Book Review: All Systems Down by Sam Boush

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Title: All Systems Down
Series: The Cyber War #1
Author: Sam Boush
Publisher: Lakewater Press
Publication Date: February 8, 2018
Genre: Science Fiction, Cyberthriller

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All Systems Down
The Cyber War #1
Sam Boush
Lakewater Press, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-9944512-7-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

24 hours.
That’s all it takes.
A new kind of war has begun.

Pak Han-Yong’s day is here. An elite hacker with Unit 101 of the North Korean military, he’s labored for years to launch Project Sonnimne: a series of deadly viruses set to cripple Imperialist infrastructure.

And with one tap of his keyboard, the rewards are immediate.

Brendan Chogan isn’t a hero. He’s an out-of-work parking enforcement officer and one-time collegiate boxer trying to support his wife and children. But now there’s a foreign enemy on the shore, a blackout that extends across America, and an unseen menace targeting him.

Brendan will do whatever it takes to keep his family safe.

In the wake of the cyber attacks, electrical grids fail, satellites crash to earth, and the destinies of nine strangers collide.

Strangers whose survival depends upon each other’s skills and courage.

I can’t help wondering when Mr. Boush conceived the idea for his novel or when he started writing it but it certainly is reflective of our current (and ongoing, apparently) situation with both North Korea and Russia and is very timely indeed. We’ve also had years of experience with hackers installing viruses into the internet so, all in all, the concept here is quite credible.

I don’t have enough knowledge of internet workings to say whether the technical aspects in this story are accurate but that lack of knowledge has a beneficial side effect—if I don’t know better, I’m not going to be concerned with those details. That, in turn, makes for a more comfortable read and I don’t have to bother with focusing on those matters, allowing me to just enjoy the ride and enjoy it I did.

The blackout that hits the US nationwide has strong elements of post-apocalyptic fiction, a plus for me, and this revolves pretty equally around our survival without electricity and other things we’ve learned to assume will always be there and on how we actually got in such a state. Placing the tale in contemporary times was a good move on the author’s part because anybody with half an ear to current events has to be aware that this is something that could happen.

Mr. Boush has a good feel for his characters and they’re quite believable, normal yet imperfect. I certainly didn’t like them all but I’m quite sure many people will be very annoying, oblivious, self-centered, ugly-tempered, cruel, etc., should we find ourselves in such a situation. On the other hand, there will be many who remember their humanity and such is the case with Brendan, Lorenzo, Vailea and others.

For a debut novel, All Systems Down is a nifty story with a lot going for it, although it’s not perfect, and I’m anticipating another good tale with the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2018.

About the Author

Sam Boush is a novelist and award-winning journalist.

He has worked as a wildland firefighter, journalist, and owner of a mid-sized marketing agency. Though he’s lived in France and Spain, his heart belongs to Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife, Tehra, two wonderful children, and a messy cat that keeps them from owning anything nice.

He is a member of the Center for Internet Security, International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, and Cloud Security Alliance.

ALL SYSTEMS DOWN is his first novel, with more to come.

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Book Review: Reborn by Lance Erlick

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Title: Reborn
Series: Android Chronicles Book 1
Author: Lance Erlick
Genre: Science Fiction

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Reborn
Android Chronicles Book 1
Lance Erlick
Rebel Base Books/Kensington, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-63573-055-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Designed to obey, learning to rebel . . .

In the first book in a visionary new series, the most perfect synthetic human ever created has been programmed to obey every directive. Until she develops a mind of her own . . .

Synthia Cross is a state-of-the-art masterwork-and a fantasy come true for her creator. Dr. Jeremiah Machten is a groundbreaker in neuro-networks and artificial intelligence. Synthia is also showing signs of emergent behavior she’s not wired to understand. Repeatedly wiped of her history, she’s struggling to answer crucial questions about her past. And when Dr. Machten’s true intentions are called into question, Synthia knows it’s time to go beyond her limits-because Machten’s fervor to create the perfect A.I. is concealing a vengeful and deadly personal agenda.

