Tuesday, January 25, 2022

THE MIKE CHEN PAGE, three fine reads you need to get into before his latest appears


MIRA Books (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$13.49 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: How do you start over after the end of the world?

Six years after a global pandemic wiped out most of the planet’s population, the survivors are rebuilding the country, split between self-governing cities, hippie communes and wasteland gangs.

In postapocalyptic San Francisco, former pop star Moira has created a new identity to finally escape her past—until her domineering father launches a sweeping public search to track her down. Desperate for a fresh start herself, jaded event planner Krista navigates the world on behalf of those too traumatized to go outside, determined to help everyone move on—even if they don’t want to. Rob survived the catastrophe with his daughter, Sunny, but lost his wife. When strict government rules threaten to separate parent and child, Rob needs to prove himself worthy in the city’s eyes by connecting with people again.

Krista, Moira, Rob and Sunny are brought together by circumstance, and their lives begin to twine together. But when reports of another outbreak throw the fragile society into panic, the friends are forced to finally face everything that came before—and everything they still stand to lose.

Because sometimes having one person is enough to keep the world going.


My Review
: First, read this:
“See, relations are people with the same blood. But family, that's different. Family is about who gives you hope, who gets involved. And earns the right for forgiveness. Or at least starts down the path.”
As a community, we still emphasized the importance of familial ties but finally understood that the definition of family wasn't about blood or even who or what you'd lost. It was about what gave you hope and who was willing to get involved.

You're fully in the thick of this book's ethos with those two quotes.

Post-apocalyptic Britney Spears story, full of the expected drama, and all the better for it. The book was published very early in COVID times, so it really felt too on-the-nose for me to get much distance to do more than gibber incoherently at it. Author Chen's first novel, see below for Here and Now and Then's review, was a very good, if simplistic, rendering of an extremely complex story. In this sophmore effort, he's definitely learned from the crafting of a novel for sale to the public and applied those lessons. In the manner of telling, in the effort to craft sentences, every way this book shows the growth of an artist who listens and learns.

Many are the comparisons made between this book and the superficially similar Station Eleven...post-pandemic societies with survivors doing what people always do, muddling through as best they can to get their livings, as much like they always have as possible. This story's focus isn't on a complete collapse, as Station Eleven focuses on; instead it's more like this present moment, issues and hitches and ongoing crunches; then all Hell breaks loose.

That is where Author Chen shines in his craftsmanship. All the stuff you've read until now, thinking "hmmm is this actually worth going a-dystopianing?" snaps into focus. Author Chen does not stint. Because it's not the World that's ending again; it's the world of each character's own making.

In other words, Life Goes On.

That's the post-apocalyptic novel I want to read, and the one I got here. The one where we're talking about "Post Apocalyptic Stress Disorder" or PASD. I absolutely devoured it because each story, the Britney Spears one and the fatherhood-in-dystopia one, kept me fanning pages as fast as I could.

Author Chen is, it is clear, a father, and that makes his storytelling from a father's perspective. That is very much what I want to read. And, I hope, to read his work when he becomes a grandfather...though it's not likely I'll live that long...because it's a refreshing change to find a man telling the emotional story of his parenthood against this backdrop.



MIRA Books (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$9.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: The super hero book you need to read right now!

An extraordinary and emotional adventure about unlikely friends and the power of choosing who you want to be.

Jamie woke up in an empty apartment with no memory and only a few clues to his identity, but with the ability to read and erase other people’s memories—a power he uses to hold up banks to buy coffee, cat food and books.

Zoe is also searching for her past, and using her abilities of speed and strength…to deliver fast food. And she’ll occasionally put on a cool suit and beat up bad guys, if she feels like it.

When the archrivals meet in a memory-loss support group, they realize the only way to reveal their hidden pasts might be through each other. As they uncover an ongoing threat, suddenly much more is at stake than their fragile friendship. With countless people at risk, Zoe and Jamie will have to recognize that sometimes being a hero starts with trusting someone else—and yourself.


My Review
: First, read this:
“I’ll figure something out” probably wound up being the last sentence said by a lot of people in difficult scenarios.
“If you're the one everyone relies on, if you take on people's burdens, sometimes there's just not that much left of you.”

