The Animal in Man by Joseph Asphahani

Maxan is a fox. Scratch that. Maxan is the only remaining fox, after first his family and then his friends in the rogue’s guild were killed. With nowhere else to go, he enlists in the city guard, using his natural stealth and cleverness to act as a scout and rooftop observer. This job has become only more important over time, as an increasing number of the town’s residents slowly return to their species’ wild, feral roots.

On one mission into the city’s quarantined districts Maxan makes several stunning discoveries. First, he is not the only living fox, after all. And second, this new vixen is a member of a shadowy organization charged with guarding the world against ruination caused by misuse of ancient technological artifacts. Unfortunately, the leaders of an upstart religion and their secular pawns want those artifacts for their own use.

It’s not long before Maxan and his only friend – a rhinoceros, of all people – find themselves in the midst of this shadow war, uncertain of whom to trust but nonetheless feeling the need to act. And, of course, there is the question of the buried technology’s origin. Who created it, and how does it relate to the animals’ recent sentience and self-awareness?

The Animal in Man uses as its guide Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and it’s not at all hard to draw parallels between Asphahani’s story and mankind’s own struggle to put aside its violent tribalism and build a sustainable, peaceful society. It is absolutely not preachy, however, so don’t worry about being talked down to.

This is the first of a planned trilogy, and promises a deep, engaging story.

 

Buy if: You like a good, rollicking fantasy but also like to think about deeper questions about life.

Don’t buy if: You are looking for a breezy read. There’s a good deal to chew on here.

Age: Teen+

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor

We Are Legion (We Are Bob). What an absolutely absurd title…how could you not love it? I received this book as a Christmas gift from my nephew’s fiancé this year – she had recently read it and though that I would like it as well. She was absolutely right.

The (sub)titular Bob begins the story as a tech mogul who had just cashed out of his startup for the dreamed-of fabulous riches. Among the first things he did with the money was to sign a contract with a cryo-preservation company to save his body upon death, bringing him back when whatever killed him had been cured. It’s not a bad plan, I guess. I could swear I heard that Walt Disney did it years ago. Maybe that was just urban legend, but I’m too lazy to take the 15 seconds to actually google it.

As one would expect, Bob does in fact die. When he wakes up, however, it’s not to a miracle of medicine bringing him back from the dead, but to the new reality that his body went to the old meat grinder and all that’s left of him is an AI imprint. It turns out that there is a new space race, with nation-states vying to be the first to send off their exploration probes to the stars. And guess who gets to pilot those drones? You guessed it, the AIs!

Advances in mining technology an 3D printing means that when Bob gets to his first stop, one of his first priorities is to build additional probes and copy himself into their newly built AI systems. Interestingly, while they may well become legion, they are not all Bob. Each replicated imprint is a little twist on basic Bob, with different parts of his underlying character being more or less prominent on each new copy.

In addition to the quite enjoyable plot following Bob from the current day US to the future, the book touches lightly on what it means to be human and be alive. It’s a nice extra layer on which to chew as you read, but not central to the story that this can’t be a bedtime read. There are two additional books in the Bobiverse series, and I’m looking forward to reading each.

Buy if: You’re a SF fan, especially if you like space exploration

Don’t buy if: You are looking for galactic space battles or aliens. Humans are the only advanced sentients

Age: Teen+

Eastwind Witches Book 9 (Hallow's Faire in Love and War) by Nova Nelson

My first book of the new year was the latest installment of a series I followed all throughout 2018. I picked up the first Eastwind Witches cozy mystery purely on a whim and a recommendation by an author friend of mine, H. Claire Taylor.  I’d never heard of “Cozy” as a book descriptor before, and she explained it meant no bad language and no on-screen sex. Ok, I don’t put any of that in my books either, so for 99 cents, why not give it a try?

Crossing Over Easy tells the story of Nora Ashcroft, high performing Texan restauranteur, who dies and “crosses over” to the town of Eastwind. She soon discovers that not only is she a witch (with a sarcastic, lazy, bacon-loving familiar the size and shape of a newfie), but the special kind of witch that can communicate with spirits. The only other Fifth Wind witch in town takes her under her wing, and Nora soon finds herself solving a murder mystery. It seems that the ghost of the departed had some unfinished business.

These are not deep literature. They are fun, light, peppered with humor and a touch of romance. There is a touch of the love triangle that I typically avoid, and several books in it becomes a love square (pyramid?). The books themselves are quick reads though, and most of the stories focus on the underlying mysteries, so if you want to skim through the triangle/square stuff it’s easy to do. Having said that, I’ve bought each new novel on release date so I could find out what happens next. That’s about as ringing an endorsement as I can give.

Buy if: You enjoy supernatural stories, particular murder mysteries, you are looking for a light reading diversion, you like “romance” stories but more in a flirty way than a bodice ripper

Don’t buy if: You are looking for heavy duty spell-slinging, or explicit romantic scenes.

Age: Teen+