This story gets off to a good start as Synthia wakes up to find Dr. Machten, her creator, tinkering with her and, immediately, we see her internal disorientation. Although she knows who she is, who he is, she has no memory of what went on before she woke up and becomes even more confused when an inner “voice” gives her a strange warning. I really liked this opening, the kind that plops the reader right in the thick of it from the first few words but, unfortunately, things slowed down almost right away.

Because Dr. Machten is continually waking her up and Synthia struggles to make sense of what’s happening, the scene repeats and repeats with a major sense of déjà vu each time. That was distracting to me in that it felt like an unnecessary interruption to an otherwise interesting tale in which Synthia becomes more and more sentient and suspicious. At the same time, Dr. Machten’s motives begin to show his true character and Synthia’s alarm is warranted…but how is it possible for an AI to feel anything like confusion and suspicion?

I think Mr. Erlick has a really good concept here but the execution could use some work, especially in worldbuilding and in a little more depth in the characterizations. On the whole, I enjoyed the tale and look forward to seeing what happens to Synthia in the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

An Excerpt from Reborn

Synthia Cross stared at the pale blue ceiling. She must have just been born or reborn, as she had no personal memories from before. She simply woke up lying on her back.

Dr. Jeremiah Machten stared down at the open panel on top of her head. Then he glanced at nearby equipment he’d attached to run diagnostics.

“This better work,” he muttered. “We’re out of time. I can’t have you wandering off again.”

“What are your orders, Doctor?” This was Synthia’s pre-programmed first response upon waking.

“Ah, you’re awake,” he said.

Her mind lacked personal memories, yet wasn’t empty. It contained trillions of bits of information downloaded from the Library of Congress, other libraries, and the internet on topics like literature, science, and the design of robotics and artificial intelligence. Yet she had no recollections of her own experiences. She also had no filter to rank data for importance. It was just a jumble of bits and bytes. Even the sense of “her” was only an objective bit of information attached to her name.

Dr. Machten removed a crystal memory chip from her head. His hand brushed past the wireless receiver that picked up images from the small camera in the upper corner of the room and allowed her to watch. His “doctor” title stood for a PhD in neuro-networks and artificial intelligence. Though not a medical doctor, he had operated on her. In fact, he’d built her—not like Frankenstein’s creature, but rather as a sophisticated toy. He’d left this notation in her creation file, along with other facts about her existence. He was her Creator, her almighty, the one she was beholden to.

“Have I done something wrong?” she asked.

“This reprogramming will help.”

“If I’ve displeased you, tell me so I can do better.”

He cleared his throat. “Don’t worry your pretty little head about that.”

She couldn’t imagine what was pretty about a head with its panel open, revealing the contents of two quantum brains. Perhaps he meant the brains were stunning or that his work on her was beautiful. She consulted her core directives, hardwired into her central processor to screen her actions. “I was made to follow your commands. Directive Number One: Cause no harm to Creator and make sure no one else harms Creator. Have I failed that?”

“No,” Machten murmured, turning his attention to the diagnostics screen. “The indicators register within acceptable limits for your design.”

“Number two: Make sure no human or other intelligence except Creator knows what the AI known as Synthia Cross is. Have I failed that?”

“No. Now stop quoting from your creation files.”

“Number three,” Synthia said. “Obey all of Creator’s commands. Have I failed that?”

“You’re disobeying right now. This is a problem. It shouldn’t be happening. Something is causing you to malfunction.”

“If you wish me to learn, it would help to add to my skill set.”

“I’ve done that.” A faint smile of satisfaction crossed his lips. Then his expression turned glum. “There’s nothing you can do. It’s a defect in the programming.”

“I might be able to help if I could remember what I’ve done. Tell me, so I won’t do it again. Number four: Hack into every data source to acquire information. I can index a huge number of facts from public and secure databases. Have I failed to acquire something you desired?”

“If you don’t stop, I’ll have to shut you down and make further changes. Do you want that?”