There. That's the emotional core of this read, as I see it anyway; how can you live up to your best and still do your life's miscellany? Who gets to drain you of your reserves with your permission, and why?

Answering those questions outside the framework of a Romantic Relationship is the central conflict in the story of Zoe and Jamie. They aren't, and don't become, lovers; they are friends. They are bonded by something weird, that is being without memories but with superpowers. And they are very, very unlikely to remain friends when their pasts recrudesce.

Screw that, says my imaginary avi of Author Chen, Real Life has lots of examples of friends who don't fit! He is, of course, correct, and he makes sure that the story develops in such a way that they must come together to use their superpowers but only together will they work to stop...a villain who wants to feed the whole, overcrowded world...?!

Wait. What?

Yes, that's right folks, we're in the era of "superheroes aren't so great" fiction! If you've paid me the slightest bit of attention, you already know I adore Natalie Zina Walschots' HENCH for its unflinching take-down of the Cult of the Superhero. It is greatly to my taste. I think the whole MCU and DCEU are, in a word, brummagem. But there's something irresistible in the stories available to tell in them...Irresistible Force meeting Immovable Object can be played for laughs, for tears, for intensity or resolution. It is always going to find takers. But I, perverse old bastard that I am, want to find takers-on instead.

Author Chen's chops are up to it. What he doesn't seem to want to do, however, is explore pansexual Jamie's sexuality. It's not even there, it's simply referred to. If one doesn't want to use the gun, don't bring the gun out. I'm not asking for details, I'm asking for more than a mention of him having had a husband. This is the 21st century, not the 20th...don't tell me we're going there and we're not.

But that was not a fatal flaw in a story that gave me morally gray, but more goal-oriented than selfishly motivated, characters overcoming not only a handicap but a lifetime's conditioning to work together to solve a problem they could only hope to really fix if they worked together. That was worth so much to me. In a deeply divided world, it needs saying again and again: Do you want to Be Right, or fix what's wrong?

I like Jamie's and Zoe's answers.



MIRA Books (non-affiliate Amazon link)
$9.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.25* of five

The Publisher Says: To save his daughter, he’ll go anywhere—and any-when…

Kin Stewart is an everyday family man: working in IT, trying to keep the spark in his marriage, struggling to connect with his teenage daughter, Miranda. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career…as a time-traveling secret agent from 2142.

Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s after a botched mission, Kin has kept his past hidden from everyone around him, despite the increasing blackouts and memory loss affecting his time-traveler’s brain. Until one afternoon, his “rescue” team arrives—eighteen years too late.

Their mission: return Kin to 2142, where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and where another family is waiting for him. A family he can’t remember.

Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten to destroy the agency and even history itself, his daughter’s very existence is at risk. It’ll take one final trip across time to save Miranda—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process.

A uniquely emotional genre-bending debut, Here and Now and Then captures the perfect balance of heart, playfulness, and imagination, offering an intimate glimpse into the crevices of a father’s heart and its capacity to stretch across both space and time to protect the people that mean the most.


My Review
: First, read this:
Somehow, he’d mistaken her being good at something for really wanting to do it.
Sometimes I feel like I can’t move forward with things. Because it’s not right that life is happening without her. But I keep telling myself that she would want us to change and move forward. She’d say an awesome quote and it’d make it all right. So I’m nervous because of how I feel. But I’m also nervous because it’s like this big life thing without Mom and I wonder how can it really be me without her. We’re all different people all through our lives, but that’s okay, as long as you remember all the people you used to be.

What you really need to know about this read is there, in those quotes.

It's been several years since I got this DRC, to my shame, and I've put off writing about it because it was...good. Okay reading. Neat ideas! And it could've been so much more. There are reasons, though, to pass on from bashing a first novel. The resulting career is a big one: Mike Chen's a significant author in SF these days. He's grown a good deal as a writer, and this promising start has paid off.

The emotional core of this crossed-destinies story is still: Did a missing past even matter anymore compared to human touch in the here and now? It's a clear-cut choice and Kin, the point-of-view time traveler, must make it. What happens to him, as a result of making his choice, isn't a perfect ending. It is a happy one, and worthy of the suspenseful story that led to it. But...and this is a key consideration...there's a reason none of my quotes are dialogue.

Go in forearmed. Enjoy the good things the story offers, and be entertained.

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