Book Review: Specific Impulse by Charles Justiz

Hey all…

What do you get when you cross Near Earth Objects (NEOs), two ex-military tactical and scientific experts, Las Vegas criminal organizations, an amazingly successful assassin, and a talking machine intelligence named FRED? You get one heck of a wild ride written by a real-life rocket scientist who also just happened to fly more than 15,000 hours for the Air Force and NASA. If you like amazing details, likeable characters, and thrillers by Robin Cook or Michael Crichton, you have to check out Specific Impulse by Charles Justiz.

My journey started with the first few chapters of the book that are available on Justiz’ website – CharlesJustiz.com. By the end of chapter 4, I was hooked enough that I knew I needed to read more. Those first chapters introduce you to scientist Carin Gonzales, former submarine commander Jake Sabio, and assassin with an agenda Antonio Crubari. Gonzales and Sabio manage to survive a strange explosion over the huge meteor crater near Winslow, Arizona… an explosion that mysteriously led to the deaths of everyone else at the crater at the time…

Things only get stranger for Carin and Jake from there as they start manifesting new abilities such as the ability to slow down combat and see minute details or even being able to smell minute traces of chemicals in the air around them that normal people would never notice. Add to that the head of a covert action squad with ties to Las Vegas crime and a poor FBI agent and his team who always seem to be a step behind and you’d have a strong science-based thriller already.

But Justiz doesn’t stop there. By the end of the book, there’s a third member of the Carin/Jake team named FRED who just happens to be a sentient computer who can help them out of numerous jams and a NEO that just might be more than it appears to be. All of these threads weave to a spectacular climax that’s only major flaw is that this is the first book of a planned trilogy and dang if the next book isn’t out yet!

Since Michael Crichton passed away, there have been no new science-based thriller writers who have really stepped up to wow me. Justiz not only has a grasp of how to make complex topics such as determining where the object that explodes above the crater came from or how the Doppler shift works…

The Doppler shift was the way you could tell when a train went by. The frequency of the sound suddenly shifts much lower, but Jake had it all wrong. Carin was shaking her head. “There’s no way the Doppler could have shifted. You’ll only hear a Doppler shift in the first place if some object changes in motion relative to you. This thing was coming at us the whole time, so the Doppler can’t even shift once, much less twice…”

Justiz also has a great grasp of working humor into his writing. The exchanges between Carin and Jake are full of sarcasm and many of the characters the pair run into, including the computer, add to the wry amusement scattered throughout. I absolutely loved Chief Tuckman, the police chief in a tiny Idaho town with an airstrip. The main pair help out Tuckman realize he’s in love with the diner owner at the airstrip. And you may be thinking “what’s romance got to do with a thriller”? But believe me when I say it works and provides a bit of comic relief along the way.

Somehow Specific Impulse manages to weave a compelling story with plausible science and great characters you can relate to, leaving you wanting more by the end. If you like science-based thrillers, be sure to check out Charles Justiz’ Specific Impulse. I wasn’t sure I was going to like the book, but now I know I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next one in the trilogy!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Be sure to pick up a copy of these great books at Barnes & Noble!

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TV Review: Covert Affairs Season Premiere

Hi there…

The first few days on any new job can be tough on anyone. But when you are shot at, caught in a car chase, and grilled by the FBI it’s a bit rougher than most. Annie Walker (Piper Perabo – Coyote Ugly, Beverly Hills Chihuahua) is the focus of a new show on the USA Network that continues the network’s amazing run with smart, unique series.

Covert Affairs introduces us to Walker, one of the CIA’s latest recruits. Even before she’s done with her training, she finds herself thrust in the middle of what should be a simple swap of information. Of course, things in the spy trade are rarely simple. Just ask burned spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) on another awesome USA series – Burn Notice.

The new show takes a different tack, pulling viewers into the spy world from the point of view of a new spy as opposed to an experienced one. But Annie’s not alone… She has help from Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham – Ugly Betty, Jake 2.0), a blind agent who uses technology and his experience from before the explosion that took his sight to guide Annie through some of the inter-office politics and intrigue she’ll have to deal with.

Her boss Danielle Gallagher (Kari Matchett – House, Mad Men, Leverage) runs the CIA’s Domestic Protection Division and is the wife of Arthur Campbell (Peter Gallagher – The O.C., American Beauty), the director of Clandestine Services for the CIA. Both present formidable challenges to Annie’s career as powerful individuals who can make or break her quickly.

Then there’s Annie’s family… Her sister Danielle (Anne Dudek – House, Mad Men) knows nothing of Annie’s life as a spy, which presents all sorts of twists since she’s living what seems to be her guest house. Danielle’s happy home life threatens to cause Annie just as many issues as her work at the CIA, which I found quite entertaining. Life is messy and this injects just enough mess into Annie’s life to keep her grounded.

Though he doesn’t appear until the second episode, Heroes‘ Sendhil Ramamurthy joins the cast as Jai Wilcox, an agent with family ties to the CIA. I’ll be very interested to see how Wilcox fits into the overall scheme of things in the series.

