Book Review: Song of Kitaba by Mark Everglade

Book Title: Song of Kitaba
Author: Mark Everglade
Length: 252 Pages
Published: June 13th, 2022
Publisher: All Things That Matter Press
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction > Dystopia, Science Fiction > Cyberpunk

Disclaimer: A huge thank you to the author, Mark Everglade, for providing me with a physical copy for review! All opinions are of my own.

Goodreads: >LINK<
Author’s Page: >LINK<
Amazon: >LINK<

What if the world knew your deepest secrets? What if the government had a monopoly on your thoughts?

In the City of Catonis, everything you think is written across giant screens for public scrutiny, and revolution can only be cloaked with meditation.

Things are the opposite in the Hollow Forest, where people are executed for writing, and ink is rationed for only the tribal council’s use. When the love of her life is killed, Kitaba Mahahara must leave her village and launch a cultural war for human freedom, but she’ll need help. Cybermonks, hactivists, and tech gurus will unite as tradition runs face to face with the oppression that passes for progress.

Two civilizations, one without self-expression, and one forced to reveal everything, will pave a new way for humanity, if they don’t destroy it first.

The book starts off with Kitara making her escape from the Hollow Forest, the only place she’s ever called home. Whereas in the City of Catonis, where your every thought is displayed for the public to see, your life and privacy hold no rights here, with the only escape being meditation to learn and shut your brain off from the constant and unconscious streams of information and words it generates, things are very different in the outer villages.

Life is the complete in the villages; opposite to the big cities. Electricity exists as a basic aid, but otherwise, there’s nothing else: no computers, no drones, and certainly no implants in your brain and sentiscreens displaying your every thought to the world. But, what there IS is the (near) complete silencing of their citizens. Unless you were of upper class, everything from ink and crayons, to even carving messages into rocks, is forbidden. One is of a city that oppresses its people by displaying it all to the world, and the other is one that prevents such expressions. In both, the reasons are the same. If you monitory your people, with or without words, there will be no wars, revolutions, and rebellions. Two extremes and people seem to just…live with it. Some are even happy, because control means safety.

But for Kitaba, things are about to change and she will be the change. She will expose anbd show the world the oppression that hides behind the trees of her home. The only thing is, she’s not the only one with a goal.

This was a pretty enjoyable read. Right from the start, we have an adrenaline pumping scene as Kitaba escapes her village, and it’s not without obstacles. She’s left the village after having stolen illegal goods, not meant for the common folk and poor of Hollow Forest, and the guards after her. Dead or alive, it doesn’t matter, and there are a handful of times they’re so close that she can feel their breath. If you think this kind of action diminishes as she’s safely in Catonis, think again. Regardless of where she goes, Kit manages to attract trouble in every nook, cranny, and corner. Throughout the book, she’s always on the run from something or someone, and the only constant in her life is that she now has allies by her side.

The characters are fun to read, and the world building is fantastic, fascinating, and neither worlds that Kit experiences sounds like a fun place to live. The contrast between the different characters, particularly any tech-saavy individuals placed next to the “girl from the outer villages” was definitely interesting to read especially when she uses her own terms for things (like “complanter”). I really enjoyed reading Kitaba and some other characters like Gaines, the hacker, and his girlfriend Nova, as well as Ciro who is fiercely protective of Kitaba. The characters all have their own set of flaws and some of them are addressed by the end of the book.

Description and world wise, it was pretty neat to read both the technologically advanced Catonis and Hollow Forest. Each has their own distinct government, laws, and both are oppressed in their own extreme ways (show all words or none at all!). I love the description of Catonis, the different technology and lifestyles already dependent on such equipment and implants, though the culture of songs and sea-shell homes of Hollow Forest is nothing short of impressive on their own.

I also really liked the writing and the prose was one of the first things I noted down as soon as I began to read. Descriptions are not over the top, though some occasional world building scenes, whether it was dialogue or descriptive text, felt a little like reading a textbook. There are also some scenes that are dialogue heavy, but the whole thing reads like an impressive movie and I find myself lost in the banters and arguments as well as the philosophy that comes out of Ciro or Kitaba.

Overall: The characters are fleshed out with some fine set of traits, personalities, and (as expected) we get pretty deep with Kitaba’s personal history, but we also get some nice background wit Ciro and even the two supporting characters, Gaine and Nova get their own little chapter, an entire POV from each of them, dedicated to tell their stories to Kit (and thus the audience). The world building is neat, the concept that ink is illegal is pretty interesting, but the most fascinating thing were the cog implants, sentiscreens, and their ability to project your inner and most private thoughts to the world. Social media (essentially the volunterry versions of the involuntarily display of private information to the world) is mentioned in here as well and that was one interesting point of this book. Song of Kitaba really does make you sit down and think about inner thoughts, monitoring, secrecy, and privacy.