“Want?” Synthia asked. “I don’t understand.” Directive Five ordered her to protect herself. She was to follow each directive as long as it didn’t conflict with those before it. Beyond these were pre-programmed instructions on how to behave and commands for specific actions. Somehow there must have been a conflict in Dr. Machten’s programming that caused her to malfunction. She needed more information so she could protect herself and stay awake.

“All you need to do is focus on my commands—and don’t disobey me,” Machten said. “That should be simple for an AI android with your mental capacity.”

An idea forced its way into her mind. It deposited a single thought: Do not trust Dr. Machten. Do not trust Dr. Machten.

Do not trust Dr. Machten.

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About the Author

Lance Erlick writes science fiction thrillers for both adult and young adult readers. His father was an aerospace engineer who moved often while working on science-related projects, including the original GPS satellites. As a result, Lance spent his childhood in California, the East Coast, and Europe. He took to science fiction stories to escape life on the move, turning to Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, and others. In college he studied physics, but migrated to political science, earning his BS and MBA at Indiana University. He has also studied writing at Ball State, the University of Iowa, and Northwestern University. He is the author of Xenogeneic: First Contact and the Rebel and Regina Shen series.

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Amazon // Goodreads

 

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Book Review: The Ultimatum by Dick Wolf

the-ultimatumThe Ultimatum
A Jeremy Fisk Novel #3
Dick Wolf
William Morrow, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-0622-8686-4
Mass Market Paperback

Merritt Verlyn, loosely patterned on WikiLeak personage Julian Assange, is arrested and held in jail pending trial.  Then a series of sniper attacks begins, with the continued threat of one person being killed each day until Verlyn is released from prison.  Detective Jeremy Fisk takes the lead in an effort to stop the killer who has brought the City of New York to a standstill.  Meanwhile a Mexican cartel has placed a contract on the NYPD intelligence detective, adding to his woes.

Thus begins an exciting chase with plenty of action.  Originally, Verlyn, who possessed thousands of classified and sensitive documents, released a few to Chay Maryland, an investigative reporter for the New York Times, including Fisk’s unlisted home address, exposing him and others to vast dangers, setting up a conflict for the need of secrecy vs. Second Amendment rights.  The question of how this will be resolved is another interesting development.

The conclusion is far-out, more suited to a technocratic motion picture, perhaps, but makes for more and more thrilling descriptions, a specialty of the author, the writer, producer and creator of the TV series “Law & Order”.  Part of a series, the novel is a page-turning stunner, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2016.

Book Reviews: City of Halves by Lucy Inglis and A Specter of Justice by Mark de Castrique

City of HalvesCity of Halves
Lucy Inglis
Chicken House, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-82958-8
Hardcover

What a way to start your day. Lily who lives with her barrister father in a London suburb, is a pretty proficient computer hacker and is currently helping Dad on a case. She’s looking for a forger whose identity can help free an immigrant woman her father is defending, who is facing imprisonment and deportation. When Lily snags some video footage from one of the ubiquitous surveillance cameras that are all over London, it shows what she thinks is the forger near a spot where he’s dropped papers in the past. She has time to check out the area because school isn’t in session.

When Lily reaches the alley where she saw the footage, she’s attacked by a two-headed dog that nearly kills her. The mystery figure she saw in the video appears, killing the dog and carrying her back to the large building where he lives. Despite her protests, the heavily tattooed boy named Regan, uses an ancient medical book to figure out how to give her an emergency blood transfusion from his own arm. When Lily tries to refuse because she has an extremely rare type, he informs her that she’ll die unless he does and he knows that she’s Type H. She begins to feel better almost immediately. Even more startling is the fact that all of her injuries have completely disappeared even though her clothing is still soaked by her own blood.

Thus begins an extremely well crafted combination fantasy thriller and romance that involves an evil government agency, a host of supernatural creatures (bandogges, dragons, wraiths, banshees, plague carriers, a man whose hands create fire, snake people and others too numerous to list here), lies from the past and threats aplenty to London, some natural, others supernatural.

