post: Subverting the Tropes by Alan Baxter

Too long I have been waiting for this! When the Alex Caine Series was released a couple of years back, it was only the first book – Bound – that was released in paperback (reviewed here). As a life-long lover and reader of print books… well, <insert sad face here>. But my happy face has been smacked on as Harper Voyager is re-releasing the series in print and with kick-arse new covers that far better represent the stories and themes of the books.

With this upcoming re-release at the end of June,  I asked the effervescently-barmy Alan Baxter to stop by and tell us a little about his creative process.

So without further ado… *hands over mic*

I’m very grateful to AJ for offering to host a spot on my blog tour for the re-release of The Alex Caine Series. AJ asked me to write a post about the tropes I explored in the series, and that’s quite exciting, because when she says explored, I think subvert.

Caine-Bound-book-page

With these books I set out from the beginning to turn some old ideas upside-down. The first book in the series, Bound, was originally going to be a standalone novel. The idea was to take two things that don’t normally go together and fuck around with them. In this case, I had an idea to write a novel about a career martial artist who maybe had a little bit of magic in him of which he wasn’t really aware. And I had this evil book idea, that I really wanted to find a story for. When those things came together I realised I had the opportunity to mess up a big old trope. I’ve always wanted to write what is essentially a big fat fantasy epic quest, but have it set in the modern day, in our world, paced like a thriller and full of dark and monstrous twists and turns. As you can imagine, with the martial artist and the evil book, I had a great scaffold for that exercise. And Bound was born.

By about halfway through the book I realised I had a much bigger story on my hands. The quest and all its associated elements meant I had to have a strong backstory. So, of course, the backstory had its own history, elements of the story I was telling were going to echo and reverberate, and I wanted to tell more of the story. So I had a much larger arc in mind and I started to think about how I was going to tell that.

Caine-Obsidian-book-page

The first book was very much the classic epic quest. I decided that the second book, Obsidian, would play with the old idea of the lost city. And the city in Obsidian is really lost. And then, by the third book, Abduction, I had characters and situations that had grown well beyond their humble beginnings, and I found myself with a real “Clash of the Titans” trope to play around with and subvert. I may have indulged my love of superheroes a little obliquely with book 3 too.

So while it’s all one story across three books, every individual book is a complete novel and a complete story as well. And, as I didn’t tie up every single loose end, I have all kinds of ideas for future Alex Caine books if the opportunity presents itself. With any luck the current trilogy will do well enough that I get to write more. There are so many tropes to subvert!

The Alex Caine Series – Bound, Obsidian and Abduction – is available in paperback and ebook now.

Caine-Abduction-book-page

Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, dog and cat. He’s the award-winning author of several novels and over sixty short stories and novellas. So far. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – www.warriorscribe.com – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.

So if you’re looking for a supernaturally good read, get on these!

 

Review: Extinction Edge by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

What madness is this! Another review so soon after the last? The world must be spinning off its axis… which is rather fitting considering the theme of Extinction Edge, second book in the Extinction Cycle series. This is definitely a world where humanity is teetering on the brink. Huzzah! I mean… well, I mean ‘huzzah!’ – apocalyptic stories are some of my faves, and when you add in military horror, I’ve hit the trifecta.

Now before we venture into Nicholas Sansbury Smith‘s desolate world of monsters and mayhem, the requisite spoiler warning must be given. *clears throat*

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. AND THERE’S ONE. *points* AND THERE’S ANOTHER HIDING BEHIND THAT BURNED-OUT CAR OVER THERE. *points* AND BEWARE THE SPOILERS WAITING IN AMBUSH. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Right then. Let’s begin.

Extinction Edge picks up a wee time after book one, (review of Extinction Horizon here), and things aren’t exactly plum on Plum Island. Sequestered though they are, there’s no denying the siege mentality needed to survive what’s looking a lot like humanity’s last days.

In book two, we get to learn more about Master Sergeant Reed Beckham and his team of Delta Team Ghost, that now consists of just ‘Big Horn’ and Riley – both of whom are excellent secondary characters who I like a lot… which in my world, means: if I like them a lot, death’s a-comin’ (I hate you Jinx Faerie!).

After losing half his team to the contagion virus, Beckham is determined to get Big Horn back to Fort Bragg to rescue the man’s family (dire though the outcome appears). It’s this that drives the first half of the book, and it’s a rough ride. With Riley severely injured, it’s just the Ghost operators on the mission. And a hell of a mission it is. I’m not going to divulge the fate of Horn’s family, but the battle to get to where the survivors may be holed up, is one of the best in the book.

Extinction Edge

Intertwined with this, is the work of Beckham’s love interest, Dr Kate Lovato, who is trying desperately to find a weapon to combat the monsters born from her previous biological weapon. It’s a mess, but a good mess for a book to have. Kate’s weapon wiped out about 90% of Ebola-ridden monsters, but that remaining 10%? Oh, they’re way nastier, and they’re evolving. Variants, they’re now called, and they’re the stuff of nightmares. (Can I get a huzzah?)

