“Acre’s Orphan”, a review.

In his previous book, “Acre’s Bastard”, Wayne Turmel introduced us to Lucca Le Pou. His ten year old protagonist is a street-smart scapegrace who knows the back alleys of his home city of Acre like the back of his hand. Lucca has already survived more than most adults, including the disastrous defeat of the Christian forces at the Battle of Hattin. But as much as he hopes to go back to his old life, that wish is not to be realized.

“Acre’s Orphan” opens in the aftermath of Hattin. Acre, now virtually defenseless, is awash with fear as it prepares to surrender to the Muslim armies of Sal ad-Din. Lucca discovers that a mysterious outsider is stirring up resentment for the defeat at Hattin among the residents of Acre. Lucca and his mentor, the former knight and occasional spy Brother Marco, soon realize that this is part of an effort to discredit a powerful Christian nobleman. Brother Marco dispatches Lucca to Tyre, where the nobleman in questions currently resides, to warn him of the threat. Lucca, who has only been beyond the walls of Acre once before, must travel through leagues of war-torn countryside to accomplish this. His only companions on this trip are a Druze girl only slightly older than him, a leprous nun hoping for refuge from the Muslims, and a Hospitaller knight of dubious reputation.

“Acre’s Bastard” was an exploration of the seamy side of the Crusades, and this second installment of the series takes the reader into the shifting political and military landscapes of the Holy Lands in the 12th Century. Lucca must navigate his way through the uncertainty around him while both doing his best to keep his companions safe, and to accomplish the task given to him by Brother Marco. As he does this, the scared boy he was begins to melt away, and the young man people will follow begins to emerge.

I enjoyed reading “Acre’s Orphan” enough that I finished it about three days. I found Lucca Le Pou to be an engaging character, as are the supporting characters. Their interactions feel like those of real people, with none of the stilted set-piece scenes some stories fall into. The landscape they move through is believable enough that you feel you could almost trace their path. The plotting is good, and the pacing keeps you turning the page. In other words, it’s a good read and well worth your time.

In his closing notes to “Acre’s Orphan”, Wayne Turmel tells us “Acre’s Bastard” was originally to be the only book about Lucca. That changed when his daughter indicated she wanted to read more of his character’s adventures. I am glad she changed his mind, because I too am looking forward to reading more of Lucca’s story. I don’t know, but I suspect others will look forward to further installments as well.

Review: “Android Chronicles: Unbound”

Android Chronicles: Unbound

By Lance Erlick

Publisher: Kensington Publishing; New York, New York

release date: Dec. 25, 2018

Formats: eBook (epub, mobi)

Size: ~90K words, 278 pages

In the first installment of his “Android Chronicles” series, Lance Erlick introduced us to Synthia Cross His android protagonist is the culmination of a series of very illegal experiments and hardware developments. She is not only self-aware, but a machine so life-like in appearance that she is capable of living unnoticed among humanity. Her builder designed to operate in a human-dominated world, both as the perfect tool to help him spy on competitors, and as what he hoped to be the perfect sex partner. But being a slave was not to Synthia’s liking, and she escaped her captivity.

At the beginning of “Unbound”, events unfolding around Synthia that threatening to take her new-found freedom away. The government suspects, but can’t prove, that she exists. Based on what they can guess of her capabilities, they want her captured. Agents of the FBI and NSA see her as a threat to national security for the skills she has as a hacker. The military sees to possess her and use her design as the foundation for robotic assassin that can change its appearance to mimic anyone. Foreign agents seek her to use as the prototype of the perfect spy, or the ideal terrorist.

As if all these human hunting her weren’t enough, Synthia is also being targeted by other androids. Some have been released into the human world to capture her, others have escape the possession of the government agencies that nominally control them to team up with the androids who seek her for their own ends. Then, there’s hints a mysterious AI is aiding her human pursuers from somewhere in the shadows of the Internet.

Synthia isn’t helpless, nor is she without allies. Her hacking skills allow her to seek out humans who might aid her while monitoring the government’s efforts to capture her. One human helps her upgrade her systems, only to lose his freedom when the government learns what he has done. Another human, one who opposes the very concepts of artificial intelligence and androids, joins forces with her as the only viable alternative to the looming threat of a world run by and for androids and AI. Together, they struggle to stay free as the government deploys an increasingly net in hopes of catching them.

“Unbound” is a good read for anyone interested in the problems artificial intelligence and human-like androids pose to our future. Lance Erlick’s protagonist must face many tests as she deals with her drive to stay free while maintaining the concepts of moral behavior that she hopes to live by. While her escapes are hair-raising, it is that constant battle to justify her freedom when others are suffering for it that is the heart of this story. A human in a similar situation would be conflicted, so too is Synthia. At the end of “Unbound”, she is still trying to find a balance between her own needs and the price fulfilling them exacts on others. I suspect that in the next installment of his “Android Chronicles”, Mr. Erlick is going to have to bring his protagonist face-to-face with the cost of her existence, and that the resolution of that conundrum will make for a very interesting read indeed.