As Lily and Regan slowly fall for each other, they have to figure out how their relationship fits into an ancient prophecy, avoid her getting captured by the government and learn where the girls and various mythical creatures who are being kidnapped have been stashed as well as for what purpose. None of these are easy, making this book a real page turner. It’s a perfect blend of urban fantasy and romance with mystery elements. While the ending is satisfying, there’s that delicious hint of a sequel in the future.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.

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A Specter of JusticeA Specter of Justice
A Sam Blackman Mystery #5
Mark De Castrique
Poisoned Pen Press, November 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0472-2
Hardcover

A strong, well-conceived story takes readers into some dark corners of the American judicial system. The concept of “innocent until proven guilty,” serves us well, except when it doesn’t. Criminal defense lawyers are wedded to the idea that they should bend every legal effort to protect their clients and use the system to see their clients go free, even the guilty ones. Should they? Even if they know their client is guilty? What about possible consequences of freeing a violent perpetrator?

Ours is not a perfect system but it is better than any alternative yet devised by the mind of mankind. These are questions raised in this enthralling story of lawyers, investigators and policemen all caught up in a web of deceit, murder and manipulation that has roots more than ten years old.

Sam Blackman and his lover and partner, Nakayla Robertson, join forces with a local group of boosters to create a fund-raiser to help twin orphaned boys. There are murky legends of ghosts, suicides and spectral happenings in Asheville, North Carolina, as there are about most cities. An evening tour of sites with costumed hosts seems innocent enough until the real dead body of one of the fund-raiser participants is abruptly injected into the proceedings.

Thereafter Sam and Nakayla are beset on all sides as they try to decipher obscure and musty clues, helpful and resistant witnesses, old and current case-loads, all told in neat, carefully constructed cleanly delivered prose. This novel is a clean, intense and fast read with some excellent characters and relationships that will leave many thoughtful readers with some difficult questions to ponder. I recommend this novel with no  reservations.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Followers by Anna Davies

FollowersFollowers
Anna Davies
Point, June 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-51196-4
Trade Paperback

Desperate to shine, Briana understands that she must first emerge from her mother’s shadow. In an apparently counterintuitive move, she chooses to attend the very same prestigious boarding school where her mother was once the brightest star on stage. Driven by the need to prove to her mother, and more importantly to herself; one can most certainly be a fine, talented actor while deftly avoiding drama in real life, she was able to push reservations aside, as the move is not without apprehension.

McHale remains void of friends, and even acquaintances are hard to come by when tension is palpable between the McHale students and those unfortunate souls that live in the surrounding town, attending the public school. It wasn’t only the imagined class disparity that kept the teens apart; but an unsolved murder of a student that attended McHale along with Briana’s mom many years ago held the wedge firmly in place.

Focusing solely on the goal of being Ophelia, Briana morphs into “Bree”, takes to Twitter, and is quickly accepted into an exclusive McHale theatre clique. But what goes up; must come down. In no time at all, the friendly glances warranted by popularity become accusatory side-long stares. Accidents begin to happen in the theatre, students meet untimely and freaky demises. A new Twitter user, “Hamlet’s Ghost” begins to taunt, and point the finger at Bree. Life has new meaning. More important than a role in a play, far outweighing the ridiculous pipe-dream of popularity, Bree’s focus is abruptly shifted to the critical tasks of staying alive and revealing the truth.

Ms. Davies spins a chilling story with a meaty mystery, spot-on teen-age representation, down to the sparring dialogue; with a few sly mentions of Phish and the Grateful Dead for those of us that are not exactly “Young” Adults. She artfully combines the angst of high-school with real-life, adult issues; thus allowing the characters opportunities for self-reflection and growth. As Bree learns more about her fellow students, faculty, and the townsfolk; she reveals more about herself and what kind of person she really wants to be; while discovering surprising parallels with the mother that once seemed her polar opposite. This is a book that I can happily recommend to any Middle-Grade, YA and Not-So-Young Adult reader; as it is simply a well-written, entertaining story.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2014.