It’s these Variants Beckham and Horn will need to battle if they’re to find survivors at Fort Bragg – where Horn’s family is (hopefully) safe and hidden. It’s clear Smith has extensive knowledge of military tactics and weaponry, and this is brought vividly to life in the battle scenes against the Variants at Fort Bragg. Smith puts to great use high tension and critical action to draw the reader in, and draw it did. It’s been a while since I’ve forgone sleep to read, but Smith owes me at least four hours.

The medical side of Extinction Edge is interspersed nicely with the military action – the peaks and troughs throughout the book give the reader time to breathe, but make no mistake, science is going to play a big role in the books, and Lovato’s character arc is really starting to come into play not just in the lab, but with Beckham. Balance in a totally unbalanced world is a nice juxtaposition.

While it’s clear Beckham and Lovato are the spearheads for the story, the secondary and minor players are well-developed, and don’t sit like cardboard characters on the page. With the amount of death that’s happening (and they’re grisly and kinda awesome), those characters that rise to take the place of those who’ve been lost, hold their own. Fitz is a very addition, and highlights the casualties of a war that’s all too real; Smith gives him purpose, makes him a real player in his own right – he’s fast becoming a… (I see you Jinx Faerie – on your way!).

As the second book in a five-book series, there was always the chance this book could stumble, the author trying to drag out the storyline, but this is a tight read, there’s little wandering from the plot and sub-plots, and the threads are woven together… not so neatly, and they shouldn’t be. This is a story still in its early stages, and there’s much to be discovered. And not all those who’ve survived humanity’s crash are as noble and honour-bound as the soldiers fighting for those who are left.

And with the Variants evolving, hunting in packs and creating ‘food’ stores, the battles are only going to get more bloody. Big shout out to Smith, too, on the creation of the nightmare creatures. They’re an assault on the senses, vile creatures driven by base instincts. And damn difficult to beat.

This is apocalyptic military horror at its best, so much so that I’m already well into book three.

On a Goodreads scale… ooh, it’s tough. Not quite a five, close but just not quite. So… 4.75 stars.

Four and half stars

Pay the Creative

There are two things I have no qualms about spending money on: books and art. As a pen-monkey, I believe books are art in and of themselves – from the cover to the artistry of words within. I smile every time I walk past one of my over-flowing bookcases, or the pile of books on my bedside table.  All of which complement the art on my walls. And the nine pieces I’ve yet to frame and hang… oh, they call out to me to find their place.

a-mindful-installation

Yes, I’m running out of wall space, but that’s okay, we’re in the process of finding another place to call home, and while a new house has to hit the right marks with bedroom numbers, office space, backyard, for me it’s wall-space and bookshelf positioning I see. But I digress.

Of late, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts regarding consumers not willing to pay for books for all manner of ridiculous reasons. Here’s one such post that goes into detail about one author rallying against some readers who feel they shouldn’t have to pay for a writer’s work, that the art of storytelling and providing a reader with a product should be given away for free. (I rolled my eyes so hard they fell out of my head, and I had to retrieve them from my cats.)

Pisces

But it’s not just authors who are expected to work for ‘exposure’. Artists, too, are often targeted to provide their work for free (or exposure). You can’t pay bills with exposure; you can’t eat a reader’s ‘good will’, and ‘word of mouth’ doesn’t pay your kids’ school fees.  The fact there are those out there who expect you to work for free, to help them achieve a product that will make them money but not you… damn, that’s hard to get my head around.

Like the books I read, I buy my art. Never would I consider asking an artist to forgo the hours of work and their inspiration just because I like something and want it to adorn my wall. I don’t ask my tattooist to ink my skin for free either. But there are others out there – parasites I call them – who believe artists should just give their work away. The Brave Little Illustrator captures it perfectly here. There have been times when I’ve found a piece of artwork I just have to have, and to own it meant putting my pennies away until I could afford it. That’s just what you do.

train in vain 1

I don’t set out to find art, it finds me. I’ll see a post on social media, someone will share an artist’s work they’ve come across. I’ve found artists at conventions, expos, bookstores… so many different places, and these pieces, I know, belong with me. So I have no compunction for paying for the art, because this allows the artist to live to create more.

And that’s what it’s all about. Here in Australia, our current government has cut arts funding and scholarships, and they’re looking at allowing parallel importation that will grossly undermine the earning ability of writers in this country, and dropping copyright to fifteen years from publication before it becomes public domain. There’s this growing belief that the cultural contribution artists and writers provide isn’t worth the time or paper it’s created on. Art and books create escapism, they take you to places that ignite your imagination, give you respite from the ugliness that intrudes upon our lives, and if that isn’t worth something, what is?