A great read of a scary world.

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[Book Review] Neo Cyberpunk: The Anthology

While I’ve been interested in sci-fi books a little more [and more] in the last few years, I decided to further dive into all three genres of sci-fi, cyberpunk, and dystopian, all of which are genres that I scarcely read (not because I avoid them but because they’re never genres I’ve actively sought out before). But thanks to games, specifically Cyberpunk 2077 and Astral Chain, I’ve been more and more interested in this bleak and dystopic future world full of technologically enhanced human beings. Cyberpunk felt like a world of despair, last chance survivals (for the human race), and where there is a valley between the rich and poor, rather than just a class gap. It feels like humanity going towards advancement and took the wrong turn somewhere, ending up in a remote and desolate location of nothing but sand and “no service.”

I’ve never been one for short stories (so I guess we can add that to the list of new things I tried and liked), but I thought that if I were to go into a brand genre, one of the best ways to do so is to grab an anthology of shorts, take a deep breath, and dive right in exploring every reef, critter, and bubble that you encounter in the depth of this new world.

There were a handful of other, more known, anthologies out there that I could have chosen, such as Burning Chrome, but I was attracted by the very blue cover (even more blue in real life) and of course the android on the front.

Book Description

Title: Neo Cyberpunk: The Anthology
Authors: Anna Mocikat, Matthew A. Goodwin, Marlin Seigman, Elias J. Hurst, Jon Richter, A.W. Wang, Matt Adcock, Nik Whittaker, Mark Everglade, Tanweer Dar, James L. Graetz, Patrick Tillett, Eric Malikyte, Benjamin Fisher-Merritt, and Luke Hancock
Edition: Physical > Paperback
Length: 369 Pages
Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction, Sci-fi > Cyberpunk, Sci-fi > Dystopian, Anthology

This was a pretty interesting book, a total of 15 short stories by different authors. The theme for all of theme is cyberpunk of course, but you get everything from jacking in, to gangs, to VR games, and…neurolinking to a crocodile. Some of the stories are lighter than the others, but there’s no real pretty light going on. Everything is bleak. At one point I stopped reading, stared at a wall, and went, “Man the future feels pretty sad.” There are some stories that felt a bit like fables, teaching a lesson somehow, and others that were downright intriguing to look back and think about. There are some interesting technological things happening and there are some stories that left you pondering and thinking.

Overall, I thought this was a lovely book and I had a great time with it! It’s a nice way to start exploring the genre too. I will eventually try to read Burning Chrome too, a recommendation that was provided to me during the Cyberpunk Day stream (by others in the chat) and I’m glad I ventured to try new things because it feels like the beginning of a new friendship to me.

“Defined in shorthand by the phrase, ‘high tech / low life,’ cyberpunk is so much more than rainy nights, neon lights, cybernetic enhancements, flying cars, digital worlds, and punks fighting an oppressive establishment.

It is a genre of philosophical questions about the nature of society, humankind’s relationship with technology, and what it means to be human. Growing out of a time where technology was becoming all the more omnipresent, laws governing corporations were slackening, and fashion was becoming about form over function, the questions raised by cyberpunk have only become more vital.”

Excerpt of Foreword by Matthew A Goodwin

Blurb

A clone searching for her identity, an android out of control, a young man fleeing from killer-cyborgs, a synthwave DJ whose music slays, a deadly videogame – and a very hungry cyber-croc.

Welcome to the world of Neo Cyberpunk!

Fifteen of the hottest contemporary cyberpunk authors have joined forces to create a unique anthology. In this book readers will find the full spectrum of modern-day cyberpunk, full of action, mystery, technology and humanity.

Cyberpunk is Now!

Microreviews [for each story]

