Thursday, February 24, 2011

I just got the new issue of Sci Fi magazine (affiliated with the SyFy network), which has a review of my book Mad Skills! Here's an excerpt:



By Adam-Troy Castro


This is Flowers for Algernon, gene-spliced to La Femme Nikita, the Bourne Series, MacGyver, and The Prisoner.

It’s the story of Maddy Grant, a typical happy teen obsessed with clothes and pop culture, who is exposed to a gas leak and brain-damaged to the point of extreme mental retardation. After a year of disability she is subjected to a radical cybernetic implant that doesn’t just repair her brain injury, but also makes her an extreme super-genius, capable of absorbing entire libraries of information in less time than an Internet download. The downside of this is that she is even more estranged from her old life than she was before, as she is unable to watch television, go to the mall, or have even a simple conversation with her parents or old friends without understanding more than a girl her age wants to know. She sees the negative societal context of everything, the emotional manipulations behind even the most basic human interactions, and is even more alienated from the world she once knew.

In fact, Maddy’s thought processes are so swift that she’s also become about as dangerous as a human being can possibly be, able to win fights against overwhelming odds with an innate instantaneous understanding of the tools at hand and the weaknesses of anybody who opposes her. This quickly supersedes her common sense avoidance of trouble, and leads to institutionalization at an isolated community sponsored by the institute that operated on her, a community dedicated to perfecting the technology for use in the mental control of entire populations.

Conflict ensues when Maddy dedicates herself to escape.

Walter Greatshell is a first-rate writer of action scenes, who choreographs the regular bursts of over-the-top mayhem with a genius that makes Maddy an endearingly resourceful and often frightening superhero of sorts, capable of fighting heavily-armed hit squads to a standstill with nothing but household items scavenged from beneath bathroom sinks. The conspiracy elements, the paranoid world building, and the loneliness of his protagonist, are all also profoundly well-handled. The narrative itself is compulsively readable.

...All in all, Maddy’s implacability will drive many readers to happy cries of “You go, girl!” There may not be a sequel, but it would be welcomed.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

XOMBIES: APOCALYPSO is now on sale! This is the third (and perhaps final) novel in my XOMBIES saga, after XOMBIES: APOCALYPSE BLUES and XOMBIES: APOCALYPTICON (all published by Ace Books).

It's weird to have another book come out so soon after my thriller MAD SKILLS, which was released barely two months ago, but since all my books reflect the same warped mentality, I'm hoping there will be some reader crossover.

XOMBIES: APOCALYPSO was the eighth book I've ever written, and the fifth I've had published, so you would think I'd have perfected the process by now. No. This thing almost killed me. I was having migraines over it, churning out reams of notes and tentative material, only to trash everything and start over--again and again and again. By comparison, my other books were practically delivered by stork. But all the hard work paid off--I think APOCALYPSO is a worthy climax to the series. It is a very strange book, more of an outright comedy than any of my others, because once the threat of death is eliminated, the most horrible things become pure slapstick. I only hope readers appreciate the gag.

Anyone interested in discussing the book with me or just sitting primly, hands folded on lap, is invited to my book-release party at 7pm on Friday, March 11th, at Books On The Square, 471 Angell Street, Providence RI. There will be drinks, snacks, and plain old good times such as your granddaddy knew. Thanky!

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Here’s something I’ve been wondering about for a long time.

I remember when the movie Alien 3 came out, there was this controversy about the original director being replaced by David Fincher (whose most recent movie is a little flick called The Social Network).

The negative vibe contributed to Alien 3 being considered a bit of a mess, which is funny now considering how low the Alien franchise had yet to sink, but hardly surprising since A3’s lowball take on the material could only suffer by comparison with the James Cameron extravaganza that was Aliens, much less the brilliant creepfest of Ridley Scott’s original Alien.

As you may recall, the first two films established the bad-assification of flight officer Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). In Alien, she and a cat were the last survivors of an alien attack on her ship, then in Aliens she returned to the fray with a crew of space marines, and this time not only survived but saved the nicest marine and a cute little kid.

So that was a pretty heavy baton for Alien 3 to pick up: not only the fate of Ripley, but of these other two characters. James Cameron only inherited a cat.

Fincher arrived late on the scene and had to contend with major interference from a nervous studio, which was well into production despite the lack of a coherent script. Actually, there were several scripts in play, one of which had been developed to the point of constructing a massive set…then rejecting it.

I recall reading that this cancelled script (by Vincent Ward and John Fasano) had Ripley landing on a “wooden planet”—a weird medieval village full of chanting monks, which was described as something out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. In this world, Ripley would act the role of Sleeping Beauty, and the Alien would be the Dragon.