Raniermos

So if there’s a book you want to read, or artwork you want for your home, or perhaps some external or internal art for a book you’ve written… pay the artist!

A big shout-out to those artists whose work adorns (or soon will) my walls: Monty Borror, Jeannie Lynn Paske (Obsolete World), Damon Hellandbrand (owe you an email, dude), Greg Chapman, and Mel Schwarz. Check out their work, and that of Dean Samed and Caroline O’Neal. As for saving for art, it’s a Chris Mars piece I’m looking at next adding to my collection.

Oh, and a big-up to Andrew J McKiernan, who gave me the illustration he did for my story, ‘Nightmare’s Cradle’, which sits proudly above my desk.

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* All pieces shown within this post I have bought from the artists (apart from Andrew’s piece, which was paid for by Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine).

Review: Extinction Horizon by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Ooh, lookit me posting another book review so soon after the last! I’m on fire! Or rather, Extinction Horizon was. That just goes to show how much I enjoyed the first book in The Extinction Cycle series. This is the first of Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s work I’ve read; I love discovering new authors (new to me, not to others… or him… shut up, I need more coffee), delving into the world they’ve created, or rather, in Smith’s case, a world destroyed.

Extinction Horizon follows Delta Force Team Ghost, and Master Sergeant Reed Beckham, and right from the start… hang on… just let me…

HERE THERE MAY BE SPOILERS. MAYBE BIG SPOILERS. ACTUALLY, NO ‘MAYBE’ ABOUT IT. BIG SPOILERS INCOMING. READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK. DON’T GO BLAMING ME IF YOU DEFY ORDERS AND CONTINUE ON. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Extinction Horizon

Okay, if you’re reading this now, you’ve accepted the risk of spoilery spoilers. Good for you, ‘cause this is a damn shitty world with frightening monsters Smith has delivered. It begins scarily enough – an experimental drug (VX-99) given to an elite team of Marines during the Vietnam war that backfires spectacularly. It has devastating effects on the men, guinea pigs for all intents and purposes.

Next – Ebola virus. That’s enough to have you reaching for a Hazmat suit, but when you have an army general working with a virologist and wanting to create a super-virus to use on the enemy to save soldiers’ lives… oh, it ain’t gonna end well.

Reed Beckham and his team are sent to retrieve the virus from a secret facility, and this is where we’re first introduced to the ‘monsters’ that’ve been created by this super-virus. It’s also where Beckham loses half his team. Things go from bad to worse when this virus breaks containment lines and spreads like the plague it is.

Before long, the world has gone to shit. In a big way. We’re talking extinction event here, with only small patches of survivors. And within this is CDC virologist Dr Kate Lavato – tasked, now, with finding a cure. It’s clear early on that she will be Beckham’s love interest, but she has also become the focus of Beckham’s need to protect. With humanity almost gone, Beckham’s need to find purpose is what drives him, and Lovato is the key to humanity’s survival.

But let me get to these monsters. Ebola is a haemorrhagic virus; victims bleed-out internally in horrifically painful ways. But with the addition of VX-99, you get an altogether different monster. One that has its origin in the origin of species. We’re talking what first crawled out of the sludge. Inhumanely fast, with joints that crack and bend at unnatural angles, and an insatiable need to feed on protein (that would be humans, just so we’re clear), infection rates skyrocket.

ebola

Look, I could go on and on about how good this book is. But you don’t have time for a dissertation, and I really should be working. What you should know is this apocalypse-event story is filled with high-tension, incredible military action, intrigue, deceit and, at times, a sense of despair at what’s happening. But always there is hope. That’s what I love about books such as this.

This isn’t going to be an easy-fix situation; Delta Force Team Ghost is facing a monster-super-soldier that is almost impossible to defeat. The thing with humanity, though, is that it lives for a challenge. Adapt or die. And dying isn’t something Beckham, his team of Riley and Horn, on their list of things to do.

One of the things that did have me thinking (and still does) is how easily a contagion can spread. A carrier on a plane, on a train to work, of someone coughing in the wrong place… one lapse and we’re looking at extinction. And that’s something Smith works well into his book – the ‘what if’ that so readily sits beneath our primal fear of deadly contagious diseases that could so easily turn pandemic.

As the first in the series of five, this book does all it’s supposed, and while I would have wanted to see a little more emotional struggle from Beckham when it comes to Lovato, that’s a small thing when dealing with a soldier who has spent most of his life detaching himself from the horrors of what he does.

Book two in the series, Extinction Age, is sitting on my bedside table ready to go. And it’s a thicker book too, which means more military goodness coming my way. I think that means, why yes… I’m…I’m a fan. That’s always a great way to end a review.

Or, end it with a Goodreads scale of 4.5 stars.

Four and half stars

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