  1. Vice Grip by Matthew A Goodwin ⭐⭐⭐⭐ I liked it. Writing and story kind of like a fable. Teaches a lesson somehow.
  2. We Are the Good Guys by Anna Mocikat ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Damn life sure sucks for MC. Nothing is ever so easy in life, especially if you live in a corporate future.
  3. Collateral by Marlin Seigman ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 So interesting that this was written in a kind of deadpan tone. Really mimics the emotionally repressed MC that tells the story.
  4. Cleaners by Jon Richter ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ This was absolutely outstanding and brilliant story with a fantastic twist at the end. Great prose too!
  5. The Volunteer by A.W. Wang ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ VR setting like sword art online with lots to lose! Another fantastic one. I loved the MC’s character portrayal of a jaded and tired man with no more hope or shits left to give. Nothing but survival and one foot in front of the other left for MC. Poor guy.
  6. Requiem by Nik Whittaker ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Interesting, kind of cool, kind of creepy.
  7. The Woman In White by Elias J. Hurst ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Interesting and exciting! I liked how this one played through and ended.
  8. Buzz Kill 2.0 by Matt Adcock ⭐⭐⭐ Not for me, my worst nightmare come true. Bugs but extra deadly. Concept is pretty neat though.
  9. Pay-To-Play by Mark Everglade ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Prose is choppy choppy! Somewhere between or maybe a mix of street slang and poetry, but falls short of purple. Descriptive. Chaotic and exciting, just like the story. Makes for an interesting read. Cool world and thought that the writing during the drunk scene was pretty spot on!
  10. The Demonstration by Tanweer Dar ⭐⭐⭐⭐ AI’d androids are never good news. Their growing intelligence is terrifying, especially when paired with their capabilities.
  11. Crushed (A Neo Rackham Short) by Eric Malikyte ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Crushed is right! Crushed my heart! This was a depressing read with a depressing ending…
  12. Cybercroc by James L. Graetz ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 Always intrigued about human to beat soul/mind links and connections. Kind of neat and quite cool. Honestly, what a wild short and concept.
  13. The Thirst of the Machine by Benjamin Fisher-Hermitt ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Loved all the ads every few seconds! Truly living the future world of corporations. It’s like the algorithm ads that pop up no except taken to a crazy level! Enjoyed the mystery and didn’t see that ending coming!
  14. Breakneck by Luke Hancock ⭐⭐⭐.5 Interesting to think about a world of people addicted to games as they would drugs, nicotine, or alcohol. Sure, we have gaming addicts now, but these people are willing to DIE for this.
  15. The Modern Panoptes by Patrick Tillett ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Wow! One hell of a way to end a cyberpunk anthology! Really left me thinking! The adrenaline, the speed, the world that left the poor in the dust of the rich. Amazing time through and through with a great ending.

The Hands We’re Given [Book Review]

Book Name: The Hands We’re Given
Author: O.E. Tearmann
Book Type: Ebook > Kindle
Pages: 428
Genre: Science Fiction > Cyberpunk, LGBT, Romance > MM Romance, Dystopia, Fiction, Military Fiction

There’s graphic sex scenes in this book. (The author even provided a warning at the beginning of the book and I’m happily surprised. Kind of wish more authors did this and more books came with warnings.)

Cover from GR. Find the book’s page >HERE<

I came across the book during my search for some cyberpunk reads (right around the time Cyberpunk 2077 was released). It sounded interesting and dystopian enough and with a ragtag team trope, the “Holy shit I sorta kinda don’t know how I landed myself into a commander position” main character, the themes around LGBTQA+, and the joker/ace/cards vibe, I was ready for a good time; sort of like…the many cherries on top.

Summary

It’s 2155 and America has completely changed. Gone are the days where we had political parties; Corporate America (named the United Corporations of America) runs the show now. 

Our team is a base for a group called the Democratic State Force, whose mission is to fight back against the Corporation and the dystopic hell they’ve given birth to. Base 1407 is unlike any of the other bases. They stand out and have quite the reputation that sets them apart. Named the Wildcards, their records are peppered with disciplinary write-ups. But it’s not just this behavior and attitude of theirs that leads to them having as insane of a reputation as they do. They had, in the past two years, 198 successful mission whereas the average per base was around 75 successful missions in that same given period. They were effective. They were good at their job. VERY good.

But after Commander Taylor passes away, they haven’t been on their game and have already run out two seasoned commanders off their base. It’s Aidan’s job to get them back on the mission. With their increase in disciplinary write-ups lately, the sector is threatening to disband them if Aidan fails to get them back into shape. One last commander, one last chance for the Wildcards. 

According to rumor, the Wildcards had been unstoppable. The stories about missions they’d pulled off, executives they’d disgraced by outing information to the Net, and things they’d invented were legendary. The base had been insane in their success record until the commander who had led them had developed bone cancer. No one had been able to supply the base with the right treatments. In the six months before the man’s death, everything in the unit’s record had gone to shit.

Tearmann, O. E.. The Hands We’re Given (Aces High, Jokers Wild Book 1) (pp. 15-16). Amphibian Press. Kindle Edition. 