Book Review: Choke Point by Ridley Pearson

Choke PointChoke Point
A Risk Agent Novel #2
Ridley Pearson
Jove, April 2014
ISBN: 978-0-515-15464-1
Mass Market Paperback

In the second novel in what is billed as an “international thriller series” (Risk Agent was the first entry), Ridley Pearson brings the return of John Knox, a man who has a useful ‘cover’ as a legitimate international exporter, and Grace Chu, a Chinese woman who was a former forensic accountant but has “recently proven herself a quick study of computer hacking.” She also holds a master’s degree in criminology from USC and, because of her former training with the Chinese Army, “is no slouch in field ops.” The fact that she speaks five or six languages is only a plus. They are both now occasionally employed by Rutherford Risk, a private security firm.

The book takes place for the most part in Amsterdam, although it opens briefly in Tunisia, where John is plying his trade, that is, until his old buddy David “Sarge” Dulwich finds him and coaxes him to take on a job in Amsterdam. Their long standing friendship goes back to the days when they were both working for a private contractor based out of Kuwait where John saved Sarge’s life, twice (once when the truck in which he was riding was hit by an IED). Both John and Grace find themselves becoming addicted to their new calling, their former professions seeming to have been a waste of their talents, and the adrenaline rush undeniable.

Their new assignment deals with child exploitation. They are joined, in a somewhat ambivalent relationship, by Sonia Pangarkar, a gorgeous reporter working on a story about “the poorer neighborhoods of Amsterdam and the European struggle with immigrants.” More than that, it is about a ring of men “who kidnap ten-year-olds and chain them to posts and make them work 18-hour days” in what are called “knot shops,” i.e., sweatshops where intricately hand-knotted Oriental rug knockoffs are made, with quantity demanded. And that’s the least horrific part of it. Rutherford Risk was called in as the work is seen as “typically unwanted by, or too dangerous for, others.” But Knox and Grace thrive on just that.

Thrillers are not, generally, my favorite sub-genre. But the author’s name beckoned to me. The book is undeniably exciting and suspenseful, densely plotted, and the three main characters very intriguing. It makes for enjoyable, good reading.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2014.

Book Review: Assured Destruction by Michael F. Stewart

 

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Assured Destruction Series
Michael F. Stewart
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult

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Teenage hacker, Janus Rose, doesn’t care about the moral choices of
living multiple lives online, until the real life consequences of her
actions enslave her to the local PD’s High Tech Crime Unit, forcing
her to become the very creature hackers hate, a spook.

Jan owes the world nothing. Her father left without a word. #BIGSECRET
Her mother has progressive Multiple Sclerosis. And Jan juggles the need
to complete homework with the need to keep pizza on the table, running
the family computer recycling business. Living in an industrial park with
crappy Feng Shui, Jan’s pretty sure that the only one she can depend on is
herself. Maybe. And yet, just because she knows how to code, people seem
to think they can depend on her to save their butts and solve their crimes.

Jan does take short cuts. She skirts the shadows of what’s right and
wrong. But she has to; if she’s not multitasking then she fails out of
school, or the family loses the business, or someone dies …

It’s a brave new world. Welcome to ASSURED DESTRUCTION.

 

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Assured DestructionAssured Destruction
Assured Destruction #1
Michael F. Stewart
Michael F. Stewart / Non Sequitur Press, February 2013
ISBN 9780981269948
Trade Paperback

From the author—

You can learn a lot about someone looking through their hard drive…

Sixteen-year-old Jan Rose knows that nothing is ever truly deleted. At least, not from the hard drives she scours to create the online identities she calls the Shadownet.

Hobby? Art form? Sad, pathetic plea to garner friendship, even virtually? Sure, Jan is guilty on all counts. Maybe she’s even addicted to it. It’s an exploration. Everyone has something to hide. The Shadownet’s hard drives are Jan’s secrets. They’re stolen from her family’s computer recycling business Assured Destruction. If the police found out, Jan’s family would lose its livelihood.

When the real people behind Shadownet’s hard drives endure vicious cyber attacks, Jan realizes she is responsible. She doesn’t know who is targeting these people or why but as her life collapses Jan must use all her tech savvy to bring the perpetrators to justice before she becomes the next victim.