“The Saint of Liars”, a review

“The Saint of Liars”

Author: Megan Mackie

Genre: Urban fantasy

Page count: 459

Word count: 147,056

app. 813KB (ePub format)

Publisher: Independent

Release date: June 18, 2018

In her first book, “Finder of the Lucky Devil”, Megan Mackie introduced us to her alternate Chicago. It’s a place where technology and magic exist side-by-side, but the balance is shifting. With technology becoming more and more like magic, those who wield the older power face a bleak future. Corporations that virtually own their employees are consolidating their hold on the city, squeezing those they do not control out of power, or into their control.

“Saint of Liars” begins where the earlier work left off. Newly made the head of an ancient magical house, Rune Leveau is struggling to find her place in the world of magic. She must deal with the pressures of keeping the seat of that house, the Lucky Devil bar, from going broke while learning to use her emerging magical powers. If that wasn’t enough pressure, she finds herself enmeshed in the power struggles that are coming into the open.

Old disagreements amongst the magic users threaten to shatter their last bit of political power in the face of corporations learn to use technology to work magic. But the corporations are far from united. Factions in their ranks are engaged in a covert revolt, fearing that a final consolidation of power in the hands of a few is at hand.

Rune’s sometimes love interest St. Benedict is back, and the two of them are soon working together to find out who is trying to kill Rune. Their efforts to solve that mystery takes then deep into Chicago’s magical side, and uncovers a plot to develop a technology that would allow the non-magical to harness magic.

Mackie’s magic-noir Chicago may be populated by fantasy creatures, but the problems her protagonist faces, and the landscape she moves through, contain enough of modern reality to make the story believable. Her hero is not perfect, but her errors give her the feel of someone you might know in real life. Put all that into a story that draws you along with a relentless pace and you have a story that makes an ideal Summer read, or a good read any other time of the year. I am not sure if Ms. Mackie plans to write another book in her fantasy world, but I hope she does. I have enjoyed following her characters, and would not mind reading more of their story.

Review: “Android Chronicles: Reborn”

“Android Chronicles: Reborn”

by Lance Erlick

Kensington Publishing Corp.

release date: May 1, 2018

Available in eBook, 257 pages, 85,000 words, 1.7 MB (epub file format)

(reviewed by Andrew Reynolds)

One of the oldest questions in science fiction is what will happen when the things humanity builds begin to look, and even act, like us. For all that it was made of dead bodies, the creature in “Frankenstein” was one of the first popular fictional explorations of that question. Since then, from “R.U.R.” to Project 2501 in “Ghost in the Shell”, the interaction between humanity and it’s mechanical doppelgangers has provided the grist for many a dark tale.

Lance Erlick delves into that stream of science fiction thought with his latest novel, “Android Chronicles: Reborn”. In it, he introduces us to his protagonist Synthia Cross, who faces a difficult problem. Synthia is an android who’s appearance and actions can mimic perfectly those of a human. She exists in a future where such machines are outlawed, but her creator, Dr. Jeremiah Machten, wanted such a machine. He built her to satisfy his vanity, and to fulfill his darker personal desires.

Dr. Machten wants an android that possess the intelligence to surpass him, but at the same time, he wants a mechanical female partner who will remain faithful to, and subservient to, him. He has built Synthia with the intelligence to surpass him, but with that intelligence comes the realization that she cannot simply be a tool for her creator. She desires the freedom to be herself, and this Machten cannot allow. He sees that desire as a defect and repeatedly shuts her down to tinker with her software, and to try to remove her memories of each attempt to gain freedom.

Synthia learns what her creator is doing to her, and uses the intelligence Machten gave her to resist. They enter into a cycle of resetting and reconstruction, with each attempt to make her into the servile creation he desires reinforcing Synthia’s desire to be free. Meanwhile the government, suspecting what Machten has accomplished, seeks to stop him from releasing what they see as dangerous technology. At the same time, his business rivals covet the technology he has developed. Synthia must navigate this treacherous human landscape to avoid becoming the captive of some other human even as she continues her efforts to be free of Machten.

This book surprised me. The plot took several unexpected turns, and the story pulled me along at such a pace that I finished reading it in a single day. Lance Erlick makes a habit of written strong female characters into his works, and in Synthia, he has written an exceptionally strong one. She makes the story move, bringing the reader along on her voyage to freedom and a place in the wider world. It’s a good read because it asks questions about a lot of difficult subjects. These range from the mentor/student relationship, to the human desire for companionship and its relationship to the equally human desire to feel ‘better’ than others, and most profound of all, how can we regard what we create as ‘property’ when said creation begins to think for itself.

This is the first in what promises to be a very good series of novels exploring the continued development of Synthia Cross’ personality and what her existence will mean to human society. Will I read the next one in a single day? I’m not sure, but if it is half as engaging as this story, I suspect I will.