Book Review – Night Shadow by B.K. Bass

2019 was the last time the world was normal. Our president was loud-mouthed idiot, but we’d learned to make fun of him, everyone was still working in offices, and we didn’t have to wear masks everywhere or listen to mouth-breathers explain how vaccines turned us into mindless robots with 5g connectivity. Covid was lurking, but it was still in the shadows, and we all had heady expectations of 2020 being a great year instead of the massive cluster-fuck it turned out to be.

2019 was also the year I got to read B.K. Bass’s first entry in his Night Trilogy – Night Shift. It was a novella focused on taking a traditional hard-boiled detective and dropping him into a cyberpunk reality with all the fun gritty nastiness one would expect from such a mashup. Early 2020 saw the release of part two – Night Life – where the antes were upped and nastiness got, uh, nastinesser. Nastierness. Let’s just call it a good time in a city that likes to eat people.

Now 2021 is grinding to a halt and sharpening its claws for one last dig into our throats, but at least we’ve got the conclusion of Bass’s trilogy – Night Shadow.

Night Shadow finishes the adventures of Harold Jacobson, now on the run and hiding out while he plots his revenge. The world has other plans for him, though, and Harold finds himself stuck in the middle of fiery revolution that will leave the city quietly sobbing to itself in the corner. Being the badass that he is, ol’ Harold will find a way to use the revolt to his own gains.

While the first two books in the series focused on corruption growing like a cancer in the shadows, Night Shadow lets the cancer loose on an unsuspecting city. My guess would be Night Shadow was heavily influenced by the events of summer 2020 (see, there was a reason I was talking about last year). 2020 was the year the United States exploded. Too much pressure, too much uncertainty, and way too much fear and loathing. Bass manages to capture that powder keg atmosphere in Night Shadow and isn’t afraid to let it loose.

It could be argued that there’s a certain meta-ness to the story. A hint that while the revolution is of the people and for the people, there are plenty of folks out there who, for better or worse, have no qualms about using the chaos to their ends. The final entry in the Night trilogy is bigger and badder than the first two and takes us in an unexpected direction. It still feels like part of the trilogy, though, and that’s no mean feat to pull off.

Taken as a collection, it could be argued that there was a certain prescience in the trilogy. All the corruption and violence of the first two books only served to increase the pressure until an explosion was inevitable. The ethical quandaries of exploiting the explosion aside, the only question left to ask is whether Harold did the right thing for all the wrong reasons or the wrong thing for all the right reasons.

And questions like that are what cyberpunk/detective-noir mashups are all about.

New Angeles is in turmoil.

The government, the corporations, and the organized crime families have the city in an iron grip. As that grip tightens, the people decide they will not take it anymore. When the citizens rise up and the city burns, Harold sees an opportunity to exploit the chaos.

But is his crusade one of justice, or vengeance?

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Book Review – Night Life by B.K. Bass

Serial literature is gaining a resurgence in popularity thanks to ebook publishing. Way back in the murky mists of time, novellas were very much a thing because they were cheap to print and people could consume them during lunches and other off hours. Tastes changed over time and novellas fell out of fashion in favor of massive tomes of fiction that could break your toe if they fell on it. And that was for the paperbacks.

Anyway, novellas and serial literature take a certain kind of author to pull off. You have to come up with a story that’s not novel length and can’t be wrapped up in a short story. Duh, right? It’s a little trickier than it seems. If a story is too simple – think a tightly packed short story – there is no way to extend it to novel length without it being obvious that some filler got tossed in. The original Star Trek movie (yeah, the one from ’79) was like that. It had enough story for a television episode because that’s what it was supposed to be. Everything else was filler. Conversely, the recent Dark Tower movie was abysmal because it condensed 4,316 pages into 95 minutes. Not even the magic of Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey could save that one.

So there’s a fine line to tread. Not too short. Not too long.