I thought (and still think) that was a cool idea.
Obviously, the studio thought differently. Alarmed by the prospect of this bizarro fairy tale, they decided to trash the “wooden planet” and return to the more familiar engine-room design established by the previous two films.

They turned the village into a prison, and the monks into hardened convicts.
The religious angle was retained, but what was to have been a quaint monastery in space became an industrial lead-mining operation. Unlike the other films however, there would be no fun technology, no spaceships or shootouts—the movie would be two hours of nonstop claustrophobia and ugly mugs. And everybody would be bald, including Ripley.
But what of her fellow survivors from the last movie, the dreamy Hicks and the adorable Newt?

They’d be dead on arrival.

Some of this was simple necessity. David Fincher knew going in that he was screwed, that he had neither the budget nor the studio support to make the expected blockbuster addition to the Alien canon. So he decided to murder it in its bed: kill what had come before and start small. It was a valid artistic choice, given his options, but for most fans it was a bummer.

I personally didn’t hate Alien 3. It had some good stuff—just not enough. I’m always amazed when Hollywood destroys a successful franchise through nothing more than cheapness. A3 should have been the culmination of everything we had seen to that point, and brought Ripley into direct conflict with the real source of all her troubles: not the aliens, but the evil Company.

When I heard they were making A3, I envisioned Ripley awakening in some Company lab on Earth, which is using her as a guinea pig for their alien-breeding experiments. But insurgents within the Company bust her out, and she becomes the leader of a rebellion to free humanity from corporate control. Things are looking good…until the Company unleashes its newly created alien army against the rebels! Now we’re treated to an awesome, hopeless battle between men and monsters. The humans don’t stand a chance. Then, at the moment of doom, Ripley realizes that she is the mother of all these aliens, that they won’t touch her. Alone, she leads her “children” in a final assault on the Company stronghold, which is defended by humanoid robots. More crazy-ass combat ensues. At last Ripley faces the CEO. He’s beaten, but he has one last trick up his sleeve: the whole place is about to be nuked. Suddenly we see a jet copter out the window—it’s Hicks, Newt, and Jones the cat! Ripley jumps aboard and they blast away just ahead of the mushroom cloud.
Okay, maybe not the cat. But that’s the movie I wanted to see!

I’ve gotten a little sidetracked—why did I bring all this up? Oh yes, it’s because shortly after Alien 3 came and went, there was another movie by the same producer, Gale Anne Hurd, and with some of the same cast, namely Lance Henrikson. It was a futuristic prison movie called No Escape, about a convict (Ray Liotta) who is sent to a primitive penal colony--sort of like Papillon, if Papillon sucked. The only thing interesting about No Escape was that its wooden prison village looked suspiciously like the discarded “wooden planet” from Alien 3.

So the thing I’ve been wondering about all these years is: Was No Escape only made because they wanted to recycle an expensive set? Can anybody confirm this? Am I the only one who cares?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

I just found this really terrific review of Mad Skills from a writer named Len Berry. What I love about it (aside from the fact that he gives it an A grade) is that he read the book so closely. Despite its brevity, the review is detailed in its analysis. Thank you, Mr. Berry.

Here's the review and link:

"I just finished reading a great modern science fiction novel called Mad Skills. Written by Walter Greatshell, it’s the story of a young woman with a brain injury who is given an experimental treatment to restore normal function. The result is that she becomes super-MacGyver, reading at a rate so fast she accidentally rips pages from books, rewriting how efficient cars should be built.
Maddy Grant is a great protagonist and Greatshell writes her well. The way she adjusts to living normal life after her procedure not only demonstrates the incredible power of her mind, but also typical teenage girl, thrown into a situation she can’t understand. The seeming contradiction makes the first hundred pages a great read and sets up a lot of the endgame. The nice thing about the book is the way clues are set in place, relying on Maddy’s (and the reader’s) intelligence to sort out.
I initially felt thrown off by the ending and the lack of resolution and cohesion to the prologue, but I looked through those first pages again and realized there’s a massive significance to what Maddy is doing and where she is. I won’t spoil it here, but I will say there are shades of the Berserk anime in the structure of this novel. Backstory is provided when it’s needed, not a moment before or after. As I said before, clues are sprinkled throughout and Mad Skills is a smarter read than you might think it is at first.
As I read and enjoyed the bulk of the book, I thought I would give it a B letter grade. There’s a lot of veiled political commentary starting out and action that’s totally dependent on character interaction and dynamics–though the helicopter sequence halfway through the book is a lot of fun. Toward the end, there are a lot of Kurtzweilian notions that come up and a few plot twists that are carefully seeded in the opening chapters, seeded in such a way, I was shocked and thrilled when I read it.
You’ll be guessing about things up until the end. When you get there, I hope you give this book the A I’m giving it."