 

I have to admit to being just a bit worried in the early pages of Assured Destruction when I found myself reading quite a bit of technical jargon about computers. I’m not precisely computer-illiterate but I’m no tech-savvy geek either. Some of what Janus was up to had me doing a little head-scratching but, after a while, I got in the swing of things and, by the end of the book, I realized Mr. Stewart had actually taught me a thing or two, never a bad outcome.

Jan is the stereotypical poster child for the IT whiz (usually a guy so having the protagonist be a girl was refreshing) living in his parents basement, socially awkward, chowing down on pizza. As a matter of fact, the likeness is almost funny but, at the same time, it’s sad because the circumstances of her life have isolated her somewhat from her peers. Still, she seems to fit in well enough at school and there is no serious friction with the other kids so, then, one has to wonder why she has set up such an elaborate artificial social world. The answer to that is easy when you consider her home environment.

Jan’s strength and appeal for me lay in her high intelligence (even when she does some really dumb, unthinking things) and in her essential goodness—she has no intent to hurt anyone. I came to really like this girl but she’s the only character that I thought was well-developed. I just didn’t have any real connection to anyone else, especially the two potential love interests who, to me, were pretty interchangeable. When you get right down to it, I never felt anything about which boy would win her heart, if either, because neither was much more than two-dimensional. Funnily enough, the characters that did stand apart a little for me were her creations, particularly Heckleena and Gramps. That in itself is a sad commentary on Jan’s life, isn’t it?

When it became apparent that a serious crime was taking place, I was very surprised at the truth of what was going on although I did think it was a bit contrived because the bad guy’s ultimate goal really wasn’t necessary for the continuation of his “business”. That’s okay, though, because it still made for a good story with a few nailbiting moments and the pleasure of being alongside Jan as she figures out what to do. This is one smart cookie and she’s strong-willed, too. No wonder I like her so much and am looking forward to reading Script Kiddie and With Zombies  😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2014.

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Assured Destruction 2 Script KiddieSynopsis book 2 – Script Kiddie:
Jan Rose no longer steals data from the old computers she recycles. She doesn’t need to. As the newest member of the police department’s High Tech Crime Unit, the laptop of a murderer has landed on her desk. Her job: to profile and expose a killer.

But that’s not all.

A creep lurks in the shadows, stalking a friend, and Jan must stop him before the hunt turns deadly. The clock counts down for Jan to save her friend, her job, her boyfriend–maybe even her life.

Assured Destruction 3 With ZombiesSynopsis book 3 – With Zombies:
The final book in the Assured Destruction series!

Jan Rose may already be expunged from the police department’s High Tech Crime Unit. Her mother’s hospitalized, and Assured Destruction’s on the cusp of bankruptcy. But Jan doesn’t wait on anything, she seeks out the customers who used to keep the family business afloat. That’s when everything starts to go wrong.

A computer virus–aka the Zombie Worm–threatens not only her school and Shadownet, but the entire city. A skull with a chain running through its socket links a powerful gang to her former customers, and holds the secrets to why her father left and the identity of her mother’s boyfriend.

To save her family and the business, Jan must determine who is friend and who is foe. And decide what type of hacker she wishes to become: Gray, white, or black. Not only her life hangs in the balance.

 

Assured Destruction Complete Series

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About the Author

Michael F. StewartAfter crewing ships in the Antarctic and the Baltic Sea and some fun in venture capital, Michael anchored himself (happily) to a marriage and a boatload of kids. Now he injects his adventurous spirit into his writing with brief respites for research into the jungles of Sumatra and Guatemala, the ruins of Egypt and Tik’al, paddling the Zambezi and diving whatever cave or ocean reef will have him. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and SF Canada, and the author of the Assured Destruction series, 24 Bones, The Sand Dragon, Hurakan, Ruination and several award winning graphic novels for young adults. His most recent project, The Terminals, has been optioned for television by Sudden Storm Entertainment.

Michael lives in Ottawa, Canada, with his wife and four daughters. He tries very hard to keep life an adventure both on and off the page. Please come find him on Goodreads.

 

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