Back in December, B.K. Bass threaded the needle with Night Shift, a taut, tense cyberpunk-detective-noir crossover. As with its predecessor, the newest edition in Bass’s Night Trilogy, Night Life, maintains that same taut, uh, tenseness. Is that a word? If it wasn’t, it is now. Both books read like classic detective novellas with bad guys and anti-heroes and basically no one to trust. Bass does an admirable job of building a world that no one in their right mind would want to live in and then dropping his characters into it. His characters are natural products of the gritty, rain-soaked, neon-drenched, flashing, filthy city. They feel like they belong there. Like no matter how many times you take the fire hose to them, the stench of life will cling to them like that a needy girlfriend.

Also, as with Night Shift, Night Life carefully treads the rails of technology. In Cyberpunk, as with Sci-Fi, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of over-describing the tech and letting it be the star of the show. I like my laptop, but I don’t want to read a book about it. Bass keeps the narrative centered. He allows the technology to exist and to be a force lurking in the background, but it never takes center stage. The center of Bass’s stage is reserved for corrupt politicians, mobsters, and all the delightfully seedy things they do.

If you like your Cyberpunk more punk than cyber, check out Bass’s Night Trilogy.

Night Life will be available for purchase on August 11, 2020 from all the usual places, although that date may get pushed forward. If the release date changes, I’ll update this page. You can find links to Amazon, Kobo, and B&N on his website.

Framed for murder, detective Harold Jacobson must delve into the gritty underbelly of the city if he wants to clear his name. To solve the crime pinned on him, he must first solve the murder of a local woman. From the steel towers of downtown to seedy nightclubs and decrepit slums, Harold delves into the night life of the city to pull the threads of the mystery together and becomes part of the criminal element he once hunted down. Going off the grid in New Angeles can be deadly, but he’s out of options and out of patience.

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Book Review – What They Deserve by Sam Hendricks

There’s this running meme that’s been popping up lately about talking on phone in the 50s and being concerned that the line was tapped. Flash forward to 2019 and you’ve got a woman asking Alexa, “Hey, wiretap, what’s a good recipe for pancakes?”

It’s possible to debate the ins and outs of tech like Alexa, Siri, whatever Google’s calling their robo-assistant lately, but it’s not possible to debate the unintended side-effects of having a box sitting in your living room that’s listening to everything you say. Nor is it wise to debate the fact that you just paid good money to give every advertiser on the planet direct access to your house.

Now, I honestly don’t believe big tech has any nefarious plans for Alexa beyond finding new and exiciting ways to sell you shoes and non-stick pans, but what if that weren’t the case?

Sam Hendricks took that scenario, shook it up a little,  and added a hefty dose of mystery and crafted something uniquely terrifying not because of monsters or the existential threat of nuclear annihilation, but because of the extremely close proximity to our own world. A world where tech can provide a sense of security, much like a wall that keeps the bad guys out and controls the sanctity of the Reformed United States.

It’s control that’s the key to the story. Walls can be climbed or flown over or even tunneled under, but a good piece of tech can be even better at keeping people under control. And it’s into that world that Hendricks drops us with a smile and a wave.

What They Deserve is relatively short story, along the lines of a novella, but Hendricks packs it full of information. In the tradition of good writers, she doles out bits of data a byte at a time rather than giving us a full tedious, historical dump. Aside from being a nervous-making tale of technological and tyrannical woe, it’s a fun story that might leave you wondering about the technology we use every day and how it could impact our lives. I’m sure Alexa will have more information about that, though.

Highly entertaining, well-paced, and fun. This could be the start of a great series, if Sam was so inclined to write it.

SEATTLE, WA: 2053.

Summer Wilkins, the official spokesperson for the Reformed United States, is still grieving the loss of her son when a shocking murder rocks the city. After her husband is implicated, she’s drawn into a rebellion that’s ready to do anything to find out the truth behind the new “Inevix patches” being distributed to the public. Murder, mystery, and politics abound as Summer finds out that the biggest secrets are being hidden in her own family.

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