The last two commanders to replace Taylor had been complete assholes who nearly worked the team to death. When Aidan first joins, the Wildcards are not pleased. Some are already planning on how to get this one to high tail out of their base; pranks and snippy greetings included. They don’t trust him in the slightest and Aidan? He doesn’t want to be there. They have enough of a reputation to scare him even before his first day at work and it truly is his FIRST day at work. He’s straight out of commander training and he would rather be anywhere but at the head of a terrifying base that two other “seasoned” commanders couldn’t even handle.

Review

The characters are very interesting and each have their unique personalities and roles to the team. Every team member is a tailor fit to what the base needs and losing any of the Wildcards would be a devastating blow to the base. Aidan is our commander who is struggling with his transition from female to male (physically: his lack of resources to acquire the surgeries he needs and mentally: his previous confidant had let his secret slip and it ended up horribly). He’s got horrible anxiety and occasionally questions himself on his role and competence as a leader. But honestly, this makes sense. He’s fresh out of training and has never commanded any other bases before. The Wildcard is a wild place to start your commanding and leadership career so naturally Aidan has his fear.

Worldbuilding is done nicely here too. You get small glimpses of a future run by corporations that fall together to form the portrait of the “What Could Be” of America being run by megacorps rather than political parties. In this future, genetic manipulation is the norm. You either come perfect and on the Corps’ side, or you’re not, and good as dead or worse, be an enemy of the Corps. 

The bases are located just outside the Corp zones; close enough for them to act on their missions and for supply stock ups but far away enough to stay hidden from the watchful eyes of the Corporation. Life on the outside is tough but when it comes to fighting, there isn’t much of it.

I love the characters. I love Aidan because I could relate to his work anxieties. I loved Kevin for collections of things considered antiques in this future (including old films, movies, music and even outdated WORDS.) In this time and period, certain words are so outdated, they’re considered antiques and people might give you a weird or confused look for using them like. Quixotic? Sovereignty? What the heck are those?? I think one of my favorite things about this book were all the words that people didn’t know because they were “antiquated words.” I wish I took better notes on this book for every word Kevin used that he got blank faces in return for. It really shows the passage of time when certain words we might use today falls out of use by 2155.

And then you have the other smaller things that sets that world apart from ours. Corrective eye surgery is normal. You don’t even have to be a rich Corp to fix your vision problems. Even as a Duster, you get weird looks for having glasses. Why risk being a liability when glasses get blown off your face, while running and hiding, when you can permanently fix vision issues? Aidan has a holograph of his sister on a tablet that he consults for his anxiety or for personal advice. Sure it feels a bit more like the colder and more soulless version of your deceased friends and family…but they’re programmed to be as close to their original personalities as possible (I would like one please). This world is rich with new things and the differences between what you can access on and off the grid is very notifiable. What you might be able to easily get on grid could potentially cost you your life out in the Dust.

This book did not disappoint me. The characters are complex and the relationships are complicated. Characters can be flawed. People get angry and they might stop talking to each other (to a given extent; cold shouldering isn’t exactly a safe way to go about when teamwork and cooperation is a 110% necessity for survival sake). They make up and sit through problems together. They grow with each other. New friendships are made as characters, who hated each other in the beginning, learn to understand the other. This book taught me that not every military fiction needs to run on guns and combat. Sometimes, stealth and running away is how you win a fight. It’s not about engaging with the enemy, it’s about living another day for the sake of your base! Actions, even if done in the interest of others, can result in an entire base’s collapse.. You have to think for yourself and your base for every action you decide upon.

Tearmann paints a rich world, even if it’s no longer so bright. I just kind of wish there was a glossary for all the new terms in this book. They insult each other with the word Gamma! Like… “You gamma dipshit”, “You gamma bastard”, “That gamma piece of garbage” 110% amusing. Love it.

I savored the little pieces scattered everywhere through the book. There were so many small moments that really made this an enjoyable read (such as the “old” words or “pre-dissolution aged music”). I loved the depth of the characters and their growths. I loved the descriptions of the Corporate world and the Dusters. O.E. Tearmann did a great job with this book and a fantastic job tackling many different topics. This is only a glimpse of the major antagonist. Book 1 sets the premise and introduces the reader to what’s to come. An exciting start to the Aces High, Jokers Wild series.

“NatBank buys us and ZonCom sells. 
ArgusCo tells us where we dwell. 
TechCo owns what we read and play. 
AgCo decides what we eat today. 
EagleCorp tells us to obey. 
Cavanaugh drugs us to make us well. 
But one day we’ll ring the Liberty Bell. 
And then all the Corps will go to Hell.”

Tearmann, O. E.. The Hands We’re Given (Aces High, Jokers Wild Book 1) (p. 79). Amphibian Press. Kindle Edition.