In the first episode, we meet Annie. She’s a capable, talented agent with a gift for languages plucked from the trainees for a special mission. All she has to do is go in with a pre-programmed phone to sync data with an assassin who wants to trade information for safety in the United States. That doesn’t go well and leads to a series of mini-adventures as the new spy tries to figure out what exactly is going on.

Perabo has been on my radar since seeing Coyote Ugly and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle back in 2000. But I have to admit that I hadn’t seen her in much since then. Now in her 30s, she seems more sure of herself than ever and hopefully can anchor a television series as the lead actor.

But it was the chemistry between Perabo and Gorham that I found the best part of the first episode. Gorham is another actor I’ve seen here and there but really came onto my radar with Jake 2.0, a series that reinvented the notion of a “Bionic Man” and didn’t last nearly long enough for me. As Gorham’s Auggie and Perabo’s Annie worked together, there seemed to be a fun comic and flirty element that provided a good balance to the show’s action scenes.

My favorite scene between the two characters was when they broke into the morgue and were caught by the authorities. Whether it was the writing that saved the day or the actors themselves, it was entertaining to see them hold to their cover stories when separated and questioned by the FBI. They of course couldn’t come out and say they were spies for the CIA, which isn’t sanctioned for work on domestic soil… so they came up with an amusing cover story involving a particularly kinky fascination…

Once I discovered USA’s Burn Notice, I’ve been a fan for four of five seasons. I’ll be interested to see how Covert Affairs compares to the continued success seen by the other shows on USA like White Collar, Royal Pains, and In Plain Sight. Hopefully Perabo, Gorham, and the rest of the cast can enjoy similar luck!

Be sure to check out the premiere episode on USA this Tuesday night, July 13, 2010, on USA at 10/9 Central. It’s an exciting ride for the first few days of a new CIA recruit!

This article first published on Blogcritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out these other great shows from USA Network on DVD!

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Book Review: Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

Hey there…

When you start a book with a short first chapter, you’d better make it memorable. For Patient Zero author Jonathan Maberry introduces us to our hero, Joe Ledger, with two sentences:

“When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world.

And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.”

From that point forward, I was hooked. Joe Ledger is a detective in Baltimore who’s spent the last year and a half involved in a task force comprised of various police departments and Federal agencies. The task force was assigned to keep tabs on a group of terrorists that may have been attempting to smuggle in some type of bioweapon. After 9/11, this is a scary, yet possible scenario I’m sure has been played out by many law enforcement personnel around the country.

When he gets picked up by a group of men with FBI credentials and taken to see a guy simply known as “Mr. Church”, he enters a whole different world. And there things start to get weird for Ledger. The trip turns out to be an interview for a federal agency that doesn’t exist – the Department of Military Sciences or DMS for short – and in order to get the job, he has to subdue a prisoner.

However, the prisoner turns out to be one of the terrorists he killed during a warehouse raid by the task force he was on. And though he was very dead (Ledger made sure) at the warehouse, this suspected terrorist was still trying to kill Ledger in an interview room – zombie style. That’s right – reanimated flesh intent on eating you and infecting you so you too become a member of the zombie army…

Maberry manages to do something I didn’t think was actually possible. He gave zombies a plausible reason for existing. And then he gives the secret to a group of terrorists intent on jihad.

In case you’re wondering, Ledger isn’t alone when he fights the zombies and terrorists. Mr. Church has an entire team of scientists and a small army working for him, including Major Grace Courtland of the British SAS, whom we become acquainted with.

I really don’t want to spoil the fun for you beyond saying I was hooked by this book from beginning to end. All too often when an author tries to merge the fantastic with aspects of the “real world,” we end up sacrificing something on either end to make the pieces fit together. Maberry managed to use the real world as a springboard to bring in zombies, neatly sidestepping the issues by using real science, real weapons, and real tactics to face the evils of bio-terrorism.

In addition, Maberry manages to work in some very funny scenes and quirks for his characters. For instance, Mr. Church always has cookies of various types with him – in his office or in meetings – and throughout the book Ledger munches on different cookies depending on the mood he’s in.

Another example of Maberry’s humor comes out in how he names his characters. One of the character’s names is “Bunny Rabbit” and the exchange goes like this as he introduces himself to Ledger…

“Bunny Rabbit, Force Recon, sir.”

“My last name is Rabbit. Everyone calls me Bunny.”

“It gets worse sir. My first name’s Harvey.”

In the story, the bad guys are bad. The good guys are good — most of them anyway. And along the way you keep wondering if Ledger will make it out alive from some of the situations he finds himself in. Suffice it to say he survives and I’ll be curious to see what Maberry has in store for Ledger and the rest of the DMS in the future.

The subtitle for Patient Zero is “A Joe Ledger Novel,” which implies to me that there will be other Joe Ledger novels. If so, sign me up. I want to see where Maberry takes his world next.

Be sure to check out Patient Zero at your favorite bookstore or online retailer. It’s great for summer reading, especially if you like zombies!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Patient Zero at your favorite local bookstore or at Amazon:

p.p.s. Also pick up the Zombie Survival Guide if you’re interested!

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