Toxic Night by Daniel Mason
I read it as an: ARC
Source: Publicist/review site editor
Length: 270 pp
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform (This has to be code for “self-published.” The quality of the writing would support this suspicion.)
Toxic Night is marketed as a sci-fi tale of murder and espionage in an interstellar empire. Really, not much could be further from the truth. Inspector Lieutenant Lyra Garrick investigates the murder of a cop. Special Agent Desmond Wright is assigned to work with her because the suspect’s car had belonged to one of his missing agents. From there proceeds a meandering, plotless story of murder and espionage. Garrick discovers that a large tech company, which had been contracted to build a fueling system for military fighter jets, is involved in espionage, and that information on the systems had been stolen by a terrorist group. Garrick and Wright quickly catch a suspect (the first one they came across, actually. Handy!), who gives them exactly the information they need. They learn about a terrorist organization that stole chemical sprayers which could allow bioagents to be spread across huge areas. Garrick receives information from an anonymous source that leads her to discover a senator who is working with the terrorists. She and Wright learn about a train carrying nerve gas that is a target for the terrorists. They organize a team to secure the nerve gas and save thousands from death by bioagents. At this point, what little plot there is completely unravels. The terrorists are all killed off, a whole new subplot is introduced involving textile manufacturing (because we need more pointless subplots now), the colluding senator is conveniently dealt with, and Garrick and Wright are suddenly married without any hint of a courtship or spark of romance previous in the book. Yay. This book had some of the weirdest dialogue I’ve ever encountered. For example, “…if your incompetence continues, we will personally see to it that your life-span will be shorter than a candle flame in a windstorm.” WTF? Or, “…by a man who exactly and precisely resembled the suspect down to the very last detail…” This example brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department. Shallow personalities, women who are depicted as idiots, a WHOLE lot of mansplaining, and befuddled police who are surprised that criminals would try to hide illegal actions combine to create one-dimensional characters that readers will not care about. Additionally, sci-fi elements are completely lacking. The setting could be anywhere; though each chapter heading features an unusual place name, such as Tollbrandt Province, Sylariand, or Core Systems Accord, there is no evidence to suggest the story takes place on another planet. There are no aliens, advanced technology, or spaceships. These aren’t requirements of sci-fi, but what IS a requirement is a central “what if” speculative thesis, which tends to define the genre. This, too, is missing. I think the author decided it was sci-fi because it was set on another planet in his head and then failed to inform the rest of us.
This was an interminable, incoherent novel. My favorite part was when it was over. If I hadn’t been reading it to review for another website, I would have DNF’ed the fuck out of this in the first chapter or two because I have literally taught remedial English students who had better writing abilities than this author. If it hadn’t been self-published…well. Alas, it was.
Worthy by Judy Salz
I read it as an: ARC
Source: Publicist/ review site editor
Length: 356 pp
Publisher: Hardway Press
This is the novel about how a bunch of adults spend their entire lives whining about how they don’t feel worthy, plus some religious stuff for some of them. But at least this author can follow the rules of grammar.
Worthy opens with Dr. Jenny Gordon meeting her new interns at an LA hospital. Before the morning is out, catastrophe strikes, causing Jenny’s life to intersect with Drs. Mark Walters and Ed Hanley, new interns, and Joseph Waters, the new hospital chaplain. Though the narrative jumps ahead several years many times throughout the novel, we know that Joseph and Mark become best friends, that Joseph and Jenny get married, and that Mark marries a social worker, Linda. Eventually, Mark and Linda try to open a counseling clinic and are looking for funding. Joseph and Jenny go on a medical trip to the Amazon where they can give services to the people in the rainforest. The four friends, by now retired and bored (I don’t understand that. Only boring people are bored. Which, now that I type that, totally makes sense here), decide to start a foundation and fund a research project to look for new antibiotics from rainforest plants. Their lead researcher is Ed Hanley, who now works at the NIH. Through a mistake made by one of his graduate students, he discovers a miracle cure for cancer! Throughout the narrative, everyone learns each other’s dark histories (Joseph had been in prison for armed robbery; Mark had been a junkie; Jenny had her daughter through adoption because she was a spinster before she married Joseph! Horror.), which have caused lifelong feelings of guilt or inadequacy. They all struggle to come to terms with their own perceived shortcomings, and they wallow in it over and over like angsty teens. They seem not to grow or accept their accomplishments until the final few pages, when everyone has a magic epiphany and suddenly feels just fine about everything. There’s a lot of religious talk throughout as well, which is fine for some people but made my ass twitch. God didn’t get you clean, you did. God didn’t get you through med school, you did. It makes me crazy when people give away their own accomplishments to the Whatever from High Atop the Thing. There are also a ton of really traditional gender roles here, which is not interesting for women under 70 to read about anymore. Like, the idea that everyone should be married. Nope. Like I said, this didn’t suck, but I strongly suspect I didn’t hate it as much as I might have done otherwise simply by virtue of the fact that it was the first book I read immediately after Toxic Night, which was horrible. So that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement… but take it as you will.